Friday, December 30, 2005

Illegal Immigration

I am not quite sure where the latest round of immigrant bashing has come from. Perhaps it's the fruit of our President's actions to stoke xenophobia within our great nation despite his words of support for immigrant populations. At least when the GOP went after gays in 2004, it was a direct response to Lawrence v. Texas decriminalizing consensual sodomy and the Massachusetts decision legalizing gay marriage. The last I checked, Hispanic immigrants haven't done anything to warrant the attention being thrust upon them.

Personally, I don't understand the long term strategy of bashing immigrants. Yes, illegal immigration is a problem. You cannot live in Atlanta and not realize that illegal immigrants are everywhere. They are taking jobs that no other American will do, and they are being paid basically slave wages. Except when you are from Mexico and have nothing, slave wages in the US looks pretty good. Employers like them because they don't have to pay them taxes and they can treat them any way they like, because the illegals won't complain for fear of deportation. For years, the emphasis has been on making life miserable for the illegal immigrant. Denying them access to drivers' licenses, bank accounts, etc have been commonplace. The latest moves by the GOP focus on denying the children of illegal immigrants access to schools and health care.

I know that the children of illegal immigrants are flouting our nation's immigration laws. However, they do not have a choice in the matter. When their parents drag them across the border, they have to go. Punishing the children, making sure they don't receive basic health care or education, serves little purpose. Yes, they aren't truly entitled to these things, but what happened to basic compassion? The last thing we need in America is a group of children who are uneducated out on the streets. I would rather see illegal immigrant children in school, learning English, and becoming valuable members of society.

Yet, their parents are here illegally, and we cannot just reward them for that. I would propose leaving the laws on immigration just as they are. Let's turn our focus to the economic system that allows the illegal immigrant system to flourish. We need to turn our attention to the employers of the illegals. Even day workers should have proof of citizenship to work. There should be more inspectors to bust the operations and employers who skirt the laws and hire on the black market of illegal immigrants. The fines, and jail time, should be severe enough to discourage current practices, and the enforcement should be beefed up so that it's difficult to get away with what goes on now.

But seriously, let's leave the kids of illegal immigrants alone. They aren't here by choice, but by virtue of a decision their parents made. I don't know the answer to making the parents responsible for their illegal immigration. If we use the medical and school systems to catch illegal immigrants, it will have the same effect as an outright ban. Here in Atlanta, the fear that immigration will find out about you if you open a bank accounts leads many illegals to keep money at their home. Robbers know this, and there are countless stories of victimization in the complexes where illegals live. Yet, these stories are largely word of mouth, because the illegals won't report a robbery to the police for fear of deportation.

Building walls or enacting codes like the one in Manassas, VA ( which blatantly target Hispanics, both illegal and legal, is not the way to go. Yet, that is what the GOP seems to think will help them win in 2006. My only consolation is that while they beat up immigrants, they won't be going after gays. Still, that's a cold comfort, because I know that if the attack on illegals doesn't work, then they will come after gays again.

I just hope America wakes up to the danger that total GOP control poses to our Nation and way of life before it's too late.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Brokeback Mountain

I took off work a little early on Friday to see Brokeback Mountain, which opened in exactly ONE theatre in Atlanta that day. I bought my ticket in advance online, which is good since the movie sold out all showings on Friday. The line in the theatre snaked across the lobby, down a hallway, past the bathrooms, and back into the lobby before they let us in to sit down.

The crowd was mostly gay, but there were quite a few straight people there too. I wasn't sure what to expect. The nominations of the Golden Globes (7 in all) surprised me, as did the reactions I've read online about the movie. Some people love it, and others thought it missed the mark. But this was a movie with two up-and-coming Hollywood stars (directed by the phenominal Ang Lee) in the lead roles as gay cowboy lovers in the late 20th century. Such a movie has never been made before with this caliber of cast and crew.

The movie is raw and powerful, and in the end it will break your heart. Everyone who's ever come out of the closet will recognize themselves in Jack Twist, played by Jake Gyllenhall, who is the more out of the two cowboys. Out in that you can see the longing in his eyes, his ferverant desire to share a life with another man, another rancher cowboy like him. He doesn't feel there's anything wrong with his desire, although he knows that living it would be dangerous. He accepts the closet that 1963 Wyoming would nail him in. Ennis Del Mar is the more closeted of the two, and is played brilliantly by Heath Ledger. It wasn't until the last half of the movie that I really bought his love for Jack, mostly b/c his eyes wouldn't betray it before, although his actions did. When he sees Jack for the first time in 4 years, he's about to jump out of his skin, he's so excited, and he takes a risk in pulling Jack into one of the most desperately longing kisses I've ever seen on screen.

Unfortunately, Ennis's wife sees this kiss, although she keeps that news to herself. She has to say goodbye to her husband as he goes off with his "fishing buddy" knowing very well they are more than friends after seeing that kiss. The raw pain in her face, and the panic of "What do I do?" is evident in her performance. The pain of being married to a man she knows doesn't love her like he does his "fishing buddy" eats away at her soul, until she pulls away from Ennis and demands divorce. Ennis and his daughters aren't that close either, and it's all a result of his closet. He had kids because that was what he was supposed to do, and his heart really isn't in the family he has with his wife. There's a cool scene at the end when Ennis' daughter announces she is to marry, and you can see Ennis wondering if this boy is like him and won't be able to love his daughter as she deserves to be loved.

Jack's closet is of a different sort. He's been aware of his attraction to men longer than Ennis, as evidenced by his actions. He marries and has exactly one child and no more. He desperately lives to see Ennis on thier fishing trips every 3-6 months. Let's say the way their lives proceed does not lead to a happy ending. Yet, the trajectory of the story is heartfelt, honest, and real.
Watching it made me want to reevaluate my life and ponder the meaning of life, love and relationships. Watching the struggle of the Jack and Ennis should make today's gay people stop and think, "I really have it easy. Given this freedom, have I lived true to myself and opened myself to the possibility of love?" Jack and Ennis do not live true to themselves, and they are not the only ones hurt by it, but so are their wives and children. So many lives are destroyed by the closet they are forced to live in that you have to wonder what the point is. After all, Ennis and Jack did the "right thing" by marrying a woman, and having a child or two. Yet, their love could not be denied, and the closet ended up destroying them all.

The last scenes of the movie were the most wrenching when you watch the lies being spread, and the quiet truth that dare not speak its name. I left the movie stunned and quite speechless. But as I got into my car, I started to cry and I became angry. Angry because the expression of what it's like to be gay in a society where you are forbidden from "being gay" on pain of death was real, and it hit home. I was born in Kentucky, and could easily have been a country boy on some tobacco farm, as I have many cousins who did live that life. It was an accident of birth that I was born into my family in the city of Lexington, KY. How different would my life be were I a ranching boy from Wyoming like Jack?

That closet is something that is crumbling in this nation, especially in the large cities. Sodomy is no longer a crime, and states cannot restrict gay civil rights just because the population doesn't like us. Yet, as Matthew Shepherd showed us, it's still not safe to be gay in most of the country. The world of 1963 Wyoming is not too far removed from the reality of rural gays in 2005. This is a closet that the Religious Right, and the GOP, wants to re-establish nationwide from the most remote holler to the most densely populated city. Sadie Fields and her "Christian" Taliban brethern hate us, and want us to go away. They want us to live the lives that the characters of Brokeback Mountain live. It was so senseless to see so many lives ruined. Jack and Ennis would have hurt no one by owning a ranch and living it on it in peace and quiet. Their wives would have found men to love them as they deserved to be loved, and no one's life would have been ruined. It was the closet that ruined lives and nothing else. It's the closet that the GOP and it's base want us to return. That's why I became angry and why I cried not only for the characters in the movie, but for every gay person who is living his/her version of Brokeback Mountain today.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


I don't know who peed in Bill O'Reilly's Wheaties to get him to declare the War on Christmas, but I wish they hadn't. I imagine that Bill got a memo from Murdoch saying that Faux News anchors needed find something to help distract the public from Bush's failures and halt the slide in his poll numbers. While searching for porn, he probably found a link to Faux News online store where he saw "Holiday Ornaments" on sale, and a War was born.

If reality meets my fantasy, then the plot has worked somewhat. Bush's numbers have bottomed out, and he even rebounded to 40% approval in recent days. However, the nutjobs on the right are taking this War on Christmas thing a bit too seriously. Just last night, I saw on the local news one of the "Georgia Gang" (kind of a talking heads program for Georgia politics on Sundays) hawking her own "Merry Christmas!" signs. She's a talk show host up in Hall County, GA who's making a buck off the "Merry CHRISTMAS (and f-ck you, atheist a-hole!)" movement.

I doubt that businesses have gone from a "Christmas Sale" to a "Holiday Sale" for any other reason than one of pure profit. It's about making money, and if you can extend that period by being more "inclusive", business is going to do just that. Anyone else remember the days when you never saw any Christmas advertisements until Thanksgiving? Now, you start seeing ornaments and other Christmas items by HALLOWEEN. At this rate, by the time I die, we'll be starting the Christmas shopping season right after July 4th.

Seriously, Christmas was attacked and conquered from a Christian perspective long ago. In many Christian traditions, this is the Advent season, which is like a "mini-Lent" of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. It's about God's grace for mankind, and SANTA is not included. I shudder to think how many children probably think that Santa was there to help Mary give birth to Jesus. Maybe Santa was one of the wisemen. The point is that the holiday has lost its meaning before now. Peace on Earth? Goodwill toward men? No sign of that today, especially with the current administration.

Of course, according to the right wingers, the "PC" crowd of liberals (Oh no! The L-word! And I don't mean Lesbian!) has made a determined plot to destroy Christmas and drive it from the public consciousness! If that's true, someone forgot to send me the memo for the meeting. Oh, that's right...that is because THERE WAS NO MEETING.

"Happy Holidays" grew as the Christmas shopping season extended past Thanksgiving to Halloween. Thanksgiving, I daresay, has merged with Christmas and New Years as the "Holiday Season". Makes sense; there are three national holidays in this time frame. Not to mention Ramadan and Hanukkah usually fall during this period too. It's a cornucopia of holidays that mean different things to different people. Saying Happy Holidays is a way for business to attract non-Christian customers and invite them into the national orgy of spending. After all, for Hanukkah, Jewish children are supposed to get one gift for each NIGHT of Hanukkah. It's not just one day of gifts; it's a week! I don't know if Ramadan has a gift component, but stores would love nothing better than for American Muslims to add one! Even atheists (like my father when I was growing up) celebrate Christmas as a family holiday if nothing else. For most people, it's like Thanksgiving. It's a time for families to get together, exchange presents, and either enjoy each other's company or remind one another why they only do this once a year.

Truly, the degradation of Christmas was started by the Roman Catholic Church as it attempted to attract pagans like the Druids and the Romans. Our Christmas tree is of German origin, and the exchanging of presents and bright decorations came from the Saturnalia celebration of Rome. The winter solstice occurs on Dec. 21, and it has traditionally been a high holy day for pagans, probably b/c it was the shortest day of the year. Jesus was not born on December 25th. It's more likely he was born in late spring if the scholarship I've read is correct. But if it made the leap to accepting Christ easier for the pagans, the Church saw no harm in setting Dec. 25 as Jesus' birthday since Jesus a) wasn't born in a hospital and b) didn't have a birth certificate. The Santa story was born later, and thanks to Coke and The Night before Christmas poem, has exploded into the shopping orgy we have today.

I personally don't care if you say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" to me. I will wish you the same, whatever you say. I generally use "Happy Holidays" simply because I do want to be inclusive. It's not about excluding fellow Christians; it's about including my fellow citizens who are not. Here in Georgia, the War on Christmas has produced people who practically shout CHRISTMAS! at you when saying "Merry Christmas". It's ridiculous, not to mention aggressive and blatantly offensive. Just say "Merry Christmas" if you want. But don't lean forward, give your head a sister roll, and shout "CHRISTMAS" with eyes bugging out, daring someone to say something. That is the antithesis of the season, and I daresay that Jesus himself would not be pleased that this is how you choose to celebrate the season of His birth.

Christmas is not in danger! So chill out, have some egg nog, and have a happy holidays, merry Christmas, and happy new year!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tookie and the Death Penalty

Stanley "Tookie" Williams was executed this morning in California, and that's a good thing. While I will add my own commentary, I must refer the handful of people who actually read my blog to my friend Kirk's thoughts on this episode: I find myself agreeing with Kirk's points.

It may surprise some people to know that I'm a supporter of the death penalty. I know it doesn't deter many people, if any, from committing heinous crimes. I look at the death penalty as society's just vengeance for heinous crimes, particularly murder. As a Christian, I know we are supposed to the turn the other cheek, and not take an eye for an eye. Perhaps it is my fallibility as a human being that leads me to still demand vengeance for those who have been murdered. I do, however, want to be sure that the right people are executed. I don't mind the lengthy appeals that death penalty cases undergo, because it increases the likelihood that mistakes will be caught before it is too late. In any case where DNA could come into play, testing should be required. Evidence should be safeguarded until the execution is completed.

With the sensitivity of forensic testing today, there's no excuse for not having every rock looked under to be sure we have the right perp. Once we are as certain as possible that we have the guilty party, if a jury finds for death, death should be the punishment barring any legal errors.
Mr. Williams, aka "Tookie", was one of the founders of the Crips. Together with the Bloods gang, the Crips have been responsible for an untold amount of crime, violence, and murder. These gangs have chapters all across the nation, luring young men of color into a life of crime, drugs, and violence. Of course, if society presented young men of color with adequate opportunities for legitimate self-improvement and a way out of abject poverty, gangs wouldn't have any members. However, just because we have allowed the circumstances that lead to gangs does not mean we should excuse gang violence.

Tookie (what kind of nickname is that anyway?!?) protested his innocence of the murders throughout. There are the usual charges of ineffective counsel, flimsy evidence, etc. Since Tookie exhausted all possible appeals, I can only conclude that there was no legal error in the trial and that the verdict was just. I haven't read the trial transcript, and I certainly didn't sit on the jury. The fact remains he was found guilty of 4 murders, and as a Crips "founder", he's likely responsible for God-only-knows how many more.

I'm uncertain why his case became a cause celebre around the world, and especially in Hollywood. Is it because he "found God" and decided to renounce gang violence and write children's books on the matter? If so, that's a lovely gesture on his part to try to undo some of the damage he did when free. I'm glad Tookie discovered that gang violence leads to no where anyone intelligent would want to go. Yet he takes no responsibility for the murders he committed, and seemed to be playing the race card in his attempt at clemency.

Death Row is not a rehab camp. It's a place you go while waiting to die. If a murderer finds Jesus, Mohammed, or whomever while there, good for them. It doesn't change what they did or the punishment for it. God will forgive them of the murders; society doesn't have to. Besides, if you truly believe in the Christian message, you know you'll go straight to heaven upon execution anyway. I don't see how living in prison the rest of your natural life is better than seeing the Savior post haste.

I don't mean to be glib, but I'm highly suspicious of death row conversions. If they are sincere, I'm happy for the condemned. But just because you've become a changed person on death row doesn't mean you should be granted mercy. Tookie's case did not warrant Gov. Arnold's intervention. From the reports this morning on the Today Show, Tookie was quite defiant even to the end. They apparently had trouble finding a vein for the lethal injection, which is something that should have been done before he was brought to the death chamber.

I'm disturbed but not exactly surprised that the YDA Minority caucus sponsored a resolution that was adopted in Phoenix to ask for mercy for Tookie. It seems all the partners of Democrats (NAACP, etc) were all asking that Gov. Arnold commute his sentence. I understand people who take a principled stand against the death penalty. It is unevenly applied, and if you're black, you're more likely to get sentenced to death than if you are white, even if you commit the same crime. People who are poor in this country, black or white, rarely have the effective assistance of counsel. There are many fine public defenders in this country, but they are overloaded and overwhelmed by the system. Money, as OJ Simpson and Micheal Jackson have proved, can buy you freedom. I doubt that Tookie was prosecuted simply because he was black. If you believe the system is hopelessly corrupt or broken, then fight to change it; fight for a moratorium so that the system can be fixed as best as possible. Individuals come with their own baggage, and Tookie had a full set. Like Kirk, I wonder if the press and Hollywood would have been so quick to jump on the "forgiveness" bandwagon had Tookie been a white supremacist, Neo-Nazi who had murdered 4 people of color but later recanted his beliefs on death row. If the answer is no, as I suspect it is, then Tookie's supporters are guilty of gross hypocrisy.