Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Same Sex Marriage Belongs in the Courts

New York State's top court heard oral arguments today in the final phase of Hernandez v. Robles, a suit which aims at a clarification of New York's civil marriage laws to recognize that the fundamental right of marriage, as guaranteed by both the state constitution and established court precedents, includes same-sex couples.

The proceedings, lasting two and a half hours, were recorded and archived on the New York State Court of Appeals' website, and can be viewed here. One of the many highlights occurs at approximately 1:40:00, when an attorney for the State is asked directly if he can list any potential adverse effect of legalizing same-sex marriage. He cannot.

The State's opposition to same-sex marriage hinges on two arguments. One is that civil marriage is fundamentally related to biological procreation, a notion I refuted in an earlier post under the section headed "Lie #2."

The second argument is that the regulation of marriage is controlled by the legislature, not the courts, a position held by many social conservatives around the country.

This assertion ignores one of the central points of our constitutional democracy about checks and balances and the separation of powers. Indeed, the legislature has the power to regulate marriage, and there is nothing preventing it from legalizing same-sex marriage tomorrow other than its own intransigence. The State's argument that the proper venue for the resolution of the same-sex marriage issue is the legislature automatically invalidates all of the other claims that they put before the court, such as procreation and cultural tradition.

But having established that there is in fact a fundamental right to marriage, then it is the proper role of the courts to step in when the legislature fails to act to protect those rights; in fact, they have a constitutional obligation to do so.

The gaping flaw in the assertion that only the legislature can regulate marriage is predicated on the historically unsustainable and undemocratic claim that the majority has the power to determine the rights of the minority. In fact, the very essence of democracy includes an independent judiciary which is capable of acting contrary to the will of the majority in order to safeguard fundamental rights for minorities.

The history of the civil rights movement in America shows that it is almost always the courts who are the vanguard at the ever-expanding frontiers of liberty. It was not the majority who took action to desegregate public education or to allow interracial marriage. It does not require majority consent to legalize same sex marriage.

As an American, I am guaranteed by virtue of my citizenship full equality under the law. I do not have to wait patiently outside the gates of freedom politely waiting for an invitation to enter that will never come.

I claim what is mine. Now.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

This was the view from my $48/night hotel in Nye Beach; the beach extends at least a mile back behind me, and at low tide stretches all the way out to the where the breakers are in this photo. And yes, as I mentioned, I don't think I ever saw more than 10 people at once on it. Perfect for the crowd-phobic. Posted by Picasa

The People I Needed to See

I spent most of the day at work debating with myself whether to attend an event tonight, "Civil Rights and Sacred Rites," sponsored by the wonderful Empire State Pride Agenda, at Congregation B'nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side.

As I have mentioned before, I am not a person who is typically comfortable in crowded places, which makes New York City a difficult place for me at times, and explains why other people go to DisneyWorld on vacation, and I go to state parks in Oregon midweek in the rain. My friends, of course, are all supportive of gay rights, but most of them don't really get involved in activism, and none of them would be remotely interested in a faith community seminar on same-sex marriage advocacy. (Mike once said I am the only Christian he knows.) I didn't really feel I could invite anyone to this; I am generally okay in a crowd as long as I am with someone I know. So I was waffling as to whether my interest in the topic outweighed my discomfort in being surrounded by unfamiliar people.

Fortunately, in March I attended a similar Pride Agenda event called "Faith and Fairness" at Union Theological Seminary, which featured Bishop V. Gene Robinson and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum; it was an absolutely thrilling evening. As someone who -- like many others -- had to struggle privately for years to reconcile issues of faith and sexuality, it is unbelievably empowering to gather together with large numbers of other people from diverse faith traditions who have endured the same struggle and come to the same conclusions, and who are willing to stand up and say that homosexuality is not incompatible with faith. Eager for a similar experience, I decided to go.

I should mention that one of the aspects of my crowd anxiety is the overwhelming sense of loneliness; maybe it sounds odd, but I feel far less lonely in the woods miles from anywhere with just me and the birds than I do in Times Square. And one of the questions that kept running through my mind on my recent vacation was, "What exactly am I doing in New York if I'm so lonely all the time?"

Well, tonight I made absolutely the right choice. First off, I had dinner at MaryAnn's near the the synagogue, and discovered the genius that is a blood orange margarita. Mmm. Then, to kill time so I didn't arrive at the event too early, I decided I would walk west on 91st Street to Riverside, then south to 88th and back to the temple on Broadway. Turning onto 88th, I ran smack into my dear friend Simon O'Neill, who is about to depart for Japan where he is -- again -- understudying Placido Domingo in Metropolitan Opera tour performances of Die Walküre. So that was a happy coincidence.

Then just inside the temple, I saw two more familiar faces I hadn't seen in years: an old friend from school and her partner of eight years, who happens to be the daughter of a worldclass classical musician, a real household name. They now have two biological sons, the second one just four months old. They invited me to sit with them and we caught up on the events of the past years.

The event was absolutely phenomenal; the speakers were incredible, from a red-hot barnstormer of a diatribe from Pride Agenda Executive Director Alan VanCapelle to the devastating personal testimony of an elegant 71-year old woman who related the legal obstacles that befell her when her partner of 30 years passed away from cancer a few years ago, which served to highlight the more than one-thousand rights and protections that are automatically extended to heterosexual couples with the signing of a single piece of paper which are denied to same-sex partnerships.

The program also featured a performance by the Gay Gotham Chorus, of which three of my friends (two of whom are bloggers) are members, so I got to hear them perform and wave at them. They were great!

I guess I'm not so lonely in this City after all.

Monday, May 29, 2006

What Would Jesus Google?

Apparently I am the number one link when you do a Yahoo search for "seeing God orgasm."

As I mentioned earlier, I took *many* pictures on this trip; here's one of my favorites. This one's for you, Spencer. Posted by Picasa

I went on vacation and all I got was this lousy Ken Lay conviction

My vacation was really wonderful. It rained more than I had hoped it would, but the sun came out enough for me to be able to get out and enjoy myself.

My first rule to myself on this trip was that I was going to avoid the news. I didn't read any papers or news websites, and hardly watched any television, except for Saturday morning in Tumwater, Washington when I was stuck at the Motel 6 in the rain with nothing to do until a wedding at 1:00; I watched Dirty Harry and then a Discovery channel special on white shark migration. So now I'm catching up with what went on in the world.

The highlights: New Yorkers might recall that last Friday the metropolitan area was hit with a series of thunderstorms, which seriously messed up traffic at JFK. Our original pilot got stranded somewhere, so they had to bring in a replacement. We left the gate an hour late and ended up "number 27 for takeoff," so we were on the tarmac for another hour. I landed at PDX at 12:40 a.m., or 3:40 a.m. New York time, after having worked a full day. Fortunately I slept most of the way, so I was fine when I got to the rental car place a little after 1 a.m./4 a.m.

I had reserved an "economy" car, which was going to be a Kia or something, but they were all gone so I got the Jeep Liberty below at the economy rate. It was sweet! I never really figured out the mileage because I kept forgetting to look at the odometer, but I don't think it was so bad.

Saturday I had breakfast with my dad, did a little shopping, and then saw my old school colleague Laquita Mitchell sing the living crap out of Portland Opera's Don Giovanni as Donna Anna. I was so proud of her!

Sunday morning I went back to my old church for the first time in sixteen years, wandered around Beaverton for a while, and then had dinner with some friends from high school at a restaurant where we always used to hang out. (Thanks, Scott, for dinner! and KR PDX, sorry you weren't feeling well!)

Monday I did some much needed shopping (new underwear, mmm), and then I went out for dinner with my dad and grandfather, and tried to figure out a reasonable excuse to get out of visiting Grandmother at the home. Fortunately, before I had a chance to attempt to weasel out of it, Granddad said he didn't think it was a good idea for me to visit right now; I guess she's going downhill and she can be unpredictable and unpleasant. (Moreso, apparently.) So, sad as it is to say, that was a major relief.

Tuesday I went for a day hike at Silver Falls State Park, just east of Salem. It absolutely poured on my drive down there and I thought, "I'm crazy for wasting all this gas just to drive in a pouring rain when I can't see anything," but when I got there it had slowed to a misty drizzle and I thought, "Well, I'll walk for a while and if it gets bad I'll go back." I hiked for four hours, during which the sun came out and I got some amazing pictures of the forest sparkling with fresh rainfall.

On Wednesday I headed out for my vacation proper, cutting off Interstate 5 at Corvallis and then heading west on Oregon 34 to Waldport, about 70 miles of winding, hilly two-lane highway through astonishingly beautiful farm country and pacific rainforest. Once I got to 101, I headed south to the tidepools at Yachats (pronounced YAH-hots), but alas it was high tide, so while I got some nice pictures of the pounding surf, I didn't really get to poke around at the critters.

Then I turned around and went north to my hotel in the cute little village of Nye Beach, near Newport. For the amazing budget price of $48/night, I have to say the hotel was great. Immaculate and quiet, I had a king-sized bed on the third floor with a panoramic view of Nye Beach, complete with DVD player, fridge and microwave. For that price, it definitely exceeded my expectations.

The only downside is that it's up on top of a high cliff, so while the view is fantastic, there's no convenient beach access. That night I wanted to treat myself to a nice dinner, so I went to one of the more upscale resort/conference centers in Newport, the Embarcadero. Big mistake. Huge.

At first I was encouraged because I walked in and the waiter was HOT. I mean, you know, by Newport standards. But cute. Alas, they seated me in the waitress' section. Maybe they thought a single guy traveling alone would prefer a waitress. Sigh. I had parmesan encrusted halibut. The waitress said it was an "excellent choice." I will say the chowder was really good, but the fish...well, it was just bland and utterly without personality. The asparagus was so overcooked it literally couldn't be stabbed with a fork. It basically tasted like an extra large Lean Cuisine meal.

Wednesday night was my excursion to the local bar in Nye Beach; I picked it on the recommendation of the girl who worked in the town coffee place. Actually, she discouraged me. She said, "I don't think you'd like it, it's just local fishermen types, no cute girls or anything." Sounded perfect.

Nye Beach is miles long -- vast. And midweek in drizzly weather, I basically had it to myself. Even when the sun was out, I don't think there were more than 10 people on it. Fantastic. Thursday was a gray, drizzly morning, but I bundled up and took a very relaxing walk, just me and the sea gulls and shore crabs. I hadn't planned on going back to the aquarium on this trip, but as it was raining it seemed like the best option. It's a great place, just not all that big and not very much changes from visit to visit. I spent Thursday afternoon in a cozy chair by the window in the hotel and then took a nice nap. I had dinner in the room, finished off a bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir, and went for another walk on the beach at sunset.

Friday morning it was really raining, so I didn't get to go back to the beach and instead decided I would leave earlier than planned for my long drive up Highway 101 to Olympia, Washington. I thought it would take 5 or 6 hours, but it took 8. Long day. It rained, a lot. It's a good thing I left when I did, or I would have been late to the rehearsal dinner.

I am not picky when it comes to hotels, but let me just say that the Motel 6 in Tumwater, Washington, is lower even than my standards. I didn't feel super safe there.

Saturday morning it was still pouring, so I ventured out for breakfast then came back to the room and watched TV until it was time to get dressed and check out. The wedding was beautiful, and it was wonderful to meet up with Quinn and K-Lynn and others after many years. I ducked out of the reception a bit early so that I could get back to my mom's in Portland in time for dinner...and that's about it. A great time was had by all.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Home Again

Well, I made it back to New York in one piece. Here's a pic of me and my fabulous rental car, a Jeep Liberty. I loved this car. I want one. I took 173 pictures on this trip, so there will be more to come. Posted by Picasa

Sunday Photo Blogging: Strange But True Graffiti

A couple weeks ago on my way into work I spotted this on the downtown subway platform at 181st Street: it says "Andy = Gay." Fortunately I happened to have my camera with me, so I snapped a pic. It appeared to have been written in Vaseline Intensive Care Cream, or something similar. Very odd. But I guess if people are going to leave graffiti, it might as well be temporary, true and full of Vitamin E. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, May 27, 2006

In Praise of White Trash

I'm back in Portland for the moment. It's been a really wonderful vacation, just exactly what I needed. I spent the afternoon at my prom-date's wedding up in Olympia, Washington, and now I'm back at my mom's in Cedar Hills, Oregon doing laundry and resting up a bit before I head to the airport to fly home tonight.

A large part of my trip was spent driving through small, out of the way places in rural Oregon and Washington. I made an effort to avoid the interstates and stuck to small country backroads -- the scenery was spectacular. I'll have pictures coming soon.

But goodness gracious, I encountered some colorful folk on this trip.

Overheard in Centralia

Father in overalls and baseball cap: Hey, know what they say when it's rainin'?

Buck-toothed kid: Nah.

Father: They say that's God takin' a piss.

Kid: (obnoxious laugh that I can't find a way to describe but next time you see me ask me to demonstrate)

Father: Yup yup. Know what they say when there's thunder?

Kid: God's fartin'?

Father: Heh heh, you shore are one smart kid.

Me: [aside] Oh, dear Lord!

Timeless Fashion

The hair. Oh, my God, the hair. It's not 80's or even 70's, it's just white trash. It's like they go to the salon and ask for thin and stringy cut (or not) in whatever fashion is absolutely the least flattering for their face. It's not big hair, it's just bad. Big hair would be a major improvement. I mean, these people still do the feathers on the sides of their face and/or have the fountain bangs going on. Or the remants of their peroxide job have been scrunchied back into a tight ponytail.

The eyeliner. They don't tend to wear any makeup other than eyeliner. And lots of it. It's like they're worried Cleopatra or Maria Callas might come back at any moment and they wouldn't want her to feel self-conscious. Of course, Maria Callas could come back and she might as well be Eleanor of Acquitaine for all these people would know or care. Do they use petroleum to make eyeliner? We might be able to reduce our dependency on foreign oil just by hiring a make-up consultant for Benton County, Oregon.

And Yet There's Hope

So one of my goals for my trip was to go to a redneck bar one night and just see if I could fit in. Well, I didn't get beat up, so I guess I passed the test. It was nice, everyone was pretty friendly. I just didn't mention that I work for a gay civil rights organization.

Though on the other hand, it might not have mattered. The bar I picked was dark, smoky, smelled like stale beer, had peanut shells all over the floor, and was playing loud honky-tonk. They had many televisions, each tuned to a different sports event, except for the big screen TV, which was set to American Idol. The sound was off, but I was encouraged that it was on. (Yay, Taylor!)

One guy looked like the kind you wouldn't want to piss off. He must have been 6'4, at least, with a big, burly beard, steel-toed boots, and a plaid flannel shirt over a t-shirt with a skull and crossbones on it. But I liked him. I liked him a lot. Know why? Because the "skull" on his shirt was George Bush and under the crossbones it read "IDIOT."

Now, if you were watching the Idol finale, you know that the performer formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince who now, I believe, is called Prince, again, made a surprise guest appearance.

Redneck: Now, that is what I call a fag.

Woman with bangs: Honey, don't be crude.

Redneck: Oh, I'm not sayin' he's gay. I don't know or care if he's homosexual, but you gotta admit, he is a fag.

Me: [silently concurring]

Redneck: I mean, show me one person gayer than Prince.

Me: [thinking] Well...

Anyway, as I said, it was a great vacation, totally what I'd hoped for. (Okay, it could have rained less. Sigh.) I'm off to the airport -- I'll be in New York first thing in the morning.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I'm heading off to the beach first thing tomorrow morning, and won't have any internet access until I'm back in New York on Sunday.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Spiritual Homecoming

I was not raised in a religious family. My mother is spiritual but not church-affiliated, and my father at the time was an atheist. (He's now a Baptist.) Fortunately, they wanted me to have some exposure to religion so that I could make up my own mind about it.

A friend of my mother's from work attended a nearby Lutheran church and offered to take me to Sunday school when I was 7. I was a very shy, rather anti-social kid, but for some reason I really liked the other kids and the teacher and went back every week. I was very active in the church until I started coming to terms with my sexuality around the age of 15, when I began to sense that this church and I were moving in different spiritual directions.

Today, for the first time in about 16 years, I attended a service at my old church.

Because my parents weren't religious, the decision to get baptized was mine, as was the decision to enroll in communion class. I think this made those experiences all the more personal and genuine, because I did it of my own volition, not because I thought it was expected of me. So today I visited that font where I was baptized, and I watched some youngsters participate in the sacrament of Communion for the first time, and I was grateful that even though the Lutheran church and I have parted company, I can say with great confidence and gratitude that St. Matthew's put my heart and feet on the right path.

Instead of a sermon today, a "musical" on the letters and ministry of Paul was presented by the Sunday school classes. I'm not generally a big fan of children, but this was so adorable and unintentionally hilarious that I could not help but be amused but also profoundly moved.

Sample of Dialogue

Little Asian Girl: (scarcely audible, monotone) Look, here is a letter. I wonder who it's from?

Little Blonde Girl: (loudly) It's from Paul! (huge smile)

Preschoolers: Yay!

[awkward pause]

Little Blonde Girl: (loudest stage whisper in the history of the world) It's your turn!

Boy: (without emotion) Let's see what it says.

Second Boy: (with an even rhythm, as if there is no punctuation) Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ so that whether I come and see you or am absent I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit with one mind st...str...stirr...

Teacher offstage: (helpfully) Striving!

Second Boy: Striving side by side for the faith of the gospel and not frightened in anything by your opponents.

I didn't recognize any of the people there, except for one. As my parents weren't religious, I didn't know anything at all about Christianity, so I had lots of questions for my teachers. Many of them were a bit exasperated with me. Finally in fourth grade I had a Sunday school teacher who understood that a healthy skepticism is the foundation for solid faith, and she was actually able to address my questions without saying things like, "Because the Bible says so" or "That's just the way it is." It was a rough time for me: my mother was recovering from breast cancer and my parents were getting divorced. She was always very kind and supportive, and it really meant a lot to me that she talked to me and answered my questions as if I were an adult, instead of a child.

She was -- and is -- the director of the church handbell choir, and so I joined because I liked her so much, and was in the choir until I left the church. So today when I heard bells playing the prelude, I looked up into the balcony, and there she was. After the service I went to say hello. She of course didn't recognize me, but remembered my name.

It just felt right that the one person I'd hoped to see was there. We exchanged a nice hug and I thanked her for being so good to me at a time when I really needed it, and I told her that I credited her with teaching me that questioning faith is not only not a bad thing, it's essential.


Sometimes when you go to church, it just happens that the daily lesson is exactly what you needed to hear. So in that spirit, I'd like to share with you the reading from today.

It is the LORD who goes before you; he will be with you, he will not fail you or forsake you; do not fear or be dismayed.

Deuteronomy 31:8

Friday, May 19, 2006

Maggie Gallagher's Slippery Slope

There’s a problem with the First Amendment, which reads, in part, “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise [of religion].” That does not mean, however, that there is a general right to ignore the law by pleading religious exemption. During Prohibition, Christian churches were still allowed to serve wine during communion, but in 1990 the Supreme Court ruled that Native Americans could not use banned drugs during religious ceremonies.

Eugene Volokh explains, “a wide range of generally applicable laws -- murder law, theft law, rape law, and so on -- must be applicable even to religious objectors. Even as to more controversial cases, such as bans on race discrimination in education, or generally applicable tax laws, the Court found…that religious objectors' claims must yield.”

In a recent issue of The Weekly Standard, same-sex marriage opponent Maggie Gallagher argues that legalizing gay marriage will result in a wave of unforeseen legal consequences for people who have, in the words of Georgetown law professor Chai Feldblum, “an alternative moral assessment of gay men and lesbians,” constituting a violation of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.

In March of this year, Catholic Charities of Boston announced it was shutting down its adoption services. In Massachusetts, organizations who arrange adoptions must be licensed by the state, and following 2003’s Goodridge decision by the state supreme court legalizing gay marriage, Catholic Charities could no longer follow Vatican teachings on gay parenting by declining adoptions to same-sex couples and operate in accordance with the law.

Is it discrimination to prevent people from discriminating? Does that violate the First Amendment?

If your answer is yes, legal precedent is against you. Gallagher’s plea for religious exemption hinges on the unsupportable idea that sexual orientation is an arbitrary characteristic substantially different from race, gender or other characteristics for which discrimination has been banned. “Once sexual orientation is conceptualized as a protected legal status on par with race, traditional religions that condemn homosexual conduct will face increasing legal pressure regardless of what courts do about marriage itself.” She predicts, “people and groups who oppose same-sex marriage will soon be treated by society and the law the way we treat racists.”

Her only basis for justification of anti-gay discrimination is the historical prejudice of “traditional religions,” which she argues is protected by the First Amendment. She overlooks, conveniently, that the harshest arguments in favor of slavery and against miscegenation were religious.

Is orientation-based discrimination substantially different than racism? “To make someone suffer penalties because of their sexual orientation is on the same level as making people be penalized for their gender, or race,” says Archbishop Desmond Tutu. “I wanted…to reaffirm my wholehearted support of freedom from discrimination for lesbian and gay people. I do so because I believe that all forms of persecution are wrong. As my husband said, ‘I have fought too long and hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concerns. Justice is indivisible,” said Coretta Scott King. The NAACP has endorsed legalization of same sex marriage.

Opponents of marriage equality often cite a “slippery slope” argument: if we legalize gay marriage, the next thing coming is polygamy, followed by “man on dog” sex followed by Armageddon. But there is a slippery slope to the argument in favor of religious exemptions to the law, as well: if we can discriminate arbitrarily on sexual orientation, then we can discriminate on a religious basis against anything.

“This is a tragedy for kids,” Gallagher quotes Marylou Sudders of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children on the closing of Catholic Charities’ adoption division. No doubt. But what Gallagher tries hard to downplay is that the government didn’t shut down the organization, it closed of its own volition, rather than comply with the law.

The scope of this self-inflicted tragedy was highlighted by Dahlia Lithwick earlier this year: “There are 119,000 children waiting to be adopted in this country, about half of them racial and ethnic minorities. There are approximately 588,000 children in foster care. [People] pushing bans on gay adoption and fostering must thus argue, without empirical evidence, that it's better for these children to languish in state custody, or bounce from foster home to foster home, than be raised by gay parents who want them. And just as there are no data to support the claim that children raised by married gay parents fare worse than children raised by heterosexual parents, there are no data to suggest that foster care is preferable to gay parenting. That's why virtually every serious child welfare entity, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Child Welfare League of America, the National Association of Social Workers, and the American Psychological Association, recognize that gay parents are no worse than heterosexual ones.”

The compromise the courts have worked out on the First Amendment conflict basically says that Americans have an unfettered right to believe whatever they want; however, they may not act on those beliefs in ways that contradict the law.

As Lithwick said in an earlier essay, “In order to be "neutral" toward all religions, including atheism, the courts have had to erect equal barriers to all. In order to privilege no religion (or even non-religion) the courts have elected to privilege none.”

Toto, I Don't Think We're in Manhattan Anymore

After work tonight I head off for a long overdue vacation. I should be able to blog a little bit through Tuesday, but Wednesday - Saturday I will be internetless at the beach. And loving it. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The DaVinci Riddle: Why So Popular?

The DaVinci Code has sold more than 46 million copies since it first appeared in 2003, an astonishing commercial success. But why?

As Sam points out, the critics weren’t especially impressed. It’s not world-class literature. I confess to being something of an anti-populist snob, and the mere fact that everyone was reading it was enough to turn me off, until a friend practically shoved it in my hands at gunpoint.

I read it cover to cover in three days. I found myself at 2:00 a.m. saying, “Andy, for Pete’s sake, turn out the light and go to bed,” but it was hard to put down. I even missed my stop on the subway once because I was completely engrossed.

I enjoyed the book for the accurate, evocative descriptions of many places I have visited in London and Paris. It appealed to my interests not just in Christianity, but specifically early church history and the Grail legend. That doesn’t explain why the other 45,999,999 people liked the book, however. Across America, people of faith are lamenting decreasing interest in religion. So why is a novel about Jesus one of the all-time bestsellers?

In a recent interview with Sojourner’s Magazine, Pastor Brian McLaren offered the following suggestion: “The name ‘Jesus’ and the word ‘Christianity’ are associated with something judgmental, hostile, hypocritical, angry, negative, defensive, anti-homosexual, etc.” The overwhelmingly negative and judgmental attitude of America’s evangelical Christian leaders creates a disconnect in the minds of people familiar with the gospel Jesus. McLaren says Brown suggests “that the dominant religious institutions have created their own caricature of Jesus. And I think people have a sense that that’s true.”

That sense is facilitated by the actions of some mainstream churches. Christian fundamentalists do their damndest to insist that the Bible we have today is the literal word of God, complete and without error, and free of translation problems. Brown’s inclusion of the fact that the early church contemplated more than four “gospels” and that Christian doctrine was not codified until three centuries after Christ’s death is something that many Christians of all denominations aren’t aware of. The Bible is a selected, edited anthology of approved historical writings about God; if it were God’s literal dictation to Moses, the prophets and the apostles, it wouldn’t contain so many errors.

The current pedophile priest problem in the Catholic Church makes the idea of a widespread conspiracy to cover up scandal all too plausible. Some commenters on posts below argue that people are too ready to believe anything that challenges the establishment, but one must admit the religious establishment needs help in the credibility department.

McLaren calls the novel “an experience in shared frustration with status-quo, male-dominated, power-oriented, cover-up prone organized Christian religion….Even though Brown’s fictional version misleads in many ways, it at least serves to open up the possibility that the church’s conventional version of Jesus may not do Him justice.”

He proposes that “if The DaVinci Code causes people to ask questions and Christians to have to dig deeper, that’s a great thing, a great opportunity for growth.” He reminds us that “the Holy Spirit works in the middle of conversation….The more we can keep conversations open and going, the more chances we give the Holy Spirit to work….Jesus has handled 2,000 years of questions, skepticism and attacks, and He’s gonna come through just fine.”

Monday, May 15, 2006

Truthiness: 2

The DaVinci Code is an attack on the very foundation of the Christian faith and it threatens to lead millions to believe that Jesus Christ was a fraud.

American Family Association

Martin Luther famously described God as “a mighty fortress,” but Don Wildmon thinks He can be overpowered by a novel.

The Christian faith has survived for nearly two thousand years. It survived Roman oppression, the ignominy of the Crusades, the violence of the Reformation, the injustice of the Inquisition. It survived Galileo and Darwin. It will survive Dan Brown.

I suppose I should not be surprised that the same people who are terrified of Spongebob Squarepants are so intimidated by a novel – openly described as fiction by its author. Still, it is disheartening that the public face of the Christian religion in America is shaped by paranoid fearmongers.

Their complaint is the “claims” made by the novel, especially that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had children. (Hope I didn’t just ruin the movie for you.) They are prepared to respond to the novel with “facts.” Coral Ridge Ministries has even produced an anti-DaVinci Code DVD, endorsed by the American Family Association as being “filled with facts that are factual.”

But the novel doesn’t claim what they say it does. The now infamous “Fact” page at the beginning of the novel says only that all the artwork, locations, architectural details and documents are real and are accurately described, and they are. Opus Dei is a real organization. There really is a document in the National Archives in France stating that the Priory of Sion was founded in 1099 and included Leonardo DaVinci among its members. That document is a fraud, but it exists and says what Brown says it does.

All of those real things form the framework on which Brown hangs his popular thriller. Worrying that the details of the plot are not “true” is a bit like writing an angry letter to the producers of Seinfeld complaining that Elaine, Jerry and George have never been seen eating at the actual restaurant at Broadway and 112th which was prominently shown in every episode.

Brown does get some of the details of early church history wrong, but the big picture is accurate: there were many more than four writings called “gospels,” the majority of which were rejected as inauthentic and suppressed by the early church. Early Christian sects disagreed about a variety of issues, including Christ’s divinity and the role of women in the church. That he manages to spin a fast-paced, entertaining and shocking thriller out of these historical threads testifies only to his cleverness as a writer, not to the invalidity of Scripture.

All of this calls into question how conservatives reconcile the idea of “truth” with “faith.” For them, in order for their faith to be valid, the Bible must be “true,” in a literal sense. This gives rise to nonsense like Creationism, where people worry that if the earth wasn’t really created in six twenty-four hour days maybe the entire Bible is hokum. They misunderstand what the Bible is for; it’s meant to reveal God’s mind and intentions for us, not to be used as a history textbook.

Faith is not a fact-based proposition; it is not possible to have “faith” in something that can be empirically proven. God’s existence is intentionally mysterious and ambiguous. The Bible does not have to be historically accurate for it to be true. For example,

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.
It’s in passages like this where the Bible’s truth lies, and that can never be challenged or threatened. God is not afraid of a novel, and we shouldn’t be either.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sunday Photo Blogging: Mother's Day

Love you, mom! Posted by Picasa

Out for a walk at 2 months. No thousand-dollar SUV-type stroller for me; I'm in a converted shopping cart. Posted by Picasa

Dinner with my paternal grandmother at four months. If you look at my face, you can see that even then, I could already tell she was crazy. What do you think my mother is thinking? Posted by Picasa

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Sliding Down the Poll: How Low Will He Go?

Slacktivist makes the case for 27%. Almost there!


New CNN poll shows 76% of respondents feel Bill Clinton was more honest than George W. Bush.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The XL Code

FACT: The Last Debate is a real blog that was founded in September 2004. It is headquartered in a secret apartment in the exclusive Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. All of the artwork, architecture, gay bars and secret rituals depicted in this story are real.


Andy had only just closed the front door when he felt the buzz against his left thigh; a single vibration lasting only a couple of seconds, indicating a text message, rather than a call. He knew it would be important. Only a few people in the world had access to this number. Opening the phone, he beheld the bold black letters:

XL 630


Andy glanced at the clock. 5:38. If he understood the code correctly, he had less than an hour. Quickly he changed into a white, black and blue Banana Republic shirt and slipped on a pair of polished black Kenneth Cole shoes. He rinsed his face quickly using Duane Reade-brand knockoff Cetaphil, then knelt on the parquet floor of his living room in the gold-tinted late-afternoon light and genuflected before the ancient Italian crucifix that hung on his wall.

Then he was gone.


Mark tapped his foot anxiously against the plain grey concrete floor of the international arrivals area at John F. Kennedy Airport’s Terminal 2, watching the parade of identical black rolling suitcases file past him on the conveyor belt. He glanced at his watch: 5:42.

Only four minutes had passed since he sent the invitation to Andy. Excited to be back in the United States, but tired from the journey, he had estimated he could easily get to Manhattan within the hour in a cab, assuming there were no difficulties with customs. Yet as he waited for his bag, anxiety mounted. He did not want to be late for this.

At 5:44, Mark spied his bag, grabbed it, and headed for immigration.


The Brooklyn-bound A train thundered into the arched, mouldy 181st Street station with a roar that drowned out the recording of Renee Fleming singing “Cäcilie” that Andy was listening to on his iPod. It squealed to a stop under the stalactites forming on the ceiling, and he boarded, carefully selecting a seat that wasn’t under the system map. Distracted by the gleaming glory of Fleming’s high-B at the climax of the song, he did not notice the shadowy figure that ducked onto the train at the back of the car just as the doors were closing.


“Where to, sir?” said the cabbie, in a lilting Caribbean accent.

“West 16th and 9th Avenue, please,” said Mark, as he tossed his bag into the backseat of the taxi and slid in beside it. His watch said 6:03. Since traffic was mostly outbound at this time of night, he figured he would just make it on time.


The silent figure, with a hat slung low over his brow and a black trench coat, regarded Andy suspiciously from the back of the train. At one point their eyes met, and he raised the corner of his lip in a silent but menacing snarl. Andy rolled his eyes, shrugged, and went back to reading The Last Temptation of Christ.

The cloaked man got off at 42nd Street, and Andy never gave him a second thought.

At 6:28, Andy arrived in Chelsea, getting off the subway at the 14th Street station. He headed toward the rear of the tiled, mustard-colored platform and up the concrete stairs, then doubled back through the stainless steel turnstile. His heart pounding, he virtually leapt up the stairs in the back left corner of the station behind the attendant’s booth, and, emerging in the pinkish twilight of the warm late spring evening, he strolled eagerly west down 16th Street. He could not believe what Mark promised him was about to happen.

Even from the curb outside the tall white door Andy could hear the pounding bass of the music inside. As he passed through the set of double doors, he inhaled the unusual, antiseptic bleachy odor of the bar. As his eyes adjusted to the dimness – the vast space was lit mostly by undulating rainbow projections on the ceiling and the glow from mini television screens showing videos of nude French rugby players – he scanned the small crowd for any sign of Mark. “I hope he shows up,” he thought.

Taking a seat on a stool at the bar underneath a large, crème-colored fabric palm tree, he ordered a Stoli Ohranj and soda. The bartender, tall, slender but muscular in a tight black tank top, smiled as he served the drink. Taking a sip, Andy could barely detect any soda, so he left $2 on the counter.


His watch read 6:41 as he stepped out of the cab on 16th Street. He hated being late, but all things considered had made pretty good time from JFK. Fortunately there had been no problem at customs and traffic had been steady.

He spotted Andy instantly, sitting under the fake palm tree, two-thirds of the way through a vodka tonic. Typical. He strode up to him with a broad smile. “Andy!”

“Hey Mark, nice to see you again! How was your trip?”

“Yeah, it was pretty good. I’ll tell you all about it. So, are you ready?”

Andy took a deep breath. “Well, yeah, I guess.” He nervously took another large gulp from his drink. “Let’s go.”

“Okay,” said Mark. “I told him to meet us upstairs.”

Together they walked around the back of the bar toward the staircase that led to the glass balcony and lounge overlooking the rest of the bar. There, alone on a sofa in the back, was a solitary figure with olive colored skin and curly dark hair.

“Andy,” said Mark proudly, “this is Jesus.”


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Now Hear This

Dear President Bush,

I understand that you've been compiling a database of phonecalls made in the United States since 9/11 in order to better protect us from terrorists.

I want to sincerely thank you for your dedication to the cause of the War on Terror. It is the rare President who is so focused on eliminating the threats to our freedom that he is willing to disregard the law at every step and repeatedly deny and lie about it in order to protect me. I am really flattered.

Now, I don't use the telephone very much. I really dislike the thing. (Just ask my mother how often I answer.) Usually I make 5-second calls to friends to say "I'm late" or "I need a drink, meet me at Therapy." Because of this, you may have difficulty compiling an accurate picture of my patriotism based on my phone bill. So let me help you.

I think you are a complete and total jackass. Recently, another blogger asked me to say three nice things about you, and I couldn't do it. About the nicest thing I could write is that I hope you really are as stupid as you appear to be, because then you might be sincere. Only someone with no brains at all (which I believe accurately describes roughly 31% of Americans) could actually believe the crap you've been telling us for the last five years.

This does not mean I am not patriotic; on the contrary, despite all your "optimistic" rhetoric about promoting democracy in the world, you are clearly a fascist theocrat. You wouldn't know a democracy if it came up and impeached you on the ass. To me, loving America is more than waving a flag and posting a "support the troops" bumper sticker on the back of the Chevrolet I don't own. It's about really believing in the vision of freedom and equality that the Founding Fathers established: freedom that gives me the right to say I think you are a shameful blight on this nation's reputation.

You know this country has reached a sad state of affairs when the oppressive radical Islamic regime in Tehran is more open to diplomacy than we are; I am appalled that Iran is in a position to give you a Sunday School lesson you sorely need. Who would Jesus use "tactical" nuclear weapons on?

The Hall of the Great Council in the Palazzo Ducale in Venice contains portraits of every Doge in the Republic's history in chronological order, except for Marin Falier, who was executed for treason. His portrait is permanently covered with a black veil. It is my hope that history will come to regard you with equal contempt.

The Last Debater

PS: I am a homosexual, you probably want that for your file, too. Jerk.

Monday, May 08, 2006

His Majesty the Queen of Washington Heights

I am not a person who's really "into" titles.

Back when I worked in Corporate America, I was always mildly disgusted about how seriously people took their own titles; one company had so many "Vice Presidents" that it couldn't possibly have meant anything.

Fortunately, I am now in the Socialist Republic of Nonprofitia, where titles tend to reflect less one's corporate caste than merely a job description. Once, on a quiet afternoon, my colleagues and I decided that we would all promote ourselves: I was voted Senior Vice President for Inappropriate Commentary.

Officially my title is Administration, Finance & Human Resources Assistant, which is short for The Guy Who Does Everything for the Company That Isn't in Anyone Else's Job Description, which doesn't fit on a business card.

This weekend we had a board meeting, and tonight is the company's biggest annual fundraising event, so today was inordinately busy, what with major donors and board members coming in and out, and the phones ringing off the hook confirming time, location, dress code, seating requests and the like. Naturally the receptionist called out sick. It was decided that today would not be a good day to have a temp working the switchboard, since board members and such need to be handled delicately. Can't risk dropped or misdirected calls, or, God forbid, wrong answers. So the powers that be decided I should just sit at the front desk today.

I was fine until another employee, giving a tour of the office to a board member, introduced me thusly: "This is Andy, the receptionist."


Sunday, May 07, 2006

And the City

I've been having what's known as a "Lost Weekend." Since I don't have HBO, I only know Sex and the City from DVD, and I finally got seasons 5 and 6.1, so I'm catching up, and resting. I've been on the sofa eating, drinking, and watching Carrie and friends.

I am Miranda. I mentioned this to a friend once, who immediately exclaimed, "But you're not a rich successful lawyer!" They think I'm Charlotte, the ever-optimistic, hopeless romantic WASP Episcopalian with a Jew-fetish. But no, trust me: I am Miranda.

No show has ever captured life in New York quite the way SATC does. Not Will & Grace, not Friends, not even Seinfeld. I recognize so much of my own life in these episodes. Granted, a budget-sized version; instead of Prada and Manolo Blahnik I wear Old Navy and Kenneth Cole, when I can find it at Filene's.

But so much of it rings true, from watching that stupid Diane Sawyer video at jury duty (and I, too, called a friend on my cellphone during a break to say the best part of jury duty was shopping at Century 21) to shopping at Zabar's, to running into people you don't want to see at the moment you least want to see them, to those impossibly perfect, fairytale New York evenings. Trust me, they really exist, and just like they're depicted in the show. There is a magic in this city. Sometimes I am utterly enchanted.

The one character I always felt I had nothing in common with was Carrie: too extroverted, too attractive, too able to let her emotional swings out in public, too confident to be me. And too many dates.

Not just dates, but relationships, or, at least, dating relationships that last a whole episode or two. Right now I don't remember the last date I went on. I don't think it was in 2006. The last time I had a boyfriend, Bill Clinton was president. In his first term. Oy.

But it turns out, even Carrie and I have our similarities. She, too, described her relationship with the City as if it were a troublesome boyfriend, and, hitting a dryspell, she joked with her friends that she'd have to change the name of her column to just "And the City," which was the title of a blogpost that's been gestating in my brain for a while now.

And then today, she hit me with this:

"In New York, they say you're always looking for a job, a boyfriend or an apartment. So, let's say you have two out of three. Fabulous. Why do we let the one thing we don't have affect how we feel about the things we do have?"

Sunday Photo Blogging: Paris

The Seine and the Eiffel Tower, viewed from the roof of La Samaritaine Posted by Picasa

Arc de Triomphe Posted by Picasa

Inside Notre Dame Posted by Picasa

Under the Eiffel Tower Posted by Picasa

Street of the Bad Boys Posted by Picasa

Grande Galerie, The Louvre Posted by Picasa

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be the New York Press

Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.

Luke 6:37

Zacarias Moussaoui…deserves an eternity in flames.

New York Daily News


When the Bible tells us not to judge others, it is speaking in spiritual terms. God does not forbid us from acts of justice, such as determining who is responsible for a crime and separating that person from our society in order to protect ourselves. “Judge not” does not mean we can’t say someone is “guilty.” It means we are not in a position to speak on behalf of God in terms of who is saved, and who is condemned.

Yet today, following the jury’s decision to sentence Zacarias Moussaoui to life in prison, the front pages of both popular New York City tabloid “newspapers” carried judgments asserting that Moussaoui is hellbound.

Both papers’ news stories presented the usual oversimplifications and misrepresentations. The Post argues that the sentence comes “despite his admitted role in the worst terror attack in American history.” That, however, is misleading: he may have claimed and even boasted he had a role, but he could not have admitted one, because one did not exist. There is a profound difference. The Post even describes his “role” in the attacks as “murky,” which means unclear. We should not be sentencing people to death if their actions are “unclear.”

The editorial page concedes as much: “Prosecutors themselves had to admit that some of Moussaoui’s wild claims were simply untrue.”

Yet it is the normally more circumspect Daily News which goes for the jugular: “This is not justice. This is an abomination.”

My heart breaks to read these words. To speak of hell implies belief in the Divine, but I am not finding God in these condemnations. Christianity in particular is a religion of peace, of infinite compassion and forgiveness. Self-appointed arbiters of God’s “justice” can be nothing of the sort; that power is not given to us. Yet the Daily News concludes, “Hell awaits.”

Forgiveness is difficult; sometimes well nigh unto impossible, particularly in the case of a man who openly gloats over the horrific deaths of nearly 3,000 innocents. But these publications carry the debate well past the question of whether the death penalty was appropriate: they presume to speak on behalf of God’s almighty judgment. For shame. For deep, horrifying, sickening shame, that anyone could be so arrogant as to believe they could speak for God on the front pages of newspapers.

Christians should rejoice in the verdict. Perhaps during Moussaoui's long isolation in prison he will come to know God, and may achieve forgiveness and redemption. It is for this that Christians should be praying, not complaining bitterly that we have been deprived of witnessing his gory end.


Last night I attended the final preview performance of Brian Friel's play Faith Healer, which opens on Broadway tonight.

Rarely have I had a theatrical experience that demanded so much of its audience, and gave so little. The play is a series of four half-hour-plus monologues: the first and last told by the titular itinerant healer Frank Hardy, played by Ralph Fiennes, the second and third by Cherry Jones as Hardy's long-suffering wife or partner and Ian McDiarmid as his manager.

The tale, such as it is, unfolds as each character -- drunk -- describes a series of events that occurred around Ireland, Wales and Scotland as Hardy traveled about earning money in remote villages, performing "one night only" as a faith healer. The multiple viewpoints give it a Rashomon-like quality, in that you can never be sure whose version is more accurate, though it appears Hardy's version is more deliberately misleading.

The peformances are extraordinary. Cherry Jones, seated for her entire monologue, conveys a woman struggling to come to terms with love for a man whose love for her was both invigorating and destructive. The picture she paints of her life on the road is bleak, and the aftermath bleaker still. At intermission, a few audience members decided they'd had enough.

It's too bad, because they missed a tour-de-force by Ian McDiarmid as Teddy, who brings a desperately needed dose of charm and lightheartedness to the evening even as he, too, relates episodes of overwhelming sadness. His range as an actor his extraordinary: in the endearing, eccentric, foppish mannerisms of the elderly Englishman, no trace of Emperor Palpatine can be detected.

There is, unfortunately, a giant hole at the center of the play, which is partly the fault of the script and partly the fault of Mr. Fiennes. I wondered how a play about a faith healer could manage to avoid entirely any discussion of faith. Hardy is not a charlatan; sometimes he does heal people. But how? Or, more importantly, how does he believe he does it? And what does it mean to him? He doesn't say.

Teddy and Grace both speak of Frank as someone who held enormous power over them; they were in awe of him, addicted to him. Yet onstage Fiennes summons a character of wan charm and minimum presence.

Ultimately, it is the play's structure which deals it the death blow. The monologues, while beautifully written, compelling and realistic, are long, and rambling, just as they might be told by an intoxicated person with a lot weighing on their heart and mind. Unfortunately, realism doesn't always make the best theater, if the restlessness of the audience is any indication.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Throw Away the Key

The Moussaoui jury got it right, thank goodness. Sentencing him to life in prison accomplishes three things: it punishes him appropriately for the criminal activities he was involved with, it denies him the martyrdom he so obviously craved, and it restores confidence in America's sanity, that we are not willing to execute someone for a crime they only wanted to commit.

For my take on the trial, go here. But for a much more spirited, entertaining rant, go here.

UPDATE: The fantastic Dahlia Lithwick sums it up: Acting as a check on a runaway state, these jurors refused to allow a government needing a scapegoat and a man wishing for martyrdom to stand in the way of the facts. These jurors understood that for this country to kill a terrorist for his ideas, hopes, and dreams is not much different than the terrorist's desire to come here and kill us for ours.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

People Who Don't Need People

In just over two weeks, I am going on a little vacation. I'll be spending four days in Portland visiting friends and family, and then taking my little rental car and going on an Oregon Coast road trip, all by myself. I can't frickin' wait.

I need some alone time. I know, I'm alone a lot. I live alone, I'm not in a relationship, and I don't really have that much of a social life. But I am surrounded by people. Lots of them. And many of them are fucking annoying, God bless them. I want to get away.

I plan to take a blanket down to the beach some evening with a picnic dinner and a carefully disguised bottle of something or other, and watch the sun slowly sink into the Pacific. I'll be there on a Wednesday and Thursday, so hopefully midweek it will be pretty quiet.

My ass might be sitting in a cubicle on Wall Street right now, but my mind is already there.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Immigration: Some Thoughts

It’s a sad state of affairs when even an issue like immigration breaks down along partisan lines. Republicans – the President notably and impressively excepted – take a tough stance: they want the borders sealed and violators deported. Democrats…well, Democrats haven’t said much, but I’m not sure whether that’s due more to their recognition of the complexity of the issues involved or internal disorganization and lack of leadership.

Immigration is not a problem with an easy fix like Social Security or gay marriage or 45 million uninsured.

In this day and age, where terrorism is a prime concern and porous borders allow for the trafficking of dangerous drugs and weapons, higher levels of security are called for. Most illegal aliens enter legally – that is, they enter on valid passports or tourist visas, but they stay long past the expiration date. When I was a resident alien working in Switzerland, I was required to register with the local police in the precinct where I lived. Would civil libertarians in the U.S. object to such practices? Presently we certainly don’t have the resources to either track the whereabouts of legal tourists or hunt down the ones who stay too long; would conservatives object to the necessary increase in federal spending to achieve that?

The vast majority of illegal aliens are also not Al Qaeda affiliates: they are poor people seeking a shot at a better life. They’re escaping local violence, oppression, rampant poverty and economic depression, and they’re willing to take jobs that, as has been frequently pointed out, Americans refuse to do. The places they come from are so terrible that they are willing to risk their lives to get here. They don’t mean America any harm, they only want to accept the invitation stamped onto the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We should criminalize them for this?

Of course not, answer conservatives: there’s already a legal way for people to enter the country. People need to play by the rules. Yes, but the bureaucracy is broken there, too, and not because it’s too big. The 9/11 hijackers were here and had bank accounts, driver’s licenses and were enrolled in flight schools. Two of the hijackers got their visas approved six months after the attacks. The government’s immigration policies are such a mess, the red tape so thick and the delays so long, that we have dead terrorists getting visas and gardeners getting deported. I’ve often wondered if Immigration couldn’t be restructured along the lines of a credit card company, capable of reviewing thousands of applications per day and tracking thousands of accounts. It would take some money, though. Maybe we could start with the $10 billion Senator Frist thinks we should hand out to taxpayers as a gas rebate.

Sojourners, a progressive Christian organization, reports that “62% [of illegal aliens] have taxes withheld from their paychecks, and 66% pay Social Security. Their payments to Social Security totalled $7 billion in 2004, and in the same year they paid $1.5 billion to Medicare. Ironically… these workers usually don't take advantage of these programs, fearing the INS will be alerted to their presence in this country.” So maybe immigrants aren’t the drain on national resources they are accused of being.

Whatever the case, it’s not a crime to dream of a better life and be willing to work for it.

I have two recommendations for stemming illegal immigration. The first is to overhaul NAFTA so that the “F” stands for fair, not free. The United States needs to show leadership, and work to improve the national economies of countries like Mexico. Corporations can’t treat them as merely a supply of cheap labor; fair treatment, benefits and a living wage are the rights of people who live outside the U.S., too. People wouldn’t come here if they had a good reason to stay where they are.

Second, if we want to go criminalizing people, we need to go after the businesses that take advantage of illegal immigrants by employing undocumented workers, paying them less than the minimum wage, denying them benefits and robbing the government of the taxes it deserves.