Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Devil Doll

Little fascist girls deserve a Christmas, too!

Forget Barbi or GI Joe. When was the last time either one had the cajones to call Democrats ugly, stupid, lazy or, even better, treasonous? Heck, those dolls are just wusses.

Now you can enjoy Ann Colter even when your TV cable is out! With the talking Ann doll, you need never be lonely again.

Rope and lighter fluid not included.

No soup for you!

Came across this tremendous online Seinfeld Dictionary and just wanted to share it, especially in light of TV's greatest sitcom finally making it to DVD ...

Hope you enjoy... not that there's anything wrong with that, in case you don't ...

Anchors Away

This week we say goodbye to Tom Brokaw, who is hanging up his "NBC Nightly News" TelePrompTer duties after more than 20 years of liquid L's and making a zillion comparisons between political elections and boxing matches. While Brokaw's slight smirk could get a little taxing at times, he was certainly likeable -- and so it's unfortunate that he will be succeeded by Brian Williams, an insufferably smug (even by TV news standards) dandy who might just be the result of an itinerant Peter Jennings spermatozoa crossed with French cufflinks.

Goodbye, Uncle Tom. We will miss you.

Over at the Tiffany network, of course, crazy ol' Dan Rather will be stepping down in March, where he has crowned a venerable TV news career with that whole forged memo business. While the memo scandal is beyond unconscionable -- one supposes CBS producer Mary Mapes also seeks out news leads in Bazooka bubblegum wrappers, truck-stop bathroom walls and Ouija boards -- I don't have the same disdain for Rather that many conservatives do. Teeming with bizarre Man-from-Mars adages and the bug-eyed expression of sudden incontinence, the guy is just too weird for me to dislike. Like that eccentric bachelor uncle who loves zither music and bathes fully clothed, Dan Rather strikes me as an oddly lovable freakshow.

CBS hasn't named a successor as of yet, but top candidates include John Roberts and, according to the rumor mill, Diane Sawyer.

It is with modesty, however, that I would like to cast my own recommendation for CBS' next anchor... and just in time for those hot summer days in New York. Hubba hubba.

In the meantime, I'd like to briefly pay homage to a few of my favorite Ratherisms from presidential election nights of yesteryear ...

"His lead is as thin as turnip soup."

"This race is hotter than the Devil's anvil."

"Ohio becomes like a sauna for the two candidates. All they can do is wait and sweat."

"We had a slight hitch in our giddy up, but we corrected that."

"Is it like a swan, with every feather above the water settled, but under the water paddling like crazy?"

"We don't know what to do. We don't know whether to wind a watch or bark at the moon."

"This race is shakier than cafeteria Jell-O."

"This race is tight like a too-small bathing suit on a too-long ride home from the beach."

"This election swings like one of those pendulum things."

"The presidential race still hotter than a Laredo parking lot."

"It was as hot and squalid as a New York elevator in August."

"We've lived by the crystal ball, we're eating so much broken glass. We're in critical condition."

Yes, crazy ol' Dan has been entertaining, if nothing else. We suspect that Peter Jennings won't be quite so fun, even if he does say "about" (read: a-BOAT) like a friggin' Canook.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

A Very Brief 'Sideways' Rant

Absolutely one of the best films I've seen in recent years, "Sideways" should seal the reputation of director Alexander Payne ("Election," "About Schmidt," "Citizen Ruth") and his co-screenwriter, Jim Taylor. Emotionally rich and complex characters, poignant, expansive and funny as hell. What else could anyone want? In the Village Voice, critic J. Haberman suggested that the two lead male characters (superbly performed by Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church) "are male archetypes, as well as the two most fully realized comic creations in recent American movies." That is not an overstatement.

Anyway, I don't have much to say other than a strong recommendation for anyone who really appreciates the potential of cinematic art.

Better yet, I will leave it to David Denby and The New Yorker to relate in this on-target review.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Just What Was IN that Spinach?

Found this through Token Liberal and had to share it with my readers (that means you, Mom). If Popeye can conquer xenophobia, surely, we all can....

Anime Popeye ...

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Aspirin for a Post-Election Hangover

Never trust a first impression.

Maybe that's the biggest lesson to take from all the apoplectic post-election hand-winging from the Left about how "values" supposedly swept Dubya back into office for a second term. Hell, I bought into it, too, swallowing all the election analysis that "moral values" were the central concern for 22 percent of the electorate, the vast majority of whom supported Bush.

And, yes, it made me feel pretty lousy about the direction this country was taking. Reasonable people can disagree about a number of social issues, of course -- abortion, gun control, etc. -- but it was a sobering notion that the "values" being bandied about by some of the truly crazed on the outside lane of the Religions Right (gays=bad, non-Christians=bad, foreigners=bad) really motivated that many voters.

Thankfully, a crop of post-Nov. 2 information questions the weight that "moral values" actually played.

First, let's take a deep breath and take note that, whaddya know, the electoral map of 2004 looks virtually the same as it did in 2000. While the gay marriage ban that appeared on the ballot in 11 states was undoubtedly employed as a wedge issue to separate the manly men Republicans from them sissified Democrats, Andrew Sullivan rightly points out that only three of the 11 were so-called "swing" states -- and Kerry won two of the three (OK, so that elusive third was the pivotal Ohio, but still....) And the overwhelming majority of the nation still supports civil unions for same-sex couples, or at least that's what they're telling pollsters.

The Nov. 22 issue of Time tackles the "folklore" of the 2004 election, including the misperception that churchgoers dominated the polls. The magazine notes that Democratic pollster Geoffery Garin found that the portion of the '04 electorate attending church at least once a week was 42 percent, the same percentage that turned out four years ago. In fact, Garin adds, Bush's support in that group rose by only 1 percent. He actually increased his support among the group of voters who never go to church, witnessing an increase of 4 percentage points.

The magazine goes on:

"Though 22 percent cited their moral values as the deciding issue, the percentage that cited one of the two biggest foreign policy issues, Iraq and terrorism, was significantly higher -- 34 percent. And it turns out that a 'moral value' is in the conscience of the beholder. In a poll due out this week from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, 42 percent of respondents said the war in Iraq was the most important moral issue influencing their vote, compared with 13 percent who chose abortion and less than 10 percent who chose gay marriage."

Maybe I should have realized as such. Most of my Republican friends who voted for Bush did so chiefly because of what they perceive as his resolve in the war on terrah (read: terror) and not because they have any hidden desire to beat puppies.

Anyway, it's not New Year's yet, but I've got a new resolution. I'm gonna try not to sweat it that we've got four more years of Dubya. Perhaps Tom Wolfe put it best. "This country is so centrist, we're not really going to go wrong whoever's elected," he wrote in a recent Rolling Stone. "Our government is like a train on a track: People yell at it from the left, and they yell at from the right, but the train goes right down the middle where the tracks are."

"Maria Full of Grace": A Review

Although I haven't explored the cinema to any great depth in this blog, I am a zealous (read: pathetic) film buff. It is my hope to devote a good amount of Cutting to the Chase (lucky you, dear reader ... or should I say, Mom) to all things cinematic.

And as we approach the end of 2004, I wanted to drop a few reviews of some of my favorite films of the past year, movies that really took root in my subconscious and lingered for a while.

On that note... my review of the exceptional "Maria Full of Grace" ...

Maria Alvarez is as complicated as any 17-year-old girl teetering between her teen years and adulthood. She is smart, but prone to stubbornness and rash decisions. She is generous to her friends, but quick to pick fights with her family. As the title character in the astonishing “Maria Full of Grace,” she boasts a flesh-and-blood complexity that makes all the more riveting her journey from a small town in Colombia to the perilous world of international drug-trafficking.

Let’s get to the bottom line first. “Maria Full of Grace” is a powerful, gripping motion picture deserving of a wide audience. It’s easy to see why this debut by first-time director and writer Joshua Marston won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

Maria (Catalina Sandino Moreno) bristles at her poverty-stricken life in Colombia. She works at a flower plantation, pruning the thorns off roses and forced to share her meager paycheck with her grandmother, mother, sister and baby nephew. Her boyfriend (Wilson Guerrero) has gotten her pregnant and halfheartedly proposes marriage, but Maria refuses since they’re not in love. Things get worse. She abruptly quits her job after a supervisor berates her over one too many bathroom breaks.

At a dance, Maria meets a guy named Franklin (John Alex Toro) who tells her about a job in Bogotá promising more money than she could ever hope to make otherwise. And so Maria becomes a human “mule,” someone who swallows tiny packages of cocaine and heroin to smuggle them past U.S. Customs officials and into New York. Once in the United States, Maria and her fellow mules – her friend Blanca (Yenny Paola Vega) and Lucy (Guilied Lopez) – will be hustled off to a sleazy motel room to wait until they excrete the drugs.

With the feel of a documentary and in painstaking detail, Marston reveals this netherworld without resorting to easy moralizing or melodrama. If a single pellet bursts inside Maria stomach, it will mean instant death. If any of the 62 pellets is accidentally excreted before the mule reaches her destination, the contraband must be cleaned and re-ingested. Of course, there is also the challenge of getting past U.S. law enforcement personnel who are not so naïve as to let teen Colombian girls flit into New York without interrogation. Even after a movie summer that boasted some terrific thrillers, few films in recent memory have matched “Maria Full of Grace” for pure suspense.

Moreno, a beautiful and charismatic Colombian actress, is revelatory as Maria. She has the rare gift of projecting both strength and vulnerability, and she inhabits the role with raw elegance. Between Moreno’s performance and Marston’s understated screenplay, we are presented with a heroine who is sympathetic without being particularly likeable. Her options in Colombia are limited, but we do not get the impression that drug-running is her only possible recourse. Still, we find ourselves empathizing with Maria even as she carries a bellyful of drugs that could threaten the life of her unborn child.

Such ambivalence is part of what makes “Maria Full of Grace” so extraordinary. If big-budget Hollywood had told this story, it would have made Maria a saintly ingénue and added a few mustache-twirling villains of the drug cartel. But here everyone, even the drug-trafficking thugs, have their reasons for behaving the way they do. The result is a film that rings with authenticity: real people, real choices and real consequences.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Dead Terrorists Tell No (Tall) Tales Anymore

Below is a recent sermon delivered by my oldest sister, who is a rabbi in the Great Lakes region. I think it really puts into perspective the true legacy of Yassir Arafat and the ridiculous canonization that has surrounded his good-riddance demise ...

Earlier today, world leaders gathered in Cairo to pay their final respects to Yassir Arafat. They vied with each other to express their respect.

French president Jacques Chirac referred to Arafat as a "man of courage and conviction, who for 40 years, has incarnated the Palestinians combat for recognition of their national rights."

Chirac neglected to say: Arafat fought for that recognition by four decades of cold-blooded terrorism.

A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Arafat took a "giant step" toward peace by signing the Oslo accord. He added: "It is tragic he did not live to see it fulfilled."

What Annan should have added: It is even more tragic Arafat did everything in his power to prevent the fulfillment of the great hope for peace.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair weighed in: "He (Arafat) led his people to an historic acceptance and the need for a two-state solution."

Mr. Blair's comment overlooks the fact that Yassir Arafat never wanted a two-state solution. He said he wanted peace, but devoted his life to working for the destruction of Israel. He did nothing to implement an infrastructure for the Palestinian state he claimed to want.

Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, said, "Arafat played such a dominant role on behalf of the Palestinians over so many decades, that it's hard to imagine the Middle East without him."

Yes, Arafat played.

However, thanks to cable, we have comedy fake news -- which, ironically, brings us more insight than conventional sources. According to Samantha Bee of "The Daily Show": "There's a chance for peace in the Middle East now that the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is dead."

Even when the media acknowledge Arafat as a terrorist, they call him a "cultural icon" who helped forge an identity for the Palestinian people.

The problem with icons -- they're symbols; they're not real!

What do they mean that "he forged a Palestinian identity?" Do they define identity as having the world's attention?

Arafat did get the world's attention: When he ordered the slaughter of 11 Israeli athletes at Munich in 1972. When he introduced warfare against children by PLO terrorists who took more than 100 schoolchildren hostage and ended up killing 25 people, 21 of them children. When he launched the Intifada -- and then another intifada -- by encouraging and paying suicide bombers to massacre innocents.

When words and actions don't match up, tragedy ensues. Why? People generally believe "the words," no matter how false. Nowhere is this more evident than in the "Arafat legacy."

You would think, given the litany of Arafat's bloody deeds, that we'd rejoice he was finally gone. Remember the Munchkins in "The Wizard of Oz" ... Hi, ho, the witch is dead, the witch is dead...

That, I admit, was my reaction when I first heard about his impending death. But Jewish tradition warns us against this reaction. Proverbs teaches: "Do not rejoice at the fall of your enemy; don't let your heart be glad when he is overthrown."

During the Passover Seder, we spill ten drops of wine as we recite each plague. Of course, we were glad to see the Egyptian army defeated! It was a great miracle! Still, Torah reminds us that even the wicked are God's creation.

Our own humanity is at issue here. We must never be callous or indifferent to evil, or to death.

Arafat's death certainly doesn't guarantee a peaceful solution to the Middle East. It simply means that without Yassir Arafat's iron grip, the moderate faction has an opportunity to stabilize the area and begin a real peace process.

The key issue, and the most difficult one, is Palestinian stability. Several terrorist groups already have announced that they will not give up "the fight."

Hamas insists on being part of a new government. Arafat's own group, the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, claims it will refuse to acknowledge a government led by the moderates. The new leader of the Fatah movement, Farouk Kaddoumi, said that "resistance is the path to arriving at a political settlement."

The Palestinian Authority will need money to create an effective government. Yassir Arafat had money -- but no one knows where he put it all. The only sure thing we know is that money flowed into his own pocket, but not into his government. Arafat, the revolutionary icon, died one of the richest men in the world.

The good news? A growing number of Palestinians are tired of the violence. They'll need the support of both the United States and Israel.

We can help:

By encouraging our elected officials to support a moderate Palestinian government.

By joining Mercaz, a Conservative Zionist organization. Supporting it can help Israel by strengthening a lifestyle that is not extremist in any direction.

By never losing sight of our Jewish ideals.

It's not realistic to expect miracles to happen right away. But we Jews have to believe in miracles. Our very existence is a miracle, and now we stand at the threshold of great hope.

To that end, I'd like to offer a prayer written by my colleague, Rabbi Barry Leff:

"Ribbono shel Olam, Master of the Universe, please help the Palestinian people in this difficult time. Help them find a leader who will renounce violence and terror, who will lead them on a path of peace with Israel and prosperity for themselves. Help them find a just leader who will be strong enough to remove corruption from their midst, now and forever."

My addition to his words: Grant us the strength to remain dedicated to Your ways so that we never give up hope -- or stop working to turn our hope into reality. May we work at building better relations with others, and in that way, do our part to bring peace to the world, and let us say, Amen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is about more than family, football and unbridled gluttony. It is an opportunity to take inventory of the numerous blessings we have received over the past year. Despite the re-election of Dubya and the disturbing ascent of Clay Aiken, the year 2004 has also provided its share of things for which we can be thankful.

So during this year's Thanksgiving meal, as I sling back mounds of turkey meat and canned cranberries that glisten like Kama Sutra oils, I will be musing upon these blessings:

I am thankful for my friends, my wonderful family, my reasonably good health. Most of all, I am thankful for the year I married and committed myself to the love of my life, my wife.

OK, now that I have the sappy part out of the way...

I am thankful for director commentaries on DVDs, defamer.com and "Dinner for Five" on IFC. Now I can pretend to be a real Hollywood insider without having to ingest potentially lethal amounts of cocaine and sodomize a Weinstein.

I am thankful that Yassir (That's My Baby) Arafat is dead. He's bound to smell better now.

I am thankful that Macauley Culkin gets, you know, like, totally way way high.

I am thankful for the Boston Red Sox. Screw the Bambino -- it's time to get over it.

I am thankful -- really thankful -- for rampant lesbianism.

I am thankful that Chris Matthews' spittle cannot come through the television screen and soak my shirt.

I am thankful that somewhere out there at this very moment a Swift Boat Veteran for Truth is probably enduring an excrutiatingly painful piss.

I am thankful for the curious euphoria that results about 15 minutes after that first morning cup of coffee.

I am thankful we live in a country where a mega-rich slut with a horsey face can be celebrated for having sex with her boyfriend on videotape.

I am thankful that Mel Gibson finally cleared up that whole mess about Jesus and the crucifixion. So the Jews did kill Christ. And to think that this entire time I thought God was punishing me for no good reason.

I am thankful Christina Ricci is not above the occasional nude scene.

I am so thankful that in the midst of a war spurred by erroneous intelligence, an all-time federal budget deficit, the decline of environmental safeguards, a constant terrorist threat, corporate scandals and worldwide hatred of the United States, my fellow countrymen in 11 states (including my native Oklahoma) have put their collective Holy hot-foot down when it comes to allowing the matrimonial bond of gays and lesbians who are in love and want to make a life-long commitment. As they said on "Hee Haw" : Saaaaa-loooot!

I am thankful that Michael Moore hasn't eaten my leg. Yet.

I am thankful for New York tabloids and their exhaustive coverage of such stories as a recent incident in which five teens were arrested after one tossed a 20-lb. frozen turkey through the windshield of an oncoming car on a Long Island freeway. It elicited this remorseful statement from one of the kids: "I also want to add that I am very sorry this happened ... and I had no idea that Ryan was going to throw the turkey out the window." I believe the children are the future ...

I am thankful the voices have stopped.

I am thankful that Ben Stiller makes dozens of movies each year, but still can't penetrate my dreams.

I am thankful Donald Rumsfeld is not my grandfather.

I am thankful for all the morbidly obese people wearing sweatpants and wife-beater T-shirts standing in line at the supermarket. They make me feel good about myself.

I am thankful for the Ukraine, which makes the United States' election system look so friggin' awesome by comparison.

That's it. Have a safe and delicious turkey day. And don't forget to give thanks.


A recent study by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland found some surprising conclusions about the policy perceptions of Bush and Kerry voters. Conducted in September and October, the study found that 72 percent of Bush supporters believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Additionally, nearly 60 percent believe that assumption has been confirmed by "most" experts on the topic. Seventy-five percent of Bush supporters responded that there was a link between Saddam Hussein and the al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The PIPA researchers were particularly struck that most Bush and Kerry supporters agreed that the White House had reported these misperceptions as fact.

But I don't buy that. Yes, Dubya and Cheney indulged in plenty of obfuscation, prevarication and manipulation in blurring the lines between Saddam and 9/11, but when push came to shove, the President always conceded that there was no real evidence linking Iraq to the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. And in the wake of the war, the White House has been surprisingly forthright that WMDs have not been found. Frankly, my inner cynic has been surprised -- and gratified -- that the CIA hadn't resorting to planting such evidence.

To me, the truly mystifying apect to the PIPA study is what it says about a good chunk of the electorate: what they hear, and what they don't, in the midst of an incessant media cacophony.

The ballyhooed Information Age is backed up, and the result is that (what passes for) knowledge is spewing from our heads like a defective garbage disposal. Are we rapidly approaching the saturation point in which we literally have received Too Much Information? Not only do we now receive our news of the world from so many sources -- newspapers; TV networks; cable and its cottage talking-head industry; the Internet, whether it be mainstream web sites or the ever-growing blogs; email; radio, talk and otherwise; advertising; media osmosis, etc. -- that there is no longer a generally accepted measure for separating journalistic wheat from the chaff. Drudge, the New York Times, FOX News, CNN, Jon Stewart, "Fahrenheit 9/11," Rush Limbaugh -- all of it, this overflowing slop of informational stew, arrives at our dining room table with the directive to "eat up" but no spoon to navigate through the mess.

Compounding the dilemma is the lightning speed of the 24-hour news cycle -- the product of relentless competition -- that effectively precludes thoughtful interpretation or reflection. In this din of information, news stories flit by like gnats in summer. When the media loses perspective, how can it be helped that perspective is also lost by us poor saps who rely on them. The gnats get more brazen, more irritating and they multiply; and yet they become such an overwhelming swarm that the only pests we are likely to notice, sadly enough, are those that we inadvertently swallow.

The wisest media moguls, whether they are Madison Avenue executives or political consultants, know that a catchy slogan or resonant image can sidestep thought and present a shortcut to judgment. I was no Howard Dean supporter, but how much sense does it make that his candidacy was doomed because he shrieked like a gangbang in "Deliverance"?

Onward Christian Sludge

Ahh, the mellifluous strains of bigotry...

From Bob Jones III, president of the extremist right-wing college of the same name, in a recent letter to his ol' pal, President George W. Bush: "In your re-election, God has graciously granted America -- though she doesn't deserve it -- a reprieve from the agenda of paganism. ... Put your agenda on the front burner and let it boil. You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ."

From Gary Wills, the extremist left-wing scholar, in a recent op-ed bashing fundamentalist Christianity: "We (the U.S.) now resemble those [European] nations less than we do our putative enemies. Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity? Not in France or Britain or Germany or Italy or Spain. We find it in the Muslim world, in al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein's Sunni loyalists."

You know what? I'm sick to death of hardcore Christians. And I'm sick to death of opponents of hardcore Christians.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

That's Moral Like it !

I must admit that, like many of the 55.4 million Americans who voted for John Kerry on Nov. 2, I awoke the next morning pissed off, disappointed and, yes, determined to move the heck out of my native Red State of Oklahoma, or perhaps even the country. Well, a calmer head has prevailed since then and erased that fleeting desire to depart the country; no way could I really give up cheeseburgers and learn the metric system. Even so, what has remained is the nagging feeling that I don't really belong here, that I might just be a pariah of agnosticism, secularism and moderate politics -- in one of only four U.S. states in which President Bush carried every single county.

Oh, yes, I have taken the cheap comforts where I can, commiserating with fellow moderates and liberals (often considered synonymous here in Oklahoma) about the election and chuckling over the latest Internet-hopping joke that has transformed Red State America into the (ostensibly fictitious) Jesusland.

But here is what ultimately disturbs me -- hell, scares me, really -- about the election: It is evident that not only do I disagree politically with many of my fellow citizens, but I must not even share the same values. That said, I don't believe that I necessarily differ in that regard from the entire 51 percent who voted for Dubya. Despite the latest conventional wisdom stemming from exit polls and amplified by the pundits, Bush voters were not moved solely by "moral issues" or even the safety and security that comes from waging wars of choice.

Oh, and while we're on the subject, let's put into context the absurd notion from the President and the mainstream media that an incumbent who won re-election by a 3-percent margin (2 percent when you factor in the crackheads who voted for Nader) equals a "mandate." Huh? The election turned on an estimated 136,000 someodd votes in the Buckeye State -- actually, about 132,000 when you remove the nearly 4,000 votes that went to Bush in a computer glitch (to say nothing of the growing number of stories about voting discrepancies there) -- where the President prevailed by 2 percent. Mandate? Nixon in '72 was a mandate. Reagan in '84 was a mandate. This was a nudge.

But I digress.

Where our nation is headed disturbs me greatly because, somewhere along the way, the voting majority apparently started consulting an entirely different map. Are the values that divide us really as astonishingly different as they seem? I had hoped not. Back in 2000, when Bush ran on that "uniter, not a divider" shtick about governing from the middle, I thought the divide was in terms of political ideology, not bare-boned principles of Right and Wrong. In the post-9/11 world, it seemed that once you removed the die-hard pacifists and hardcore xenophobes from the equation, the separations were not enough to crater the connectedness of Americans.

But I fear some of the core beliefs that impacted this election. And I think what is driving so much of the Democrats' admittedly shrill hand-wringing right now is the weird alienation they now feel, as if they had taken a nap only to wake up having crash-landed in the Planet of the Non-Darwinian Apes. Such sentiments are better articulated (imagine that) by Thomas Friedman in a New York Times column published Nov. 4:

"What troubled me yesterday was my feeling that this election was tipped because of an outpouring of support for George Bush by people who don't just favor different policies than I do - they favor a whole different kind of America. We don't just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is."

Eleven states -- 11! -- banned same-sex marriage by resounding margins (some political observers suggest that initiative on the Ohio ballot likely played a role increasing fundamentalist Christian turnout there). Regardless of what impact, if any, such knee-jerk homophobia -- and that's what it is, despite the soft-sell it gets from conservative apologists -- had on the presidential race, it's mind-boggling to me that soooo many Americans are insistent on denying a basic right to an entire group of people. That might be their "moral values," but it ain't mine.

In my home state, Oklahomans elected Dr. Tom Coburn to the United States Senate, a man who characterized his senatorial race as one of Good vs. Evil (he was the Good part), advocated the death penalty for abortionists (if abortion were illegal, he reasoned), called "the homosexual lifestyle" the greatest threat to our society (perhaps he was confusing al Qaeda with the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" gang) and once quipped that you're either fer Christ or agin 'im. This paragon of virtue stomped his opponent, a moderate (conservative by non-Oklahoma standards) Rhodes Scholar, with 11 percent of the vote. Dr. Tom might speak to the moral fiber of most Oklahomans, but the only fiber I associate with him is the kind that induces bowel evacuation.

And then there's the President ... Nah, I can't even get into it. There are plenty of Bush supporters I respect, but Bush's re-election simply astounds me.

The man who led us into a war on false pretenses with no discernible exit strategy and subsequently destroyed international good will is deemed the wisest choice for ensuring our safety and security.

The man who vowed to hunt down and kill the mastermind of 9/11 -- only to sweep us into a whole other war, leaving Osama bin Laden free to continue cranking out the home movies -- is considered the better choice to combat terrorism.

The man whose history of campaigns are textbooks in dirty tricks and appears incapable of expressing himself without resorting to inane platitudes ("Freedom is on the march!") is depicted as the candidate of moral rectitude and righteousness.

The constitutional separation of church and state is under siege. A recent New York Times Magazine article by Ron Suskind examines the President's unshakable faith. The author quotes Bruce Bartlett, a former advisor in the Reagan and elder Bush Administrations, who predicts that Bush's fundamentalist tilt will spark deep divisions in the Republican Party. "Just in the past few months, I think a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do," Bartlett said. ''This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He understands them, because he's just like them."

As a registered Republican, I can attest to the disappointment of a party leadership that handed off the baton from Tax Relievers to True Believers. I fear what might be in store from a commander in chief who has claimed to know God backs our war (quite the bummer for 100,000 dead Iraqis and more than 1,000 American troops).

It's troubling to think what Bush means when he promises to "send a wave of freedom" throughout the Middle East. Does that mean TV news anchors need to start brushing up on their pronunciation of Iranian and Syrian names? No less a right-wing extremist than Grover Norquist has reservations: " On foreign policy, the big question mark is, 'What has the President and the Republican Party learned from Iraq?' Did he learn it was a bridge too far and doesn't want to do three more of these? Or will he think, 'We got elected, let's do Egypt'? If this is perpetual war to achieve perpetual peace, then it's out of sync with conservative members of Congress and his own base."

Of more immediate concern to me is the likely composition of the U.S. Supreme Court now that Bush is likely to have two or three vacancies within the next four years. Gay rights, civil liberties, abortion rights, the separation of church and state ... we will see what the President means when he says he will appoint justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas (presumably he doesn't mean orgy-loving jurists with an affinity for Long Dong Silver flicks).

Liberals and conservatives will talk themselves sick over the next several months about what motivated the voters in the election of 2004. But let's not lose sight of the fact that it was a very close election. One state -- Ohio -- made the difference in the electoral college. More votes were cast for Bush than were cast for any presidential candidate in history, true, but there were also more votes cast against him than any other election in U.S. history.

Ultimately, the reasons for the Bush re-election might remain as mysterious as the Michael Jackson-Lisa Marie Presley marriage. Undoubtedly there were many factors (the election, that is): Terrorism and national security; Bush's "regular guy" image; the same-sex marriage debate; the role of religion (er, Christianity) in government; antipathy toward "elite" media (the CBS memo scandal, while not directly linked to the Democrats, likely stirred up good ol' hatred of the dreaded liberal media); Michael Moore (a demagogue for the big-boned); the travails of an ultra-rich Massachusetts Democrat trying to connect with folks west of the Mississippi; a terrifically effective hatchet job of a campaign that successfully turned a bona fide war hero and courageous anti-Vietnam War vet into the bogeyman (on this note, I would urge anyone to check out the excellent documentary "Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry" for a fascinating look at what a truly gifted man he is).

Was it morality? Values? Concepts of Right and Wrong? Some think so. If that's the case, then -- to twist an old country song -- if loving Bush is Right, I'd rather be Wrong.