Sunday, December 18, 2005

A few thoughts on tonight's Presidential Address

  • Extremely perceptive remark right near the start of the address, noting a clear dividing line of thought (a "line" that more closely resembles the Great Wall of China) on the causes of terrorism--provoked, or non-provoked? If we just left these people alone, they wouldn't attack us anymore, right? (Left unsaid by the Ward Churchills of the world is that the only way to leave them alone to their satisfaction would be to obliterate the world's telecommunications networks, dismantle all the international corporations, and plunge the globe back into the 19th century, never again to return.)
  • The Iraqi constitution, as I understand matters, numbers among its major faults the fact that, much like the original American constitution, it doesn't say anything about secession--leaving open the possiblity of the Kurds trying to follow the lead of the Confederate States of America and carve a Kurdistan out of Iraq's territory. President Bush understandably didn't say anything about those (and other) problems, given the optimistic tone he was aiming for, but the Americans in Iraq had better get on them, and fast.
  • When you look at the whole, there was really nothing new in anything Bush said tonight. You don't even have to go to the blogosphere to see the arguments--they've all been hashed out ad nauseum in the mainstream media. No one who had a position before the speech is going to be moved to change their position one whit.
All Bush is doing is spinning his wheels. He played his cards months ago, and is now simply waiting for improvements in the situation in Iraq to bail him out.

That can't make anyone in the GOP the least bit comfortable.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Reductio ad absurdum

A couple days late, but still worth posting anyway:

In Protest, Brazil Mayor Outlaws Death

Whatever you might think of the environmental issues involved, you have to admire the sheer gall of this.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Oh, the irony...

The New York Times weighs in with a predictable editorial on global warming, castigating America for refusing to join an effort that's doomed to fail (thanks to the nonparticipation of, among others, China and India).

Consider this excellent point from the editorial:

"To believe that companies will spend heavily to reduce emissions while their competitors are not doing the same is to believe in the tooth fairy."

Completely, absolutely, 100% true.

So why in the world does the New York Times expect the United States of America to do just that, while our competitors (in this case, China and India) sit on their hands?

Monday, December 12, 2005

*Which* Chronicle of Narnia?

To the surprise of few, the debate has fired up over the new movie release of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. How Christian should it be? How Christian should it not be? How Christian did CS Lewis intend it to be?

If you ask me, they're all barking up the wrong tree.

Speaking as a fan of the books (who will hopefully see the movie in a few days) I anticipate no problems with the movie adaptation, or with the adaptations of most of the following books.

It's the prospect that Disney will go all the way and eventually make a movie out of the last book in the series--The Last Battle--that fills me with dread.

You can make a case that the other books were simple fantasy adventures--fantasies with covert Christian themes, to be sure, but fantasies nonetheless.

But if you believe that the end of The Last Battle was anything other than a blatant allegorization between the Narnia series and Christianity, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in.

I don't even want to *think* about what Disney might do with that sequence.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Cultural Sensitivity vs. Cultural Plagiarism

I'd done my level best to ignore this year's "Keep Christ in Christmas" vs. "Keep Christmas out of Christmas" debate, mainly because I think that both sides have some serious problems in their argument. And I'd probably have gone right on ignoring it if I hadn't run across an editorial in Sunday's New York Times that essentially called the angry Christians hypocrites.

This editorial's rationale:

  • Early American Christians, being mostly Puritans, did not approve of celebrating Christmas.
  • Later American Christians did not approve of the commercial aspects of celebrating Christmas.
  • Non-Christians have (surprise) never approved of celebrating Christmas.
Therefore, Christians have no right to complain when secularists try to force Christmas out of the public celebration altogether.

Now, I've been thinking about this for a couple of days, and it seems to me we have a confusion between two very different aspects of the culture clash here.

Being a Christian, I naturally have no problem with being wished a "Merry Christmas." I also have no problem being wished "Happy Holidays"--or "Happy Hannukah," or "Happy Kwanzaa," or "Happy Winter Solstice" for that matter, because each is an expression of the speaker's own religious beliefs. "Happy Holidays" as a catch-all term only makes sense; in that, I agree.

The problem is when "Holiday" is used, not as an encompassing expression, but--as it often is--as a mere substitute for "Christmas," as for example in "holiday trees" and "holiday ornaments." Co-opting another culture's traditions for one's own is a time-honored practice--heck, that's how the Christmas tree came to be in the first place--but what is it being co-opted for?

Nothing! The "holiday" in question is Christmas; the only point is to get around admitting that--while leaving everything else as-is.

And that, frankly, is a practice I put in the same boat as "scholars" replacing "BC" and "AD" with "BCE" and "CE." Both are examples of trying to use practices and conventions designed by others (the Gregorian calendar, as the name might suggest, was a product of the Roman Catholic Church, and "Year 0" was a rough estimate of when Christ was born) without giving credit where credit is due, or at least altering it enough to make it uniquely one's own.

It is nothing more or less than plagiarism on a cultural scale, and its perpetrators should not be allowed to get away with it.

Monday, November 28, 2005

This is a contrast?

The opening two paragraphs of a story on the Iraq War in today's New York Times:

"In public, President Bush has firmly dismissed the mounting calls to set a deadline to begin a withdrawal from Iraq, declaring eight days ago that there was only one test for when the time is right. 'When our commanders on the ground tell me that Iraqi forces can defend their freedom,' he told American forces at Osan Air Base in South Korea, 'our troops will come home with the honor they have earned.'

"But in private conversations, American officials are beginning to acknowledge that a judgment about when withdrawals can begin is driven by two political calendars - one in Iraq and one here - as much as by those military assessments. The final decision, they said, could well hinge on whether the new Iraqi government, scheduled to be elected in less than three weeks, issues its own call for an American withdrawal. Last week, for the first time, Iraq's political factions, represented by about 100 Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders, collectively called for a timetable for withdrawal."

So, when are the troops supposed to come home?
  • Bush: When Iraq no longer needs American troops to defend itself.
  • "Reality": When Iraq declares it no longer needs American troops to defend itself.
The only way you get a contrast here is if you assume that either the American military or the Iraqi government will act in bad faith. Trying to get opposition out of this says as much about those making the comparison as it does about the situation in Iraq.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The* Last* Charge* of* the* Shift-8* Brigade*

Yesterday saw what will presumably be the final word in the saga of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's infamous "asterisk" editorial. Columnist Gregory Stanford, who penned the editorial on behalf of the board, outed himself as the author in order to mount one last defense of the indefensible.

Stanford cast the controversy as a collision of two schools of thought--one, the "colorblind school," hopelessly mired in "racial fantasy;" the other, the "race-conscious" school, "deal[ing] with the world as it is"--and devoted the meat of his column to matching the two schools up against one another.

Dissecting each of his "comparisons" would render this blog entry unwieldily large (suffice it to say that I'd like to know where he got the hay for all those strawmen) but there is one more "colorblind fantasy" that I wish he'd bothered to address:

Colorblind view: The asterisk carries an implied meaning in present-day American culture of inauthenticity, illegitimacy, and in some instances even fraudulence; barring evidence of impeachable conduct, it should never be applied to a public official, in any context.

Race-conscious view: ...?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

How to retract without actually retracting...

One of the daily features on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's editorial page is a box called "Quick Hits," containing a brief opinion written by someone on the paper's editorial board. Today, this little gem by Mabel Wong caught my eye:

"It's rare to see in today's youth the strength of individuality as displayed by Keenya Hofmaier and Rosetta Riley. They're the high school students embroiled in a dispute with Mike McGee Jr. over what they say was racist and anti-gay behavior by the Milwaukee alderman. The girls, who are biracial and who embrace both sides of their heritage, call prejudice as they see it, regardless of the source. The assumption that people of color are a homogenous lot with a single set of beliefs is as offensive and racist as any other stereotype assigned to them."

Admittedly, the Journal Sentinel has been covering this story for some time, so it's possible the timing of this was just a coincidence. But one has to wonder at the fact that, even as O. Ricardo Pimentel continues to back Gregory Stanford's "asterisk" editorial to the hilt, the only other minority member of the editorial board writes a piece that closes with a line which blatantly contradicts the assumption that spawned the controversy (that there are "black" beliefs, and blacks who don't hold to those beliefs aren't "authentic" blacks).

Perhaps the board isn't as enthusiastic about the editorial as Pimentel's "no regrets" commentary might suggest. At any rate, though, given that commentary, this is probably as close to a retraction as we're going to get.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Quoting from the lead editorial (about new Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito) in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

"Another minus is that the nomination lessens the court's diversity. [Sandra Day] O'Connor herself had expressed the desire that her successor be a woman. O'Connor seems to have grown wiser about diversity as a result of her Supreme Court experience. She came to see the virtues of having a court that looks like America - doubtless a big reason she softened her opposition to affirmative action in recent years.

"In losing a woman, the court with Alito would feature seven white men, one white woman and a black man, who deserves an asterisk because he arguably does not represent the views of mainstream black America."

If a white man might be permitted to make a couple of observations...

  • Six white men, two white women and one black* man--as opposed to seven white men, one white woman and one black* man--looks like America?
  • As I recall, the job of the Supreme Court is to uphold and interpret the Constitution. Perhaps I'm just dense, but I fail to see how racial or gender diversity has any relevance to that. Ideological diversity, I could see, but linking that to racial and gender diversity is dubious.
  • Especially dubious is linking specific genders and races to specific ideologies, as the Journal Sentinel does with its race-baiting "asterisk" comment about Clarence Thomas. (I wonder if, had Harriet Miers been confirmed, the Journal Sentinel would have called for an asterisk by her name, the first time she cast a vote different from how she "should have" voted as a woman...)
  • For that matter, if the only black on the court having views "unacceptable" for a black man to hold was such a serious matter, President Clinton had an opportunity to rectify the situation with his second Supreme Court nomination (the first going to Ruth Bader Ginsburg). Who did he select? Stephen G. Breyer--a white man.
There are plenty of qualities that can serve as either merits or demerits for a prospective Supreme Court justice. Neither race nor gender is one of them.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Supreme Paranoia?

You can't talk about the Supreme Court without thinking about abortion in general, and Roe v. Wade in particular. However, I've noticed one particular theme that I find somewhat interesting: Pro-choice advocates seem to operate on the assumption that the Court overturning Roe will automatically mean a nationwide ban on all abortions.

It is theoretically possible that the Court will admit that its decision in Roe to deny preborn personhood on the basis of an argument from silence was a major blunder, and therefore find in the Fourteenth Amendment a right to life for the preborn.

I repeat: theoretically. Realistically, that is likely too great a shift for the Court to stomach; a more likely outcome of Roe being overturned would be the issue devolving back to the states for regulation.

Now, admittedly, I wouldn't want to try and win over the public with a case as flimsy as that of the pro-choice movement if I could avoid it. But look at the playing field. Today, the pro-choice movement has:

  • Over thirty years of unfettered abortion rights (extending the full nine months of pregnancy, once Doe v. Bolton's expanded definition of "health" is taken into account) as the status quo.
  • Largely sympathetic media coverage that entire period, as well as before.
  • The support of the academic and medical establishments.
  • For the first time ever, a potential benefit for the uninvolved public, in the form of embryonic stem cell research.
If the pro-choice movement can't hold serve now, when can they?

...Maybe that's the point.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005



This is only a test.

Nothing to see here...move along...