State and Union

Where is the middle of America?  I’m beginning to think that the geography is about as real as one of the mythical kingdoms on medieval maps.  What depressed me about Wednesday evening, the occasion of President Obama’s first State of the Union address, is that the public affairs crowd (politicians, press, pundits, fundraisers, citizens interested in politics)  no longer knows where to search for that compass point. Many of us, even those of us supposedly responsible adults, no longer care.  Everybody is in their own far corner; we refuse to “come out, come out, wherever you are” to engage.  Out of this mulishness and just plain shortsightedness and stupidity, as well as the arrogance with which the accretion of knowledge can afflict the brain, slowly we have reached a time when we can no longer touch base with the Average American.  We might as well try to locate Prester John.

The ironies here are more than the tools to-hand of Google mapping and the various means of connection presented by the internet and social media.  How do we find the middle?  It is an ever-shifting geography, so we must engage one another at-length and at-large to find it.  Why should we try?  If we do not, the country will become more and more ungovernable.  Populist surges from the left and from the right will lead only to gridlock.  We will have stasis instead of the change (even if only slow change, small, incremental) that healthy societies need to grow and prosper. (more…)

Apply Googly

So I’ve twitter-frittered away four hours following the iPad launch.  Many of the techjournos, polishing their ubercool personas, are exhaling digital sighs of titillation failure.  Now if my husband had let me attend the a-fest–“absolutely not,” his verdict–I could report back on what these guys (mostly guys) were saying in person.  Same husband also nixed the piece I wrote yesterday to post this morning at 10 AM (countdown to launch).  As David Carr of the NYT says, Apple is the culture of omerta.  No kidding.

But I cannot resist quoting my unpublished self:  “I am a little worried about the name the Apple team has at last chosen.  Not to be uxorious, I think husband’s suggestion of iBRARY was clever.  I get why they did not go with iTablet.  Too Ten Commandments.  Charlton Heston, old white god guy with aging hippie hair. (more…)

Finding the Common Denominator

Now it’s over a week since I envisioned this last post in the series on the topic of American foreign policy and Islam.  At this specific pen-point in time, it hardly seems to matter, given all the domestic problems the Obama administration currently faces, that the Obama foreign policy, too, has been a house built on sand (to use one of Obama’s favorite biblical allusions).  Now you would not know this from a cursory read of the mainstream media, where “trouble at home, success abroad” is the meme.  (Why journalists and pundits are sometimes the very last among the knowledgeable crowd to see a thing–well, I have not figured that peculiarity out yet.)

The Obama Administration has had a very bad week:  Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts, a possibility, however remote, that the Democrats, after losses in Virginia and New Jersey, should have war-gamed; the subsequent and increasing likelihood that a health care bill, a signature Obama venture, will not be realized; resistance to Ben Bernanke’s re-appointment as chairman of the Fed (Good Grief, the guy was just Time‘s Man of the Year); the problematic response of the federal government to the Haitian crisis (the priority for troops and infrastructure over medical supplies and water); the continued surge of the Taliban in Afghanistan; Russia’s resistance to sanctions on Iran; and perhaps most importantly, the Supreme Court decision to allow corporations and other large groups, such as unions, unlimited spending in campaign advertising.   (more…)

Change for the Change-Maker

Really should be finishing up my series in the main blog room on the challenge of Islamism for American foreign policy, particularly since the situation in Afghanistan is not looking good and I should be turning there.  As well as to the cyberterrorism challenge.  When I attended a Knight journalism fellows week on foreign policy and military policy a year ago, I was struck by the fact that every old hand, in the military and without,  all named cyberterrorism as the number one threat to American security.  How very odd, I thought then.  Now I know why.  Have some contacts to follow up on that story and will be doing so soon.

So let me pirouette in today’s ramble (begun last night but then storm downed broadband here) and return just once more (hopefully–for many reasons) to the Democrats’ loss in Massachusetts of Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.  The Opinion page of today’s–now yesterday’s–WSJ (doing well financially–and no coincidence I cannot send you to free links for the content) features the advice of five politicos on “What Democrats Should Do Now.”  Two on the left:  Katrina vanden Heuvel and Arianna Huffington.  Two on the right:  Michael Barone and Fred Barnes (Jesus, I didn’t know Barnes was still alive).  And Bart Stupak (sui generis?). (more…)

We All Go Back to School in Massachusetts

The upset in yesterday’s election to fill recently-deceased Edward Kennedy’s seat in the U.S. Senate took me by surprise.  I had not bothered to follow the race, assuming as many people did that Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate, would win.  A warning bell did go off for me when two young women, whose opinions I respect, mentioned that they had worked for Coakley’s (female) opponent in the brief Democratic primary in Massachusetts.  After watching Coakley’s concession speech–the woman completely out-of-it, seemingly not recognizing the larger consequences of her loss–only then did I realize the full extent of her weakness as a candidate.

Yes, oh yes, as all the pundits have pundified last night and today, the Massachusetts upset is a wake-up call for Democrats.  I would say it’s a clang-clang-clang of the clapper for everybody, however.  Here, off the top of my head, are FIVE LESSONS FOR THE BOOK, not only for the mid-terms coming up but going forward generally. (more…)

Spreading the Faith from Toronto to Amman

A year ago last November I was on a panel at an international journalism conference in Valencia, Spain.  My panel was of no consequence; several others, however, were interesting indeed.  One morning representatives of the BBC, UK Channel 4, SkyNews and Al Jazeera battled it out over the way the English-speaking media portray Muslims.  Afterwards, I went up to speak with the CEO of Al Jazeera, who told me flat out, “the goal at Al Jazeera is the world-wide domination of Islam.”

The most striking thing about his comment was his tone:  full of self-assurance as well as clarity of vision.  Would the head of any American news organization be able to speak succinctly about mission and purpose?  Much less have any idea of a long game? (more…)

Haiti, Coming and Going

The aftermath of the Haitian earthquake has been a testimony to many things–the power of faith, human generosity, the American take-charge mindset–and also the value of twitter.  Even I finally have to admit now that twitter has its uses. Before Tuesday and the 7.0, I had been skeptical.  Skepticism, after all, is my default setting.  I never put much store, for example, by all the tweets coming out of Tehran during the street protests following the Iranian Election.  I had been to too many political events and watched how people–good people, but nevertheless with an agenda–shaped the stories they told and the videos they shot.  

The devastation in Port-au-Prince, or PAP in twitter, is a different matter.  This is not a political story.  So far, no one who is tweeting from PAP has an agenda.  The fact that the tweeters–Haitians and outside journalists alike–are reporting such different experiences and seemingly without knowledge of what the others are reporting shows just how chaotic the situation is there right now.  Ed Pilkington of the Guardian @Edpilkington has seen no Americans at work in PAP, only UN forces.  Meanwhile  Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN and his team stayed the night with the wounded and dying whom doctors, afraid for their lives after dark, abandoned. Gupta’s CNN cohorts @DanielleCNN and @jholmesCNN and @SanjayGuptaCNN tweet an amazing and moving story in quick bits and bursts. (more…)

Jihad and the Great Commission

In a very different way I had intended to begin this next post. Then several events occurred–as events tend to do–that relate to my ongoing argument about the Obama administration’s foreign policy.  Google’s decision to call out the Chinese government on cyberattacks.  The earthquake in Haiti.  For tonight, let me address what President Obama has called “a cruel and incomprehensible tragedy in relation to both the frequent question “how can a good God allow suffering in the world?” and several recent Haiti-related responses to that question.  Both question and responses speak directly to a dynamic at the heart of religious evangelism, whether that evangelism is Christian or Muslim or prompted by any faith.  For Islamic jihad is not only an expression of fundamentalist belief but also and perhaps more importantly a form of evangelism (however twisted it may appear to us).

As those of you who are following Haitians on twitter will know, last night and tonight survivors in Port-au-Prince slept outside in public squares and sang hymns.  At the same time, two American religious leaders, both well-known, put forth explanations rather than hymns.  Pat Robertson–anybody reading this blog will already know this–said that Haitians were suffering because two centuries ago their ancestors “made a pact with the devil” in order to throw off the yoke of French colonial rule.  Presumably, this reference to a Haitian folk tale was a swipe at the character of Haitian religious belief, which has elements of African animism, voodoo and santeria but which is above all Catholic.  In response to Robertson, Jim Wallis (the evangelical but sometimes politically-liberal religious leader who advises Barack Obama) wrote on his blog, “I don’t even know what he [Robertson] means, nor do I care.  But I want to say this:  My God does not cause evil.  God is not a vengeful and retributive being, waiting to strike us down; instead, God is in the very midst of this tragedy, suffering with those who are suffering.  When evil strikes, it’s easy to ask, where is God?  The answer is simple:  God is suffering with those who are suffering.(more…)

A Depressing Read

John Heilemann’s and Mark Halperin’s new book Game Change, subtitled “Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime,” has got me really depressed.  It is such a piece of meretricious crap–and until now I had admired Mark Halperin greatly from afar.  It’s not only the narrative structure, built on a shit-load of unsourced (as in footnotes) gossip, innuendo and explosions of opinion shaped by malice and that human instinct for payback. It’s not only the dubious decision to recreate conversations word for word that neither H & H nor their sources heard.  In short, too much of the book is not just second-hand but third and fourth-hand recountings of events.

It’s not only that.  And really that should be enough for me.  After all, I know first-hand exactly what it’s like to have falsehoods, half-baked rumors, storytelling served up with malice aforethought and with just plain stupidity spread abroad about oneself in the media. (more…)

Wishful Thinking on Peace and Religion

Two months ago I began reading the Psalms at the pace of five a day.  A revelation. Not so many “joyful noises,” not so much shepherding as I had remembered.  Many of the Psalms are violent, disturbingly so.  Just from yesterday’s read, for example:  

“The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies. . . . Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth.  (Psalm 58) (more…)

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