Daily Archives: 31 Jan 2015

Media Racism on King Abdullah’s Funeral

Michelle Obama at King Abdullah's FuneralBy far, the best thing that Vox has done is to bring Max Fisher to my attention. He covers the Middle East for the website and he often takes on the tone of a patient parent, “Stop doing that; it’s racist.” I’ve written about his work a number of times, most notably in, The Bigoted “Muslims Condemn” Ritual. Well, Fisher was back a couple days ago with another article where you can almost hear him sigh before the first word, US Media Coverage of Michelle Obama’s Saudi Arabia Trip Isn’t Just Wrong — It’s Racist.

There is a very real and casual racism in this country — not just against Arabs but against Persians, Indians, and pretty much any other group you could name. If it hadn’t been for the Nazis and the Holocaust, Israelis would be included in that group. I still commonly hear people refer to “towel heads” and “those people” who attacked us on 9/11. It is the most naked form of racism. Race itself is a racist construct and you can see it clearly here. Muslims are commonly equated with Hindus and Sikhs, even though there is far more relationship between Muslims and Christians and Jews. But they are all the same to most Americans, not because they are, but simply because Americans are some of the most ignorant and parochial people on the planet.

King Abdullah's FuneralFisher made nine points in his article, but it all comes down to one thing: the American media coverage shows a shocking lack of understanding of Saudi Arabia. The supposed kerfuffle is that Michelle Obama didn’t wear a headscarf to the funeral of King Abdullah. This has been portrayed as some kind of major statement about the terrible treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. I’ve also heard it claimed that her dressing in blue instead of black was some big deal, but even I know that white is a traditional funeral color in many regions.

The main issue is that the elites of Saudi Arabia would be freaked out by seeing a woman who wasn’t enclosed in a portable tent. Fisher wrote, “Saudi royals are comfortable with the West and with Western customs; many spend long parts of the year in Europe and a number were educated in American boarding schools or colleges.” Of course they are. It reminds me of Mike Huckabee running around the nation claiming that those backwoods morals are so superior to the terrible morals of those New York and Los Angeles elites. As if he isn’t perfectly comfortable with elites, as he’s shown time and again. Just because elites here and in Saudi Arabia demagogue with religious fundamentalism doesn’t mean they fall for it.

It is one thing for the masses to have no idea that a Jain, unwilling to swat a fly, is quite different from a radical political Muslim suicide bomber or a Christian sniper who was proud of his 160 confirmed kills. But when the media can’t tell the difference, we are doomed. And I really do think that is the case and that they aren’t just pretending to generate clicks. Similarly, what are we to make of Ted Cruz’s tweet, “Kudos to @FLOTUS for standing up for women & refusing to wear Sharia-mandated head-scarf in Saudi Arabia”? I suspect he actually thinks that — and he is a smart and educated guy. But once you build a worldview based upon the idea that America is better than all other countries, this is the kind of blind stupidity that results. And that’s not just Ted Cruz — that’s America writ large.

Afterword

For the record, Saudi Arabia really is an awful place.

New Political Satire at The Onion

The OnionA little bit of The Onion goes a long way. So I don’t read it every day. But once a week, it is good for a half hour of hoots. When I stopped by the other day, two things really stuck out to me. One of them was a video, which I’ll discuss below. But the first was one of the funniest — and insightful — things I’ve seen in a long time, Bobby Jindal Not Sure He’s Willing to Put Family Through 2-Month Presidential Campaign. The joke is just an acknowledgement that we all know that Jindal will run for the Republican Party presidential nomination, and we all know that he will not last long.

If there is one criticism of The Onion, it is that its articles don’t usually have payoffs. The typical structure of an article is the same joke repeated again and again. And this often works brilliantly, as in, New Terminator Movie Brings JD Salinger Out Of Hiding. But in the Jindal article, there is a difference:

Citing the intense pressures and scrutiny placed on political candidates and the people in their lives, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal announced Tuesday that he’s not sure he wants to put his family through the rigors of a two-month presidential campaign…

Though Jindal stressed that while he personally had no qualms about enduring the extreme media attention, he admitted that he hated the thought of subjecting his wife and kids to the harsh glare of the public spotlight for a couple of news cycles. According to Jindal, they would have to steel themselves in preparation for a demanding campaign that would take their husband and father all the way through Iowa, a fair amount of South Carolina, and maybe a couple counties in New Hampshire…

“Imagine what it’s like being 10 or 13 years old and having your dad spend dozens of days running for president — what would that do to your life?” said Jindal, who admitted that during the roughly five-day-long peak of his campaign he might be too busy to stay in touch with his loved ones. “And we could be in the thick of it right up until a few days after the 2015 Iowa Straw Poll. If I hold, say, six fundraising dinners, that’s six meals I’m skipping with the kids. Not to mention I’ll miss my daughter’s big dance recital, which is really important to her.”

“Oh, wait, no I won’t,” he added. “That’s in September.”

The second notable thing was a video, DNA Evidence Frees Black Man Convicted of Bear Attack. The satire in it is so sharp that it isn’t all that funny. Watching it, I felt myself getting angry. Maybe I just know too much, but the truth of the matter is that people all over the nation — most especially black men — are convicted of crimes with only slightly less ridiculous evidence. But I loved this line, “The Pinola Police Department apologized for the inconvenience they caused him and say they plan to reopen the case and ‘find the black man who did this.'” To create a variation off Mozart, “Only satire can do this!”

The Real Victims of Political Correctness

Alex PareeneIn reality, the single most notable example in the last 15 years of an academic being punished for his speech is probably former University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, who was fired not for offending feminists but for claiming that some victims of the September 11 attacks were complicit in the crimes of the American state that provoked the attacks. Just a few years ago, liberal Democratic members of Congress and other officials publicly demanded that Brooklyn College cancel a forum featuring academics who support a financial boycott of Israel. Lawmakers threatened to withhold funding from the school if the event took place. Just this month, Duke University announced that it would not allow a weekly Muslim call to prayer to happen at the campus chapel, following criticism and threats from Christians and evangelical leaders. This is what speech policing in America actually looks like: like regular policing, it’s wielded primarily by people in power against marginalized groups and anti-mainstream opinions.

—Alex Pareene
Punch-Drunk Jonathan Chait Takes On the Entire Internet

What Everyone “Knows” About Iran

Iran Magnifying GlassConventional wisdom is a pox on our society. The problem isn’t that it is wrong — often times it is not. The problem is that it is invisible. I noted a great example of this a couple days ago in an otherwise good article by Jonathan Chait, Why Benjamin Netanyahu Lost His Mind. It is about how the Israeli leader is really screwing up by alienating Obama and thus the entire Democratic Party. It is quite possible that Democrats will control the White House for the next decade. Is he really looking out for the best interests of his country? I doubt it. But craven politicians are not something unique to the United States.

But in discussing the issue, Chait wrote, “One obvious cause of the Zionist right’s deepening millennialism is Iran’s quest to obtain a nuclear weapon.” So it isn’t the belief of the Zionist right, it is the fact that Iran is in a quest for a nuclear weapon. How it is that Chait “knows” this is not a mystery: it is what everyone “knows”! But it is not based upon evidence. It just seems right. Of course Iran would want a nuclear weapon! What fundamentalist theocracy wouldn’t want a nuclear weapon?!

I know that people may scoff and my having a problem with this, but I have a good reason. In the lead up to the Iraq war, it was just taken as a fact that of course Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And the fact that Hussein repeatedly said that he didn’t have these weapons only made people think that he must. This culminated in unintentional high comedy when Scott Pelley (but there were many others saying the same thing), “So why keep the secret [that he had no WMDS]?” There was, of course, no secret keeping. In fact, the very news outlets that claimed Hussein kept this secret had previously reported his denials. For example, before the invasion, Bob Schieffer reported, “Saddam Hussein says he has no weapons of mass destruction, but should we believe him?” The answer was: of course not! Iraq was our enemy, so it wasn’t necessary to find evidence.

With regard to Iran, all the actual evidence indicates that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program. After the Iranian revolution, the government shut down the Shah’s nuclear weapons program. Much later, the Iranian government seemed to do some fairly trivial research toward nuclear weapons. But for at least 12 years, there does not seem to have been any Iranian nuclear weapons program. But there could be. Just as with the teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars, we can’t prove the negative.

The casual assumption that of course Iran has a nuclear weapons program is very dangerous. There are many powerful people in the United States who want to go to war with Iran for the very purpose of stopping its nuclear weapons program. Because they “know” that Iran has one and that it would be the end of the world if Iran got such a weapon. And these people are part of a larger delusion that we know that Iran has a nuclear weapons program.

But we don’t. And if we invaded Iran, I’m pretty sure that we would find that Iran did not, in fact, have a nuclear weapons program. And we would doubtless hear from many mainstream commentators the burning question, “So why keep the secret that Iran had no nuclear weapons program?” We have the perfect media system — for a fascist state.

Afterword

While looking for images to go with this article, I came upon a lot of political cartoons. They were almost without exception mocking the idea that Iran didn’t have nuclear weapons. What good is a free press when even the political cartoonists all repeat the government line?

Franz Schubert

Franz SchubertOn this day in 1797, the great composer Franz Schubert was born. He is probably the only Romantic period composer who I unreservedly like. But if I were perfectly honest, the music coming into and going out of the Romantic period is generally much better than the straight Romantic stuff. That gives me some wiggle room with Beethoven, who is usually overdone for my tastes, but still ridiculously great.

Schubert was a full generation later than Beethoven, and very much influenced by him. Of course, Schubert was arguably even more influenced by Mozart. And he seems to have been somewhat like Mozart in the rapidity of his composing. Schubert died at the age of 31 of typhoid fever — or syphilis. Yet he left an enormous amount of music. And this may be one of the reasons that he has historically been discounted. There is no question but that he had the ability to quickly grind out facile works. But look at his later compositions, which show such control of emotional tempo and complex harmony.

If you look at what he wrote, Schubert would be considered a vocal composer. In addition to writing hundreds of songs, he wrote a couple dozen operas and singspiels. Yet his operas aren’t much performed, except for Fierrabras — and even it not that much. I don’t understand it. It is beautiful work — and far better than much of the opera that came after it. Whatever. A lot of what gets performed is just a matter of fashion. Here is Jonas Kaufmann performing “Was Quälst du Mich, o Mißgeschick!” (“Why do you torture me, misfortune!”?) from Fierrabras:

But I can’t think of Schubert without immediately hearing the String Quartet in G major. And here is a great performance of it by the Belenus Quartett. It is a very fast way to pass 45 minutes:

Happy birthday Franz Schubert!