A Modest Proposal
"Letter to Walker Texas Ranger"
by Michael Rosch
Dear Mr. Norris,
It saddens me that you would refer to Atheists as foes. Atheists exist everywhere in our society. They are our scientists, our firefighters, our garbage men, our postal employees, our police officers, our teachers, our fellow American citizens and taxpayers, our friends, our families, and our loved ones. I speak to you as an Agnostic Atheist, and I think you greatly misunderstand the political goals of Atheist activists like myself.
I am a strong advocate of the First Amendment of the Constitution, and I truly believe people have the inalienable right to believe whatever they choose to believe. You can believe that Magic Pixies from the planet Zeist created the universe with a magical g-string if you wish, and you're welcome to hold that belief so long as you are not a danger to yourself of others. And if you're a student in a public school who believes it, you can start up an extracurricular club celebrating that belief. However, I believe that it would do great harm to our fine American public education system to teach religion in Science classrooms as "alternative theories" when religion, by definition, describes beliefs outside the natural world that are un-testable through the Scientific Method. It sets a dangerous precedent that would open the doors for any superstition, cult, and political ideology to be inserted into the classrooms free of criticism. Tom Cruise would show up demanding to teach our kids about Xenu and every nutcase with an "alternative theory" would follow.
Teaching faith is the job of the church. I believe schools, contrarily, should focus on what can be known in the natural world by scientific means. I believe religion can be taught in literature classes, so long as it's not being used for indoctrination and critical analysis is encouraged. In fact, I studied parts of The Bible in high school myself as part of a literature curriculum. I see no problem with that. And students are perfectly welcome to pray on their own, provided they do not cause a disruption in class. I think the main concern is that ideally, we want our children to have an understanding of all scientific findings and all faiths, and to determine for themselves what they believe without being indoctrinated into a belief system that may or may not be true. I understand that your faith is important to you. I am asking you to respect that others believe differently from you. If religion gets its foot in the door of our schools, what's from stopping the fanatics from getting in? Can you promise religious extremists won't enter our schools and brainwash our children? I wish you could, but I think we both know, you can't. So why not leave religious matters to the church and secular teachings to the public schools? I will concede that there are some cases where the protection from indoctrination goes too far, but these are few and far between.
You also referred to Dr. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris as militants. I feel this is an unfair characterization of these men of science. Dawkins has been an educator for decades. While his concerns about religion may at times seem harsh, he is merely concerned with seeking truth, a goal I believe we all share. Neither Dawkins nor Harris has ever committed violence in the name Atheism or science. They have merely been outspoken activists fighting to keep a separation between church and state through lectures and books.
You suggested the attempt to remove "In God We Trust" from our currency is a sinister plot, but I ask you to consider how you'd feel if the slogan on the currency read: "In Allah We Trust"? Or imagine how a black man would feel if it read: "In White Men We Trust." Or for women, "In Men We Trust." Like the above examples, this is divisive language. Over 12% of Americans are Atheists, and that number see this slogan to be a slight against them and a slap in the face to the mostly Deist Founding Fathers who fought to protect tolerance for all. Which brings me to your great mischaracterization of how the majority of the Founding Fathers viewed religion. Any simple Google search will reveal this.
Regarding "The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act," even you admit that it is targeting "crimes of brutality, not speech." And could it end up (even inadvertently) restricting First Amendment rights? I concede this is possible. Therefore, it's up to each of us as patriotic Americans to keep a close eye on this and keep proper checks and balances. We must never become a nation that criminalizes thought; that truly would be a corruption of everything our Founding Fathers fought for. But for the time being, prosecuting against crimes of brutality sounds like the epitome of rationality to me, and I'm sure to you too.
I am also troubled by your comment, "Just as atheists are gathering to combat God, we patriots must come together to sustain the godly heritage we've been handed." I hope through this letter, you'll see that Atheists are every bit as patriotic as Theists. In fact, ironically, you quote Benjamin Franklin, one of the most famous Atheists in American history, which is evident from his Autobiography and any other biography of the man and his life. I thank you for your time and offer to you an olive branch. You are a public figure and a hero to millions who watch your films and television shows. I ask you not to use that image to promote a message of hate, but to use it to unite people of different beliefs. We are The United States of America. United we stand, but divided we fall.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist,
How to outlaw Christianity (Step 1) by Chuck Norris
Posted: May 14, 2007
1:00 a.m. Eastern
This past week an ABC News debate aired on "Nightline," which pitted popular theists against Internet atheists. While I'll have more to say about that battle of wits in my next article, it testifies to the growing number (30 million Americans) of those who profess there is no God. Add to that what I believe is possibly three times the number of functional atheists, those who believe in a God but practically don't show it, and America is facing a new religious horizon in which atheism is becoming a formidable foe.
Though the majority of Americans continue to claim to be Christians, a
Gallup poll discovered 45 percent of us would support an atheist for president. Such a survey is a clear indication that the secularization of society is alive and well.
The opponents of God
Once upon a time, years ago, it seemed that the only major fire for atheism burned from the anti-Christian work of Madelyn
Murray O'Hair and the American Atheist organization, whose claim to fame was the banning of prayer and Bible reading in public schools in 1963.
Today many more antagonist groups and individuals to theism abound, and they are using every means possible for global proliferation — from local government to the World Wide Web. Such secular progressives include the Institute for Humanist Studies, Secular Coalition of America, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Internet Infidels, The Atheist Alliance International, Secular Student Alliance, Society for Humanistic Judaism, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, etc. Of course no list of atheistic advocates would be complete without mentioning the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, as well as the anti-God militancy of men like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.
Though the U.S. Constitution outlaws religious discrimination, these organizations and individuals would love nothing more than to help society look with distain upon Christianity and, ultimately, make its components illegal. In fact, right now, they are coalescing and rallying at least 5 million of their troops to mount counter offensives to Christianity.
For that reason I believe theistic patriots need to be wise to atheists' overt and covert schemes, exposing their agenda and fighting to lay waste to their plans.
Step 1: Initiate restrictions and legislation against theism and
In God we bust
For these liberal groups to win the war of ideological dominance, they know they must minimize the effects of Christianity, which many are doing (unbeknownst to others) behind the scenes through lobbying and legislation. In fact, two significant actions occurred on the National Day of Prayer just two weeks ago!
The London Telegraph noted that, while American Christians were praying across the land on the National Day of Prayer, atheists were petitioning the Texas Legislature against the civic display of the words, "In God We Trust."
Eroding and erasing theistic language in culture is a growing trend.
Earlier this year George Washington dollar coins were not only inscribed with the words "In God We Trust" on their edges, but many excluded them entirely! Such minting modifications are a flagrant defiance against theism and a public reflection of the place God is now relegated — to the fringes of society.
Secularists of course have made repeated attempts to rid "under God" from "The Pledge of Allegiance." Thank God the Legislature of Texas is moving along a bill to include the words in our state pledge: "Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God and indivisible." I was also grateful to read in the Dallas Morning News May 1 that the House also embraced legislation "that seeks to clarify the rights of Texas public school students to offer public prayers at football games or graduation, hand out religious messages or hold religious meetings during the school day if they want."
Another example of atheistic advocacy can be found in the 10,000-member
Freedom from Religion Foundation initiation of a Supreme Court case, which asserts that President Bush's faith-based initiatives pose a violation of the wall of separation between church and state.
Atheists also received a proverbial shot in the arm by locating a representative and advocate of sorts in Rep. Pete Stark, D-
Calif., who "is the first member of Congress — and the highest-ranking elected official in the country — to make known that he is a non-theist."
His election stands in stark contrast to the wishes of our Founding Fathers, who encouraged American citizens to vote Christians into public office. As John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States, wrote to Jedidiah Morse on Feb. 28, 1797, "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers. And it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest, of a Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."
The tyranny of the state over the church
The other legal disgrace that occurred on the National Day of Prayer was that Congress passed what might become one of the most religiously restrictive pieces of legislation in history: H.R. 1592, "The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act." With Senate approval, this bill will expand the law against such hate crimes, allowing federal funds and other resources to assist local law enforcement to deter and punish acts of violence committed against an individual because of the victim's race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc.
While the bill purports to target crimes of brutality, not speech, it could very easily end up (even inadvertently) restricting First Amendment rights of Christians to speak freely against such anti-biblical practices as homosexuality and transvestitism. As Janet Folger, the author of "Criminalizing Christianity," has pointed out, "H.R. 1592 isn't about hate. It isn't about crime. It's about silencing our speech."
As with other laws of this type, once enacted, local justices could easily expand its interpretive enforcement to encompass a wider meaning than originally conceived. Once enforced, what would stop a clergy from being accused as an accessory to a hate crime, after he preached to his church on Sunday about the woes of same-sex marriage and discovered on Monday one of his congregants got in a fight with a homosexual co-worker as a result of a moral altercation? The fact is, if the hate-crime bill passes, pastors could easily become pulpit partners in crime.
I agree with Rev. Henry Jackson, who said the law would "mandate unequal protection under the law and will pave the way for criminalization of thoughts and religious beliefs contrary to politically correct ideas."
Hate-crime laws are not only a violation of our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion, but a violation of the 10th Amendment's limitations on the power of federal government.
Hang together or hang separately?
Thank God our president's senior advisers have gone on record that they will advise him to veto the bill if it reaches the doors of the White House. We, too, must follow his lead by speaking up and taking a stand against this unnecessary and unconstitutional bill — and any others like it. Just as atheists are gathering to combat God, we patriots must come together to sustain the godly heritage we've been handed. As Benjamin Franklin said, "We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately."
I urge you to write the president and your representatives today to encourage the overturning of this ungodly, religiously restricting and unconstitutional piece of legislation, erroneously titled by the misnomer, "Hate Crimes Prevention Act."
Stay tuned next Monday when I give the second half of this treatise,
"How to outlaw Christianity (steps 2 & 3)," in which I will also convey one of the most shocking, despicable atheistic tactics I've ever seen.
"On VT on TV"
by Michael Rosch
They say he was a quiet student, unpopular, a frequent target of bullying. Before that tragic day, he'd remarked about taking his own life. He had a criminal record that wouldn't seem significant until after his death. He used violent themes, including murderous acts in creative student projects. Reports surfaced suggesting a romantic rejection just prior to his violent acts. Feeling like an outcast, his rage grew, despite an outwardly calm appearance. No one could've predicted the morning of April 20, 1999 would result in he and friend Eric Harris killing 12 classmates at Columbine High School before Dylan Klebold, 17, and Eric Harris, 18, ended their own lives.
America still hasn't learned the right lesson to take from such atrocities. In the aftermath of Columbine, ideologues from across the nation circled like vultures, exploiting the tragedy, each turning Littleton, Colorado into another venue to promote their political agendas. Professional massacre chaser Jack Thompson blamed video games for the teens' violent behavior. The then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay blamed the absence of religion and the teaching of The Theory of Evolution in schools. Some blamed school staff for not seeing the teens' disturbing art as a telltale sign of pathology. Others blamed shock rocker Marilyn Manson or the recent film, The Matrix. Others blamed Klebold and Harris' parents. Others blamed the inanimate guns themselves, while even more blamed the lack of metal detectors and armed security personnel in schools. But perhaps receiving the most public wrath were "the media" and "society"-no one in particular, just media and society in general. However, to date, the media and society have yet to be charged and remain at large. SO BEWARE! Lock all your doors, for the media and society could be lurking anywhere, even IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD!!!
Fast forward eight years and just four days shy of the anniversary of the Columbine Massacre. They say he was a quiet student, unpopular, a frequent target of bullying. Before that tragic day, he'd remarked about taking his own life. He had a criminal record that wouldn't seem significant until after his death. He used violent themes, including murderous acts in creative student projects. Reports would surface suggesting a romantic rejection just prior to his violent acts. Feeling like an outcast, his rage grew, despite an outwardly calm appearance. No one could've predicted the morning of April 16, 2007 would result in him killing 32 classmates at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and University before Seung-Hui Cho, 23, ended his own life.
In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech Massacre, ideologues from across the nation circle like vultures, exploiting the tragedy, each turning Blacksburg, Virginia into another venue to promote their political agendas. Professional massacre chaser Jack Thompson is blaming video games for Cho's violent behavior, even though he didn't play video games. Ken Ham, leader of a Creationist group called Answers in Genesis blames the absence of religion and the teaching of The Theory of Evolution in schools even though he was an English major. Some blame school staff for not seeing the student's disturbing art as a telltale sign of pathology, while even more blame the lack of metal detectors and armed security personnel in schools. But perhaps receiving the most public wrath are "the media" and "society"-no one in particular, just media and society in general.
Jack Thompson's media tour led him to Hardball with Chris Matthews, armed only with the famous Jack Thompson Video Game Unifying Theory of Violence, similar to Irreduceable Complexity, except instead of resulting in "God did it," the gap is filled by "Video games did it." First claiming Cho's high school friends said he played violent games in high school, Thompson then falsely stated Cho's college suitemates agreed he was on the computer constantly (unlike "normal" college students), after which Chris Matthews corrected Thompson's false statement. Referring to the suitemate, Thompson then muttered, "He doesn't know," forgetting he'd just used the suitemate in a lie to support his argument moments earlier. Matthews explained the suitemate actually said Cho just wrote school papers on the computer, to which Thompson suggested was only the case "when he looked on the screen!" (Duh!) Thompson, presuming to know more about Cho's activities than those who'd actually knew him, insisted the best sources were those "high school friends" from 4 or 5 years ago, whose alleged statements support Thompson's claims. Apparently those college suitemates' credibility ended the moment he learned their actual statements violate his theory. No video games have been found among Cho's personal effects. No evidence of any game play has been found either. Still, Thompson declares it's a fact that because Cho appeared to kill like a pro with efficiency, a low heart rate, and a general coolness, he must have trained with video game simulations, that "This was all a game to this guy," and, "I'm sorry. That's simply how it works."
But some brand new theories surfaced this time around. Before Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly could get around to blaming immigration, everyone's favorite bigot Debbie Schlussel beat him to it, calling Cho a "Paki," a Pakistani ethnic slur, and speculating that Cho was Pakistani Muslim terrorist (despite his being from South Korea). She later stated the shooting is "yet another reason to stop letting in so many foreign students" (despite Cho having lived legally in this country since the age of 8).
After missing his chance to blame immigrants first, Bill O'Reilly turned to the next obvious target, Rosie O'Donnell and the "liberal media," two parties O'Reilly has of course always supported in the past. According to O'Reilly, "It was only minutes...minutes before the far left in America began turning the Virginia Tech murders into an anti-gun story." And by "far left," O'Reilly of course meant Rosie, co-host of some silly daytime talk show-err, ex-co-host of some silly daytime talk show. Who else would the political left turn to as a spokesperson but Rosie, right? In any event, in the clip O'Reilly shows, Rosie called for "sensible gun legislation "— not even the banning of guns the real radical left are calling for. And with a level of irony that would blow even Stephen Colbert's mind, O'Reilly condemns Rosie for turning her worthless show into a venue for her own political soapbox after claiming he doesn't care about Rosie when he's spent the past several weeks criticizing her on his show.
Nathaniel Blake of the publication Human Events blames the VT survivors themselves, suggesting they should be ashamed of themselves, stating, "College classrooms have scads of young men who are at their physical peak, and none of them seems to have done anything beyond ducking, running, and holding doors shut," followed by, "Something is clearly wrong with the men in our culture." Putting aside the inherent sexism in Blake's comments, I suppose a real man then is someone who blames the victims of a violent crime from a safe distance and thinks the film Die Hard is a realistic portrayal of how people respond in a crisis. It's too bad Blake wasn't at Dachau either. I suppose he would have single-handedly brought down the entire concentration camp, or at least admonished those cowardly prisoners. Sadly, Blake's not alone. John Derbyshire of the National Review Online wrote, "Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn't anyone rush the guy?" He continued, "At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands ... if I thought I was going to die anyway, I'd at least take a run at the guy."
Klebold and Harris weren't the first to shoot up a school. Michael Carneal, 14, shot and killing 3 girls and wounded 5 others at the Heath High School shooting in West Paducah, Kentucky in 1997. Before him, Charles Joseph Whitman, a student at the University of Texas at Austin shot and killed 13 people and wounded 31 others from atop the University's 27-story tower in 1966, long before the age of video games.
But something tells me that we could dispose of all the violent video games and movies and handguns in the world, install metal detectors and armed security personnel in every school and public space, and violence would still occur. Violence will always be a part of life. Maybe it's part of human nature. Or maybe it's because, as Frederick Douglas wrote, "Without struggle, there can be no progress." Or maybe some all-controlling God is causing innocent suffering to win a bet with his accuser or because he derives perverse pleasure out of it. If so, we could blame Pat Robertson, who warned no one after claiming God told him of the coming year's tragedies. Whatever the reason for innocent suffering, blaming abstract concepts like "the media" or "society" clearly helps no one. In fact, it does harm. By creating scapegoats, attention is diverted away from real solutions in favor of superficial ones.
What solution do I propose? It's so obvious you already know what it is: compassion. That's it. Everything stems from that. I propose we focus more energy on being nicer to people, to befriending the alienated, being tolerant and open to new people and new experiences, recognize that we are all interconnected and that what happens to one of us can effect us all, teach students how to cope with anger. Some high schools are already beginning to teach conflict resolution classes. Teach students discipline with meditation or martial arts. The Buddha's 8-Fold Path is an excellent place to start. These are not new solutions; they just don't get you massive news coverage like when you blame MTV, cell phones, or Starbucks.
Additional Media Sources:
Debbie Schlussel's blog page, which has since been taken down
"On Why We Fight"
by Michael Rosch
What do the 9/11 terrorists, abortion clinic bombers, and Charles Darwin have in common? Actually, this is a trick question. Two of them are alike; one is entirely different. While the first two are examples of fundamentalists, the third merely promoted scientific findings and wrote a book.
There are a number of double standards found in our society concerning religion. One of the most ubiquitous today is that while Theists must commit violence to gain the title of "fundamentalist" or "extremist," an atheist receives that label merely by writing a book or speaking their views bluntly or unapologetically. According to an article in this week's Humanist Network News entitled, "Humanist Uses the F-word, Atheists Protest," Duncan Crary describes a recent incident where even a fellow member of the secular Humanist community chastised those the media has dubbed, "New Atheists," who publicly express harsh criticisms of religion, by calling them "fundamentalists." Citing Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett as examples of these "New Atheists," Crary quotes an article in Wired Magazine, which says they "...condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God."
George Santayana said, "A fanatic is someone who redoubles their efforts while losing sight of their goals." Somehow I doubt Santayana had the image of the genteel Englishman, Dawkins in mind. But apparently, it's not enough that the Theist majority incessantly claim they're being somehow oppressed and marginalized, without fellow secularists becoming apologists for the irrational Religious Right. Atheist Blogger Brian Flemming, creator of The God Who Wasn't There film, responds: "The term 'fundamentalist' necessarily implies dogmatism. It is simply an inaccurate description of someone who specifically rejects dogma of any kind. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris explicitly reject dogma... Fundamentalism is when reason fails you and you say, 'Well, this book says so and I'm sticking to it.' Christian fundamentalists happily and openly do just that. Dawkins and Harris do nothing of the kind."
But the larger double standard with regard to religion is how society coddles the religious like they're babies. In every other arena, critical analysis is not only acceptable, but demanded. Religion, however, gets a free pass because Theists are just a sensitive bunch and we mustn't hurt their delicate, little feelings. It's not enough society demands respect for those claiming to talk to invisible friends who may or may not ever answer their prayers; we're now told we must indulge those of faith and cater to their every wish. Last week, an exhibit featuring a life-sized chocolate depiction of Jesus Christ was to go on display in New York City. The artwork, amusingly titled, "My Sweet Lord," was removed after Christians prone to wearing Jesus' crucified image around their necks protested, calling the work grossly insensitive to their faith. They cued the violins. Then came the waterworks: "Poor us. Why are we Christians so persecuted?" First, can someone please explain to me what's offensive about chocolate? Second, how dare these Christians infringe upon individual expression because it doesn't meet with their personal taste (pun intended)? Society bends over backwards to please these selfish, ungrateful, over-sensitive, and delusional individuals, who despite their overwhelming control of government, have the audacity to claim underdog status! Has everyone taken some sort of crazy pill?
Science is bound by the Scientific Method, where every hypothesis must be falsifiable and undergo rigorous testing. Nothing in science is accepted without strong evidence, while to date, no supernatural claim has ever passed the intense critical scrutiny of the Scientific Method. Evolution is a certainty. Intelligent Design has more holes in it than Amadou Diallo. Yet the mainstream cling to the naïve notion that religion and science can coexist peacefully, encouraging debates between the two, where science is required to back up every fact with evidence, while religion is given no such restriction. This freedom to play the faith card turns any debate into a farce.
Those calling atheists "fundamentalists" are right on one account though. Atheists shouldn't have to fight against indoctrination. Atheists shouldn't have to fight against religious extremism. And if we lived in an ideal world where Theists didn't indoctrinate children, where Theists didn't blow up buildings, where Theists didn't impose their views on public school children and adults of all ages, where Theists didn't have lobbyists in Washington fighting every day to take away our constitutional freedoms—atheists wouldn't have to take action against these charlatans. Unfortunately, we don't live in Let's-All-Get-Along-Land, where it's okay to just stay neutral and avoid conflict. We live in a world where religious fundamentalists are waging wars on those who don't share their values and who don't believe their fairytales. This behavior cannot be ignored, because without those annoying gadflies refusing to submit and merely accept the world the way it is, there is no progress.
And while Christian pundits dish out harsh condemnations of others, it's not our problem they can't handle adversity themselves because, despite their "faith" in their teachings and the absolute power of their God to control the universe, they feel threatened by chocolate sculptures and a few media personalities. A strong belief system should value skepticism because it tests one's faith, which leads to stronger faith when that belief is verifiable as the truth. Only false prophets, teaching a weak faith, fear the questioning of that faith, because they know they might be wrong. Christians bitch and moan, as if oblivious to how good they have it, while atheists, statistically the most distrusted and overall despised minority group, are told to remain passive and like good little atheists, say "Yes Massa," when the Theists make demands.
Well, I say, "FUCK THAT!" Where would Black America be today if they remained passive? As Edmund Burke once said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." So I propose atheists embrace this so-called "New Atheist" model and raise hell (metaphically, since no such place could possibly exist). We need to stop being polite and enduring religion's unfounded, irrational bullshit. Unless we are blunt and uncompromising in calling out these con artists, they will continue to exploit us all. It's not militancy; it's honesty. Crying that we shove our atheism in people's faces is the pot calling the kettle black. Atheists need to be outspoken to break the stigma. I'm calling for atheists everywhere to stop playing religion's game and come back to reality, to help stop the Theist 'heist' and expose the 'lie' in belief.
"Letter to a Christian Statesman"
by Michael Rosch
Dear Governor Michael Huckabee,
I caught your announcement to run for president on Meet The Press and would like to congratulate you on entering the race. The interview was very informative, as I'd not previously been knowledgeable of your career and political views. However, I'm but a simple American worker and must admit to being confused by several things you had to say. I hope you will understand my confusion as you read this letter and will address my concerns when it's convenient.
During your interview on Meet The Press, Tim Russert quoted you as saying, "Let's face it. In our lifetimes, we've seen our country go from 'Leave it to Beaver' to 'Beavis and Butt-head,' from Barney Fife to Barney Frank." Since Barney Frank's only recent controversy concerned opposing an act restricting protests at soldiers' funerals on the civil liberties and constitutional grounds, which still passed unanimously in the Senate, Russert wasn't alone in thinking you were alluding to Franks' open homosexuality, considering your background, having attended both a Baptist university and Baptist seminary. You responded, "I think it was a matter of a rhetorical device to talk about the different cultural shift that we have, and it wasn't any particular attempt to be derisive of him. But...but there has been a huge cultural shift in this country."
This prompted Russert to mention your opposition to homosexual marriage and civil unions, to which you replied, "I have a problem with changing institutions that have served us." You see, what confuses me when you and many of your fellow Republicans discuss your love for traditional values is this crazy thought I have that you hate social progress, as if you view the majority of cultural changes in your lifetime to be for the worse. I know this couldn't have been what you meant since there was no real diversity of any kind in the Cleaver's neighborhood or Mayberry for that matter: no blacks, no Jews, no Muslims, no gays or transgendered folks, no Atheists, or Mexicans. Certainly you're not holding up this homogeneous world as the model society?
You further stated, "Before we change the definition of marriage to mean something different, I think our real focus ought to be on trying to strengthen heterosexual marriages because half of them are ending in divorce." Here too I found myself confused. What does one have to do with the other? With over 300 million Americans, can't we do both simultaneously? I mean, it's not like one guy has to personally change all these marriage licenses and tax forms by hand. Moreover, doing both would probably be more efficient, considering the higher divorce rate is largely an unanticipated side effect of the women's movement, and therefore, not likely to be resolved any time soon. Sure, it was easy to maintain marriages in patriarchal society, but now that women have grown more independent, the state of marriage probably will never return to what it was during that time of "rule of thumb" when husbands could legally beat their wives with sticks no thicker than their thumb-you know, what you would call the good old days.
Once women started to attend colleges and build careers, it was inevitable that they'd have less time to start a family and manage the household. And while yes, the lines dividing traditional gender roles have begun to blur, I think you'd agree that the loss of somewhat meaningless labels is ultimately a small price to pay for progress. After all, without the social progress you've seen in your lifetime, Nancy Pelosi wouldn't be Speaker of the House, Condoleezza Rice would be a very different kind of secretary, Barack Obama wouldn't be allowed to attend the same schools as white folks, let alone run for president, and Barnie Frank might have shared the fate of Harvey Milk, who was killed by someone who apparently ate too many Twinkies. Not to mention the high female death toll due to botched backroom abortions. Now I understand that as an upper class, white, Baptist, male, those times must have felt like nothing short of heaven, but for everyone else, your good old days seem as savage as The Dark Ages.
But in your interview with Russert, you continued, "That's a real problem in this country. There are a lot of kids who are growing up in a very, very confused and conflicted world because-not because we have same-sex marriage, but because we're seeing a real failure in the tradition heterosexual marriage." So you do belong to the same party as the president, but even most Republicans are beginning to grasp that we shouldn't perpetually rest our faith in things and institutions that fail. In fact, didn't Albert Einstein define insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?"
Lastly, when Russert asked whether you thought homosexual couples should be allowed to adopt, you responded, "That's a question I'm not sure that...that we have a positive answer to. And until we absolutely could say it, then...then I-I'm always hesitant to change those institutions." Are you seriously suggesting that children in foster care wouldn't be better off in a safe, loving household where the guardians simply happened to be a gay couple? I must admit, I don't understand this love Republicans have for adoption. Anti-choice Republicans in the abortion debate often praise the adoption alternative. And I often find myself wondering how many of these conservatives actually would adopt kids when they are themselves fertile? I admit, I personally wouldn't, and I don't think most people would either. So the adoption scenario seems bleak at best, and if made to house millions more unplanned lives that would have otherwise been aborted or which could otherwise be adopted by homosexuals, it would likely be an enormous drain on the national economy? Who's going to pay for all these unwanted kids growing up in foster care anyway?
Governor Huckabee, I propose that you take a long, hard look at this cultural change you're so troubled by and that you ask yourself if this great nation we love has grown more or less divisive, more or less of a land of opportunity in your lifetime? In a 1996 interview, Congressman Barney Frank said, "I'm used to being in the minority. I'm a left-hand, gay, Jew. I've never felt, automatically, a member of any majority." Being a left-handed Jew myself as well as an Atheist, I sincerely hope that you consider what I have said and will devote your term and your presidential campaign to further promote justice for all.
Your fellow American,
"On The War On Rationality or On Reasons Pat Robertson's a Bloody Psycho"
by Michael Rosch
If you live in the U.S. and you live in the year 2007, then watch out for a terrorist attack. I'm not saying this because it's obvious to anyone who hasn't been living under a rock (or Iraq) for the past five years; I'm just passing along Jesus' message, entrusted to God's personal emissary on Earth. No, not The Pope. Not the Dalai Lama, stupid. Who else would God entrust his most important prophesy of things to come but his BFF, Pat Robertson, duh!
Now I know you're thinking two things: why doesn't God tell us things that aren't obvious, and why does God frequently lie to Pat Robertson, like in January, 2004, when God said Bush would easily win re-election when Bush only received 51% of the vote and in May, 2006, when God told Robertson about a tsunami that was supposed to hit America's coastline that year? Well, there are easy answers: God likes to surprise people, God only watches Fox News, and God doesn't get The Weather Channel...or more likely, Pat Robertson's just a liar.
But to quote Nick Nailer from the film Thank You For Smoking, "If you argue correctly, you're never wrong." Robertson's "predictions" are impossible to disprove. According to The Boston Globe, he said last January that God punished then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with a stroke for relinquishing Israeli-controlled land to the Palestinians. Nobody can prove otherwise. Bush did win re-election, so it's easy to ignore the part about him "easily" winning. And no tsunami hit the American coastline, but there were heavy rains and flooding in New England — and that's sort of like a tsunami — close enough for God anyway. Then if neither of those solutions satisfies you, Robertson admits, "I have a relatively good track record. Sometimes I miss." That's convincing enough. I mean, God's not omniscient or anything, right?
And then there's Ann Stratton, who despite her even more impressive faith-healing abilities, was passed over for bearer of God's prophecies again this year. According to the December 17th issue of The New York Times Magazine, Stratton cured a woman of brain cancer, brought a man out of a coma, cured a boy of deafness, and resurrected a dead man right in my neighboring town of Englewood, New Jersey. She hasn't gotten around to regenerating any amputees' limbs yet, but I'm sure that'll be any day now. Sure most of these people were already receiving medical treatment in a hospital at the time, but everybody knows science is frequently wrong and it was clearly her magical powers that really saved them. How odd the greatest miracles in human history didn't even make the evening news. And one wonders why Ann Stratton was in the hospital at all since she has the power of healing herself and preventing the will of God himself. Though if you had such a power, wouldn't you devote the rest of your days to working in a hospital or in a region where a healer would be particularly useful? Indeed, it's a shame so many other people have to die simply because they don't cross Ann Stratton's path.
Okay, I've grown tired of this ironic tone. I admit I don't actually believe Robertson receives text messages from God or that Ann Stratton can resurrect the dead. I believe that like every other faith healer and messenger of Jesus, Xenu, Zeus, Thor, etc., they are con artists, preying (not praying) on desperate people willing to buy into superstitious nonsense. The UFO's hovering over O'Hare Airport last fall were more convincing than any of Stratton's "miracles." They're either liars or psychotic, and it's OBVIOUS. And yet, almost nobody states this aloud, and those that do are branded "extremist Atheists" or "secularists."
But this Christmas season, Santa brought something new. As Right Wingers like Bill O'Reilly cried over the secularization of America and the non-existent "War on Christmas," two Atheists, Brian Fleming and Brian Sapient, led the charge, giving them a War on Christmas in the form of "The Blasphemy Challenge." Fleming and Sapient challenged closeted Atheists and Rationalists to upload videos of themselves committing Christianity's one unforgivable sin onto Youtube.com. No, the sin wasn't murder. Remember, if the soul is immortal, a murderer just brings you to God faster, and what is so bad about that? No, the unforgivable sin, according to Mark 3:29, is blaspheming the Holy Spirit. So far, over 800 people have accepted the challenge, denied the existence of the Holy Spirit, and claimed their reward: a free copy of Fleming's documentary film, The God Who Wasn't There, which convincingly argues why religion is silly and why Jesus was nothing more than a mythological character on par with Hercules, Osiris, and Quetzalcoatl.
The challenge comes on the heels of the release of several recently published books, such as Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation, both offering a critical look at religion. The ideas in these books are not new; they offer the best rational explanations science has to explain our universe. And yet, many still would rather believe in ancient superstitions. And not surprisingly, 55% of Americans admit they'd rather trick their kids into believing in Santa Claus for as long as possible, according to a poll published in the December 24th New York Times Magazine, than be honest with them so the children can experience that sense of wonder from appreciating the vastness of our universe instead of from a lie.
In no other arena but religion is our society so compliant and completely willing to dismiss the burden of proof. And while pharmaceutical companies are required by law to prove their medications do as they claim, faith healers on par with the quackery of homeopathy, once called "an outrage to human reason," get a free pass. Meanwhile, this B.S. trickles down into our schools as disclaimer labels are added to Science textbooks, suggesting evidence of Intelligent Design is of equal value as the rigorously researched and tested Theory of Evolution. Now even outside the classroom, on student field trips, lies from religious groups run rampant. Despite most geologists dating the Grand Canyon at about 5 to 6 million years old, Bush administration appointees have pressured park officials not to disclose the actual age of the canyon and to allow the continued sale at the park of a book claiming Noah's flood rather than geological forces created The Grand Canyon. "In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. This flies in the face of all reason and teaches our kids factually incorrect information simply to avoid offending the kids of delusional and ignorant parents who refuse to live in reality.
So why should a rational individual care if people choose to ignore rationality? I care because they affect how I live my life. Holding back Stem Cell Research affects all of us. Forcing "alternative" theories like Intelligent Design into our classrooms affects our children, as does the recent decision to keep student visitors of the Grand Canyon in the dark as to the canyon's actual age to be culturally sensitive to those child whose parents told them the whole universe hadn't exist yet. This retreat from science and rationality does cause actual harm. Faith healers convincing sick people to throw away their medication do actual harm. The Pope might have pardoned Galileo but Theists have yet to learn the lesson not to meddle with science.
So I propose rational individuals like yourselves rise up and join me in fighting the irrational. Get out there and remind people that we live in the 21st Century. Tell them tealeaves; exorcisms, spiritualists, mediums, astrology, dowsing, voodoo, levitation (don't sue me L. Ron) and all matters of divination and the supernatural are for dummies. Sorry Ichabod, there's no Headless Horseman. P.T. Barnum's words ring as true today as they ever were: There's a sucker born every minute.
"On The Ashes of American Flags"
by Michael Rosch
This summer, while the troops were overseas fighting for the purpose of not running, the Senate was fighting terrorism at home, not by improving the transparency between intelligence agencies or some shit like that, but by attempting to ban the flag burning of hippy liberals with deadly Constitutions strapped to their chests.
Now last May, in my second column, I wrote of the absurdity of people caring more about the "sanctity" of the national anthem than the actual freedoms it depicts. This sums up my opinion about the flag. Apparently, America still isn't getting it. You bring up flag burning in a conversation and most Americans respond as if you're suggesting burning their kids. Our national slogan should maybe be: America — enemy of flaming flags and flaming fags.
I must admit, I don't see what the big deal is. It's not like the flag is a great work of art. It's not even particular artful. It's a couple stripes and a square full of tiny stars; my four-year-old niece could do that. Who ever came up with the rule that flag designs had to be so bland in the first place? If it was a great American work of art from an American style, I could maybe see rallying around that. Like, what if the flag was a reproduction of Asher Durand's painting Kindred Spirits from the Hudson River School of landscape painting, a very American style. It depicts painter Thomas Cole and poet William Cullen Bryant (both American) standing over a precipice in the Catskill Mountains, an example of the American wilderness. And the painting is even about unity — what could be more American than that? I'm just saying, don't you think that would be a much better symbol for our nation than those racially divided stripes?
I actually think the only reason we're not taxing the hell out of Puerto Rico right now is because America just doesn't know where to stick that pesky extra star. And yet, to this day, so many Americans have such an irrational, emotional attachment to the flag. They don't care if you tell them they sent their kids to die for no good reason, but you set the flag on fire and suddenly they're up in arms. It reminds me of the scene in the film Pleasantville, when Toby McGuire runs into the firehouse, screaming, "Fire!" and no one moves, but when he then cries, "Cat?" the firefighters rush to the rescue.
I've heard the angry words from veterans crying about their friends who died to protect that flag (apparently not for the safety and liberty the flag represented). I'm sorry, but if they did die literally fighting to protect the flag, they're either retarded or they simply caught the 3:15 train to Crazytown, U.S.A., cause that's the worst exchange rate I've ever heard. Then there are the Republicans who insist flag burning "emboldens" our enemies who then apparently hold the most awesome parties every time a liberal does or says anything liberal-like.
Yes, the flag represents our nation, founded on revolutionary principles of democracy, but IT'S JUST A FLAG!!! It can't put food on the table, protect your kids, or even keep you warm in winter. IT'S JUST A FLAG!! Is protecting the sanctity of the flag itself worth more than a human life? During the Union's occupation of New Orleans in 1862, the military governor, Benjamin Franklin Butler, sentenced William B. Mumford to death simply for removing the flag. Since 1989, the First Amendment protected defacing the flag after the legal case of Texas v. Johnson, which was reaffirmed a year later in U.S. v. Eichman.
Remarkably, most of those offended by the idea of flag burning belong to one of the three Abrahamic religions and prescribe to the no graven images clause of the Second Commandment. This kind of flag worship is the very reason the rule was written in the first place. Nationalism is as much a form of idolatry as anything else. Why is it that a rational non-theist has to remind theists of their own rules?
I propose we make flag burning a regular tradition on the 4th of July, not because I hate America, but because blind nationalism is never a good thing. Today, our flag more often than not, tends to not represent the values of freedom this country is supposed to stand for, but instead, is now regarded with the same sanctity as the crown, which our founding fathers fought so hard to get away from.
To me, this flag burning tradition would serve as a symbol of annual renewal, like in News Years celebrations or the Jewish Yom Kippur. The difference is that it specifically calls on Americans to look back at the previous year and evaluate whether we as a nation had stayed true to our values or had fallen short...a kind of baptism by fire. The tradition would then end with a promise to not make the same mistakes we've made in the past and to recommit ourselves to the cause of freedom and democracy (not the Bush kind). Why do something as extreme as to burn the flag?
1. Such extreme action forces people to think about the state of the nation
2. It detaches Americans from the blind nationalism that comes from worshipping the flag like some sort of idol
3. Burning shit is fun, especially when it feels subversive
4. America was founded on subversion — from the founding fathers, to Twain's irreverent wit, to Whitman's free verse, to Griffith's parallel editing in film, to Hughes' defiance of the law of gravity, to Charlie Parker's improvisational Jazz, to Hendrix's improved cover of the national anthem, to The Ramones' causeless anger matched with their utter lack of any instrument-playing ability.
Giving a middle finger to the establishment is what America does best. Even the British have Guy Fawkes Day, a celebration that reminds their leaders they're not invincible. I hope you'll join me this Independence Day in the new annual flag burning tradition. To quote the band, Wilco, "I would like to solute the ashes of American flags."
"On The Myth That Your Vote Counts"
by Michael Rosch
First let me apologize for my long hiatus (You know you missed me). I do have a good excuse though. I've been on the run from P. Diddy...or is it just Diddy now? It's not Puff Daddy again, is it? In any case, I suspect he's been chasing me ever since Election Day, when I...gasp...didn't vote. I know. It's shocking. I swear I only didn't do it once. I promise to vote next time, honest. Well, actually I haven't decided yet.
This really was the first time not voting, even in a midterm election. In the past, I've always been a strong advocate of voting, especially during the 2004 election. So what happened in two years that kept me from the voting booth this time around? Maybe a little disillusionment. Not only did the candidate I voted for lose the popular vote in a humiliating defeat against the most unpopular president in our nation's history, but I knew he wouldn't be much better. I gradually began to accept the possibility the current political system wouldn't allow a great leader to even compete at the highest levels. And I began to question whether my one vote really mattered...
...which it turns out it didn't. The Democrats still took New Jersey, and by many more than a single vote, all without me. So I thought about it. It seems that, statistically, I have a better chance of winning the lottery and being struck by lightning on the same day than of having my one vote make the difference in a national election. Think about it. A candidate would have to have won my state, not by 1 percent, but by a single vote. And in the incredibly unlikely event that that happened, the decision would fall on the Electoral College. So democratic romanticism aside, can a single vote change an election?
It is said that democracy began in Greece. In Athens, all voting citizens were permitted to both speak and vote in the direct democracy of the Assembly. Further, 5,000 citizens regularly attended at least one meeting of the popular Assembly. And along with the juries, most officers and magistrates were allotted by a random drawing of citizens as well. But most importantly, citizens were actively engaged in civic life.
See, the crisis we're facing in this country is not a new one. Part of it is voter apathy. But there's another problem as well. In his treatise, On Liberty, John Stuart Mill called it "the tyranny of the majority," where the majority in a democracy uses their larger numbers to oppress a part of their number. In this way, democracies become like dictatorships. Mill's solution was to build a society of open communication and intellectual discourse. He believed that it's only through stimulating our higher, rational faculties that societies could reach wise decisions and that, "The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs or impede their efforts to obtain it."
Today, most people vote out of a sense of civic responsibility. But then they return to their homes and their jobs until the next election, when they vote again and then return to their lives again. And the cycle repeats.
I didn't vote this year because for the first time I saw that booth as another governmental system of control. You see, most people really vote to relieve themselves of guilt...the guilt that comes from not standing up and actively fighting injustice...the guilt that comes from knowing that with each passing day, they grow more complacent and shirk their democratic responsibilities. What's rotten in the states of America is that voters can simply rationalize not taking arms against a sea of troubles to end them by declaring, "Don't blame me. I voted for the other guy."
Voting booths, like memorials, have become sin-eaters, locking away for safe keeping the emotions and guilt for all we've done only to reemerge when we visit the site-the illusion of control. Oh, the power of the booth...the box. The inscription above reads: "Freedom is Slavery." Or maybe "Abandon all hope, ye who enter."
But the day we stop believing democracy can work is the day we lose it, and there is hope. But democracy can only function so long as the voters are informed citizens. It's the only defense against tyranny. We must encourage voters to learn the issues. Without an informed citizenship, the same dumbasses will continue to win elections.
So I propose that in this day in age, if you truly are someone who wishes to make a real difference in our great democracy, don't simply promote a flawed system that would have you believe you only need to vote once every four years (or even once every year), and then you can walk away thinking you made a difference and fulfilled your civic responsibility. Get involved. Get actively involved in the debate. Make your voice heard. Research the issues and form an informed opinion. We can start by requiring Political Science and Civics classes in public schools. Encourage deeper discussion about the issues and the candidates before voters enter the polls. Seek out worthy candidates and advertise them over the less desirable ones. And if you're one of those individuals who doesn't just complain about government, but goes, "Why don't those assholes just do-" then you might make a good statesman. We sure could use more of those. In this 3, 000 miles of country, one vote every year isn't enough anymore to "make a difference." To be an active participant in the democratic process, you have to be willing to go the extra mile.
"On The 'When In Rome' Mentality"
by Michael Rosch
A few weeks ago, I was at one of my usual haunts, a little bar and grill called Bennigans. Hey, what can I say? I'm American. I love a good burger every now and again. Well, on this particular evening, a rather large group of young tourists shuffled in from the hotel across the street. They gathered into the bar and crowded around the "telly" to watch their soccer, or football, or whatever the hell they want to call it, and made quite the loud spectacle of themselves. These annoying, rowdy tourists, we were told, were from Australia. Now, I thought, had this been Europe, the boisterous crowd in the room would have been the Americans, and the quieter Americans in the corner booth would have asked themselves, what's wrong with these guys? Don't they know they were supposed to check their "American-ness" at the airport?
It's that time again. Now that the weather's getting colder, we're all starting to think about getting out of dodge for a while, perhaps to a warmer climate. But traveling these days seems to be not without it's risks, right? We've all been warned about the dangers of being an American in a foreign land, even if that foreign land is among our fellow Westerners to the east, Europe. In fact, we're told, our good friends in Europe especially despise us.
And so we're advised to play down our American-ness, to not feed into the stereotypes of "the ugly American," and to do our best to fit in. Now, on the onset, that doesn't sound like a bad idea. When visiting another's home it's always polite to follow the customs of the host — being their invited guest. And certainly this is even truer when interacting with foreign cultures. So yes, even though I traditionally promote individuality and "being yourself" over using a false persona to fit in with a crowd, I too agree that it is usually best to go along with the culture whose welcoming you into their home. After all, "when in Roman, do as the Romans do," right?
That being said, however, my stance on individuality is clear: one mustn't be afraid to be themselves in face of adversity. Now here's why I'm concerned. Are we, as Americans, being encouraged to play down our more obnoxious character traits because it's simply good manners, or out of fear of being victims of anti-American violence?
These days, I think it's become the latter. And if we are holding back our less Euro-friendly behaviors out of fear of violence, I think we're doing it for the wrong reasons. Correction, if this is the reason, then we're changing our behavior for the worst reason. The distinction must be recognized. Choosing to follow the group out of politeness is every bit an expression of freedom and democracy as choosing to go against the group, whereas blending in because of fear of adversity is tyranny.
We've all heard the cliché, "herd mentality." We find many case studies and experiments in Psychology classes, and yet we still manage to let ourselves be controlled by a fear of greater numbers. Though I find it interesting that while there's a fear of greater numbers, Arjun Appadurai quite convincingly argues in his book, Fear of Small Numbers, that majorities too greatly fear minority populations.
I find myself reminded of just how subtle coercion can be when tied to the desire to fit in. For instance, someone was recently telling me about Burning Man, the weeklong arts festival held out in the desert every year. They were planning to buy more appropriate attire for the event. Although I have never attended Burning Man myself, and so cannot speak of it with any authority. As a member of arts community, I found the thought of "appropriate" attire offensive. What is this, Rocky Horror? What ever happened to the "come as you are" ideals that bohemia has always embraced? For me, this illustrates just how insidious the "herd mentality" can be when even a group of like-minded individuals gathering in celebration of their individuality will so blatantly conform to what they perceive as appropriate in order to fit in.
I also find myself thinking about where this fear of being exposed as an American in regions we're not currently engaged in hostilities with comes from, especially when recent studies show that the world is actually less violent today than it was during most of the twentieth century. Certainly our King George had a hand in it, but as much as I loathe to admit it, this is one problem that the media is also largely responsible for. However, this is merely a small negative consequence to something the media did right, because throughout the twentieth century, as the media expanded, global violence was exposed to those who ordinarily wouldn't have known about it. Then, instead of becoming habituated to it or desensitized by it, the world chose to work towards stopping it. Vietnam was the first war brought into America's living rooms, and with enough political pressure, we brought the troops home.
So while the media has heightened our fears of growing global violence, the world is the safest it's been in our lifetime. And so, next time I travel outside the good old U.S.A., whether I choose to represent my homeland with bells on, figuratively or literally, or opt to be the polite guest, quietly participating in the traditions of my hosts, my behavior will not be based on fear. I will not be intimated, and I propose you not be either.
"On Why The Chicken Crossed The Road"
by Michael Rosch
Why did the chicken cross the road? I suppose Bush's answer would be, because of the terrorists. Colin Hanna seems more concerned with keeping the chicken from crossing the road, thereby preventing the chicken from stealing jobs on the other side.
At its core, it's a philosophical joke about motivation. It begins with a basic setup. Answers to the eternal question can range from the silly punch line of a five year old to a more offensive ethnic, religious, or political one. That's why it's a classic. Then of course there's The Aristocrats. Since the age of the joke is over, comedians now favor whole routines. And The Aristocrats routine begins with a simple setup involving a family pitching an act to a talent agent. The agent asks what the act entails. We're then told the most offensive, filthy, disturbing act the joke-teller can improvise. When the agent asks what they call their act, they always respond with the same answer: The Aristocrats!
The punch line isn't funny. In fact, it isn't supposed to be funny. What is the point of this routine? The same as many other jokes: to subvert expectations, to surprise. And it is in that surprise that the unfunny is rendered funny. The punch line is so benign compared to its setup that, like an Andy Kaufman routine, it is more a joke on the audience than for the audience.
According to Physiologists and evolutionists, laughter accelerates respiration, increases circulation, and raises blood pressure. Sigmund Freud described laughter as a "discharge of psychical energy" saying tension is built up and laughter serves as a satisfying release. In the book The Catharsis of Comedy, Dana Sutton argues that laughter relieves an audience of bad feelings.
That brings me to the real purpose of this column. This week, my brother reminded me of the first thing I told him on September 11th. I was living in New York at the time, and it had been well into the day before my brother had been able to reach me by phone. Aware that this tragic event was occurring on, of all days, his birthday, the first thing I said was something to the effect of, "I wanted to do something special for your birthday, so I had them light some candles for you," referring, quite perversely, to the flaming towers. My remark was what Comedian Jeff Garlin might call, "a big bowl of wrong," and shocked even me. At the time, I'm not sure I knew why I said it, but it harbors back to something I said in a previous column, what I called my Five-Minute Rule.
While many cling to the notion that humor making light of tragedies often comes "too soon," I believe that five minutes after a tragedy, it's okay to joke about it. Anything before that and you should be ashamed of yourself. Of course the five minutes are entirely arbitrary and are themselves, meant for comic effect. I come from the school of thought that doesn't actually believe it is ever too soon to make light of a tragedy, because one of the central purposes of humor is to cope with grief and tragedy. What's the cliché? "You have to laugh to keep from crying." Something Mark Twain once said that I found particularly insightful was, "The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven." Similarly, Lenny Bruce once said, "All my humor is based on destruction and despair. If the whole world were tranquil, without disease and violence, I'd be standing in the breadline." Further, I can't think of one great comedian who hasn't had a troubled background or wasn't perpetually on the verge of self-destruction. And many great comedians have self-destructed. Robin Williams too just checked himself into drug rehab.
And it's because of this close relationship to despair and tragedy that comics are given license to cross so many boundaries. Still, you'll always find people who say another man's humor goes "too far." Last year, British Prince Harry showed up to a private costume party with a swastika armband, and scandal broke out. People cried for an apology, claiming there was nothing funny about the Holocaust. Some even declared it proof that his generation doesn't understand the reality of that tragedy (mostly from people who themselves weren't 5 years old when it happened). Yet, being of Harry's generation and of Jewish descent myself, I think we do get it. I just think my generation has enough distance from it that we don't treat it quite as sacrosanct, and can more easily discuss it with irreverence. And as for the Holocaust not being funny, are you kidding me? When has the Holocaust not been funny? Hitler himself has been comic gold at least since 1940, when Charlie Chaplin satirized him on film in, The Great Dictator. Certain figures will likely forever be the subject of jokes: Hitler, Jesus, George W. Bush, Chuck Norris, and the guy who wrote the script to Batman and Robin.
But as the 5th anniversary of the September 11th tragedy approaches, I think about my own experience that day, the great tragedy of my generation. I woke up that Tuesday in my college dorm room on East 7th Street at 9:30 to get ready for an 11:00 class. My father called and told me a plane hit the World Trade Center. I found my roommates already watching it on the television in our common room. I watched, not certain whether to shower and head to class, but opted to stay put. We watched the towers fall on TV It was surreal walking the Manhattan streets that afternoon. I saw the billowing smoke down Third Avenue. The streets were unusually quiet for that time. Everyone moved like zombies, and the sound of planes caused everyone to stop and look up in the sky, fearing the worst. Several students were on their way to Beth Israel Medical Center to donate blood. Given the severity of the situation, I tagged along. But when we got there, we were turned away because their blood facilities were already at maximum capacity. They told us to come back in a few days. I never did.
As much as I regret not contributing blood that day, I was proud of the reason we were turned away: enough people stepped up to perform their civic duty in a time of crisis. In the weeks following the tragedy, I attended candlelight vigils in Washington Square and Union Square Parks, and in the months that followed, I remember every day brought the scent of burnt ash, a constant reminder of the tragedy.
Some people cry. I laugh. Laughing about a tragedy just comes naturally to me. And I've come to view humor as a sign of enlightenment. If you've never heard the Dalai Lama laugh, I highly recommend it. I heard it once in a documentary. It's a strange kind of laugh-the kind of laugh you imagine an enlightened person would have, like Yoda's laugh before he reveals his true identity in The Empire Strikes Back. I propose that on this day of remembrance for those who died on 9/11, that Americans escape the mourning and the terrorist fears for awhile and find a reason to laugh, because laughter is the best medicine, and in times of darkness, and in the wake of tragedy, truly the best way to cross the road.
"On Flying the Unfriendly Skies"
by Michael Rosch
This week, while millions of B movie fans crowd into theaters to be scared by Snakes on a Plane, the U.S. and the U.K. are considering the possibility of something potentially scarier...snacks on a plane!
In the wake of the August 10 airline attacks that never [cough] got off the ground, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has instituted a new series of temporary security measures involving the banning or inspection of such products as hair gels, baby formulas, beverages, and lotions. And why were your Herbal Essences considered a threat to national security? The would-be hijackers intended to detonate "liquid explosive devices" smuggled onboard in seemingly harmless hair-care product bottles. And just like that, a cigar was no longer just a cigar, a can of Coke became a potential weapon of mass destruction, and a nation was once again reduced to panic and fear.
Now Americans are again being asked to roll over and submit to major lifestyle changes because of the terrorists. And once again, I turn to my favorite quote by my buddy Benjamin Franklin: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." But maybe ole' Ben just doesn't get it. That's exactly what British home secretary, John Reid thinks. According to an August 20 New York Times Magazine article by Christopher Caldwell, Reid says those civil libertarians who protest such changes "just don't get it." Similarly, Reid's boss, Tony Blair, has stated that this threat "means traditional civil liberty arguments are not so much wrong as just made for another age." In other words, Reid and Blair regard civil liberties as entirely alienable privileges.
I disagree with the limeys' thinking here and with the present course of action us Yankees are taking to resolve these security breeches. This isn't simply about putting safety above minor inconveniences. It's about setting a bad precedent, where we put our freedoms aside and play the terrorists' game. I can't help but wish our nation had some sort of legal document that might agree that our civil rights are more than simple alienable privileges, but rather inalienable rights. Hmm. Oh, that's right. There is such a document. Though, to be fair, the British have never really been big fans of that particular document.
In my experience, no fare temporarily raised with the promise of a roll back has ever actually returned to its original cost. Similarly, I don't expect an end to this "temporary" reduction of freedoms after the crises has abated.
There are three reasons I am particularly skeptical of these new security measures. First, as one of our nation's top educators, Clifton Taulbert, said during a lecture, "The day we decide our shoplifters are more important than our customers, you know what we end up with? More shoplifters and less customers."
Second, I'm of the belief that there isn't a security system in the world that a smart man can't think his way through. Therefore, under the present philosophy, we're likely to see ever-increasing security measures as the terrorists continually discover ways to defeat each of them, one by one, ad infinitum.
Thirdly, because there'll never be a perfect security system in place to prevent terrorist hijackings, by trying to make air travel perfectly safe beyond the point of reason, we risk losing the very way of life the terrorists seek to destroy in the first place. I'm reminded of Churchill's response at the dawn of the Second World War, when his aid asked whether he wanted to close London's theatres, museums, and concert halls out of respect for the war effort: "Good God, man, then what are we fighting for?" I too wonder, if we take away our own freedoms to keep the terrorists from destroying those very freedoms, we'll have done their jobs for them. Then what are we fighting for?
Freedom is not something that can be bartered with. You can't put it in a box for safe keeping until the bad men leave, and then pull it out again. Civil liberties are not mere privileges; they are inalienable rights and the true principles our nation was founded on-ours, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
As for airline security, a July 23 article in The New York Times Magazine written by Walter Kim may have indirectly offered a much better long-term solution to terrorist hijackings by re-imagining air travel as we know it, replacing our commercial airlines with smaller "microjets" built to carry only six to eight passengers. None of these planes would be large enough to cause the kind of destruction Al Quada would cream their pants over.
Today, the terrorists are using liquid explosives in hair products. Tomorrow the weapons may be in their honey-roasted peanuts. But biological weapons can be carried inside a terrorist's body. So if we're going to continue to ban all objects we perceive as potential weapons, I propose we do away with the passengers altogether. We can send robotic drones to travel instead, until of course, we suspect the drones are carrying weapons or have begun to revolt against their human masters. Then we'll have to ban the drones until we eventually just ban air travel altogether. It'll probably be for the best anyway. I hate air travel.
On Reporting in The Age Of The Nuclear Option
by Michael Rosch
In every age, those in power have wielded fear as a tool for abuse, and there's never been a greater threat to them than the investigative reporter. In the Twentieth Century, America saw two occasions where men exploiting their power were brought down by the press. The recent film Good Night, and Good Luck recounts one of them: Edward R. Murrow's fight against Joe McCarthy. It was largely the legends of men like Murrow, and Woodward and Burnstein that once made me want to be a journalist myself. Though, the romanticized vision of reporters, like private eyes, depicted in Noir films and Superman comics admittedly played a factor as well. I took Journalism classes in college because I believed in that mission of finding truth, regardless of politics, and reporting it to the masses. Something about it seemed noble. But when I learned what modern newsmen have really become, I grew disillusioned with the whole process.
Today, reporters, by large, allow themselves to be ruled by politicians. They bare little resemblance to the mythical, daring truth-seekers willing to go wherever they had to for the story. They don't keep a watchful eye on the politicians; they are politicians. This realization was the main reason I abandoned my journalist fantasy.
I've stated that the American news media has betrayed the American people. I'm still not retracting that statement. I still think they are guilty of gross negligence, having failed to do their jobs by properly criticizing America's most dangerous enemies. Journalists perform an essential duty in a society. It goes beyond partisan politics. While those who support the current regime attack the media, it is a journalist's duty to critically question government policy, whichever party is in power.
Paradoxically, while criticized by the Right for not playing ball that is exactly what the press today is doing. The current administration has taken the classic "rule-them-through-fear" tactic to new heights by breeding distrust of the media with accusations of anti-Republican or anti-American bias. But we must remember what Edward R. Murrow says in the film Good Night and Good Luck: "We must not confuse dissent from disloyalty."
As Michael Parenti describes in his work, "Inventing Reality: The Politics of the Mass Media," the methods of manipulation, ranging from direct intervention to subtle coercion towards self-censorship, can seem imperceptible. For instance, informative critical debates can easily become "info-tainment" in the form of irrational shouting matches. Last year, Jon Stewart publicly admonished Tucker Carlson for being complicit in this very behavior. In the process, Stewart reopened the dialogue on the role of newscasters.
The brilliance of this administration's strategy is that the media themselves begins making small compromises in the editing room. They change their own words to appear less critical of the administration, and in doing so, truly destroy their credibility, as, with each change, they become more a tool of the ruling body. They've fallen into this trap.
One instance of direct intervention on the part of government was illustrated in this week's episode of 60 Minutes, in a story that originally aired on March 19. The story, titled, "Rewriting The Science," focused on James Hansen, arguably the world's leading researcher on Global Warming. Hansen explained how the government repeatedly misrepresented his findings: first, the Clinton administration in making Global Warming seem worse than it was, and second, the Bush administration in making it seem less dire. 60 Minutes showed comparisons between early drafts of his reports with editor's notes insisting on slight word changes that would suggest greater uncertainty about the threat of Global Warming and the final drafts that included those very changes.
The administration currently closes off admittance to White House press briefings to those they believe to be critical of their policies, and so the news media have chosen to keep silent. And in doing so, they've sold out their nation to be invited to all the right events. They've ceased being investigative reporters and have become merely mouthpieces for those who hope to deceive us, and agents of the status quo. And every day, we become more willing to accept things the way they are, compliant and complacent, until we ourselves become complicit in the lies.
I'm reminded of why I once dreamed of being a journalist in the first place, and of what journalism is capable of at its best. Now is the time we need our news media more than ever. And I sincerely believe that it is not a losing battle. I believe you can never truly silence the critical press or reasonable dissent. But we must never forget the sacrifices of men like Edward R. Murrow who risked everything including his job and his reputation on a cause that was for the moment unpopular. Murrow fought to bring down the tyranny of evil men like Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn, who ruled through fear. And like David to Goliath, he defeated them.
The role of the news media in our society is to seek truth, to inform, and to provide needed checks and balances to our government. There is a reason why politicians fear the press. The one thing powerful men fear is losing their power, and in even the most oppressive of regimes, the press remains the most effective weapon against their power.
I propose that the news media fight to restore the nobility to this once great industry, recommit to investigative methods, seek the truth, restore sanity to the news and to The Republic, and finally to heed Edward R. Murrow's warning from Good Night and Good Luck of the dangerous path journalism is heading: "To those who say people wouldn't look; they wouldn't be interested; they're too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost. This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. Good night, and good luck."
On Moving on Minus the Dot Org
by Michael Rosch
Well, the summer blockbuster season has arrived and I, like many others, have been shelling out the ten bucks for one disappointment after another. But I noticed something curious while leaving the theater the other night. I passed one auditorium with a sign next to the door. This was no ordinary sign; it was beeping.
The sign warned that a trailer for the Oliver Stone film, World Trade Center, was going to play before the film in that auditorium. Now, I know that everything Stone's done since the '80s has been a traumatic experience, but c'mon!
You have to understand my surprise considering I've never seen anything like this in my experience as a filmgoer. Actually, that's not entirely true. I've seen this sort of warning once before outside of theaters that showed Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. Now, if only we could find some connection between these two films. Hmm. What could they have in common? Oh, that's right. Both revolve around 9/11. That's why the sign's there. They broke the first two rules of 9/11. The first rule is you do not talk about 9/11. The second rule is you do not talk about 9/11.
I've been told, "A lot of people are sensitive to what happened on 9/11 still. They don't want it in there face or at least let them be warned before they see it. It was a hard day for all of us, but some people choose to not think about it as their way of dealing with it. I look at it like a warning on a roller coaster ride. Those with weak hearts should not ride!" We have a term for this: DENIAL. It is not a healthy way of coping with grief. In fact, it's the opposite of a healthy way of coping with grief.
I'm reminded of a thought I had a few months ago when attending a screening of the film United 93. I went alone because my friends were too afraid to see it. I remember it being a very surreal and visceral experience. I heard the stories of people crying after that film and I honestly didn't expect to have a physical reaction myself, but I felt a strange, intense reaction at some points just seeing the few isolated images of the Towers and knowing what was going to happen. Curiously, no signs were deemed necessary for The Passion of the Christ, another upsetting film that caused intense physiological reactions.
I still hope more people come around to see this film. You don't have to look at my DVD collection to realize that one of my favorite themes in films is heroism (perhaps obsession is the right word). But I find myself equally inspired by stories about real life heroes who aren't just heroes in a superficial way. United 93 was a story that I know many don't want to relive, but I think that more important than remembering the tragedy of that day, we should remember the sacrifice of the passengers of flight United 93, who stopped their plane from crashing into who-knows-what, killing who-knows-how-many people.
I never thought this film was exploiting a recent tragedy. Rather, the families involved gave their blessings, and many others involved played themselves in the film because they felt the need to revisit that day.
I don't think this film was too soon either. I suppose that's because I come from the school of thought that says "too soon" doesn't exist. In comedy too, when it pertains to a tragedy, my tendency is to follow the Five-Minute Rule: five minutes after a tragedy, it's okay to joke about it. Anything before that and you should be ashamed of yourself.
I think artists don't get the trust they deserve in situations like this, ironically when we need them most. We expect artists to instinctually utilize that inspiration and fancy of theirs to challenge us, but when tragedy strikes, we expect them to ignore their feelings about it because it threatens to unravel the denial we've created. What we forget is that artists are human too, and just like the rest of us, they too were changed by the sight of billowing black smoke down Third Avenue, as I was. They too breathed in the ash that remained in the air for the months that followed, as I had. How can we not expect them to explore 9/11 in their art? I believe such art can serve as a catharsis for those who continue to live in denial and haven't moved on since that day.
One consequence of this administration keeping the fear of that day alive has been an unwillingness to move on. The evidence is all around us. We can't even bring ourselves to start reconstruction at Ground Zero. And the A, C, and E subway lines still go to "The World Trade Center." Though the World Trade Center was perhaps more than just the Towers, the Twin Towers are most representative of that area. Granted, it'd be way too depressing for the subway lines to go to "Ground Zero," but I propose an alternative name be selected, even if only temporarily. We can never forget that day, and as late as last year, even I continued to have the occasional nightmare about it, but that was five years ago, and we need to move on with our lives. We can start by ceasing to be a society that encourages such psychologically destructive behavior as Denial, and in doing so stop living in the past and in fear, the way King George II wants us to. We need to live in the present again, and for the future.
On Fucking Obscenity Law
by Michael Rosch
Ever wonder what'd happen if one day the media just stopped? No TV. No Internet. No radio. No news publications. What if the media stopped mediating? Sure, we could go a few days without them, but what about weeks? Assuming this was hypothetically possible, would we want to find out?
Despite the tireless efforts of many, the media remains much maligned in our society. TV is still often considered an idiot box, rotting our brains and holding no redeeming value. We criticize special effects in movies like they once criticized Talkies. Before modern cell phones, the New York Times originally called the early model telephones an invasion of privacy. The superstition holds: a medium deserves no respect until the next one comes along. Only then does the earlier medium graduate, becoming traditional.
The media gets blamed for playing favorites in the political arena. The Right endlessly chastises "the liberal media" for taking sides and for "obscenity," while the Left claims the Christian Right uses the media to impose their puritanical values on all of America.
Approaching my Master's in Media Studies, I side with the ironically poorly represented media. As both a student of Media and an artist, I say, in terms of content, either everything's okay or nothing's okay. Of course, there are limits. Just because we can do something, that doesn't mean we should, and responsible checks and balances must exist. In America, there are exactly five exceptions to free speech: when affecting National Security, when interfering with another's protected rights, when affecting due process, when defaming another, and of course, obscenity.
Few will argue about the first four; it's just that last one we can't agree on. Everyone has a different idea of what is and isn't obscene or indecent. Consequently, Obscenity Law remains vague and perfectly malleable to the whims of those regulating the media. Since the first recorded obscenity prosecution in 1815, obscenity's been redefined many times. Our first Federal obscenity law, established in 1842, was replaced with the Hicklin ruling from an 1868 British court decision, defining indecency as when the dominant theme of the material, taken as a whole, appeals to an average person's prurient interest in sex.
This ruling held for 90 years. It brought William S. Burroughs to trial for Naked Lunch, regarded by some at the time as amoral and having no social value. It was even called "undisciplined prose" of no literary merit. Amazingly, though I haven't read the entire work, the excerpts I have are among the most beautiful prose I've encountered. Thanks to testimonies from Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer, some call this the last major case of literary censorship in America.
Then came the Roth Test, modifying the Hicklin Rule in two ways: material offensive to children and overly sensitive persons were no longer considered obscene for all and was considered patently offensive if they were affronts to contemporary standards relating to sexual matters. They also had to have "no social value." All three conditions had to be met. This still wouldn't have helped Burroughs.
We now employ the Miller Test of 1973, which has three parts: "whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; whether the work depicts/describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state law; and whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." Like its precurser, all three conditions must be met to be deemed obscene. So Burroughs is okay, but only after years of academic discussion determined that his book had social value.
Of course, efficiency is key, and Obscenity Law gives the power to the courts. The Legislative and Executive branches hate that. So the Senate passed the recent Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act to bypass court rulings entirely, stopping potentially indecent material before it starts. You're probably saying, "all that did was increase fines for anyone who broadcasts indecent material." That's the beauty of it: high fines make people self-censor out of fear something MIGHT get them fined. It's like a million dollar fine for parking in a handicap spot, when no one is sure which spots are handicap. The price is too high, completely unreasonable, and a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Bet you never heard that amendment cited in a debate before; it's just not as popular as those first two. This new ruling ensures that nobody can afford to make a mistake, figuratively or literally.
But how can the media fight these unreasonable attacks? Simple. They wield the power. In this vast 3,000-mile wide nation, the media is essential, without which, the states cease to be "united." If the media hopes to take back its rights from political entities, an alliance must emerge. I propose something unprecedented, that such an alliance issues a complete media blackout, a filibuster of sorts. Remind America what life without the Internet is really like. What is a ruling body without communication channels? Ineffectual. In the event of a communications disruption, a nation cannot function. The world ceases to turn. Funding for such an operation could come from sponsors. What corporation wouldn't want to be a part of history? Perhaps holding the nation hostage for a few days is a terrible idea, or maybe it's the only way the media can assert itself and remind America that dangerous talk is nothing compared to the sounds of silence.
On Comparing of Apples and Hitler
by Michael Rosch
We've all heard the stories. Some of us have even seen the images: hoards of human-like remains that once housed life plowed into landfills like waste. This might be a German concentration camp, or maybe it's the killing fields of Cambodia, or Sri Lanka, or Congo, or possibly Rwanda.
The twentieth century saw not only the rise of the mass production of goods with Henry Ford's mastering of the assembly line but also the mastering of the mass destruction of men. Never before had killing been this efficient. Twelve million is the number of deaths most historians agree upon for the Holocaust. Strangely, Hitler is put on the top of everyone's list of most evil man, even though the century saw killers of greater numbers. I suppose this is because the Germans were better record-keepers. Most of the bigger mass killers were quieter.
Stalin had a larger figure attached to his name than Hitler, though to be fair, he was in power longer. In a March 12, 2006, article in The New York Times Magazine, Jim Holt purported that Mao has Stalin beat with an impressive 70 million. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge wiped out over a quarter of Cambodia's population. It almost makes the 3.9 million deaths in Congo feel insignificant. But what about us?
When first witnessing an atomic explosion, Oppenheimer recalled the Bhagavad Gita quote, "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds," and for better or worse, Truman's magic number is said to be somewhere between 120,000 and 250,000 Japanese. Current U.S. President George W. Bush's number to date is said to be somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000 Iraqi civilians.
And so, on a quantitative level, it seems insane to compare our King George II to Hitler. Of course, comparing almost any figure to Hitler seems generally unfair. And to a large extent, I agree that it is often an unfair way to fight an argument. It's like the classic "we're doing it for the children." Who can really argue with that?
However, when we're not playing a numbers game and those comparisons seem apt, I think the comparison must be made. Fortunately, because the Nazis kept great records, we've come to understand the psychology behind such atrocities. And the Nazis remain the quintessential example of what happens when the extreme Right controls a nation with fear as their weapon, just like the Soviet Union may be seen as what happens when the extreme Left controls a nation. Neither is a good thing.
The Hitler Comparison Argument has sadly been devalued through overuse, but perhaps people dismiss it too quickly, as though to say, "that could never happen," or "only in the movies." What we must never forget is that it did happen, and the people who carried out those crimes followed the same thought process: "that could never happen," and "we're just trying to protect our borders and our economy from the _____ (fill in the blank)."
We have to remember that the German people and even most Nazis didn't set out to do evil. They were manipulated gradually through fear to accept compromises to their values. They made one Faustian bargain after another. Benjamin Franklin once said "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." He could have been talking about Nazi Germany.
Many Americans believe that monsters like Hitler appear suddenly, as if holding a big sign announcing, "I'm the bad guy." Someone on an Internet forum recently wrote, "but bush hasn't killed millions so far, nor has he banned the democratic party, or interned dissenting intellectuals, or tried to mass murder a scapegoat ethnic group, or tried to seize legislative power, or forced the army into personal allegiance, or many of the other things done by Hitler or the Nazis."
While Bush may not have banned the Democratic Party, he has done something far subtler; he has drawn his line in the sand and declared those who question his actions "enemies of freedom." Why bother doing something as obvious as detaining your opposition when you can just discredit them?
In the meantime, the Republicans have taken control over every branch of our government. And with the unanimous passing of the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act in the Senate, the Democrats might as well have a big R next to their name. Further, Bush has created a win-win situation, where the Republicans have seized legislative power, and yet shift the blame for any wrongdoing on the minority Democrats. And America believes them.
Bush has also installed a system that now grants him the freedom to openly or secretly detain anyone he wishes without trial. And in case the secret's exposed, all he needs to say is, "They were suspected terrorists, " and America replies, "Keep up the good work."
And as for turning ethnic groups into scapegoats: Arabs or Mexicans—take your pick.
We've seen this all before. You don't have to be a Nazi to become complicit in evil. The results of the legendary 1963 Milgram social experiment suggests that almost anyone could be manipulated into becoming the tool of an authoritative dictator. According to Freud, it takes a process in which the leader replaces the individual's superego, what Freud called the "over-I," by offering them values that are absolute. Appearing to resolve the natural inconsistencies responsible for an individual's inner conflicts, the leader hypnotizes, or intoxicates, them. And where the over-I opposed violence, this new leader permits it.
I humbly propose that we reconsider applying the Hitler Comparison Argument to the Bush Regime. Now that we're fighting a losing war on multiple fronts against enemies (who could be anyone) for unknown reasons (because we were lied to), and with the blood of 30,000 to 100,000 Iraqis on our hands, I sincerely hope America realizes that apples and oranges truly are comparable; they're both fruity.
On the Translation of the National Anthem
by Michael Rosch
The family expected nothing out of the ordinary on that fateful July day in 1990. As they eagerly found their seats in the stands and prepared for what was to be an exciting game, they heard the announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the national anthem." The poor family had no idea that the moments that followed would shake America forever. This wasn't the horrible, ungodly sight of Janet Jackson's beautiful, supple breast. No, what happened in San Diego that day was far worse: TV personality and comedienne Roseanne Barr screamed and screeched the national anthem while spitting and grabbing her crotch, an affront to all that is holy and sacred in our land of the free and home of the brave.
To most of us, the national anthem, written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, is little more than that annoying hassle we have to put up with before a sports game. That is, until someone comes along and alters it. Of course there was the controversial Jimi Hendrix version performed at Woodstock, deemed offensive at the time. But few people realize that Key himself was the first to alter the song. Sampling an old British drinking song called "To Anacreon in Heaven," he added the lyrics describing the battle he'd witnessed at Fort McHenry.
Key's Star-Spangled Banner makes news again lately due to the release of "Nuestro Himno," a Spanish version, which has, like Hendrix's version decades before, enraged the nation. What amazes me is that with all the protesting about how the lyrics did not translate well, a poll conducted in March of last year by Harris Interactive showed a great number of Americans knew neither the lyrics nor the history of the beloved anthem.
What amazes me more is how a nation can fight so strongly for the purity of a symbol, while in the process violate the very tenets that symbol represents. Like the flag, the anthem is a representation, a simulation of an ideal. That ideal is freedom. That ideal is unity. Hence, "The United States of America." So at first, I was puzzled by the anger. I thought, how could a people's desire to honor our shared nation be a bad thing?
So if it's not really about the message being lost in translation or about preserving the true meaning of the song, then where does this anger come from? It all seemed like much ado about nothing for a song that—let's be honest—doesn't even say much about the American experience. In fact, political theorists could make a good case that the song promotes the kind of anachronistic Imperialism of the twentieth century the current administration seems so bent on continuing: "Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just." And the line about making "In God We Trust" a motto was used to great affect by men like Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn as a means of criminalizing free thought. Is this really the message that defines us as Americans?
Don't get me wrong, I personally like the song. I try not to read too much into that whole conquering business. I have to admit though, I like Hendrix's version better. It feels far more uniquely American to me. And, hey, wouldn't that Simon and Garfunkel song, "America," make a cool anthem? But all I'm saying is that one of America's greatest themes, inherited by Benjamin Franklin, has been reinvention. So what's wrong with having more than one interpretation of the text as companion pieces to the original? After all, Walt Whitman, one of America's most celebrated poets, wrote many versions of Leaves of Grass. I have two, in fact, on my bookshelf.
But that's not what people are really angry about. There's something different about the rage this time. This time, the debate has been intrinsically tied to the immigration issue, as this new version was released the day before the May 1st demonstrations protesting the immigration law reforms proposed by the agents of our King George II who would turn illegal aliens into felons.
The word I heard most frequently when discussing the translation was "blasphemy," as in, "profane or sacrilegious talk about God or sacred things." I thought surely this doesn't relate to that old drinking song. It's hardly on par with visually depicting the prophet Mohammed.
Then came the anti-immigrant rhetoric. And no, it wasn't the friendly kind. I finally understood: this time, it's not about simply changing a song. It's far worse than that, and it's far more insidious than that. This time, it's about Race. Without bringing up the immigration issue in an Internet forum, it came up anyway: "Who gives a fuck if Mexicans can understand it or not, if they cant speak English then they can GET THE FUCK OUT. They can't speak English but they sure can pick of their welfare check for their 3045085080 kids cant they?"
This is about Race. It's about that dirty "ism" we constantly try to convince ourselves we've evolved beyond. This is about division; it's about attachment; and it's about fear of change. This is our anthem and you can't have it. It's about us and not them.
This week, I humbly propose America takes a long, hard look at itself, and thinks about whether the virtures we claim to hold are the same values we practice. I propose we take a look at the direction this nation is heading and ask ourselves: are we still the good guys?
On the Democratic Party
by Michael Rosch
"Can we get any of my water?" Senator John Kerry asked his communications director, while standing near a table of Evian water bottles at a function months before the 2004 Presidential Election.
According to the New York Times Magazine writer Matt Bai in the October 10, 2004 issue, here was Kerry, presumably the best the Democratic Party had to offer, insisting on drinking, "plain old American water." When this resulted in more questions, the Senator became flustered, and Bai was left to imagine what was going on in the Senator's head: "If I admit that I drink bottled water, then he might say I'm out of touch with ordinary voters. But doesn't demanding my own brand of water seem even more aristocratic? Then again, Evian is French—important to stay away from anything even remotely French." So Kerry responded that he likes all kinds of waters and gave a list of one, before exhausting the list. He then added that he sometimes drinks tap water. Bravo, Mr. Kerry. No one answers a grilling question about one's favorite brand of bottle water like you can.
This incident illustrates what the Democratic Party is doing wrong and possibly why Americans have become disillusioned with the Party. They are a Party only concerned with winning elections, and they allow their opinions and values to be dictated by the perceived opinions of the majority. That is why so much rests on bottled water. The election isn't about conflicting values; it's about winning. And winning, to Senator Kerry, means drinking the right water.
This is because the Democrats have no endgame. Sure, maybe with a just a few more votes and just a few more dollars, Kerry could have won the election. But THEN WHAT? And let's suppose Kerry did manage to get just enough votes to win; last time I checked, 51 percent was still Failing. The office of the Presidency was designed to represent all the states in the union. Therefore, a great candidate should be capable of winning all states without the need to blame their loss on Independents for "stealing" their vote.
I humbly propose a new strategy for the Democrats: stop this belief that the way politics has always been conducted in the past is the only way we can conduct it in the present and the future. Perhaps a worthy candidate to represent the whole can best be found among those more "representative" of the populace. Such candidates need not belong to the Ivy League elite. They need not be culturally divorced from those they serve. All I'm saying is that those who represent us should be able to relate to us on a down-to-earth level without becoming flustered over questions about their favorite bottled water or without talking to the American people like they are children, as our current King George II is prone to doing.
One current political candidate who represents this different model is Kinky Friedman, who is running in the Governor's race in Texas as an Independent. This is a man who has lived his life outside of public office. He is not a career politician. Some might find him loud or offensive at times, but if you hear him speak he will win you over. Most notable about this man is his humor. Perhaps the first thing one should look for in a good statesman is a sense of humor. Not only do I believe that candidates willing to speak their minds while not taking themselves too seriously would perform the job better, I believe they will also garner more votes because people can identify with them on a more "human" level. Yet, with all the tricks the Democrats think up to win back the people, this simple notion of relating on a human level rather than acting above the people eludes them. Kinky Friedman has that ability to relate to the common American, and that is why he'll win.
I propose that the Democrats could learn a thing or two from watching Kinky Friedman. Kerry's methods represent the very best in what the old playbook had to offer. His failure shows that the old ways are not as effective as they once were. I propose that, if the Democrats ever hope to win elections again, they throw their opponents off by throwing out the book and starting a new one, throwing out all assumptions and preconceived notions. I propose that the Democrats adjust their tactics. The most effective way to best one's opponent is by doing the unexpected, and perhaps the best way of doing that is with misdirection. Let your opponent think they have you pegged. Let them underestimate you. Make them think you're going Right, and then go Left.