Readers of this blog know that I sometimes get a bit carried off onto moral tangents. Well, that’s my inclination; I confess to it.
The moral dimensions of this year’s election are all too apparent, however. Some of them stand out in high relief here in Michigan.
I’m voting to reelect Governor Rick Snyder. And yes, I do see a moral dimension in that choice.
A GOOD-HEARTED MOVIE STAR SHOWS
THE NARROW VIEW OF SECULARISM
A recent episode of Bill Maher’s HBO talk show, “Real Time,” brought a bit of Hollywood glitz to the ongoing debate over the nature of Islam when movie star Ben Affleck got into a high-volume exchange with writer Sam Harris.
SILLINESS IN A NEBRASKA SCHOOL DISTRICT
HIGHLIGHTS OUR CULTURAL MADNESS
By now, probably everyone has heard about the Lincoln, Nebraska, school district whose “gender sensitivity” training included a handout encouraging teachers to avoid calling boys and girls “boys” and “girls.”
As reported by the Lincoln Journal Star, Fox News, and numerous other outlets, teachers were advised to attract their students’ attention by using expressions like, “Calling all readers!” or “Hey, campers!” and to refer to them as “purple penguins” or other cutesy, gender-neutral images.
The training materials were acquired from an organization called Gender Spectrum, which according to its website, “provides education, training and support to help create a gender sensitive and inclusive environment for children of all ages.”
HAVE WE OVERLOOKED THE REAL REASON
BEHIND THE ISLAMIC STATE’S RAPID GROWTH?
Here’s the answer to the question of why President Obama took time from building his international coalition against the so-called Islamic State to address the U.N. Climate Summit (per my post of September 26): The forces of IS/ISIL/ISIS have become so powerful because of — Wait for it! — climate change.
Professor Charles B. Strozler of the City University of New York and Kelly A. Berkell of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice offer this startling revelation at the Huffington Post. Here’s how they say it all happened…
“A historic drought afflicted the country from 2006 through 2010, setting off a dire humanitarian crisis for millions of Syrians. Yet the four-year drought evoked little response from Bashar al-Assad’s government. Rage at the regime’s callousness boiled over in 2011, helping to fuel the popular uprising. In the ensuing chaos, ISIS stole onto the scene, proclaimed a caliphate in late June and accelerated its rampage of atrocities including the recent beheadings of three Western civilians.”
Well, of course. We should have seen it. It’s so obvious.
MIXED MESSAGES AND BAD OPTICS
CLOUD OUR EFFORT IN SYRIA AND IRAQ
“Well, if this guy wins, at least we’ll be getting a President who recognizes the power of symbolism to amplify his message and stir people’s emotions.”
It reminded me of Ronald Reagan who, as a former movie actor, well understood the interplay of evocative words and strong visual imagery.
Strange how, in his presidency, Obama is often quite thoughtless about the impressions that served him so well on the campaign trail. Sometimes it seems like he just doesn’t care about how things look.
The famous Styrofoam salute is a recent example. I’m pretty sure the President intended no conscious disrespect of his Marine guards by returning their salute with a coffee cup in his right hand. Probably it just didn’t occur to him to think about how he would be expected to comport himself as he got off the helicopter.
And that’s the problem: He didn’t think.
IT MAY BE UNCOMFORTABLE, BUT WE HAVE TO
FACE THE ISLAMIST WORLDVIEW HONESTLY
September 11, 2001, I was working at The Ave Maria Foundation in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when someone came rushing in to announce that a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. A bunch of us scurried to the newsroom of Credo, a Catholic community tabloid we published at the time. There a TV was kept tuned to cable news. When the second plane crashed into the second tower, productivity came to a total halt throughout the organization.
Of course, 9/11 was a disruption for the whole country. And so, Al Kresta, host of Ave Maria Radio’s daily talk show, “Kresta In the Afternoon,” found himself with no guests available for that day’s broadcast.
I offered to sit in with him, and the two of us kept up a running — if somewhat disjointed — narrative of the day’s unfolding drama drawn from reports collected by Al’s then-producer, Kathy Schiffer (now a widely read blogger at the Patheos Catholic portal).
While word was spreading that the Islamist radical group al-Qaeda was likely behind the attacks, a theme began to emerge in the reports and TV chatter — to whit: that these were cowardly acts perpetrated by madmen.
Granted such early comments reflected people’s initial shock. But thinking about the brazen evil that had come upon us that morning I remarked to Al on the air…
“They aren’t cowards, and they aren’t madmen. They have a profoundly different understanding of life.”
A VOLATILE MIXTURE OF HUMAN MOTIVES CLOUDS
THE FERGUSON INCIDENT AND ALL OUR POLITICS
Each worker is promised the standard day’s pay. But when evening comes, the workers hired earliest are upset because those who began work later are paid the same amount as they. The early-hires grumble, feeling they should receive more, since they put in a full day’s toil while the others worked only a couple of hours.
“I’m not cheating you,” the boss responds, quite taken aback. “Didn’t you agree to the usual daily wage?”
Where the grower sees himself as being charitable, the workers perceive unfairness.
“So what if I give this last worker the same as you?” he asks. “Aren’t I free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I’m generous?”
The story is an allusion to God who dispenses His mercy as He wills. But it also contains a brilliant insight into human nature: namely that there’s a fine line between justice and envy.
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.
Consequently, 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.
CONTROVERSY OVER AN UPCOMING FILM
BRINGS ECHOES OF CONTROVERSIES PAST
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.
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.
There’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.