9/21/12

Global Village or Veiled World? Muslims Must Decide

This simply cannot be the global norm!

On September 19, 2012, Harvard professor Karen King dropped a bombshell that is sure to reverberate throughout the West. She held in her hands a scrap of 4th century Egyptian papyrus that quotes Jesus mentioning his wife! If authenticated, King’s revelation undermines more than two centuries of Roman Catholic teaching and the very rationale for the celibacy of priests.

King’s announcement was greeted with rioting. Angry mobs streamed out of the Vatican and clashed with Italian police. Forty people died before the Italian military forced the surging mob back within the confines of the Vatican. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, an estimated 5,000 Irish-American Catholics forced their way onto the grounds of Harvard University. The mob, marching behind a crucifix-emblazoned banner, toppled the statue of James Harvard as they shouted “Mendacium!” (“A lie!”), a direct slam at Harvard’s motto: “Veritas” (truth). Three Harvard professors were pulled form their classrooms and were beheaded as the crowd chanted, “Jesus is Lord!” Worldwide at least 17 other nations saw protests and a reported 115 people have been killed.

You don’t remember hearing about this? Of course not. It never happened. The only thing that’s true in the above two paragraphs is that Professor King did, indeed, unveil a scrap of papyrus in which Jesus mentions a wife. (She also said that she’s working with teams of experts to make certain it’s not a forgery.) So why did I write this? To contrast it to the ridiculous (and childish) reaction currently occurring in Muslim lands in reaction to, of all things, a YouTube video.

In case you’ve tuned out the news, some jerk in California calling himself Sam Bacile—yeah, I know, where you find a jerk in California?—made a cheap movie in which Mohammed is depicted as a randy ladies’ man and a charlatan. Offensive and needlessly provocative? Of course it is, and you don’t have to be a Political Correctness freak to condemn his actions. But a better reaction is simply to ignore Bacile and allow him to obtain the obscurity he so richly deserves. Instead, Muslims across the globe have stormed U.S. embassies, burned flags, attacked citizens, and have killed at least 30 people. Congratulations! The disgusting and inexcusable carnage aside, the major accomplishments of such actions have been to send thousands of people to YouTube to watch the repulsive video, transform Bacile from an idiot into a civil libertarian, cast Islam in a more negative light than Bacile could have ever done, and encourage copycat parody, such as that found in the French journal Charlie Hebdo, in which Mohammed appears as a naked letch. The reaction to the French cartoons? Why more rioting of course.

Let’s be blunt about the problem here. Muslims must stop allowing fanatics to define them. This sounds clich├ęd, but it’s true: I know numerous Muslims and they are sweet, loving, devout people. I’d much rather spend time with them and have them as neighbors than the Bible-thumping zealots who attend a nearby church. A lot of people associate riots and murder with all Muslims. That’s very sad and it’s akin to associating all Christians with the bloodthirsty murderers who gun down doctors who perform abortions. But the cartoonist calling himself Luz who drew the French lampoons has a point when he notes that the only time there have been protests over the magazine’s content have been the three times he parodied Islam. He also has a point when he says, “I live under French law. I don’t live under Koranic law. I’m not the one going into the streets with stones and Kalashnikovs.”

I’ve never seen this French magazine, so maybe Luz is a jerk also, but he’s not wrong about his defense. Here’s the deal—we live in the Global Village. That means the world is a marketplace of ideas as well as goods, including the concept of free expression (even if means freedom to be a jerk). If Muslims wish to live in the modern world, they must purge themselves of those who would cast them back to the 10th century and throw a veil over the rest of the planet. Every religion contains zealots, fools, and those who spread hatred and call it God’s will. What civilized nations do is prosecute such people; they don’t revere them as leaders, prophets, or martyrs. Civilized nations also tolerate everyone’s beliefs. Sort of like what Mohammed said when he told Muslims to respect all “the peoples of the book (Scripture)” and specifically mentioned Jews, Christians, and Sabians!

Muslims have been slandered. Some of it is self-induced; Muslims cannot expect respect when they blaspheme the traditions of others. Remember the Afghan Taliban blowing up the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001? Remember the beheading of Daniel Pearl? (A person “of the book.”) How many Muslims nations demand Palestinian statehood? Compare that list to the number that recognizes Israel’s right to exist. Remember the killing of two US soldiers because of a rumor (false as it turned out) that soldiers willfully destroyed Korans? This must stop and Muslims  must take the lead in wiping out those who cast Islam in a murderous light.

If one wishes to live in the Global Village, one must put up with (and learn to ignore) jerks–not because we wish to, but because it’s simply too dangerous to impose any one variety of orthodoxy. So some fool burns a Koran or a Bible. So what? Does this in any way diminish the power of God? Many Americans view the nation’s flag as a sacred symbol. What if, every time protestors in some far-off land desecrated an American flag, the United States sent waves of bombers and Marines to lay waste to the offending nation? Can you say “Armageddon?”

Muslims have a right to be angry when someone disrespects their core beliefs. But civilized people do not resolve their problems with Kalashnikovs. They do, as millions of Christians have done in the wake of the Jesus revelation—they return to those core beliefs for solace. Muslim nations must learn to accommodate difference, even boorish behavior, or they will find themselves persona non grata in the Global Village. The veil of isolation will descend, not from the hands of extremists, but from the Villagers who will ignore them.

9/19/12

Romney Doesn’t Give a F * * K



Graphic but true words of wisdom from the late George Carlin.

I was in college in the 1970s, after having lived through the idealism of the 1960s. My first major was political science, and my dream was to enter politics and change the world. That was before I learned about lobby groups, fund-raising, compromise, and how campaigns work. It was before the epiphany that I lacked an essential prerequisite for elected office–I am not politic. I wanted no part of the public scrutiny, the dissembling, or what Joni Mitchell called the “cardboard cut-out smiles.” In candor, I realized that there are a lot of folks I just don’t like: stupid people, the selfish, the dishonest, religious zealots, the mean-spirited…. It’s not like teaching, where you deal with minds that (for the most part) seek to discover knowledge, not proclaim (perceived) truth from whatever soapbox has their name on it. I would have been a horrible politician, even if one accepts the doubtful premise that I could have been made electable.

But here’s the thing–politicians dissemble and curry favor, but they have to at least try to show (or cast the illusion) that they care about everybody. We live in a representative democracy in which officials are expected to answer to the electorate–not the impossible “all” of it, but as broad a swath as possible. If you can’t do that, get out of the game. Forget your personal ideologies for a moment and ask yourself a simple question: Does Mitt Romney care enough about the American people to be president?  The answer is a resounding “No!” That’s not my opinion; those are his words.

Mitt has been caught, metaphorically speaking, with his pants to his ankles. He’s been tone deaf all along. The median income in the U.S. is a tick over $52,000 per year, but Mitt thinks that $250,000 per makes you “middle class.” That would be nice, but if you have reached that lofty height you’re among the 3%, not the vast middle. Mitt also thinks he understands autoworkers because “Ann drives a few Cadillacs.” Good grief! Okay, that’s just cluelessness, but if you think Mitt Romney cares about America, what do you do with his statement that “47%” of Americans “are dependent upon government” and feel they “are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” He also expressed anger that the same 47% pay no income taxes.

Where to start? First of all, a man who refuses to release his own income taxes stands on the moral equivalent of quicksand when condemning the tax habits of others. (Romney is reputed to have paid no income taxes in 11 of the past 13 years.) I guess taxes are just for the unwashed, not the well-heeled. 1% of Americans making over $1 million pay no taxes; just .6% of those making under $10,000 paid none. Half of Romney’s 46% (the correct number) are those filing jointly with another person–as a married person or as a dependent, like college kids, for instance–so let’s knock it down to 23% to be accurate. Of that figure, over a fifth is elderly living entirely on social security. When we parse it further, we get a whopping 3% who are on “welfare” and pay nothing. Two-thirds of those “paying nothing” according to Romney, do pay SSI and/or Medicare.

Yeah, a lot of numbers, so let me cut to the chase. Yes, I think people are “entitled” to health care, food, and housing. In 1937, Franklin Roosevelt expressed outrage when he observed that one third of the nation was “ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished,” not that poor people didn’t pay taxes. Mitt Romney thinks that it’s all right that millions go without life’s basics. I find that thought so outrageous that my visceral reaction is to shout out, “F**k you! Mitt.” I can say that; I’m not running for office. I don’t have to pretend to like Romney or any of the selfish little bourgeois piggies that think it’s just fine to let all the rich white boys keep their money while others suffer.

I can say this because, as I discovered decades ago, I don’t have what it takes to be a politician. Neither does Romney. I hear so many people say that they’re sick of all the divisiveness in American life, that they feel a yearning for unity. If you feel that way, the question is basic: Why on earth would you vote for a man who has just said, “F**k you!” to nearly half the American population. It proves he lacks the temperament, the patience, the compassion, or the wisdom to be president of the American people, all of them–not just his fellow piggies at the trough. About that “wisdom” thing… that’s what separates me from Mitt. I don’t claim to be a better person than he, merely one who is aware enough of his limitations to know I can’t represent the masses.   





9/17/12

Sun Parade Hasn't Yet Dawned


THE SUN PARADE
Yossis
Self-Produced
* * ½  

When I hear The Sun Parade I need a pinch to remind me that these guys are based in western Massachusetts. Everything about them screams “California,” including the falsetto vocals, the atmospheric tunes, the bouncy rhythms, the ahh, ahhh, ahh bridging vocals, and–yes–the sunny nature of their material. The duo consists of guitarist/lead vocalist Chris Marlon Jennings (who also plays keyboards) and Jefferson Lewis, who plays just about anything that has strings. Songs such as “Nothing Lasts Forever” have a soft rock groove reminiscent bands such America. In fact, The Sun Parade are quite a lot like America, with one very big exception–one that some might find a deal breaker–they don’t have America’s sense of catchy pop hooks. A song such as “Sometimes Sunny,” for instance, has the same bright acoustic guitar strums and runs, but it doesn’t linger very long because too many of the offerings are interchangeable.

One small change that might help: Jennings and Lewis tend to sing in unison; more complex harmonies would add depth. One hears hints of this in “Need You By My Side,” one of the album’s better tracks. The Sun Parade’s repertoire could use more arrangements that are energetic rather than enervating. It also needs more discrimination between the instrumentation and Jenning’s soft vocals.  Simple arrangements such as the opening ukulele-driven strains of “Waiting for Life to Drastically Change” work much better than its more heavily instrumented bridge. Stripped down it sounds like an acoustic Beatles’ offering; textured it doesn’t have much identity at all. It’s possible that Jennings may have a better voice for country music. I hear this in pre-refrain parts of “Pickin’ My Pockets.” (It’s hard not to find the ohh-hhh-ooh refrain kind of juvenile.) My favorite track was “Oh No,” which is quiet, moody, and uses bouncy orchestration to invoke an “Eleanor Rigby” like sense of desperation.

Okay, maybe I’m too much of a jaded East Coast guy and none of what I see as shortcomings would bother folks on the Left Coast. But my current bottom line is this: I admire what these young guys are trying to do. They are talented and may have a very bright future. But “young” is the watchword of this review. There’s not enough depth, variety, or edge to the music and too much reliance upon easy-out tricks to (try to) cover the holes. As a reminder that new talent is on the horizon, Yossis has its pleasures, but Sun Parade hasn’t yet dawned.-- Rob Weir


Don’t take my word for all of this. The Sun Parade offers several free tracks from this release that you can hear at: http://thesunparade.bandcamp.com/