Godbox

Is the TV on?

There is a new study being reported in the Huffington Post : “New Study Suggests U.S. Has A Lot Of ‘Closet’ Atheists” “Atheists may have been drastically undercounted because of reluctance to honestly answer poll questions.” I lived through the closeted years of the early gay rights movement so I have some thoughts on the matter.

This study uses an oddly cumbersome series of unrelated questions to derive a conclusion because they don’t trust people to directly acknowledge atheism with a yes or a no. For example, “I’ve been to the South Pole” is one such statement that requires respondents to answer true or false. By asking a series of these types of questions they attempt to deduce whether the person is an atheist.

“I prefer wieners to tacos” T or F would have done little to reveal my closeted gay status back in the sixties. Visiting a frozen pole apparently indicates more about a relationship with god than long hot tubes of steaming meat relate to sex! Cold poles and hot dogs, science can be such a mystery! All joking aside the study sounds intriguing and viable to me, but then again I’m an artist.

The problem with so many of these ‘do you believe in god’ studies is that they are merely asking which channel you like best on the Godbox. They begin with the assumption that there is a THEO-TV. The assumptions continue: THEO-TV is turned on, has electricity, can provide viable theological programing, has multiple options, each option makes enough quasi-reasonable or fantastical statements to develop a following of viewers. The Catholic channel doesn’t like being next to the Voodoo channel; the Hindus want a separate channel for all 330 million of their deities although negotiations are trying to keep the number down to 33.

Some of these studies provide a questionnaire asking you to check the box next to your religion. If they include a listing for atheist it is offensive to some on both sides because atheism is not a religion per se. The computer won’t let you go on to the next question until you check a box so freethinkers are stuck choosing either ‘Atheist’ or ‘Other’; both choices force you to choose a channel/religion on the Godbox. You’re going to be pigeon-holed into some mystery/faith system one way or another.

We all know individuals who really want a god-based flow of information/mystery/comfort to sooth their sin-sick souls: The Balm of Gilead only $25.95+S&H. Oddly enough, to those folks anyway, many people survive perfectly well without Godbox thank you very much. We exist in a world where the common assumption is: everyone has a Godbox, and everyone will select one or more of the channels on it. The assumption is so strong that even our computers are programed to accept no variation from this premise.

The basic flaw here is, however, that the question of god’s existence or nonexistence has nothing to do with the programing or channels on the Godbox. Non-theists don’t even consider it an option. As furniture, a Godbox serves no purpose. There is no reason to buy one, plug it in, or turn it on, much less choose one channel over any other channel. Answers aren’t found in a box.

For atheists and non-theists there is a great deal of pressure to conform to the Godbox lifestyle. It is an omnipresent element of culture. Our money declares it, and public gatherings begin and end with ceremonial homage to it. No wonder people lie on questionnaires, the contexts of our culture forces them to! Just look at the change in our pockets.

Scientists trying to calculate the number of atheists who exist must also dispense with the word “atheist.” It has a built in prejudice. In the early gay rights movement the hot research topic was, “What makes someone gay?” Progress wasn’t made until the question got turned around to ask, “What makes someone straight?” That leads to, “What factors influence sexual expression?” We still don’t have a count on the number of gays, but we do have new understandings hundreds of variations of sexual expression and a vast body of knowledge.

Any questions about how many atheists there are must be based upon this contextual frame:

1. The first premise should be that humans are born non-theists; religion is not genetic but it is often geographic.

2. People separate themselves from the natural non-theist state by becoming theists – supernaturalist believers of the many subsets of religions. (this group owns a Godbox)

3. Some of the set of religionists may eventually choose to rebel against or reject religion and so become atheists. (They still have Godboxes tuned to the atheist channel.)

 

So, basically, you can’t be an atheist until you have a supernatural/mystery belief to react against. When researchers go looking for the number of atheists who exist in a place they often ignore the original set of humans for whom the construct of god has no relevance. There is no word to describe those who have never fallen sway to a mystery-based fantasy. “A” means “against or without,” “theist” means “god or the concept of a god,” atheist means ‘against god’. How would that original group of humans respond to a statement so far removed from the context of their lives? They can’t be atheist because “theist” means nothing to them: “against nothing” is a non-sequitur.

I like to use the word ‘non-theist’ to describe my position. It exists in common usage for the same purpose as atheist – to show an opposing perspective of a god (and pretentious followers). “Non-”  means ‘not’ in Latin. A nonbeliever does not maintain a particular belief but a non-theist does not even address belief by simply stating that: the phenomenon called “god” does not exist.

Non-theists declare there is not a god.

Atheists declare themselves to be against something that exists or has the potential to exist. If god did not exist opposing it would be senseless. So, logically, the word would be pointless.

[ Note: this was the first in a series of discussions about religion, art and morality. It is rather lengthy so I have not posted much else while I compile this diatribe.]

Dual-Fact Nation Part 2

Adam & Eve have no lower bodies and conveniently draped hair.

Dismediation is a new word for me I found it in a Religion Dispatches Newsletter article by Christopher Douglas. I should have mentioned the article in my last post since I divided the whole topic into two posts . Dismediation is a process using a medium to tear down that very same medium. So, if you use the TV news to complain about TV news coverage you are dissing the media covering you which academic folks label dismediation. It is a rhetorical technique similar to the one where you begin your speech by saying you are not going to talk about a particular topic; which you have obviously just done by mentioning the topic. “I refuse to discuss my opponent’s vile policies on strawberry flavored toothpaste, I will, however discuss the joys of mint toothpaste which I support wholeheartedly.”

Dismediation is not like those cartoons where the bridge falls apart piece by piece just as the last wheel of the caboose passes by. The bridge must remain an essential carrier. It’s more like complaining about the medium of news for doing what the speaker relies upon it to do, report the message. Trump constantly portrays the news media as being liars thereby discrediting the medium he needs to get his message out. He expects the bridge to remain available after his caboose has passed by so he can use and abuse it repeatedly. The news becomes a straw man that can be attacked repeatedly while whittling away at its viability. If you can convince enough people that the tracks are unsafe then fewer people will travel on the tracks ultimately destroying the effectiveness of the railway system.

The goal of “fake news” and “alternative facts” goes beyond providing different data. Their purpose is actually to destroy the notion that there could be impartial news and objective facts. Maria Bustillos calls this endgame “dismediation,” “a form of propaganda that seeks to undermine the medium by which it travels.”

The people most vulnerable to this rhetorical trap happen to be Fundamental Christians. They have been conditioned to do so by a lifetime process of indoctrination. It begins with an attitude of dislike for the elite, know-it-all, educated class that comes from family influences as well as social interaction with fundamentalist churches. Here, they learn of the inerrancy of the Bible, a blind obedience to its teachings and dis-trust of those who don’t share the same belief. There was little infrastructure to support this back in the late seventies when the fundamentalist evangelicals began their forays into politics through one particular luminary, Anita Bryant and her anti-gay campaign to Save the Family. Anita was not afraid to call gay folks names. Pick any, or all, of these descriptive terms found in The Anita Bryant Story:

Evil, sinners, perverted, an abomination, those with vile affections, reprobate minds, unnatural, deviant, flaunting, afflicted, regrettable, sad, tragic, apart, distorted, abominable, effeminate, ashamed, reproof, abhorrent, disgusting, licentious, lacking legal or moral restraint, marked by disregard of the rules.

If you want a complete list you will have to dig up her book because all this came from just one small part of one short chapter.I had to stop writing them down, it was too stressful.

Anita Bryant capitalized on her orange-juice spokeswoman fame and wrote several “Christian” books. She became both the beacon of her movement and its lightning rod. Jerry Falwell joined her and it became a launch point for truthiness and faux-scholarship of the bigoted religious. You see, she wrote a best selling book. A BOOK. If its in a book its got to be true! If it quotes the Bible a lot then its even more true. So, a whole slew of other anti-gay people started quoting her books as a credible source. They learned about footnotes and endnotes and citations and all those other image-enhancing rip-offs of credible writing. That lead to other bigot’s books quoting this “highly credible” authority (she wrote books you know); one who uses language that would make the Ku Klux Klan folks blush. Once this body of scholar-less-ship dismediation came to pass, evangelicals and fundamentalists started to realize there’s gold in them there books. If the Bible is quoted enough, then academic scholarship is not required. They would, of course reference one another’s work and soon there was a whole library of this stuff. In Christian schools a homogenization process of real and faux scholarship, religious ideology, and the Creation Museum hoopla all merged into “alt-reality” as we call it today.

Christian fundamentalist Bible colleges and universities, publishers and bookstores, newspapers and magazines, radio and then television shows, museums and campus ministries, together formed a set of institutions that resisted elite, secular expert knowledge. Recognizing the power of expertise’s infrastructure, Christian fundamentalists created this counter-infrastructure to cultivate and curate its alternative forms of knowledge. This alternative knowledge—the forerunner of today’s alternative facts— took the form of creationism and an alternative Bible scholarship demonstrating the Bible’s inerrancy and traditional authorship.

I’ve watched the Anita effect influence society in negative ways. Once, I took my students from the Gay Student Club I helped create at Bloomsburg University back in the ‘80s to hear a highly publicized Campus Crusade for Christ anti-gay speaker. We had a stake in this game but were naive as to the effect it would have on all of us. The speaker used a new rhetorical trick to enhance his credibility; it was the unkindest cut of all. He knew his audience would already be on his side, but just to foil the opposition, us, he made a big deal about how all his facts were well supported by references and documentation. He had a three-page list of those references available for all to see if we needed proof. His speech was as evil as Anita’s book and included all sorts of “studies” proving his points. We asked to see his references at the end, but he had unfortunately (read conveniently) left them at home while on his speaking tour. Was there credence to what he said in the speech? Well, it didn’t matter since it had already been given.  There was nothing he could prove and nothing we could do but disagree. We didn’t bring our list of actual studies and scholarship either so nothing we said would have convinced the audience who came with preconceived opinions at the start. It was despicable and cowardly and dishonest and oh-so-typical of the alt-mindset theology: “a lie for God’s side is not a sin.”

Dueling Dual-Fact Nation 

Get used to a dual-fact society. It’s not going away anytime soon. The election of Trump legitimized alt-fact/alt-reality folks as coequal players in the world of political leadership. It all started back in the seventies with the Christian Evangelicals, the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. Those who undermine ‘reason’ have been stocking up an army of strength ever since. The Evangelicals have raised a generation through home schooling, Bible memorizing madrasas, religious Colleges and Creation Museums. They feel entitled to dominate because their triune god says so in the first chapter of its holy book.

With a full string of radical fanatics competing in the last Republican Primary it took the perfect storm of anti-science Christians, and alt-right bigots to put Trump over the top and into the Oval Office. The New American Order has removed civility and replaced it with what Hillary called deplorable, an adjective the right wore with pride.  On the left are the well educated, civil, open-minded, fair, but apparently arrogant and condescending, multi-racial, multi-gendered varieties of humanity. On the right are some stranger bedfellows: Christian Evangelical, alt-thinking, frightened, poor, uninsured whites, oddly coexisting subserviently with the wealthy 1% overlords. The right is a coalition of polar opposites.

We’ve created a new kind of class warfare: the reasoning class vs. the alt-thinking class. Most free thinkers understand a reasoning mind-set, while the Alt-Thinking crowd takes some exploration to suss out. We really need to understand them better. We should be the adults in this situation and make the effort to find a resolution. We can’t just say, ‘we’re here to help you poor deluded people’ because, you see, they tend to stick up for their version of the facts. They would say the same thing right back to us, so it’s a pointless approach.

We must find a way to accept the adherence to irrationality, and prejudice, then give it the respect it deserves. This shouldn’t be too hard since we do it every day: the Mormons get a planet when they die, Muslims get a slew of virgin wives when martyred, and Christians, well, they’re monotheists with three gods in one, somehow unlike Hindus with multiple gods. There’s Rastafari with their un-cut hair and use of ganja whom I enjoy. I mean the Rasta not the ganja of course, although once in a while… but you get the point. If we can muster the fortitude to deal with this sometimes fanatic array of ‘mystery’ then we should be able to cope with the alt-right’s alt-reality.

Perhaps a ‘bubble’ metaphor is needed: if we think of followers of these mystery-based belief systems and bigoted entities as living in a bubble we can visualize the situation better. In a group, say at church, they are encompassed by a big bubble. When apart from the group they wear a smaller version of the bubble around their head. The bubbles of each group are decorated with the appropriate imagery; for example Christians use the symbol of an ancient torture device that one-third of their god(s) didn’t really die on – the cross. Bigots use a differently shaped cross – the swastika. Now, there are some people who don’t wear bubbles at all – those without mystery-based ideologies or prejudice.

Non-Theists and rational free thinkers breath the air without the filter of a bubble. They are free from the distortions of the interfacing film of a bubble. Their air is fresh and every scent and sound and sight is clear and direct. Nothing intercedes with their perception. That individual is not bound to a dogma nor restricted to another’s code.

So, a typical gathering of people includes a variety of bubble-wearing people and a variety of non-bubbled folks too. We all seem to get along fairly well in the collaborative environment. Work situations like corporations or the service industry have the bubble people suppress enough of the distinctive elements of the bubble to prevent it from interfering with the task at hand. It needn’t be removed completely to work together. This is where the problem occurs in our current political crisis.

With Trump in charge the more marginal of the bubble people feel emboldened. They wear their distinctive elements with pride, and no longer feel the need to take the societal steps necessary to coexist collaboratively. One journalist observed a proliferation of anti-gay language and hateful attitudes in the smallish crowd at Trump’s inauguration. Hate crimes against Jews and others are on the rise nationwide.

I personally believe that truth is not an absolute thing.  There is, however, a zeitgeist of shared understanding amongst the collaborative members of society. It is the closest thing we have to comprehend “truth,” the working principles and facts of life and knowledge, if you will. This “truth” is a living abstraction that changes as life and knowledge expand and grow. Free Thinkers are comfortable in this abstraction as are those bubble-wearing people who work collaboratively.

The alt-right/alt-fact/alt-reality crowd has been actively working in opposition to this zeitgeist. They don’t intend to collaborate or even tolerate. They are Dominionist entitled to dominate because it says so in the first chapter of Genesis. Trump has been merely a convenient stooge who could gather a sudsy collection of off-beat bubble groups large enough to win power. Christians sold their soul to this devil in a faustian bargain, because they wanted power obsessively.

Evangelicals have had a long row to hoe to get here. I remember in the early eighties when they were giving their pious spokesmen elementary advice such as, ‘don’t wear white socks with black or brown dress shoes, it makes you look like a hick.’ They are still hicks in dress socks now, but their persistence paid off. Once that buffoon devil, Trump, is gone, Pence, who wears the bubble of Dominion Theology, will ascend and he will act accordingly.

Is there a way for truth and alt-truth to coexist? Dominion doesn’t mean collaborate, it means dominate. It is the ultimate example of the description: authoritarian. If they succeed we will see a restructuring of society in accordance with their interpretation of Biblical law, Christian sharia. They are as serious as a jihadist suicide bomber while we are still blinking our eyes, astonished, and going – WTF?

So, since we are trying to be the adult in the room while the opposition is fanatic about winning isn’t it our obligation to match or exceed their fanaticism? The other choice seems to be submit, since compromise and collaboration are not part of their vocabulary. It’s time for aggressive action from our offense. Do we have one?

Death Rituals and Religion

Reading Mano Singham’s discussion of fearing death the other day brought some thoughts on death rituals and religion to mind.

My perspective here comes from my youth, having lived in the upstairs apartment of my family’s fifth generation funeral home. It was directly across from the church we attended. The two facilities provided conflicting impressions of death. At home it was a daily reality that involved two parts: a thing – the lifeless body –  along with the humans who loved the living person. I consider the body an object because there were matter-of-fact tasks and duties associated with the body, while the living survivors were the major concern. They existed in the most stressful emotional state that one can experience. Every emotion we own is brought to bear in the experience of death. Funerals Directors attempt to formalize the details in harmonious conjunction with people who are in an emotional state where no one is ready to do so. The body is always respected, but the various religious rituals of the funeral service itself often show little regard for the living in spite of the intent. Religions take the reality of death and transform it into a fantasy story. Many people find comfort in that, but it is such a blatant distortion of nature as to insult others who are also grieving, as well an insult to the memory of the deceased.

In my old Presbyterian church, where emotions are more subdued, the fantasy of an afterlife dominated by a three-in-one god is proclaimed.  Just like a theatrical play, a willing suspension of disbelief is required to appreciate this manufactured delusion. The pretense of church with its dress clothes, politeness, shared fantasies, pretend holiness, and its goody-two-shoes ambiance seems artificial in contrast to authentic death. This comparison makes god seem contrived and gives all credence to nature. Death is real with genuine emotions. The most passion I have ever seen at church activities was the interfaith softball league games; now that was something people actually cheered for.

My bother-in-law’s brother died of AIDS/HIV. He wasn’t the least bit religious and he was gay in the small community where we lived. He had more than his share of tragedy in life. His large family accepted and supported him through it all, but when the time came they didn’t know what to do except call a preacher for the funeral. It’s what’s expected. The whole event became a farce as this stranger tried to say something he deemed appropriate. Every ‘Jesus this’ and ‘Jesus that’ brought us a sad ironic grimace that flashed anger. Many faces of those attending were expressing the thought: “This is wrong”. If it weren’t so painful it would have been laugh-out-loud funny.

The best funeral service I ever attended was for the above-mentioned brother-in-law, they seem to die young in that family. My sister planned it and conducted it, which surprised me given her husband’s sudden demise. There were hundreds of people there, My sister simply asked the crowd to come up and tell stories about her husband. One after another got up and told funny anecdotes and sad stories revealing our fondness for him. The laughter was intense and so were the tears. We left that event having achieved a catharsis that no religion-based service could possibly match. This is the service we should all wish to have.

His friends and family happened to be good storytellers and unabashed hams, so the technique may not work in all families. But, there was no pretense of a fairy-tale heaven or other spiritual concept. We loved him when he was here, and now we are sad he is gone – we shared that discussion and it was all we need do.

People in the throws of loss and its confusion go for the default option. Funeral = religious shaman is the pro-forma course of action. Death requires prayers. They are glad to have the ritual in the hands of a professional, but half way through they realize the pro’s ritual has its own purpose, it’s for something else – the default god – and not really the loved one. That priest only knows the deceased through a cursory description, so the rote service is sprinkled with impersonal ‘facts’ from a background document. The service intended to ‘honor’ an individual has no honor in its form or structure. The god of this event is false. It is fake religion and a cheap shot used to interject the big con into everyday life through everyday death. It takes advantage of the weakest at their most vulnerable.

I have a theory about religion and human emotions that shows those two things have little to do with one another. Certain emotions of the individual are not the concern of the church, to play on the first line of the Pope’s Exhortation on Love. Human emotions are something to be harnessed and controlled by the church. The church makes rules addressing emotions and assigns them moral value. Those who value certain emotions that the church doesn’t, are condemned. The Pope’s exhortation on love is a perfect example of legalistic language delineating those acceptable and non-acceptable emotions.

Why does it take a lawyer to write god’s rules for love? Well, if you think about it, a lawyer’s job is to strip out the emotion from a circumstance and create a precise code. The law that results has no human emotion and presumably thrives independent of emotion. It is the George Bush ‘either you are with us or you are against us’ perspective. Lawyers define ‘with us’ and ‘against us’. The Pope’s legalistic exhortation pretends that the church is an essential component of love as the first line says: “The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church” which means: without the Church and its lawyerly rules there is no love.

The Sorrow of Death experienced by families is also the sorrow of the Church. Do you suppose this would be a Pope-approve statement too? Think of the ramifications. The rules of love include heterosexual marriage and make a point of excluding same-sex love.  The legal interpretation excludes gay couples from the church. So, the sorrow of death in a gay family is not the sorrow of the church. Why hire a priest to lead the ceremony? Sure, he is likely to have sympathy for the sorrow of death, per se. But the rules of exclusion still apply. Technically, legalistically, that family is excluded from the exclusive club of Catholics.

I use the Catholics as an example but the same circumstance can be found for many reason in most religions. They are exclusive organizations thriving under the universal propaganda that religion is inclusive and good. That simply is not true. People dealing with death are just like little kids who are becoming old enough to realize Santa Clause isn’t real. They know the truth but they just don’t want it to be true. Hoping is much nicer than knowing! “We’d better play it safe, just in case He is real.”

Secular services are available; if people were more prepared for death they wouldn’t fear it as much and wouldn’t rely upon the default.

Guilt, Absolve – Rinse and Repeat

I don’t mind reading David Brook’s columns in the New York Times. I kind of like his format, he starts in the first two-thirds of the article providing context and background on his topic, with which I often agree. It’s the last third of his articles that makes me groan. He has a way of taking all that agreeable stuff then twisting it into something unrecognizable and conservative. Last week’s article,The Strange Persistence of Guilt  is based upon the assumption that secular society is in trouble due to a loss of influence by formal religions. He suggests they have the required proficiency to address this growing guilt glut. I don’t see the problem myself, but he says it is there.

If one accepts his premise: that massive volumes of guilt have no place to go because religions have a diminished role in society, then there is work to do.  We must repair the damage. I accuse guilt-inducing theologies – they manufacture the stuff faster than anyone. The two main functions of religion have always been to: 1. create an elite set of membership rules that exclude “others,” and 2. induce guilt through shaming those who don’t follow those rules (sin). Once a follower has been shamed sufficiently, the inducers of guilt offer absolution from the pain they’ve caused, often at a price. Religions spin this vicious cycle of guilt/absolution, but they don’t actually solve anything of substance. The thrill of sin, the guilt, then the joy of absolution become the ultimate cocktail of spiritual highs provided by that old dope peddler, religion. Sin, absolve, rinse and repeat – its almost orgasmic.

Sin is a stain, a weight and a debt. But at least religions offer people a path from self-reflection and confession to atonement and absolution.

David Brooks introduces the idea of sin and justifies religion (in the last third of his column) with the back-handed argument: “at least” they offer “absolution.” He also places self-reflection as the beginning point to achieve the endpoint of absolution. I would argue that self-reflection is both the beginning and the end point in a healthy secular mindset. Self-reflection requires an honest appraisal of the situation, make use of due diligence and research, deliberate the options with oneself and perhaps others, derive a conclusion, then stand by the conclusion with consistency. The key word in this is honesty. Without honesty the process does not have merit. Secular society expects its members to maintain their integrity.

The natural devolution of religion’s influence in our secular society will take time. Guilt exists as a problem because they have done an excellent job of magnifying its normal potency. The sin/absolution cycle is addictive, it should be kept away from the addicts.

Flat Iguana & The ICE-berg

The day after my first encounter with a boa constrictor I walked the dogs along our usual path. On the way back I noticed an iguana on the side of the road. I figured the dogs would scare it away but it just stood there, unmoving. I looked more closely as we passed and it didn’t move for me either. It was frozen into an action pose that looked like it would be taking the next step, its eyes were open, it just did not move. So we moved on.St_Thomas_Marriott_Iguana_8The next day the iguana was gone. On the way back we noticed the same iguana on the other side of the road frozen in the same pose as before. Which made me wonder: “Why did the iguana cross the road”? And more to the point, “How did the iguana cross the road”? I began to wonder whether the iguana was a stuffed animal since it hadn’t yet started to smell going on several days now. A closer look revealed desiccated eyes so I left it alone. A corpse is prone to bloating; a sudden release of said bloat would be unpleasant at best.

We kept walking by it daily; I eventually noticed it getting shorter and smellier. The dogs became quite interested the smellier it got. I maneuvered them to the other side of the road to avoid contact with the smell.  After some time it simply flattened out. One day it was out on the roadway itself, flatter even still, with a tire tread clearly embedded across it. Today it still has some odiferous qualities, but all that remains identifiable are the claws and the scales of its skin.

I am telling this tale because many of my assumptions about life and nature have come into question lately. For example, I’d expect any animal that dies under this hot sun to start stinking pretty quickly. In the states, roadkill swell up fast in the direct sun. Some things just don’t happen the way you’d expect, like President Trump.

How’s that for a transition?

I went from flat iguana to fiendish tyrant in short order. It’s sort of like that old Monty Python joke: “Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition,” and yet, there they are – a bunch of bumbling red-robed Cardinals.

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She’s on the “rack”

Well, if anyone is still reading this I would like to talk about icebergs now.

About 90% of an iceberg is under water and invisible to those of us observing from up top. If you are the type who wouldn’t expect an inquisition, then you certainly wouldn’t expect what’s under the visible iceberg. I suspect Trump is an iceberg, so we had better start expecting an inquisition. 0416_Eisberg_f6c161516e

How’s that for a mixed metaphor?

Let’s stop the bumbling Cardinals before their un-expected inquisition begins. Trump has activated ICE with great authority. This is from a Salon article by Heather Digby Parton:

Stories abound of people being rousted from their homes, and even shot, by ICE agents. People have committed suicide in detention centers. Kids are watching their parents dragged away in handcuffs, and women are withdrawing domestic abuse complaints for fear of being detained. In Los Angeles, reports of sexual assaults are down 25 percent from last year, which authorities attribute to victims being afraid to come forward. In Atlanta, African immigrants are being rounded up for deportation at much higher rates than in 2016.100203houston_lg

If that is what we can see of the ICE-berg, what is below the surface?

TrumpFace, the Musical

I’ve had the most unusual idea for a new musical. Well, it will seem like a musical for the first fifteen minutes or so until a sudden shift occurs. Things will turn scary and the audience will experience fear. They’ll be magically transported to potential future events with dire outcomes if something isn’t done to fix the problems, just like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. The second act demonstrates how to get things done.

By first getting the audience on my side with the musical introduction, frightening them with a sample of totalitarian violence, explaining the consequences of increasing xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, and hostility toward others, then finally giving them a plan for a solution through thoughtful civil disobedience, they ought to be motivated to do something themselves, not just laugh at clever, humorous, frivolity. I mean, John Stewart really helped me get through the Bush years, but we’re in a much deeper pile of crap this time and it will take action from everyday people to get out from under Trump’s authoritarian proclivities.

The play begins as if it is a Minstrel Show.

The star will be Doxie Trump; sort of like Roxie Hart from the musical Chicago. Doxie will be the Donald Trump character in our show, get it, Donnie – Doxie? Ostensibly, each song will be about one of Donald Trump’s biggly lies. The performers will all wear “TrumpFace” instead of black face and have orange and yellow wigs.

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Trumpified Minstrel

It’ll start out fairly simple: Mr. Bones Trump, playing dried up rib bones on stage right and Mr. Tambo Trump, on tambourine stage left with a collection of Trump’s wives and daughters sitting on a row of bentwood chairs playing banjos and so forth. Mr. Interlocutor will be just like the shyster lawyer from Chicago, Billy Flynn, but his name will be Vlady Flynn and look just like Putin in TrumpFace.  He tries to rap his song, but he doesn’t quite get it. His jokes are awful.

The second number introduces the Velma Kelly character of our production, but we’ll just call him Vannon. This will be the only character not wearing TrumpFace; he’ll appear just like the real Steve Bannon who kind of looks like an alcoholic version of Trump anyway. Every time someone says ‘Vannon’ there’ll be a funny kettle drum hit quickly raised in pitch to remind us of his droopy drawers approach to life. This just seems appropriate, kind of like the horses and Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein.

The third number will be just like the “Nowadays” number in Chicago with a Doxie and Vannon duet as they reminisce about the campaign. The song brings us up to the Inaugural Address. Before the speech begins we see the audience enter in their alt-right clothing, nazi tattoos, and red ball caps; a live mic picks up lines like, “ Finally, we can call ‘em fags again” and “fucking jews”.

Doxie gives a revised, Hitler-like version of Trump’s actual speech which leaves the theatre audience stunned and depressed. (Minstrels often had a malaprop filled “stump speech” bit in the third act.) The onstage audience of actors will gradually alter their clothing to become a uniformed “Springtime for Hitler” kind of high-kicking chorus line of Trump-faced Soldiers lined up down stage.

The on-stage lights will snap out while house lights come up revealing two soldiers at each theatre exit putting chains around the door handles. The real audience will start to get anxious. An elderly audience member attempts to go to the bathroom, but is knocked down by a guard. Everyone gasps! Is that part of the show? The onstage show stops, the lights become stark harsh white and the chorus stares at the audience while big shit-eating grins grow on their faces. They move up stage revealing Doxie, center stage. She takes off the wig, the TrumpFace and the Trump suit, revealing ‘him’ to be a black woman wearing blackface outlined with fluorescent colors. She comes forward to address the audience.

So, you think this is funny, don’t you? You are wrong. You’re trapped! [all the lights go out with a ‘ker-chunk’ type noise] You’re blind, [spot on Doxie’s head] and you have no choice but to listen to me! [as volume increases and her voice echoes harshly]. You paid to be here, you asked for it and now, you are not so sure what to do next. Am I right?

[Sarcastic] So, you thought humor would make Trump go away. Watch a little Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, or Samantha Bee and life becomes tolerable again. You’re pacified, you’re complacent and then you’re docile enough to go to work for one more day. [shouts] Well, that’s not going to happen here.

You. All of you, have just volunteered for the biggest challenge of ALL our lives. When you, and I, leave here, and, yes, you will leave here. [lights on guards removing chains] You will not be complacent or the least bit docile. You will be determined and you will be serious. You will have no need for pacification because you will commit yourself to the task at hand. You will be an active member of the Resistance. You will be the solution!

To drive home the stakes at play in this circumstance, the second part of act one will involve Doxie, the black-faced black woman, magically guiding the audience through dark and dramatic ‘future’ scenarios revealing Trump’s religious bigotry, anti-environment policies, and hostility. It will be like the audience is Scrooge and she is the ghost of things to come. The Tiny Tims of tomorrow will provoke the passions and anger of the audience.

Intermission allows time to process the weirdness of the first act. The second act brings us to our current reality where we constantly hear the rumor of unnecessary deportations, bigotry and religious exclusions. The scene will be a community center’s meeting room, It is filling up with folks from the neighborhood.  Doxie enters in regular street make-up this time, no longer the ghost of a scary future, but her clothes have hints of the fluorescent colors of her mask in act one. She’s a somewhat plain average person. She is the present day leader of this small group of neighbors. She has brought them together to solve the problem of Trump. This will be the first meeting of the local Resistance. The everyday folks who attend this meeting will work collaboratively to create a goal and build a plan of action. This act will be modeled somewhat on Clifford Odets’ play Waiting For Lefty where, at the end, the whole audience stands and chants: Strike, Strike, Strike” with fists raised in defiance! Except that, we’ll be shouting: Resist, Resist, Resist! The spirit of shared purpose and possibility will cause our spirits to soar!

(We would do a big splashy production number for a curtain call except that the audience will have moved too far beyond the artificial pretense of musicals. The entertainment is over; now it is time to do something.)


 

P.S. The Minstrel Show was the most vile, racist propaganda our country has ever experienced. The most horrible stereotypes were presented on stage. Many of those images remain today. Some performers continue to perpetrate the minstrel mentality, especially in the music business. At first, all the minstrel performers were whites in blackface. Black actors were eventually allowed on stage years later, but they still had to wear blackface. Think about the mental dissonance required to perform absurd parodies of your own culture while wearing a mask that ridicules your very own being! Doxie takes that mask and makes it something else by trimming it with fluorescent colors – she becomes a magical guide warning us of possibilities. Remember, she removes the minstrel mask of TrumpFace in order to guide us to the future. In act two she is a normal person, but she still carries with her the strength of her cultural  heritage and the knowledge that going back can never happen again. The metaphor of removing masks to allow our true selves to take action presents a powerful lesson in personal growth leading to communal strength.

Boa Constrictors

animals-94587_1280My dogs and I met our first Boa the other day. The encounter/attack was life-altering. Nobody died or anything, but meeting a 10+ foot snake 12 yards from the front door is a bit disconcerting to say the least. We met and caught a 4 footer the following week in the front yard, just under the bedroom window. Isn’t that nice? Well, we didn’t catch it, the fish and game commissioner who lives up the hill did. I just trapped it in the container where it was discovered sleeping. I wish I had some poignant metaphoric observation to make about all this, but it is still too fresh to me. I will have to give it time. Meanwhile, I’ll tell you what happened.

One of the many selling points that brought us to the island where we moved recently was that there are no naturally occurring snakes here. The snakes we met aren’t natural in that sense, they were brought here as pets and let loose when they got too big and now there are lots of them living quite naturally here in the rain forest part of the island.

So, word was out about snakes in the area. Our neighbor, the Fish & Game Commissioner, had caught about forty of them in the last year. He had already been doing an excellent job of keeping the invasive population of lionfish down along the coast, but now his focus was shifting towards these land based invaders.

So, I was keeping my eyes out as I walked our Basset Hound and Yellow Lab. They were on one leash with a ‘Y’ on the end because my hips couldn’t handle being twisted about by two 50 pound dogs pulling individual leashes in two directions at the same time. This way they pulled against each other and I was no longer their wishbone. This island is very third-world in many ways but my road is paved. No curbs or sidewalks, however, and the vegetation intrudes on the roadway rather quickly, so it gets chopped back by crews every so often.

We were walking by an area of 18 inch tall grass when the dogs started tripping over one another. I looked down at them and saw the beautiful large head of a snake! So, I yanked on the leash causing the Lab’s chin to come crashing down on the snake’s forehead. This startled me more, so I pulled both dogs out of the way and looked back at the snake.  I stared at him, mesmerized, waiting for the snake to tell me what to do next. He looked as if he were deep in thought while he regarded me warily. He did not look as if he were going to pursue. The three of us were still very close to the alluring attacker, so I broke my gaze and moved the dogs to the other side of the street. I turned and saw that he continued to gaze at me. I slowly stepped closer to see how big he was since most of his body was still folded in the grass. We examined one another for a few moments more, then he slowly, and confidently, turned and retreated into the grass.

The boa and I seemed to have a rapport with one another during our brief encounter. It was very primal. It was the regard of a predator to its meal: consumer to the consumed, bully to his target. I trusted the snake not to attack me, he sensed I was not going to attack him, we could see our intent in one another’s eyes. I assume he was waiting in the grass for some rat or mongoose to happen along when a basset foot showed up and he sprung. He must have pulled in his teeth when he saw more than the dumpy basset’s foot strapped to a taller yellow creature attached to 5’-8” human. His tiny brain couldn’t calculate the mass of the potential meal in front of him.  Nor could he figure how to wrap himself around all three of us to squeeze our lives away. 4beef17e8527de224e65017c86778190He had the affect of an old-time accountant wearing a vest and green visor pulling the handle on an adding machine tallying up his options.

The colors on his head and back were astounding. I was in awe of the color. Young people use the word awesome for anything that is novel to them, but the emotion of awe  in its true meaning modestly describes my attraction to the beauty of his skin. I barely noticed how much body was curled up in that pile of snake. There were some angular protrusions along his flank that may have been still-digesting dinners of the past. I am glad none of us were among them.

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What’s Inside?

So, as residents of the rainforest we have certain other critters to contend with, one of them being rats. These fellows are actually kind of nice, not like their cousins I’ve encountered in downtown Detroit and Boston. They are still destructive however, so we have a service put poison out in little black plastic containers with holes for the rats to enter and exit. During the day these boxes become quite warm in the sun. Snakes like warmth and will sleep in them during the day. The young man who services them didn’t expect to be touching a boa constrictor when he reached inside. He screamed like a school kid at three o’clock on a Friday. That snake was gone by the time the commissioner arrived, so he showed me how to trap it next time. We caught him two days later. This one was four feet long and not nearly as friendly as the other one. Of course, we had just woken him from his nap and grabbed him by the throat and squeezed his jaws open to look at his multiple rows of hooked teeth. That would make me cranky too. He spent the rest of his life in a backpack. Rules say wait five days to dispatch these guys and a backpack is secure enough (snakes don’t get how zippers work apparently) and easy to carry.  Although, as of late, he seems to need more backpacks.

So, how has my life been altered? Well, I carry a big stick on dog walks. My husband wants me to carry a machete which he has recently sharpened, but I’m pretty confident the dogs or myself would be the targets of my blade wielding ineptitude; it’s hard enough using the damned thing to harvest a bunch of bananas without the loss of a thumb. The main change in my life, though, comes from having looked directly into the eyes of a predator and being considered, briefly, lunch. I, for a moment, shared a rapport with an eating machine. He considered eating me and since I showed no aggression he felt he might have a chance. He chose not to, possibly due to the bumbling dogs at the end of my leash, or my extra-large belly; who can say? Neither of us showed the other fear. Now, I just hope he goes home and tells all the other snakes how fearless I am and to leave me and my dogs alone. I’m not sure I could go through that again.

Yell Well

This is about an ex-Presidential Candidate who is proud of his Yell Leadership. I have to confess that I don’t know what that is, so why am I talking about it? Well, yelling apparently gives a person the credentials to complain about Student Government Elections in Texas. Neither being that State’s ex-Governor nor Secretary of Energy are essential criteria, but yelling is. I’m going to have to look this up.

So, according to this YouTube video, and a few subsequent videos, Yell Leaders exist at Texas A&M University to replace female cheerleaders, but they don’t like to be called cheerleaders because of its feminine connotations. These macho men have big muscles and are manly. The primary benefit of being elected to this prestigious position is that you get to date a lot of girls. Someone says so in the videos. Anyone who does this non-feminine version of cheerleading is well known on campus and gets lots of dates. They are usually quite good-looking guys and muscular from doing pushups.

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Not Feminine

Got that? As elected yellers these handsome fellers have some kind of pull with University dwellers for many years after they graduate. Rick Perry the yeller mentioned above decided to use the bully pulpit of ex-yeller to get an editorial published in a Texas newspaper complaining about a recent Student Government election here and here, his other titles may have helped some too.  As a yeller he is already hyper-sensitive to being thought of as a cheerleader (girly) so when a gay man got elected as President of Student Government at his alma-mater he did what any like-minded republican, masculine cheerleader type would do and turned the gay student into a national, modern-day, LGBT version of Rosa Parks. (They can’t help themselves!)

There are a few other details to mention. Bobby Brooks, the new president (and inadvertent gay rights icon of the month), just like Trump, did not win the popular vote. The student who did was disqualified by a unanimous vote of the SGA leaders who make these decisions. The student who was disqualified is the son of a Republican fundraiser who campaigned for Trump. Gee, maybe the highly placed federal Cabinet Secretary was doing a political favor? I doubt that, this fits in with Trump’s anti-gay agenda more than simply fulfilling a campaign debt, but it did kill two birds with one stone.

So, Trump and Perry put their feet in their mouths again. The Department of Energy got hijacked by a local student government non-issue. And Bobby Brooks’ political career just got the biggest boost possible. Your tax dollars at work!

Feeling Daffy Duck-ish

The animator’s pencil comes into the frame, eraser first, as it starts to remove the black and yellow duck known as Daffy from the screen. The duck continues a conversation with the unseen animator complaining about being erased. It’s a surreal, existentialist cartoon from Warner Brothers that plays with the conventions of the dramatic art of cartooning.

To enjoy a cartoon, you, the audience, must first accept the illusion of reality as presented in the animator’s product. Once you realize the conventions of the illusion: bright colors, stylized scenery, animation, funny voices, sound effects etc. you can choose to go along with it or not. The natural inclination is to disbelieve things that are so blatantly artificial, so you must temporarily suspend your disbelief to give the artist the opportunity to present his art. Duck Amuck, pokes fun at the cartoonist’s own rules through a number of techniques calling into question what reality is, and other existential dilemmas. The image of a god-like pencil and unseen power controlling it could be frightening in another circumstance.

I’m feeling a little Daffy Duck-ish today, speaking of other circumstances. The omni-twitter-present power controlling our government’s pencil is erasing me. After fighting my whole lifetime for the opportunity to be recognized in society and especially by the government, Trump is erasing me from the picture. I know it’s not personal, he is erasing a whole category of which I am apart. I am old, gay, disabled, and I have no children. This category of individual is being erased from the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants (NSOAAP). The love that dare not speak its name from my youth is being told to shut up again. Well, not exactly told so much as the questions about us have disappeared from the questionnaire. We won’t statistically exist any longer. Poof, gone!

We know it is a planned effort on the part of the administration for a number of reasons:

  1. They are doing the same thing on the Annual Program Performance Report for Centers for Independent Living which evaluates services that help people with disabilities to live independently. No statistics specific to the gay population will be collected this time.
  2. They lied about the changes made in the surveys. The Administration for Community Living (ACL) oversees the surveys.  They give a new reason for the dismissal of questions while contradictory statements about these issues remain on their own website. They describe the current questionnaire as not being any different from the last one.
  3. “An anonymous administration official confirmed to the AP that the agency targeted LGBT questions in the surveys” according to Zach Ford’s post in Think Progress yesterday.
  4. The LGBT rights web page disappeared from the WhiteHouse site on Trump’s inauguration day.
  5. A HUD survey on LGBT homeless was dropped completely. No data there!
  6. And of course, all the pull back on transgender issues in education and in North Carolina.
  7. This is a continuation of the homogenization of our culture. I have mentioned it before. No attempts to recognize diversity are being made. We are all the same – worker bees. Our distinctive characteristics are diminished while our commonality is reinforced.  There is no point in recognizing any sub-group because Trump, really doesn’t want any identity to define Americans other than American. Ignore the “Special Interest” to remove its power as a sub-group. He spelled this out in his inaugural address.

Those of us of a certain age are quite familiar with a closet. We know it when we see it. This is the database version of the closet. If there is nothing to find in the database then it doesn’t exist. If the questions aren’t asked in the research then there is no data to report. When there is no search information to find, the query provides no answer, so a default answer is applied. Our society is so reliant upon searchable data that even our religious institutions have trouble relating to the humanity of their belief system. Take, for example, the Pope’s recent Apostolic Exhortation on love, it is designed to fit into a database. Lawyers must have written it given the legalistic nature of statements defining the rules of Catholic love. It is a forceful anti-LGBT document dressed up in the flowery language of condescension.

There are clear edges on each rule starting with the first sentence. “The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.” This says what they mean it to say, but further explanation of the fine points is necessary. It’s a declaration that the church and the family are inseparable, making love impossible without the church and its database of rules. There can be no love in a family unless it follows the rules in his book. My reaction to this is one of eww yuck – I don’t want the church in bed with me. I envision a creepy priest peeking under the covers of each bed while the family is asleep.  The Exhortation is a long list of rules that fit in the database and become absolute criteria for love to exist. I was never a Catholic, but once I had read this manual for love I was appalled at the audacity of those pompous men in robes for demanding this from human beings. I’ve never read anything so pretentiously cruel. You see, a database has no way to turn emotion into data. The church disregards, denies or ignores the feelings of the humans it overlords.

Trump is formulating his own exhortation on being a subject under his rule. His first criteria is that every commoner will be regarded in the same way unless they are rich. Money is the deciding factor in whether distinctiveness shall be noticed. Are the rules for belonging to Mara Lago that different in their exclusivity than the Pope’s Exhortation? In the Pope’s realm the excluded masses go to hell; in Trump’s realm the excluded masses become the homogenous 99% citizens of America. The only distinction that matters has already been made. No need to gather the data of distinction.

So, the end of Duck Amuck reveals the unseen hand of God controlling the eraser to be Bugs Bunny. Who knew Bugs, the Pope and Trump have so much in common? The final line in the cartoon is Bugs’: “Ain’t I a stinker?” The answer is three times yes.

Thats all folks!trio

Still willing to suspend your disbelief?