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.


Palin (aka Fey Lookalike) to Appear on SNL?

October 9, 2008

On MSNBC‘s News You Can’t Use: Sarah Palin may take on Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live/SNL this week. Whoa!

Fey’s hilarious and scathing performances as the Republican Party’s desperate and ill-conceived pick for VP are spreading like wildfire. The physical resemblance is uncanny. And Fey definitely capitalizes on Palin’s patent on fake-adorable prairie-pinscher. In a sense, one could say that Fey constructs and deconstructs a simulacrum: a simulation of a simulation, or a copy of a copy (think Disneyworld).

If MSNBC’s sources are accurate, Palin taking on Fey on SNL would indeed be a spectacular feedback loop. Not art imitating life or life imitating art. Just a copy wrestling with a copy.

It will definitely be a good day for arts and entertainment — but a bad, sad day for politics. I can’t wait: the imperial GOP wolf outfitting itself yet again in sheep’s clothing. Now THAT’s a joke.


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?


Republican Radio Host Calls for Murder of Media Activist

June 14, 2008

Michael Reagan, eldest son of Ronald Reagan and national radio talk show host, is calling on listeners to kill Mark Dice, political activist and founder of a Christian media watchdog called The Resistance. Reagan’s words:

How about you take Mark Dice out and put him in the middle of a firing range. Tie him to a post, don’t blindfold him, let it rip and have some fun with Mark Dice. (full audio link)

What provoked the former president’s adopted son?

Apparently, Mark Dice and his group of 3,000 Christian activists had been urging people to send letters and DVDs to U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq informing them that 9/11 was an inside job produced by the American government. In an interview with Fox News, Dice explained his motivations for “Operation Inform The Soldiers”:

I don’t want the soldiers who are risking their lives in Iraq to be used as pawns in the creation of the New World Order… We want U.S. troops to know that we care about them and are doing our best to make sure that they don’t have to risk their lives based on false pretenses.

While we do NOT agree with or endorse Dice’s platform, Reagan’s open call for murder is just plain repulsive. A transcript of the words he used on his radio program:

We ought to find the people who are doing this, take them out and shoot them. Really. You take them out, they are traitors to this country, and shoot them. You have a problem with that? Deal with it. You shoot them. You call them traitors, that’s what they are, and you shoot them dead. I’ll pay for the bullets.

Dice certainly knows how to fight back. He has filed a report with the FBI, is considering legal action, and is calling for Reagan to be fired immediately.

It’s not often that we see two right-wingers throwing fire and brimstone at each other. Perhaps a reality tv show is in the works.


Benedict XVI Meets Bush In Realignment of Church and State

June 13, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI, head of the Roman Catholic church, granted a special audience to U.S. President Bush on Vatican state grounds earlier today. This is their second official meeting in exactly three months. Photos of the seemingly casual encounter unambiguously articulate a new alignment and alliance between the two powerful leaders. Both men walk (or sit) side by side — as amiable colleagues, placing Western religion and Western politics on equal, albeit very precarious, footing.

bushpopeOn the surface, the two men appear diametrically opposed. Joseph Ratzinger consciously adapted his papal name from Benedict XV, known as the “peace pope” during World War I. While George W. Bush simply inherited an ancestral name then fell into (some say stole) a legacy of war.

So why the love fest?

We can only speculate. Both are heads of institutions whose global dominance and relevance are currently on the wane. Future growth and stability are dependent on cultures outside their historic territories. Do they simply need each other to survive into the next century?

The more important question for me is why Benedict XVI has positioned himself (and therefore his god, his church) so squarely on the side of a president who continues to wage a profoundly unjust war.

There are at least three answers — all of which, of course, just lead to more questions:

1. The pope condones war. Has Benedict XVI chosen to walk in the footsteps, NOT of Benedict XV, but of one of Benedict XV’s proteges: Pius XII, who was crowned pope on March 12, 1939, the eve of Adolf Hitler’s march into Prague? (Controversy over Pius’ papacy continues today because of his refusal to condemn the Nazi regime and his silence in face of the Jewish holocaust.)

2. The pope rejects war. Perhaps these meetings are subtle attempts to sway Bush from staying the course of war. The Vatican’s official line, of course, is that Benedict XVI rejects the war and is “skeptical of politics without reference to the Gospel.”

3. The pope rejects war but has to turn a blind eye in order to win his church’s larger battle — converting the entire world over to Christianity. In other words: the elimination of all other religions, including the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism and Islam.

It’s a new world. All roads no longer lead to Rome. Strangely, they now all lead to the Middle East.

Whichever the answer (and there are admittedly many more), both Benedict and Bush seem to be ideal counterparts. Not two men from different spheres, but two halves of a single neoconservative coin.

During his visit, Bush reportedly told Benedict: “This is fantastic up here… Thank you so much for showing me this.” The view of the gods must be spectacular. Caution: thunderbolts ahead.

Photo from Getty Images, as published in NYT’s lede story this morning.

Obama Forsakes His Controversial Church Of Twenty Years

May 31, 2008

barack

Saturday evening news headlines are always telling. Particularly because fewer people are watching. So, what a non-surprise that media-savvy presidential hopeful Barack Obama picked a Saturday evening to quit his own church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. NYT reports that he will be explaining this latest denunciation tonight in South Dakota.

The 47-year-old junior senator from Illinois has been a member of Trinity’s congregation for about two decades — that’s almost half his life. It’s also the church where he and wife Michelle were married, and his two daughters were baptized. Like his public denunciation last month of Trinity’s pastor and his longtime mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. (from whom Obama adopted the phrase, “The Audacity of Hope”), this could not possibly have been an easy decision. Is it the right one?

While the church has certainly been a lightning rod for controversy during Obama’s campaign, what does quitting it accomplish?

In stark contrast to Bush’s “stay the course”, Obama’s openness to “change” has won an unexpected show of support over the past few months. But these public denunciations of longtime friends or we-weren’t-really-friends, are beginning to turn this pro-change stance into a flip-flop dance (remember Kerry?) What happened to sticking by your people? Working with your people (one of them being, your longtime pastor) to CHANGE their minds? What does it mean to quit your church, of all things? (And I’m not even religious.)

Disappointing news indeed. Obama certainly has the gift of oratory. He’s going to need it in bundles and busloads to explain this one.

If he can quit his pastor and church of twenty years just like that because he disagrees with what they’re preaching (apparently different from what they’d been saying before he entered the race), how fast till he drops YOU, a total stranger? What if we say we don’t agree with his definition of “change”? Will he quit you and me too?

Stop the bus, I want to get off.