Friday, September 30, 2005

Captain Obvious, Emergency Call on Line 1

So William Bennett, the former Secretary of Education and right-wing "values" author, had the moral clarity to say the following on the radio yesterday:

"If you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."

Some people found that statement a tad...well - excusez moi, quand je cherche pour le mot juste - outrageous.

Bennett defends himself thusly: "I was putting forward a hypothetical proposition. Put that forward. Examined it. And then said about it that it's morally reprehensible. To recommend abortion of an entire group of people in order to lower your crime rate is morally reprehensible. But this is what happens when you argue that the ends can justify the means," he told CNN.

Hey, Dumbass: no one is under the impression that you advocated mass abortions or is saying you didn't say that would be reprehensible.

We're just a little ticked that you said black people are more responsible for crime than other ethnicities.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


Where I grew up in Oregon, "local" is a pleasant if somewhat bland word; it implies a sense of community and the familiar.

To riders of the A train in Manhattan, "local" is one of the most feared words in the English language.

This morning there was a long wait for the train at my stop at 181st Street in upper Manhattan; though we are only four stops from the start of the line, the entire train was standing-room-only by the time it reached us. I ride to the last stop in Manhattan before Brooklyn, almost an hour away, so standing makes me very grateful for my iPod.

At 168th Street we paused for longer than usual. "Ladies and gentlemen, the train is being held by dispatch, please be patient." If I had a nickel for every time I'd heard that statement, I could close the MTA budget gap. But we waited. And waited. People pushed on to the full-to-bursting train.

"Ladies and gentlemen, due to a signal malfunction, this train will be making all local stops to 125th Street." Collective groan. Not a disaster, but it adds three stops and probably 5 or 6 minutes to the trip...not to mention more stations = more passengers.

At 125th Street, we paused and waited again. The platform was filled with people who could not get on our train. We waited some more. I glanced at my watch. Normally by this time I was already 60 blocks further south.

"Ladies and gentlemen" -- groan -- "this train will be making all local stops to 59th Street." Loud groans, some cursing. "Due to signal malfunctions, all trains will be making all stops to 59th Street." So off we went.

Three stops later, we glanced out the windows to see a fully-packed A train whizzing by on the express track. More cursing, including some from me.

By the time we reached Columbus Circle, it was 8:55. (I left my apartment at 8:02.) I had five minutes to get to work, and I had only just reached the outskirts of civilization. Another A train was waiting on the express track across from us. People began to get off and scurry across the platform toward it.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this train is going express, I repeat, this train is making express stops, next stop 42nd Street."

Then over the general loudspeakers at the Columbus Circle station, a voice can be heard saying, "The Brooklyn-bound A train on the local track will be departing first." So everyone gets off the other train and runs back onto ours. The other train shuts its doors and leaves, while we're still trying to get people on.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is a Brooklyn-bound A express train, next stop, 42nd Street." Finally!

Then we fucking stopped at 50th Street. Another A passed us on the express track while we were in the station. I said "fuck" some more.

We arrived at 42nd Street...on the local track. Penn Station...local track. Grrrr. We stopped at 23rd and yet another A train passed us.

At 14th Street I said "To hell with this!" and got off and waited for a real express train. Now, clearly my frustration was clouding my mind, because between 14th Street and Broadway-Nassau, local trains make just one stop that the express trains don't. I realized that too late.

I then waited twenty fucking minutes for the next A train. I got to work at 9:40.

And now you understand why the word "local" strikes fear into the hearts of New Yorkers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Science Proves Religion is a Scam

It’s been scientifically proven: religion is bad for society.

“Religious belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.” So opened a Times Online article linked to on the popular blog Towleroad.

The article, entitled “Societies worse off ‘when they have God on their side’,” summarized a report recently published in the Journal of Religion and Society, and continued, “According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society, but may actually contribute to social problems.”

The study “compares the social performance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the U.S., where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution.”

By this point I had already read several things that aroused intense suspicion; the headline alone was bizarre; as Abraham Lincoln famously put it – and as any faithful person ought to agree – the point is not whether God is on your side (He is), but whether you are on His.

The next clue that something was seriously faulty with the report was the bald implication that belief in a creator is incompatible with belief in evolution. It’s not. If you doubt me, turn your attention over to Dover, Pennsylvania, where the school board is being sued by a group of concerned parents and teachers for their plan to integrate “intelligent design” within the district’s science curriculum. On the opening day of the hearing, the plaintiffs called exactly one witness: Kenneth Miller, professor of biology at Brown University, who stated categorically that intelligent design is not science and ought not to be included.

Professor Miller is a Christian.

I was unconvinced that this correlation between faith and social problems was a relationship of causality, and wondered how such a thing could possibly be proven. The simultaneous existence of two things does not indicate one caused the other. I might as well assert, having traveled to Brazil where I observed rainforests full of colorful birds, and then going next to southern Algeria where I observed no pretty birds and only vast sandy wastes, that colorful birds are the cause of rainforests.

As with intelligent design, this report seemed to be taking scientific information and drawing unscientific conclusions. I was curious to see what else it said.

The report, Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies, states clearly: “Because potential causal factors for rates of societal function are complex…it is not the purpose of this initial study to definitively demonstrate a causal link between religion and social conditions.” [emphasis mine]

Hmm, I got rather a different impression from the Times. Didn’t you?

The report does not conclude at all that “religion” is detrimental to society; it's a fascinating and valuable read, weakened by persistently meaning "Christianity" when it says “religion” and defining “Christianity” as Biblical literalism. The report overlooks that “religion” is diverse; the best it can do is position Senator Joseph Lieberman (!) at the “liberal” end of the spectrum.

The key to uncovering the relationship between social problems and religion is the correlation not between atheists and people of faith, but between people who reject evolution and everyone else. Christian fundamentalism is an anti-intellectual movement; notice how Republican presidential candidates frequently attempt to discredit Democratic candidates or other politicians by describing them as “members of the intellectual elite,” as if that’s a bad thing.

Christian fundamentalism treats God’s greatest gift to mankind – our ability to think – as Satan’s most powerful weapon. The data convincingly shows that the trend toward anti-intellectualism is related to America’s social problems, especially in light of demographics: “Within the U.S., strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution [see what I mean? The author doesn’t understand] are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and midwest having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions…approach European norms.”

What’s really wrong with America is that fundamentalist, anti-evolution, anti-intellectuals are taking over the government. The report quotes a prominent Republican blaming high crime rates on teaching children “that they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionized [sic] out of some primordial soup of mud.”

That Republican was indicted for conspiracy to commit fraud today.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Guilty!; Pass the Hand Sanitizer

William Saletan's Human Nature column in Slate, where he excerpts highlights of science and technology news, had this bit of information today, under the brilliant headline, "Edward Whizzerhands":

Only 64 percent of men wash their hands after using bathrooms at New York's Penn Station, compared to 92 percent of women. On average, in several cities, 83 percent of Americans using public restrooms do so. "Harris Interactive observed the behavior of 6,336 adults (3,206 males and 3,130 females) in public restrooms … Observers were instructed to groom themselves (comb their hair, put on make-up, etc.) while observing."

Trust me, my private parts are cleaner than the sinks in Penn Station. I touch as little as possible in there. I doubt I was observed, unless my covert Harris Interactive observer was disguised as a smelly hobo.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Overheard in New York

Cute guy, sitting next to me at the bar, to his friend: "Wow, there are NO cute guys here."

Me: [sigh]

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Ti guarda dal Grande Inquisitor!

At the end of the second act of Verdi's masterful thriller Don Carlo, King Philip warns the Marquis of Posa -- the most heroic, noble gay character in opera, if not all of drama -- "Beware the Grand Inquisitor."

A Vatican official with "authoritative knowledge" recently granted a confidential interview to The New York Times, informing them that the Catholic Church is about to announce stricter rules regarding the ordination of priests: homosexuals, even those who are celibate, will be barred. Vatican investigators are on their way to inspect all 229 American seminaries to look for, among other things, "evidence of homosexuality."

I hope that sounds as ominous to you as it does to me.

In an Op-Ed in today's Times, Amy Welborn lauded the developments. She tried to downplay the homosexual witch-hunt aspect by pointing out that only two sentences out of eleven pages of the Instrumentum Laboris, the "set of questions to be asked of all seminary administrators, faculty and students,” relate to homosexuality, and then recounted some lurid tales of a handful of other seminarians whose crimes were unrelated to their sexuality.

“But incidents like these,” she continued, “reflect deeper weaknesses,” such as “the presence in seminaries of gay subcultures that draw their identity from secular values rather than the Catholic moral vision.”

“Why is it considered unfair to expect priests and seminarians to live by the values of the institution they serve?” she demands.

I am not Catholic, nor do I aspire to any pretense of knowledge of Catholic doctrine. But my response is loud and insistent: if priests are called upon to serve the institution, and not God, you have a problem. The Catholic Church, as an institution, has been responsible for such sacrilegious outrages as the selling of indulgences, sponsorship of the genocidal crusades, silence during the Holocaust, and the brutal slaughter and torture of countless innocents accused of heresy and witchcraft.

Allow me to state clearly that I do not mean that as an indictment of the Catholic faith; modern-day individual Catholics are no more responsible for centuries-old crimes than I am for the witch-burnings in Salem. There is Catholic blood on Protestant hands, and the Lord’s day of vengeance awaits us all. But at times, individual conscience must be allowed to trump institutional doctrine.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding,” teaches Proverbs 3:5. For me, that is one of the hardest challenges in Scripture. How else to act or function in this world if we do not follow what we understand to be right? All we can do is submit ourselves in prayer, humble ourselves before God, pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and, God save us, do as we believe is right. I have no standing upon which to accuse Vatican officials of behaving otherwise.


In writing about the new enforcement of older rules, the Times recalled that last spring Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, expressed a need to “purify” the church after the horrific tales of molestation and abuse that have roiled the priesthood in recent years.

In a letter to the Times today, the assistant dean at the School of Social Work at Columbia University wrote to remind us that “reliable studies show that pedophiles are overwhelmingly heterosexual. Pedophilia is about sexual attraction to children (most often, regardless of their sex) and about access. If priests are abusing boys, it is not about their being homosexual but about that being the population to which they have access.”

The shortsightedness of the new plan is staggering. The anonymous church official referred to above also told the Times that “the ban would pertain only to candidates for the priesthood, not to those already ordained.” If homosexuals are the threat they are apparently perceived to be, why the grandfather clause?

The official defended the expulsion of even celibate seminarians by citing “what he contended were the specific temptations of seminaries.” “In the seminary, you are surrounded by males, not females,” a position echoed by Mike Sullivan of Catholics United for the Faith: “putting a homosexual in an all-male seminary environment subjects that person to too much temptation, and increases his likelihood for failure. It’s not appropriate to put an alcoholic in a bar, either,” he added.

In 1986, a prominent Catholic labeled the insinuation that homosexuals could not control their behavior an “unfounded and demeaning assumption.” His name was Cardinal Ratzinger.

In August of this year, the rector at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York resigned after the press exposed the affair he was having with his female secretary.

I want you to take a good look at this picture. In case you haven’t seen it before, what you are looking at is the corpse of a priest being carried away by emergency workers from the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. Father Mychal Judge was killed by falling debris as he was giving the last rights to a dying firefighter.

Father Judge was gay.

Mayor Giuliani has called Judge a saint, and so have others; in fact, there’s a website ( devoted to support for his canonization. In researching an article on the late priest, the Times contacted “several of Father Judge’s admirers from conservative backgrounds [who] declined…to discuss his sexuality because they said it had no relevance.”

That would be the most astute comment any Catholic could offer.

Welborn, for her part, complained “a seminary owes us, the people in the pews, psychologically mature priests who aren’t engaged in an eternal and ego-driven struggle with their own problems.” For me, the very definition of Christian faith is the eternal struggle with our own problems; I condemn the suggestion that homosexuality is a “psychologically [im]mature” condition. Ms. Welborn would have tossed seminarian Mychal Judge out on his ear.

For readers who thought the opening of this post was unnecessarily dramatic and would like to reassure me that there is no longer such thing as the Inquisition, I have but one question: if the church official is telling the truth, why did he request anonymity?

Guardiamo dal Grande Inquisitor.

Friday, September 23, 2005

On the Occasion of the 2nd Season Finale

O Battlestar Galactica,
How beautiful your crew is.
You dropped your towel, dear Apollo,
I dropped my jaw, t’was hard to swallow.
O Battlestar Galactica,
How beautiful your crew is.

O Battlestar Galactica,
How beautiful your crew is.
There’s Helo, Lee, and Gaeta, too,
Let’s not forget the butch Starbuck.
O Battlestar Galactica,
You’re turning me bisexual.

O Battlestar Galactica,
I’m waiting for you here on Earth.
I stay up late on Friday nights
And fantasize about your plights.
O Battlestar Galactica,

How beautiful your crew is.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Divine Death Penalty?

Last week I wrote a response to a satirical article about Pat Robertson blaming Hurricane Katrina on gays; the article was fiction, but I asserted, "there really are "Christians" out there...who seek to explain natural catastrophes by claiming divine retribution." Here are two examples.

The organization Repent America directly claimed that Southern Decadence, a gay festival regularly occurring in New Orleans over Labor Day weekend, was the cause of God's ire. Concerned parent Abigail Jarboe in Pennsylvania gave the same warning: "I don't think it's a coincidence."

Personally, I'm curious as to why people would believe in a God who's so dumb that in order to stop a gay-themed party, he destroys a mostly-heterosexual city (well, let's be honest...not just New Orleans, but a broad swath of America stretching across Louisiana and Mississippi, hardly WeHo, Chelsea or South Beach), where the victims are mostly children and the elderly, the weekend before the big gay party.

I've cautioned before against anthropomorphosis, but you know, if I were God, I might wait until the fags were all there and then destroy the city. But what do I know?

Does God kill people he's angry with? Some think so. "We rejoice that [Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William] Rehnquist is dead and in Hell,” said a Fred Phelps press release. “It is a sin NOT to rejoice when God executes His wrath and vengeance upon a sorry, faggyass judge." This might be news to Rehnquist, who sided with the majority in Bowers v. Hardwick and dissented in Romer v. Evans and Lawrence v. Texas. And again, the timing is a problem for me. Lawrence, the last major pro-gay ruling from the Court, was in June of 2003. Rehnquist died in September 2005. Granted, the Lord works in mysterious ways, but one might think that if He were trying to make a point, He could do better on the timing. He also might consider smiting one of the six justices, including O'Connor, who ruled for the gays.

The logical flaw which stands out even more obviously than God's ill-chosen targets and poor timing is the underlying assumption that God lets the people he likes live. you know anyone who's lived forever? How many saints can you think of who met brutal, vicious ends? (For the non-churchy types among you, here's a few choice examples: St. Peter was crucified upside down; among the apostles, James, Matthias and Paul were beheaded, Luke was hanged, Philip, Andrew, Jude, Bartholomew and Simon were crucified (rightside up, I guess), Mark was beaten to death, and John was deep-fried.)

I mean, for God's sake, pun intended, even Jesus was beaten and crucified.

Take it from the Bible: belief in God is no guarantee of physical immortality or a calm, peaceful death.

God's bargain is with our immortal souls, not our physical bodies. I have always taken great comfort from the story of St. Stephen, who was stoned (not like I was last night...I mean, with rocks). The book of Acts tells us that as the rocks began flying his way, "he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep."

Fear, pain, and suffering are illusions created by Darkness. We personally, with God's assistance, have the power to resist them. Stephen's faith was so great that in his final moments, he simply gave himself over to God and his soul was swept away into paradise without him being aware of any physical pain. Because of Stephen's example, I have no fear of death. Truly.

Anyway, all of this is by way of saying not to take "Christians" who claim to detect God's homophobia in weather patterns too seriously. After all, now that Rita's on the way, it's more probable that God is angry at the petroleum industry.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

stoned out of my mind

i have allergies or maybe it's a mild cold but whatever my nose was running constantly and i was sneezing like some kind of automatic sneezing machine at work today so i took a 12-hour sudafed in the hopes that it would get me through the rest of the day and now i'm home but i'm like seriously whoa dude i feel like i'm sleepwalking or something like when i turn my head to look in a different direction it takes a couple seconds for my brain to catch up you know and i bought a frozen pizza for dinner 'cuz i couldn't think of what else to get and then i forgot to set the timer so now it's burnt pizza and hey regular reader who introduced yourself to me at the grocery store i'm sorry if i seemed like a wacko really it's the sudafed

Losing one voice, finding another

SANTA FE, NM, August 2000: That's me in the pink, singing one of my dream roles, Dandini in Rossini's La Cenerentola, at The Santa Fe Opera, in an apprentice showcase performance. Dandini was so suited to my voice, build and personality that my colleagues actually called me "Andini." At the time this photo was taken, I was about as happy as I have ever been. I had just graduated with my master's degree in vocal performance from Manhattan School of Music, was completing an incredible summer apprenticeship in Santa Fe where I understudied Count Almaviva in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, another tailor-made role, and was just a few weeks away from flying off to Zürich, where I would spend a year in their young artist program.

Everything seemed to me like it was falling into place; though I try not to be superstitious, I couldn't help but notice what seemed like omens: that gorgeous costume I'm wearing above had previously been worn by Dwayne Croft in Don Giovanni, another role I was coveting. The shoes still had Richard Stilwell's name in them. For my Zürich debut in Salome I would wear Thomas Hampson's old Tannhäuser coat and later, singing my first Almaviva, I was garbed in Thomas Allen's threadbare costume from a previous Met production.

Perhaps you have noticed I'm no longer singing.

It's a long story that's still difficult for me to tell, so I'll spare you the details. The short version is that beginning in about June 2002 I began to notice subtle differences in my voice: it was duller, smaller, fatigued easily and never felt quite warmed up. At the time I attributed this to a punishing 8-performance a week run I was doing for 10 weeks in Chicago of Philip Glass' Galileo Galilei. I was still singing fine, just not my best. I assumed it would pass.

It did not. Onstage at the Barbican Centre in London in November of that year I found myself silently pleading with God just to get through my one important scene in the show, which should have been no challenge at all given that Mr. Glass had written it for me and I had already performed it sixty-odd times in Chicago and New York. It hurt to sing. My voice felt thin and tired, and no amount of steaming or pampering or rest that I could give it did anything to improve it.

The particular burn of humiliation foisted upon opera singers when their voices disintegrate is in a class apart from that which any other performer might experience. The act of singing makes you feel quite vulnerable; naked, really. If a model spent two hours a day, five days a week, for 10 years, in the gym, he'd be proud of his body. That was the amount of time I'd invested in my voice...and I liked to show it off. Now it was abandoning me.

Upon returning home to New York I was diagnosed with acid reflux. My doctor prescribed a drug which made me physically ill and didn't help my voice a bit. A colleague suggested a different medication, which didn't upset my stomach, but also didn't help my voice. I canceled my auditions for the season -- meaning barring a miracle I would have no jobs for the coming season or even the year after -- and rested. Eventually I went off prescription drugs altogether, began acupuncture treatments and took up yoga. Within a couple of months, my doctor pronounced me free of acid-reflux. I didn't have the symptoms anymore.

I also didn't have my voice.

I don't know what happened, but it was never the same. I had a thorough examination by my ENT, a top expert in her field whose office is graced by hundreds of autographed pictures of her clients ranging from platinum-album pop stars to network anchors to opening-night stars at the Met, and was told my cords looked like they had never been used, they were in such perfect condition. I went for a second opinion and got the same answer. Still, the voice just wasn't the same.

Trust me, this is the short version. It was a two year struggle, an emotional and spiritual crisis that left just barely-concealed scars lurking under my happy-go-lucky surface. Eventually I had to face the music, and find a new direction in life.

Not a day goes by that I don't miss my old life. I remember having a bitch-session with Jose Cura about our arrogant, soulless conductor. I remember Mirella Freni crossing herself before going onstage in Fedora. I remember rehearsing Galileo in Chicago for three hours one morning, then flying back to New York and proceeding straight to the auditorium at Hofstra University for a dress rehearsal of Figaro. I remember being so pleased with a high note in Die Fledermaus that I got distracted and stopped singing. I remember shiny gold nipples for Elektra. I remember knowing that last Traviata was, in fact, my last Traviata.

My new life isn't as much fun, and certainly isn't as glamorous. But I hope, in whatever small, administrative way I can, that I'm making a positive contribution to my life and to the world. My last life had humble beginnings, too. Let's just hope this one doesn't also end in heartbreak.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Happy Blogoversary to Me!

Today The Last Debate is one year old.

I think I've come a long way since that day I stayed home sick from work in September 2004 and decided to start a blog. I posted six times that day...ranging from a rambling "here's what I did today" recap, a picture of me in my dressing room before Salome in 2000, two rants about Bush and Iraq, the first in an unpopular series of "On This Day in Middle Earth" blogs, and even -- dear God, what was I on??? -- a recipe for steamed bratwurst and sour cream sauce.

Not recommended reading.

I spent the next couple of months writing essays of Homeric scope consisting of regurgitated DNC talking points absorbed from other blogs and the New York Times editorial page (which, as of today, requires a paid subscription to read online; I'd pay $1/week to read Paul Krugman and Frank Rich, but the rest you can have) as prelude to the election.

After that I had a brief incarnation as a local politics activist, railing against MTA incompetence and advocating for the return of red-tailed hawks to Fifth Avenue.

After taking up the cause of saving Social Security, I wandered in the wilderness for a while, complaining about subway rides and temp jobs.

I also learned that sometimes the shortest posts generate the most comments (here and here).

Now I'm some sort of queer activist theologian. Whatever.

I love you all. Even you secular heathens. No, especially you guys. Thanks for reading, for your comments, for your support, and for your inspiration.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Myth of Genesis

I have frequently argued that as Jesus often lectured in the form of parables, we are to take these examples as a caution not to read the Bible too literally; just as Jesus surely was not discussing an actual fig tree, a real house built on sand, or recounting the true story of a traveller assaulted by bandits, the lessons and truths of ancient Scripture are more important than whether the tales are historically accurate.

Of all the books of the Bible, Genesis by far has the greatest number of legends that could politely be described as "far-fetched" by the skeptical: the six-day account of Creation, Noah managing to get exactly two of every species of animal in the world on his ark, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, even a talking snake. I recently discovered that my view that the value of Genesis lies not in its veracity but in deeper meanings that have to be searched out was shared by an eminent theologian: no less of an expert than St. Paul himself.

Genesis also contains a fair share of stories which are not so fantastical, such as the the tale of the patriarch Abram and his handmaid Hagar. Abram was an old man and his wife Sarai was barren; Abram had no heir. Sarai gave Hagar to Abram that she might conceive; she did, and her son was named Ishmael. Later, after a visit from an angel of the Lord, Sarai (now renamed Sarah) conceived a son by Abram (now renamed Abraham), Isaac.

It's a straightforward story, asking of us only to accept that an old woman could become pregnant, a leap of faith so small it's more like a hop. But even this everyday story has implications greater than the sum of its literal narrative.

In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul wrote of this very episode, "Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants." (Galatians 4:24) He went on to explain, "Now we, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now."

Sarai and Abram succombed to worldly (aka secular) wisdom, which concerns itself with material wealth and issues of inheritance and self-preservation, and took matters into their own hands instead of trusting in the Lord. The result was illegitimate; strong and powerful, and the father of a great nation, yes, but "the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son." Isaac, on the other hand, was the fruit of God's promise, a gift given in exchange for correctly answering the question, "Is anything impossible for the Lord?"

The lesson is not to be fooled by the outward appearances of success and the semblance of pragmatism promoted by conventional thinking, but rather to trust that your spiritual life contains the greater truths. If Paul tells us that even this comparatively banal segment of Scripture must be parsed in this way, then how much more complex are the great stories of Creation, etc.?

The myth of Genesis is not that it explains the unexplainable with legends; it's that it must be read literally.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

A Non-Endorsement

I am hereby officially not endorsing John G. Roberts for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Let me be very clear: I am not opposed to his confirmation. But given that he set "a whole new standard in nonresponsiveness under questioning," I feel a mere shrug of the shoulders from me is what would please Judge Roberts the most.

I do not buy any of the hysterical assumptions made by my fellow lefties. I don't think he's sexist; if Mrs. Roberts were some nitwitted stay-at-home baby machine, I might worry. But he married a lawyer...and a feminist lawyer at that. Yes, he's a Catholic; but so are Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. He presumably has a moral objection to abortion, though he's twice gone on record as describing Roe v. Wade as "settled law."

He rejected the point of view of right-wing nuts like Rick Santorum -- who claims there is no right to privacy -- and compellingly argued that, while not explicit, a basic right to privacy is strongly implied by the third and fourth amendments. Conservatives tried to spin away his pro bono work on the 1996 Romer v. Evans by saying, as they said of his earlier White House work, that he was merely doing as he was told or asked and such work should not be construed as indicative of Roberts' personal opinions; however, before the Senate this week Roberts said, "if there had been something morally objectionable, I suppose I would have [turned down the request]."

You'd better believe Antonin Scalia would have found something "morally objectionable" to assisting on a case to overturn voter-approved law in Colorado to ban anti-discrimination legislation against gays. And if I might borrow a cogent line of thinking established recently by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), if the opposite of "dead" is "alive," then the opposite of "morally objectionable" is...not morally objectionable.

Which leads me to the hearings themselves. As the LA Times observed, "Roberts emerged from the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings as practically the only person who did not look like an ideologue or a blithering idiot." What did the senators expect to achieve? Would the famously composed Roberts have a "Perry Mason moment" and rise thundering, "Yes! Yes, I will overturn Roe! I think sodomites are condemned to hellfire! I single-handedly engineered the 2000 Florida vote!" Maybe they were hoping to uncover video of "Roberts...kicking a wheelchair-bound hurricane victim."

Many liberals seem convinced that his abundant caution and tortuously considered responses are a heavy cloak that he will toss off upon his ascent to the bench where he will assume his true identity. "I am trying to get your feelings as a man," pleaded Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Has it not occurred to them that maybe, just maybe, as has been his modus operandi for his entire career, he will be an abundantly cautious justice issuing tortuously considered opinions?

The only reason to oppose his nomination is pure partisan bigotry. No, he's most likely not going to become a liberal icon, but he is eminently qualified. To oppose him because his personal views don't toe the liberal line is discrimination, something I thought us bleeding-hearts were supposed to abhor.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Voting for Life

Today is the Democratic primary in Manhattan. I think I am the only person not running for borough president. I may also have been the only person who voted.

On my way to the polls this evening after work, I passed by Leslie Crocker Snyder, candidate for district attorney, who was greeting voters on Cabrini Boulevard. (A nice testament to my neighborhood's political influence, of which I'm rather proud.)

The New York Times wrote a compelling editorial endorsing Ms. Snyder, and I'll give her props for marching right in front of us in the pride parade this year.

The incumbent, Robert Morgenthau, has held his post for thirty-some years. He is 86 years old. That in itself is a consideration. I accept the Times' position that it's time for a change.

However, Ms. Snyder supports the death penalty. Now, she did go to the trouble of leaving me (and presumably every other registered Democrat in the City) several phone messages explaining that she is opposed to the death penalty except in extreme cases, such as terrorism.

I am, for religious reasons, categorically opposed to the death penalty. But there's a host of practical reasons to oppose the death penalty as well. For example, there is no evidence that the death penalty is any sort of deterrent; in fact, states which employ the death penalty have higher crime rates than those that do not. And I fail to see how execution, which would immortalize a terrorist as a martyr, could succeed in deterring someone determined to blow himself up or fly an airplane into a building.

A handsome, suited-up young man directed my attention to the exceptionally attractive woman (she looks like the love-child of Ann Coulter and Martha Stewart) and invited me to "meet Leslie Crocker Snyder!" I didn't even pause. I couldn't look her in the eye, knowing that I was already committed to voting for Morgenthau on this one single issue. I tried to smile, but I think it came out more of a grimace. "Good luck," I said, sincerely.

I do wish her luck. I'm sure she would make a fine district attorney, and the Times is probably right that we need a change. But I had to vote my conscience.

UPDATE: Mr. Morgenthau won with 59% of the vote.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Andy Gets Hoodwinked

Oops. Got forwarded a "news" article at work and failed to detect that it was satire until after I'd written the post below. But having thought about it, most of what I responded to still holds. The scariest part of the satire is that given all the idiotic things Pat Robertson has said over the years, the story was utterly plausible; furthermore, there really are "Christians" out there -- Pat Robertson among them -- who seek to explain natural catastrophes by claiming divine retribution.

This just in: Pat Robertson announced that Hurricane Katrina was God’s way of expressing His anger at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for its selection of Ellen Degeneres to host this year’s Emmy Awards.

My first reaction was to laugh and shake my head a bit. Oh, that crazy Robertson! What a kook! Please, what he says is irrelevant, right? I mean, it's not like after the last fiasco the U.S. actually went and assassinated Hugo Chavez. Just the harmless babblings of a deranged idiot.

Then I remembered that Robertson's "Operation Blessing" was one of the first groups given government funds for post-Katrina relief work. That's right, George Bush sent Pat Robertson your money.

“Is it any surprise that the Almighty chose to strike at Miss Degeneres’ hometown?” asked Roberts.

Okay, I know I've said in the past that anthropomorphizing God -- saying, "if I were God, I wouldn't have done that" -- is terrible theology. Fine. But since the subject is Pat Robertson, this entire post is about terrible theology. So indulge me.

Yes, Pat, actually it does come as something of a surprise to me, assuming what you say is true.

You're telling me that He's mad at a Hollywood-based organization and so He struck at the hometown of a lesbian who's been invited to host an annual awards ceremony? So, if they'd invited me, for example, He would have Gomorrahed Bellevue, Washington? Interesting. The selection of Ellen so infuriated God that not only did he destroy New Orleans, but trashed everything between there and Biloxi for good measure.

See, if I were God, I might have just stuck with the tried and true and smote Ellen with a thunderbolt and knocked down the Academy in an earthquake. Why does God have to drown 400+ stranded, destitute African-Americans to make a point about sexual deviance? It doesn't make a lot of sense to me to kill innocent people who are unconnected with the issues that anger you. That's what terrorists do. My God is not a terrorist, but apparently yours is.

And you drove that point home by saying, “This is the second time in a row that God has invoked a disaster shortly before lesbian Ellen Degeneres hosted the Emmy Awards,” referring of course to the September 11 attacks that occurred before Ms. Degeneres hosted the 2001 Emmys. (Actually, I suspect it was God's way of warning Ellen not to wear this dress.)

Pat Robertson has thrown out 2,000 years of good, solid theology (not to mention millennia of science) and taken us back to ancient Greece, where citizens attributed all tragedies to acts of divine displeasure. Pat...have you read the Bible lately?

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:44-45)

Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Silo'am fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no. (Luke 13:2-5)

To be fair, Robertson was careful to point out that God is okay with homosexuals, as long as they stay where they belong: on Broadway. “God already allows one awards show to promote the homosexual agenda. But clearly He will not tolerate such sinful behavior to spread beyond the Tonys.”

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Two Meowers

Faith and Doubt

"We too often forget that faith is a matter of questioning and struggle before it becomes one of certitude and peace...and after you have begun to believe, your faith itself must be tested and purified. Christianity is not merely a set of forgone conclusions. Faith tends to be defeated by the burning presence of God in mystery, and seeks refuge from him, flying to comfortable social forms and safe convictions in which purification is no longer an inner battle but a matter of outward gesture."

- Thomas Merton

What drew me to this passage was the assertion of the role that doubt plays in faith. As I like to say, if you don't question God, you never get answers. Too many Christians are uncomfortable with doubt; however much they might doubt or question in private, they worry that doubt is weakness, and publicly profess an obnoxious, sanctimonious certitude, "comfortable social forms and safe convictions...a matter of outward gesture." This brand of orthodoxy is spiritually and intellectually damaging, and also injurious to the church because it pushes away those of us of more skeptical natures.

It stems from what I believe is a misreading of a passage in the Gospel of John, where the apostle Thomas rejects the claims of other disciples that they have seen the resurrected Christ: "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." (John 20:25) One week later, Jesus appears to Thomas and invites him to examine his wounds: "Stop doubting, and believe." Thomas exclaims, "My Lord and my God!," to which Jesus responds, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed."

This does not mean we are not to doubt; it shows us that, in times of doubt, if we have patience, God will provide us with the answers we require. It is important to note that Jesus does not appear right at that moment, but rather a full week later. Jesus is not angry with Thomas, but instead has illustrated for him, and for us, the beauty and meaning of faith: what credit does it do you to believe only in that which you can see and touch? Blessed are those willing to take that leap of faith, and believe in what they cannot see; more importantly, doubt eventually leads to certitude in faith. One cannot have sufficient faith unless it has been tempered in the fires of doubt.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Governator terminates gay marriage.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Republicans are Idiots

This is not a partisan post, unless you consider pointing out the obvious an overt act of bias.

I. Lower Taxes Cost More

Writing about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Slacktivist had this insight: "The poor in America eventually receive a begrudging, belated assistance that proves far costlier, far less effective and far less efficient than a timelier response."

2001: Federal budget for flood control in Lousiana is $69 million. Clinton leaves White House with $200+ billion budget surplus.

2005: Senator Landrieu (D) requests $27 million for federal hurricane protection in the Lake Pontchartrain region. Bush approves $5.7 million. Federal flood control budget for the state $33 million lower than in 2001.

June, 2005: Bush cuts $71.2 million from the budget of the New Orleans Corps of Engineers.

September, 2005: Bush asks for $52 billion to pay for Hurricane Katrina's damage. Federal budget surplus now negative $330 billion.

II. It's Not Bureaucracy, It's Incompetent Bureaucrats

September 6, 2005: "Bureaucracy is not going to stand in the way of getting the job done for the people," says Bush.

January 2001: Bush appoints Joe Allbaugh, who has no experience in disaster management, as head of FEMA.

November 25, 2002: Department of Homeland Security created; largest expansion of federal government in fifty years.

December 2002: Allbaugh leaves FEMA and is succeeded by his former college roommate Michael Brown, who was fired from his previous job at the International Arabian Horse Association for incompetence and mismanagement.

March 2003: FEMA becomes part of Homeland Security.

September 1, 2005: Director Brown admits he didn't know about the thousands of refugees stranded at the convention center in New Orleans, even though they've been on television for days.

III. Flip-Flopping Isn't Just for John Kerry Anymore

November 18, 2003: Massachusetts Supreme Court rules same-sex couples have the right to marry.

November 20, 2003: Tom DeLay denounces a "runaway judiciary."

July 14, 2004: "Activist judges...are not letting up in their efforts to redefine marriage for the rest of America," says Bush.

September 6, 2005: California State Legislature legalizes same-sex marriage.

September 7, 2005: Spokesperson for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says the Governator believes "the issue of same-sex marriage should be settled by the courts."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Last Booze of Summer

I hate winter. Can I just say that? I am dreading the darkening, shortening, frigidifying days. But I have to say, it's been a fantastic summer. Yes, August had a few miserably hot and humid days as per usual, but nothing too exceptional, and after 2003 any summer when the power stays on counts as a good one.

Saturday my friend Kevin and I made one final pilgrimage out to Fire Island for the year. It was divine: the water was clear, cold and calm...and I found a cute little starfish in the surf that I petted for a while before tossing him back out into deeper water. Zero humidity, light breeze, bright sunshine, temp in the low 80s and unusually gentle waves. For some reason, swimming in the salty Atlantic is always incredibly invigorating. It feels so good just to bob up and down as the swells come in...unless there's garbage (ew!) or jellyfish (ow!), of which there were neither this weekend. There were lots of biting flies, which grew increasingly numerous/aggressive as the day wore on. Oh well.

Sunday I mostly lay around the apartment. I didn't get much sleep last weekend on my trip to Oregon, so I needed time to catch up on that. Later in the evening I went for a $5 cosmopolitan at Therapy with Jon, and then joined his boyfriend along with Mike and his roommate at Gym, after which we barhopped over to G. Our favorite waiter Will was not there, so we mourned his absence with several frozen Cosmos (it's like a 7-11 Slurpee with vodka...and still some people don't believe in God!).

Yesterday of course was my traumatic venture up to Target in The Bronx. I went in search of new pillows for the bed, but their supply seemed to be exhausted. Instead I came home with a neat print of the George Washington Bridge, my neighborhood icon. I walked all the way back home (not really that far; Target is at 225th Street, I live on 187th) in a beautiful orange twilight through Fort Tryon Park, listening to the invisible cicadas singing in the trees and watching the Hudson River sparkle in the sunset. I picked up some Indian food on the way for dinner (mmm...chicken biryani).

I took today off from work to make a 4-day weekend, and I'm really glad I did. I woke up in high domestic gear (most unusual for me) and spent the entire day organizing and cleaning my apartment. I started in the kitchen and organized the utility pantry and tossed out things from my kitchen cupboards which had been in there for at least 6 years. I did laundry, I vacuumed, I created new folders for my file cabinet, I paid bills...and most importantly, I ordered a new desk!

Andy's got some big plans. I've hated my bedroom forever. I want to make it calmer and more spacious...and I want to get the computer out. Alas, I am still using a dial-up modem. (Yes, yes, I know.) And so the computer has had to be where the phone jack is. Plus, I got this little laminated pressboard number of a desk back in 1994 and I really fear collapse is imminent. So, thanks to a little cash-infusion from Mom (I love my job, but wow, we put the "non" in non-profit) I'm getting a replacement. I've also been going over the budget and I realized that if I get rid of my landline, which I never use except for the dial-up modem, I can save enough money to get a cable/DSL package...which means I will finally have cable TV! I'll never miss Shark Week again!

Now if I can just get a boyfriend!

PS, Grandmother is in the psycho ward at a local hospital. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Laborious Day

Hi, I'm still here, sorry. There's a lot going on in the world, but my brain hasn't really had much to say about it. Here's the summary:

Katrina: Oh. My. God. Dear President Bush: the next time you see a category 4 hurricane heading straight for a major city and you have a couple of days' notice, please start getting ready. You put who in charge of FEMA? Christ, after you fire that asshole, why don't you nominate me? I'm smart enough to know I can't handle the job, which makes me more qualified than him.

Racism: I'm not convinced that the government didn't act to help New Orleans because the administration is racist. Honestly, I don't believe that about Bush. Instead what we've seen is the conservative anti-tax mantra come to fruition: the people who operate on the belief that "government is the problem" aren't able to come through in a crisis when government is the answer.

Implications for Manhattan: get your own emergency plan. The government can't help us.

Supreme Court: just approve Roberts already, okay? Oooooh, he's conservative! No shit. Who were you expecting Bush to nominate, Barbra Streisand? I probably won't agree with him a lot of the time, but I look forward to reading his opinions. I hear in his spare time he takes the text of Bush's press conferences and annotates grammatical corrections in the margins. Next.

Iraq: ?

Bull's Eye: I went to visit the "new" Target store in The Bronx, just across the Broadway Bridge from upper Manhattan. Now, I suffer from mild crowd anxiety. Perhaps it was COMPLETELY FUCKING RETARDED OF ME to go to Target on a) Labor Day when no one is working, b) the last night of New York's tax-free shopping week, and c) the weekend before school starts. It was like a war-zone in there. Do all children scream like that? Even at 31 years of age, I don't have the balls to say, "Mommy, buy me that!" This was about the most uncouth (least couth?) collection of people I have ever seen in one location. Every woman who wasn't morbidly obese was pregnant. I actually had to back out of an aisle because there was a woman (?) coming at me as wide as the aisle itself. Man, if your breasts hang down to your belly button, for the love of God please don't wear a tank-top without a bra, especially a tank-top too small for you so that it rides up to your navel. I don't need to see the twin bags of cellulite that hang off your belly button over your stretched-to-the-bursting-point jeans. Lord, if I wasn't gay before, I am now! I know it's a holiday, but I shaved my upper lip...why didn't you?

There is still hope for America.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Strict Constructionist?

CNN reported yesterday that Justice Antonin Scalia is "saddened to see the Supreme Court deciding moral issues not addressed in the Constitution, such as abortion, gay rights and the death penalty. He said such questions should be settled by Congress or state legislatures beholden to the people."

"I am questioning the propriety -- indeed, the sanity -- of having a value-laden decision such as this made for the entire society ... by unelected judges," he said.

"Now the Senate is looking for moderate judges, mainstream judges. What in the world is a moderate interpretation of a constitutional text? Halfway between what it says and what we'd like it to say?" he said, to laughter and applause.

Ha ha, oooh, that was hilarious. Allow me to point out some irony:

Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution expressly gives the President -- with the advice and consent of the Senate -- the power to appoint Supreme Court Justices. Article III Section 2 says "The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution."

Scalia has said he reads the text of the Constitution in a literal manner, a method in which the "plain and ordinary meaning" of the text guides interpretation. "Words mean what they mean." If that is true, it hardly seems appropriate for him to question the "sanity" of the Framers when they decided that judges should be appointed, and therefore expressly unaccountable to the electorate, and also the Court's authority to rule on "all cases" in which there is a Constitutional issue.

Scalia apparently does not comprehend -- or is intentionally obscuring -- the distinction between what is "legal" and what is "moral." Exceeding the speed limit is not amoral, but it's illegal for a plethora of practical reasons. Deciding that slaves only counted as three-fifths of a person in determining a state's population for purposes of Congressional representation was immoral, but was the law.

Codes of "morality" vary from person to person and culture to culture. In present day America, many people feel it is immoral for an unmarried couple to live together, but it's legal. Many people feel it's immoral to have children out of wedlock, but it's legal. Britney Spears' first marriage lasted 55 hours: legal.

Scalia believes the Court has no jurisdiction over "moral issues not addressed in the Constitution." In a way, he's right: they have no jurisdiction over morality. But when one group's definition of "morality" butts up against the Constitutional pillars of due process and equal protection, then the Court has the responsibility to intervene to determine the legality.

If anyone feels conflicted between what the Constitution says and what they'd like it to say, it's Antonin Scalia.


Sidenote: I think CNN has been reading my blog. The headline for this article was "Scala blasts 'judge moralists'." You have to go back to July 27 to find a headline that has the word "slams" in it. Hurray!