Sunday, September 16, 2012

Team Romney Not Just Divisive But Dangerous!

It is somewhat shocking that a Romney campaign advisor has asserted that if we had a President Romney, the past week's Middle Eastern events would not have happened.  This advisor also advised Bush; 9/11 happened under Bush!  Is he saying that if we had President Romney, instead of being attacked overseas, Americans would be attacked on our own soil? 

Needless to say, Romney and his team speak from a position of profound ignorance (Romney's first remarks were offered DURING the attacks, when he had almost no information and indeed when there wasn't yet much on which to gather information; the man is incapable of holding his tongue regardless of the consequences); this position has never stopped them from saying dumbass things before, any more than common decency has stopped them from outright lying.

It's bad enough to turn a tragedy into a political issue, but how dangerous is it to turn a crisis into a divisive event when we need unity right now?  Regardless of who is president, we do have enemies. Is this the face we wish to show them: the face of a bickering, nattering child whose energies are absorbed enough in that childishness to leave it even more vulnerable?  That could even be read as encouragement to attack us again on our own soil.  Good going, RomTeam.  We already knew the GOP would sacrifice the American Public for political gain, since it's been doing that since Obama's inauguration; would it really welcome another 9/11 just to make a political point?

Friday, September 14, 2012

An Open Letter to the Protesters in the Middle East and North Africa

If presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, with no actual authority to do so, can make ultimata and threats to and/or regarding foreign powers and foreign citizenry, then I can certainly address same -- and I promise you that my words will make more sense, even if I type them while mostly asleep.  At least I'm not a robot.  (I also have the advantage of not being a candidate for any public office.)

Open letter to the protesters in over a dozen Middle-Eastern and North-African countries:

Dear fellow citizens of the world:

I don't know you and you don't know me.  I cannot imagine what it is like to live in your country and you cannot imagine what it is like to live in mine.  However, whereas I have not seen films made in your country, you likely have seen films made in mine, and since you do not have a cultural frame of reference for them, you have a good many preconceptions about how I live, and I have very few about how you live.  (I have seen brief news clips showing me how you dress, what a street or two may look like, and I know a tiny bit about your country's official religion, and that's about it.)  Therefore you likely have an entrenched picture of me in your mind that is very far from accurate, and I must say that while the picture of you in my mind may be just as inaccurate, I'm not devoted to it and can easily change it when presented with new evidence.    It's not entrenched.

One of the things you don't know about my country is that it's bigger than you can imagine, and more diverse than you can imagine.  That means sometimes the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing.  I'm not talking about our government (although sometimes that seems to be true of it, or portions of it, as well) but of the culture.  We don't have one culture.  We have a unifying undercurrent, and television and the internet both connect and divide us, but we're divided into states, each of which may be as big as one of your countries, or in some cases larger, and have rather powerful governments, and those states are divided into counties or other such divisions, with governments, and the cities in them have governments too.  I'd say that the federal government and the state governments have the most power and that they often clash.  That sounds like a mess but considering how messy it COULD be, it works rather well when everyone does his or her part.  I won't go into our political situation of the moment; it's complex and it's not to the point anyway.

Another thing you need to know about this country is that we have a Constitution that protects, among other freedoms, freedom of religion and freedom of speech.  This can be more than inconvenient; every human being in the universe is not a genius and stupid people say and do stupid things.  If stupidity was against the law the world would be one great big prison.  The founders of our country made an important decision, and that was that it was more important to protect people's rights to be who they are than to stop them from doing and saying stupid, even offensive, things.  There are exceptions.  We can't do whatever we want:  murder is against the law, for example.  We can say ALMOST whatever we want, but we can't shout "FIRE!" in a crowded theatre, for example; that would endanger people.  We can say we believe something, religiously, that most people think is stupid or even offensive, but we can't kill people as part of our religion, and we can't force our religion upon others.  These two freedoms are so cherished, treasured and valued here, OFFICIALLY cherished, treasured and valued, that there are often fierce arguments about what constitutes an exception.  Decisions are usually made in favor of individual freedom unless someone ELSE's individual freedom is endangered.

So when I first heard about the awful, anti-Islamic film against which you are all protesting, my reaction was, "but it's not something the government made or sanctioned; it's just some idiot who did something stupid.  Ignore it.  It's not how most Americans feel, it's not how America officially feels, and it's just trash."  HOWEVER, now I know that although my first thought is still correct -- it's still got nothing to do with our government, it's still got nothing to do with how most Americans feel and it's still trash -- it's not JUST trash.  It's calculated trash, and it was made for the purpose of causing you to riot.  In this it has succeeded.

The maker of the film has told various people different lies about his own identity (given several names, called himself an Israeli, which it appears now that he is not); told his actors lies about the intent of the film (dubbed different dialogue in to change the actual story, which was originally not even about the Prophet Muhammed -- and the actors say they are very angry about being fooled); told various people different lies about who financed the film and how much it cost to make (he said it was financed by Jews and cost millions of dollars; it probably cost about $60,000 and was financed by the filmmaker's Christian relatives in... now I forget, Syria or Lebanon, pardon me for forgetting which country).  I don't even know if the filmmaker was American.  I'm thinking he probably was.  That doesn't mean America approved of or benefits from what he did.  In fact we very much failed to benefit.  We have just had four Americans murdered in Libya.

Anyway, the film apparently was transported to the U.K. and there translated and dubbed into Arabic, then broadcast for your viewing displeasure.  Why would it be dubbed into Arabic? It was obviously intended to be viewed by you, with a predictable reaction.  So now I am thinking (and I do not work for the government so I don't know for sure) that this does after all involve an actual crime, and that our government is investigating this not just to find out who made such a stupid film, but to find out who deliberately provoked anti-American feeling and actions in your countries.  This has to be a federal crime.  I don't know how long it takes to investigate such things but I do know it's not as simple as going to the filmmaker's house and slapping handcuffs on him.  This appears to be much bigger than that.

SOMEONE wanted this film to be made in order to provoke you to violent protest.  SOMEONE wanted the Arabic world to explode into violent anti-American action.  That someone was not necessarily the filmmaker; he was just a tool (a loathesome racist tool).  It was certainly not the United States government.  I don't think it was any of the governments of your countries either.  Al Qaeda?  Friends of Al Qaeda?  I am not privy to that but it sounds likely to me.

Now you may have heard that we have some crazy folks here, some of them elected officials, who say stupid racist anti-Islamic things.  Yes, that's right.  And intelligent people think these particular officials are morons.  We don't know how they got elected but we're certainly campaigning to get them UNelected.  We do this peacefully.  That's how we're supposed to do it.  We have crazy violent folks too; those folks get arrested and tried and imprisoned.  That's not how we're supposed to do things here and for the most part it's not how we do things here.  But back to the elected officials saying stupid racist stuff and calling for the burning of the Koran and suchlike.  Do not be fooled into thinking they represent our nation, or the majority of our people, or our federal government.  We have an election coming up.  Opponents are trying to discredit one another.  SOME (not all) of them will do or say ANYTHING, not matter how rude, indiscreet, harmful, untrue or all of the above those things might be.  Ignore them.  They're losers.  We're working on it.  

Are most Americans fond of you right now?  No!  We don't know what you're doing; you're scaring us.  We don't all have full information either.  I sure don't (though I seem to have more than some of the people I know).  We see people attacking our embassies and asking us to DO SOMETHING about this film.  You can't see us doing something even though our government actually is; we're not going to do the "something" you want us to do.  We're not going to make people stop saying what they believe even if what they believe is stupid and offensive.  We're not going to remove our people's freedom of speech, freedom of religion or other freedoms.  But our government IS investigating how this film came to be more than just a piece of trash that no one ever saw and that fell into obscurity and didn't manage to harm anyone.  How did this happen?  We're working on it.  We want to do it RIGHT.

Do most Americans HATE you?  No!  We don't know you.  Please don't make your anger the basis on which we judge you.  Please show us that you understand that America didn't make this film and this film doesn't reflect America.  Please give us a chance to find out who turned it into something volatile and bring that person or those persons to justice.

Best wishes for your health, happiness and satisfaction in this matter, and for your understanding of why that satisfaction might come from a better solution than, say, hanging the filmmaker; best wishes for peace between and among us and our nations,

Gail M Feldman

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Higher Education -- Do We Need More College Graduates?

I'm listening to public television (as if it were radio) and the current broadcast, actually about to end, is a debate on whether the United States needs more college graduates in order to remain an economic power.  The people who say no have some interesting reasons for thinking we don't.  They say such things as:  not everyone is capable of getting through college; college students don't spend enough time studying and colleges are too much like country clubs (promoting hedonistic behavior); colleges have slipped in their educational standards; not every job requires a college education; colleges exist in order to separate the brightest from the less bright.  I find these attitudes a bit depressing, since they reflect, to me at least, the following:  the belief that education is only for the purpose of getting jobs (albeit the actual question is phrased to lead one to believe that's the issue); the belief that only those likely to succeed should be granted permission to try; the premise that if colleges are not up to snuff, the solution is to send fewer people; the premise that if college students tend to be lazy, college is a worthless institution.

I don't buy any of these beliefs or premises.  I never thought of my higher education as being for the purpose of getting a job.  It can be; doctors have to go to medical school; laywers have to go to law school.  The professions have education that goes beyond mere training.  Most "jobs" require, at best, training, and there are schools just for that too.  It doesn't hurt for a future hamburger flipper to go to college, and it may not be a waste of that person's money and energies to get an education no matter where, if at all, in the work force that person lands.  Personal growth is not all geared toward vocation.  I have no idea what kind of education the fabulous tenor Alfie Boe had, but I think he was selling cars before he was discovered.  Whatever his education was, would it have been wasted if he never had been discovered, and kept selling cars, and sang for his own pleasure, and learned different languages in order to be able to sing opera, and enjoyed his deep knowledge of musical matters?  (Yeah I know he's not American and we're talking about the United States here, or at least the program was; and yes I did say the issue concerns our being an economic power.  So some American guy selling cars and humming Verdi probably doesn't contribute enough to our economic power to satisfy people who think that's all college is for.  Maybe it's the question with which I should take issue!  But it is what it is, and I'll try to consider it.  I consider it thusly:  people who grow personally make different judgments about the world than people who do not become self-aware, or aware of those around them in liberal ways, and I am not speaking politically -- there is a reason why colleges offer liberal arts programs.  we hear reference to being "well rounded." That means having an education liberal in its scope and not focused on just one discipline.  It's a big world and a liberal education better prepares a person to understand it in a wider context.  Again, liberal here is not the opposite of conservative; it is the opposite of narrow.  Well, the liberal arts student is unlikely to get a job that uses every single aspect of his or her formal education, but more importantly, s/he has learned how to learn, and that is very valuable in any profession, even in any job, however menial.  iIt makes that person an asset to his or her country however s/he interacts with its economic system.

As for not everyone's being able to get through college:  we have the SAT and other aptitude tests that winnow out less qualified applicants, but to winnow them out because we don't have enough classes, because college is too expensive, because our high schools suck so badly that kids with potential have their potential squashed or ignored, or because we simply don't think everyone deserves a chance to try, is unconscionable.  No one, even granting the hugest scholarship to the brightest-looking overachiever, can guarantee graduation.  If a kid is willing and if we can give him or her the means to try, there is no reason to say "s/he doesn't need to go to college."  I have a dear, dear friend who was told, in high school, that she should not shoot for college, since, due to the color of her skin, she was destined to be a maid anyway.  She is one of the most intelligent people I know and the counselor who told her that, I can safely say without having met him or her, was an idiot.

I have to admit I did not study in college.  I did not know how.  The schools I attended did not teach me how to study; they mostly wanted me to memorize stuff and I was undisciplined enough not to want to do that.  (I did memorize the names of all the bones of the body in order to pass a summer biology class, since I'd failed it during the year.  In general, I prefer to understand things.)  Nonetheless, I learned a lot, much of which had nothing to do with the courses I took (some of which, I admit, were also valuable).  Country club?  I don't think so!  A place with some measure of personal freedom so that a young adult can explore and experiment and learn how to learn?  Absolutely!  Does everyone take advantage of that?  Absolutely not.  Does that mean artificial restrictions should be placed upon who may try for higher education?  Absolutely not.

Does higher education, like primary and secondary education, need work?  It sure does.  I don't think abolishing unions so that teachers earn even less than they do now makes any sense.  Teachers are already underpaid and undervalued, and every time a kid fails a test, whose fault is it?  The teacher's!  (And sometimes it is; teachers also suffer from their own imperfect educations!)  Schools need to hire good teachers, and to hire and keep them, schools need to pay and care for teachers properly.  Unions exist to make sure that happens.  Be all that as it may, the fact that  we need to work on that issue is not any kind of excuse for holding some students back, or for not trying our best to make higher education accessible to everyone who is willing to reach for it.