Friday, July 31, 2009

According to this poll, the "birther" conspiracy story has traction only in the South. We can guess it's mainly white Republicans, & among them mostly the same who believe science classes should teach about the dinosaurs on Noah's Ark. So why is it still being played as a national story? The "news" isn't that Obama might have been born in Kenya: it's that there's a lot of gullible white people in the South so desperate to discredit a black Democratic president because he's black they can't stay focused on his actual policies. & that's not really news, either.

Do you believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States of America or not?

Yes 77
No 11
Not sure 12

Yes No Not sure
Dem 93 4 3
Rep 42 28 30
Ind 83 8 9

Northeast 93 4 3
South 47 23 30
Midwest 90 6 4
West 87 7 6

Thursday, July 30, 2009

two facebook friends

Facebook is popular. Yesterday I became friends with two people as unlike each other as one could imagine, & whose presence on Facebook was completely unexpected. They found me.

One is a leftist, pot smoking male poet & retired professor of classics & journalism. The other is a woman from Virginia, quite conservative in some of her views, not all. They've had very different lives.

The professor was a dear & loyal friend of my poetry mentor, & became his friend when the friendship required a good deal of patience & understanding. He is wise & trustworthy in the same matters of conscience that my mentor was, & wiser in some others.

The woman from Virginia has a poetic side expressed in her sense of humor & sensuality. She understands the beach in same way I do, not as a place to cook yourself. & she showed me Monticello as only someone who grew up with a view of it could know it.

I've been a comfortable guest in the homes of both, for different reasons. If they ever met, I have no idea what they could say to each other. Do they represent the breadth of my experience or just expose the banality of my beliefs - that I can overlook too much or blur important distinctions? I have beliefs & opinions, but I don't think I need to have them about everything. What if a woman doesn't bring up politics on the beach or during pillow talk?

Facebook is not an information stream for me, although it's there & tempting. I look in two or three times each week, clear the accumulated invitations to join this group or take that quiz, see what my friends have been doing for the previous few hours, upload an amusing Jersey postcard, & logout. Just waving hello.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ordinary People

Conflicting Portrait of Terrorist Suspect

RALEIGH, N.C. — AP - Daniel Boyd may have spent the past three years traveling to the Middle East, secretly buying guns and training for jihad with a group of aspiring terrorists as federal authorities claim, but people on his cul-de-sac said Tuesday he also made plenty of time to be a good neighbor.

The 39-year-old drywall contractor and his wife were family oriented, always quick to help with gardens and treehouses and raised well-mannered kids, neighbors said a day after the FBI arrested Boyd and six others, accusing the men of planning to kidnap, kill and maim people abroad.

"If he's a terrorist, he's the nicest terrorist I ever met in my life. I don't think he is," said Charles Casale, 46, a neighbor in Willow Spring who recently got pointers on planting vegetables from the Boyds.
Boyd's wife, Sabrina, vowed that he was part of an "ordinary family" and urged the public not to rush to judgment. Boyd's sons Zakariya, 20, and Dylan, 22, were also named in the indictment.

"We have the right to justice, and we believe that justice will prevail," she said in a statement. "We are decent people who care about other human beings."
I'm not rushing to judgment. The Feds have have paraded - even railroaded - some tragicomic "terrorist" groups through the courts. We don't know how strong a case they have that these people were engaged in a "conspiracy to murder, kidnap, maim and injure persons abroad." But I doubt the Feds will have a problem establishing the Boyds are not an "ordinary family." If Sabrina Boyd is smart, she'll drop that public defense right now, because she can't redefine "ordinary." Oh, if the Boyds were fundamentalist Christian, borderline militia types, she could claim a sort of ordinariness within a particular American cultural milieu where it's no big deal to teach your kids to shoot semiautomatic weapons & give them survivalist training in case the New World Order happens before The Rapture. Even Sara & Todd Palin have played with the folks in that sandbox. But Mrs. Boyd could never sell a fundamentalist Muslim family version of it as "ordinary," no matter how similiar it might be or how nice they were to their neighbors.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Watch William Shatner reciting Sara Palin's farewell speech on the Tonight Show, if you haven't. It's a hoot.

Yesterday, all but 20 Repug reps in congress went on record acknowledging President Obama was born in Hawaii. None voted against the resolution honoring the 50th anniversary of Hawaii statehood.

Presidential birthplace is a constitutional matter, but since we have no reason or evidence to believe Obama was born anywhere but Hawaii, the question becomes one of why some people want to believe he was born in Kenya. It's not just to disqualify him for office, but also to back up crazy theories of an international anti-Christian conspiracy; that he's part of an end-times scenario, the antichrist, or servant of an antichrist. The typical "birther" could care less about the Constitution. Certainly, "birthers" never cared about it when Cheney was president.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Merce Cunningham

Well worth reading the complete NYT obit for dancer-choreographer Merce Cunningham, & searching him on Google video.

Anyone interested in music or art encountered Merce Cunningham whether or not one cared or knew much about dance. Merce made one care about dance, & his dancing taught dance. Merce's dance often explained itself, & had collaborative parity with music & visual art, novel ideas & ideals to me as a young student of the arts. He was also fun & funny. I don't have the words to say how wonderful he was.

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Today's Horoscope

which I wrote for myself.

Dear Scorpio: Someone who holds you in contempt desires - consciously or unconsciously - for you to acknowledge you know who they are. Of course, you've known the identity of this person for many years, & the contempt is why you stay away from the person. Make the acknowledgement & get on with your activities. .


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Late afternoon thunderstorm. Might be a rainbow out there but I'd have to walk over to Phil Rizzuto Park to look for it. Rizzuto Park has a baseball motif paid for in part by the Yankees & no ballfield.

I've seen great rainbows, even doubles (& one remarkable triple) around Woodbridge NJ Mall. Low buildings, wide parking lots, a lot of sky there. Towering anvil head clouds, if a defined line of storms was blowing away a hot, sunny day. While I've been entertained by the weather, astonished sometimes, I've observed people not bothering to look at the same clouds, lightning, or rainbows, & worse, so inattentive they didn't point out amazing rainbows to their children, though occasionally the children tried to interest the adults in looking upward. Yeah yeah, it's pretty, get in the car.


Seaside Heights NJ

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Shabbat goy

There a variety of Jewish Orthodox in my neighborhood, including black fedoras, although they're way outnumbered by the yarmulkes. As I was walking near the synogogue late afternon, I saw a young black fedora guy standing in front of an apartment building, apparently waiting for someone, I supposed they'd then walk together across the street for whatever prayers they do at the conclusion of Sabbath. It was spritzing ever so slightly - & he was looking up at the clouds with a befuddled expression. Between the brimmed hat & the long sleeve dark coat he was so insulated he couldn't get a handle on the weather. I would not want to be caught in the rain without an umbrella wearing those clothes. I was wearing a tropical shirt & no hat, & as I passed him I smiled & said, "Yes, it's raining a little bit." He smiled & said, "Thanks" & moved toward the building door. The rain never came, so he got to his service dry.

(A Shabbat goy is a non-Jew who freely performs a service a Jew may not do for himself on the Sabbath. I wasn't one of those, but the spirit was similar.)

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Friday, July 24, 2009

calibrating the words

Obama press conference video clip: ".....police acted stupidly...."

Wolf Blitzer: Turning now to our panel of experts, coincidentally together at our affiliate studio on Martha's Vineyard, let me throw this question out to all of you: Does the President's strong remark on the Skip Gates controversy indicate his willingness to accommodate further compromise on health reform?

Expert One: Absolutely, Wolf. Because the American people are not stupid no matter what the President says about us, & we're simply not going to accept a reduction in the quality of health care to the level of a village in Ghana, like the one in Kenya where Obama was born, by the way.

Expert Two: Let's stay on topic. Why is that when an African-American commits an alleged crime, the police respond immediately, but when I complain about a barking dog owned by my white neighbor, the police don't do anything about it? I thought we were in a post-racial era. I'm sick of hacks like Sotomayor waltzing into Princeton because privileged black men like Professor Gates receive MacArthur grants, which unfairly entitles them to break into their own homes & steal their own televisions.

James Carville: That's putting the cart before the horse at the end of the day. You expect these setbacks when you're framing the brand. But if the Republicans just want to say "no" like this good old boy does when my wife offers me a can of the swill they pass off as Dr. Pepper nowadays, they're in for big shock when the American people elect two black presidents in 2012, both of them progressive Democrats like Bill Clinton.

Expert One: Have you ever been to Cambridge, Jimmy?

Carville: Little town in Iowa....

Wolf: Have to cut you off now, thank you panel, & say hello to Skip Gates for me, I see him behind you waiting for the barista. Up next a special Situation Room report spotlighting a man named Jackson from Jackson, Mississippi & how his life has changed since the tragic passing of the King of Pop.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Oy, New Jersey

Couldn't resist posting this Star-Ledger photo of NJ Gov. Jon Corzine probably saying goodbye to his reelection chances. Next to him is state Attorney General Anne Milgram.

Massive New Jersey corruption probe snares officials, rabbis

The Fed arrested 44 people today on corruption & money-laundering charges, including two assemblymen, three mayors, a deputy mayor, a city council president, many other political functionaries, implicating a guy in Corzine's cabinet. Most of them are Democrats. Nevermind that most are also from Hudson County. No other county in Jersey is quite like Hudson County, & no city is like Jersey City. Choosing a faction in Hudson County politics is like betting on a car in a demolition derby.

The money-laundering ring is something else, a Syrian Orthodox Jewish operation involving two Rabbis from a wealthy Jersey shore town, Deal; an exotic criminal enterprise to us Jerseyans but no surprise to Brooklynites.

The Feds cranked up their massive publicity machine. The corruption has a tip-of-iceberg look about it. Milgram was left standing on the outside, next to shocked, sad-faced Corzine. The Gov was hammering Repug candidate Chris Christie on no-bid contracts to lawyer pals like John Ashcroft. Those TV ads will fall flat now. I don't know what he has left to run with, out in the 'burbs where statewide elections are won or lost. President Obama might not want to come back here after Labor Day.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Nats 3 Mets 1

Da Mets dropped two of three to the Washington Nationals. If we're not ready to concede The Mets are worse than the Nats, we know they're only nominally better at best, right now, & it's taken so long for them to slide. The Phillies look great now only because they went on a timely streak. How do you patch together a winner with these guys out?
F. Nieve RP/SP
F. Martinez RF
C. Beltrán CF
J. Maine SP
J. Putz RP
R. Martínez SS/2B
J. Reyes SS
C. Delgado 1B

I admit I wonder about Reyes & his "tendinitis." Here's a guy, really talented, gets up on the wrong side of the bed & he doesn't want to run to first base on a flyout. He started the season like he had a personal motivational trainer & I thought, This can't last through his first slump.

You score one run, you're probably gonna lose. Score none you definitely lose. It's not the Mets without Beltran & Delgado & Reyes. This isn't the Yankees. Over there the #9 guy isn't the pitcher, & a day off for A-Rod means he's DHing or at least available to pinchhit, & they compete for walk-off homeruns & a shaving cream pie in the face, & when Rivera warms up in the bullpen the other team's phoning for takeout ribs & hookers to be waiting in their hotel rooms, & nobody's located the secret, giant fan in the new stadium lifts balls over the outfield fences. Wish Citi Field had one of those.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Family

I'm delighted Jeff Sharlet & his book, "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power," are receiving some of the national attention they deserve. Sharlet is the expert on the C Street cult of conspiratorial, theocratic fanatics, an organization that has tremendous success infiltrating & poisoning our government & armed forces. They accomplish this largely by hiding in plain sight, posing as a bunch of prayerful, morally upright, Bible-studying, ordinary Christians. Even Hillary Clinton participates in the sham, & President Obama fears them enough to leave them unchallenged. However, sex scandals have knocked a peephole in the C Street clubhouse, & we had better have a look before this powerful, secretive "Christian mafia" patches it closed.

You can conveniently learn the basics of C Street culture, doctrine & tactics by reading Sharlet's essay in Salon, "Sex and power inside "the C Street House".
If sexual license was all the Family offered the C Street men, however, that would merely be seedy and self-serving. But Family men are more than hypocritical. They're followers of a political religion that embraces elitism, disdains democracy, and pursues power for its members the better to "advance the Kingdom." They say they're working for Jesus, but their Christ is a power-hungry, inside-the-Beltway savior not many churchgoers would recognize. Sexual peccadilloes aside, the Family acts today like the most powerful lobby in America that isn't registered as a lobby -- and is thus immune from the scrutiny attending the other powerful organizations like Big Pharma and Big Insurance that exert pressure on public policy.
"The Family" is now available in paperback & is #11 at Amazon & hopefully will creep up to Glenn Beck's tracts on the NYT nonfiction pb list.

Also, hopefully, the Orthodox Jews patroning Elizabeth Public Library will begin checking out the four undercirculated copies & learn about the true agenda of Pro-Israel Evangelical "allies." The Family undermines the generally progressive domestic political agenda American Jews support, attacks the separation of church & state, & uses the armed services to evangelize military personnel & in the Muslim nations where our personnel are serving & fighting.

Through its influence in the Pentagon, The Family rush planted an ultra- right wing chaplain inside Camp David on a three-year duty assignment before the new Commander-in-Chief unpacked his study Bible & looked around the place, perhaps an unfortunate result of the President's surprisingly naive denominational waffling (would they have tried it on a President Biden?). The Family & its supporters are doing this throughout the chaplain corps & service academies. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation was formed to defend the religious liberty of our servicemen & women, many of whom are subject to aggressive proselytizing. It's an issue of great concern to an online acquaintance, raised an Air Force brat & darned proud of it.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

July 20 1969

I remember. I was hanging out with a nutty girl outside her house on a warm summer evening. The Eagle had landed earlier. Her mom came to the door & said the man was about to walk on the moon. So we went inside to watch. Very exciting.

As extraordinary an achievement as it was, it was more astonishing to the girl's parents than to her & me. For them, the event was an end in itself, a man on the moon. For us, it was an expected beginning. We were hoping for a fast expansion of technology & exploration leading to a lunar base observatory, or a journey to Mars, or the cool space station from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the moon, with no natural resources to exploit, was a barren wilderness, a desert without oil beneath it. That was no surprise. Why keep sending humans there just to go for a drive in a car we used only once & abandoned?

The big news from space today was of astronauts unclogging a toilet.

Standard style guidelines say our moon should be capitalized as a proper noun only in relation to other proper noun celestial bodies: I see the Moon & Mars. I wished on the moon. The NASA style guide always capitalizes it.

The girl, who I never knew well - probably because I couldn't get in her shorts, became the only person from my Jersey hometown, Roselle Park, ever to phone me at the studio during 17 years of weekly shows at WFMU.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tom Watson

Why couldn't a 59 year professional golfer win a regular tour event, or even a major? Old pro duffers occasionally play a championship quality round of golf. They don't put together 72 holes. Tom Watson got to 72. Unfortunately he had to go to 76. Too bad.

Merchantville NJ

Hawaiian Cottage

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Rick Mathes explains Islam

If a Chevy salesman relates a little story about how he met a Ford salesman who told him all Fords have gas tanks that explode in a fender bender, would you accept the Chevy salesman's story as the truth? Even if you didn't care for Fords.

That would be prison evangelist Rick Mathes on Islam.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thinking about when TV news changed for me. Wasn't the era of Will Ferrell's "Anchorman." Murray was still writing Ted Baxter's copy on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The change was Linda Ellerbee on NBC News Overnight in 1982. after Cronkite left CBS Evening News. Ellerbee's expressions & body language telegraphed her feelings about what she was reporting. You knew she had opinions, & you could guess what they probably were. You weren't sure how liberal she was, but it was evident she didn't like what was happening in Washington. Ellerbee was barely suppressing her inner Molly Ivins. Rachel Maddow owes Linda Ellerbee.

I not so sure Maddow got as much the better of Pat Buchanan as she's credited for doing the other night. True, Buchanan is one of those bigoted, belligerent Irish-American males who won't shut up even after he's been knocked to the bar room floor in a disgusting puddle of beer & cigarette ashes. He's no more "working class" than Maddow, just because he learned to talk the talk from the kids who kicked his lace curtain preppy ass. But when Buchanan grew to six feet he kept acting like a 5'4" underdog, & that's a definition for bully.


Friday, July 17, 2009


I almost felt sorry for Anderson Cooper a couple of weeks ago, as he reported on some aspect of the aftermath of Michael Jackson's demise. You could read the fake interest in his face. But so serious, like he was reporting a plane crash. I flipped around some other channels, came back to CNN, still the Jackson story.

I've complained enough about cable news not just reporting the freakin' news. Always panels of experts, & always the same experts.

Three news anchors took me through adolescence & beyond: Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley. I forget who was on ABC. One-half hour, interesting news, boring news, major news, minor news, not much filler or "human interest." The news. Yeah, the vocal right wing, smaller then, said they were all Democrats. The shock of Cronkite saying (in a special report, not the evening news) that Vietnam was "unwinnable" was in part because of his political inscrutability. But also because Cronkite did not traffic in trivial news, unless that's all he had left on his desk.

I get little of my daily news from TV, except disaster news, tornadoes, fires. I listen to WCBS-AM radio for local headlines, & read news online, including generally colorless, short, Associated Press stories. Someday, when the price comes down, I'll get an electronic reader & even subscribe to an online newspaper. I never stopped missing Walter Cronkite & the old Evening News, which was like the front page of a good newspaper.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

I've had sex with a Republican

"Ring me up before that guy comes back with a gun," I said to the cashier after he'd grabbed a length of 2 x 1 board behind the counter & chased some man out of Family Dollar. I have no idea what the man did, hadn't even noticed him, but suddenly him & cashier were yelling at each other. He had work boots draped over his shoulder. Must have been previous bad blood.

Cool jazz audience at Railroad Plaza. The flautist was excellent. I wasn't in the mood for the music. Between the trains & the expanse of hot stone, not a very pleasant location to hear it.

Amazing, the first evening this summer I've wanted to turn on the a/c, & it isn't in the window yet, & I'm not putting it in tonight. By now we've usually had a few or more than a few scorchers in Jersey. It's just mildly uncomfortable, probably feel fine by bedtime.

I've had sex with a Republican. Have you?

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Reminder to New Jersey Bigots

Less than 24 hours remaining to post your racist comments on Jersey newspaper websites & right wing blogs in advance of President Obama's visit to the state. I don't have to suggest any keywords because you use them every day at home.
Note to Arizona Senators Kyl & McCain: We'll be glad to take your share of the stim funds.
Note to Senators Sessions, Coburn, et al. Judge Sotomayor learned to turn the ice on male assholes forty years ago as a teenager in the Bronx wearing Catholic High School clothes. You're amateurs to a Nuyorican woman.

Of course, you could invite Rosie Perez, who might say, "Youse guys just want a kick in the nuts, I don't need my big brotha for that."

Boiled Brisket Blues

Iowa city hopes slaughterhouse sale turns its luck
By Nigel Duara

POSTVILLE, Iowa (AP) Life in Postville wasn't easy before federal agents raided the area's largest employer and detained 389 people on immigration charges.

The May 2008 raid on the Agriprocessors slaughterhouse came as the nationwide recession was deepening and the city was struggling to cope with some of the long-term economic problems many rural Midwestern communities face.

The string of bad news that followed - bankruptcy, the arrest of senior managers, the exodus of hundreds of other immigrant workers and a failed attempt to keep the plant running with out-of-state workers - left both town and plant as shadows of their former selves, with Postville's population about half its pre-raid size and the kosher slaughterhouse's staff about one-tenth its former size.

There is cautious hope that the expected approval Wednesday of the sale of the plant to SHF Industries, a subsidiary to Canadian plastics maker Hershey Friedman, will bring people back to fill the city's vacated storefronts and homes.
The immigration raid - the largest of its kind in Iowa history - tore deeply at the city's social fabric, which had been a unique blend of longtime white residents, Latinos from Mexico and Guatemala, and Hasidic Jews. The raid separated families as workers were jailed and then deported, and it led to the departure of many Latinos who had lived in Postville for years.

Many residents who remain have no interest in slaughterhouse work because of their age or a simple distaste for the often repetitive and messy jobs.
What the matter with unemployed Americans & their families? They won't uproot themselves & relocate to Wherethehellami USA for disgusting, low-paying jobs with no future. & I don't mean just blue collar workers. There's plenty of available labor with out-sourced white collar skills & antiquated college degrees, hanging on by threads to devalued suburban homes mortgaged to the roofs, aging SUVs in the driveways. Yeah, many of them voted Repug for years, screw unions & OSHA & FDA. Let the illegal brown folks pluck the chickens & wade through cattle offal. But if we catch 'em, ship 'em back where they came from. If there's nobody to replace them, use prison labor at 25 cents an hour, or those women with the kids named Kaneasha & DeShawn.

Hey, all work has dignity, right? It's only certain types of people who don't deserve dignity, like the ones who will do anything to gain a foothold in the United States, who do the shitwork & dream the dreams so their children can make the dreams real.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

All Star Game

The Prez did a smooth 1/2 inning in the broadcast booth as the National League scored three runs. Baseball isn't Obama's game, but he enjoys it & keeps an eye on the White Sox. His staff got him up to speed after a week overseas. He takes the Rudy Giuliani approach, easiest & best way. If you were a fan of a team before you were a politician - Rudy was a Yankees guy - don't knock the other team in town but don't fake enthusiasm for it or try to play both sides & pretend impartiality. Obama is Chicago & proudly wore a White Sox jacket.

AL 4 NL 3
A couple walking ahead of me up the block out front, no hurry, holding hands, I thought nothing of it until they turned into the back yard of the vacant house on the corner, went up the steps to the rear porch & through the door, which was unlocked.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Kevin Roose: The Unlikely Disciple (of bad religion)

Kevin Roose,
The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University; Grand Central Publishing; 2009.
"What would happen if a student at one of America’s most secular colleges spent a semester at Reverend Jerry Falwell’s “Bible Boot Camp” for young evangelicals?

"The Unlikely Disciple answers that question, following Brown University sophomore Kevin Roose during his semester as a new transfer student at Liberty University, the world’s largest evangelical Christian college."
Publisher's blurb
Three things attracted me to the book. First, I was curious about the culture of the school, mainly because it is so large & the vision of one man. Second, Roose's experience is something I can fantasize doing, & have done in other, smaller ways. Third, my nephew - who I like but hardly know - attended Liberty & graduated with a useful degree in business & sports management. Although a PK (pastor's kid), he was raised a moderately conservative United Methodist, attended public schools, & wasn't under parental pressure to turn Evangelical, much less associate himself with strict fundamentalism. I don't think the fundamentalism is what attracted him to Liberty. What specifically did draw him there was a mystery to me. Maybe the book could enlighten me.

A well-adjusted Brown University sophomore, Roose seemed poorly-equipped for this project, his reasons for doing it not very convincing. He never had a church, attended Sunday school, or belonged to a Christian youth group. His parents are affluent, liberal, secularized Quakers. He didn't know enough to even fake an Evangelical attitude in a crowd of arm-waving Born Agains, something any mainline Methodist kid could do. Surely, he'll be found out within 24 hours in a Liberty men's dorm.

But Kevin Roose is open, affable, adaptable, makes friends easily, qualities appreciated on any college campus & especially at conservative Christian schools, where abrasiveness, fashionable rebellion, & alienated behavior stick out like a scarecrow in a cornfield. So he reads, takes a crash course in Evangelicalspeak & manners with an Evangelical friend, rehearses interpersonal encounters &, most importantly, decides to be as honest as possible without completely blowing his cover as a recent arrival at the school with a desire for an earnest Life in Christ. Few people he meets at Liberty show curiosity about Roose's vague personal history & his unwillingness to reveal which Rhode Island school he had previously attended.

The male students (with prying resident advisors) on Roose's dorm floor are recognizable types, as college students & as Evangelicals, including the mildly rebellious guy from Jersey. One roommate is nasty & paranoid, nobody likes him. Most are friendly enough. They're all horny. They sound & act impossibly naive in this day & age. But they listen to mainstream rock. They know popular culture. A few sneakily gather to watch "R" rated movies ($50). They all want to be better Christians.

Their favorite insults are "queer," "gay," & "fag." Someday, in the real world, one of them might misspeak to a big, tough gay of the sort they don't even know exists, & receive a huge scare if not a broken nose. Because, as Roose notes, for all their obsession with the subject, they have terrible gaydars. When Roose invites a gay friend from Brown for a weekend, nobody gets it. There's much they don't get. Liberty must be a convenient place for a confused, guilt-ridden, conflicted young gay or lesbian Evangelical to hide for a few years, since it's easy enough to pretend sexual enthusiasm for the opposite sex when no one expects actual intimacy & the rules expressly forbid it. Only a brave few guys seek help from the spiritual advisor assigned to deal with same-sex attraction. The same advisor counsels habitual masturbators. Roose doesn't enlighten us on what women with those "problems" do. Except for a few women he gets to know personally, we don't learn much about the female Liberty experience. We do get the impression they have great presence on campus but not much power other than their psychic & pheromonal effect on celibate young men. It's a patriarchal culture. Some of Liberty' s male students imagine screwing & impregnating their wives at will. Some consider joinng the Quiverful movement, which advocates gigantic families of happy caucasian Christians. One wonders if they will discuss this with their fiances or just surprise them later. But it's all hypothetical at this stage.

Meeting Roose's new friends, it's important to remember that they didn't choose to attend Wheaton College (the most selective Evangelical school), Asbury College, Bethel University, Messiah College, George Fox University, Northwestern College, or Eastern Mennonite University about an hour up the Interstate. All those schools also have exclusively Christian faculty & strong codes of conduct, if not exactly "The Liberty Way." But they're "liberal" compared to Liberty. Some of them teach intelligent design, & Eastern Mennonite even offers a major in Peace Studies.

Roose tries to "date." Of course, hardly any college students "date" anymore, so it's rather quaint, with all the virgins afraid to even risk a kiss ($10 offense), expecting to find a soulmate/spouse based on a stroll around campus & a deep conversation at a Lynchburg restaurant. Students at Liberty want to meet & marry someone from the school, & Falwell encourages it. Get married, then be fruitful & multiply.

Many of the rules that seem so onerous now are just throwbacks to the in loco parentis authority colleges assumed into the Nineteen-Sixties, when courts overturned some of them in public schools, & others were gradually abandoned with changes in attitudes & lifestyles. Liberty keeps the dress codes, curfews, strict separation of sexes in dorms, required chapel attendance, etc. Other rules against dancing & public affection are old-time Baptist. Jerry Falwell wasn't only straight-laced, he was downright nostalgic. Liberty students know these rules going in, it's their choice. Breaking the rules incurs monetary fines. A student can run up hundreds of dollars in fines without coming close to dismissal. They think twice about bumming a ciggie in town ($25). The Liberty Way also has the effect of shifting & somewhat leveling the social playing field.

Basic academics at Liberty are predictably awful. "History of Life" could use a Flintstones cartoon as a Young Earth teaching aid, & although taught as a science requirement, could easily be combined with the basic Old Testament course. There's all kinds of twisted logic & rationales to make facts fit allegory & metaphor. But I wouldn't call Liberty a "Bible Boot Camp." It's advanced training - in ignorance. Students already know the Bible when they arrive, Roose was starting almost from scratch. I'd like to know how they explain plate tectonics, which, if you want to believe God set everything in motion eons ago to prepare the world for humans, is very inspiring.

The other stuff: the constant praying & self-evaluation, enthusiastic church services & assemblies, the honesty & civility, the sense of community, are qualities of all Evangelical colleges, & apparent to a lesser degree on the campuses of many religious-affiliated schools without looking too hard for them. For certain types of adolescent Evangelicals, Liberty is in some ways almost a party school. Roose voluntarily spends Spring Break in Florida with a mission team, not drunk in Cancún on dad's credit card.

"Unlikely Disciple" loses suspense as Roose discovers conformity & participation overcome every obstacle. His clumsiness handling the exterior forms raises hardly any suspicions, even with those whose jobs are to look & listen for students marching to different drummers in their interior lives. He does what he must to fit in, as sincerely as he can. Roose is forced into a healthier, more disciplined lifestyle; he wasn't a true slacker before he arrived at Liberty. He becomes less guarded of his feelings. But he's more intent on finding common ground than in figuring out where he is in the broader American religious landscape, & why Liberty is what it is & attracts the students it does. I think it's attractive for many young people who simply loved Sunday School & Christian Summer Camp, love Jesus & belonging to something larger than themselves, & are comfortable with authority - adults telling them what to do & think. Those students risk the most under Liberty's fundamentalist indoctrination; they become narrow-minded or resistant enough to matriculate, or discontented enough to drop out. Roose's lack of religious experience prevents him from doing much comparing & contrasting. He didn't know young Christians capable of slicing & dicing fundamentalism without placing dinosaurs in Adam & Eve's backyard, ignoring social justice, or voting Republican. A friend of mine with 16 years of quality Catholic education could saute Liberty students in Augustine's Latin, too. Roose dives into Liberty having little familiarity with the alternatives; the depth & breadth of orthodox Christianity Liberty rejects. It's a weakness in the book. But the tale never stalls, & is often touching & funny.

"Unlikely Disciple" reaches a slam climax through incredibly lucky timing for Roose, made possible because he's too good a writer & too smart to be intimidated & awed by Jerry Falwell's distant religious authority & power. He has chutzpah. Ironically, Roose becomes a campus celebrity without exposing himself. What happens next is completely unexpected & mind-blowing.

Kevin Roose website

Liberty University
Council for Christian Colleges & Universities

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Budd Lake NJ

Henry's Studio Motel, Budd Lake NJ

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Friday, July 10, 2009

pissy mood

I was in a pissy mood for hours today before I realized it was why I was having unpleasant encounters with the kinds of people & situations I usually handle with some detachment & patience. The beautiful weather disguised my bad mood to myself. So it's probably not a good evening to critique a book I liked but which had very disturbing subject matter: a fundamentalist college. So disturbing that I reread Garry Wills' lovely, scholarly little book, "What Paul Meant" (Paul being the Apostle), just to clear the fundamentalist nonsense out of my head. Wills is, so far as I know, a Roman Catholic in good standing in a parish somewhere. I hope so, because he writes in the best tradition of Catholic intellectuals who study, question, doubt, & yet ultimately affirm, & also know how to present difficult ideas to readers of average intelligence like myself. In this book, he reminds again & again that a narrative carrying a doctrinal truth (or any other kind of truth) doesn't mean the narrative itself is true. God created the world. Doctrine. In six Earth days? The strength of American protestant fundamentalism doesn't make it less aberrational.


Thursday, July 09, 2009

National Vegetable Queen

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A peculiar character

If I seem to be at the supermarket a lot, it's only because I'm so close to two.

Tonight, a cop at Shoprite checked my backpack. I was dressed neater than usual. Shoprite sells reusable shopping bags, but doesn't make it easy to use them. The cashiers automatically double bag everything. I take the plastic bags over by the window, carefully repack everything in my small backpack, & put the plastic bags back on a checkout rack. After doing this, I dallied a bit while I decided whether go directly to the library or make a short side trip to Radio Shack. I was a little preoccupied. As I walked out the door, I heard a voice ask, "What's in your bag, sir?" Eh? Is he asking me? Yes, he was. I had to take off the backpack, unzip it, hope I'd kept the receipt rather than left it in a plastic bag. Thank heavens, it was in there. At least the cop was apologetic. After 9/11, I expected to be doing it all the time in PATH stations. "What's in your bag, sir?" 15 pounds of old record albums.

Well, the cop in the Shoprite was young, & with more experience he'll better read the difference between a suspicious character & a merely peculiar character.
Yesterday, a guy behind me in line at the 7-11 asked, "Did you used to live in Linden?" I moved out of Linden in 1990. I said yes. He said I used to go to his sub shop, he remembered all his regular customers. Then I made a faux pas. I said, "Oh, Blue's." He looked disappointed & said, no it was BZ's sub shop near the theater. BZ's was my girlfriend's preferred sub shop, she was hooked on the tunafish subs there, liked mayonnaise, & she only got tunafish. But when I was having a sub built just for myself, I went to Blue's by the train station, he had better rolls & good provolone, & listened to me concerning proportions of oil & vinegar. I didn't say that to the guy. I thanked him for remembering me. I guess I just look older, not different.


Vat of Chocolate

Man dies after falling into vat of boiling chocolate in Camden

A horrid headline to see on the newsfeed. Although it's tragic, I immediately recalled an old, dumb Smothers Brothers routine:

Tom (singing): I into a vat of chocolate. Oh, I fell into a vat of chocolate.
Dick : What did you do when you fell into the chocolate?
Tom: I just yelled fire when I fell into the chocolate.
Dick (exasperated): Tom, why did you yell fire when you fell into the chocolate?
Tom: I yelled fire because no one would save me if I yelled CHOCOLATE!!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Quote of the Day

"There weren't nothing strange about your daddy."

Rev. Al Sharpton, Jr., to Michael Jackson's children at the Memorial Service.
We can accept hyperbole. But it isn't good to tell a lie. Unless Al's awkward double negative was intentional.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Robert S. McNamara

Robert S. McNamara, the powerful defense secretary who helped lead the nation into the maelstrom of Vietnam and spent the rest of his life wrestling with the war’s moral consequences, died Monday at his home in Washington. He was 93.
So you know I wasn't always crazy, I'll tell you what I really wanted to do when I graduated high school.

I wanted to get a no-brainer job, in a record or hardware store, or company mailroom. I wanted to play in a garage rock band, take piano lessons, & hang out with my girlfriend, & mind my own business. I wanted to attend night school at the community college, only two courses per semester, make some good grades to compensate for my lousy high school transcript, & after awhile when I thought I could handle it, transfer full-time into Montclair State or one of the new less-exclusive colleges Rutgers was planning. Beneath my nuttiness & anxious temperament I sort of knew who I was, & I had a reasonable assessment of my weaknesses & strengths. I stuttered, I had bad study habits, but I could read & write, & I loved music.

I couldn't do these things, or couldn't do them easily, although they were sensible, modest aspirations. There was a military draft, & if you were drafted you were probably going to Vietnam, like my oldest brother, who also needed time to sort out his life but surrendered to the draft when he couldn't keep himself in college with a deferment. He survived. Vietnam was tragic, useless war. It was fought mostly by young men who couldn't or wouldn't go to college, or flunked or dropped out of college. It split America by class & by race. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam today is the Vietnam I thought was inevitable when I turned 18, & Robert S. McNamara was Secretary of Defense. Robert S. McNamara was the architect of countless deaths & ruined lives, & a divided nation - our nation; even he came to realize it over time.

Occasionally, I catch glimpses of what America might have become without Robert S. McNamara as Secretary of Defense, & like what I see.

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

dancing for dollars

Apparently, Russian immigrants have completely taken over American competitive professional show dancing. I don't get the connection. Was this a popular thing in Russia? I was watching a PBS show of the Latin dance competition. During a break in the contest, there was an exhibition by the Junior Division champions. The girl dancer was announced as 13 years old, looked a leggy 21, & she & her 15 year old partner clearly engaged in an artistic simulation of the sex act, from passionate foreplay to intercourse. She actually lay down on the floor for the latter, with the guy on top. They were Russians, too. The audience loved it.
Why would anyone now believe Sara Palin has the character & emotional stability to handle the Office of President of the United States? It's mind-boggling. She's unaware that we can actually compare her with other powerful, successful women. It doesn't freak me out that Nancy Pelosi & Hillary Clinton are respectively second & fourth in the line of presidential succession. Hillary has everything one needs to be president, I would've easily voted for her over John McCain, & it wouldn't have mattered to me if Obama had picked her for VP, had he figured it was the only way he could win.

For all the nasty stuff I've written about George W. Bush, I never called him, or perceived him as, a quitter. That he was made by Karl Rove & placed so much value on Dick Cheney tells us his presidency couldn't have been any better. But the man absorbed all the punishment accompanying the job. It didn't drive him back to drinking, although he could act like a dry drunk. The Presidency would hammer Palin into pieces.
Pathmark was madness. The supermarket has a mix 'n' match 10 for $7.70 sale to get the .77 individual price, & a lot of other stuff on sale at higher prices ending in 7. It probably works out alright elsewhere, but in my Pathmark it's too much to expect customers to read simple instructions, understand the concept of mix 'n' match, & count to ten. I was only there for bananas, green peppers, & coffee.

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Asbury Park NJ

Halo Wigs, Asbury Park NJ

This is a creepy postcard. The store is closed & dark.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

4th of July

I used to be a fun guy sometimes, & the 4th of July was a fun holiday. But the last time I had a date to share a bag of zeppoles at local fireworks was 2003, & after watching the next year alone from a parking lot radiating the day's heat, I was on my way to being no fun at all anytime for anyone. So now I watch people have fun at the fireworks on TV. Macy's-on-the-Hudson was impressive on a big screen with neighbors shooting off rockets & firecrackers & a finale rumbling through the air from the next town. Boston is where they get in the right spirit. You can dress up silly for that one. Craig Ferguson is a fitting host. Even Neil Diamond seemed right for the occasion. They lay the sentimentality on lightly up there. Although one of the recorded songs played during the display said America is "a high school prom, it's a Springsteen song," & went on to list a bunch of other stuff we're supposed to be. I detest those kinds of lyrics.

American Joey Chestnut decisively defeated six-time titleholder Takeru Kobayashi of Japan in the Coney Island Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest, consuming 68 weiners & winning his third consecutive title. What more could we ask for on Independence Day? Except peace.


State Governors who became President:

Thomas Jefferson, Governor of Virginia, 1779-81
James Monroe, Governor of Virginia, 1799-1802
Martin Van Buren, Governor of New York, 1829
John Tyler, Governor of Virginia, 1825-26
James Knox Polk, Governor of Tennessee, 1839-41
Andrew Johnson, Governor of Tennessee, 1853-57,
Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Governor of Ohio, 1868-72, 1876-77
Grover Cleveland, Governor of New York, 1883-85
William McKinley, Governor of Ohio, 1892-96
Theodore Roosevelt, Governor of New York, 1898-1900
Woodrow Wilson, Governor of New Jersey, 1911-13
Calvin Coolidge, Governor of Massachusetts, 1919-20
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Governor of New York, 1929-33
James Earl Carter, Jr., Governor of Georgia, 1971-75
Ronald Wilson Reagan, Governor of California, 1967-75
William Jefferson Clinton, Governor of Arkansas, 1978-80, 1982-92
George Walker Bush, Governor of Texas, 1995-2000


Andrew Jackson, Territorial Governor of the Florida, 1821
William Henry Harrison, Territorial Governor of Indiana, 1801-13
William Howard Taft, Governor of the Philippines, 1901-04

Friday, July 03, 2009

My Neighborhood

Gina's backyard, looking toward her house. The area I'm in is shadier than the photo, which was lightened a bit. It's a four-part yard. Deck next to the house, then a small grassy area fringed with flowers & shrubs. This is the "grove," with flagstone paths & brickwork patio with a picnic table, Wiccans would love it. Behind me is a "glen," a small wild area, a mini-woods covered with ground ivy, & a shed Gina doesn't use much. The houses on either side have ordinary grass yards.

There's a county-built fence at the edge of the property, beyond that a small creek flowing out of Kean University &, unfortunately, a noisy playground & park.

I visit this lovely scene many weekends to feed Gina's cats, a five minute walk.

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The girl can't help it

Only 2 1/2 years as governor, never having faced a single serious crisis while in office. No help at all to John McCain with independent voters. No evidence of a keen intellect or desire to learn. Third rate education. No substantial "career" before entering politics. & somehow, between now & 2012, merely by campaigning & fund-raising among the far right in the lower 48 & appearing on Fake News every other day, Sarah Palin makes herself qualified for the presidency?

She's trying to short circuit investigations. She won't need to take the blame if Alaska's economy goes really bad (unlikely), or credit Obama for improvements. Her approval ratings could be terrible by 2010; they've dropped 10 points over the past year. Be even riskier if she ran for reelection with Alaskans knowing she'll be spending more time in Iowa than in Alaska. Despite her Hockey Mom crap & basketball analogies, this is not a woman with Hillary's multi-tasking skills.

& tell me, just who was making fun of Trig? Can't put that on Letterman.

All the stuff she said she didn't want to do, the official trips, trade missions, etc., are how governors build up their national credentials.

One TV commentator said, "Her credentials can't help but get weaker now, as time passes."

As for rumors there's a big scandal about to pop, an indictment, that could explain it, too. I hope not. Sara & her devotees are so screwball & so divisive that Democrats could hardly hope for a greater affliction upon Repugs.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

A private person with unexplained motives

My shrink ran 90 minutes late today. For an appointment rarely lasting more than ten minutes. I bring a paperback. I don't expect to read ten chapters & watch a half hour of news. It's in a crappy part of the city - not the crappiest, that's a few more blocks. At least it wasn't the blast furnace heat we usually have in early July. On the way back I like to make a few stops downtown, a place I generally avoid. I was feeling cranky by the time I saw him, the stores would be closing, there were dark storm clouds approaching. I'm sure he understood why I gave monosyllabic answers to his standard inquiries. Sometimes we have a little chat. Not today. I don't bother complaining, it's a mental health clinic, everybody complains whether or not their gripes are rational, the staff is expected only to listen patiently.

Warning, Fellow Bloggers:

A judge in Freehold ruled today that a Washington State blogger who posted comments about the pornography industry is not covered by shield laws that protect newspaper reporters and can be sued for defamation.

Acknowledging that he was wading into largely uncharted legal waters, Superior Court Judge Louis Locascio said Shellee Hale's message board postings last year about a Freehold-based computer software company were nothing more than the rants of "private person with unexplained motives for her postings" and cannot be given the same protections as information compiled though the process of news gathering.
The decision maintains the distinction between internet bloggers and journalists affiliated with news organizations, said Thomas Cafferty, counsel to the New Jersey Press Association.

Bloggers have always been subjected to defamation claims in New Jersey, Cafferty said, but this case shows they cannot use the Shield Law, which protects journalists from revealing their sources.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Michael Jackson rant

You knew it was coming eventually.

I stop in DD after the library, sit down with my decaf, with a view of the TV, CNN, hope to learn something about Iraq withdrawal, Iran, Honduras, health care bill, maybe a Karl Malden tribute or Al & Franni arriving in D.C.

Freakin' Michael Jackson.

Look, Michael lived under continuous stress for 50 years. For the first 21 or so, the stress was imposed from the outside. But after that the stress was increasingly of his own making. Poor career decisions. Clueless choices in his personal life. A prisoner of his own whims & obsessions. Whatever the doctor did, whatever drugs he prescribed, Michael Jackson wasn't murdered. There's no one else to blame. Not Papa Jackson, not Berry Gordy, although the "values" of those two exploitative men served him badly in the long run. Not his hangers-on & sycophants. Not Liz Taylor or the Sheik of Dubai, his "friends." Not the paparazzi. Doesn't matter who inherits his catalogue, estate & his debts & his test tube children. It's all product. Michael Jackson made product. Sometimes great product, all through his recording career. But he saw it as product.

He wasn't like Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, foundering on a "masterpiece" his damaged psyche wouldn't let him finish.

Michael Jackson had no sooner crowned himself "King of Pop" than three smarter, new megastars, Prince, Madonna, & Springsteen, damned near knocked the crown clear off his head. Hip hop rendered any "message" he had irrelevant. His own sister Janet wasn't messing around.

Which brings me to the opinion I've held for two decades. Following the unparalleled success of "Thriller," Jackson made a decision that revealed his tragic flaw & his Motown indoctrination. Rather than understanding the uniqueness of the achievement, the opportunity it presented, Michael set as his primary ambition the making of an album that would sell bigger than "Thriller." Not a better album. He had no clear idea how to accomplish this feat, & he didn't quite possess all the skills (or vision) he needed to do it. He didn't use the success of "Thriller" to develop his songwriting, to work on a point-of-view, to embark on some dreamed of personal artistic project, to get his life & finances on solid ground, maybe do some psychotherapy to control his demons. He bought a monkey & built Neverland & wrecked his face.

Michael Jackson was one fucked up man. In that regard, he truly did top Elvis. The other King, after a few years of bad movies & non-hits, shook off the indifference & a stifling manager, Colonel Parker, long enough to give us an incredible comeback, a trim figure, & some great records before he reverted to form, missing out on the beautiful support the new generation extended to Johnny Cash & Roy Orbison, & which would have revitalized him yet a third time.

A good king has a capacity for reigning wisely at least some of the time.

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"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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