Revising (and Reviving) History through Fiction

Photo by Flickr user History Books

Photo by Flickr user History Books

 

“History takes a long time for us to reach.”

That rather obvious statement was made by a former president of the United States, George W. Bush, when reflecting upon his legacy. While some sneered that his B.A. in history from Yale University meant little, this was not the only time that Bush proved he had learned a little something about the topic. He told Brian Williams in 2006, “There’s no such thing as short-term history, as far as I’m concerned.” He also famously said, “History. We don’t know. We’ll all be dead.” (In Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward)

While it is possible to view these quotes as simple explanations of a basic fact of human existence – time adds upon time adds upon time – or as an attempt to avoid responsibility, Bush was actually getting at something profoundly true. While we may view history as that most unchanging of all things, forever frozen in place, experience suggests otherwise. Continue reading

L’affaire du Président, or President Hollande is a Naughty Boy

800px-Julie_Gayet_at_the_2007_Deauville_American_Film_Festival-01, Wikipedia Mireille Ampilhac

French actress Julie Gayet, the latest object of President Hollande’s affection, is shown here at the 2007 Deauville American Film Festival. Wikipedia photo by Mireille Ampilhac

Today I am going to write about something taking place in France.  Have I lost you already?  I only ask because I know that many Americans are either thoroughly apathique or completely hostile when it comes to our French collègues.  I’ve heard the usual complaints: they live in a nanny state, they don’t believe in working, they hate Américains, they are complete cowards in all their military campagnes, and they have a preference for the kind of cheese that looks like a science experiment gone wrong.

Perhaps the thought of reading an entire article about France fills you with disgust.  Perhaps you are still unwilling to give the French credit for “freedom fries” more than a decade after the fact. (There is actually an ongoing dispute about whether deep fried potato strips originated in France or modern day Belgium.) Perhaps you think that the term “Francophile” is synonymous with “socialist”.

Allow me to reassure you by insisting that this is not really a French story at all: it is an age old tale about a politician caught in a sex scandal, full of the kind of details that are sure to reinforce your cynicism, while at the same time making you feel superior to other members of the human race.  Are you interested now?  I hope so, because that is about the best sales pitch I can give. Continue reading

For Japan and China, a Dispute Worthy of Voldemort

Yasukuni Shrine Wikipedia Fg2

The Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on a rainy day. Photo by Wikipedia user Fg2

I had a nice post prepared for today that was going to deal with a controversial issue in the religious world, but I have decided to put it aside and instead address a controversy that is currently brewing in the world of international relations.  One might even say it takes place in the fantasy world.

Let me first state a well known fact: China and Japan do not get along.  Subjects of disagreement between them include the fact that one is Communist and the other is a Western-style democracy, one is a major U.S. ally and the other more of a U.S. competitor, both are economic powers going after some of the same markets, a controversial chain of islands is claimed by both of them, they each have capable and expanding military forces, and one of them has a bunch of cute pandas while the other does not. (Ok, that last one isn’t really a source of tension.) Yet, all of these factors tend to take a backseat to a list of historical grievances that have proved to be infinitely hard to forget. Continue reading

Fixing American Government in 2014

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The White House, October 2013

As we begin the year 2014, I find myself reflecting on the political situation in the United States, and I must say that it is a bit depressing.  Our political parties cannot seem to agree on much of anything, our bureaucracy is a model of inefficiency, and there does not seem to be much positive change on the horizon.  Is there anything that could really fix this situation?

Well, with a new year, hope springs eternal, and though I have no expectation that any of the following suggestions will be implemented this year (or any other year), I am going to go ahead and make them anyway in the hope that it might spur some positive discussion.  Love them or hate them, here are five things that I think would help to improve our federal government. Continue reading

The Cash Cows Come Home

One of the Duck Dynasty stars greets members of  the military during the 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour earlier this month.  Flickr photo by USO

One of the Duck Dynasty stars greets members of the military during the 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour earlier this month. Flickr photo by USO

Good news, Church & State readers: I’m back!  Please forgive my extended absence.  It turns out that moving to another state takes up a lot of time and energy, made even worse when your car tries to kill you, your new basement floods, and your refrigerator is full of a mysterious scent that makes you want to puke and simply will not go away.  Oh, and did I mention this all took place during the busy holiday season?  Let’s just say that writing blog posts has not been at the top of my priority list.  However, things are beginning to settle down, and I have finally reached the point where I feel ready to dive in again. (And there was much rejoicing…)

Quite a bit has happened since I went away.  Pope Francis was named TIME’s Person of the Year a few weeks after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose to give him a book on the Spanish Inquisition.  I considered writing an article about the irony of that incident, but there simply was not enough time.  The Obamacare rollout continued to be a disaster of epic (while at the same time entirely predictable) proportions.  There was no need for me to throw in my two cents on that one, since everybody and their mother was doing so already. Continue reading

Less Debates? Yes, Please!

Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich

Republican presidential candidates during one of many debates that were
part of the 2012 campaign.
Flickr photo credit: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, Pool

Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus made news this past week when he threatened to prevent NBC and CNN from hosting any Republican presidential primary debates in 2016 if they refuse to cancel planned Hillary Clinton-themed projects.  As he said on the MSNBC program Morning Joe, “I cannot have companies that are in the business of making what I consider to be promotional movies about the life of Hillary Clinton . . . depose the candidates for president on the Republican side of the aisle”  Take that, mainstream media!

I’m not going to attempt to suggest that the people at NBC and CNN aren’t dying for Hillary to run in 2016.  I mean, just imagine a primary race in which Joe Biden is the presumptive frontrunner: it might provide plenty of fodder for comedians, but it wouldn’t do much to capture the public’s imagination.  The Clintons, on the other hand, have true star power.  Even the producers at Fox News must be secretly hoping for her to run so that they can reap the benefits of an anti-Hillary campaign.   Continue reading

Rep. Tom Cole’s Civil War Analogy

With the House Republicans having voted dozens of times to repeal Obamacare (a.k.a. The Affordable Care Act), only to have each of those proposals die upon arrival in the Senate, Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), Sen. Marco Rubio (Florida), and Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) are making a new push to simply defund the program, thus killing it in every sense that matters.

There is some reason to believe that Republicans might have more luck with this approach, since they are clearly more successful at preventing something from passing than ensuring that it gets passed.  However, one Republican isn’t so sure that this strategy can achieve the desired result. Continue reading

Thus Spake Francis

Pope_Francis_among_the_people_at_St._Peter's_Square_-_12_May_2013

Photo by Wikipedia user Edgar Jiménez

With a single question, the newly minted Pope set off a worldwide media reaction – and raised some important questions about the state of the papacy in the 21st century.

I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about the papacy.  Smarter people than I have devoted their lives to the subject and still been left with profound mysteries.  However, there is one thing of which I am fairly certain: popes do not give impromptu, unrestricted press conferences aboard the papal plane. (Fun fact: the plane, hereafter to be known as Pontiff One, does not run on destructive fossil fuels, but is instead carried  invisibly by angels.)

Yet, that is exactly what Pope Francis did earlier this week during his trip back from a successful outing to Brazil, going where the Queen of England still fears – or at least refuses – to tread: in front of a group of reporters.  Fortunately for the assembled media, the Q & A session proved to be newsworthy for more than one reason.  When one of them asked the Holy Father a question about the supposed “gay lobby” in the Vatican that has so fascinated the Italian press, Francis gave a surprisingly nuanced answer. Continue reading

Aslan and Jesus

If you started reading this post thinking that it was going to be a comparison between Aslan, the unsafe but good hero of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, and Jesus Christ, the hero of the Christian Bible, then you are in for a bit of a disappointment. (However, you have to give me some credit for pulling you in like that!) No, this is a discussion of the recent controversy surrounding Reza Aslan’s new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.  If you really do want a serious discussion of the aforementioned links between Lewis’ literary creation and the Son of God, you may find one of many examples here.

Mr. Aslan – whose previous books include No God but God: The Origins and Evolution of Islam and How to Win a Cosmic War: Confronting Radical Religion – is, in the words of his personal website, “an internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions”.  He is an Iranian American who works as an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California in Riverside, and his list of professional associations include the Council on Foreign Relations.  Oh, and he is also a Muslim. Continue reading

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