9/11 and Pearl Harbor: Getting our Tails “Whacked Off”

I had forgotten it was 9/11 today until a student wanted to know if we would have a shortened day. She was hoping the tragedy carried a holiday status. I found this rather disturbing: thousands of dead Americans and a Chinese student hoping to get time off school. But she’s a kid, so I cut her some slack.

I do not for a second, though, cut the American government slack for its actions post-9/11. This is the day that many will opine about the tragedy of that day, and while there is no doubt such reflection is well-deserved, it can easily blind us to the greater tragedy: what America has inflicted upon the world in the aftermath of 9/11.

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The Act of Killing: Reflections on Victims and Victimizers

I recently subscribed to Foreign Policy and just the other day got the first print edition. There is something pleasant and old-fashioned about getting a journal in hardcopy. Unfortunately this month’s issue isn’t online yet for some inexplicable reason, which is unfortunate because I was frankly startled and encouraged by an exchange between Joshua Oppenheimer and David Rieff. Both men have done work on the subject of genocide, international affairs, and humanitarian aid. While Rieff has written some books, Oppenheimer may be the better known of the two as his chilling documentary The Act of Killing was nominated for Best Documentary in 2012. All that to say, here’s some excerpts and thoughts from an exchange between Oppenheimer and Rieff.

Joshua Oppenheimer:  The task of cinema in intervening in and exploring theses issues is to actually immerse us in these problems… Most human rights documentaries… replicate that most basic form of narrative escapism, dividing the world into good guys and bad guys. That is reassuring because we inevitably identify with the good guys. But it’s problematic because it makes it difficult to understand—not in the sense to excuse, but to understand how human being do these sort of things to each other … If we don’t accept the uncomfortable proposition that every perpetrator of virtually every act of evil in our history has been a human being like us, then we actually foreclose the possibility of understanding how we do this to one another and therefore make it impossible to figure out we might prevent these things.

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The New Atheists (Mis)Use of History (Stupid or Sinister?)

Those in the West tend to favor the pronouncements of scientists too much. While works on theology written by scientists (e.g Dawkins, The God Delusion) are praised despite their theological vacuity, there is a general skepticism about non-scientists making any sort of claim on science that diverge from the scientific mainstream. This double-standard that privileges the scientist also permits that profession to write “reputable” histories as well; for example, the scientist Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel is widely acclaimed (by Bill Gates no less!) despite the fact that its thesis is historically dubious. This is not merely a science vs. theology issue. The conflict runs deeper:  science has accrued such a bloated reputation that people too often thoughtlessly embrace books, articles, and shows merely because they feature a man with a Ph.D. in biology. Little else can explain the popularity of the New Atheists. They are scientists, so we must give them credence, even when they begin speaking to matters out of their field of study. This is an intellectual state of affairs that bodes poorly for culture at large. The minute one sort of knowledge begins to trump all others you get a myopic view that blinds more than it enlightens. (The writer would also like to point out that such a critique is equally applicable to religious fundamentalists).

The West’s embrace of science has led to the inability to identify the sketchiness of the New Atheists’  historical rhetoric (among other things), which is something I intend to explore here by considering their metahistory (a grand theory of history and where it’s going) and then a specific example of Christopher Hitchens’ specious historical rhetoric in support of that metahistory.

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Childhood: a Requiem, or Slender Man Unbound

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“Don’t be afraid, I’m only a little kitty cat,” said twelve year old Morgan Geyser as she stabbed her friend, Bella, over and over, damaging several vital organs. Morgan and her friend Anissa (who was present for the attack) led the desperately wounded Bella deeper into the Wisconsin woods and left her there to die. Lisa Miller, reporting on the stabbings over a year after (they occurred on May 30, 2014 – Miller’s article came out last Tuesday) in New York Magazine Online, describes Morgan and Anissa’s post-stabbing activities as such: “[T]hey wandered around Waukesha [WI] for a couple of hours, crying and singing and wilting in the heat, until they were picked up by police as they sat in the grass near an entrance to the interstate.”

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Bare Breasts or Social Services?

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A couple weeks ago I was wandering through Times Square with a friend when I got an eyeful of voluptuous, spar-spangled breasts. Apparently this is a thing now, women painting themselves red, white, and blue and clad in essentially nothing else. Of course, people are taking notice (how could they not?). New York City is thinking about curtailing the exhibitionism, and predictably some women are howling about their freedom of self-expression. They ask, if the Naked Cowboy is OK, why can’t topless women do their thing and make money off of photos? The cry for unfettered bosoms in one of the most visited places on earth takes earlier anti-bra (boob jail) feminism one leap further. The irony is that these women, so spiteful to older sensibilities, choose Old Glory as their visage. And yet they are also paragons of America’s sexualized, capitalistic culture as they wrap themselves in the flag and make money off of it. God bless America and her holy sacraments of sex and capitalism.

Yet why is New York City’s bleeding-heart liberal mayor, Bill de Blasio, even considering to interfere? Continue reading

Feeling the Bern: Up and Down Sanders’ Weak-Kneed Play for the Poor and Desperate

While neither trying too hard, nor trying too little, we allow ourselves reckless observations about the sensationalism and mind-numbing echoes of a thousand voices screaming at us constantly. Dragged between war, drugs, sex, love, peace, religion, politics, and money, we somehow catch the drift of an overpowering stench. Transparent Eye-balls were gouged out long ago and have been rotting in a corner ever since. Just like Icarus soaring for the sun, we sought to catch the glorious, ethereal rays and boast of our power to the universe. But we didn’t create, or even harness this overpowering spotlight — we were blasted by it and told to reflect it every which way. No filters, no blinders, and no breaks. Pure, unadulterated sunlight, bombasting our brains and airwaves until we had soaked in every square inch of propaganda, only to start oozing it out ourselves.

The Mangy Dogs of Main Street

I was at a political forum last week, and a GOP candidate for president was speaking to a packed hall. Besides the rip-roaring applause, there was booing from two kids who were preaching the gospel truth of free higher education and climate change. I’m in a unique position because I know folks on both sides of the spectrum. Many personal acquaintances are young, kicking into college and the workplace for the first time. My professional life services multi-millionaires on a daily basis NOT A PROSTITUTE…, and the stories of how they made their millions are about as diverse as you can imagine. Truckdrivers, mailmen, real estate tycoons, and heirs of inheritances — not all of them earned their dollars with blood and sweat, but the vast majority of them did earn their fortune themselves.

Social Justice seeks a shocking disambiguation in the war between classes, where we can simply label all of mankind as haves and have-nots. Continue reading

The Startling Normality of Adolf Hitler

Part of my course load this year requires me to teach Nazi Germany. Frankly, it’s been years since I’ve done work on the Second World War, but I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with the subject. The unfortunate thing is that studying the Nazis is emotionally challenging if only because good history requires, to paraphrase Atticus Finch’s words to his daughter Scout, the ability to walk around in another man’s shoes. Of course empathy for an abused black man is easier for us to grasp that for a demonic mass-murderer. And yet the historical enterprise seeks truth: what happened, why did it happen, why did people do what they did? To answer these questions there is no choice but to get into Hitler’s jackboots and strut around a bit, no matter how painful for the historically conscious.

A. N. Wilson has written a short but complete history of Hitler entitled, well, Hitler. For the most part his methodology is on track and he does a good job standing above the emotional fray and giving a straight account of the man and his times. He does fall into some unnecessary dissonance with his description of counterfactual history as a mere parlor game while occasionally playing the parlor game himself. Alternative histories can be specious, and Wilson is astute to point this out, but we must be careful not to be fooled into thinking that what happened must have happened. Nevertheless, one thing (among others) that Wilson does well is help the reader appreciate not only how insane Hitler was, but more importantly, how normal and sane he was by the standards of his times.

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Dead White Men. Also, an Introduction (of sorts) to Bellewether.

I am an educator at an international high school. Most my day is spent teaching students history and interacting with colleagues. It’s a good gig. I’ll mention it more in the future since kids from abroad have a way of casting a strange light on American culture. They generally seem to like Americans (although they find our drinking laws preposterous) but they find some of our sexual mores (among other things) peculiar. We are both too liberal and too conservative.

I digress, but will return to this at a later date.

One day I headed home with a fellow teacher and in the course of the conversation classical education came up and after a I give her a brief description the teacher says, without a hint of real cynicism in her voice, “Oh, so dead white men education.” Continue reading