Wednesday, May 27, 2009

An Historic Choice

History was certainly made yesterday when Barack Obama announced his choice for the first of what hopefully will be several opportunities to fill vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court. Sonia Sotomayor seems to be a capable, very qualified selection who is sure to bring a welcomed sense of balance and diversity to the nation's highest court, which for far too long has been the haven of boring old men. While her addition to the Court will not change the current ideological balance much, her fresh attitude, experiences and judicial accomplishments will do much to counterbalance the reactionary bigotry of Antonin Scalia and the empty-headed, knee-jerk conservatism of Clarence Thomas, probably one of the most unqualified dunderheads ever to make it to the Court.

Next to snagging the presidency, filling Supreme Court vacancies is the Holy Grail of American politics, a chance for a president-elect and a party to stamp their own imprint on judicial decisions which affect each and every one of us for many years after the president leaves office. Sotomayor is still young enough that she may hold on to her seat for several decades into the future.

But it's also been very amusing and gratifying to watch the right-wing hot-air machine spin itself into overdrive, nearly spitting in apoplexy as they fulminate and bloviate over her nomination. Everything they say drips with frustration and barely-concealed racism. You can almost hear them append every "But she's a liberal activist!" comment with "and she's a Latina!!" Yeah, God forbid we should ever get a Hispanic and a woman on the highest court of the land. Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority in America right now and women are the majority in the country. What a horrible thing, according to the conservatives, to have representation for these upstarts.

Anything that gets conservatives upset makes me very happy, and I'm enjoying all the right-wing outrage and blathering. Today on ABC's "Good Morning America" they featured a debate between James Carville and right-wing spokescreep, the execrable, loathsome and vile Ann Coulter. Let me just say that if anyone ever decides to market a line of clothing to methamphetamine-addicted scarecrows, Ann Coulter would be their perfect model. Dripping with her usual brittle, psychopathic contempt, Coulter decried the "politicization" of Supreme Court choices, like this was the first time that has ever happened. ALL Supreme Court choices are highly political and they always have been. It's too great an opportunity for the party in power to pass up. I'm sure she didn't have much to say in the way of criticism when former Retard-in-Chief George W. Bush nominated John Roberts and Sam Alito to the court. Where was her faux-outrage then? Carville was moderate and well-spoken this time, although I realize that being married to Republican fupa-fluffer Mary Matalin must really test your tolerance and sanity.

Of course the dimwitted Senator John Kyl (R-Az) has to step forward and take the lead in the upcoming Cavalcade of Stupidity and threaten to filibuster this nomination. I say, let him do it. Let him paralyze the Senate in these critically important times and let the Republican party take the full blame for it. Call his bluff, I'd love to see him pass out at the podium after 36 hours of reading the Washington telephone directory. Let him try, and then when they haul him out of there, confirm Sotomayor's selection. And tell the rest of the Republicans to enjoy their king-sized ration of crap. As usual, they deserve it.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

One Toke Over The Line

I was trolling around the internet a while back looking for cheap laughs and I found some with this YouTube video:

This is a clip of the old Lawrence Welk show featuring a rendition of Brewer and Shipley's 1970 stoner epic "One Toke Over The Line." My jaw dropped as I watched the video. Did they have any idea what the lyrics of this song were about? Do the math: 1970 + "toke" = marijuana! Ding ding! We have a winner! Did that not even occur to them? The cheesiness factor is off the scale here especially with the clothes, which seemed pilfered from a high school drama class production of "Oklahoma." I thought I was hallucinating and became overjoyed because maybe the long-promised flashbacks from taking all that LSD in the 60s and 70s were finally happening. The kicker is at the end when Mr. Welk himself refers to the song as a "modern spiritual." That got a huge WTF? from me. I really wish the Welk show had continued long enough to do their version of the Village People's "In The Navy" as part of a patriotic music show. I can just see that - a dozen singers on stage, the women in their jacked-to-Jesus hair and puffy-sleeved dresses and the men in their Rotary Club haircuts and canary-yellow leisure suits. With Myron Floren on accordion, of course.

When I was a teenager you could not get any more uncool or unhip than Lawrence Welk. It was usually sponsored by a product called "Geritol" which was some kind of vitamin and mineral tonic specifically made for old people. I immediately labeled the music "Geritol music," something even my parents thought was funny. I'm sure Geritol tasted like the bottom of an old fish tank and I was convinced the only thing it did was made you smell funny, which most old people did. It was painful when the studio audience was shown dancing on the Welk show. Watching them stumble, jostle and bump each other I was sure we were only seconds away from someone breaking a hip. You could just hear the Depends undergarments crinkling and crunching beneath all the polyester. There was usually a bubble machine behind the musicians on stage which spewed out clouds of bubbles in a faux-elegant attempt to invoke the highbrow appeal of champagne. Side note: I read somewhere that the dancers on the show hated the bubbles because they broke on the floor and made it extremely slippery. If there is a "blooper reel" of the Welk show I would love to see it.

But seriously, I can look at clips of "The Lawrence Welk Show" now and get nothing but warm fuzzy feelings from them. It's kind of like televised comfort food - something that fills you with the sweet glow of nostalgia for the kinder, gentler days of your youth. My parents were parked in front of the television every Saturday evening to watch. They could not get enough of the show's schlocky, stridently old-fashioned production values and the creaky, timeworn old songs they exhumed for each show. When I was younger I had to wait very impatiently until Welk was over and something better came on. As I got older I would go upstairs to my room, clamp my stereo headphones on and play rock music at ear-splitting volume in an attempt to purge my brain of the flatulent stodginess of the Welk show.

Okay, that was pretty harsh. Now I really have nothing but nice thoughts about Welk and his "Champagne Music Makers." If nothing else, they gave the people of my parents' generation an hour of clean, pleasant and safe entertainment each week specifically tailored to appeal to them. It was one of their small but meaningful pleasures in the rapidly-emerging youth culture around them. They and their peers could celebrate the comfort and solidarity of their common memories and experiences, much of it rooted in the World War II era. I know my parents delighted in remembering good times when they danced to Glen Miller and Tommy Dorsey and I really enjoyed hearing them reminisce about their youth. Sure, the show aggravated the crap out of me when I was a kid but I have no doubt I aggravated the crap out of a lot of people back then. It all goes around and comes around, and now looking back over the years the Welk show is a direct link to memories of my now-deceased parents and what was a very pleasant time in my life. And anything that made my parents happy makes me happy, too.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

American Idolatry

Last night was the finale of season 8 of the television program "American Idol." I was lucky enough to tune into the last four minutes only, to see the winner announced. Other than the audition programs at the front end of the season, I skipped all of it, and haven't really followed the show in years.

"American Idol" has become the Junior-High-School-Popularity-Contest from hell, a big-budget student-council election on steroids. I have to admit a guilty pleasure in watching the shows early in the season where they go from city to city auditioning hopefuls for a shot at moving on to Hollywood. Those shows are truly the Parade of the Seriously Delusional. I find it hard to believe they audition like 10,000 people or more over a couple of days in San Diego or Houston, but whatever, they sure do deliver the chortles. The vast majority of the auditioners have to be unremarkably average. A smaller number are seriously horrible and talent/sanity-free. An even more minuscule number actually have talent. Needless to say we are shown the truly good and the truly awful, because that's what pulls in the ratings. And nothing ever happens on AI unless it's for ratings or profit. You have to watch some of those bad auditions and ask, "Can you even hear yourself? Who the hell told you can sing?" I sometimes get a mite uncomfortable and squirmy when someone comes on who is obviously mentally disturbed and the dream of being on "Idol" is the only sliver of hope in their unrelentingly bleak, tedious, dead-end lives. No matter, they are chewed up and spat out just like the contestant before them was and the one after will be. AI auditions are only about the 40 seconds you get to display your mental problems on national television - anything happening in your life before or after is pretty much irrelevant.

The American cultural imperative of "rooting for the underdog" is always present, as it was a couple of years ago when a marginally-talented, obviously over-aged Taylor Hicks won. That was my first tip-off that something was rotten in Idol-land when someone, who looks like the uncle that always mortifies the family at weddings by getting drunk and either dancing like he's in a dinner-theater version of "Saturday Night Fever" or croaking out an almost-unrecognizable version of "Bad Bad Leroy Brown," came out on top. And where is his career now? Don't know and don't care. And I tuned out early the next season when something called "Sanjaya Malarky" was upchucked into our living rooms and disgraced and debased the entire human race with not just lack of any kind of talent (other than self-promotion) but in fact an abundance of negative talent that I believe came close to scuttling the entire "Idol" franchise, which at that point would have been a blessing.

But the fact remains that when you let millions of pre-teen kids vote on who they "like" the best it's pretty depressing when they almost always choose bland and boring over different and (slightly) edgy. From the little I heard glam rocker Adam Lambert had a better voice than missionary kid from Arkansas Kris Allen. "Glambert," as he was called, had range and power and did a lot of screaming and histrionics, which in the world of "Idol" is almost universally mistaken for talent. The other one looked like he would be right at home strumming emo/folk tunes at a coffee shop in a Minneapolis suburb with a tip jar in front of him. They say "Idol" appeals to a wide range of viewers, but I don't think it can be denied that pre-teens and teens make up their biggest voting bloc. Other demographic groups don't stand a chance when those crazy kids can just pop mega-doses of Adderall and Ritalin and stay up for 24 hours straight speed-dialing the voting lines like 5,000 times each.

So, just as the eternally loathsome Sarah Palin is destined to rear her empty head and soul onto the American scene in the not-too-distant future, so will "Idol" return for (**shudder**) season 9 in January 2010. There are some minor things to look forward to - mainly the Theatre of the Damned that are the audition shows, and you can almost always count on Simon Cowell for a bracing, refreshing blast of vitriol and hatefulness on a regular basis. Paula Abdul is fun to watch for her vast, endless supply of pharmaceutical enhancements and her subsequent dotty, surreal behavior. Randy Jackson continues to mystify as to why he is even on that program as a judge, and I doubt that the fourth judge will be back next time so who cares. The Cowell-Seacrest "You're-gay-No-you're-gay!" snipefest is becoming a bit tattered, but still amuses. A little. But as long as the ratings and the profit and the publicity keep rolling in, "Idol" will take its place right behind death and taxes as one of the inevitabilities of modern life.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Go Ride The Music

Had an opportunity this morning to take another stroll down Memory Lane. An email from Wolfgang's Vault arrived and pointed the way to a tape-recorded concert of Jefferson Airplane, circa 1967. Wolfgang's Vault is an amazing website where an unbelievable number of concert tapes, made at countless Bill Graham (Graham's actual first name was "Wolfgang") musical events, are available to listen to for free. Check out their roster of artists - you are guaranteed to find someone you like and may spend a lot of time reliving some very great music.

Good music of that kind has an enormous capacity to transport you back to when you originally heard it. Music can embody a certain time, a specific place, who you were with at the time, and more importantly who you WERE when you heard it. Music can perfectly encapsulate an entire era or a part of your life. It does more than capture a moment - it captures a spirit, a consciousness, an essence. You can feel young and idealistic again - the world can once more explode with hope, possibilities, passion and potential.

The late sixties were a singular, pivotal point in time. American culture went through a drastic, radical, relatively instantaneous change. From the stodgy, stifling musical conformity of the previous decade, the Beatles and the British Invasion were a breath of fresh air against the blandness that went before them (except, of course, for Motown in the early sixties which still is and forever will be totally awesome). This set the stage for the Psychedelic Sixties, an immense blast of color and music and art and light that illuminated this country from coast to coast. Everything was new, fresh, wonderful and exciting. It was like a Great Awakening, a new Renaissance, a blossoming and opening of the mind, a time when you really, truly believed that anything was possible.

And the music! The music that was happening in California on the San Francisco/Los Angeles axis was a magnet that pulled everyone's attention to the west coast. For me the Jefferson Airplane was the first and only band for me. I played all their albums until they were worn smooth (I actually went through 3 copies of "After Bathing At Baxter's" - I'm talking vinyl here). Their music was powerful, soaring, uplifting and inspiring to me. Along with some friends, I hitchhiked in the dead of winter from Pittsburgh to Cleveland in 1970 to see them in concert. I was never so cold in my life but it was so worth it.

So many artists did fantastic, career-defining work in that era. The first Crosby, Stills and Nash album was simply amazing; the music and harmonies were so pristine and pure, just like sunlight in the "garden in the morning after it rained," to quote a line from the song "Guinevere." Joni Mitchell's "Ladies of the Canyon" is a perfect time capsule for me. Listening to those songs is like going on a mini-vacation for me. I can forget about whatever problems or issues I'm dealing with at the time and for a while I'm 18 years old again. But maybe my favorite album from that era is David Crosby's luminous, transcendent solo effort "If I Could Only Remember My Name." Unbelievably good from start to finish, it's almost too perfect and wonderful to be true. We may never hear music of that quality and beauty again.

Jefferson Airplane's majestic anthem to future times, "Wooden Ships," ends with the soaring voices of the singers chanting, "Go Ride The Music" over and over. It really is music that will literally and figuratively pick you up and carry you away. The sixties were like that - anything was possible - and you can still feel the power and hear the echoes at Wolfgang's Vault.

Monday, May 18, 2009

This Is Justice?

Disturbing, unhappy news came to light recently in regards to an animal abuse/hoarding situation here in the Phoenix area that has been in litigation for a long time. Involving upwards of 40 or more rabbits and other animals, some evil, deranged individual had kept them in appalling, miserable conditions until the local animal control authority was able to go in, seize the poor animals, and take them to a shelter. While most people would think that would be the end of their suffering and tribulations, sadly it was only the beginning.

The abuser was charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty. The rabbits went to live in small, cramped individual cages at the shelter in a back room of the facility. Because of the charges and the legal wrangling, they had to be sequestered there in "protective custody" and became known as the "PC bunnies." They had no names, only numbers and descriptions. There were many different breeds, but a lot of longhaired angoras and lionheads, and you can imagine what condition their fur would be in after months of little or no grooming. There were also Rexes, Netherland dwarfs, mini-lops and other mixes. Probably at least 30-40 bunnies, who were condemned to this damnable state of legal limbo in July of 2007 and have been there ever since.

The animal shelter was able to talk the abuser into occasionally relinquishing ownership on one or two of the rabbits so they could be put up for adoption and find a real home and family. Brambley Hedge Rabbit Rescue took several of them and found adoptive families right away. But the evil hoarder stubbornly resisted releasing many more of them, in spite of their great adoptability. She and her dirtbag attorneys fought tooth and nail within the legal system to delay and derail all attempts to get any of the rabbits away from her and into a better place.

All this time, nearly two years, the rabbits languished in this back room of the shelter in their tiny cages, unable to run and play outside, with only very cursory and limited human interaction. I don't fault the shelter for this, because of the overwhelming tasks they have caring for enormous numbers of unwanted animals; as far as I'm concerned, the abuser is 100% responsible for creating this horrible, shameful situation, and then doing everything possible to thwart the efforts of those who want nothing more than to give the bunnies a chance at a relatively decent life.

The news came a couple of days ago that the abuser has been declared mentally incompetent to stand trial. This means that all charges against her are being dropped and the rabbits will have to be returned to her. I could not believe this when I heard it. What kind of "justice" system is this when someone who is too mentally impaired to answer for their abuses and cruelties, and yet will have the innocent animals returned to her for even more cruelty?? If she is too incompetent to stand trial, how can she competently care for 40 or more rabbits? This whole situation makes me violently ill, and if the "justice" system in this country wonders why so many people have no respect for them and hold them in the utmost disgust and loathing, the answer is right here.

It was my great privilege to be allowed to visit the "PC bunnies" regularly over the past six or seven months and provide them with much needed grooming and social interaction. A number of rabbits were very fearful and mistrustful of humans, but many of them were absolutely sweet and friendly, and were desperately starved for a kind, soothing voice, a scratch of the ears, and some good combing and brushing. Of course you can't help but fall in love with them. They are utter, total victims in this entire, sad, awful story. What is going to happen to my "PC bunnies?" They were put in a dangerous, unhealthy and cruel situation by the stupidity and evilness of a hoarder, and now an equally evil, uncaring and ignorant legal system is going to put them right back into that situation. There is no way this can be considered "justice," when the critical health and welfare of 40 innocent animals is denied in favor of the "property rights" of a mentally disturbed hoarder who, if there was indeed any "justice" in this life, would be serving a very long sentence in prison.

It is not "justice" by any stretch of the imagination, and the abuser, their legal representatives and everyone associated with the "justice" system deserve to be held in the highest contempt possible. Likewise the legislators of this backward, ignorant state who have enacted laws that treat animals as "things," instead of living, breathing, valued entities. It is my fondest wish that someday, somehow, they will be held accountable for their despicable actions. They all deserve to be locked up in a cage in a back room somewhere and forgotten.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Talia's Dance of Joy

Woke up early this morning and decided to take a couple of bunnies outside for some fresh air and playtime, before this hateful climate kicks in and the temperature screams into triple-digits again. My Flemish Giant girl Peaches always gets to run free in the yard; she needs the exercise but rarely gets it, preferring as she does to park her ample tushie under a bougainvillea bush and contemplate her plans for world domination. I have an exercise pen on the back patio and I like to bring another of the bunnies outside for a little fun-time. This morning it was Talia's turn.
Talia is an incredibly sweet little agouti-brown girl, about 6-8 months old with a huge fluffy white-on-the-bottom tail and completely adorable helicopter ears. When she came to the rabbit rescue about a month ago I could barely believe what I saw. Apparently she had been bitten in the face by another animal and the wound had gotten horrendously infected. The whole left side of her face was swollen and misshapen, and there was so much pus in her face it was starting to leak upwards through her tear duct and out her eye. I had never seen an infection so bad and out of control. I took pictures of her when she first came to me but I hesitate to publish one in this blog because they are so hard to look at. Trust me when I tell you she looked truly awful and I can't imagine the pain and discomfort she had to live with for God knows how long.

Talia ended up staying at the animal hospital for over three weeks, as they did several surgeries on her to reconstruct her eyelids and clean out all the infection and prurient material. Finally she was released and came back to our rescue, and I went up earlier this week to scoop her up and bring her to my home for some much-deserved spoiling and TLC. Miraculously, she has not lost vision in her left eye.

Despite all she has gone through Talia is still an extremely happy, trusting bunny. As I sat on my patio enjoying the (temporary) coolness of the morning, Talia could not contain herself and started a very extended performance of the Rabbit Dance of Joy, or "binky" as it is known technically. She scampered and frolicked around her exercise pen, running in and out and around the cut-out cardboard box I put in there. There was a lot of happy jumping, spinning in the air and kicking-up of heels. She stood up high on her back legs, telescoping her body as much as possible to sniff the spring breezes and see as far as she could. After nearly an hour of that she calmed down just a little bit and spent time diligently examining the inside of her cardboard shelter. Just now she flopped down on the bottom of the pen, kicking her back legs fully out behind her. But after a minute or two she will jump up again and start her happy dancing anew, punctuating each move with a sideways hop and a sassy shake of her floppy ears.

Seeing her in such a state of unbridled joy brings me a great deal of happiness and satisfaction. Knowing how she looked when she came to us and seeing her now so full of joy and life, it makes me eternally grateful for groups like Brambley Hedge Rabbit Rescue whose mission it is to take severely mistreated rabbits such as Talia and literally give them a second chance at life. I don't know what her final veterinarian bill will be, but I'm sure it will be staggering. Without the care she received through BHRR, it is very doubtful she would be alive right now. That BHRR will spend that kind of money to give an innocent little creature another chance to run, jump, spin and dance again is to me one of the miracles of existence that make life worthwhile.

I'm not going off on a rant again about how stupid, evil, loathsome and detestable human beings are, especially the ones that put Talia in such an horrible situation and then dumped her off at the animal shelter with a terse "We don't want her anymore!" and a $3 donation. If I had a dollar for every time I wanted to go postal on some ignorant human being for being a cruel, swinish dirtbag I would be typing this blog from my villa on the Cote d'Azur and Stevie Nicks would be serving me cocktails with little paper parasols in them. I just hope that karma comes down on those people with the weight of a thousand blazing suns, and they have to experience the pain of being discarded like a piece of trash, which is actually better than they deserve. Talia will always have some physical scars from her ordeal; if she has any mental scars, I can't tell what they are. Rabbits can be so incredibly, unbelievably resilient in the wake of horrific, heartless cruelty and ignorance. If only humans could be one-tenth as noble.

As for me, I'm just going to watch Talia dance and hop and binky in the morning breeze, and think of happier things.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It Happened Again

Yesterday I went to a local animal shelter to pick up a rabbit to bring into the rescue with which I volunteer, Brambley Hedge Rabbit Rescue. Most of the bunnies we have at our rescue come from this shelter, one of the largest in the Phoenix area and not affiliated with any governmental agency. Bunnies that they cannot keep because of health, behavioral or other issues (such as being too small to spay/neuter, which was the case with yesterday's bunny) and are deemed unadoptable (and therefore eligible for euthanasia) come to BHRR, literally for a second chance at life. The bunny I picked up and took away was a beautiful little black Satin mix, a tiny little girl under three pounds in weight. She is very healthy, friendly and curious and will make someone a wonderful companion. I suspect she may be the first of the Easter 2009 bunnies to come in, with I'm sure many more to follow.

To pick up the bunnies I must go in through their admissions area, where people surrender their animals to the shelter. It is an awful place, the air thick with sadness and broken promises, and I try my best to insulate myself from the overwhelmingly tragic atmosphere. I don't know how the employees work there but I'm starting to think that, out of necessity, they have a very highly developed capacity for ignoring everything and everyone around them and just focusing on the task they are doing at that moment, to the exclusion of all else. I used to think they were just incredibly rude but now I realize it is a defense mechanism, something that they need to protect themselves from the nearly-limitless cruelty and stupidity of the general public.

It is extremely sad to watch an animal being turned in, but sometimes I see something that deeply affects me. Yesterday a man was turning in his large, Dalmatian-mix dog. The dog sat in front of his owner, licking the man's hand and his knee as he filled out the paperwork to give his dog over to the shelter. There was a look of such love and trust on this dog's face - he had no idea of the nightmarish situation into which his owner is going to dump him. The sweet dog was completely unaware that he is going to be suddenly and permanently removed from the home he undoubtedly loved and thrust into a system of cold, empty cages, no playtime or recreation, crummy generic food and worst of all no family. Maybe his family had children that loved him and petted him and played with him every day. Maybe he just lived for the time he spent with his family each day, when he felt loved and secure and wanted. All that is over now, his whole world will change in the most drastic fashion imaginable, and his life will never be the same. I can't help wondering if somehow he blames himself for his family abandoning him. Maybe he thinks, I'm a good dog, I know I am. Why did this happen to me? I hope my family finds me and takes me back home, I'm not sure what is going on. And when they never show up for him, will he feel despair?

Maybe something good will happen to him. Maybe another family will come around and notice him and see what a good dog he is, and take him home to another family and another life, this time for good. Yeah, maybe that will happen. I know that the animal shelter does the best they can with an overwhelming, never-ending flood of unwanted, unloved animals. They try to care for the animals and give them their very small slice of love and attention amidst a huge, ever-increasing number of needy, deserving animals who come to them through no fault of their own.

But all I saw was a dog who had no idea what was going to happen to him, but still showed love and trust to his owner to the very last second. And that ripped my heart out and destroyed me for that day.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

State of Grace

In a previous post I mentioned I am a lover of language and words. Some scientists say that the use of language separates us from other animals, but I don't believe that. In my opinion, other (maybe most) animals on this planet use language. I certainly think that whales and porpoises have and use language. The great apes - gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans - most likely have some sort of vocal communication. And my work with rabbits over the past decade has convinced me beyond any reasonable doubt that they have a common language which they use to talk to each other. It's far too subtle for humans to discern, but I believe it's there. Even very young rabbits are born with an understanding of the lapine language.

Maybe what does delineate us from other animals is the extent to which humans use language. Over thousands of years humans have created hundreds, if not thousands of individual languages and dialects. More importantly, humans have devised a way of codifying and writing their language down, which means knowledge can be preserved and transferred to other humans. Animals may have dialects but to our (admittedly meager) knowledge they do not write things down.

Humans have taken language as a means to express information about concrete objects and extended it to include abstract concepts. Abstractions are very important ideas that don't necessarily have a physical manifestation. Emotions, such as sorrow, joy and anger, are abstract concepts without a physical component, even though you can often "tell" if someone is angry or sorrowful from the way they look and act . But these are merely outward signs, not the emotion themselves. Other abstract concepts such as courage and honesty are even more ephemeral - it's sometimes impossible to tell from their outward appearance if someone is courageous or honest. But they exist and are very important. It's interesting to me how some of the smallest words can carry immense abstract meaning, which brings me to the subject of this post.

"Grace" is one of these words. Five letters, one small word, but what an interesting concept. Everyone has heard of grace. Athletes and dancers can be described as "graceful." We talk about being in someone's "good graces." A Catholic prayer starts out, "Hail Mary, full of grace." We've heard about "grace" all our lives but what does it truly mean? If a dictionary entry did not exist for "grace" and you were called upon to write it, what would you write? It is such a highly abstract concept that everyone knows what it is, but it is very difficult indeed to describe it in concrete terms, much like "hope," an even smaller word but equally abstract. We all know what "hope" means, but how can we describe it concretely?

I did look up "grace" in the online dictionary and there were eight different entries for its meaning, including the short prayer said before meals and a temporary reprieve or exemption, such as a grace period for paying a bill. Only one entry came close to the abstract meaning I'm thinking about, "the quality or state of being considerate or thoughtful," which for me doesn't quite come close to describing grace. For me, "grace" is a state of being, but it covers so much more. It is a state of contentment, satisfaction and happiness, of being magnanimous in spirit, of being generous and joyful and accepting and embracing everything in life. It is a place you find yourself when you are fully appreciative of the life you have, being surrounded by people and things that you love, and understanding how fortunate you are. I think all animals naturally exist in a state of grace. Humans also have a legacy of graceful living, but too many years of "civilization" have taken it away from us. That's why we need to strive and purposefully try to get back to this natural "state of grace" into which we are born.

The Quaker song "Simple Gifts" has a line which for me comes close to describing this state of grace:
"...When you find yourself
In the place just right,
You'll be in the valley
Of love and delight!"

And that's where I want to be.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

What's That Smell?

Anywhere across this great, fair land of ours, over the past eight months or so, you may have occasionally become aware of a strikingly offensive odor that seems to come out of nowhere with no warning whatsoever, assaulting your nostrils with its foul presence. No, it is not coming from this blog - my blog has only been around for a couple of months but thank you for your concern. You may have spent a bit of time wondering about the origin of the pungent fumes - after all, something that smells that bad kind of needs to be looked into, right? Well, worry no more: I am here to tell you that you need not be fretting over some approaching pestilence; rather, the smell indicates an existing pestilence is receding in your rear view mirror right now. That odor belongs to the Republican Party, sliding ever more rapidly into irrelevance and decay. And that is definitely a reason to rejoice.

It must be tough to be a die-hard Republican these days. A recent ABC News poll indicated that only 21% of Americans identify themselves as Republican, a 40-year low. Senator Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania jumped ship to the Democrats at a critical juncture in time - now a filibuster-proof 60-vote Senate majority is tantalizingly within reach. The Republican National Committee has been floundering around like a beached whale trying to come up with a reason for its own survival. Its token-black chairman, Michael Steele, has made a bigger impression as a national laughing-stock than anything else. The new Obama administration has been diligently dismantling a number of legislative cornerstones of the Bush regime and many, many people agree that the last administration was one of the most damaging and disastrous in many decades. What, exactly, do they have to be proud of? Nothing much, by my reckoning.

But the most delightful thing about the Republican downfall is that it was entirely self-inflicted!! By aligning themselves with the most narrow-minded, reactionary, extreme right-wing fringes of our political landscape, they have increasingly marginalized and distanced themselves from the center, where most Americans are. People have come around to the understanding that Bush and his cohorts are largely responsible for the economic catastrophe that has nearly brought ruination to this country, and they rightfully blame the Republicans for it. The last election cycle proved that with crystal clarity. The Republicans are being taken to task for everything that is going wrong, and deservedly so.

Republicans have always been undisputed experts at appealing to the basest, lowest instincts of people. Their unholy alliance with Christian fundamentalists has had its biggest success in thoroughly corrupting and co-opting the message of religion. They loudly demand that parents have the choice of sending their children to religious schools, with the taxpayers picking up the bills in the form of vouchers, but stridently seek to deny over half the population of the United States the choice to determine their own reproductive destinies. By fanning the flames of bigotry and intolerance they frighten voters into passing highly regressive laws which institutionalize discrimination and prevent consenting adults of the same gender from having their relationships recognized. Similarly, by instilling and invoking fear and hatred, they seek to demonize large segments of the population whose only desire is to come to this country and make a better life. They convince poor farmers in the Midwest to vote against their own economic best interests by claiming to be the last defense against the vast hordes of pagans, atheists, child molesters and pederasts who are all living for the day when they can take over the schools and corrupt the lives of children everywhere. They do that while rejecting the theory of evolution despite overwhelming scientific evidence, and push the flimsy, ridiculous concept of "intelligent design."

For a long time that strategy worked, but no more. At its very core the Republican party is the party of negativism and deconstruction. Fear is its lifeblood, and it lives not to build up but to tear down. Instead of building bridges and finding ways to unite people for the common good, it strives to pull people apart, separating the entire population into "us" and "them" in the pursuit of their own self-serving agendas.

The basic, elemental mendacity of the Republican party is something they can never fully cover up or suppress, no matter how hard they try. Like a virulent variation of the influenza virus, their profound spiritual and intellectual bankruptcy always finds a way to break out. They claim to be the "party of Lincoln," but I can think of no more extreme slur against the memory of our 16th president - the present-day Republican has almost nothing in common with Lincoln. And the higher the stakes, the lower you can count on the Republican Party to go in order to get or retain power. The last election saw the execrable Sarah Palin regurgitated onto the national scene, a low-rent, soulless, shrill Barbie doll with absolutely no discernible talent or intellect. That any national party would seriously nominate an empty, brain-dead cipher like her to the second-highest office in the land speaks volumes of the debasement and dissolution that permeates the Republican soul. Years ago, the freak show that was the Nixon administration had one of the most psychopathic, disturbed individuals to ever occupy the Oval Office, and the Reagan presidency had an evil, Alzheimer's-addled curmudgeon at its head who half the time had no idea where or who he was. When you are as rotten to the core as the Republican party is, the virulence will always find a way to surface.

One of the most satisfying amusements in life is schadenfreude, which is the great old German word for "taking pleasure from the misfortunes of others." There are plenty of entities in the modern world which, when bad things happen to them, cause me great, unbridled, gleeful joy. Big tobacco, big oil, and anyone or anything involved in animal exploitation, to name a few, are very ripe, deserving targets of derision. I try to avoid enjoying the problems of individual persons but there are exceptions, such as the dimwitted, petulant Bimbolina at the recent Miss USA contest who expressed her support for "opposite marriage," whatever that is, and then bleated like a stuck pig when she came in second. But her deep, debilitating ignorance makes her an unsatisfying critical target; it's like making fun of the mentally-challenged. Not cool and not fun. But right now I can think of no institution more worthy of a heaping-helping of schadenfreude than the Republican party. The fact that they have a repellent, drug-addicted blowhard like Rush Limbaugh as their spokesperson and de facto spiritual leader shows just how corrupt, out-of-step and irrelevant they are. Just as the Republican National Convention last summer showed hundreds of ancient, crotchety old men and their puckered, desiccated wives wearing "Drill Baby Drill" buttons, the present-day party has proven itself to be the bastion of backward-looking, discredited and disastrous policies. They claim to support the American family, but their domestic economic policies are without a doubt extremely anti-child and anti-family. But like a moldering old vampire in the movies, you can never count them as being completely dead. Maybe the Republicans will realize the utter, total failure of their policies and reinvent themselves into something relevant and worth listening to, but as of right now, they richly deserve every bad thing that happens to them. And I will be enjoying every last second of it.