Who knew BP was even that popular? Almost 19,000 fans for BP. Huh.

Yes, I'm doing this in hopes that Google Ads will dump some BP ads on me, so you can click on them, and I can do my part to drain a few pennies from BP. That's British Petroleum. Got that Google Ads? British Petroleum.


This is what demonizing a population gets you:

At one point, a portion of the crowd menacingly surrounded two Egyptian men who were speaking Arabic and were thought to be Muslims.

"Go home," several shouted from the crowd.

"Get out," others shouted.

In fact, the two men – Joseph Nassralla and Karam El Masry — were not Muslims at all. They turned out to be Egyptian Coptic Christians who work for a California-based Christian satellite TV station called "The Way." Both said they had come to protest the mosque.
It got so bad that police had to come to the rescue of the two Egyptian Copts. Mind you, I don't have a lot of sympathy for anyone involved in this story, from the ignorant non-Arab protesters who consider a mosque to be an insult to the ignorant Arab protesters who consider a mosque to be an insult. One of the charges we have as citizens of a secular, inclusive country is to make room for and tolerate all different beliefs. Notice I didn't say "respect"--I said tolerate. More on that later.

The first thing I thought of when I read this article was "that's what happens when you spend eight years conflating Muslim with Arab." When you have know-nothings like the ones who were in charge until January 2009 constantly saying Muslims are terrorists and yet downplaying the fact that not only are there significant numbers of non-Arab Muslims in the world, but that there's a sizable non-Muslim population in the Middle East, it's no surprise that you'd have an ignorant mob fail to notice that the Egyptians at the protest are on their frigging side. After all, we've seen politicians and pundits argue that anyone who looks like they're of "terrorist descent" (thank you forever, Aaron Magruder, for coming up with that) should be profiled before being allowed to board a plane--why shouldn't the public assume that everyone with a name like Karam isn't ready to blow up a crowd of people? Besides, Idol's on, and the news media's biased anyway.

I wish I had any confidence that anyone involved in this mess would learn a lesson from it, but I don't. I'm cynical today--I'm cynical a lot when it comes to the intersection of religion and politics these days, because we can't seem to get the basics of human interaction down. We're all sharp elbows and hurt feelings and looking for a shortcut to get mad at each other, and religion doesn't help that. The people who are going to get along are going to get along, and if they're religious, they belong to some moderate faith which uses some variant of the "all roads to the same place" metaphor. And the people who are looking to hate on the other are going to hate, and if they're religious, they're going to relate to some version of the "we're right and you're going to hell/should die, infidel" metaphor. Add in a dash of racism and you get what happened in this story--a case of mistaken identity nearly causing a (sort of) fratricide.

There are a lot of things I could rant about here, lessons that could be taken away. The first would be that this is a great example of why profiling is foolish, but no one who matters is going to listen to that one. None of the people in that mob would listen to it. They're the kinds of assholes who carry signs to identify themselves as "A Proud AMERICAN Infidel."

But I want to go back, instead, to what I mentioned in the first paragraph--tolerance. In the past, I've thought that we need to be more than tolerant of other faiths, or other belief systems. I've said that I think we need to respect those systems. Not anymore. I can't do it. I can't respect faiths which treat women as less, which demonize non-believers or different-believers, which preach peace and loving kindness one week and justify war and death the next. I can't respect Islam either (see what I did there?)

But I can tolerate them, because I neither expect nor even desire everyone else to think the way I do. I'm not one of these Pollyanna atheists who thinks the world would be unquestionably better if everyone gave up God, because it's not belief that makes us assholes (though it doesn't help)--the assholes are just assholes. Some of them use religion as an excuse for acting that way, just as some truly wonderful religious people use their religion as a justification for being wonderful (like they need it).

All I ask--all I demand, as a citizen of this nation--is that you tolerate my non-belief, and that you tolerate your neighbor's different belief. You don't have to like it, you don't have to pretend to like it. You just have to tolerate it, just like they have to tolerate you. And that means that if some New York Muslims get all the necessary clearances and permits to put a center up in the general vicinity of the former World Trade Center, and you don't like it, tough. I don't like that the Catholic Church is still allowed to run elementary and junior high schools given their recent record, and I don't like that creationists can open up "museums" that show humans and dinosaurs walking together, but I deal with it. That's the price of the United States. We're diverse. We're secular. Get used to it.

I really shouldn't, because all it does to me is make me shake my head and wonder about the world he inhabits, and why he's getting a paycheck for this. Take today's column, for instance. Hell, take the first paragraph:

As a friend of both Turkey and Israel, it has been agonizing to watch the disastrous clash between Israeli naval commandos and a flotilla of “humanitarian” activists seeking to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Personally, I think both Israel and Turkey have gotten out of balance lately, and it is America’s job to help both get back to the center — urgently.
Sounds reasonable, except for those snarky, sarcastic scare quotes around the word "humanitarian." Why put those in, unless your motive is to suggest to supporters of a two-state solution that you're anti-Israel? The scare quotes are there to suggest that the supplies headed to Gaza weren't really aid at all, but we're all going to pretend they are for the sake of this conversation. John Cole has provided a graphic with a partial list of what's forbidden by the blockade--take a look at it and then tell me if Friedman's scare quotes are anything other than a dick move.

It's not Friedman's last, either.
I have no problem with Turkey or humanitarian groups loudly criticizing Israel. But I have a big problem when people get so agitated by Israel’s actions in Gaza but are unmoved by Syria’s involvement in the murder of the prime minister of Lebanon, by the Iranian regime’s killing of its own citizens demonstrating for the right to have their votes counted, by Muslim suicide bombers murdering nearly 100 Ahmadi Muslims in mosques in Pakistan on Friday and by pro-Hamas gunmen destroying a U.N.-sponsored summer camp in Gaza because it wouldn’t force Islamic fundamentalism down the throats of children.
Of the four instances he mentions, the first two were criticized loud and long by many of the same people who want the Gaza blockade lifted, and I'm not exactly sure what the last two have to do with this discussion, other than to try to link opponents of the blockade with Muslim extremists. Note to Friedman--it's entirely possible to be a supporter of Israel's nationhood and the two-state solution, and acknowledge that Hamas is a terrorist organization. Supporting an end to the Gaza blockade is not equal to supporting Hamas, no matter how much you would like it to be so.

I'm also curious as to exactly how Friedman thinks this flotilla was a "setup." Israel's done a pretty good job on its own of making itself look bad in recent years. To treat this situation as though Israel is the victim of crafty opponents is insulting to anyone who's followed this story. It's offensive.

I'd like to think that some day, the Catholic Church will be nothing but a bunch of men yelling about how unclean women are while the women who were once Catholic shake their heads and wonder what took them so long to leave an institution that seems to hate them.

Suppose you're a woman, a nun, working at a hospital as an administrator, and as part of your job, you're asked to help decide whether the hospital can perform an abortion on a woman who's 11 weeks pregnant in order to save her life. Now at 11 weeks, the fetus is nowhere near viable, and the mother can't survive long enough with this fetus inside her to get it to viability, so the options really are 1) do an abortion and save the mother or 2) let them both die. The nun chose option 1. She's since been rebuked by the local Bishop and has been reassigned to different duties.

Lest you think my title was unfair, here's Bishop Olmsted's reasoning on the matter:

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, head of the Phoenix Diocese, indicated in a statement that the Roman Catholic involved was "automatically excommunicated" because of the action. The Catholic Church allows the termination of a pregnancy only as a secondary effect of other treatments, such as radiation of a cancerous uterus.

"I am gravely concerned by the fact that an abortion was performed several months ago in a Catholic hospital in this diocese," Olmsted said in a statement sent to The Arizona Republic. "I am further concerned by the hospital's statement that the termination of a human life was necessary to treat the mother's underlying medical condition.

"An unborn child is not a disease. While medical professionals should certainly try to save a pregnant mother's life, the means by which they do it can never be by directly killing her unborn child. The end does not justify the means."

Olmsted added that if a Catholic "formally cooperates" in an abortion, he or she is automatically excommunicated.
The arrogance in that statement is overwhelming. Forget a health-of-the-mother exception--Olmsted doesn't even see a life-of-the-mother exception for rape--and yet Olmsted is described in the very next paragraph as "the voice of moral authority over any Catholic institution operating in the diocese." I don't see anything moral about that stance.

There's nothing moral about telling a woman who's alive today because medical professionals did their job that she should be dead based on your misogynist and archaic value system. There's nothing moral about telling all women that it's better that they die rather than have a fetus (one that has zero chance of survival in this case) removed. There's nothing moral about telling a woman that her current life is worth less than the potential life she's carrying around inside her. At least, there's nothing moral about that to me.

What about the Cubans?

This morning, The Miami Herald reported that Republican candidates for statewide races had come out firmly in support of Arizona's recent immigration laws, and have suggested Florida should follow suit. (Rubio isn't quoted in the Herald, but he's in support of the law as well.) But I think this could very well backfire on all of them--could, I emphasize.

A big part of Florida's problem with immigration has to do with the different ways we deal with the various groups who show up on our shores. If you're from Cuba, the law says that if you make it to land, you can stay, and in a year you can apply for residency. If you're from anywhere else and you come here in less-than-legal ways, you're out of luck, assuming you get caught. And your chances of getting caught is, of course, dependent on how you look. Let's put it this way--if you go to one of the many Irish pubs in the area, there's a decent chance that someone working there is here on a tourist visa or has overstayed a visa or just came in through some other means. In other words, they're illegal. But the chances they'd be asked for documentation by a local cop should Florida pass an Arizona-type law? Practically none.

But Cubans? If Florida adopts this sort of law, some Cubans can expect to be confused for Dominicans and other Latino/as, if only for this reason--not every cop is going to discerning enough to differentiate between them (assuming the cop makes an attempt in the first place). So there's a big chance for insult, right alongside the insults that every other legal Latino/a immigrant is likely to face.

But if that's not enough to convince you, then think about this. Arizona is already getting economically pummeled by boycotts. Our economy is beyond fragile right now, and we can't handle a hit to our tourism industry in the best of times. We need people to come here not only from the rest of the country, but from other countries, and if we become Arizona 2: Immigration Bougaloo, we'll see an economic hit that makes the bursting of the real estate bubble look like a hiccup.

So there's two good reasons to not adopt an Arizona-type immigration law. The problems Arizona faces with racial profiling are multiplied here, and the potential economic hit is too much to bear. How much confidence do I have that Florida Republicans will come to their senses and not do something like this? Not much.

Dear Republicans:

To the RNC in particular, which is acting pretty stupidly right now, I have some words. I understand that, for any political party, the nomination of someone to the Supreme Court is an opportunity for fundraising, and that the party is going to go to some pretty outlandish lengths to raise outrage, even when there's nothing to get outraged about. But this is pretty freaking stupid, even by that measure.

In its first memo to reporters since Kagan’s nomination to the high court became public, the Republican National Committee highlighted Kagan’s tribute to Marshall in a 1993 law review article published shortly after his death.

Kagan quoted from a speech Marshall gave in 1987 in which he said the Constitution as originally conceived and drafted was “defective.”...

“Does Kagan Still View Constitution ‘As Originally Drafted And Conceived’ As ‘Defective’?” the RNC asked in its research document.
You know who else felt the Constitution, as originally drafted and conceived, was defective? The people who wrote the damn thing. That's why there's a method for amending it written into it. That's why they added ten amendments to the damn thing almost immediately upon ratification--because it was defective. It lacked some things they felt were necessary. And it's been amended an awful lot since then, in order to meet the needs of a changing society.

Marshall was talking about the 3/5ths compromise as a defective part of the Constitution, but let's go with something nearer and dearer to Republican hearts--the right to bear arms. Not in the Constitution as it was "originally drafted and conceived." It came later, in the form of an Amendment. Given that, conservatives should be first in line to acknowledge that the original Constitution was defective.

This is one of the main reasons I'm tired of people who deny that the Constitution is a living document, and who argue that the original intent of the Framers should be the end of the discussion. The Framers obviously knew that they were putting together an imperfect document, and that the needs of the country would change over time. That's why they made it possible to amend the thing. To deify the Framers is to do them a disservice. We do ourselves a disservice as well, because we assume that a group of men who lived over two hundred years ago have a better grasp on our world than we do today. How does that make sense?

Tina Harden brought the books back, she says because she'd brought attention to the issue, and not because of the attention she'd received. Or the fact that others had donated more copies of those books to the library (so many that the library is refusing to accept them now). Or that public opinion was pretty solidly against her. Nope--she'd done what she set out to do, she claims, and now it's over.

Oh, and she'd like that $85 fine waived now too, please.

"It's not that I lost the books or I didn't feel like turning them in," she said. "I want us to work together. Hopefully they have the same goals as I do."
The Seminole County Library Services Manager has said they can't waive the fines, and I hope she sticks with that. There's a principle at stake here, and it's not the money. The $85 is nothing. I don't know Harden's financial status, but even if she couldn't afford the fine, there are enough people out there who support what she's doing that someone (or a group of someones) could pay it without blinking.

The principle is that there has to be some cost, some payment you have to make if you break the rules, even if (maybe especially if) you're breaking them in what you consider a good cause. If I chain myself to the fence outside the White House to protest DADT or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I'm doing so knowing that I'm likely going to spend some time in jail, and probably pay a fine and court costs. I'm not going to get to dodge that simply by saying I did so as a matter of conscience. And if I think a book should be removed from a library (which I wouldn't) and take it upon myself to do so, then I bear the expense of that, whether it means I get sent to a credit agency for a bad debt, or lose my library privileges, or have to pay either late fees or for a new book. That's the deal. If you don't pay a price, you're not really making a statement. You're just being a douche.

Gone for the Green, Green Grass

About a month ago, I went down my driveway to go to work, and I saw my neighbor had torn up his lawn. It wasn't just a part of the lawn, and it's not a small lawn: we're talking a half acre of land turned to naked dirt. Our neighbor has a lawn maintenance business, so I knew he'd done this himself, on purpose. But I was mystified as to what would bring a man to take such drastic measures. Had there been some toxic spill on his lawn that required draconian clean-up? Was he installing some massive new sprinkler system that meant digging up the whole plot? Turned out, he'd dug up his lawn because he had weeds. He'd decided it was easier to re-sod his entire property with fresh-farmed Bermuda grass than to try to get rid of those weeds. A few days later, his yard was (once again) a flat plane of green.

It no doubt annoys my neighbor, but my yard is ALL weeds, 100% pure natural Native Florida wild-growing groundlings that float in on the wind. My landlord pays our neighbor (the same one who tore out his own lawn) to come over once every couple of months and beat them back with a weed-wacker, but if he didn't, they would grow about a foot high. And stop there. They ain't bamboo.

Although we do have a stand of lovely bamboo in the front yard, which I love: it shades the house in evening and provides a little privacy. But our neighbor who takes care of the place, who de-turfs at the first happy dandelion, hates the bamboo. If it were up to him, our yard would look like his, complete with a sign warning:

Comical in its over-politeness (I picture a lab on his hind legs reading this over the rim of his glasses, a newspaper under one arm), but the message is clear: this is a household that cares about its lawn. Don't tread on this.

I will admit I feel a constant glare of disapproval coming from that house. This is a free country, and every family maintains its property the way it chooses, but one person's "au natural" is another person's "au neglect." One person's shady, privacy-granting bamboo is another person's nuisance.

It reminded me of a short (27 minute) documentary I'd watched recently, about grass. I met the filmmaker, Isaac Brown, at an artists' conference, and he generously handed out DVDs. Most of us are busy, and most of us are not looking for new things to be outraged about, but after watching Gimme Green, I definitely feel it's worth at least 27 minutes for us all to become aware of what our lawns (or our neighbors' lawns!) are up to.

I love the length, by the way. Compare that 27 minutes to a TED video, which is usually about 18 minutes, and those are just "person on a stage with slides" videos -- Gimme Green moves and travels, it gives us great "characters" and great visuals. It's perfect for the web. Go here to watch the full movie, but here is the trailer:

There's a fellow in the film who shows the film makers his yard: it's lovely. Lots of tall trees (probably ficus?) protecting a cool, shady ground where grass won't grow: a great place to sit and relax, a cool comfortable haven from the hot Florida sun. But then the man points out that he's being hassled by his neighbors and code enforcement. They want him to cut down his trees and lay squares of sod. It seems to run in the face not just of individuality, but of common sense: in Florida, where it is steamy and hot, a flat plane of green grass is a useless patch of work: you must mow it and maintain it and you will derive no joy from it. A cool shady grove is not just his choice, it's a wise choice.

But as the film's interviewee's frequently imply, that flat, useless product of pointless labor we call a "lawn" is a signifier about one's relationship with a god, or his neighbors, or the state of one's life or mind, and what it seems most to signify is "a nice, safe nothing": that there is nothing unique (and therefore nothing threatening) about the person or his mind, that his "god" is a mindless platitude (safe), that his concept of his neighbor is of nice, safe strangers, that his life and mind are nice, safe blanks, too terrified of a thought to do anything unexpected. The flat lawn is the blank slate of the subconscious, sitting in the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, made obvious through a ritual so accepted as necessary that people who live in desert places sacrifice their water to it.

I'm not going to sum up the film or give a blow-by-blow, but I do want to point out that the film primarily takes place in two places, Florida and Arizona, and that these two places are as different as can be. Florida has its droughts, but it is generally a wet and sunny place; things grow here. But when we learn that in Arizona (in the desert, where massive projects have already diverted all the water than can be diverted and it is running out) that households are pouring three times as much water onto the ground as they drink or use to flush the toilet just to have those plots of grass -- grass that has no business being in a desert at all, it smacks of the same madness that drove the Easter Island people to destroy themselves.

Hey, those Easter Islanders may have cut down every tree and destroyed their civilization, but look at that sweet lawn!

It seems to be an article of human nature that we will destroy ourselves for our totems. In one society that might mean a giant statue, but in ours it means (at least in part) a clean square of green.

This is the fourth in my series on Florida Artists, especially the ones I just met. Previous posts here and here and here. Cross-posted to The Electronic Girl

Older Posts