Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A tribute to Dash

I was going to describe exactly why he's the best cat ever, but ...

... need I really say more? I love you, Dash.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The threadbare case against Park51 "mega-mosque"

Only one respectable talking point remains for opponents of Cordoba's planned Muslim-American community center, and it depends on a single phrase -- it's insensitive. This last-ditch argument actually bolsters the case for the development of Park51, at least when we look closely at the meaning of sensitivity and its absence (insensitivity), as well as at the proposed center itself.

While we often associate sensitivity with the experience of being offended or having our feelings hurt, Oxford's first definition of the word sensitive is being "accutely affected by external stimuli or mental impressions; having sensibility [the capability to feel]." Further definitions of the word follow, of course, but this idea of having the capability to feel captures nicely what we mean when using sensitive with positive connotations. Conversely, the word insensitive comes with this description: "unfeeling; boorish; crass." This idea is the one being applied to the Muslim community in New York City, a community that lost some of its own members and loved ones in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Now consider Park51's stated vision and answer to the "why now" question: "In the spirit of tolerance and service, the Muslim community of New York envisions a world-class facility and an unprecedented community center as a gesture of our dedication to the city. At a time of economic hardship, Park51 will constitute an investment of over $100 million of infrastructure in lower Manhattan, creating over 150 full-time jobs and over 500 part-time jobs, and providing much-needed space, open to all, for community activities, health and wellness, arts and culture and personal and professional development."

Which words most befit these goals? Ambitious, certainly. Bold. Even courageous, considering the discrimination Muslim Americans continue to face in this country. But insensitive? Nah.

If words are not enough, consider the development plan itself. The complex is intended to include not only a space for prayer but also sports facilities, a library, art studios, a restaurant, a culinary school and "a September 11th memorial and quiet contemplation space, open to all." And the Wall Street Journal reports that the board overseeing the center will include members from other religions in order to, in the words of project partner Daisy Khan, "protect the interests of the center and to ensure the center has the highest standards of transparency." Minarets, by the way, aren't part of the plan.

Cordoba has gone about this whole thing quite sensitively indeed. Their efforts and plans and reactions have in fact demonstrated a solid capacity to feel and sense and consider and adapt, as well as a solid capacity to stand up to fear and deep distortion. I'm glad they're sticking to their (clearly nonviolent) guns, and I wish them the very best in their genuine efforts to foster understanding and peace. I believe folks like those behind Park51 are doing much more constructive things in this world than those who continue to use the horror of Sept. 11 in ways that keep us viewing the world and its dwellers in simplistic, war-mongering ways.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Operations wonderful

Watching the news tonight, I was reminded just how removed the language of modern warfare is from its realities. The host was rattling off several U.S. military operation names, including "Operation Enduring Freedom," "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and, the winner of the most-Twilight-esque badge, "Operation New Dawn." There's apparently as much of an art these days to naming a war as there is to branding anything else.

Operation nicknames haven't always been so aimed at shaping public perception. Prior to World War II, one helpful source explains, color-based operation names were common (e.g., "Operation Indigo"), and even after 1945 the list of military operations includes a number of color-, region- and content-based names. But in 1989, officials under President Bush termed the invasion of Panama "Operation Just Cause," and similarly agenda-driven nicknames have followed since.

Is this embedded form of persuasion to pro-war sentiment simply how things have to be in a marketing-savvy world? I hope not. It's one thing for Pepsi to suggest that drinking their cola makes you cool or unique in addition to quenching your thirst. It's quite another thing for the United States to suggest that occupying lands outside its realm and killing fellow human beings is all part of making freedom endure. War is at its heart a destructive enterprise. It is the deepest failure of human imagination, and when we engage in it (these days, apparently without end) we ought to acknowledge that reality, not whitewash it.

When the U.S. initiated nuclear testing, the powers that be named it "Operation Crossroads." Perhaps a slight misnomer considering the consequences?

Here are some alternative nicknames, though I fear they will not see military ink: 1) For the ongoing war Afghanistan, let's call it "Operation that Must Succeed Even If It Can't" or "Operation No Plan B." 2) Instead of "Operation New Dawn" for this latest announced phase in Iraq, let's go with "Operation Apology for American Exceptionalism." Eh. These could be better.