Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Morning Male Beauty

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East

As noted in one or more previous posts, much of the disaster which is today's Middle East stems from the aftermath of World War I when the victorious French and British carved up what had been the Ottoman Empire and drew boundaries to nations such as what became Iraq with no regard to the ethnic and religious divisions of the region - much to the dismay of T.E. Lawrence, a/k/a Lawrence of Arabia.  Even the ongoing violence in Gaza traces in part back to the bad decisions made in 1919-1920.  A book, "Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East," looks at this reality and also the troubled life of the real Lawrence of Arabia who may have suffered from what we now know as post traumatic stress disorder.  Here are excerpts from an introduction to the book:
On the morning of October 30, 1918, Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence received a summons to Buckingham Palace.  The  king had requested his presence.

The collective mood in London that day was euphoric. For the past four years and three months, Great Britain and much of the rest of the world had been consumed by the bloodiest conflict in recorded history, one that had claimed the lives of some sixteen million people across three continents. Now, with a speed that scarcely could have been imagined mere weeks earlier, it was all coming to an end. On that same day, one of Great Britain’s three principal foes, the Ottoman Empire, was accepting peace terms, and the remaining two, Germany and Austria-Hungary, would shortly follow suit. Colonel Lawrence’s contribution  to that war effort had been in its Middle  Eastern theater,  and he too was caught quite off guard by its rapid close. At the beginning of that month, he had still been in the field assisting in the capture of Damascus, an event that heralded the collapse of the Ottoman army. Back in England for less than a week, he was already consulting with those senior British statesmen and generals tasked with mapping out the postwar borders of the Middle East, a once-fanciful endeavor that had now become quite urgent. Lawrence was apparently under the impression that his audience with King George V that morning was to discuss those ongoing deliberations.

He was mistaken.
Once at the palace, the thirty-year-old  colonel was ushered into a ballroom where, flanked by a half dozen dignitaries and a coterie of costumed courtiers, the king and queen soon entered. A low cushioned stool had been placed just before the king’s raised dais, while to the monarch’s immediate right, the lord chamberlain held a velvet pillow on which an array of medals rested. After introductions were made, George V fixed his guest with a smile: “I have some presents for you.” 

Except Lawrence didn’t kneel. Instead, just as the ceremony got under way, he quietly informed the king that he was refusing the honor.  There followed a moment of confusion. Over the nine-hundred-year history of the monarchy, the refusal of knighthood was such an extraordinary event that there was no protocol for how to handle it. Eventually, King George returned to the lord chamberlain’s pillow the medal he had been awkwardly holding, and under the baleful gaze of a furious Queen Mary, Colonel Lawrence turned and walked away.

TODAY,  MORE  THAN  seven  decades  after  his death,  and  nearly  a century since the exploits that made him famous, Thomas Edward Lawrence—“Lawrence of Arabia,” as he is better known—remains one of the most enigmatic and controversial figures of the twentieth century. Despite scores of biographies, countless scholarly studies, and at least three  movies, including one considered a masterpiece, historians have never quite decided what to make of the young, bashful Oxford scholar who rode into battle at the head of an Arab army and changed history.

One reason for the contentiousness over his memory has to do with the terrain he traversed. Lawrence was both eyewitness to and participant in some of the most pivotal events leading to the creation of the modern Middle East,
and this is a corner of the earth where even the simplest assertion is dissected and parsed and argued over. In the unending debates over the roots of that region’s myriad fault lines, Lawrence has been alternately extolled and pilloried, sanctified, demonized, even diminished to a footnote, as political goals require.

[T]he cardinal sin of these debates is that they obscure the most beguiling riddle of Lawrence’s story: How did he do it? How did a painfully shy Oxford archaeologist without a single day of military training become the battlefield commander of a foreign revolutionary army, the political master strategist who foretold so many of the Middle Eastern calamities to come?

The short answer might seem somewhat anticlimactic: Lawrence was able to become “Lawrence of Arabia” because no one was paying much attention.  Amid the vast slaughter occurring across the breadth of Europe in World War I, the Middle Eastern theater  of that war was of markedly secondary importance. Within that theater, the Arab Revolt to which Lawrence became affiliated was, to use his own words, “a sideshow of a sideshow.” . . . .  in the view of British war planners, if a young army officer left largely to his own devices could sufficiently organize the fractious Arab tribes to harass their Turkish enemy, all to the good. Of course, it wouldn’t be very long before both the Arab Revolt and the Middle East became vastly more important to the rest of the world, but this was a possibility barely considered indeed, it could hardly have been imagined—at the time.

But this isn’t the whole story either. That’s because the low regard with which British war strategists viewed events in the Middle East found reflection in the other great warring powers. As a result, these powers, too, relegated their military efforts in the region to whatever could be spared from the more important  battlefields elsewhere, consigning the task of intelligence gathering and fomenting rebellion and forging alliances to men with résumés just as modest and unlikely as Lawrence’s.

[T]here remain at least two compelling reasons why T. E. Lawrence and his story should reside firmly at its center. The  modern Middle East was largely created by the British. It was they who carried the Allied war effort in the region during World War I and who, at its close, principally fashioned its peace. It was a peace presaged by the nickname given the region by covetous Allied leaders in war- time: “the Great Loot.” As one of Britain’s most important and influential agents in that arena, Lawrence was intimately connected to all, good and bad, that was to come.

Second, and as the episode at Buckingham Palace attests, this was an experience that left him utterly  changed, unrecognizable in certain respects even to himself. Victory carries a moral burden the vanquished never know, and as an architect of momentous events, Lawrence would be uniquely haunted by what he saw and did during the Great Loot.
Though not mentioned in the introduction, relevantt to me at least is the fact that Lawrence is considered to have been gay - he once wrote that the love of his life had been an Arab youth who died during the war and left Lawrence emotionally devastated.  Despite the Christofascist and Catholic Church efforts to denigrate gays, we have played critical roles through out history and on many occasions, perhaps the world's future would have been better if others had listened to our insights.

Christofascists Whine: "Gaystapo" Claims Its Latest 'Victim'

The Christofascists' shrieks of "Christian persecution" continue and now they claim that gays - the "Gaystapo" - have claimed another martyr.   Bob Eschliman, editor of the Iowa Newton Daily News, (in Iowa) used his personal blog to attack gays and compared us to the Gestapo, the dreaded Nazi secret police that left a bloody trail in its wake.  Eschliman's employers were not amused and he was fired.  Now, he claims that his First Amendment rights have been attacked and denied to him.  Like most Christofascists, Eschliman forgets that his rights do not trump all others - such as the right of the newspaper's owners to protect their business' reputation and standing.  The Daily Beast looks at this latest example of feigned "Christian persecution."  Here are excerpts:
In April, the goateed editor of the Jasper County, Iowa Newton Daily News, Bob Eschliman, took to his personal blog to talk about Jesus and compare homosexuals to the Gestapo, as one does. When he was then fired, he felt as though he was under attack for his personal choice to live as he pleases — according to his interpretation of the Bible — and presumably saw no irony in that whatsoever.

His incendiary post was promptly deleted (along with the rest of the blog) after being flagged by journalist Jim Romenesko, but it read, in part: "[Jesus] said there would be deceivers. He said those deceivers would cause Christians who remain true to His teachings to become reviled. He said false prophets would follow to deceive even more, and that lawlessness will abound…If you ask me, it sounds like the Gaystapo is well on its way. We must fight back against the enemy."

Eschliman took this to mean that his First Amendment rights were violated, and teamed up with the Liberty Institute, a right-wing Christian advocacy group, to sue — just like Jesus would have done.

In his complaint, Eschliman charges that he "penned a theologically based article stating my sincerely held religious beliefs" and in firing him, "Shaw Media [the paper's parent company] directly discriminated against me because of my religious beliefs and my identity as an evangelical Christian who believes in Holy Scripture and the Biblical view of marriage."

The Daily Beast reached out to Eschliman to ask about the definition and etymology of the term "Gaystapo." He has not yet responded.

However, according to Urban Dictionary's top result, submitted by user "supafly rabbi," the definition of Gaystapo is, "militant homosexual activists. Instead of thugs they use lawyers to get their way." Supafly Rabbi offers the sample sentence: "massachusetts has been taken over by the gaystapo."

Is the Chamber of Commerce Trying to Kill the Frankenstein Monster It Created?

I often condemn the GOP establishment for allowing the Christofascists and Tea Party crowd to infiltrate and then largely take over the base of the Republican Party.  As these insane individuals moved in like a metastasizing cancer, sane and rational people - at least those willing to open their eyes to reality - fled the party in shock and disgust that embracing ignorance, open racism and religious fanaticism were now pillars of the GOP agenda.  In more recent years one of the groups that helped fuel this take over of the GOP by outright crazy people and extremist was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  As a piece in the New York Times reports, the Chamber seems to belatedly realized that it helped create a monster that will be difficult to kill.  As the piece notes, better late than never, perhaps.  Here are highlights:
As Edward Luce noted this week in The Financial Times, this Congress won’t countenance any of the things that business — and the chamber — care about. Immigration reform is dead. Congress won’t raise the gas tax to fund the Highway Trust Fund. Revamping the corporate tax rate can’t even get a hearing. And on, and on. 

It is possible that the chamber didn’t quite realize what it was getting when it helped elect those Tea Party freshmen in 2010 — few people did until they began to flex their muscles. But it is equally possible that it didn’t care.  (“The chamber is not an arm of either party and is not ‘aligned’ with either party,” a spokesman told me in an email.)

In the 16 years he has run the Chamber of Commerce, Donohue has turned it into a potent force, in no small part by making it more partisan. But by being so blindly pro-Republican, the chamber “unleashed a Frankenstein that has spun out of control,” said Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, which monitors the Chamber of Commerce. That became most clear during the debt ceiling and deficit fights of the last few years — when the Tea Party Republicans seemed so determined to shrink government that they were even willing to default on the government’s debt. The chamber reacted in horror.
I’m told that after the 2012 election, at yet another Committee of 100 gathering, a former Democratic congressman, Dave McCurdy, who now runs the American Gas Association, stood up and criticized Donohue for his “all-in” Republican strategy. He told Donohue that everybody in the room was pro-business, but they weren’t all Republicans, and that if the chamber really wanted to be effective again, it needed to take on the Tea Party and the right wing of the Republican Party in favor of more moderate candidates of both parties.

As the 2014 midterms near, that seems to be the approach the Chamber of Commerce is taking. It has gotten involved in Republican primaries, siding with the more moderate Republican in a race — though perhaps it is more accurate to say the less radical Republican. At the most recent Committee of 100 meeting, Rob Engstrom, the chamber’s national political director, told the group that the chamber planned to support Mary Landrieu, the Louisiana Democrat who is running for re-election to the Senate.

Better late than never.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Tea Party’s Self-Defeating Hate And Focus on the Wrong Villians

Two things define most members of the Tea Party: they embrace ignorance and they self-identify as conservative Christians (perhaps the two go hand in hand?).  But there is another attribute that is defining: they allow themselves to be played for fools by those like the Koch brothers who are working hard with the Republican Party to return America to a Gilded Age society.  Among the long term losers will be the Tea Party members themselves.  They are simply either too stupid or too blinded by their hatred of those who are different to figure this reality out.  A piece in Salon looks at the phenomenon.  Here are sample excerpts:
When it comes to hating immigrants, the Tea Party has nothing on Samuel Gompers.

Gompers, the founder of what became today’s AFL-CIO, was so appalled by the immigrants pouring into the United States in the late 19th century, and so convinced that they were undermining wages for his union members, that he penned an anti-Asian pamphlet entitled “Meat vs. Rice: American Manhood Against Coolieism: Which Shall Survive?”

“Caucasians are not going to let their standard of living be destroyed by Negroes, Chinamen, Japs or any others,” Gompers fulminated on another occasion, expanding his race-baiting from Asians to black people.

Gompers and the Tea Party have this in common: Both rose to prominence during times of tremendous economic inequality in America. Gompers was the most significant labor leader of the Gilded Age. The Tea Party is a nativist, populist reaction to our modern Age of Inequality. And both blamed immigrants for the nation’s distress.

The Gilded Age and today’s Great Divergence occurred when the nation’s foreign-born population was at historic highs. By contrast, America’s wealth has never been shared more broadly than it was in the late 1960s, at the end of a four-decade ban on immigrants. There is evidence that mass immigration lowers wages and widens the gap between the wealthy and the middle class. But don’t blame the immigrants. Blame the companies that exploit them as a source of cheap labor, and the laws that allow them to do so.

Consider what happened after the Civil War, when refugees from the peasant kingdoms of Italy, Austria-Hungary and Russia began thronging the United States. Uneducated and accustomed to subservience, they were ideally suited for exploitation by the titans of the era. Andrew Carnegie (an immigrant himself, but from Scotland) used Hungarians and Slavs to break a strike by native-born coal miners in 1884. When the Hungarians and Slavs went on strike a few years later, he imported Italians. There were always newcomers willing to work for less.

Not surprisingly, Gompers and other labor leaders supported the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, an anti-immigrant law inspired by the same nativist backlash that had brought about Prohibition. Through a system of quotas restricting the number of visas for each country to 2 percent of the nationality living in the U.S. in 1890, the act essentially cut off immigration for the next 40 years. While Great Britain (from which Gompers himself had emigrated) was entitled to 34,000 visas a year, as a reflection of America’s British stock, Italy was limited to 3,800. Chinese and Japanese were banned entirely.

In the first decade of the 20th century, 8.2 million immigrants arrived in the United States. From the 1930s through the 1960s, only 7.2 million came here. 

It is not surprising that immigration is a focus of the Tea Party’s populist resentment. Non-college-educated whites may always be skeptical of mass immigration — and of politicians who support it. Their opposition to immigration isn’t just about race. It’s about money, too.

So, if banning immigration drove up wages in the 20th century, why don’t we do it again? For one thing, no matter the wishes of today’s nativists, a new Johnson-Reed Act would be impossible to pass, or enforce. It was an isolationist measure that has no place in a globalized world. We could, theoretically, cut off immigration from Africa, Europe and Asia, but the United States shares a border with a much poorer neighbor, which provides a constant supply of unskilled labor. Latino communities are now so well established in American cities that they have the political influence to demand open immigration policies. In Northern cities, Latinos are nowhere close to being the “foreigners” they were in the 1920s.

“In many of these [low-wage] occupations and industries, vulnerable immigrants cannot exercise their labor rights or speak out against unfair or illegal working conditions without the fear of retaliation,” said Jose Mejia of the California State Council of Laborers.

We could also repeal the ban on immigrants collecting SNAP and Medicaid benefits during their first five years in the United States. Passed as part of the 1996 welfare reform, the ban reduces immigrants’ economic options, and thus their ability to refuse the worst jobs.

If the Tea Party really wants to reduce the impact of immigration on American wages, they should lobby for laws that make life easier for immigrants, not laws that aim to drive them out of the country.

Why the Border Crisis Is a Myth

Anti-immigrant Tea Party fanatics have been protesting along the U.S. - Mexico border outraged, I mean outraged, that non-whites are attempting to cross into the United States to escape violence and hardship in their Central American countries.  The hypocrisy of these "real Americans" is three fold: (i) they are descendants of immigrants themselves, (ii) while they are attacking Barack Obama, the law at the center of the debate was passed on George W. Bush's watch in 2008, and (iii) they falsely claim to be godly Christians even though the reject they Gospel message and seemingly learned nothing from the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Now, an El Paso, Texas judge suggests that the "border crisis" is in some ways a myth.  Here are excerpts from her op-ed in the New York Times:

TO hear the national news media tell the story, you would think my city, El Paso, and others along the Texas-Mexico border were being overrun by children — tens of thousands of them, some with their mothers, arriving from Central America in recent months, exploiting an immigration loophole to avoid deportation and putting a fatal strain on border state resources.

There’s no denying the impact of this latest immigration wave or the need for more resources. But there’s no crisis. Local communities like mine have done an amazing job of assisting these migrants. 

Rather, the myth of a “crisis” is being used by politicians to justify ever-tighter restrictions on immigration, play to anti-immigrant voters in the fall elections and ignore the reasons so many children are coming here in the first place.

Contrary to the heated pronouncements, this is nothing we haven’t seen before. Groups of refugees arrive by plane and are processed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. When they are released, Annunciation House takes them to a shelter where they get a shower, a place to sleep, meals and even health care — all provided by volunteers and private donations. 

The families of the refugees also help, often paying for travel costs and taking them into their homes. The refugees then move on, to Florida, Georgia, New York or elsewhere. 

While the numbers of refugees arriving in El Paso are a fraction of the number arriving in McAllen, in southern Texas, the chain of events is generally the same. Like El Paso, South Texas is not the permanent destination for these refugees. And the response from McAllen’s citizens has been generous, too. 

The same can’t be said of our politicians. What we are hearing from Austin and Washington is an almost Pavlovian response to immigration concerns. My governor, Rick Perry, a Republican, announced this week that he was sending 1,000 National Guard soldiers, at a cost of $12 million a month, to bolster the border.

In Texas, state legislators and the Department of Public Safety are planning to spend an additional $30 million over six months to create a “surge” of state law enforcement resources, an expenditure that some in our state’s Capitol would like to see made permanent. 

The costs are significant. Every day we detain an undocumented child immigrant, it costs Immigration and Customs Enforcement — i.e., the taxpayer — $259 per person, significantly more than we spend to educate a child in a middle-class school district.

The irony is that this cash-intensive strategy comes from leaders who consistently underfund health care, transportation and education. And they ignore the crucial fact that children crossing our borders aren’t trying to sneak around law enforcement: They are running to law enforcement.

This effort to take away rights that were granted when there was significantly less anti-immigrant fervor isn’t just shortsighted and expensive, it’s un-American. We can debate the wisdom of providing greater protection to Central American children than to Mexican children, but there can be no doubt that giving safe haven to a child facing violence in a country that cannot protect its most vulnerable citizens is what a civilized country, with the resources we possess, should do. 

Bachmann: LGBT Movement Has A Pro-Pedophilia Agenda

Some are thrilled that the extremely delusional Michele Bachmann has said that she may consider another presidential run in 2016.  Few - other than perhaps Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum - could help  keep the lunacy and extremism of today's GOPin open view more than Bachmann.  Among Bachmann's opening salvos are her claims that "child rape is the result of gay rights" and that the LGBT movement is trying to “abolish age of consent laws.”  Bachmann is truly a foul and nasty piece of work who belongs in a mental ward as opposed to running for any public office of any kind.  Think Progress looks at Bachmann's batshitery.  Here are highlights:
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has a long history of disparaging the LGBT community, and it seems she is not done. In a radio interview this week, Bachmann claimed that the LGBT movement is trying to “abolish age of consent laws.”

Bachmann told Faith & Liberty Host Dave Garrison that there is an effort underway to “do away with statutory rape laws,” so that “adults would be able to freely prey on little children sexually. That’s the deviance that we’re seeing embraced in our culture today.”

The only concerns that have been raised about statutory rape laws is that they unfairly discriminate against same-sex couples. Many states have a “Romeo and Juliet” exception that protects young people who engage in a sexual relationship with someone under the age of consent but who is still close in age, such that a 17-year-old would not be convicted of statutory rape for having sex with a 15-year-old, even though the 15-year-old would not be allowed to legally consent. But many of these state laws only apply to different-sex couples, so a same-sex couple that is similar in age would be more vulnerable to prosecution, jail, and sex-offender status, just because of their sexual orientation.

Second Court Strikes Down Florida's Gay Marriage Ban

Following in the wake of a narrower ruling issued inn Monroe County, Florida, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel ruled Florida's ban on same sex marriage to be unconstitutional and in a sweeping opinion stated the obvious:
“serves only to hurt, to discriminate, to deprive same-sex couples and their families of equal dignity, to label and treat them as second-class citizens, and to deem them unworthy of participation in one of the fundamental institutions of our society,”

In every state where such bans have been passed, the true motivation of the Christofascists who led the charge has been anti-gay animus and the goal of keeping gays and inferior under the law. To punish us, if you will, for refusing to live our lives in accordance with the Christofascists' hate and fear based religious dogma.  Kudos to Judge Zabel for calling a spade a spade.  The Miami Herald has more details.  Here are highlights:
A Miami-Dade judge declared Florida’s gay-marriage ban unconstitutional on Friday, in a sweeping ruling that cut a wide swath through American history — from the Declaration of Independence to slavery to Jim Crow to equality for women — as much as it drew from recent Supreme Court decisions.

Preventing same-sex couples from marrying, “serves only to hurt, to discriminate, to deprive same-sex couples and their families of equal dignity, to label and treat them as second-class citizens, and to deem them unworthy of participation in one of the fundamental institutions of our society,” Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel said.

Zabel became the second South Florida judge in eight days to declare that Florida’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses.

Read more here:

Last week, a Keys judge also ruled the ban unconstitutional. That ruling was stayed when the state attorney general’s office appealed, and Zabel stayed her own order Friday pending an appeal, saying she understood her decision would not be the “final word” on the issue.

Read more here:

Among other landmark Supreme Court cases, Zabel cited Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 case in which the court threw out all state prohibitions against interracial marriage.

Zabel said fundamental constitutional rights are not subject to majority approval. “A state’s constitution cannot insulate a law that otherwise violates the U.S. Constitution,” she wrote. “The United States Constitution would be meaningless if its principles were not shielded from the will of the majority.”

John Stemberger, who led the 2008 campaign to amend the state constitution, was vehemently critical of Zabel’s decision, especially her reference to the Supreme Court case on interracial marriage.

Read more here:

Anthony Verdugo, president of the conservative Christian Family Coalition, called Zabel’s ruling “corrupt” and “simply illegitimate.”

“It goes against Windsor because Windsor says the states have the right to regulate marital relations,” Verdugo said. “It goes against that precedent. She has inserted herself into that federal document to overthrow eight million votes. Voter rights is a fundamental freedom. She has overthrown and violated voter rights.”

But Elizabeth Schwartz, a Miami Beach lawyer for the six Miami-Dade couples, said Zabel’s ruling “makes it crystal clear why the Florida marriage bans are unconstitutional.”

“Judge Zabel considered, enumerated and rejected the meritless arguments of the anti-equality forces,” Schwartz said. “We’re anxious to move forward to appeal on the strength of this soaring order.”
Read more here:

What's really corrupt and illegitimate is the Christofascists bigotry and demands that others subscribe to their ugly religious beliefs.

Read more here: