Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Rudy, the Values Slayer

"Rudy, the Values Slayer" is the title of a piece in the NY Times this past Sunday, by Frank Rich, a columnist whose criticism of the current administration and its extremist political base has been generally insightful, often devastating and always well-written and entertaining.
On Sunday, Rich pointed to the inexplicable success of Rudy Giuliani in the race for the Republican nomination. A New Yorker with a long track record of tolerance for gays and illegal immigrants, support for reproductive rights, an antipathy to guns, and a messy marital and family track record, Rudy is not exactly the "moral values" poster child, as envisioned by the likes of Robertson and Dobson -- that is to say, the very people who claimed kingmaker status after each of the last two presidential elections.

Read the article, if you have time -- here is my favorite part:

The Values Voter Summit’s survey of the attendees’ presidential preferences showed just as large a disconnect. Rudy Giuliani came in next to last (behind Tom Tancredo, ahead of John McCain) in the field of nine candidates, earning only 1.85 percent of the vote.

By contrast, among white evangelicals nationwide in the CBS News poll, he was in a statistical dead heat for first place with Fred Thompson; indeed, Mr. Giuliani’s 26 percent among evangelicals nearly matches his showing among all Republican voters. The discrepancy between the CBS poll and the summit survey leaves you wondering who exactly follows Dr. Dobson and Mr. Perkins beyond the ticket buyers who showed up for their media circus last weekend at the Washington Hilton.

I remember the day after Kerry conceded, listening to the radio and hearing some preacher insisting that Bush would have to give the religious right everything it wanted - everything. I was also reminded of the blog Baghdad Burning, in which the author described the imposition of Sharia law in her neighborhood and recognized that the "liberation" of Iraq was not at all what the word suggested. Could American fundamentalism be as real a threat to me as Muslim fundamentalists are to any third world Arab?

John C. Danforth, a distinguished Republican stateman and an ordained minister, wrote this (NY Times Op-Ed March 30, 2005) :

By a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians. The elements of this transformation have included advocacy of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, opposition to stem cell research involving both frozen embryos and human cells in petri dishes, and the extraordinary effort to keep Terri Schiavo hooked up to a feeding tube.

Standing alone, each of these initiatives has its advocates, within the Republican Party and beyond. But the distinct elements do not stand alone. Rather they are parts of a larger package, an agenda of positions common to conservative Christians and the dominant wing of the Republican Party.

Christian activists, eager to take credit for recent electoral successes, would not be likely to concede that Republican adoption of their political agenda is merely the natural convergence of conservative religious and political values. Correctly, they would see a causal relationship between the activism of the churches and the responsiveness of Republican politicians...

Christine Todd Whitman, former Governor of New Jersey and former EPA Administrator under the current President, made a similar argument in her book: ''It's My Party, Too: The Battle for the Heart of the G.O.P. and the Future of America'' -- in which she warned that the Republican embrace of far right social policies would marginalize the party. The GOP were in no mood to listen to her at the time (published January 31, 2005 - safely after the 2004 election).

I do hope with all my heart that Giuliani's recent success is an indicator that my worst fears, and those of men like John Danforth, may now be set to rest on the back burner - if not quite discarded altogether. Something else Danforth wrote in an Op Ed in the NY Times, in June 2005, comes to mind as well.

He wrote:

In the decade since I left the Senate, American politics has been characterized by two phenomena: the increased activism of the Christian right, especially in the Republican Party, and the collapse of bipartisan collegiality.

I do not think it is a stretch to suggest a relationship between the two.

As an atheist, I have noted that believers are taken aback at the anger and ridicule that has been heaped on faith in recent years by authors such as Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins. As if we did not live in an era in which political Islam has not set the world afire with terrorism and jihad. As if a cartoon in a Danish newspaper had not resulted in rioting and death. As if the Christian Right had not seriously eroded the tradition of church-state separation in the United States and threatened to usurp the last best hope of liberty in a troubled world.

Of course we are fighting back. We have been pushed to the wall by people whose ignorance of our great cultural and political traditions is only eclipsed by their aggressive and moronic superstition.

So I have noted the embedded insanity of the GOP presidential campaign, with deep satisfaction and outward glee. Giuliani, the creep who had to be told by a Judge that he could not bring his girlfriend home to sleep over at Gracie Mansion while his wife and kids still lived there, is the first act of this comedy.

Then there is Romney, whose Mormonism will be a real challenge for the good Christian folks who have no idea what Mormons believe (and will be shocked when they find out) - as an atheist, I really will enjoy hearing one set of true-believers mocking the faith of other true-believers (it is bound to happen).

Finally, there is Huckabee - who should be the darling of the religious crowd, but has been rejected as too compassionate! Even as these religious conservatives mull over the bitter choice between Giuliani the lapsed Catholic and Romney the Mormon, these nutjobs have indicated they might bolt if Huckabee is named as the Republican nominee's running mate (h/t Noam Scheiber in TNR). That's right - he isn't fit to even be VP!

The craziness continues. But there is reason to hope that we are close to the end of this funhouse ride, and that rational, competent people may come to replace the ideologues and extremist hacks that have dominated government for the past 7 years.

All of this looniness will wrap up in November 2008 in a landslide Democratic victory, and some new thinking among leading Republicans will arise from the ashes. I hope they will take the opportunity to consider the advice of John Danforth and Christine Todd Whitman.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Some time ago - at least a year or so ago - I heard a song on the radio. The singer was a young woman named Ana Moura, and the song was Sou Do Fado, Sou Fadista (I Belong to Fado, I'm a Fadista). The song appears on her CD Guarda-Me a Vida Na Mão.

The songs she sings are from a Portuguese song tradition called Fado (Fate or Destiny), which appeared in Lisbon in the 1820's following the return of Portugal's king from exile in Brazil (at the end of the Napoleonic era).

I had never heard of Fado before, but I was very impressed with some of the songs on that CD. I find the music to be poetic and joyful, though it is generally described as mournful, and the Portuguese language is very beautiful. Fado music is thought to reflect African and Moorish influences and reminds me somewhat of American Blues.

A few weeks ago, I saw that a Fado singer named Mariza would soon be appearing at Carnegie Hall. I thought this was something my daughter and I would enjoy -- we share an appreciation of a wide range of female vocalists, and she had recently completed her BA in Comparitive Literature, establishing her bona fides as a lover of world literature -- world music seemed a good bet.

The concert was amazing!

Mariza is perhaps the greatest living singer of Fado - and she is the most gifted and entertaining vocal performer I have ever seen and heard in concert. She performed with an accompaniement of three guitars - the Portuguese guitarra, a Spanish or classical guitar, and an acoustic bass guitar, and occasionally a percussionist whose instruments resenbled a wooden box and a ceramic vase. These musicians were a delight on their own, and performed one instrumental number without Mariza on stage. They provided the perfect complement to Mariza's dramatic style of singing and her equally dramatic stage presence.

Mariza has a beautiful voice that can slide from one end of her great range to the other, with flamboyant virtuosity, and always fitted perfectly to the emotional tone of the song - she uses her versatility to build a dramatic dynamism into her delivery, and embellishes it all with her dancing and sweeping gestures. She is very tall (I thought she had to be on stilts under her swaying floor-length hooped black dress) and quite thin, and has an exotic appearance that she uses to maximize her stage presence.

She closed her concert by singing Gershwin's Summertime and Chaplin's Smile -- I think I have never heard anyone handle Summertime with as much style and grace. It was proof of her great talent as a singer that Mariza could step out of her culture and apply so much feeling and musical taste to this great standard of American song, and I was very happy that I had stepped out of mine for that magical evening.

Check out this YouTube clip for a taste of what I am talking about.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What's New

On Saturday, my sweetie and I played tourist and rode the Grayline double-decker bus tour of downtown New York City.

For $40 (each - plus tip) you get a narrated tour that runs from Times Square through the old Garment District; past Macy's and the Empire State Building; by the Flatiron Building, New York Life Building and Met Life Building; across 14th Street and into Greenwich Village; through SoHo and the cast iron buildings, Chinatown; past City Hall, the Woolworth Building and St Paul's; Wall Street, Trinity Church, and the Battery; South Street Seaport, (former) Fulton Fish Market and Brooklyn Bridge; through the East Village and Lower Eastside; up to the UN Building, the Waldorf Astoria and over to Central Park; past Carnegie Hall and back to Times Square -- a little over 2 hours in the sun (and the breeze - wear a jacket!).

I love New York. As an amateur historian, something deep inside just resonates with the hum of all that has come before, all that is happening right now, and the fantastic future that shines in my mind's eye like sunlight bouncing off the East River as I gaze out of my office window.

The picture above is from our trip atop that double-decker bus --most of my pictures were crap, but this one struck my fancy tonight: Times Square - a few blocks off. Really tacky but I like the hum.

Boston just closed out game 2; time for bed.

Blogging again

I am making this my blogging home.

After having kept several separate journals on AOL since 2004, and after my time sharing blogging duties with my friends at The Blue Voice, I have decided that I am probably going to leave AOL behind. So here I am.

Over the next few weeks I will portage some of my older material to this spot, and then I will no longer post anything anywhere else.

If you have arrived here from one of my old AOL Journals, please leave a comment so I know you were by -- so many old friends I made there and have lost track of since that community went bust. New friends are always welcome to comment, for that matter.

I buried my first AOL Journal a long time ago (after a controversial post drew enormous criticism from my family), and now this blog bears the name of that first vehicle. The second wave of AOL Journals, now retired, includes Never Give Up and Don't Ask, the second of which was always meant to be just for laughs (I laughed even if nobody else did). So this is farewell to them, and bon voyage.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007