While Christmas is officially a celebration of the birth of Jesus, for much of the Western world December 25 has come to be a celebration of family and community. No other time of the year is so thoroughly saturated with images pointing to our highest hopes for such relationships - and no other time of the year so effectively highlights the difference between our ideals and the world as it really is. Jesus came to Earth to bridge not only the chasm between humanity and God, but also that rift that separates people from each other. Christmas reminds us that we live in a broken world, and it seeks to encourage us by showing us through religious and even many secular trappings how that brokenness can be fixed.
Reporter Brian Ross: "Mary Mapes was the woman behind the scenes, the producer who researched, wrote and put together Dan Rather’s 60 Minutes report on President Bush’s National Guard service, a report which Rather and CBS would later apologize for airing...." Ross to Mapes: "Do you still think that story was true?" Ex-CBS producer Mary Mapes: "The story? Absolutely." Ross: "This seems remarkable to me that you would sit here now and say you still find that story to be up to your standards." Mapes: "I’m perfectly willing to believe those documents are forgeries if there’s proof that I haven’t seen." Ross: "But isn’t it the other way around? Don’t you have to prove they’re authentic?" Mapes: "Well, I think that’s what critics of the story would say. I know more now than I did then and I think, I think they have not been proved to be false, yet." Ross: "Have they proved to be authentic though? Isn’t that really what journalists do?" Mapes: "No, I don’t think that’s the standard." — ABC’s Good Morning America, November 9.
The runner-up is Ted Turner, for his emulation of Walter Duranty:
Ted Turner: "I am absolutely convinced that the North Koreans are absolutely sincere. There’s really no reason for them to cheat [on nukes]....I looked them right in the eyes. And they looked like they meant the truth. You know, just because somebody’s done something wrong in the past doesn’t mean they can’t do right in the future or the present. That happens all the, all the time." Wolf Blitzer: "But this is one of the most despotic regimes and Kim Jong-Il is one of the worst men on Earth. Isn’t that a fair assessment?" Turner: "Well, I didn’t get to meet him, but he didn’t look — in the pictures that I’ve seen of him on CNN, he didn’t look too much different than most other people." Blitzer: "But, look at the way, look at the way he’s, look at the way he’s treating his own people." Turner: "Well, hey, listen. I saw a lot of people over there. They were thin and they were riding bicycles instead of driving in cars, but–" Blitzer: "A lot of those people are starving." Turner: "I didn’t see any, I didn’t see any brutality...." — Exchange on CNN’s The Situation Room, Sept. 19.
Amy Welborn links to two worthwhile reviews. Steven Greydanus says that the movie is somewhere between two noted leftist-friendly films, one that "insist[ed] on hearing the case for the opposite point of view," and one "work of uncomplicated agitprop":
Brokeback Mountain isn’t as exquisitely even-handed as Dead Man Walking, but it keeps the cards sufficiently mixed to feel far more honest than The Magdalene Sisters.
He is particularly disturbed, however, by the demonization of men and masculinity:
In the end, in its easygoing, nonpolemical way, Brokeback Mountain is nothing less than a critique not just of heterosexism but of masculinity itself. It’s a jaundiced portrait of maleness in crisis — a crisis extending not only to the sexual identities of the two central characters, but also to the validity of manhood as exemplified by every other male character in the film. It may be the most profoundly anti-western western ever made, not only post-modern and post-heroic, but post-Christian and post-human.
One wonders if author Annie Proulx is one of those stereotypical embittered man-hating radical feminists - assuming this element is present in the original short story.
Victor Morton notices something in the film that a lot of other people missed: the homosexual relationship portrayed in Brokeback "was portrayed as a destructive force of nature."
Now ... I'm not going to oversell BROKEBACK on these grounds. It's definitely not a Christian work, and one should approach it with caution. But if this story were about an illegitimate lisison between a married man and a married woman, maybe it would be far easier to see how comfortably BROKEBACK fits into the traditions and templates of romantic tragedy, and so (and this is what I care about here) not leap to conclusions about what the film is supposedly "endorsing." It'd be easier, in some quarters, to see that its low-key elegiac tone and its bittersweet ambivalence about an impossible love come straight out of BRIEF ENCOUNTER or THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. But the essence of tragedy is that every option be costly.
A film about a destructive adulterous affair is uplifting if one can regard the wives and children as acceptable collateral damage. Unfortunately, many viewers are so callous.
While the actions taken by Ennis and Jack cannot be endorsed, the universal themes of love and loss ring true.
Hard to summarize better the contradiction at the heart of the Church's teaching on homosexual dignity.
For those of you who brought your Bibles, turn to John 8:1-11:
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
There's more to this passage than the trap (an attempt to get Jesus to openly side with Mosaic law, which stipulated capital punishment for adultery, or Roman law, which barred the Jews from employing capital punishment), the mystery of what Jesus wrote in the dirt, the divine pardon, and the myth that this passage teaches against the "throwing of stones" (the myth is most popular among non-Christians who want to be free to criticize Christianity without reaping what they sow). Jesus behaves as if he were awfully concerned with the woman's dignity. He doesn't yell "Repent, whore!" He gets rid of the bloodthirsty riffraff and sends her on her way with a gentle reprimand.
A relationship can be wrong on one level and right on another. The adulterous woman could have loved her liaison in the true sense of the word - love is valuing one's welfare - but acting on her sexual attraction for him, and/or giving in to his sexual attraction for her, violates a marital bond (or two - it is unclear which, if not both, of the parties was married).
The contradiction is nonexistent because love and same-sex attraction are not the same thing, and the latter does not preclude the existence of the former (to a degree). None of us loves fully; every relationship that has a degree of rightness has some level of brokenness. One can respect dignity without expecting perfection. All of us have friends who do undignified things.
Of course, Sully doesn't believe that homosexuality constitutes brokenness. But the Church (and most of modern psychiatric research since it began) disagree. He needs to start his argument there.
The secret plans of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy have been revealed:
It has been determined that our plans have reached such an advanced stage of realization that resistance is futile. Democrats, trial lawyers and the ACLU--read this and weep. The secret prison camps in an unidentified "-stan" country are ready. Join us or be assimilated.
Morgan Freeman says the concept of a month dedicated to black history is "ridiculous." "You're going to relegate my history to a month?" the 68-year-old actor says in an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes" to air Sunday (7 p.m. EST). "I don't want a black history month. Black history is American history."
An important part of American history is the migrations that led black Africans*, Southeast Asians, Ashkenazi Jews, Irish, Italians, Mexicans, etc. to these shores. History should teach how each of these significant migrations shaped the nation. We don't need set-aside months for any of them - or we wouldn't, if history were taught more thoroughly than it usually is.
(* Yes, "migration" isn't quite the most accurate description for most of these cases.)
For some time Andrew Sullivan has been railing against the Bush administration for sanctioning alleged acts of torture. In this post he strives to prove that one particular act of coercion - waterboarding - constitutes torture. This is the CIA definition of waterboarding, as excerpted in Sully's post:
The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.
For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
What is wrong with this document: First is the use of the word severe. No legal definition is provided for this generally subjective term; therefore, its inclusion in the document clouds rather than clarifies the meaning of "torture."
The final clause is particularly troubling. The convention recognizes "severe" punishment as "torture," unless that punishment constitutes "lawful sanctions." The 1889 Japanese Constitution used such weasel words in those articles which enumerate that subjects have certain rights "within the limits of law." Thus in Meiji Japan, the lawmakers were above the Constitution, and whoever enforces the Convention gets to arbitrate what is and isn't "severe" and what is and isn't a "lawful sanction."
The legal definition of torture must be more specific. One critical issue unaddressed by the Convention is long-term effects. What sort of trauma arises from waterboarding? Does it even rise even to the level of that associated with such "lawful sanctions" as the Soviet gulag or Saddam Hussein's dungeons? I'd like to know.
"Until your daddy learns that it's not 'fun' to kill, keep your doggies and kitties away from him. He's so hooked on killing defenseless animals that they could be next!" -- From a PETA booklet called "Your Daddy Kills Animals," which was designed to be handed out to children
Better keep Dad away from the blender, just to be safe.
"When I was in Africa, this voice came to me and said, 'Richard, what do you see?' I said, 'I see all types of people.' The voice said, 'But do you see any niggers?' I said, 'No.' It said, 'Do you know why? 'Cause there aren't any.'"
- From Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip (source)