Saturday, December 30, 2006

In case you haven't seen that one-minute video of three men in black ski masks leading Saddam Hussein up to the gallows, about to meet his ignominious end, I'll just tell you, although you don't actually see Saddam swing, it’s still gross.

Of course, on many accounts, the hanging was simply a case of a tyrant getting his just deserts. But there's still something deeply disturbing about watching a man, however nefarious, completely at the will of his enemies, his executioners, being primed for death.

And then there's Bush. He really does know how to besmirch the word "democracy." To call Saddam's execution "an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy" is an insult. A real milestone would be something that represented peace.

On September 11, 2,997 people were murdered. Nearly 3,000 American troops have been killed in Iraq since the invasion, while over 200,000 Iraqi civilians, too, have perished.

I just don't understand how more death spells cause for celebration.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Mr.___,in the dining room with the Polonium

A friend with whom I’d often debate international politics once said the Russians could have achieved secure superpower status, like the Americans, had they not always managed to fuck things up.

What he meant to say was the Russians had the brains, but their lack of restraint plus certain, shall we say, mercurial aspects inherent in the Russian temperment would forever hinder their achieving the caliber success commensurate with their talent.

On that score, the recent murder of Alexander Litvinenko by way of the über-deadly, radioactive element Polonium 213 represents another instance in which the Kremlin may have drastically fucked things up.

If Putin in fact had Litvinenko poisoned, he will have, at the same time, seriously damaged Russia's relationship with the West. And how couldn't he have? In one broad stroke, the Kremlin may have utterly flouted every international law, putting countless innocents in mortal danger.

Litvinenko may have been a thorn in Putin’s side—as Anna Politkovskaya definitely was—but the more the Kremlin opts for KGB-style tactics instead of civilized ways with which to deal with dissenters, the further it will estrange itself from the West. After all, who wants to be friends with a country that disregards international law, and on whose home front hired-guns kill anybody challenging the status quo—261 journalists, alone, have been murdered in Russia since ’91.

BUT, ALAS, no charges have been brought against anyone in the Kremlin. If Scotland yard concludes Putin had nothing to do with the murder, then the least Putin can do is help facilitate catching those responsible. But as the matter stands, with British law enforcement barred from conducting a proper investigation on Russian soil, a conviction seems as far away as Russia’s chances of true prosperity.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

With the Iraq Study Group Reporting its findings last Wednesday, President Bush now more than ever seems on the hot seat. And, on many counts, it's a throne he deserves. (In case you haven't heard, the Study Group said Iraq more or less has descended into anus mundi, essentially ringing the death knell for the president’s hopes of transforming a once-totalitarian stronghold into a Jeffersonian-style Democracy.)

Yes, it’s all bad news. But despite this bad news and despite the scandals that have rocked the GOP in the past year or so, Bush & Co. has one saving grace, which way too often goes overlooked:

The United States has not been attacked by terrorists in the almost six years.

Remember after 9/11 there was all that talk of our being attacked again? Hasn’t happened. And, while I disagree with the duplicitous ways in which the Executive Branch has hitherto operated in hopes of augmenting its power, and while I'm disgusted by the human-rights abuses that may or may not have led to a safer America, I have to step back a moment.

I have to step back a moment and say, my other qualms notwithstanding, President Bush at least deserves some credit for the zero attacks since 9/11.

Making It to the Next Round

Every now and again, between wondering what to eat for dinner or which iTunes songs to download, we stop to ponder the origin of our existence. Some frequent high-vaulted cathedrals for the answers, others meditate in their living rooms. Whatever the case may be, there is no disputing that the existing points of view are myriad. (Bear with me, it's worth it.)

Despite all these ideas, one popular explanation for the origin of humankind goes something like this: An omniscient, omnipotent and ubiquitous God put us on Earth, for better or worse. People who subscribe to this idea may also believe that proof—yes, proof—of this God’s existence is evinced in each of us, in the form of a good, just and wholesome soul.

Furthermore, some people may think that if they act properly, have a strong sense of morality and respect their county's justice system or rule of law, they are doing so because God’s grace resides in them, propelling them toward the “right” path.

Now, while I’m not too much of a God person, I may have even believed something similar at one point. With that in mind, think about how I felt after reading the following quote, from an essay written by E.O. Wilson and Michael Ruse, a biologist and a philosopher, respectively, about ethics, God and society.

"Ethics is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate, and the way our biology enforces its ends is by making us think that there is an objective higher code to which we are all subject."

According to this theory, which is enough to make a true believer keel over in disgust, our genes (like, our DNA) trick us into believing that a higher power, namely God, wants us to abide by society’s ethical codes and fear “The Wrath.” For if we act uprightly, if we constantly believe God is watching all our actions, our decisions will be more constrained—more rational—which will result in our leading safer, and perhaps healthier, lives. That, in turn, will increase our overall chances of propagating.

It takes a while to sink in, I know. And,after all, who know's at all if it's true. But what an interesting way to look at some questions none of us can truly answer.

Friday, November 24, 2006

I think it's about time.

After three years of unabated bloodshed in Iraq, the idea of now leaving the place to the dogs, if such an expression is even suitable, no longer sounds so bad. Although I've longed believed the invasion to be almost completely unjustifiable and, like everyone else, ill planed, I at least took solace in the idea that America, at very least, was helping the Shia, a once marginalized, if not persecuted, people. Well, things have changed. Through the Mahadi Army, many Shia have proven that they can be just as brutal. By no means, then, is it in America's interest to mediate a war between two religious sects hell-bent on each other's demise.

I think it's about time.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


"Playing things too safe is a popular way to fail. Dying is another."

Why is that when raw talent and tragedy collide, a seductive story is almost always born? Think about it—Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain. The list is long. But somewhere wedged between Jimmy Hendricks and Jeff Buckley is Elliott Smith (who’s incidentally quoted above). For those who don’t know, Smith was a singer/songwriter who came into the national spotlight after composing most of the songs on the "Good Will Hunting" soundtrack in 1997.

Now I'm not going to lie, when it comes to Elliott Smith, I'm a little late to the party. (When he died in ’03, I only vaguely knew of him.) But I don't care. This is music that deserves an audience. Many of his melodies are Beatlesquely tinged and his lyrics are visceral. Hell, in each song Smith swims to the bottom of his emotional pool, grabs something lying on its floor and then returns to the surface with it, for all of us to see. His lyrics wind up reading like this:

"It’s 2:45 in the morning, and I’m putting myself on warning.” Or, "I'm burning every bridge that I've crossed to find a beautiful place to get lost."

Aren't those heartbreakingly elegant? Again, I won’t lie—knowing that Smith killed himself colors my take on these lyrics. They’re of course freighted with doom. But, in some strange way, isn’t that what makes them great? Isn’t that why we like these dead rock stars, or why tragedy allures us? It reminds us how delicate and ephemeral life is. How blessed—and sometimes tortured—we all are. What could be more seductive?

Here’s a Smith line that’s played on repeat in my mind for the past week or so. Enjoy.

"Nobody broke your heart/you broke your own, ’cause you can’t finish what you start.”

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Hard-to-Define Absence

It’s funny. Proud as I may be of my native-New Yorker status, and proud as I am to have a deep knowledge of the city, I feel no more of a kinship to the Ground Zero site than, say, a tourist from New Zealand. Though I pass Ground Zero on my way to work each day, and have perfect view of it from my office’s window, I feel nothing but a sad astonishment (which is probably what any true American feels when he or she thinks to that day). The only way to have a real kinship with the site, I believe, is to have been directly affected by Sept. 11. Did you get soot on your face? Did your loved one never make it home? Did your life’s work vanish in seconds? If the answer is yes to any of the above, then you can claim the site as yours, for better or probably worse. I was safe at college that morning and feel almost dirty when pondering how the absence of the Towers makes me feel, even as a New Yorker

The bigger question: do any of us ever have the right to comment on anything in which we've played no part or on pain we've never felt?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Lost Art Form Redivivus

Few objects have the transportable power of a book whose title is A Treasury of the World’s Greatest Letters.

Published in 1941, this book, which I rescued from my college library’s “discard” bin, examines the personal correspondences of exceptional people in history, everyone from Mozart to Chekhov to Otto von Bismarck.

Though I only open it occasionally, each time I do, the diligence and grace with which the authors wrote always precipitates a feeling of lament in me. Is such a craft even compatible with our modern world, I wonder?

All right, I don’t lament too long.

At any rate, listed below is an excerpt from one of these letters. Though almost every letter in this book is penned by one of history’s boldface names, the last one is written by a much lesser known man.

His name was Stanley Lupino, a British actor and director living in his native London, and he was serving as an Air Raid warden during the Battle of Britain. In between the sirens and blackouts, he wrote a letter to his wife and daughter in America about the courage and ingenuity of the British people during that epic battle in 1940, when the Luftwaffe bombing campaigns were as expected and constant as the gloomy weather.

They don’t laugh at wardens anymore. They bless us and look upon us as their greatest friends in need. Children run to us when they see the familiar black tin hat with the ‘W’ on it in white. Conductors won’t take fares from us and shops hardly want to take payment when we walk in. We are policemen, nurses, firefighters, watchers for danger, aids in sickness, and [givers of] comfort and confidence to all and sundry….

During the night I visit the sleeping people in [air-raid] shelters. I never speak, only stand and inspect them, but they all say they feel my presence even in darkness….They know the familiar sound of my walk and the soft read of my heavy gum boots. I never wake them…. If one wants to talk they whisper. One girl, a typist in the City, was awake in a shelter for 60 [people], but had 140 in it, huddled in heaps on the floor. She looked up and whispered, ‘Hold my hand, sir, just for a minute.’ I said, ‘Of course.’ After a while she pressed it to her face, and said, ‘I feel better now. I haven’t seen my husband for three months and I’m going to have a baby. I just wanted to feel a man’s hand against my face….’

This is only a few of the things that happen, choky, heart hurting things that make you have to brace up and bite your lip. It’s not the bombs, or the guns, that upset you; it’s the lovableness of the people. Their hearts and souls laid bare—and when laid bare, it’s so sweet to see.

Hope you enjoyed it.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The list goes on and on....

Anyone who reads the New York Times each day knows how exhaustingly sad an experience it can be. “Dining Out” and “Escapes” sections notwithstanding, most of the paper—especially, the “International” section—is filled with images of violence and misery. Unfortunately, such content eventually become so repetitive, so expected, the reader builds a tolerance to it.

A few years ago, after noticing my tolerance to these sad images and stories growing, and not wanting this tolerance to mutate into apathy, I made myself a promise: Until the war's end, I’d read the list of names of American soldiers recently killed in combat, a list the Times publishes every day, which also contains the age, hometown, ranking and battalion of each soldier lost.

Although this list doesn’t even come close to representing the breadth of the war’s casualties, especially on the Iraqi side, still, it was some sort of reminder.

This is what I'd read:

Doe, John A., 19, Sgt.,
Buffalo, NY.; 40th
Engineer Battalion,
Second Brigade Combat
Team, First Armored Div.

Reading this information, word for word, hometown for hometown, I believed, would make the war seem somewhat “real.” Reading this info would remind me, at least for the moment, that the Iraq war isn't just of captioned photos and tightly written stories. These were real men and woman. These were real teenagers.

So what’s my whole point for this post? It’s quite simple: I recently stopped reading the names.

It’s not that I didn’t care any more, I did. But after a while the constant stream of death tired and sickened me.

Now I don’t serve as any sort of bellwether for America’s overall opinion or the way toward which we’re moving as a country on Iraq, but if I, a person who for two years actually ruminated over the fate of these dead soldiers (however minute an act it is), recently stopped bothering to read these names, If I’ve grown slightly apathetic and uninterested, what does that say about much of America, who, I believe, at least, may have never really cared about many of the issues in the first place?

What does that say about our future as a country? Is this the new status quo? Is America comfortable with being a country that entangles itself in foreign conflicts, and whose soldiers die in droves, while many on the home front simply ignore the daily deaths? Are we becoming a country that is comfortable with the fact that, so many of our soldiers have died, the New York Times is able to print a fresh list of dead soldiers' names each day. Each day!

America needs to realize that the halcyon days are over.

Not only are the halcyon days over, but it's time for some serious attitude adjustments. Instead of watching game shows like “Deal or no Deal?," in which money is profligately tossed about, instead of worrying about how we can buy into that luxury condo in Manhattan, or quibbling over a few cents’ increase in the gas price, we should all, collectively, be thinking of how we are going to prevent another of our soldiers from making that damn list.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Hating the Palliating

Talk about at a lesson in euphemistic language.

Jeep, the car company owned by GM, just had a commercial on TV advertising its fall deals. Fine. But at the end of the commerical, Jeep reminds customers to partake in the company’s letter writing campaign to "our overseas troops."

Fucking overseas? Give me a break. According to the A.P., the number of American troops killed in Iraq just surpassed the amount of people killed in New York on 9/11.
These troops are more than people who are overseas. My friend Stuey, who's backpacking through Europe and trying to find himself, is "overseas."

What's wrong? using the word Iraq or soldiers or military or figthers isn't palatable? Well not much in war is.

With all the ways to describe USA's might, it's interesting to note that on the home front, and in happy little car commercials, we say "overseas troops."

Any American soldier in Iraq is fighting for his or her life. It's a macabre ordeal fought with weapons that look like something out of H.R. Giger's imagination.

But, then again, do we Americans really care?

The war is so far away, so remote. And that new Jeep Cherokee comes with all leather interior and dual-zone climate control.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Can't Outrun Your Shadow

Here's an essay I wrote for a class a while back. Thought it was interesting enough to post, but I don't necessarily agree with everything I wrote. Nevertheless, it felt right at the time. Agree with it or disagree, if you'd like.

Time and again many great thinkers have proclaimed mankind a peaceful animal, albeit one driven to violence by iniquity. Were man granted an equal share of territory and equal access to resources, these thinkers argued, his soul would be fulfilled, obviating the need to perpetrate crimes or, for that matter, make war. And sadly, time and again, man, through his actions, has proved this notion wrong. History has shown us that even when a man seemed content—i.e., had a surfeit of land, a full belly and a heavy coin purse—he still wanted more. Suffice to say, then, that war, crime or enmity doesn’t stem from a dearth of land or resources but instead from an intrinsic flaw in mankind’s nature.

What happened in Nazi Germany underpins this theory. When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, he instituted radical economic polices, many of which were incredibly successful, over a Germany that had, through the Weimar era, been destitute. By the time war WWII began, Hitler didn’t need any more land or resources for his people. The Reichsmark had recovered nicely, and Germans were again eating well. Germany’s problems, in fact, had never really centered on lack of land.

However, one of many impetuses for Hitler’s war was land acquisition. But the Führer didn’t want to harvest crops: he wanted more land with which he could better nourish German children, his cannon fodder. What is more, Hitler wanted to expand the Reich, so it could be harder to defeat—thanks to more resources and manpower—on the battlefield. Here is the perfect case of a man, who did not need more land, a man whose human condition was relatively agreeable, but started one of the deadliest wars to win more any way.

Though Hitler serves as an extreme example, he wasn’t the only man who exhibited such intrinsic flaws, when considering history and literature.

Similar to Hitler, Raskolnikov, Dostoyevsky’s main character in the book Crime and Punishment, acts out of a twisted impulse when committing a nasty deed, a deed born not out of necessity. Raskolnikov was responsible for the death of two people, who, much like all those millions killed in WWII, could have easily been spared.

Raskolnikov had a decent life—he was going to university and receiving money from his mother back home. However, Raskolnikov, in Dostoevsky’s classic (a classic in which many a characters' ruminations most definitely reflected Dostoevsky’s personal musings), isn’t happy with his mundane existence. Acting from this frustration, he decides one day he wants to “challenge himself”: he wants to be unique; he wants to be a “superman,” or an “übermensch.” The only way to do this, Raskolnikov believes, is by committing a spectacular act, which will set him above common man: murder. Perhaps most shocking, Roskolnikov commits these crimes just to see if he can. Thus, Raskolnikov, like so many before in history and literature, wanted to test the limits of human capacity, irrespective of who had to pay the price.

Disheartening as it is to think that true peace is almost never possible, thanks to a flaw in man’s soul, the case for it is strong. Both Hitler and Raskolnikov speak for the fact that, even when man is sated or comfortable, he still wants more. Therefore, idealists can—and will—perpetually bemoan the state of the world. They can preach about how one should give peace a chance, or one should share with one another and live cordially. Truth told: any man, given the right opportunity, would steer into the wrong due to some intrinsic flaw.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Disaster's Recipe: More Enmity, Less Sympathy

As the Israeli army continues to obliterate most of Lebanon, while Hezbollah lobs rockets deeper into Israel, it looks as though the world’s heading toward apocalypse. Will peace ever be a possibility? Who knows.

One thing I do know, though, is that it is impossible to understand Israel’s motives without attempting to view the current conflict, as many Jewish people do, through the prism of the Holocaust. This perspective, which looks at each battle as a final battle for survival, is a justifiable one: the Holocaust’s horrific significance will forever ripple through history, continually influencing the way warfare, nationalism and demagoguery are perceived.

So, to that end, the vehemence with which the Israeli army recently responded to Hezbollah rocket attacks makes sense. Similarly, when Israelis and their Jewish brethren in the US see people on TV chanting “death to Israel,” it's only natural that they want to display their resolve: they want to announce to the world—via their military actions—that the days of Jewish persecution are long over.

But by reacting to Hezbollah or the Palestinians with such with such a heavy hand, the Israelis are sending the wrong message. Worse yet, the Israeli desire to root out all enemies seems guided more by tunnel vision than logic. In the end, what the world sees is an Israeli population growing more and more estranged from one of the things that truly makes humankind great, which is its capacity for sympathy.

And therein lies the problem.

Sympathy and charity, after all, are cornerstones of the Jewish religion. But lately, it seems like these principles are being obscured by Israel’s desire to defend itself.

Yes, one should be concerned with the nurturing and preservation of one’s own people, especially when considering Jewish history. But this desire to see one’s own group thrive should not preclude all chances for peace or feelings of sympathy for other human beings. Once this point is reached, terror ensues.

Still, it is important to make something clear, the act of blowing oneself up in a café—an action toward which many young, Palestinian males show a proclivity—is morally repugnant. Ditto for Hezbollah fighters firing rockets at Israel, all the while using their countrymen (innocent Lebanese) as camouflage.

But despite all these immoral actions carried out by Israel's sworn enemies, there is an aphorism that gives insight into why Israel sill did not have the moral high ground this summer:

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

While Hezbollah and Hamas are in the wrong, so, too, is Israel. Especially, that is, when Israel's air force obliterates a whole building full of civilians—meaningfully or not—just to get to a few Hezbollah fighters in the cellar. It’s an egregious disregard for human life.

"But Israel has the right to do so," some may say. "Look at its peoples’ history: it's do or die." A fair rebuttal. But one can hearken back to a singular, albeit monumentally tragic, event for so long.

Today, things have changed, and this prism-of-the-Holocaust perspective skews the opinions and feelings of many Jewish people, typically known for being quite rational. No one—be it a Muslim, Christian or Jew— should ever shrug off the death of a child with the argument, “Hey, Hezbollah shouldn’t have started it (an opinion I incidentally overheard while riding the subway). It’s horror on all sides. This lack of sympathy—spurred on by prejudices, deep-seated fears and religious dogma—is corrupting.

And a dearth of sympathy usually indicates a lack of understanding.

Many Jewish people fail to try and understand the Palestinians, seeing them instead as inferior, war mongers. Likewise, many Palestinians, Shiites and Arabs fail to consider the Jewish people’s past, disregarding their sensitivities and fears. Many Shiites, for instance, don't care how the Holocaust has over time affected the Jewish psyche. (Just think about the outrageous and incendiary remarks Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, made several months ago.)

Until the Palestinians, Shiites and Arabs begin trying to understand Israel and Jewish history, and until the Israelis realize that they cannot punish their enemies with impunity just because of their tragic history, the serpent of Middle-East violence will forever be chasing its tail.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Have We Lost it or Are We Just Lost?

Here's a response I posted on the Guardian newspaper's blog, Comment is Free. It's a response to another blog entry posted by a Guardian editor, Richard Adams,who suggests that perhaps the U.S.– politically, at least – has finally gone mad. Adams began to wonder about the sanity of our country after, on a recent trip to America, he moseyed on into a Barnes and Noble, only to find books such as Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them, Bernard Goldberg's 100 People who are Screwing up in America, and, of course, Michael Moore's Dude, Where's my Country. Adams also noted in his entry how prominently these books were displayed at the store.

Each book Adams refers to has opinions, musings and rantings in it that range from rash to virulent, which, as mentioned, prompted Adams to ask himself, "Have Americans finally lost it?"

"It's true that the US has always had a strand of adversarial literature, but the sheer weight of the current crop surpasses previous efforts. These books aren't being sold in some dodgy little bookshop – this is in Barnes & Noble. These books are being produced by the likes of HarperCollins...It's hardly breaking news to identify America as split violently in two, but the savagery of the attacks is deeper and more enduring than many in Europe realizes. Is it healthy, or is it a sign of a sick society? If nothing else it suggests a long, unhealthy bout of introspection."

So, I said...

"Many interesting points, Mr. Adams, but I think the most interesting of all – and the one you just mentioned in passing – deals with America's mentality in a post-9/11 world. As you said, publishers don't publish books if they don't sell, and the themes of the books seen in Barnes and Noble are indeed a reflection of the zeitgeist. So, now, what can we infer? This: Americans are scared. Americans are confused. 9/11 threw this country into a tailspin. Americans, more than ever, want to reaffirm who they are. Why? Because 9/11, understandably, made the condition of an already uncertain world seem more uncertain.

Cue the polemical authors.

Let's face it, the political situation out there is pretty complex. And most Americans simply can't grasp such complexities. That's why they need these polemical authors to help them "better navigate" the state of politics and culture. Unfortunately, though, most of these authors are probably better at ranting than they are writing."

What do you think? Are Americans simply now reaping the rotten fruit of two bad decisions, namely, their decision for president in 2000 and 2004? Or was it 9/11 that threw this country into a tailspin? Are our Red state-Blue state rivalries symptomatic of an unhealthy society?


Wow, how about this Bush guy, huh? First he says that whoever leaked the information to a NY Times reporter that led to a C.I.A. agent’s cover getting blown would be punished or brought to justice, or whatever the fuck other hokey phrase he often uses. Well, guess what, boys and girls, it turns out Bush himself authorized those leaks about Valerie Plame.

God bless America.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Keen on Keane

I don't usually endorse any bands or recommend music – frankly, people have such different tastes when it comes to music that recommendations often fall on deaf ears.


there is one band out there really worth recommending: Keane . This isn't some wild discovery, they have been out for a while. Still, I think they deserve a nod. Who are they? Three guys from the U.K., and they're drums, bass and vocals. Thankfully, Keane isn't corny like some other guitar-less trios(Ben Folds Five, anyone). Their melodies are sweet and their lyrics hold up (something rarely seen today).
Have a listen, if you would.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Crash into Lee

Did you think that Oscar night was a crock of shit, too? Maybe you just thought the Academy's choosing of "Crash" for best picture was about as ingenuous as, say, the National Socialists' explanation of the Reichstag Fire. Maybe. Well, either way, just listen to what Anne Proulx, author of Brokeback Mountain, had to say about that gala night.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Reprehensible, Lamentable

Baghdad, Iraq, March 11 — Tom Fox, the kidnapped American peace worker whose body was found this week, had apparently been tortured by his captors before being shot multiple times in the head and dumped on a trash heap next to a railway line in western Baghdad, an official at the Iraqi Interior Ministry said Saturday.

This lead from today's Sunday New York Times says a lot. In a sense, it epitomizes the situation in Iraq: merciless, animalistic and bloody. No matter what your politics, one must admit that this war is consuming far too many lives. And I'm sick of it. I'm sick of reading the newspaper every day and seeing the names of the dead. I'm sick of the apathy many Americans – especially those in my age group – express toward the war. I'm sick of blaming the president or vice president for all these woes. I'm sick of not being able to do anything about being sick.

But, then again, it's really not about me. It's about Tom Fox's daughter, who, for the rest of her life, will have to live with nightmares of terrorists torturing, then killing, her father.

It's about an Iraqi family, whose lives have been ripped apart by the death of two sons and a father – two sons and a father who still would be alive today, had American forces not accidentally gunned them down at a checkpoint in Iraq a few years ago.

It's about all the American families who have lost sons or daughters at the cruel hand of this war.

How can one justify these deaths or these shattered lives?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Unshrouding Dowd

Came across this interesting, albeit lengthy, article about Marueen Dowd in the Guardian. It covers everything from Judy Miller, to Dowd's feelings about "truthiness," plus all her feminist musings. It's worth looking at.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Fodder for Debate

Last week, looking to blow off steam, I visited the "Comedy Cellar," a comedy club in the West Village. The Cellar is known for nurturing talents like Dave Chappell, Colin Quinn and Dave Attel. Needless to say, the club's comedians aren't politically correct. Therefore, it came as no surprise, that after 15 minutes, one of the night's comedians was already headlong into a set about international politics. And he had a real snide tone.

He began a joke with these words: "Oh yeah, and will someone tell those Muslims that those cartoons --" however, he didn't make it to the punch line. Instead, a young Muslim girl in the audience cut him off. She had anticipated the nasty punch line about her religion, and she told the comic that, essentially, whatever we was about to say was "in poor taste." The comic, not too happy about getting cut off by a member of the audience, bit into her a little bit with a few jokes. He also rebutted the Muslim girl's comment by saying that he's "allowed to make fun of Muslims because, earlier in the night," he had already "made fun of Jews and Blacks." Why should Muslims be excluded, he asked?

But here are my questions:

A) Should she have cut him off in the middle of his joke?
B) Should comics avoid these issues during such emotionally tense times?
C) In a larger sense, how much self-censorship should the West practice when it comes to these issues?
D) Although the comic made fun of Jews and Blacks earlier in his set, he told those jokes with lighthearted irony. However, when the comic began to tell the joke about the Muslims, based on my analysis of his tone, there was this sense that he really didn't care too much for Muslims. In other words, he began to tell the joke about the Muslims with a "what's-wrong-with-these-crazy-people tone of voice. It was almost as though the Muslim joke was in a different category from the Jewish and Black jokes, because – again, through what I sensed in his tone – he felt that Muslims really were crazy. If this is the case, was the girl justified?

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Pen and the Sword

What makes a great movie? Tons of laughs? A fright? Misty eyes? How about if the movie leaves you shaken, feeling introspective or disturbed. Is it still great? I think it is. That's why I highly recommend "Sophie Scholl:The Last Days."

The movie's about the last days of the anti-Nazi, free speech martyr. The movie's heartbreaking because it's a true story, written around newly released East German documents.

In 1943 Sophie Scholl and her group of friends,
The White Rose, were furtively distributing anti-Nazi leaflets at the Munich University. I'm talking about some serious totalitarian blasphemy. They get caught, are sent to Gestapo headquarters and are interrogated. The thrust of the movie is Sophie's interview with her Gestapo interrogator. She proves unshakable. She's believes in freedom, love and peace—pretty much the antithesis of anything the Nazis believed in. The movie is unrelenting suspense, although anyone who knows what the word martyr means, knows how it ends.

Above all, "The Last Days" is a stark reminder of how crushing life can be when liberty is lost. However, the movie is also a testament to how good, whether ethereal or tangible, somehow always triumphs over hate.

Feel something.
See it.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Feel Free

What's up people...I wanted to create a post that's intellectual, political and culturally keen but remains tempered in tone. That said, feel free to write the rashest, most polemical or irreverent comments on Bridges and Chasms.

Bored today, I checked out the NYTimes Web site and came across an article about Russia's withdrawal from Afghanistan in the late 1980s. Because this article is in the archives, the Times won't let me link to it, but here's the lead (note the second paragraph):

Moscow, Feb. 18, 1989: The last Soviet soldier came home from Afghanistan this morning, the Soviet Union announced, leaving behind a war that had become a domestic burden and an international embarrassment for Moscow.

The final Soviet departure came on the day set as a deadline by the Geneva accords last April. It left two heavily armed adversaries, the Kremlin-backed Government of President Najibullah and a fractious but powerful array of Muslim insurgents, backed by the United States and Pakistan, to conclude their civil war on their own.

What a difference a decade makes, huh. Now, I know this isn't breaking news and I'm not trying to imply that what Afghanistan was for Moscow, Iraq will be for Washington, but, nevertheless, it is ironic that the very same people we now vilify, we once backed. Like really backed. I'm talking guns, money and rations here.

Shouldn't a bitter irony like this make us, as a country, think twice before we throw around terms today like "enemy combatant" or "evil-doer"? Would it be too complicated for us to consider the fact that a word like "enemy" really is quite nebulous. Would it be too complicated to consider the fact that hate and rage, too, are incredibly nebulous concepts and can't be arbitrarily linked with or crammed into vogue, propagandistic phrases?

Or does the government, in its efforts to make such concepts digestible to the American public, like to sum up feelings, ideas and philosophies in one or two words.

Keep it simple, stupid.

Finally, would it be too painful to consider the fact that we did, in all actuality, collaborate with militant Muslims whom we now deem as inhuman to fight another force, the U.S.S.R, whom we also once labeled as inhuman?