Monthly Archives: February 2013

Foreign Film Roundup

Just watched “Il Divo”, an Italian political thriller about Giulio Andreotti. Fantastic, mesmerizing portrayal of the seven-time PM of Italy, complete with his alleged ties to the Mafia, neo-Fascists, the Vatican, crooked bankers that wound up murdered, and even a goodly dose of clandestine Masonic lodges. Crazy thing is, this ain’t no Dan Brown novel: this is reality in Italian politics. “Il Divo” thrills all right, but it’s a biopic, not a fiction created from whole cloth.

The acting is top-notch, the soundtrack frequently delights, and the suits are AMAZING. First rule of Italy: look fantastic. Morals and ethics can come after that… The cinematography deserves a special mention for its stylization. It creates the proper feel for the film and never lets up. As a whole, the film is immersive, compelling, and – at the end of the day – great entertainment.

I had the film on my shelf, but hadn’t watched it until now, when the Vatican came under fire in its latest scandal, coupled with the election turmoil in Italy. I can’t say that I totally understand Italian politics now, but the insights from this film are most welcome and relevant.

Democratic Society or Constitutional Republic?

Which do we live in? Apparently, according to the Texas state standards for social studies content taught in the classroom, or TEKS, we no longer live in a democratic society. It’s a constitutional republic. The word “democratic” has been scrubbed from much of the TEKS, to be replaced by the word “republic.” The partisanship behind this change is obvious. And while students still need to “analyze and evaluate the validity of… information… for bias, propaganda, point of view, and frame of reference”, every previous mention of “propaganda” has been struck from the TEKS. Are we to apply the study of propaganda to the TEKS themselves, then?

Given that the TEKS ask that we study the “leadership” of Nixon and Reagan and only the impeachment of Clinton, I think there are grounds to view the TEKS as a platform for right-wing propaganda. In them, America was never imperialistic and McCarthy was spot on in his witch-hunt… even though Americans previously decried our imperialistic adventures and the Venona documents show that McCarthy was dead wrong about most of his charges.

My biggest question is if I have to teach that we have always been at war with Eastasia or that we have always been at war with Eurasia.

Where Was the Outrage Then?

Benghazi was a debacle for the Obama administration: of that I have no question. But I find the GOP’s outrage over Benghazi, no matter how appropriate for the moment, to be arriving a little late in the day. The same senators that are not allowing Obama to have his appointments go forward over Benghazi were more than willing to give Bush a pass over the falsehoods of our invasion of Iraq. They did not pry into 9/11, which was an even bigger intelligence failure than Benghazi. To all the conservatives that are delving into the truth of Benghazi, I invite you to dive into Iraq and 9/11. I’ve been there for quite some time, and it would be good to have some company there.

People ask me why I don’t support either major party and I can point at a history of betrayals of our Constitutional principles, time and again, from either side of the aisle. I see myself as a seeker of truth: when a historical figure makes a hypocritical stand, I notice it and make remarks. I don’t let partisanship blind me. Believe me, it was a big blow to me mentally when I discovered that Jimmy Carter’s administration both triggered Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan and supported the Khmer Rouges in Cambodia. I had thought of him as a principled, if not accomplished, president. Those revelations proved my view to be false.

But the sins of Obama, Carter, and Clinton – oh yes, Mr. Clinton… – do not excuse those of Nixon, Reagan, or either Bush. Those who only see the errors of one side of the aisle are part of the coverup of the travesties and miscarriages on their own side. We’re not getting a fair shake from either side. We need to be outraged at all gross errors of government, not merely when it is politically convenient to be outraged.

It’s the Articles, Again

Remember the Articles of Confederation? How they resulted in an unworkable government because they required a 2/3rds majority to pass laws? Guess what… they’re here again! Don’t believe me? Well, just look at the Senate. No matter what the President wants or what the House does, all bills have to go through the Senate. And what happens in the Senate if a Senator doesn’t like a bill? He can filibuster it. The filibuster blocks the bill – without debate or discussion – and only 60 votes can block the filibuster move. That’s just seven shy of a 2/3rds majority.

Like I said, we’ve gotten back to the unworkability of the Articles of Confederation. Ironic, I know, since the Constitution was supposed to fix the problems of that older government. Well, looks like we need to try again.

2013: Year of the Standoff?

Recent headlines focused on a hostage situation in Alabama. Congress is split down the middle over fiscal reforms, threatening cuts where it hurts us most. China and Japan nearly started World War III on 29 January 2013, when the Chinese prepared to open fire on a Japanese destroyer in a disputed sea zone. Why is it people aren’t coming to compromises of late?

In the case of the hostage situation, it’s quite likely a compromise didn’t happen because the hostage-taker was not sane. He refused to act in the best interests of every party involved, including himself, and wound up dead. The hostage could also have been killed: I forgot to mention the recent standoff in Algeria that ended badly for many people. What does it earn a party to stick by their guns if it just means they wind up dead? Maybe there are some principles worth dying for, but $55 billion in defense cuts? A bunch of rocks in the South China Sea? Come on, now. Criminals in standoffs don’t fare well, this we know. But when governments are involved in standoffs with each other, both parties have a high chance of a bad outcome.

In Congress, both parties need to not be ready to “neener neener neener” each other, should one side extend a concession. We need graciousness on both sides, so that we can encourage a functional government. Congress is broken and the partisanship is as disgusting as it is debilitating. This is exactly, EXACTLY the sort of thing that brought down Yugoslavia. We don’t need to go down that road.

China and Japan… the solution is hard. Japan is fading. It needs to step down. Solving major demographic shifts and deep fiscal issues should *not* involve “Go down in a blaze of glory!” as a step. And why should Japan back down in this case? Well, it would be a nice way of starting to say “sorry” for a series of wars that destroyed tens of millions of lives in China and elsewhere. Give China the rocks, it’ll be a nice gesture.

My suspicion is that Congress will make a grudging compromise, but it’ll be so bitter that they will have an even harder time making the next major compromise. They’re not getting better at getting along, they’re getting worse. The USA is not yet at the breaking point. China and Japan are a different story. These guys are already pointing guns at each other, with fingers on their triggers. They are at a breaking point, and that does not bode well for a clean compromise sort of finish.

Love One Another

The other day, I saw a picture making the rounds on the Internet: a sign that says that homosexuals, drug users, gangsters, feminists, Mormons, Buddhists, drunkards, Baha’is, Catholics, wife-beaters, atheists, New Age thinkers, Democrats, environmentalists, Promise Keepers, abortionists, effeminate men, racists, Scientologists, Emos, government recipients, adulterers, fornicators, thieves, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, perverts, idolators, pagans, loud mouthed women, agnostics, liars, freeloaders, liberals, high-fallutin’ sophisticated swine, and sports nuts all loved the devil and were in need of repentance and to then believe in Jesus. Leaving his punctuation errors aside, I’d like to address the charges and exhortations made by the sign-maker.

Jesus said, “As I have loved you, love one another.”

That’s a tall order, really. I could easily join in and add and subtract from the list above, but that would not be loving one another. And maybe there are people in those groups that love the devil, as evidenced in their actions, but that does not condemn the group as a whole. Neither does it excuse those who do evil that are members of other groups not mentioned. Nevertheless, we should not condemn the sinner. We have to find forgiveness in our hearts and then find the capacity to reach out in love.

This is a big world, with many competing, confusing views. I can’t hate a man that’s trying to good in the way he knows best, but follows after a different religion than mine – or no religion, as the case may be. If someone’s trying to do good, I have that in common with him. I call it the pure love of Christ, he may call it the pure love of God or the pure love of mankind – whatever we call it, it’s pure, and it’s love, and it uplifts people. We bless lives by expressing love and forgiveness.

What then of the liars, wife-beaters, drug users, gangsters, perverts, and so on? People whose sins also run afoul of the law? Love them, too. Jesus didn’t give us the option to pick and choose. We love them, too. We can pray for them, encourage them to do better, set a good example and hope they follow it, but at the end of the day, no prayer, encouragement, or example will help them if we haven’t first forgiven and loved them.

The labels themselves are misleading: I have a very good friend that’s on a sexual offender’s list. As it turns out, there are lots of ways for foolish young men to make it to that list that would not generate moral outrage. Child abuse and rape certainly repulse us and fill us with horror, but what about those lesser crimes that are lumped alongside them? Public urination behind a bar can get a man on that list. Making a misjudgment of months while still a teenager can also put a man on the list. Those guys still have to knock on doors in neighborhoods and explain their convictions at every job interview. If our society could at least forgive and love them, we’d have a little less hardship dealt out on a daily basis.

The French have a saying, “To understand is to forgive.” Sadly, I suspect the chap that made the sign isn’t too fond of the French. So, I’ll turn to another J.C., this time Johnny Cash. He made it to a number of the groups on the list above, but he still claimed he felt the love of Jesus in his life and the power of forgiveness. He may have been, as he put it, “a C-minus Christian”, but he still knew that that was a passing grade… with a little love from the Teacher, no doubt. He didn’t hate with his music. He offered understanding, and from that, forgiveness, and from that, love. Johnny Cash is one of my heroes, warts and all. So I’ll let him close this post with a list of his own…

“Man in Black”
Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he’s a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.

Well, we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought’a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin’ for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believin’ that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believin’ that we all were on their side.

Well, there’s things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin’ everywhere you go,
But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You’ll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything’s OK,
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.

– Johhny Cash

There’s love in those words, and no matter what his faults may have been, I’ll listen to them and take comfort in them. I’ll pray that I can put the wisdom of those words into my life. I want to be a better man, and I can do that only by walking my own road and taking the help I can get – not by throwing stones at those that are different from me.