Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – September 10, 2010

Summer only has a few more official days to go – already it seems as if the fall season is upon us. The run up to the November elections is already so intense it seems that we should get ready for two months of breathless reporting on every poll result and the uttering of every pundit and politician. In the meantime, the beat goes on:

I wish that there was a way to give no notice whatsoever to Terry Jones, the loopy minister in Gainesville, Florida who proposes to burn 200 Koran’s this Saturday. He has managed to gather attention from the White House to the Vatican to every major news organization in the world.

As I see it, the only beneficiaries of this outrageous expression of hatred and intolerance are al Qaeda and the companies that print Korans (a Muslim group has stated that it will purchase 200,000 Korans in response to Saturday’s Koran burning).

I don’t mind publishers making money but I am very concerned that the very freedoms that bewilder and anger al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists will once again give rise to dangerous and violent behavior. The reality is that this silly Koran burning should be a non-event, not worth of any news coverage. But there is also the reality that Islamic extremists have issued death threats over the creators of works of fiction and cartoons, so there is no chance that there will be a muted reaction from the global Islamic community.

I remain unreasonably hopeful that CNN, Fox and the rest of the world media will turn their backs on this madness and that the Gainesville Fire Department will find a pretext to show up and douse the blazing Korans as soon as the conflagration commences. Let the minister sue the GFD on Monday.

The beauty of blogging is that you can edit even after publishing. Now it turns out that Reverend Jones has agreed not to burn the 200 Korans in exchange for the developers of the proposed Islamic cultural center promising not to build at the current proposed site near the World Trade Center. And then, Donald Trump (!!!!!) gets into the act by promising to buy the current proposed site for the Islamic center at a 25% premium in exchange for a promise to build the center at site at least five blocks further from the World Trade Center.

If a scriptwriter went to Comedy Central with this story they would be deservedly tossed into the street. Somehow the organizers of the Islamic center have allowed their project meant to promote peace and harmony to be equated with the foul Koran burning plan of a demented cleric in Florida. Somehow faux sensitivity trumps (literally) constitutional rights. Somehow we are supposed to believe that this is some kind of victory for brotherhood and the advancement of peace.

This entire tawdry series of episodes should be canceled. We may never reach the bottom of political discourse but we have come very close this time.

I will confess to having been a big fan of boxing. But the dilution of talent and the choreographed matches and proliferation of championships has made the sport less interesting to me, leaving me to remember Ali-Frazier and Leonard-Hagler battles as the height of boxing as I knew it.

And then along comes the boxer and buffoon, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. to prove that there is absolutely no limit as to how stupid an individual can be. Especially if they feel empowered by success and unfettered by good taste or common sense.

Mayweather and Manny Pacquiano have been dancing around the issue of actually boxing in the ring for the better part of a year. The reasons why the fight hasn’t happened yet really don’t matter; I think that you can attribute them to the general choreography of the sport that would be something of an art form if it wasn’t so predictably derivative.

The facts are that Floyd Mayweather is an African American and Manny Pacquiano is a Filipino. The history of boxing is full of ethnic battles have always drawn attention and gained ticket selling publicity. Unfortunately, no one told the esteemed Mr. Mayweather that even when trash talking to build up the audience, there are lines that should not be crossed. Mr. Mayweather may even have deluded himself into believing that because he is black he is not capable of being a racist.

Mr. Mayweather is wrong.

In a recent rant, he called Pacquiano a “yellow midget” while his (no doubt paid) retinue howled with laughter. Mayweather went on to say that he would make Pacquiano “make him some sushi” after he beat him in the boxing ring. The shameful language continues (and those who care to go to YouTube can find the entire disgrace for yourself).

No one should expect Floyd Mayweather to be a spokesman for honor and brotherhood. And Mr. Mayweather should not expect to be called anything but dumb for his shameful rant and dumber for his failure to offer even the rote apology that celebrities issue in these instances.

Floyd Mayweather has a lot of African American fans and supporters. He only pays a few. The rest do not need to laugh at or encourage this foolish and dangerous behavior. Just as rappers and comedians used the word “nigger” so often it now shows up much too often in the mainstream, the use of racial epithets in sports by the Floyd Mayweathers of the world can also metastasize into a very ugly presence in the world in which we live.

Have a great weekend!

Point of View Columns

Silence of the Lambs and the Donkeys and the Elephants

I thought that a mildly interesting research project might entail finding the origins of using animals as the symbols for political parties in the United States. It turns out that the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant as party symbols can be traced to the work of the 19th century cartoonist Thomas Nast.

There were no focus groups, no branding sessions, and no strategic plan. Nast thought it was amusing to cast the Democrats and Republicans in this anthropomorphic light and the labels stuck.

These days we refer to “Red” states and “Blue” states and the right wing of the right wing conservatives and liberals. But sometimes it’s a good idea to go back to the zoo and the barnyard, and this just may be one of those times.

Sound bites and megabytes have been consumed by the billions in the commentary over the proposed construction of an Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan. It is not a mosque even though CNN, the New York Times and many other mainstream outlets refer to it in such an erroneous fashion. Which begs the question, so what if it were a mosque? But I digress.

Although this center has been in the planning for over a year, during the past month the attacks against its construction have gone from nattering and chattering to white hot incendiary rhetoric. Battle lines have been drawn although it is not clear who is the enemy.

To listen to Newt Gingrich, The Man Who Would Be President proclaiming that the Islamic center being built near the site of the World Trade Center is akin to building a Nazi memorial near a Jewish concentration camp. It should be noted that such foul and hateful language by the pseudo-intellectual Gingrich is permitted by the First Amendment to the Constitution, the same First Amendment that grants freedom of religion.

However, although one can freely speak, the First Amendment does not confer immunity from criticism. So I wonder at the relative silence of the Republican elephants as they listen to one of their leaders invoke such hateful imagery, stoking the already smoldering fires of prejudice and discrimination with barely disguised glowing embers of rage already in every corner and every precinct of this country.

Where are the Republican elephants with a voice of reason? Where are the Republicans with a sense of decency and respect for this country who are willing to tell Newt Gingrich to stop surfing in the sewers of indecent and disgusting public discourse?

And rather than demonstrating the leadership that ostensibly is a part of the job description of Democratic Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid proclaimed that he would prefer that the “mosque” be built somewhere other than in such proximity to the World Trade Center because its presence offends the sensibilities of some.

Aside from the fact that there are already two mosques near the World Trade Center site, mosques that have been in continuous operation since 9/11, one has to wonder about these mysterious “sensibilities” that must be protected at all costs, even at the cost of denying Constitutional rights to some American citizens.

After all, the screeching, braying and caterwauling crowds that cursed and spat at the black school children who integrated a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas were clearly expressing their offended “sensibilities” to the nearness of black people. While the black students had a “right” to attend that school, one can imagine that it certainly would have been more convenient to observe and respect those “sensibilities”.

And so, rather than demonstrate leadership, the Democratic donkeys have largely been silent or have brayed in favor of the perceived majority. We have heard too many shameful statements affirming the right of Muslims to build the center but questioning the “wisdom” of building the Islamic center at the lawfully selected location of their choice.

Of course, if rights are to be doled out based upon the will of the majority, there will be few of us with many rights at the end of the day. The right of an arrested person to remain silent would never pass a national majority vote today. I don’t think that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would either. One wonders what the Democratic donkeys might bray if these items came to a vote this very day.

Today it is the construction of an Islamic cultural center that is the target of hate and senseless prejudice. Tomorrow it might be gay men and women who wish to marry. And next week it might be you or me. It is axiomatic that hate is insatiable and the more that it consumes the more it will consume.

These days it is not only the lambs that are silent.