Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Survival of the races

Perhaps it is because I have been a Survivor aficionado for the last few years, but I am entirely untroubled by the recent news that the tribes on the show will be divided by race/ethnicity. In fact, I was always far more troubled by the dearth of minorities usually in the game. I can understand if people are concerned that the show will magnify stereotypes and simply reinforce the nation's racial strife; unfortunately, "reality television" has too frequently banked on such divisiveness in order to make "good television."

However, the outrage seems misplaced to me, for it seems to deny that such divisions are not cultural realities in our country. To be sure, it would be swell to have one happy tribe in which all related to one another as humans and not as ethnic cardboard cutouts; it would be magnificent for backstabbing to be a color-blind endeavor. It would be nice, but it would only be a further instance of "reality" TV's plastic resemblance to real life.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Reflecting on Katrina

This week will probably play host to a number of Katrina retrospectives. One particular documentary, Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke, has already started stirring the pot of controversy. While much of the press coverage on the film has been even-handed, there have been so rumbling reservations about once again asking who is to blame for the bungled efforts to protect and help the people of New Orleans and southern Mississippi. Especially galling to some have been the widespread accusations of racism and even conspiracy in the failings of the levees and their destructive aftermath.

The problem on both fringes of the political spectrum is that problems in society are too often wrapped into these wide conspiracy theories. While some on the left imagine a dark government conspiracy behind 9/11, some Christians on the right see themselves as oppressed people, a people who will be plucked out of this world with the return of Jesus. The rhetoric on both sides maddeningly refuses to look at the very real problems which exist in our society.

I think Katrina exposed such a sad reality. Whether black or white, if you are poor, old, or disabled, your voice will only rarely be heard. If you can't help yourself escape death, many, if not most, of your neighbors will not help you. To me, it is a national tragedy that so much time elapsed between the hurricane and help arriving in the area. Was it a conspiracy? No. Was it racist? Perhaps, in that our political and economic systems have not been succesful in creating equal opportunity for all.

Unfortunate also is that all the conspiracy talk keeps us from seeing a rather obvious point. People who reject the notion that the government blew up the levees, it seems to me, believe so because they cannot imagine that our government would do such a thing, that our government as our representatives would not commit crimes against our own people. Unfortunately, levees were apparently blown up in 1927 and there have been other instances in which your race or ethnicity could put you at the end of dehumanizing treatment by the government.

Unfortunately, we miss a crucial question. Is our government still capable of such criminal action? Actually, there is a far better question to ask: do we think that we ourselves are not capable of such criminal neglect? That is the question we should be asking now, not who conspired to make for the worst natural disaster this nation has seen. The truth is that we all conspire when we let our neighbors suffer.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

...but we don't torture...

Despite the denials of the administration and overwhelming evidence against these very denials, the current administration is advocating that certain individuals be exempt from prosecution for war crimes. Apparently, we do not torture but want immunity from charges. To me, this is the clearest evidence that this administration has lost its moral compass and the respect of the rest of the world. It may not be fair, but as the supposed beacon of freedom and justice in the world, we are held to a higher standard than any other country. Our goal should be to exceed our moral requirements, not find ways to cut corners and hide our crimes. It is a shameful time to be an American...

CT and the Nation

The victory of Ned Lamont over Joseph Liebermann on Tuesday is not a political weathervane. It is a simple case of an incumbent losing support at his grassroots. Was Lamont aided by outside help and money? To be sure but both Republicans and Democrats mourn or celebrate this result at their political peril. The Republicans have for weeks been eulogizing the Democratic Party if it were to oust one of their more centrist senators. They argue that this is a sign of a party lurching to the left and losing the pulse of the country. However, what if the rest of the country concurs in November with Liebermann's constituents?

On the other side, some Democrats may be glad to be rid of the image and symbolism of the President kissings Liebermann on the cheek at the state of the union. Nevertheless, this country will soon grow weary of the strict partisanship of blue and red states, if it has not done so already. For the Democratic party to succeed, it must be careful to court the political center where people are worried about Iraq but unwilling to leave it in chaos, where people do not want to leave massive deficits as an inheritance to their children but are also concerned about their take-home pay. The Democratic party must voice a true alternative to Republican incumbency; the party of opposition must become the party of positive change.

The results of the midterm election are still up in the air, no matter who will represent the Democratic party in CT; hopefully, we as voters will stand up and speak in November.

War in the Holy Lands

The month-long crisis in the Middle East has brought into sharp relief the central problems of contemporary international politics. In my mind, fault lies on both sides of the Israeli-Lebanon border. Lebanon's democratically-elected government has done too little militarily to quash a rising militia in its midst; it seems evident that public disavowals of Hizbullah's practices and tactics clash with an unwillingness to stop the militia's ability to strike Israel.

On the other side, I wonder whether Israel has too easily resorted to military might. If there is such a thing as a "war on terrorism," then victory is not measured by the count of bodybags but by the far more subtle influence of ideological persuasion. Especially in this case, violence perpetuates violence; many of the Israeli military strikes are only fostering the very movement they are trying to quell. The so-called "war on terrorism" is a struggle of ideas, not a battle of steel, gunpowder, and military technologies.

I am hesitant even to utilize the terminology of "war on terrorism" because recently it has simply become shorthand for any struggle we have with a perceived enemy. The term only obfuscates the reasons for battle and the players involved. What have Hizbullah, Hamas, Iraqi insurgents, and Taliban irredentists have in common save their loathing of the western world? Their tactics, ideologies, and grievances are not one and the same.

Let me be clear; I am not an apologist for those who would use crude, random violence in the public square. I am not a supporter of IEDs and suicide bombings; each of these are clear violations of our common humanity. Then again, I am unwilling simply to sweep away human deaths as mere "collateral damage."

These are conflicts which require introspection as well as a clear voice of justice. We cannot cower in an isolationist pose and bemoan a relativist dystopia in which all opinions and ideologies are mere constructions unassailable by critique. There are those who are wrong, dead wrong in these conflicts. I hope, however, that we are not so quick to indict only those who oppose our political will.