Tuesday, July 27, 2010


As devoted readers will know, my principal task for the last three years has been a book-length comparison of the three major Abrahamic religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The project is an ambitious one, to be sure. Why did I undertake it? First, these religions have shown a continuing vitality that defies the predictions, common among secularists since the eighteenth century, that they must be on the way out. The persistence of these belief systems has grave consequences for many groups, such as gay people, that are within their sights.

What about the positive contributions of these religions in a broad range of literature and the arts? Well, I spent thirty-five years of my life presenting these contributions in my art history classes. Now it is time to take off the rose-tinted glasses.

My first attempt was a rather long-winded effort dealing with the three religions sequentially and chronologically. The draft of this work, entitled "Abrahamica," is available at Williamapercy.com. The easiest way to find this text (in six chapters) is just to google "Abrahamica," and the cue will come up on the first page.

After reviewing this material, I concluded that it might be more effective to present the findings more concisely and thematically. This I have now done in my "Abrahamicalia." I am sorry about the clumsy title; it will have to do until I think of something better. This new version is available in blog form, with the fourteen chapters following in sequence. You can find the blog by looking at my Profile in the sidebar or (I think) by going to abrahamicalia.blogspot.com.

POSTSCRIPT. Dear Readers: I feel confident that the new version is close to what I want to say. Over the last couple of weeks, I have been trimming florid material and putting in some points that were unaccountably left out. I am working on a new title.

Still, I would greatly appreciate feedback. What sections seem unclear or unconvincing? If you have comments, please write me at wrdynes@aol.com.

Thanks very much!

Wayne R. Dynes


Sunday, July 25, 2010

A game with only one card: the race card

The Sunday New York Times is awash with lamentations about the Shirley Sherrod affair. For those of you who have been sojourning in Antarctica, this is about a black bureaucrat who was wrongly fired from her job by the Obama administration. Once again the Great White Guilt Machine has been cranked up full force. Suitably awed by its deployment, we are all supposed to don, once again, sackcloth and ashes, knowing all the while that in a few more weeks we will be asked to wear this unseemly costume once again.

Whatever any white person says about race, it is wrong. Yet we are supposed to have a “conversation” about the matter. How can one have any sort of conversation if meaningful exchange is barred?

Quite a few years ago I concluded that this exercise is useless. I do not feel guilty about race and I am disgusted with others who say that I must. Screw them all.

Moreover, every day gay and lesbian service people are discharged from the armed forces under the malign influence of DADT. Obama and his operatives promised to do something about this evil--but so far they haven’t. It has been left to the Log Cabin Republicans, of all people, to bring suit about the matter.

And of course in the real world people get fired for all sorts of reasons. When I was a young scholar I was discharged from an Ivy League university. This was not just. But instead of grieving I went out and found a better job.

Right now there is a case of just firing. For some time now, Michelle Rhee, the courageous DC Superintendent of Schools, has been seeking to take control of that disastrously underperforming school system. On Friday Rhee announced that she has fired 241 teachers, including 165 who received poor appraisals under a new evaluation system that for the first time holds some educators accountable for students’ standardized test scores.

“Every child in a District of Columbia public school has a right to a highly effective teacher — in every classroom, of every school, of every neighborhood, of every ward, in this City,” Rhee said in a statement, announcing the first year of results from the revamped evaluation, known as IMPACT. as “That is our commitment. Today . . . we take another step toward making that commitment a reality.”

As the story in the Washington Post indicates, dismissals for performance are exceedingly rare in D.C. schools — and in school systems nationwide. Friday’s firings mark the beginning of Rhee’s bid to make student achievement a high-stakes proposition for teachers, establishing job loss as a possible consequence of poor classroom results.

The Washington Teachers’ Union said Friday that it will contest the terminations. Of course. The union is doing everything it can to keep these drones from being fired. Countless numbers of children, most of them African American, are harmed by the poor performance of these teachers. If one wants to make a meaningful change it would be to pass legislation abolishing the teachers' unions. That will not happen because teachers are a bulwark of the Democratic Party.

Which case, the Shirley Sherrod one or the DC teachers one, is more important for our country? The answer is obvious. But our “quality” media, headed by the New York Times, doesn’t think so. It is too busy reenacting the endlessly satisfying (to itself) Passion Play of black grievances and “insensitive” whites.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

What would Jesus do?

In her op-ed in today's Sunday Times, Maureen Dowd rightly castigates the Roman Catholic church for its weird equation of female ordination and pederasty. She concludes, however, with a somewhat strange image, derived from another person of Catholic heritage, the historian and journalist Garry Wills:

"In The New Republic, Garry Wills wrote about his struggle to come to terms with the sins of his church: Jesus “is the one who said, ‘Whatever you did to any of my brothers, even the lowliest, you did to me.’ That means that the priests abusing the vulnerable young were doing that to Jesus, raping Jesus. Any clerical functionary who shows more sympathy for the predator priests than for their victims instantly disqualified himself as a follower of Jesus. The cardinals said they must care for their own, going to jail if necessary to protect a priest. We say the same thing, but the ‘our own’ we care for are the victimized, the poor, the violated. They are Jesus.”"

A logical deduction, I suppose, though perhaps (how shall I say?) somewhat Jesuitical.

Still this observation opens up a new perspective on the perennial question. Faced with such an assault, what would Jesus do?

UPDATE. Since writing these lines a few minutes ago, I was privileged to receive an etheric channeling from the ubiquitous and irrepressible Joan Rivers. Here is what I think she said. "Wayne, you dumb faygele, of course we know what he would have done: turn the other cheek!"


Thursday, July 08, 2010

The COUNTERCULTURE--what survived and what did not?

I’ve been on this planet more than my allotted three score and ten (and on the whole I greatly enjoyed the experience). I try not to reminisce too often, but sometimes my mind travels back some forty years, when the Counterculture seemed to pour out, almost without warning, over everything--a virtual tsunami.

I offer these observations in outline form, to be enlarged later.

The inception of the Counterculture may be dated to 1967, with the Summer of Love in San Francisco. Totemic were the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (released on June 1st, 1967) and the “rock-tribal” musical “Hair” which premiered in New York City later that year.

To put the matter in a nutshell, the Counterculture came into being when the older substratum of Bohemia (going all the way back to the latter part of the nineteenth century) was refreshed with the newer Beatnik and Hippie inputs.

Here are some notes towards a balance-sheet:


1. the astrology fad (“What’s your sign?”)
2. the Hindu guru fad
3. unkempt appearance; emaciated bodies, long hair, tattered clothing, and poor hygiene
4. disorderly residential quarters ("pads")
5. antiwar, antimilitary, antipolice (“the pig”)
6. extreme valorization of youth (“don’t trust anyone over thirty”)
7. cult of irrationality a l’outrance
8. poverty as an ideal
9. communes
10. romantic Marxism, the Far Left, and the illusion that Revolution was imminent
11. the underground press (e.g. East Village Other; Berkeley Barb)
12. psychedelic posters and graphics
13. five-finger discounts ("steal this book")
14. separatism (lesbian, black, etc.)


1. (primus inter pares) the triumph of the ideal of individual e x p r e s s i v i t y (vs. the older imperatives of duty, obligation, and delayed gratification)
2. sexual freedom, including for gays (but not for pedophiles/pederasts)
3. equality between the sexes/genders, at least as a ideal
4. free circulation of sexually explicit materials, both written and visual (“porn”); public use of four-letter words
4. rock music, and its offshoots, are supreme (supplanting Tin Pan Alley, jazz, and classical alike)
5. the quasi-religious cult of ecology and “the earth”
6. in the visual arts, fusion of "high" and "low" forms: serious art as "fun" (Warhol, et seq.)
7. funky and ad-hoc architecture (as Frank Gehry, Hadad, etc.)
8. recognition of the autonomy and value of non-Western cultures in Asia, Africa, and Latin America
9. healthy eating
10. blue jeans (sometimes “distressed”) are chic everywhere
11. widespread use and acceptance of controlled substances
12. changes in linguistic usage: generic "he" is taboo; obligatory are "fire-fighter," "police officer," and so forth (but not "personhole cover"
13. Preference for "African American," "Hispanic/Latino," and "Asian" (Negro, Oriental, etc. are out)


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Men of Steele

Speaking at a Connecticut fundraiser Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele presented an incisive expressed of our continuing folly in Afghanistan (July 1).

"This was a war of Obama's choosing," Michael Steele said at the event. "This is not something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in."

Steele also accused Obama of "demonizing Iraq while saying the battle really should be in Afghanistan."

"Well, if he's such a student of history, has he not understood that, you know, that's the one thing you don't do is engage in a land war in Afghanistan, alright, because everyone who's tried over a thousand years of history has failed," Steele continued.

Steele extended his criticism of the War in Afghanistan to the mission's strategy, addressing the recent dismissing of General Stanley McChrystal.

"The [General] McChrystal incident, to me, was very comical," he said. "I think it's a reflection of the frustration that a lot of our military leaders has with this Administration and their prosecution of the war in Afghanistan."

Of course it is true that Bush started the war in Afghanistan. But by escalating it, instead of pulling out as he should have, Obama now owns it. Michael Steele tells the truth.

Not surprisingly, Steele’s forthrightness was denounced by that preposterous old fraud and warmonger, Senator John McCain. Other Republicans honchos have joined in. They are truly on the wrong side of history.

One who got it right was Representative Ron Paul of Texas, who congratulated Steele on his remarks. In a statement o Sunday, he called Afghanistan “Nancy Pelosi and Brack Obama’s war.”

“The American people are sick and tried of spending hundreds of billions of dollar a year, draining our military,” Paul observed. “Michael Steele jhas it right, and Republicans should stick by him.”

Hooray for Michael Steele and Ron Paul!

UPDATE (July 6), In his Daily Dish posting today, the ever-astute Andrew Sullivan gives a much better analysis than the skimpy one I was able to offer above. I cannot resist quoting his posting in full:

[Andrew Sullivan] Consider the statement that gave Bill Kristol the vapors and had the neo-imperial triumvirate, McCain, Butters and DeMint, hounding him over the weekend:

"It was the president who was trying to be cute by half by flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should be in Afghanistan."

This is a little cutting, but not far off. Obama has never been a pacifist; he's a Niebuhrian realist, as he keeps telling us. And in 2001, there was a clear case for removing a regime that had allowed its territory to be used by upper-class Jihadist fanatics to attack the US mainland (if only by commandeering American planes). But by 2007, it was clear that this war was failing as well, and whatever leverage we might have had there as liberators had been squandered by the Bush-Cheney administration's negligence and focus on Iraq. Any realist at that point would have seen the merits of a policy commensurate with the failed occupation of six years. And indeed Obama signaled very strongly in his campaign and first few months that he would be following a minimalist strategy in Afghanistan. His rhetoric in the campaign - that Afghanistan was the good war and Iraq the bad one - was mere rhetoric, as Steele notes. It was a cute formula for domestic political consumption that was divorced from the practical exigencies of running an empire in the graveyard of all empires. Still, one assumed the president wouldn't actually be more utopian than Bush, more dedicated to the establishment cult of Petraeus, more eager to win a war that simply cannot be won.

But last fall, we discovered that Obama was a dreamer and actually believed he could pull off - a decade late - what no invading army has ever pulled off in Afghanistan since the beginning of time. The shift came last fall with the policy review, and now we have a hundred thousand troops, dying at record rates, to implement a counter-insurgency strategy, based on the one that so glaringly failed in Iraq. (For those who believe the surge has succeeded, one must simply ask: where is the non-sectarian Iraqi government that was its stated goal? Why was Joe Biden in Iraq again this past week?) Back to Steele:

"Well, if he's such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that's the one thing you don't do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? All right, because everyone who has tried, over a thousand years of history, has failed. And there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan."

Amen [stlll Sullivan:]. This is, at this point, Obama's war - because it was a war of choice for him, not necessity. The scale and ambition of this madness is Obama's scale and ambition, no one else's. This war is now his war, as much as Vietnam was LBJ's. And this is not because he inherited it. He inherited a critical window to cut our losses and get the hell out, with a minimalist Biden-style strategy to minimize, if not end, the threat.

If the GOP leadership were not still controlled by the neocons eager to relive the glory days of Bush and Cheney, the Republican party would be reprising its role as the realist reminder of the limits of government power in America and across the world. But they have long since abandoned realism for the fantasies of neoconservatism. And so we have two neo-imperial parties and a presidency reeking of fear and paralyzed in the face of the toughest decision any president has to make: conceding that a war is unwinnable on his terms before others determine it for him - on theirs'.


Islamophobia and anti-Semitism: a dubious comparison

Words, especially the catchy ones circulating in today’s journalism and blogosphere, can be curious instruments. In their trendy contagiousness, these neologisms nudge us in the direction of accepting half-baked notions that we might otherwise reject.

A case in point is “Islamophobia.” The etymology of this current expression shows how words can be incestuously generated. The term “homophobia” was coined about forty years ago. It was itself modeled on such terms as “agoraphobia” and “ailurophobia” (fear of cats). As I am scarcely the first to point out, homophobia is not a real phobia, because those who are said to be afflicted with this disorder can, in many cases, interact quite easily with gay people. Were this not so, the self-appointed task of the “ex-gay” groups would be impossible, for they would not be able to tolerate new clients long enough to get an opportunity to subject them to the dubious therapy they are peddling. As is well known, the “cure” process is long and arduous--and successful only in the rarest of cases.

In a recent speech, Hannah Rosenthal, a US envoy in Kazakstan, likened Islamophobia to anti-Semitism (see article by Edward Rothstein in the Arts section of the New York Times for July 6). The envoy’s intentions were surely good, but the comparison is deeply flawed.

The function of the two ethnically loaded terms is quite different. In fact they are almost perfect opposites. The expression “anti-Semitism” was invented in Germany towards the end of the nineteenth century. It was not intended as a salutary warning to Europe’s Jewish citizens that danger was looming. Rather it was meant to be a rallying cry for chauvinistic and extreme-conservative groups eager to advance “Aryan” values.

By contrast, “Islamophobia” is not hostile to Islam itself. Instead, it disparages opponents of Islam, not its supporters. It is an aspersion cast against those so labeled, not a rallying cry for more of the same. Undoubtedly, the term Islamophobia is meant to be Muslim-friendly. As Rothstein remarks, “one [term] was constructed by a group’s supporters, the other by a group’s enemies.”

Moreover, Islamophobia is a weasel word. If it simply served to spotlight stereotyping of Muslims and discrimination applied to them it could be useful. Yet the term’s semantic iridescence--its broad range of meanings--renders it a dubious instrument in the campaign to fight bigotry, a campaign that must be unflagging and universal its scope. At its worst. hurling the epithet Islamamophobia! seeks to shut down any criticism of aggressive behavior by Muslims, including the effort to impose Sharia law in sectors of Western Europe, not to mention such appalling horrors as honor killings, female genital mutilation, and gay bashing--crimes in which not a few individual Muslims have been involved.