Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

“Saint” Michael: America’s Need for Gods, Saints, and Heroes

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on July 7th, 2009

Whatever one’s views of Michael Jackson are as either an entertainer or as a human being, why must we sanctify him; indeed, in this catmpphp4o8zvr1.jpgse, why must we divinize him? At best, he was a pop innovator, a superlative entertainer, and a unique, if mysterious, personality. At worst, he was a tortured soul physically abused by his father, whose abuse might have inclined Michael to have committed the sexual exploitation of children. But even he we soundly reject this latter depiction of him, how does the more positive conception warrant the current sound and fury, glorification, and preoccupation over his death?  Certainly, it says more about us and our compulsive need to divinize mortals than it says about Michael Jackson. Each of us will interpret the “Saint Michael phenomenon” in his or her own manner. But what we should all worry about is why we need to sanctify him at all? Even conceding his talent and innovation why should Michael Jackson be transformed into the god, Saint Michael?  Don’t we do a disservice to him and to ourselves by insisting on this deification?

March Madness, 65 Teams and A Question of Interpretation

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on March 18th, 2009

Today is either the eve of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship or Day 2 of the tournament colloquially known as March Madness.  How the issue should be resolved is an interesting otmpphplmxlob1.jpgne.  Until several years ago, the NCAA tournament was a 64-team affair.  Sixty-four was the perfect number of teams for the tournament and for television.   A sixty-four team tournament requires 6 rounds of head-to-head play.   Those six rounds were divided two to a weekend for three weeks.  The first week allowed for an orgy of 16 games each on Thurday and Friday and 8 games each on Saturday and Sunday pairing the first-round winners.  The first week created the group of remaining teams known as the Sweet Sixteen.  Three days of discussion about the first four days of the tournament ensued until the Sweet Sixteen teams played on the Thursday and Friday of week 2 when round three was played.  Round four was played on Saturday and Sunday, yielding the Final Four teams.  Another round of discussion ensued until those teams played during prime time of the Saturday of week 3, with the winners playing the national championship game two days later on Monday.

However, a few years ago, the tournament added one team to make 65.  The problem arose because of how the teams were selected to participate in the tournament.  When the field consisted of 64 teams, the invitees included 30 conference champions who were automatically invited.  in addition, 34 at-large teams were invited.  However, several years ago, the Western Athleticc Conference split into the WAC and the Mountain West Conference.   The NCAA decided to give an automatic bid to both the WAC and the Mountain West and keep the number of at-large teams at 34, even though it could have dropped the number of at-large teams to 33.  The NCAA’s decision created a 65th team.  Consequently, the NCAA decided to have the two weakest conference champions play on the Tuesday of the first week of the tournament.  The winner then plays a first-round game on the Thursday of the first week of the tournament.   If Tuesday’s game is considered the first game of the NCAA tournament, today is the second day of the tournament.  Conversely, if Tuesday’s game is considered a “play-in” game, tomorrow is the first day of March Madness.  Not surprisingly, the NCAA considers Tuesday’s game to be the opening round of the NCAA tournament.  It does not want to downplay the importance of the game to the teams that have to play it.  However, the NCAA yet appears to call Thursday’s games first-round games.  How to deal with the issue is a question of interpretation, but a very interesting one.  Indeed, it is no less interesting than watching the former Bush Adminstration try to figure out what behaviors qualify as torture, though of far less import.

Let the games begin and let the Madness begin.

Barack Obama and Tiger Woods

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on November 5th, 2008

It may seem inappropriate to compare the accomplishments of the first African American president-elect and the first African American golfer to win a major championship.  However, they are linked in more than one way.  Both have been treated as supernatural chosen ones who have been touched from above.  This sort of hero worship is problematic and counterproductive because both are simply incredibly talented individuals who have outworked their competitors to hone their prodigous skills.  Though each possesses an incredible package of skills, they are no more skilled in discrete areas than their competitors.  For example, there are some orators who are as good as Obama, there are some people who are as serene as Obama, there are some people who are as bright as Obama and there are some people who have as much political sense as Obama.  However, no politician of this generation combines all of those skills in the same package.  The same is true of Tiger Woods’ golfing prowess.

However, Barack Obama and Tiger Woods share something infinitely more important.  Through their accomplishments, they give us a new way to conceive of what is possible.  Before Barack Obama arrived, it was almost impossible to imagine an African American president in America’s near future.  Similarly, before Tiger Woods arrived, almost no one believed that anyone would challenge Jack Nicklaus’ record of major golf championships.  By their actions, they eliminated the impossible.  Simply, they both – in their own ways – have forced us to dream again, to demand more of ourselves and to reassess our potential. In short, they have inspired us to believe it when we tell ourselves:  Yes we can.  

George Carlin, Dead at 71

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on June 23rd, 2008

eca51.jpgThe NY Times reports today that “George Carlin, the Grammy-Award winning standup comedian and actor who was hailed for his irreverent social commentary, poignant observations of the absurdities of everyday life and language, and groundbreaking routines like ‘Seven Words You Can Never Use on Television,’ died in Santa Monica, Calif., on Sunday, according to his publicist, Jeff Abraham. He was 71.” For the full Times article click here. Mr. Carlin, a great social critic in the tradition of Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, once did a bit examining the notion of “pulling the plug” when terminally ill. He would have none of it. Instead, he demanded that, should he fall into those circumstances, he wanted his physican to get an extension chord. George Carlin perseverated about death and now death has finally come to claim him. He was a cultural icon for anyone who takes social commentary and criticism seriously and also likes to laugh about our cultural foibles and vices. Click here for more.

Hitchens & Sullivan: Boys Will Be Boys: No Matter How Homophobic

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on April 22nd, 2008

I suppose even homosexuals, and their friends, can engage in homophobic jibes with temerity. Sullivan is a self-professed, proud gay man. I have no idea what Hitchens’ sexuality involves. But Hitchens’ homophobic remarks and Sullivan’s enabling compliance is neither funny nor cute, but again reveals the dark side of Christopher Hitchens. Wait! Hitchens’ dark side is the only side he has.
Hitchens’ rhetorical tempo includes claiming certitude and demonizing opponents. Concededly, Hitchens is smart, but he’s not that smart. Similarly, he writes well, but not that well. Why Hitchens made the move from serious, socialist commentator to a vapid, silly virtually neo-conservative buffoon, no one can say. But his arrogant and projected self-importance is becoming tedious. His reclamation, though desirable, is probably beyond the possible. And so another intellectual becomes a faux intellectual and chooses instead to be a sensationalist. To what end? Greed? That seems too facile an explanation. But then is the explanation of his transition subject to rational assessment or is it simply the breakdown of a machine? Here’s the relevant portion of the exchange.

SULLIVAN: Two things. One, it’s important to clear up that he [Wright] did not say “The Jews are going to get you” in some conspiratorial, classic anti-Semitic fashion. I think that’s just–

HITCHENS: He [Wright] thinks only Jews are going to object to [Rev. Louis] Farrakhan and [Libyan leader Moammar] Gadhafi. Excuse me?

SULLIVAN: No, he didn’t say “only.”

HITCHENS: No, but–

SULLIVAN: Again, you keep playing with that quote. We’re happy to have it on the record. And now you’ve made me forget my second point, which is–

HITCHENS: Oh, well, don’t be such a lesbian. Get on with it.

SULLIVAN: I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten my second point. But I do think that’s important. And I don’t think Wright is Farrakhan. And I don’t think Obama, in any conceivable way, represents anything but racial inclusion and integration. And anybody that looks at any part of his career and can be in any doubt about that is beyond me.

The reason he went to that church, clearly, if you read his biography, is he wanted to understand what it was to be black in America. He didn’t understand. He’s a very polyglot person. He grew up in Hawaii, he had some time in Indonesia.

Hitchens’ incorrigibility knows no limits. Why more commentators are reluctant to take him on is is a mystery. Perhaps, it’s intimidation, but I would welcome the opportunity to debate him. His rhetorical deviousness is predicable and it doesn’t require remarkable skills to reveal his ad hominen arguments, his petitio principi reasoning, and his constant stream of non sequiturs. not to mention his penchant for duplicity. The real tragedy is that he still lingers on the “intellectual” scene and is not shunned by respectable media forums.

Tavis Smiley on Patriotism & the Media’s Hypocritical Treatment of Black and White Provocateurs

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on March 31st, 2008

Tavis Smiley, PBS talk-show host and journalist, never impressed me as anything more than a pleasant man. Frankly, I could never sit through an entire episode of his show because Smiley seemed to lack any discernible substance. I’ve misjudged people before, but this time was a doozie. Recently, I watched “Real Time with Bill Maher” and Mr. Smiley was one of the guests. The topic of the conversation centered around the debacle in Iraq and the controversy over Senator Obama’s pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Smiley eloquently pointed out the existence of an invidious double-standard regarding how we mercilessly condemn black provocateurs, yet show supererogatory tolerance toward white provocateurs. Specifically, he compared the media’s condemnation of Reverend Jeremiah Wright for some harsh, but true, remarks about America’s failings with Pat Buchanan’s “racially arsonist” comments urging African Americans to display the requisite degree of gratitude for being given the opportunity of living in America. How could people born into an African culture be anything but grateful for being kidnapped from their home and permitted to be slaves whose job it was to build America? Such ingratitude is mystifying.

That’s just the surface of Mr. Smiley’s insightful commentary. He also quoted Frederick Douglas remark “I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the Constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that
serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! I will not equivocate, I will not excuse; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, shall not confess to be right and just….” Smiley’s allusion to Douglas expresses a deep sense of “patriotism,” which can also be expressed as “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”Mr. Smiley’s patriotism is not the faux patriotism of flag-wavers; instead, his patriotism is the genuine article. We’re lucky to have Mr. Smiley on the cultural and political
scene and I promise never again to under-appreciate his thoughtful, perceptive insight into American history and political culture.

I’d love to display the video of Mr. Smiley’s magnificent performance on Maher’s show, but alas the following video will have to be sufficient.

This guy is dynamite. That Obama guy is pretty good too.

The Burdens of Judgment in Law, Politics, & Culture

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on January 25th, 2008

The idea of “the burdens of judgment” in the subtitle of this weblog can be understood in this way: Reasonable disagreement–disagreement that is not resolvable by attending to an intersubjectively provable mistake by one of the parties–is caused by the burdens of judgment which consist of the following: (1) the complexity of empirical factors relevant to judgment; (2) the difference in weight given to the various empirical factors agreed upon as authentic; (3) the indeterminacy associated with the central concepts in political debate and consequently, the need for interpretation and theories of interpretation; (4) the important differences in life experiences and the effects these differences have on reasoning and judgments; (5) differences in various kinds of normative factors with concomitant differences in the normative force that generate different judgments; and (6) the difficulty in selecting the appropriate subset of values from society’s actual set of “cherished” or fundamental values.[1]

The burdens of judgment do not serve as a shill for either conceptual or epistemic skepticism. Indeed, according to this doctrine, there may very well be right answers to hot-button controversies as well as correct methodologies for discovering them. The problem is not agreement on a right answer is impossible just difficult. Therefore, in both the underlying structure of political society, constitutional foundations, and, my view, ordinary politics, one needs to heed the admonition that republican democrats cannot impose their answers of one’s fellow citizens. Moreover, the burdens of judgment suggest a political attitude that one needs to condition oneself to exhibit: since all citizens are moral and political equals no one can have a corner on the truth. The difficulty in avoiding reasonable disagreement should chasten those who think of democracy as merely a vehicle for getting their own way. Rather it is a process, a deliberative process, of reflectively constructing judgments that in principle can achieve provisional closure to hot-button debates among moral and political equals. But a republican democrat realizes that sometimes, many times perhaps, even provisional closure is elusive. In such circumstances, one should not retreat within the inner recesses of one’s substantive positions–whether it is libertarianism or Marxism, for example–rather one’s needs to subject one’s substantive position to the reflective criticism of others and acknowledge how unlikely it is for one’s substantive position to emerge from such deliberative debate unchanged in significant ways. Imagining that it can illustrates a failure to appreciate the significance of the burdens of judgment.
[1] John Rawls, Political Liberalism 54-58 (1993) with a slight gloss by me.

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Bill Kristol Joins The NY Times

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on December 29th, 2007

Media Matters reports that neocon, Bill Kristol, has joined the NY Times editorial page. So much for the NY Times being a bastion of liberal opinion. The report is worth reading in full. I also reprised a July 15, 2007 ECA post on Mr. Kristol’s integrity.

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As ECA as written before the movement called “Neo-conservatism” is perhaps the most disruptive, dishonest, and dangerous political movement in the history of the nation with the exception perhaps of Joe McCarthy and his cohorts. Of this group, William Kristol, of the Weekly Standard and Fox-News, poses the greatest threat to American democracy. Consider the following example of his calculated duplicity, an examplethat reveals the tenor of his character as well as his political strategies of choice. Iran in his view “feels free to use nuclear weapons if they had them.” What’s Kristol’s justification for this claim? Iran’s chief nuclear envoy, Ali Larijani, has said “We oppose obtaining nuclear weapons and we will peacefully use nuclear technology under the framework of the Nonproliferation Treaty, but if we are threatened, the situation may change.” Is this the same as saying that Iran “feels free to use nuclear weapons if they had them”? Hardly! It is simply a statement of the right to self-defense. Is Kristol’s position that Iran has no right to defend itself if attacked by the United States? If so, he should explain why Israel has such a right, as it surely does, if threatened by extinction by Arab armies. The hypocrisy is inexplicable unless we regard Kristol’s rhetoric as just one more neoconservative example of the big lie. Kristol will say anything, true or false, accurate or distorted, in support of the perfidious neoconservative fantasy of militarily imposing his values on the rest of humanity. Where have we heard similar rhetoric?

Now Mr. Kristol, this craven duplicitous autocrat, is bullying those Republicans fleeing the Bush position on Iraq. He calls them “pre-911 Republicans” denigrating them for withdrawing support for the neocon-orchestrated and calamitous occupation of Iraq. The “pre-911 Republicans” crack mocks these Republicans for allegedly learning nothing from the catastrophic and brutal attack on 911 against innocent Americans. Hmm, they’ve learned nothing? With Mr. Bush’s war spiraling out of control, Mr. Kristol cannot bring himself to appreciate the folly of a war for which his support was instrumental. Mr. Kristol will say anything to serve his nefarious strategy of creating a neoconservative “caliphate” having dominion over the rest of humankind.
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What Do Bill O’Reilly and the U.S. Congress Have in Common?

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on December 17th, 2007

CBS reports that “[f]our Jewish subway riders who wished other people ‘Happy Hanukkah’ were pelted with anti-Semitic remarks before being beaten, police and prosecutors said. The incident was being investigated as a possible hate crime. . . . The four were on a train in lower Manhattan on Friday night, during the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights, when they were approached by a group of 10 people who offered holiday greetings. The victims responded, ‘Happy Hanukkah,’ and then were assaulted by the larger group, police said Tuesday. . . . Police caught up with the train one stop later, in Brooklyn, and arrested eight men and two women, ages 19 and 20. They were arraigned Saturday on charges of assault, menacing, riot, harassment and disorderly conduct, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office said. The case was being handled by the office’s civil rights bureau, and charges could be upgraded to hate crimes, prosecutors said.

A Muslin student, Hassan Askari, came to the defense of the four Jewish subway riders. Mr. Askani attempted to fight off the attackers giving the Jewish students time to call 911. What provokes unstable or malevolent people to engage in such anti-semitic behavior? One answer might be a perverse, out-of control, cable-driven media. Watch and listen to the Bully-In-Chief, Bill O’Reilly, whose anti-semitic role in “defending” the so-called “War of Christmas” poisons an environment already pregnant with anti-semitic attitudes just barely hidden beneath the surface of American culture.


Then consider whether the United States Congress contributes to this climate of anti-semitism by issuing a non-binding resolution stating:

Resolved, That the House of Representatives– (1) recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world; (2) expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide; (3) acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith; (4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization; (5) rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and (6) expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world.

Benign, you say. Maybe. While it is true that Congress has issued similar non-binding resolutions concerning other religions, where in the Constitution is Congress authorized to engage in issuing non-binding resolutions of any sort? The text? The intent of the framers? The structure of the Constitution? Where? Congress plays politics with our normative environment–what ordinary citizens regard as acceptable to say and do–and ordinary citizens pay the politics for such pandering. Both the Jewish victims and their attackers ultimately (if only indirectly) pay this price. American political culture needs a comprehensive cleansing of O’Reilly-type bigotry and congressional pandering. American citizens need to take back control of both our media and politics.

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Mea Culpa!

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on November 30th, 2007

While I think my arguments warning about the perils of ranking apply to a broad array of issues, I misidentified the context of the passage I quoted in my Thursday, November 29, 2007 post. The quoted passage was not about ranking the impact of legal scholarship by measuring citations. I apologize to the author and to my readership.