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Blog Archive/August 2007

August 31, 2007

His Own Private Idaho: Spin Suggestions for Sen. Larry Craig

Granted, Slate's video re-enactment of Larry Craig's shenanigans at the Minneapolis airport bathroom, based on the arresting officer's report, makes it hard to believe the Idaho senator was doing anything in the loo that fateful June afternoon except prowling for some unlawful man love. I mean, peeking in the stall, foot tapping, foot touching, running his fingers under the partition. You can't construe such behavior as, say, the senator doing his part to tidy up the place.

Still, that doesn't mean Craig can't spin himself out of trouble. Statistics can be found, or fabricated, and arguments can be made on his behalf. For example, suppose that, out of 1,000,000 guys, as many as 999,999 feel uncomfortable interacting with other guys in the gents. Larry Craig could claim he is that one-in-a-million, healthy straight guy who has no hang-ups about kicking back in the head with other straight dudes he doesn't know.

"I am that rare man," he could announce at his next press conference, "who is so secure in his heterosexuality that I can work a bathroom full of strangers with ease, establishing eye contact and chit chatting, shaking hands and slapping backs, grabbing biscuits and poking at biceps and abs, all in a totally non-gay way."

After all, when Craig was asked in May by the Idaho Statesman about a gay man's claim that in 1994 the senator followed him around a Boise REI store, hitting on him for half an hour, Craig explained that it's his job to be friendly. "I don't hit on men," he said. "I have no idea how he drew that conclusion. A smile? Here is one thing I do out in public: I make eye contact, I smile at people..."

Hey, if a senator wants to keep his job, he's always got to be out pumping the flesh, right? Whether it's in a camping supply store or in an airport restroom that's a notorious hotspot for anonymous gay sex--every vote counts.

And in fairness to Craig, examples abound of men who have misinterpreted the intentions of other men in public bathrooms. Take Sea Bass, the psycho character in the film "Dumb & Dumber." He scribbled a note on a gas station bathroom wall inviting anyone interested in a walk on the wild side to join him there at such and such a day and time. Then, when the appointed hour arrives, Sea Bass bursts open the stall door to find Lloyd Christmas, Jim Carrey's character, taking a leak. Sea Bass concludes that Lloyd is there to party--a natural assumption, perhaps, but wrong. Sen. Craig could have been like Lloyd, the wrong guy, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, simply tapping his foot to his iPod.

Then there's Tom Arnold's character, the cowboy, in the first "Austin Powers" film. Arnold occupies a stall next to Powers, who starts grunting and kicking his feet, leading Arnold to believe the International Man of Mystery is struggling to relieve himself. "Yeah, that's it," Arnold cheers, "you show that turd who's boss!" But the reality is that Powers is wrestling with a deadly assassin named Patty O'Brien. Similarly, how do we know Craig wasn't at the airport conducting a covert anti-terrorist operation he can't discuss, even with the police?

And in further fairness to Craig, the weirdest exchanges between men in bathrooms are not always sexual. Take the time "Family Guy"'s Peter Griffin entered a stall next to Michael Moore, and a dueling banjos-style farting contest ensued. Actually, this might be Sen. Craig's most plausible innocent explanation for why he entered that bathroom on June 11: He was looking for a partner with whom he could perform a methane duet. He could claim he was toe tapping to set a beat. Hell, he could even say he was whistling and snapping his fingers. And as a member of The Singing Senators, a completely un-gay-sounding quartet that includes John Ashcroft, James Jeffords, and Trent Lott, Craig could argue that he's always enjoyed making a chorus of strange noises in public.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 30, 2007

Divine Architecture

Ralph Adams Cram sought to make an enduring contribution to modern life, but without severing connection to past Christian culture. In this he succeeded. "I have scant sympathy with that entirely modern view of art that makes the artist a rebel against a constituted society," he wrote. "An abnormal phenomenon feeding upon his inner self, cut off from the life of his fellows and issuing his aesthetic manifestos in flaming defiance..." For Cram, such art could not succeed because it contained no "conscious and vital link with the art of past generations." In retrospect, Cram's vision for 20th-century art was itself a sort of flaming defiance.

Read Matthew J. Milliner's review,
A-spiring to God.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 29, 2007

Church Sign of the Week

I spotted this one at the Bethel Assembly of God in Guilford, Conn.:

"Lack of exposure to the Son may lead to burning."

Submit your favorite church sign, noting where you saw it, to: editor[at] Religion bumper stickers are welcome, too. 

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 27, 2007

Could a Giuliani Election Lead to Christian Jihad?

Dateline Washington, 2009--The first year of Rudy Giuliani's presidency has ushered in an era of unprecedented social strife, as the once-formidable evangelical Christian voting block, distraught over the election of a non-evangelical Republican to the nation's highest office, has gone underground, forming a loosely organized network of cells and declaring war against the United States in order to reclaim its soul.

Former Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson is in Guantanamo Bay, detained for allegedly masterminding a thwarted plot to blow up the Unitarian Universalist Association's fortified headquarters in Boston. Richard Land, chief mullah of the Southern Baptist Convention, dictates his demand to the president: release Dobson from Gitmo, or Land can't be held responsible for what his network of mujahideen, operating out of a string of Midwestern Waffle Houses, will do to disrupt the nation's Starbucks supply chain...

Atheistic paranoid fantasy or prediction for the future if former New York mayor Giuliani gets elected president?

Read President Giuliani: "A Fate Worse Than Bush"?

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 24, 2007

Mother Teresa's Godlessness

"Jesus has a very special love for you," Mother Teresa wrote to a spiritual confidant in 1979, the year she won the Nobel peace prize. "[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see,--Listen and do not hear -- the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me -- that I let Him have [a] free hand."

Mother Teresa, plagued by doubt? Big time, and we're not talking your occasional "dark night of the soul" familiar to most believers. A new book titled Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, out from Doubleday on Sept. 4, consists of private letters which reveal that the late, great humanitarian spent the last 50-odd years of her life feeling "no presence of God whatsoever," David Van Biema writes in Time magazine, "or, as the book's compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, 'neither in her heart or in the eucharist.'"

Describing the spiritual emptiness in her life--the "dryness," the "torture"--Mother T "compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God," Van Biema writes.

"She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. 'The smile,' she writes, is 'a mask' or 'a cloak that covers everything.' Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. 'I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God--tender, personal love,' she remarks to an adviser. 'If you were [there], you would have said, 'What hypocrisy.'"

It'll be interesting to see how the faithful respond to these bombshells. A big chunk of Christendom insists that ethics and morality are impossible without belief in God. If there's no God, why be good? But Mother Teresa's crisis of faith suggests what any life-loving agnostic or atheist knows: If there's no God, why not be good? You don't need the right metaphysics to minister to the poor, sick, and orphaned, or to reap the spiritual rewards that come from helping others. And as Mother Teresa also shows, you don't even need belief in God to be fast-tracked to sainthood.

The piece notes that some see God's absence in her life as "part of the divine gift that enabled her to do great work." Maybe. And if they're right, then what exactly is the case against doubt?

Read the Time article.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 22, 2007

Cleanliness and Godliness

In line with the prevailing Judeo-Christian tradition, life in 1900 followed the biblical directive of "For six days shall ye labor, and on the seventh shall ye rest." Monday through Saturday were devoted to different aspects of cleaning, from the three laundry days to "Care of the Kitchen," "House Cleaning" and "Sewing and Mending Day." In an amusing irony, Sunday was the one day that everybody could stop being clean. Cleanliness might be next to Godliness, but it was God himself who gave his multitudes a break from the relentless scourge of sanitation. As numbing a bore as church could be, trading the plowshare for the prayer book had its distinct advantages...

Read Mary Beth Crain's Cleanliness Is Next to Craziness: A Domestic History, Part I

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 22, 2007

Bad News for Books

Twenty five percent of adults say they read no books at all--zero, zip--in the past year, according to a new AP-Ipsos poll. And of those who do read, what do they pick up? Two thirds say the Bible and religious material, more than any other category. People from the South read more than people from other regions--"mostly religious books and romance novels."

College-educated folks read the most. Interestingly, Democrats and liberals read more than Republicans and conservatives. Hmmm. Does this mean liberals are more religious than conservatives, or more educated?

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 21, 2007

A Sentimental Education

Hey, guys. It's OK to cry. In fact, like it or not, we men tend to find ourselves inexplicably choking up more and more as we age. But are these emotional squalls really such a mystery? In the Aug. 20-27 issue of Newsweek, SoMA pal Gordon Marino has a wonderful "My Turn" essay in which he examines the "middle-age crying jags" that have snuck up on him lately. Anything but "random hormonal storms," these seemingly silly "psychological outbursts," he came to realize, are tied to grief and the passing of time. His piece begins:

There is a story in Herodotus about Xerxes. The Persian king is on a plateau proudly scanning his million-man army as it marches toward Greece. Suddenly, the emperor bursts into tears and exclaims, "They will all be gone in 100 years." I wonder if he wasn't a little embarrassed in front of his generals. I also wonder if the lugubrious emperor wasn't a man in his 50s...

Read on.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 20, 2007

Hitchens' Tour Report

Christopher Hitchens' tour for "God Is Not Great" included enough surprises and miraculous turns in the author's favor that he jokingly concluded that "maybe someone up there does love me after all." He has a point. The timing of Jerry Falwell's death was a godsend for Hitchens. He was mid-tour when Falwell collapsed in his office on May 15, giving the atheist author the opportunity to go on all the major cable shows to denounce the "ugly little charlatan" and plug his book. The following week, "God Is Not Great" hit the New York Times bestseller list and went on to outsell the pope's new book on Jesus.

In his column in the September issue of Vanity Fair, Hitchens details other unexpected moments from the trip. It's a highly amusing account, partly because Hitchens had his publisher arrange the tour around a series of debates with conservative ministers and theologians, and he insisted his publicist "send me as far as possible to the South." His reception was often warmer than he anticipated, and "half the people attending" these events were astonished to learn they were not the only atheists in town.

My favorite chance encounter happened after Hitchens' tour. Dropping into a Georgetown cafe for lunch, Hitchens was seated next to the Archbishop of Canterbury. "O.K. then, this must have been meant to happen," he writes. "I lean over. 'My Lord Archbishop? It's Christopher Hitchens.' 'Good gracious,' he responds, gesturing at his guest--'we were just discussing your book.'"

Read what happened next, in his column God Bless Me, It's a Best-Seller! (Check out Paul O'Donnell's review for SoMA here.)

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 18, 2007

The Centenary Edition of Walter Rauschenbusch's Classic

One hundred years ago, while on sabbatical in Germany, Walter Rauschenbusch
wrote and published his book, "Christianity and the Social Crisis." Upon his
return, the theologian, Baptist minister and professor of church history at
the Rochester Theological Seminary discovered that, in his absence, he had
become "the most prominent public intellectual of the young 20th century,"
as Stephen G. Carter puts it in the just-published centenary edition of the
book. Rauschenbusch was ushered off on a national speaking tour. For three
years "Christianity and the Social Crisis" sold more copies than any other
religious text but the Bible. Its publication, said the great liberal pastor
Harry Fosdick, "ushered in a new era in Christian thought and action."

Yet ask ten mainstream Christians today who Rauschenbusch was and you'll get an average of seven shrugs.

Continue reading Paul O'Donnell's Wrestling With Rauschenbusch. 

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 14, 2007

Tofu Madness

To healthy-minded souls, tofu is a godsend--a heart-healthy alternative to high-fat animal protein. In fact, at this weekend's 12th Annual LA Tofu Festival, Aug. 18-19, the soy substitute for hamburger is billed as a 2,000-year-old health food miracle.

Which is why it strikes me as odd that this fiesta for health nuts features a tofu eating contest. Competitors inhale 14-ounce blocks of medium firm tofu as fast as they can--without use of their hands.

Bonus gross-out image: Birkenstock-clad contestants compete in five preliminary rounds.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 13, 2007

Serenity Now

I read this on the back of a T-shirt someone was wearing at the Hartford airport yesterday. The type was flowery, the kind you find in sympathy cards:

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to hide the bodies of those people I had to kill because they pissed me off.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 10, 2007

Protest Ideas for Fred Phelps

The Rev. Fred Phelps and members of his Westboro Baptist Church have announced they will protest funerals of victims of Minnesota's 35W bridge collapse. As you probably guessed, they believe God destroyed the bridge to punish the "Land of 10,000 lakes" for tolerating gays.

Once again, Fred and Co. have found another perfect outlet for their peculiar personality disorders--the pain and suffering of untold thousands. But with so much death and sorrow in the headlines, they shouldn't focus exclusively on irritating Minnesotans. Here are a few other places they could picket, as well as a gay angle they could work feverishly:

* The Utah mine disaster: God hates gay bars, and what city doesn't have a gay bar named "The Mineshaft"? Ergo, the collapse at Crandall Canyon was another instance of God gettin' all Leviticus 18:22 on us.

* Graceland mansion: August 16 will mark 30 years since Elvis died sitting on a toilet reading "The Quest for the Historical Jesus." Did God smite the King for reading liberal theology, or was He punishing Memphis for not doing enough to stop Uncle Sam from trading in his red, white, and blue suit for butt-less black leather chaps and a cock ring? Answer: both.

* Dinosaur grave in Switzerland: Reuters reports that a Swiss paleontologist has unearthed what may be the largest dinosaur mass grave. Why would God have exterminated the dinosaurs unless they swung in some seedy kind of prehistoric Sodom and Gomorrah, or at least failed to take a biblical stand against homosexuality?

* NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory: New images show the 2,000-year-old remnant of a supernova explosion, known as RCW 103, that occurred some 10,000 light years away from Earth. Again, God's punishment. No doubt He eliminated some faggy, faraway ball of nuclear fusion. Check out the title of Science Daily's report: "RCW 103: A Star With a Mystery Partner?" (emphasis mine).

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 8, 2007

The Biggest Xenophobe in Europe

Victorian children's writer Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer was a woman of deep piety--and of even more profound prejudices. Born a Quaker in London in 1802, she converted to Evangelicalism at age 25 and devoted her life to the proper religious development of children, a task that involved extolling the virtues of Protestantism and denouncing as corrupt or evil every other form of faith and practice.

Read Protestants, Beware!

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email
Tags:    Religion faith racism

August 6, 2007

Contacting SoMA

Have you tried emailing SoMA and not heard back? Did you submit a story, or sign up for updates, and not get a reply? Unfortunately, our email addresses editor [at] and updates [at] have been hit or miss in recent months. More miss, unfortunately, than hit.

Some emails have been bounced back to their senders. Others have simply vanished into outer space. Still others have reached us, which is why we didn't realize there was a problem until yesterday. We're not even sure how long this has been going on. But now, Chuck, our web guy, says the problem is fixed.

So, forgive us if you wrote and didn't get a response, unless of course you're a Nigerian with $60 million you need help transporting out of your country. (We've already benefitted handsomely from helping dozens of total strangers sneak billions out of Nigeria. Give someone else a chance to get rich.)

Otherwise, if you have SoMA-related business, try us again. We value hearing from readers.

SoMA's mailing list:
updates [at]

Editorial submissions:
editor [at]

To comment on stories or blog entries:
Click on the "Comments" feature below each story or blog.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 3, 2007

Did Blake and Duncan Get Religion?

When the blogosphere started buzzing over Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan's double suicide last month, who guessed that their tragic story would take such a religious turn? Sure, from the gitgo there was that business about the Church of Scientology--how Blake and Duncan were convinced the church was conspiring against them. Blake went so far as to draft a 27-page "chronology" detailing the CoS's conspiracy to destroy the couple's future in Hollywood, accusing everyone from Tom Cruise, ex-Viacom head Tom Freston, and singer Beck as being in on it. Blake even threw urine onto the outdoor grill of neighbors he and Duncan believed were Scientologists.  

But now it appears that as the couple were spiraling into deeper levels of paranoia in their final months, they were also throwing themselves into the Episcopal Church.

When they moved to New York from LA last fall, Blake and Duncan quickly got involved at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery. "The two attended service every Sunday, a new thing for them, and kept a Bible on their coffee table," today's LA Times reports. "On July 3, Duncan helped orchestrate a benefit for restoration of the church." In fact, their East Village apartment was at the Ernest Flagg Rectory at St. Mark's.

There's more. The evening Theresa Duncan took her life with Tylenol PM and bourbon, Blake had invited the church's assistant pastor, Father Frank Morales, over. Morales arrived at the apartment five minutes after Blake discovered his girlfriend's body. "He was sobbing, kicking the walls, putting his head in his hands," Morales told the Times. "But that night he got a grip fairly quickly."

Further Reading: In late May, Duncan posted a discussion she, Blake, and Morales had at their apartment, complete with a photo. Entitled Dessert Topping on the Apocalypse or Paradise Now, their conversation ranged from covert Pentagon programs to Jerry Falwell and the Christian right; from Hitchens and Dennett to Hitler and L. Ron Hubbard; FEMA, liberation theology, the Apostle Paul, G.K. Chesterton, Philip K. Dick, and more.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 2, 2007

Theresa Duncan Update

In the latest LA Weekly, Kate Coe sheds some serious light on the Theresa Duncan tragedy. It's a story of lies, ambition, and, increasingly, paranoia. Coe, who knew Duncan, details the fantasy world Duncan constructed--lying on resumes and in magazine articles about her age and education; inflating projects she was involved with--and how, when her Hollywood dreams fell through, she began "blaming her lack of success on the Church of Scientology, saying the church was influencing 'the studios.'"

As it turns out, if anyone was a stalker in this tale, it was Duncan. One of her targets was, of all people, religion scholar Reza Aslan."Whenever he appeared on TV, she contacted him with strange rants," Coe writes. "He gave Duncan's threatening messages to his lawyer because 'I wanted someone else to know about this.'"

Beauty. Brains. Bonkers.

The question now is, what the hell was going on in Jeremy Blake's head?

Read Coe's piece here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 1, 2007

A Mysterious Double Suicide and Talk of Scientologists

Because I'm supposed to be writing--I mean, because I AM writing--a book this summer, I don't have on my bedstand the stack of mysteries I usually plow through this time of year. Which must explain why I'm totally engrossed in the recent double suicide of the art world's "It" couple, Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan.

Have you been following this story? Wild, tragic stuff: She was a 40-year-old game designer, filmmaker, and blogger obsessed with Kate Moss, perfume, and Kafka; he was a 35-year-old rising art star, his work having been collected at museums from L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art to New York's MoMA and the Whitney to San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art. He worked on the abstract film sequences for movie director Paul Thomas Anderson's "Punch-Drunk Love," and he created an amazing video for musician Beck's "Round the Bend."

Blake and Duncan were, the LA Times reported, "an impossibly good-looking, intellectually vigorous and socially popular pair of soul mates who moved gracefully among a set of likewise brainy, moneyed people who occupy the intersection of art and technology on both coasts."

Then, on July 10, Duncan committed suicide in the couple's East Village apartment. She left an exit note, and the last entry at her blog, The Wit of the Staircase, was a Reynolds Price quote: "A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens--second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives, from the small accounts of our day's events to the vast incommunicable constructs of psychopaths."

Seven days later, Blake drowned himself out of despair, police believe, at New York's Far Rockaway beach. Witnesses saw a man resembling Blake walk into the ocean stripped to his briefs, leaving behind his clothes, wallet, and a suicide note. Five days later, fishermen found what was believed to be Blake's body four and a half miles off the coast of New Jersey. Yesterday, the NYPD announced that dental records confirmed the report.

Blake and Duncan were extremely close, but many of their friends were surprised, as one put it, "that Jeremy would sacrifice what he had worked so hard to achieve and had been so excited about." In February he'd accepted a sweet gig as an in-house graphic designer at Rockstar Games. An employee of the video game manufacturer told the Times that Blake "looked like a rock star. He wore sunglasses indoors. Sometimes he sipped whiskey at work."

All this is sad and strange enough, but here's the weird twist. On July 25, the LA Times reported that the couple had been acting strangely in their final months, telling friends they were being stalked and harassed by...Scientologists.

Christine Nichols, a friend of Blake's, said the couple's "paranoia" went back to 2004, two years after Blake completed an album cover for Beck--a practicing Scientologist.   

"They thought Scientologists were really harassing them," Nichols told the Times. "They would say, 'They are following us, harassing our landlord.' I did not see any evidence of that.

"But it got to be something that was huge to them--a 'You're either with us or against us' thing where if you didn't believe them, you weren't on their side. The story they had woven in paranoia and conspiracies took over part of their lives. A lot of us couldn't understand that acting out."

Beck's spokesperson said the artist and the singer hadn't seen each other since they collaborated three years ago, and that their relationship had been "extremely cordial." A Church of Scientology spokesperson denied Blake and Duncan's allegations: "Never heard of these people. This is completely untrue."

With all the makings of a Hollywood script, the story of Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan doesn't seem over yet.

Again. It's weird. Tragic. Oddly compelling. Where will this story turn next? Where, if anywhere, might these Scientology allegations lead?

Irrelevant but interesting: I did a double take when I read Theresa Duncan's funeral annoucement. Her services were held at Lynch & Sons in Lapeer, Michigan. Fans of Thomas Lynch, the acclaimed poet and author ("The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade") will recognize the name. Lynch & Sons is one of the nation's last family owned and operated funeral businesses--an inspiration, based on Lynch's critically acclaimed bestseller, for HBO's "Six Feet Under."

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

August 1, 2007

Remembering Roger

Roger was always doing something, writing something or planning to write something, but his joy was more in the thinking and planning than in the finishing. He was a perfectionist, and even when he wrote a great piece, one that made me gasp in awe at his uniquely brilliant style and shout with laughter at his totally off-the-wall humor, he was never satisfied with it. Which is why we at SoMA only printed two of his pieces. We were always after him to get us more, but he was never quite ready to oblige us, because he wanted whatever he sent to be "good, really good, damn good." Thank God...

Read Goodbye, My Friend.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

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