November 2008


Have A Gay Thanksgiving!

“Oh, my gawd, he’s making a pass at me,” was my reaction in 1978 to a comment by my luncheon guest. What was an Iowa rube to do? My response will be forthcoming but let’s jump 30 years later to 2008.

I want to offer to all my Gay and lesbian friends the happiest of Thanksgivings this year and to not despair over the continued “goofiness” of the American electorate, particularly with the recent marriage amendment votes in Florida and California. As “they” say, “This, too, shall pass.”

It’s only a matter of time before America grows up and no longer fixates on what goes on behind closed doors between consenting adults. I mean, c’mon kids, we can’t forever be in junior high school, can we, all atwitter over who does what to whom and how? Hmmm, maybe we can. Sigh.

I want to briefly explore the Marriage Amendment effort and why such initiatives are ultimately doomed. If you examine the history of marriage and, oh, my goodness, marriage actually predates the writing of the Old Testament, it has been an institution of evolutionary change. If you do not subscribe that marriage is a gift/law/requirement of God, and I do not, you realize it is a human contrivance that was in its implementation an issue of property and progeny. Historically one and the same in many cultures.

Oh, I will grant you that marriage was originally a union between a man and a woman but I find that limitation no more valid than I would the marriage restrictions that defined a woman as a man’s piece of property. So, logically, if you are going to argue for those old time values, you are advocating for all intents and purposes that women are chattel and, as such, have no rights. Consistency requires it. Don’t-cha see.

But those Biblically inspired and Biblically sure counter with the claim of the inerrancy of their “Word” and how can you possible argue with what God intended? A lesser man would heartily guffaw at such claims. I’ll just say, “Interesting but wrong.”

The Bible, the Old Testament was one people’s attempt at managing life. It, like a photo, captured what “they” felt was important, relevant and true. Thousands and thousands of years ago. We all know there is absolutely nothing larger in the known universe than man’s ego, hence, our God is jealous, parochial and male. Rules were set down, codified and a priestly class established to forever interpret the inscrutable mind of God and apply it to his “children.” And, marriage was just one of those considerations.

But, the faithful argue, the sanctity of marriage is explicitly described and sanctified in the Bible and, as everyone knows, it is undeniably true. The Book is not wrong. Hmmm? Please, if the Bible is not subject to change, interpretation and the influence of modernity, explain slavery in the Bible. Explain all the codified lunacy of how the Bible once considered women, children and slaves that we no longer believe. I’ll go chapter and verse with anyone who wants to debate the literalness of the Bible. Actually, I won’t. It is an intellectual waste of time. Amusing sometimes, I’ll grant you that.

Save your letters to the editor of how intolerant I am. I simply do not subscribe to what I believe is an incredibly limited view of humanity.

Thankfully, we are not living in a theocracy, no matter how hard America’s religious right would like us to. The religiously certain would impose their views on a secular nation and this includes marriage.

Whether or not gays are born or “just” select that life, I’ve explored in previous columns. It is not germane to me in the argument for marriage.

Our gay and lesbian citizens are human beings first. They fall in love and want to commit to their lover. It is no more complicated (to me) than that. Our culture has determined that marriage is the sincerest expression of love (commitment). Hence, it should come as no surprise that Gays and lesbians want what “all” of us desire.

The question becomes is marriage only between heterosexuals or not? I have argued that marriage is an historically changing convention, that it’s Biblical restrictions are intellectually untenable and, as a culture changes, so too its definitions and institutions.

I laugh out loud when I hear someone argue that Gay marriage will undermine the institution. That is too funny. Step back and review modern marriage. Then have a good rip-roaring laugh. To the degree marriage means anything at all is up to the participating individuals.

Basically, it’s an old person’s issue. I’ll be 60 in March and sadly it’s old fogies my age and older who get their undies all in a bundled knot over Gay marriage, that the world will end, yada, yada, yada. The younger generations don’t give two twits about it. I predict that within 60 months this issue will be resolved for America, that enough people will, say, “My gawd, can we be anymore juvenile? Let’s grow up. Let’s move on. Let’s all just mind our own business.” And wish everyone well if marriage is what they require as fulfillment in life.

I did not have an openly Gay friend until 1978. I met this man over lunch. He was a prominent mid-west disc jokey that I was attempting to recruit to chair a fundraising event for the organization I was running at the time. No sooner had we sat down, exchanged handshakes when he said, something to the effect, “I find you attractive,” and my mind went haywire.

No one had ever made a pass at me, let alone a man and what was I going to do? He rambled on about such things and I’m thinking, “What am I going to do?” I can’t be offended, I wanted him to chair my event. ARGH! I’m screwed!

And then it occurred out of nowhere and I said, “Dave, you know I’m immensely flattered but I don’t swing that way.”

He smiled, “Well, I just had to ask.” I do get that. A good hunting dog sniffs at every bush.

We laughed. We moved on.

It is past time for America to move on.

Why Is Everyone Always Pickin’ On Me?

“I think we must save America from the missionary idea that you must get the whole world on to the American way of life. This is really a big world danger.” —Gunnar Myrdal

I recently concluded teaching a history unit on Manifest Destiny. I believe it offers a clue on why America is so damned meddlesome in the world. It was originally offered as a justification for Americans to expand west in order to bring the full flower of democracy and progress to those not so blessed. It became a rallying cry and cause célèbre not only for our inevitable occupation of the North American continent but possibly our obligation to bring the fruits of “our way” to the rest of the world.

Americans are often smug (myself included) that we were/are the first “intentional” democracy in history. And all that that suggests. We have come to believe we are this grand human experiment and as such are special and “anointed.” Not content to just nurture and sustain our own democracy (and capitalism I might add) we have been taught that we have a moral obligation to spread our way and our values around the world. And that the world will be better for America’s gift.

As an abstract concept I have sufficient pride in our democratic institutions and enough hubris as anyone to say, “You bet-cha! The world needs to be democratic and capitalistic because that is what I respect and relate to.”

Alas, my father said it best, “Who died and made you Pope?”

I argue that America’s foreign policy since the completion of the Second World War (actually from 1898 with our disgusting “little” war with Spain) has been aggressively imperialistic, confrontational and self-defeating.

One of my favorite all-time books is Voltaire’s “Candide.” In it the author repeatedly poses the observation (as an ironic device), “We live in the best of all possible worlds.” Well, the operative word (to me) in that sentence is “possible.” It doesn’t take much of a perceptive individual to look around this world and conclude, “I can imagine better.” Can you?

Why is America constantly at war? Why does America require a military budget larger than the rest of the combined world? Why does America have military personnel stationed all over our planet? Why are our troops fighting in two Islamic nations with numerous military bases throughout that region?

Why do Islamic jihadists target America? Have you ever asked yourself, “Why would Al-Qaeda repeatedly target the United States for attack, culminating in the September 11th tragedy? Why?”

As a 9th grader, my buddy Ron Jones and I would stand in my bedroom and throw a dart at a map of our small city and where it landed we would go. It led to some grand adventures.

Do you think that is what Al-Qaeda did? Tossed a dart at the world and lo & behold down came the Towers. From the perspective of being an American, what happened on 9-11 is incomprehensible. It was a cowardly (except the belligerents were willing to die) attack that was totally unjustified. I was stunned as were we all.

But we never held the national conversation as to why. Why would Islamic fanatics target little ol’ us? Little ol’ Snow White America. How could they! We never seriously addressed that question. Ask yourself that question now. Why was America attacked on 9-11? Uh, uh, uh. . .

Do I think the attack was justified from an Islamic perspective? Absolutely not. But I am an American with all the related prejudices and nationalistic biases associated with being an American. Ask a Saudi, however, or an Egyptian, Iranian, or a Pakistani.

But I do know we are warring with Islam? To what end for America? I do not want to wait until the end of 2011 to get our troops out of Iraq. I want to start exiting tomorrow. Obama said repeatedly on the campaign trail that 18 months was a good time frame. I hope he honors his words.

But Obama wants to take the troops that are leaving one Islamic nation (Iraq) and shift them to Afghanistan. To what end I ask? What outcome do you foresee, as an American citizen, for our land war in Afghanistan? Please read the history of that region. We hubristically think “our” way is the preferred way and that history is on our side and that, “all’s well that ends well.” Sigh.

Kids, I hate to disabuse you of an idea. America is on the losing end of the stick if we think we are going to transform and stabilize Afghanistan into anything resembling our values. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The saddest movie I have seen in twenty years was the 2003 film titled, “Osama.” It dealt with (among other things) the plight of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban. It will absolutely leave you heart broken and crying. So incredibly sad. As is a lot of this best of all possible worlds.

If I were Pope for the day, I’d tell the Afghans, we are out of there in a year and every female who wants to leave that nation will get a visa to America. Every mother, daughter, sister and baby can come to America.

We cannot transform the world into some “Disneyized” replica of America. Nor are we obligated (at all) to do so. We need to mind our own business and take care of business here at home. Let America be that shining city on the hill, a beacon, an example to the world. It is not America’s manifest destiny, however, to be forever at war in the world. America took the wrong turn historically.

“I believe that the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty’s head will be dealt by this nation [the United States] in the ultimate failure of its example to the earth.”
—Charles Dickens

We can change. Yes, we can. We must.

A Black Man in the White House.

White America can no more imagine being kicked around because they’re pasty white than blacks could once imagine walking through the front door of the White House (unescorted by cops I might add). Slaves built the White House. Slaves built much of early America. The Civil War ended slavery, per se, but intolerance and persecution continued throughout all of America for another hundred plus years. But for the perseverance and guts of black leaders, we wouldn’t be where we are today–a black man in the White House.

No more a pasty white man was my father. He was of 100% Danish extraction (but who knows one’s “real” genetic woodpile) and he lived a racially sheltered life in Sioux City, Iowa. I grew-up in a town of 125,000 and we maybe, maybe had 50 black families. I remember delivering the Des Moines Register newspaper to a black family that moved into a home on my route. I don’t know why (or remember) but I became aware that “they” had crossed some geographical barrier within the city, a line. Nothing happened. This was 1963.

I never remember my father uttering a racist remark in his life. But if I were to venture a guess today, he was a racist. He would not have wanted either of his daughters to marry a black man. He probably would not have wanted a black family to move in down the block but he never would have been rude but I do know my father was capable of change. As was/is America.

In 1975 I was back in town looking for work and my father and I were standing in the kitchen talking about whatever fathers & sons talk about and out of the blue, he said (in essence), “You know, I was wrong. Negroes never had a fair shake in this country and they’re justified in what they’re doing to achieve justice.” I remember this conversation distinctly because dad said he was wrong about marijuana, too. That dad!

My father was too intelligent to ignore (forever) the facts. He was capable of change, that didn’t mean, however, that he started sending money to the NAACP, it meant, “You’re justified in your fight.” And he understood (as best as any pasty white 56-year-old Iowan could ever) that “bad things happen to good people.” And, at some point the scales must balance.

In 1978 I met Curtis. Curtis was (is) this flamboyant, out there, fast talking, incredible fun and funny, handsome, talented black man. At that time he was working for a quasi-government bureau that placed workers in non-profit agencies. He sold me on the program and placed a number of employees with the organization I was running at the time.

We became and continue to be best friends. Curtis moved into the for-profit sector and was an early hire (as a black man) for a number of corporations. He has the most incredible racial stories to tell that would curdle your blood and leave you screaming if they had happened to you as an employee, as a human being. Being the first black man in an office or company is an incredible burden. One, we pasty white people cannot really imagine.

Aside: similar stories can be offered for women, too. First female hires (in the 60s & 70s), for example, in prestigious law firms, when the number of female attorneys you could count on hand, was equally daunting. Couple black and female and you’ve another set of challenges to overcome.

Through Curtis I met Bob. Bob was the handsomest black man I’ve ever met. Bob was an All-American football player. Bob was big and powerful and bright. Bob owned any room when he was in it. He frightened pasty white boys no end. Bob made’um cower and whimper. It was actually fun to watch. The guy would leave and Bob would wink at me. Women loved Bob. He made’um melt.

Bob was formidable, aggressive and rose like a shooting star. He was repeatedly a sales star at major, major American corporations but because Bob was who he was (black, intelligent & assertive) he hit the ceiling for blacks. He couldn’t crack management.

I once said to Bob, “I don’t get it. Once you were called negroes and then it was blacks and now it’s African-Americans. What’s up with that? Can’t you make up your mind?”

Bob laughed his infectious laugh and said, “We jess like to mess wit-choo whitey’s.” We laughed.

But it’s been us whitey’s messing with black America that has the election of Barack Obama smelling so sweet. I was so very pleased that in the primaries, white Iowa came out for black Obama. It signaled to America (particularly black America) that a new day was possible—whites would vote a black man president and as “they” say, the rest is history.

My best man at my wedding nearly 40 years ago was a black man named Dwight Dow. We shared college history courses. No kinder, gentler, more humane a man have I ever met. He stepped off a building to his death because, I believe, the world became unbearable. Life is too sorrowful at times even to be hopeful.

My bestest man, Curtis, is still frequently the only black man in an all white business meeting. He is successful. He is respected. He is admired. He is black. He calls and tells me, “I was the only black in the regional golf tournament.”

He then says, “I won.” And we laugh. I love it.

Obama won. America won. It is a new day and it is good.

BABIES & BUCKS REDUX.

As a reflective individual, I am at a loss to understand why the 2008 presidential race is as close as it is. I write this Monday morning. I simply do not get it.

I don’t get why my fellow Americans aren’t madder than hell that we were misled into our abominable war in Iraq. We were lied to and manipulated by a messianic simpleton of a Republican President and his dirty-dawgs-of-war administration. Over 4,100 of our troops have died for a lie.

I don’t get why my fellow Americans don’t up and hurl over the accusations of socialism leveled against Barack Obama. We just had the biggest economic intervention in our history, initiated by a Republican President and his Republican Treasurer and Obama is the socialist? It’s Orwell’s BIG LIE writ large! Time and time again, it is the Orwellian lie!

Right now, what is left of the Bush administration is accelerating its gutting of our federal regulatory agencies, payback for longtime industry support. In the dark of the night, during the heat of this campaign, our gaze distracted, scurrilous little Republican bureaucrats (picture “W” button-wearing MBA cockroaches with green eyeshades) of the same ilk that produced the Katrina debacle are further emasculating what remains of our air, water and land use standards. Why? The almighty BUCK trumps public good. Why? Because the fox has run the hen house for years and we’re surprised our economy has tanked? Oversight is what? It’s un-American. It’s Godlessness manifest. It’s socialism! What hypocrisy. What stupidity. To our everlasting sorrow and chagrin.

I don’t get some of my fellow Americans. We’ve let ideology trump good government practices. Do you recall how our invasion and occupation was going to be a cakewalk? You remember? The war was to be short-lived. We’d be greeted as liberators. It would pay for itself. But do you remember that some folks were put in charge in Iraq based on a conservative litmus test of ideological purity? Your stand on abortion was somehow germane to administering Iraq’s currency. We’re in the war of our lives and whether or not you support a woman’s right to abortion is an impediment to America fielding its best team? Unbelievable. Doctrine trumping competence. Shame on us, America.

We’ve given stupidity and ideology a crack at ruining, ur, excuse me, running, running the nation and oh, boy, have we been rewarded. Hey, you in the electorate, America’s loyal brain-dead who remain committed to ideology trumping competence, have you had enough yet? Can we hear, “Uncle?”

Nah, every sperm is sacred, every egg, too and our unfettered financial markets (AYN RAND Unleashed!) a gift from God and that is all that counts in this life, in this world. Babies & Bucks! Can ya give it up for Babies & Bucks!?! Oh, you will. Imagine? Palin (Babies) & Romney (Bucks) for 2012. Babies & Bucks Redux! You’re salivating aren’t you? C’mon, you are.

I write this Monday morning, November 3, 2008. And while I feel and want Barack Hussein Obama to be President, it’s close and if Jupiter aligns with Mars, John McCain could be elected. And I repeat, how could this be?

You know what? I would willingly drink champagne (or a Guinness) with either man. Easy. I think both would be engaging, good conversationalists and storytellers, too. Both are capable of abstract thought. Both see shades of gray.

But McCain, unfortunately for him, is a conduit for the same partisan, incompetent ideologue that we’ve experienced these past eight years. There is accuracy to the charge that John McCain is a continuance of George Bush.

Someone early on asked me about what Obama brings to the office. And I described it by what he doesn’t bring. And I used for an illustration, Rolodexes. I’ve had a Rolodex right next to my computer screen since the 1970s. I’ve been in offices of men and they’ve had Rolodexes the size of golfcart tires, multiple ones.

Who owns ya? That is the (a) question we want to know about our leaders. From city council, to county commissioner, mayor, zoning committeeman, legislator, governor and president—who owns ya, boss?

It’s important to know people. Lots of them. I believe there is a chance for Obama to enter office and bring with him a smaller Roldex of must-return calls. Among your callers, who do you talk to? Those you owe or those that own you (please notice the distinction)?

We need to change Rolodexes in Washington. That is what this election boiled down to.

For the last eight years we’ve had a government run by tractor tire-sized Rolodexes of Babies & Bucks ideologues and they’ve guttered the nation, blew the wheels off the car and have the passengers (us) dazed and confused. America has been in a preventable, avoidable accident, a horrible, off-the-cliff crash. Some of us have died unnecessarily and America’s economic future, horribly muddied. All brought to by the Conservative Coalition of Babies & Bucks (the CCBB, Big Brother by any other name, ironically enough). They’ve ditched the nation and expect America to say, sure, yea, YOU BETCHA!, carry on Ol’ Chap! And the Rolodexes keep on spinning, Righteously Right.

What’s the expression? If you keep getting deeper (Bush), quit digging the hole (McCain). No, that’s not quite it. If you’re up to your neck in alligators, first drain the swamp. Yes, clean the CCBB vermin, as best you can, out of Washington.

Start there. And then?

Hope for the best, that is, if you don’t pray.

PS May Connecticut Senator “Weasel” Lieberman be forever banished to the Senate broom closet.