Monday, August 16, 2010

Religious Tolerance and Religious Extremism

According to Google Maps, there are currently at least eight places of worship within three blocks of Ground Zero in New York. However, people across the United States of America have trouble allowing one more. People talk about how insensitive it would be to put a mosque near Ground Zero, or how thoughtless or what have you to the people who died on 9/11 it would be, but I think Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York put it best: "It is only insensitive if you regard Islam as the culprit as opposed to al Qaeda as the culprit. We were not attacked by all Muslims. .... There were Muslims killed there. There were Muslims who ran in as first responders to help." He's also mentioned the fact that there is a mosque in the Pentagon.

A number of politicians have criticized the president for speaking up on this issue; it should be mentioned that his comment spoke to the constitutionality of the issue. His critics' comments weren't to disagree with constitutionality though, but to say that he's out of touch with Americans. What worries me about this is that a lot of these politicians who jump on his case about this are the same ones whose electors and supporters are yelling about how the current administration is trashing the Constitution. And I think that the president has a right to speak towards constitutionality, since his oath specifically says, "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

The truth is, it would be unconstitutional for him to say anything besides “[Muslims] have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country.” Because that is what the Constitution grants protection for everyone to do in our country.

Now as for the argument that it's insensitive to people who lost someone on 9/11 or too soon or what have you to build a mosque in the area, Debra Burlingame, co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America spoke to this. "In a breathtakingly inappropriate setting, the president has chosen to declare our memories of 9/11 obsolete and the sanctity of ground zero finished." I can understand that to a degree. But I'm also no stranger to grieving, having lost people in my life who were very important to me – and one of the things that is vital to recovering after loss is that you manage to forgive and to let go. How soon is too soon? It depends on each person, but I think that 10 years after the fact (because I don't think that the mosque would be built this year) is reasonable.

There's also a bigger issue here that's worth discussing, and that is the one of religious extremism. People these days are all familiar with religious extremism in terms of Islam, and a lot of people assume that because of this familiarity with it, it must be an accurate representation. But a few things should be mentioned about this. One, a lot of really bad things are done under the name of Islam, but most of it is done for political reasons. It's just that Islam (really, any religion) is a great tool to use for that. In case you didn't know, people in other countries deal with it, too.

The National Liberation Front of Tripura in India uses the threat of violence to convert people to Christianity. All of the terrorist activities in Northern Ireland (car bombings, shootings, etc) are all to do with Christianity. Anti-abortion violence and killings in the US is perpetrated by Christians. The Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda's recruiting of child-soldiers, leading massacres, rape, mutilations, etc... are all done in the name of Christianity. And those are all modern examples. Looking back into history, religion and violence went hand in hand.

I'm not saying that all religions are bad, but I am saying that most religions have their bad elements. Ignoring that is just as bad as ignoring all of the good things that come from religion, and leaves a person with just as jaded of a viewpoint. So, I dare you to look critically at yourself before others.


Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fame is a Four-Letter Word

February 1999
Television Hall of Fame
Fred Rogers' Acceptance Speech


Fame is a four-letter word; and like tape or zoom or face or pain or life or love, what ultimately matters is what we do with it.

I feel that those of us in television are chosen to be servants. It doesn’t matter what our particular job, we are chosen to help meet the deeper needs of those who watch and listen – day and night!

The conductor of the orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl grew up in a family that had little interest in music, but he often tells people he found his early inspiration from the fine musicians on television.

Last month a thirteen-year-old boy abducted an eight-year-old girl; and when people asked him why, he said he learned about it on TV. "Something different to try," he said. "Life’s cheap; what does it matter?"

Well, life isn’t cheap. It’s the greatest mystery of any millennium, and television needs to do all it can to broadcast that ... to show and tell what the good in life is all about.

But how do we make goodness attractive? By doing whatever we can do to bring courage to those whose lives move near our own – by treating our "neighbor" at least as well as we treat ourselves and allowing that to inform everything that we produce.

Who in your life has been such a servant to you ... who has helped you love the good that grows within you? Let’s just take ten seconds to think of some of those people who have loved us and wanted what was best for us in life -- those who have encouraged us to become who we are tonight -– just ten seconds of silence.

No matter where they are – either here or in heaven – imagine how pleased those people must be to know that you thought of them right now.

We all have only one life to live on earth. And through television, we have the choice of encouraging others to demean this life or to cherish it in creative imaginative ways.

On behalf of all of us at Family Communications and the Public Broadcasting Service, I thank you for all the good that you do in this unique enterprise ... and for wanting our Neighborhood to be part of this celebration tonight. Thank you very much.

I have a friend in China; we used to practice our languages together for a couple of hours a night, a few nights a week. After a while, we decided that it would be neat to swap pieces of works that had meaning beyond just the words they were made up of. My friend had a "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book, which I thought was quaint, and I had a book of quotes by Mr. Rogers. And so we swapped stories and quotes.

As our practice went on, my friend asked me who these quotes were by, so I told her. Suffice it to say, I was a little bit floored when I found out that she'd never even heard of Mr. Rogers, so I explained that he hosted a children's show for many years and the sort of things he talked about, and then busted out the Wiki page on him.

After a few of these exchanges, my friend was impressed with this figure from a faraway land and let me know. "Wow, I don't know that we have anyone like that here," she said. It turns out that she found a video of him addressing the Senate (an absolutely important video to watch) back in 1969 trying to get funding for PBS. And he succeeded, quite well. But anyways, I thought she was quite enamored with the quotes, and I don't think ANYONE should be deprived of Mr. Rogers, so when I ended up going to China I gave her my copy of the book.

Looking back, I can see a little bit of humor in that encounter. She gave me a copy of "The Art of War," and I gave her Mr. Rogers. She gave me a book that details how to defeat your enemy through superior tactics, and I gave her a Little Red Book of Quotes (being Chinese, she was used that) on having the courage to be yourself, understanding love, the challenges of inner discipline, and the fact that We Are All Neighbors.

How's that for a cultural exchange?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Oh Jeeze, What Now?

So, yeah. I'm still not really sure what my plans are for this crazy blog-thing. Still trying to decide where I want to go with it. I had some ideas to start with, and I totally planned on posting something new daily, but my inspiration is lagging a bit.

Politics is always an option, I suppose, but I just don't find it interesting enough to talk about daily. Honestly, I don't think anyone sane does, either. But I'll see what I can do. So for now, I guess I'll just keep posting random junk with photos here and there to entertain the masses. Because everyone loves photos. :D

Friday, July 23, 2010


Originally uploaded by pmusser
This is a picture of a button I took at a Metra station in Chicago, which is also perhaps my favoritest city ever to visit. Click it to see it a lot biggerer.

Incidentally, this is also probably the only picture I'll ever post with me (or my reflection) in it. So savor it.

Mmm, Blogger.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

USDA Choice Beef.


Late last night, The USDA asked Director of Rural Development in Georgia Shirley Sherrod to resign because of a video of her in which she seems to be making comments to the effect that she (at some unspecified point in history) consciously treated a white farmer differently than she would have treated a black farmer; specifically, that "I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland, and here I was faced with helping a white person save their land," and that "I didn't give him the full force of what I could do." The NAACP also issued a statement condemning what she said (probably because she made these comments at an NAACP event in Georgia).

All and all sounds pretty damning. But wait, this was possibly taken out of context? She says that it was, and was part of her recounting a story of how she realized back in mid-1980's that people losing their farms wasn't a black or white issue, but more a case of "haves" and "have-nots." When she made these comments, in fact, she didn't even work for the USDA. Not just this, but the wife of the farmer she was apparently referencing said that, "we probably wouldn't have (our farm) today if it hadn't been for her leading us in the right direction. I wish she could get her job back because she was good to us, I tell you."

I think that as time goes on, this picture will have its share of twists and turns and maybe we'll get to the bottom of it (the video that was released was only a small part, for example, and I think one can look forward to a longer, fuller version coming out shortly). Personally, I don't think there's enough information to come to any conclusions on the matter, so I say wait and see.

But what I like about this story is that it's a prime example of all of this speed and information access that we have through the Internet, cell phones, TV, etc., and the effect that it's had on our society. I think it's an accurate reflection of how we as a society have developed in line with faster and faster access to information. A few examples we can draw on from this:

  • The video was released about a day ago (that I can find). In less than that time, Shirley Sherrod lost her job.
  • In less than a day, NAACP condemned her words, retracted their statement and said USDA should rehire her, and posted the full video of what she was talking about.
  • In less than 24 hours, the major news outlets had interviewed every single person possibly involved except maybe the President.

Personally, I'm bedazzled. This is a great example of the Information Age, and the influence that the media has on us. I don't believe that it's an inherently bad influence, but I will say that there are people (groups, even) that rely on this speed to others' detriment, or at the very least to their own ends.


Originally uploaded by pmusser
As promised, a picture. For a grasp of scale, he was resting on the 2nd segment of my pointer finger. He's bigger now though. (Or is he a She?)

Edit: yes, that's right. I posted a picture of a gecko mainly so that you can't REALLY hate me. I mean, he's so cute!

Monday, July 19, 2010

"... Politics and Religion."

My sister posted a link about an article titled, "Obesity Rating for Every American Must Be Included in Stimulus-Mandated Electronic Health Records, Says HHS." Having been somewhat of a porker in my past life, I mentioned that I thought it was a good idea, since around 60% of Americans these days are overweight, and obesity is a proven contributing factor in a number of diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. We agreed that obesity is a big problem, but idea that Big Government is her real complaint. This, I can understand. But then, she went down a slippery slope (in my book) by bringing up the topic of Death Panels. I think. Her example was thus:

What may very end up happening in the future is a price tag for our lives. BMI over 25% today, ok you don't qualify, get to the end of the line. Pre-exsisting medical problem? You will need to get behind the obese people. over 65, forget about it, you had your life, you are no longer of service to us. That is my fear with too much government control.

Now, I never really understood how people bought into this idea. When it first came up (last year? Has it been a year already?), I at first thought it was ridiculous, and then I realized that people were taking this seriously. So I opened up the healthcare bill, but try as I might I couldn't find any death panels. Back to the present, I replied that, "I think it's possible to have a system where, if a doctor is given the necessary information (IE BMI, pre-existing medical conditions, patient history), that makes them more able to help their patients; and I also believe in a system where the collective morality of The People can grant certain powers to the government and simultaneously keep [it] in check." There was more to it than that, but I'm saving my massive self-quotage for the end.

So anyways, I go to work for a few hours and come back, and she's replied. Now, I really liked her reply, because it gets down to the root of a lot of the issues. And being one who like things clear, I was happy to reply. However, I got a little out of hand and off-topic, as you will see.

Our collective morality is a declining reflection of the Judeo-Christian creation of our country. So what will our future collective morality be based on? It is my hopes that we can find a solution of caring for our people without forcing all of us. At what point do you believe our government systems can or should not be able to make our decisions for us?

What follows is my long-winded response. One could skip the first two paragraph if one is familiar with History.

Ha, okay so originally I wrote like 4 pages of stuff on my lunch break and told myself i'd finish after work, but having thought about it, 4 pages is probably overdoing it. so I'll try to shorten it.

My understanding from various history, social science and philosophy classes I've taken is that the country was founded on Enlightenment principles, not necessarily Judeo-Christian tradition. In fact, Jefferson's famous "all men are created equal" idea goes back to Thomas Payne's and John Locke's Humanist views. Both of these guys were Diests, not necessarily Christians. A number of them actually found themselves disagreeing with the idea of organized religion -- not to the point that they didn't want it to exist, but to the point where they made it such that anyone with any belief, or no belief at all, would be welcome in the United States, without any favoritism towards one faith or another. That is to say that there were a number of Christians among the founding fathers, but there were also a good number of Enlightenment-Deists, who believed that there was a god, but that this god valued mankind's ability to Reason over his ability to read a book.

I agree with you, however, that society is in a decline (or maybe a slump), but I think that's more tied with 1) the speed at which we as a society live and have come to expect things or information to happen/appear (a general impatience) and 2) a drop in mankind's willingness to use Reason rather than Wikipedia, Michael Savage, Glen Beck or Jesse Jackson. Or, even the Bible, for that matter. This, I think makes people argumentative and unwilling to talk about their differences rationally. Case in point, Megyn Kelly on FOX. I don't believe that our current collective is in SUCH bad of shape -- rape is still illegal, parents still love their children, neighbors will watch your house for you when you go on vacation -- but that said, mankind was never perfect. I think the difference is that before, we didn't know about bad stuff happening because society chose to ignore it, or else couldn't see past their own city limits. Now, though, we are bombarded with news of death, destruction, despotism and so on in the news on a daily basis.

I once watched a video of Glen Beck crying over his "lost America," an era when kids could go outside and play without their parents worrying, where everyone was your friend, and generally all was right in the world. But he never mentioned the copious drug abuse and Iranian Revolution and hostage situation of the 80's, the racial battles of the 70's, the Vietnam War (or the Cold War nuclear attack drills) of the 50's and 60s, McCarthyism, the Korean War, World War II, The Great Depression, WWI, or anything bad that happened while he's been alive.

So, I would hope (and do believe, actually) that our collective morality would be based on a firm grasp on the past and present. Shoot, I look around these days and I see a global degree of empathy in people in MY generation that I just don't see in my brothers', yours, or my Dad's -- that's one of the side effects of having so much information at our fingertips, I think. This, tied in with America's return to the values of its founding fathers, gives me hope that all is not lost. But we gotta relearn to be patient.

As far as our governments being or not being able to make our decisions for us, that's what they've been doing for the past 240-odd years, isn't it? The USA is a representative democracy, wherein we actually go out of our way to vote for people to make our choices for us in terms of how we want to live. We do this hoping that they make choices based on how we want them to, but it ties back into one of the ideas from the Enlightenment era, that of the Social Contract between man and country. We place a certain amount of faith in our elected officials, and if they fail to deliver within a certain amount of time, they lose their job in 2-4 years. This doesn't work so well as of late however, because with communications being as instantaneous and engrossing as they are, it's easy for someone who didn't get their way in an election to make a massive stink about something and rally the public against the government. People do have valid complaints sometimes, and that's fine. But other people use dirty tactics like lying and then denying it, just to plant a seed of doubt in the general population's mind. They can go back later and say, "Oh no, what I MEANT was ..." but the damage is done. And they know it worked, so they do it again and again. And then suddenly, you have people believing that vaccines cause autism (it having nothing to do with the medical world being able to diagnose autism coinciding with vaccinations becoming widespread), that all muslims are terrorists, that the president is a muslim terrorist because his middle name is Hussein and wasn't even BORN in the USA (in spite of his birth certificate), and that government healthcare will, without question, lead to death panels.

... I could go on and on (Man, I already typed way more than I wanted to), but I'm getting off topic. Basically, by voting, I'm saying that the government has my consent to make some of my decisions for me. If they make something that infringes on my rights, there are procedures in place to handle/prevent that. But I want to at least give my government a chance.

Okay. Now if you read all that, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Am I too optimistic? Unrealistic? Is there something I'm missing? By all means, tell me.

"There are TWO THINGS you should never discuss at the dinner table, Son..."

Hello, dear sweet Internets. I hope you're ready for me.

So, I'm making this blog out of equal parts peer pressure and a desire to blab to the world about it. Ideally, this should work pretty well because who doesn't like hearing about themselves, right? But also, You (the WORLD) are more likely to read this here rather than on my Facebook, whereupon you will never find me for one reason or another.

Now then, let's set up a few ground rules -- what you can expect from me and what I will expect from you.

  • I will write words upon words upon words. That's how I roll. I suspect that a lot of these words will fall under the "two things" category (see title). I hope to offend you and your sensibilites.
  • I have a strange fascination with taking pictures of very small things, so hope you like that too.
  • You should just tell me how awesome we are, and I'll tell you how awesome you are, and we'll all be happy. Hooray! :D

Okay, so that whole "peer pressure" thing ties in with This Guy. He says to me, he says, "Josue, look at my blog!" and I says to the guy I says, "Well I want a blog..." and he's all like "Well make one!" and I was like "but I'm so lazy... Oh alright." So go check him out. He's a hippie but refuses to admit to it.

That's all. Long, political post to follow. Peace out, homies.