Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Who Says You Can't Herd Cats?

A couple of nights ago, at our Progressive Democrats of America meeting, the topic of discussion was the difficulty of getting progressives to cooperate with each other on a cohesive agenda. Although I didn't hear this expression at the meeting, it was basically the old lament that "You can't herd cats."

Now, I don't know how good an analogy that is. I herd my cats every day: whenever I feed them, and whenever I go to the bathroom. Then, all four of 'em always run right along behind me. They never miss a meal, and they like to gather around the potty to bond with Mommy. To them it is not a private moment, but very much a family affair.

The complain about progessives is that we're all over the place. That we don't ALL agree on anything. And while we probably do really agree on most matters, it's certainly true that each of us seems to have our own burning, non-negotiable issue. Some insist we must all turn vegan, others that we must either accept or reject religious faith, while still others care mainly about reproductive choice, or gender equity, or labor empowerment, or whatever else. Of course this fragmentation is a legitimate cause for concern; we really do need to come together to work and fight for progress in a bigger, broader sense.

I, of course, have my own opinion as to what is most important -- what the overriding principle of the Left should be. Of course I do. My vote for primary necessity goes to the freedom of conscience. Whether this takes the form of religious faith -- as it does with me -- or simply of conscience in a general, non-religious sense, freedom of conscience is the essential basis, I believe, for all else.

The Right Wing, now led by the fanatical "Christian" Taliban, is hell-bent on the destruction of freedom of conscience for that very reason. The fact that they try so hard to hide their real agenda behind a counterfeit crusade for "religious freedom" -- meaning, for them, religious freedom for no one but themselves -- only underscores the evil here. These people would sully and corrupt the very values in which they so loudly claim to believe.

It is time for us to rally behind the one cause that MUST succeed if progress is to be achieved -- or the civilized world to be saved from destruction. May the misguided souls who want to drive people of faith out of the public square come to their senses about this before it is too late.

We need to learn how to herd cats. I've had a lot of practice at it, and even some real success. I'll do all I can to show the way.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam..."

Even armed with state-of-the-art filtering software, every day I find my email inbox cluttered with spam. Increasingly, not only in the "Spam" box, but in my regular inbox. It is as if Yahoo has been bombarded with so much of it, it is getting too exhausted to put it in its proper place.

Surfing the Internet, I find myself, more and more, playing Whack-a-Mole with advertising pop-ups. There are some sites I will no longer even visit because I know how bad the harrassment will be.

The desperation of the sales pitches -- the sheer, hysterical aggressiveness of them -- is unnerving. With all the dollars concentated so heavily, now, at the top, those underneath must scratch and scramble for every loose penny simply to survive. This is worse than degrading; it is insane.

Is it any wonder that, to some of the Fourteenth-Century dwellers in the Middle East, modernity seems like a scary thing?

What makes the situation worse, for nine-tenths of humankind on this planet, is that the richest ten percent "must" take so much more than it needs, or even knows what to do with. The entire situation is totally unsustainable. And it is long since past time for the ninety percent to take control.

Global warming, ozone depletion, famine, flooding, terrorism and war will only increase if this is not done. We are now getting only a tiny, frightening, peek-between-the-fingers glimpse at the Apocalypse to come.

Perhaps most troubling of all is the fact that those who claim to be trying to save us from that Apocalypse -- the rabidly, reactionarily religious of every sort -- are actually those who are cooperating the most slavishly with the forces bringing it all on. Because of terrorism, we're told we need to wage an endless "war on terror." Which only leads to more terrorism in reaction. Those who claim, in the "Christian" West, to be battling against the Antichrist -- in whatever sense they see this conflict taking shape -- actually are antichrists, themselves.

No matter how many teabaggy tantrums these people throw, the rest of us are now beginning to recognize this. Their increasingly-desperate political propaganda is no more substantive -- and contains no more truth -- than most of the spam-scams that daily clog our email inboxes.

It is time for us to hit the "delete" button on them all.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Healers, Heal Thyselves

Alcoholics Anonymous has become pretty welcoming to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folks. Which is a good thing, because there are a lot of drunks in the GLBT community. I should know, because I'm one of them. And I know a hell of a lot more than one.

The organization has a ways to go, however, when it comes to understanding how to make us FEEL welcome.

Mind-numbed, Bible-thumping dogmatists are not our favorite people. A lot of us have problems with mind-numbed, Big Book-thumping dogmatists, too. Some of us have even become them.

The Big Book is the A.A. "Bible." And it really is a lifeline to untold numbers of people. It is read and quoted, by many, with the same devotion with which legions of Christians rely upon the Bible. It really is a wise, reassuring, challenging and empowering book. I now read my Big Book every day -- right along with my Bible, the current version for me being "The Recovery Bible."

A friend, also in recovery, has warned me about "the thumpers." Not the Bible-thumpers, but the Big Book-thumpers. And he's right; they truly are scary, scary people.

Some folks, when they became involved in A.A., seem to have been assimilated into the Borg.

I had a conversation, a few nights ago, with two lesbians who are in A.A. They knew virtually nothing about me except that I was in A.A., too, and that I had only recently returned to regular meetings.

For all they knew, I could have been sober for twenty years. It's actually only been two and a half, but whatever the case may be, my clear implication, in the little I did reveal about myself, was that I was not an active drunk and that, in fact, I had been sober for some time.

For reasons quite unclear to me (and probably even to themselves), they insisted on assuming I was only two or three tottering steps away from the halfway house.

One of them informed me -- with all the self-assurance of an expert -- that I "had not yet accepted that I was an alcoholic." And how had she reached this conclusion? Because I said I wanted a sponsor who actually cared enough about me to get to know me.

Heresy! Burn me at the stake, and hold a Big Book before my eyes as I roast. I'm not sure why it's heresy, but a mind-numbed dogmatist basically told me so.

It was obviously very important to her that she knew more than me, and that I was helpless. I recognize this sort of attitude; I grew up with a recovering-alcoholic father. It is the behavior of a classic dry drunk.

My temporary sponsor (and believe me, she is temporary) tends to treat me the same way: very bossily and condescendingly -- almost with contempt. Dry drunks, who are, of course, recovering alcoholics who's still got a lot of recovering left to do, seem to transfer contempt for themselves into contempt for those who happen to be at an earlier stage of recovery than they are.

I need a sponsor who has been sober long enough -- and who has recovered sufficiently -- to share her recovery with me, instead of her sickness. Only someone who isn't very smart, or very honest, could smugly diagnose my desire for a healthy healer as any unwillingness, on my part, to admit that I'm in need of healing.

Thank God, not every A.A. member's eyes glaze over into otherworldly obsessiveness when I speak with them. Some are farther along in their recovery than others. I hope and pray I'll find a regular sponsor at least a little farther along than I am. One, in other words, who can actually be of help to me.

I shouldn't be surprised that in A.A., there are a lot of sick people. In A.A., we're all sick people. But just as the Bible can be used as an excuse to keep from growing in holiness, the Big Book can certainly be used to keep from growing in health.

Thumpers of either Book need to stop their thumping and get back to their reading. It's especially unbecoming for straight dry drunks to lecture gay ones about God (as my temporary sponsor is prone to do) as if we could never possibly have heard of "Him" before. They need to be part of the solution, instead of being part of the problem.

Healers, heal thyselves.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

"Barney" People

I have a confession to make. For me, watching old reruns of The Andy Griffith Show is a spiritual experience. It's not as goofy as it sounds. There are actually churches that do Bible studies based on the show. At this particular time of my life, living in the house where I grew up -- and where my father died -- I find it strangely comforting to spend some of my evenings in Mayberry on TV Land.

Indeed, I live alone with ghosts. They may be only in my mind, but they seem very real. I'm following in my father's footsteps, now, by staying sober. Like many recovering alcoholics, I get a lot of support from friends also in recovery. We share our stories, and we often laugh at all the common themes.

It seems, to this Andy Griffith fan, that there are basically two kinds of folks. There are "Andy" people, and there are "Barney" people. The "Andys" are self-confident, secure in their egos, comfortable in their own skins. The "Barneys" are always full of bravado, trying to prove themselves, but shadowed by self-doubt. Recovering drunks are almost always "Barney" people.

Oh, we're not all as funny as Barney. Some of us aren't very funny at all. But, like Barney, we're full of blarney. We've all just endured eight years of a recovering drunk: a classic "Barney" guy. Now we seem to have elected an "Andy." There's a new sheriff in town, and I think we can all see the difference already.

For years, we strutted and blustered around the planet, issuing macho ultimatums and telling people they were "either for us or against us." We proclaimed that our "mission" was "accomplished" -- and then the war went on and on. Our new "Andy," in contrast, goes abroad making friends, settling disputes and smoothing ruffled feathers. He understands that God can love us -- and everybody else at the same time. And Barney can keep that bullet in his pocket where it belongs.

Coming out as a lesbian was also, for me, a highly spiritual experience. And it was transformative, because it showed me just how powerful honesty can be. God loves me as I am, and I can see that now. Andy always knew that God loved Barney, which is why, for so many years, he so gently and compassionately put up with all those crazy antics.

Being "out" helps transform our inner Barneys -- our insecure egotists -- into Andys. Very much the same way that sobriety does. Gradually, we come to realize that we are loved, and accepted, as we are. "If God is for us," as Scripture says, "then who can stand against us?"

There's a reason why so many of us turn to alcohol or drugs to sustain us. We're filled with insecurity, loneliness and pain. Many of us feel that no one really understands us -- or would love us if they did. But God is the Ultimate Andy. God knows us, and accepts us, inside and out.

I couldn't stay sober without God's help. In fact, without it I couldn't accept myself at all. But I'm done with booze, with closets and with being Barney. And so -- thank God -- is the country. There's a new sheriff in town.


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Phishin' With Bonnie and Clyde

We keep being told that we're in the worst hole we've been in since the Thirties. Though it's too early to tell if this is a bona fide depression, it's being widely hailed (by those media minions who still have jobs) as "The Great Recession."

Gotta have a catchy name for it. Not that it makes the whole thing any easier to take. But hey, at least we know what to call it!

Among the many parallels between This One and That One, nearly eighty years ago, there's the surge in desperate crime. Not as violent, perhaps, as the gangland gunbattles of yore, but certainly just as banjo-twangingly, depravedly, folksily bold. For sure. No big names are likely to come out of these. Our Bonnies and Clydes are all anonymous.

I don't suppose what happened to me yesterday morning, when I checked my emails, was exactly the same as having a gun stuck in my face and my wallet demanded of me, but it was only slightly less bothersome. I got one bearing the Bank of America logo and informing me that there had been three unsuccessful log-in attempts to my online banking account. They said, therefore, that they "needed" my personal information verified (i.e. given to them), so they'd know that I was really me. If they did not receive this, they threatened, my account would be closed.

"Stick 'em up! Your money or your life! Don't talk back, and you won't get hurt!"

I called Bank of America, understandably mystified, since I don't do any online banking. (And this is probably why.)

When I read the email to the lady from the bank, she had a good laugh. This missive was the product of a mind bereft of even an eighth-grade education. "It's all about your security," it concluded. The education of the author seems to have come almost entirely from TV commercials.

"Yo,'s all good!"

The bank lady advised me to forward the email to their fraud department so they could check it out. I did, and an impressively short time later, they sent a message telling me that this was, indeed, an attempt at "phishing." They were polite about it, but they basically said they hoped I hadn't been dumb enough to give those creeps the information they were seeking.

Nice to know Bank of America is looking out for us. Especially since, thanks to our tax money, they are now wholly a subsidiary of us.

Thank you, no, I gave the creeps nothing. Usually, when I get something like this, I shoot back a reply wishing them "Happy phishing!" This time, I restrained myself from such small satisfactions.

I could almost hear those banjos dueling. This has been happening more and more often to me lately. An indication, I imagine, of desperate times.

The question that must be asked, of course, is the same one people probably used to ask the bandits of the Thirties: "Wouldn't it just be easier to look for a real job?"

Easier, maybe, but I guess not as much fun.

I don't think the corporate bigshots who've been robbing us all are having very much fun right now, because we have figured out their racket. More than a few of us are even trying -- on a much smaller scale -- to copy it. Too many of the small-fry will get away with it. But I don't guess too many more of the big phishies will.

At least in the old days, the gang-bangers robbed the people who were robbing everyone else. This is a part of what I'm getting at when I compare the morality of our response "now" to the people's response "then." The Bonnies and Clydes of today had just better remain anonymous. Were they to come out and proclaim themselves, We the People would tear them limb from limb.

The crooks aren't the only people getting desperate. And there are mega-many more of "us" than there are of "them."

We'll get all this sorted out together. The Great American Kleptocracy is going down, and it's going down hard. If we're able to bring this about soon enough, perhaps our "Great Recession" will lead not to another depression, but to a new, better and fairer prosperity.

Let's do some "phishing" of our own. Let's catch these crooks and nail 'em to the wall. All of 'em, of every size. We all know what happened to Bonnie and Clyde. May the big-time looters meet justice in an only slightly less bothersome way.