Friday, August 22, 2008
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Thursday, August 21, 2008
- In today's encore excerpt--the U.S. outlaws the manufacture, transport, and sale of alcoholic beverages under the Volstead Act (1920-1933), more commonly called Prohibition. Against expectations, Prohibition resulted in even greater levels of alcohol consumption in America and it was repealed in 1933. The backlash that led to Prohibition extended to other areas as well, including banning highly suggestive language such as "the cat's meow":
"When, at the stroke of New Year 1920, the U.S. formally went 'dry,' most revellers would have only experienced the dull ache of their hangovers. It was only as time went by that the realization sunk in of how profoundly Prohibition had altered American life. It would be 1925 before Variety would note that Times Square--between 34th and 52nd streets--boasted 2,500 speakeasies, where before Prohibition there had been only 300 saloons. In the entire country, in 1925, there were estimated to be three million 'booze joints,' where 'pre-Prohibition cafes numbered 177,000.' In other words, a nation of moderate drinkers was turned into a nation of obsessive alcoholics, paying for criminals to build up an immense black market that would affect the nation's economy for decades (and continues to do so in the drug age). There would be fun, gaiety, abandon, dancing, hot-cha-cha, cheers and laughter, and buzzing joints like the Cotton Club and Texas Guinan's cabarets, but also killings, sickness, fraud, repression and the corruption of states and city halls. ...
"The moral guardians, however, continued their march, moving in, as King Booze leered over the city, on 'suggestive' performances and sexual innuendo. In February 1921, the Music Publisher's Protective Association began a 'housecleaning' campaign aimed at banishing 'all 'blue' and double-meaning lyrics' from the market, [stating] all 'indecent material, or songs that are capable of indecent construction' should be banned. ... Vaudeville shows were to be vigorously cleaned up too, 'the latitude allowed shimmy and jazz dancers' was to be curtailed. ... Current slang, like 'Hot Dog,' 'The Cat's Meow,' 'Cat's Pajamas' and 'Hot Cat,' was also on the proscribed list."
Simon Louvish, Mae West, St. Martin's Press, Copyright 2005 by Simon Louvish, pp. 82-83.
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Wednesday, August 20, 2008
- Pastor Rick's Test
The Candidates Submit, and a Principle Suffers
By Kathleen Parker
Wednesday, August 20, 2008; A15
At the risk of heresy, let it be said that setting up the two presidential candidates for religious interrogation by an evangelical minister -- no matter how beloved -- is supremely wrong.
It is also un-American.
For the past several days, since mega-pastor Rick Warren interviewed Barack Obama and John McCain at his Saddleback Church, most political debate has focused on who won.
Was it the nuanced, thoughtful Obama, who may have convinced a few more skeptics that he isn't a Muslim? Or was it the direct, confident McCain, who breezes through town-hall-style meetings the way Obama sinks three-pointers from the back court?
The candidates' usual supporters felt validated in their choices. McCain convinced and comforted with characteristic certitude those who are most at ease with certitude; Obama convinced and comforted with his characteristic intellectual ambivalence those who are most at ease with ambivalence.
The winner, of course, was Warren, who has managed to position himself as political arbiter in a nation founded on the separation of church and state.
The loser was America.
Indeed. This is neither the first nor the last time that a candidate for elective office will feel required to unzip and prove he's the bigger "Christian." And to what end? If I can convince you that I'm as "good" a "Christian" as you are, then you'll vote for me? Is this any way to run an election...for water commissioner, let alone president?
His format and questions were interesting and the answers more revealing than what the usual debate menu provides. But does it not seem just a little bit odd to have McCain and Obama chatting individually with a preacher in a public forum about their positions on evil and their relationship with Jesus Christ?
The past few decades of public confession and Oprah-style therapy have prepared us perfectly for a televangelist probing politicians about their moral failings. Warren's Q&A wasn't an inquisition exactly, but viewers would be justified in squirming.
Which is precisely why I decided early on to shine it by. What could any of them--Obama, McCain, Warren--possibly have to say that would be of any use to me at all? I do not vote for or against anybody on the basis of religion, and I concluded long ago that the whole "pro-life/pro-choice" dichotomy is a blind developed by people who are too lazy to examine nuances. (You would be just as well off to decide you will support only those candidates whose middle names begin with a letter in the second half of the alphabet...it has just as much relevancy.) I know I will vote for Obama, I will not vote for McCain, and I'm not going to join Warren's church.
Besides, I knew the whole thing was going to be endlessly discussed over the ensuing days and weeks, so even though I watched none of the silly affair, I really feel like I was there in the audience.
That's not a good thing, by the way. When I first heard of the Saddleback Civil Forum, I felt uneasy. I believe strongly in the separation of church and state, and I believe it's in the best interest of both church and state to rigorously maintain that division. And as someone who strives to be something like a Christian, I deeply resent evangelicals' usurping of the term to mean people who think/believe/speak like we do.
So this resonates:
What is the right answer, after all? What happens to the one who gets evil wrong? What's a proper relationship with Jesus? What's next? Interrogations by rabbis, priests and imams? What candidate would dare decline on the basis of mere principle?
Both Obama and McCain gave "good" answers, but that's not the point. They shouldn't have been asked. Is the American electorate now better prepared to cast votes knowing that Obama believes that "Jesus Christ died for my sins and I am redeemed through him," or that McCain feels that he is "saved and forgiven"?
What, indeed, does it mean? Well, it means that we are so narrow and so intellectually slothful that we seek only the right buzzwords--the shibboleth--on which to base our conclusions. "Candidate X failed to acknowledge Jesus as his 'personal savior,' so that means he's not a real Christian."
It's an odd thing about Christianity: I find that the people who go around thumping themselves on the chest and bragging about what fantabulous "Christians" they are are the people who need to be kept an eye on at all times.
And of course such "Christians" invariably confuse religion and spirituality, spirituality and faith, and faith and morality. They insist that "faith" is that which drives an individual's actions, when in fact it's morality that guides us, with or without "faith." Writes Parker,
Warren tried to defuse criticism about staging the interviews in his church by saying that though "we" believe in the separation of church and state, "we" don't believe in the separation of faith and politics. Faith, he said, "is just a worldview, and everybody has some kind of worldview. It's important to know what they are."
In short, it's important to know if they speak "our" code. To "prove" they're "Christian enough" for "us."
It's helpful, perhaps, to remember at this juncture that Article VI of the Constitution of the United States says "...no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." [Found at http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#Article6]
For the moment, let's set aside our curiosity about what Jesus might do in a given circumstance and wonder what our Founding Fathers would have done at Saddleback Church. What would have happened to Thomas Jefferson if he had responded as he wrote in 1781:
"It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
Would the crowd at Saddleback have applauded and nodded through that one? Doubtful.
By today's new standard of pulpits in the public square, Jefferson -- the great advocate for religious freedom in America -- would have lost.
As have we all, thanks to Pastor Rick and his followers.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
- Margo [Baldwin, president of Kuttner's publisher, Chelsea Green Publishers] negotiated a highly creative deal with Amazon, to offer readers the benefits of its new print-on-demand service. You order it, they print, and you get it two days from the time of your order. An Amazon discount coupon will also be in the packets of DNC delegates, alternates, and media. In the meantime, Chelsea Green is rushing out its regular print edition, which will be in bookstores after Labor Day. Or maybe it won't.
When the Amazon agreement was announced, Amazon's retail competitors pushed back big time. Amazon is of course the 800 pound gorilla of bookselling. What was an independent publisher doing in bed with it?
- Barnes and Noble canceled its initial order and has decided not to stock the book in any of its stores, making it available only on B&N.com and by special order. Only one independent bookseller did likewise. In an open letter to the bookseller community, Margo appealed for perspective, and argued that the Amazon launch strategy was designed to build interest in the book initially, creating the demand that would result in strong sales in all retail outlets. With an expanded pie, there would be more book sales for everyone. And the market would hardly be exhausted in two weeks.
- All innovators take risks. For a small publishing house that depends on the goodwill of booksellers, this was a huge one. The book could have a shelf life of just eight weeks. If Obama loses, this book will be a historic curiosity, and we will have a bonfire of unsold books. If he wins, maybe it will make a difference.read more | digg story
Hardly makes one feel too much enthusiasm for spending money at Barnes and Noble, though, does it?
"The Christian agenda is shifting, and that's good news for Barack Obama."
Dionne makes a compelling argument, especially for someone (like me) who would like to believe it. He writes:
The notion that Christianity in general and evangelicalism in particular are by nature right-wing creeds has always been wrong. How can a faith built around a commitment to the poor and the vulnerable be seen as leading ineluctably to conservative political conclusions?
And when political commentators talk about "evangelicals," they are almost always talking about white evangelicals, forgetting that millions of African Americans are devout evangelical Christians and are hardly part of the conservative base. The civil rights movement was one of the greatest faith-based mobilizations in American history, even as it also drew on the energies of thousands of secular liberals who walked hand in hand with believers.
- In 2004, Warren [Rick Warren, pastor of the evangelical Saddleback Church, which last weekend hosted the forum in which the presidential candidates discussed their religious and moral points of view] took the view that Christians should vote on a short list of "nonnegotiable" issues, including abortion. But in 2006, on Fox News, of all places, Warren declared: "Jesus's agenda is far bigger than just one or two issues. . . . We have to care about poverty, we have to care about disease, we have to care about illiteracy, we have to care about corruption in government, sex trafficking." That is the new politics of evangelical Christianity.
None of this means that white evangelicals will convert en masse to the Democratic Party. McCain, who carefully touched every hot button on the control panel of religious conservatism, will certainly get a substantial majority of their votes. The question is whether Obama can cut the Republican margin among white evangelicals by, say, five or 10 points.
"If Obama ever establishes any kind of trust [with evangelicals], there will be a noticeable shift," the Rev. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church outside of Orlando and a leading evangelical moderate, said in an interview. "It will not be huge, but it will be significant."
But I'm a little troubled by Dionne's conclusion, in light of some current events. He writes:
I posted a link to Linda Bergthold's article, "Leaks in McCain's Cone of Silence?," in The Huffington Post a couple of days ago--there's reason to wonder if "Pastor Rick" did indeed make sure there was "no home-court advantage." Indeed, increasingly it seems to me that, despite his protests to the contrary--protests which seem to be constantly changing--the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency was stacked in McCain's favor. Which doesn't sound like "the Christian agenda" is "shifting" at all.
At least, not in the right direction.
Monday, August 18, 2008
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Sunday, August 17, 2008
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