The Glaring Absence of a U.S. Department of Culture

November 7, 2008

200px-ussealThere’s been much excitement and speculation about how Obama will staff his Executive Office. With Joe Biden Jr. as VP (link to the Senate) and Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff (link to the House), the search is on for 15 new Cabinet members*: Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health/Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing/Urban Dev’t, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General.

What missing? Secretary of Culture.

Call me biased, but pretty much all the most powerful nations in the world have one. There are Ministers or Secretaries of Culture in France, England, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Spain, Italy. And so on and so on.

It’s the 21st Century: America needs one.

Obama’s victorious campaign itself proves that images, words, beliefs, attitudes, narratives, and aspirations can bind us together, powerfully, as a nation (and tear us apart — as Dubya’s violent legacy proves).

Culture — the ideas, practices, and ideals people share — is a dynamic and critical apparatus of any nation-state. Mightier than steel, as Obama wisely put in his acceptance speech. More primal than religion, if I may add.

In these dark, fractious days, the strength of American Culture/s (or at least, the belief in it) just might be that magical something, that je ne sais quoi, that pulls us through to a new and better era.

So, I’m putting this out into the blogosphere: Secretary of Culture, Please!

(Cultural Council would be cool too.)

*For posterity, here’s a pdf of Dubya’s Cabinet.
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Kings and Kingmakers at Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner

October 19, 2008

NYT’s top cultural chronicler Bill Cunningham ran the lead photo above for his “Evening Hours” page this Sunday. From left: Cardinal Edward M. Egan, Alfred E. Smith IV (great grandson of Smith), Nan Smith, and Senator Barack Obama at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner held on October 16th at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

The dinner reportedly raised $4 million for underprivileged children. Which is (undeniably) well and good. It also brought together — in royal white tie — the city’s (arguably, the nation’s) political, cultural, and media elite: both presidential hopefuls, both state senators, the city’s 3rd-term-seeking mayor, a Catholic archbishop, news anchors, and so on and so forth.

Power. With a capital-P. I can’t help but think how much of our futures were shaped that night.

No surprise to anyone that politicians must pal around with the ruling dynasties of wealth and religion in order to get work done. But I am curious about whether and how Obama’s promise of change will weather these dominant regimes with which he is ostensibly at odds.

Certainly, there is no choice. Obama MUST/WILL become the next American president. There is much at stake. One hopes his presidency radically alters photographs such as this.


America’s Collective Anxiety Attack: We Need Group Therapy

July 2, 2008

A wise man at NYT’s Op-Eds, Thomas Friedman, wrote last Sunday about the urgent need to build/rebuild this nation from within. Titled “Anxious in America“, his column stresses:

It’s the state of America now that is the most gripping source of anxiety for Americans, not Al Qaeda or Iraq.

…My fellow Americans: We are a country in debt and in decline — not terminal, not irreversible, but in decline… We are the ones who need a better-functioning democracy — more than the Iraqis and Afghans. We are the ones in need of nation-building. It is our political system that is not working.

I remember Bush’s challenge to the world shortly after the maniacal attacks on the WTC towers 7 years ago: “you are with us or you are with the terrorists”. Somehow, these past 7 years have focused so much on “you” or “them”, that our government seems to have lost track of “us”. If there’s no us, then what are we fighting for?

Friedman urges us to dig ourselves out of this hole (aka gigantic crater) by voting for the candidate who will place nation-building as his top priority.

This year, America needs to make a critical political choice, examine its own problems, and buckle down with some hard-working, long-term solutions to rebuild and rebalance. We don’t need any more “American Idol” or “America’s Got Talent” or dancing ex-stars. We need an American President! And we definitely need group therapy! Are we ready to snap out of this collective depression?


Supreme Court Justice Blames Al Gore for 2000 Election Mess

June 27, 2008

Yesterday, Justice Antonin Scalia led a 5 – 4 vote to lift a ban on handguns in D.C. — a decision welcomed by many Republicans but criticized by many law enforcement officials around the country. Today, the conservative, originalist judge is spouting nonsense again.

The UK’s Telegraph reports that Scalia blames Al Gore for the outcome of the 2000 presidential elections. Apparently, Gore should have conceded without resorting to the courts, without pushing it up to the Supreme Court. Just like the honorable Republican president Richard Nixon.

In an interview about his book “Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges”, Scalia told the Telegraph:

Richard Nixon, when he lost to [John F.] Kennedy thought that the election had been stolen in Chicago, which was very likely true with the system at the time…

But he did not even think about bringing a court challenge. That was his prerogative. So you know if you don’t like it, don’t blame it on me.

I didn’t bring it into the courts. Mr Gore brought it into the courts.

So if you don’t like the courts getting involved talk to Mr Gore.

Nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, Scalia is one of the leading conservative justices on the Supreme Court. He insists that the controversial 5 – 4 decision to stop the Florida recount was “absolutely right”. Because of these 5 justices, Bush prevailed in Florida by just 537 votes.

I can’t help thinking where we might be today had just one justice changed his or her mind. I guess Scalia’s new book on how to speak and write persuasive arguments will come in handy next time.

(Here’s an interesting video interview with Scalia on CBS News back in April 2008.)


Supreme Court Lifts Ban on Guns, Upholds Right to Bear Arms

June 26, 2008

An historic and controversial ruling this afternoon in Washington D.C.: a 5-4 vote by Supreme Court justices has lifted a ban on individual ownership of handguns by D.C. residents. This is the first time the court has ruled on the issue since 1939.

Seeking to clarify the ambiguous wording of the Second Amendment, the majority ruled that the Constitution protects an individual’s — not just the state militias’ — right to own guns for self-defense and declared the ban unconstitutional.

The Second Amendment reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

The decision to lift the ban was written by Justice Antonin Scalia. He was joined by the most consistently conservative justices — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Each was nominated by either Reagan, Bush Sr., or Bush Jr. Not surprisingly, the current administration and the NRA are thrilled.

The dissenting votes were cast by the most consistently liberal justices: John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. Each was nominated to the bench, respectively, by the following presidents: Ford, Bush, Clinton, Clinton.

The ideological divide stresses, in no uncertain terms, the importance of the next U.S. president — who may be in the crucial position to nominate 2 or even 3 new justices.

McCain, presumptive Republican nominee, makes his position clear:

I applaud this decision as well as the overturning of the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns and limitations on the ability to use firearms for self-defense.

Obama, presumptive Democratic nominee, takes a more nuanced position:

I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures.

The NYT reports that this case has clearly “generated emotional as well as intellectual sparks at the court”. Apparently, Justice Scalia looked at “various state constitutions and the use of language in the 18th and 19th centuries to support his view…”

I wonder if he might also have looked at 21st century videogames (for starters). Since the founding “fathers” penned these inalienable rights, the media and cultural landscape have changed significantly. The impact of one individual’s actions has grown exponentially as well due to technological advances. These need to be considered seriously, particularly with regards to objects created with the exclusive function of inflicting harm or death.


It’s Official: Clinton’s Campaign is Dead, Long Live Obama’s Campaign

June 7, 2008

Slightly after noon today, Senator Hillary Clinton publicly ended her historic campaign for the U.S. presidency and encouraged her 18 million supporters to back the presumptive Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama. Parts of her speech (full text here):

Now when I started this race, I intended to win back the White House, and make sure we have a president who puts our country back on the path to peace, prosperity, and progress. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do by ensuring that Barack Obama walks through the doors of the Oval Office on January 20, 2009.

…We may have started on separate journeys – but today, our paths have merged. And we are all heading toward the same destination, united and more ready than ever to win in November and to turn our country around because so much is at stake.

…We cannot let this moment slip away. We have come too far and accomplished too much.

…So today, I am standing with Senator Obama to say: “Yes we can.”

It has been an unprecedented primary season for the Democratic party. Some say, after the darkest night comes the brightest light. And the Democrats have vetted not just one, but two.

twoeaglesI found this photograph of two American bald eagles right after listening to Clinton’s farewell speech today. And I thought, what an apt metaphor for Clinton and Obama right now.

After two soaring campaigns, they’ve both landed on different branches of the same tree. Here, a quiet — and very pregnant — pause.

And we wait to see whether one will choose to fly with the other.

A world is at stake.

Photo: Judy Malley, ShootsNikon on flickr

Day of Silence For An Historic Clinton Campaign

June 3, 2008

Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has claimed the Democratic Party’s nomination tonight in Minnesota. While the future of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton remains unclear at this time, we are observing a day of silence on Wednesday, June 4th, to salute the historic implications of her hard-earned, hard-fought campaign.

A blixity tip of the hat to a formidable candidate and an ever-defiant force. Here’s to Clinton for fighting a stunning fight and keeping the serious debates going.

We now have 24 hours to switch gears and get behind the party’s nominee, after an epic and invigorating primary battle. Clinton’s campaign is dead. Long Live the Obama campaign.

We hope to see the emergence of an Obama-Clinton dream team — perhaps when the media pundits decide to stop dragging Clinton through the coals. Let’s go win this one for peace and democracy, why don’t we?

hillobamared

It’s time.