Monday, July 29, 2013

Why Jorge Bergoglio's Stance On Gays Is Nothing About Which To Get Excited

The internet is usually a good friend of mine, gentle readers. I am inclined to think that it brings me everything I need on a silver platter -- the news, social events, entertainment, and (occasionally) enough to anger me that I have decent writing material. The news of the day, however, has been far less rewarding as from Facebook to Reddit and back again I have been inundated with the recent blurb of Pope Francis' stance on homosexuality that he verbalized after his return from Brazil and the sudden elation that everyone (including atheists) have been indulging in. Allow me, my friends, to give you his quote, here: 

"If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge? We cannot marginalize people." 

(photo courtesy of NPR)

And thus, the party begins. While everyone else has blanketed the internet with this twaddle in a sudden philosophy-and-politic-blurring fervor, I am left staring blankly at my screen wondering what in the hell everyone is so excited about. 

Let us be clear -- he has not accepted gay people into the throng of humanity, nor has he reversed Catholic doctrine on the subject. He has made a statement and nothing more. Action has not been taken, policy and theology have not been changed. Admittedly, this is a remarkable thing for a pontiff to say, but it's nothing more than verbal ejaculation nonetheless. If legitimate change were ever enacted in the name of His Holiness on the subject, we might have more to discuss. 

Furthermore, he has not even had the ability to say as much as we would want to hear, but rather made an incredibly insulting concession that readers and listeners have simply over-looked in their verve to find a pope not worth hating -- which is that he has negotiated the status of humanity to Christian homosexuals. It is enough to not be marginalized, not be judged, if one is a homosexual but also relegates all power and faith to the supernatural tyrant -- then they can escape the social excoriation that the religious were responsible for placing on them in the first place. Mr. Bergoglio, inasmuch as not even granting theological leeway towards homosexuality, has only had the grace to acknowledge the sapience of those within his own princedom. By tolerating only those who subscribe to his definition of goodness, marginalizing people is exactly what he has done.

Even so, who needs the pope to say something to make it true? If he were to take any social or political stance -- who cares? He, much like the Queen of England, is a person in a funny hat at the height of his relevance. The ego that making such a decree is an assertion of morality into a world that needed such insight is repulsive: a.) if his followers needed to hear it in order to believe it to be true, and b.) if such an idea required the validation of anyone.

More yet can be gleaned from this statement, gentle readers, if you dare to tread forward. My stomach is already turned by this servile nonsense. Perhaps you'd like to quit while you're ahead?

His Holiness also implies that "good will" and "searches for the Lord" are of moral tandem. While this is nothing new for religion and its leaders, to hold the card of morality and claim that they alone have discovered, refined, and enforced it in the history of our species, it is something that continues to repel me. Note as well, that until this statement, the idea of homosexuality was considered directly antipodal to the idea of good will in the Catholic lexicon. Francis' statement does not come with a remedy to the unthinkable number of years that the Church behaved despicably toward homosexuals before his remark -- nor does it even contain an apology for it. It is made with nonchalance, pretends that this fact is obvious, and does not seem to contain a hint of regret for past observations either by his predecessors nor by the institution for which he has dedicated his life and currently leads. 

Let us not forget, gentle readers, his statement immediately following which denies entrance of the clergy to women. It may be a step in the right direction that he is willing to publicly state his entertainment of the idea that homos are people if they are followers of Christ, but he and all before him have yet to acknowledge the humanity of one-half of our entire hominid kind. Those homosexuals who are members of the Catholic Church that wish to celebrate -- do so: but know that you are reveling over the remarks of a man who would never go so far for your mother, your sister, your best gal-pal, or anyone who has had the wonderful luck of being born with a vagina or those who do not have the capacity for credulity.

It is shameful for anyone who takes the remark of Mr. Bergoglio as a success -- or worse, as moral -- for the reason that no one has done it before, or that it is "progress of a kind", or that he has at last negotiated a small percentage of the moral truth that most of the world has acknowledged without his help. This is an unabashed ploy disguised as decency, for the sake of whichever, I am not clairvoyant enough to divine. But, merely by looking at his statement as it lies on the paper, we are well within our deductive arena to find that there is nothing about this worth supporting or condoning. Those who wish to capitulate in such a manner, please accept that such a statement excludes and dehumanizes far more than it seemingly heals, and this pontificate should be condemned for it.

He may be sitting in St. Peter's now, giggling merrily that he has made a large section of the world who previously reviled him with good reason to suddenly believe that he is an upstanding guy, but here is one reader he has not charmed with false pretext. He is, after all, the front man for the largest act of charlatanism in human history. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On The Virtues Of Alcohol

Frankly, it seems like something of a minor scandal (or a betrayal of a kind) that I have not written about this topic sooner. As the inestimable Bernard Baruch was known to say: "Only as you do know yourself can your brain serve you as a sharp and efficient tool. Know your own failings, passions, and prejudices so you can separate them from what you see.", and since a tender alcoholism (though I would take the tawdry route on this and call it more of an "enthusiasm") would undoubtedly be one of the defining standards by which those who know me could describe my character, I undertake such a post to know myself better, indeed. Mr. Baruch was valuable for his strict honesty in the face of cliche, and rather than upholding the encouraging standard of such quotations for their guidance-counselor-poster ability to inspire us to perfection, deliberately included the notion of failure and the binary edge of the human condition. When one wishes to venture into a topic as the mercurial provisions of strong waters, one would do well to remember the double-edged sword with which we champion the cause. 

(photo from Vilya Spirits website, the artisans of which I am most privileged to know)

That being said, I have come to the conclusion that, as far as the choice of mental lubrication goes, the pros far outweigh the cons. And would I be the Joshua Kelly that I am if I were to ignore a well-proposed idiom by the late Hitchens that alcohol "is a good servant but a terrible master", or to miss the irony that the original proverb actually referred to fire and not, indeed, to fire-water? No matter which side of the alcoholic spectrum one falls on, it is always essential to acknowledge, at least, that the pendulum does swing both ways. 

So, given that I advocate for the positive on this invention which outclasses organized religion by at least a couple of thousand years, the natural question remains: why? 

Namely, the answer is that the alcoholic tradition is one that has not been stemmed in several millennia, either in effectiveness or in popularity. And while I am rarely one to side with the utilitarian for the sake of comradery, when the Mesopotamians gave us so few things by which to remember them, it is easy to look at one of their finer achievements and take some pride in the art of brewery. Albert Camus, for example, might not have even questioned the idea of killing himself were his saving grace not in fact a cup of coffee but a glass of cognac. It is rare that in the course of our species we come across something, the effects of which are so objectively enjoyable, that we stick on to the tradition for so long. Even at its worst, what lank-haired, pump-missing teeny-bopper ever said between heaves: "I'm never drinking again!" and has kept her promise? Something always brings us back. 

For me, the beauty of the elixir is in its variety -- that is to say, there is a drink for every occasion and even those can vary by the drinker. For me, the standing bar is an alchemical smorgasbord of heightened emotion: mimosas for breakfast outside in summer weather, beer for carousing, tequila for fisticuffs, absinthe for overdone Shakespearean performance, gin for sexual inspiration, vodka for insomnia, and Scotch for whenever. It is the best available self-medication. In clothing, in politics, in romance, or in cinema there is never such a "suit-your-mood" potion available. The only genres to rival it in these instances are poetry and literature (and, much like alcohol, these too can make you equally ill should you ingest too much and in the wrong compositions).   

The power of liquid courage has come up again and again in stories of the greatest possible bravado, even in the face of itself. While I would never deign to call him "the last lion" in the ingratiating way many others have, Churchill was famous for his ability to slug a mug and, whiffled or otherwise, conduct affairs of wit and tenacity fit for his title. "I have taken more out of alcohol than it has taken out of me." A good servant, indeed! "Alcohol may be man's worst enemy, but the Bible says to love your enemy," intoned Sinatra. The only thing about Jesus of Nazareth worth remembering or chronicling was his penchant for (and uncanny ability of) drinking the wine of other people, and being able to conjure some when the mood was dull. (It is likely by some small interference of men that the communion involves at least a swallow of alcohol. Either that, or Christ was much more of Bacchus than most would willingly admit.) Even the epitome of all warrior-poets, Falstaff, was made likely most famous because of his inclination toward wine: 

"A good sherris sack hath a two-fold operation in it. It ascends me into the brain; dries me there all the foolish and dull and curdy vapours which environ it; makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble fiery and delectable shapes, which, delivered o'er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit. The second property of your excellent sherris is, the warming of the blood; which, before cold and settled, left the liver white and pale, which is the badge of pusillanimity and cowardice; but the sherris warms it and makes it course from the inwards to the parts extreme: it illumineth the face, which as a beacon gives warning to all the rest of this little kingdom, man, to arm; and then the vital commoners and inland petty spirits muster me all to their captain, the heart, who, great and puffed up with this retinue, doth any deed of courage; and this valour comes of sherris. So that skill in the weapon is nothing without sack, for that sets it a-work; and learning a mere hoard of gold kept by a devil, till sack commences it and sets it in act and use. Hereof comes it that Prince Harry is valiant; for the cold blood he did naturally inherit of his father, he hath, like lean, sterile and bare land, manured, husbanded and tilled with excellent endeavour of drinking good and good store of fertile sherris, that he is become very hot and valiant. If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack."

Who respects something and does not acknowledge its danger? No one. I myself will admit that there are only two things in the world for which moderation is acceptable: imbibing and anal sex. Though, admittedly, my worries are much more reserved for the dangers of impotence implored by the porter than for the more commercial concerns. For those who have qualms against the miraculous substance and wish desperately for its exile, there is not a claim yet made that the simple act of responsible drinking cannot cure. Unlike the vicissitudes of religion, no matter how often said, the danger of alcohol does in fact lie with the drinker and not with the drink. In essence I say to this conflict as I say to almost all others: use your head. 

I'm very regretful for those who cannot, for whatever reason, enjoy the artisan beauty of one of humankind's oldest and most loved creations -- but I do not blame them for their avoidance. I am sure that they find equal inspiration and delight in things which I, in turn, could not possibly understand. Besides which, that leaves one more bottle of Johnnie Walker for me that might otherwise have vanished from the shelf. To all who give me that wonderful opportunity, I salute you. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

I Am Not Malala

The story of Malala Yousafzai is one the world public knows well (or, at least, should) and there is not a soul who hears it that is not moved by her courage. Having been a long-time reader on the issues of girls' education in the tribal provinces of Afghanistan and Pakistan, thanks to such dedicated titans as Greg Mortensen, I found myself elated that the atrocities being committed against these innocent women were being given the attention that they deserved. The issue of the Taliban and its primitive attitude towards women is a blight on a rich culture that needs to be addressed with a permanent solution. Their actions are, to put them at their mildest, crimes against humanity. 

Because of this, the rallying spirit of Ms. Yousafzai was a beacon to all who identified with this secular endeavor. When she strode to the stage at the United Nations, her words conjured fire in the hearts of all who listened.

"So here I stand. I speak not for myself, but [so] those without voice can be heard. . . . They thought that the bullet would silence us. But they failed." 

But behind all of this well-deserved admiration and recognition, there was something painfully distracting. Everywhere, there were the banners for the support campaign called "I Am Malala" -- profile pictures on Twitter were symbolically blindfolded with the words; during the presentation of the Reflections of Hope Award, thirty-three women stood in a line, holding signs that advertised the same slogan; a music video for a song with the same title debuted on YouTube and racked up several thousand views. All around, young women were taking a stand and identifying -- empathizing -- with the struggle of Ms. Yousafzai, and thereby the struggle of all young Middle Eastern women. 

Let me clear the air immediately and say that this campaign is a brilliant campaign -- its heart is in the right place, so to speak. I support its cause and its patrons. This group and all groups like it are the backbone of the movement, along with educators, donors, and human rights activists, that has made a tangible difference in the shadow that the Taliban has cast in Western Pakistan. That being said -- the phrase "I Am Malala" is rather the most misleading, disingenuous piece of sloganeering I have yet read, especially when considering the people who don it so vibrantly. 

In order to put things in perspective, realize that the moment one says that "I Am Malala", it means that they identify with the issues that Malala and her comrades faced -- or rather are facing. It means that one has the slightest notion of how it must feel to live in a culture where the feminine personality is cloaked as heavily as the feminine anatomy; where the issue of education is a life-or-death arena in classrooms pock-marked with the shrapnel-blasts of previous assaults; where women literally sit atop rubble and count the missing among them. This unworthy description is merely a flash of the horror. 

Then, if you will, imagine the specific struggle of Ms. Yousafzai herself -- the bone-crunching chill of being shot in the head at close range; the agonizing recovery process and the terror that must have set in when her fame in the world had vulcanized her infamy with the Taliban. Picture how it must feel to know that a great number of women for whom she is fighting are now, because of her notoriety, infinitely more scared of attending school, fearing that the press and attention caused by Ms. Yousafzai will increase Taliban attacks. (I am inclined to agree with them.) Her incredible amount of courage is directly proportionate to the likely threat her life now faces because of her actions. The Taliban now has a public face that is challenging their rule in the tribal areas -- an icon like Ms. Yousafzai is one that they would wish to crush immediately. Even living in England, her life is in peril. Ask Salman Rushdie. 

And now, analyze yourselves, white women in secular America, for whom education is free, well-supplied, vast in criteria and broad in option; who have, from the moment you are born, the capability, resource, and power to do anything in the entire world that you wish; who not only attend twelve years of schooling for free but do so in secure zones, with administrations built specifically for your safety; who can sit in the same room with members of the male species and not fear divine or mortal retribution for the act; who can wear whatever you like; who can read without fear of death. I ask you with all due humility, my friends: are you Malala? 

The support for this amazing young woman and her cause is essential. We all are obligated to lend our voices and our means to alleviating the scar of religious malice and bigotry in all parts of the world where it exists. The "I Am Malala" campaign is attempting to do this very thing. But the parallel message that it evokes through its title is a contemptible lie, and boosts a false kind of altruism, an ersatz call-to-arms that is much more comforting to those who sound it than those who hear it. I will continue to boast the goodness of this campaign and everything it has accomplished, but let's please not allow the women's rights groups of America to actually believe that they are martyrs of the same cause, that they bear the scars of Bajaur and Khyber, Waziristan or the Wakhan Corridor. That effrontery and insult to the true victims needs to stop. You are not Malala any more than you are Bibi Aisha or Meena Keshwar Kamal.

Continue the solidarity; erase the facade. We will be of better help without it. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

In Which The Book Is Finally Released

It has been quite the year-and-a-half since I moved to Missoula and so much has occurred. A portion of it bears drama worthy of a soap opera, but a great deal of it has been educational, uplifting, productive, and just an all-out, damn good time. In the Zoo, I have come to know a great deal of very fine people, witnessed some excellent art, and improved myself in several notable ways. But of all these life-victories, I did something very important to me -- I contributed to the god debate and wrote a book.

When I first sat down in February of 2012 and stared at the irritating flash of a blinking cursor, I knew that I had something to say, but I was terrified to say it. I knew that others had said it before me and that they had likely done it more eloquently, more effectively, and more successfully. I knew that saying it would make me a pariah among a vast number of  people (that is, should a vast number of people ever read it). I knew that saying it would commit me to a task that would, should I never finish it, be one of the bigger staples of failure in my life. As the weeks went by and more words found their way on the page, I discovered that I was obliged to finish the work, and finish it to the best of my ability. Not only because I believed in the argument, but also for the far more practical and egotistical reason that a bunch of people knew I was writing it and the pressure to finish it was incredible. I didn't want something so important to turn out to be an addition to the overwhelming digital pile of half-finished manuscripts that haunt me from time to time. 

When I finished in August, a special and beautiful friend of mine (I have unparalleled luck in having amassed a huge number of beautiful friends) turned up with a bottle of champagne -- sometimes, there is comfort in the cliche. I didn't realize that she should have saved it for a couple of months, because that span of time was exactly how long it took to find a publisher. Dangerous Little Books, descending upon me like an angel (insert irony here) picked up my little book and turned it into something that I hope the public finds readable. 

And so, gentle readers, it gives me excellent pleasure to announce the release of Oh, Your god!. I hope you find it as insightful and as educational as I did while writing it. Apologies for having been a little lax in keeping the blog up this summer -- I have a terrible penchant of becoming very lazy when the weather is agreeable. Here are the links to my publisher's website and the book listing on Amazon. Thanks to all who read and even more thanks to those who keep fighting the good fight.