Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Sullivan’

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On Maturity and Patience: Americans Need to Grow Up

11.22.10

Republicans aren’t the only ones who aren’t happy with President Obama and the policies that he and the Democrats have enacted during his tenure over the past two years.  A share of Democrats are unhappy, as well.

Comedian Jon Stewart joined the ranks of those who voted for Obama and has found himself disappointed with the ensuing administration:

“I think people feel a disappointment in that there was a sense that Jesus will walk on water and now you are looking at it like, ‘Oh look at that, he’s just treading water’ … I thought he’d do a better job,” said Stewart.

Of course there’s going to be inherent disappointment when you imagine the man you helped elect to the secular office of president as having some spiritual likeness to the Messiah.  Obama’s just a man, just a politician.  Nothing more or less.  It’s not Obama’s fault that Stewart had his expectations grossly out of proportion with reality; that’s Stewart’s.

But, I think the general idea of Stewart’s is one that exemplifies a major issue with all Americans right now.

We’ve become a society full of people without any patience.  We can’t wait for anything to develop – or to recover.  We refuse to see the big picture anymore, instead focusing only on the here-and-now and why things don’t change with the miraculous snap of the fingers or the election of someone new.  Since virtually everything we could ever want is available to us in the blink of an eye online, our collective brains have devolved back into little children demanding whatever it is we want at that moment from our parents without any concept of understanding just what it is we’re asking of them or how difficult or impossible it may be for them to get it for us in that instant.

Andrew Sullivan has likened Obama to the one adult in the room surrounded by a bunch of children: the Republicans in Congress.  But, I think we’re all the children.  We all have this to blame.  At whom else can we point the blame?

We say we want change every two to four years — basically every election it seems — because the ones we elected didn’t do what they said they were going to do.  So we elect the people from the other party because they say they’ll right the ship.  Of course, after two years, since no miracle has happened and we’re still the impatient children who doesn’t understand the concepts of time and patience, we switch the lineup again – expecting yet another miracle, that changing the guard itself will change reality in the blink of an eye.  And then we blame the politicians and blame the other party and blame the system again and again.  Rinse and repeat.

But, we’re the ones to blame.

I am guilty of being a child in this game, too.  I’m impatient.  I’m stubborn.  I’m argumentative.  I think I have answers like everyone else.  I don’t always act my age.  We can’t just stomp our feet and throw a temper tantrum because things aren’t going the way we want them to anymore.  We can’t indulge our own ignorance of the complexities of life and how sometimes it takes much longer to get what we want than we’d like.  Or that sometimes we just don’t always get what we want – ever.

It’s time for us to grow up.

Image courtesy of BabyDinosaur’s Flickr Photostream.

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Please, Someone Explain Why Torture isn’t Morally Reprehensible if for American Security

11.20.10

For a myriad of reasons – whether its simply a misguided obsession with safety and national security or going so far as involving a dangerous level of xenophobia coupled with bloated American exceptionalism arrogance – Republicans overwhelmingly support torture. Or, at least (and arguably worse), they deny that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” were even torture when we did them and that they were morally justified because of how “evil” the enemies are.

Brian Michael Jenkins has been studying terrorism since back when its perpetrators were called “urban guerrillas.”  He’s sought out for guidance by politicians on both sides of the political divide.  And Jenkins down for an incredible interview with LA Times’ Patt Morrison which is well worth your time to read.  Just an excerpt:

I don’t think torture belongs in the American arsenal. I think torture is illegal, is immoral, but I would go further and argue that it doesn’t work. These silly scenarios [in which] the terrorist knows where the bomb is that’s about to go off in 30 minutes — that’s not reality. Further, you have to judge what you get in information versus the strategic loss that you take when it is revealed, as it will be inevitably, that a country is employing torture…

Finally, you take into account that [using torture] changes the nature of our own society, and that is a tremendous cost.

Let’s break that down into ideas that everyone can understand:

  1. Homeland Security isn’t run by Jack Bauer
  2. Legalizing torture taints our collective moral fiber

Just the other day on Facebook I got into a discussion about George W. Bush’s new book Decision Points where someone said that he was “glad to see him so content.”  It evolved from there to the point where the same commenter ended up defending torture, saying: “I don’t fault him for a natural disaster [Hurricane Katrina] or using techniques on 3 top terror suspects to gain insightful information to save lives.”

To that I ask:

What insightful information?

What lives were saved?

The false narrative in people’s minds about how torture actually worked is debunked by the reality of what happens when these tortured terror suspects go to trial:

A federal jury in New York yesterday returned a guilty verdict against accused Terrorist Ahmed Ghailani on one count of conspiracy to blow up a government building, a crime which entails a sentence of 20 years to life, but acquitted him on more than 280 charges of murder and conspiracy relating to the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Last month, the federal judge presiding over the case, Lewis Kaplan, banned the testimony of a key witness because the Government under George Bush and Dick Cheney learned of his identity not through legal means but instead by torturing Ghailani.

I cannot understand the defense of torture.  That mentality must come from an out-of-control fear combined with an unfortunate misunderstanding and conflation of torture and justice causing a warped moral view.  What’s the most troubling is that moral view then considers itself to be the moral authority, trumping all other viewpoints.

But what makes us different than the Khmer Rouge?  Even if the people we torture are truly evil, while the Khmer Rouge were torturing some not truly evil people, don’t you realize that the morality of torture isn’t dependent on the quality of the person being tortured? If we’re so much better than the people we’re torturing, we wouldn’t be torturing them in the first place — not because they’re not bad people, but because we’re not bad people.

Unless we are.

But I don’t think we are.  We deal with serial killers, murderers, rapists, child molesters and all sorts of homegrown reprehensible creatures without resorting to torture. And until 9/11 and the absurd outrage against all Muslims as being inherently un-American, we didn’t torture our own terrorists: we didn’t waterboard Timothy McVeigh and we gave him the death penalty and caught his co-conspirators.  See also: Bomber, Una.

So, please, someone who disagrees with me, explain why:

  • Torture is necessary and acceptable in prosecuting terror suspects.
  • In defending our nation against those who want to destroy it with violence, it’s okay to destroy our own nation through the voluntary abolishing of our own civil protections.
  • The notion of smaller government only pertains to programs that help Americans but not when it means unprecedented power to spy on and torture Americans.

Anyone?

(H/T The Daily Dish)

Image courtesy of shalawesome’s Flickr Photostream.

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Lame Duck Congress Could Still Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy

11.18.10

With the Democratic majority ending in the House of Representatives – and becoming considerably smaller in the Senate – come January, we’re currently in what we call a “lame duck” session of Congress.

It remains to be seen what legislation they will pass, if any, but it looks like the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that forces gay service members to remain in the closet if they want to serve our country has a decent chance of passing.

Andrew Sullivan pins our hopes on Senate majority leader Harry Reid:

If Harry Reid allows a two-week debate on DADT, there may be 60 votes in the Senate for repeal, bypassing McCain’s bitter, and incoherent obstructionism. If I were you, I’d email Reid, not Obama, to lobby for repeal. It may be the last chance we get for years, now that the virulently anti-gay Tea Party has taken over the House.

Sullivan follows up with a recommendation: email Reid.

While I’ve been politically vocal for a couple years now — first on MySpace, then Facebook, and now this blog you’re reading here — I haven’t been all that politically active aside from voting in every major election since turning 18.  I have only once called a representative and now my second time was just now emailing Sen. Reid.  It took me barely a couple minutes.

I encourage you to do the same and join the majority of other Americans and 70% of active-duty and reserve troops to all agree that DADT needs to end. I have no idea how much good it will do, to be honest — but, it sure can’t hurt.  If we can take the time to forward on random jokes in email or post viral videos on Facebook, it seems like we all have the time to email the Senate majority leader to end a discriminatory policy like DADT.

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How to Start Blogging: Read Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish

10.12.10

Andrew Sullivan’s political commentary blog, The Daily Dish, has just celebrated its 10-year anniversary of existence.

Why is this a big deal?

Well, for me, my own year-plus of blogging here on Agree to Disagree started in large part because of Sullivan’s writing.  His and John August’s eponymous blog are the two blogs that I’ve read since I knew what a blog was (honestly: I can’t remember the first time that I started reading either, it’s been so long) that I never fail to read on a consistent basis — it used to be daily, but now it’s more like every two or three days when I get the chance to catch up on everything, which takes a while since Sullivan is nothing if not prolific.  (Seriously, this guy blogs a TON.)

Why do I read Sullivan (almost) daily?

He’s a phenomenal writer and he has integrity.  He’s one of the few out there in the political realm who is willing to admit he’s wrong and change his mind on something if the facts present a different view than he originally saw. Sure, it helps that I see eye-to-eye with him on many levels — gay rights, Sarah Palin being insane, the intellectual dishonesty of the GOP, the appalling stances on the legality of torture, the legalization of marijuana — just to name a few.

On the other hand, he is a classic conservative while I consider myself a liberal; whatever that means.  If it’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years of reading Sullivan, it’s that those labels mean much less than the actual stances one takes on specific subjects and policies.

I’ve always had trouble with people generalizing and being overzealous about casting aside an entire group of people — whether based on religion, race, sexual or political orientation, etc. —  and Sullivan helped me realize that neither “conservative” nor “liberal” nor “moderate” can truly describe the thoughts and feelings of a person — many in the conservative community don’t even consider Sullivan one of their own.

I don’t mean to give him such high praise as if he’s perfect and unerring.  Far from it, just like the rest of us.  But, the candid quality of his writing is immediately relatable and inspiring — even when I disagree with him — because I know it’s coming from an honest place.  He doesn’t take a stance just for the sake of being sensational.

It’s because it’s how he feels.  It’s because it’s what he thinks.

What does this mean for you?

Probably nothing.

Other than that you read me (thank you!) and probably have seen me quoting Sullivan frequently or giving him hat tips for providing source material for my own blogs.  He’s been a huge inspiration to me and it’s blatantly evident in how I write in these posts. I have no shame.  Might as well learn (read: imitate) from the best.

Here’s to you, Andrew and the team at The Dish: many thanks for your continued excellence in adding quality content to the blogosphere.  I hope to one day hold a candle to what you’re able to do.

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24 Hour News Cycle to Blame for Fringe Radicals Getting National Spotlight

09.17.10

It’s quite a stunning statement about the state of the American press when the activities and fringe interests of the very few — we’re talking fewer people than you’ll find cars in your average supermarket parking lot — gain such natural interest as to make the military leader of our forces in Afghanistan personally state his disapproval of said activity.

Take a look at this diagram I found courtesy of Andrew Sullivan:

MuslimVennDiagram

Image via Mark Shea:

It’s easy as pie to generalize to millions of people the crimes of a few. We Catholics have had it done to us. And we can have it done to us again. So we should be bloody cautious about insane schemes to do it to 18 million fellow citizens.

The grotesque excuse “But the the first amendment is dead, and Islam killed it. There is no ‘freedom of speech’ or ‘freedom of religion’ with the threat of Muslim violence hanging over your head” is rubbish. Cancelling the rights of 307 million people because you are, by your own admission, afraid is neither patriotism, nor courage, nor Christian fortitude. It is cowardice. And it is extra-special cowardice when you are ready to cancel your most precious national heritage because you are afraid of a speck.

I couldn’t say this any better myself even if I tried.

Some could argue that it is newsworthy — sure, burning the Quran will get you noticed.  But, this is the kind of thing for Hard Copy (if it were still around) or the local Gainesville six o’clock news.  It went from a blip on the radar – where it should’ve remained – to garnishing worldwide attention because our 24-hour news cycle needs to fill their shows with content, regardless of how newsworthy the item may be.

And if it’s not quite newsworthy enough, well, rest assured that the weeks and weeks of talking heads commenting on the rightness or wrongness of Rev. Terry Jones and his Quran-burning plans will make it so.  (Note that they must include the rightness AND wrongness because they mistake their role of reporting the truth with being balanced on every topic, no matter how lunatic.)

And to what end?

All that’s happened is that these radicals have been legitimized.  Now Rev. Jones is planning to go to New York City to talk to Imam Rauf regarding the “Ground Zero” mosque.  Since when does a Gainesville reverend with a congregation of 50 followers have any authority whatsoever to involve himself in the building plans in a neighborhood 1,000 miles away from where he calls home?

Oh right.  Because he was on the news TV.

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Religion: Anachronistic Perhaps, Yet Still Valuable

08.25.10

Andrew Sullivan:

If you see the world as something to be understood, you will seek to understand it through many voices, idioms and perspectives. To dismiss all religion as mere anachronistic bunk is a closure of the mind, not an opening.

While I agree, I don’t know that I agree in the same way that Sullivan means it.  I haven’t used that precise term – anachronistic – to describe religion before, but it’s relatively close to my feelings toward it.  I don’t know that my issue with it is that it’s old-fashioned so much as that the rigid structures of religion are itself closed-minded, ignoring new evidence and thousands of years of human development, ingenuity, and discovery in favor of some ancient texts.

At least, that’s the case for the Abrahamic religions.  One could argue that since their texts are so old, that they must be relevant and worthy if people are still worshiping them after all these centuries of new ideas and new religions have come to pass.

The same can’t be said for new faiths like Mormonism or Scientology.  Those followers intrigue me the most, especially the latter.  To think that people subscribe to a set of beliefs that include some pretty out-there sci-fi babble in an age where we have so much scientific evidence showing that there’s no way the universe is trillions of trillions of trillions of years old stuns me.

So where do I agree with Sullivan?

It’s precisely because those people stun and baffle me that these religions are worthy of studying and investigating.  We’re all so different yet we all have so many traits in common.  Why am I not religious while others are extremely devout?  Why do certain cultures tend to embrace such different faiths?  Or is it their faiths that determine different cultures? These religions, and the human race’s constant desire to believe, offers all kinds of information that we can dissect and study from sociological, anthropological, and psychological perspectives in order to learn how our minds and cultures evolve and function.

Just about everything involves religion.  Just glance at the news and try not to incorporate Islam, Judaism, and Christianity t0 understand what’s going on.  From the two wars we’re fighting in the Middle East to the already-existing mosque near Ground Zero in NYC to award speeches, it’s impossible to separate humans from religion.

And even for those like myself who follows no religious institution, my doing so is notable because of my lack of religious desire.  I admit that I frequently dismiss the concept of religion as anachronistic bunk, as Sullivan says, but I don’t dismiss its impact or its intellectual worth when it comes to understanding our world.   In that sense, I don’t see my beliefs as being a closure of the mind at all because one doesn’t need to give credence to religious faith in order to investigate our world so much as accept religion’s existence and how it affects people, places, and things.

I just keep it in its place along with other myths, legends, and fables that speak volumes about ourselves as self-conscious beings and human nature than they do anything related to defining our existence or explaining the afterlife.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia user Booyabazooka

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How to Turn the Political Tide: Reward Rational Thought

06.26.10

From the blatant lies passed off as truths by Arizona’s governor to the Rolling Stone reporter whose article ultimately led to Gen. McChrystal’s forced resignation, the question raised by The Economist, Andrew Sullivan, and others seems more relevant than ever now: do intelligent arguments make a difference?

With so much of the blogosphere ripe with deeply partisan, harsh opinionators, and the populist movement in full force across the country, playing toward people’s emotions has seemed to trump rational arguments.  We’re living in a time when a journalist has to defend his reporting because it’s so vastly different from what gets passed off as news and journalism with outlets like Fox News, MSNBC, and the Washington Post dangerously blurring the lines:

“Look, I went into journalism to do journalism, not advertising. My views are critical but that shouldn’t be mistaken for hostile – I’m just not a stenographer. There is a body of work that shows how I view these issues but that was hard-earned through experience, not something I learned going to a cocktail party on fucking K Street. That’s what reporters are supposed to do, report the story.” – Michael Hastings

In a debate with other gubernatorial candidate, Matt Jette, who said that a lot of undocumented workers “are just trying to feed their family… They just want to work,” Arizona Governor Jan Brewer responded with:

“We are a nation of laws. And they are coming across our border illegally. And the majority of them in my opinion and I think in the opinion of law enforcement is that they are not coming here to work. They are coming here and they’re bringing drugs. And they’re doing drop houses and they’re extorting people and they’re terrorizing the families. That is the truth, Matt. That is the truth…”

Notice how her argument is based on her opinion, which at the end, she passes off as truth, as fact.  In her argument, there is no difference between what she believes and what is real.

Now, let’s just say for the sake of argument that she’s right: the majority of illegal immigrants are coming across the border to sell drugs and terrorize Americans.  If that’s the case, and the numbers (because there have to be numbers to prove something like this which is calculable) show this to be the case, then there’s no need to even bring up one’s opinion, or allude to the possible opinion of some third party.  There’s no my feelings versus your feelings; it’s just these numbers show this is happening, plain and simple.

The obvious reason that Gov. Brewer didn’t handle the argument in this manner is most likely two-fold:

  1. The numbers weren’t in her favor.  There are more than double the number of Border Patrol agents on the border now than six years ago, and the crime rates in border towns in Arizona haven’t changed much at all in the past decade.
  2. The masses aren’t interested in numbers.  Not to say that people are stupid, but when in large groups, it’s easy to play to emotions.  And emotions run high these days with nearly two years of unemployment near 10%, the housing market crashing, and broad anger toward those who are supposed to be the ones who can do something about it all.

To look outside of Arizona, let’s take the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  Outrage slowly built after the initial oil rig explosion when people realized just how grave the situation was and how difficult it was going to be to fix it.  That outrage initially went right at BP, for good reason; but, as the weeks flew by with oil churning out of the earth, blame shifted to President Obama and the government — he should be doing more; he hasn’t done enough; he hasn’t been putting enough pressure on BP; he hasn’t even met with BP’s then-CEO Tony Hayward.

When you ask people what they expect Obama to do that hasn’t yet been done, no one can give an answer.  And no one has an answer because no one has the answer.  The only actual fix seems to always have been the relief wells that are currently being dug and won’t be finished until August; everything else has been done on a wing and a prayer.  Not to say that the different methods of stopping the leak shouldn’t have been attempted, only that the probability of their effectiveness was never all that high — the “top kill” method only had an admitted 60-70 percent chance of working, and that was being optimistic since it had never even been attempted at that depth before.

People don’t like feeling helpless.  It might be the worst feeling, up there with guilt and shame.  We don’t take it well when we’re told “there’s nothing you can do.”  Usually you see this happen in a movie, in a hospital, when someone is told that there’s nothing more anyone can do to save someone who is dying and they demand, hysterically and angrily, that the doctor do something, that there must be another option, something else they can try.  The raw facts of the situation won’t change the emotional response of the poor soul dealing with the reality of his futility.

This feeling of futility seems to be the source of the growing populist movement of broad, unfocused anger toward the establishment.  There must be a way to fix the economy, create jobs, solve the undocumented worker issue, stop global warming without it costing us a cent, find an everlasting geyser of oil, and plug the gaping hole in the Gulf — we just haven’t found it yet, haven’t tried hard enough yet.  And indeed there must be.  But the only way will be to look at the facts with a rational eye.  It won’t be quick.  It won’t be easy.  And there will have to be sacrifices.

It’s easy to throw tantrums, point fingers, and react with our emotions, but there’s a reason why that didn’t work as kids, and why we need to be strong now and realize why it can’t help now that we’re adults.  Rational arguments can make a difference.  But it means having to face reality, as difficult as it may be, and rewarding those who give logical explanations for ways to solve problems and dismissing the ones who don’t.  It’s up to us.