Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rev. Wright and Barack Obama

Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's pastor, went on a little roadshow this weekend, bringing himself back to the front of the news and embarrassing the candidate. Obama let loose with the denunciation that he refused to mete out last month when videos of Wright's sermons hit the news for the first time.

Some people think invoking Wright as a criticism of Obama is a way to inject racial anxieties into the race. And it's true, you can't automatically attribute Wright's statements to Obama, but Obama did worship in this guy's church for 20 years, so this connection shouldn't be glossed over lightly. Obama's condemnation has been emphatic, but his hand has been forced.

Wright isn't saying anything now that he wasn't saying before, and Obama's claims at being shocked and surprised by Wright's beliefs rings false. I disagree with Wright's claim that his ideology is the universal faith of black people; I think Wright is far to the left of mainstream Democrats and most black voters.

I think he's correct to be progressive on gay rights, but Wright's criticisms of
Israel and his embrace of the Nation of Islam borders on anti-Semitism. Anyone who finds Wright's beliefs offensive has to be concerned about Obama's affiliation with this church. I think race baiting is disgusting, but I don't think invoking Wright against Obama qualifies.

The counterpoints trying to diminish the impact of Wright or to tar other candidates similarly fall flat. There is, for example, a photo of Wright shaking hands with Bill Clinton at a prayer breakfast with clergy members. Wright is a successful preacher with a large Democratic flock, and he draws a lot of political water in Chicago, and that's plenty for a presidential photo op. Nobody is screening the sermons of preachers who shake hands with power, but Obama spent two decades in this guy's pews.

Similarly, Obama's relationship with Wright is far deeper and more important than John McCain's acceptance of an
endorsement from the bizarre Rev. John Hagee, whose bizarre and politically powerful ministry is both a cause of anxiety and a subject of derision.

Hagee and his sort of weird apocalyptic Christianity is disturbing, but taking his endorsement is a different thing entirely from attending his church for decades. I think it would be perfectly acceptable for a candidate to court and seek Wright's endorsement. Running for the presidency requires the assembly of a coalition of disparate groups, and progressive or left-wing groups have a place under the Democratic tent, even though the Democratic party is not a left-wing party.

Likewise, Hagee and his Texas megachurch and the millions he claims hear his sermons on television have a place in the Republican party.

Affiliation with Hagee's church would raise the same sort of objections about a candidate that are being raised about Obama's affiliation with Wright. But John McCain's connection with Hagee is much les significant than Obama's relationship with Wright.

That said, if Wright shuts up and Obama doesn't falter in North Carolina or Indiana, the Republicans may not take the risk of backlash inherent in trying to bring Wright back into the conversation during the general election. So the whole point may be moot.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Free Wesley Snipes

Considering the outpouring of anger about the outcome of the trial of the officers who shot Sean Bell, I am surprised there has been so little discussion of actor Wesley Snipes's three year sentence for tax evasion.

I agree generally with the availability of prison for tax fraud and other nonviolent white-collar type crimes, because these sort of economic activities can be deterred by the threat of serious punishment. Also, criminal enterprises tend to have substantial off-the-books income, and the ringleaders of those organizations are often difficult to connect with their illicit businesses, but, in some cases can be tied more easily to their dirty money.

However, I don't see what society gains by locking up Snipes for three years. He can't do anything from prison to generate further tax revenues or earn the money to pay back what he owes. Imprisoning him costs tax dollars, instead. He's not a danger to anyone. And while the Daywalker is in jail, we've got nobody to protect us from the vampires.

I think a heavy fine would have been sufficient in this case, and it's not unreasonable to question whether a white celebrity would have been treated differently under these circumstances.

Monkey Business

Jill over at a blog called Feministe is arguing that the monster in the 1933 movie "King Kong," and, I guess, Peter Jackson's recent remake, is symbolic of white people's fears of black people's sexuality. She's wrong.

I think the interpretation is really labored and clearly the product of someone who goes in looking to support a presumption that there is rampant racism in popular culture.

If King Kong were about a symbolic black man who grabs a white woman and then climbs a giant penis, it would be a pretty poor movie.

The Ann Darrow character is not a white woman endangered by black sexuality. The monster (which does not symbolize a black man) is not sexualized at all. A sexual act between the two of them would be an obvious an obvious physiological impossibility, because King Kong is about 20 feet tall and probably weighs a couple of tons. Comparatively, the woman can sit on the palm of his hand.

Her role is an ironic twist on the endangered female character who was a cliched element of period adventure stories, because, while she is ostensibly menaced by the monster, it is ultimately the woman who brings the monster to ruin.

The Empire State Building and the airplanes are symbolic of man’s conquest of the natural world, and these technological terrors are directly contrasted with the denizens of Skull Island. The film’s structure is neatly divided into the Skull Island half and the New York half, and it shows us Kong battling the mionsters native to each locale.

On Skull Island, Kong rules over the most fearsome creatures nature has ever produced. He is enormous and triumphant. In New York, Kong is dwarfed by and ultimately torn to pieces by the creations of modern man. That’s the point of the movie. The structure and the narrative are designed to elicit that comparison from the audience.

It’s also worth noting that the film was made during the interwar period, long enough after the first World War for people to have realized the terrifying efficiencies of the military technologies deployed in that conflict, and close enough to the second World War for people to be aware that it was going to happen and that it would be even worse.

The Critical Race Theory premise that everything is viewed through the prism of identity simply misleads when applied to King Kong, and to many other things, because race isn’t the only problem, and it isn’t necessarily even the central problem of human or American history.

Kong isn’t a black threat triumpantly conquered by white intellect; he is a monster who is rendered obsolete by man’s own monstrous creation. The airplane was a relatively new development in 1933. It was an immature technology during World War 1, but it was clear that it would play a more central role in the next conflict.

“King Kong” presents a monster who is shown breaking a dinosaur with its bare hands and crushing a man in its jaws, and that monster is ultimately helpless against weapons that would be deployed against soldiers in a war audiences already feared was brewing. There were bigger things to fear in the 1930s than runaway black sexuality. You cannot gloss over the airplanes, and to turn “King Kong” into a racist text, you have to.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I've seen Curly, and you, Sir, are no Curly.

NYT Columnist Thomas Friedman was hit in the face with a pie.

The throwers are some assholes who call themselves the "Greenwash Guerillas."

I don’t think it’s funny, and I don’t think it contributes to any discourse. I reflexively want to oppose the goals of anyone who resorts to this kind of tactic. I’ve been conscious about reducing my carbon footprint. I have cut way back on beef and I walk everywhere I can. I am assiduous about recycling.

Seeing something like this makes me want to buy an SUV.

Universities should take a stronger line on people who do this. There is too much effort put into bringing people to campuses, and offering a forum for guest speakers is too central to a university’s mission, to allow people to try to silence ideas in this way.

These guys should be charged with assault and kicked out of school.

No, you can't have a dollar.

CNN is sued by some Chinese people over statements by commentator Jack Cafferty.

Cafferty derided Chinese "junk with the lead paint on them and the poisoned pet food" and said that "They're basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they've been for the last 50 years".

The plaintiffs' claim is that they're insulted. Unfortunately for them, Americans are protected by something called the Constitution which protects you from getting sued for a billion dollars for calling someone a goon.

I can't believe a lawyer took this case.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hillary keeps going

Hillary wins by 10 points in Pennsylvania and the Democratic campaign will continue. Howard Dean was looking, recently, for a way to kill her, and many other prominent dems seem to be souring on her.

I still like her better than Obama. As negative as she's gone, I still think the two dirtiest tricks of the campaign were Mitt Romney claiming he could bring the auto industry back to Michigan and the Obama campaign's attempt to stick a "racist" label on Bill Clinton.

Hillary's point that she will have to pitch to uncommitted superdelegates is that Obama can't win. Reverend Wright makes him polarizing, the "bitter" debacle makes him seem aloof and elitist. And he has been unable to close the deal in the big states.

One key point is that if Clinton gets the nomination and offers Obama the VP job, he's likely to take it. It sets him up as heir to the throne in 2016. If he gets the nomination, she may be back in four years if he loses, but an Obama victory in November probably finishes her presidential aspirations. John McCain and Bob Dole can be old and run for President, but trying to make that sale as a 68 year-old woman is going to be extremely hard.

Joe Klein has suggested a possible brokered convention nominating Al Gore. It's an interesting possibility, since it will be difficult to unite the party behind Obama or Clinton now, and McCain is trying hard to poach Democratic voters. I think Gore still wants to be President, despite his protestations otherwise, and I think he sat this one out as a courtesy to the Clintons. If McCain wins, I think he will run in 2012, and if the convention deadlocks, I think he's the go-to compromise candidate.