Beliefs and Politics

Newsroom and “Star-spangled Awesomeness”

This post is bound to offend some, but that would be a bad reason not to write it. So, for the record, let me start by saying that I love America and am grateful I was born here and live here.

I was discussing politics and society with someone at work, who said “hey, you should watch the opening scene from HBO’s Newsroom.” It’s been out for a long while, apparently, but I don’t have cable. I looked it up on YouTube and then had to watch it several more times. Hopefully this show will be available on Netflix.

Jeff Daniels in Newsroom. Photo courtesy of syracuse,com

Jeff Daniels in Newsroom. Photo courtesy of syracuse.com

In case you haven’t watched the scene, here’s a brief description: A moderator sits on a stage in what appears to be a university auditorium with three other people: a liberal, a conservative, and a news anchor (sounds like the setup for a joke….). A young woman in the audience asks all three speakers to state briefly why they think America is the greatest country in the world. (more…)

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Does this joke make me look fat?

Did you hear that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was voted the sexiest man alive for 2012? In the words of one contest judge, “this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman’s dream come true,” with his “devastatingly handsome, round face … impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle, and … famous smile.” The Chinese Communist Party’s official paper took the story from The Onion and ran with it, not realizing it was satire.

Cartoon by Heng in NYT Nov 30, 2012

Cartoon by Heng in NYT Nov 30, 2012

It’s unlikely that North Koreans could ever get away with something like this. (Back to that whole “freedom of expression” thing I’ve been writing about.) I love that we can make fun of our own leaders in the U.S. I love it even more when they’re willing to make fun of themselves. (more…)

Emotional Bubble Wrap and the Freedom of Speech, Part II

Extended International Dance Mix

My last post was about the US, but this issue of feelings vs. freedom of expression comes up in other countries too. It’s been making the news in Russia for months. At the end of September, the Duma began considering a bill that would alter existing law by criminalizing acts that offend “religious faith and feelings of citizens,” as well as acts against religious objects and places where religious ceremonies are conducted. The draft bill called for penalties of up to five years imprisonment and fines of up to 300,000 rubles (about 9700 USD). It is still under consideration but very likely to become law, considering the legislature’s recent work limiting other freedoms.

pussy riot livejournal

Photo from pussy-riot.livejournal.com

One part of the context for this was Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in February. (more…)

Emotional Bubble Wrap and the Freedom of Speech, Part I

I’m all for the freedom of speech. People should have the right to say whatever [choose your adjective] thing they want. We should, but in the interest of civilization we’ve set boundaries against things like hate speech, which the American Bar Association defines as communication that “offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” So we don’t have the right to use “fighting words,” which are “without social value” and could be expected to provoke the listener, but the First Amendment does give us the freedom to say things that are offensive and hateful or that the listener may disagree with. If someone wants to explain the difference, I’d be grateful.Hear-No, See-No, Speak-No Evil Monkeys

It’s not threats or insults that concern me here. There’s no excuse for those. It’s the offending part of the definition that prompted me to write this, because in the news I’ve been coming across examples of censorship or self-censorship that come from fear of offending a group. (more…)

Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories make so much sense to the people who believe them, while “non-believers” are left shaking their heads… This week Slate featured a blog post from Quora.com about a 9/11 conspiracy theory. In answer to the question “what do 9/11 truthers believe?” Mark Rogowsky said truthers claim that the WTC towers fell because of an elaborate government bomb plot, not because of the planes that flew into them or the resulting fire. According to Rogowsky, such people argue that the collapse was caused by tons of explosives that government agents set up in each tower in the days or weeks before the attack, without anyone noticing. The plane hijackings, also supposedly arranged by the government, were to distract people from what was really going on. (more…)

Biting Our Collective Nails

Our leaders are being irrational. Once again Americans are approaching a “fiscal cliff” and we’re waiting to see if Congress and the White House will reach a compromise that prevents another recession. I’m not sure if this irrationality is “unintentional” or if it’s being used as a strategy in the game of chicken between Democrats and Republicans. In one version of that game, two drivers speed toward each other and certain mutual destruction, and the one who swerves to avoid collision at the last minute is considered a coward. It can be smart (even rational) for one player to signal that he is “crazy” enough not to change direction, so that the other player will. But in our case these drivers have millions of people in the cars with them, so-called fiscal hostages.

English: Two Knights Jousting Deutsch: Ritterl...

English: Two Knights Jousting Deutsch: Ritterlicher Turnier-Zweikampf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Political scientists have used this game to explain nuclear “brinkmanship” during the Cold War, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it also applies to the neglected and disparaged art of political compromise–especially when a serious deadline looms. (more…)

American Hyper-Partisanship

Dishing it out

Dishing it out (Photo credit: ArtBrom)

Last night, President Obama and Governor Romney made news by being civil to each other. At the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York, they laughed at themselves and each other and praised each other’s families. This stood out because, the rest of the time, the gloves are off. We have no reason to think that will change after election day. The negative campaign ads will end, but the accusations, meanness, and hyper-partisanship won’t.

With plenty of exceptions, Democrats and Republicans will probably continue to paint the other side as liars or fools—especially as we approach the “fiscal cliff.” But instead of working to find common ground and solve our serious problems through compromise, I suspect that too many people on each side will go on attacking anyone who thinks differently. (more…)