Saturday, September 11, 2010

Honoring And Remembering

I don't want to pick a fight. Quite frankly, I'm tired of pointing the finger and saying, "It's all messed up because of these guys." I'm sick to death of the grousing and growling and yelling and hatred.

Today, of all days, I want to remember that we are one country. We are one people, united not by creed or color; not by birth or wealth. We are one people because we live in this great land. We are a free people. We are a giving, caring people. We are a people who feel to our depths the pain and suffering of those in need, and seek to help however and whenever possible.

Today, of all days, I do not want to hear a word against anyone. I do not want to read any words blaming some "other", some "alien", whether by dint of their country of origin, who they love, or the name they call God and how they worship that God. I want to remember that, in the midst of our shared grief, the world turned to us and offered us their hearts and help. I want to remember the men and women who rushed in to those burning teetering towers - black and white men, Jewish and Muslim and Christian men and women - even though they might have known they wouldn't make it out.

I want on this of all days for all of us to remember that we are Americans. All the ways we call ourselves American - African-American, Muslim American, WASP - only show the how great we have become. By adding all those different ways of being American together, we are stronger than if we divide ourselves by focusing on the differences.

For just one day, I do not want to hear any sour words. For this day, a day I know I shall always remember with sorrow, I want us to remember also, with pride, that we are all - all of us who call this great land our home - one people who can, indeed, be great. We can be Americans.

Let us honor those who died, those who gave their lives to save those who were dying, and those who continue to sacrifice in far away lands for our sake by putting aside our differences of the moment. For just one day, let us honor those who died by living as one people.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hearing Other Voices

A source of my current angst regarding our country's moment of intolerance, the specter of the rest of the world seeing the darker side of our national soul as the only "real" America has led me back a couple years to the album Scarsick by the Swedish band Pain of Salvation. Dedicated to George W. Bush, the albums is a concept piece giving an outsiders view of our country. I do not consider it "anti-American"; rather, I consider it an attempted wake-up call to the United States. Hearing the voice of someone outside saying, in essence, that we can be better than we have been, is both a moment of judgment and an opportunity to redeem ourselves.

If we have the courage to hear the word.

Here's "America".

Thursday, September 09, 2010

No Sense Of Responsibility

In comments, Craig offers an interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying, alternative to my own position that the right in general has created an atmosphere where the burning of the Q'uran becomes an acceptable act of political defiance. The reason why I am not persuaded that this is the random act of one stupid man and his flock of 50 or so followers is summed up in this post at Talking Points Memo:
Speaking just now on MSNBC James Zogby made a very good point -- and pressed Andrea Mitchell on it. His point was that sure, this Pastor Jones fool is one guy, who's managed to get worldwide attention for his stunt. But you cannot separate him, as I noted below, from the whole climate of hate speech and anti-Muslim agitation from the Newt Gingriches and the Sarah Palins and the rest of them.

At that point, Mitchell jumped in and said, wait, Palin said she disagrees with the Koran burning. To which Zogby replied, something to the effect of 'C'mon'. ANd that's just the right reply. This is the standard approach of race haters and demagogues. They keep stirring the pot, churning out demonizing rhetoric and hate speech. Then some marginal figure does something nuts and suddenly ... oh, wait, I didn't mean burn Korans. Where'd you get that idea from? We were just saying that Islam is a violent, anti-American religion and that American Muslims should stop building their mosques and focus on apologizing for 9/11 and maybe get out of America. But burn the Koran? No way.

That's a bit much.

Precisely because media figures like Gingrich and Palin and Beck are quite clear that Islam is, at heart, a religion that is antithetical to American values and political practice, it creates an atmosphere where there is more than tacit approval for outrageous acts of defiance. After all, if Islam is, indeed, a religion whose views do not conform to acceptability, why not go out of one's way to protest the mere presence of Islam, as well as the the role of that religious belief in an act of horrid terrorist violence against our country?

As with so much else in our current social and political milieu, I am quite disgusted by the whole thing. For the most part, I am concentrating on other matters in my life. I did not think it appropriate to let this particular event pass without some comment of my own (not that it's worth much).

Along with the refusal of Republicans to take responsibility for eroding our political and physical infrastructure; for refusing to go along with any proposal of the Obama Administration, to even consider them on the merits; for displaying an ignorance of economics in our current moment that is breathtaking in its potential for finishing off what they started; and for fomenting hatred and disgust toward gays and lesbians int he latter's pursuit of state recognition for their unions; in all these things plus the climate of hatred against Islam, the right and the Republican Party recognize no responsibility, feel no shame, see only an opportunity for regaining political power and control without any sense that it might be important to have a plan to get our country working again.

I mention all this because it is of a piece with our current historical moment. The Republican Party represents nihilism - nothing at all. It is only the pursuit of power for its own sake, and the sake of its wealthiest benefactors and supporters. Period. There is evidence enough for this, and the tacit approval given to the burning of the Q'uran is the final evidence that, in the end, the Republicans hold nothing of value, see no ethical problem with a particular act the direct result of which will be, in all likelihood, an outburst of anti-American violence across the Muslim world. It wasn't always like this, of course; if the Republicans were truly "conservative" in some Burkean sense, it would have some set of values upon which to rest for a plan not just for governance but for speaking out on matters of social and cultural concern. Their lack of any ethical or moral sense is now clear for all to see.

Our country may just go up in those same flames that will engulf the Q'uran on Saturday. It is that dangerous. And not a single large-name Republican has gone so far as to point this out.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Read This

Sigh. This is the kind of thing I have always sought. Not just the intelligent, thoughtful initial post, but the lengthy, occasionally funny, always intriguing, comment thread that follows. So, rather than do "my take", just click the link below, and read the whole thing.

Whoever says there is no room on the internet for serious intellectual inquiry and thoughtful back-and-forth should take a gander.

Getting the microfoundations right – some comments and a bleg by Chris Bertram on September 8, 2010

From Crooked Timber

Terrorist Propaganda

It should probably not need be said, but obviously I find the planned burning of the Holy Q'uran on Saturday by the leadership of Dove Ministries Church in Florida to be not just politically horrible, but unChristian in the extreme.

Far more than the issue of demonstrating small-minded bigotry, however, one has to wonder why so many on the right are currently playing in to the hands of Al Qaeda. All along, they have been saying the, despite our rhetoric of openness and inclusion, the United States is fundamentally hostile to Islam. Of the few things for which I can praise George W. Bush, his insistence (at least in the aftermath of the September 2001 attacks) that our conflict was not with Islam was one that I found to be marvelously on target and consistent. The right, however, has decided that we are, indeed, at war with Islam. Out of ignorance and fear, we label Islam not a religion, but a cult of violence - towards women, towards dissent within its ranks, toward those of other faiths - that needs to be opposed. The right wishes to take a moment on Saturday as we remember the honored dead (including the Muslim dead) to register its visceral hatred of Islam by taking its only truly holy relic, the Holy Q'uran, and burn it. To the Muslim world, where we have tens of thousands of troops still engaged in combat, seeking to win over local populations to our good will in order to work with them to combat the forces of tyranny that seek to trample the good name of Muhammed under the feet of a murderous desire for power and control, this will only prove that ours is a fundamentally hostile country.

While I do not believe Gen. David Petraeus recent comments are kosher - any warning like the one he gave should have come from civilian commanders (up to and including the President) - his reasoning is sound.

Even if our troops were not directly intermingling with Muslim civilians thousands of miles from home, this act of stupid hatred should be condemned. Of course, condemnation is all we can do. Which is even more sad, really. For all that our troops are fighting and have been fighting to protect and even impose (!!) freedom (don't get me started on why our troops are here or there, because that would take too long), that includes, sad to say, the freedom to become propaganda for those who hate the United States and want only death for our troops, our country, and our way of life.

So, alas, we arrive at the moment where rhetoric and reality meet and create not just irony but danger. Those who insist they are burning the Q'uran as an act of defiance against those who seek us harm are only going to be fueling the fires of hatred against us, becoming recruiting poster-boys for suicide bombers and jihadi-fighters all over the Muslim world. The image of the flames engulfing the pages of the Holy book of over one billion people around the world may just spark far more death than any sane act of defiance against the real enemy.

I do hope the folks who do this understand that they will come away from those fires not just smelling of smoke and covered in ash. They will come away stinking of death and covered in the blood of Americans, including American troops.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Funny Bible Passages

And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10said in a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And the man* sprang up and began to walk. 11When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ 12Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city,* brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice.
Acts 14:9b-13

I'm not sure where to go with this particular passage. I'm still chuckling over it.

It's the pagan equivalent, in some respects, to Peter's reaction to the Transfiguration. Remember, after seeing Jesus revealed for who and what he really is, rather than realize what is happening, Peter says to Jesus, "Let's build a tent so we can stay here, us few disciples who you allowed to see it, and you and Elijah and Moses!" One is perhaps grateful that Jesus was not a violent individual, because dope-slapping Peter certainly seems appropriate in this instance.

Paul and Barnabas do a verbal dope-slap for the poor folks in Iconium. Even so, this particular passage ends thus: "18Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them." It's enough to make you tear your hair out!

In some ways, this is similar to blogging. You sit down and figure out what you want to say, say it to the best of your ability, and some commenter comes along and says something way out of left field concerning what you have just written. You patients type a response that can be summed up as, "No, sir, I didn't say x. If you look carefully, you will see quite clearly that I said y." Usually, though perhaps not always, the commenter will respond by saying, "Well, you may believe you said y, but quite clearly you said x." Wall and head then meet.

Communicating across all sorts of gaps - religious, political, social, cultural, linguistic - makes for odd moments, frustrating moments, and sometimes hilarious moments. These certainly well-meaning but misguided worshipers of the pagan deities were interpreting what they saw in light of the categories by which they interpreted the world. Nothing wrong with that at all.

We contemporary Christians experience these moments all the time. We are told we are talking about scientific stuff, psychological stuff, moral stuff, impossible stuff. We respond, quietly but firmly, that we are actually talking about living-for-God stuff. Usually, though not always, we are told (sometimes in patronizing tones, sometimes in barely controlled fury) that we are ignoramuses who have no idea what we're talking about. Head and wall meet repeatedly.

We can take it to heart that this particular type of miscommunication has Biblical precedent, and chuckle at it.

Trying On A Hat

This post by an economist on the basic issue at stake in our current recession - idle workers and idle productive capacity - is a marvelous rant. All the same, down in comments this basic structural reality is put in context.
Karl, I find your analysis interesting. However, lower capacity and lower utilization are the end result of collapsing demand. From 2000 – 2010 the U.S. has experienced two major economic (credit) bubbles. The first, was driven by the stock market and had a minor impact on the economy. The second was driven by real estate. This had a major impact on the economy. When the typical homeowner’s major wealth collapses, a major spending collapse follows.

As I understand it, the collapse in demand followed on the heels of the collapse of the collective value of real estate. As the commenter said, all that wealth just went up in smoke. People want to buy stuff, whether it's food, or little electronic gadgets, or a new lawnmower, or some trinket for the significant other. Demand is low not because people don't want to buy stuff. Demand is low because people don't have the money to buy stuff.

The various proposed solutions have been ineffective because the influx of money has not been adequate to replace the combined lost wealth from the collapse of the value of real estate. With the sudden concern over federal spending adding to the burden of decreased demand, we have the specter of what little stimulated demand may have resulted from earlier increased federal spending drying up. That is why Karl's rant about his frustration over questions such as economic stimulus and fiscal versus monetary solutions is misplaced. The whole idea behind the stimulus, as well as Pres. Obama's proposition to spend $50 billion on infrastructure projects, is to put money in people's pockets so they will say, "Hey, now I can afford that new toy for my child/replace my old car/fix the roof . . ." and people who make toys and cars and do construction will have jobs. Of course, both the initial stimulus - $800 billion - and the additional $50 billion are far too small to replace the wealth wiped out in the collapse of the mortgage bubble. Yet, the notion itself is sound.

That is why many are complaining that the sudden rise in concern over fiscal policy by Republicans (and some Democrats) is so frustrating. While it may be true that our operating budget is in the red for now, since the goal of this spending is to get people to spend stuff to put other people to work making stuff, thus getting paid, thus paying taxes, this isn't a structural deficit like the ones we had in the 1980's or under George W. Bush. Rather, they are temporary shortfalls of federal income to be offset (so goes the proposition) once the economy starts to move forward again.

So, what Karl calls "second order arguments" are central to understanding how we deal with the first order issue of idle workers unwed to idle productive capacity.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

If Only . . .

This conversation between Rick Perlstein and Mark Schmitt, offered as an assessment of the first year of the Obama Presidency, limns the outline of what has emerged as the left-wing critique of Obama's failure as leader of the Democratic Party.
[W]hat I worry "being like Barack" truly means is that the knockout never comes. That the patience and the building of trust is, in fact, the end in itself. "Our Barack doesn't do mean," means, "Our Barack doesn't make the strategic choice to defeat a reactionary adversary even when that opportunity manifestly presents itself to him." This is Leadership 101, and, I fear, Obama is flunking.

The discussion seems to be hinting toward what has become the idea that Obama's "patience", his refusal to engage in soundbite politics (to "win the morning, win the afternoon" in Politico terms), and to believe that given enough time, the Republicans will string themselves, collectively, with the very long rope handed them by being patient, reticent, and thoughtful.

During the 2008 Campaign, I saw this quality and called it (before it got picked up by other larger bloggers with more readers), pace Mohammed Ali, "rope-a-dope". Perhaps, Obama believes this same strategy will work this time around. Perhaps he just doesn't care all that much whether or not the Democrats maintain control of Congress. After all, Bill Clinton was far more productive and popular as President when he had the Republican majority as foil.

Whatever may or may not be going on behind the scenes, many of us who supported Pres. Obama two years ago are wondering where the dynamic leader who offered us a vision of ourselves - and by "ourselves" I mean America - as better than we had been; as more courageous; as willing to sacrifice and work together to fix the problems we faced - has gone. The Democrats in Congress, for all their problems and limitations, would be a far better partner than a Congress led by the lachrymose John Boehner and the puffy Mitch McConnell. Unless Obama is far less intelligent than we had all thought - and he has yet to give any indication that he is - I, for one, want to say to him, "Mr. President, you seriously need to get your head out of your ass."

Even if Obama comes out this fall in full rhetorical swing and saves the bacon of the Congressional wing of the Democratic Party, the long list of "if only . . ." will still be hanging there, needing to be addressed. It isn't enough for the President to pull out all the stops, a President ex machina. We - the whole damn country - have been in dire need of his leadership, and he has, as Perlstein says quite bluntly, failed its most basic test.

The Autodidact In Me

So I just heard about this book. It offers the interesting but, to me at any rate non-controversial thesis, that monogamy in human sexual relationships is not "natural" in the way, say pair-bonding in many species that mate for life seems to be. By comparing human sexual behavior with that of one of the two most closely related primate species - the bonobo - the authors offer the notion that, in fact, having multiple partners over the course of a lifetime is far more in keeping with what is "natural" about us than is sexual monogamy.

In a column at, one of the coauthors of the study takes on "critic" Megan McArdle, who has written a "scathing" (and largely uninformed) review.

I have to admit I am intrigued by the thesis, and look forward to reading this book. Precisely because, at the current moment I am reading Helmut Thielicke's Evangelical Faith, and am dealing with the whole issue, as he puts it, of "address", the issue of the meaning of words, most especially "nature" and "natural", are forefront in my mind. How we understand these words, how we live them, is important for the sake of clearly understanding the question of address.

Furthermore, I am always open to the discoveries of new research. Even if I am not always in agreement with them, it seems to me that we Christians have a duty to have some kind of even rudimentary understanding of the way our understanding of our world has changed and continues to change.

So, kudos to Ryan and co-author Cacilda Jethá for their work.

Virtual Tin Cup

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