Friday, March 29, 2002

No Friends Like Old Friends

Dammit! This is a devilishly clever scam. Register for free and see who else from your high school class is also registered. But to actually contact them you have to pay and get their e-mail address.

Notice how it sets in motion a familiarly adolescent social dynamic. We can all see our old friends’ names but no one gives enough of a shit ($29.50 worth to be exact) about each other to pay the fee and get in direct contact.

Now the game becomes, “whoever contacts the other first is a friendless loser.”

Well pal, this is one game I intend to WIN!

Saturday, March 23, 2002

Don't Mind That News Story Behind the Curtain

National Public Radio broadcast a painfully myopic story this morning about a series of bloody assaults by local kids in Charlottesville against students at the University of Virginia.

The motivation was clearly racial. The victims were all beaten severely but not robbed. In each case the attackers were of one race and the victims of another. Heck, the attackers themselves said they chose their victims because of their race.

Hate crime, you say? Not according to NPR. The town (and the broadcaster) are “struggling to understand the motives of the attackers.” That’s because the attackers were black and the victims were white and Asian.

Says NPR, “the motives for the attacks are unclear, but race may have been a factor.” But by their own reporting, race is the only factor.

What follows is an excruciating exercise in journalistic contortion as Adam Hochberg does all he can to ignore the obvious – that bigotry is an equal opportunity offender.

The mayor of Charlottesville says the town’s response to the violence must do “more than simply punish the attackers” and include an examination of the town’s “racial climate and social structure.” Hey, I could save them the effort . . . the racial climate sucks and the “social structure” appears to allow for acts of vicious violence against neighbors.

Like any objective heir to the Murrow tradition, Hochberg reports on both sides of the story. On one side is UVA’s Dean of African American Affairs who says “I don’t condone these acts BUT. . . (everyone together this time) “I can understand their anger.” This, of course, is the
same sort of thinking echoed by those apologists who "understand" the resentment of disadvantaged terrorists who they believe deserve a get-out-of-Gitmo-free card because they are citizens of an impoverished kleptocracy.

Apparently, these Charlottesville thugs are angry about having been left out of the better schools and clubs and, on top of everything, are poor. Of course, the same can probably be said for their white trash neighbors. Yet I doubt the UVA Dean would devote more than a nanosecond to the search for root causes had the victims been black and the attackers white.

And articulating the alternative side of the story? That would be, of course, the local Ku Klux Klan. Joining the clan today is a special guest, the Anti-Defamation League . . . a “Jewish organization” our reporter helpfully supplies.

Here’s a good rule of thumb -- while the Klan is unlikely to add anything useful to real discussion, they are wonderfully useful for shutting down debate altogether.

Let’s say you are undecided about the Charlottesville story. You hear what Hochberg is reporting but deep down inside you harbor a twinge of sympathy for the poor kids who got beaten to a pulp by bigots. Well, that would position you over here on the political spectrum, way over here, with your friends, the Klan. There, that simplifies things considerably, doesn’t it?

One gets the feeling that if public broadcasting didn't have the KKK for "balance" they would have to invent it.

Why go to all the trouble of reporting the mirror image of an actual hate crime story so that it becomes news free? Wouldn’t it more interesting journalism to report on how differently hate crime is treated when the commonly assumed roles are reversed and what does that say about our attitude toward race. Are there people who believe African-American bigotry is qualitatively different than white bigotry? Of course there are. Hell, this story revolves around that assumption like a journalistic Callisto orbiting an unmentionable Jupiter. Why not just confront it, dissect it, debate it and possibly turn over some new ground. Or perhaps it's just too hot to handle.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, March 21, 2002

FAQ: Shouldn't We Be More "Even-Handed" in the Middle East?
(In response to a European friend)

A touchy subject so let's be clear on the basics. I don't want to put words in your mouth but I am assuming you mean treating the interests and motivations of Israel and the Palestinian Authority as equally valid and morally equivalent. If that is what you mean then I strongly disagree.

Israel recognizes the right of Palestinians to self-determination. The Palestinian leadership has never recognized Israel's right to exist. Moreover, the Palestinian Authority either tacitly or directly sponsors the targeting of civilians including schoolchildren with suicide attacks of unspeakable violence in order to achieve its political goals. Israel is a secular democracy that shares the values and heritage of western civilization.

The Palestinian Authority is not a democracy and does not share our values of religious freedom, press freedom, or even the equality of women in society. Moreover, the Palestinians are supported most vocally by brutally repressive theocracies that would rather channel domestic discontent with their rule toward resentment against the West.

On the world stage Israel is one of only a handful of nations that routinely supports the United States in multilateral organizations. It is arguable that Israel is of greater strategic significance to U.S. interests overseas than are many European allies that have refused to cooperate with the US on defense, environmental, and criminal justice policies.

At the risk of putting more words in your mouth, let me anticipate your response to that last bit about Israel's strategic role -- "what about the oil?" you might ask. It is true that many of the Palestinian’s greatest advocates and Israel's most vocal critics control vast reserves of oil. But those countries are also dependant on American purchases. Indeed, they are deeply in debt and the price of oil continues to drop as more crude from non-Mideast sources comes on line. Certainly this market reality and the destruction of the Taliban should signal to these countries that they have more to lose in a conflict with the U.S. that we have.

Why then don't the Islamic states respond rationally to international pressure? Why does the Saudi interior minister (more powerful than his title would suggest) tell Der Spiegel regarding the September 11th hijackings, "It's true that Saudi citizens were on those planes, but who can be certain whether they were behind the attacks?" Is this the sort of ally you think we should be cultivating rather than Israel?

My point is this -- we are now at war with Islamic fascism. The aggressors in this war make no distinction between Jew and Christian or see any nuance between Israeli citizenship and Swiss citizenship. We are all considered infidels and the leaders of radical Islamic nations such as Iran and supposedly moderate ones such as Saudi Arabia promote that worldview through state-sponsored news outlets, school curriculum, and public policy. The issue is whether they will allow we in the West to peacefully coexist with them. Should we be neutral in this conflict? It was a mistake to think so before and it is impossible to do so now.

Thursday, March 14, 2002

The World War II Memorial Triumphs Over Elitism

Among the things The New York Times recently saw fit to print was Herbert Muschamp’s wildly over the top rant against Friedrich St. Florian’s design for the National World War II Memorial, "New War Memorial Is Shrine to Sentiment.” In it, Muschamp, the arbiter of architectural taste for the Times, inadvertently makes the most persuasive argument yet for the design’s appropriateness.

The tension that defined the 20th century and found its most violent expression in World War II was over the question of whether nations governed by common people could compete and survive in the modern age against those ruled by an “enlightened” elite. The strident opposition to the Memorial by a vocal minority proves that that argument is not entirely settled in some circles.

Fittingly, Muschamp cites I.M Pei’s East Wing of the National Gallery as an example of architecture on the National Mall a bit more to his liking. Indeed the East Wing has enjoyed great critical acclaim since its opening in 1979. Yet the East Wing, with its brutal angularity, is among the least appealing buildings in the capital to tourists and other visitors, quite unlike its quietly dignified neighbor, John Russell Pope’s National Gallery of Art to which people naturally flock to sit on its steps and enjoy its colonnades.

Of course, Pope’s building received nothing but scorn from the architectural establishment of the time. Because it was a modern structure wrapped in a classical facade it was labeled inauthentic, a copy of period style. Yet it was and still is one of the most beautiful buildings in America. Its symmetry and reserve are far more inviting to common people than Pei’s showy dissonance.

Muschamp articulates today the same contempt for popular taste that greeted Pope’s design. St. Florian’s Memorial is “sentimental”, “simulated”, and “a permanent movie set.” He feels that the design is “being foisted upon us.” The question is, who is “us?” Opinion polls show the design to be very popular with the public. Moreover, it is overwhelmingly popular with the veterans the Memorial is meant to honor.

Muschamp cites other examples of architecture on The Mall that he approvingly says, “challenge the status quo.” They are, of course, Maya Lin’s minimalist ode to defeatism and James Ingo Freed’s deliberately brutal Holocaust Museum. Aside from Freed’s creation, which is meant to disturb, Muschamp’s favorites are harsh, discordant examples of the same mid-century esthetic that blights our urban landscape. Far from challenging anything, Muschamp’s modernism is the status quo. The glass and concrete boxes that disfigure our cities and render the skylines of Melbourne and Toronto and every place in between indistinguishable from Atlanta is the curse of architecture that hold common people in contempt.

Not that any design changes will satisfy the cadre of World War II Memorial critics. What troubles them most is what the triumphal National World War II Memorial signifies. It reminds us that there are times when state sponsored violence is justified, that war is sometimes the only means of achieving a noble goal, and that those who advocate peace at any price only encourage tyrants to bid up the cost of conflict.

Finally, Muschamp’s article descends into sneering references to shopping malls, Steven Spielberg and Ronald Reagan -- a shrill and unmistakable rallying cry to the enlightened to rise up in opposition. But it is too late. The memorial as designed will in all likelihood be built, hopefully before the last veteran dies. The clamor will in time fade and arguments against its design will grow ever more obscure and incomprehensible. When that happens future generations of common Joes visiting the National World War II Memorial will enjoy one last triumph over 20th Century elitism.