Tag Archives: Rick Perry

Sorry, you’re out of the club

Wendy Davis.
Wendy Davis.

The United States heads into today’s Fourth of July celebrations consumed by anger at its women, as one state legislature after another attempts to enact laws that remove a woman’s right to manage her own body.  Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis of Texas recently became a national figure when she staged a twelve-hour filibuster to kill SB5, a bill that would have shuttered the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics, an event that exposed some truly ugly anti-female leanings from her right-wing colleagues (and a swift decision by chromosome-challenged Governor Rick Perry to schedule a special session to pass the bill anyway in a manner that won’t be able to be filibustered).  Ohio’s budget bill recently signed into law by Governor John Kasich contains language that redefines the concept of when pregnancy begins.  And it appears that North Carolina has also followed suit by slipping anti-abortion wording into an unrelated bill.  Medical decisions that should belong only to women and their doctors are being shoved down throats (or, to put it more bluntly and accurately, up vaginas) by old Bible-waving men whose medical expertise is limited to having seen every episode of Trapper John, M.D.  It’s abhorrent and nauseating to imagine the damage that will be done by these draconian measures, and the mind simply reels at the idea of a country where a vagina must be strictly regulated but doing the same to a lethal firearm represents an infringement on freedom.

The U.S. is not alone, but merely the latest world player to climb aboard the bad ship Misogyny.  We look aghast across the ocean at nations where women are forced to veil themselves head to toe and walk ten paces behind their husbands, and cannot even ride bicycles, let alone drive cars.  It is the most bizarre of pendulum swings that as women become more independent, successful and (gasp!) powerful, the old guard reacts by trying to legislate them back into submission.  By suggesting that women aren’t intelligent enough to manage their own bodies, and that it falls to Big Strong He-Man to pat her on the head and tell her boys know better while ushering her back to the kitchen to make him a sandwich and fetch him a beer.  Oh, and to have unlimited sex with him whenever and only exactly how he wants it.

That kind of backward attitude can only come, it seems to me, from a place of pure fear, fear of the mystical and irresistibly compelling unknown that is the lady parts.  What continues to elude me though is why all these men are so afraid.  What do they think is going to happen?  Truly?  Perhaps it’s the terror of the eternally insecure, the paranoiac who forever walks in worry of being exposed as a complete fraud, a construct of paper with no purpose to his existence.  An excellent depiction of this fear can be found in Ksenia Anske’s upcoming novel Siren Suicides, where the heroine must deal with an abusive father who insists that women are made only to “haul water.”  Papa frequently belts his daughter across the face to “remind her” and keep her controlled.  As the story unfolds, we discover that the seed of this hatred of women lies in his betrayal by one woman in particular.  It is not a stretch to imagine that much of the world’s misogyny originates in a man’s frustration with one specific woman from his past – projecting her perceived “sins” onto her entire gender.  “You’re all a bunch of feminists,” Marc Lepine railed infamously as he perpetrated the Montreal Massacre.  You’re all.  Woman is all women.  The so-called failings of one are the failings of the collective.  They must be controlled, regulated, kept down, lest… well, that’s the question, isn’t it, and that’s where you’ll find the fear.

I’m sorry, but I don’t get it, and as the politicians say, let me be abundantly clear.  I’m goddamned tired of it.  Because as men, we can do so much better, and yet we’re letting the standard be lowered daily by mouth-breathing troglodytes who can’t handle the funny feels that spring up (pun intended) in their groins when a woman walks by.  Who resent the notion that anyone could have power over their manly manliness and who try to prove it by essentially wrapping vaginas in red tape (or shoving ultrasound wands inside them, as the case may be with some of these recent laws).  Is this really what men want to be known for when the history of the 21st Century is written?

The aforementioned Neanderthal types need to take a hard long look in the mirror and ask themselves if this is what they signed up for.  If they want to perpetuate the cycle of hatred for another generation.  I have little optimism at this point that they will do so, however – the proverbial road-to-Damascus conversion is just that, the stuff of proverbs.  So it is incumbent on the rest of us – and I’m speaking to my fellow men here, the ones who shift silently and uncomfortably in their seats when their best friend’s douchebag cousin makes a crude remark about the waitress instead of telling him to shut his filthy mouth and get the hell out.  We need to be louder, and announce that not only do the Rick Perrys and John Kasichs of the world not speak for us, but that we’re kicking them out of the club, effective immediately – do not pass Go, do not collect $200.  That’s it.  Their “man card” is revoked.  They will no longer be welcome in gatherings of real men, nor will they earn a single one of our votes come election time.  We won’t drink with them, we won’t talk sports with them.  We’ll cross the street to avoid them.  We’ll shun them without pity.  They will be condemned to peer longingly in the window from the cold street at those of us who know that a woman’s place is wherever she wants to be.

A man who demeans a woman or women in any way does not deserve the honor of being called a man.  He’s an amateur, a lightweight, an utter joke of a waste of otherwise usable DNA overcompensating for what nature saw fit – justifiably so – to deny him.  It’s time the rest of us men started treating him accordingly.  Like how he treats women.  Hopefully he’ll learn something and change his ways.  Until then, forget it pal, you’re outta here.

Get Up the Road: Henry Rollins live

Jon Stewart once said about Bruce Springsteen that when the Boss performs on stage, he empties the tank.  Some performers endure with unapproachable intensity, defying their age and it would seem even the limits of physics as they keep the needle in the red long after most of the audience is ready to collapse from sheer exhaustion.  Paul McCartney remains that in his 70’s.  And so does Henry Rollins.  From the moment he walks out on the bare stage and grabs his instrument – the microphone – Rollins seizes his audience by the balls, locks them in a vice and doesn’t give them nor himself a single breath until he’s done, two and a half hours later; at which point he marches off without looking back, point made, job done.  Rollins is a rare breed and like the most fascinating people, a walking contradiction – a master raconteur absolutely without cynicism; an angry, tattooed punk who rages for the cause of hope.  He spits in the face of authority not out of misguided emo angst, but because he’s been to every corner of the world he’s been warned not to visit and has found a common humanity wherever he’s walked.  Rollins is a modern pilgrim and is only too eager to share what he’s learned, to put it out there without judgement and have you decide for yourself whether you think he’s onto something or not.

I’m not going to pretend that I have any kind of penetrating insight into punk rock; apart from occasionally digging the odd Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop or Ramones tune it’s a stratum of society that is pretty foreign to a kid whose chosen muses growing up were James Bond and Star Trek.  But it’s an interesting exercise to compare the sentiments of someone like Johnny Ramone, who admired George W. Bush and opined that punk was essentially right wing at heart, to Rollins, who rejects the absolutism that frames a conservative’s morality (he refers to Mitt Romney as a “feckless douche” and mocks the Republicans’ deep-seeded fear of “le vag”) and understands that people everywhere just want a better life for their kids and are at their best when they work together for the benefit of everyone.  One could hardly find a sharper contrast to the Ayn Randian mentality that characterizes today’s right wing (and contributed greatly to their shellacking down south on November 6th).  What I suspect informs at least some of Rollins’ more collectivist thinking as it applies to punk rock is the ability of music to unite everyone, regardless of background, in a shared experience.  To show that someone else gets it.  Rollins’ spoken word shows carry on that tradition as well.  He admits that he both loves and fears his audience, but one thing is for certain:  he can unite them.

Perhaps atypically for what one (or, more accurately, “the man”) would expect from a punk, Henry Rollins doesn’t believe in anger without purpose; he quotes Iggy Pop, who, when asked why he was so angry all the time, replied that “I work at it.”  We’ve all felt that directionless anger many times in our lives, and rather than throwing up his hands and deciding that humanity is headed to its smouldering doom in the proverbial flaming handbasket, rather than simply stumbling out drunkenly in the night looking for an innocent face to throw a punch at, Rollins channels his anger into positive work.  He relates a tale of bringing soap and soccer balls to a shattered community in Haiti, and laments playfully lifting a child into the air when a line of hundreds of them then formed expecting a similar ride from an increasingly sore back that wasn’t physically up to the challenge.  He talks about befriending the driver of a broken-down tour bus in Cuba who could only manage a few phrases of broken English (among them “baseball”).  He shares a story of meeting a fan who listened to Rollins’ records to gather the courage to come out to his staunchly conservative parents.  He tells of a troubled young girl who sent him an email full of naked pictures of herself asking if he thought boys would like her, and of his response, both fatherly (gently assuring her that she doesn’t need to run at that part of her life when it will come naturally in time) and terrifying (talking about the permanence of the Internet and painting a graphic picture of what might happen should the wrong person decide to take an interest in her).  And he finds the most clever ways to stick it to the man, as in when requesting that his share of the profits from a poster promoting a festival in Austin, Texas be donated to the local chapter of Planned Parenthood in order to give a smirking middle finger to Governor (and Planned Parenthood foe) Rick Perry.  One thing I do understand about punk that many seem to miss is its wry sense of humor, and Rollins could easily be thought of as punk’s happy warrior.  For a guy who looks like he’d just as soon kick your ass as look at you twice, Rollins does a magnificent job of making people laugh – not with puns or punch lines or observations about airline food, but with tales of the richness and the wackiness that is the life available to us if we’re willing to leap at it the way he does – even if we’re not all as eager to throw back two shots of cow urine on camera.

I’ve seen Henry Rollins live six times now, trying to make it out to his show every time he’s in the neighbourhood, and fortunately, as the self-professed “work slut” and Canada enthusiast proclaims, that’s often, usually once a year.  The stories change but the message remains the same, and it continues to simmer in the recesses of one’s thoughts long after Rollins has said good night and soldiered back to his utilitarian hovel.  Seeing Henry Rollins is not a passive experience where you let the words wash over you, laugh a few times and then forget it as soon as you’ve left the theatre.  What Rollins wants, and the gauntlet that he lays down, is for each person sitting there listening and laughing to join with him in the spirit with which he journeys through life.  To cast aside the filter of fear erected to obscure the truth of our world by people who are trying to sell us things.  To come together in the common cause of getting everyone a little bit further up the road.  Fundamentally, to find and latch onto that little piece of punk inside that Rollins knows can be harvested to do amazing things.  And if nothing else, to rock out to the Ramones.  I don’t know about you, but that makes me seriously consider getting some ink – or at least cranking up “Blitzkrieg Bop.”

Hey, ho, let’s go.

Give me Maher!

With the recent political swing to the right in Toronto, first with Rob Ford, then with the Conservative GTA wins in the federal election, you’d think there wouldn’t be much of an appetite for Bill Maher’s brand of comedy in Hogtown.  But a packed Massey Hall couldn’t get enough of him last Saturday night.  For 90 minutes the master of taking the piss out of the American right-wing was slicing and dicing the likes of Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum, to a crowd that thankfully doesn’t have to face the prospect of a ballot with any of those names on it, but was still informed enough to understand just how deserving of mockery those targets are.  (Curious how Rick Mercer might have done with a set on Stephen Harper and Rob Ford in Texas – I’m guessing crickets, and that’s nothing against Mercer.)  To any regular viewer of HBO’s Real Time, some of the wisecracks were familiar.  But Maher delivers them with such verve you can laugh at them again and feel like it’s the first time.  It’s all still hilarious, and ever so true.

Those of a certain political inclination inclined to dismiss Bill Maher as a “loony leftie” miss the point.  His politics, and by extension his comedy, isn’t about left and right, it’s about intelligent and stupid.  Maher is, like Aaron Sorkin in many ways, if not an idealist, then at least someone who prefers to be led by smart and curious people and has no patience for the kind of false populism that celebrates the mediocre and the small-minded.  Religion is a particular bugbear for him – among the best jokes of the night was a bit about how the West has learned to ignore its religious leaders (in contrast to fundamentalist regimes abroad) and a prediction that the Pope will one day be nothing more than a  float robotically blessing the onlookers in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.  For Maher, looking to the imaginary guy in the sky for answers is the refuge of the foolish, and he saves his most bitter disdain for scheming politicians like Rick Perry who prey on that naivete to win votes.  I don’t suspect Bill Maher would have as much of a problem with the likes of Perry and Bachmann if they didn’t parade their faith around like a political prop.  It’s when faith is used in lieu of reasoned arguments that gets Maher’s hackles up.  These aren’t the William F. Buckleys of decades past laying out their case in thought-out paragraphs spiced with Latin.  Today it’s Southern-accented fire and brimstone and the all-consuming, earth-ending threat of gay marriage.

The conservative comedian Dennis Miller, for all his verbal calisthenics and classical references, these days comes off only as sad and angry – not in the rebellious sense, but more in the mold of that kid at the party who was only invited because his mom pulled some strings.  Miller’s repertoire has become a tired litany of ramblings about Joe Biden’s hair and Nancy Pelosi’s makeup – he’s mainly upset because his team didn’t win.  Bill Maher, on the other hand, remains fresh and inspired because he doesn’t really care which team wins – he just wants both teams to be better.  His targets are anyone he sees to be dragging the whole cause down:  a refrain repeated often during the show, with a hand covering his face was “I’m embarrassed for my country.”  He isn’t afraid to take shots at President Obama either, bemoaning what he sees as a pattern of capitulation to the Tea Party extremists in Congress who are determined to see him fail.  But what bothers Maher most is what he sees as America’s hypocrisy-fueled descent into idiocracy; an electorate swayed by celebrity into voting against their own interests time and again, and a political movement that claims to be for the common man but is in fact backed by billionaires and underpinned with a very real, very ugly swath of racism.  The fact that he’s out there making jokes about it, even to a foreign audience, suggests that he thinks there is still hope – if the good people can find their feet and their guts and start taking the power back.

You might miss that message amidst all the laughs, and the occasional side ventures into the never-ending mine of the perplexity that is male-female relations.  But Bill Maher knows that the best way to serve up wisdom is with a smile.  You come out of his show with your sides hurting and your mind thinking.  Maybe the way we beat these guys is to make them ridiculous.  It’s certainly a lot more fun than hate.

By their fruits shall you know them

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann suggested to a crowd of her supporters that both the hurricane and last week’s earthquake were signs that God is angry at America.  She pivoted immediately to suggest that God’s anger stems from too much government spending.  I recall when this sort of politics & preaching was the exclusive domain of Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell and the execrable Westboro Baptist Church.  But here we have someone who, as nuts as she can sound to a liberal, has a decent shot at winning the nomination – to say nothing of front-runner Rick Perry, who held a massive prayer rally before jumping into the race and has suggested that global warming is a lie, evolution isn’t real and Social Security is a giant Ponzi scheme – this from the man who had insurance companies take out secret policies on retired Texas teachers and then cash in huge when said teachers ‘passed their finals.’

Excluding weddings and funerals I have not attended a regular church service in 20 years – but I would not go so far as to say I am completely non-spiritual.  I have my questions and my doubts, and in my quiet moments I am given to ponder the meaning of existence.  If there is a grand design to the universe, I have to believe it is bigger than anything that can be codified in language or filtered through the voices of intermediaries.  I don’t know what that is.  I don’t presume to be smart enough to understand it.  But every day, I’m trying.  My faith, as it were, is that the journey to uncover the answer is likely more meaningful than the destination, the answer itself.  And that works for me.  It probably won’t work for you or anyone else.  I’m not going to try and push it on you – it’s not my place.  Much as I would ask you the courtesy of not forcing your beliefs on me.

However, not being religious doesn’t mean sticking your head in the sand and pretending that it isn’t worth learning about other faiths.  Growing up in an overwhelmingly Christian community at a time when you still had to recite the Lord’s Prayer following the national anthem at school every morning, you still retain a lot of this stuff.  And as an adult I’ve read the Bible and other texts about Jesus and his message.  I’m not quite sure if it’s Matthew, Mark, Luke or John where he says that senior citizens should die in poverty while Wall Street loses their retirement funds.  Or if it was on that extra tablet of Commandments that broke in History of the World, Part I, where it said “Thou shalt cut taxes for the rich.”  One should never make the mistake of assuming that all Christians are rabid right-wing, small-government conservatives.  I’d go so far as to say that despite their protestations to the contrary, most of these rabid right-wing, small-government conservatives aren’t really Christian – at least not in the way I understand the Biblical Jesus Christ would want them to be.

I respect people.  I don’t murder, steal or cheat on my wife.  It’s not my business to dictate how two consenting adults should love one another.  I think women should control what happens to their bodies.  I think evolution is a fact.  I think no one should have to fear going bankrupt if they get sick and that higher taxes are a pittance for a clean and beautiful planet.  I’ve made mistakes and hurt people in the past, but overall I’ve tried to lead a good life.  Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann would probably think I’m going to hell.  But they wouldn’t say that because they truly believed it.  They’d say so to win votes – which is the most cynical exploitation of faith.  And they know it too.  In the States you can lock in a solid bloc of the electorate simply by repeating “Jesus” and “tax cuts” ad infinitum – and the votes you’ll win are from the people who are most in need of charitable help and most likely to be wounded by the loss of government programs those tax cuts will entail.  Michele Bachmann says that God is angry at the United States – I suppose it never occurred to her that He might be angry at the politicians dropping His name to win elections.

I do like the following quote from the Gospel of John:  “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”  And this one, Ephesians 4:2:  “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”  I don’t see a lot of that in the Republican front-runners for the presidential nomination, or in the people who support them – they seem to be a little mired in Leviticus.  I suppose that they are perfectly entitled to hold those opinions and run on them, as objectionable as I and other liberals might find it.  But for Perry and Bachmann to be claiming God is speaking through them and that they alone have the wisdom to interpret natural disasters as endorsements of their platforms makes them seem less like legitimate presidential contenders and more like the guy on the street corner with the warnings of doom on his cardboard sign.  That they have a better than ridiculous chance of being elected should give everyone – including Christians – reason to pause, and give some serious thought to that timeless question – what would Jesus do?