Sochi Blues

Friendly mascots prepare to welcome the world to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi - but will they be welcoming the U.S.?

Friendly mascots prepare to welcome the world to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi – but will they be welcoming the United States?

What was meant to be an example of international cooperation is once again a cause for international bickering.

Since the Russian city of Sochi was awarded the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, there have been concerns in some circles that this would give the spotlight to a country with a poor civil rights record, not to mention a city located very close to the tense Caucasus region.  However, it wasn’t until a certain NSA whistleblower decided to take shelter in a Moscow airport that we had a prominent senator suggest that the U.S. should boycott the games.

In an interview with The Hill (a local D.C. paper), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was asked if the U.S. ought to consider a boycott of the Sochi Olympics if Russia grants asylum to Edward Snowden.  Graham agreed that such an action might be in the cards.

“I would. I would just send the Russians the most unequivocal signal I could send them,” Graham (R-S.C.) said when asked about the possibility of a boycott.

“It might help, because what they’re doing is outrageous,” he said. “We certainly haven’t reset our relationship with Russia in a positive way. At the end of the day, if they grant this guy asylum it’s a breach of the rule of law as we know it and is a slap in the face to the United States.”  Continue reading

Ten Pressing Issues for Egypt

Photo by Lilian Wagdy

Photo by Lilian Wagdy

If you have been watching the news at all over the past few weeks, you’ve probably noticed that things aren’t going too well in Egypt.  President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist with close connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, was ousted by the military just one year into his term after massive protests accusing him of authoritarian tactics and a failure to address many of the biggest problems facing the country.  That has led to a counter reaction in which Morsi’s supporters are taking to the streets as well, demanding a return to “legitimacy” and the restoration of the country’s first freely elected president.  It is difficult to predict whether the interim government introduced by the military – which is strikingly free of Islamists – will be able to bring some kind of stability before new elections.  As all of this is happening, the country is also teetering on the brink of complete economic collapse.

Keeping track of all the different factions vying for power in Egypt can be difficult enough for those who study the Middle East, let alone the average observer.  However, there is no question that this is an issue of great importance for the United States.  Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. aid, with a particularly large amount going to the same military that just pulled off what some are calling a “coup” (though others insist that it does not share the same characteristics as a typical military takeover).  It is also the most populous country in the Arab world and a historic leader in the region.  Equally important for many Americans is the fact that Egypt has the longest standing peace treaty with Israel of any Arab country, and its border with both Israel and the Gaza Strip mean that it will always be an important player in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Continue reading

Progress Makes Perfect

As the days go by, construction continues on Church & State.  There is a lot of work still to be done, but the posts will keep coming in the meantime.  Check back occasionally to see what updates have been made.   Soon everything will be nice and shiny…

Ironic Prophets

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Tourists inspecting the interior of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Sometimes the wrong person says the right thing – and humanity is better for it.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  These words are familiar to most Americans, despite the fact that they may fail to remember whether they come from a) the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, b) the Bill of Rights, or c) the Declaration of Independence. (If you guessed “c”, you’re right.) Whenever an American feels their rights are being violated, they’re likely to make some mention of this universal claim to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, the holy trilogy that tends to define our sense of individual dignity.

Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, was a true believer in the philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment.  Historians debate the primary inspirations for Jefferson’s text, but one person commonly mentioned is the English writer John Locke.  In his classic work, Two Treatises of Government, Locke argued that government exists to protect the individual’s “life, liberty and estate”, or more generally “property”.

Similar language also existed in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, authored by George Mason, which was adopted a few weeks before the Declaration of Independence and seems to draw heavily on Locke’s themes.  It spoke of a person’s “inherent right”, which it specified as “the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety”.  It seems likely that one or both of these documents influenced Jefferson, though we may never know for sure why he chose not to emphasize “property” or “estate”, opting instead for the “pursuit of happiness”. Continue reading

Jay-Z vs. British History

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An article by Bloomberg caught my eye this morning which compares Jay-Z’s new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, to the original Magna Carta.  For those who need a quick brush up on their history, the Magna Carta (Latin for “Great Charter”) was a thirteenth century document outlining the rights of the English barons in relation to their king.  It is seen by many as a precursor for the kind of personal rights citizens enjoy today, though in reality the pledges contained in the Magna Carta were at times flouted by power hungry English kings.  Jay-Z’s new album, on the other hand, is more grandstanding than history lesson.  Check out the article here.

To Be a Royal Baby

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user Carfax2

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user Carfax2

The international media is buzzing about the imminent arrival of Britain’s newest royal baby, the son or daughter of Prince William and Princess Catherine, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  A simple Google search turns up countless pages of speculation about the baby’s sex, due date, name, and nursery decorations.  Even before birth, this child is among the most famous celebrities in the world.  Such treatment is not particularly out of the ordinary for the offspring of the rich and famous.  Consider, for example, the similar attention given to the recent pregnancies of Kim Kardashian, Angelina Jolie, or Katie Holmes.  But unlike those children, the baby about to make its way into Will and Kate’s family is destined to sit on an actual throne.  Thanks to a recent act of parliament, that will be the case regardless of whether the child is a boy or girl, since it will be the first born.

Even though it is a mostly symbolic position at this point, the opportunity to be a member of British royalty still carries with it a pedigree that cannot be matched by any other family on earth, at least as far as the tabloids are concerned.  For young Edward, Jane, George, or Matilda (I’m pulling for that last one if it’s a girl), a normal life is completely impossible.  He or she will have every moment in public documented a thousand times over, from the christening at St. George’s Chapel inside Windsor Castle, to the first day of school at Eton, to games of polo at Martha’s Vineyard and canoodling with equally posh members of the opposite sex in the Swiss Alps.

Speculation is now mounting that Kate has actually passed her due date, and I am not surprised.  As I remarked to the cashier at the local Barnes & Noble cafe this past weekend, if I were the royal baby, I would want to stay tucked away from the world as long as possible, knowing that these were the last few private, undictated moments I was every likely to have.  Savor your final moments as the paprazzi’s favorite celebrity offspring, Suri Cruise.  Within a few days, it will be time for Charles, or Margaret, or Stephen, or maybe even Matilda.

An Overlooked Fact about the Zimmerman Case

Zimmerman,_George_-_Seminole_County_Mug

From the beginning, the media wanted to make the Zimmerman case about black vs. white.  That is why the story gained national attention in the first place.  I’m not going to make a judgment about whether race played a factor in what happened that night, and I realize how complex and personal individuals’ feelings about race can be.  Be that as it may, I have always been struck by the fact that Zimmerman did not “look” particularly “white”.  His surname is German, but beyond that I didn’t actually know anything  about his heritage until I saw the picture of his parents in the courtroom: a white father and an apparently Asian mother.  Does the narrative change at all because George Zimmerman is actually biracial?  Should it?  It’s a question that I’ve never heard anyone in the media bother to ask, though I admittedly have not listened to all of the endless hours of coverage. (I have better things to do with my time.) What I do know is that it says as much as anything about our racial attitudes that we define him only by his white father and not his Asian mother.  Were this portrayed in the media as an incident involving two minorities instead of black vs. white, for example, I am willing to bet that the debate would have been much different.

Was Mohamed Morsi Doomed to Fail?

The New York Times carried an interesting article yesterday noting the sudden improvements that have occurred in Egypt since President Morsi was ousted last week.  Gas lines have disappeared, electricity outages have decreased, and police are back patrolling the streets.  Is this proof of Morsi’s incompetence, or could it be a sign of something more sinister?  The article, written by Ben Hubbard and David Kirkpatrick, seems to lean toward one of those interpretations.

The apparently miraculous end to the crippling energy shortages, and the re-emergence of the police, seems to show that the legions of personnel left in place after former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011 played a significant role — intentionally or not — in undermining the overall quality of life under the Islamist administration of Mr. Morsi.

Continue reading

Under Construction

All that construction noise you’re hearing is the sound of progress.  I’m building a website where my friends and I can share our views on a range of different issues.  Yep, because we don’t have enough websites for people to post their opinions already.  Ok, here’s hoping that things will be presentable soon.