Society

Vick Revisited

Whoopie Goldberg has joined the crew of "The View." I think I've seen a minute part of one episode of that show. It's continuing staff changes would normally be of no concern to me, except that Whoopie has apparently stepped immediately into hot water by "defending" Michael Vick. People across the political spectrum are outraged that she could defend what they consider to be such an obviously heinous man.

Well, what exactly did she say? These are the quotes I could find:

"He's from the South, from the Deep South ... This is part of his cultural upbringing..."

"Instead of just saying (Vick) is a beast and he's a monster, this is a kid who comes from a culture where this is not questioned."

What Whoopie is drawing attention to is cultural context, and it's a valid concern. It was something that nagged at the back of my mind as I posted on Vick last week. The truth is that many cultures think of animals as nothing more than a resource to be used...and discarded when no longer useful. My own parents - while they would never do what Vick did to those dogs - think that cats and dogs are pretty much replaceable. If your pet gets sick, the idea of paying a vet money in order to make it well is preposterous to them. You simply get a new one. Any indignant ranting about animal rights would be met by bemusement and/or befuddlement.

And this makes sense. If you grow up in a culture where resources are scarce and how you chose to use them meant the difference between life and death for humans, then animal rights is a non-issue. While my parents no longer live in that culture, it's through that lens from which they see. And that may be for Michael Vick as well.

I thought about this and wrestled with it last week. Was my own outrage nothing more than cultural imperialism - trying to impose my cultural norms on another?

But in the end, I believe that cultural context only goes so far. Understanding and taking nuance into account cannot lead to complete relativism and the inability to make any kind of moral stand. Slavery is always wrong, even if the current culture allows it. And torturing animals is always wrong even if in some cultures it's condoned. And I'm not sure that torturing animals was condoned in Vick's culture. There's a difference between thinking animals are expendable and thinking it's ok to torture them. To assume that the latter is considered ok in the "deep South" may be yet another kind of bias on our part.

I disagree with Whoopie *if* her intent is to excuse his actions, but I think the concern she brought up is valid. And I certainly agree that we should not just write Vick off as a monster.

Gonzales Gone

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has resigned. Even tho President Bush had been loyally standing by his man this comes as no surprise.

Back in February 2006, Gonzales admitted that the NSA may have "inadvertently" spied on the e-mails and phone calls of Americans with no ties to terrorists. Patriot Act, gotta love it.

Later it was revealed that eight United States attorneys were fired in December 2006, at least some of them because they wouldn't give information that would unduly help GOP candidates in the last elections. Because of the Patriot Act, the Attorney General also has the ability to bypass congressional approval when replacing fired attorneys. Gonzales claimed he had nothing to do with the decisions, tho an ex-aide contradicts him; he also claimed that such firings are normal procedure. I call it despotism. People should be fired based on poor job performance, not based on how loyal they are to preserving a party. Surrounding himself with only people who agree with him and dismissing those who dare say otherwise is what got us into Iraq in the first place.

Most recently, FBI director Robert Mueller contradicted Gonzales' testimony about discussions regarding the NSA that did Gonzales claims did not take place.

Like I said, it's not at all surprising that Gonzales is gone. But given the extremely high turnover rate of Bush appointees leaving under a cloud of suspicion, it is grim and sad.

Michael Vick

I've been hearing the details about Michael Vick and feeling sick. For those of you who don't know (altho I don't know how anyone could not), Vick is the star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, charged with dog-fighting, raising pitbulls for fighting, training them for fighting, and if they perform well, executing them. Shooting, hanging, drowning, and electrocuting them. And in at least one case, picking up a dog and bashing it against the cement ground.

He's now banned from playing in the NFL and of course has lost millions of dollars in endorsements. And he's entering into a plea bargain to avoid trial, which means the full details will never be disclosed.

The president of the NAACP's Atlanta chapter says that Vick should be allowed back into the NFL after he serves his sentence. From my perspective, for what he and his "colleagues" did to those dogs, he should serve a sentence so long that he won't be in any condition to be playing football when he gets out. It sickens me how lightly animal cruelty is taken in this country.  I want to take seriously the suffering that Vick and his associates have caused.

But as a UU, I also have to believe that no one is beyond redemption. It also sickens me the way that people are perpetually ostracized, even after they have served their sentence, not allowed to return in fellowship to society, and therefore almost certainly forced to return to activities that are "unsocial." In that case, we are as much at fault as the person who "relapses." Surely it is too simplistic to just vilify him.  How do we as a society/community come back into right relations with Mr. Vick?

Forget Harry; what about Snape?

Ok, I know the seventh and final book of the Harry Potter series came out over two weeks ago, and the rest of yall are probably all talked out about it.  But I signed the closing papers on my house two weeks late on July 25th, giving me just one week to get all my stuff out of my old apartment. Moving in the DC summer humidity is not fun, let me tell you! :p

So it wasn't until this weekend, Friday afternoon, that I had the chance to sit down and read the Deathly Hallows... all in one sitting.  And while of course I wanted to know what happens to Harry and Hermione and Ron et al, what I was really dying to know is what happens to Snape.  We all knew that Snape would die; the question was how - was he killed by Harry in a final showdown?  Or does he sacrifice himself to save Harry thereby proving his goodness?

This has been a matter of fierce debate ever since book six, where Rowling masterfully spun the plot to its climatic cliff-hanger - Snape's murder of Dumbledore.  The death of Harry's mentor and rock was shocking, and my roommate insisted that this proved once and for all that Snape was indeed bad.  But I persisted.  I had faith.  In truth, I knew, just knew, that there was no way that Snape could not be redeemed.  Rowling is too good and sensitive a story teller to make it so simplistic.  Plus, it would have broken my heart.

Snape is dark, troubled, unlikeable.  He does things that aren't nice, that makes us cringe.  But underneath that we sense that there is a reason, there is pain.  Snape lives with the guilt of having been on the wrong side, for which he carries an indelible mark.  It would be too easy to write him off; to do so would be to write off part of ourselves.  At least for me, even tho I love Harry et al. and want them to triumph, and adore Dumbledore and wish I would be like him, it's Snape with whom I identify with most.  I too have been less than noble at times.  I've hurt others because of my own unhappiness.  I've done things that I regret and wish I could take back but can't, and have to live with the consequences.  I have to believe that no matter how horrible the sin, there is always still the possibility of redemption.  

(C'mon, if Darth Vader can be redeemed then why not Snape?)

In the end, Harry did not kill Snape in a triumph of good over evil.  Nor did Snape sacrifice himself to save Harry in the ultimate gesture of redemption as I had envisioned.  Snape's demise was shockingly trivial - a testimony to the true evil of the Dark Lord.  Yet the story that Rowling spun as a eulogy to Snape was more touching and beautiful than what I had imagined for him.  The story was of an awkward boy, his personal flaws leading to the loss of what he most desired.  In the end, he still was not grand, his desires still selfish, and he was used by the larger players around him.  But it was love that redeems him, love for another that kept him from going over completely to darkness.  Not grand, sweeping heroic love for all humanity, but the kind of love experienced by the most of us. 

I read the entire book in one sitting, stopping only to eat once.  And then I went back and reread Snape's story again.  Thank you Ms. Rowling.

Hairspray

I went to see the new "Hairspray" with an officemate today. If you've lost track, this is the movie version of the Broadway show that started off as a John Water's movie that came out in the late 80s.  Written and directed by Waters, it takes place in his Baltimore in the early 60s, the town and time in which he grew up.  

I had seen the original movie, being a big John Waters fan at the time (still am).  What's shocking to me is how obvious the racial justice theme is in this movie given that I have no memory of this from the original movie.  I'm sure that it was in there; I was just not framing things in terms of racial justice as much as I am now.  It makes me wonder how much we miss due to what we filter.  And it explains why people can be at the same event and walk away with completely different experiences.

If you had asked me what the original Hairspray was about, I would have said, "Well, it's a John Waters film and it stars Ricki Lake (it was her big break) and Divine is in it (love Divine) and Debby Harry and Ric Ocasek and Sonny Bono (you know that John Waters, he's so quirky) and it takes place in Baltimore for some reason in the 60s, and there's a lot of dancing and a rivalry between teens, and it's very quirky."  If I was aware of any social inequity being highlighted in the movie, it was the prejudice against overweight women.  That was all.

In this Hairspray, however, there was no mistaking that dancing for teens of color was relegated specifically to the neatly segregated time-slot of "Negro Day." (In case you're so dense that you need this spelled out for you, Queen Latifah does an excellent job.) And that Tracy Turnblad's fight was not for teen popularity but for equality.  

What I learned from my officemate Taquiena, who grew up in DC at this time, is that Hairspray is based on a true story.  The afternoon teen dance shows that existed in Baltimore and DC and other cities across the U.S. were racially segregated.  And in Baltimore a group of protesting students successfully convinced the producers to desegregate the dance show.  However unlike in the movie, where we are led to believe that the 60s were ushering in a new era of equality and they lived happily every after, in real life the newly integrated show was canceled within a season.

Hairspray, it's amazing what you see with a different pair of lenses.  I will have to rent the John Waters original and give it another look.  Clearly he deserves more attention and credit than I've given him.

Aren't we in the 21st Century?

It's not that I thought that racism was dead in this country. Surely not. But I did think that overt racial hatred and intimidation, such as hanging nooses from trees, was a thing of the past. I thought the only people who would have the nerve to do such things were the guys hiding under the white dunce caps.

It's not that I thought that I thought that our court system was racially fair. One need only look at the "not guilty" verdicts for the cops caught on tape beating Rodney King to see that there is still racial inequity in the courts. But again, I did think that it would be slightly more subtle than this.

On Sept 1st, 2006, some black students of Jena High School in Louisiana sat under what is known as the "white" tree. The next day, hanging from the tree were three nooses in school colors. horror #1.

The school officials dismissed it as a "prank." Nooses, in the South, a "prank." horror #2.

In response to several black students staging a sit-in under the tree, the principal called in the police. The police, to deal with sitting students. horror #3.

In November 2006, there were a couple of attacks on black students by white students. No one was charged. In contrast, when a group of six black teens attacked a white teen who had called them "nigger," they were charged with attempted second degree manslaughter. horror #4.

Attempted second degree manslaughter for teenagers in a fight where no one was seriously injured. I'm not denying that people should be held accountable for their actions. Even with mitigating circumstances, I don't condone violence. But someone explain to me how attempted second degree manslaughter can be a reasonable charge??

To support the Jena Six as these kids are being called, and to support justice, visit Color of Change.

Harry Potter's Asian Fetish

No, not really.  At least I wouldn't say that about the Harry that Rowling wrote, but the movie did leave me wondering about the screenplay writer and director.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out today on Friday the 13th!!  woot!!  And Cho Chang, Harry's Chinese-Scottish love interest figures somewhat prominently in the plot.  Like most Asians living in the West, I notice things like that.

And I notice that the Cho Chang in the movie is not the same Cho as in the book.  The Cho in the books was introduced as a popular, confident, athletic student - member of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team and always surrounded by friends.  Harry is the one who has a crush on her, not the other way around.  Cho is dating Cedric Diggory, captain of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team (the wizard equivalent of the highschool quarterback) - popular, handsome, brave and kind. After Cedric dies, Cho is attracted to Harry but understandably conflicted.

In the movie, Cho is a shy, quiet, demure little China-doll, constantly making love-sick eyes at Harry and asking with a tiny breathy voice if she is holding the wand correctly.  (No sexual innuendo intended whatsoever.) She is a romanticized stereotype.  It made me cringe to watch her.

Don't know what happened between book to movie, except to say that:

1.  A lot of the nuances in the books are necessarily left out of the movies for the sake of time.

and

2.  While a woman wrote the book, it was men who wrote the screenplay and directed it, so they may well have brought their own biases into the story.

It's a shame too, because aside from that it was a great movie.  I saw it with a large group of people and those who could compare all agreed that overall it was better than the book.  Many thought it was the best movie of the bunch.  (I still prefer book 3 and movie 3.)

Cindy Sheehan...again

Cindy Sheehan announced yesterday that she intends to run against the current Speaker of the House, democrat Nancy Pelosi, unless Pelosi introduces articles of impeachment against President Bush in the next two weeks.

She says, "Democrats and Americans feel betrayed by the Democratic leadership. We hired them to bring an end to the war. I'm not too far from San Francisco, so it wouldn't be too big of a move for me. I would give her a run for her money."

Since I originate from San Francisco and we Friscans are proud that our girl is now Speaker of the House, I'll admit to some bias here. But even putting that aside, color me unimpressed. Some of us remember that in late May, not more than a month and a half ago, Ms. Sheehan announced that she was leaving the war movement in order to go home and be a mother to her surviving children.

What happened to that?

And I still remember her saying:

Good-bye America ... you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can't make you be that country unless you want it.

So I ask: on what authority does she think she can speak for Americans now?

There was a time when this woman was a grieving mother crying against the injustice of her son's untimely and unnecessary death. There was a time when she became an angry radical, letting her hate for Bush eclipse her love for her son and her country. Now I think that she's just a B-list celebrity, who can't stand the idea of not being in the spotlight anymore.

Libby Scoots Free

Presidential crony, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, had been convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators who were investigating the politically-motivated outing of CIA agent, Valerie Plame. Today the federal appeals court ruled that he could no longer delay surrender, meaning prison time for Libby.  In a matter of hours President Bush commuted his sentence, claiming that the 30-month sentence was "too harsh."  There is no legal recourse to overturn a presidential commutation.  This is the fourth time that Bush has commuted a sentence.

Is 30-months really too harsh a sentence for perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to federal investigators?

Out of the 152 people put to death in the state of Texas while Bush was governor there, did none of those sentences seem "too harsh"?

What other reason would President Bush have to step in and interrupt justice?  (It's always fun to play the conspiracy theorist, isn't it?)

Libby's convictions stem from the investigation into the leaking of classified information.  Specifically, the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA operative, was made public, putting her life in danger and endangering national security.  It just so happens that Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, has publicly accused the Bush administration of having "twisted" the evidence used to justify the invasion of Iraq.  After months of denying anyone in the administration was behind the leak, Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage now claims that he outed Plame accidentally and that there was no political motivation behind it.  But Robert Novak, the reporter who first published Plame's identity, says that Karl Rove himself was his second source.

What other reason would President Bush have to step in and interrupt justice, other than to cover his own butt? Scooter Libby may be loyal to the president, but it remains to be seen how loyal he would have stayed if he had to go to jail for the administration.

In Memoriam

To all those who died, or who were injured, both physically and psychologically, my gratitude.

For every moment when I've forgotten your sacrifices, my deepest apologies.

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