Captain, we have a problem.

As we are boat people, I know what a bailout is, literally. A wave swamps the boat and all hands grab buckets. I don’t have to explain what bailing is, do I? If no more waves come and your captain knows what he’s doing, eventually the vessel finds an even keel again and all is well. If not, well…I hope you’re wearing your life jacket.

I thought of this when I recalled some of my earliest conversations with my friends here in Detroit, when I expressed wonder or frustration at the business practices of General Motors, Ford, Chrysler et al. The company was inevitably described as a battleship, an aircraft carrier, or some other very large seagoing vessel. And then they would add, “It can’t change direction quickly. But it can take a few hits and go through rough seas without too many problems.” I suppose that makes the credit crisis a Japanese torpedo hitting broadside. I hope $15 billion will buy enough buckets.

I mention this because Freep columnist Brian Dickerson makes a few good points regarding Detroit topic No. 1 today:

The primary reason to be skeptical is that the congressional enforcers tasked with holding Detroit’s feet to the fire have done a glaringly atrocious job reforming their own, ahem, industry. The same lawmakers lambasting the auto industry for promising its retirees more benefits than it can afford continue to promise their own constituents more benefits than the U.S. Government can afford. The same Congress that wants to crucify the Detroit Three for their preoccupation with short-term profits is notorious for strategic visions that extend only to the next election.

Um, yeah. But let’s not think about that now. You all want to talk about the Illinois governor, right? Rod Blago-unspellable. I’d like to talk about him too, but my mouth is so agape after hearing all the ugly details that I fear my only contribution would be buh-buh-buh. Even by the standards of the Illinois governorship, this resets the scale. Whoever said, yesterday, that the guv is stupid? I think that’s right.

Anyway, I have a doctor’s appointment early today, so I must away. Talk, instead, about Hank Stuever’s simple thesis:

We live comfortably, if strangely, in a pseudo-Sapphic era in which seemingly every college woman with a MySpace page has kissed another girl for the camera; but for men who kiss men, it’s still the final frontier.

So, James Franco, what was it like to kiss Sean Penn in “Milk?” (And no one seemed to ask him the question I want to know: What’s it like to kiss a heavy smoker these days? It’s been so long since I did that, I totally forget.)

I’m off to get prodded. Into the shower.

Posted at 9:05 am in Current events, Detroit life |

36 responses to “Captain, we have a problem.”

  1. basset said on December 10, 2008 at 9:08 am

    Kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray.

    Meanwhile, my favorite comment on the bailout so far:

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  2. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 10, 2008 at 9:22 am

    Hank’s right, of course, and i’d put it down to the last century of demographically if not year-by-year endless warfare (1898 to, well, now). Western culture is militarized in so many ways most people don’t notice it. In a martial culture, men showing closeness to men physically is either idealized (Sparta) or made taboo (that’s us). In the last long gap between military mobilization of the menfolk gen’lly, 1865 to 1898, male friendship if not homosexuality was allowed to be more normalized.

    The current relaxing social attitude towards male relationships and homosexuality has as much to do with the end of the draft and a loosely non-militarized population from 1973 to the present. Military culture is problematically even more separate from general American culture than it was in the pre-WWII era, even as it offers some excellent examples of race-neutral and meritocratic opportunity, but it’s still not a safe place for gays or as safe for women as it should be.

    It’d be nice to say we’re wiser and better educated, but the trend i suspect has much more to do with the fact that we’ve elected our last World War officer to the chief executive with the older Bush, moved into an era when we can elect a Commander-in-Chief who has no military experience (he’s the first since i have no idea when if you skip Clinton, to which this all also applies, but it’s been a while if you go back before Bill, and yes, i know Reagan doesn’t count but he does technically, which is the point – i think it’s since FDR, and he had been Sec’y of the Navy, so Hoover before him).

    The parallel point is that through this same century we’ve fetishized lesbian relationships to the point where macho men affirm their manliness by getting all hot and bothered about girl-on-girl pr0n. And in much of the rest of the world, men walk around holding hands or literally arm in arm, which you have to go back to Victorian England or America to find — but we did. Now men can’t have elbows touching in a booth at a bar without extensive apologies.

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  3. Jolene said on December 10, 2008 at 10:20 am

    A few years ago, I saw a Tom Brokaw documentary re the experiences of a couple “lost boys of Sudan” in the U.S. One of the many oddities, from their perspective, was that people found it peculiar when they walked hand in hand. Brokaw had to explain what it was that people were thinking. I later told a friend—a psychotherapist—about the show and said, “Can you imagine yourself holding hands w/ one of your colleagues when you go out for lunch?” Well, no, he couldn’t. Neither could I. When that simple act seems normal, we’ll truly be living in a different world.

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  4. MichaelG said on December 10, 2008 at 10:23 am

    Imagine holding hands with Rod Blago.

    Watch him fumble for the check. I’ll bet he’s a real artist at that.

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  5. moe99 said on December 10, 2008 at 10:40 am

    Ooh, ooh. Love the following:

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  6. brian stouder said on December 10, 2008 at 11:29 am

    I’m off to get prodded. Into the shower.

    Hmmm. I couldn’t decide if this meant that the Proprietress was going to be prodded into the shower, or if she needed to take a shower for an appointment with someone who wields a prod.

    Or possibly, if it was a typo, she was being prodded to get off.

    (No no no – not that! off of the computer)

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  7. Peter said on December 10, 2008 at 11:33 am

    Oh yeah, Illinois Rocks! All you Michigan types can do is jail a mayor – we got governor! And as for New York, Spitzer stepped down, but Blago’s diggin in!

    Boy, if you thought last year was dysfunctional in Springfield, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

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  8. Nick said on December 10, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Mr. Franco did tell Terry Gross on Fresh Air that Mr. Penn was kind enough to partake in breath mints beforehand.

    I was expecting him to sound educated and well spoken, but he comes off as a little goofy in the interview.

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  9. Danny said on December 10, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Talk about, “Captain, we have a problem.” Holy hemaphrodite, Batman! Seems that pollution is causing gender-bending mutations in many of the vertebrates (including humans). Another article on this said that some areas are seeing more female births than males by like 2 to 1.

    Everyone join me in a chorus: “TWO GIRLS FOR EeeeeeVRYyyyy BOYYYYYY!!!”

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  10. John said on December 10, 2008 at 11:56 am

    Brian, go stand in the naughty corner!

    I, OTOH, was entertaining pure thoughts as I wondered the whereabouts of NN’s secret MySpace page and speculated wildly whom she might be conserving our precious resource (i.e. water) with.

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  11. michaela said on December 10, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Nick, ITA about the James Franco interview on Fresh Air. I was aware that he’s been pursuing all kinds of advanced degrees… but he sounded more like his Freaks & Geeks character than I’d expected.

    (Highly recommend F&G, by the way. We watched it on DVD last year and really loved the fully rounded characters and the squirm-inducing high school sequences.)

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  12. Catherine said on December 10, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    I’m going to be outed as a sentimental idiot for saying this, but Brokeback Mountain was a five-hankie movie for me. Optimistically, I think we’re starting to get past purportedly archetypal depictions (and fetishization, to Jeff’s point) of “gay love” and beginning to explore specific relationships, which is a lot more interesting, dramatically. That leads, though, to discomfort on the part of the haters… Hence Judd Apatow.

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  13. Jeff Borden said on December 10, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    A quick word on the unlikely hero behind U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. . .

    We would not have our modern day corruption fighter if not for a quixotic, one-term Republican senator named Peter Fitzgerald (no relation), who succeeded the historic but execrable Carol Moseley-Braun. Peter F. was a wealthy banker, beholden to no one, who charted his own course in D.C. while ticking off both Democrats and Republicans in Illinois. If you watch the Enron documentary, “The Smartest Guys in the Room,” you’ll see archival footage of him questioning some of those creeps.

    His single greatest act was getting Patrick Fitzgerald installed in Cook County. The senator knew in his DNA that anyone from the Land of Lincoln would have ties to someone who needed investigating, so he went all the way to NYC to find a truly honest man.

    I’ve yet to read a word about the role Peter Fitzgerald played in the arrival of Patrick Fitzgerald, but he deserves enormous praise for the intelligence and logic of his decision.

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  14. beb said on December 10, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    Peter says: “Oh yeah, Illinois Rocks! All you Michigan types can do is jail a mayor – we got governor!”

    And yet, odd, but our mayor and your governor seem to be cut from the same cloth. Both are lawyers, but neither can recognize the law when it stand right in front of them. Both of them have left a trail of incredibly incriminating evidence — text messages over here, recorded telephone calls over there. Both surely knew people were out to get them yet neither thought to maybe hold back a little on their corruption. Both are young(ish) men who seem to believe that politics isn’t about serving others but lining one’s pocket. Tyhe nation is better off without either of them.

    Spitzer, on the other hand, did a great job as Attorney General for the State of New York, as is his successor, Cuomo. I think Spitzer could do great and good work in the Obama administration but I supose it’s too soon to overlook his expensive sex problem.

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  15. Peter said on December 10, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Jeff, John Kass at the tribune has written several columns about Peter Fitzgerald and his involvement regarding Patrick Fitzgerald.

    That’s why his name is mud around here. The Republicans hated him because he wasn’t an ideological kook and the Democrats hated him because he held people accountable.

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  16. alex said on December 10, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    I’m surprised to see everyone so surprised at Blago’s hubris. In Chicago and Illinois, pols stating their illegal intentions aloud is quite the norm.

    Remember Miriam Santos, the Chicago city treasurer who crossed Da Mayor? She’d been a Dailey protege, then they had some major falling out. Anyway, her idea of campaigning for re-election was to call up those she’d granted favors and shake them down. “It’s time to belly up to the bar,” she told one individual in a threatening manner. She didn’t know she was being recorded, and very likely either Dailey was behind the subterfuge or the person being threatened knew that Dailey would love to get his hands on that tape.

    Her response when confronted by a television reporter? She wasn’t responsible for her behavior that day because she was “PMSing.”

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  17. alex said on December 10, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Yikes. I’ve been away from Chicago too long — and copy editing — when I misspell Daley.

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  18. Jeff Borden said on December 10, 2008 at 4:07 pm


    You’re quite right about Peter Fitzgerald. If all politicians were like him, our nation would be much better off. But part of what made him special was his independent wealth, so he never had to curry favor for funds. Anyhow, I can’t fathom how much worse the filth, the sludge and the general creepiness would be around here if not for Patrick Fitzgerald.

    I’d have no problem seeing him as the U.S. Attorney General some day.

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  19. Dexter said on December 10, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    I realize many people have trouble with long names that can’t be spelled by listening and transcribing without a print-reference.
    When I was a kid I was a spelling-bee contestant yearly, and for some God-given reason I can see a name one time and never spell it wrong again…lessee…OK…Ahmadinejad…is that right. I am not even going to check it…let me know. And…the nom du jour…Blagojevich…how am I doin’?
    The down side of my story is that in latter years I make mistakes a lot…I spelled “helmut” like this in a little story I wrote about a short bicycle trip. Sheesh. Now with spell-check, it’s really hard to screw-up.
    Randi Rhodes, online at Nova M radio right now, is dissecting the pdf 74 page report on Blagojevich right now, if you have a sound card operating.

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  20. brian stouder said on December 10, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    Well Alex, it just goes to show – you can take the Hoosier outta Indiana, butcha can’t take the Indiana outta the Hoosier!

    plus – forget about all that garbage regarding this or that old-timey rock n’ roll band with a buncha touring wanker wannabes. HERE’S the GOOD old stuff

    an excerpt, which mentions Danny’s town:

    But the package sure to send hardcore fans into a tizzy is the “Super Deluxe Edition,” which features two CDs, a DVD and four vinyl records. It is housed in a linen-covered, slip-cased clamshell box with a replica of an item second to none in Pearl Jam lore.

    In 1990, when Ament and guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready were getting the nascent Pearl Jam going in Seattle, they recorded three instrumentals to send to the then-unknown Vedder, who’d been recommended by Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons. Vedder, then living in San Diego, overdubbed vocals onto the tape, in the process creating the songs “Alive,” “Once” and “Footsteps” (he was invited to join the band within weeks). Poor quality bootlegs of the demo, dubbed “Momma-Son,” have circulated for years, but the “Super Deluxe Edition” will include a crystal-clear dub of the tape on a replica cassette.

    In addition, fans will receive Pearl Jam’s previously unreleased Sept. 20, 1992, concert at Seattle’s Magnuson Park (dubbed Drop in the Park) on two vinyl LPs and a replica of Vedder’s composition notebook packed with notes, photos and memorabilia from the “Ten” era. The “Ten” reissue is the first piece of a two-year campaign culminating with the band’s 20th anniversary in 2011. Additional details have yet to be announced.

    I am so there!!

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  21. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 10, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    A hearty amen to the kudos for Peter Fitzgerald, who reminded us that there are still Cincinnatus’ out there, not to mention principled Republicans. And Patrick No-Relation Fitzgerald is his gift to us that keeps on giving . . .

    Who told Jesse Jr. that a presser was a good idea tonight? He sounded like he was reading from a text that concluded “so i will not be a candidate for selection by anyone for the United States Senate,” but forgot to read the last line. Without that closer, he sounded more like he was saying “i want it so bad, but not badly enough to have said anything you can use against me on tape, so i’m still in, suckers!” Whoever he called to do his PR didn’t earn their pay tonight.

    (BTW, Peter F. was consistently pro-life, including death penalty opposition, which he helped George Ryan do the one thing that will keep his jailed name out of the historic deep mud, and was against bailouts of all sorts — i can tell you how he would have voted on the Wall Street TARP fiasco, and the auto industry would have gotten a “can everyone at the top and start over before you get a dime” from him.)

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  22. Dexter said on December 10, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    Hardball’s Chris Matthews just i’viewed Ayers…remarkable, because Ayers never does this…I don’t think he EVER has…I know this is the first time I heard him speak.
    The truly amazing thing is that Matthews was actually civil to Ayers and they came to an understanding. It’ll be back around again at 7:30 eastern time if you want to see it.

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  23. Dexter said on December 10, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    Now my brother tells me he saw Ayers and Bernadine on teevee with Amy Goodman. I used to get Goodman’s “Democracy Now” show on DirecTV, but I switched to cable last week.

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  24. alex said on December 10, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    Jeff tmmo, re your earlier post on militaristic culture and aversion to homosexuality:

    I don’t recall seeing it explained exactly that way before, but something similar. The writer, an adherent of psychoanalytic theory, said that homophobia is the flip side of misogyny, really a hatred of all things “feminine” as perceived by someone insecure in his own masculinity. Men inclined this way lack insight into themselves, and specifically the recognition that masculinity is a big schtick just like its counterpart. (The game for males is bravado and bluster; for females it’s infantilism and passivity. These aren’t inborn traits, as is amply demonstrated by the current generation of assertive, un-kittenish women and kinder, gentler gentlemen.)

    Anyway, that writer also said that men who regard women and gays this way are predators with no respect for the women they seduce. And their aversion to gays is their own fear of becoming just like the prey they hold in such low regard.

    Anecdotally, I find this resonates. The hetero men who fear gays want to jump their bones are always clueless about what undesirable specimens they are. These are the same guys who don’t seem to have a clue when their come-ons to women are having the opposite effect of the one desired, who think “no” means “yes.”

    So who’s wiring is really screwed up, eh?

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  25. Jolene said on December 10, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    Dexter, Ayers has been doing quite a lot of press in connection w/ the reissue of his book, Fugitive Days. He was, for instance, on The Today Show and also did a long interview w/ Terri Gross on Fresh Air.

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  26. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 10, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    What Alex said. Really, the key to this is the way culturally we respond to lesbians vs. gays — if Alex isn’t correct, how do you explain the exaggerated approval hyper-hetero guys give to girl-on-girl action?

    The dilemma for cultural conservatives generally is that there is a major meltdown going on around parenting and coupling (in the saucy and practical sides of that term, both/and). There’s a need to affirm strong, healthy bonding between parents who are raising children, and exclusive sexual commitment is usually part of a robust bonding experience in what’s usually referred to as “marriage.” (Yes, some folks say experimentation makes their marriage relationship stronger – some people like raw onion on their lunchmeat at the office, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good/workable idea.)

    There’s been an odd acceptance of building up healthy, monogamous commitment between parents of children by slamming couples who are non-normative. That’s called preaching sermons that critique only people outside the sanctuary — it’s gutless, not helpful, and ultimately unchallenging for the worshipers. But our anxieties about making divorced and widowed and never-marrieds feel bad by affirming long, happy, stable marriages has led to a lessening of their support and affirmation in church life, and an easy acceptance of supporting “family” by taking cheap pot shots at gay couples in the Castro and Ellen and Portia on tv.

    I think much of evangelical Christianity is easing up on the “them over there” stuff and looking at what’s going on closer to home, and honoring untraditional family structure when it gives stability to the children they shelter. There’s still a largely unspoken question about how to talk about divorce now that we’ve implicitly signed off on so much of it in our community’s midst, but it’s clearly not a good thing. I take my preaching cues from divorced people, who usually say “don’t soft pedal it, Jeff; i wish i hadn’t divorced, and i wish i hadn’t married thoughtlessly even more, but i love the children i’m caring for with the parent who lives three hours away as best i can — don’t try to make it sound fine, cause it’s not. Help me, but help others not end up where i am.”

    The truly tragic ideological trap is generating legislation to forbid gay/lesbian adoption or fostering. Set high standards for that, and apply them across the board, and there’s not problem — the problem is that the standards for stability and understanding have to be set lower than they ought because even so we still can’t find enough foster parents and adopters, but to deal with that, we see some demonizing certain family structures to vent that anxiety.

    Actually, we screwed up when we banned pretty much all orphanages of any sort for a purely ideological non-argument, when keeping orphanages working well was a better choice than tolerating lots of marginal foster placements, spread so far across the map they don’t make a political target, but they’re failing more kids than most orphanage systems did. But i digress.

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  27. Dexter said on December 10, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    thanks, Jolene. What surprised me tonight was that Chris Matthews alluded to being a Capitol cop when Ayers bombed that restroom…and more surprisingly than that, Matthews was a Vietnam War protester.( I marched in Washington, too.)

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  28. Dexter said on December 10, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    alex…did you go to work today? I heard today is “call in gay day” , the purpose being to show straight America how impossibly difficult it is for society to function without gays.

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  29. alex said on December 10, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    In this economy, the last thing I want to do is show my employers that they can live without me. It’s much easier to boycott Cracker Barrel and Coors, which I can do every day, and besides their products are mediocre and not particularly missed.

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  30. Gasman said on December 11, 2008 at 3:30 am

    Lisa Miller’s article in Newsweek has one of the finest rebuttals for the “biblical” arguments against homosexuality:

    When a theologian the caliber of Walter Bruggemann essentially debunks the notion of biblical justification for denying gays and lesbians full access to all our social and religious rites/rights, it becomes even more tiresome to listen to the far less erudite biblical-gadfly-crowd drone on and on with utter certainty that they alone are right.

    I have too many gay friends and colleagues whom I respect and care for to accept anything less than full equality. Why should they be denied what I freely have access to? What possible legal or moral argument can anyone make in defense of withholding rights from anyone?

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  31. alex said on December 11, 2008 at 7:35 am

    Jon Stewart mops the floor with Mike Huckabee:

    (BTW, why the devil doesn’t Mac OSX/Safari allow the use of hyperlinks?)

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  32. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 11, 2008 at 8:06 am

    What Miller’s odd little essay skipped over is that most “Biblical arguments” re: morality are like appeals to the British Constitution — and i mean that as both a positive and problematic comparison. There is, of course, no British Constitution as a single document; it’s a body of tradition and interpretation and certain documents that have more or less weight depending on the era and relationship to other elements of the culture.

    If you’ve ever been a youth group advisor, you learn quickly that you’d better not say things like “the Bible says you shouldn’t have premarital sex.” That particular statement doesn’t exist. Is there a “Biblical morality” that explains why your tradition or perspective would teach that? Sure, and there are different shades of interpretation of even the passages that sound very particular, and most of those variations have a long history behind them which can inform your current interpretation.

    What’s disingenuous about what Miller and Meacham wrote is that it’s not specialist knowledge that most evangelicals, let alone fundamentalists, practice theology this way. Other than the stray Glory Barn & Tabernacle out on the edge of town, and a few other straw men and women, Christian conservatives don’t teach and work out their morality based on single verse readings — it may come off that way on tv soundbites, but it doesn’t live that way, and Meacham and Miller both know it.

    So, Brueggeman quotes aside (and i’d love to hear Walter’s reaction to the first para of the Newsweek piece, which i’ll bet he thought sounded juvenile and unconstructive, having been through more than a few hours of workshop and conversation with him), i thought the piece was remarkably unhelpful, other than to further stereotype religious conservatives.

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  33. MichaelG said on December 11, 2008 at 8:41 am

    Jeez, I’ve been boycotting Coors and Cracker Barrel all my life and never even realized it.

    Anybody remember those “finger effer” cans Coors tried out for a while many years ago? The ones with the two little holes in the top and you had to stick your finger into one to open the can thus immersing your greasy fingertip in the beer? Especially nice when working on your car which people used to do in those days.

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  34. basset said on December 11, 2008 at 8:52 am

    Continuing a thread from a couple days ago… saw the latest iteration of Yes last night. one bald fat guy, one bald skinny guy, one fat guy with hair, two substitutes. pretty good show but it wasn’t Yes without Jon Anderson.

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  35. Jenine said on December 11, 2008 at 10:14 am

    I was just reading about the Newsweek piece at Get Religion. The writer found it very one-sided. I’ve been reading a little bit about Natural Law folks and their objections to gay marriage. I want to understand the opposition. I appreciate your comments regarding supporting families without scapegoating, Jeff TMMO.

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  36. Danny said on December 11, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Jenine, thanks for the link even though I know for your part you consider it opposition research. The author absolutely dismantles Miller and Meachem’s shoddy work from a vanilla secular, journalistic perspective. Additionally, the article links to this article which gives a even more damning indictment of Newsweeks’s terrible strawman of an argument. And although I am very much against people cherry-picking single, out-of-context scriptural quotes to support one argument or another, the three included in the article are unambiguous, stand-alone and easily accessible to all readers.

    We live in a secular society and for good reason as most orthodox Christians realize and agree. So Miller and Meachem making this ridiculous, errant “scriptural” appeal reflects poorly on them. Shame on them.

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