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The parable of the tie, continued...

Last week I used a clip from the AMC series "Rubicon"ยน (re-posted after the jump) to illustrate what I felt could be interpreted as a parable about film criticism. Since then, it has come to my attention that "President Obama is a secret Muslim" and somebody is planning to build a "terror mosque" at Ground Zero. OK, those notions have been floating about for a while, but people have very, very strong opinions about them. I haven't seen any evidence that the president is a Muslim, secret or otherwise, and I'm not sure what a "terror mosque" is, but I know that the proposed Park51 Islamic cultural center (at the site of a defunct Burlington Coat Factory outlet) isn't at Ground Zero because I used Google Maps to look it up. The Pussycat Lounge, a strip club one block south, is closer, but people aren't expressing their opinions about it, maybe because it's been there for many years, like some of the other mosques in the neighborhood. So, I'm wondering: Where are all these opinions coming from and what are they grounded in? Mostly, it turns out, they have sprung from other opinions. Which are, in turn, based on disinformation or just something somebody heard somebody else say they heard from somewhere.

Fortunately, facts do exist independent of anyone's opinion about them. They are verifiable. Once you know what they are, you might be able to form some opinions. But, to return to the parable, until you know what the tie actually looks like, your position regarding it (whether you approve or disapprove, like or dislike) is worth, as Edwin Starr once said of war, absolutely nothin'.

Here's something from an Opinionator column by Timothy Egan, a National Book Award-winning nonfiction author, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and writer for the New York Times (and a former colleague of mine at the University of Washington Daily!) called "Building a Nation of Know-Nothings" that ought to be read by anyone who thinks they have an opinion about something.


Same scary dude funding Fox News andthe inaccurately labeled "Ground Zero Mosque"

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c

The Parent Company Trap

Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Because this is a blog about critical thinking, and everyone in the world needs to see and appreciate this "Daily Show" clip, "The Parent Company Trap."

Everybody should also read Nicholas Kristof's column, "Taking bin Laden's Side":

In short, the proposed community center is not just an issue on which Sarah Palin and Osama bin Laden agree. It is also one in which opponents of the center are playing into the hands of Al Qaeda.

These opponents seem to be afflicted by two fundamental misconceptions.

The first is that a huge mosque would rise on hallowed land at ground zero. In fact, the building would be something like a YMCA, and two blocks away and apparently out of view from ground zero. This is a dense neighborhood packed with shops, bars, liquor stores -- not to mention the New York Dolls Gentlemen's Club and the Pussycat Lounge (which says that it arranges lap dances in a private room, presumably to celebrate the sanctity of the neighborhood).

Roger Ebert

CIFF 2009: The winners! And our reviews

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Tina Mabry's "Mississippi Damned," an independent American production, won the Gold Hugo as the best film in the 2009 Chicago International Film Festival, and added Gold Plaques for best supporting actress (Jossie Thacker) and best screenplay (Mabry). It tells the harrowing story of three black children growing up in rural Mississippi in circumstances of violence and addiction. The film's trailer and an interview with Mabry are linked at the bottom.

Kylee Russell in "Mississippi Damned"

The winner of the Audience Award, announced Friday, was "Precious" (see below). The wins came over a crowed field of competitors from all over the world, many of them with much larger budgets. The other big winner at the Pump Room of the Ambassador East awards ceremony Saturday evening was by veteran master Marco Bellocchio of Italy, who won the Silver Hugo as best director for "Vincere," the story of Mussolini's younger brother. Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Filippo Timi won Silver Hugos as best actress and actor, and Daniele Cipri won a Gold Plaque for best cinematography.


Moral relativism & "A Mighty Heart" & July 4

View image Mariane and Daniel Pearl (Angelina Jolie and Dan Futterman) in "A Mighty Heart."

The term "moral relativism" (or "moral equivalence") has always fascinated me because of its slipperiness -- its moral relativism, if you will. The way the term is used in politics these days (by Israelis and Palestinians, conservatives and liberals, Christians and Muslims, and so on), it can mean one thing or its opposite, depending on who's using it and what they're trying to justify.

What it boils down to, in popular rhetorical discourse, is the moral equivalent of a five-year-old's finger-pointing: "But they started it!" and "What they did was worse!" This creates an inescapable and illogical ideological loop, wherein each new assault is justified by a previous one (or fear of a future one) that attempts to even the score but never, ever does, since it is always used to rationalize the next reprisal. It's always a matter of "self-defense" in the minds of the perpetrators.*

This ever-escalating tit-for-tat is, in fact, moral relativism at its most insidious, because it posits that there is no objective right or wrong. Something is considered moral or immoral depending on who does it and when, rather than on the nature of the act itself and its consequences -- whether unintended ones, or the intended kind that pave the road to hell.

Judea Pearl, the father of Daniel Pearl, has an essay at The New Republic website ("Moral relativism and 'A Mighty Heart'") in which he recalls a conversation with a Pakistani friend who said "he loathed people like President Bush who insisted on dividing the world into 'us' and 'them.' My friend, of course, was taking an innocent stand against intolerance, and did not realize that, in so doing, he was in fact dividing the world into 'us' and 'them,' falling straight into the camp of people he loathed."

In other words, if there's one thing I can't tolerate, it's intolerance.


Jim Crow casting?

View image Marianne Pearl as Marianne Pearl.

My paen to a new, browner America in the age of 300 million (below) was in part a satirical (though sincere) reaction to the non-story about whether a "real mixed-race actress" should play Mariane Pearl, the wife of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, instead of Angelina Jolie, who is reported to wear make-up that darkens her skin-tone. This is how far we've come from Jim Crow laws: race is everything and if you're an octoroon, you'd better have the credentials to prove it if you want a job as an actor!

View image: Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl

In the current HBO documentary, "The Journalist and the Jihadi, Mariane Pearl herself describes her background: "I was born in Paris, my mother's Cuban, my father's Dutch, I'm a Buddhist -- all this exotic stuff." Angelina Jolie, however, has a French name and a French godmother (Jacqueline Bissett) but was born in America to the grandson of a Czech immigrant (actor Jon Voight) and a mother who is part American Indian (Haudenosaunee). So, do we really have to have a contest about who's more "mixed race"?

Daniel Pearl, meanwhile, was a Jew from Encino, a classically trained violinist who switched to country fiddle and then to journalism. Who the hell are they gonna get to play that?

ADDENDUM: Mariane Pearl role originally to have been played by Jennifer Aniston; Pearl's response to Jolie.