I normally try to avoid cynicism, on the grounds that it’s bad mental hygiene. Think of this as my early spring cleaning.
1.Jeff Weise, a 17-year-old student at Red Lake High School in Minnesota, armed himself with two handguns plus a shotgun and went on a rampage, killing ten people and injuring fourteen others. You could say it was a copycat crime:
Reggie Graves, a student at Red Lake High School, said he was watching a movie about Shakespeare in class Monday when he heard the gunman blast his way past the metal detector at the school’s entrance, killing a guard. Then, in a nearby classroom, he heard the gunman say something to his friend Ryan: “He asked Ryan if he believed in God,” Graves said. “And then he shot him.”Thing is, Jeff Weise wasn’t imitating the actual Columbine shooters. He was imitating a pious urban legend (what back home we used to call a faith-promoting rumor) that sprang up in the wake of the Columbine shootings: that shooter Dylan Klebold asked Cassie Bernall whether she believed in God, and shot her when she said she did.
This story, in many variant versions, spread as fast as the internet would carry it. Cassie Bernall—a cute blonde who had a classic conversion-narrative history of turning to religion after dabbling in bush-league wickedness—was hailed as a martyr, and her story has since been repeatedly invoked to push the usual religious agendas. It’s been especially useful for WASP Chinos who want to think of themselves as being cruelly persecuted for their faith, but who are inconveniently short on evidence that this has ever happened.
Trouble is, the Cassie Bernall incident didn’t happen anything like the stories describe it, and the shooters weren’t targeting Christians. As has gradually become clear, the media coverage of Columbine was notably bad, and the Cassie Bernall story was the single most egregious example of slovenly journalism in the whole mess.My favorite take on the Cassie Bernall legend can be found at Gadgets for God:
“Yes, I Believe” HatI’m sure Jeff Weise’s behavior will be trotted out as further proof that Christians are coming in for persecution. If I’m right, that claim will be purest codswallop. What this tragic incident really teaches us is that kids who are exposed to non-reality-based right-wing Christian propaganda may subsequently commit horrid acts of violence.
Whether 17-year-old Cassie Bernall actually did say “Yes, I believe” (or words to that effect) before she was so cruelly murdered by Dylan Klebold in April 1999 is the subject of heated debate. Whatever the case, it hasn’t stopped the merchandisers from turning the tragedy at Columbine High School to their advantage.Now you can sport “Yes I believe” bracelets, chokers, dogtags, keyrings, and this navy bill/khaki crown hat for $17.99 — available from yesibelieve.com. How long before this overtakes WWJD products… if it hasn’t done so already?
There is one striking point of similarity between the Columbine and Red Lake shootings: in both cases, the students were reading Shakespeare when the firing broke out. It’ll be interesting to see whether school districts across the country propose a ban on Shakespeare, the way they tried to ban black clothing in the wake of Columbine.
Terri Schiavo. Everybody knows the story. It’s very sad. She had a stroke and heart attack that cut off oxygen to her brain for too many minutes, and since then has been in a vegetative state. Lack of oxygen will do that. Recovery is impossible. Her cerebral cortex is gone, and no amount of denial is going to bring it back. Her brainstem keeps her breathing and allows her undead body to make random and reflexive movements, but Terri Schiavo herself has left the building. Whatever’s occupying her hospital bed deserves a better death.
Bush and the Republican Congress’s attempt to hijack the judicial proceedings, in defiance of basic Constitutional principles, was pure grandstanding. Thsee same guys who’re enthusiastic about the death penalty, nonchalant about military and civilian deaths in Iraq, and perfectly ready to cut funding for everything from prenatal care to basic public health and safety infrastructure, invoked an extrajudicial, extraconstitutional “culture of life” to justify their media coverage-oriented meddling in the Schiavo case.You want to see the depth of their spiritual convictions? Here goes:
GOP memo says issue offers political rewardsIf you’re a pro-lifer, please realize that these people have no respect for you or your beliefs. To them, you’re just a button to be pushed.
WASHINGTON — Republican leaders believe their attention to the Terri Schiavo issue could pay dividends with Christian conservatives whose support they covet in the 2006 midterm elections, according to a GOP memo intended to be seen only by senators.
The one-page memo, distributed to Republican senators by party leaders, called the debate over Schiavo legislation “a great political issue” that would appeal to the party’s base, or core, supporters. The memo singled out Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who is up for re-election next year.“This is an important moral issue, and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue,” said the memo, reported by ABC News and later given to The Washington Post. “This is a great political issue, because Senator Nelson of Florida has already refused to become a co-sponsor and this is a tough issue for Democrats.”
Back in his Texas days, Bush happily signed legislation that made it easier for hospitals to pull the tubes on unresponsive patients, even ones whose known wishes ran contrary to it, whose families were opposed to it, and who might conceivably have had a better-than-zero chance of recovery.
What made the difference? That legislation back then was about money. This legislation now is about votes. None of it has anything to do with moral beliefs. Throwing the Schiavo case into the federal courts was a bleak and conscienceless piece of hypocrisy, undertaken at the expense of a family that has already seen far too much suffering.
Consider the manly political action figures sold by Herobuilders.com. There’s considerable subtext present. Nowhere else will you see such a super-buff Rudy Giuliani or Tony Blair, or such a suggestively receptive Howard Dean. Herobuilders also offers several attractive George W. Bush models. They must be popular with the clientele. I must admit that for some reason I’m squicked by their figure of George tearing off his shirt. It’s so not my kink.
I nevertheless find all this slightly cheering. Normally, when I contemplate the relationship between (on the one hand) Republican voters, and (on the other hand) the thugs, pirates, hypocrites, Pharisees, and bunco-steerers in the Republican leadership, I fall into blank incomprehension and despair: how can they vote for those people?
But conceiving an unreciprocated and perhaps inappropriate sexual fixation on (mostly) right-wing political figures? That’s okay. I may not be able to imagine doing it myself, but I know it for the sort of thing human beings do.
It’s a start.