In the spirit of transparency, as a struggling budding author myself, it is terrifyingly easy to become caught up in the humdrum of marketing when the truest pursuit is in the writing. I’m not here to toot my own horn as a storytelling, for in many ways I too fall short. And I’m not here to harp on other writers and their niche or style or goals or any of that crap. I’m here to talk about the lost of honor of storytelling…or if that honor IS lost? The question mark is kind of ambiguous, but when one looks to the flood of new books we see a sort of dilutional hyponatremiahe in the market place. On the other hand, has storytelling kept its honor in the face of saturation? Has storytelling lost its shine, its purpose? Or has it redefined itself? Maybe the answer is obviously both. However, I wonder, even in the evolutionary process, if storytelling has lost sight of depth and meaning and clout to ask uncomfortable questions about society, about ourselves.
Storytelling is an important part in the marketplace of ideas, engaging people emotionally and imaginatively. And the best storytellers are those unabashed to shred some skin, to get up-close and personal to how they feel about the world. This brings me to the origins of horror and camp-fire tales of monsters in the woods and the ole witch on Juniper Hill and so on. I think telling stories is an ingrained attribute in humanity. We have an expressive desire, from paintings of buffalo and deer on cave walls to Otto Dix’s harsh war torn landscape, these are stories come alive, taken from what we see around us. And I’m concerned we’re forgetting how to communicate in that way. And the books that ARE coming out are not being held to that standard. Are we selling products or are we telling stories?
Everyone is on social media nowadays, and I’m not going to rag on that like some old man on a rocking chair sipping whiskey rye and talking about the good ole days. I’m on social media as much as the next nerd. I think its a great way to stay connected while the Information Age flourishes into new generations and new horizons. We have instant access to news around the world and opinions of every shape and form and size. And that’s not the problem. Information; data is good. I think the problem is that we’ve forgotten or never learned how to process all that information, to humanize it, to bring it down a relatable level. And probably even more scary, we’ve forgotten how to listen because we’ve forgotten how to communicate in a way people will WANT to listen. In America alone, within the past several years, we’ve turned politics (our governing systems) into a caricature. The pendulum stances of our two powerhouse political parties have carved a canyon between society, filled with the bones of mutual understanding. Who is to blame? WE ARE! We allow the division to continue, not because we’re not willing to communicate, lots of communication is going on, no, its because we’re not communicating properly, in a way in which both sides would be willing to understand, to be engaged emotionally, spirituality, and humanly. We have sarcastic meme wars instead of emotionally raw book wars.
I honestly believe that the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin did more for the emancipation of slaves than the 600,000 lives lost during the Civil War. And in fact, isn’t that what war boils from, no longer being able to communicate?
Before I clammier down from my soap box, allow we to suggest one of the more important qualities of storytelling: imagination. Without imagination, we’ll lose motivation in forward thinking. What future is there without imagination to see it? Where is passion without imagination? Without imagination, we’ll lose our ability to create hope. And where there is hope there is ultimately an opportunity for transformation and change. Two things that are necessary for us to create a better world for generations to come.
Just some food for thought…
Is Robocop (2014) a political movie? This is my question that I want you to consider as we discuss certain reoccurring themes throughout the film. For starters, yes I know I’m way behind the curve here for a movie review. What can I say? I missed Robocop in theaters and was only able to finally sit down and watch it over this past weekend. And to my surprise, this was not the 1987 version of Robocop. Sometimes remakes go to far to re-imagine or recreate the nostalgic feel of the original, and while this Robocop has certain 80’s-esk qualities, it is in itself, its own movie. The 1987 Robocop was…well..to put it bluntly a 1970’s grindhouse picture filmed in the 1980’s. Grindhouse (or savage cinema) is all about random acts of violence, but not any ole violence; grindhouse overexposes the audience to violence in order to send a cultural/political message about the time in which the movie was made. In the 1970’s, it was about Vietnam and Watergate and all that mess and disillusionment. The 1987 Robocop was giving a magnificent nod toward the over-consumption, over-consumerism, over-cooperated culture America had entwined herself during the 1980’s with over the top, albeit grotesque, hyper-violence. As film historian William Latham has noted, “seeing a corporation as the ultimate savior and the villain at the same time, where a man becomes a product, gave [Robocop] a special meaning in the 1980’s.” If we boil it down, the message of a grindhouse picture during the 70’s is the same as it is during the 1980’s, which is to say: Does the end justify the means? My question before you today is if Robocop (2014) is still a political movie? We’ve left behind the 20th century, some fourteen years now. Does the same message of justifiable means linger on in the 21st century? Do our ends justify our means? Instead of going through the entire film (which would take a while to digest), we’ll discuss two of the most powerful themes dominate in this new Robo-endeavor.
Robocop starts off with Samuel L. Jackson, not a bad way to start a film, playing the part of Pat Novak, a television talk show host (something similar to what you can find on Fox or MSNBC or CNN) giving a discussion over the use of a unmanned police robots in the United States. His stance is very clear, stating: “Omnicorp law enforcement robots are being used in every country of the world, except our own….why are we [Americans] so robophobic?” To prove his point, Jackson’s character, Novak, cuts from his monologue to a film crew broadcasting from a Iran-esk country where Omnicorp “peacekeepers” are demonstrating a live-action sweep of a recently pacified neighborhood. Novak’s positive position is juxtaposed with close ups of the neighborhood population whose faces are a combination of fear, resentment, confusion, violation, and anger. As the film crew continues their broadcast, we discover that not everyone has accepted pacification. There is a small group of suicide bombers that are planning to strike back. Their attempt fails, obviously, but just when we’re thinking the end justifies the means, the young son of one of the suicide bombers runs out into the street to join his father carrying a kitchen knife. One of the larger bipedal tank-like drones warns the boy “to drop his weapon.” Out of fear, no doubt, the boy refuses and as the camera pans away, we hear gun fire in the background. Pat Novak will tell you, very bluntly that the ends justify the means, because “those droids just saved my coworker,” but did they? His comment about the safety of the film crew is another juxtaposition, this time against the death of the young boy with the kitchen knife. This scene may have a different ambience for you; for me the message is about our current use of unmanned drones in foreign operations and the current debate on drone use over U.S. soil. The beginning scene here begs the question: does the use of drones to keep soldiers safe a justifiable end to the means of using drones in foreign and domestic operations were the loss of innocence could have been avoided?
We cut away from Pat Novak’s lingering lament for our robophobic culture and arrive in a near-future Detroit. Corruption abounds and sets the main catalysts in motion setting up the creation of Robocop. Raymond Sellars’ argument before a legislative committee, that drones do not feel anger or resentment or prejudice, but act according to the limits of the law. And on the other end of the pendulum is Senator Hubert Dreyfuss whose sole purpose throughout the film is to defend the legislation in place that prevents the use of unmanned drones in police duties because, according to Sen. Dreyfuss, machines cannot experience what it is like to kill. They have no feeling toward killing and as such cannot conduct themselves in a manner in which life has value. This back and forth is somewhat of a dual allegorical picture of our current political situation and the “means justifying the ends” question throughout the film.
While all this is contemporary and interesting, it does not compare to the second most powerful scene in Robocop (2014). Ignore Alex Murphy’s flat superhero-esk character for a moment and focus on his resurrection as Robocop. There is really a lot to chew on here, lots of ethical questions and metaphysical ones to be sure, such as the meaning of free will and the illusion of it and all that jazz, but what I want to look at is the imagery of amputees, especially wartime amputees, that becomes a bigger more meaningful part of the movie. When we get to the “lets put a man in a machine” part we’ve all seen in the trailers and Keaton’s spectacular acting, we open up in one of the research and development/rehabilitation areas within Omnicorp. We know its Omnicorp because of the technicians and doctors and the fancy sign on the door, right? But take all that away and limit this to single image and we get the feeling we’re in an army rehabilitation hospital. This could be a familiar scene at Walter Reed Medical Center or Brooke Army Medical who provide rehabilitation for OIF/OEF casualties who have sustained amputation or burns. The “man becoming a product” message William Latham commented on for the 1987 movie is still there, but for me it is not the most dominant message. This also is a major disconnect from the original film. In the 1987 version Alex dies from his wounds and is brought back to life via Omnicorp salvaging his brain and transplanting, along with his face, into a machine. No one knows about the operation until everyone knows about the operation. In the 2014 version, the transformation between man and machine is liken to extreme prosthetics. Alex Murphy did not die, he was saved with the operation. Now, the “saved” part comes under question when his wife (who must sign permission for Omnicorp to do this operation on Alex) asks “what kind of life will he have? You say you can save him, [but] what does that mean?” This, in my opinion, is a very power question, especially when it becomes juxtaposed with the image of the dissembled Murphy. In order for Murphy to face the reality of his situation, Dr. Dennett Norton, with the use of a mirror, begins to take away the robotic parts of Murphy, leaving only his organic self, which is basically only his face, brain, one hand (no arm, just the hand and nerves), and his heart and lungs that are contained in a sac like substance. And at the end, in a very horrific moment, Murphy cries out, “Jesus…there’s nothing left…there’s nothing left of me….”
The extreme amputation and prosthetic becomes a major issue throughout the remainder of the film. Even the vengeance quest is extremely short compared to the longevity of how Murphy deals with, or badly deals with, his new situation as a man with prosthetics. Instead of a vengeance as justifiable means to an end, Murphy is put through the ringer of a post-Iraq/Afghanistan world. In many ways, Robocop (2014) becomes one of the first movies to actually question and illuminate PTSD, amputation, post-war family dynamic, legislation, political talk-show mongrels, and corruption. The piecing together of man and machine is a classic horror motif that draws all the way back to Frankenstein (1931) a movie that dealt with similar issues for a different post-war generation. As film historian David Skal has commented on the form of Frankenstein, the symbolization of the monster that represents “displaced, suppressed, and reshaped humans to conform with the machine world. Whale’s film depicted a monster squarely in the grip of this confusion, a pathetic figure caught, as it were, on the barbed wire between humanism and mechanism.” The “pathetic” tug we feel in the new Robocop is Alex’s self image or how he sees himself. After being shown what remains of his organic form, he demands never to be shown himself again, especially not to his wife. This self-loathing in a post-war image is another throwback to an earlier horror monster from another time, consider The Phantom of the Opera (1911), when Gaston Leroux writes, “Look! You want to see! See! Feast your eyes, glut your soul on my cursed ugliness!”
Assume the credits roll here. What did you think of the movie? Was it political? And most importantly, did the ends justify the means? Answers are never clear-cut. However, movies like Robocop help us deal with the mental processes we continue to struggle with, even though we may never arrive at same agreed upon destination. Its worth pondering and coming to our own conclusions.
The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum: Or How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead, is the story of a young woman who is scrutinized and harassed by police and tabloid (sleaze) press after she spends the night with a suspected terrorist. Film historian Jack Zipes begs the question regarding the political reality and repression in the Federal Republic of Germany (Bunderrepublik) during the 1970’s using both the film and novelization of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. Zipes first illuminates the reality in which these two depictions are attempting to criticize. According to Zipes, the reality of the Bunderrepublik of 1972-75 is “on one level the entire history of the student movement or extra-parliamentary opposition [which] provides the subject matter of the novel and film” (Zipes, 75). Basically, the history these two forms of the same story attempt to bring to light depictions of social political attitudes and conditions regarding the late 1960’s and early 1970’s with the SPD uber-conservative government (75). The political situation in Germany seems to be volatile during this period, especially due to the actions of a few militant terrorists, the Baader-Meinhof Group, aka the infamous RAF. Because of the actions of the few, according to Zipes, the conservative forces of the German state and mass media made it appear as if the entirety of the “Left,” the progressive forces of the Bunderrepublik were associated with terrorism. An incredible swing on the American-esk McCarthy pendulum, ushering never-ending witch-hunt bonfires stacked with the stench of 800,000 progresses and reformers who were no longer fit the state’s “legitimate” government program (76).
According to historian Zipes, Heinrich Böll’s writings are concerned with gross human rights violations and origins of violence (77). The novelization of the story, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, for better or worse, urges for the reformation of mass media, of the press, radio, and TV. Considering Zipes interpretation of the novel, a strange dual world emerges where the fictional narrative is more truthful than the non-fictional reports carried out by the corrupted mass media. Though, according to Zipes, Böll does not create a perfect explanation of the “socio-political dynamic of violence in the Bunderrepublik” (78); however, it nevertheless a straightforward participatory revelation of a moralist’s case for political resistance (79). In Volker Schlöndorff’s film adaptation of Böll’s novel, Zipes mentions a more distinguishable focus on a cohesive left movement that was nearly nonexistent in the novel (81). According to Zipes, director Schlöndorff “focuses [his film] on the power relations in the case of Katharina Blum in order to facilitate the viewer’s comprehension of how the police and mass media conspire to victimize private citizens” (81). Basically, where Böll focused on the power in the use of words, Schlöndorff gives greater attention to the unfolding of human drama in the interpersonal relationships of his characters.
While the film itself is a somewhat dull watch, until the very last bits of the movie when Katharinaunshackles her discontent, fellow historian Jack Zipes does an excellent job separating these two renditions of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum while they are simultaneously attempting to convey the same story. However, his comment regarding the drama of American, so-called, “good cop, bad cop” motif is somewhat lacking. The American filmic expressions of the late 60’s and early 70’s, depending on the genre you’re talking about, are not vague impressions of the time in which they were made. Consider the gruesome social critiques in the up and coming era of Savage Cinema, especially the word of Wes Craven, in films like: The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes as perfect examples of political unrest in American cinema. Savage Cinema was loud, gruesome, and not the lease bit disturbing, but these films also compelled audiences to question the validity of the times. Last House on the Left, if anything else, begged the question if reactionary violence was a justifiable resolution. The Hills Have Eyes was a critique about repression and violence and repercussion using the most taboo form of expression: cannibalism. And there are many more examples during this era to pick from. Regardless, Zipes makes an interesting case regarding the wild swings on the pendulum during Germany’s political unrest of the 1970’s with the RAF and student base movements. The media, if anything, should keep government (of all walks) in check, not condone extreme reactionism.
Sources: Jack Zipes, The Political Dimensions of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, 1976.
To be honest, this is the first review, post, article, paper, i’ve ever written on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I’m sure i’ve quoted a few words from famous speeches, i’ve no doubt hash-tagged or paraphrased some portion of the man’s life, but, to date, i’ve never taken the time to really write about him. Its a shame really, in the all to brief 39 years of his life, there is so much to be said, especially during the Civil Rights era, with his involvement spanning (arguably) from 1955-1968. In just thirteen years, a man only really known for as the son of Martin Luther King Sr., would rise of the unequivocal leader of a nonviolent Negro revolution. King was a man not lacking personal accomplishments, some of which included: the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, “l Have a Dream,” awarded five honorary degrees, named Man of the Year by Time magazine (1963), and became the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1964).
One of the most enduring bits of King’s history, is from his humble beginnings with the Civil Rights Movement, before it was even the Civil Rights Movement. In the “cradle of confederacy,” also known as Montgomery, Alabama, history was brewing. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was, as it seems, a “proving ground” for future nonviolent protests. Was the bus boycott intended to such proposes? No, before the boycott, no one, especially King, expected the magnitude of overwhelming participation from the people. Consider Jim Crow was in full swing, and before Rosa Parks became the Rosa Parks, she had already previously encountered the cruel and humiliating treatment of bus drivers enforcing segregated busing codes. During one encounter, in 1943, after already paying her fair, the bus driver ordered Mrs Parks to enter the bus from the rear, instead of the front as you would typically enter a bus. Before she was able to climb on board, the driver took off. Or consider when Vernon Johns, a black pastor, “tried to get other blacks to leave a bus in protest after he was forced to give up his seat to a white man, only to have them tell him, ‘You ought to knowed better.'”
The last bit, from Vernon Johns’ testimony, really gives a clear and haunting picture for why King had feared how the bus boycott could be a failure. He feared, along with other local leaders, that the majority had accepted Jim Crow to the point of non protest and cooperation. However, much to his and his wife’s astonishment, on the morning of December 5, 1955, around six o’clock, from the privacy of their kitchen window they watched the first of many buses drive by with only a few white passengers. None of the black population were riding the buses. It was here when the King’s first witnessed unanimous mass noncooperation with the how African Americans were being treated on the buses. After a quick drive around town, King estimated around 99% participation; he had previously assumed (or prayed for, more actually) at least a 60% participation. And what began as a single day of protest, in the wave of mass participation, turned into a year long struggle. On November 13, 1956, “the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal court’s ruling, declaring segregation on buses unconstitutional. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was officially over.”
Though, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was small, its impact helped launch of what Roberta Wright called, “a 10-year national struggle for freedom and justice, the Civil Rights Movement, that stimulated others to do the same at home and abroad.” How? Why? Well, in the words of King, “there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled by oppression. there comes a time when people get tired of being plunged into the abyss of exploitation and nagging injustice. The story of Montgomery is the story of 50,000 such Negroes who were willing to substitute tired feet for tired souls, and walk the streets of Montgomery until the walls of segregation were finally battered by the forces of justice.”Sources: Martin Luther King Jr., “Stride Toward Freedom,” Beacon Press, 1958. “Martin Luther King Biographical,” Nobel Peace Prize article, http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-bio.html. (Accessed on Jan 20, 2014). Lisa Cozzens, “The Montgomery Bus Boycott,” http://www.watson.org/~lisa/blackhistory/civilrights-55-65/montbus.html (Accessed on Jan 20, 2014).
From Quack to Frenzy: how wild swings on the pendulum are distorting the arguments over Phil Robertson
Concerning Duck Dynasty, according to Drew Magary, contributor over at GQ and the guy who penned the now infamous interview with patriarch Phil Robertson, : “The Robertsons are immensely likable. They’re funny. They look cool. They’re ‘smarter than they look,’ says sportswriter Mark Schlabach, who co-writes the family’s books. And they are remarkably honest both with one another and with the viewing audience: Phil’s old hell-raising, Si’s traumatic stint in Vietnam, the intervention that the family staged for Jep when he was boozing and doing drugs in college — all of it is out in the open. The more they reveal, the more people feel connected to them.” And all this really confirms that people really do appreciate frank honesty. However, this is not where the interview ends.
If columnist Drew Magary wanted to shock audiences, he most certainly succeeded, but not in the way he may have intended. In reality, the strangest thing to surface from this recent drama fest is how folks, myself included, reacted beginning Wednesday night and working on through Thursday. It seems as if most people are either on one or the other side of the pendulum ,with hardly anyone holding the more obviously rational middle ground. Did grandpa Phil say some rather off-putting things that made absolutely no sense? Absolutely! Here are a few gems for you’re consideration:
- “All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamist? Zero. That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.”
- “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field. … They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ — not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
- “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
These quotes from the QC interview are just a few of the highlights that have feed the still raging social media frenzy. From a historical perspective, there are a lot of irregularities in Phil’s rationality; however, from a completely humanist perspective, should we really have expected something different? Duck Dynasty, in a nut shell, according to Drew Magary: “[is] a reality sitcom showcasing the semi-scripted high jinks of Phil, his brother ‘Uncle Si,’ his four sons, Alan, Willie, Jase, and Jep, and the perpetually exasperated but always perfectly accessorized Robertson-family ladies—[which] has become the biggest reality-TV hit in the history of cable television, reportedly earning the family… $200,000-an-episode paycheck. It’s a funny, family-friendly show, with ‘skits that we come up with,’ as Phil describes the writing process. They plunder beehives. They blow up beaver dams. And when the Robertson-family ladies go up to a rooftop in a hydraulic lift, you just know that lift will “accidentally” get stuck and strand them.”
And there we have it folks. Duck Dynasty in the end is still just another reality sitcom…and Phil, despite his very seemingly humble and down-to-earth backwoods, swampland way of life, is still just another reality television personality that just so happens to be less horrible or grotesque as Honey-Boo-Boo, Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, or any of the Kardashians. Instead of obese pageant babies, dumb as a box of rocks Jersey folk, or mile-high cleavage, we get long wiry bearded rich poor white stereotypes. We love and laugh at their high jinks because its pretty much what we’d expect how someone from Georgia or Louisiana after winning the lottery would act, complete with “five best-selling books, devotionals somewhere in there, along with Duck Dynasty themed birthday cards, bobblehead dolls, camo apparel (pink camo for the ladies), Cajun-spice seasoning, car fresheners, iPhone games and presumably some sort of camouflage home-pregnancy test.”
See where i’m getting at? No matter how likable Phil is, i’m afraid he’s no more a prophet than Kanye West is. But, a lot of us can still connect with Phil because of his charming transparency and simple good-ole-boy country way of seeing and understanding the world around him, despite that it actually makes zero sense, because lets face it, Hitler used parts of Christian ideology (among other things) to form Nazi ideology, the Jim Crow era is not an era normal people feel nostalgic about, Christianity did exist in Japan during WWII and a lack of Jesus wasn’t exactly what prompted the attack on Pearl Harbor, communism is a political ideology, which is interchangeable with all or any religious belief, and as far as murder goes, well…Christianity has its own timeshare in that blame game…because at bottom level, if we can ignore his ramblings, I believe he’s simply calling attention to the notion that “if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off and everything will turn around.”
So what’s really the problem here? Well, now we got folks like Sarah Palin and Wilson Cruz lobbing mortal rounds at each of their respective camps while real people (us) are taking sides without really reading the entirety of the interview. Arguments are being hashed out that in themselves make as much sense as taking a guy who’s loaded but still eats squirrels seriously. For crying out loud, this isn’t a freedom of speech issue, this is a consequence issue. “And,” to quote another blogger on the topic, “if the only free speech that you support is speech that you agree with, that doesn’t make you a ‘patriot.’ It makes you a hypocrite. And that’s something completely different.” And on same note: let me stress that “Phil was not suspended for his religious beliefs. He was suspended because what he said was completely offensive.” But again, being a very avid supporter of free speech, especially in media, Phil simply just stated his beliefs, not Christian beliefs per-say (let’s face it, even the devil knew how to twist scripture to fit his agenda). The comments he made is what upset execs over at A & E and what eventually got him booted from the show. And after seeing the fire storm that shall forever be known Duck Thursday, Phil attempts to clarify his comments during the interview with GQ, stating:
“I myself am a product of the 60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior. My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together. However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”
I do not believe this good-ole country feller really hates anyone and, just how Seth Rogen stated on his Twitter feed, “It’s strange that A&E hired a guy for being a backwoods redneck and then were surprised when he started talking like a backwoods redneck.” However, “there is also nothing surprising or noteworthy about a company suspending an employee because of their personal behavior.” Like it or not, Phil and the duck family are licensed products of A&E, and Phil when being interviewed, not because he in his own right is popular, but because his character on Duck Dynasty is popular, the fallout of the things he said will and did blow back on A&E because Phil is, again lets face it, a character on one of their shows. See what I mean?
So, in summation, lets avoid the inevitable “us” verses “them” arguments by remembering the following things:
Dearest Liberals, please take a step back and look at the guy who has got you all in a frenzy. The guy was simply stating his beliefs, not the entire Christian world. And, to his benefit, Phil did clarify, even though he was a little bit disrespectful by over generalizing an entire group of people and adding a dangerous revisionist spin on history, that his intention was not to do any harm, but rather to express his love for humanity by stating how we’d “be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”
Dearest Conservatives, please take a step back and look at the guy who has got you all worked up in a frenzy. This is a simply man stating his beliefs, and while he does use scripture that doesn’t make him a prophet nor does it make him a martyr. This man also works for a company who also has a set of standards, shouldn’t we respect those (A&E’s) beliefs just as much as we respect Phil’s? PS: lets not pigeon hole any group or people, including Christianity. Not ever Christian agrees with Phil’s comments, so… ipso facto, this isn’t a religious persecution issue insomuch as hating on Westboro isn’t a religious persecution issue.
Several months ago, back in May, our Commander and Chief gave a speech regarding our nations national security and the ever convoluted issue of counterterrorism. You can take a gander at his strategy here, if you want or can stand listening to the guy who was all peace and love back in 2008 regurgitate the same masterfully crafted oratory: saying everything and nothing at the same time…basically a speech you’d expect from a career politician who desperately clings to maintaining a positive public image. Thankfully, the dawn approaches where we’ll be thrown back into the another season of elections. Hopefully, those who believed the lies of peace will remember how easily duped we all were. Duped about GITMO, duped about the War on Terror, duped about diplomacy first (looking at the most recent issue with Syria and how Obama was going to explain to the American public why we needed to bomb but then quickly changed his mind after Putin, in the least historic democratic country, during the UN summit, mentioned that magical little word we liberals love to hear: diplomacy), and so many others, including the recent attack against the media.
Actions (for me at least), not promises, define administrations and despite Obama’s best attempts at waving a purple bunny in our face, what we see happening on the news comes in complete conflict with his rhetoric. In countries, such as: Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Libya, and Somalia (being the ones we know about), drones are being used to carry out strikes or the maintaining operational surveillance. I guess if you can make murder sound intellectual enough it can become rational and bearable to read about on a daily basis; especially when it’s got the “government” seal of approval, right? But do we really approve these methods, is this what we’ve become? Murderers in the night? Consider the following political cartoon created by Mark Fiore; it pretty much sums up everything i’ve been feeling. Enjoy!
The Drone program is a relic. Born from the events that occurred after September, 11, 2001, the U.S. Drone Program has allowed the government to monitor, observe, hunt, target, and strike suspected militants under the guise of counterterrorism operations. Since Congress first authorized the Bush administration to use “necessary force against suspected militants,” drone strikes have been conducted in faraway places, such as: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Iraq. However, according to Fox News, C.I.A. director John Brennan (former counter-terrorism advisor to President Obama) claims that “strikes are only used as a last resort against suspects believed to be plotting against America.” Yet, in light of recent media reports regarding drone attacks, just how last resort are they? Are we gaining sufficient intelligence before carrying out strikes, or just enough? The precarious nature of the drone program is, according to Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University Law Professor, “at any time for secret reasons based on secret evidence in a secret process taken by unidentified officials,” the U.S. government “claims the right to kill anyone anywhere on earth at any time.”
According to the New York Times, last year, the White House had given the C.I.A. and the Pentagon “broader authority to carry out drone strikes in Yemen against terrorists who imperil the United States.” The concern the Obama administration has is that al-Qaeda will “bleed us financially by drawing us into long [and] costly wars.” According to the Obama admin, precision strikes and raids are the most effective means to defeat terrorism.
This is the plan, but is it working?
Consider the testimony of Yemeni activist Farea al-Muslimi, who spoke on Capitol Hill regarding the use of drones in his native country. On April 23, 2013, during the Senates first ever public hearing on the Obama administrations “precision strikes” program, al-Muslimi told the story of when his family’s village was bombed by a U.S. drone strike. “When they think of America, they think of the terror they feel from the drones that hover over their heads, ready to fire missiles at any time,” al-Muslimi says of his fellow Yemenis. “What the violent militants had previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant.” The very same village strike al-Muslimi mentions has become a so-called signature of the Obama administration, conducting drone strikes based on patterns of suspicion, instead of actual identification. But don’t take my word for it. Consider another testimony, this time from an actual U.S. drone pilot who flew missions very similar to those described by al-Muslimi. In an interview with NPR, former sensor operator for the U.S. Air Force Predator program Brandon Bryant discusses his experience conducting “precision strikes” overseas from a dimly lit trailer in the Nevada desert. According to NPR, “on [Bryant’s] very first sortie as a pilot, [he] watched from the drone’s camera as American soldiers got blown up in Afghanistan. [And] there was nothing he could do.” This was Bryant’s first experience flying a drone; simply watching. Later in the interview, Bryant laments on his “first shot,” saying that while he was watching an attack between a group of insurgents and U.S. troops, he was ordered to fire on another group of men that had been standing some distance away from the battle. “The missile hits, and after the smoke clears there’s a crater there and you can see body parts from the people. [There had been a] guy that was running from the rear to front, his left leg had been taken off above the knee, and I watched him bleed out,” Bryant told NPR reporters. The group of men that Bryant was ordered to fire on had been armed, but Bryant said he had no idea what their intent was. In Bryant’s own words, “these guys could have been local people that had to protect themselves.”
Considering the recent debates in the U.S. regarding gun advocacy, could you imagine a group of civilians in places like Montana or Texas being targeted simply because they were armed? Luckily, drone strikes are not allowed on U.S. soil…at least for now. According to Medill News Service, by 2015, hundreds of thousands of drones could be buzzing around U.S. airspace thanks to a little law called, FAA Modernization and Reform Act, with its seven page provision known simply as the Drone Act, which passed just last year. These drones, however, will be not be armed, and “bear little resemblance to the war machines making headlines overseas; the drones [that will eventually be] flown in the United States often look more like toys,” toys with technologically advanced cameras that beg the question of Fourth Amendment violations.
But I digress; let us return to the subject of drone strikes overseas.
According to CNN News reports, the percentage of civilian casualties overseas has dropped significantly since 2008, from a whopping 33% to 11% fatality rate. Yet, these new estimates do not translate that drone strikes have lessened; on the contrary, they have bumped up from 67% to 89%. Osama bin Laden himself, in a memo confiscated during the famous Abbottabad compound raid that resulted in the death of the world’s most notorious terrorist, that U.S. drone strikes were having a devastating effect on his (Taliban) organization in Afghanistan.
So, as we tally the testimonies of those who are being most effected from drone strikes, the civilian collateral, and from testimonies from drone pilots, when we weigh them against the final outcome, are drones worth it? Sure, we’re killing off, without warrant, at least 89% of suspected militants, but what about the other 11%? Do we simply write them off as an acceptable loss in war?
In closing, consider another sordid tale regarding a recent drone strike in Yemen. This story involves Sanaa cleric Sheik Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber and the night he died. In a small Yemeni village, Ali Jaber preached about the evils of al-Qaida, and according to a Fox News report, “warning residents to stay away from the group’s fighters and their hardline ideology.” The local parishioners feared retaliation from the not far off militants living in the mountain strongholds near the remote eastern village of Khashamir. Even the cleric’s own father wanted him to stop before something bad happened. Eventually, al-Qaida militants, in fact, did call out the brash cleric to a night time meeting, hoping perhaps to intimidate Ali Jaber into silence, or worse. The cleric’s brother-in-law, recounting the events of the fateful night to the Associated Press, said that Ali Jaber “felt he had no [other] choice but to meet them.” The night the cleric died, he had shortly arrived to a car where three militants were waiting. No sooner had the cleric closed his door, four missiles hit the car, followed by a passing (familiar) buzz sound. “We know the buzzing sound of the drones overhead,” reported Faysal bin Ali bin Jaber, the clerics brother-in-law. According to Yemeni security officials, three militants, along with the cleric and a cousin, were among the dead. A strike carried out by an American drone.
Did the officials who gave the order to strike, know that cleric Sheik Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber was not a member of al-Qaida? They probably had no clue who the two other men were as they entered the car with the suspected militants; the cleric and his cousin were simply guilty by association. Except we know, through creditable reporting, that the cleric and his cousin were not militants; in fact, the cleric, himself at least, spoke out against Islamic extremism and al-Qaida. But the pilots of the drone didn’t have that information…didn’t need that information to carry out its strike.
Currently, according to the AP, “while the United States acknowledges its drone program in Yemen, it does not confirm individual strikes or release information on how many have been carried out.” Perhaps the time has come for the American public to have those exact numbers of drone strikes we are carrying out overseas. If our policies condone acts of “necessary force” in counter-termism, we should know the costs.
The NRA goes Texas, Houston that is. The 142nd annual NRA national meeting is fused to ignite today, Friday, May 3rd, 2013, at the George R. Brown Convention Center in the heart of downtown, hosting 550 exhibitors and covering over 400,000 square feet with all the trimmings: educational speakers, celebrities of the likes as Glenn Beck, Gov. Rick Perry, the always favorite (yikes) Sarah Palin, Sen. Ted Cruz, special events, wholesome family atmosphere, and protesters. Wait…what? That’s right folks, gun-control groups and other advocates are also planning on attending the rock star event at what has been called “ground zero,” in our nation’s big gun debate- the NRA. Protestors will gather outside the impromptu gun event, hosting a three day vigil for victims of gun violence.
According to the Houston Chronicle, the NRA plans on educating attendees on such issues as: “a gun-owners’ registry, assaults on the Second Amendment, the necessity of enforcing laws on the books instead of passing new ones, the futility of background checks and other gun-related issues.” The convention comes shortly after a fresh victory for the NRA and gun advocates over President Obama’s failed push on expanded background checks when it flopped by a mere 6 votes of the 60 votes needed to adopt the measure and keeping the bill from going all filibuster in the House.
(Check out this interesting article on the future of filibuster reform.)
Why Houston? Why now? It would seem rather impromptu of the NRA to host a gun convention in the midst of a heated national debate regarding gun control, and the necessary steps to reduce said gun violence so soon after national tragedy. However, for the NRA, Houston seems like the perfect environment to host a gun convention in the hopes to recharge for more expected political struggles as gun control advocates tally their own successes in states around the country. According to Andrew Arulanandam, an NRA spokesman, “the convention will draw the largest crowd in history.” Why is that Andrew? Is it because all us Texans own guns? Just like we all wear ten-gallon cowboy hats and ride horses to work. Stereotypes aside, a majority of Houstonians do own fire arms, according to the Houston Chronicle, for obvious reasons. Texas is still very much a part of the frontier culture. Folks love to hunt ducks “in the wetlands around El Campo and Eagle Lake. [Folks also] hunt deer in the Texas Hill Country. And, yes, many [Texans] keep a gun or two in a closet at home for safety, security and peace of mind.” And some good ole Texans even keep a few guns under their bed. The pathos of the Second Amendment is very much alive in Texas, especially in Houston, and rightly so. But I would also think that our support for the Second Amendment does not preclude support for sensible rules and regulations that are designed to protect the sanctity of human life. Extending background checks for gun purchasers in both online sales and at conventions makes sense. Don’t take my word for it. Check out the resent trends developing on social media sites. According to Pew Research Center, calls for stricter gun control shifted from 30 to 65% in favor, while opposite dropped from 50 to 21%, on Twitter. You can view the complete poll here. These trends on Twitter also match a poll taken recently by Gallup back on April 29, 2013, where a whopping 65% of Americans thought that the Senate should have passed the measure to expand background checks for gun purchases. You can view their report here.
So, what do all these trends in polls really tell us? Well, for starters, all this talk about the 90% is bull. Yes, percentages in favor of expanding background checks are higher than those against the measure, but let’s be real about it and avoid inflating the numbers, because to be honest, it would take an act of God to get nine out of ten Americans to agree on anything, especially on something as heated as gun control. Secondly, these polls verses the actually vote in congress shows us that something very wrong is going on in Washington…or maybe something very right. What could be going wrong? Well, if 65% of Americans wanted this bill to go through and it failed, as it did, then the people’s voice is no longer effectually being represented in Washington. According to Senator Pat Toomey, “In the end it [the background check bill] didn’t pass because we’re so politicized. There were some on my side [Republicans] who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.” Also, there could be something wrong in the way bills are passed through the Senate. At first glance, the 54 YEA’s trumps the 46 NAY’s right? Nope. A bill requires, for some reason, 60 total votes to go into effect. To some, this 60 vote thing may make sense, but to me, I am at a loss. A majority vote is a majority vote, plain and simple. The one thing that could be right in all this is that in representing our “voice,” our elected officials also understand the dangers inherent in giving into mob mentality. As it seems, we simple folk get all worked up in larger crowds, but when you single us out, we’re rather reasonable. Consider Brown v. Board of Education and how long it took for the “mob” to realize how wrong segregation was. For our elected representatives, walking the tight-rope between listening to their constituents voices and avoiding worked up crazed mobs, seems rather precarious. Perhaps we ought to give our officials some benefit of the doubt, and simply ask them questions instead a seeking the tallest tree to noose them up in.
While gun-control advocates scrabble to seek a new path after the “shameful day for Washington,” gun advocates, such as the NRA, will likewise continue to promote the “stand and fight” methodology to remain steadfast in what outgoing NRA president David Keene told NBC News, “was a victory in a battle, but the war continues.”
Today, the NRA celebrates their big win in Houston, but opponents are also in the works, launching, according to NBC News, “a coordinated effort ahead of the 2014 midterm elections,” to advocate that folks like the NRA may not be as concerned about the rights of gun owners than they are about the rights of the gun industry itself. In an interview with Ladd Everitt, the spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, “I think the NRA leadership is wildly out of step with their own members on the issue of expanding background checks.” If that’s the case, perhaps the upcoming national elections in 2016 may prove for Republicans to be difficult in keeping seats in Washington. Obviously, each side of the debate claims the other to be fervently wrong. But where do most Americans fall? Time will tell in the above mentioned coming elections in mid-2014 and in 2016.
In the meantime, lets address some fundamental fallacies in the raging arguments from both perspectives:
- Guns are not a living entity. They cannot walk down the street, on their own, and fire into a crowd. Gun control advocates are aware of this. They are not attacking responsible gun owners. If you are a responsible gun owner, you are already going to pass a background check. Background checks are looking for folks with a history of violence. If you are a violent person, perhaps you should take a yoga class and forgo purchasing that sweet glistening AR-15.
- Not all gun advocates are back-water anti-government crazies. While a majority does support background checks, they also believe that gun-control shouldn’t be the only measure taken in avoiding tragic events such as Sandy Hook.
- Gun control advocates are not trying to take away our Second Amendment Rights. Only a few extreme left are; they are the minority voice, just like the minority crazy anti-government folks. So, the argument about drunk drivers and sales of alcohol thing is a bit over-the-top. Obviously, the government has already tried the “no alcohol thing,” and it didn’t really work out in the end. Instead, just like how most gun control advocates are trying to do, they promoted greater public awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving, increased judicial punishment, and established a drinking age. Beer is a controlled substance; shouldn’t guns be just as controlled? You don’t see government kicking in your doors looking for a delicious New Belgium 1554, do you? Then you won’t see government kicking in your doors looks for your licensed hand gun.
- Gun control will create a gun registry. News flash folks, we currently already have a gun registry, of sorts, and a sucky one at that! The current, twenty plus year old system, simply tracks make/model/and serial numbers through a basic record of sale. Why not change? I think most gun advocates fear this policy the most because of a basic fear of “big brother,” which I totally understand. I don’t care so much for being watched on video cameras, but yet, they somehow help catch criminals. So, lets think about what this registry will actually do, which is, help law enforcement, our brothers and sister that help keep our streets safe, to be better equipped in tracking fire arms that tend to make their way illegally into the hands of violent offenders.
As it seems, we’re sadly pitted against extreme either-or arguments, while most of us tend to take a rather moderate position on the subject. Most of us enjoy our right to gun ownership. Most of us also understand the need to control the very thing we have a right to own. Just as we have a right to drink, we are also responsible about it, or should be. Shouldn’t we also be responsible about gun control, without having to be so extreme about it? Only time will tell in where the great debate on gun control takes us, so for now, Houston, enjoy the convention.