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Crank Call


Published December 18, 2002 at 5:00 p.m.

Not long ago, The Los Angeles Times reported "the results of a new study" that said people with back pain feel "three times worse" when their spouses are in the room. Don't be alarmed: "It's not that the sufferers hate their loved ones, it's that humans feel more pain when others take notice." Or, as one researcher put it, "the solicitous spouse has become a cue for a more intense pain experience."

This news comes on the heels of a New York Times report that "self-esteem," the sole uniting principle of modern education, isn't as hot as it looks. It seems that "'D' students think as highly of themselves as valedictorians, and serial rapists are no more likely to ooze with insecurities than doctors or bank managers. High self-esteem, on the other hand, was positively correlated with racist attitudes, drunken driving and other risky behaviors."

What could be the purpose of these "studies" and "results?" Do we really need "researchers" to tell us what we know from experience? Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief -- could it be that the labels themselves are the problem? Whose "back pain" are we talking about, whose "spouse" and what "behaviors?" It's like "meteorology," otherwise known as the weather: It's 20º below zero outside, but with the wind chill it "feels" like 40º below. Feels it to whom?

In November, a "top Vatican official," Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, condemned the ordination of "homosexual men" in the Catholic priesthood, saying that gay priests are "absolutely inadvisable and imprudent, and from the pastoral point of view, very risky." It's true, at least recently, that most of the victims of "priestly" abuse have been adolescent boys. But it's by no means certain that their abusers are "homosexual." And that's an adjective, not a noun, as I like to point out at least once a year, with a nod to Gore Vidal, who points it out 20 times a year. The overwhelming majority of sex offenders, if only because of their higher numbers, have always been "heterosexual" men.

I'm not going to give you a lecture about how we're really all "bisexual," moving on a "continuum" that ranges from ecstasy to gender mutilation. At the deepest level, ecstasy is always personal. You might even say that it's "private." I wonder why people think I'm "blaming the victim" when I say this. I'm as glad as anyone that Boston's Cardinal Law has resigned, because his nest was foul indeed. But I also know that he did it in the only way he could -- after conferring with the Pope. I believe the story of Cardinal Law is a tragedy in the exact sense. Like many tragedies, his came from not believing the evidence of his eyes and ears.

Before you condemn me, the ex-Cardinal or your priest, consider that you might live in Egypt. Last January, members of suspected "homosexual organizations" -- not the clergy -- were rounded up and imprisoned in Cairo. "The Perverts Must Be Investigated," said a headline in Al-Akhbar.

"I do not know why this perversion has spread so conspicuously, either here in Egypt or globally," wrote columnist Muhammad Abd Al-Mun'im Murad. If he read a bit of Arab poetry he might get a better idea. But no: "What is regrettable is that this distressing phenomenon is accompanied by campaigns defending the perverts' right to do as they wish with their bodies!"

In prison, Murad warns, "Those accused of sex crimes and vice are the lowest of the low, and they are treated worse than murderers, thieves, swindlers, counterfeiters or burglars. Crimes of sexual perversion are the worst a man can commit in the eyes of conservative Egyptians. A man must remain a man." And a "pervert," in jail, can expect to be raped continually by these same men, not one of whom regards himself as "homosexual."

If Americans think this is "foreign news," common to "Islam" and "terrorists," they should think about it harder. The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to rule on the constitutionality of so-domy laws in the 13 states still dim enough to have them. In nine of these, "sodomy" means any kind of "abnormal sex," while Texas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma -- what you might call Bush country -- have laws against "homosexual sodomy" only. It's a couple of perverts from Texas whose case is being heard, in fact.

One of the worst effects of corporate media, and of TV news particularly, is the reduction of all issues, great and small, to a world of images and slogans. This is a process that began long ago, obviously, but I'm old enough to remember when it wasn't quite done, when you could imagine that machines might be "interactive" only in fantasy.

"Interactive" suggests that machines are intuitive rather than programmed, and for all I know they will be, just like we are. And if I'd been paid for every time I've seen Martin Niemoeller's famous words on the Internet, I'd be sunning myself somewhere:

"In Germany, they came first for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, but I didn't speak up because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protes-tant. Then they came for me, and by that time nobody was left to speak up."

In a welter of words, unfortunately not enough of us take these seriously.

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