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Shouting Fire: Stories From the Edge of Free Speech, Commentary 2

February 28, 2010 Leave a comment

                                                                                                                                                                                                       

This part of the documentary deals with Debbie Almontaser, the American Muslim teacher in New York City.  The New York Post basically caused her to resign from the Board of Education and lose her chance at becoming permanent principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy.  In spite of her career based on promoting intercultural, trans-religion understanding and peace, New York City’s school Chancellor and Mayor were convinced by the Teacher’s Union that she is agent of threats of violence.  When asked on phone by the New York Post to explain the women’s T-Shirt of a Yemeni organization which Almontaser was part of, saying “Intifada NYC”, she explained the passive root of the often rebellious term.  This acted as evidence against her.

I think that it is okay for a newspaper to “be this partisan” as my professor asks.  “Partisan” in this case might offend reasonable Republicans (since the target is probably not Democrats when describing the Post.)   In America at least, there are plenty of big newspapers at the opposite end of any spectrum of opinion.  But I think the act itself is despicable.  From what I’ve heard, it was a cruel trap based on semantics.  I believe whomever called Almontaser did not have the desire to find out the truth, but to fulfill either media frenzy or appeal to anti-terrorism fear in the buying audience.  It may be vague to say this but, I think what makes the investigators of Watergare honorable was their urge to expose lies, not help craft a negative statement to take down the enemy.

I think our media is offended a little too easily about negative statements regarding the United States and the September 11, 2001 attacks.  But what I think, or at least some of the media finds acceptable, is explanations of bad choices made by the government, or waning public values, that allowed anti-America aims to carry out.  You can’t say “America deserved the deaths of 2,000 people” or “our lifestyles are the kind that ought to be punished.”  But you can say “If we hadn’t gone into this country and manipulated this region or regime we could have avoided this” or “we’ve become too soft on security and have to improve our homeland defense.”  Few Americans would say “America is not good”, but many say “America is misusing its potential” or “abandoning what makes this country great.”

A person that is close to an organization with a negative public image, in some circumstances, may be justifiably fired.  But what I dislike is the frenzy to boot people out of their position.  People get so passionate about being invaded or tarnished by an ideological enemy, that neither gets to have their facts properly checked, nor has a real debate with the other.  This may just cause greater opposition and disrespect toward the accuser.  Then again, media with a good following like the Post may not mind the public image of hardcore knavery.

I would like for the Post  to prove me completely wrong with evidence- about the phone conversation, or Almontaser’s true nature.  Until then, I will not take their side of the issue.

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A response to a scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

February 28, 2010 Leave a comment

                        

In what is equivalent to Chapter 3 of the book, Raoul Duke and his attorney Dr. Gonzo are in a hotel bar.  They’re on their way to report on the Mint 400 race, toward the beginning of a drug-fueled journey in Las Vegas.  When Duke eagerly consumes some of the doctor’s Sunshine Acid, his altered perspective made of brightened colors, squiggly angles, and storming bats goes from psychedlic to scary and uncomfortable.

Everyone in the bar becomes a human-shaped reptilian being.  Duke panics at being so freaked out.  He raves about defending himself against these beasts, who have since caused blood to spill on the floors.  Perhaps what inspired this part of author Hunter S. Thompson’s  book was a random hallucination.  But I think this reflects that the author, if not his main character, has simultaneously become paranoid and disgusted by other people.  He is already nervous; being terrified by the clerk, the lady who says someone is looking for him (whose face turns into an eel’s), and his own inarticulateness.

I think Duke sees those who run the media (the lizards at the press table) just like everyone else (the lizards at the bar).  People that consume and produce news may be mindless consumers (of alcohol) and malicious exploiters (biters of humans).  Las Vegas is an epicenter for indulgence and deception.  Duke seems helplessly jaded and suspicious.  Maybe he is a victim of his own reporter’s mentality- to find the most obscene and savage aspects in people.  He certainly seems silly enough for this to be the point.  But both may be true concepts.  I should really watch or read the rest the movie/book to understand this character better.

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Profit- My Television Series to Review

February 15, 2010 1 comment

The main part of this blog project will be my review of the 8-episode 1996 drama, Profit.  I think this will be a fine way to get started on actually consistently watching a TV drama.  I’ve spent the past decade watching scattered episodes of comedy, while only making serious commitments to anime.  Profit piqued my interest, because the main character of the series, conniving businessman Jim Profit, seems to be a villain protagonist.  To those who haven’t heard of Death Note or Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, both anime series more or less star a young man who, with the aid of a supernatural power, lies, kills, manipulates, and risks his life with the goal of radically changing the world.  I get a rush from sympathizing with such normally immoral activity.  In the latter series, the protagonist redeems himself; I heard Jim does the same, so it will be interesting to discover how.

I have watched Big Brother for the past few years.  It is in may ways a silly reality show, with adults throwing tantrums and jumping around ridiculous obstacle courses.  But my favorite part is watching contestants who lie and deceive their way toward the top.  The guessing and finding out of whether they succeed or fail is thrilling.  They also have the realistic drive for acquiring prizes and cash you see in a game show.

I expect great things from Profit- not only because of its wrongdoing main character, but the reviews online claim that the story, the acting, the tension, and the characters are all great.  I think Profit will help me discover some of the greatness of live-action dramatic television.  I know that it is different from movies because dialogue is king, not visual expression.  And different from serious anime, in that you trade seamless portrayal of the fantastic and liberation from the camera for human actors and familiar perspectives.  I am stepping outside of my comfort zone in many ways.  I have seen even less premium-cable shows than other shows.

I do not want to set my hopes too high, because that has ruined certain movies (Paranormal Activity) for me in the recent past.  I am sure there will be weaknesses in how enjoyable the show is.  I have also read there are outdated concepts of computer technology in this 14-year old series.  However, these inevitable anachronisms are charming in whatever stories they show up in.  Also, I may dislike having only eight episodes to see.  Then again, they might be more than adequate.  I may have to get used to this new variety of entertainment, or it maybe it is already accessible.  Let’s hope Amazon quickly sends me my DVD.

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Shouting Fire: Stories From The Edge Of Free Speech, Commentary 1

February 15, 2010 1 comment

The University of Colorado had to deal with the controversial professor Ward Churchill somehow.  I believe that their choosing to investigate was fair. It can help justify those who view him unfavorably, while still giving the man a chance to reveal his innocence.

Any professor should be able to speak on nearly any subject that is relevant to their class.  But when the level of passion about a moral controversy becomes so great, a professor may be abandoning his goal to educate.  It is true that Americans should become aware of the atrocities that our predecessors committed against American Indians.  But I think studying historical detail and accounts of suffering is a better way for college students to learn.  Churchill’s goal seems to be “you should hate the government for what they did and now deny they did.”  He doesn’t give our self-loathing, ever-correcting United States government any respect. 

His claims and opinions about 9/11 are extremely controversial.   He says that the suffering caused by it is a form of justice against the United States.  I don’t believe Ward is crazy.  This country should look at its recent military engagements critically.  However, this radical hate of this country, or any current nation, even, doesn’t belong in a classroom.  He doesn’t seem to care about people learning and debating, as much as he wants people to agree that America is evil.  He did a poor job teaching if he talked about 9/11 this way in a classroom.  He puts the university at risk, since they are inevitably associated with him. 

 His variety of dissent is protected.  He should be glad he can say whatever extreme thing he wants sans an actual intent to harm people.  But he seems to deliberately feed off the controversy and confusion that happen when he is talked about.  I would not like learning under a professor with such a hardcore agenda, even one I agreed with.  People are fired for poor reasons all the time.  I think this is a good reason.  The official firing reasons included poor research conduct in the form of plagiarism and fabrication.  This might be a justification, not a reason.  But it is a fine justification.

 I would not have fired Ward Churchill.  I would have tried to give him one more chance to teach, with more emphasis on positively presenting arguments that he does not agree with, and helping students synthesize and analyze them.  He would probably gain more public respect if he gave this kind of balance a chance.  If he responded cynically, I’d fire him.  Churchill seems to be a victim of his identity as part of a heavily wronged race of people, who loathes not speaking ill of his enemy.

 Having to teach “both sides of as issue” seems like an extremely good policy.  I would recommend it for all classes involving government, human rights, politics, or ethics.  I have learned a great deal in college classes that have ideologically opposed material in the same subject.  But such a sweeping answer still has flaws- not to be met with cynicism, but an eagerness to understand its depth.

 Surely in the past, a professor that promoted equal rights for all races could be considered radical.  We Americans may be deniers of our own cruelty.  But the situations are so different, and we have made so much progress.  A professor should not have an agenda, and condemn all he disagrees with.  But if he has a strong opinion, this could stimulate more learning about a topic.  Radical speech of the past has oft become progress of the present.  And we may end up accusing people who have agendas who don’t, or are trying their best not to make agendas out of their opinions or understanding. 

 We must admit there are some agendas that are acceptable, some not, and some in between.  We do not object to the professor who calls for increased intercultural communication or fair elections.  We despise a professor who hates the country’s government as a whole, or is disgusted by social mobility.  We are mixed hearing someone who says- a belief in God makes you a better person, or universal health care is a right.  Yet then again, without actual solid beliefs about human existence and good government, the United States’ culture and well-being can be risked.   I do not doubt the sophisticated qualities of American ethics.

 I would tell these things to David Horowitz also.  He has the right to hold and speak about his anti-affirmative action and anti-war views.  But when you are a very well-off person, who can make his opinion famous, with a chief goal of indoctrinating your side of an issue in the classroom, and the university does not approve of such a thing, I have no sympathy for the loss of work.

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Obligatory First Post

February 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Hello to anyone who reads this!  I will be reviewing a TV show over the next two months for a Mass Media class at Brooklyn College.  I will also be commenting on a political cartoonist, and presentations in the class.   It’s time to get deciding.  The first real post will be about controversial Native American professor Ward Churchill’s segment in the documentary, Shouting Fire: Stories From the Edge of Free Speech.

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