Sunday, May 29, 2011


With the Schwarzeneggers, another political/showbiz marriage has come undone. It's hard to see why this one has attracted so much attention. First of all, Arnold's proclivities (I'm going to call him Arnold, to save space) were well known when he first ran. People who voted for him anyway don't get to act all surprised and righteous now. Second, he's no longer in public office and is one of the five Republicans who definitely won't run for president, so who cares? Third, this scandal doesn't even come with the sweet smell of hypocrisy. Remember when we found out Strom Thurmond was implacably opposed to race-mixin' everyplace but his own bed? That was fun. Arnold, on the other hand, has cheerfully maltreated women of every ethnic background.

To my mind, the interesting question is one that nobody has raised: How will this marriage end? The Catholic Church does not permit divorce, but has always managed to accommodate the Kennedy family and their money. One of Maria's cousins was granted an annulment despite the fact that his marriage had produced several children, and over the bitter protests of his wife. (The Church has always had trouble hearing the voices of women without money.) I have no idea how much an annulment costs, but clearly they are beyond the means of rank-and-file, dollar-in-the-collection-basket Catholics. And perhaps in anticipation of his coming de-legitimization, the Schwarzeneggers' son has announced his intention to use the surname Shriver. Of course, it's easier to spell.

If this seems crass, it's probably because the religion/money nexus has been much on my mind since the Rev. Camping's prediction of doomsday last week turned out to be another disappointment. He has run through his arithmetic again and announced the next doomsday for October, which means the believers will have to invest in new t-shirts and bumper stickers. Somebody is doing very well off their credulity, and, as Harry Lime would say, "Free of income tax, old man, free of income tax!" Religion is the best legal racket in this country.

The Cheney-Bush regime succeeded in creating a deficit which would, in conjunction with two pointless wars, cripple the government's ability to meet social obligations like Social Security and Medicare. States and cities are laying off police, teachers and firefighters, and casting about for ways to raise revenue without the political suicide of raising taxes. And here's Big Religion, enjoying a tax exemption apparently based on a wildly generous interpretation of the First Amendment and dropping nothing in the basket for over two centuries. When this nation began, "religion" meant the parish church, a parsonage, and maybe a school, orphanage, or other charitable institution. It didn't means shopping malls, amusement parks, publishing houses, radio and television stations, and all the other properties currently off the tax rolls. When the church was richer than the government in sixteenth-century England, Henry VIII took action. It's time for another reformation.

All great ideas, from women's suffrage to abolition, started out unpopular. The sooner we move on this, the sooner we can achieve revenue justice. Maybe not in my lifetime, but it's coming.


Sunday, May 08, 2011

Life and death, etc.

As the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the 14th Dalai Lama says he practices compassion to such an extent that he tries to avoid swatting mosquitoes "when my mood is good and there is no danger of malaria," sometimes watching with interest as they swell with his blood.

Yet, in an appearance Tuesday at USC, he appeared to suggest that the United States was justified in killing Osama bin Laden.

As a human being, Bin Laden may have deserved compassion and even forgiveness, the Dalai Lama said in answer to a question about the assassination of the Al Qaeda leader. But, he said, "Forgiveness doesn't mean forget what happened. … If something is serious and it is necessary to take counter-measures, you have to take counter-measures."

Works for me.

Perhaps only Shakespeare could make sense of a weekend that began with a pompous wedding and ended with the violent death of a monster. A sort of Midsummer Night's Macbeth. Shakespeare understood that weddings are about nothing less than the continuity of the human species -- "the world must be peopled" -- and that there's no reason to feel bad about triumphing over evil. You don't take pictures and lock them away, you stick the severed head on a pike and show it to everybody.

And the pictures of Dead Bin Laden will be seen sooner or later. Is it better they slip out, perhaps via Wikileaks? Does that represent some kind of moral high ground for the Obama Administration? Because it's absurd to think Americans, or anybody else, need to be protected from such sights. We've seen Auschwitz and Buchenwald, the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We've watched John Kennedy's brain splash across Dealey Plaza, over and over. We've enjoyed the snapshots from Abu Ghraib, and the hanging of Saddam Hussein, and as Jon Stewart observed, we've even seen Nick Nolte's mug shots. We can take it.* I'd like to think withholding the pictures is a ploy to flush out the slavering death-porn element, but I don't think the Obama White House is that politically deft. Choose the least graphic, publish them, and move on.

Reader, I married him. Yeah, I watched the wedding. Said I wouldn't, but it was on more channels than Two and a Half Men. And knowing as little as possible about the happy couple beforehand, I have to say the former Kate Middleton is one ambitious young lady. She really, really wants to be a queen. The present queen never wanted the job, they say, she got lumbered with it when Uncle David absconded and she never forgave him. I don't think Camilla wants the job; she's probably dreading the inevitable debate about whether a divorced woman is qualified to wear the crown matrimonial in this impeccably screwed-up family. Everything about the new Duchess of Cambridge tells me she's ready, willing and able, as soon as two people die. (It sounds heartless, but that's the system.) At 29, she knows her mind, knows what she's getting into, and has achieved her ambition. As your grandmother probably told you, it's just as easy to fall in love with a future king as with a dentist. Love and ambition are not mutually exclusive. Some indicators:

1. The Dress. Simple, elegant, perfect for a time of painful austerity. I'm no fashionista, but even I can see that the acres of silk wrapped around Diana were signalling an emotional neediness that would swamp the nation. (And also concealing the last of her baby-fat. We forget that Diana only became whippet-thin after her children were born.) This was not the time for a twenty-foot train, and Middleton didn't need one.

2. The venue. They chose to marry in Westminster Abbey instead of St. Paul's. Which leads me to

3. The music. If it really was chosen by William and Catherine, they have the most interesting musical taste in the history of the Windsors. Well, they're university graduates, which must mean something. The bride entered to Parry's "I was glad," normally sung at coronations, and exited to Walton's "Crown Imperial." Not very subtle. (My favorite musical moment, however, was the congregational singing of "Jerusalem." The BBC gave us a splendid close-up of David Cameron, forced to join in the official anthem of the Labour Party. That will teach him to screw with their budget.)

The new duchess has two jobs now: to produce the requisite "heir and a spare" and to wait. She has demonstrated her skill at the second -- she and William broke up, and she didn't run to the press or the Taj Mahal, she waited until he came back. Waiting is what royal wives have done for centuries.

*The worst thing I ever saw was the waterlogged corpse of the journalist George Polk, on the cover of a short-lived magazine called [MORE]. It haunted me for weeks.