Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Thursday, February 22, 2007

So-called Christians reveal hypocrisy on gays

We are all sinners in the religious sense or wrong-doers in the secular sense. But we are not all hypocrites. Hypocrites are self-described Christians who show no Christianty when it comes to gay clergy or gay marriage.

Recent examples: Evangelical Lutherans in Georgia removed a gay pastor from the ministry. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals who had long condemned homosexuality, resigned after confessing to gay trysts. A family-values congressman sent sexually explict Internet messages to pages.

Then there is the schism in the Anglican Church over gay bishops and same-sex unions. The Anglican communion, meeting recently in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, handed its Episcopal branch in America an ultimatum: ban blessings of same-sex unions or face a reduced role in the church.

In sharp contrast, Bishop Katharine Schori is a true Christian. Schori, head of the Episcopal Church, notes: “We have had gay bishops and gay clergy for millennia.”

As former bishop of Nevada, Schori sanctioned gay couples and voted to confirm a gay bishop of New Hampshire. Anglican Archbishop Ndungane of southern Africa put it well: “We should be embracing her. She is a super person.”

In Memoriam

Father Drinan was my kind of Catholic. Drinan, who died recently, insisted that priests should be secular activists for a more just and compassionate society.

He was inspired by “Saint” Dorothy Day and the progressive Catholic Worker movement. As a congressman from Massachusetts, Drinan voted his conscience while defying Catholic teaching. He supported birth control and abortion. He also denounced the senseless Vietnam War.

But he was ordered to leave Congress by Pope Paul II. The pope, who also opposed liberation theology espousing liberty of the oppressed in Latin America, had no understanding of Christ.

33 Cheers for Chicks

One of the Dixie Chicks, calling a spade a spade, said she was ashamed that the president came from her home state of Texas. Result: country radio DJs refused to play their platinum records and urged listeners to destroy CDs of the trio’s music.

But vindication was delicious. The Chicks recently swept five Grammy categories, including the top three of album, record and song of the year.

A New York Times editorial was perfect: “The gutsy group beat back the campaign by conglomerate radio chains to obliterate them and did it with little support from fellow artists, who feared getting Dixie-Chicked themselves.

“Lillian Hellman scalded an Academy Awards ceremony in 1977, 25 years after she defied the House Un-American Activities Committee. The film industry, she said, responded to Washington’s red-baiting and blacklisting with all the ‘force and courage of a bowl of mashed potatoes.’ ” (Hellman had written to HUAC: “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.”)

The courage the Chicks dispayed is a rare commodity whether in politics or the arts.

Philistine debunks Warhol

Doubtless I am the greatest philistine in Reno for saying that an Andy Warhol exhibit is not worth strolling across the street to see. His trademark soup cans are a mere gimmick and not art. So are the silk screens of famous people.

Nevertheless, for those who are not philistines, the Warhol exhibit can be seen at the Nevada Museum of Art through May 27.

Abolish British Monarchy

One of the most sensible planks in the British Labor Party of yesteryear called for the abolishment of the monarchy. Unfortunately, it never became law.

The monarchy is an archaic institution, an absurdity in the 21st century. America and the French had the wisdom to abolish it in the 18th century and Russians early in the 20th century. Moreover, the Royals have been scandal-ridden for centuries, proving that the institution is more decadent than useful as a symbol.

But the Brits prefer obsolesence to common sense just as they do with those silly wigs worn in court. So today we republicans (lower case r) are stuck with Queen Elisabeth II. A fine person but a throwback to an outmoded ruling class.

Rebuke to Borstal Boy

Brendan “Paddy” Behan in his “Borstal Boy,” a classic of prison literature, tells of a rugby match between prisoners and screws (guards): “I was inclined to lose my temper sometimes. Once I aimed a kick at this screw when I let on to be aiming at the ball…He just looked and said, ‘surprised at you, Paddy.’ I did not forget it.”

Behan’s conscience was seared by this gentle rebuke.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Lincoln: great character and magnanimity

It is evident to anyone who knows American history and politics that Bush II is the worst president the nation has ever endured. It will be extremely difficult for future historians to find anything good to say about him.

Bush is a petty man, a hollow man, a stubborn, stupid man who makes the racist Andrew
Johnson look good. To mention him in the same sentence with Lincoln is sacrilegious. Lincoln was a giant, Bush a sub-Neanderthal.

A billion words have been written about Lincoln so a mere columnist cannot possibly write something original about him. A recent Google search turned up 8,370,000 Lincoln entries. But two major qualities stand out to this ardent Lincoln lover: character and magnanimity.

His character was the greatest in the history of the presidency. He had integrity, compassion, empathy, sensitivity, decency and kindness. He had a towering conscience with a powerful sense of justice. Law partner William Herndon said Lincoln’s soul was “maddened by the wrong.” Lincoln’s secretary John Hay called him the “the greatest character since Christ.”

Take a look at the Mathew Brady photograph the day Lincoln spoke at Cooper Union in New York Feb. 27, 1860, a speech that probably made him president. His face exudes character.

He was so magnanimous that many members of his cabinet were politicians who had opposed him for the presidency. He picked them because they were the most able men in the country. Supremely confident, he surrounded himself with the best.

Bush picks such terrible people for high office out of politics, ideology and loyality rather than ability. He too surrounds himself with crass mediocrities who do not challenge him.

Lincoln named Salmon Chase as chief justice of the Supreme Court despite Chase’s frequent criticism of him: “I should despise myself if I allowed personal differences to affect my judgment of his fitness for the office,” Lincoln said.
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin notes Lincoln’s “singular ability to transcend personal vendetta, humiliation or bitterness.” Edwin Stanton initially had contempt for Lincoln, calling him a “long-armed Ape.” Yet Lincoln named him secretary of war.

Lincoln also had a profound melancholy. Anyone who thinks deeply about life and the reality of the world and politics has to be melancholic. Lincoln suffered defeats, failed to get nominations and saw his vaulting ambition thwarted. Herndon remarked: “Gloom and sadness were his predominant state.”

Lincoln was born in a log cabin Feb. 12, 1809. His formal education was practically nil. Yet he was an autodidact. Everywhere he traveled he carried a book. Bush, even with an MA, mangles the language.

Biographer Emil Ludwig says of Napoleon that he was constantly studying the historic figures of antiquity “in search of his own image.” I look for my image in the life of Lincoln. He loved Shakespeare, the theater and poetry as I do.
Goodwin writes: “Reading the Bible and Shakespeare over and over implanted rhythms and poetry that made Lincoln ‘our only poet president.’ ” He was also the greatest presidential writer: “with malice toward none…charity for all”… “the mystic chords of memory”…“the better angels of our nature.”

Goodwin notes that Lincoln once spent four hours in the White House discussing Shakespeare with a leading actor. Lincoln, pulling his well-worn volume of Shakespeare from a shelf, read “aloud some passages, repeating others from memory.”
Lincoln was right on so many issues. He opposed President Polk’s illegitimate war with Mexico, a huge land grab of California, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Nevada. He said Polk had dragged the nation into a war of choice by means of false reports and rumors. Just as Bush did with Iraq.

In a message to Congress in 1861, Lincoln gave off a whiff of socialism: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Lincoln was no paragon. No one is. His career is dotted with embarrassments and shortcomings as most lives are. He was a cautious politician. He was no abolitionist, suffering stinging rebukes from abolitionists Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison.

Yet Douglass eventually praised Lincoln for emancipation and the use of black soldiers in the war. Indeed, he said Lincoln’s name would always be cherished by black Americans.

Lincoln knew that his rightful masters were the American people. Something Bush, “the decider,” has neither the class, character nor intelligence to learn.
When comes another like Lincoln? Probably never. Meanwhile, Stanton’s words after Lincoln died will suffice: “Now he belongs to the ages.”

Monumental legacy of Martin Luther King

Behold, this dreamer cometh…let us slay him.
Genesis 37: 19, 20

MEMPHIS, Tenn.--Taste is a great divider. Classic works of literature versus
dime-a-dozen novels. Serious nonfiction books versus kitsch. Classical music versus noise.
So it is with my favorite cemetery, Père Lachaise in Paris. There I commune with the famous dead like Molière, Oscar Wilde, Chopin and Rossini. But, alas, most people
rush to the grave of rock star Jimmy Morrison.

It’s similar in Memphis. People flock to Graceland. Yet to me Elvis Pressley, the king, is meaningless. The King who matters was the one assassinated here in 1968.
Speaker after speaker at the third annual Media Reform Conference here spoke fervently about Martin Luther King and his monumental legacy. But the 3,500 attendees came not to praise King but to denounce the Corporate Media, the media that is strangling American democracy.

Jesse Jackson, in the rolling cadences of a black preacher, told how the media would ask King for comment about racial issues. But when King deplored the Vietnam War he was accused of knowing nothing about foreign policy.
“If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam,” King said. “It can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of men the world over.”

Today he would say the same thing about Iraq.
King also on Vietnam: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Ditto about Iraq.

When King attacked the savagery of capitalism and the gap between the rich and poor, why, he was told he knew nothing about economics.
King said: “Something is wrong with capitalism as it now stands in the United States. We are not interested in being integrated into this value structure…a radical redistribution of power must take place.”
No wonder the FBI hounded him, sending false reports to the press slandering him and calling him a communist. No wonder the FBI never warned him of assassination threats it had learned of.

Yes, the “I Have a Dream” speech is marvelous. But, unfortunately, that is all that too many people remember about king: his fight for racial equality. They do not remember his battles for social justice and for a decent America.
Indeed, the reason he came to Memphis was to support 1,300 striking sanitation workers. The night before he was murdered he told them: “The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants…All we say to America is: ‘Be true to what you say on paper.’ ”

It recalls the anguished yet hopeful lines of poet Langston Hughes: “O, let America be America again. The land that never has been yet…O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me. And yet I swear this oath: America will be!”
King, speaking to the sanitation workers, invoked the biblical prophet Amos: “Let judgment run down as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.” He spoke eloquently of the Good Samaritan.

King was fond of recalling his student days at Morehouse College in Atlanta. There he first read Thoreau’s great essay, “Civil Disobedience.” He became fascinated with the idea of refusing to cooperate with the evil of apartheid in the South.
“I was so deeply moved that I reread the work several times,” King said. “This was my first intellectual contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance.”

As Thoreau put it: “Must the citizen ever for a moment…resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law so much as for the right.”

Thus, it is moving to visit the Lorraine motel where King was slain. A large white plaque points to the fatal balcony of room 307. The words are by Ralph Abernathy, then president of the Southern Christian Leadership Council.
Abernathy quotes from Genesis: “They said one to another, behold, here cometh the dreamer…let us therefore slay him…And we shall see what will become of his dreams.”

The throat tightens. The eyes moisten.

King, in his speech to the sanitation workers, admitted that he might not get to the promised land. But, thanks to him, the nation got partway there. It still has an awfully long way to go to fulfill King’s dream for America.