Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Send Out the Clowns -- the GOP VP pick

Send Out the Clowns

The circus train chugs off into oblivion, its clown car stuffed with one-hit-wonders morosely studying the bills they’ve racked up in town.  The tent – which turned out to be very small indeed – has been folded and packed; the concession stands remain, forlorn and abandoned, a few raggedy sweater vests and moldy pizza slices and copies of Ellis the Elephant left on their shelves, hoping for a stray purchaser.  Yes, some folks wander through the dismantled circus looking for any remnant of the hilarious entertainment they had enjoyed.  All they see is a confused man, still sporting clown makeup, staring at a ringmaster’s top hat, as if wondering whether to substitute it for his dusty red fright wig.

The Republican Primary season is over. 

Gone are fractious debates during which audience members sit on whoopee cushions, pooting out inappropriate boos and yelps.  Gone are outrageous charges and ridiculous claims delivered with gotcha joy buzzers.  Gone are super-sized gaffes begging for a cream-pie-in-the-kisser response.  Gone are medieval chastity dumb-shows accompanied by suggestively squirting flowers.

Gone are Texas cowboy-clowns, 9-9-9 (turn it upside down!  Hah!) clowns, non-blinking Palin-wanna-be clowns, tycoons-who–look-like-sunburned-badgers clowns, Mandarin-speaking ‘I-can’t-believe-I’m-associating-with-these-people’ clowns, and sex-obsessed angry zealot clowns.  Also gone are balloon-headed moon-suited clowns and isolationist gold-standard clowns, although they dream of a Tampa Big Top where they could still wow the crowd. Yowza!

The circus has departed.  We’re left with Mitt Romney.  And he’s left covered with stale sawdust and greasepaint.  On the one hand, he’s got a lot of cleanup ahead of him.  On the other hand, the more he cleans up, the less fun it is for the circus’s patrons, who’ve grown accustomed to being greatly amused by this year’s epic Republican Side Show. 

Is there no hope?  Will Punchinello morph back into Mr. Roboto, draining all the merriment from the upcoming Presidential campaign? 

Don’t despair, circus fans.  There’s still:  the Vice Presidential Pick!  

Think of the wondrous possibilities.  Any of the previous contenders could be chosen:  they’re all crazy, and they’re all liable to go off-script, big time, ad-libbing their way to uproarious disaster for the ticket, their clown-shoe-sized egos making it impossible for them to be useful team players.  Not to mention that the fastidious presumptive presidential candidate would rather face a major IRS audit than be in the same room with any of them.

Another possibility is a ‘safe’ vice presidential pick.  Rob Portman, who presided over the Bush II economic disaster? Mitch Daniels, whose charisma quotient beats the pre-Christmas-Future Ebenezer Scrooge’s (and who has some odd family ghosts in his closet)?  Tim Pawlenty, who’s so spineless he cried uncle up before it became evident that ANY REPUBLICAN could be front-runner-for-a-day?  

This would be like entering a funhouse in which all the mirrors were . . . just . . . mirrors.  Funny in a lukewarm postmodern sort of way.

Then there’re the ‘semi-safes.’  Paul Ryan, a double-down on the Mephistophelian budget he wrote and Romney embraces.  Chris Christie, the escapee from a Sopranos episode who would upstage Romney at every turn.  Marco Rubio, a bilingual Dan Quayle who might also upstage Romney.  Bob McDonnell, aka Governor Vaginal Probe.  Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire’s own enhanced interrogation technique enthusiast.

There’s yet a final possibility, one that promises to delight circus fans.  It’s ‘going rogue’ – picking a vice presidential candidate who’s off the radar and out to lunch.  It worked out so well in 2008; why not try it again?  Bowl me over with naughty librarian glasses:  Sarah Palin’s been the most outspoken advocate of this approach. 

Her suggestion?  One backed by not-my-time-yet-and-my-state-hates-me South Carolina governor Nikki Haley?  And by the Hermanator?  And by the irrepressible I’ll-say-anything-to-sell-my-books-and-tapes ‘big thinker,’ Newt Gingrich? 

The Tea-Party darling, the caller-out-of-card-carrying-commies-in-Congress, the believer that Joseph Goebbels “would be very proud of the Democrats,” one of the truly irresponsible, not to mention insane, members of the House of Representatives . . .  ALLEN WEST.  What a treasure he would be on a national ticket.  Summa cum laude from Clown College!

I fear Allen West will not be chosen. Romney has a buttoned-up earnestness that blinds him to the exhilaratingly absurd dimensions of the primary he’s been a successful part of.  If I had to bet today (and I am a betting woman), I’d put my money on Marco Rubio for Romney’s VP.  (With a side bet on Rob Portman.)

Ho.  Hum.  Let’s check Rubio’s boxes.

‘Latino’ (whatever that means – Romney does not seem to understand that ‘Latino’ encompasses many culturally, economically, and politically disparate groups). Swing State’ (true enough, but the fact that Rubio has lied about the circumstances surrounding his family’s emigration to the United States, reshaping a nice-enough let’s-try-for-better-opportunity-story into a fallacious let’s-escape-an-evil-Communist-dictator story may come back to bite one’s campaigning butt).  ‘ Tea-Party Favorite’  (evidently, but the Tea Party’s cachet is much less piquant than it was two years ago). 

Checked all the boxes?  Absolutemente!

The best hope for a clown show, in this scenario, is that the ringmeister might be so satisfied with his VP choice that he/his campaign (presuming Romney drags in some real professionals) ignores Rubio once he’s tapped as running mate. That could set the stage for some real comedy.  Rubio certainly has some significant political skills – but they’ve been demonstrated in the only state where Cuban-Americans have considerable sway – he’s very young – and he doesn’t come across as dazzlingly bright.  Left to his own devices, Rubio might become an SNL favorite as he tries to toe a party line strewn with banana peels.

I can foresee all sorts of risible bladder-bops about immigration (Rubio has been a bit more progressive about matters such as the Dream Act than has the newly self-deportation and electrified-fence-committed Romney) and religion (Rubio was a Mormon before he converted to Roman Catholicism . . . I don’t think I need to tease out the possible fun oddities of these faith convergences and divergences).  Further, Rubio has had mortgage and student loan payment problems, which play nicely with a campaign emphasizing fiscal responsibility.

Whoever is ultimately the Republican Vice Presidential choice, s/he (‘s/he’ reminds us of the always awesome hope that Palin might be chosen – AGAIN) has an inspiring potential for infinite amusement.

Send out the clowns?  Send them back in!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

False Equivalence

False Equivalence

At the NRA convention a couple of days ago, washed-up rocker and certifiably bat-shit-crazy-person Ted Nugent launched the mother of all tirades against everything to do with Barack Obama.  For example:  his head should be chopped off.  For example:  if the President is reelected, Nugent will “end up dead or in jail” (a not-so-subtle suggestion that Nugent himself will attempt to do the beheading honors).  Nugent, by the way, is on the NRA’s Board of Directors.  He’s also a hunting buddy of Mike Huckabee and a loud supporter of Mitt Romney.

Asked later about his screed, Nugent was not exactly contrite.  “When I do God’s work so beautifully like I do, the devils go berserk,” he explained.  For good measure, he labeled Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz a “brain-dead . . . soul-less, heartless idiot” and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi a “sub-human scoundrel” because these "varmints" had dared to criticize him.

Democrats have indeed condemned Nugent’s bloodthirsty rant, but the response has been rather muted, all things considered.  Perhaps that’s because Nugent’s almost unbelievable outrageousness leaves one speechless – or because one hesitates to dignify his ranting by giving it more attention.  The Secret Service is giving Nugent more attention, however, because it’s a federal crime to make threats against the President.  (When they’re not busy squabbling about hooker prices in Colombia, Secret Service agents have a sworn duty to investigate such threats. I really hope they do so with the seriousness they would bring to the task if the threatener were a non-semi-celebrity.)

Republicans have said virtually nothing.  Through a spokesperson, Mitt Romney – who was so eager to have Nugent’s endorsement that he promised the Motor City Madman to never, ever enact new gun laws – finally issued what might be the world’s most lily-livered disavowal, one that didn’t mention Nugent by name and tut-tutted over uncivil discourse on both sides.


The implication here is that Democratic pundit Hilary Rosen’s inept observation – that Ann Romney’s stay-at-home-motherhood is not ‘work’ in a way that a salaried job is ‘work’ – is an outrage on the same order of magnitude as Nugent’s vitriolic ravings.  This is a textbook example of what seems to be this year’s most popular logical fallacy:  False Equivalence.

False equivalence resembles random metonymy gone rogue – if things share one or two similarities despite crucial factual differences, they can be classified and compared as parts of the same group, setting the stage for fallacious, ludicrous, even dangerous conclusions.  For instance

 Why are these men equivalent?  Because they’re both good orators and have mustaches.

Of course, this conclusion is both ridiculous and offensive.  But so is what’s happening in political discourse these days.  People who should know better bestow an entirely baseless moral equivalence on, say, an ill-advised comment that is basically a simple statement of fact and venomous, violence-advocating hate speech.  Justification?  Both Rosen and Nugent talk about politics, and both said something that upset some people (although this last point of commonality is fairly bogus, because even Ann Romney has admitted that she was ‘delighted’ by Rosen’s remark, evidently because it could be ginned up into a foundationless charge that Democrats do not respect the work mothers do).

Reliance on false equivalence goes beyond politicians.  It permeates political news reporting.  Even otherwise perspicacious journalists add an obligatory ‘on both sides’ or ‘the other party does it too’ when discussing an egregious statement or action by a politician or a party or its supporters.  They do this even when the equivalence is patently baseless. It’s as if, in fear of seeming ‘biased,’ everyone is emulating the almost parodic ‘Fair and Balanced’ routine perfected by Fox News, where a token – and often muffled, drowned out, or ridiculed – voice for ‘the other side’ pretends to constitute impartiality.

Ah, the whole thing makes me tired.  Sometimes it feels as if political discourse this year, after it’s been pounded into indistinguishable mush through false equivalence, does nothing but echo the immortal dialogue between Pee-Wee and Francis:

‘I know you are, but what am I?’
‘I know you are, but what am !?’
‘I know you are, but what am I?’

Listen to too much of this sort of politico-speak and your mind starts to play tricks on you . . . It’s like you’re unraveling a big cable-knit sweater that someone keeps knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting . . .

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Little Rocket That Couldn't

The Little Rocket That Couldn’t

Actually, it wasn’t little enough.  The rocket that North Korea attempted to launch last week had the size to lob a nuclear payload as far as North America – a much larger size than would be necessary for its ostensible cargo, a weather satellite.  Thus the preemptory hand-wringing and threats by the United States, South Korea, Japan, and other allies. 

As with many issues involving North Korea, the rationale behind the launch is baffling.  North Korea had just signed an agreement with the U.S., trading nuclear weapons scale-backs and monitoring permissions for food to feed its chronically hungry people (among whom are the military, even though they’re at the head of the food chain).  There’s a new Super-Duper Leader – Kim Jong Un, son and grandson of the previous Super-Duper Leaders – who might serve as an excuse to nudge his country into the outermost ring of global citizenship. 

But no.  Full speed ahead with the Unha-3!  And more, let’s make it a national extravaganza!  Serendipity – it can coincide with the centennial of Kim Il Sung’s birth, the prolonged mourning of Kim Jong Il’s death, and the ascension of Kim Jong Un!  The launch could be the capstone of a nation-wide party, complete with athletic contests and symphonies! And let’s invite international journalists!

The festivities happened; a successful launch didn’t.  Within a minute or so of lift-off, Unha-3 broke apart and tumbled into the Yellow Sea.

As I draft this entry (a few days before I’ll post it), there’s yet no response from North Korea.  Basically, its government is doing the ‘Who Me’? – ignoring the issue altogether (it finally released a statement, for domestic consumption, that the weather satellite did not achieve successful orbit – it spared the citizenry the humiliating details).  The United States government is doing the ‘Duh’ – saying not much because it hasn’t come to a consensus about what the whole episode signifies.

From the U.S. standpoint:
* The fact that the rocket failed is a good thing because North Korea has not yet shown the ability to fling nukes at Palo Alto.
* The fact that the rocket failed changes nothing, as it shows (once more) that North Korea is not a ‘rational actor’ when it comes to international agreements.
* The fact that the rocket failed makes it more likely that North Korea will soon set off an underground bomb, just to show that it’s still got nuclear chops.  Thus:
* The fact that the launch occurred when the technology evidently was still shaky suggests that North Korea had a motive other than showing it could bomb far-away targets – such as selling its nuclear technology on the black and gray markets (a goal undermined by the rocket’s failure, one would think) or simply giving the finger to its perceived enemies.
* The fact that the launch happened when North Korea’s semi-ally Iran is under major pressure about its own nuclear program could signify an odd type of solidarity display – or an equally odd attempt at fraternal one-upsmanship.
* The fact that the launch was designed to be the lynchpin of a countrywide patriotic festival suggests that the real powers-that-be felt impelled to shore up the obscure grandson’s legitimacy.

From the North Korean standpoint:
  * Who in the hell knows?

We do know that the hoopla surrounding the fiasco included truly awesome displays of orchestrated pink pom-poms in Pyongyang’s public squares, which may be reason enough for almost anything.  Although it must be said that the recent public lamentations for the dead Dear Leader are hard to beat.  (Nomenclature alert:  the first Kim was the Great Leader; the second Kim was the Dear Leader; the third Kim has yet to be gifted with a permanent affectionate sobriquet.  “Brilliant Comrade,” “Dear Young General,” and “Great Successor” have been tested, without apparent success.)  And then there’s the unveiling of gargantuan bronze statues of the departed dynastic heroes, snazzy examples of the oversized totalitarian sculptural art that is becoming less and less common in today’s political aesthetics.  (Unfortunately, the Dear Leader is not wearing his signature Ralph Kramden bus-driver jacket.) A swell video of the unveiling, including the pom-poms and mass wreath laying, is available at the unintentionally hilarious official Korean Central News Agency site: www.kcna.kp/ goHome.do?lang=eng 

Despite Republican snipes about how whatever the U.S. has done or may do re North Korea exposes the pitifully na├»ve state of the current President’s foreign policy, this administration’s stance does not differ much from the former administration’s stance.  One reason, I suspect, is pressure from important East Asian allies (South Korea, Japan, maybe also Taiwan and the Philippines) who actually are in the clunky North Korean ICBMs’ line of fire.  Another reason may be our complicated relationship with China.

China is North Korea’s biggest (and maybe only significant) supporter.  At one time, the reasons were largely ideological, but now they appear to be largely practical.  The collapse of North Korea would mean a huge influx of refugees into Northern China, which that country neither wants nor can afford (refugee influx is also one of South Korea’s major concerns).  It’s in China’s economic interest to keep North Korea a (barely functioning) sovereign state. 

And it’s in the United States’ interest to keep relationships with China functional.  China needs to signal (and maybe it already has, through non-publicized diplomatic channels) how big a stink it can handle about North Korea’s weapons programs.  And for that matter, about the Hermit Kingdom’s weapons and weapons-related-technology sales in general.  China is a very big country and has its own far-flung pockets of resistance, some of which have been linked to whatever remains of Al Qaeda. It doesn’t want militant Islamic separatists in Xinjiang, for example, to have North-Korean-made nuclear weapons, no matter how rudimentary those weapons may be.

The same could be said for Russia.  Its far-eastern regions are within striking distance of even the most lethargically SCUD-like North Korean missiles; more important are militantly dissident areas like Chechnya, which certainly are likely markets for black market nuclear technology and materials.  So the United States and its allies might have common interests with Russia and China regarding North Korea. 

Pursuing these interests may also help with a more immediate problem (for the U.S.), which is the specter of a nuclear Iran.  At the moment, Russia and China are not being particularly helpful in this regard (helpful to nations that see a nuked-up Iran as a real threat – economic, political, territorial).  North Korea’s predictably episodic nuclear belligerence, brought front and center by the launch of Unha-3, may work as a mutual-interest preliminary talking point that could lead to some sort of deal regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

So missiles fall into the sea.  Diplomatic relationships are on hold or on the QT.  Pink pom-poms do the wave.  Effigies bigger than Thanksgiving Parade balloons materialize.  Who knows, at this point, what the little rocket that couldn’t has accomplished?


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Trayvon Martin Case: Best Outcomes

The Trayvon Martin Case:
Best Outcomes

Few sentient U.S. citizens are currently unaware of the Trayvon Martin case.  It’s been 24/7 news-fodder-of-choice for almost two months.  An avalanche of speculation, leaks, outrage, and counter-outrage has choked not only assessment of facts surrounding the event but also some of the deeper issues this very sad incident reveals.

Not all of the deeper issues, certainly.  The case (it’s not technically a case at this point, as no charges yet have been filed) pries the precariously fastened lid off our country’s sub-rosa racism.  Self-styled neighborhood watchperson shoots an unarmed black teenager because said teenager is . . . climbing over a fence (taking a common shortcut to the housing complex where he’s visiting his father)?  Being ‘suspicious’ because he’s nervous about some unknown adult following him?  ‘Standing His Ground’ by throwing a punch at a menacing stalker?  Wearing a hoodie?  Being African American?  Carrying Skittles that might be micro-grenades and napalm masquerading as iced tea?

Who wouldn’t connect what followed to racial profiling, to fears of being arrested (or worse) for D[W]WB?  There are way too many instances of police and judicial overreaction (or worse) to dismiss what happened to Trayvon Martin as an isolated instance.  As part of this dangerous undercurrent, we can also consider the continuous radical demonization (or worse) of Barack Obama.

At this point, maybe the best thing for most of us is to watch what happens (and whatever that may be, it appears that nothing whatsoever would have happened if the public hadn’t become mobilized quickly, thanks largely to media-savvy activists).  If George Zimmerman finally is arrested, and is charged for manslaughter at the very least, almost everyone hopes that the facts of this case will be revealed and justice will be served, in a fair trial (rather than a trial-by media or a non-trial-by-sloppy-or-biased police work).  This would be the first good outcome.  [Note:  I wrote this entry this past weekend; two hours ago, the Special Prosecutor announced that Zimmerman will be charged, with details coming in a press conference at 6:00p.m.  Thus, half of the first good outcome seems to have happened.]

But that’s not all a trial might do.  Zimmerman’s defense will likely be based, in part, on Florida’s ‘Stand-Your-Ground’ law.  Already, the horror of a seemingly innocent young man’s death has drawn needed attention to this statute – and to the fact that Florida’s law was just the first salvo in a fusillade of similar laws recently enacted by states with newly elected Republican legislators and governors.  Gracias, Jeb Bush, for being the first governor to sign on the dotted line.

This, to me, is the second good outcome.  For reasons I can’t easily fathom (and the fact that I can’t – because I [and I’m presuming most people] didn’t know such laws existed, even in my state, until a month ago – is telling), these ‘stealth laws’ have been passed all over the country with little dissent.  Now their legal murkiness and scary presumptions are coming to light.  We hear increasing calls for review, even repeal, of these laws – laws that skate on or over the edge of sanctioning vigilante justice and, in any deadly confrontation, of giving an overwhelming presumption of innocence to the killer. 

Our legal system does indeed grant a presumption of innocence to an accused. But it hasn’t heretofore granted such presumption to someone involved in a deadly altercation BEFORE official investigations commence and/or an indictment is secured.   Or giving such presumption the weight to bar official investigations altogether.

Which brings up the third good outcome.  The tumult around this killing has roused actual journalists to investigate the forces behind these ‘Stand-Your-Ground’ laws.  These forces seem to be fruits of an orchestrated campaign by ‘ALEC’ (American Legislative Exchang Council), an heretofore under-the-radar conglomeration of interest groups purportedly dedicated to promoting business/legislative cooperation.  And if you believe that’s all it is, I’ve got a few crumbling infrastructure bridges to sell.

ALEC promotes lots of swell initiatives, including voter suppression laws (sorry, that’s how I can’t help but characterize ‘voter identification’ laws), plus anti-union, anti-immigration, and expanded concealed-carry laws.  ALEC actually writes draft versions of such proposed laws. Its present allies include infamous Republican Governors like Scott Walker (Wisconsin) and Rick Scott (Florida), not to mention newly elected Tea Party state legislators who have no earthly idea about how to draft legislation (because who needs legislation when government itself is the enemy?). For those interested, a comprehensive site that includes all the draft bills, plus a lot more, is: http://alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed  And all you need to do is google ALEC and you’ll find tons of information about this organization, most of it gathered quite recently.

What’s not always clear from a solid Google search re ALEC is its supporters. So have some paranoid guessing fun: what group appears to be a major propulsive force behind ALEC?

The National Rifle Association. 

Blow me over with an AK-47.  Who would have thought that the NRA would be trying to orchestrate nation-wide campaigns to increase our country’s already insatiable appetite for guns and to deep-six issues that might be championed by people who might also want to reconsider our most permissive gun regulations?

(Full disclosure:  The NRA is not ALEC’s only backer.  So are the Koch brothers and remnants of the old ‘Moral Majority.’ So, perplexingly, has been the Gates Foundation, which has subsequently withdrawn its support.)

Evidently, some corporations who supported ALEC didn’t realize what they were allying themselves with.  As of today, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Intuit, Kraft, and McDonald’s – mega-major corporate ‘partners’ – have disassociated themselves from ALEC.  Might this be the start of the exposure (and dismantling) of ALEC, which in my opinion would be a good outcome indeed?

Looking at even more distant ripples from the initial event:  could there be a fourth good outcome?  That United States politicians might shake off the fear-and-vote-induced sleepy seed of NRA retribution . . . and reconsider legislation about guns? 

Yes, we have an historically embedded 2nd amendment, forged in the crucible of the Revolutionary War.  Our founding documents also sanctioned slavery and second-class citizenship for women. 

Things change.  So should we. 

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are brilliant, prescient documents, but they are nonetheless products of their times.  Our time is different.  As far as gun rights are concerned, I have never, ever, ever understood how the Second Amendment authorizes people to carry concealed weapons.  Or semi-automatic guns.  Or anti-aircraft shoulder-held missiles.  Or pocket nuclear bombs.

The Second Amendment’s purpose, as far as I remember from Constitutional Law courses, was to enable a citizen militia to defend itself and its community from possible colonial aggression (and, by inverted extension, to defend itself against Indian attacks). And in practical terms, to help far-flung settlers protect themselves and their families from wild animals and wild mauraders in days before 911.   No-holds-barred self-defense against merely ‘suspicious’ neighbors or potentially ‘threatenging’ situations wasn’t the issue (particularly when social ostracism or a punch to the kisser would suffice). Having the ‘right’ to possess infinite numbers of infinite types of lethal weapons wasn’t either.  Somehow, the NRA has convinced many of us to the contrary. 

Which circles back to the fifth possible good outcome of the Trayvon Martin case. Local, regional, even national reportage may be resuscitating itself.  It seems to me that the seriously troubling facts (front and center among which is the NRA’s involvement in ALEC and its legislative program), the ensuing public outcry, and the sobering legislative and lobbying back stories re Trayvon Martin’s death, already have galvanized investigative reporters. They continue trying to bring actual facts to the public’s attention – and exposing connections among previously obscured interests.  In so doing, they’re making a stand for the importance of what they do, rather than going quietly into that not-so-good night of newspaper/news magazine irrelevance, bureau shutdowns, and blogosphere irresponsibility.  In addition, new investigative consortiums, such as ‘Color of Change,’ are trying to expose ALEC’s  (and similar organizations’) agenda.

Ultimately, the revivification of relatively objective investigative journalism might be a truly positive outcome.

This country needs not only a free press but also an emboldened one.  I fear that the understandable national panic following 9/11 gelded our news gatherers, news reporters, and news analysts.  (And economic pressures on traditional news sources have played a huge part as well.)  Media vehicles may have changed in the last two decades, but the need for a vigorous, skeptical press has not. 

It’s up to us – the general public – to be smarter about how we consume and judge so-called news in today’s incredibly noisy ‘news’ environment.  It’s much harder than it was decades ago, when people relied on local papers and three mainstream networks to tell them what’s what – and when the ‘what’ was seen as basically objective.  We’re not now responsible as citizens if all we do is tune into/key up opinion sources that we already know will reinforce our ideological preconceptions. 

If we resist being satisfied with no-brainer, echo-chamber news ‘consumption,’ that would be the sixth positive outcome of the Trayvon Martin case.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Santorum Keeps Marching Along

Santorum Keeps Marching Along

[To be sung to the tune of the North Carolina State University Fight Song,
which in turn is sung to the tune of ‘The Caissons Keep Rolling Along,’
 an early 20th-century Army song which has now become
 (with horrid ‘updated’ lyrics) the official U.S. Army song.]

Even though
He will fail,
He’ll pursue
The campaign trail:
            So Santorum
            Keeps marching

Elites scream
And have fits,
Plead for Rick
To call it quits --
            But Santorum
            Keeps marching

            Re the battered GOP --
            Shout out the losers
            Loud and strong! (Newt-Cain-Trump)
            Where ere we go,
            We will always know
                        That Santorum
                        Keeps Marching

‘Birth control?
That I hate!
Let’s comingle
Church and State.’
            And Santorum
            Keeps marching

‘College Loans?
What the hell!
Let’s remove
The grants from Pell.’
            And Santorum
            Keeps marching

            Is what Romney cannot give,
            He’s id-eo-lo-gi-cal-ly wrong! (Mod-Er-Ate)
            I’ll yell it loud
            Into a dwindling crowd.’
                        And Santorum
                        Keeps marching

There’s a chance
That he’ll lose
When his home state
Has to choose.
            Yet Santorum
            Keeps marching

If the polls
Show he’s toast,
He might stop
So he can boast
            That Santorum
            Stopped marching

            It might be clear
            That this isn’t Ricky’s year –
            Withdraw so
            Pundits will be wrong! (Thought-You’d-Stay)
            Can you be the face
            Of the 2016 race?
                        Thus Santorum
                        Keeps marching

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Easter for Agnostics

Easter for Agnostics

It’s obvious why Easter is important to believing Christians of all persuasions.  It celebrates the central mystery and promise of the faith.  It’s the culmination of the liturgical year, bolstered by a dramatic narrative of moveable feasts from Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday through Lent to Holy Week – during which congregants commemorate the Last Supper on Thursday, the Crucifixion on Friday, the Entombment on Saturday, and the Resurrection on Sunday.  Whether you participate in a Saturday-night vigil or in decorating the sanctuary or simply attend services, the Easter season can be aesthetically moving and, more important, spiritually powerful.

What’s less obvious is why Easter appeals to many non-churchgoers – lapsed Christians, agnostics, even those who profess a different faith . . . or profess none at all.

My daughter is a good example.  She’s always said that Easter is her favorite holiday, even though her church attendance ended at about age four (a subject, perhaps, of another blog) and she’s now an adult who lives far from her family and thus does not receive a nostalgic jellybean hunt.  I’ve asked her about this preference (particularly because I’m an all-out Christmas person); her answers have been intriguing.

Sure, she likes the spring colors of candy eggs and flowers, the general cuteness of chicks and bunnies.  But what counts most is the lack of stress.  Easter, in her memory and her current practice, does not involve the pressure of Christmas – no gifts to buy, no rounds of parties to attend, no obligatory time with semi-random family members or acquaintances.  There are treats, a few decorations to be set out, a nice dinner with a reasonable number of people with whom one is close – and that’s that.  Moreover, there haven’t been three months of non-stop commercialization leading up to it.

When I think of her childhood Easters, I realize that they were completely child-centered.  No presents required for Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, Aunts and Uncles.  Only an Easter basket and a room or two full of hidden goodies . . . a fun hour of finding eggs and a few Easter trinkets . . . a pleasant mid-day meal with food a child probably enjoys more than the heavier Christmas dinner.  And no need to act extravagantly delighted or surprised.

There is also less pressure on parents. For Easter, we don’t have to put together a bike or a dollhouse after midnight or figure out how to meet a child’s wishes without shattering a fragile budget.  (I must say that my daughter never had excessive Christmas must-haves . . . it was more a matter of putting pressure on myself to give her an abundant gift-haul.)  If grandparents are around, great!  But parents don’t have to do anything for them other than set extra places at the brunch table and make a few more pancakes.

Further, for parents and other involved adults, Easter lets us be kids ourselves.  Chocolate!  Multi-hued Peeps!  Playing hide-and-go-seek with small objects!  And more . . . the holiday refocuses parental attention on our children, a focus that can become blurred when both parents are working, or working through their own issues. 

I’m not suggesting that Easter is ‘better’ if you don’t go to church (nothing described above is incompatible with how traditionally religious families may choose to celebrate Easter).  Instead, I’m trying to explain that Easter can be a meaningful holiday even to agnostics like my daughter and me.  As its traditional symbols of eggs and baby animals and sweet things and rainbow colors imply, the holiday celebrates new and renewed life . . . childhood . . . innocence . . . and growing up secure in being loved.  Which makes it a special holiday, with many shared values, for religious and non-religious people alike.