Sunday, March 31, 2013

Crucifixion and Love

 Easter Sunday.

I was raised in the Catholic Church but it never took. Even early on, I could not bring myself to believe in a God who thought the way to prove to his people that he loved them was to crucify his son. To me, there was a huge disconnect there. I guess everyone else took the statues and pictures of Jesus on the cross with a crown of thorns on his head for granted, as most Christians do, but I could never see them without a sense of horror. I still feel that way.

I looked through many pictures to decide which one to include in this post. Oddly enough, most pictures of Jesus on the cross don't show any blood or the wounds of his scourging. What? We can handle seeing someone nailed to a cross but we don't want to see the sight of the blood that would have been streaming down his body as a result? In this picture, Christ's arms are in a relatively unstressed position rather than drawn down in agony as they actually would have been. In many of the pictures, Jesus looks relatively serene and pain-free, although I doubt that would have been the case. So, we accept the crucifixion but we whitewash to make it  seem not so torturous as reality would have been?

I call myself an agnostic because I don't know the answers. I lean toward reincarnation simply because it seems like a more just system than the roulette wheel Christians believe in. ("You, Baby Girl, you'll become Malia Obama and you over there, you'll be molested, beaten, hungry, cold before being killed at age 13 in a drive by shooting. Sorry, Kid, luck of the draw." I'm not adamant about reincarnation though. I don't try to convince anyone of its truth. Maybe when we die, everything just goes black. There may even be an afterlife, roughly analogous to heaven. I don't believe in hell though.

There again, the only kind of God I could believe in wouldn't send people to burn unto infinity for the most minor crimes anymore than he would consider nailing his son to a cross to be an example of love.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Republicans, NASCAR fans and Alzheimer's

Republicans and NASCAR fans remind me of my mother, who has Alzheimer's. We drove down to the Florida Keys to visit my son and his wife. I had a great time visiting with the kids. I gorged on grouper and yellowtail and shrimp po-boys and blackened mahi-mahi. I sat on their balcony and reveled in the 80 degree temperatures, the clear turquoise water, the red and yellow and purple flowers, the palms swaying in the breeze. I watching the pelicans diving and the seagulls circling and crying. I saw a baby Iguana and a Frigate bird, like a flying Batman logo in the sky. We went to the Hard Rock Casino and I came out a couple hundred bucks ahead. I shopped for Key Lime stuff (you can get Key Lime-flavored everything in the Keys) and sandals and straw bags. I mostly avoided the negativity of the computer and the television.

Unlike me, Mom was ready to head back to  Indiana the day after we got there. Like a little kid, she kept asking, "are we leaving today? I'm ready to go home."

The thing is though that home is no longer this house where we've lived for the last 22 years. Home is a time and place in the past. A time when she was younger and self-reliant. It was a time when she still drove, when she was renown for her cooking. It's when all her sisters and sisters-in-law were still alive to go out to lunch together before hitting the garage sales. It's a time she now sees through rose-colored glasses. It wasn't really as perfect as she remembers but compared to her life now - when she can no longer be trusted to turn on the stove and can't get dressed without my help and totters to the bathroom hanging on to furniture for balance - perhaps it was.

When we made it back home, the first thing she asked me was, "where am I going to sleep tonight?", as if she hadn't been sleeping in the same bedroom for the last two decades. The second was, "how long are we going to stay here?"

So, she's just as discontented now that she's back home and she was in Florida and that isn't going to get any better because the "home" she dreams of no longer exists.

Upon my return to Indiana, I hopped back on Facebook. I began watching the news again. That's when I noticed that NASCAR fans and Republicans (who are most often one and the same) have a lot in common with Mom. They too are unhappy with the present. They too see the past through rose-colored glasses. NASCAR bends over backward to please its fans, probably more than any other sport. At the current time, that manifests itself in the new race car NASCAR and the auto manufacturers spent years and millions of dollars to develop. It is sexier and the three brands are different from one another unlike the generic Car of Tomorrow. It is lighter and racier. Of course, at the time I returned from Florida, we were only three races in. The new car is a work in progress. The teams and drivers have to learn how to tweak it to get the most out of it. The racing has been great this year but you'd never know it if you listen to the sour grapes coming from the comments on the NASCAR websites.

Because none of that counts for many, many NASCAR fans who already have their minds made up. The racing sucks, the drivers suck, the new car sucks, the tracks suck and most of all, NASCAR itself sucks. Stock car racing, they say, isn't exciting like it used to be. This simply isn't true. You can go back to the archives and see that the winner in those old races finished laps ahead of their competitors compared to today when the cars are often separated by 1000ths of a second. NASCAR fans revere those old-time outlaws like former bootlegger, Junior Johnson, who used every trick in the book to gain a competitive edge but they hate the crew chiefs who do the same thing today, scorning them as "cheaters". Drivers back in the day were rough and tough, whereas today's drivers are wimps. Compare any current driver to Dale Earnhardt to a old-school NASCAR fan and you'd probably get a punch in the mouth.

Like my Mom, NASCAR fans want something that no longer exists and probably never did. It's not NASCAR's changes that make them so dissatisfied, it is their own, and nothing will cure that because time moves on no matter how much we try to stop it.

And then to politics....Republicans are much the same as NASCAR fans. They hate today. They hate our president, and yes, judging from the comments and posts I see on Facebook, race has a lot to do with that. They hate the fact that America is changing and whites are no longer the dominant ethnicity. They hate that women are more independent than they used to be. They hate that the majority of Americans believe gays should have full equality. They hate that they are probably going to have to accept a comprehensive immigration plan...not because they want to but in order to remain a viable party. They hate science and scorn the belief in climate change.

They want to go back although I'm not sure when their ideal era was. The Fifties when most people were white and men worked while women stayed home and had babies a la Leave It To Beaver? When the vast majority of our legislators were rich white men? When gays stayed in the closet, blacks kept a low profile and non-Christians kept their mouths shut?

Hell, judging by the CPAC conference some of them want to time travel to an even earlier age - before Emancipation and women voting and child labor laws.

The party of no and negativity is stuck in some idealized past and they are fighting tooth and nail to hold back the future. They won't be able to do it, of course, anymore than NASCAR fans or my Mom can. Mom's behavior is explained by Alzheimer's. I don't know what the rationale is for Republicans and NASCAR fans.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

NASCAR and the N.R.A.

Well, crap. It's just been announced that the NASCAR race in Texas will be sponsored by the N.R.A. It will be known as the N.R.A 500. I'll admit it is sort of a natural fit. Texas being Texas, the race has always given guns as the trophy. Winners stand in Victory Lane, wearing a ten-gallon hat, and happily firing off their six shooters.

I have no problem whatsoever with the guns themselves but I do have a problem with the N.R.A. Back in the day, when I worked in law enforcement, I even considered joining. I thought of the N.R.A primarily as promoting hunting, including working for ways to preserve wildlife habitat. I thought of them in terms of gun safety and training youthful shooters to be responsible. Yes, the N.R.A. was always a strong advocate for the Second Amendment but so was I, then and now.

Of course, even then there were flashes of the radical group the N.R.A. would ultimately become when Wayne LaPierre called federal agents "jack-booted thugs" causing President George Bush the First to withdraw his N.R.A. membership. (Oh, for Republican politicians to show that kind of guts today!)

In the 90's even old radical Wayne believed in background checks and closing the gun show loophole, just as most mainstream politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, supported an assault weapons ban. But, as with so many other right-wing groups, Obama Derangement Syndrome has sent the N.R.A. to the far edge of the lunatic fringe. Now, they are opposed to any gun control measures whatsoever. The only answer is more guns and more guns. Gun in schools, guns in church, guns at sporting events. Except, wait a minute, Eddie Gossage, who runs the Texas Motor Speedway, is a promoter extraordinaire but he isn't stupid. Firearms, except for the trophy guns, will be banned at the N.R.A. 500.

So, does the National Rifle Association approve of assault weapons and high clip magazines? Yes! I presume they'd promote machine guns and tanks and hand-fired missiles if they thought they could get away with it. Hey, maybe at some point in the future, we'll all have our very own Predator Drone in the garage.

Eddie Gossage has accomplished his mission. He's gotten tons of publicity for his track. The N.R.A.'s sponsorship has been the source of 1000's of comments on the NASCAR websites and probably 1000's more other place. Media sources that usually don't bother with NASCAR have weighed in.

Is this ultimately positive or negative for the sport itself? NASCAR began as a rough and tumble redneck activity, originating in the South. NASCAR still celebrates those roots, as well it should. On the other hand, in a time of an abundance of cable and satellite channels, when viewers can choose among hundreds of athletic offerings, from football to baseball to basketball to golf to rodeo to tiddley winks, every sport is desperately trying to find ways to expand their fan base. In NASCAR's case, they probably already have most of the pro-gun conservatives. It's the more liberal-leaning audience they most need to appeal to if they want to grow.

As a liberal Democrat myself, I take a lot of heat from both sides for being a passionate NASCAR fan. Some foaming-at-the-mouth Tea Party types would like to kick me out altogether. There is no place in NASCAR, they say, for commie-pinko, socialist, gun-banning, Muslim-loving, Obama voters. It is almost as bad from my "own kind" who can't understand who I would align myself with a bunch of fascist, beer-swilling, gun-toting, filthy mouthed Neanderthals.

The truth lies somewhere in the moderate middle, of course, as it usually does. NASCAR fans are mostly generous-hearted, patriotic people with whom I often disagree politically. Most liberals don't want to ban guns or turn the country over to the Muslim brotherhood. And none of that would matter anyway because I simply love the sport. I love the sounds and the sights and the smells and the speed and the spectacle. I love the cars and the drivers and the strategies. The political leanings of the fans in the grandstands are beside the point.

I do know people who will "make a statement" by boycotting the race but not me. I wouldn't let the N.R.A. win by driving me away from something I enjoy. The only thing that could change my mind? If they invite Ted Nugent to give the command, that might be a bridge too far.