Sunday, August 31, 2008

RELIGION- Mork calling Orson Scott Card

I’ve been a fan of Orson Scott Card since 1980. That year he was the keynote speaker at a dinner hosted by the company I was working for at the time. I’ve probably given out a dozen copies of his most famous work, ENDER’S GAME, to friends who hadn’t read it and I own probably two dozen of his works- including a cherished 20 year old cassette tape of a speech he did called the Secular Humanist Revival Meeting, railing against the religious right intruding into government.

Which is why I’m even more surprised that the gay marriage issue has caused him to decide to be the latest poster child for the idea that no one is so smart that they don’t have some stupid ideas.

His latest article in The Mormon Times makes it look like he’s been saving up his stupid over the last few decades in order to have a giant stupidgasm. Right out of the shoot he says something dumb even though I’m certain he knows better.

“The first and greatest threat from court decisions in California and Massachusetts, giving legal recognition to "gay marriage," is that it marks the end of democracy in America.

“These judges are making new law without any democratic process; in fact, their decisions are striking down laws enacted by majority vote.”

Now I’m sure that Mr. Card realizes that (a) equality for all people is guaranteed in the constitution of both these states and also our country and (b) democratic process has nothing to do with it. This idea is exactly what was used to justify slavery for so many years- most people think it’s fine. And, just as it’s ironic that blacks are overwhelmingly against equal rights for homosexuals, it’s even more ironic that a Mormon would think that marriage mores should be decided by referendum. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the Mormon church’s own history of bucking the majority’s concept of marriage. It would be easy to be snarky and say that it was pretty convenient that when Utah wanted statehood God changed his mind about the whole plural marriage thing, but truthfully I think it was sort of a black spot in the history of the US that the Mormons were run out of the country for it in the first place. In a country founded on both personal and religious freedom, that this was a condition for statehood is ridiculous. The government simply has no place in decisions of marriage. Period. For a state to say who you are allowed to marry based on sex (or color as many states did) is an affront to the very principles on which the nation was founded.

“it is absurd to claim that these constitutions require marriage to be defined in ways that were unthinkable through all of human history until the past 15 years… It is such an obvious overreach by judges…”

No it’s not and no, it’s not. The role of a judge is to provide a check on legislation that is unconstitutional. And the historical argument is bollocks. You could use the same point to defend any practice which is historical and yet abhorrent. Again, slavery and plural marriage are the immediate precedents that come to mind. To say that freedoms can’t be expanded because they were prohibited before is to say that no progress should ever be made in human society. Democracy was a radical idea with scant historical backing in 1776.

“At first, it was only early abortions; within a few years, though, any abortion up to the killing of a viable baby in mid-birth was made legal.”

This is just wrong and I think Mr. Card knows it. But wait, it gets better.

Already in several states, there are textbooks for children in the earliest grades that show "gay marriages" as normal. How long do you think it will be before such textbooks become mandatory -- and parents have no way to opt out of having their children taught from them?”

Hopefully sooner than it took for schools to stop reinforcing racial stereotypes in textbooks.

A term that has mental-health implications (homophobe) is now routinely applied to anyone who deviates from the politically correct line. How long before opposing gay marriage, or refusing to recognize it, gets you officially classified as "mentally ill"?”

I would think that Mr. Card would be more worried that the term misogyny would become a diagnosis, considering his church’s teachings about women. People in glass temples shouldn’t throw stones.

“When gay rights were being enforced by the courts back in the '70s and '80s, we were repeatedly told by all the proponents of gay rights that they would never attempt to legalize gay marriage.

“It took about 15 minutes for that promise to be broken.”

Those uppity gays, give ‘em an inch and they’ll start demanding to be treated like everybody else.

“Here's the irony: There is no branch of government with the authority to redefine marriage. Marriage is older than government. Its meaning is universal: It is the permanent or semipermanent bond between a man and a woman, establishing responsibilities between the couple and any children that ensue.

“The laws concerning marriage did not create marriage, they merely attempted to solve problems in such areas as inheritance, property, paternity, divorce, adoption and so on.”

Here’s the irony: that’s all the gay marriage thing is trying to do. Being gay is older than government too, BTW. its history is also universal. And oddly for those who think it’s a societal thing, it seems to be spread pretty evenly in all cultures. As to the idea that it’s more prevalent in more permissive societies, I have some Muslim and Christian friends who would disagree. Repression of human behavior seems to inspire more hypocrisy than it does conformity. (Insert the name of the loudmouthed preacher of your choice caught, literally, with his pants down in the last few years.)

If a court declared that from now on, "blind" and "sighted" would be synonyms, would that mean that it would be safe for blind people to drive cars?

“No matter how sexually attracted a man might be toward other men, or a woman toward other women, and no matter how close the bonds of affection and friendship might be within same-sex couples, there is no act of court or Congress that can make these relationships the same as the coupling between a man and a woman.

“This is a permanent fact of nature.”

STRAW MAN alert. No one is trying to make a gay marriage the same as a heterosexual one. They are just trying to deal with those pesky legal issues that were mentioned as the reason for government to be involved in this stuff to start with. And don’t forget that there will always be and always has been homosexuality. It also is a “fact of nature”.

“That a few individuals suffer from tragic genetic mixups does not affect the differences between genetically distinct males and females.”

So why are you so upset? I didn’t quote all the “gays can’t have children because of legislation” nonsense because it’s another straw man and ignores all the hetero marriages which do not result in offspring. News flash Orson, if your wife is past child bearing age (which I assume she is) you are still married.

Oh the "tragic genetic mixups" thing is both a giveaway about the prejudice that is motivating this normally reasonable man, and a slap in the face of his infallible deity which would offend me if I thought He was real.

“We need the same public protection of marriage that we have of property.”

That the man could write this and not realize how medieval it sounds is evidence that he’s not thinking rationally. Still, for the next several paragraphs he goes on to admit that the problems with heterosexual marriage have nothing to do with granting the same rights to homosexuals. And that, in fact, the institution of marriage is already so devalued that many hetero couples don’t even bother anymore. This leads him to wonder why gays would want to bother. I call this the “shitting where you eat so no one will steal your food” defense.

“Because when government is the enemy of marriage, then the people who are actually creating successful marriages have no choice but to change governments, by whatever means is made possible or necessary.”

Now we’re getting to it. Be patient.

“Why should married people feel the slightest loyalty to a government or society that are conspiring to encourage reproductive and/or marital dysfunction in their children?”

So government sanction of marriage isn’t encouraging heterosexuals to get married, but it makes people gay. That’s a pretty neat trick. Look Orson, if your children are gay, they’re gay. Whether they can share insurance or not. 100% of gay people are born from heterosexual relationships. It’s genes, not judges causing it.

“How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.”

And there it is. Did you catch that? Card is advocating open rebellion against the government if they allow people he doesn’t know to do something that’s none of his business. Or since we’ve been talking about historical precedent, if you let those people have equal rights then we’re gonna start a war.

This is why many Christians and non-believers alike fear the increasingly militant religious right. You don’t see homosexuals threatening armed rebellion in order to obtain the rights they feel they are entitled to. But for all the inane yapping the right does about how much they love this country, as soon as patriotism and dogma part company, here come the threats. I’ve got news for Orson Card. When a religious theocracy is established in America, it’s going to be right back to all that Carthage, Illinois nastiness for the Mormons. The other fundies don’t think much better of his religion than they do the gays.

(BTW, the reason Joseph Smith was taken from Nauvoo to Carthage for questioning isn’t mentioned in the link. It was because he had led a band to destroy the printing presses of a newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor that was printing anti-plural marriage articles. The more things change…)

I know I’ve beat the slavery metaphor to death but those are exactly the terms in which I see the gay rights debate. I’m no more gay than I am black, but I’m able to realize that freedom for anyone must include freedom for everyone. And I can’t help but remember that in the Secular Humanist Revival Meeting speech Mr. Card made the point that, when they are in the minority, religious groups all cry for relief from oppression yet as soon as they garner power they set about to use it to force everyone else to follow their standards. Considering the persecution that the early Mormons suffered you would think that would be something they would remember. But unfortunately, they’ve never been on the vanguard of this equality thing. It wasn’t until 1979 (no not 1879- they were still fighting for their right to marry more than one woman back then) that his church decided to allow black men to hold the priesthood that every adult male in their church is expected to hold. And without it, blacks couldn’t be married in their temples. So, in spite of the irony that they didn’t grant equal marriage rights to blacks until 30 years ago, here they are trying to tell another group that “real” marriage is for them only.

Seems like another good time for one of those convenient revelations from God. Perhaps this time he’ll just say something like “Look, you guys have gotten this wrong twice now. I think you should check the connection.” Well, maybe in another hundred years.

God is far to fond of irony. Orson Scott Card, OTOH, is oblivious to it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

MOVIES- Smart People do the Craziest Things

SMART PEOPLE is a movie about how “smart” people are vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life and are no better equipped to deal with them than anyone else. To give you an idea of how this works I’m going to break with tradition and give you a short synopsis.

Lawrence is a literature professor who is falling apart after the death of his wife. He is having trouble getting published, angling to become head of the English department, and universally thought of as a jerk. He can’t remember the names of his students (a silly notion considering that he seems to lecture to large groups in auditoriums) and he parks his car with wild disregard for convention. This last trait lands his car in the college impound lot where, after a nasty exchange with the lot attendant (an ex-student), he winds up giving himself a concussion trying to retrieve the manuscript of his unsold book from the car. Waking in the Emergency Room of the local hospital he finds himself being treated by an attractive (?) female doctor (yet another ex-student who harbors a crush after all these years). Calls are placed to his home, where his daughter is too busy studying for the SATs to rescue him and his wayward half-brother, who has landed in his crib because he has no where else to go, is too stoned to care. Eventually the daughter picks him up and the rest of the movie is comprised of the daughter’s hesitance to allow another woman into the house, her attraction to the half-brother (who seems to be the first person of either sex to have ever paid any attention to her), and her father’s troubled courtship of the ER physician who turned to medicine when he gave her research paper a “C”. As the plot thickens, the ER physician finds out that she is pregnant, the romance is off, the daughter is rebuffed by the half-brother, and Lawrence takes himself out of the running for Department Head after his book is “edited” into another self-help monstrosity fit only for the kind of people who find Oprah profound. In spite of all this everything winds up tied in a little bow during the credits when we find out that, well, everybody lived happily ever after. It is a Hollywood movie, after all, even if people talk about the poetry of William Carlos Williams while waiting for the happy ending.

(The poem the characters refer to is William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow”. It’s a wonderful poem and though it’s only 15 words in 5 stanzas, it paints an indelible mental picture. However the poem is a striking example of how biographical criticism (as literary criticism of any type should) illuminates the work of an author. It is said that Williams poem was written when he (a physician) found himself in a situation where all his medical skills could not save a young patient. As the patient lay dying he looked across the bed and out the window, seeing the image caught in the few words and lines of his famous poem. Given the background, the poem is a microcosm of the movies themes- no matter how smart you are there are going to be losses in your life and there is nothing you can do about it but savor the days you have left.)

That author and screenwriter Mark Poirier would pick this poem in just one example of the careful screenwriting that is this movie’s best attribute. The dialog is clever and several times laugh out loud funny. But from there things start to go downhill-.not terribly, just enough to keep this good movie from being a great one.

Unfortunately while the script is good it is also one of the film’s faults. The plot is overwrought, combining too many contrivances (see above synopsis) and threads, some of which are pay off so quickly that you are left wondering if you missed something at the end. But that’s excusable in a character driven drama that has almost no action. A minor annoyance that slightly harms the movie’s impact.

The cast is another minor disappointment. In spite of having actors whose work I generally enjoy, I found the performances a little too subdued. Again this may just be the nature of talking-head character drama, but no one seems to show any emotion. Thomas Haden Church plays a goof with undertones of intelligence well (he should, it’s becoming his trademark), and gives the best performance of the movie. Sarah Jessica Parker is adequate and says her lines clearly. Ellen Page acts like a smart-assed 16 year old Mr. Spock just like she did in Juno. The performances aren’t bad, just uninspired.

That is, except for Dennis Quaid. Whoever thought of casting Quaid as a literature professor who can’t get laid must have been thinking that it was a stretch that he could pull off. He tries. He pooches out his belly and draws up his shoulders in a sort of caricature of an academic. He limits the grinning that usually suffices for his acting repertoire. But he just doesn’t have the acting chops for the role. As a result the lead character in a movie called SMART PEOPLE never really gives you the impression that he’s very smart.

The other problem is the directing. I was also underwhelmed by the direction but again was willing to just chalk it up to the type of movie this is. However even with that in mind it’s still lackluster. First time director Noam Murro moves the camera little and frames a succession of medium shots, making the movie seem even more tedious than it should have been. Again, this isn’t a glaring problem, just another little difficulty that hurts the movie slightly.

My apathy for the director was increased during the supplemental audio track, which he shares with the writer. Frankly, he comes off as a jerk. I only listened to about the first 15 minutes of it (which is unusual for me) because not only did he not seem to have anything interesting to say, he also seemed determined to stop Mr. Poirier from saying anything interesting either. At one point when Poirier is about to tell a story about Sarah Jessica Parker’s driving skill, Murro actually cuts him off in mid sentence implying that it’s inappropriate! I guess he hasn’t listened to a disc commentary before. He sounded presumptuous and condescending and I was rooting for Poirier to remind him that he wasn’t directing anymore so he could relax.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the movie. It’s sometimes brave. There is a definite ‘Ewwww” factor here for just about everyone. Whether it’s incest, pedophilia, or the point where I had to look away from the screen- middle aged Dennis Quaid and Sarah Parker in bed. The movie tries to deal with the uncomfortable parts of life. There is one scene that stands out for me. When Ellen Page asks a party girl how it feels to be stupid. The scene alone is worth watching the movie. For both geeks and mundanes to understand each other.

In spite of all this, SMART PEOPLE is a good movie, still worth seeing because the dialogue is sharp and there are a couple of scenes that save it. But I’m left with the feeling that with a little script doctoring (lose the son’s plot line- it never goes anywhere), a different lead (William Hurt or James Woods come to mind), and better direction it could have been a lot better.

POLITICS- Friday morning out picking VPs

Hot on the heels of the end of the DNC convention the talk is all about who McCain is going to pick for VP. Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, is the dark horse in the media this morning because there was a flight chartered from Anchorage to Ohio last night. If she is the pick it shows just how desperate the GOP is to grab the disgruntled Hillary voters. Palin has been governor for only two years, she has no foreign policy experience, and nobody in the country knows her. Frankly I think this is the media making a mountain out of a molehill. The idea of Biden mopping the floor with this relative neophyte during a debate has got to be more important to the GOP than reaching out to the women in the Democratic party who are acting like petulant children (and risk not only screwing up the election for the Democrats but giving ammunition to misogynists everywhere).

Frankly I’m going with the conventional wisdom that Romney is going to be the VP pick. It seems to follow the choices McCain’s campaign have made so far- misreading their own base. They seem to think that Romney will have both the experience in administration (so far 3 for 4 are legislators rather than executives) that is lacking so far and appeal to the religious fundamentalists who have become their core constituency. They don’t realize that the first doesn’t really matter and the second is just plain wrong. Thinking the fundamentalists identify with Mormonism would be the biggest mistake of the whole campaign so far.

But we still have several weeks for somebody to top it.

Tom Ridge- nobody really knows who he is so it would be a uphill climb but it isn't impossible. However, considering that it would be putting a person who has never been elected to office a heartbeat away from the presidency sort of eviscerates their no experience meme.

Leiberman- bwaww-ha-ha-ha. He may be butthole buddies with MickyKane but nobody trusted Benedict Arnold afterwards and nobody trusts Joe. It would be worth doing to see the riots at the RNC convention.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

POLITICS- The Democrats Are Having a Convention

For those of you who missed Obama’s entrance at the convention in Denver last night, here it is.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

HEALTH- STDs: Sexually Transmitted Demons

Back in the day the worst sexually transmitted disease you could get would only make you blind and insane. Then one developed that would give you a lingering death over many years. Now the newest threat to playas everywhere- DEMON POSSESSION!

Fr. Jeremy Davies warns us that we can catch demons from all sorts of other things. You can pick them up at your yoga class, or from your acupuncturist. You can even get them off the newspaper while you are reading your horoscope. Like cooties!

Actually the interesting thing about this is that because he’s a priest it’s taken seriously. What would otherwise be the raving of an old man suddenly becomes sage spiritual wisdom. Now THAT’S the power of religion for you.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

ADVERTISING- Burger King Strikes Again

When I made fun of Burger King’s last television marketing campaign several months ago I was just pointing out some possible alternate messages that the consumer could arguably take from the ads. Now sombody over at Idea-Sandbox has noticed another ad that once again has some strong less-than-overt communication.

Sort of like what Animal Farm might have been like had Orwell used flora rather than fauna to make his point.

WEIRD- The End is Near

I have a confession to make. While I consider myself a person devoted to reason and rational observation of the universe I don’t believe such a mindset precludes belief in a deity. I’ve been secretly harboring a dread that the fundamentalists may be on to something with all this “end of the world” talk.

I think this has to be a “sign”.