David Brooks lectures us this morning on the need to have a balance between self-doubt and self-confidence.[...]
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The Professor has been pondering The Mitt, and in the past has marveled at the mendaciousness ? bald-face lying ? that seems to mark the man. But he's always considered Romney smart. Amoral, but still smart.No longer:Is it possible that I have misjudged Mitt Romney? My take has always been that he?s a smart guy who also happens to be both ambitious and completely amoral; ... [m]ore and...
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave a mostly non-political commencement address at Georgetown today, but one protester interrupted her speech to the public policy graduate students at Georgetown University.
Almost as soon as she began to speak, a protester began yelling, “Abortion is murder!” Others yelled back, “Get out!” Unfazed, Sebelius continued on her speech in the exact same, chipper tone with which she started.
Watch the interruption here:
Sebelius avoided mentioning the administration’s controversial contraception rule, instead telling the graduates that policy debates can be painful.
Catholics were angry that Sebelius had been chosen to speak at the Jesuit University, citing her role in ordering health care plans to provide contraceptives free of charge at religious institutions. More than 37,000 signed a petition objecting to her visit. And ahead of her speech, Catholic League President Bill Donohue even compared Sebelius to a neo-Nazi.
Yesterday, the New York Times reported on new census data which showed, for the first time, that non-white births made up over 50 percent of all births in the United States last year.
It marked an important milestone, indicative of a changing United States that has long been considered the world’s melting pot. Or, if you’re the conservative, Phyllis Schlafly-backed Eagle Forum, it’s a clarion call that America is in grave danger of being overrun by uneducated, un-American brown people:
It is not a good thing. The immigrants do not share American values, so it is a good bet that they will not be voting Republican when they start voting in large numbers.
Instead, the USA is being transformed by immigrants who do not share those values, and who have high rates of illiteracy, illegitimacy, and gang crime, and they will vote Democrat when the Democrats promise them more food stamps.
Setting aside for a minute the offensive way in which the Eagle Forum dismisses all of “the immigrants” as thoughtless criminals, it’s telling that The Eagle Forum views this as simply a political problem. The Eagle Forum’s political allies have long insisted on treating immigrants as second-class citizens, and rather than pivot their policy proposals to better accommodate the nation’s shifting demographics, the group seems instead to want to curb minorities’ procreation.
The Eagle Forum doesn’t dwell on the fringes of the conservative movement either. The group still wields considerable influence in conservative circles, and has achieved more than a few legislative victories, like derailing the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and staunchly opposing bills aimed at protecting a women’s right to choose.
The post goes on to accuse immigrants–and, for reasons passing understanding, The New York Times for reporting on this–of seeking to “destroy the American family,” arguing that immigrants do not share American values. Of course, this is hardly the first time The Eagle Foundation has pushed xenophobia.
I have to confess, when I heard they were making a movie version of Battleship, my first thought was “but…why?” Followed by, of course “…and how?” And then I wondered why no one’d gotten on a movie version of, say, Scrabble, which would obviously be way more entertaining. Just think, it could turn into a Rocky Horror-style production where audience members get to shout at the screen when the actors play words that aren’t legal.
Battleship may possibly be one of the most boring games ever, and drawing it out into two whole hours sounds like a form of torment that may possibly be illegal in several countries. But, it’s also a film coming out over a decade after the 11 September attacks, and in a climate of growing interest in patriotic films. Let’s not forget that The Avengers is dominating box offices right now and there’s been a whole slew of patriotic comic book films in recent years. People want to get their patriotism on, and Hollywood is happy to oblige.
I do love me some good explosions, which is why I have a soft spot in my heart for pretty much any film where things go boom, especially the James Bond franchise. Battleship certainly promises to deliver in that respect, even if it’s unlikely to delve more deeply into the moral implications of patriotism, nationalism, and the gradations between.
There are some seriously troubling implications with Battleship, though; I mean, let’s talk about how it’s a battle between good and evil framed as humans versus aliens, and how that reflects on current immigration rhetoric, which is incredibly dehumanising. Also telling that the battle “begins at sea,” as the promotionals tell us, which reads at least to me like a reference to interdiction of traffickers and migrants, some of whom die in the attempt to cross. Aliens become a metaphor for whatever we need to project on them, depending on the era; in 1989 it was about the Cold War with The Abyss, and in 2012 it’s pretty clearly about the perceived threat of immigration.
What’s intriguing about this new wave of patriotism is the moral complexity and ambiguity that’s coming up in a lot of these films. This is not a simplistic model where everyone runs around waving American flags and talking about how great war is; there’s an added depth of ethical conflict that isn’t very far below the surface. War is damaging and dangerous in this model. People do terrible things to each other in the name of their country. It’s emotionally challenging for viewers. Audiences can certainly attend and view it as, as Alyssa put it, “unqualified support for the members and actions of the armed forces no matter what they do,” but it’s hard to do that when the people on screen are questioning, talking about, and exploring morality.
Battleship is likely to be a garden variety nationalism fest, which is the key difference between it and films like The Avengers, which raises moral questions as well as taking viewers on a good old fashioned superhero romp. And it’s this difference that lies at the heart of the recent upswing in patriotic films.
Nationalism is about the unabashed support and promotion of military intervention, from wartime atrocities to torture at secret CIA facilities, and it’s still very much present in films where viewers are expected to view “our guys” as unambiguously good, no matter what they do. Even when their job is hard, it’s still right. Patriotism asks for something more complex from the viewer, an honest assessment of a moral situation and a fair judgment based on something other than a belief that a country can do no wrong.
A film can be patriotic without necessarily painting the United States in a flattering light, and that perhaps is what makes it most patriotic of all, because it demands that we do better. It holds viewers, and their country, to a higher standard, sometimes with intriguing thematic elements; look at how Batman uses his tremendous class clout and privilege in an attempt to bring justice to the streets of Gotham. This is what I go to the movies for, you know?
’tis the time for summer hits, which inevitably include an assortment of high-budget blockbusters with explosions galore along with a healthy side of patriotic fervor. The question for me isn’t whether there’s a rise in patriotic movies or what it means about and for this country. Rather, I’m more interested in the distinction between patriotic and nationalist film, and what it means that so many critics seem to have trouble differentiating between the two, especially given the national dialogue about war, torture, and morality, and the growing civil unrest indicative of the fact that the population is about ready to try something new. Which demons are we exorcising through our consumption of superhero movies?
In the fury Thursday that greeted the leaking of a proposal that would try to taint Barack Obama by once again attaching him to the fiery sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Mitt Romney botched his response with a "whatever" statement that will go down in the record books of political stumbles. One person said it was as if his mouth were falling down the stairs.
Whether or not billionaire Joe Ricketts of the Ending Spending Action Fund Super PAC had given a preliminary green light to the $10 million race-baiting proposal made little difference. By the end of the day, the Rev. Wright and the race issue had once again been brought to foreground. But not in the way the right-wingers planning for a big splash at the Democratic Convention were hoping. Instead of their proposal helping to weaken President Obama with a sneak attack three months down the road, the premature leak of its contents had diverted attention away from the economy, where the Romney camp sees Obama as vulnerable. Simultaneously, it provided the circumstances for Romney to upstage his worst previous stumble-tongue performance with a new worst-in-show.
Being compelled by the firestorm to repudiate the attack plan, the candidate drew attention to his own deficits as well as to the holes in the proposed attack on Obama itself. Romney's face-palm display also illustrated by implication the president's strengths both as a public speaker, who?whatever his policy flaws?connects with people at a personal level, and on the matter of race itself, where the president has, since his widely acclaimed Philadelphia speech in March 2008, boxed in the more obvious racists. As Conor Friedersdorf points out at The Atlantic:
Although hard core conservatives can't see it, President Obama is adept at talking about race in America. He's thought about the issue long enough to speak about it with simple words and sophisticated nuance. He invokes the best of America when telling the story of his life. He can tell a story about why he attended that church that makes white people listening feel good about their country and themselves. Mitt Romney cannot talk about race like that, nor does he benefit from an inquisition into how he could participate in his own faith given its flaws over the last five decades.It wasn't just the awfulness of Romney's "whatever" meander in response to his own past linking of the Rev. Wright to Obama but also the tepidness of his overall response to the attack proposal that made Thursday a disastrous day for the GOP candidate. The Obama campaign lost no time in zeroing in on the reality that Romney failed to go anywhere near far enough in blasting a plan, which, in another line that will surely make it into the annals of campaign stupidity, says Obama has tried to characerterize himself as a ?metrosexual Black Abe Lincoln.?
So it isn't just that Mitt Romney wants to be talking about the economy. It's that making an issue of Wright risk conversations about race and Mormonism, subjects Romney lacks the charisma to finesse, and that would be utter disasters if all his surrogates had to discuss them.
?Today, Mitt Romney had the opportunity to distance himself from his previous attempts to inject the divisive politics of character assassination into the presidential race,? said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt in an email to reporters late Thursday. ?It was a moment that required moral leadership, and once again he didn?t rise to the occasion.?Because he can't.
The House ignored the requests of the generals and a White House veto threat today, passing their bloated defense spending authorization bill, 299-120.
That includes: a new missile defense system on the east coast keeping ships and aircraft that the Pentagon is trying to retire; rejecting the military's request for domestic base closings; and about $4 billion more than the administration and the Pentagon set as a spending limit.
And there's more, including a ban on "same-sex marriages and 'marriage-like' ceremonies on military bases." Additionally, it includes "indefinite detention without trial of terrorism suspects, including U.S. citizens, captured on U.S. soil," despite a decision by a federal judge issued yesterday to block implementation of indefinite detention as included in last year's National Defense Authorization Act.
For these reasons, and more, the White House has said it will veto the bill.
The powers that be in Wisconsin don't have much time to get things back on track, and I still don't see the change in strategy that could bring that about.[...]
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This being Friday, seems like the way to wrap up this week's series on ending rape in conflict is with a good old-fashioned link round-up. Before we get into the clicking, a huge thanks to E.J. Graff and the Prospect for hosting me this week, and to all of you for reading.
For the first of two rounds of links, and to give you a sense of the movement that's already underway, let's focus on recent actions happening in the four focus countries of the campaign:
In the Eastern Congo city of Bukavu, about 150 local people and nearly 50 Congolese community groups gathered to hear survivor testimony and debate the best strategies for action. This new coalition is now quite energized to keep working together. I'm told a lot of video was recorded at the event, so stay tuned.
And in the DRC capital Kinshasa, a delegation of local grassroots activists met with the president of parliament to discuss the role of government in preventing rape and protecting the population, leading to a pledge from the government to give legal support to the women's cases.
While the oppressive military regime makes it near-impossible to have public events in Burma itself, 22 international groups advocating for human rights and peace in Burma recently issued a call to action against the Burmese military's ongoing use of rape as a weapon.
Just yesterday, 22 female MPs held a press conference to speak out about gender-based violence in their country and to collectively pledge to take action to stop it.
The League of Displaced Women and their founder, Patricia Guerrero, convened a coalition spanning ten Colombian organizations and more than three generations of women to kick off the international campaign. The League continues to advocate at the grassroots level in Colombia for local women and displaced communities. Their work has brought them under threat from paramiliatry units, and many of the women involved with the League and their families have been raped or murdered because of their community action.
Plenty of other stuff happening around the world, including this event after my own media-advocacy heart in Khartoum, Sudan, where local advocacy groups organized a forum for young journalists and media professionals to encourage them to publish more information about gender violence.
Want to learn more about the possibilities of stopping rape in conflict? This second round of links are some good places to start exploring:
This cool tech project uses satellite imagery to track the conflict in Sudan, enabling the press, policymakers, peacekeepers, and humanitarian aid to respond more nimbly. It's not a proven strategy yet, but it points to the possibilities for new technology to help those on the ground to intervene more quickly and effectively.
This story about a village in Colombia literally built (as in, they made their own bricks) by and for women fleeing rape and the murder of their families is a perfect example of what's possible when imagination, courage and hard work are combined. Bonus feel-good element for those of us in the U.S.: our Congress gave them the startup funds.
Watch this discussion between Doris Buss, associate professor of law at Carleton University, Charlotte Isaksson senior gender adviser of the Swedish Armed Forces, Wangu Kanja a survivor-activist from Kenya, and Nobel Peace laureates Jody WIlliams, Shirin Ebadi, and Mairead Maguire. The event was recorded in Ottawa the day after last year's international conference on ending sexual violence in conflict concluded.
The survivor testimony at Women Under Siege is harrowing but so moving and crucial. Once you're on that site, be sure to also read their wide-ranging blog full of excellent writers.
Note: The Poobah is out of town for the next few days attending a senior dinner for Claire Koeneman at Cal Poly Pomona. To keep you entertained. Here’s a Poobah Classic from the archives.
“Yeah, it scared the shit out of me. It’s waaaaay short and that down slope’s wicked,” the co-pilot answered. “High pucker factor for sure.”
I had to agree. After hundreds of hours of flight time, I’d never been to a loose gravel runway with an upper end on the down slope of a Turkish mountain, the other end wetted by the Black Sea, and so short it was barely long enough to land our airplane. To say the flying was challenging was an understatement. To say it was frightening was too.
The Cold War was on and the Russians were not so far away on their own side of the Black Sea. The Turkish shore sported dozens of listening posts and radar sites and all those listeners and watchers needed food, mail, equipment, and all the other things a modern army needs to wage a tense, non-shooting war. I checked the tie-downs for a few tons of the stuff and wondered whether food really was all that essential.
I finished the checks and climbed up to the flight deck. It was bright and the sun reflected through our greenhouse windows off the Black Sea. Straight ahead a huge mountain blocked our path. There was a tiny brown slash along the shoreline and I felt a familiar pucker feeling in my butt.
It really did invoke a high pucker factor.
We began our approach flying up the slope of the mountain and past the runway. The uphill flight produced a slight sense of vertigo as the ground rose to meet us and we climbed to keep it away. Our sense of distance felt odd too. Contrary to the normal physics of sight, the runway seemed smaller as we neared. About a mile past the runway, we made a long, climbing turn and aligned ourselves with the strip.
“OK, just as soon as we touch, we’re going to stand on the brakes and go full reverse,” the pilot said. “Crew, I want everyone strapped in. It’s going to be rough as hell.”
The ground that previously rose up to greet us now fell away more like a takeoff than a landing. To my stomach and inner ear, we had entered a climbing descent. That couldn’t be right, could it? Was I feeling negative Gs or positive? Only the altimeter and accelerometer could tell for sure.
The pilot flared for his landing before we even reached the runway. His goal was to use every last inch of the loose gravel. Our nose seemed frighteningly high as the loose rocks rained against our belly like buckshot at close range.
“REVERSE! BRAKES!,” the pilot yelled.
The reversing engines screamed. The airplane bucked and wobbled crazily as gravity threw us into our straps like a devil pushing us toward the lip of a yawning maw. Although the runway was short, it seemed like the noise and tumult went on forever. The Black Sea roared toward us, opening itself for a possibly fatal embrace. Through a side window, I saw a pickup truck flash by at breakneck speed.
“Shit, that water’s coming up fast. Too fast,” I thought.
Oddly, there was little sense of slowing. We seemed to go straight from a screaming tear down the runway to a full stop. When the pilot pulled the engines out of reverse, the airplane became shockingly quiet and an unnaturally still. The Black Sea lapped placidly a few feet away from our nose, certainly too close to see the line where land met sea.
“OK,” the pilot said, “Let’s get this puppy turned around. Chief, hop out here and walk me around. This is a tight fit.”
I let the door down – only a few feet away from the banshee propeller tips – and hopped out. Taking up a position on the left wing, I began using hand signals to direct the pilot through a turnaround. It was a tight fit, not unlike parallel parking a 175,000 pound car in a tiny Manhattan parking slot. We had to pull forward and then back up several times. I constantly jockeyed away from the screaming propellers so I wouldn’t be blown into an unplanned Black Sea swim.
Once turned, I led the airplane back up slope – like a pooch on a long leash – looking for brush or obstacles the airplane might encounter. With a break to shoo a few lounging goats away, the walk was uneventful. A Navy Commander in civilian clothes met us at the end of the runway. As he and his men loaded their goodies into the pickup truck, an ancient Turkish man and his grandson served the crew sweet Turkish tea and delicate almond cookies. I thought, what a day. The amusement park ride of my life and fine dining – al fresco – on the shores of the Black Sea.
It was a very good day indeed.