Monday, April 23, 2007

Tinsley's Fillmore is a Foul-Minded Fowl

In the past I have taken to task within the confines of this blog one Bruce Tinsley (and one is more than enough, thank you very much). Tinsley, you see, is the "cartoonist" who is responsible for that piece of journalist excrement known as "Mallard Fillmore." (Note that I use the term "cartoonist" with apologies to the many fine cartoonists who truly deserve the title; Tinsley does not.) "Fillmore" has almost always been offensive and in poor taste, while managing, unlike other taste-free offerings such as the "Borat" movie, to be not the least bit amusing. Now, however, Tinsley has strayed so far over the line as to be an affront to free speech itself.

A bit of a digression here: You will find no bigger defender of First Amendment rights than yours truly. As a proud, card-carrying member of the ACLU, I am a firm believer in Voltaire's maxim, "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Contrast this with, say, Bill O'Reilly's habit of inviting guests with whom he disagrees to his show mainly so that he can shout, "Shut up!" at them, while ordering his producer to "Cut the other mike!"

But what some of my fellow Free Speech proponents fail to understand is that, as part of the Constitution, the First Amendment concerns itself with government and its relationship with the citizenry; so, for example, you cannot be arrested and thrown in jail for publicly criticizing the government. (We all know that George W and his Veep, Darth Vader, would eagerly do away with that little protection if they could.) However, if you are paid substantial amounts of money to express your opinion in a public arena, such as TV, radio, or the pages of a newspaper, and you offend a good portion of the viewers/listeners/readers, you can be fired, and there's not much you can do about it. The First Amendment guarantees that you won't be prosecuted for shooting off your fool mouth; it does not guarantee that you'll be paid for it. Don Imus learned this lesson the hard way.

There are other situations in which the government may step in to abrogate your First Amendment right to free speech for perfectly legitimate reasons. For example, you would not be permitted to shout, "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater and start a panic in which people would likely be injured. You would certainly be detained if you stood in front of an angry mob and urged them to smash windows, turn over cars, and set fire to storefronts; that's called incitement to riot. And if you decided to address a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan so as to bring to their attention the many fine contributions of black, Jewish, and Catholic Americans, the authorities would be justified in removing you for your own protection.

With all of that in mind, let's turn again to Mallard Fillmore. The Fillmore strip that ran on April 23, 2007 makes reference to the recent visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Damascus; to her credit, Pelosi was trying to inject a bit of diplomacy into Bush's headlong rush to mire the country into yet another pointless and unwinnable war in the Middle East. For her troubles, Pelosi was roundly condemned by the country's Republican-conservative cabal for "usurping the president's role as maker of foreign policy." (Oh, we have a foreign policy? Who knew?) The always-dependable Wall Street Journal even declared on its editorial page that Pelosi's trip to Syria - a nation with whom we are not at war (yet) - represented treason, and the fact that she did it at taxpayer expense made it all the more deplorable. That three Republican Congressmen had made the exact same trip one month earlier, also at taxpayer expense, was of course never mentioned by the WSJ.

So what did Tinsley's damnable duck Fillmore have to say about this? "Unlike other conservatives," he declared, "I didn't have a problem with Nancy Pelosi's going to Syria... until I found out she was gonna [sic] come back." Cue rim shot. With typical conservative mean-spiritedness, Tinsley's insult to Madam Speaker was about as sickeningly unfunny as Ann Coulter calling John Edwards a "faggot" for laughs, about as chillingly unfunny as Bush-butt-kisser John McCain crooning, "Bomb, bomb, bomb...bomb, bomb Iran." Can you imagine how Fillmore would have foamed at the bill if his nemesis Garry Trudeau, who draws "Doonesbury," had had one of his characters say something like, "I was glad to see that Dick Cheney had gone to Afghanistan... but I was sorry to see that he came back." And Tinsley has more than once taken pot-shots at Trudeau's "Doonesbury" in his own "Fillmore" strip, violating every rule of cartoonist etiquette while only serving to prove how little talent he possesses when compared with Trudeau.

Now, I could be just as crude and offensive as Tinsley, and make some kind of comment like, "It's too bad that Tinsley wasn't visiting Virginia Tech last Monday." But I would never do that, because I recognize the difference between tasteless humor and simple bad taste - a distinction that has always eluded the intellectually-challenged Tinsley. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that Tinsley doesn't have the right to spew his pea-brained hatred in public. I'm saying that he's a no-talent moron, a worthless hack who doesn't deserve to make a penny off the garbage that he has the unmitigated gall to submit to his editor every day. I'm saying that, if anyone in the Media ever deserved to be fired for being stupid, offensive, and un-amusing all at once, it's Tinsley. Safeguarding free speech is a cornerstone of American greatness; so is not rewarding those who cannot even aspire to mediocrity.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Come Back, Tom Jefferson, We Really Need You

You know who we ought to listen to more? Thomas Jefferson. Oh, sure, he's sometimes called the "author of our democracy" because he wrote the Declaration of Independence, and his face is on the nickel and on the two dollar bill that no one uses, and he has that beautiful memorial by the tidal basin in Washington that no one visits because they're all jammed into the Lincoln Memorial. But let's face it: no one's really listening to ol' Tom Jefferson much anymore. If they were, they would have to face up to the fact that Jefferson is likely spinning in his grave over the mess that Americans in general, and the Bush Republicans in particular, have made of his vision.

Take, for example, those ninnies - who listen to bigger ninnies like Bill O'Reilly - who claim to be "patriotic," yet also insist that separation of church and state is a "liberal myth," and that the United States was founded on "Christian principles." Jefferson was neutral about religion, although he considered himself a Deist rather than a Christian, and was often critical of Christianity as practiced by those claiming to be Christians. He was especially disdainful of the clergy, however, writing first in 1800, "The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man," again in 1813, "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government," and again in 1814, "In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty; he is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own."

Those who claim that the Founding Fathers did not intend for there to be separation of church and state should turn to Jefferson's 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists, in which he stated, "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their Legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State." And those - among them modern clergy like Rabbi Gellman - who defend displaying the Ten Commandments on government property because, in their delusion, "all secular law comes from the Bible," need to be reminded of what Jefferson wrote in 1824: "The common law existed while the Anglo-Saxons were yet pagans, at a time when they had never yet heard the name of Christ pronounced or knew that such a character existed."

Even that dramatic, thundering quote etched into the marble within the rotunda of the Jefferson Memorial itself is abbreviated and taken out of context: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Sounds like a nice, idealistic slap against tyranny, with a gratuitous nod to the Almighty, doesn't it? Consider, then, the entire quotation, taken from Jefferson's 1800 letter to Benjamin Rush: "The clergy...believe that any portion of power confided to me [as President] will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Note the lower-case "g" in "god;" this is exactly how Jefferson wrote it, believing as he did that mindless tokens of worship did not exalt God (or "god"), but diminished mankind.

It is fitting that we close with Jefferson's crowning achievement, the Declaration of Independence, and what a magnificent document it is too. Despite the popular misconception that the Declaration specifically mentions "God-given rights," it does not: it first refers to "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God," sounding distinctly more Wiccan than Christian, and then to "unalienable rights" with which men have been endowed by their "Creator." Here, too, the mis-named "fundamentalists" assume too much when they point to the capitalized "C" in "creator" as proof of Jefferson's Christian sympathies; read the whole document, and you will find nearly every proper noun capitalized, as was the custom in official documents in Jefferson's day. And, other than a final brief mention of "Divine Providence," there are no other references to God or Christianity in the Declaration.

What the Declaration does say, quite clearly, is, "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." It then states "that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government." One can only wonder what Jefferson would think of a president and vice-president who continue to drag the nation through a costly and pointless war that the vast majority of Americans do not support; of a president who vetoes legislation, such as that for funding of stem-cell research, that both the Congress and people desperately want; and of a president who embraces religious extremism over the Constitutional rule of law that he has sworn to uphold. Would Jefferson not say that it was the right and duty of the people to remove a chief executive whose rule has become so destructive and so counter to the will of the governed?

Can you spell "Impeachment" - with a capital "I?"