Hey Mel, it’s the violence, stupid

When I heard about Mel Gibson’s awful rant three days ago, seriously, I thought it was an Onion story, and I ignored it.

Then, when I figured out it was true and read the news reports, I didn’t want to say anything, because it’s so awful and, frankly, I’ve always been uncomfortable rushing with the crowd to burn a witch regardless of the cause. I just left it for others.

But mostly, I kept quiet because I have a different take on it, and some people are going to be a little surprised, but I didn’t want to get in an argument. The N-word isn’t the thing that really gets to me. I’ve heard it all my life, and I  learned long ago for the most part just to write-off anyone who talks like that. People who use that word are ignorant and pathetic. You aren’t going to change them, but you can sure choose who you hang around with and  what you sanction.

Phelps’ son says “God hates fags” church could turn violent

The challenge with writing about Fred Phelps, frankly, is suppressing the urge to urp.

Phelps and his hateful clan spent this weekend in West Virginia taunting innocent families whose fathers, brothers and sons were buried alive in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. The last four of 29 miners were pronounced dead on Saturday. The Phelpses actually complained they didn’t get adequate police protection during a picket at the state Capitol, where they carried signs that read: “Thank God for Dead Miners,” “God Hates Your Tears” and “God Hates West Virginia.”

It’s a new low for The Most Hated Family In America, as they were dubbed in a 2007 BBC documentary about the Westboro Baptist Church, whose members routinely picket funerals of American soldiers. They claim God smites our military because America tolerates lesbian and gay people.  The group is so obsessed with anti-homosexual theology it’s adopted the slogan “God hates fags” for the name of its website.

I’ve always ignored these psychopaths and refused to give them the media attention they crave. But information about them that can’t be ignored surfaced last week on The Standard, a Vancouver-based public affairs program. In his first-ever television interview, Fred’s son Nate Phelps says the family could turn violent if his father decides there is a Bible verse to justify it.

A Socialist Primer: Rick Perry, health care & the Texas govenor’s race

I’m wondering what it’s going to take for my former colleagues in the Texas press corps to call out Rick Perry for using the term “socialism” over-and-over to describe the insurance reform Congress passed last week.

Either Perry and reporters covering him don’t know what socialism is (and I doubt that), or Perry again is pushing  Tea Bag propaganda, and the press is too lazy or too intimidated to challenge it.

I’m used to Perry embarrassing Texas. So, I’m not surprised he’s parroting Dolph Briscoe’s old obsession with “creeping socialism.”  Thankfully, we’ve moved beyond the 1970s, though you wouldn’t know it from the Cold War rhetoric in a statement Perry released last Sunday and sound bites he repeated later in the week.

Olympic interview: Franz Strasser, BBC

BBC digital reporter/producer Franz Strasser, a student of mine at Columbia University, spent the past two weeks covering the 2010 Winter Olympics. I asked Franz to share some observations about his experience. Here is an abridged version of that conversation with Strasser’s comments in italics. I’ve added some links to a few of his stories. (Photo: Franz Strasser)

I. Overriding impression: Canadian identity

These Olympics, besides the sporting events themselves, were about one nation discovering its own identity and learning how to deal with newly discovered pride. Every time I open a newspaper or look at a website, there is an article not just about how Canadians  are cheering for their team, waving their flags, and immediately the question starts, “How much can we cheer? Is this really us? Should this be us?”

Olympic fireworks, Canadian hearts

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday downtown taking in the sights and enjoying the Olympic spirit. The center of all the festivities is a great plaza called Robson Square near the beautiful Vancouver Art Gallery.

I went down there Wednesday night with my friend and former student Franz Strasser, who is here covering the city for British Broadcasting Corp. Franz shot this video of the fireworks and light show that happens every night. (It looks 1,000 times better in full screen mode.) I love the guy who flies overhead on the zip line at about :52 seconds into it. Anyone can do that, but the wait is about four hours.

A conservative take on don’t ask don’t tell

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is going to be repealed. The Senate testimony this week of Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen virtually assured it. The question is just when, how and – much like the election of Barack Obama – what side we’ll all be on when the historic moment comes. (Photo: afagen, Flickr)

So, for my conservative or even moderate friends who may still be grappling with the issue, let me offer the elegant words of an iconic American who got it right and fought against discrimination 17 years ago, when a different Joint Chiefs Chairman,  Gen. Colin Powell, was shoving the newly crafted policy down the political throat of a newly elected President Bill Clinton.

It’s time to act, not to hide. The country and the military know that eventually the ban (against any military service by gays) will be lifted. The only remaining questions are how much muck we will all be dragged through, and how many brave Americans… will have their lives and careers destroyed in a senseless attempt to stall the inevitable.

You may be surprised; that’s not the mayor of San Francisco or some MSNBC talk show host. That’s Mr. Conservative himself, Barry Goldwater, making his case in 1993 to end outright any policy that would keep lesbian and gay Americans from honorably serving their country.

Obama’s state of the union: dance 10, looks 3 (maybe 5.5)

Dance 10
Theatrically, it was a great night. He totally dominated the room with a reasonable tone and a good blend of humor and humility (“I’ve screwed up some things, like health care, and will do better). It was an effective performance that rallied the Democratic majority, focused debate on his agenda and should restore a sense with the public that he has the game in hand.

LOVED that he bitch slapped the Supreme Court over its hideous ruling on corporate political contributions with the judges in their robes right there on the front row. Can’t remember a president ever doing that. (Adults in robes always creep me out.) It was a delicate dance, and he pulled it off with this break in historical precedent adding to the feeling he was giving straight talk about things that needed to be said.

Open Letter: From Sam Houston to Barack Obama

Mr. President:

It’s my humble privilege as a citizen with my own place in American history to write to you, as you are about to make the most important decision of your presidency. I’m referring to more than a single issue here, Mr. President. I’m talking about the course you are going to chart for  the next eight months.

You’re going to show us your idea of greatness, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to do something great. You’ll either decide to follow advisers fixated with minimizing traditional midterm election losses and prematurely launch your own 2012 campaign, or you will use the robust majorities your election rolled-up in the House and Senate and spend the capital you earned in 2008 to fulfill your promise of “change we can believe in.” But you can’t do both. (Photo: mrchriscornwell, Flickr)

So, Mr. President, I’m writing to offer the spirit I followed throughout my own public life: “Do right, and risk the consequences.”

It’s up to Muschamp and McCoy

It’s hard to focus on national politics when there’s a national championship on the line. I voted Republican, like my parents, a few times right out of high school  – - until 1984, when the Democrats won me over. They’ve have been my political team ever since, but the Texas Longhorns got me long before the Democrats did.

I was in junior high school when they beat Arkansas in The Big Shoot Out, won two national championships and played Notre Dame in back to back Cotton Bowls. I was in high school when Texas parlayed all that into an amazing 55-game home win streak and six consecutive Southwest Conference championships.

I never wanted to go to any school but UT, and the reason was Longhorn football. I always wanted to be one of those old people who still goes back to the games and follows the team long after he’s left school – - one who still gets chills every time he sings The Eyes of Texas. And I am. Over the years, I’ve made it clear to friends and family – half-joking, but also deadly serious – I want my epitaph to read: “He was a Longhorn and a Democrat.” In that order.