Archive for August, 2010
In light of President Obama’s announcement tonight that, at last, combat operations in Iraq are over, it will be interesting going forward to see what, if any, insurgent uprisings or attacks will occur against Iraqi security forces now that the U.S. presence inside the nation have been severely pared back. Some have already occurred after the much ballyhooed drawback from a couple weeks ago.
Here’s a snippet from Obama’s speech tonight:
Ending this war is not only in Iraq’s interest – it is in our own. The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people. We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home. We have persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi people – a belief that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization. Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it is time to turn the page.
A New York Times editorial tonight framed the moment thusly:
Mr. Obama graciously said it was time to put disagreements over Iraq behind us, but it is important not to forget how much damage Mr. Bush caused by misleading Americans about exotic weapons, about American troops being greeted with open arms, about creating a model democracy in Baghdad.
That is why it was so important that Mr. Obama candidly said the United States is not free of this conflict; American troops will see more bloodshed. We hope he follows through on his vow to work with Iraq’s government after the withdrawal of combat troops.
There was no victory to declare last night, and Mr. Obama was right not to try. If victory was ever possible in this war, it has not been won, and America still faces the daunting challenges of the other war, in Afghanistan.
Any declaration of victory was fleeting because terms for what that might look like were never established. In some respects, I am with Christopher Hitchens in believing that we had the right to invade because of Saddam Hussein’s gross negligence for human life and solidarity. He was a monster; we can’t escape that point. But I think the false pretext (the presence of WMDs) under which we were led to believe that the war was a valuable endeavor is the gravest point on this issue. And however bat-crazy insane a national leader may be, I don’t believe it’s America’s job to police and/or jettison every one of them. For, there are many. Thankfully, less than in prior generations, but still many.
We can still count this as a historic day. Any time we can break free of one less entanglement as a nation is a good day in my view. Now, I would hope focus continues to hone sharply onto where it should have lied all along. That is, on Afghanistan or Pakistan or wherever bin Laden may be hidin’.
[Caption: Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press; Steve Baskis, 24, who lost his sight as a United States Army specialist serving in Iraq, listened to Mr. Obama's address at his home in Glen Ellyn, Ill.]
That’s, according to Salam, Beck is a white version of X. Here’s Salam:
Whereas Malcom X embraced militant black separatism, Beck marries a stridently emotional style with political views that wouldn’t have been out of place at a 1950s Elks Lodge event. But like Malcolm X, Beck terrifies mainstream liberals, who see something sinister in his inexplicable ways. And just as Malcolm X mellowed in his old age, embracing a more traditional interpretation of Islam shortly before his death, Beck seems to be self-consciously moving past the politicized anger that defined his program for much of the past two years towards a heavy emphasis on spiritual uplift for his people.
I think this is a fairly ridiculous claim (See title). For one, as Salam claims, if Beck is attempting to enact some sort of spiritual awakening, he would be no different than the throngs of fervently religious — that’s not to mean terribly moral — politicians and evangelicals since the days of the Moral Majority and later, the Christian Coalition.
Second, Salam claims that Beck’s audience is mostly old and white. While that is true to some degree, it’s been fairly well-established that a number of black people follow the Tea Party’s credo, as well as quite intelligent young white people. Here’s some data from Gallup.
Also, Malcolm X’s followers, so far as I’m aware, were young black militants.
Salam also says:
Instead of accepting or embracing this transformation, a large and growing number of white Americans are, knowingly or otherwise, taking a page from minority protest movements of the past by asserting themselves and demanding recognition from political and cultural elites. Many on the left find this sense of anger and alienation risible, seeing in this movement of “are-nots,” as opposed to “have-nots,” a class of ignoramuses duped by Fox News into acting against their supposed economic interests.
Yet it seems more plausible that Fox News is following its audience rather than leading it — that this anger and alienation has existed for years, and has only now found a decidedly unconventional tribune in the form of Glenn Beck. Though this is a class with economic grievances, it seems more concerned with psychic injuries — with a profound sense of disempowerment in the face of centralized political power.
It is true that FOX News is following its audience rather than the other way around, for that’s what it means to be populist. And if Beck is anything, he’s a populist. Solutions to complex problems, as President Obama well knew prior to taking office, but well understood after taking the oath, are rarely popular, and more times than not, decidedly unpopular. And we can, I think, be thankful that within the framework of our free, democratic society, that some politicians have the guts (And I don’t exclude George W. Bush in some cases) to do that which isn’t necessarily popular for the common good. For the general public, more often than not, neither knows what it wants or what is best. It’s quite easy for Beck to lap at the trough of the popular movement of the day, one he helped create, but he’s no Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Jr., or any other transcendent leader. He’s a charismatic, very successful capitalist. That’s about it.
Whereas Bill O’Reilly has his “The Most Ridiculous Item of the Day,” I present the first installment of “El artículo más loco del día” (titled in Spanish for no reason whatsoever, other than for my own amusement: the craziest item of the day), in which I will attempt on a daily basis, as much as possible, to bring to light a piece of news that is, in my mind and in some way, nuttier than a fruit cake on Christmas.
And here’s the primer elemento.
Facebook, at it happens, is attempting to become more ubicuo than it already is (I will also, occasionally slip into Spanish occasionally, at my leisure and for my pleasure, so keep the English-Spanish dictionary handy). According to this article, the social networking hub is attempting to — sit down for this one — trademark the word, “face.”
“If you search the patent database, there are thousands of marks that contain the word ‘face,’” Greenspan said. “I understand where Facebook is coming from, but this move has big implications for my company and for others.”((1))
Henry Sneath, a patent and trademark lawyer in Pittsburgh, Penn., doesn’t seem confident in Facebook’s chances of success in trademarking the word.
I’d bet against “face” being awarded to Facebook. You cannot overtake the use of a generic word people use in everyday speech.
The same, I can only imagine, would apply to “book,” lest we are, in the future, relegated to referring to constructs that resemble former books as “written works of significant length, bounded and packaged as a cohesive whole.” “Book” seems like a more workable modelo.
So, should we reclaim the dream or restore honor?
As it turns out, it depends on who you talk to. Whichever ambiguous path you choose, it’s sure to curry favor with either the Rev. Al Sharpton, who led an event today to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic March on Washington in 1964, or Glenn Beck, and we all know his reputation. As it happens, Beck, the presiding FOX News lunatic who was holding his “Reclaim the Dream” rally in Washington on the same weekend, a gathering that he said was not, necessarily, planned, to coincide with King’s famous march and speech. Sure.
Here’s how The Washington Post has framed it:
On the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, steps away from where it was delivered, Sarah Palin and other speakers at Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally staked a claim to King’s legacy and to that of the Founding Fathers. They urged a crowd that stretched to the Washington Monument to concentrate on the nation’s accomplishments rather than on its psychological scars.
“Something that is beyond man is happening,” Beck said from the base of the Lincoln Memorial. “America today begins to turn back to God.”
The event was billed as “nonpolitical,” and Beck steered clear of the partisan commentary that has made him a hero to many conservatives and a nemesis to many on the left. But political overtones were unmistakable, and the rally drew a large crowd – including many who said they were new to activism – that was energized and motivated to act.
The effort by Beck and Palin to lay claim to the mantle of the civil rights movement drew protests from the Rev. Al Sharpton and others who marched in a separate and much smaller event, to the National Mall from Dunbar High School in Northwest Washington, to commemorate King’s speech 47 years ago.
“The ‘March on Washington’ changed America,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said at the Sharpton rally, referring to King’s speech. “Our country reached to overcome the low points of our racial history. Glenn Beck’s march will change nothing.” ((http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/28/AR2010082801106.html))
Not only will it not change anything, at least not for the good of the country, it will further splinter America. Beck, in all his civil rights fake-profundity, forgets that the tax cuts that he so trumpets nearly every day on his TV show will hurt many Americans who are the very people he claims to so embrace in the rally: low- to middle-income Americans.
Of course, there’s much over-excited banter from the other side as well. Here is Avis Jones DeWeever, executive director of the National Council of Negro Women:
Don’t let anyone tell you that they have the right to take their country back. It’s our country, too. We will reclaim the dream. It was ours from the beginning.
It is, indeed, black folks’ nation as well, but DeWeever, I think, misunderstands the point the Tea Party crowd, Beck, Palin and others have been attempting to make all along. They aren’t attempting to take the country back from black people or any race (That would be a perversion of the original intent), but from what they refer to as the liberal movement. Now, to me, the word “liberal” is a meaningless term. Even so, the point on Beck’s part is a political one, not a racial one.
And now, let me turn to numbers.
The Washington Post reported that thousands had descended on Washington for the Beck event, while Beck himself estimated that between 300,000-500,000 had attended the event. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), talking to a crowd after the Beck event had this to say:
We’re not going to let anyone get away with saying there were less than a million here today – because we were witnesses.
I find her use of the words “We were witnesses,” interesting. The numbers at the conservative event balloon from 300,000 to 500,000 then to a million? And yes, because we were witnesses, a million turned out to Washington to rail against the government. And because “we” (the gospel writers) were witnesses to the event, Christ performed miracles, raised Lazarus from the dead, exorcised demons and appeared before the disciples after death, and hundreds or maybe thousands were “witnesses” to UFO sightings or abductions and others were “witnesses” to paranormal activity and myriad other happenings that transcend the laws of nature. To simply establish that a person was a witness to a certain event doesn’t make the said event true. It makes the claimant either trustworthy, misunderstood, deceitful or, most plainly, wrong.
As it happens, the actual March on Washington likely consisted of between 200,000-300,000 people without any gross, and in Bachmann’s case, terribly gross, number-fudging.
Here is King’s monumental speech on that monumental day:
The nation has potentially, and regrettably in my view, taken another backward step on the subject of embryonic stem cell research.
In a ruling made Aug. 23 by Chief Judge Royce Lamberth, chief judge of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, issued a temporary injunction that would not permit President Obama’s previous executive order from taking effect. The order overturned George W. Bush’s previous research restrictions. The Obama administration plans to appeal the judge’s decision.
It will be an important appeal because the suffering of many hangs in the balance. From Wikipedia, here is a short list of diseases that could be helped if stem cell research were allowed to continue:
a number of blood and immune-system related genetic diseases, cancers, and disorders; juvenile diabetes; Parkinson’s; blindness and spinal cord injuries.((1))
But these pursuits have since been stifled by the faithful who claim that they have knowledge about the human condition that the rest of us do not. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent (non-differentiated) cells gathered from the inner cellular mass of the blastocyst. Extracting or separating the inner cell mass from the blastocyst results in the death (if you can call it that) of the three-day old fertilized embryo, thus the controversy.
But it’s here that author Sam Harris grounds the issue for us. Speaking on the immorality of attempting to derail stem cell research in favor of 150-cell clusters to living, breathing, suffering human beings with chronic diseases, he raised the important point that some embryos either split into identical twins or fuse into chimera. So, what then, of the potential souls that these embryos apparently embody? No one knows, and here, we catch up with Harris:
I suspect that there are theologians trying to figure out what has happened to extra soul human in such case. It’s time we realize that this arithmetic of souls doesn’t make any sense. It’s intellectually indefensible, but it is also morally indefensible given that these notions really are prolonging the scarcely endurable misery of tens of millions of human beings. … If you think that the interests of a blastocyst, a three-day old human embryo, just may trump the interest of a little girl with a spinal cord injury or a person with full body burns, your moral intuitions have been obscured by religious metaphyseal, and this is a kind of blindness that is very well subscribed in our society, and it’s a blindness that goes by another name. It goes by the name of religious faith, and we have been cowed into respecting it.((2))
Here is the full clip:
Now, I could, and I’m highly tempted, to greatly ratchet up my language on this topic because it does inspire anger that we put the cares of 150 undifferentiated cells above those of human beings out of the womb, suffering immensely in the here and now and very close to returning to their former state of unconsciousness and even so, we can’t get a thing done medically because of our unfounded moral misgivings about tampering with the souls of three-day-old cell clusters. Harris might have been too kind in his critique. And I’ll leave it at that.
Frightening, just frightening what some folks are cooking up …
Pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., whose plan to memorialize 9/11 by burning copies of the Koran, represents everything that is wrong with evangelical America and with our collective response to the debate about the proposed mosque near Ground Zero: intolerant, filled with animosity toward those who don’t believe as he does and as fanatical as the rest. Jones forgets that it wasn’t Muslims in general that performed the heinous acts in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, but religious fanatics like himself, willing to do whatever it takes to assure that their particular savior’s message is heard. In short, no better or worse than those who are willing to live or die for their faith. For believers, of course, it makes no difference.
Religion, if left unchecked and nonsequestered, will tear our existence as human beings apart and that fills me with despair. And as much contempt as Pastor Jones might feel toward the Koran, I feel toward this type of dogged and demonizing intolerance toward other faiths. I don’t care what another human being believes, but if that belief oversteps its bounds and meanders into the public sphere, then there’s a problem. And this egging on of other religions, especially those known to be the harborers of terrorists is, there is no other way to put it, dumb to the Nth degree. But I don’t hold much faith that Pastor Jones has caught on to that nuance.
Below is a video illustrating a previous point of mine that I have maintained: that, in my search for the truth with regard to human existence and religion in general, hope, wishful thinking and fantasy are three things that I’ve respectably discarded in the pursuit of truth. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, forward to 3:30 to see the point.
Here, Christopher Hitchens has this to say about the eventual heat death of Earth, the meaning of his life and the pursuit of truth:
We don’t particularly welcome the idea of the annihilation of either ourselves as individuals, the party will go on and will have left, and we’re not coming back, or, the entropic heat death of the universe. We don’t like the idea, but there’s a good deal of evidence to suggest that is what’s gonna happen. And there’s very, very little evidence to suggest that I’ll see you all again in some theme park, one nice and one nasty experience. There’s absolutely no evidence for that at all. So, I’m willing to accept on the evidence conclusions that may be unwelcome to me. I’m sorry if I sound as if I’m spell that out, but I will. Now you want to know what makes my life meaningful, generally speaking it’s been, struggling myself to be free, and if I can say it without immodesty, … to try to help others to be free too. That’s what’s given a lot of meaning to my life.
During a brief interlude away from this blog, I watched, “Doubt,” which features Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, three times, and while I have some guesses as to whether the main character, Priest Flynn (Hoffman), engaged in inappropriate behavior with one of the Catholic school’s students, the movie leaves the question open, thus, “doubt” is the ultimate game, both inside the plot of the movie and outward, toward the audience.
Briefly about the movie: the film takes place around the Christmas holiday in 1964 in the Bronx, New York. Flynn is an amicable priest, who, by his own admission, sometimes struggles with his own uncertainties of faith and admonishes his congregation, in the form of a sermon, to not feel alone and isolated. Everyone feels lost at one time or another, and we should not feel alone because we aren’t. This is the crux of the first sermon delivered in the movie, and the message is brought at the end by a parable. In total, Flynn delivers three messages during the course of the movie, each bookended by a parable. Actually, the 2004 play for which the movie is named is subtitled, “A Parable.”
The jovial, joking and carousing spirit of the priests when they sit down for dinner is contrasted with that of the more tempered nuns, who largely eat in silence. That is, until Streep’s character, Sister Aloysius, breaks the quietude and tells her fellow nuns that they should be on the lookout for any peculiar activity from Flynn. Aloysius said that after his sermon, she suspected something was amiss in the church and school.
The movie attempts to deal with the issue of race in a unique way, in that the school’s first black student, Donald Miller, is the student with which Flynn is accused of having an inappropriate relationship. While Aloysius and James seem sensitive to neither singling Miller out or pushing him to the back in the upcoming Christmas production, Flynn is sensitive too, but in a different way, saying that the boy should be treated exactly like the other students and shouldn’t receive special treatment just because he’s black.
We later find out that Miller suffers beatings from his father. I will leave readers to watch the movie to find out precisely why. One day, Flynn, in a scene that looks harmless enough — and one would almost miss it if you got up to get a drink — calls Miller into the rectory. Sister James (Adams) is the mousy teacher of a class who learns how to handle the students from the hardened and unwavering Sister Aloysius.
The movie quickly cuts to dancing practice right after Miller leaves to visit Flynn. James later tells Aloysius that Miller acted strangely upon returning to class and that he had alcohol on his breath. After some prying, Aloysius finally gets Flynn to say that the boy was caught drinking wine and was subsequently kicked from the altar boys. This is where it gets interesting because while James believes Flynn’s story, Aloysius does not and vows to bring Flynn down. Flynn’s next sermon, appropriately enough, is about gossip, and Hoffman, moving flawlessly between a Bronx accent and that of an Irish priest named O’Rourke, his character, Flynn, tells a parable about a conversation between the woman and an Irish priest. The pastor tells the woman to take a pillow, go to her roof and cut it open with a knife. When she does this, she goes back to the pastor, and he asks if she was able to collect all the feathers that had blown in the wind after cutting the pillow open. She said that she wasn’t able to and that they were scattered all about in the wind. And that, Flynn told the congregation forcefully, is gossip.
Later in the film, Aloysius confronts Donald Miller’s mother about the alleged incident in one of the better acted scenes I’ve seen in quite awhile. Donald’s mother is played by Viola Davis, who, in her only scene in the movie, clearly brought her acting A-game. The scene was so impassioned, and in ways, shocking, that is easily stands as the pivotal scene in the film.
So as not to give anything away, I’ll leave at it that regarding plot details. Nothing much happens in the film in any real sense. Dialog, stellar acting, unusual lighting and camera angles and symbolism largely carry the movie. It is, almost chokingly, set within the confines of this school and church. From attempting to dissect the various clues about whether Flynn actually did the deed (I have even carefully examined Hoffman’s facial expressions during the confrontation scene between Aloysius, James and Flynn), one can really only come to a reasoned guess on what really happened.
Almost as important, or perhaps more important, is the films’s position squarely in the Civil Rights era of 20th-century history. Flynn, for whatever other flaws he has, seems to be a caring man and took Donald under his wing (Sister James called him Donald’s “protector”). When another white student (As it happens, the one whom I suspect may have actually been a victim if Flynn did anything wrong at all) throws Donald’s backpack on the floor in the hallway, Flynn helps Donald to his feet, hugs him and then helps him collect his things.
Whatever Flynn may or may not have done, he was attempting to challenge Aloysius, who comes off in the movie as some Middle Age nun who wants to keep everything the same and who is hostile to change and anything modern or secular (Except when she confiscates a boy’s transistor radio, and later in the film, is seen listening to news reports). For instance, when Flynn suggests church leaders try some new things, like taking the children on a camping trip or for ice cream, Aloysius cuttingly retorts: “There is nothing new under the sun.”
In all, Flynn’s humanity and compassion for his “flock” shine through, and even if he is gay or sympathetic to gays, one can hardly call him a monster, and it’s this point that leads me to believe that, in fact, he didn’t do anything wrong. He delivers my favorite and possibly the most telling, quote of the movie during a one-on-one scene with Sister James outside the school. Speaking of Aloysius, he says,
There are people who go after your humanity, sister. They tell you that the light in your heart is a weakness. Don’t believe it. It’s an old tactic of cruel people to kill kindness in the name of virtue. There’s nothing wrong with love.
The conversation, as it happens, convinced Sister James that Flynn was innocent.
Not only does religion, more or less, have to answer for 3,000 dead on 9/11 (and slavery, the Salem witch trials, the Crusades and many other blights on mankind), but it has to answer for the crazies who are currently protesting the addition of the Cordoba House near Ground Zero. The proposed mosque and community center is two blocks away from the former World Trade Center site and not within view of the hallowed ground. Yet, Sean Hannity and others continue to refer to it as the Ground Zero Mosque.
Interestingly, and I found out about this from Sarah Palin’s Twitter feed, oddly enough, The Associated Press has ordered its reporters to cease referring to the proposed center as the GZM and simply call it, as I have, the proposed mosque near Ground Zero. For, that’s what it is or will be once it’s built. According to the story referencing the news organization,
The AP suggests that it might “useful in some stories to note that Muslim prayer services have been held since 2009 in the building that the new project will replace.”((1))
Folks have been holding services at that location since 2009, you say? So what’s the big deal about the current fiasco, then? I’m not sure. And neither is Rachel Maddow, who has refused until Monday to even mention the story, dubbing it fabricated and non-news:
“I’d rather not cover it,” she tells me [Lloyd Grove], never mind that President Obama has entered the fray. “It’s just one of those fake, non-controversial things that has been ginned up into a controversy for a political purpose. Participating in the discussion of this, as a political matter, is playing right into the hands of the people who ginned this up.” (By “the people who ginned this up,” she means Fox News and its allies—about which more in a moment.) “Adding to the volume—in both senses of the word—of the coverage, um, grosses me out a little bit,” she says.((2))
To that point, Hannity has been one of the most outspoken rabble rousers in this regard, ginning up all kinds of hysteria on his radio show today, and I’m sure, on his FOX News program tonight, although I haven’t watched. I got my fill of Hannity on the radio earlier. He actually said today that he believed with all his heart that we were headed down the road toward some 1930s-era final solution in which it will be the Muslims who will this time seek to destroy us all. I guess this would be in addition to the gloomy trail we are plodding toward Nazi-style socialism? But I digress.
Shew, hold on folks. If you believe these guys, it’s going to be a tough road to hoe going forward!
Actually, Hannity’s partly right but generally wrong. Some Muslims, a select few, say, Osama and his followers, are probably whittling away whatever brain power they have to conjure some sort of end game. This would be in the form of a modern day caliphate, in which us infidels will be conquered, subdued and/or killed, and radical Islam would become the rule of the land, not the exception. This vale of woe will be similar to that which existed prior to 1924 when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first president of Turkish Republic, abolished the caliphate institution. Radicals today want to see this reinstalled in the Middle East, and eventually, one can only imagine, everywhere, since Islam officials through history, including Ayatollah Khomeini and Osama bin Laden, have stated the goal clearly:
- “I was ordered to fight all men until they say ‘There is no god by Allah.’ – Muhammad’s farewell address, March 632
- “I shall cross this sea to their islands to pursue them until there remains no one on the face of the earth who does not acknowledge Allah.” – Saladin, January 1189
- “We will export our revolution throughout the world … until the calls ‘there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah’ are echoed all over the world.” – Ayatollah Khomeini, 1979
- “I was ordered to fight the people until they say there is not god but Allah, and his prophet Muhammad.” – Osama bin Laden, November 2001((3))
All that notwithstanding, we are talking about the radicals among the believers of Islam. We are not talking about the millions of peaceful Muslims. And here is where Hannity’s rhetoric hits dangerous territory regarding Islam. We want to, and should be, very clear that our beef as a nation is not with Islam itself. For Hannity, as he did today, saying he doesn’t care what religion a person follows, and then in the same show saying we are heading toward some kind of wild, 1930s-style takeover plan, this time with Islam as the potential threat, no doubt is offensive to the millions of well-meaning and quietly faithful believers around the world. Hannity seems to suggest that we are on the cusp of a gigantic wave of Islamic fervor. There are, indeed, a few crazies running around this planet, Sean, but few people of any religion, believe enough in the voices in their heads to board a plane and launch it into a building or strap themselves with a bomb. And we can be very thankful that their numbers are small.