Monday, December 11, 2006

Now that I have your undivided attention

There's nothing new or revelatory in this realizati0n, but the modern American at least is culturally incapable of undivided attention. I suppose this dis-capacity is itself not a new thing, but at one time it was a private phenomenon and now it has become public, way too public.
When I was in college and the victim of a boring lecture--now I am the aggressor but once I was the innocent--I had few options other than paying attention. I could divert my mind through looking out the window at the visually numbing Indiana land- and weatherscape. I could doodle and write in my notebooks. I could daydream.
I could not talk to my friends; I would have been scolded and humiliated. I could not text my friends on my cellphone; cellphones were still the stuff of spy movies, Hart to Hart and the future; and, text had not yet made its debut. When push came to shove, I pretty much had to pay attention.
Not so, the modern collegian. While I was isolated from the world in a room in which Antigone was being discussed or truth-tables were being explained, the college student of today is never so isolated. In her pocket there is a device that silently, oh so silently, will allow her to keep in touch with her friends, roommates, paramours, relatives, even read her email and surf the web. And, so, without the isolation that students have always experienced when in the classroom, she has no impetus to actually pay attention. And not just in the classroom, but everywhere.
I suppose if I had a choice between listening to myself lecture and texting my friends I might get my thumbs working as well. I'm not sure that I'd do it through a choral concert, like the students in front of me in the University Chapel yesterday. I guess it's understandable, but that doesn't mean I'm not gonna get mad and explode at the next student who does it in my class.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The monster grows larger

This picture is already a couple of weeks old, but it gives a little bit of an idea of just how big Mateo has gotten.

Evil Grandspawn

So, Mary Cheney is with child. While I am less than excited to see a eighth partial copy of Dick Cheney's DNA floating around, I am absolutely thrilled that Ms Cheney's hypocrisy continues unabashed.
Now, granted, Mary's pop didn't himself endorse Bush's failed, stalled or not-really-needed-once-the-election-was-won-and-the-evangelicals-were-superfluous Marriage Amendment, but Mary was quite happy to work assiduously for the re-election of Bush/Cheney as a high-level campaign staffer, even as that very campaign used gays and lesbians and the threat they supposedly pose to society and the family to get "values voters" to the polls.
Since then, Mary has said she had some qualms but after all there were other issues that she just was sure the incumbents were right about. I suppose that those were issues like protecting the financial interests of the wealthiest class, to which Cheney belongs, and in which issues like equal rights don't much matter. After all, no one is likely to claim that she is an unfit mother or call in protective services because she will be raising her child in a lesbian household.
Brava, Mary! Thanks for taking advantage of those rights and opportunities you worked so hard to keep from others.

Monday, September 04, 2006

He wasn't the stingray hunter

Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, is no more. While I feel sympathy for his family, there's some poetic justice in a man who regularly taught his audience that dangerous animals were things to be played with, wrestled and filmed for no real purpose--he had a private for-profit animal park, not a research facility, not a program to save endangered animals--losing his life to an animal's natural defenses. Of course, there would have been more justice in his losing it to a crocodile than to a relatively harmless stingray, but I suppose we all have our achilles' heels. But who will hold his children just out of reach of crocodile's jaws now? Crikey!

Thursday, August 31, 2006


I don't understand CourtTV. I never have and I probably never will. Law and Order: Intensive Parking Unit has convinced people that the legal system is interesting in ways that it simply isn't. But whatever deep and important creepiness there is to John Mark Karr, why, oh why is Nancy Grace still covering him? Yes, he's a pedophile (though we don't yet know that he is more than a theoretical one), but he didn't kill JonBenet--pretty much anyone (who is not currently a District Attorney in Boulder) could have figured that out without flying him to the US--we aren't sure how much else he did other than possessing and trading in child porn (and, yes, that is truly horrible) and failing to show up for court appearances. It just isn't that interesting. I almost want to commit a crime just so Nancy Grace can get exercised about something interesting.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

He's growing and the ladies love him

By local, you mean the Republican party?

In his "Wow, look at how great we've done with restoring the Gulf Coast and New Orleans" speech this week, el presidente took special note of the resurrection of the schools in New Orleans. He pointed out the presence of charter schools in NO--without mentioning recent studies that appear to show that charter schools do no better but perhaps worse than old-fashioned public schools while removing education from at least some of the traditional oversight.
This was part of his point about the schools in NO, namely that we need more local control in education. In some respects I am sympathetic with the idea behind local control of resources, though I am suspicious of local control of some aspects of education--it's just such local control that causes Kansas' science curriculum to change every election cycle, as the state school board goes from fundamentalist to rationalist and back again.
But, for Bush to call for more local control of schools is laughable. This isn't the Reagan presidency, with its promise of doing away with or at least eviscerating the Department of Education. This is the President of No Child Left Behind, one of the biggest unfunded mandates of recent memory, a program that tells the states that they have to institute more testing, more remedial programs and that they have to pay for it themselves.
Local control? Actually, a lot more centralization. Mentioning local control might please those in his base in favor of parochial and other private schools but, apart from voucher programs there has been a lot more centralization of education policy in Washington.
And, now, his Department of Education wants to do for higher education what it did for elementary and secondary schools, mandatory standardized testing (pretty much unworkable in any case, unless it tests only the most basic, i.e., high-school level, parts of the education)--to replace the local control we now have through faculty, boards of directors and regents, legislatures (in some cases) and the ability of students to vote with their dollars.
It used to be that the GOP was the party of less government. It was pretty much the only thing that was appealing about it. Bush has shown his ability to resuscitate that libertarian rhetoric, but there's nothing local in the kind of control his policies have instituted.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Maybe if they were all wealthy, white beauty queens

How many children died in Darfur this week? (How many around the world? How many were raped? How many forced into prostitution or war? How many infected with HIV?) And, given that, why is JonBenet Ramsey once again so important that CNN, FOX News(?) and all the major networks go into orgasmic spasms about an insane man who claims to have killed her (but about whom we apparently know little more than he is a pedophile who may not even have been in Boulder at the relevant time)?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Mateo Patagon!

On Monday, we drove to Ramona and picked out and picked up our new puppy. He's a 7.5 week old Vizsla, named Mateo. It turns out that he's a really good howler and is also getting a pretty good handle on barking--I've been sleeping in the room with his crate, well, not sleeping, actually--but he's also pretty smart. And, he's too damned cute.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The lab or the dumpster

So, the President has finally exercised his veto power, five-and-a-half years into his presidency. There is at least one thing that he exceeds at, then, approving bills (with signing statements that void a lot of their content) presented to him by the legislative branch.
It was stem-cell research that finally got him not to sign a bill. Again, I am somewhat sympathetic to Bush's position on stem-cell research. While I am not certain, by any means, that a fertilized egg is a human being and I know that there are all sorts of problems with notions of potentiality, I also know that in a fertilized egg we have the material (in some sense) to make a human being, at the very least the genetic code that will be instantiated in the completed person. Bush thinks that killing fertilized eggs (byproducts of the process of in vitro fertilization in which more eggs are fertilized than can be used) in order to do research on the stem cells crosses a moral line from which there is no return.
One important issue here, though, is what the alternative is. Although there are some instances, witnessed by the children from adopted extra fertilized eggs present at today's veto, in which these fertilized eggs are implanted and become children, the vast majority of such eggs will ultimately be discarded.
So, it is largely not a choice between using these eggs for research and treating them with dignity. It is a choice between using them for research and discarding them. If there is a moral line being crossed, the line is crossed when we fertilize eggs in the labs of fertility clinics and then do not implant them. Once we have them sitting around in freezers, we are no longer in the moral position to talk about what treats them with dignity; unless we are willing to demand that all of them get a chance at life. Instead, we really are in the realm of deciding how we can treat them in ways that best serve the rest of the population; the issue of their dignity has passed. Perhaps the answer is to rethink our policies with regard to fertility. Why is it that we think that everyone has a right to a child of their own, or that infertility is a problem to be solved? And, if we agree that this is a right or a problem that our doctors should solve, then why aren't we troubled by the creation of extra fertilized ova?

Bourbon Pepperjack performing at midnight

I made cheese toasties for lunch today. Other people call them grilled cheese sandwiches, but my mom called them cheese toasties, so that's what they are.
When I got to the gym an hour later, I started retasting some of the sandwich. So, I said to my partner (and workout partner), "I'm burping pepper jack."
Fernando misheard this, and so is born my new drag name: Bourbon Pepperjack (performing tonight with Genevieve Camembert, known to her friends as Gin). The nice thing about it is that it works as a man's or a woman's name.

Really tense

I am not myself German, though my family came from there long ago and, I've been told, in many ways our collective temperament is stereotypically German. So, speaking for the Germanically tempered, we don't like to be touched even by people we know, unless we have invited the touch or you are pushing us out of the way of a falling, burning timber.
So, word to GW: Don't go around touching German women that you only know professionally. Oh, and giving backrubs to German chancellors is never a good idea. (Bismarck used to have villages burned for much less.)
When on the world stage, you need to act differently than you would wherever it is that you normally give uninvited massages. Where is that, by the way?
But I do think that I pulled my back at the gym today, so if you want to make an extra $60 I can come to your place or you can bring the table here. No happy ending required.

Being who you are

Over the past week, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about character. It’s a topic that I reflect on often, both when I am teaching ethics—by far my favorite class to teach—and, generally, when thinking about morality. After all, I spent a lot of time training in philosophy, so I ought to put it to some use.
But one of the most interesting issues when it comes to thinking about character is the way that people tend to talk about what they do when they have done something that they regret, feel guilty, ashamed or embarrassed about. For instance, several semesters ago, I caught a student cheating on an exam. The student was upset, understandably so. And, apart from all the other things he said, he begged for mercy with the claim, “That’s not who I am.”
He had done something that people sometimes describe as acting out of character, i.e., doing something that is outside the parameters of what they would normally do, something uncharacteristic. And, so, he wanted me to know that he was acting out of character, that his character is who he really is, and what he had done had not been a reflection of that core of his being.
Now, there are some strange things about this sort of claim. In the first place, this raises the obvious question, “Well, who was it, who did this thing that was not the real you?” It wasn’t the devil or some being foreign to you, it was you, even if you don’t much like yourself for having done it.
In the second, when philosophers and regular old everyday people first worried about character, they didn’t worry about it as some static, abstract thing, which someone acted according to in some instances and not according to in some other instances. Rather, they thought of it as that thing out of which one’s actions flow. It is one’s character, they might have said, that causes someone to act in a certain way, that informs one’s responses to certain situations, that leads to certain actions. So, in a sense, there is no action that could be out of character in the sense my student was aching toward with his claim that it wasn’t the real him or the core of his being that acted in the way that he did.
There is something sort of right about this claim, nonetheless, but also something dangerous about it.
The part that’s dangerous is the part that needs to be addressed first. Because, when we claim that it wasn’t really in our character to act a certain way, we excuse ourselves from responsibility for the action and we also remove from our mind the fact that we are in danger of committing this sort of act again in the future. For instance, if I think that it isn’t in my character to cheat, then I am more likely to allow myself to get into situations where cheating is a real possibility. I might think that there is no real temptation for me, so there is no reason to avoid what moral theologians call(ed) the near occasions of sin. So, I don’t worry when I can see my classmate’s exam, since I am not the sort of person who could look off of it anyway. Moreover, I am more likely to look down on people who commit the very sin that I am so certain I could never commit, since it isn’t in my character. It’s this very sort of thinking that made experiments like those carried out by Elijah Milgram so troubling. In his experiments, subjects who thought that they had morally impeccable characters were nonetheless willing to increase the voltage and continue shocking another psychological subject even to the point where that subject was unconscious and beyond. Here, then, is the wisdom behind the old saw, “There but for the grace of God do I”; within us there are many possibilities for wrongdoing that we would rather not face.
The part that’s right is the fact about ourselves when we act wrongly that underlies a sense of shame. When I say or judge or think that I am not the sort of person who could do something, what I am saying, in a way, is that my ideal picture of myself is not of someone who could do that. That’s a good thing to think, but it’s very different from not being that sort of person. And, it reflects well on one’s character that they wish that they were a different sort of person and it is an important step towards being that sort of person, but it’s being that sort of person that ultimately matters the most. In matters of character, it’s action that speak. Words are inconsequential.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Send in the peacekeepers

Occasionally I agree with the President, though I usually do so in a dark room where it won't be noticed. But here I am going to do it in the light of day (or of the pixels). The UN has announced that it is considering sending an international force to the border between Lebanon and Israel. Of course, there are currently a few more than 200 hundred troops there in an observer status. What I don't understand--and I'll get to what I agree with Bush about--is exactly what good observers do in international hotspots. I would have thought that we learned from Dutch peacekeepers in the former Yugoslavia that observers are only slightly better than useless. They witnessed but did not intervene in, as it was not within their mandate, massacres in the Balkans. They did give us eyewitness accounts later, since they survived the atrocities they witnessed, but that hardly justifies sending them. Now, I know that the UN was trying to maintain its neutrality, but neutrality in the face of evil is no virtue.
And, there it is, I think Bush may just be right that the UN in its present form is nothing better than a debating society with diplomatic plates. The problem with the UN is similar to the problem with just war theory; both were designed for a world that is not what we currently have. History and the technology of warfare have surpassed the ethical and political thinking that underlay the UN, as they have surpassed almost all ethical thinking about war, its justifications and its moral prosecution. This is not to say that we are not in need of internation alcompacts, cooperation and most of all conventions covering human rights--though we should hold ourselves to a higher, not lower standard; I disagree with Bush in thinking that we do have a moral and legal obligation to protect the human rights of our enemies--but to be effective these have to be strengthened and refit to a world that is changing around them. We need fresh and new institutions and we need new, innovative thinking about the rights and wrongs of war, from both the right and the left.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Gnothi seauton

It's a sad and awesome fact that so much of who we are, so many of the decisions we make, so many of the fuck-ups we perpetrate are so causally tied to the problems and events of our childhoods. Not to say that we aren't responsible for our mistakes nonetheless--we might even be more responsible for not having figured this out about ourselves and dealt with it; but how often delving into our motivations, do we realize that the antecedents for the decisions we make, both good and bad, are somewhere back in our early years? How often, in hurting another person, do we find out that the person we would really like to hurt is a parent who left or some other figure from the faraway past? And how much worse is it that we do cause pain to those who deserve it so little.
Wordsworth was right. The child is the father of the man; and, too often, the man is but a child.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Your most important job is what?

If, as he states during each of his press opportunities, whether in a surprise appearance in the Green Zone, or a not-so-sunny day in the Rose Garden, he thinks of his most important job as protecting Americans, why has so little been done over the past 5.5 years of Bush's presidency about North Korea?
While the US invaded a country--led by an undoubtedly evil dictator--on the pretense of destroying weapons of mass destruction that apparently no one with access to undoctored intelligence thought Iraq had, North Korea has gotten so far ahead with its own widely-publicized and acknowledged program that they are, even now as I type this, fueling an ICBM capable of reaching the United States.
Other than the presence of oil in one of these countries, the grudge that we held against Iraq both for the invasion of Kuwait and Saddam's funding of an attempt on the earlier President Bush, the hard-on neo-cons have had for Iraq for the last twenty years and the non-existent connection between secular Baathism and world-imamate al-Qaeda, what are the relevant policy differences that have led us to essentially ignore this threat (or, rather, to treat it diplomatically, where "diplomatically" means both refusing to talk to North Korea and not really bringing any significant pressure to bear)?
Unfortunately, I don't know what we can do about North Korea. Kim is insane, the government is willing to starve its people for military spending, the country is already a pariah, there is little that we can imagine that sanctions would achieve. But at the same time, it seems that our government has thrown a lot of money and resources (though not planning) at a country that was, at best, a distant threat, while ignoring a very real and immediate danger, a North Korea with ballistic missiles.
So, if you really think your most important job is protecting Americans, you aren't even living up to your own standards, President Bush.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Knock, knock: Whoops, we're already in.

So, apparently, according to Tony Scalia--insert relevant expletive here--and four of his buddies on the Supreme Court, it is too much to ask that police with search warrants knock and wait 15-20 seconds before breaking down the doors of the homes they are permitted to search. You see, the Constitution (Amendment IV) has been interpreted since the beginning of the Republic as guaranteeing that police who are executing such warrants knock and announce themselves; i.e., a search warrant is a warrant to search, not to break in and ransack, otherwise we could not, as the Amendment promises, be secure in our property and houses. And, since laws without penalties aren't really laws at all, the courts have interpreted this to mean that if the police don't announce themselves and don't give people a chance to come to the door, they can't use the evidence they obtain. If the police violate my rights, in other words, it becomes harder for them to make their case.
In a majority decision today, Scalia (writing for four of the majority--Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion) stated that, since the police forces are much more professionalized than they were in the past, it just isn't fair to throw out this evidence when they forget to knock or announce themselves. Make sure you understand the logic--because the police are more professional than they were in the past, we should not penalize them at all for when they act unprofessionally. He, of course, did not deny the constitutional principle that the police must knock and announce themselves, he simply stated that there is no reason to impose any penalty when they fail to do so.
Imagine that you are a police officer executing a warrant on a suspected drug house. If you are also a rational police officer you are probably going to suspect that if you announce yourself, the residents of the house will try to destroy evidence. Now you know that there will be no penalty for not announcing yourself. Will you ever knock?
If the so-called originalists don't even care about the rights that have always been found in the Constitution, where are we headed? And, this is the Court we are stuck with for some time to come.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Let us all praise rotund men

Kudos to former Secretary of Education, Drug Czar and American Idol hopeful, Bill Bennett on his unaccustomed restraint while appearing on The Daily Show June 6th. Bennett was there to promote his new book America: The Last Best Hope.
Given the book’s discussion of freedom and Bennett’s role opposite Andrew Sullivan (in a buddy comedy yet to be named) in the original hearings about the Defense of Marriage Act, Jon Stewart took the discussion immediately to the Federal Marriage Amendment. Bennett grabbed for that old chestnut, the slippery slope if we let the gays marry what next? But, to his credit, Bennett did not take the argument to bestiality as he has been wont to do in the past, but merely went to polygamy. It was almost as if a reasonable discussion were taking place. He was even willing to admit that family relations, for instance in the case of Dick Cheney, might soften even a social conservative’s view of the matter.
The only sad aspect of the exchange: one must watch either fake news or public broadcasting to see reasoned discussion of national issues.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Protecting the national identity

According to the New York Times, there is a movement afoot among residents of Maine of French descent to regain their heritage. Members of the legislature occasionally hold discussions in (Acadian) French, various citizens say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the National Anthem in French. Clearly, insofar as we have an obligation to protect a certain image of the national identity, in this, a midterm election year, something must be done about this. I'm not sure what, perhaps a fence on the Maine border?

Friday, June 02, 2006

We're always here for you, GW!

June 2, 2006

Bush Backs Amendment Banning Gay Marriage


Filed at 10:48 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush will promote a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on Monday, the eve of a scheduled Senate vote on the cause that is dear to his conservative backers.

The amendment would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriages. To become law, the proposal would need two-thirds support in the Senate and House, and then be ratified by at least 38 state legislatures.

It stands little chance of passing the 100-member Senate, where proponents are struggling to get even 50 votes. Several Republicans oppose the measure, and so far only one Democrat -- Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska -- says he will vote for it.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the amendment on May 18 along party lines after a shouting match between a Democrat and the chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. He bid Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., ''good riddance'' after Feingold declared his opposition to the amendment and his intention to leave the meeting.

Bush aides said he would be making his remarks on the subject Monday.

A slim majority of Americans oppose gay marriage, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press from March. But the poll also showed attitudes are changing: 63 percent opposed gay marriage in February 2004.

Those poll results don't reflect how people might feel about amending the Constitution to ban gay marriage.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court decided to legalize such marriages in 2003. A year later, San Francisco issued thousands of marriage licenses to gay couples.

This November, initiatives banning same-sex marriages are expected to be on the ballot in Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. In 2004, 13 states approved initiatives prohibiting gay marriage or civil unions, with 11 states casting votes on Election Day.

Bush benefited as religious conservatives turned out to vote and helped him defeat Democratic Sen. John Kerry in 2004. In Ohio, an initiative rejecting the legality of civil unions won handily. The same state tipped the election to Bush.

''The president firmly believes that marriage is an enduring and sacred institution between men and women and has supported measures to protect the sanctity of marriage,'' White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said.

Bush has lost support among conservatives who blame the White House and Congress for runaway government spending, illegal immigration and lack of action on social issues such as the gay marriage amendment.

Opponents of the amendment objected to Bush promoting a measure they said amounts to discrimination.

''This is fundamentally both a civil rights and religious freedom issue and the president's position of supporting amending the constitution is just dead wrong,'' said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. ''This is simply to give ammunition to the so-called religious right just to show that the president is still with them.''

It's good to know that when push comes to shove, when the new Iraqi government is claiming (correctly or not) that Iraqi civilians are being killed every day by American soldiers in the light of two sets of killings under investigation (in Haditha and Ishaqi) even as the insurgency gets stronger in Sunni-dominated areas, when Iran shows no signs of abandoning its nuclear ambitions, when the President and the Prime Minister of Palestine are at war over who controls the security forces, when we are hitting the 25th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic with no end in sight in spite of the best abstinence-only efforts, when the NSA is data-mining the nation's phone records, when job growth is slowing and the market is nose-diving because of worries about inflation, when half the nation is up in arms about our "broken" immigration, (not to mention when Taylor Hicks won American Idol) good old Bushie has the gays to rely on: all he has to do is stand up for marriage and against those nefarious sodomites and everything will be okay!

Surely, my partner and I are one face of the biggest problem facing America, nay!, the world.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Good advice

As I walked back from getting coffee with my partner this evening, a man who is probably on the boundary of homelessness rode by on his bicycle and offered me the following: "Yeah, you've got nice guns but you need to have a brain, too."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What has brown done to you? (part, the second)

4b) Mexican, Central American and Latin American immigrants don't become a part of our culture, because they think of themselves primarily as Mexican or Honduran or whatever, and never fully learn about our traditions, culture, history, etc. This is a hard one to pull off, especially since many Americans have themselves taken up the banners of various forms of ethnic pride. Almost everybody you ask will tell you that they are French or Polish or Irish or perhaps Irish-American, Greek-American, African-American, etc., even if no member of their family has been in France, Poland, Ireland, Greece, or Africa, except on vacation in generations. In other words, we already have a culture in which people largely identify themselves as being from or of some other place. In a way, this is only natural, since in the language of one sort of political science, the United States is not a nation, i.e., a people unified by ethnicity or religion or history. We are a country made up out of different peoples, united by a commitment to a common set of ideals. So, if it is acceptable for my college friends to get all excited about their Irish-ness, wearing shirts that say "Kiss me I'm Irish", having bagpipes at their weddings and flying Irish flags outside their homes, we can hardly object when recent immigrants demonstrate the same sort of pride in their forebears and former homelands.
Now, you might argue that recent immigrants don't feel a deep connection to the shared history of our Republic. But, I must ask anyone fond of this argument to go with me into a college classroom and ask, as I sometimes do (in order to use certain examples), basic questions about American history. Upper middle-class, non-immigrant college-age Americans don't, for instance, know whether or not Washington was assassinated (we can leave aside that they don't know that someone who has been assassinated is of necessity dead), they don't know who Edison was or what he achieved, they don't know what Franklin's role was in the early Republic, they don't know when the Civil War was, that there was a Mexican-American War or a Spanish American-War, etc. If we really want to impose some sort of civics test in order to find out who is really American or tied to the US, we had better revoke the citizenship of a lot of native-born Americans.
In fact, I think that probably most immigrants, whether documented or not, have a much better idea of what the American idea and ideal is supposed to be about than most citizens. It is, after all, why they come here.

What has brown done to you? (part, the first)

It's time for Lou Dobbs--when did you stop talking about the market, Lou?--and other talking heads and pundits to admit that at least a little of what has them so incensed about "broken" immigration is that the people immigrating to the United States, whether legally or illegally are brown. Because, until they do, it's impossible to take anything that they say very seriously. And their other objections to the way that immigration fails to work just don't hold enough water to show that this is a particularly serious problem now. I'm not saying that there isn't a problem with immigration, but almost none of the problems are new, so unless it's the demographic shift in the US, the one that means that whites are having fewer children while latinos and African-Americans continued to grow as percentages of the population, that has people so upset, the crisis just doesn't make that much sense.
So let's consider some of the huge difficulties with immigration:
1) Granting amnesty is unamerican and would be tantamount to telling people that it is okay to break the law. This may be true. But, if a pundit wants to make this claim, s/he is required by justice to call Ronald Reagan, that demigod of cultural, social and fiscal (though God knows why) conservatives unamerican for the amnesty that his administration granted in 1986. Now, of course, his amnesty, like those proposed now, would not be a free and uncomplicated pathway either to permanent residence status or to citizenship, but it did regularize the status of many people who were in the US illegally.
2) People here illegally are criminals and should be treated as such. There is a difference in legal terms between breakers of different sorts of laws. For instance, if I park illegally, while I have broken the law, I have not violated the criminal code; hence, I am not a criminal. Currently, immigration law is not a part of the Federal Criminal Code, so those who enter the country illegally, assuming that they don't violate sections of the Criminal Code, are not criminals. Now, many undocumented immigrants may have forged documents, for instance. If they have done so, they may then be criminals. But the mere fact of being in the country illegally doesn't make one ipso facto a criminal.
3) An unsecured border is a threat to national security; and, in this age of a war on terror, it must be fortified and/or militarized. It's true that not knowing who is in the country is a threat to national security. However, first, there is a difference between some border porosity and the border being totally open. It isn't fully open; there are merely chinks in the armor. And, second, though people don't like to admit this, in determining even security policy, we always engage in a cost/benefit analysis: Would the amount of additional security provided by a totally fortified and militarized border be worth the cost in financial, moral, political, world-standing and resource terms? When we can't even get airline security down, haven't secured ports and our intelligence services are still in what, quite frankly, is a cluster-fuck, is this the best way to spend our resources and time?
Thirdly, if we are going to militarize or fortify a border, it will not do to ignore the other border. That would be equivalent to ordering the best security locks for your front door, while leaving your back door open. This is especially a bad idea when it's the back door--i.e., the Canadian border--that we know to have been crossed by those with terrorist designs in the past. If national security is our concern, it can't matter that one of our borders is with a poorer country than the other.
4) Mexican, Central American and Latin American immigrants don't become a part of our culture. I suppose that the evidence for this claim has to do with the fact that many immigrants continue to speak Spanish (or, in some cases, native languages like Mixtec, Mayan, etc.) as home and community languages. This is why, for instance, Lou Dobbs appears to get so excited--I think it would be unwise for him to stand up at these times--when he talks of government agencies offering assistance in Spanish.
What language someone speaks at home, or when worshipping or among one's friends is wholly irrelevant to the degree to which one sees himself as a member of the American culture. A bit of personal history might be relevant here. My family came to the United States in roughly four groups: One part were early British (Scots and Welsh, thank you very much) settlers, who arrived and settled in various parts of Appalachia before the Revolutions; another part were Pennsylvania Dutch, who arrived sometime between the 1680s and the mid 1700s (presumably they spoke German at home, but there was not yet a US, so we will leave them out of it); the other two groups were German Catholics who emigrated from Swabia in 1830 to Indiana; and, German Lutherans who emigrated from Europe at about the same time. The last two groups, though thinking of themselves as Americans, voting, sending sons to war, participating in patriotic holidays, etc., continued to speak German as a home language until about 1930. So, they spoke a foreign language for at least a hundred years after they came to the United States. They lived in communities where everyone spoke German, they worshipped in Latin and German or German alone, they had school textbooks (in their parochial schools) in German and English side by side, but they were wholly integrated and assimilated as Americans. Now, for what it's worth, the current waves of immigrants keep Spanish as a home language for about one generation, quickly devolving into Spanglish and then English only, for their children and grandchildren, partly thanks to the omnipresence of television and other media. But, if speaking a home language didn't keep my family from being American, if Yiddish language newspapers and theater in New York, if Polish and Czech and Hungarian-language papers in New York and Chicago, if German-language publications throughout the Midwest, if various Asian-language publications and communities on both coasts, didn't keep all of those people from being American, how will Spanish-speaking and telenovelas keep this wave of immigrants from being American? You either have to adopt the good old Know Nothing arguments against all of these groups, or you lose this as an argument against Latin American immigration.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Kith and kin

My screen tells me that I am looking at Katharine McPhee's Friends and Family, but in fact I am looking at Tori Spelling. Is Tori Spelling one of her friends, is Katharine McPhee a lost member of the Spelling clan? How can I have the So NoTorious Spelling as one of my friends or family? Will it put her in my calling plan? Someone help!

PS Who writes the special "debut singles" for American Idol finalists? And how can I introduce him/her to my pointy stick?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Eminent domain and ugly memorials

The mayor of San Diego and one of the local congressmen, Duncan Hunter, who usually spends all of his time talking about building the Great Wall of Alta California to keep undocumented immigrants out, have asked the President to exercise federal eminent domain to save the Mount Soledad cross. You see, this rather unattractive monument sits on city-owned land and the city has already spend years and hundreds of thousands of dollars that San Diego doesn't have--bankruptcy continues to loom--to defend a monument ostensibly to San Diego's war dead, but just as much a monument to the Christian beliefs of those who were allowed to put the monument up.
For what it's worth, the actual monument to those who died in WWII consists in plaques around the cross, not the cross itself. And, no one has objected to the war memorial per se. What people have objected to is the presence of a huge white cross on the top of a mountain owned by the city, a cross that seems to send the message that the city is officially Christian. In addition, unlike the ostensibly Christian name of the city--not that many people ever really associate the city with St Didacus--or the missions, the cross has a very short history. It has only been on the hill for 50 years, putting it in the same age-range as "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The city has continually lost in the courts and has finally been ordered to take the monument down. So, rather than do as the courts have consistently ruled--because some conservatives, like some liberals, only believe in the rule of law when the law is interpreted in their favor--the Republican leadership of the city and region is determined to give away or have taken away city property to keep the cross there.
I don't know for sure how I feel about the presence of the cross on Mt Soledad. I do know that the people who have most stringently defended the presence of the cross are religious groups who see taking down the cross as an attack on Christianity. Of course, this must mean that they see the cross' presence as a statement of Christianity on city property. And, if they are right about that, then it ought to be taken down, since that looks like an entangling of religion and the state. I am more inclined to think of it as a more or less standard way of representing the dead, one whose history is entangled with religion, but one that isn't that heavily invested with religious meaning anymore. Crosses as markers for the dead are a cultural motif in the West.
But, I do know that the United States is a nation of laws and that means that we must obey the law or suffer the consequences--the message of true civil disobedience. Sometimes, when we suffer the consequences, others change their minds about what the laws should be. And, I know that the mayor isn't elected to give things away. So, if the mayor doesn't want to take the cross down, he can defy the order, but he doesn't have the right to give my property (as a citizen of San Diego) away to the federal government. And, he no longer has the right to spend my money to fight a lost battle in the courts.

Who ya gonna call? Terrorist-Busters!

So, just hypothetically, if someone gave me his number and I stored it in my phone and used it a couple of times to send text messages, but then lost the number when I changed phones, because the number was stored in my phone and not on the SIM card, how do I get ahold of the NSA or President in order to find out what the number is? Anyone have an idea?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The triumph of ideology

While my mom was visiting last week, we went to the zoo. It's a regular feature of her visits. When we were about ready to leave--and before I went to see the river otter, who I must see each time--I overheard a conversation between a mother and her obviously perceptive daughter.
Daughter: You know the gorillas and chimps are a lot like us. The way they hold their babies and their faces. They just seem a lot like people.
Mother: They really aren't much like humans at all. In fact, dogs are more like people, because the gorillas are wild and people and dogs aren't wild.
In fact, it had been a great day to view the gorillas and the bonobos. Both groups were out with their young.
Now, I assume that the mother was doing her best to defend her daughter from the nefarious workings of the theory of evolution, and in the process defeating her daughter's natural sense of curiosity and ability to reason. I can only hope that at some point her daughter's native intelligence can overcome her mother's sense that evidence that contradicts ideology must be thrown out.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Who's afraid of the bad green weed?

I don't much like marijuana. Never done it. The smell of it makes me sick. And it doesn't much fit in with the way that I lead my life. That's not a judgment. I have plenty of other vices that I won't list here.
But it may just be that, as a study by a sub-division of the National Academy of Science in 1999, and several other studies, the authors of which have had trouble getting published, have shown, smoked marijuana is pretty good at alleviating some of the side-effects of chemotherapy, AIDS medications and other harsh drug therapies, as well as various other causes of nausea, loss of appetite, etc. Of course, the FDA today decided that there are no such studies--even the federal and state-funded studies. This isn't too surprising, since "fact" and "truth" obviously mean something different politically than they do in normal parlance.
But, really, what is the great danger in letting people suffering smoke some weed? I mean we allow cold medicines to be sold over the counter even though the ingredients in them can be used to manufacture meth. Oh, that's right, there's a business interest involved there.


It's so thoughtful of the President, who himself never faces unvetted crowds of American citizens, lest they pose uncomfortable questions, criticize him or make clear just why his poll numbers have become so low, to apologize for the accredited journalist who today criticized the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, in a joint appearance during his official visit to the US, for the numerous human rights abuses of the Chinese government. One might have thought that the appropriate response would have been to explain that this is part of what occurs in a free society--especially since part of Bush's speech was about the need for freedom of expression in China--but maybe the irony would have been too much even for our insulated leadership. In any case, it's hard to see how one older woman criticizing the leader of the largest and probably most powerful nation in the world in a setting surrounded by hundreds of American and Chinese security can honestly be said to have intimidated Mr Hu, the crime with which she has been charged. So much for that freedom of expression we are supposed to be exporting.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Taking offense

Is it just me or is there something deeply offensive about the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) baptizing the dead by proxy?
Of course, it isn't a new practice. But, taking someone who was a committed member of another religion, or someone who died for his religious/ethnic heritage (such as Holocaust victims who are
baptized in this way by the Mormons), or someone who just never cared much about religion or a committed atheist and attempting to make him a member of your religion and then claiming him as yours, denies the individuality, the personality and the identity of that person. I was looking online tonight and discovered that my grandfather, in spite of the funeral mass, the rosary he was buried with or his entire life of Catholicism, has been baptized a Mormon. That's an insult to him and to his family. And, in general, the whole practice is insulting and offensive.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Whatever my doubts about Iraq, I think we did the right thing in removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. But if we were truly successful there, and if we finished our job, and if freedom is on the march, to quote one of our leaders, why does a 41 year-old Afghani man face execution for converting to Christianity 16 years ago?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

On knowledge

In commemorating (celebrating? mourning?) the third anniversary of his invasion of Iraq, the President today commented that he knew at the time of the invasion that Iraq was also involved in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
From a philosophical point of view, knowledge is extremely hard to define, but almost everyone agrees that you cannot know something that isn't true. We've thought that since about the time of Plato. And almost every philosopher believes that in addition to a belief being true, one must have good reason for believing it, in order for him to know it. Again, Plato thought this a couple of hundred years before Christ.
When you think that you know something but it turns out that it wasn't true, you didn't know it, you simply believed it strongly and were wrong about it.
Now, we still have no evidence that Iraq or Iraqis were involved in the terror attacks. In fact, it seems unlikely that a Baathist could have had much truck with al Qaeda--secular pan-Arabism and ultra-puritan interpretations of Islam are not very similar. So, what Bush claims to know is false and he had no good reason to believe it.
Apparently they either weren't teaching philosophy anymore at Yale--this would explain why Bush claimed his favorite philosopher as Christ (why the Son of God would pursue wisdom is unclear)--or he was sleeping through that lecture.

Monday, March 20, 2006

My God, you got my order right

My recent experiences travelling through the reams of paperwork involved in buying a new house have explained something to me. I now know why it is that I am able to get the correct order when I go to McDonald's. All the people who used to be unable to figure out the difference between a Filet O'Fish and a Big Mac have been lured by the housing boom/bubble/expansion into loan processing and other parts of the real estate industry where they are able to do much more damage.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Ambien or Am I not?

If, right after I were prescribed Ambien, I suddenly found that the raw bacon was disappearing from my refrigerator, I think that I might suspect that either someone had been breaking into my house and stealing bacon or that I had myself been doing something strange while I was sleeping. If, in addition, my breath were more porcine than normal in the morning, I would probably think that I had eaten the bacon. Since I don't normally eat raw bacon, I might just think that the drug I had been prescribed was somewhat problematic. It might just be me, but before I gained 100 pounds, I'd probably go back to the doctor.
I guess I'm not like the majority of Americans.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Just one day's supply

Could someone please provide me with whatever medication Paula Abdul is taking intravenously prior to the taping of American Idol? I promise that I want it purely for scientific purposes.

He never had a hitch in his giddyup

Seven years ago today my maternal grandfather died. I doubt that anyone who reads this knew him, but today he deserves a eulogy.
Because my father wasn't around, he took it as his job--one shared with my uncles and the men in my neighborhood--to be a father figure to me. He taught me how to be a man. He taught me the value of dignity. He taught me how to hammer and how to fix a toilet. He taught me what was important. He taught me about dignity and the value of work, any kind of work. "It all pays the same," he always said. Of course, it doesn't all pay the same, but that wasn't quite what he meant. He made his living as a furnace installer and repairman and finally as furnace salesman. He was
just a laborer, I guess, but I don't think I've ever known a man who, through his work, impacted and earned the respect of so many people. I was always proud to be known as his grandson. And, in a town like the one I grew up in, people were always identified by their familial connections.
He helped to teach me the value of curiosity. He was a voracious and promiscuous reader. He watched television next to his encyclopedia so that he could look up anything he didn't know about.
He never got to go to college--his greatest unfulfilled desire was to be a meteorologist--and he was amazingly proud of me, since I was the first of his grandchildren to go to college. He used to come to Notre Dame to pick me up for holidays and he would get there four or more hours before I was done with classes just so he could sit on the campus and imbibe the atmosphere.
He taught me about the value of love and family and honor. After he returned to the farm from World War II, he married a woman that his mother didn't approve of. Grandma's family was Protestant, her mother was dead and they didn't have a lot of money; plus, they were not only not German, they were Appalachians.
His response to her disapproval: "I just spent four years fighting for freedom and I'll be damned if you'll deny me mine." Still, he was by his mother's side through all of her final illness, sitting by her bedside every lunch hour, even if she was sleeping.
I don't think he could have known what effect his choosing love over approval could have so many years later on his gay grandson. I never told him--although he met my partner and treated him in ways that made me think he must have known that we were more than just roommates--but I don't think it would have mattered. (After his death, I had a dream that I cherish more than any other I've ever had. He was with me again and he said, "I know. It's okay." Just thinking about it makes me cry, today.)
He loved Grandma, all of his children and grandchildren, but he wasn't very showy. You always knew that he loved you. And, I think I had a special place in his heart, almost as a third son.
I've inherited some of his less desirable traits, too. He was a worrier, he got depressed a lot, he had a hard time expressing emotion. That's all in me, too. I'm happy, though, that I got that part of him.
I think about him every day. I always have his pocket knife in my pocket and I think about it everytime I touch it. I wear the college ring that he was so proud that I earned and that he kept in his safety deposit box for me when I was studying in London; and looking at it--even if it is a little gauche--makes me think of him. And I often ask myself what he would think about something I'm doing.
I don't know if he lives on somewhere "out there" but I know that he is alive in my mind and heart. And I only hope that I can have something like that sort of effect on someone in my life.
I love you Grandpa and I miss you everyday. And, tonight, I'll have a Johnnie Walker Red for you.

Monday, March 13, 2006

How stupid...

are some of the lawyers working for our Justice Department? So, the judge in the sentencing segment of Zacarias Moussaoui, the admitted al Qaeda conspirator, and pretty much the only one that the United States has been able successfully to bring to trial and convict in a real, recognized court of the sort our Founders envisioned, tells you not to release transcripts of testimony to witnesses who have yet to be called. You are the prosecutor in charge of what may be the most important case in your career and certainly is one of the most important criminal cases of recent years--at least as important as, say, the Robert Blake murder trial, even if it doesn't get Nancy Grace as worked up--and you probably learned in law school that going against a judge's instructions risks mistrial.
But, hey, you are fighting the good fight, so you ignore the judge's order and do exactly what he told you not to. So, now, your big victory, to be achieved through Moussaoui's execution is in the toilet. At best, he will get life in prison.
Of course, I'm not a huge fan of the death penalty myself, since the other countries that practice it are the ones we always think of as barbaric. But, come on, really, who is running our federal prosecutions these days, a bunch of Presidential frat brothers?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Looking good!

Yesterday, as happens fairly often, someone told me that I look really good for my age (yeah, I'm super hot, what can I say?). This comment always leads me to an emotional conflict.
In the first place, I am both vain and have relatively low self-esteem (partially explaining my temper) so I am happy and validated to be told that I look good. At least part of the reason that I hit the gym is so that I will look good--it's not all of it, but it's not absent from the cause either.
At the same time, the qualifier "for your age" hits me smack in the face. It's a reminder that I'm getting older in a society (American) and a sub-community (gay) that puts a premium on youth. (I've resigned myself to the fact that I have crossed into the
daddy segment of the gay community.) And, it takes back with the left hand the compliment that has been given with the right.
I think it hit me hardest because I had a birthday this week and birthdays are always a little depressing for me. They are an opportunity to reflect on where you are in your life. I'm not that old and I have a very good life, but I'm never quite where I thought I would be at my age. And, I have this tendency to think of how old I already was when my father was my age (i.e., nearly 11). And, that, combined with facing a bunch of 18 year olds--some of who tell me I look really good for someone in his
late 30s in my evaluations--in my classes each day is bound to make me feel old.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Weather in Paradise

It is currently hailing in San Diego. This is not the weather that I was promised when I moved to America's Most Beautiful City.

Friday, March 10, 2006

On a lighter note

I've just come off a long discussion with a colleague about the appropriate way to understand Nietzsche's notion of eternal recurrence, so it's time for a more important thought.
Is it just me or is Ace on this year's American Idol almost attractive. I guess from the way he is presented and his presence on the cover of American Idol: The Magazine--really I just saw the cover in the grocery store--that I am supposed to swoon over his exemplification of masculine pulchritude. Okay, maybe I'm not who they are aiming that at. But when I look closely at his face, I see lots of parts that might make someone attractive not quite put together correctly. The parts are fine, the gestalt is abortive. And, for my money, the guy can't sing. What he did to George Michael's "Father Figure" last week was purely criminal. He took a dirty and sensual song and turned it into something the Backstreet Boys would have thought was too bland.
On the other hand: Mandisa. I love her and can't wait until I see her singing at some gay club or circuit party. I don't see her being hugely successful, partly because big women just haven't done that well in pop music since the time of Aretha Franklin, but I definitely see her being embraced by the gay community, especially if she gets a little angrier.
Oh, for what it's worth, Nietzsche doesn't intend eternal recurrence to be a theory about the way in which the world actually operates, in case you were worried.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Guest workers

The Senate Judiciary Committee has today begun debating the sort of guest worker program that Bush has proposed as a solution to the tensions involved in illegal immigration: on the one hand the need for more workers in certain industries including agriculture but also including high-tech industries; on the other, the need to control the number of people coming into the United States and the demands they might make on our economy--I'll leave it as an open question whether immigrants create or take more value in our economy, though I have my opinion.
The proposal suggested would allow people to come to the US for three years and, perhaps allow them to renew this once, but then they would be required to return to their home countries. It seems that this is supposed to avoid the sort of difficulties that have arisen with, for instance, Germany's guest worker program, which has created a permanent Turkish underclass within--and separated from--German society. But it is wholly unclear how a temporary underclass of people who both are not citizens and
cannot become or apply to become citizens--since this is a part of the proposal as well--is a better solution. We are essentially saying to the poor or specially skilled citizens of other nations that we need them, but that we don't really want them, and that we especially don't want them to stay around long enough to gain higher incomes or become the sorts of people that we might have to pay attention to. This is to devalue these people as people, and look at them simply as economic necessities. It is a halfway house between allowing immigration and reforming our own economic and labor policies that has the vices of every possible solution and no real virtues in human terms. Moreover, it is simply ridiculous to think that at the end of a person's term in the US, s/he will cooperatively return to the place s/he was so eager to leave. Not only is it humanistically problematic, the whole proposal seems predicated on a lie.

Living where you want: a ramble about ghettoization

Last Sunday, after an excruciating trip to Tijuana, my partner, another couple and I were having pizza for dinner. Since we were having pizza, the topic of Tom Monaghan, founder and former CEO of Domino's Pizza came up. One of my friends suggested that we shouldn't buy Domino's any more because of Monaghan's latest venture. For those who might remember, he caused a stir in the 90s when Monaghan donated large sums to pro-life (or anti-abortion, depending on your stance) causes leading to a boycott call from the National Organization for Women.
Recently, though, he has been in the news again for a related, but decidedly different project. A few years ago, he gave a sizeable chunk of his fortune to found a new college in Michigan (closing in 2007) and university in Florida, both called Ave Maria. Since Monaghan rediscovered his Catholicism in the late 80s, he has been an advocate of the most conservative Catholic causes. Ave Maria is designed to be an ueber-Catholic educational enterprise. In other words, the schools are supposed to be a counterbalance to what some Catholics think is the overly liberal atmosphere at presumably Catholic universities such as Georgetown or my alma mater, Notre Dame. In my opinion, what they really object to is the very idea of a university in which different viewpoints are shared and discussed and debated, but that may be the subject for another post. If they read a little more history, they might see that even Aquinas' thirteenth-century University of Paris was a hotbed of "heresy", some of it Aquinas'. Such is the nature of a university.
But what Monaghan is up to now--and what concerned my friend--is the founding of a town surrounding the Florida campus of Ave Maria University. You see, he wants to create a town in which Catholic values--as he sees them--are the rule of the land, with central churches, an emphasis on the family and "family values", etc. Non-Catholics would be welcome in the town, but would be expected to live according to the standards of the community. In short, he is designing something like a large gated community in which the covenant to which the residents agree is to live according to the moral teaching of the Catholic Church. It is this part of the project that troubled my friend the most.
Personally, I am often troubled by gated communities. But, if push comes to shove, it is difficult to say just what I find problematic about them. Is it just that people want to live apart from others? Well, that is no different from taking my home to be inviolate. It is just the same principle writ large. Is it the idea that wealthier people are separating themselves off from the problems of society, from those that they find undesireable, from the poor? Well, that might just be it. But, if that is it, then all I really have to say about people living in gated communities is that they are...what?...selfish, not fully connected to their fellows, ...? But of course, I don't invite the homeless into my house, either.
So, what is so wrong with founding a town in which the agreed-to law of the land is a religious one? Of course, it would be bad if the civil power were made to enforce religious law, but that isn't quite what is going on here. Am I just made to feel uncomfortable by such a community because I wouldn't be welcome there? That might be it, but I wouldn't be welcomed in an Amish community or in a cloistered convent either. And, the residents of this community probably wouldn't be made to feel very comfortable in some of the places and communities that I frequent.
What Monaghan is proposing and planning is a sort of Catholic ghetto. Now, we tend to think of ghettoes as bad things. But they needn't always be so--when they aren't we tend to call them enclaves, ethnic or otherwise. Of course, we tend to think that people ought to interact with others who are different from them. And, we tend to think that it is good public policy to encourage such interaction. (This is the realm of interaction that Richard Rorty calls the bazaar.) But it is unrealistic to think that people will or must do so in their private lives.
I simply don't interact much with heterosexual couples or singles in my private life, though I do in my public life. I live, in essence, in a gay ghetto.
Does this make me immoral? Probably not. Does it mean that my life is impoverished in certain ways. Probably so. But, since I am an adult, no one has the right to bring real force to bear to force me to change my private interactions. At the same time, it means that there are people around me whose lives and interests are sufficiently similar to mine so that we can understand one another, we can build some sort of community, etc.
This is partly why I don't think there is anything all that wrong with the project of forming a religious city or for that matter a commune in the hills somewhere. As long as the interactions between the separated community and the rest of society are peaceful, as long as the members of the community are there willingly (I realize that children are not exercising their will to be there, but they aren't deciding to be in the families they are part of either), I simply cannot think of good reasons to oppose the formation of such cities.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

On being offended

Imagine a depiction of the central figure of a religion in situations diametrically opposed to the way in which that religion depicts and reveres the figure in question. What is the appropriate response? Ought the believers merely to protest those responsible for the depiction? Or, since we are here dealing with something sacred, central to the very belief structures of those who might be offended, is some stronger response mandated? Is a visceral, blasphemous and juvenile, attack on a religious figure the sort of thing that justifies violence? Is a disrespectful depiction of a central religious figure tantamount--as one of the participants in KPBS's These Days this morning, argued--to hate speech against all of those religious believers?

Of course, these are now central questions because of the recent uproar and uprisings caused by the republication of those infamous Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad with, among other things, a bomb as a turban. For the devout Muslim, even the depiction of the Prophet's face (or the face of any other person) is idolatrous, but the depiction of the Prophet in these cartoons goes beyond this, to the level of blasphemy.

So many issues are raised by this situation. Among them, there is an important question about what the role of a free press is, when certain editorial exercises of that freedom are foreseeably likely to cause violence. Was it responsible for newspapers to republish the cartoons when it was obvious that they were going to cause distress and, given the state of the Muslim world and the way in which leaders there seem able to incite frenzy, violence was likely to ensue? Perhaps not. And there was probably no good reason to publish the proposed cartoons that had not initially made the newspaper's cut. The justification that the editors of the paper wanted to see if their cartoonists could be as harsh to Islam as they were to other groups of believers verges on a middle-school mindset.

It's not enough, here, just to point out that much of the Muslim world, and almost all of its religious leaders and scholars have been silent on the terrorism that has been carried out in the name of Islam, the Prophet and Allah in recent years. While this may be true, the fact that others have acted irresponsibly is not a defense for one's own actions.

However irresponsible the editors may have been this episode points out a real difference at some level between much of the Muslim world and a good deal of the so-called Global North. In thinking about the treatment of religious figures in the media, I was not just considering the way cartoonists have depicted Muhammad. For of course, we have had depictions of Jesus in movies such as The Last Temptation of Christ and the upcoming The DaVinci Code that, from a traditional Christian perspective are certainly blasphemous. However, in spite of protests in the case of the former, I don't recall Martin Scorsese's home being burned or attacks on the Greek Embassy, I haven't heard of plans to abduct Tom Hanks for his part in TDC nor has anyone assaulted Dan Brown for writing the book. No violence ensued from the way Mel Brooks depicted Moses in History of the World.

There is something, then, about much of the Muslim world that is importantly different from the world in which I live. In Europe and the Americas, blasphemy causes a reaction but it a more moderated reaction, less violent, more civil. Why is this? Is it that we care less about the status of our religious figures (even when, in the case of Jesus, that religious figure is identified as God Himself)? Is it just a different traditional of public discourse? Is it that we are less likely to be worked into a frenzy or manipulated by public and religious figures?

This I doubt, given the ways in which political and media figures do seem able to manipulate public opinion in the US, causing people to become warriors in culture wars that don't exist, to support economic policies against their own interests, to believe that Christmas is under siege or to think that there was a unified Axis of Evil. (In fact, I worry that sometimes, particularly in the recent much-hyped debate over the "War on Christmas", we in the United States are on the verge of the same kind of angry victimhood that is being expressed in the Muslim world today.) So what is it, exactly, that leaves us differently moved by blasphemy? And how can we export that more laid-back approach to religious offense to the rest of the world?

Monday, January 30, 2006

A thought

We say that everyone is entitled to his opinion; what no one seems to realize is this right comes conjoined with a responsibility to form that opinion well.