Thursday, April 30, 2009

Concerning Prejudice and Bigotry

The title of this article , "Concerning Prejudice and Bigotry" is not redundant. Bigotry has attached to it social opprobrium. We have evolved taboos which marginalise bigotry, which is an attitude that expresses itself in discrimination against and persecution of ethnic , racial and social groups. On, where I post most of my current articles, I got into a discussion with Siempre Solo and Coloranter Raver. Between the two of them, they raised a range of questions that I will attempt to address.

Prejudice occupies in my personal lexicon a morally neutral place that has nothing to do with societal attitudes about ethnic divisions. I will illustrate my definition of prejudice with an anecdote.

A woman I know was attending a large public gathering. Sitting next to her was a little girl who spoke to her with a French accent. Since she was fluent in French, the woman started a conversation with her. She spoke unwittingly in a high pitched tone and simplified vocabulary. The little girl answered her with some weariness in her voice, "I know I look like a little girl, but I'm actually 19 years old. My growth is stunted due to medical conditions that would take a while to describe. "

My friend was very surprised but absorbed the information with tact. Her pitch and subject matter focused to talk of the news from Paris, of the world situation and the cost of airline tickets. She focused on thoughts emanating from the mind of a young and mature adult rather than the child she had imagined her to be.

This anecdote is an unusual example of prejudice. My friend started out with a preconceived image of who she was speaking to. Her first impression was that she was speaking to a child. She quickly replaced that assumption with factual knowledge and acted upon it in an appropriate manner. She carried left the visitor with whom she spoke on friendly terms. She could have clung to the assumption that the young woman was a child. She could have made jokes about her stunted growth. She did not choose to act that way. Unfortunately, not all the people who encountered the young visitor discarded their first impressions so gracefully. It is for this reason that she sounded a bit weary when she explained her incongruous appearance.

My friend was prejudiced. She had a preconceived notion that she was speaking to a six year old. She quickly discarded her perception when it was clear that it stood in the way of reality. She did not become blind to the child like appearance of the woman sitting next to her. In some ways it was useful to bear it in mind when understanding her relationship with the world.

The prejudice that is described as bigotry is a cognitive disorder. We all act upon a series of assumptions about the world around us. Some assumptions are borne out by fact. Others are not. When I was in Italy, I was served tomato juice for breakfast. At my father's urging, I drank it with considerable distaste. To my great surprise, I found out that it was orange juice. Closer inspection revealed that the appearance of the pulp in the juice was like that of orange juice that was actually orange. Had I clung to the assumption that I was looking at tomato juice, the loss would have been mine.

In social relations, we start with prior assumptions about those to whom we relate. These starting assumptions can be based on race, language, attire or any number of other factors. Most of the time, the people we meet might not conform to our prior assumptions. Sometimes they exceed our expectations. Other times they fall short of them. But in the best of circumstances, we replace our prior assumptions with valid observations. Over time, the initial assumption might shift to more closely resemble our accumulated impressions. In a healthily resilient mind, this should be an ongoing process.

Prejudice is in my peculiar lexicon a stage of cognition. It is simply a starting point of prior assumptions that one tries to replace as quickly as possible. Narrow mindedness is the unwillingness to discard prior assumptions and replace them with first hand observation. Narrow mindedness and bigotry are in a sense cognitive impairments.

How does one deal with a person who will not let go of prior assumptions? Arguing is of limited value. I believe that civility is the anecdote. One should challenge prejudice by refusing to conform to it or be offended by it. Prejudice within oneself can be countered with introspection. It is a slow process of evolution.

The language with which we define and question social relationships should be reexamined. There are critical differences between prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness. We should define our language and in so doing define our feelings. Sphere: Related Content

Cass Sunnstein and the Fairness Doctrine

One of BarackObama's now obscure nominees has big plans to regulate the internet. Cass Sunnstein according to World Net Daily has known Barack Obama since they attended University of Chicago law school together. World Net Daily reports as follows about the nominee to head the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

"Barack Obama's nominee for "regulatory czar" has advocated a "Fairness Doctrine" for the Internet that would require opposing opinions be linked and also has suggested angry e-mails should be prevented from being sent by technology that would require a 24-hour cooling off period. "

The extent of concern shown by Sunnstein for the most obscure aspects of American's private lives is truly mind boggling. When he proposes installing software that would link to opposing viewpoints, Sunnstein was just warming up. If he has his way, there will be enforcement of politeness in e-mail communications. How does it work? WND tells us how.

Perhaps Sunstein's most novel idea regarding the Internet was his proposal, in his book "Nudge," written with Richard Thaler, for a "Civility Check" for e-mails and other online communications.

"The modern world suffers from insufficient civility," they wrote. "Every hour of every day, people send angry e-mails they soon regret, cursing people they barely know (or even worse, their friends and loved ones). A few of us have learned a simple rule: don't send an angry e-mail in the heat of the moment. File it, and wait a day before you send it. (In fact, the next day you may have calmed down so much that you forget even to look at it. So much the better.) But many people either haven't learned the rule or don’t always follow it. Technology could easily help. In fact, we have no doubt that technologically savvy types could design a helpful program by next month."

If you thought are worried about a nanny state, Sunnstein has plans that have not even been dreamed of. Welcome to the "Civility Check" which Sunnstein himself describes in his own book as follows.

"We propose a Civility Check that can accurately tell whether the e-mail you're about to send is angry and caution you, 'warning: this appears to be an uncivil e-mail. do you really and truly want to send it?'" they wrote. "(Software already exists to detect foul language. What we are proposing is more subtle, because it is easy to send a really awful e-mail message that does not contain any four-letter words.) A stronger version, which people could choose or which might be the default, would say, 'warning: this appears to be an uncivil e-mail. this will not be sent unless you ask to resend in 24 hours.' With the stronger version, you might be ableto bypass the delay with some work (by inputting, say, your Social Security Number and your grandfather’s birth date, or maybe by solving some irritating math problem!)."

I am struggling to visualise the brave new world according to Sunnstein. His proposal would be the dawning of a new age.... How would life change? Let me count the ways. First please rise for our new anthem.... "Sunnstein on My Shoulders".

1) I would live forever. Since there is always some ill advised thought or sentiment on the tip of my tongue, my life would be on hold I would never get older.

2) People would find ways of circumventing the software, using words that would not trip the restraints.( "You are a regal posterial vexation and a veritable proctological phenomenon. The cessation of your vital signs is a matter that deserves the highest priority. I am seriously considering the possibilities and means of tracheal compression with an aim of intedicting the oxygenation of your circulatory system.")

3) Eventually, people would show up in person to have unfettered communications. In the first step of the New Order, people would wear pendants. Anyone who is offended by what is being said to them could press a button on their pendant. Then the Politeness Police could come in and restore civility.

4) Crime would drop. "I'm sorry sir. I can't put unmarked bills in the bag you provided. You forgot to say please."

5)Study of foreign languages would skyrocket. People would start sending letters laced with profanity in Urdu or curses in Quechua.

6) Eventually, even the face of crime would be transformed. "Before you shoot him, tell him to have a nice day".

7)If you had to type in your Social security Number to talk dirty, you would start to get "Profanity hackers" typing in your Social Security number and cursing each other out. Senior citizens would get fined a quarter from their Social Security check each time they use dirty words.

8) If you had to solve complicated math problems to cuss, America's teenagers would become math geniuses overnight. ("If you pass your calculus exam, I'll let you tell five dirty jokes.")
9) Rahm Emmanuel would be forced to learn sign language.

Sunnstein has even written about animal rights, proposing that animals should be permitted to file lawsuits with human representation. Imagine the possibilities. Sooner or later, Lassie would sue the estate of Elvis Presley for derogatory references to canines in "You Ain't Nothin But a hound Dog." Eventually, couches would be desegregated as dogs across the nation start a civil disobedience campaign of lying on couches in their homes.

I once had a glimpse of a world filled with Sunnstein back in high school when I called a kid a jerk in the lunch room. The teacher on duty said "Rudi ! You can say how you feel. But name calling is unacceptable. Now apologise!"

Full of contrition I replied, "OK. I'm sorry. I feel that you're a jerk."

Cass Sunnstein is very worried about protecting us from regretable e-mails. I think the American people need to be protected from regretable appointments, such as that of Cass Sunnstein. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ahmadinejad, Republican Impersonators and Other Annoyances

The 2nd US Circuit Court of appeals short circuit the expressed will of the voters by approving Mike Bloomberg's attempt to run for a third mayoral term. The court sidestepped moral questions and confined itself to questions of constitutionality. The possibility of a hereditary monarchy has been left unexplored. It is widely believed that such a move would not pass constitutional muster. Despite this, it is reported that Mayor Bloomberg is rather taken with the idea of starting a new royal house. He was reportedly heard mumbling to himself after the ruling. "Habsburg Bloomberg...Hmmm. It has a nice ring to it Franz Josef the 2nd Michael the First....'' Reports that a prominent American billionaire has been shopping for a seat in Britain's house of Lords have not been confirmed.

The prevalence of pork in the federal budget has not been conclusively linked to the swine flu outbreak, according to a research team at the Center for Disease Control. Lobbyists are reported to be highly relieved at reports that there is no danger of infection from pork consumption.


A team of researchers from the American Psychiatric Association has returned from a fact finding trip to the Islamic Republic of Iran confirming that there are indeed no homosexuals in that country.

"We looked everywhere, we asked around and couldn't find any evidence of homosexuality at all." gushed Dr. Bruce Feeley, a member of the fact finding delegation. " We shared our findings with President Ahmadinejad. It was really amazing. If we can trust him on this, maybe we can take his word on nuclear weapons."

President Obama quashed speculation that he might be over his head in the Oval Office by actually getting ahead of his teleprompter. reported on the amazing feat as follows.

President Obama’s speech at the National Academy of Sciences Monday morning hit a brief snag when Obama got ahead of his script.

Laying his plan for a President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Obama began to name the members of PCAST listed in his prepared remarks – before realizing he’d already introduced them, earlier in his speech.

“In addition to John – sorry, the – I just noticed I jumped the gun here,” Obama said, pausing for several seconds as he looked at the prompter. “Go ahead. Move it up. I had already introduced all you guys.”


Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Spector has officially joined the Democratic Party. There were unconfirmed reports that laws governing truth in labelling might have mandated the switch in party affiliation.


The Obama administration is promoting a sweeping expansion of the "Fairness Doctrine that will apply to almost every aspect of people's personal lives. In addition to equal time for opposing viewpoints, it will now be required that 50% of all movies seen by American moviegoers be "really awful" according to Prudence Bumblebey-Stinger, director of Fairness Doctrine implementation.
"This is only the first of many steps to bring fairness to bring fairness to our way of life." announced Ms. Bumblebey-Stinger. "Bad books, mediocre magazines and awful restaurants are next on our list." Sphere: Related Content

Monday, April 27, 2009

White House Scares the ¢ ®@p Out of New Yorkers

When the President of the United States wants a photo op, he has the Air Force as his toy and the New York City skyline as his playground. Who cares if it scares the living daylight out of New Yorkers?

According to the New York Post, New Yorkers were shocked to see a jumbo jet being chased by a fleet of F 16's in a maneuver that was planned in advance. Unfortunately for New York City residents, not even Mayor Bloomberg was made privy in advance to the harrowing stunt. he New York Post reported as follows.

"A jumbo jet being chased by a F-16 fighter jets buzzed Lower Manhattan this morning, panicking New Yorkers, many of whom were forced to evacuate their office buildings.

It was not a terrorist attack, however, but a photo opportunity for Air Force One, sources told the Post.

President Obama was in Washington at the time, but the low-flying 747 circling the Statue of Liberty was one of the planes used as Air Force One, sources said."

Although law enforcement was notified in advance, neither Mayor Bloomberg nor the news media was notified of the planned flight over the city, in which planes flew low over the Verrazano Bridge and buzzed the left ear of the Statue of Liberty. The flight over the city was so low that thousands of office workers flooded the street when their buildings were evacuated. Many who had vivid memories of 9/11 were especially frightened by the low flying planes.

Mayor Bloomberg was reportedly livid at the disrespect show him and to millions of New Yorkers. Even if had been necessary to keep the flight exercises secret, the Mayor could at the right time have informed citizens that there was no cause for alarm.

Mayor Bloomberg was quoted by the New York Post as follows.

"First thing is I'm annoyed - furious is a better word - that I wasn't told," he said. "Why the Defense Department wanted to do a photo op right around the site of the World Trade Center catastrophe defies imagination. Poor judgment would be a nice ways to phrase."

According to the Department of Defense , the Presidential Airlift Group was conducting photo exercises. What value such exercises might have had in terms of military preparedness was not made clear. Hopefully in the future there will be better preparation of the public and its elected officials in advance of any exercises that might be necessary. The fright and anxiety of average New Yorkers should be given weight in plans of this sort. The aloofness of the Department of Defense from the concerns of average New Yorkers does not put them in a very positive light. A bit more consideration next time would be nice.

Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Press Corps "A" From "O" Press Secretary

White House Press Secretary (Propaganda Minister) Robert Gibbs has given the press corps an "A" for their first hundred days of covering the Obama administration. What is the "A" supposed to stand for? A number of adjectives do come to mind. Appalling, abysmal, abject.....

We hear a lot about wardrobes, pets and malfunctioning DVD's given to Britain's Prime Minister. There is a lot of questions about economic strategy, but you would never know about it from listening to reporters. The questions they ask Obama on behalf of the American people are downright negligent. At a time when General Motors and its selfish work force would rather go bankrupt than produce what the American people want, the mainstream media is doing the same thing, producing fawning and uncritical news coverage.

Our Department of Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano seems to be auditioning to replace Colonel Klink on a remake of Hogan's Heroes as she scours our border with Canada looking for infiltrators. The derision is loud across talk radio and the blogosphere, but not on the evening news. We have fawning news coverage and Swine Flu to go with our pork, sugar coated with "fairness".

Is a free press that muzzles itself truly free? Do we really want the person in charge of making our president look good thank the press corps for making his job that much easier? There is the danger of destructive negativism standing in the way of a President's ability to lead. This was never a concern during any Republican administration. But there is the equal danger of blind watchdogs leading the American people into heavy traffic. There has to be a happy medium between the two.

We have Janet Garafulo playing 52 pickup with race cards when Americans are focused more than ever before on economics and banding together to make tough choices. Supposedly the first 100 days are a Presidential honeymoon. Why do I feel like I have a massive Las Vegas hangover and a credit card named "Max"?

So the Robert Gibbs likes the treatment Obama is getting from the press. Why don't I feel wonderful?

In keeping with the feel good spirit of the White House Press Corps, I am presenting this musical tribute to North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Il.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Internet and Stores: Rivals or Partners?

When a store shuts down in my neighbourhood, it saddens me. I have been laid off before. I know the somber feeling in my home when I am out of work. When a chain store shuts down, I feel just as bad. Business is not just about the latest soup or instant coffee. It is about people earning a living. I am at least as concerned about the treatment of workers as I am about the quality of a product.

The internet has changed the retail landscape radically. It is possible to shop on line for the same things that are sold in stores and much more. When I am looking for an East German movie, Norwegian folk rock or Richard Brautigan's poetry that has gone out of print, then the internet is in an irreplaceable position. The old days of pounding the pavement and calling thirty bookstores are gone. Book and music hunting has never been easier.

But if I am shopping for a best seller or a new movie, the internet is in direct competition with the corner store. If you know what you want, nothing beats a company web site for convenience. No longer is the corner clothing store competing with his rival down the street. The competition is right in the customer's living room. We are still adjusting to the new retail landscape in the age of computers. I see the possibility of further changes . These changes can benefit retailers, on line stores and consumers. The technology is there.

Imagine ordering a pair of pants from the GAP or a DVD from Barnes and Noble. Instead of waiting for the item to be shipped, you print out a coupon which states that you have paid for the item. You check on line and confirm that it is in stock at the store around the corner from your work. You stop in on your way home to pick it up. While you are there, you see a handbag you really like, or another movie. Attached to your receipt and pickup slip is a discount coupon for 10% off any purchase over $50.00. You go to the register with the book you already bough on line, plus all the items that caught your eye. Shopping on line netted you a discount coupon. You feel that you did well. The store got a referral. Everybody's happy.

The store in turn would get paid. The bar code on the receipt would facilitate a transfer of money into into the store's account. The web site and the physical store would be working in partnership. Those who like a hands on shopping experience could enhance their shopping with a visit to the company web site.

We have perfected the internet to an astounding degree. We have a lot further to go in developing its potential. Cyber merchants and store front merchants can and should be partners. This would benefit consumers and workers. Everybody can win. Let's make it happen Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Future of You Tube: Making It Pay

There is an increasing amount of talk about the future of You Tube. According to Farhad Manjoo at, You Tube has been losing money at the rate of half a billion dollars a year, raising the legitimate question of how long such losses can be allowed to continue. Manjoo describes the difficulties of You Tube as follows.

"Just like many print outlets, the company is struggling to sell enough in advertising to cover the enormous costs of storing and distributing its content. Newspapers have to pay to publish and deliver dead trees; YouTube has to pay for a gargantuan Internet connection to send videos to your computer and the millions of others who are demanding the most recent Dramatic Chipmunk mash-up."

Advertisers find that professionally produced videos attract far more advertising dollars than home videos or newscasts delivered from someone's kitchen table. In between amateur home videos and the Hollywood films now being carried on You Tube are many documentaries, historical footage and videos produced by non profit, political or other types of organisations. I find it useful for learning about everything from the Zoroastrian religious minority in Iran to African pop music. For people like me who have interests that are out of the mainstream, You Tube is a valuable resource. I feel a lot of gratitude to them for indulging my obscure interests. I am in full sympathy with their desire to earn money rather than lose it.

I would like to make a suggestion to You Tube that will preserve a measure of their grass roots character. Those who like freebies may roundly condemn me for my proposal. But everyone likes to get paid. Developing a new type of media also involves developing the financial framework needed to sustain it.

I am an avid You Tube viewer. I never upload. The second class of small time You Tube users are those who upload videos. If memberships were made available for uploaders and regular viewers, that could close a big gap. An additional class of membership could be created. Some people want to put up their home videos for friends and family, but not for public consumption. There could also be a family video scrap book category of membership. An additional way of making You Tube pay would be to have a You Tube marketplace. Any purchase made through a You Tube advertisement could give a person money back on their membership fee. If someone purchases three CD's and a video for around $65.00, they would get maybe 10% off of their monthly membership. Also, they could start selling legal mp3 and movie downloads that are hooked up to the videos shown. A membership might cover three such legal downloads.

Although most advertisers might prefer to be associated with professional content, some might want to link to some of the amateur content now offered. Some advertisers might agree to run ads with private content like" kitchen table newscasts" and "baby's first steps " type of videos.
There is the additional possibility of home town channels. I have often wondered how people are doing from my home town, or from my mother's home town, of which I have fond memories. The possibilities are endless.

The pioneers in making money on the internet are unfortunately the pornographers. But a lot of their ideas for fee structures might work in more wholesome entertainment. There is nothing wrong with studying techniques of making money from those who do well at it. The idea of a "fun pass" which admits viewers to different sites might well work if entertainment outlets group together in a sort of cyber amusement park. If money is collected efficiently, the cost of entertainment might well go down.

There are many possible ideas for the next step of the internet revolution, which is making it financially viable. It need not restrict content. One of the beauties of You Tube and the blogosphere is its democratic character.

A lot of the allure of peer to peer networks is the idea of the latest hit or best seller being a mouse click away. You Tube could help in combatting piracy by setting up a framework for selling legal downloads. They could even sell premium memberships that include a few monthly song downloads as a benefit of membership.

We You Tube beneficiaries should not hide under the bed and wait for this problem to go away. We should approach You Tube with ways of making their incredible idea work as well for them as it has for us. Gratitude is an attitude that pays. Let's work on a solution for You Tube and for all of us. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Common Sense About Smoking

New York has some of the strictest anti smoking laws in the nation. Even restaurants are not allowed to create separate areas for smokers. Some places such as San Francisco even prevent pharmacies from selling cigarettes. The most grating feature of these laws is confiscatory taxes that have cigarettes approaching ten dollars a pack in New York City.

I am a former smoker. I feel that the vast majority of those who currently smoke tobacco would do well to quit. Despite this, the current attitude towards smokers seems preachy and condescending. Any decision for personal betterment is best founded on an inner sense of resolution. I have quit smoking and adjusted my diet to the needs of middle age. Both take discipline and a sense of priorities. I can't count the number of times I have stuck with a bad habit because I chose to react to sanctimonious nagging. Any lasting changes in my life have resulted from contemplation and personal decisions.

What should the government do about smoking? It is undoubtedly a health hazard. Health education and providing assistance in quitting should remain high priorities. But there should be a limit to "sin taxes."

The most persuasive argument for any tax on tobacco is that smokers generate more health care costs due to smoking related illnesses. This would seem to justify a tax on tobacco. The only thing tobacco taxes should pay for is supplementing health insurance premiums. If a smoker's risk profile justifies a higher insurance premium, tobacco taxes should be a source of funding for the difference. Beyond this, there should be no hike in the taxes on tobacco. The idea of using taxes to punish people into making the right choices is a slippery slope. People should clean up after themselves. People with dogs should pick up after their dogs. Construction workers should pick up the debris left over from construction. And smokers should pay for the damages caused by their habits. Such costs should be calculated honestly and not by nanny state bureaucrats. Smokers are citizens too.

Tobacco is a major industry. Tobacco has medicinal and industrial potential. There should be research into its usefulness in areas other than smoking. Additionally, there are other plants that could be grown for medicinal purposes in tobacco states. The entire field of ethno-botany is devoted to the discovery of such plants. If tobacco farmers were encouraged to participate in crop substitution programs, the change to more remunerative crops might make for a welcome change from the current adversarial approach between the government and the tobacco industry. It is even likely that there could be an increase in good paying jobs that are connected to health related herbs and tobacco.

Smokers are tax paying citizens. I find the preaching, nagging and sanctimony directed towards them to be as noxious as the thickest haze of second hand smoke. I sincerely believe that non smokers who preach drive up the blood pressure of those around them. There are times I wish they could be required to sit in a separate "nagging section" on buses and in restaurants.

Most of us are trying to shed our bad habits and take on a few good ones. This is a part of life. It should within the bounds of common sense remain a personal matter. Whether it is done by a university elite or the "revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat", nanny state micromanagement of our private lives is deeply offensive to human dignity. There is a natural desire to cling to life that can be channeled into wise health choices. People should be allowed the pleasure and pride of struggling on their own for self betterment. If parents need to let go of their children, even more so should the government stand back from the lives of its citizens. On more than one occasion I have told my children "Don't make the same mistakes I made.. Go out and make your own. " It is time for our government to stop child proofing the universe and to let us go out and make mistakes on our own. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, April 20, 2009

Thoughts of the Cuban Missile Crisis

My early childhood memories are tinted by the cold war . When I was in kindergarten, the Cuban Missile Crisis took place. My father went to the lumber yard and ordered cement, sand and a load of cinderblocks. Everyone in the family was carrying cinderblocks to the basement. I remember the smell of wet cement, of feeling big and helpful as I took the half blocks to the basement. My mother explained what the alert signal would sound like and how we should come running home if it was heard.

The bomb shelter sat unused for years. I used to go in with a flashlight and read some of the books and newspapers we had stored there. It was a bit like a time capsule. It was so dark with the lights out that there was no difference between opening and closing your eyes. The door to the bomb shelter was wooden. In light of subsequently published information, it sounds like the shelter would not have been much good against a nuclear attack. My father eventually turned the bomb shelter into a dark room.

I wonder what Russian children had to remind them of World War Two. For me, the Cold War was a distant ominous rumble. For Soviet children, it was sharp and real. In some areas, neighbourhood landmarks figured in wartime events. Parents had vivid and sometimes awful stories. I once worked for a man in a fruit store who looked pained when he observed me throwing away a half rotten onion. He picked it from the garbage, trimmed it and put it in a box to take home. He later told me something I had already sensed from his actions. He had watched his parents die of starvation. Although life in America had been kind to him, his wartime experiences still shaped the way he felt on a daily basis.

I always wondered what Soviet children were told about America. Today, I found an entertaining little cartoon made by the Soviets in 1963 at the height of the Cold War. It was funny and well done. I am happy to present it at the top of this posting for the benefit of my readers. The first 24 seconds of the video clip are blank, so please be patient. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pirates Get Spanking and Time Out

Somali pirates got an unexpected break after firing at a Greek ship. They were picked up by a Dutch ship that responded according to NATO rules. The New York Post reported on the events leading up to the spanking and time out as follows.

The high-seas showdown occurred after a small skiff of pirates opened fire with assault rifles and grenades on a Greek-owned tanker.

The pirates failed to capture the tanker, but they did hit it with a dud rocket-launched grenade.

A Dutch frigate in NATO's antipiracy patrol responded to the assault and pursued the dinghy as it returned to its "mother ship," a hijacked Yemeni fishing boat that had been used to stage attacks on vessels in the Gulf of Aden.

The last time I checked, NATO considers an attack against one nation to be an attack against all. It is clear that the pirates were released to continue their occupation of high seas robbery.The response of the dynamic Dutch was nothing short of underwhelming. Since the pirates surrendered without gunfire, they were permitted to leave after the Dutch interrogated them. Hostages were found in the custody of the high seas bandits but since the victims were not Dutch, it was decided to release the pirates. The Post article continued as follows concerning the logic for releasing terrorists without charges or legal action.

"NATO does not have a detainment policy. The warship must follow its national law," he explained. "[Under Dutch law] they can only arrest them if the pirates are from the Netherlands, the victims are from the Netherlands, or if they are in Netherlands waters."

The legal opinion of the Dutch dynamic dunces was disputed by other legal authorities, such as former Assistant Secretary of State Steven Rademaker, who insisted in a conversation with Post reporters that any country can bring pirates to justice.

The piracy problem will be cleared up when those ostensibly combating it decide to get serious. A coherent policy allowing arrest, detention and trial by all nations of pirates must be understood and implemented with decisiveness. The second reform that must be implemented is for merchant ships to be allowed to arm their crew. Those transporting valuables in the streets are allowed to carry weapons. There is no reason for ships with valuable cargo to be disarmed. Combining this with tough policing of shipping lanes would save lives and money. When piracy and high seas terrorism becomes as dangerous as it ought to be, then the impoverished citizens of chaotic and collapsed nations will turn their energies towards building their countries. After peace is restored to the Somali coast, the chaos on land should be a high priority of the international community. Right now, high seas terrorism is a lucrative job and honest work is dangerous. For the good of the Somalis and the world, we need to change the odds. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, April 17, 2009

Georgetown Covers Its Faith For Obama

When President Obama went to Georgetown University, his advance team had a special request. They wanted all religious symbols covered in the area in which Obama was to speak, in order to have a neutral backdrop for his speech. Fox News reports as follows.
"Georgetown University spokeswoman Julie Green Bataille tells Cybercast News "the White House wanted a simple backdrop... consistent with what they've done for other policy speeches."

The monogram "IHS" — which comes from the Greek for Jesus — was covered with a triangle of black-painted plywood. Catholic League president Bill Donohue says: "The cowardice of Georgetown to stand fast on principle tells us more than we need to know... but the bigger story is the audacity of the Obama administration to ask a religious school to neuter itself before the president speaks there."

The White House Director of Specialty Media Shin (Spin?) Inouye countered that the White House was simply seeking a neutral background of American flags that is standard for all presidential speeches.

There are many besides Phil Donahue who feel that the request of the White House was overbearing. A person who wants to speak with no religious symbols as a backdrop is free to do so. But to enter a religious establishment and to ask them to modify their decor reeks of arrogance.

The majority of Americans are at least nominally Christian. The majority of Americans celebrate a list of holidays that are Christian in origin. The extreme effort to expunge religious symbols and decorations from the public arena has little to do with America's hallowed traditions of religious freedom and tolerance. To the contrary, it is itself a form of intolerance.

Even a vacuum has physical properties. In the cultural sphere, a value free religion free domain will assume some characteristics of a value system. The rigor with which the faith of America's majority is being banished from the public arena is intrusive and almost obsessive. It is taking on an air of zealotry that leaves many ill at ease.

William Donahue and I come from very different religious backgrounds. We would probably disagree heatedly about many theological and historical issues. But I share his indignation at our government and our President's increasing disrespect for the private spaces of religious institutions. In defending his religious freedom, I am ultimately defending my own.

If President Obama or anyone else is offended by the religious decor of Georgetown University, let them speak elsewhere. There are enough neutral spaces in which to speak. There will be no hard feelings if people gather there.

It would be a healthy show of checks on unlimited power pride for America's President to be reminded that he must respect the people who elected him as well as their choices of faith. Even a President is limited in what he may request of citizens. It is likely that in the future, Obama will be reminded of this most profoundly American duty that is incumbent upon the President. It would be good for him and for us all if he learns this lesson quickly. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Angry Talk From Texas: A Northerner Responds

Texans are good and mad, and they're not being very quiet about it. Some members of an audience at a "tea party" rally being addressed by Texas Governor Rick Perry peppered their applause with shouts of "Secede!!" The Dallas Morning News reported a press conference at which Governor Perry was rather tepid in his repudiation of some of his supporter's remarks. The Dallas Morning News reported as follows.

Perry called his supporters patriots. Later, answering news reporters' questions, Perry suggested Texans might at some point get so fed up they would want to secede from the union, though he said he sees no reason why Texas should do that.

"There's a lot of different scenarios," Perry said. "We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."

Texans may be unique in many ways, but they are not alone in their frustration. There is widespread fear that the Obama administration is changing the role of the federal government in a manner that is far more domineering and usurpative of state authority than is even now the case.

There is the additional fear of many Americans that the government is printing money to cover shortfalls in tax revenues . The spectre of hyperinflation is of concern to many Americans. This is when a currency deteriorates to the point that it loses value by the hour. In places like Zimbabwe, Hungary after World War Two and Germany after World War One, the money needed to buy groceries sometimes weighed more than the groceries. Such economic maladies are not a mysterious plague but a predictable outcome of printing money with no backing.

There is also the fear that the wealthy are being hit with punitive taxes at a time when confidence should be restored in private investment. Even those who are not wealthy are plagued with the nagging suspicion that there is less incentive to become wealthy.

No one has answered the nagging question of why nothing has been done to encourage workers to become stockholders, to invest in companies that are trying to restructure and change with the changing times.

No one has explained why mortgages have not been rewritten to be more transparent in their legal terms and easier to pay over time. Foolishly and dishonestly extended mortgages artificially inflated real estate values and led to much of our current crisis. There seems to be no attempt to find causes of our current difficulties that are not tied to an attempt to point saddle political opponents with the blame for them.

Texas has even more reason to be angry than the rest of us. Border controls are a federal matter. The porous state of our borders is a national scandal. The disparity in income between the US and Mexico is the greatest of any two adjacent countries in the world. The means exist to seal our borders. The will is not there. Indeed, border agents who were dealing with presumably armed drug and fleeing drug smugglers got hard time for shooting at them, spending several years in prison before President Bush commuted their sentences. They bear the brunt of the wink given the federal government to illegal immigration. Indeed, a Democratic administration seems little inclined to stem the tide of immigrants who are likely to tilt Texas into the Democratic column if current trends continue.

Texas has followed fiscally conservative policies and a solid economic base But if our currency takes a thrashing, they will be saddled with the burden as well.

Texans have all of the reasons and more to be angry that the rest of us have about the course being taken by the Obama administration.

Despite this, secession is not the answer. The only precedent for secession is the Civil War, which had a grim and bloody outcome. It is highly unlikely that Texas secession would be met with a cake and a farewell party.

Texas did however win for itself the right to split into five states. It negotiated for itself this right in writing in 1845 when it joined the union. Such an arrangement would benefit conservatives far more than it would liberals. Although the House of Representatives would be affected minimally by such a move, eight new Senators would be sworn in as a result. This would probably result in a political trade off of Washington DC becoming a state. The net change in political balance would still benefit the political right and forces of fiscal conservatism.

Political conservatives living in blue states would be pleased by a split into five states. Even if Texas were to actually secede, this would tilt the political balance of the remaining 49 states dangerously to the left. Many conservatives living in blue states welcome the political strength of parts of the country that are further to the political right.

The feelings of angry Texans are not only a regional phenomenon. There is a list of principled disagreements on foreign and domestic issues that can and should revitalise an opposition political movement. Obama's election victory was not one of a coherent program but of a set of nebulous yet somehow stirring slogans. Government does not run on that. Hard nosed investors and international allies are not reassured by that. Our country needs far more reasoned remedies than fist fulls of freshly printed money being thrown at complex problems.

There are plenty of articulate spokesmen for conservative ideas in and out of the corridors of state and federal government. The substantial political muscle that Texas possesses with its special constitutional status could tip the political balance in our country and revitalise the Republican opposition.

This is not an issue of rich against poor or workers versus bosses. Even a network of generous social welfare programs must be fed by a healthy economy. Americans of all classes are concerned about basic economic vitality. Obama's first one hundred days are drawing to a close. The honeymoon is over and already the dishes are starting to fly. If this thing is gonna work, we need to sit down and talk. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Passover Greetings to All

The last days of Passover are soon approaching. My next post on this site will be late Thursday night or the wee hours of Friday morning. The prohibitions that preclude blogging during this time impose upon me a needed silence. It is a time to absorb and recommit to to the ideals that guide my blogs. The thought that G-d maintains a role in the world He has created is a comforting one.

On the last day of Passover we have four cups of wine and Matzoh in the afternoon. It is called "Seudas Moshiach". The meal of the Messiah. The hope of all who partake of this meal is that it will be an actual celebration of Moshiach's arrival rather than another year of unfulfilled hopes.

I have always worked for others. I have noted that good boss not someone who doess your work, it is someone who facilitates a climate in which people can work well and produce together with their G-d given abilities. I do not likewise envision Moshiach as someone who will put on a miracle show for us while we sit back and watch I see the Messiah as someone who will through his leadership bring out our abilities in harmonious productivity. May it be G-d's will that this year be the year in which the Bet HaMikdash in Jerusalem is rebuilt with all of its services and that the exiles of the Jewish nation will be reunited. May this be a year of peace and serenity for all.

A Good and a Sweet Pesach

Magdeburger Joe Sphere: Related Content

Monday, April 13, 2009

France Surrenders ..... Again.

(Warning: Disturbing violence)
Europe has long been suffering from a mushrooming problem with violent crime. France has for years been notorious for its violent street gangs composed predominantly of immigrants, both legal and illegal. Problems that plagued American cities in the sixties now blight Paris, Strasbourg and other large cities across France.

France is not unique in Europe. Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands also suffer from a surge of violent crime fueled by Arab immigrant gangs. The extent to which they ignore criminal behavior in the name of political correctness is truly appalling. A good part of the resurgence of right wing political parties is due to the public frustration with skyrocketing crime.

The French have really outdone themselves now in craven surrender to the forces of lawlessness. An employee of the Paris Metro, sick of nightly gang assaults on French subways leaked a video of one such assault. According to an article posted on the Live Leak web site, the French have taken decisive action in the gang attack..... against the transit employee who leaked the video ! The article describes the sickening situation as follows.

The assault was recorded by bus CCTV. A policeman posted the video on a Facebook site: He has been arrested and suspended from his post. The authorities fear the video is being used by right-wing sites to stir up fear about racist violence by black and arab youths against French citizens.
French authorities have been demanding the removal of the video from blogs and video hosting services.
The President of the Paris transport authority RATP has described the video as “a crime in which the RATP is the victim. The same transport President Pierre Mongin described the bus driver’s conduct as “exemplary.”
The delegate for Sud-RATP, the hardline union for Paris transport workers, said that the violence was unexceptional for late-night services. What is exceptional, he added, was for the public to see the images. “Who broadcast this video on the internet?” he demanded, “the victims, the aggressors, the driver and the other passengers did not choose to be put in the public eye in this way. It’s unacceptable.”
According to the union, extreme violence is unexceptional; invading the privacy of the aggressors, however, goes beyond the pale.
At one point in the video, the victim is called “sale fran├žais”, “dirty French.” The same insult was used by casseurs who mobbed student protests two years ago, mugging and assaulting youngsters taking part in demonstrations against the government.

It is callous indifference like this that fuels sympathy for the "extreme right." A labour union that fights for high wages and doesn't care when its workers are beaten and robbed is worse than useless. It is more critical than ever for Europe to develop a united front in confronting the lawlessness that is sweeping Europe. With the phasing out of border controls from one country to another, a weak link like France can infect the rest of the European Union.

Sadly enough for the citizens of France, their government's reputation for craven appeasement has infected their attitude towards their own citizens within their own country. There are many to whom freedom of political speech means little or nothing. The freedom to walk and travel without fear however is a yearning of every man, woman and child. It is fear for the survival of this basic freedom that is reshaping the political landscape to make the "right wing" appealing and the "moderates" seem irrelevant.

The chilling video and the twisted response of the French government are now being seen around the world. Instead of suppressing the video, justice would be far better served by suppressing the violence it portrays. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mike Bloomberg and His Planned Coronation

On paper, the former East Germany had four political parties, aside from the governing Socialist Unity Party. They were the Christian Democrats, the Liberal Democrats, the Free Democrats the National Democrats and the Democratic Farmer's Party. Although they all had authentic ideological roots, under the harsh realities of Soviet dominated East German life they became silent partners and puppets of the ruling Socialist Unity Party. China has a similar system, in which sham political parties provide a simulation of parliamentary democracy.

More and more each day, New York's political parties are taking on the rubber stamp character of the political parties in East Germany. They offer little substantial opposition to Mike Bloomberg or his highly debatable policies.

Under the mayoralty of Mike Bloomberg, New York citizens who are immigrants from formerly communist countries have even less reason to be homesick for their countries of origin. Mike Bloomberg has created the closest approximation of socialist political life on American soil by making a sham of the ideological boundaries of New York's political parties. The Daily News reports as follows on Bloomberg's latest dance across party lines for his own convenience.

"Mayor Bloomberg will run for reelection as a Republican this fall, after successfully courting the party to let him back on its ballot line two years after he left it.

"Mayor Bloomberg and I have had healthy disagreements over issues at times, but I know he is the right person to lead this city forward," said Jay Savino, chairman of the Bronx GOP, who followed his Brooklyn and Staten Island counterparts to become the third county chairman to back the mayor."

The prevailing wisdom has long been that Mike Bloomberg found the Republican nomination to be cheaper to secure than that of the Democrats, who have ruled four of the five boroughs with the tacit consent of the Republicans, who put little or no energy into mounting effective opposition to the ruling party. Although New York is considerably to the left of the rest of the country, Bloomberg does not even score well as a moderate Democrat. Whether it is gun control or abortion, health care or the nanny state, Bloomberg sounds far more like a patronising liberal who loves the working class so much that he expects them to shut up and do what he says for their own good.

At first, Bloomberg supported term limits. Now he has successfully led a campaign to repeal them so he can run a third term. The only consistent principle that has ever governed the deliberations of Mike Bloomberg has been ....Mike Bloomberg.

There are a lot of issues that trouble New Yorkers. Regressive taxes, skyrocketing costs of tickets for parking and sanitation have made it a pain to live and do business in New York. The widespread perception of rapidly rising crime does not seem to be reflected in official statistics. In the midst of New York's ethnic and economic diversity, there is enough constructive difference of opinion to fuel lively and constructive debate. Unfortunately this is not reflected in our political system and seldom in our news media, which hands Mike Bloomberg fawning and uncritical coverage.

Mike Bloomberg was blindsided like all of us by the massive recession that has hit our economy. Despite this, he continues to promote the idea that only he has the wisdom and means to lead us in the troubled times ahead.

I can't fault Bloomberg for using his political skill and economic clout for hanging on to the office of mayor. but there are real issues that need real debate. We need a Republican Party that will speak up for its values. We need Democrats who will also stand up on issues of principle. There is a massive disconnect between the dinner table discourse of average New Yorkers and what is discussed in the media and corridors of power.

According to the laws of the city, Bloomberg has a right to run as many times as he wants for mayor. That's fine. But let him run in a genuine race and not swagger to his next coronation. We may deserve better. But we have to demand it.

Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: An American Disgrace

The United States constitution has evolved through amendment and interpretation over 230 years of American history. We have widened the circle of civic empowerment to include women and to transcend racial boundaries. We have done so through weighing our constantly expanding body of judicial precedent. Our laws are the subject of international study. Even though we are criticised for our international role, our domestic system of law has attracted widespread admiration and millions of immigrants.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg wants to expand our body of judicial precedent to include laws American citizens have never voted on, to make foreign laws a part of our law books not by act of a legislature but through judicial fiat. The New York Times reports as follows.

In wide-ranging remarks here, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg defended the use of foreign law by American judges, suggested that torture should not be used even when it might yield important information and reflected on her role as the Supreme Court’s only female justice. The occasion was a symposium at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University honoring her 15 years on the court.

“I frankly don’t understand all the brouhaha lately from Congress and even from some of my colleagues about referring to foreign law,” Justice Ginsburg said in her comments on Friday.

Ginsburg's flippant attitude towards foreign judicial precedents is not shared by her fellow Supreme Court judges, most notably Antonin Scalia, John G. Roberts and Clarence Thomas. The New York Times quotes Justice Roberts as follows.

“If we’re relying on a decision from a German judge about what our Constitution means, no president accountable to the people appointed that judge and no Senate accountable to the people confirmed that judge, and yet he’s playing a role in shaping the law that binds the people in this country.”

Ginsburg's primary concern seems to be not how sound and just a decision is but how often it is cited in foreign courts. She noted as follows in her Ohio speech.

"The Canadian Supreme Court is probably cited more widely abroad than the U.S. Supreme Court.” There is one reason for that, she said: “You will not be listened to if you don’t listen to others.”

In Ginsburg's distorted value system, the justness of a decision and its consistency with existing law seem to pale next to the glory of being quoted in a European court. Fashion now sits at the bar of justice next to our most trendoid Supreme Court justice.

Her intellectual sloppiness is truly frightening. She defends her internationalist stance as follows.

“Why shouldn’t we look to the wisdom of a judge from abroad with at least as much ease as we would read a law review article written by a professor?

Very good, Ruth. You can outsource your thinking all you want, but there should be a clear commitment to tying the words of a foreign judge to a specific American precedent. Failure to do so creates the risk of disrupting the balance of power by effectively permitting the Supreme Court to introduce foreign laws without their approval by America's elected representatives.

Ginsburg has raised an issue that should be of great concern to Americans who want to maintain our national sovereignty, which is the extent to which we should surrender our national sovereignty through international agreements. What is at least as disturbing as her actual opinions is the dismissive manner in which she attempts to downplay their far reaching importance. "Legislating from the bench" has been a hotly contested issue for decades. A cavalier use of foreign judicial precedents creates the danger of removing legislation even further from the reach of the American people and putting it in the hands of an international elite that answers to no one.

At the Ohio event, Ginsburg was charitably hailed by fellow Supreme Court justices. In light of her ongoing struggle with pancreatic cancer, this is both kind and proper. But her personal difficulties should not distract us from the difficulties that would metastasise if her judicial philosophy were to become mainstream. When she or any other Supreme Court member is replaced, the new candidate should be asked about their attitude towards foreign judicial precedent.

Those who hold public office swear to uphold and defend our constitution. This is critical for Supreme Court members. It is hard to avoid the thought that Ginsburg is attempting to program viruses into our constitution through foreign judicial precedent. This is unfortunate. This is dangerous. The process should be stopped Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Best Wishes For Passover

My next post will be on Saturday night. The next three days will be two days of Passover and Shabbos, respectively. Accordingly, my computer will be shut off and I will be engaged in the observance of Passover.

This Passover season has been special. We blessed the sun, which is only done every 28 years. The blessing is said when the sun is at the precise point it occupied at the time of its creation. It's interesting looking at the movie of life with one panel every twenty eight years. It gives a different perspective than a day to day look might yield.

Even though the Passover story is full of miracles, the biggest miracle is the creaation of the world and its continued existence. One of the special messages of Passover is that G-d did not just create the world and put it on automatic pilot. He remains involved. That is profoundly reassuring.

My thoughts are not only of the past redemtion, but the one to come, which will bring tangible blessings to the world. I wish all of my readers a happy, joyous and meaningful Passover. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Death of Christianity?

The April 4 issue of Newsweek magazine has a feature story, "The End of Christian America." Apparently, the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christian has dropped 10%, to about 75% of the population. The loss of Christianity has been the gain of eastern, new age and Islamic religious groups.

There is a problem with labels in describing religious affiliation. People in many mainstream religious denominations would have trouble signing off on each article of the Apostle's creed. In many congregations, current fashions hold a lot more sway than the scriptural canon. This is a trend that became entrenched in the 60's and 70's. Today, it is the more traditional denominations that continue to experience growth, even as the religious mainstream loses members. This trend is mirrored among American Jews, who have moved more to the religious right after decades of drifting away from tradition.

Will a post Christian America be kinder and gentler? I have serious doubts. There is a human tendency to put human words into the mouth of a rubber stamp god. The G-d of our age tends to remain silent, creating a temptation for believers that resembles that of a substitute teacher who has stepped out of her classroom.

This century has seen its share of new religions. Marxism is a comprehensive world view in which the existence of G-d or any god is denied. Nazism attempted to launch a Nordic religion based on Norse myths as well as a revisionist and dejudaised Christianity.

America has provided refuge to many religious dissidents who were persecuted elsewhere. From Puritans in Massachusetts to Old Believers in Alaska, America has defined itself by its tolerance of all who will obey the rule of law.

America is also the birthplace of a number of new religions. Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Christian Scientists are among the American born religious denominations that have enjoyed the freedom to march to a different drummer.

Religious dissent is very much a part of America's way of life. We seem to be a compassionate nation with a respect for spiritual searchers. America's reported change in religious demographics is not unprecedented. In the 19th and early twentieth century, immigration changed the tone of Christianity in large sectors of the population. Additionally, it raised the percentage of Jews in the country.

Today, there are increasing numbers of Muslim and other non Christian immigrants. Will they become an Americanised subgroup in the general population? Immigrants from hotbeds of nationalism in Europe were assimilated into American life. My mother's family told me of Slavic fraternal organisations of which no government employeee could be a member. Particularly during World Wars I and II, Americans from enemy nations were subjected to scrutiny. There is no need to apologise for a desire to assure the loyalty of Muslim Americans as well. My digression into politics is not accidental. Religion has always had a political dimension.

I can not applaud the announced decline of Christianity until I know what is going to take its place. There is an enthusiasm of new believers that can easily spill over into intolerance. Some of the most beautiful utopian visions existed among believers in communism. Millions who were feared as obstacles to the "new order" were liquidated in numbers that dwarfed the body count of Christianity. It is for this reason that I am skeptical and fearful of any new vision for the future.

I have seen new age devotees displaying as much dogmatism and intolerance as any bible thumping Christian ever did. I have had people who disliked my orthodox beliefs try to force me to violate the Sabbath. These people were not born again Christians but new age, rainbow flag waving devotees of alternative lifestyles. but Intolerance is a human, psychological condition that cuts across political and theological lines.

I believe that my religion is unlike all other faiths, which are man made. I am also aware that as I type, others are making the same claim for their religions. I have a saying that defines the terms of this theological standoff. It is very simple and it reads as follows.

"I don't care if you believe I am going to hell, as long as you don't try to send me there ahead of schedule."

Religion can go in two directions. It can enshrine the beliefs and character of its adherents as an ideal to aspire to, or it can turn inward and strive for the improvement of the individual. A lot of the new age religions seem to be ratifying the intellectual fads and trends of our age. A biblical canon and set of laws seems to offer the possibility of standing apart from the passions and prejudice of one's time.

Good people can make a deeply flawed political system somewhat livable. Conversely, the most elaborately conceived social organisation can be subverted through malevolence and selfishness.

We should not be joyous about the announced demise of Christianity, because we do not know what will replace it. I must caution those who laud the death of traditions. Before one discards old ways, one must know the logic and reason for them. And even as one strives for better beliefs, one must strive to be a better believer. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, April 6, 2009

Paparazzi Dodging Bullets

Paparazzi can be annoying as hell. Back in the late sixties and early seventies, pioneer paparazzo Ron Galella annoyed Jackie Onassis so much that she got a restraining order against him in court. Marlon Brando broke his jaw and Sean Penn spat on him.

It is easy to understand how a public figure needs private space. Celebrity photographers are not the same as adoring fans. They are creating a product for sale. And the lives of the rich and famous are their raw material. Jackie Onassis handled her problems with Ron Galella in a classy way. She took him to court and won her case and her privacy.

Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen are (to put it mildly) a different piece of work entirely. A pair of photographers who received permission from their neighbour to shoot pictures of a ceremony in which they were renewing their wedding vows had the rear window of their car shattered by a bullet that narrowly missed both of them. Friends of the somewhat newlywed couple were reportedly indignant at the encroachment upon the couple's privacy.

Most of these celebrity photos show how ordinary most of these superstars look. An average city bus at rush hour will probably contain about fifty people who are more alluring specimens than these superstars without makeup. Perhaps they are afraid of the public finding out how ordinary they are.

Okay, Tom Brady plays baseball for a living and his wife gets her picture taken in expensive clothing. In another ten years they will both be past their shelf life and some new celebrities will step up as the chewing gum for the public mind.

So what did the photographers do that merited having their rear window shot out? If the couple was worried about kidnappers or terrorists, I could understand. In such a case, they could have simply had law enforcement force the photographers to produce identification. If anyone snaps my picture, I want to know who they are.

With all of the safety concerns of the rich and famous, I still think that the security people who were guarding Bundchen and Brady were guilty of extreme reckless endangerment. If I see kids smoking weed in front of my house I will end up behind bars if I wing a couple shots at them. If there is no threat, and no danger, there is no right to use deadly force.

I hope the photographers sue Brady and Bundchen for shooting out their window. Even an annoying photographer has a right not to be killed. By all accounts, they were not even trespassing.

One of the reasons that superstars get harassed by paparazzi is that people buy their CD's, tickets to their games and performances and magazines such as the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. If no one cared about them, they would be driving "preowned " vehicles and clocking in at work like most of us.

To some extent, the private lives of superstars is yet another one of their productions. Some of them adapt to this, by throwing out informational tidbits to the public. Others spread mischievous bits of disinformation as a private joke. Some people, like Robin Williams are famous for being cordial to fans. Others lash out angrily when recognised by admirers, perhaps out of a combination of fear and shyness.

I think that some common sense is in order in dealing with paparazzi. Anyone trying to photograph a celebrity should be ready to identify themselves. All too many famous people have been stalked and sometimes even killed. They have well founded fears that need to be taken into consideration.

There have been photo journalists who meet with the rich and famous with their consent. LIFE magazine was built upon such work. Sharon and Ozzie Osbourne actually turned their lives into a reality TV show. I prefer consensual photo journalism. Even though there is more reason to be interested in media personalities, they have no less a need for privacy than the rest of us.

My favourite writers focus on common people and highlight what is unique and illuminating in their lives. Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation" interviews many people who lived through World War Two as soldiers, army wives, POWS, and other people who lived through World War Two. Studs Terkel wrote a book called "Working" in which people of all different occupations described their work and how it affected their lives. Reading both these books infused me with the conviction that everyone is a player on history's stage and everyone has something to contribute.

In a sense we have been rendered passive by our ability to record sight and sound. Before the advent of recording, sheet music and oral transmission were our means of transmitting song. One had to memorise, to reach out and take possession of a piece of music. Now we can sit back and put the same CD on over and over again without any need to commit a song to memory. Although this increases ability of performers to reach a wider audience and even transcend national boundaries, it turns too many of us into passive consumers of assorted entertainment streams.

I don't like to intrude upon the boundaries set by the rich and famous. They need a private space to recover from the stress of entertaining the public. Despite this, they do not have the right to shoot at us common folk when we annoy them. Bundchen and Brady's security detail almost killed someone. They should be called to account for it. But they will probably get away with it. Money talks. What a pity. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, April 5, 2009

To Be a Fly on the Wall: Thoughts About Enemy Propaganda

Before and during World War Two, my father used to enjoy following the news from all angles. He liked to hear all sides. When he got older, he liked to be able to project himself into the mindset of opponents. Although ideologically opposed to labour unions, one of his fondest recollections from his years in business was negotiating with an Italian labour union. At the time he was negotiating with the union, it was politically allied to the Italian Communist Party, which was the second largest political party in Italy.

When looking at the Europeans during World War Two, I like to know what they were thinking, what shaped their thoughts. What was life like for the Christian neighbours of my grandparents?
Like my father, I like to be a fly on the wall, to listen to talk from the other side. Are religious and political truths a triumph of right or wrong? Or is our political vision an accident of our birth place. America is Christian. The Middle East is Muslim and India has a Hindu majority. I like the idea of being a Jew, of transcending the accident of my birthplace and swimming against the tide. I try to respect that in others, to emulate people who do not run with the herd, who will state forthrightly what is unpopular and be friends to the unhip and the downtrodden.

One story that saddened me was of a Jewish kid who had all Christian friends. He had a birthday party a couple of years after the Nazis came to power. Not one friend came to his party. What force facilitated such lockstep conformity. I ask myself an uncomfortable question. What if Hispanics or African Americans were the target group? Would I keep my kids home from the party? Would I pass the test?

There was a group of French Protestants known as Huguenots who suffered bloody persecution in France . Wikipedia describes the frightening extent of Huguenot persecution in the following paragraph about the St Bartholomew's Day massacre

In what became known as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 23 August3 October 1572, Catholics killed thousands of Huguenots in Paris. Similar massacres took place in other towns in the weeks following. The main provisional towns and cities experiencing the Massacre were Aix, Bordeaux, Bourges, Lyon, Meaux, Orleans, Rouen, Toulouse, and Troyes. Nearly 3,000 Protestants were slaughtered in Toulouse alone. The exact number of fatalities throughout the country is not known. On the 23 - 24 August, between about 2,000[1 and 3,000 Protestants were killed in Paris and between 3,000 and 7,000 more in the French provinces. By the 17 September, almost 25,000 Protestants had been massacred in Paris alone. Outside of Paris, the killings continued until the 3 October. An amnesty granted in 1573 pardoned the perpetrators.

There was a village, Le Chambon Sur Lignon in central France of 5000 people. During the war, at great risk to themselves, the villagers rescued about 5000 Jews. There was not one betrayal to authorities of rescuers or rescued. Everyone acted in unison. Their motivation was loyalty to their Huguenot ancestors. They felt that the history of their faith and people mandated compassion to anyone being persecuted for their faith.

It's hard to know who will pass the tests of life and history. As Christians across Rwanda collaborated in the Rwandan genocide, it was Muslims who emerged from that dark chapter in Rwandan history with their honour intact. Where Muslims around the world bring shame to Islam with persecution of Christians and other non Muslims, the actions of Rwanda's Muslims brought honour to their faith in the eyes of those they rescued. The Chicago Tribune reports as follows of the collaboration of Christians in the genocide and the contrasting nobility of Rwanda's Muslim community.

Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, the head of Rwanda's

Seventh-day Adventist Church, is on trial, charged

with luring Tutsi parishioners to his church in

western Kibuye province, then turning them over to

Hutu militias that slaughtered 2,000 to 6,000 in a

single day.

The day before the massacre, Tutsi Adventist clergy

inside the church sent Ntakirutimana a now-famous

letter, informing him that "tomorrow we will be killed

with our families" and seeking his help. Survivors

report that he replied: "You must be eliminated. God

doesn't want you anymore."

At the same time, Rwanda's Muslims--many of them

intermarried Tutsi-Hutu couples--were opening their

homes to thousands of desperate Tutsis. Muslim

families for the most part succeeded in hiding Tutsis

from the Hutu mobs, who feared entering the country's

insular Muslim communities.

Yahya Kayiranga, a young Tutsi who fled Kigali with

his mother at the start of the genocide, was taken

into the home of a Muslim family in the central city

of Gitarama, where he hid until the killing was over.

His father and uncle who stayed behind in Kigali were


"We were helped by people we didn't even know," the

27-year-old remembers, still impressed.

Unable to return to what he considered a sullied Roman

Catholic Church, he converted to Islam in 1996.
The Muslims of Albania also offered refuge to Jews fleeing the Nazis. They considered it to be a matter of national honour to provide refuge and hospitality.

Why do some people become rescuers and others become collaborators? I don't know. Is the answer to be found in scripture or in the human heart?

It seems that an essential ingredient of good citizenship is the willingness and ability to judge the government against the yardstick of faith. One must be willing to walk the lonely mile in violation of the law in service to a higher calling. This is not a decision to be made glibly. It is not likely to merit applause at the time that it is made. To the contrary, it means being willing to be shunned and roundly condemned by the timid majority. On the other extreme, "civil disobedience can be invoked glibly. It is a delicate balance to respect the law and yet realise sadly that it must be broken.

Below is a Vichy French cartoon that uses American cartoon characters such as Popeye and Mickey Mouse to skewer the Allies. Rather than any particular political principal, it focuses on the danger of bombing raids to the average Frenchman. The Vichy French tried to present their ideology not as one of craven collaboration but as the "National Revolution" I am also presenting a video of Vichy propaganda stills set to the Vichy anthem.

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