Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Tongue of stone

Pope Benedict XVI is not someone who makes careless statements. You don't spend years as the church's Grand Inquisitor without learning that words have the power of bullets. So if his true intent last week was to promote "frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect" between Christianity and Islam, there were better ways to go about it. He could have said (in appropriately scholarly language), "Look, we don't agree on much, but I think we both know that women should shut up and stay in the kitchen, am I right? High five!" Now you've got everybody on the boat, sailing in the same direction, and there's room on board for fundamentalist Protestants, Latter-day Saints and Orthodox Jews. Because if the monotheistic Near Eastern death-cults share one basic premise, it's that women don't matter.

Instead, he dredged up a quotation from an obscure 14th-century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologos ("Stone-tongue Manny") equating Islam with violence. The quotation went further, treading on the inflamed bunion of Islam by mentioning Muhammad by name. Surely he knew that thousands of Muslims would make his point by responding with violence. This was no great insight: they respond to practically everything with violence. And when the effigies and churches burned, the pope's unstated but underlying point was made: "Nya nya na nya nya, my God's better than your God!" Which is always the point when a cult leader speaks in public. (He may not have counted on the murdered nun in Somalia, but as Donald Rumsfeld would say, "Stuff happens." At least it was only a woman.)

This is the difference between religion and philosophy. Philosophy says, "Your premise is interesting, but I don't agree with it." Religion said, "Your premise is interesting, but wrong. My God says I have to kill you and destroy your city. It's nothing personal, thank you for engaging in frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect."

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Hello, Clio, get me rewrite!

In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge, over the impassioned and prescient warnings of his ambassador to Japan, opportunistically signed the egregious Immigration Act, or National Origins Act, which in essence stigmatized the Japanese as an inferior race. The result was to infuriate Japan and bolster the power of the nationalists.

From a review of Joshua Hammer's Yokohama Burning by Jacob Heilbrunn, New York Times Book Review, September 17, 2006

Ha! "The Road to Pearl Harbor," Part 1: Distracted by his torrid affair with Theda Bara (Megan Mullally), Calvin "Silents Cal" Coolidge (Bill Paxton) signs the Immigration Act without reading it. Cut to: Stock footage of smoke billowing from USS Arizona.

Get the Mickey Mouse network on the phone.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

While the fires burned

From Peggy Noonan's fawning interview with the First Couple in Ladies Home Journal:

Noonan: You were separated on September 11th. What was it like when you saw each other again?

Mrs. Bush: Well, we just hugged. I think there was a certain amount of security in being with each other than being apart.

President Bush: But the day ended on a relatively humorous note. The agents said, "You'll be sleeping downstairs. Washington's still a dangerous place." And I said no, I can't sleep down there, the bed didn't look comfortable. I was really tired, Laura was tired, we like our own bed. We like our own routine. You know, kind of a nester. Like the way things are. I knew I had to deal with the issue the next day and provide strength and comfort to the country, and so I needed rest in order to be mentally prepared. So I told the agent we're going upstairs, and he reluctantly said okay. Laura wears contacts, and she was sound asleep. Barney was there. And the agent comes running up and says, "We're under attack. We need you downstairs," and so there we go. I'm in my running shorts and my T-shirt, and I'm barefooted. Got the dog in one hand, Laura had a cat, I'm holding Laura --

Mrs. Bush: I don't have my contacts in, and I'm in my fuzzy house slippers --

President Bush: And this guy's out of breath, and we're heading straight down to the basement because there's an incoming unidentified airplane, which is coming toward the White House. Then the guy says it's a friendly airplane. And we hustle all the way back upstairs and go to bed.

Mrs. Bush: [laughs] And we just lay there thinking about the way we must have looked.

Noonan: So the day starts in tragedy and ends in Marx Brothers.

President Bush: That's right -- we got a laugh out of it.

So much for the flag.

And then the Thane of Crawford and Lady MacBanal snuggled in their big bed, and he told her the story of the pet goat. The End.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Bush's brain

Soon after Rove moved into his new office in the West Wing, previously occupied by Hillary Clinton, he invited three top Catholic priests to conduct a ceremony to purge the room of evil spirits. "It was an actual liturgical ceremony," says participant Deal Hudson. "We sat at the table, we prayed. A priest said a series of prayers, including a blessing."

from "The Architect," the new Rove biography by James Moore and Wayne Slater

And then, when all the girl-cooties had been driven out, Rove screwed in a couple of red lightbulbs, stripped down to leather chaps, and interviewed Jeff Gannon about his request for White House press credentials.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Long live Big Dubya!

ATTENTION! Stand by for an important message from the Ministry of Truth.

Saddam Hussein, familiar to you all from the Two Minutes' Hate, was not responsible for the attacks which took place on September 11, 2001. Big Dubya has never said he was responsible. These actions were planned and executed solely by Osama bin Laden, who is the chief evildoer in the world. He will be brought to justice, even though Big Dubya has disbanded the unit which was seeking him.

Christine Todd Whitman, former Minister of Clear Skies, never said that the air quality of lower Manhattan following the attacks was safe. Anyone who remembers her issuing a statement to that effect must report to the Ministry of Love for memory therapy. Do not attempt to brainwash yourself! This may result in unclear thinking and a desire to appease fascism.

Avoid confusion. Stay near your viewscreen for further bulletins. Remember that America has always been at war with Eastpersia. Victory is assured! Eastpersia = doubleplusungood

Long live Big Dubya!

The Suri ration has been doubled to make up for a temporary shortage of JonBenet.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Only a theory

Sometimes I just want to kick back, forget the millions of deaths it has caused over the centuries, and concentrate on the pure enjoyment religion can afford. No "Vatican Rag," no "Life of Brian," just the Invisible Industry in all its zaniness -- religion has no idea how funny it is, and I hope it never finds out. In today's New York Times, for example, we have some really orthodox Orthodox Christians in Moscow, protesting Madonna's Epater les Bourgeoises Tour (or whatever it's called) by thrusting a phallic pole through the singer's picture. Oooh...was it good for you, tovarich? Madonna should hire these guys as publicists. Maybe she has.

Last week came the news that two men taken hostage in Gaza by a splinter group -- I think it was the Party of God Party -- had been released after "converting" to Islam. Nothing original about that. Americans prisons are full of Muslim "converts" who have heard it's a good way to get a pork-free diet. In this case the forced conversions were probably a face-saving effort by the kidnapers when they discovered that the men weren't real journalists but employees of Fox News. The important story is that they're safe and free, right? Not so fast. Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig are being lambasted for "cowardice" and apostasy all over blogland by pious posters who never stray from the safety of their keyboards. Anyone would think they had revealed the identity of an undercover CIA agent, or broadcast American troop positions, instead of simulating Stockholm Syndrome for the sake of seeing their families again.

When it comes to purple piety, the Bush administration has set depressing new records, establishing an Office of Hate-Based -- sorry, make that Faith-Based Organizations right in the White House, appointing religious crackpots to the federal bench for life, condemning millions to unnecessary suffering through abstinence-only health education policies and superstition about stem cells -- well, the list goes on. "Reality is what we say it is," one of its apparatchiks proclaimed without a trace of irony, whether that reality involved weapons of mass destruction or established science about global warming. Well, a lot of Americans are taking advantage of their government's suggestion that they believe whatever the hell they want, regardless of facts. A poll last summer by the Scripps Survey Research Center found that a third of respondents thought the administration allowed or abetted the destruction of the World Trade Center for political reasons, while 16 percent believed the buildings had been primed with tons of explosives. The State Department and the National Institute of Standards and Technology issued an enormously detailed report debunking these theories, but acknowledged that it will have no effect on some people. Yeah, it's a real pain having science on your side but not being able to convince the True Believers. Like Intelligent Design, Holocaust denial and flying saucers inside the hollow Earth, this one is not going away.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A little touch of Harry

There has been much commentary about the news that George W. Bush is marking his sixtieth birthday this summer by reading adult books, including "three Shakespeares." Better late than never, of course, and we all wish we had time for reading or re-reading (statistics indicate that Americans have less vacation time than ever these days). But plays should really be seen in performance, and we know Bush is more of a visual kinda guy who likes one-page summaries and one-syllable words. Phrases like "stay the course" are easier for him to handle than fancy terms like "dissemble"; an aide had to show him a PowerPoint presentation about Hurricane Katrina last year before he could begin to grasp the extent of the catastrophe.

Fortunately, there are many fine film versions of Shakespeare plays which are more enjoyable for the novice than struggling with archaic poetry. I particularly recommend Kenneth Branagh's 1989 version of "Henry V," with special attention to the aftermath of Agincourt -- the battlefield strewn with corpses, the grieving women, and especially the dead children. So much horror, because Henry took his father's advice and started a foreign war to distract his people from his shaky claim to the throne, when France had done nothing but insult him with a gift of tennis balls. Devious clergymen, war profiteers, a profound meditation on what it means to be a head of state, this play has it all. See it twice.

Friday, September 01, 2006

It all balances out

Andrew Lloyd Webber is making a musical of "The Master and Margherita."

Hand me the vodka and sleeping pills.

Johnny Depp will star in the film version of "Sweeney Todd."

Maybe just the vodka.

Bozos on this bus

The "reality" show "Survivor" has announced that its four teams of contestants will be divided along ethnic/racial lines (Asian-American, African-American, Latino and white), provoking cries of rage from the HDC (High Dudgeon Community), including two of its charter members, New York City Councilman John Liu and Rev. Calvin Butts. I haven't heard any complaints from George Allen or Trent Lott, so the assumption seems to be that the white team will win. The whole controversy should be quite a ratings-builder for CBS, leading some cynics to believe that that was its intent all along. As the kids say, ya think?

Meanwhile, in the real world, the Shreveport, Louisiana, Times carried this article just last week (August 24, 2006, and believe me, I checked the date twice):

Coushatta -- Nine black children attending Red River Elementary School were directed last week to the back of the school bus by a white driver who designated the front seats for white children. The situation has outraged relatives of the black children who have filed a complaint with school officials. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is considering filing a formal charge with the United States Department of Justice... (Vickie Welborn)

It looks like we still have some work to do. As soon as the Katrina and 9/11 solemnities are over. And the US Open. And the World Series. Right after we all get a look at the Cruise baby. And take a refresher course in JonBenet. It's on the list. When does "American Idol" come back?