Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Power of Ideology


The conclusion of the Fort Hood murder trial, the New York City Mayoral Race, and Medical Marijuana, three seemingly unrelated recent news stories do have a common thread. They all illustrate the power of ideology to create a fantasy world divorced from reality.

Many years ago when I was a teacher at a small college in Connecticut, a fellow history faculty member was working on his PhD dissertation in the field of modern Chinese history.  The subject of his dissertation was an examination of the newspapers and periodicals read in China during the time of Chairman Mao, the Communist dictator.

In his studies he found that periodicals read by ordinary Chinese contained largely factual articles about life in America of about the same kind that could be seen in then popular American magazines like Life and the Saturday Evening Post. On the other hand, the journals read by the Communist party leadership and intelligentsia contained the most blatant propaganda and outrageous lies. Apparently, the party leadership believed that it was only necessary to brainwash themselves in order to achieve their goals. It was only through their own ideology that they would see the rest of the world.

In similar fashion the American political, intellectual and cultural elites have been brainwashing themselves for years. The main print source has been the esteemed New York Times with the influential Washington Post running second. Other large city newspapers especially in blue states usually adhere to the party line.

Let’s look at these recent stories. The Army officer who killed 12 soldiers and one civilian while wounding many more at Fort Hood in 2009 was finally convicted of murder last week. From the outset it was clear that he was an Islamist fanatic but the NY Times steadfastly followed the lead of the Department of Defense in calling his rampage an act of “workplace violence” instead of an act of Moslem terror. Why?

The mayoral race in New York City is also providing examples of political ideology at work. Not one candidate in the Democrat primary will dare to support the so-called “stop and frisk” policy that the NYPD has used so successfully over the past few years to make the City one of the safest of the Nation’s largest cities. Despite the facts and the overwhelming evidence a NY judge has ruled that the policy involves “racial profiling” and is therefore unconstitutional. In the name of civil liberty the judge has overruled a policy that has led to the confiscation of thousands of illegal guns and kept many thousands more off the streets. Statistics also show that thousands of lives have been saved as the murder rate has dropped dramatically. Most of these lives have been saved in the black and Hispanic areas where violent crime is most prevalent. None of the mayoral candidates will support Mayor Bloomberg’s appeal of the judge’s decision. What is the objection?

The mayoral race also demonstrates another aspect of the prevailing ideology. A self admitted sexual exhibitionist had the lead until recently when repeated acts of exposure have finally caused his ratings to dwindle. Still, he advertises himself as the one candidate tough enough to save the city. Since the time of President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky it has been a staple of the prevailing ideology that someone’s private life has nothing to do with his or her ability to lead and govern. This didn’t help former Presidential candidate John Edwards when he cheated on his wife but New York Democrats like Anthony Weiner and Elliot Spitzer are apparently ok. For myself, I could never understand why voters would trust a man to care for them when they have cheated on their wives. Typically, in these cases the wives are asked to stand by their man in the interest of the greater good. Only an ideology completely divorced from reality can explain it.

Liberal Connecticut also supplies another good example of ideology triumphant over reality. The State is in the process of implementing a recently passed medical marijuana law. My local newspaper has championed this cause and headlined the case of an elderly woman whose eye disease has been seemingly helped by marijuana. Never mind the fact that granny would have to smoke a joint every hour on the hour to match the effect of surgery for her glaucoma, what about the other obvious dangers. Marijuana is a much more potent carcinogen than cigarette smoke. One joint is the equivalent of 20 cigarettes when it comes to cancer. Nevertheless, the current ideology holds cigarette smoking in contempt but marijuana is the choice of many intellectuals and entertainers. Cigarette smoking is banned virtually everywhere but popular entertainers can show up on TV openly endorsing recreational pot smoking in the same way that entertainers of old did for cigarettes and alcohol. Realistically, smoking marijuana is much more dangerous than smoking cigarettes.

Only ideological brainwashing can make someone abhor the use of cigarettes but cheer the use of marijuana. After all, cigarettes are made by big bad tobacco companies while marijuana is grown by the common man. I am not in favor of banning Marijuana but if Justin Bieber were to show up on SNL smoking an ordinary cigarette, just imagine the public outcry.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Egyptian Violence

The recent violence in Egypt is being portrayed in American media as a conflict between good and evil, between the leaders of a military coup and the followers of the ousted democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood. The following reports compiled by Tom Davis in his newsletter, "Today's Martyrs" indicate that there is more going on in Egypt than meets our eyes.

Fr Rafik Greich (Church spokesman, UPDATE: described how the Muslim Brotherhood has attacked at least 22 churches and church schools within the last few hours, and how the international media is not reporting the attacks)
Date: August 14, 2013
Location: Cairo
Samuel Tadros (Research Fellow at the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, said that the Islamist attacks on more than 50 churches - with at least 20 destroyed - appears to be the single worst day of violence in the country against Christians since the 14th century)
Date: August 16, 2013
Location: Washington, DC
Dr Terence Ascott (CEO Christian Satellite Television, signed a letter stating he was "appalled" at the BBC and other western news media portrayal of the Muslim Brotherhood as the victims in the current conflict)
Ramez Atallah (General Secretary for The Bible Society of Egypt, signed a letter stating he was "appalled" at the BBC and other western news media portrayal of the Muslim Brotherhood as the victims in the current conflict)
Pastor Fayez Ishaq (Kasr El Dubarrah Evangelical Church, signed a letter stating he was "appalled" at the BBC and other western news media portrayal of the Muslim Brotherhood as the victims in the current conflict)
Date: August 16, 2013
Farid Garas (Executive Director Christian Satellite Television, said "Many church leaders have made statements stressing that church buildings don't make the church but the church is the body of Christ made of people and their faith in him, and that is getting stronger facing these challenges...Some Muslims have gone to protect churches, and alot of Christians are sending messages to their fellow Muslim citizens saying, 'Buildings can be rebuilt again, but you are priceless, so stay safe, and don't worry about the churches'...It seems like we are experiencing a pruning process of the living body of Egypt. It sure hurts, but it is important and we are sure we will see the fruit of freedom, and we trust the Creator who is in control")
Date: August 15, 2013
Rev Ehab Ayoub (automobile destroyed)
Date: August 14, 2013
Location: Suez
Milad Ebeed (grocer, abducted, parents and brother shot, released after ransom paid)
Sadek Ebeed (father of Milad Ebeed, shot dead, wife and another son shot and seriously wounded)
Date: August 6, 2013
Location: Souhag
Nevine Kamal (aged 40, pharmacist, mother of two teens, said "We had never experienced the kind of persecution we suffer now. We are insulted every day")
Date: August 14, 2013
Location: Assiut
Mitri Shawqi Mitri (aged 53, shopkeeper, son abducted, said "We are living in a state of constant terror, but we see nothing from the police or the army. Everything has stopped for us, there is no work, all the churches have closed, the priests have fled")
Mina (son of Mitri Shawqi Mitri, abducted)
Date: August 14, 2013
Location: Sinai
Shenouda El Sayeh (described the arson and looting of the Virgin Mary Church)
Date: August 14, 2013
Location: Hafr Hakim, Giza
Wael Ibrahim (Egyptian Bible Society, said “I watched from afar, and I saw the Muslim Brotherhood people divide up into teams of 10 to attack anyone who approached the store. I eventually left and I called the police because it was all I could do.  I left, and half an hour later I got a call, and someone told me the Bible Society was on fire, so I quickly went back. But I couldn’t get close enough to defend the place. They didn’t just attack the store, they attacked the café and every store on the street that had any connection with Christians – they destroyed so many stores. All the books were burned. There is nothing left”)
Pastor Nasralla Salib (along with his wife was the victim of an abduction attempt by the Muslim brotherhood, rescued by Muslim neighbors)
Date: August 14, 2013
Location: Assuit
Iskander Rizk Allah (killed)
Date reported: August 14, 2013
Location: Delga, Minya province
Rami Zakria (shot to death)
Date reported: August 14, 2013
Location: Alexandria
Mina Thabet (spokesman of the Maspero Students Union, said that Copts were angry because they believed the world has abandoned them)
Date: August 14, 2013
Bishop Kyrillos William Samaan (UPDATE: said "The Islamists are taking revenge on us Christians")
Date: August 12, 2013
Location: Assuit

Girgis Waheeb (activist, reported that Christians and moderate Muslims joined en masse to protect two local monasteries from looters)
Sr Manal (aged 47, principal of a Franciscan school that was looted and burned, said "We are nuns. We rely on God and the angels to protect us...At the end, they paraded us like prisoners of war and hurled abuse at us as they led us from one alley to another without telling us where they were taking us", rescued by a Muslim former teacher)
Wardah (sister of Bedour, Franciscan school employee, beaten and sexually assaulted while escaping from the burning Franciscan school)
Bedour (sister of Wardah, Franciscan school employee, beaten and sexually assaulted while escaping from the burning Franciscan school)
Fr Boulos Fahmy (said after the burning of the nearby Franciscan school "I am terrified and unable to focus. I am expecting an attack on my church any time now")
Date reported: August 18, 2013
Location: Bani Suef
Bishoy Alfons Naguib (aged 33, home supplies store burned, threatened with stabbing)
Ezzat Ibrahim Izzat (activist; UPDATE: said that police have disappeared from seven of the nine districts in the local region)
Date reported: August 18, 2013
Location: Minya
Bishop Ibram (described how five churches were looted and burned: "The looters were so diligent that they came back to one of the five churches they had ransacked to see if they can get more. They were loading our chairs and benches on trucks and when they had no space for more, they destroyed them")
Date reported: August 18, 2013
Location: Fayoum
Pope Twardos II (UPDATE: wrote that "the side of Egyptian law, the armed forces and all the Egyptian civil institutions when it comes to confronting violent armed organizations and terrorizing forces, either within the country or from abroad...The attacks on government buildings and peaceful churches terrorize everyone, whether they be Copts or Muslims. These actions go against any religion, any moral code and any sense of humanity")
Date: August 17, 2013

Monday, August 12, 2013

Masterpiece: High Noon

Last week my wife and I watched “High Noon” the great 1952 film western directed by Fred Zinnemann and which starred the legendary Gary Cooper. The film lost out in the best picture category that year, losing out to “The Greatest Show on Earth”, a circus drama that is virtually unwatchable today.

I call High Noon a great film for the simple reason that it can be viewed over and over again not only with enjoyment but with total involvement. It is not just that repeated viewings bring out things you might have missed originally. It is not the nuances or the background that makes a film great, but the central core, the thing that the director most wanted the viewer to see and know.

Any great story or work of art works in that way. As children, when we heard a good story like Goldilocks or Red Riding Hood, we wanted to hear it over and over again. We knew the characters, what they would do, and how it would end, but every telling seemed new. We know that most great literature works that way also. The Homeric epics were meant to be told over and over again to audiences who were totally familiar with them. Year after year we can hear in church the stories of the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan and be totally into them. People go to the same operas year after year not to hear something new but to see and hear these great spectacles reenacted.

I can’t say how many times I have seen High Noon since I first saw it as a thirteen year old with my fourteen-year-old cousin back in 1952. Back in those days we went to the movies practically every Saturday for a double feature with five color cartoons and a newsreel. We must have seen countless westerns but High Noon was something different.

It was, and still is, a gripping compelling drama of a small town marshal who is forced to confront four vicious killers. I must have sat open mouthed in the darkened theater as one by one the marshal’s friends refused for various reasons to come to his assistance. In the end he was left alone on the deserted street of the town to face the killers whose leader was arriving on the noon train.

Gary Cooper, a veritable American icon, played the marshal. Maybe he was a little old for the part especially since his new bride was played by young and beautiful Grace Kelly in her first major role. Nevertheless, I can’t think of any other actor of that time or any time who could have played the role of the abandoned marshal. He won a well-deserved Oscar.

Cooper was surrounded by an outstanding cast. Grace Kelly was fine as a young Quaker bride whose wedding to Cooper takes place a few minutes before the news comes of the impending arrival of Frank Miller and his gang. However, Katy Jurado was magnificent as a Mexican woman of the world who had once been Kane’s lover. She won a Golden Globe in 1953 for best supporting actress. I’ll never forget her rebuke to Grace Kelly whose Quaker principles prevent her from helping her new husband: “what kind of a woman are you?"

As a young teenager I could not realize that the real stars of the show were Fred Zinnemann, the director, and Carl Foreman, the writer. For some reason Zinnemann decided to do the film in black and white and omit any colorful Western scenery. The sky is hardly visible in the film and the town seems isolated in a kind of haze.  Along with his cameraman, and editor, Zinneman produced a film of incredible pace and tension. It never drags and the tension is heightened by the constant references to clocks ticking in the background as the hands approach high noon.

Carl Foreman’s script was taut, adult, and free of the usual western clichés. Characters were able to appear as human and many-sided and each had a chance to state his or her case. Lloyd Bridges, Thomas Mitchell, Lon Chaney Jr., and a young Harry Morgan were all given wonderful supporting roles.

As a thirteen year old back in 1952 I had no idea of the controversy that surrounded this film and that still crops up in most critical evaluations. I was certainly not aware of Cooper’s womanizing off screen, nor could I have imagined the tragedy that awaited Grace Kelly. I would not have know that Fred Zinnemann was an Austrian Jew or wondered why he would make an American western. Neither was I aware of the investigation spearheaded by the House Un-American Activities Committee to track down Communists in the American film industry.

Carl Foreman had been called before the Committee and admitted that he had been a Communist years before but that he had become disillusioned with the Party and left. Nevertheless, he was blacklisted in Hollywood and eventually left the country to settle in England. He only returned a couple of years before his death.

In a commentary that accompanied the DVD Foreman’s son said that his father told his own story in High Noon. He felt that he had been deserted by all his former friends and employers in Hollywood and left alone to face his critics.

I’m glad that I didn’t know any of this background information back in 1952, and today, more than 50 years later; I don’t think it matters any more. The film is still a great film. The director, writer, cameraman, editor, and cast all came together to make a work of art that transcended all their personal lives and politics. Just click on this link to see the incredible two minute build up to arrival of the train at high noon, or view the video below.

I should not fail to mention the haunting ballad, “Do Not Forsake Me, O my Darling” that was sung by Tex Ritter and that provides most of the musical background. How could a film that includes these lyrics by un-American?

I do not know what fate awaits me.I only know I must be brave.For I must face a man who hates me,Or lie a coward, a craven coward;Or lie a coward in my grave. 
After 50 years I still cannot get these lyrics or the melody out of my head.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Gender Gap?

A recent front-page article in the Connecticut Post, Bridgeport Connecticut’s local newspaper, highlighted the so-called gender gap in wages between men and women in prosperous Fairfield County. The article featured two columns of statistics indicating the different wages of men and women in various towns in the county. The article was based on a report by the American Association of University women that used figures from the US Census bureau.

Interestingly, the article did not list even one incident of wage discrimination and even quoted a spokesman for the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities who said, “the number of women who complain about not getting as much as their male counterparts is small.” Moreover, the article did mention that the figures did not actually compare salaries of full time employees working the same job. The report just used averages based on the salaries of men and women “across companies, industries and job titles.” Nevertheless, as a headline proclaimed, “Wage Gap still exists in region.”

The report’s statistics could lead to some laughable conclusions. It would seem that the best place for a woman to work would be Bridgeport, a city where the average woman makes $35932 per year or about 90% of what the average man makes. Compare that to her poor sister in nearby Westport whose average pay of $82052 is only about 50% of what a Westport man earns.

There is an old saying: “Statistics don’t lie, but liars use statistics.” I would venture to guess that there is little wage discrimination in Connecticut and that the disparities in income are largely based on choices that people choose to make. All government employees, for example, work on gender-neutral pay scales. Teachers, police officers, firefighters, mail carriers, all get the same pay for the same work. Even the high priced occupations that the article and accompanying editorial mentioned as going mainly to men are no longer the exclusive male bastions of the past. The medical and financial professions have become increasingly open to women and will become more so since the majority of college graduates today are women. No modern company would dare to have differing wage scales for men and women.

Why did the editorial complain about the disparity in incomes in well-to-do communities like New Canaan and Darien? Obviously, talented well-educated woman choose to live there because of the beautiful homes, excellent school systems, and crime free streets. To hold the city of Bridgeport up as a kind of gender paradigm is ludicrous. It is one of the murder capitols of the state, and its school system is in shambles. Politicians in Bridgeport should be looking at New Canaan and Darien and ask themselves what they can do to emulate them.

One of the statistics noted that in both New Canaan and Darien the number of married women in the work force is only about 40% compared to a national average of about 60%. While one of the “experts” quoted in the article referred to the “nostalgic idea of what the family is supposed to look like,” and called it a “romantic notion,” it still seems to be working very well in New Canaan and Darien. Compare that romantic notion with the one espoused years ago by Murphy Brown and see the devastation that single motherhood has brought to the lives of so many single mothers and their children in cities like Bridgeport.

Finally, the editorial in the Connecticut Post commenting on the article could be considered a little hypocritical. Five of the six chief employees listed on the paper's masthead are men.