We’re Secular, Bitch

I watched El Camino, the Netflix film that continues the story of one of the best TV series of all time, Breaking Bad.

It’s a respectable effort to complete the arc of the series from BB’s creator Vince Gilligan even if it doesn’t soar to the same heights.  Still, we get to know what happens to our favorite dim bulb sweetheart of a crystal meth maker, Jesse Pinkman, witness a brief encounter between him and… (Note: Okay, NO SPOILERS HERE!) and realize once again that once you heavily enter into the world of drug dealing and drug taking no good will come of it.

Nothing de-glorified the illicit worlds of drugs and toxic masculinity better than Breaking Bad.  It’s certainly not the only example of that in popular culture but its ability to eschew proselytizing and instead focus on the lives of the people who choose this road made it one of the most respected, watched and memorable TV series of all time.

Quality TV, bitch

Jesse Pinkman grew up in a two parent household with a Christian mom and dad who, by his own admission, did the best they could to raise him with the moral values he needed to sustain himself in the world.  He was fictional yet somehow familiar, like the lovable doofus next door who once showed potential but somehow, and in some way, went on to break bad.

Jesse came of age in the early nineties, right around time our current U.S. attorney general, William Barr, first served in that post (1991-1993).  This was under then Pres. George Bush, Sr. and at the time, as now, it was Mr. Barr’s task to set the standard for the legal, and, in turn, moral tone for the country.  In other words, he is the custodian of what passes as the rule of law.

Preach

A devout Catholic, Mr. Barr’s tone and morality have remained constant and virtually unchanged since the time young Jesse Pinkman was looking for guidance on how to be an adult.

By way of explanation, here are some nuggets from a speech Mr. Barr, our sitting A.G.,  gave this week to an audience of law students at Notre Dame Law School, many of whom never heard it because they were too busy protesting his appearance outside of the auditorium on campus from which he spoke.

…Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian for human conduct…We are told we are living in a post-Christian era, but what has replaced the Judeo-Christian moral system?… Among the militant secularists are many so-called progressives, but where is the progress?…

We see the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism…Basically every measure of this social pathology continues to gain ground…Along with the wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and a deadly drug epidemic.

….New Jersey recently passed a law requiring schools to adopt a LGBT curriculum that many feel is inconsistent with traditional Christian teaching,

….Over 70,000 people die a year from drug overdoses. …But I won’t dwell on the bitter results of the new secular age. 

Jesse is not a fan

Attorney General Barr is on a familiar frontline of American governmental religious fervor and his perception is that there is a decided lack of it that is causing the moral decay or our world.  Or at the very least, it’s lack is the primary reason for our social problems and the key to why so many people, both young and old, disobey the law, misbehave in general and seem so, well…unhappy.

If you lived through the thirties, the fifties, the eighties/nineties or were paying attention in the latter half of this decade, aka yesterday on Fox News or the Christian Broadcasting Network, you’ve heard this before.  If not, you can go through the speeches of Father Coughlin (1930s), Joseph McCarthy (1950s), both Bush POTUSes and Barr himself (1980s/1990s/2000s) and catch up.  Or better yet, view Mr. Barr’s Notre Dame speech here:

… and prepare to lose your lunch

What it boils down to is a society whose problems have mostly to do with straying from a strict RELIGIOUS doctrine. It is a school of thought that conveniently (and very purposefully) ignores the many secular advances in the world like, say, women having equal rights or laws against them being stoned in town square for cheating on their husbands – to – laws preventing members of the LGBTQ community from being fired from their place of employment, barred from their local marriage license offices or, say…being stoned in town square for simply…being.

Most importantly what it seeks to do is blame the Jesse Pinkmans of the world – either fictional or real – on the fact that they were raised in a country or household where government and home teachings of the Bible were not somehow enshrined in their being and viewed as the gold standard of citizenry, if not the requirement and guiding principle of its government and its leaders. (Note:  This would presumably include our current American “leader”).

pretty much sums up my thoughts

In times like these it is important to remember, repeat, and rinse and repeat again, that this line of thought was precisely the opposite type of doctrinaire thinking on which our country was first founded.

One of the essential pillars of American democracy is and always has been the separation of church and state.  Don’t take my word for it.  It’s the very FIRST AMENDMENT to the U.S. Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

What this means is feel free to NOT BELIEVE in God and religion or BELIEVE in any God or religion you want.  But bottom line – leave RELIGION and whatever you believe it to be out of our government.

It is also important to note that the very definition of secularism (Note: Barr’s dreaded word) is: the principle of the separation of the state from religious institutions.

You know.. unless you live in this universe  #seeyourselfoutRudy

This in no way means that we can’t consult many sources, include our religion, to define what is right and wrong individually for us.  But as a government, a basic tenant of American law is that we leave our religion at the door.

As Americans we are guided by a set of norms and law that evolve over time, not ones enshrined in early A.D or B.C.  We have our problems, particularly these days, but this freedom to think any way we like, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, is in our DNA.  It has made us the most prosperous nation in modern history and, until recently, the one country the vast majority of immigrants in the world have chosen to migrate to.

Hmmm, perhaps what this attorney general and his cohorts from up above are trying to do by him speechifying about the enshrining of our country with an old/new religion is nothing more than their latest strategy to stem immigration?

Unlikely.

The game Barr and his ilk are playing is far simpler.  In fact, it’s all about the simplicity of thought.  Quiet the masses by evoking a past that never existed and ignore, prosecute, condemn and persecute (legally or by any means necessary) anyone who dare speak against them.  When all that fails, claim the sinners are the ones taking away THEIR freedom of choice, their religion, and stifling their ability to simply be who THEY ARE.

There is an immoral majority in American society right now but it’s not the Jesse Pinkmans of the world.  Rather, it’s the members of our top government elite, such as Barr, who think we’re all too dumb to catch on to their bait and switch game of immoral strategy to retain power and do what they please behind closed doors. (Note: I’m trying NOT to imagine anything I can’t unsee or unthank).

Well, they underestimate all the rest of us sinners at their own peril, don’t they?

Hopefully.

Nick Lutsko – “The Ballad of Jesse Pinkman” 

Home is where the….?

There’s a fascinating movie now available on Amazon entitled The Last Black Man in San Francisco.  It’s a semi-autobiographical story about its star and co-writer Jimmie Fails and his odyssey to reclaim the old Victorian-style house his grandfather built many decades ago in San Francisco.

The film is about many things and is quite artfully done.  But ultimately it very masterfully asks us to consider the loaded and timeless question of:

What is home?

It’s difficult, and short sighted, NOT to think about the answer these days.

A coat of paint, and a whole lotta heart

The ravages of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, where we’re now being told current estimates of under 100 dead are likely to jump into the 1000s, are seen not only in TV satellite shots of rubble that were once more than habitable houses.  They are equally felt on the faces of every displaced Bahamian staring back at us from the wreckages or through the ache in their voices on radio or through the telephone.

That tone and those images are eerily familiar.  They build from last year’s wildfires in California, the devastation of 2017’s Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and Florida (Note: $91.61 billion in damages, according to estimates), which were preceded by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey earlier that year, which built on various other blizzards, floods, hurricanes and fires in the two years before in the U.S., all of which (and more) harken us back to what feels to be (but surely won’t be) the granddaddy/parent of them all in the U.S., Louisiana’s Hurricane Katrina (2005 and $125 billion in damages).

It is important to note that in human terms, over 150 million people were displaced internationally due to national disasters in just the time period between 2008-2013.  Still, that number doesn’t even include any of the disasters randomly mentioned above.

What she said

Nevertheless, there is ONE bright spot we can safely assume in all of this:

The vast majority of ALL of these people in all of these disasters still have a place in their lives THEY call home.

Last Black Man in San Francisco, a multiple winner at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, forces us to confront our value judgments on where people live and how they live these days.

Sure, an old Victorian townhouse in one of the great urban cities in the US is nice and trendy and all that and more.  Yet it all depends on where that particular piece of brick and metal and neighborhood fall in your personal (and racial) hierarchy and in what year it’s being rated.

How much do you think Don Draper’s whorehouse is going for these days? #stillthinkingaboutit #madmenforever #jonhamm

If you live in a big city it’s likely the hip area you’ve probably overpaid handsomely for was once a slum, an ordinary working class neighborhood or even a downtown factory outlet on the wrong side (or no side) of town.

You may think you’re hip and cool now but the same people who lived in that same place 40 years prior were on the outside world looking in and considered anything but.  Nevertheless, their place might have also been considered a whole lot homier than what you’ve made of it.  Perhaps they themselves were even a lot happier.

And if we were to really stretch the metaphor that could even be said for the guy whose only house consisted entirely of an illegal tent pitched in the alleyway of one of those streets or cul-de-sacs not more than a block from you.

Really?

Yes, truly.

Right, Chairy, it’s real easy to philosophize about all this when YOU’RE writing with a roof over YOUR over-privileged head!!

Well, perhaps.

But no one (Note: Not even Chairy) is advocating living without a bed and/or a place to stay warm or cool, is what most humans want.  It’s just that, well, NOT having these material comforts does not make anyone homeless in the truest sense of the word.

To brand a person as homeless is to dehumanize them.  It is to relegate them to a category of disenfranchised and forces them into some overall sad statistic WE can keep a healthy distance from.

It is to also put them into a group too many of us Americans these days want to keep a distance from.

When people are homeless we assume they lost the home they had, are fleeing some inferior home they occupied in some unwise place or for some unknown reason for which THEY are solely to blame.  Or are not smart enough.  Or were born into a caste system where they never really had the very basic of human needs.

Yes #kindnessalwayswins

Whichever is the case, and in some cases we assume there are many, clearly THEY are not US.  Most certainly they are also lesser than.

The images of so many immigrant families standing on line, or in 2019 American parlance cutting in line, in order to make a life in the United States is our other new version of those people without homes.  Those people who are homeless.

Imagine the effort it takes to leave the place in which you were raised by accident of your birth and come to a strange country where you likely do not speak the language and have few, if any prospects other than the fact that you won’t be murdered in cold blood.

Could YOU make the journey?  Would YOU make the journey?  Finally, WHY would YOU make the journey?

You were born and raised in Honduras, Nicaragua, Syria, Guatemala, et al.  You’d leave everything behind with the pipe dream of making your home in the United States?  What could possibly make you think a homeless person should be lucky enough to be given a HOME in the United States???

Of course, the answer is every one of those people making that journey already have a HOME, i.e. a place where they can feel safe and warm, because they brought it with them from their own country. 

We should all be the Baileys welcoming the Martinis #breadsaltwine

It might not be brick and mortar or discernible by the contents of their suitcases or the money in their wallets.  Sometimes, it is merely a spot where they know they are okay, or will be okay in the face of adversity.  For each and every one of us, home is at least partly that or we are, indeed, the ones who are truly homeless.

As the world shifts, drowns and burns, and the borders of our respective countries of origin are slowly beginning to be sealed off, it’s important we be clear on who and what makes a real home.

As the offspring of two sets of immigrant grandparents, and a member of at least two minority groups still persecuted very actively worldwide, I know how and where I LIVE is not the determinant of who I AM.

… plus it’s not like I have an infinity pool #soLA

I especially know this after buying my first house a mere three years ago in a city prone these days to natural disasters.

If I lost it tomorrow, yes, I’d be devastated.  But I would never consider myself homeless.

Nor should you.  In regards to yourself or anyone else.  And that’s especially true if you right now you are fortunate enough to have any sort of physical roof over your head.

Diana Ross – “Home” (from The Wiz)

Same Old Song?

Turner Classic Movies had Judy Garland Day last week and, being a gay man of a certain age, I couldn’t resist tuning in at one point to this 24-hour Judy film fest.

Don’t judge me.

But of all of the choices available who knew that it would be a 1961 dour melodrama about four German judges being tried before a postwar military tribunal for their collaboration with Hitler and the Third Reich, Judgment at Nuremberg, that would hit me like a ton of bricks.

I can think of at least five other Judy films that would have been more enjoyable. (Note: Okay — A Star Is Born, The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me In St. Louis, Easter Parade and I Could Go On Singing). Though none that could be more timely.

Realistically, this is how I wish I felt about today’s political climate.

In hindsight I should have predicted it. Like the currently much lauded, breakthrough post apocalyptic Hulu series, The Handmaid’s Tale (which is about to once again become a multi Emmy winner for its superb second season), you can’t go wrong in 2018 watching a story about a country of people who enable a rabid white nationalist political regime to persecute, maim and/or kill anyone they deem to be a subversive OTHER.

Unless all you want to do is escape and put your _____ in the sand.   In which case, you are not only wrong but veering towards the same sheep-like behavior portrayed by some of your fellow countrymen in that movie, that series and no doubt countless other ____________s about to come out on other platforms that will be, at least thematically, very much like them.

Whether we call it the Nazis, the power brokers of Gilead or simply Trumpism – it’s all the same thing. A regime that wants to demonize anyone outside of a select group of people they don’t judge ‘ideal’ – whether they be Jews, the non-religious or Mexican/Middle Eastern immigrants – in order to rouse a base of loyal voters whose lives they promise to improve and whose country they vow to protect and/or rebuild.

I’m gonna go ahead and add “Crippling Insecurity” to the YES column #tinyhands

This strategy is always advanced with promises to put the people of said country FIRST, declarations that said country is GREAT and proclamations that the rest of the world is NO BETTER morally than they are and usually quite INFERIOR.

Yeah, I don’t like comparing any regime, especially America’s current regime, to the Nazis. But the argument being advanced is not how successful the regime is at achieving their goals or to what ends they will get to go in order to achieve them. Instead, it’s the philosophy and the strategy.

The degree to how far they get to go – well, this is up to their subjects… er….citizenry. In other words – THIS IS UP TO US.

BRB

Again, the comparison seemed a bit reach-y. Until too many lines from Judy’s Nazi film, for which she was nominated as Oscar’s best supporting actress that year along with several other cast members in their own categories, began to ring a bell.

— It started when Marlene Dietrich’s upper crust German woman says of Hitler:

He was in awe of nobility but he hated it.

— Then it continued when Montgomery Clift’s ordinary German man recalled the times he was MOCKED by LEADERS of the power class for speaking in a way that seemed slow even when he demonstrated the ability to understand logic.

I’m with Meryl — this still makes my blood boil

— It continued when Judy’s youngish German woman recalled how her best friend, a 65 year old Jewish man, was laughed at and held up to mockery by the PUBLIC at his trial simply because he was A JEW. The charges were violating the new law outlawing A JEW having sex with A GERMAN ARYAN (Judy), a charge he was found guilty of and put to death for even though, as it turned out, it never happened.

–Then there was Marlene’s defense of herself and the German people over Americans condemning her after the war:

Listen to me, there are things that happenedon BOTH SIDES.

ummmm… WHAT?

— Which all finally led to one of the four judges on trial, eloquently played by Burt Lancaster, exposing the lies he and his fellow Germans told themselves about Hitler and the Third Reich:

We say – what difference does it make – our country is at stake – Hitler (He) will be gone after a while. Things denied to US as a democracy are open to us now…. And then one day we looked around and saw what was going to be a passing phase had become a way of life.

Yes, all of these lines were indeed written – by the great screenwriter Abby Mann – but they were based on actual transcripts and stories he culled from the real Nuremberg trials right after the end of WWII.

.. and with a cast like this to make it come to life.

They were not his thoughts he put into his characters’ mouths so much as a distillation of real sentences and opinions and ideas of the time.

Though perhaps knowing there would be a portion of their audience that still might think they were being too polemic or had gone a bit too far, the filmmakers’ “movie trial” included 5-10 minutes of REAL NEWSREEL FOOTAGE of thousands of actual naked Jewish corpses – as well as others barely alive and starving – to back up their words.

This along with clips and still photos of the real crematoriums, featuring close ups of the popular German oven manufacturer that built them. In addition to historical maps indicating the dozens of specific towns with concentration camps hidden among a significant percentage of German citizenry who either supported Hitler because he was doing some good things or because it was easier to turn a blind eye to the whole ugly mess just because.

It’s difficult to face the truths, or potential truths, of any world, especially our own, but in the end it’s far uglier not to.

or you know, truth becomes relative. #stillcantbelievethishappened

As Spencer Tracy’s presiding American judge lets us know at the end of Judgment at Nuremberg in a way only a presiding American judge played by Spencer Tracy could truly make work:

A country is what it stands for – when it’s the most difficult. We stand for justice, truth and the value of a single human being.

Or to put it in 2018 parlance: There’s a reason why Sen. John McCain, who died on Saturday, chose Barack Obama and George W. Bush, a former Democratic president and a former Republican president, to deliver the eulogies at his Capitol Hill memorial service this week rather than the current sitting President of Trumpism.