Upping the Hyper-Partisan Ante

In case you haven’t been following the news, things are going to hell in Syria. As is the trend in the Middle East right now, protestors have risen up against the government, calling for reforms and re-instatement of civil rights, and the government has responded by arresting and killing the protestors. President Obama took steps in May of 2011 to effect sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an effort “to end its use of violence against its people and begin transitioning to a democratic system that protects the rights of the Syrian people.” This act effectively freezes any assets President Assad and those named in the Executive Order have in the jurisdiction of the United States. Similar steps were taken by the European Union and Canada, but have had no effect on President Assad’s campaign.

At the end of 2011, estimates showed that over 5,000 citizens had been killed since the revolution began in January. President Assad claimed that the uprisings were driven by foreign powers and that his “victory was near.”

In early February 2012, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton took the issue to the United Nations in an effort to enact global sanctions through the Security Council. The resolution was vetoed by the countries of China and Russia, and the immediate response by one of our leaders here at home was disgusting.

 

Congressman John Fleming, a Tea Party Representative from Louisiana took the veto as a victory against an attempt by President Obama and Secretary Clinton to “decide Syria’s destiny.” Never mind the fact that people are dying for something they believe in, and are being killed by an oppressive government, by all that is holy and American, the Conservatives won.

It occurs to me that Congressman Fleming doesn’t really have an understanding of American history or the Constitution he claims to serve. Lest we forget that 237 years ago, a group of rebellious citizens stood up against an oppressive British government for their right to governance with representation. This started an eight year war we call the American Revolutionary War which eventually resulted in the founding of this very country. In eight years, approximately 103,000 people were killed or wounded on both sides in the quest for reforms and civil rights.

The Constitution was written to ensure those rights remained in place, and over the following 230 years, those rights have been expanded from the Bill of Rights to include 17 further amendments to an ever-evolving document.

Not the same issue? I disagree, but I also digress. The real issue is this case is one of hyper-partisan politics. It’s almost as if there’s a script out there for this kind of childish tit-for-tat slap-fighting.

President Obama’s intervening on the global stage? He’s meddling in things!

President Obama’s not intervening on the global stage? The godless man is letting innocent women and children die!

President Obama wants to bring the troops home? He’s supporting terrorism!

President Obama deploys troops? He’s a warmonger!

President Obama announces plans to people to work? Socialist usurper!

President Obama announces a spike in unemployment? Where’s the jobs?!

Enough! This government has had absolutely no problem providing aid and assistance, for better or worse, to governments and people fighting against oppression for their rights. It is an American mission, whether we admit it or not, to not only promote but defend the concept of democracy around the world. It started with Manifest Destiny in the 19th century, and it continues today. It got us into the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War. It also was partially used as justification to invade Iraq and Afghanistan after the September 11th attacks.

This isn’t an issue of Democrat and Republican or Liberal and Conservative fighting for their slice of the First World pie. This is reality. There are people dying at the hand of an oppressive government because they want basic human rights, and the United Nations, for all of its failings, is the body to enact sanctions to sway that government to stop. China and Russia have enabled President Assad to continue his tyranny, and Congressman Fleming is celebrating 5,000 deaths in one year because it blocked the will of his enemy. This is also the same congressman who opposed a tax hike because he could barely survive on $400,000 a year. He also rallied his supporters because he believed The Onion’s satirical attack on Planned Parethood and posted it as news.

This kind of attitude goes against the spirit of the country and our Constitution. It also goes against very ideals and morals this congressman claims to hold as a leader in his Christian faith.

Honestly, Congressman Fleming, whose side are you on?

Sources:

United States Department of Treasury: Administration Takes Additional Steps to Hold the Government of Syria Accountable for Violent Repression Against the Syrian People

BBC World News: Russia and China veto resolution on Syria at UN

ThinkProgress: Multi-Millionaire Rep. Says He Can’t Afford A Tax Hike Because He Only Has $400K A Year After Feeding Family

ThinkProgress: Congressman Posts Satirical Attack On Planned Parenthood From The Onion As News

Wikipedia: 2011–2012 Syrian uprising

Wikipedia: Congressman John Fleming

Wikipedia: American Revolution

Wikipedia: American Revolutionary War

Wikipedia: Manifest Destiny

Facebook: Congressman John Fleming

United States House of Representatives: About Congressman John Fleming

 

 

Is this the American ideal we’re supposed to defend?

My "favorite" comment on the thread sampled below was the suggestion that one was not American for disapproving of the supposed actions.

I shouldn't be surprised. I know from history that Americans objectify our enemies in order to build support and momentum for warfare. We did it in the Revolution. We did it in the years we fought the Native Americans.  We did it when we fought the Germans, the Japanese, the Koreans, and the Vietnamese.

We even conducted witch hunts among our own populace during the Cold War.  We continue that trend to this very day by associating people of certain political ideals with the very same Cold War enemy.  It even extends to attacks on religious ideals or lack thereof.

We're coming off as nothing better than schoolyard bullies.

Is this the American ideal we're supposed to defend?

My Thoughts on Lost

One of the American television shows that I heard a ton about but never had time to watch was Lost.  My wife borrowed the season sets from her brother, but only made it as far as season three before life took over.  During that time where we weren’t watching, fan groups and some of my trusted friends were still abuzz about the series, so when the complete series boxset came available after the series finale in 2010, I knew that it was a series that I had to invest in.

For those who don’t know about Lost, this post will involve spoilers.  If you intend on watching the show and want to experience it without knowing what’s coming, you probably want to stop reading and come back afterward.



What is Lost?
Lost was billed as a drama series, and ran on the ABC network from September 22, 2004 to May 23, 2010 over six seasons.  The show is centered on the survivors of the crash of Oceanic 815, a commercial passenger jet traveling between Sydney, Australia and Los Angeles, California.  The crash occurred on a mysterious, unnamed tropical island somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean.  The show was told in episodes that primarily focused on the events on the island, with secondary stories that amplified events in the life of the central character for each episode.  Lost was the brainchild of Jeffrey Lieber, J. J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and Carlton Cuse.

When I say that Lost was a drama series, that classification is a very generic brush stroke to apply.  On its face, Lost was a character drama, but once I got invested, it was apparent that the show was part-drama, part-science fiction, part-fantasy, part-supernatural, part-hero quest, and part-mythological.  The blessing and the curse of the show was that the mythos brought up a plethora of questions that spanned all six seasons before being answered.  It was both frustrating and intriguing, and that was what I loved about it.

The frustration was amplified by the broad spectrum of cast members.  In the show, of the 324 people on Oceanic 815, 70 people and one dog survived, spread across three sections of the plane.  Season one focused on the survivors of the middle section, predominantly Doctor Jack Shephard, fugitive Kate Austen, con-man James “Sawyer” Ford, heroin-addict rock star Charlie Pace, former Iraqi soldier Sayid Jarrah, paraplegic John Locke, lottery winner Hugo “Hurley” Reyes, construction worker Michael Dawson and his son Walt, Korean couple Sun-Hwa and Jin-Soo Kwon, fueding siblings Boone Carlyle and Shannon Rutherford, and Claire Littleton, who is eight months pregnant.  As the show went on, some characters died, others were introduced—especially after the discovery of the tail section and the people who were on the island before the crash—and links between all of the characters are established from their lives before the show.

What starts as a simple show about people stranded on a desert island starts getting into the science fiction within the first few episodes with the introduction of a monster made entirely of smoke.  Characters also start seeing visions of dead friends and relatives, and eventually discover a mysterious hatch in the middle of the jungle.  Also woven throughout events of the show and the characters lives before the island are The Numbers:  4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42.

As the show went on, we discovered that the survivors were not alone.  First, there is the hostile seemingly primitive group known as The Others.  Second, there are the remnants of the mysterious Dharma Initiative.  Finally, there are the almost otherworldly inhabitants who have a greater purpose on the island.

Why I liked Lost
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for epic mythology.  Lost had that in spades.

One of the major complaints I heard about the show was that it was a victim of meandering stories that eventually headed in a somewhat decent conclusion, and I think that was a benefit to watching this on the DVDs.  Watching without the waiting between seasons or over writers’ strikes helped me to see this more as a mini-series rather than a six-season series.

Seasons one, two, and three of the show were standard American seasons with 25, 24, and 23 episodes, respectively.  Season four was supposed to have 16 episodes before the Writers Guild of America went on strike, and eventually ended up with 14.  Season five went with 17 episodes, and season six ended the show with 18.  The latter three seasons capitalized on the fact that the showrunners limited themselves to six seasons, particularly after the storylines started to wallow in stagnation in the third season.  The ratings show how the show started to suffer in season three.

Lost had an overarching mythology that, once it finally got assembled, really kept me rolling.  All the talk of The Numbers and Jacob and The Man in Black really came to a head for me with the eighth episode of the last season, when the show finally explained why everything was so important.  Sure, The Numbers were retconned in to correspond with the remaining survivors of Oceanic 815 who were potential candidates to replace Jacob, the guardian of the island and protector of the world, but I didn’t care because it made sense to me.  Jacob was a man who was forced into a sacred role and immortality without a choice, and a mistake he made in the nascent days of his role unleashed a great evil that had one goal:  to take over the world.  To get there, the evil Man in Black has to kill his brother, which he cannot do directly.  The rest of it, from the button that has to be pushed every 108 minutes to prevent the destruction of the island to the quest to control the energy at the heart of the island speaks to me as the folly of man.

While a great deal of the show’s events relied on destiny and fate, that’s what myths depend on as well.  Epic fantasy and science fiction, driven by powers outside the control on man, be it God, the Force, or whatever you want to call it, depends greatly on the possibility that certain things are destined to occur.  In Lost, the candidates were destined to arrive and be tested on the island, and they were selected not because they were strong or smart, but because they were flawed.  Only a flawed person, one who recognized and was willing to improve their shortcomings, could fill the role of protecting the island.  More so, Jacob wanted his successor to choose to be the protector, not be pushed into it.  Jack chose to take the responsibility directly, and Hurley chose indirectly by his continuous empathy and caring for his fellow survivors.  Jack continually jockeyed for the leadership position with Sawyer and Locke, but everybody truly loved Hurley, and relied on him for support.

Religion and faith also played a major role from day one in the show, and I had no problem with the final resolution of the “sideways” storyline being nothing more than a waiting room for the Oceanic survivors before moving on to whatever lies beyond this life.  Simply put, it was a method for each person to resolve any unfinished emotional business in their lives and remember the most important thing they did in the living world.  Watching all of these people, who had fought each other while struggling to survive, come together with a common goal in mind moved me, and I thought the intent was beautiful.

But the thing that moved me even more was the poetic ending for Jack.  He ended his journey exactly where he started it, and I bawled like a baby when he collapsed on the ground and Vincent—the dog who always had a knack for progressing the storyline when it needed a motivational kick—laid down next to Jack to ensure his last moments were not spent alone.  I’m getting weepy even now as I put these words to the page.  When a television show or a movie has the power to move me to tears, it takes a special place in my life.  I can count on one hand the media that has accomplished that.

That was the effect that Lost had on me.  It wasn’t just a drama series about survivors on an island with sci-fi and fantasy elements tossed in.  When I partake of any story, but in particular science fiction, I look for how it applies to the human condition.  Science fiction has always been an examination of the human condition by use of metaphor, and Lost did that.  Each character was three-dimensional in my eyes, and character motivations were, for the most part, genuine.  What solidified the characters for me was not only that genuine flavor, but the fact that they could evolve in believable ways as the plot progressed.

I know that the writing wasn’t always stable, and that there were problems with retroactively adding new characters into old situations as if they’d always been there, but for me, what I gained from experiencing the series far outweighs those minor quibbles.
Lost is a series I will go back to again in its entirety, and is a series that I feel has made a profound impact on my life.


Ratings graphic sourced from Wikipedia, © www.mysona.dk.  Image is used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike Unported 3.0 License.
Lost title card image is copyright ABC, intended for use under terms of Fair Use for review of the series.

Follow Your Bliss

Now, I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: Sat-Chit-Ananda. The word “Sat” means being. “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means bliss or rapture. I thought, “I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.” I think it worked.

  –Joseph Campbell

The Glory of Being a Nerd

Last week, podcaster and Chicago radio producer Jimmy Mac covered the topic of being called a nerd on The ForceCast. His position was that the term nerd is derogatory and shouldn’t be used to describe fans of Star Wars. I couldn’t disagree more.

The crowd at Wikipedia have defined “nerd” as “a term that refers to a social perception of a person who avidly pursues intellectual activities, technical or scientific endeavors, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests, rather than engaging in more social or conventional activities.” That got me thinking. Based on that, why shouldn’t we embrace the term nerd?

Continue reading

Fences: A Response

This is not an endorsement of any political party.

First, I will present the e-mail which sparked this brainstorm. Second, I will respond. I ask that you read through to the end with an open mind.

The Fence

You can’t get any more accurate than this!

 

Which side of the fence?

If you ever wondered which side of the fence you sit on, this is a great test!

 

If a Republican doesn’t like guns, he doesn’t buy one.

If a Democrat doesn’t like guns, he wants all guns outlawed.  

 

If a Republican is a vegetarian, he doesn’t eat meat.

If a Democrat is a vegetarian, he wants all meat products banned for everyone.  

 

If a Republican is homosexual, he quietly leads his life.

If a Democrat is homosexual, he demands legislated respect.  

 

If a Republican is down-and-out, he thinks about how to better his situation.

A Democrat wonders who is going to take care of him.  

 

If a Republican doesn’t like a talk show host, he switches channels.

Democrats demand that those they don’t like be shut down.  

 

If a Republican is a non-believer, he doesn’t go to church.

A Democrat non-believer wants any mention of God and religion silenced.

 

If a Republican decides he needs health care, he goes about shopping for it, or may choose a job that provides it.

A Democrat demands that the rest of us pay for his.  

 

If a Republican reads this, he’ll forward it so his friends can have a good laugh.

A Democrat will delete it because he’s “offended”.  

 

Well, I forwarded it.

 

I reply to this with the assumption that you have an open mind. I stand before you as a person affiliated with no political party whatsoever. I am a person concerned for the course of our great nation and its people.

This chain e-mail assumes that all Americans fit into two neat and easy groups: Democrat and Republican. The truth of this matter lies in the symbol it uses to describe the nation. Fences are used to divide and separate, and in the case of American politics, divisiveness is the last thing we need, particularly in our current time of strife.

Walls and fences, both literal and not, have been used throughout history as a means to divide nations and philosophies. The Berlin Wall divided East and West. The race barrier was used during the era of segregation to divide whites and blacks. The gender gap currently divides men and women in many matters. There’s even a great wall that served to divide people in China.

The problem is that fences have more than one side. There are two easy sides to stand on and fire shots at one another, however there are those who sit on the fence and watch the antics. Those people make their decisions based on the best and worst they see, choosing who they believe to be the right candidate for the right job, regardless of party affiliation. There are also those who live under the fence, off the proverbial grid, and only act to subvert and destroy the foundation beneath the law-abiding citizens above.

There are plenty of people on all sides who want different things, including rights for all people regardless of the differences, natural or assigned. Many rights are guaranteed by the Constitution that guides our mighty nation, but many are not. Mahatma Ghandi once said that “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” John Dalberg-Acton said that “The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.” Even the Christian religion believes that Jesus Christ said “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets,” as quoted in Matthew 7:12.

Our finest hour will not be judged on what side we were on but rather by how we treat one another. Is it constructive to “get a good laugh” at the expense of stereotypes and philosophical differences? Is it morally right?

In this time of national strife and hardship, we cannot afford to be divided by artificial labels and fences. We are Americans first, regardless of our beliefs. It’s time we started working as one nation and one people, not as a grouping of squabbling schoolchildren.

Only together can we survive. Only together will we prosper. One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.