Monday, April 25, 2005

Last week was a good week for gluttony and greed in America. First off, a study by the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that risk of death for overweight people was actually lower than for those whose weight was so-called “normal”. Ha ha! Super-size me, baby!

So fat is the new black. While the news comes as a relief to roughly half of the American public dying to ditch the Atkins diet, the study did not find that the quality of life was better, or the risk of disability, disease, or depression was lower for people currently considered overweight but not obese, just the risk of death. But that’s OK. As everyone knows, American life is defined wholly by quantity. It’s a numbers game. As those in favor of the indefinite continuation of a certain brain-dead woman’s so-called life recently argued, fifteen years in a persistent vegetative state is better than none. This apparently applies to couch potatoes, too.

Better red than dead, right? Yes, the media’s spinning the battle of the bulge as yet another broadside in The War of Red and Blue. Weighing in on the right, Tucker Carlson (who’s looking paunchy) welcomed the news as more evidence that rail-thin liberal elites are out of step with real, rotund Americans. Liberals’ skeletal figures are part and parcel of their Culture of Death. Bony babe Ann Coulter’s been put on notice: pack on the pounds or be banished from the Red Brigade, comrade

Even The New York Times’ David Brooks revealed he has felt passively persecuted by healthy Americans, whose offensive habits, including regular exercise and eating salads in public, he described as “condescending.” The only reason I, for one, go to the gym is to feel superior flexing my washboard abs at flabby arch-conservatives. I’m not doing it for my health. Every salad I eat is an accusation. Republican reaction to the CDC report is another instance of the right’s bizarre, raging persecution complex.

Greedwise, Congress has finally approved drilling in the Arctic reserve Yee-haw Never mind that the amount of recoverable oil could easily be offset by a return to fuel-efficient automobiles. Hybrids are not only feasible, they are actually on the roads. But we know where the Bush administration’s priorities are: tax incentives for chuckleheads who think a trip to the mall in their Sherman tank is cool.

I think it’s a good thing to ease up a little on the weight issue, broaden the scope of “normal”. But a striking trend toward obesity is real. We live in a binge culture. Psychologists speculate that binging is an attempt to compensate for a perceived lack, or a reaction to trauma. SUVS got bigger in the wake of 9/11, and we went to war for oil rather than seek energy alternatives, or curb consumption. The question is: do we really want to be a sad, fat nation in denial?

Monday, April 18, 2005

I've never liked the term “homophobia.” The gay community has sometimes used it to cry wolf, it seems. But one instance in which it’s indisputably accurate is the U.S. Military’s failed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, which has wrecked the careers of 10,000 honorable men and women, cost taxpayers upwards of $200 million, and made America decidedly less secure in this age of terror. Now that it’s being given a second look, a new round of fear-mongering by a minority of vocal proponents of a gay ban has begun.

A majority of Americans, including those in the military, believe it’s time to put “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to rest, and allow gay servicemen and women to serve without intimidation. Despite what the cowards on Capitol Hill say, this is not a liberal versus conservative issue. Like much of the current political debate, it’s between a few rabid hypocrites, panderers, and bigots and, well, the rest of us.

Those in favor of the ban have little factual data to back up their apocalyptic claims, only some hysterical notions about gay sexuality. A prime example: Lieutenant Colonel Robert McGinnis, an oft-quoted, virulent opponent of gays in the military, and a textbook homophobe, bizarrely obsessed with gay sexuality. If there is a scenario where hot man-on-man action could possibly take place, he has imagined it in great detail, and then labeled it a threat. Methinks the Colonel doth protest too much.

McGinnis is embarrassing proof that homophobia is really less about the sexuality of others than it is about the homophobe’s. Sigmund Freud coined the term to describe heterosexuals’ “vigorous counter-attitudes” toward homosexuality, usually based on their own homosexual feelings. Freud’s hypothesis has been tested scientifically, by Dr. Henry Adams of the University of Georgia for one, who found that, indeed, self-professed homophobes are much more likely to be aroused by male homosexual erotic stimuli than their more or less indifferent hetero counterparts.

Homophobes are always at the center of their sex scenarios, of course, being looked at, longed for and lusted after constantly by other men. It must be wonderful. The problem is it’s all in their heads. Their fantasies of being the object of male desire assume, erroneously as it turns out, that gay men are all appetite and no taste. Gay desire is no more or less indiscriminate than straight desire. Gays, like straights, can engage with others nonsexually, and behave professionally on the job.

It can be embarrassing, when self-professed heterosexuals become obsessed with their fantasy version of the glorious hypersexual world of gays. Oh, would that it were even a fraction as glamorous as they imagine it to be. Alas, it’s not all that different from the straight life. The question really is, does protecting a tiny minority of insecure homophobes with wild fantasies about what might happen if they drop the soap in the barracks shower merit the repression of respectable men and women who are minding their own business and doing their jobs?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

“If Jesus Christ came back today and saw what was being done in his name,” Woody Allen once said, “he’d never stop throwing up.” Whether it’s merely the pendulum swinging or the aftermath of premillennial tension, everybody these days seems to be doing something in the name of God.

The media has jumped on the bandwagon with religious pornography like the Terri Schiavo melodrama and the death of Pope John Paul II. Spectacles like these bring the media whores and hypocrites out in droves. Hypocrisy is one of those things, like sex and death, that is both infinitely banal and utterly fascinating. And one thing’s for sure: we live in an era fascinated more than any other by the banal.

As for porn, next week NBC will treat its culture-of-lies niche audience to an adaptation of Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ best-selling “Left Behind” books with a miniseries called “Revelations,” fanning the flames of radicalism on the religious right, and further mainstreaming their noxious, crackpot views. Jesus is dry-heaving as we speak.

If you really want to understand what’s going on in the reddest parts of red America (and you’d be forgiven for not wanting to), the “Left Behind” books will show you in graphic, gory detail, and tediously purple prose. The series is the latest version of a centuries-old concept called “the Abominable Fancy”: the idea that the chief amusement of the saved will be the suffering of the damned. Those who subscribe believe in a Heaven hardly distinguishable from an episode of “Jerry Springer.” Or if you prefer, an endless night in Abu Ghraib prison. In other words, it’s a version of Heaven that looks to most sensible folks uncannily like Hell.

If you want to see the real-life poster boy for the Abominable Fancy of the radical religious right, his name is Eric Robert Rudolph, and last week he struck a plea bargain that will allow him to avoid the death penalty, something he was more than willing to inflict on others on several occasions in the 1990s. A self-ordained soldier in the “Army of God,”in addition to the ‘96 Olympic bombing, this homegrown terrorist’s resume includes family planning clinics and a gay club in Atlanta. His handiwork left two dead and hundreds maimed for life.

Rudolph is just the kind of guy LeHaye and Jenkins’ bogus right-wing Jesus would love to have as a soldier in his Apocalyptic Army: a cold-blooded murderer using religion to justify his own evil impulses, and a coward who hates life with a passion but fears death even more. And no wonder. What kind of paradise are these self-righteous phonies preparing for? One without mercy, hope, or love. One in which the petty and vindictive, the nutjobs and pschopaths get the pleasure of seeing their every little revenge fantasy acted out on a giant IMAX in the sky.

Mmm, sounds like fun. Don’t forget the popcorn. But please, leave me behind.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Govern-not Mitt Romney wants red states to know he has a conscience. And he’s voting it. Eager to pander to his imaginary out-of-state political base, he has taken a brave symbolic stand against paraplegics, sufferers of Parkinsons, and medical science in his home state, by promising to veto a bill that flew through the legislature allowing stem cell research in Massachusetts. Romney's veto will have no practical effect, but it’s another way for him to make national headlines, his chief purpose in office.

Romney is a legend in his own mind. Politically speaking he is not particularly well-liked by anyone, even his supposed constituency. This is not terribly unusual for a politician, but there is a tipping point. In politics, shameless self-promotion, in order to be effective, should be offset by at least the appearance of public service. When it is not, the results can be, well, embarrassing, as they were in the last election, where Romney’s campaigning was a real liability to his party.

It’s pretty clear that Romney is about as fond of his in-state public as it is of him. And he wants out-of-staters to know it. He has been campaigning abroad by dissing his home state, apparently in the hopes of winning his party’s nomination for president in 2008. He’s gotten this far on those ‘70s soap star looks, but if he wants to play in the big leagues he’ll need a makeover, at the very least. Unfortunately, he’s alienated all the queer eyes in Massachusetts, wooing them locally and bashing them in the national press. His flip-flopping on women’s issues and gay rights makes John Kerry look like a preschool tumbler. His record on the economy is less than stellar.

Wherever Romney goes from here, he will have to run on his failures, pleading powerlessness against economic, political, and social forces beyond his control. He believes he can parlay defeat into victory on the national stage, where, if recent history is any indication, incompetence is not a problem. Like Bush, Kerry, and Kennedy, Romney is himself the privileged son of a politician, and an ivy league grad. He is following the natural course of the patrician class of this new gilded age. He has shown little interest in the welfare of Massachusetts, but a keen interest in self-promotion, playing bait and switch with hot-button issues, and exploiting them for what he sees as his birthright: a shot at the White House. His motto could be: “Ask not what your governor can do for his state, but what your state can do for her governor.”

We get the politicians we deserve, and there may be a lesson in this for all of us. If we want real leaders we should stop rewarding over-groping aristocrats with delusions of grandeur, and look to more vibrant segments of an ethnically and economically diverse population for men and women who truly want to govern, not simply pursue their personal ambitions at the cost of the governed.