The New Barbarians

WILL WE SEE AN INTERNATIONAL EFFORT
TO COUNTER THE SO-CALLED ISLAMIC STATE?

I have never been in the military, so naturally, I’ve never experienced combat. On top of that, I’m in my sixties.

ISIS EmblemConsequently, I always feel hesitant about advocating armed action, even when some obvious threat to our nation presents itself. What do I know about blood and guts? It’s not my ass that would be in harm’s way.

But on certain occasions, armed action is necessary. Something had to be done after 9/11, for instance, though historians will be long debating whether the actions we took were the right ones.

And just now it looks like we’re at another of those call-to-arms moments, with forces of the self-proclaimed Islamic State marauding across Syria and Iraq, making noises about planned further conquests.

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Fifty Shades of Grey

CONTROVERSY OVER AN UPCOMING FILM
BRINGS ECHOES OF CONTROVERSIES PAST

50 Shades CoverOf all the pop culture buzz these days, pretty much the buzziest concerns “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the film version of E.L. James’ much ballyhooed 2011 “erotic romance” novel.

This is the book (first of a three-part series) that supposedly made sadomasochistic sex an acceptable subject of interest for middle-class women — or at least made fantasies about sadomasochistic sex acceptable. As such, it’s the flagship work of a literary genre designated Mommy Porn.

Well, I’m not a middle-class woman, and I suspect I’m not old enough to see this kind of stuff anyway. So the scheduled release date (Valentine’s Day, 2015) will very likely pass without my bottom ensconced in a seat at the local cineplex.

Much of the buzz is of a less-than-enthusiastic nature, as one would expect. The thought of middle-class women immersing themselves in sadomasochistic sex isn’t what you’d call edifying. And so “Fifty Shades of Grey” — in both its print and cinema versions — has stirred controversy.

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The Peace of Gaza

TRYING TO GET A CLEAR PICTURE OF A
CONFLICT THAT MAY BE IRRESOLVABLE

Some whacky, rightwing conspiracy websites have reported that many of the images showing civilian deaths in Gaza — both still and video — are actually recycled from the Syrian civil war. Whacky, rightwing conspiracy websites can be wildly off base and hysterical in tone, but they’re not always wrong.

More mainstream sources have also raised questions about the authenticity of visuals purporting to show Gaza carnage, including the BBC and the leftish, Tel Aviv-based, Haaretz, which is often critical of its government and the Israeli Defense Force. Also, the techno-hip online journal, Motherboard, recently discussed how militant groups are using miniature, high-resolution video cams to produce footage for distribution on social media, offering a highly personal perspective that puts viewers in the place of their fighters — very much like a video game.

Palestinian TerritoryThere’s no doubt that people in Gaza are suffering and dying under the IDF onslaught. But digital technology is raising the confusion that has always surrounded the long-running Middle East Conflict to new levels.

There’s a graphic panel headlined “Loss of Land” circulating on Facebook. Released by the Arab news service Al Arabiya, it purports to illustrate the steady absorption of Palestine into Israel between 1917 and 2012.

While the graphic acknowledges that there was no Jewish state in 1917, it gives the impression that there was a “Palestine” — in the sense of a distinct nation populated by a recognized “Palestinian” people.

This is false.

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The Faith of Atheists

IS WHAT WE CALL “NON-BELIEF”Question Mark
REALLY JUST ANOTHER RELIGION?

Atheism is very hip these days. All kinds of people are claiming to have turned away from traditional religion, and non-belief has become a basic requirement for entry into certain intellectual circles.

But what exactly does it mean to not be a believer?

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Goodbye, Archie

THE COMIC BOOK INDUSTRY
IS AWASH IN PROPAGANDA

I was a big comic book reader as a kid. Superman was a favorite. Batman, too, though not as much. The outlandish villains of Gotham always struck me as a little silly.

Life with Archie LogoThen too, there was George Reeves’ weekly portrayals of the Man of Steel on TV — which I never missed — and the Saturday morning cartoon rendition, poorly drawn and cheaply produced, but adequate to stoke fantasies about having “powers beyond those of mortal men.”

Yeah, Soop was my guy. Besides, I could identify with nerdish Clark Kent.

From about college on, I lost touch with the comings and goings of those various pulp crusaders. Except for the 1980s movie incarnation, starring the unfortunate Christopher Reeve, Superman had become an artifact of my childhood.

Nowadays, comic books are a huge business. You could make a plausible case that their customers are the most loyal in the publishing industry. Comics (and their spawn, the so-called “graphic novels”) are pretty much the only form of print literature some people read.

We’re up to our caped shoulders in super heroes, though not just. There are other popular comic genres as well.

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The True Nature of Islam

THE WORLD’S FUTURE MAY DEPEND ON
ANSWERING A VERY BASIC QUESTION

Star & CrescentWhat is the true nature of Islam — peaceful, or warlike?

That’s a reasonable question which has been asked many times in the years since 9/11, though I don’t think it’s been decisively answered.

The responses most often given have a defensive edge — something like…

Most Muslims want to live in peace.

…or…

Don’t assume all Muslims are terrorists.

And that’s true enough. I accept that most Muslims want to live in peace. And I know all Muslims aren’t terrorists. Indeed, I assume that only a very small number of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world engage in or provide material assistance to acts of terror. And I’m aware that there’s a debate throughout the Muslim world on the proper understanding of jihad.

Still, the question remains…

What is the true nature of Islam?

Rather than how many Muslims are terrorists, perhaps it would be more relevant to ask…

How many Muslims would agree with the characterization of America as the Great Satan?

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Highways of History

IT’S BEEN A PRETTY GOOD TRIP SO FAR
BUT WE NEED A COURSE CORRECTION

One summer during college I worked for the Bucks County Historical Tourist Commission. My job was to drive around eastern Pennsylvania and nearby portions of New Jersey, stocking the brochure racks of gas stations, restaurants, motels, and other tourist haunts with copies of “Highways of History,” a large, folded map highlighting places of historical and cultural interest in Bucks County.Leutze Painting

My favorite place to drop them off happened also to be the best-known site on the map: Washington Crossing. This was the riverfront location from which George Washington launched his fabled Christmas-night foray across the ice-bound Delaware to attack Trenton and Princeton, turning the tide of the Revolutionary War.

The focus of Washington Crossing Historic Park (located about 30 miles northeast of Philadelphia) was the Visitors Center. This modest structure contained a museum, the requisite gift shop, and a small auditorium where tourists could view the famous painting, “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” Display of that work, by German-American artist Emanuel Leutze, was accompanied by a recorded narration voiced, as I recall, by the late actor E.G. Marshall (though I may be wrong about the narrator; it’s been a long time). In those days the original painting was on loan to the park from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; it was later replaced by a reproduction when the original was returned.

Growing up in that part of the country, it was natural to feel a certain sense of immediacy about the nation’s founding. So many of the locations and buildings in which great events took place were so near at hand. And given the patriotic hues in which 1950s public school education presented America’s Story, it was as natural to accept that our nation really was a blest land with a special place in the annals of mankind.

Hadn’t we so recently saved the world from its great totalitarian nightmare? Weren’t we even now fending off the Communist horde, leading humanity into a future of bounteous liberty?

That unique national role was summed up in the phrase, “American Exceptionalism.”

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Hobby Lobby

CAN THIS WEEK’S COURT RULING
BEGIN A CULTURAL REVERSAL?

Odd, the obscure connections we make.

When I first became acquainted with the Hobby Lobby stores, I was put in mind of Charlie Weaver, a saucy rustic character played for decades on radio and TV by the late comic actor Cliff Arquette.

Hobby Lobby LogoDuring the 1959-60 television season, Arquette starred in a weekly show titled “Charlie Weaver’s Hobby Lobby.” It was an adaptation of an earlier radio feature, starting out as a hybrid interview-variety TV series in which Hollywood celebrities revealed their secret, non-showbiz avocations.

Zsa Zsa Gabor once discussed her love of fencing, if you can imagine that. Even less plausibly, the legendary burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee confessed that sport fishing was her passion. Go figure. Perhaps such cognitive disconnects were what accounted for the program’s evolving into a straight variety format renamed “The Charlie Weaver Show.”

All of which makes for an obscure reference to an old TV series hardly anyone remembers, and is apropos of nothing at all. Except that it underscores the absurdly unpredictable nature of life and history.

Who would have expected a chain of craft stores to be the pivot on which turns the future of liberty?

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The Summer of Our Discontent

OBAMA’S APPROVAL NUMBERS ARE FALLING
BUT THE ELECTION IS STILL A HARD CALL

I don’t know how many people read Shakespeare these days or attend productions of his plays. But certainly — great spinner of memorable quotations as he was — old Bill’s words remain prominent in our common lexicon. The famous line from Richard III

“Now is the winter of our discontent…”Donkey & Elephant

…shows up all over the place. It’s eminently adaptable to our present circumstances. Now is indeed the summer of our discontent, as mid-term elections loom and opinion polls show deep public dissatisfaction with some of the most crucial institutions in our national life. For instance…

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Bush’s Fault?

IRAQ IS DISINTEGRATING,
SO WHAT COMES NEXT?

Let’s get it out of the way right up front.

Everybody — all together now — one, two, three:

“It’s Bush’s fault!”

Feel better?

ISIS EmblemNow then, what is there really to say about the cataclysm unfolding in Iraq?

All the human life and national treasure sacrificed for…nothing?

Certainly, it’s fair to ask whether we should have gone into Iraq in the first place. As I wrote in my last post

“It’s true that Bush got carried away with the idea of bringing democracy to the Middle East. But that was a misjudgment — granted, one based on certain ideological assumptions, but primarily reflecting a misperception about how ready the Middle East was to have democracy.”

Bush “tried to plant democracy in two nations [Iraq and Afghanistan] totally lacking in any preparation for it.”

And, one might add, riven by tribal hatred and religious fanaticism which — at least in the case of Iraq — could only be permanently contained by the most repressive, tyrannical control.

Hate to say it, but good old Saddam may have been onto something.

Which, I guess, is what the late great Pope Saint John Paul II was trying to tell us, if in a diplomatically understated way.

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