Monday, May 18, 2009

Israel and self-preservation

I'm often left thinking about what will happen to Israel the day the USA turns its back on them and they are left to fend for themselves. I realize that the the last 60 years have been rather cozy, but If I put myself in the shoes of a conservative Israelite, could I say that the bond between Israel and the USA will always be there? Or worse, should I plan my nation's future around a kindly mother USA that should never abandon its child Israel? It would be idiotic to think that the USA will always stand behind anyone, be they Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom or Israel. The political landscape shifts too often, alliances too brief and the economies involved always take a turn in the direction of accommodating a trading partner, rather than an old friend. I read this article here that stated that point forcefully. Shimon Peres, the Israeli president reflected on Jewish history when he answered “If we have to make a mistake of overreaction or underreaction, I think I prefer the overreaction.”

"The mistrust has a long history. Arabs and Persians enjoy cordial enmity; the cultural rivalry between the Sunni and Shia universes dates back a mere 1.5 millennia or so, to the battle of Karbala in 680 and beyond.
But recent developments have envenomed things to the point that Arab diplomats troop daily into the State Department to warn that the U.S. quest for d├ętente with Tehran is dangerous."
Says a columnist in the New York Times "After all, when Israelis and Arabs make common cause, surely the danger is real".

Israel is under a very real threat of destruction. There's no shortage of Islamic nations that would erupt in celebration and would declare the day a cultural landmark if Israel were to fall. Iran has voiced such feelings in ways that Arabs have not vocalized. Yet some Arabs are loosely banding together with the Israeli lobby to argue that there is a Sunni element of stability that needs to be restored to the Middle east, where Shia Iraq has strayed and made friends with the Persian rival.
Alongside with this strategic friendship, comes the all-purpose tonic on the Shia hopes for the future in the form of Hezbollah, another thorn in Israel's side and to some degree, in Sunni strategic thinking also.
Pres. Obama now meets with all these parties and will have a taste of the giant gap that divides these nations

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sterotypes in the media, and what we expect to hear from them...

"Still, looks -- or more specifically, a disconnect over looks -- played a role in how people responded to Prejean. As much as people like to pretend that looks don't matter, there are archetypes ingrained in our subconscious about what certain kinds of people are supposed to look like. And we make assumptions all the time based on those archetypes. When they don't match up, sometimes the accompanying discombobulation can be a pleasant surprise. As when the boy in the baggy pants and bandana turns out to be smartest guy in the class. When the fashion victim announces she has a doctorate in physics. Or when the nerdy talent show contestant turns out to have the voice of a diva."

The above quote is from an article that is very pointedly appropriate. Carrie Prejean did, in speaking out, the unthinkable in terms of what we expect from beauty queens: to think on the spot, out loud. I agree that her words came out less than fully baked, but in that stumbled answer she broke a stereotype.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The death of free media

It seems everyday that I hear something dismal, or dire regarding the economy and such. Newspapers all over are in frantic hand-wringing mode wondering where the money is going to come from. Here is a cogent quote from our friend and invited guest, Rupert. Rupert Murdoch, I mean.

"We are now in the midst of an epochal debate over the value of content and it is clear to many newspapers that the current model is malfunctioning," the News Corp. Chairman and CEO said.

"We have been at the forefront of that debate and you can confidently presume that we are leading the way in finding a model that maximizes revenues in return for our shareholders... The current days of the Internet will soon be over."

It seems that in a reverse of the trend towards free content, we will soon see a shift (or are we in one already?) to paid media, subscriber-funded. I recently noticed banners in some websites trumpeting the billionth (with a b) download of iphone apps. Someone out there (I don't have one, ahem...) surely is using their phone for a lot of browsing, a lot of something! but it's doubtless that some of those downloads are for apps meant to individualize and target content, paid content that we, using our laptops or desktop aren't flocking to.
Whether the Kindle 2 and later iterations, Iphone and others will change our reading habits remains to be seen. It could well be that this is just another quasi-prophetic statement from a media owner that becomes fodder for late night jokes.
Or it could be the real thing, and we should all get in on the action before we get left out. Foxnews has another illuminating bit on this.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

First Amendment in the classroom

I was reading the news, came across this case that directly impacts my current workplace. In Farnan v. Corbett, I found out the tale of a history teacher at a high school in California, that made several possibly disparaging statements towards those that believe in creationism. One of his students felt offended, and that his First Amendment rights had been infringed upon (the establishment clause, specifically) and brought suit for relief in District court. This case interests me on many levels, primarily because the 1st Am is something that doesn't get a lot of news, and in the context of the classroom, where students seem to have less rights, it would seem the coverage is even more lacking.
So on with the case. Bear in mind that the full decision is here, for your perusal, thanks to the OC Register.
The legal standard that is going to be used in this case is the Lemon test, after the Lemon v. Kurtzman decision, 403 U.S. 602(1971)

"First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its
principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor
inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive
government entanglement with religion. Permissible conduct must satisfy all three requirements."

Dr Corbett made many statements that are brought up as exhibits, some of which I quote from the ruling:

*- "What do you think of somebody who thinks it’s necessary to lie in
order to make a religious point? . . . And um, this kid is in the class,
and, as I say, a Christian fundamentalist kid who wanted to be a
minister. . . . And, um, he was actually set on going – I mean, if your
parents go there, please, you know, don’t be too insulted. But he
wanted to go to Biola, which is the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, and
truly, as far as colleges go, it’s the – it is the college which George
Bush is being assigned to (inaudible), and it is the college that has no
academic integrity whatsoever. And it is a fundamentalist Christian
school. I think, a college that has basically one book."

*- "Now, the Boy Scouts have said, unless you’re willing to love God,
and unless you’re willing to – unless you’re not gay, um – they are
saying, being gay excludes you. Not believing God or not professing
a belief in God also excludes you . . . But you see, until they started
these rules, Boy Scouts used to – or Boy Scout troops usually met at
schools, and places like that, parks, government buildings. They can’t
do that anymore. They can’t do that anymore, because now they are,
in their own mind, a homophobic and a racist organization. It’s that
simple. . . . It’s call[ed] separation of church and state. The Boy
Scouts can’t have it both ways. If they want to be an exclusive,
Christian organization or an exclusive, God-fearing organization, then
they can’t receive any more support from the state, and shouldn't."

*- “What was it that Mark Twain said? ‘Religion was invented when the first
con man met the first fool.’”

*- “when you put on your
Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.”

*- "Here’s another interesting thing that just kind of – I’m not implying
causality. I’m just using correlation. People in Europe who are least
likely to go to church . . . are the Swedes. The people in the
industrialized world most likely to go to church are the Americans.
America has the highest crime rate of all industrialized nations, and
Sweden has the lowest. The next time somebody tells you religion is
connected with morality, you might want to ask them about that."

*- "[C]onservatives don’t want women to avoid pregnancies. That’s
interfering with God’s work. You got to stay pregnant, barefoot, and
in the kitchen and have babies until your body collapses. All over the
world, doesn’t matter where you go, the conservatives want control
over women’s reproductive capacity. Everywhere in the world. From
conservative Christians in this country to, um, Muslim
fundamentalists in Afghanistan. It’s the same. It’s stunning how
vitally interested they are in controlling women."

*-"So we know what rehabilitation works and that punishment doesn’t,
and yet we go on punishing. It really has a lot to do with these same
culture wars we’re talking about. This whole Biblical notion: Sinners
need to be punished. And so you get massively more Draconian
punishment in the South where religion is much more central to
society than you do anyplace else. And, of course, the Southerners get
really upset, as what they see as lenient behavior in the North. You
know, we’re going to solve this problem. Except, guess what? What
part of the country has the highest murder rate? The South. What part
of the country has the highest rape rate? The South. What part of the
country has the highest (inaudible) church attendance? The South.
Oh, wait a minute. You mean there is not a correlation between these
things? No, there isn’t. Um, in fact, there is an inverse correlation.
In those places where people go to church the least, the crime was the
most. And that’s not just Sweden and the United States. That’s
Pennsylvania and Georgia."

As anybody can read, the good Dr. has a rather cynical and unsympathetic view towards the established religions. He was actually vindicated on all but one of these statements, however, and the District was found not liable.

"Corbett explained to his class that Peloza, a teacher, “was not
telling the kids [Peloza’s students] the scientific truth about evolution.” (Id.)
Corbett also told his students that, in response to a request to give Peloza space in
the newspaper to present his point of view, Corbett stated, “I will not leave John
Peloza alone to propagandize kids with this religious, superstitious nonsense.”
(Id.) One could argue that Corbett meant that Peloza should not be presenting his
religious ideas to students or that Peloza was presenting faulty science to the
students. But there is more to the statement: Corbett states an unequivocal belief
that creationism is “superstitious nonsense.” The Court cannot discern a legitimate
secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context. The statement
therefore constitutes improper disapproval of religion in violation of the
Establishment Clause."

So the Court found that one statement out of the whole, the one about Peloza, as being beyond the safe zone delineated by the Lemon test.

It seems remarkable that one, maybe two parents had ever complained about this teacher. He certainly has a right to teach as the school district will allow, as far as academic freedom is concerned. But from the perspective of the students, his captive audience has a right to not have their religious beliefs undermined. I hope he curbs his comments, or makes room in that position for a teacher that will offer an unbiased perspective of history.