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Thursday, October 7, 2010


“No one can speak well, unless he thoroughly understands his subject.” - Cicero

$14,119,000,000,000 - Total US GDP
_$3,517,681,000,000 - Total Federal outlays
___$303,700,000,000 - Household spending on energy
_$1,623,200,000,000 - Household spending on health care
___$530,700,000,000 - Private spending on computers

_$1,578,400,000,000 - Gross exports
_$1,964,700,000,000 - Gross imports
___$515,300,000,000 - Gross exports, services
__$376,900,000,000 - Gross imports, services

___$661,049,000,000 - National defense
____$22,095,000,000 - Internat'l development & foreign aid
____$11,052,000,000 - General science & basic research
____$18,397,000,000 - Space flight, research & technology
_____$8,276,000,000 - Pollution control & abatement
____$17,635,000,000 - Farm income stabilization
______-$978,000,000 - Postal service
____$84,289,000,000 - Transportation
____$16,710,000,000 - Disaster relief & insurance
____$53,206,000,000 - Non-higher education
____-$3,258,000,000 - Higher education
____$51,549,000,000 - Total, administration of justice
___$186,902,000,000 - Net interest
____-$5,292,000,000 - Royalties, Continental Shelf

___$300,010,000,000 - Health care services
____$30,565,000,000 - Health research & spending
_____$3,752,000,000 - Health & safety (OSHA, CPSC, etc.)
___$430,093,000,000 - Medicare
___$122,537,000,000 - Unemployment
____$79,080,000,000 - Food & nutrition assistance
___$682,963,000,000 - Social Security

- Tiro

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Still Not In My Name: A follow-up on the Park51 controversy

“The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.” - The Prophet Muhammed, pbup

After I posting the last article, I received a number of interesting responses, including a link to Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment on Park51 from a relative of mine, who summed things up by saying, “This is America, dammit!” I’m not always a big fan of Olbermann, but when I agree with him, I can always rely on him to provide a more eloquent description of my position than I can.

I also got into a discussion with a former colleague of mine - a very intelligent guy, whose opinions I hold in very high regard. Although we differed in our views on Park51, our discussion forced me to clarify a number of the points I was making - as any good discussion should do. So here I present my original thesis again, hopefully in much clearer terms.

First, the term ‘racism’ - if you’ve ever gotten into a discussion about race with an anthropologist (such as my fiance), you’re probably aware of the fact that the term is fuzzy, at best. While there are some physiological characteristics that are common among people from common geographic areas - skin pigmentation, for example - the idea of sorting people into a handful of racial categories is pretty ridiculous.

That said, the term is still useful. Terms like “islamophobia” aren’t really accurate - distrust and hatred of a particular group because of what they look like isn’t the same as fear of that group. So, to be clear, what I say “racism,” I mean treating a person or people a certain way because of what they look like, how they dress, what their religion is, and anything else that’s about ‘the group,’ rather than who they actually are, individually. Yes, it’s a broad term, but that’s the point - in this country, we judge people based on who they are, what they have done, and the individual choices that they have made. This is America, dammit!

And now onto the core point from last time: If you see someone who looks Muslim, and you think “terrorist,” then you are a racist. No metaphors or qualifiers necessary - a racist. Whatever your background, whatever your past experiences, whatever atrocities may have been committed by other Muslims you know -- if you see a Muslim, and because of the fact that they are Muslim, you think “terrorist,” then you are a racist.

In discussing this with my colleague, he compared avoiding the building of mosques near Ground Zero to a college trying to avoid placing football players in the dorm room next to a female student who had been gang raped by a football team. I imagine that the common response to this is, “well, it’s not really fair to the football players, but the poor girl has suffered enough already...”

Now, replace “football players” with “black students” or “hispanic students.” Suddenly, this wouldn’t be okay, by any stretch of the imagination.

My point is not to diminish the suffering of our hypothetical girl - she has suffered greatly, and it would be perfectly normal human response for her to be terrified of people who look like her attackers. But simply following our basic instincts and urges generally doesn’t lead us to great outcomes.

Our social structure has evolved to include certain safeguards that prevent us from acting on these base urges, and encourage us to act in the manner that we’ve agree is the right way to act. It is one of these safeguards that ensures that most of us, however uncomfortable it might make us, would agree that the girl, raped by a black man, who doesn’t want black men living next door, is a racist.

The safeguards don’t always work, though. For some reason, we seem to have a blind spot when it comes to Muslims (gays and atheists, too - but that’s another discussion), which is Ron Ramsey can call Islam a “cult” and still take 22% of the votes in a 3-way gubernatorial primary.

So, on to my final point from last time: the “Ground Zero Mosque.” If you see a mosque as a symbol of terrorism, that’s not ok. Even if your mother, your brother, your son, your wife, or anyone else was killed by radical Islamic terrorists on 9/11 - it’s not ok.

The idea that the Park51 community center should be moved “out of respect for the 9/11 families” implies three monstrous things: that “the 9/11 families” are racist, that this racism is excused by the death of their loved ones, and that the group that is the target of their bigotry should go out of its way to avoid being seen.

This is insanity of the highest order. As I said last time, the way to deal with racism is not to ignore it, and it is certainly not to blame the victims - it is to stand up and call out the racists.

There are legitimate discussions to be had about how to deal with the problems of radical Islam and terrorism, and a populace that implicitly condones anti-Muslim racism isn’t helping.

- Tiro


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Not in my name: why we need the Park51 community center

"It is a great thing to know our vices." - Cicero

Forget for a moment, if you’ve even heard it, the name Feisal Abdul Rauf. Imagine instead an American-born Muslim by the name of William E. Robinson. Imagine that Mr. Robinson has been involved improving relations between Islam and the West for his entire career, has condemned acts of terrorism as being blatantly at odds with Islam, and has even written about how America is, in his view, more in line with Islamic ideals than many ‘Muslim nations.’

Now imagine that the opportunity arises for a non-profit run by Mr. Robinson to buy a building in lower Manhattan, a building which has been abandoned for years due to the heavy damage it sustained in the 9/11 attacks. When discussing the idea of buying the building and transforming it into an Islamic community center – similar to a YMCA or a JCC – so close to the site of the attacks, his wife, Daisy, notes that “only in New York City is this possible.”

The original plan is to name the center Cordoba House, after the period of Muslim rule in Spain when Jews, Christians and Muslims coexisted peacefully. The name is changed to Park51, though, after certain politicians point out the fact that the name could also refer to the church that had been remodeled into a mosque following the Umayyad defeat of the Visigoths in 600 AD (and was later restructured back into a church in 1236).

Does this Mr. Robinson scare you? He certainly doesn’t scare me, but maybe that’s because the image I have is of a middle-aged, slightly overweight white man, glasses perched on top of his balding head. Yes, he’s made some comments that could be considered controversial, but he’s clearly on our side – the side of moderate Islam – in the very real war against religious fanaticism. Simply put, he is the best hope we have of preventing the events of 9/11 from ever happening again.

Let’s drop the ‘American-born’ part of the story, and call Mr. Robinson by his real name, Imam Rauf. Do you hesitate a moment longer before passing judgment on this man’s life and work? Does he suddenly seem like one of Them, instead of one of Us? Is the fact that his skin is brown and his name unfamiliar to my American ears make it easier to imagine that he was cheering rather than crying on the most terrifying day of my life? Yes, it does – and that is appalling.

There’s an often repeated quote that warns of the dangers of sitting idly by while they come for the Communists, the trade unionists, and the Jews – and it’s true, there is great danger in apathy. But there is even greater danger in justification: yes, Muslims have the right to practice their religion on private property as they see fit, but why there? Yes, freedom of expression is a core American value, but come on…

Because the argument that Muslims shouldn’t practice their religion near the site of the worst terrorist attack in our country’s history depends entirely on the premise that those Muslims bear responsibility for the actions of the extremists who look and sound like them. I lost a family member that day – a cousin, and I know my experience is nothing compared to those who lost a mother, a son, a spouse – and like all Americans, I lost a profound sense of security that I only now realize I possessed. But I reject the idea this somehow justifies my own racist fears, or absolves me from the responsibility of acknowledging and working to fix these failings.

While the politics of fear have always been a part of the world I live in, I get the sense that there is a shift occurring. I’m only 24 – racism, as I’ve seen it, has always been either the ‘institutional racism’ that seems more about economics and social class than skin color, or the angry ranting of a small group of madmen. But the kind of deep, quiet racism that creeps through the shadows, whispering that discrimination is necessary, that these fears are justified, and that we’re just being “careful” - this seems new to me. What seems most dangerous to me is how willingly we offer our consent: I’ve seen good people, family members and close friends, accept lies built on the most monstrous of assumptions, even when they stand in direct conflict with the facts. And I’m guilty of it myself.

Where do we go from here? While I hope that those among us who lived through McCarthyism or race riots can offer some advice, my own experience and my understanding of history offers only one solution: call out prejudice and racism wherever we find it, especially within ourselves. I have always loved the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King – although he died long before I was born, when I read his speeches and letters, I get the sense that I’m listening to a man who is intensely firm in his convictions because he has questioned them deeply.

Whatever your views on the Park51 Islamic community center, I ask you to question those views, and to understand the full implications of those views. Because I can’t say it any better, I’ll leave you with an excerpt from Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

-- Marcus Tullius Tiro