Category Archives: Roman Catholic Church

Hot Air

Religious Freedom

The question has been put to me (and others) by loyal Northern Indiana Pencillista David Paglis:

I wonder if those opposed to the Religious Freedom [Restoration] Act would be in favor of legally requiring Catholic hospitals to provide abortion services and if not, why not.

For whatever reasons, those Catholics who are most flamboyantly passionate about their religion seem to be passionate most about abortion. Capital punishment? Meh. War? Sometimes ya gotta do it. Nuclear proliferation? Silence. Abortion, though, gets the uber-Catholic blood to boil. The only thing approaching it as a sheer reactionary trigger is homosexuality.

A more pressing Q. might be What is it with Catholics and sex? But that’s a topic about as inscrutable as quantum electrodynamics.

Anyway, let’s tackle David’s query.

Acc’d’g to pretty much everyone’s interpretation, Indiana’s spanking new SB-101 2015, AKA RFRA, allows business proprietors to do things like refuse service to LGBTQ folks if their (the proprietors’) religion sees them (LGBTQs) as sinners bound for the eternal flames of hell. We’ll ignore the utter absurdity of our state legislators penning laws to accommodate peoples’ belief in inanities like eternal damnation and a flaming hell. A brief reminder: The calendar tells us this is the year 2015; hell, natch, is a Mesopotamian cultural concept, meaning it was a an attempt to understand our shared baffling mortality by the very first proto-civilized Homo Sapiens sapiens more than 5000 years ago.

I might hope we’d have learned a few things since then.

Nevertheless, an alarming swath of the American pop. still buys into the hell thing. So much so, in fact, that they loathe even being around those whom they’re certain are on a highway to the place. And so sure are they of this that they’ve pressured our democratically elected representatives to codify it.

Again, in the year 2015, in case you’ve forgotten.

The law tells us we can’t make people do things that are in violation of their religion’s tenets. Indiana University Maurer School of Law prof. Daniel Conkle (a supporter of the new law) suggested last week in an Indy Star op/ed piece that laws such as RFRA protect, for instance, Muslim prisoners in their practice of Islam within the confines of the joint. Conkle also cited a Pennsylvania state court ruling that people could set up soup kitchens in city parks in violation of municipal statutes if their religion demanded they feed the homeless.

The government wanted to make the Muslim prisoner shave his beard and hoped to force the soup kitchen operators to stop ladling broth in the park. Under similar “religious freedom” laws, per this argument, the gov’t was barred from doing so. Huzzah, Conkle concludes, for these laws.

No one, though, has attempted to argue that Muslims should be forced to eat barbecued (pork) rib tips at the Taste of Bloomington. Nor has anyone demanded that soup kitchen operators make their broth available to lawyers, doctors, and hedge fund managers. Quite frankly, those of us who despise this new law don’t give a good goddamn if Muslims eat pork or that hedge fund managers are being deprived of free soup.

Nor do we, as a rule, care that Catholic hospitals don’t do abortions. In fact, many dioceses and hospitals have banned even the dilation & curettage procedure because it is often used as an alias for abortion. That’s like refusing to let customers to enter a bank lobby because bank robbers always use the lobby.

In any case, we should be demanding that Catholic hospitals, especially those that are the only health care facility for many miles around, provide abortion services. If you’re going to open up an ice cream parlor in this free society, you should be compelled to serve everybody who comes in except those causing mayhem, are public nuisances, or pose a threat to public health. Same with hospitals. Abortion is legal in this holy land. It’s a medical practice generally regarded as safe. If you open up a hospital, that means you should treat everybody who comes in the door using every therapy and procedure that’s been okayed by contemporary medical science.

Otherwise, don’t open a hospital. And try to think a little bit less about how gross sex is. And lose the habits and wimples while you’re at it. It’s 2015, for chrissakes.

Here’s Gov. Mike Pence signing RFRA last week, surrounded by officials of the Holy Roman Empire, the Kingdom of Israel, the Rashidun Caliphate, as well as various ascetics, mystics, and fundamentalists. In the year 2015. In case you’ve forgotten.

Pence RFRA Signing

Hot Air

The Biggest Daddy-o Of Them All

[Big Mike Note: Here’s another blast from the past. This post originally ran in my old blog, The Third City, some four years ago. Sure, I’m an atheist; but I’m not a fanatic about it. Enjoy.]

November 23rd, 2010

I was sitting in a church pew on a March Sunday in 1998.

Imagine: Me, writing that line.

But it’s true. It was a rough time for me, the late winter and spring of ’98. My marriage was finished. For the past 12 years I’d been dealing with panic disorder, agoraphobia, and two or three other coconut maladies. I’d reached the end of my rope.  My twin hobbies of drinking and chasing women were proving to be slightly less than fulfilling. So, I figured I might try something crazy. Prayer.

As far back as age seven, when my second grade teacher, Sister Caelin, told us that we must love god, I’d been skeptical of this whole prayer and creator and piety business. First of all, I kept myself awake half the night for the next three months trying to figure out what the nun meant. How does one love god? I saw g. as some ancient, teed-off crank with a long white beard, a long white robe and sandals, sitting on a cloud-throne somewhere past Orion. I forced myself to imagine showering his cheek with kisses. I figured it was the least I could do, considering he’d snapped his fingers and created the Earth, Europe, the USA, rocks, dinosaurs, Adam & Eve, and the Cubs. I patterned my g.-loving after that which I bestowed upon my own Daddy-o, a similarly distant crank who sat in a recliner with his socks rolled up around his toes. “Kiss your father goodnight,” Ma would command me, so I approached him as if he were a hydrogen bomb that’d just happened to be left in the living room. I brushed my itty-bitty tender lips on his porcupine cheek. He would grunt. I understood that to be how a little kid loved an inscrutable, all-powerful figure. So, in my mind as I lay in bed each night, I’d drag my poor lips over g.’s scratchy beard, squeezing my eyes shut as if to demonstrate how serious I was about this loving god stuff, Sister Caelin’s specter floating overhead, watching me through slitted eyes to make certain not a single cell of my being wasn’t focused on love-love-love-loving the biggest Daddy-o of them all.

God

Always Mad

Finally, by the time that Thanksgiving rolled around, I said to myself, This is stupid. I have no idea how to love god. In fact, the day before the holiday I’d asked Sister Caelin point blank: “How do you love god?” She gave out one of those patented, mouth-open gasps that nuns loved to do when they were trying to convey to certain kids that they’re rotten and ought to burn in hell. And, I most assuredly, was rotten. She immediately turned her attention to the rest of the class and proclaimed that the love of god was a mystery and only a sinner would question how or why. There was no instruction booklet on how to do it, no secret formula, you just knew it when you were loving god. Great, I thought, you’re a big help.

Sister Caelin turned back to me and ordered me to go to the blackboard at the back of the class and write one hundred times, “I must love god” (with a capital G, of course.) That pretty much cracked it for me with god (little g.)

Kid

So for the next 35 or so years I thumbed my nose at the Big Daddy-o and all his fans down here on Earth. But, as I say, things had gotten awfully miserable for me for about a dozen years. I tried every remedy I could think of until in desperation I turned to the putative guy who one day sat there and said to himself, I’m bored; I think I’ll create a Universe.

If you’ve been reading these posts for the last couple of years you know my god-thing didn’t take. To tell the truth, I’m even more anti-Big Daddy-o than ever before. But I do have to concede I got one really fantastic gift from my foray into prayer. That brings us back to that March Sunday in 1998.

The priest was giving his sermon that morning. He seemed a likable guy. Didn’t rail against the filth in the world or tell us we were a bunch of jerks. This priest, whose name I’ve forgotten,  was upbeat — not like a game show host but like the best high school teacher you ever had. And like that one-in-a-million teacher, he left me with something that has stayed with me the rest of my life so far. He said life is good and we were a well-fed, lucky congregation. The vast majority of us didn’t need to worry about the next meal or any predators or whether we were going to freeze that night. That left us only to do that which makes us human, our defining duties in life. “We’re here,” he said, “to love and to hope.”

The minute those words came out of his mouth, I thought, Motherfucker, I’m done. I gotta go. There was, I realized, nothing more that anybody could say or do for me in that place. The rest was all ritual and incense and harridan nuns and big, colorful extravaganzas.

We’re here to love and to hope. I’ve tried to live my life according to those seven words every day since.

Prayer

I Tried It

I tell this story to illustrate that I’m not so cynical that I believe nobody can get anything of value from the Catholic Church. Even I, the world’s most irreligious human, became a better Homo Sapiens sapiens thanks to a moment spent in a church pew. Some people who read this blog are devoted Catholics. I don’t want to tell them I think their faith is bullshit. It’s getting them through this crazy, mixed-up life. And if they believe a guy threw out some lightning bolts and said Let there be a world with Kim Kardashian and Halliburton and Dancing with the Stars, I won’t quibble with them.

Air. Hot.

Let ’em Eat Cake

One in seven Americans puts food on the table with the help of Food Stamps.

That’s 14 goddamned percent of our brothers and sisters in this holy land.

Without Food Stamps, many millions of our brothers and sisters would go hungry or suffer insufficient nourishment.

Food Stamps

The Republican House leadership, meanwhile, doesn’t give a holy shit about its American brothers and sisters. In fact, the Tea Party-led party doesn’t even consider all Americans to be related to them. Not when so many Americans are brown or black or equipped with ladyparts or, ugh, poor.

As you well know if you’re a loyal reader, I call America a holy land only in the spirit of smart-assedness.

Lavish Banquet

No Poors Allowed

We are not holy.

Girls, Ugh!

Speaking of holy, Pope Frankie has made a name for himself as a progressive. Well, relatively so, in comparison to his immediate predecessors and the boys club that constitutes the leadership councils of the Holy Mother Church.

Pope Francis

Occupy The Vatican

He has, for instance, spoken eloquently about the poor and the growing inequality of wealth across the globe, and against war and our “culture of waste.” Cool, so far.

Not long ago, he speculated that atheists who lead good lives might even gain entrance to heaven.

In July, il Papa shrugged and said, “Hey man, who am I to judge? in regard to folks who dig sex with members of, well, their own sex.

Cool again, eh?

But wait, there’s more. A wide-ranging interview with Pope Francis reveals that the successor to St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ, the rock upon which the Roman Catholic Church stands, and the most powerful man in the world who wears a tiara pronounced that his outfit has become obsessed of late. “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods…,” he said. “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

He also added, “I have never been a right winger.”

Wow.

It’s as though good old Jorge Bergoglio is lobbying to become the Michael Moore of the sacred set.

Francis/Moore

Separated At Birth?

The Pope is teeing a lot of people off, natch. Anti-abortionists in this holy land at this very moment are searching for evidence that Bergoglio is a socialist, a commie and, for that matter, not even born into the Catholic religion. I misplaced the link but I’m pretty sure someone, somewhere, has accused him of producing a phony baptismal record.

As for the gay thing, well, scads of grown men who have taken vows never to have sex with women and who wear skirts are tut-tutting and wagging their fingers at the Pope. He admits, “I have been reprimanded.”

Nevertheless, he still holds the crozier. Hell, you’d think the Church is a mere rubber-stamp vote away from ordaining women as priests.

Whoa. Not so fast.

Either because he is against the idea or he can read in the tea leaves that his cabinet and the rank and file among the priesthood might rise as one against him were he to come out for the ordination of women, Pope Francis said in the interview that there’s no chance women will become mid-level managers within the Catholic corporation. Unsaid, of course, is the understanding that they’ll never, ever, ever reach the boardroom. “The door,” he said, “is closed.”

Now we know: The worst sin a Catholic can commit is to possess a vagina.

Woman Is The Nigger Of The World

 

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child well-fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth.” — Joan Chittister

WHY DON’T YOU MARRY HIM?

This is the best endorsement of Barack Obama yet.

Pee-wee Herman has come out four-square for the incumbent.

If you can’t trust Pee-wee, who can you trust?

THOSE WHITE CROSSES ON 3rd STREET

I’m told the pastor of St. Charles Catholic Church on 3rd Street is big — really big — on the abortion thing.

As you know if you’ve followed these screeds for the last year or so (yep, it’s been that long), I’m pro-abortion.

There. No mincing of words for me. None of this “pro-choice” mealy-mouthing. If you’re a woman and you don’t think you can handle a kid, do something about it. Give it up for adoption or, if you can’t bear going through with the entire pregnancy, avail yourself of a surgical procedure that is legal, to one extent or another, in all 50 states of this holy land as well as most of the nations on Earth.

The anti-abortionists, by and large, bug me. I find it hard to believe they are so reverent of human life that they feel god’s love even for the multi-cellular human zygote. That said, I’ve got to hand it to the Catholic Church.

The St. Charles Catholic Church Front Lawn

The Vatican instructs its faithful that life is sacred. To prove it, big boss Joseph Ratzenberger, AKA Pope Benedict XVI, and his predecessors have stressed that not only is abortion an evil, but so is war and capital punishment. Fair enough, I won’t quibble with that kind of philosophical consistency.

Problem is, we hear too much about what an abomination abortion is from the Catholic rank and file but when a state executes a man or woman — say in Texas, which is really, really good at it — churchgoers seem fairly mum.

Anyway, St. Charles’ top man, Thomas Kovatch, apparently has really got the flock going on his pet sin. The parish has erected 3,315 little white crosses on the church’s front lawn, one for each of the fetuses aborted every day in America. I checked on the church’s figure and found that it has taken the Guttmacher Institute‘s estimate of 1.2 million abortions performed in the United States in 2008 and simply divided by 365. Again, fair enough.

I’ll be looking for similar displays dramatizing the number of dead resulting from our Mideast Wars and our criminal justice system’s lethal injection program over the next year. The ball’s in your court, Thomas Kovatch.

[Ed.’s Note: When The Loved One and I stopped by the church this morning to take photos, we noticed the signs said 4000 fetuses are aborted a day. I took the above figure from the church’s weekly bulletin.]

STIFLED GENIUSES

Just in case you haven’t seen this (which, I presume, means you’ve been in a coma for the last two or three days):

Chart From Mother Jones

You know, we on the Left tend to portray the wingnuts on the Right as sub-primates but, honestly, this graphic indicates that they’re quite an imaginative group.

And, when all is said and done, the “journalists” over at Fox News also have long demonstrated their collective creative streak.

Dang, these folks ought to be writing mysteries, alternative histories, and graphic novels. They’d put out great stuff.

Just goes to show how perverse your life can become when you stifle your creativity.

THE BEAUTY OF LANGUAGE

You know who’s the hottest new sex symbol?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s sign language interpreter, Lydia Callis.

Dig:

She turns signing into art.

So shoot me, I’m a guy.

The only events listings you need in Bloomington.


Sunday, November 4th, 2012

CLASS ◗ Dagom Gaden Tensung Ling MonasteryIntroductory Course on Buddhism; 10am

MUSIC ◗ Cafe DjangoBrunch Show: Peter Kienle on guitar; 11pm

FEST ◗ IU Cedar Hall, Union Street Center2nd Annual Traditional Powwow, Native-American arts, crafts, foods, etc.; 11am-6pm

MUSIC ◗ IU Ford-Crawford HallSenior Recital: Kaitlyn Reho on clarinet; 1pm

MUSIC ◗ IU Musical Arts Center, Recital HallStudent Orchestra Recital: Timothy Kantor on violin, Micholas Mariscal on cello, Clare Longendyke on piano, Tal Samuel, conductor; 1pm

MUSIC ◗ IU Auer HallMaster’s Recital: Brendan Shea on violin; 2pm

FILM ◗ IU Cinema — “Chocolat“; 3pm

MUSIC ◗ IU Ford-Crawford HallDoctoral Lector Recital: Hugh Conor Angell, baritone; 3pm

MUSIC ◗ IU Auer HallFaculty/Guest/Student Recital: Mu Phi Epsilon Founders Day Program; 4pm

MUSIC ◗ IU Ford-Crawford HallSenior Recital: Jeremy Sison on trombone; 5pm

MUSIC ◗ The Player’s PubTom Roznowski; 6pm

MUSIC ◗ IU Auer HallDoctoral Recital: Grigor Khachatryan on piano; 6pm

MUSIC ◗ Bear’s Place — Ryder Film Series: Double feature, “Two Angry Moms” & “Keep the Lights On“; 7pm

STAGE ◗ Ivy Tech Waldron Center, Auditorium — Comedy-drama, “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps“; 7pm

MUSIC ◗ Muddy Boots Cafe, NashvilleDavid Sisson; 7-9pm

MUSIC ◗ IU Ford-Crawford HallStudio/Class Recital: Edmund Cord Studio; 7pm

MUSIC ◗ Rachael’s CafeAdriana and Maya; 7-9pm

MUSIC ◗ The BluebirdMatisyahu; 8pm

ONGOING:

ART ◗ IU Art MuseumExhibits:

  • “Paragons of Filial Piety,” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi; through December 31st
  • “Intimate Models: Photographs of Husbands, Wives, and Lovers,” by Julia Margaret, Cameron, Edward Weston, & Harry Callahan; through December 31st
  • French Printmaking in the Seventeenth Century;” through December 31st
  • Celebration of Cuban Art & Film: Pop-art by Joe Tilson; through December 31st
  • Threads of Love: Baby Carriers from China’s Minority Nationalities“; through December 23rd
  • Workers of the World, Unite!” through December 31st
  • Embracing Nature,” by Barry Gealt; through December 23rd
  • Pioneers & Exiles: German Expressionism,” through December 23rd

ART ◗ Ivy Tech Waldron CenterExhibits through December 1st:

  • “Essentially Human,” By William Fillmore
  • “Two Sides to Every Story,” By Barry Barnes
  • “Horizons in Pencil and Wax,” By Carol Myers

ART ◗ IU SoFA Grunwald GalleryExhibits through November 16th:

  • Buzz Spector: Off the Shelf
  • Small Is Big

ART ◗ IU Kinsey Institute GalleryExhibits through December 20th:

  • A Place Aside: Artists and Their Partners
  • Gender Expressions

ART ◗ IU Mathers Museum of World CulturesExhibits:

  • “¡Cuba Si! Posters from the Revolution: 1960s and 1970s”
  • “From the Big Bang to the World Wide Web: The Origins of Everything”
  • “Thoughts, Things, and Theories… What Is Culture?”
  • “Picturing Archaeology”
  • “Personal Accents: Accessories from Around the World”
  • “Blended Harmonies: Music and Religion in Nepal”
  • “The Day in Its Color: A Hoosier Photographer’s Journey through Mid-century America”
  • “TOYing with Ideas”
  • “Living Heritage: Performing Arts of Southeast Asia”
  • “On a Wing and a Prayer”

BOOKS ◗ IU Lilly LibraryExhibits:

  • The War of 1812 in the Collections of the Lilly Library“; through December 15th
  • A World of Puzzles,” selections from the Slocum Puzzle Collection

ARTIFACTS ◗ Monroe County History CenterExhibits:

  • Doctors & Dentists: A Look into the Monroe County Medical Professions
  • What Is Your Quilting Story?
  • Garden Glamour: Floral Fashion Frenzy
  • Bloomington Then & Now
  • World War II Uniforms
  • Limestone Industry in Monroe County

The Ryder & The Electron Pencil. All Bloomington. All the time.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“I believe that as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil.” — Robert F. Kennedy

THE LIVES WE LEAD IN A LIFETIME

Bobby Kennedy was shot in the head 44 years ago tomorrow. He lingered, unconscious, for a day, then died.

At the time of his death, Bobby Kennedy was a caring, dedicated, sensitive man.

But for much of his adult life, he’d been a jerk. He’d been ruthless, clannish, a moralizer, pathologically ambitious — the list can go on.

Tragedy changed Bobby Kennedy. The death of his brother catapulted him into deep depression. He had, for lack of a more scientifically accurate term, a nervous breakdown. He emerged on the other side of it a different human being.

Kennedy was  Roman Catholic. For all the Church’s sins — and there are many — one praiseworthy aspect of it is its insistence that there is redemption.

I’ve experienced redemption once or twice. Maybe even three times. So, I would assume, have you.

No, not religious redemption. Human redemption. For lack of a more scientifically accurate term.

THE PENCIL’S DAILY EVENTS LISTINGS

Click. And GO!

ANYBODY WHO DISAGREES WITH ME IS MENTALLY ILL

A movie reviewer from my old haunt, the Chicago Reader, has panned “The Avengers” in his capsule review.

Naturally, he’s been flooded with emails and other communiques calling into question his sanity and accusing him of possessing the foulest character. After all, this is the United States of America wherein everybody’s opinion on a movie is of paramount import.

The “calling into question his sanity” part elicited a revelation from reviewer Ben Sachs, though.

Ben Sachs

Sachs told the reading public that indeed his brain wiring is screwy — he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2004. No one outside his circle of friends and family knew about his problem until he was goaded into this public confessional by a commenter named Morganthus who called him “emotionally imbalanced,” an assessment based only on Sachs’ dislike of “The Avengers.”

“How did Morganthus know?” Sachs wrote.

Wow.

A Typical Movie Reviewer In His Office At The Mental Institution

In fact, Sachs even explored the role his mental illness plays in his judgement as an arts arbiter. “I liked the movies, literature, and music that I did because they gave form to emotions I couldn’t organize in real life,” he wrote. He wondered if Morganthus somehow sensed this.

That’s a very charitable attitude on the part of Sachs. I can’t imagine that someone who gets so riled up about a movie review that he’ll write in a comment questioning the reviewer’s psychological stability is actually a perceptive soul hoping to help.

Nevertheless, this Morganthus fellow’s rant resulted in Sachs’ fascinating bit of introspection. Read the entire piece; it’s not terribly long.

[h/t to Roger Ebert for pointing out Sachs’ piece on Facebook.]

FAIR IS FOUL AND FOUL FAIR

Wisconsin voters go to the polls tomorrow. Gov. Scott Walker’s future is in their hands. Will they fire him? The outcome is even money right now.

I don’t know what I like less — Scott Walker or recall elections.

For all Walker’s sins — and there are many — he broke no laws. He was elected fair and square by Wisconsinites. Now, suddenly, he can be removed from office just because he pushed through legislation and made executive decisions a lot of people didn’t care for?

Folks, that’s democracy. The concept does not imply that once we elect a guy or gal we get everything we want. Isn’t that rather childish?

Now, if I lived in Wisconsin, I’d stand on my head to help defeat Walker in the next regular election.

This whole hoo-hah reminds me of two things. One is professional quacker Rush Limbaugh crying like a schoolchild after Barack Obama’s election in 2008. “What about the other 46 percent?” he bleated.

The simple answer to his simplistic question was: They’re out of luck until they become 50 percent-plus-one. Rules of the game, baby.

The other thing I thought of was the startling number of my liberal friends who swore they’d move to another country if George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004. A former co-worker who’d moved to Rochester, New York, said it to me one afternoon and I challenged her. “Is that just hyperbole,” I asked. “or do you really mean it?”

“I really mean it,” she said. Rochester is just across Lake Ontario from Canada, she explained, so it wouldn’t be that big a deal. She neglected to mention if the Canadian government had pledged to honor all her wishes after her move.

Dems Flee The US After George W. Bush’s Reelection

I cared for George W. Bush even less than I care for Scott Walker. Bush will go down, I’m certain, as one of our worst presidents.

His two elections saddened and discouraged me. I could only wonder why a modern nation of some 300M people could select as their leader such a chucklehead. Not that I’d be dancing in the streets had either Al Gore or John Kerry won but, the way I look at it, a stubbed toe is better than being kicked in the gut repeatedly.

Anyway, Bush hooked and crooked his way into the White House the first time he ran and then played the war card to win a second time. But he was still my president because I’m a participating member of the American electorate.

Not That I Was Thrilled About It

Say what you will about the late John Wayne, when asked his reaction to the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, he said, “I didn’t vote for him but he’s my president.”

Sounds a tad more adult than today’s blatherings, no?

Anyway, rules of the game, right? As long as recall elections are within the rules, I hope Walker gets his ass beat.

BALL OF CONFUSION

Vote for me and I’ll set ya free!

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.” — John Kenneth Galbraith

THIS MEANS WAR!

Steven Higgs of the Bloomington Alternative ran a fascinating twoparter this month on the 1971 opening salvo in the right wing revolution that has turned this holy land into a corporatocracy. Don’t miss it.

Less than half a year before he was nominated by Richard Nixon to become a US Supreme Court Associate Justice, the then-rightist Lewis Powell wrote an explosive memo detailing what he saw as the coming war for free enterprise.

Powell, you may recall, retired in the middle of Ronald Reagan’s second term as president. By that time, he was seen as a moderate, a compromiser, the guy who could talk to both Antonin Scalia and Thurgood Marshall. In fact, many felt Powell was even too liberal for a Court and a nation that had moved dramatically rightward in the preceding 16 years.

Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy, an even more conservative jurist, to replace Powell. Now Kennedy is seen as the moderate, the compromiser, and, occasionally, too liberal for his own good.

The right has come a long way, baby.

Powell

Anyway, Powell, a big-time corporate lawyer and legal advocate for the tobacco industry, wrote that American capitalism was under attack on a variety of fronts 41 years ago. Everybody, he wrote, from Ralph Nader, the media, academia, the federal courts, communists  and “New Left”-ists, to outright revolutionaries were gunning for our sacred economic system.

Powell wasn’t speaking metaphorically either. He was convinced liberals were out to destroy America. His screed sounded like nothing other than a typical Rush Limbaugh upchuck.

For instance, Powell quoted a Fortune magazine diatribe against consumer advocate Nader:

“The passion that rules in him — and he is a passionate man — is aimed at smashing utterly the target of his hatred, which is corporate power. He thinks, and says quite bluntly, that a great many corporate executives belong in prison — for defrauding the consumer with shoddy merchandise, poisoning the food supply with chemical additives and willfully manufacturing unsafe products that will maim or kill the buyer.”

Nader, Powell asserted, was dangerous.

Dangerous

Funny thing is, a mere six years later it was learned that Ford Motor Company bosses knew their Pinto model was liable to explode in flames in rear-end collisions. Those execs also knew a certain number of Pinto drivers and passengers would die as a result. They decided that the deaths and resulting financial damage claims were simply the cost of doing business.

Dangerous, indeed.

In the Powell Memo, sent to members of the US Chamber of Commerce, he suggested corporate America and political leaders devote themselves to the “constant surveillance” of school textbooks and eliminate left-wingers from schools and positions of power.

“There should be no hesitation to attack,” he advised corporate leaders.

Yeesh!

Higgs concludes that the memo was “a literal call to the political arms that have (sic) subsequently driven the nation’s devolution from democracy to oligarchy.”

I suppose the only difference between today and 1971 is that, back then, the only people who would spout such psycho garbage were toady corporate lawyers. Now, the corporations have an entire Tea Party to parrot their paranoia.

LIZZ WINSTEAD’S BABY

Lizz Winstead created the fabulously successful Daily Show franchise that we think of as Jon Stewart’s baby.

It isn’t.

Winstead

Stewart came aboard two and a half years after the show was born. He replaced the smarmy-snarky, celebrity-gossipy Craig Kilborn as host. Toward the end of Kilborn’s run, he granted an interview to an Esquire magazine writer in which he suggested that Winstead would happily blow him. It was the last straw in Winstead’s long-standing battle against the comedy boys club that was taking over her show. She quit soon after.

Since her Daily Show stint, Winstead’s career has soared and dived. She co-founded the ill-fated Air America Radio network. She writes occasionally for the Huffington Post, has produced a few TV and radio shows, and now hosts a weekly New York City radio news wrap up program called “Shoot the Messenger.”

I was reminded of Winstead while reading a neat book called “¡Satiristas!: Comedians, Contrarians, Raconteurs & Vulgarians,” by Paul Provenza and Dan Dion. It was published by itbooks, a HarperCollins imprint, in 2010. In it Provenza chats with dozens of funny people about their art.

Winstead is included in the line-up. She tells Provenza that part of her comedic sensibility emanates from her conservative Catholic childhood home in Minneapolis.

She recalls facing her first adult dilemma as a teenaged girl.

“[T]he first time I ever had sex, in high school, I got pregnant. I knew I wasn’t having a baby, bu the way to get an abortion was so insane. Being brought up a Catholic, I didn’t know where to go, but one day I saw a sign on the bus for a place that said, ‘Abortion options.’ I thought, ‘Oh, there are many options.’

“So I go to this place, and it was run by some group called The Lambs of Christ. This woman comes out wearing a lab coat, so I’m thinking she’s some kind of doctor. Then I realized the women at the Clinique and Lancôme counters wear lab coats; she’s not really a doctor, lab coats are pretty much available anywhere. She shows me blow-ups of mangled fetuses and a picture of a kid on a bike. I’m like, ‘A bike?’ It was insane. I left completely confused. As I walked out the door, she was yelling after me, ‘Just remember, the choice you make is mommy or murder.’

“I thought, ‘I’m sixteen and here’s an adult, a “person of God,” impersonating a physician, just scaring the shit out of me.’ Even as a kid, I was, like, ‘That’s fucking weird.'”

Winstead’s 51 years old now, meaning the encounter took place 35 years ago, probably sometime in 1977.

Just four short years after the US Supreme Court’s landmark Roe vs. Wade decision.

Nashville’s The Tennessean newspaper reported Friday that 24 states passed new abortion restriction laws in 2011, more than any previous year.

Talk about fucking weird.

MONEY CHANGES EVERYTHING

Written by Bruce Springsteen, performed best by Cyndi Lauper.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.” — Lenny Bruce

MAN WAS HIS PET, AFTER THE HOUSEFLY*

In this holy land it’s a lot easier to believe in god than it is not to.

America’s biggest holiday is Christmas.

Our coins read “In God We Trust.”

Every candidate for president must declare what a pious soul he or she is.

We say “… one nation under god…” we we pledge allegiance.

Both houses of Congress begin each day’s proceedings with a benediction delivered by a professional believer.

When someone sneezes we say, “God bless you.”

When we’re annoyed we say, “For Christ’s sake!” When we’re really mad we say, “God damn it.”

When we go to war, we ask god to help us blow the brains out of enemy soldiers’ heads.

In America, god is everywhere.

This weekend the putative creator of the universe will be the object of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of special assemblies.

There will be, for instance, a series of “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rallies in cities around the country. These folks believe their BFF in the sky doesn’t like sex and is miffed because employer health care plans will soon be forced to cover contraceptives.

One Way To Get Under God’s Skin

Unindicted co-conspirator Pope Benedict XVI travels this weekend to Mexico. Monday he hops over to Cuba. He’ll draw huge throngs in both countries.

And Saturday, atheists will crowd the Mall in Washington, DC to proclaim that they have no invisible friends or protectors. Organizers hope the Reason Rally, also dubbed Woodstock for atheists, will attract some 30,000 godless souls.

When I was a kid, a woman named Madalyn Murray O’Hair made a big splash. She was America’s most well-known atheist in the 1960s. It seems her son Bill was compelled to participate in Bible readings while a student in the Baltimore City Public Schools. So she filed suit, which eventually made its way to the US Supreme Court as part of a broader case.

I was a nominal Roman Catholic at the time. My parents (Ma, mostly) still went to church and dragged me along. Ma and Dad wouldn’t drop out for another five or so years. I couldn’t drop out of the faith because I’d never had it.

However, I had some clubbish loyalty to the faithful and so felt that Madeline Murray O’Hair, who soon would found American Atheists, was a villain. She was called “America’s most hated woman.” It didn’t help that O’Hair was pretty much a lunatic.

The Most Hated Woman In America

So even though I had no particular allegiance to any god, I was on the side of those who did. But I was a kid.

By the age of 12, I’d given up childish things — like blind loyalty — and started thinking for myself. The nuns at St. Giles school had told me god was love. They’d said I must love him.

Man, I had a tough time with that one. How do I love god? I mean, he’s this big, powerful guy who doesn’t say much and is always aggravated. In fact, he’s just like my father.

So I imagined kissing god’s cheeks profusely. See, Ma always made me kiss Dad goodnight. He’d sit there in his recliner, purportedly watching TV but actually dozing noisily. I’d have to stretch and strain to plant my tender little lips on his sandpaper face. He wouldn’t budge an inch.

“Wait’ll I Get My Hands on You!”

I figured that’s the way it would be with god. I’d imagine myself up in heaven, standing on a chair on my tiptoes, raining smooches on god’s abrasive cheek. He, too, would remain impassive while I gushed over him.

By 12, that fever dream didn’t cut it anymore. I never did figure out how to love god.

I’m not going to Washington for the Atheists’ Woodstock. I’ve long believed atheism is about not being part of a team.

Christians’ll have an easier time of it at their rallies here in America, as well as in Mexico and Cuba. They can all pat each other on the back and say how great it is to be the apple of god’s eye.

What are the atheists going to do? You can’t really celebrate the non-existence of something, can you?

Actually, I don’t even like the term atheist. There is, of course, the association with Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s weirdness. Then there’s the matter of identifying myself by what I’m not.

It’s like joining a club for people who’ve never murdered anyone. After introducing yourself and proclaiming you’ve never taken a life, there isn’t much else to do.

A better term might be Other — as in the only box I can honestly check on an application that asks me my religion.

I’m a devout Other.

(* Quote from Mark Twain’s “Letters from the Earth.”)

IMAGINE

My second favorite Beatle.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” — Margaret Sanger

THE GOOD CATHOLIC

So, the feds want to require most employers to provide full health insurance coverage to their employees.

Sounds good, no? Not only that, the current administration wants to make sure all women are guaranteed equal coverage including, among many, many other services, access to contraception.

What could be wrong with that?

The maxi-skirt-wearing officials of the Roman Catholic church went all aflutter over the new rules. They, of course, live in the year 541 Anno Domini and, as such, must hew to a higher law commanding women to be fertile and populate our pre-Dark Ages world.

The priests and bishops — all men, despite their habiliment — shrieked when they realized even hospitals and universities affiliated with their Rome-based corporation must pay premiums for women to use birth control.

Why, these sinful females want to have sex — ugh! — for the fun of it.

How can we leave matters of birth control to women when, after all, as Stephen Colbert has informed us, that is a private matter between a husband and his parish priest.

Anyway, this whole deal reminds me of a story. It’s true but don’t ask me how I know it because I won’t tell you.

There was this woman who got married young back in the late 1930s. She was just 16 years old when she ran away with a boy who was two years older than she was. They’d grown up in Chicago, in different ethnic neighborhoods, and their brief romance was Romeo and Juliet-ish.

This woman — let’s call her Anna — found herself pregnant within weeks of her elopement. By the time she was 19, she and her husband had two kids.

Since both Anna and her husband were high school dropouts, their family income was far below what we would refer to today as the poverty line. Anna’s husband’s paycheck would have been stretched to feed and house just the two of them. With a growing brood, there was hardly a penny leftover after the bills were paid.

So Anna and her husband decided to use contraceptives. Anna’s husband took some of those spare pennies and went to a drugstore outside their neighborhood, where he wouldn’t be recognized, and purchased a supply of condoms.

Now, the use of condoms, both Anna and her husband understood, was a sin. Their parish priest rarely delivered a sermon without reminding his flock that the only acceptable method of family planning was the rhythm method.

Any other form of birth control was tantamount to murder, he’d say.

Anna knew what she had to do. The Friday afternoon after she and her husband had first used a condom, she walked to the church and waited for a confessional box to open up. She saw a neighbor lady exit the box. The two women directed their gaze at the floor, not acknowledging each other, as they were sinners. Anna slipped inside the confessional box, kneeled down, crossed herself and said, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”

And then she told him what she and her husband had done.

The priest gasped as if he’d never heard such an admission in his life. He ordered her and her husband to stop using condoms. He reminded her that if almighty god wished to grace her with a dozen little children, she should be eternally grateful. He directed her to do penance, which she faithfully carried out.

But Anna knew she and her husband could not reasonable support even half a dozen gifts from god. So, the next week she kneeled down in the confessional box again and told the priest she had sinned.

This time the priest seemed exasperated. He delivered his lecture again, this time with more firmness in his voice. He assigned her twice the penance as the last week. Again, Anna performed her penance.

And again, Anna and her husband used condoms when they had sex.

And for a third Friday afternoon in a row, Anna kneeled in the confessional box and confessed what she and her husband had done.

This time, the priest became enraged. He shouted at her.

“What kind of woman are you?” he demanded. “Do you expect to come here every week and be absolved of your sin? Will you never make an effort to to stop committing this sin?”

He paused for breath. Anna felt tears streaming down her cheeks. But the priest wasn’t finished.

“Don’t you realize what the use of condoms makes you?” he cried.

He didn’t wait for her to answer, for he provided it himself. “A bad woman! A puttana*!”

(*Puttana: Italian for whore.)

“I’ll remind you again, children are a gift from god,” he roared. “You must stop using condoms!”

Anna knew several neighbors were in the church pews, waiting for their turn to confess. She knew they could hear every word the priest shouted. She knew they’d carry the news of her sin throughout the neighborhood. She snapped.

“Stop saying that, please,” she said. “Stop it! If you think it’s so easy to raise a dozen children, you do it!”

The priest was speechless. Anna continued.

“You’re a hypocrite.” she said. “You and the Pope, both. Maybe you oughta sell some of the Pope’s shoes and raise these kids. We can’t. We’re only doing what we can!”

With that, Anna stood up and stormed out of the confessional box and, for a short time, out of the Catholic church.

She came back to the church after she’d read in the Reader’s Digest that many Roman Catholic women were using contraception. And they weren’t quitting the church.

So Anna started going back to Mass, although she never again kneeled down in that particular priest’s confessional.

Anna had two more kids, a few years after the first two, when she and her husband were more financially capable of raising them.

Despite leaving the Church for a brief period when she was 20 years old, she remains devout to this day. She prays throughout her day. She says she is certain she’ll see god when he decides to take her. She looks forward to seeing him.

And she knows he has forgiven her for talking back to a priest.

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