Fred Phelps is dead

Fred Phelps is dead and the great marriage debate is all but over. I take no great cheer in either.

Phelps, as you probably know, was a former civil rights attorney who was later disbarred and who founded a radically conservative church, the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. If you don’t know what kind of church that is, then let me tell you that its website is not westboro.org or wbc.org but godhatesfags.com.

Oberlin College, 2000. Photo by Paul M Walsh

Oberlin College, 2000. Photo by Paul M Walsh

Phelps and his family — well, some of his family — were and are pretty much the entire congregation. They were known for years in the gay community for picketing the funerals of those who died of AIDS, or Matthew Shepard, or Coretta Scott King, but really only gained a national renown when they started picketing the funerals of soldiers, claiming that they died because America was too lenient to the queers.

I never had the pleasure of speaking with Phelps, but I did on more than one occasion chat with his daughter, the rabid Shirley Phelps-Roper, who is, I can only say, a piece of work. Shirley was not one of the several members of the Phelps family who recently (or not so recently, as is the case for son Nathan) parted company with the family business.

Phelps was not a pleasant man, and I can’t say that I’m sorry to see him depart this earth. But I’ll not dance on his grave or entertain fantasies of picketing his funeral. For one thing, the church says they don’t do funerals (wonder why that is?), but for another, it would be wrong.

Fred and his crew are genuinely are not happy people. Thirty seconds in the presence of Shirley told me that. She is angry, bitter and biting. Not at all stupid, but profoundly and deeply unhappy. Suffering, I would say. She would say that’s because of all us queers. But I think it’s more because she cannot abide in a world that frightens her, that doesn’t fit with her carefully constructed vision of how a world should be.

“Should” being the operative word. It’s a deadly word, one that has the power to completely kill joy. And without joy, life itself is stale, stagnant, ugly. Or dead.

So I’ll not be celebrating Phelps’ death. I am sad. I’m sad that his family has lost its patriarch, and I’m sad that he lived what looks to me like a sad and lonely life, one that many others have embraced. I can’t be angry at them for that, because even though it is a choice, it’s not one that they fully understand, or even realize they don’t understand.

I honestly don’t care what Fred Phelps or Shirley Phelps-Roper or anyone else thinks of Teh Gays. They can think whatever they want. Westboro’s picketing of funerals was shameful and cruel, in my opinion, but not illegal, in the opinion of the US Supreme Court, the same court that destroyed the Defense of Marriage Act.

Both of those decisions were correct, I believe. We can’t be legislating against protests we don’t like any more than we can legislate against marriages we don’t like. If we ban one kind of protest, we must ban them all, and the same is true for marriage.

Frankly, I’m all for banning marriage, at least as far as being a legal institution. It’s an artificial construct, originally designed to designate property. Love cannot be confined to a piece of paper and vows that can easily be broken.

Marriage, like religion, is a personal thing. They’re both about beliefs. Government has no place in beliefs, and beliefs have no place in government.

Of course, taking marriage out of government is not likely to happen, not for a long time to come. So the Supreme Court’s decision is a good one, and it takes the religious argument right out.

Now the new thing is a proliferation of laws to protect religious freedom, one thing that actually is in the Constitution, because the guys who wrote that understood that it is a personal thing. How you practice your religion, or what you believe, is your business and your business alone.

And there it is. Fred Phelps and family, Westboro Baptist Church, the anti-gay marriage folks and others like them seem to have forgotten that. Or maybe they never understood. Their religious beliefs should never touch me or anyone else who doesn’t share them.

It’s not hard to understand. But apparently the practice is too daunting for some. I can only conclude that they’re afraid, and need everyone to believe as they do to keep that fear at bay.

And that just breaks my heart.

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The odious ODS

Obama Derangement Syndrome is real. So is Clinton Derangement Syndrome. Or maybe it’s just Democratic Derangement Syndrome. Or Anything That Scares Us Derangement Syndrome. I don’t know, but it’s real.

Witness one Geoffrey Zakarian, who is some kind of celebrity chef. I quit watching chef shows when they all started blurring together, so I don’t know. Anyway, here’s the story.

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White House photographer Pete Souza tweeted out a photo of the president in the Oval Office on Saturday, speaking with Vladimir Putin on the phone. The president was wearing jeans, and his shirt sleeves were rolled up. Cue the outrage. OMG you would have thought Souza had tweeted out a picture of Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton in the Oval Office with a cigar.

Storyful retweeted Souza’s image. And Zakarian responded:

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One would think that would have been enough, but one would have been wrong. Zakarian spoke again:

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Alas, there were many, many responses after that, pointing out that Zakarian was wrong. The Reagan pictures are from the Oval Office, and yes, one would expect Souza to know that. One would be right about that, but if one expected Zakarian to say “Whoops, my bad!” … well, let’s just say the chef has deleted these tweets from his timeline, not realizing, of course, that one may delete a tweet from one’s timeline but it never goes away.

This is far from an isolated event, and Mr Zakarian is not the only one to behave in this matter. It is but a clear and present reminder that there are some who cannot think for themselves, nor do they have an ounce of humility in or on their persons. It is a sad state of affairs.

Obama is certainly not above criticism, nor should he be. He is not a perfect president — if only. But, my god, these whackos just don’t let up. And if they can’t find something real to blame him for, they’ll just make crap up.

And it’s not just conservatives either. There are progressives out there condemning the first lady’s campaign against obesity because she’s not focusing on genetically modified food.

OK, then. Let’s just all take a step back, a deep breath, and watch some cat videos.

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Good-bye to a legend

Helen Thomas will always be a hero to me. None of that “shero” stuff. You’re either a hero or you’re not, no special designation if you’re a woman. Helen was a reporter, not a reportrix or a reportress. A reporter, a journalist. A real journalist.

Helen Thomas covered 10 — count ‘em — 10 presidents. She questioned John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, all with the same sharp, penetrating style that made presidents and press secretaries alike uncomfortable because an honest answer might seem very impolitic.

You always ask tough questions, tough questions not in the sense of being unfair, but hard to generalize the answers.

– Nixon to Thomas

She was an unabashed liberal, on more than one occasion saying that she didn’t understand how a reporter could not be, seeing what they see first hand.

What’s a liberal? I care about the poor, the sick, and the maimed. I care whether we go to war for unjust causes. I care whether we shoot people who are innocent.

– Helen Thomas

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Liberal, but not a partisan. If you think Helen Thomas only tossed hardball questions at Republican presidents, go check out a few news conferences with Bill Clinton or Lyndon Johnson, and Jackie Kennedy called her a harpy. She did think GWB was the worst president ever. Dunno if she was justified in saying that because she was only a reporter for 70 years, not the full 200+ we’ve had presidents. She kept asking the questions the rest of the press failed to ask about the Iraq war, and it cost her that seat on the front row of the briefing room. Colleagues ridiculed her about those questions, called her rude, I’m guessing more because she was asking them and they weren’t than anything else.

I don’t think there are any rude questions.

– Helen Thomas

But  her career certainly crashed and burned when she told a rabbi with a video camera that Jews in Israel ought to “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to where they came from, like Poland, Germany and the United States. I’m not justifying that. I don’t know what made her say it, what might have been going on right before the encounter with the rabbi. Of Lebanese descent, Helen was uncompromisingly pro-Palestinian, and she rightfully complained that in the US government, it is just not allowed to criticize Israel. But those statements … ouch. Pretty low, really shocking.

Helen’s last job was a weekly column for the Falls Church (Virginia) News-Press, a humble ending to an illustrious career. She had been among the handful of female reporters who forced the National Press Club to let them attend their newsmakers luncheons in 1956 (albeit in a balcony, barred from asking questions) and kept at it until the club finally, in 1971, allowed women as members. She broke gender barriers at the White House Correspondents Association and the Gridiron Club, too, and was the only print reporter to accompany Richard Nixon to China.

With her death goes the last link to a White House Press Corps with integrity and audacity. Yeah, it’s not audacious for a conservative blog to send a high school junior  to a White House press briefing to ask if the president was leaving George Zimmerman and his family “on their own” against death threats. That’s, in the words of press secretary Jay Carney, “ridiculous.” If you need it spelled out — which apparently Gabe Finger, whose twitter handle is “@GabeemtheFinger,” needed — that would be local law enforcement’s responsibility.

Just angered Obama’s press secretary. Word.

— Gabe Finger (@GabeemtheFinger) July 17, 2013

Helen Thomas never would have asked such a question, and certainly wouldn’t have sent out such a tweet. She didn’t even have a Twitter account, and if she had, I’m pretty damn sure her handle wouldn’t have been something akin to @HelenAHandBasket or @HelenWheels. But that’s what inside the Beltway “journalism” has become, I’m afraid — stuck in those high school moments, although most of them, at least, have the sense not to get sophomorically cute with their Twitter names.

Helen probably wouldn’t have been asking about Zimmerman at all, and she certainly wouldn’t have flogged Benghazi and the IRS long after those “scandals” were shown to be nothing more than right wing talking points. But she would have asked the questions that needed asking, over and over again until she got an answer, until she got the truth.

The truth, rather than an agenda, should be the goal of a free press.

– Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas, Kentucky-born to Lebanese immigrants and Detroit-raised, died Saturday at her home in Washington. She was 92. We may never see the likes of her again, and I’m sure there are plenty who hope that’s true. I’m not one of them. We need more Helen Thomases, and soon.

Great Americans of the 19th Century

Here’s a list of Great Americans who signed a letter to the Republican National Committee threatening to cut off funding if Republicans didn’t remain solidly entrenched in the 19th Century:

  • Gary Bauer, President, American Values
  • Paul Caprio, Director, Family-Pac Federal
  • Marjorie Dannenfelser, President, Susan B. Anthony List
  • Dr. James Dobson, President and Founder, Family Talk Action
  • Andrea Lafferty, President, Traditional Values Coalition
  • Tom Minnery, Executive Director, CitizenLink
  • William J. Murray, Chairman, Religious Freedom Coalition
  • Tony Perkins, President, Family Research Council
  • Sandy Rios, VP of Government Affairs, Family-Pac Federal
  • Austin Ruse, President, Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute
  • Phyllis Schlafly, President, Eagle Forum
  • Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, Founder, Traditional Values Coalition
  • Tim Wildmon, President, American Family Association

And by that, I mean that they are threatening to take their money elsewhere if Republicans keep shifting to the dark side and doing horrible things like favoring same-sex marriage and background checks for gun purchases.

2012 iHeartRadio Music Festival - Day 2 - Backstage

Brad Paisley accidentally wore a Confederate flag into a Starbucks and wrote this song

So country singer Brad Paisley and Sam Hanna from NCIS LA have joined up to put out a song decrying the state of race relations these days, putting most of it down to a misbegotten clinging to the past and misunderstanding of white and black today.

First, anybody besides me have the urge to laugh uncontrollably every time you hear the name “Brad Paisley”?

OK never mind. It’s not his fault. At least I hope not. And Sam Hanna is really rapper LL Cool J, who frankly oughta know better.

On the other hand, it’s quite a gutsy move for “a white man coming to you from the southland” to even speak about race like this. And on the other other hand, the song falls so far short of what I’m sure Brad and Cool hoped that it probably just gives the racists another white sheet to hide behind, because it doesn’t seem much more than another attempt to ease white guilt by saying “everybody does it.”

Brad’s been taking a lot of heat for it, of course, so I shudder to think what kind of heat he might be taking had the song actually been better. The song’s called “Accidental Racist,” and frankly, that’s just a stupid title for a song about a guy who wore a Confederate flag into a Starbucks and expected the barista not to think he was a fucking bigoted asshole.

To the man that waited on me
At the Starbucks down on Main
I hope you understand
When I put on that t-shirt
The only thing I meant to say
Is I’m a Skynyrd fan

Really, Brad? Y’know, Lynyrd Skynyrd once stopped using that damn flag to promote themselves because they were tired of being equated with racists. But the racists got pissed and wouldn’t come to their shows anymore, so they started using it again.

I think the only thing Brad meant to say is that it’s black folks’ fault if seeing the stars and bars upsets them.

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And LL Cool J. He has a rap part in this song. He raps that he won’t judge Brad’s “red flag” if Brad won’t judge his “do rag.” Seriously? Is there any kind of correlation between a do rag and the battle flag of the Confederate States of America, which seceded from the United States of America so they could continue to enslave a particular group of people? I didn’t think so.

But that’s not the worst part of LL Cool J’s rap. The worst part is his saying that if Brad will forget about his “gold chains,” he’ll forget about the “iron chains.” Really? Really? How on earth can those two things be equivocal, except that they both involve something worn by an African American?

See, here’s the thing. Brad’s part of the song is kinda whining about how he keeps getting blamed for something done in the past by people who are now dead to other people who are now dead, and it has nothing to do with him.

‘Cause I’m just a white man
Living in the Southland
Just like you, I’m more than what you see
I’m proud of where I’m from
And not everything we’ve done
And it ain’t like you and me to rewrite history
Our generation didn’t start this nation
And we’re still paying for the mistakes
Than a bunch of folks made
Long before we came
Caught somewhere between southern pride
And southern blame

LL Cool J’s part is about how a lot of white people just look at black people and think they’re out to rape and murder them, which is pretty much true. But they both say we should all just sit down, have a beer and get over it.

Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood
What the world is really like when you’re living in the hood
Just because my pants are saggin’ doesn’t mean I’m up to no good
You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would
Now my chains are gold, but I’m still misunderstood
I wasn’t there when Sherman’s March turned the south into firewood
I want you to get paid, but be a slave I never could
Feel like a new-fangled Django dogging invisible white hoods
So when I see that white cowboy hat, I’m thinking it’s not all good
I guess we’re both guilty of judging the cover, not the book
I’d love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air
But I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn’t here

Now, there’s some good points there, don’t get me wrong. And it’s a start. It’s just a pretty damn weak start. Do rags don’t equal Confederate flags. Gold chains don’t equal iron chains. And no, Sherman’s march (which was not conducted by African Americans, please remember) does not equal hundreds of years of enforced slavery followed by Jim Crow and institutionalized racism that did not end with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It’s not so much the past racism that bugs people as the present racism. The white south does go to great lengths to pretend that “bygones are bygones” and we’re all starting off on a clean plate, but the truth is, we ain’t. Not by a long shot. So, Brad, while you ain’t proud of everything that was done in your name by your ancestors, you are still wearing the very symbol of the crap that was done in your name by your ancestors. Quit trying to pretend it’s just the innocent symbol of a southern rock band.

Cool, man, them saggy pants just look stupid. I don’t think you’re up to no good if you’re wearing em. I just think you’re an idiot. And it doesn’t matter what color is your skin. Do rags? Gold chains? Seriously? Did you have to search down that deep into stereotypes to find something to falsely compare with the pure hatred and disrespect for human beings represented by that flag?

No matter how hard you want to believe it, guys, this is not some post-racial world. It’s still pretty damn fucked up. It’s still racist and sexist and homophobic and don’t even get me started on the Christianists who think they’re persecuted.

And yeah, the south gets too much of the blame for racism. Every time something happens here, every time somebody uncovers a rural Georgia town of less than 1,500 people that still has segregated proms at its high school of 70 kids, the Yankee haters go berserk with the “too much bigotry in the south” bullshit. One guy said “You wouldn’t find this in New York City!” That’s true. But you also don’t find it in Atlanta. Or Birmingham. Or Charleston. Or Charlotte. Or Nashville. Or Louisville. Or Richmond, the former capital of the CSA. Maybe not even in Jackson, but I can’t say that for sure. And there are other forms of racism to be found in places like New York City.

I could pull up links to all kinds of godawful things that have happened in the north to prove my point. I did, once, years ago, when I got offended by a New York group that call itself “Southerners in Exile.” I basically called them cowards for running off to the Big Apple and hiding in that mass of humanity instead of staying down here and fighting. And turning a blind eye to the bigotry of the north.

But I won’t do that here. It’s off topic, and I’ve strayed too far from the topic already.

Brad, Cool, nice try. Next time, though, get real.

A New Difficulty in Achieving National Cohesion. A stable national government requires a measure of cohesion of the ruled. Such cohesion can be derived from an implicit mutual agreement on goals and direction — or even on the processes of determining goals and direction. With the diversity of information channels available, there is a growing ease of creating groups having access to distinctly differing models of reality, without overlap. For example, nearly every ideological group, from the student underground to the John Birchers, now has its own newspapers. Imagine a world in which there is a sufficient number of TV channels to keep each group, and in particular the less literate and tolerant members of the groups, wholly occupied? Will members of such groups ever again be able to talk meaningfully to one another? Will they ever obtain at least some information through the same filters so that their images of reality will overlap to some degree? Are we in danger of creating by electrical communications such diversity within society as to remove the commonness of experience necessary for human communication, political stability, and, indeed, nationhood itself? Must “confrontation” increasingly be used for human communication?

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National political diversity requires good will and intelligence to work comfortably. The new visual media are not an unmixed blessing. This new diversity causes one to hope that the good will and intelligence of the nation is sufficiently broad-based to allow it to withstand the increasing communication pressures of the future.

Paul Baran, 1969

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The enemy you know

If you wanna know where the most serious challenges lie for the Republican Party, don’t look to the White House or the offices of California senators. Instead, look to National Harbor, Maryland, specifically the Gaylord National Hotel.

That’s where you’ll find the Conservative Political Action Conference, better known by journos as CPAC, which is not to be confused with C taps or even CPAP, although if you’re anything like me, you may need the latter if you tune listen much to CPAC.

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Today was opening day of the annual confab. There’s the usual bunch of inane speakers. Current darling Marco Rubio, past darling Sarah Palin, Sir Filibuster Rand Paul, Palin’s male doppelganger Ted Cruz, Rick “the hair” Perry, Wayne “guns in schools” LaPierre, Newtie, Mittens, Sick Rantorum, The Donald and the king of krazy, Allen West.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wasn’t invited. Neither was Muslim hater Pamela Gellar, although she got un-uninvited by the Breitbart crew who was invited.

You remember Andrew Breitbart, don’t you? He died, you know. They had a special memorial for him at CPAC.

There was a gay rights panel too, not called by that name of course. “Rainbow on the Right: Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet” used enough gay dog whistles to get the point across.

The conserverati spent a lot of time talking about Benghazi. You remember that, don’t you? That’s the incident the Republicans used to keep Susan Rice from becoming secretary of state. Instead, she’s likely to become national security adviser, which doesn’t need Senate confirmation.

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Really? Weird? Considering that the main thrust of conserverati argument is that Obama is out to destroy America, I think their focus on Benghazi makes sense. They think there was some big cover-up, or some big lack of concern for the security of Americans, or something that led to the death of the ambassador. And it’s all Obama’s fault. If it doesn’t look to you like they’re looking for some reason to impeach, then maybe you need a bigger scope.

Another Republican whack job, Jim Inhofe, spelled it out, although he allowed as how the president is “charming:”

This is the same guy that is … over-regulating all of our businesses, he has a war on fossil fuels, he is keeping us from being energy independent, he is defunding the military. So he’s destroying this country, but yes he’s charming.

Isn’t that sweet?

CPAC represents everything that’s wrong with the Republican Party. The Tea Party hold-outs, the knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers sucking the very life out of everybody who wants to move forward. Hell, even Rick Perry got booed. Know why? Because he said this:

Now, the popular media narrative — is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideals, as evidenced by the last two presidential elections. That is what they say. That might be true if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012. That might be true. But now we are told our party must shift appeal to the growing Hispanic demographic.

He won ‘em back though, talking about winning the Hispanic vote with a economic message and not one about immigration.

But look at what else he said there — John McCain and Mitt Romney weren’t conservative enough to win the election, because, you know, not being conservative enough causes conservatives to vote for more liberal people.

But here’s what these folks don’t seem to understand: The more conservative Republicans — and I assume he’s talking about people like himself, Mike Huckabee, Sick Rantorum, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann — they couldn’t even win a Republican primary. How the hell does he think they’d ever win a general election?

And yet, there it is, for all to see. Even Rubio knows you can’t stay at the bottom of the barrel and ever expect to get out of it. Rand Paul filibustered Obama’s CIA pick over DRONE STRIKES, which probably will guarantee he’ll never win a Republican nomination for president but almost certainly made his daddy proud.

CPAP, in case you were wondering.

CPAP, in case you were wondering.

For every step a young Republican makes toward progress, there’s two Jim Sensenbrunners to drag him back. But it’s not just the old white guys. When the two Sensenbrunners get tired, there’s a couple of Erick Ericksons or Allen Wests to do the job. And if that’s not good enough, then there’s three or for Marcia Blackburns and a Palin wannabe.

These are the guys Obama and Congressional Democrats have to deal with to get anything done — the ones in Congress, and the ones outside Congress running their mouths on Ayatollah Limbaugh’s radio show or Faux News. The same ones who have over and over and over again stopped any real progress from happening (See Obamacare, compromises of or Kerry, Secretary of State John). 

And yet, today I’m encouraged by one thing. Obama, speaking to Democrats today:

I’m not Charlie Brown with a football,

he said.

That may be true. One question remains, however: Are we?