Big Brother And the Ants

Posted January 6, 2011 on 12:09 am | In the category Free Speech, Politics, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Jeff

The new congress has been installed and the loonies are officially in power. There will be plenty of opportunities to laugh with Jon Stewart and weep with John Boehner over the next two years – but fact is we are continuing on a headlong trip to Bananarepublistan.

One early warning came two weeks ago when Boehner and (Eric) Cantor (no they are not lawyers or tailors, but rather the GOP House leaders), spokespeople for less government intrusion in our lives, decided that they could and should determine what we could and could not view in our nation’s publicly-supported museums. Seems that the Museum of American Art – part of the Smithsonian – installed an exhibit of art produced by gay and lesbian artists who included an eleven SECOND segment of a video of ants crawling over a crucifix. Cantor, A Jew, in a burst of ecumenism, denounced it as a sacrilege and Boehner became Big Brother incarnate and ordered it removed or risk reduced funding. The Smithsonian, in an act of classic bureaucratic cowardice, removed the offending video, the curator   resigned on principle, the video got picked up and played around the clock by museums around the country, including Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art and the nation’s troglodytes felt a measure of power over liberal, elite museum goers.  The irony of small government Republicans telling us what we can and cannot view is lost on the fools who are leading us to Bananarepublistan; they want to control us in every way possible while starving us of any benefits.  We are in for it in more ways than most of us realize.

None of this should surprise us – the guardians of our culture are always out there to protect us from our own desires, wishes and tastes. Who better to protect us from our own taste than an emotionally unstable hick from Ohio who responds to the dictates of the nutty ramblings of William Doherty of the Catholic League who initiated the complaint? Doherty is an overpaid loudmouth who reveres Mel Gibson’s homoerotic, anti-Semitic Passion of Christ movie while freaking out over 11 seconds of ants crawling over a crucifix. We can also remember Attorney General Ashcroft placing a drape over Liberty’s breast.

In a small but telling event during this same period, the elementary schools in Rockport Massachusetts refused an offer of free copies of an award-winning children’s book for each child because the book referred to a donkey who did not like books as a “jackass”. Recognizing that we must protect the young from evil – a jackass is a jackass, whether a donkey of a superintendent of schools, and there is no way around it.  Reminded me of a day on the beach at Rockport with one of the Mackenzie Brothers and his 12 month old daughter who was romping on the beach with – alas- no bathing attire. The Rockport police arrived in full police regalia and ordered immediate covering of the child. Mackenzie (not sure which one it was) had recently returned from Munich where people of all ages were free to take clothes off so had a bit of a fit.

Big Brother is  here to protect us from our base desires and tastes, and someone actually voted him in.

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In Praise of Herta Müller

Posted October 13, 2009 on 12:48 am | In the category Europe, Free Speech, Germany | by Mackenzie Brothers

Since the announcement of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature was met with virtual ignorance and stunning disinterest in North America, my brother and I have decided to break the silence. The prize went to Herta Müller, whom we first met in 1985 in our native München when she was allowed out of her native Romania for the first time. The reason seemed clear enough. Though she was unable to work as a teacher in Romania as a totalitarian government clamped down and imprisoned writers it didn’t like – including her then husband Richard Wagner, an equally talented and prolific German-language author from Romania – she had won one of the most prestigious prizes for young writers in Germany, and for a work first published in Bucharest, Niederungen (Lowlands, translated into English as Nadirs). It seemed that she was profiting from a tendency of the Caucescu government to overlook weaknesses in its citizens if they won accolades in the big world, just as it would when Romania became the only Soviet-dominated country to not boycott the Los Angeles Olympics. Herta Müller was reminding the world that Romania was a country that produced great artists, architects and writers, even if this one wrote in the wrong language. And Niederungen was more of an attack on the German world of Romania than it was on Romania itself.
So it seemed to us as we talked with this young and nervous visitor to Germany. Three years later she had left Timisoara for Berlin, where she still lives, and for the next twenty years she has published something like a roadmap of dead ends and dangerous detours that was the fate of the Romanian-Germans as they tried to get out of a country that did not have a bloodless revolution as the Communist world collapsed, but a violent one whose repercussions still linger. And yet for the next 25 years she did not tell the darkest story of the brutality she and the Romanian-Germans confronted under Caucescu and his predecessors, as it would have affected the lives of too many friends and colleagues. Now she has told it and the Swedish Academy got it right when they wrote of her searing focus on the rootlessness and dislocation that is the fate of so much of European and for that matter world populations today. There is no doubt that she has personally been scarred by it, and there is also no doubt that she is a worthy recipient of literature’s highest prize as she has written stories that make it clear how that happened and what it means.

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Speedo’s the name, Mr. Speedo

Posted July 9, 2009 on 5:16 pm | In the category Free Speech, Public Diplomacy | by Mackenzie Brothers

Okay, hands up – How many of you were mortified by the first appearance of Sean Connery as James Bond, when, dressed in natty boxer bathing trunks, he saved the even nattier (un)dressed Ursula Andress from the clutches of Dr. No. No hands? I thought so. But how many of you caught the unwholesome sight of James’ unhappy successor, Sir John Sawers, Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, as he exited the sea on his wife’s Facebook page in his tiny Mr. Speedo bathing suit, a fashion item that has broken up many a transatlantic romance. Of course, James Bond didn’t have to contend with dangerous females who would expose him to such ridicule, only those who would cut him in two with golden laser beams.

In poor Lord Sawer’s case, however, the threat came from within as Lady Sawer, perhaps on the advice of her half-brother Lord Hugo Haig-Thomas, felt compelled to present her husband to the Facebook world in his Mr Speedo suit, in honour of the supposedly secret naming of him to be Head of the British spy agency that was run by men called m or zed in Bond’s day. We know that Sawer’s new name will be “C” because Lady Sawer’s wall also included messages like: “Congrats on the new job, already dubbed Sir Uncle “C” by nephews in the know.” It also included names and addresses of all family members and their favourite vacation spots, in case potential kidnappers had trouble finding them at home.

The British Foreign Secretary, ever alert, explained to the BBC that “It’s not a state secret that he wears Speedo swimming trunks, for goodness sake”, and promised to close the Lady’s facebook site as soon as his vast technical staff could figure out how to do it. Unfortunately those chaps did finally succeed in shutting down his wife, and you will have to click on You Tube to see the current Mr. Bond in his (almost) full splendour. Where oh where are Lords Gilbert, Sullivan and Python when you really need them?

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The Supreme Court as a Legion of Decency

Posted May 13, 2009 on 5:43 pm | In the category Free Speech, Supreme Copurt, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Jeff

The current U.S. Supreme Court has distinguished itself as an activist handmaiden of the Christian religious right. Two recent decisions illustrate the nuttiness that might have contributed to the retirement of Judge Souter and led many observers to wonder how in the devil we allowed such a takeover of one of our most important institutions. Both decisions relate to the efforts of the former chairman of the FCC to protect our tender eyes and ears from certain kinds of words and sights. One case involved the FCC’s policy to fine TV and radio stations for allowing “fleeting expletives” to go out on the airways. So if a sportscaster goes into a locker room and – shocking as it may seem – a professional athlete should refer to a loss as a “fuckin disaster” the broadcaster is liable to receive a sizable fine. Similarly, if a rock star wins a Grammy and accepts it in a live broadcast with the words, “fuckin awesome” the same holds. This FCC policy is apparently the brainchild of former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, an absolutist when it comes to the FCC’s right to determine what we can and cannot hear and see. The other case, of course, is the infamous half-second display of Janet Jackson’s left (or was it the right?) nipple during the Superbowl halftime extravaganza. The FCC fined CBS TV over $500,000 for that incident and surely the morals of American youth have not yet recovered. In any case the fine was overturned in a lower court and now the Supreme Court has sent it back to be reconsidered.

None of this would matter all that much if it were not emblematic of a right-wing activist court bent on controlling our lives in ways that are silly but nonetheless disturbing. Which brings us to the retirement of Justice Souter and the immediate response of Republican Senators that President Obama must not appoint anyone who might just possibly bring a modicum of sanity to a court populated with a majority of right-wingers who have done all possible to further the narrow ideology promoted by right-wing Christians. This before Obama has even mentioned possible names. What we are in for is a time wasting, grandstanding display of ignorance and hypocritical piety by Republican Senators who will carry the water of the likes of Pat Robertson and Pope Benedict. This in a country founded on the basis of separation of Church and State.

The complaints from the right will focus on what they contend are the evils of “activist” judges, (conveniently forgetting that the court has been – in their word, “activist,” for a number of years in the promotion of THEIR agenda), now defined as any judge who decides cases differently from what their religious beliefs would dictate. The political make-up of the Senate makes it likely that the Christian right will not prevail in the upcoming battle for the integrity of the Supreme Court but they will certainly make some of us scream for sanity.

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