Saturday, March 20, 2004

With a friend like Bush ...

I don't think Spain was right to kowtow to Al Qaeda in its latest elections, and I suspect voters will regret their decision sooner rather than later. Still, I think I understand why Spain intends to withdraw from our coalition, and why Poland may soon follow suit. After the terrorist attacks in Madrid, Bush had to make some dramatic gesture to affirm our solidarity. America had to tell Spain in no uncertain terms that anyone who attacks our allies, attacks us as well -- and that we were willing to commit whatever resources were necessary to ensure that the perpetrators were caught and dealt with. Instead, Bush appeared aloof, nonchalant, perhaps indecisive. We have paid for this bit of diplomatic incompetence, and I fear we'll keep paying for quite some time.

Still, America's conduct in the "war on terror" hasn't been the fiasco some leftists claim, not by a long shot. The remarkable successes with Libya and Iraq should tell us that Bush knows how to handle enemies. Luckily for his political future, he now has an inexhaustible supply of those.

Bush's main problem is that he has never figured out how to work with allies. He leads a team of nations against terrorism, yet never behaves like a team player. He neither supports, consults nor defers to world leaders who offer assistance at considerable political risk. Most of the time, he treats other members of the coalition as if they weren't even there, which is why those patently false accusations of "unilateralism" gain force both here and abroad. Worst of all, even when dealing with his closest friends he tends to prefer the strong arm to friendly persuasion, the stick to the carrot.

The allies Bush has managed to alienate through blundering intimidation include his fellow Americans. Our president assaulted individual privacy and civil liberties, implementing several programs designed for the "war on drugs," not the "war on terror" (unsurprisingly, these programs have had no discernible impact on terrorism itself). He rapidly expanded unrelated government entitlements, diverting resources away from military expenses. Finally, he made a divisive assault on the human rights of Gays and Lesbians, many of whom are fighting in foreign lands as we speak.

Frankly, if we are at war, then Bush's leadership has been frequently disastrous. But if we're not at war, then the President is either mistaken or lying when he claims we are.

Friday, March 19, 2004

That's entertainment ...

Coming soon to a theater near you (more or less) it's Book of Mormon: The Movie! For the connoisseur of stinky cheese, this tiny trailer promises big fun: Most of it features a few dozen extras wandering aimlessly through desert flats near Salt Lake City. The film also offers fetching beefcake and hilariously bad acting, so if you're into old Hercules flicks, this ought to be right up your alley. Best of all, if you're a Gay man you just might get to take a missionary lad home with you.

Meanwhile, the DVD of another evangelical film has slipped into your local Wal-Mart. I'm talking about James Barden's Judas Project, gentle readers. This modern-day retelling of Jesus's life looks even wackier than the Mel Gibson version. All reports state that Judas is awful, even by the lax artistic standards of Christian filmmaking, which means Barden might be the evangelical answer to Ed Wood. His production photos are just plain disturbing.


Thursday, March 18, 2004

Dawn of the Dead and ressentiment

I probably won't see the remake of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. I love the original, though I think Romero lost the eeriness of Night of the Living Dead when he decided to make Dawn in color. But the remake has one major problem that I could see from a mile away.

To paraphrase James Carville, it's the zombies, stupid. In the remake, they're first-rate badasses. They act as if they were on a constant adrenaline high. They have extra speed and super strength. They are powerful. They're much like the beefed-up, overcaffeinated, perpetually angry "infecteds" in Danny Boyle's recent 28 Days Later. And they're all wrong.

Romero's zombies are weak, slow and stupid. You could outsmart one, outrun it, or if need be, take it down in a fair fight. The only problem is, these zombies vastly outnumber any humans still alive. The ratio is several dozen zombies to one warm body in Night; by Day of the Dead it's grown to something like several hundred thousand to one.

In Romero's Dead trilogy, zombie attacks become an objective correlative for what Nietzsche called ressentiment. They involve a mobocratic tyranny, as weak and incompetent corpses band together and achieve a dominance over the living minority that they could not otherwise attain. It's no surprise, then, that Romero's zombie attacks usually involve a surrender of the individual "live" person to a mob of walking dead. Dawn and Day both feature an attack in which dozens of zombie bodies burst from an enclosed space (in Dawn, an elevator; in Day, a locked roof) and overwhelm a human in a wave attack. Most telling, though, is that when the zombies attack, their arms are outstretched toward the victim, as if they were begging for something. Which, in a manner of speaking, they are: They all want a little piece (or maybe a big piece) of the human victim. Engulfed in this mob's sudden coercive demand, the living human falls to the ground, where seething masses literally devour him.

Seldom do these zombies succeed at a one-on-one attack, and when they do, it's usually because the victim has a misplaced sense of compassion. Of course, Nietzsche claimed that along with democracy, compassion and religion were other weapons that the weak routinely use against the strong. But in Romero's Dead trilogy, victims of one-on-one attacks seldom die quickly; instead, they malinger for days, "infected" by a deadly virus which apparently all walking dead carry. Upon their death, they become assimilated into the faceless mob. Compassion for the weak comes with a very heavy penalty.

Of course, the survivors in Romero's films don't fare too well, either: Their individualistic tendencies lead to squabbling and bickering. In the Dead trilogy this infighting becomes an all-too-predictable motif. Individuals seem more concerned with battling each other than with defeating the hordes of walking dead, and as a result they are unable to form the coalitions necessary to turn the tables on the mob.

Nietzsche's vision of individualism was no less tragic. The social apparatus, fueled by ressentiment, stacks the deck against the great-souled man (or ubermensch) to the point that his only real options are to withdraw or perish. Dawn and Day opt for withdrawal; Night, the most bracing and unnerving of the three, chooses death instead. Ayn Rand attempted to resolve this basic problem in Atlas Shrugged by uniting all productive men and women. Yet she fails to recognize that John Galt's crypto-fascist consensus of resistance is no more conducive to individual activity than the repressive societies these productive folk attempt to resist.

Whatever we can say of Romero, he is at least smarter than Rand. His zombie flicks frighten us not just because they're gory or shocking, but because they insinuate that, much as we may like the idea of individualism, it may not have much of a future in an increasingly mobocratic society. The idea of being overwhelmed by stinking masses, of being forced into a way of life (or death) we would not choose for ourselves, lies at the maggot-infested heart of the original Dead trilogy. That's why it disturbs us long after the lights come up.

Bush lied

When it comes to the Bush administration, Andrew Sullivan has finally seen the light:

I have to say that I have been culpably naive about this administration .... They led me to believe they weren't hostile to gay people, that they would not use anti-gay sentiment to gain votes, that they would not roll back very basic protections for gay federal employees. I was lied to. We were all lied to. But now we know.

I may be somewhat less culpable than Sullivan, inasmuch as very few people read my blog and a great many people read his. Still, I am a collaborator in this great evil that Bush is perpetrating against Gay and Lesbian Americans. The GOP deceived me with promises of a "big tent," when all along it was the party of bigotry, prejudice and intolerance. I was wrong to trust their lies; I will not make that mistake twice.

If a terrorist act harmed even a thousand Americans, our nation would be up in arms. We would demand to know the perpetrators. We would seek them out and bring them to justice. And that is as it should be. But when President Bush supports a Constitutional amendment attacking the human rights of fifteen to thirty million Americans, we act as if it's business as usual in Washington.

For Gay and Lesbian Americans, our government has become a greater threat to our lives, fortunes and sacred honor than Al Qaeda could ever be.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Charles Portis

According to the Boston Globe (via TMFTML), Charles Portis is working on a new novel. His last book, Gringos, was published in 1991: Other than a few pieces for the Atlantic Monthly, he has been silent ever since.

Here's a link to my own essay on Portis.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Marshall's Trojan Horse

Over the past several weeks, Andrew Sullivan has been asking David Frum which, if any, of the thousand-plus rights and benefits granted to married opposite-sex couples he would permit for same-sex couples. Frum gave his answer a week and a half ago: None whatsoever. But he explains that his absolutist position, however brutal, isn't quite as mean-spirited as it might first appear:

So what are couple-minded homosexuals to do? Everything that Andrew says he wishes to do can be done through the private law of contract. People can buy houses together, create powers of attorney, write wills, and so on ? and in fact these agreements would be a good deal more powerful and binding than the marriage-in-some-states-but-not-others that Andrew now advocates.

That's a significant loophole. In theory, it is possible for a same-sex couple with years of legal training, months of effort, and thousands of dollars to spend in attorneys' fees to create a living arrangement through private contracts that can confer a handful of marital rights and privileges on the parties involved -- that is, as long as no one challenges said contracts in court. Such contracts, however, don't offer much in the way of protection when it really counts: Hospitals frequently deny visitation rights to even the most legally entangled same-sex partners; in most states same-sex partners can't file suit for wrongful death; inheritance rights get incredibly messy for unmarried partners, even when there's a will; same-sex couples receive none of the federal benefits ordinarily granted to married couples. Small wonder most same-sex couples don't bother with it.

But even those minimal protections are too much for anti-Gay activists in Virginia. To defend opposite-sex marriage from same-sex couples who might want to protect each other in any way whatsoever, lunatic delegate Rob Marshall has stepped in to abrogate, even nullify, this "private law of contract" inasmuch as it could apply to persons of the same sex. Unconstitutional, you say? Well, that's for those activist judges to decide. Here's the full text of HB 751, otherwise known as the "Marriage Affirmation Act":

A civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage is prohibited. Any such civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement entered into by persons of the same sex in another state or jurisdiction shall be void in all respects in Virginia and any contractual rights created thereby shall be void and unenforceable.

No one can quite figure out what this bill means, though everyone agrees it's incredibly broad in scope. The term "civil union" is nebulous but not altogether undefined. Still, Virginia law already prohibits them. "Partnership contracts" are much less clear: They could (and do) refer to business agreements as well as private legal entanglements. Of course, the real kicker is that last phrase, "other arrangement," which could be anything at all -- private, business, public, legal, extra-legal, whatever. We don't know how many of the privileges or obligations of marriage a contract, union or "other arrangement" would have to confer to be "void and unenforceable" in Virginia -- perhaps as few as one, or as many as a thousand. So since documents like living wills, powers of attorney, or joint ownership agreements confer some of "the privileges or obligations of marriage," the state of Virginia can nullify any or all of them, just as long as these contracts are made between persons of the same sex.

But under HB 751, the State cannot immediately and arbitrarily void a contract if it occurs between persons of the opposite sex. So if two unmarried friends in Virginia want to own a house together, one had better be a man and the other a woman -- otherwise a state court could throw their entire "arrangement" out the window. The same could go for two business partners, or for any two persons of the same gender who enter, by mutual consent, into any contract. Unless one party is a man and the other is a woman, the legal status of any private contract or agreement between two persons would be shaky at best.

Of course, if two persons involved in a contract are Gay and of the same sex, this bill would virtually guarantee that their civil right to form legal contracts with each other couldn't survive a legal challenge in Virginia. That, in turn, would bring Virginia one step closer to what anti-Gay activists really want: A constitutional statute claiming that Gay persons have no rights which our government is bound to respect.

Marshall's marriage bill is a Trojan horse, and as a marriage bill it rings hollow (as any Trojan horse should). Yet within lies a radical assault on individual liberty and contract law. The House and Senate have passed the bill with an overwhelming margin of bipartisan support. If governor Mark Warner vetoes it, he will almost certainly be overruled, so the only question left is whether or not he will sign.

Goodbye, "private law of contract." Hello, nightmare of endless litigation.

Update (1:00 p.m.): Matthew J. Franck of Virginia's own Radford University writes an anti-miscegenation article for today's National Review Online. Since the arguments for interracial marriage are so similar to arguments for same-sex marriage, Franck seems to have decided he doesn't much like Loving v. Virginia, either.


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