Thursday, August 26, 2010

Was My April Fool’s Story Right?

Well, no, not really. But take a minute and go back and read my April Fool’s post (how many of you caught the inclusion of the plot of the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies as a historical even in that post?), and then watch this video that Jon Stewart on The Daily Show earlier this week:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Parent Company Trap


One more thing: Did you happen to notice during the rush of clips of Fox News personalities Saying Stupid Shit™ the bit about the new logo for one of our space-related agencies having a … gasp … crescent moon? It was displayed amidst the flags of several Muslim nations. (I meant to blog about that idiocy at the time that it was all the rage on the right, but never quite got around to it.) Anyway, I realized that all of those who, like Fox News, worry about what that crescent moon might mean (ooh, maybe President Obama really is a Muslim, right), need to set their sights even closer to home. Here’s a logo that they missed:

A palm tree and a crescent flag. But that flag isn’t from a Muslim country. It’s origins are domestic. Wow that must have something to do with a planned Muslim takeover of …

South Carolina.

Yep. That’s the flag of South Carolina adopted in 1861 … right before South Carolina seceded and the Civil War began.

Maybe the Fox-Murdoch conspiracy is far older than I’d realized! So when we hear people like Rep. Michelle Bachmann or Senate candidate Sharon Angle warn us about domestic enemies in Congress, we should wonder if they’re talking about folks from South Carolina.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

IN Touch: Electorate Ignorance (Not My Title!)

My sixteenth post on The Indianapolis Star's IN Touch blog is now online (I submitted it last week, but it wasn't posted until this morning). As I keep saying when I post these entries, I'm going to keep re-posting my IN Touch entries here (at least until someone from The Star asks me to stop). Go ahead and visit the post on the IN Touch page, anyway. Oh, and by the way: I had nothing to do with the awful title chosen for this post!

A story in The Indianapolis Star last week reported that a frightening number of Americans believe either that President Obama is a Muslim or are not sure of his religious affiliation. This raises two questions that we, as a society, must ask ourselves.

First, why does it matter what religion the president is? Forget that the Constitution specifically provides that we don't have religious tests for political office; don't we (or shouldn't we) elect politicians on the basis of their policy proposals rather than either the color of their skin or the place where they worship (or even whether they worship)?

Furthermore, what does it say about our electorate that so many people readily believe a fallacy? If it is so easy for our electorate to be misinformed on simple facts, then what does it suggest about our knowledge and understanding of the real issues that face our country? Issues like health care and the deficit and global warming are complicated. But if our electorate can be misled to believe that our president is not what he says he is, then how are we to tackle and understand issues that call for close attention, deep understanding, careful analysis, and, in all likelihood, compromise?

Most of us don't have the time to go out and research, in depth, each and every claim made or policy suggested. We have to rely on our politicians to tell the truth and our media to report things accurately and to tell us when our politicians aren't being truthful. Yet when the media abrogates those responsibilities either by failing to fully investigate or by repeating false claims and when segments of the media intentionally further the dissemination of misinformation or even help to financially support a political party, then how can we, as an electorate, trust anything that we hear? And if we can't trust either our politicians or the media, then how can we trust our ability to make informed and educated decisions about the future of our country.

We need to demand more from both our politicians and our media. And we need to be careful ourselves in examining the information upon which rely.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

My Take on the “Ground Zero Mosque” Controversy

Over the weekend, I found myself listening to President Obama’s comments regarding the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” (more on that in a minute) and later discussing the issue with some friends. Thus, I find my thoughts on the subject finally beginning to coalesce. However, before getting to what I think about the issue, there are several preliminary points that are, I believe, critical to a fair understanding or discussion of the subject matter.

First, it is absolutely essential to recognize that, despite how many times we’ve heard the phrase “Ground Zero Mosque”, the building in question is not at Ground Zero. Yes it is close (about two blocks away). But it isn’t at Ground Zero. Thus, the analogy to the crosses erected by Carmelite nuns at Auschwitz, is not on point. Does it matter that the mosque is near but not at Ground Zero? Not directly. But the different emotional responses to “at Ground Zero” as opposed to “near Ground Zero” or “two blocks from Ground Zero” are different. To say it a slightly different way, if it didn’t matter, why would those who oppose the mosque continue to say that it is “at” (instead of “near”) Ground Zero?

Second, the “Ground Zero Mosque” (actually the Park 51 Center) it is not precisely a mosque. Yes, it will have a prayer room. But it will also have a swimming pool and restaurants and even a memorial to the victims of 9/11. And, as I understand it (though I’m willing to listen to evidence to the contrary), the building will be more like a neighborhood community center that will serve the general lower Manhattan populace, not just Muslims. So, instead of thinking of a giant towering cathedral, think instead of a local Jewish community center or YMCA that approaches its mission from an Islamic, rather than Jewish or Christian perspective (and that also has a room set aside for prayer). Somehow, that creates a significantly different impression than does the word “mosque”.

Next, it is also critically important to understand that there are actually two underlying issues: The first question is whether the Muslim community should be allowed to build the Park 51 Center. The second question is whether building it at that location is a good idea. The first question impacts the First Amendment and general concepts of involvement by either the government or the community in inherently religious decisions. The second question goes, not to the question of what is allowed by the government or the neighborhood, but to what the particular religious community thinks wise. The difference in those questions may be subtle (or not), but it is central to the issue.

Thus, when listening to people and pundits pontificate about what they think about the “Ground Zero Mosque”, listen carefully to the language that they choose and which question they are actually discussing.

So, then, with that in mind, here’s my take: The New York Muslim community should be allowed to build a community center or mosque at the location that they’ve chosen. It goes against everything for which this country stands for people to stand up and urge the government to prohibit people to worship (or to erect a place at which to worship). When people argue that the government, in one form or another, should tell the New York Muslim community that it cannot build the community center, then we should all worry. Should the government tell Jews where we can build a synagogue or tell Catholics where they can build a cathedral or monastery? Of course not.

And note that Manhattan is not the only place in America that people (many of whom, I suspect, would quickly say that President Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Sen. Harry Reid are somehow violating the Constitution) are protesting Mosques. People in Tennessee, Wisconsin, and California have been protesting against the erection or expansion of mosques. Some on the right have even argued that no mosques should be allowed in the US. Or think about Newt Gingrich’s claim that no new mosque should be allowed in the US until Saudi Arabia allows churches and synagogues. Is he really suggesting that we should look to how Saudi Arabia behaves as a model for how America should behave? And if his standard is correct, doesn’t that mean that we shouldn’t allow the construction of Catholic churches until Vatican City allows synagogues and mosques? Somehow the idea that we should discriminate against a particular religious group because another country also discriminates doesn’t quite seem to conform to the Constitution. And what happened to the concern that the government was too big and too involved?

And consider this: If two blocks away is “too close” to Ground Zero, how far away is acceptable? Three blocks? Five? Must it be a mile away? Can it even be in Manhattan? And do we really want to get into the business of drawing exclusion zones around parts of our country in which certain religions are not welcome? (By the way, if you answer yes to that question, you really do need to go back and read some more history about the founding of our country.) What kinds of religious exclusion zones should be erected around the site of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City or are we only looking for places from which to exclude Muslims?

Is hate (or is it fear?) of Islam so strong, that we’re willing to wipe away a basic foundational principle of our country in the name of that hate or fear?

But whether the Muslim community should be allowed to build at the site is, as I mentioned, a different question from whether the Muslim community should decide to build at the site. That is a question for the Muslim community — and the Muslim community alone — to address and answer. That community is well within its rights to build on the site. But it is also a responsibility of that community to decide if the decision is wise. Will the good that comes from the community center outweigh the obvious sensitivities that have been stirred up? Will the learning and education and community involvement and interaction counterbalance the Islamophobia that exists and is being exacerbated by this debate? And what is the mission and purpose of the center? If it is cultural or religious outreach, will this site serve that purpose or will the purpose be hindered because of the raw emotions? I can’t answer any of these questions and I suspect that few outside the lower Manhattan Muslim community can even begin to give truly informed responses.

For my part, based on what little I know, I think that if the Park 51 Center is, as advertised, an open community center serving the broader, non-Muslim community, then, in the long run, it will probably be beneficial. Perhaps it will help people, both within lower Manhattan and the country as a whole, to learn that not every Muslim is a terrorist (though I do think that the Muslim community needs to do a much, much better job of acknowledging and coming to terms with the fact that though every Muslim is not a terrorist, the vast majority of terrorists are Muslims). I’m a Jew, but that doesn’t stop me from befriending Germans (or Arabs or Muslims). We as Americans befriend and work with Germans and Japanese and now Russians and many others with whom we’ve fought in the past. We must continue our efforts to stop terrorism and defend our way of life, but we can’t do either by sacrificing who we are. To do so let’s the terrorists win.

That being said, if the Park 51 Center turns out to be a place from which radical, Islamist, anti-American messages are preached, then I do think that the proximity to Ground Zero will cause the anger and suspicion to be magnified, probably to a frightening level.

Thus I’m more than willing to listen to people explain why they think that the Park 51 Center will or will not be beneficial to the community, New York City, or even the rest of America. I’m not willing to listen to people who want to argue that we should prohibit the building, let alone the construction of mosques elsewhere in the US. But I would respectfully hope that those in charge of the project have given due consideration to whether the choice of site was the best possible choice. I don’t know. But in the end, the decision of whether to proceed is a decision up to them, not me, not you, and not the government. I do hope that this whole situation can, with time, become one of those proverbial teaching moments where Americans can learn more about the rights of religious minorities and Muslims can learn better ways to deal with the anger, frustration, fear, and hate that Islamist terrorism has caused.

One last thing: Apparently a New York City firefighter has sued to stop the Park 51 project from going forward because Muslim terrorists killed many of his colleagues on 9/11. By that rationale, should I be able to sue to stop erection of a German cultural center because other Germans killed Jews in the Holocaust? Should I be able to sue to stop erection of a Catholic church because other Catholics killed Jews in the Inquisition? Should I be able to sue to stop erection of a Cracker Barrel because other Hoosiers were killed in the Civil War? This guy needs to chill out, go grab a beer with Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber, and then crawl back into his cave.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Just What Is a Marriage?

In a comment to my post Addressing a Few Red Herrings, reader Gale objected to same-sex marriage on Biblical grounds. She claimed, among other things, that:

Homosexuality and etc. patently offends me and many others, but let's not chase that red herring. I'll be there when you stand mute before God. I wonder if you will please your Creator? He wrote an opinion many years ago. It's called “The Ten Commandments.” I think immorality was a capital offence.

After being challenged on her views, Gale chimed in again and warned those who don’t agree that homosexuality is akin to bestiality and pedophilia that:

you'll be singing another tune in front of God, if able to speak at all, and I'll be there. He who smiles last...

And when further challenged, Gale offered this whopper:

You are still "thinking." You make assumptions concerning Truth that you know nothing about. I don't think - I know.

(As a side note, when I was telling my wife about that post and Gale's comments, I mentioned Gale's claim that she doesn't need to think because she knows. My 10-year-old daughter overheard our discussion and, without prompting interjected the following: "That's stupid. Was it Sarah Palin?" I’m a very proud daddy.)

Anyway, I thought that this video might help clarify some of the beliefs espoused by Gale (and a whole bunch of other Bible-based bigots):


Are we all clear now on what G-d does and does not allow when it comes to marriage?

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Addressing a Few Red Herrings

So what would happen if a state were to have a referendum and, by a 52-48 majority, the people chose to ban all guns (except for those owned by the police)? What if a community held a referendum and a majority of the community chose to prevent African Americans from owning property in the community? What if a state legislature passed a law banning Islam? What if that state passed a law that required the Catholic church to ordain women or Jews to eat pork? What if a local community voted to require students in its public schools to pray to Jesus or observe Lent?

What would happen if a state held a referendum and a majority chose to punish drug users with a public flogging followed by cutting off a hand or decided that people who were arrested and wanted a lawyer weren’t entitled to have one appointed for them? What if a state decided that people arrested for a crime had to testify and couldn’t “take the Fifth”? What if a state decided to reinstitute slavery or decided that only property owners could vote? What if a state decided that people were not allowed to say or write anything critical of the government?

And what if a state decided that interracial or interreligious marriage was prohibited or that marriage by post-menapausal women was prohibited? What if a state required couples to sign a pledge to try to procreate before getting married? What if a state decided that only marriages performed by certain religious sects were permissible?

I doubt that anybody would think that any of the foregoing would be acceptable in America (though I worry that some of them might actually be capable of achieving majority support). Why? Because of the rights and protections granted by the United States Constitution. Yet, in the wake of yesterday’s federal district court ruling that the ban on gay marriage “enshrined” in California’s constitution violates the United States Constitution, many opponents of gay marriage are trumpeting the “but the people voted for it” argument. What these people seem to conveniently forget (or actually fail to understand) is that the very foundation of our system of government recognizes the will of the majority but protects the rights of the minority. In other words, minority groups in America, even those who many not be favored by the majority, are protected from the whims of the majority (sometimes called the “tyranny of the majority”).

Thus, the fact that California’s voters decided to add a ban on gay marriage to their state’s constitution is really a red herring; it is of no more import than if the state had decided to ban a particular religion or require those of a certain demographic group to wear stars on their clothing. In America, the majority cannot, by popular vote, take away rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The issue of whether same-sex marriage is a right guaranteed by the Constitution is a different question, one that Judge Walker addressed yesterday; but if same-sex marriage is a right protected by the Constitution, then the fact that Californians voted against it* is meaningless.

Also, promptly following Judge Walker’s decision yesterday, some on the right (hey there FOX News!) started talking about the Judge’s bias because he is gay. This suggestion is not just wrong; it is patently offensive.

First, I note that those alleging bias against Judge Walker were conspicuously silent when another federal judge with extensive stock holdings in the oil industry refused to recuse himself before considering the Obama administration’s ban on offshore drilling. Those same people were silent just a few days ago when another federal judge failed to recuse himself from hearing Virginia’s lawsuit against the new health care reform legislation even though he has financial ties to Virginia’s Attorney General, the lead plaintiff in the case. And those sorts of conflicts-of-interest are prohibited by canons of judicial ethics.

More importantly, ask yourself this: Why is it that when it comes to litigation involving social issues, straight, Anglo-Protestant white males are never seen as being biased, but a judge who is black or Jewish or female or gay is biased, often for no other reason that the fact that the judge is black or Jewish or female or gay?

Or think of it this way: Must every woman judge recuse herself from a rape case? Must every Jewish judge recuse himself from a case involving church-state issues? Must every Hispanic judge recuse himself from an immigration case? Must a black judge recuse himself from every lawsuit alleging racial discrimination? And with your answer to that last query in mind, must every white judge recuse himself from a case alleging racial discrimination if one of the parties is … um … white? And, by all of that reasoning, shouldn’t any straight judge have been forced to recuse himself precisely because he wasn’t gay?

Those who argue bias of this sort are either so blinded by their own bias and bigotry or simply cannot recognize that, in order for our system to work at all, we must all have faith in the impartiality of our judiciary. That a judge disagrees with us doesn’t mean bias; it means that judge judges a particular issue differently that you or I might. It doesn’t mean bias. But if we start seeing bias in every judge solely on the basis of that judge’s color or religion or DNA, then it won’t be long before our judicial system becomes a joke and the respect for the rule of law on which the foundations of our country are supported will rot away.

One final point on this issue of bias, specifically with regard to Judge Walker: Have you noted that those who claim that Judge Walker is biased because he is gay have not bothered to mention that Judge Walker was nominated by President Reagan and then again by President George H.W. Bush or that during Judge Walker’s nomination hearings, he was opposed by gay rights groups? Hmm. Does that weigh upon the question of any perceived bias?

Finally, if you hear someone say that they disagree with the Judge, ask them to explain why they think that gay marriage should be prohibited. If at any point they mention their particular religious views, ask them the following two questions: (1) Which of the Ten Commandments are or should be enshrined in our law and (2) whether your religious views should bear upon what that person is allowed to do (i.e., because Jews don’t eat pork, should my religious views be taken into account to determine if others can eat pork)? Also, if at any point in the discussion, the person says that gay marriage will “destroy traditional marriage” (or some other similar nonsense), ask them to be specific and explain how a marriage by a gay couple will impact that person’s marriage. You might also ask them if it is because of gay marriage that Rush Limbaugh and Karl Rove have each been married and divorced several times. And lastly, if the person says that Judge Walker’s reasoning or legal analysis was wrong, ask them if they’ve actually read the opinion. It’s find if someone disagrees with the outcome of the decision, but when people start to attack what the ruling actually does (or doesn’t) say, then it is worth noting whether that person has actually read the decision or is just talking on the basis of what they’ve been told by FOX News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, or others. Then challenge the person to go find a copy of the opinion (hint, click the word opinion for a copy), read it, and then discuss what the judge said.

For my part, I plan to read the opinion over the next few days. I’m looking forward to it.

*Note that there is speculation that the vote on California’s Prop 8 was marred by massive voter confusion. People who were opposed to gay marriage had to vote yes while those who supported gay marriage had to vote no.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Too Busy or Too Much to Say?

I’m still here and I’m still writing. However, these last few weeks I’ve been very busy. Moreover, the things that I’ve wanted to write about have been things not easily communicated in a few paragraphs written during lunch. I’ve got several more “meaty” posts that I’ve been working on (one looking at what we really mean when throw around words like “holocaust” and “genocide”) but I just haven’t had the time (or in some cases, the energy) to finish them.

Anyway, I just wanted people to know that I haven’t given up on this blog.

Oh, I’m also planning to try to go back through some older posts and clean up some dead links (mostly photos and videos and stuff). If you happen to find a dead link, let me know.


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