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Are tent Cities for Latino Children “Biblical”?



CAUTION! I need to vent today, so please bear with the occasional swear word.

I am stunned beyond belief at these tent cities the Trump regime is erecting to jail children stolen from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border.

I usually try to be polite on this blog when it comes to my differences with the regime. But you’ll have to forgive me for today’s lapse; the following is NSFW!

To begin with, What the hell are Trump and Sessions thinking? Locking kids up after they’ve been forcibly taken from their parents? In some cases these kids are just infants—one report quotes a Honduran woman accusing American border agents of ripping her infant daughter away from her as she was breastfeeding her.” I guarantee you, History is not going to take this lying down. How is this different from when Hitler’s Nazis seized children from occupied countries and then forcibly resettled them in German homes, in the so-called Lebensborn program?

It’s not any different. This is an absolute perversion, not only of international law, but of human rights and moral law as well. And once again the Republican Party is standing by their man, supporting this awful, disgusting and cruel practice.

Do you know who the worst perverts are?

Christians. Lying, hypocritical Christians.

The avowed Christian, Attorney-General Jefferson Sessions, “cited the Bible” in defending the seizure and imprisonment of children. “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” he said yesterday.

Then, in lockstep, Trump’s press secretary, the admitted evangelical Christian, Sarah Sanders, bragged about the forced separations, claiming, “I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.”

Sarah, did you know it’s “very biblical” to stone adulterers like your boss to death? Look at Leviticus 20:10. “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife–with the wife of his neighbor–both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death. Want to join us when we stone Trump in Lafayette Park? Will you throw the first?

Look, this “Christian” crap has gone far enough. America is a nation where the First Amendment explicitly says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”. And yet these damned Christian fascists are totally ignoring that fundament of our republic and instead foisting their so-called Christian law upon us. In this, they are supported by an increasingly large number of radical Christians in the Congress and by a Roman Catholic majority on the Supreme Court, which usually sides with evangelicals on social issues. Together they constitute a Christian Conservative majority on the Court.

How is this different from a supreme court in Iran that always sides with the Shiite regime?

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, you can be whatever damned religion you want, but you are stirring up some very dangerous cross-currents in your attack on the Constitution and in your attempts to Christianize America. I’m sure you inherited that nonsense from your father, the Very Reverend Mike Huckabee, champion of women’s and gay rights. I suppose you believe it, and I guess you think that God and Jesus are proud of you (and of your boss, Trump) for Christianizing America.

Do you not know that Trump, a recovering atheist, discovered evangelicals a few years ago, when he was looking to form a base? Prior to that, he thought evangelicals like you were were morons. He still does. But he pretends to be one of you because he needs you.

Problem is, America is not a Christian country! It’s a secular country. Our Constitution guarantees it! The Founding Fathers wanted it that way! If you want to live in a fucking Christian theocracy, then find some other country to move to!

Do these extremist Christians really think the rest of us are just going to sit back and let them run amok? Do they believe that we won’t rise up in righteous indignation and resist with everything we’ve got? Maybe they’re so mentally blighted by their superstitions that they think they can get away with this with no repercussions. Well, it ain’t gonna happen. Oh, they’ll cause some damage—they’re already wrecking the lives of those poor Latino families they’ve declared war upon. But this is just a temporary aberration. We will get rid of Trump and his storm troopers. We will get rid of Jefferson Sessions and the white supremacist movement he longs to lead into battle. We will restore freedom and democracy to America, and it will begin with the next Congress, which will be controlled by Democrats.

Finally, here’s what I really think of evangelicals: You people are pathetic. You’re insane. You’re dangerous fools. You pretend to be holy, even as you sin like animals every chance you get when you think nobody’s looking. You  give a pass to the most irreligious, immoral president in American history, and therefore collude with him. Look in the mirror and see the face of evil.

You will never succeed in your nefarious goal of establishing a Christian America. Go back to your trailer parks, your storefront churches, your pedophile priests, your adultery, your obese, drug-addled backwaters, and leave us alone!

My former Senator, Barbara Boxer, today called what Trump is doing “a sin against God.” That it indeed is. Trump is a sin against God. The Republican Party is a sin against God. The prophets are mobilizing. All Christians and indeed all good people everywhere who do not stand up and speak out against this atrocity against children are sinning against God. There will be consequences.

On the Death of an Archbishop



I take no pleasure in George Niederauer’s death on Tuesday. But I am glad that we’ll never again have to hear his voice: negative, hateful, homophobic. Such is death’s blessing and curse, that it silences all of us, the just and unjust alike.

Niederauer was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco back in 2008, when he led the Proposition 8 campaign to outlaw same-sex marriage in California. He was already an old man who looked as though he had been weaned on lemons and had not enjoyed intimacy with any human being for decades, if ever–an angry, embittered shrew. Not only did he lead the fight for Prop 8, he’s the one who got the Mormons involved—a lovely cult, who gave America polygamy, and many of whose followers to this day are fighting a rearguard action against gay rights.

These so-called “Christian” homophobes always haul out a few sentences from Leviticus and the man, Saul of Tarsus, whom they call Saint Paul, to justify their condemnation of the love that same-gender humans may have for each other. I always wished I could have confronted one of them and asked a simple question: Why do you choose to fasten on a single “abomination” from the Bible and ignore the dozens of others, defined in the Bible as abominations, many of them punishable by death?

Now, before you accuse me of Christian-bashing, I’ll tell you a story about my former friend, the ultra-orthodox Hasidic (Lubavitch) Jewish rabbi of the East Bay, who took a similar stance. In that case, because we were friends, I was able to sit him down and go through every death penalty in the Old Testament. “Rabbi, are you saying it’s okay for parents to kill a child if the child shall strike its parent? Are you really saying it’s okay to kill your wife if she cheats on you?” And so on. Rabbi chuckled each of those away, as well he should have. “No, of course not,” he told me. “God didn’t mean for us to take those literally. They’re metaphors.” But then we came to the infamous passage from Leviticus (18:22). “Rabbi, do you really think it’s okay to kill a man for having sex with another man?” “Oh, yes, certainly,” he said. “That is God’s law.”

I don’t remember if I even pointed out the obtuseness of Rabbi’s remark. But it was the last time I ever saw him, for how could I, in good conscience, be friends with a man—of influence and power—who would happily kill me, and millions like me, were he given the keys to life-and-death?

But back to Niederauer. I don’t know if he, himself, ever messed around with another boy or man, although my gaydar told me he sure looked gay. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. But I do know that an extraordinary number of Catholic priests not only messed around with boys and men, but engaged in child sexual abuse. Niederauer’s own San Francisco diocese itself settled at least 101 abuse cases, and while there’s no evidence he knew about it, it seems logical that he did. This is the man, the fiend, who tormented gay people with his pious denunciations, whose accusation that gay people are “intrinsically disordered” caused so much suffering and pain. He engaged in a years-long witch hunt against many of his own parishoners, even as his church allowed the perverts who also donned the black cloth to continue their heinous sexual activity. So, as I said, I take no pleasure in Niederauer’s death. But I am glad that such a stupid, irresponsible voice will never again be heard, at least coming from his body. Unfortunately, for every Niederauer, there are tens of thousands more in this country who say similarly odious things about innocent Americans; and I will venture to say that almost all of them are Christians, Republicans, and Trump supporters.

I don’t know if Niederauer, or anyone else, will survive death. I don’t know if he, or any of us, had or has an immortal soul. If he did, I don’t know if it’s going to heaven, or hell, or purgatory, or someplace else. But, if you will allow me to engage in a little retrospective emotion, if Niederauer does have a soul that survives death, I hope it goes someplace that will be very uncomfortable for him, a place where he will be tormented, at least for a period of time, until he realizes the awfulness of his sin.

Hey you evangelicals, you’re about as Christian as my dog

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Many years ago, in the early 1980s to be exact, I was driving home early on a Sunday morning from L.A. to San Francisco, idly switching between radio stations, when I came across a broadcast. It seemed to be, near as I could tell, a church meeting, and a big one at that to judge from the roar of the multitudes, who were presided over by a fire-and-brimstone preacher, of some evangelical or born-again stripe. As I have always found this sort of thing interesting—in a Margaret Mead-amongst-the-Samoans anthropological way—I listened. The preacher brought his audience to greater and greater heights of frenzy. The roaring and “amens” increased in crescendo. The mists of time have erased from my memory most of the particulars of what the preacher said, but there was one part that so seared itself into my brain that, even all these decades later, I recall it word for word.

He was talking about people who resisted the Christian message of Jesus being Lord and all that. He said they (the Christians) would try their best to convert non-believers, but that, in the end, if the non-believers refused to obey, “We will drag them, kicking and screaming, into the tent.”

Yes, those were his exact words. “He’s talking about me!” I thought. I found this so striking that I pulled over to the side of the road, to mull over what I had heard. To “drag someone kicking and screaming” is an old term whose derivation I do not know but whose meaning is clear: to make someone do something they do not want to do, by the use of force. I remember clearly the distinct image, repeated often over the years, those words formed in my mind: I saw a tent—a huge canvas structure, set up in some Bible Belt pasture or field, in which a Pentecostal audience was arrayed, like Romans in the Coliseum, egged on by a fiery Protestant orator. I saw a group of four or five burly white men engaged in the act of seizing hold of the arms and legs of a smaller white man who was struggling to escape from their grip. That smaller white man was me. As I screamed and flailed, the burly men carried me through the tent flaps, to the rabid, ecstatic howls of the mob. And there the scenario always mercifully ends.

Thirty-five years ago, these Christian evangelizers were eagerly courted by the nascent Reagan administration. Reagan himself was not particularly religious—nothing that we know about him suggests otherwise—but his political advisors, particularly a fellow by the name of Robert Billings, who was the executive director, under Jerry Falwell, of the Moral Majority, were given a seat at the table because the evangelicals were viewed by Republican strategists as the new equivalent of the “Southern strategy” that had got Nixon elected. And so the evangelicals had the ear of the President of the United States. Now we come to the year 2017, and the evangelicals have not only the President’s ear, but his mind, heart and bully pulpit. They have swarmed into the White House and Cabinet, long ago having seized control of the House of Representatives, and have made major inroads in the Senate and in the United States Supreme Court.

I have a few words for them–for you, if you’re one of them.

When I said you’re about as Christian as my dog, I immediately realized how unfair that is to Gus, as gentle and loving a soul as ever existed. You evangelicals speak the words of your God but you practice the actions of the Devil. You say you care for the poor, yet you would do away with public schools where they obtain free education, with Planned Parenthood where so many poor women obtain health services, with the Affordable Care Act: you would actually take healthcare away from 20 million of the neediest Americans. You would defund Public Defenders’ offices throughout the land, ensuring that only people of means can afford lawyers. You would gut if not eliminate environmental agencies, such as the E.P.A., whose “crime” in your eyes is to protect God’s air, water, creatures and lands. You would toss Muslims out of America and forbid others from coming in, to protect your so-called “Christian” nation, thus violating Jesus’s main instruction: to treat others as you would have them treat you. You have allowed your churches and pulpits to be fouled by politicians who cynically use you, you have allowed mockers like Donald Trump to achieve high office despite the fact—which you know in your heart—that he thinks you are fools. You have watched this President squander the essence of what America has meant to the world for 250 years: a shining city on a hill, of compassion, fairness and hope for all. You have elected a three-times-married adulterer, a self-admitted sexual abuser of women who tells a relative stranger he would “like to fuck” another man’s wife, even while he, himself, is married. Is this how you treasure the sanctity of marriage?

But that is not all! You throw your support behind a man whose mockery of the disabled ought to make you cringe, especially those of you—and they are many—whose own children or siblings are disabled. You think this man, who repeatedly insults anyone who disagrees with him, and who lies with pathological abandon, is a paragon of virtue. You cheer on a man who insults the entire country of Mexico, calling our southern neighbors “rapists and criminals”—and you say nothing to challenge such slurs even though you know they’re false. You see him fritter away our friendships with Australia, Iceland, France, Great Britain—friends who fought beside us in multiple wars and have stood by us through every troubled time. You—who for decade after decade hated the Soviet Union for its atheism—now suddenly discover what a wonderful country Russia is. You, who fulminated against the evils of Big Banks and Wall Street, of Mammon, now have a Cabinet stuffed with the leaders of Goldman Sachs, led by a billionaire who will not reveal his taxes or his business interests–and you do not care. You say you believe him when he says we need to deregulate these monstrous banks–whose CEOs are his friends–and yet you conveniently forget that the greedheads that run them caused the Great Recession that made your neighbors, maybe even your family, maybe even you, lose your jobs and homes. In short, you render unto Caesar what should be rendered unto God, and unto God, you render nothing but pious platitudes.

You have hated on and discriminated against huge swaths of the American republic in your religiously-based bigotry against gay people–a bigotry every Republican administration, including Trump’s, has exploited, and which, in your heart of hearts, you know is wrong. And now–the frosting on the cake–you urge Trump on as he seems hell-bent on unleashing more foreign wars—wars that will kill your sons and daughters or, if they are not killed, will leave them legless, armless, blind, and ravaged by PTSD. You–who talk about love!–loathed Obama, whom your Jesus would have blessed as a peacemaker. Now you are stuck with a warmonger, the father of sons who kill God’s noblest animals on the plains of Africa, not for meat for their well-laden tables, but for their own privileged, twisted pleasure.

What would Jesus have said about that?

I have no respect for you, evangelicals. You worship false gods and you speak with forked tongues. Your movement is spiraling downward, as ever more and more Americans, including Christians and elected Republicans, see through your hypocrisy. You have brought a godless, unstable person to the highest office in the land; through your stiff-necked, spiteful, reckless anger, you have wrought, upon this nation and the world, Havoc. Heed the lesson from 1 Samuel:                        

“So Saul died, and his three sons, and his amourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.”



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This isn’t a very thankful time for many of us. Our side lost. I, personally, believe the country as a whole lost, and furthermore I believe that History will agree. A friend of mine, a peaceful man of Latino heritage, told me today he’s thinking of buying a gun, for the first time in his life. He used the words “civil war” to describe his fear. I told him that, while I don’t think civil war is in the cards, I cannot dissuade him from his feelings. He may be righter than I am.

Still, one must persevere in hopefulness. I travel to Southern California for Thanksgiving, to be with family and old friends. Many of my family who used to be with us, no longer are. Now the family includes babies and young children I barely know. It’s a reminder that life goes on.

So let me wish you all the happiest, safest and most meaningful of Thanksgivings! I’ll be back here on Monday morning.

P.S. Today (as I write, yesterday as you read) is the 53rd anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He was my first political hero. I think he would be shocked and appalled by the direction this country has taken. Thank you, JFK, for inspiring a generation, and continuing to inspire us. Your legacy will survive even this.

Postmortem: Putting IPOB into Perspective



I’ve been hard on the Republican Party for being such ideological purists that they can’t compromise with Democrats (or anyone else) on anything. So in my guise as the F.F.W.C. (former famous wine critic), along the same lines I have a few observances about In Pursuit of Balance.

IPOB, as many of you know, was the non-profit organization formed in California for the purpose of promoting the production of Pinot Noirs that are lower in alcohol and higher in acidity than some, or many, other Pinot Noirs, especially those produced around the time of IPOB”s founding, in 2010.

In that year, the Pinots emerging onto the market were of the 2008 vintage, or possibly 2007—two warm vintages that produced ripe, lush, soft, full-bodied wines. IPOB’s precise goal, however, was never entirely clear. Their website says it was to promote dialogue around the meaning of balance in California pinot noir and chardonnay,” but certainly, the public and the wine media perceived it as more than the mere promotion of dialogue. Most people saw it prescriptively. In the popular mind (and IPOB did nothing to dissuade people from thinking this), IPOB was saying that Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay) should be below 14% in alcohol.

It’s true that Raj Parr, IPOB’s most visible representative, never came right out and said so, at least in my presence. In fact I heard him once welcome us to an IPOB tasting (at RN74) by stating that he was emphatically not referring to specific alcohol levels. But if there was no specific recommendation along those lines, people were scratching their heads and wondering just what else “balance” could mean that was not merely an arbitrary quality in the eyes of the beholder.

I sure wondered. In the four years after IPOB’s founding, and before I quit Wine Enthusiast, I strove mightily to understand. (Perhaps that’s what IPOB meant when they said they wanted “to promote dialogue.”) I decided that the question was meaningless, because no two people, no matter how competent they are, are ever going to agree all the time about so elusive and subjective a concept as “balance.” That was fine with me: wine writers, critics, producers, consumers and restaurateurs love to gab about wine, and IPOB provided plenty of gabbing opportunities.

Still, IPOB had an overall negative impact. It divided Pinot Noir people into two opposite, warring camps. IPOB’s tastings never made any sense. They were fun to go to, in that they let us taste many famous, small-production Pinots we would otherwise miss. But I always wondered why IPOB’s gatekeepers, who included Jasmine Hirsch, allowed some wines in, while shutting other wines out. For example, Calera was there—no one ever accused Calera of making low alcohol wines—while some fine low alcohol Pinot Noirs from the company I started working for in 2014, Jackson Family Wines, were not. I think that’s why people who were not fans of IPOB started calling it “the cool kids’ club.” It reminded me of the cafeteria in college, where the jocks and cute chicks gathered at their tables, while the geeks, freaks and nerds (of which I was one) had to scramble to figure out where to sit.

This was not a happy development. IPOB caused divisiveness within the ranks of Pinot Noir producers and critics; and while I’m sure it was a fabulous marketing tool for Hirsch Vineyards, Sandhi, Domaine de la Côte and other IPOB favorites, I do not in retrospect think it contributed much that was positive.

My biggest problem with IPOB was the way the mainstream wine media treated it so worshipfully, without questioning the process or the assumptions behind it. This wasn’t journalism; it was lazy reporting by press release. Unimaginative wine writers considered themselves lucky to be invited to IPOB, and to be feted by such famous personages, so they failed to write with due diligence. I had the same problem with the mainstream media during the recent election process. It was awful the way they accepted pretty much all of the Donald Trump scandals with a shrug of the shoulders, while relentlessly pursuing Hillary Clinton’s emails as if they were the biggest security scandal since Benedict Arnold,  with Hillary actively working for ISIS. The email thing, of course, turned out to be absolutely nothing: a non-issue in every respect. But every media outlet in the country, print and broadcast, jumped on it like junkyard dogs and refused to let go, even while practically ignoring Trump University, his late-night infomercials on how to get-rich-quick through real estate flipping, not paying his bills, rape charges, lies, smears, prejudices, unproven allegations, insults, his current wife’s questionable background, his ties to Russia and foreign plutocrats, his taxes, and above all his utter ignorance of the issues. This glaring irresponsibility will be a sorry chapter in American journalism.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Esther Mobley, in her summation of IPOB’s final event on Nov. 14, at least did yeoman’s work in backing up far enough to write objectively about it. She praises it, not for dramatically changing the style of Pinot Noir in California (it didn’t; style is defined by climate, soils and viticultural practices, not by ideologies), but by making us all think a little harder about Pinot Noir than we might have otherwise. That’s a good thing, but I wouldn’t want future wine historians to overrate IPOB’s importance. It was not up there with the French Paradox or the Paris Tasting or Sideways. IPOB was a curiosity, a sort of hippie movement that flourished at a particular time and place, but whose import now has passed.

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