Monday, January 18, 2010

"The Content of Their Character"

King, demonstrating his patented 'the wink and the gun'
maneuver for picking up the ladies.

Today we celebrate the life and death of a great man, a man who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that all men could be equal. Orator, visionary, martyr...the legend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is celebrated across the country. The only American to have his own federal holiday, I remember learning about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in hushed, reverent tones from teachers who spoke of him as a sort of prophet of the civil rights movement.

The image of the impassioned King giving a fiery speech for liberty is a powerful symbol that has been used for good. Unfortunately, as is the case with so many myths, the man behind the symbol is far less impressive.

King dreamt of a world where men could be judged "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character". What was the content of his character?

Martin Luther King, (legally named Michael, though Martin Luther has a better ring to it for a Protestant preacher), was a dishonest man. The true measure of a person's character is not what they say, or even how they act, it is how they act when they think nobody is watching. Oprah Winfrey said something similar: "Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not." It is one thing to preach virtue from the pulpit, another to practice it in your own life.

In the 1980's, the Martin Luther King Papers Project uncovered evidence that King's dissertation for his Ph.D in Theology from Boston University, "A Comparison of the Perception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman" was plagiarized. The university of Boston made an official inquiry and admitted the same:

"We had many of the same professors, we worked in the same atmosphere during our graduate studies," said John Cartwright, an MLK scholar and member of the committee that investigated his plagiarism allegations, "under no circumstances would the atmosphere under which he did his work condone what Doctor King did. It's incredible. He was not unaware of the correct procedure. This wasn't just done out of ignorance."

Because this was discovered after his death, and because there would probably be riots in the streets if they did, Boston chose not to revoke his doctorate.

Still, according to Robert Evans, perhaps the most notable example of plagiarism is his famouse "I Have a Dream" speech. The general tone, and several direct lines, were lifted right out of the speech of another activist, Archibald Carey.

Theodore Pappas presents a detailed accusation in his book, Plagiarism and the Culture War. Most of the issue centers around the closing lines.

Here's how King's speech ended;

"This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, 'My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.' And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring."

Compare it to Carey's speech:

"We, Negro Americans, sing with all loyal Americans: My country 'tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, Of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, Land of the Pilgrims' pride From every mountainside Let freedom ring!

That's exactly what we mean--from every mountain side, let freedom ring. Not only from the Green Mountains and White Mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire; not only from the Catskills of New York; but from the Ozarks in Arkansas, from the Stone Mountain in Georgia, from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia--let it ring not only for the minorities of the United States, but for the disinherited of all the earth--may the Republican Party, under God, from every mountainside, LET FREEDOM RING!"

Academic dishonesty is normally anathema to a doctor. How much worse, than, is marital infidelity in a preacher? King was under investigation by the FBI for ties with Communist organizations throughout the country. Who wasn't, right? It was the 60's. The files regarding his ties to communism and any treacherous activity he may or may not have engaged in are sealed until 2027. However, these investigations led to another discovery: King, married father of four, would frequently indulge in extra-marital affairs. Audio and visual recordings proved that King had a lot of love to go around, and civil rights groupies can be just as enthusiastic as rock and roll groupies when it comes to showing how much they appreciate your work. Whether you consider this a sin or a character flaw, King himself taught against such actions.

Ralph David Abernathy, King's close friend, addressed these recordings in his biography "And The Walls Came Tumbling Down":

Much has been written in recent years about my friend's weakness for women. Had others not dealt with the matter in such detail, I might have avoided any commentary. Unfortunately, some of these commentators have told only the bare facts without suggesting the reasons why Martin might have indulged in such behavior. They have also left a false impression about the range of his activities.

Martin and I were away more often than we were at home; and while this was no excuse for extramarital relations, it was a reason. Some men are better able to bear such deprivations than others, though all of us in SCLC headquarters had our weak moments. We all understood and believed in the biblical prohibition against sex outside of marriage. It was just that he had a particularly difficult time with that temptation.
(emphasis added)

Though I personally believe that disloyalty in a committed relationship is wrong and a sign of a flawed character, I am not asking you to make that leap with me. Perhaps some of you view it as a harmless indulgence. However, King's character, his integrity, can only be judged from the perspective of his own self-proclaimed moral code. Remember, integrity is measured by your faithfulness to what you believe to be right and wrong. By that standard, he falls woefully short.

The great irony here is that these facts about the hero of the civil rights movement are never taught, or even widely known. Any sort of attempt to besmirch the legend surrounding the good 'doctor' is met with horrified allegations of racism and displays of emotion. People do not like finding out their heroes are human, or that man behind the curtain is no wonderful wizard of Oz. Perhaps this will take more time, after all, it is only recently that scholarship has begun to delve into the more sordid details about the lives of other mythical figures, the founding fathers, (Thomas Jefferson's affair with his slaves is more of a historical cliche than taboo now).

It is possible to honor the concepts the man championed without honoring the man himself. I for one refuse to judge Martin Luther King, Jr just by "the color of his skin" (black leader of the civil rights), and instead will view him based on "the content of his character" (adulterous, cheating fraud).

I await the angry, emotional comments. Have a pleasant holiday and enjoy your day off.

If you'd like to read more, most of the research into this came from resources found at

Friday, January 15, 2010

Palin Quits Job as Alaskan Governor to Give Fox Talking Head

Remember when Palin gave Alaska her two weeks notice? She left her stunned electorate with a rambling, almost non-coherent melange of mixed sports metaphors and vague insinuations that an evil conspiracy was forcing her from power. She left me breathing a sigh of relief that she hadn't landed in a position where she was one old-age induced heart attack away from being the most powerful human being on Earth. I wonder how long before that job wasn't fun anymore and she quit, rather than choosing to operate under 'politics as usual'?

"I'm not wired to operate under the same old politics as usual,'' she said in Wasilla Friday afternoon, at an hour when many Americans were heading out of town for the holiday weekend. "I promised four years ago and I meant it, that's not what is best for Alaska at this time. I'm determined to take the right path for Alaska, even though it is unconventional and it's not so comfortable, and with this announcement that I'm not seeking reelection, I've decided it's best to transfer the authority of governor to Lt. Gov. [Sean] Parnell, and I am willing to do this so that this administration with its positive agenda and its accomplishments and its successful road to an incredible future for Alaska, so that it can continue without interruption and with great administrative and legislative success. My choice is to take a stand and effect change and not just hit our head against the wall and watch valuable state time and money – millions of your dollars – go down the drain in this new political environment. Rather, we know we can effect positive change outside government at this moment in time, and actually make a difference for our priorities and so we will, for Alaskans and for Americans. Let me go back quickly to a comfortable analogy for me, and that's sports – basketball – and I use it because you are na├»ve if you don't see a full-court press from the national level picking away right now a good point guard.''

Apparently her idea of creating change outside of politics and breaking away from 'business as usual' is to become one of many conservative talking heads on Fox News. And apparently Fox News was only one of many news networks courting this renegade maverick, or 'renerick', if the word I just coined sticks.)

Let's hope she gets better writers because her "I quit" speech just got more confusing as she went on:

Referring to herself in the third person, Palin continued on in a rage: "Here's what she does. She drives through a full-court press, protecting the ball, keeping her head up because she needs to keep her eye on the basket and she knows exactly when to pass the ball so that the team can win, and that is what I'm doing, keeping our eye on the ball – those represent sound priorities – remember, they include energy independence and smaller government, national security and freedom, and I know when it's time to pass the ball for victory and I've given my reasons now, very candidly and truthfully, and my last day won't be for another few weeks so the transition will be very smooth.''

Coach Palin: "Basically she goes for the full court defense, keeps her eyes on the ball, never stops believin', holds onto those feelings, and in the end you find out Michael's Secret Stuff was just normal Gatoride. That's right, Alaska, the real power was in her the whole time."

"All I can ask is that you trust me with this decision,'' she went on, "and know that it's no more politics as usual. And some Alaskans it seemed today maybe they don't mind wasting public dollars and state time but I do and I cannot stand here as your governor and allow the millions of dollars and all that time to go to waste just so that I can hold the title of governor, and I don't know that my children are going to allow it anyway. Some are going to question the timing of this and let me just say this decision has been in the works for a while and comes after much consideration – prayer and consideration – and finally I polled the most important people in my life, my kids, where the count was unanimous, where in response to the question 'Do you want me to make a positive difference and fight for all our children's future from outside the governor's office?' it was four yeses and one "hell, yeah,' and the "hell, yeah" sealed it and someday I'll talk about the details of that. I think though, much of it for the kids had to do with recently seeing their baby brother Trig mocked and ridiculed by some pretty mean-spirited adults recently and, by the way, I sure wish folks could ever understand all that we can learn, all of us, from someone like Trig,'' who has Down syndrome. "I know he needs me, but I need him even more, and what a child can offer to set priorities right, know that time is precious. The world needs more Trigs, not fewer.''

Confused yet? Well you probably hate autistic children. Its people like you who made her quit her fantastically boring job in the first place.

In talking about her new job at Fox, she had this to say: "“I am thrilled to be joining the great talent and management team at Fox News,” Palin said in the Fox announcement. “It’s wonderful to be part of a place that so values fair and balanced news.”

At least she seems to have developed a sense of irony since her self-imposed political exile.

Palin, being witty and ironic

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Good, the Bad, the Unbearable

Everyone's a critic. At least, in this cyber-age, every hack with a blog and access to a theater is. So I thought I'd throw my hack-hat in on the hack-hat-rack and join the party.

I saw three movies this week that I had been curious about. More accurately, I saw two movies and the first ten minutes of a third. As fate would have it, I saw the best first and then they got progressively worse.

Let's begin with a pleasant surprise: I loved Sherlock Holmes. Now, don't get me wrong, this is not a masterpiece of film. It is, however, a fun movie, and that is becoming surprisingly rare in a market whose very existance is built around entertainment. (Think about it, when's the last time you remember watching a movie and thinking to yourself, "Wow, I'm really having fun here"?).I enjoyed watching this movie. Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes really does steal the show. He's brilliant. He's eccentric. And like so many geniuses, his social skills and ability to relate to 'polite society' suffer for it. He is in many ways a tortured artist, a character doomed by his intellect. What is truly fascinating about the film though, is the way the director gives us glimpses into how his mind works. His inner monologues, the flashes of the images that small clues conjure in his mind, even the predictions he makes of fights he is in the process of fighting show what it is like for Holmes to live in a world where his mind works so much faster than the world around him. The concept of genius is explored to a depth that I did not anticipate from what I assumed would be a popcorn action blockbuster. I was happy to learn that Robert Downey Jr. has turned down a role in the upcoming Cowboys and Aliens to take up the pipe and magnifying glass of the famed detective of Baker Street in a Sherlock Holmes sequel, now in production.

The movie is in many ways a buddy flick wrapped in Victorian intrigue and mystery. Watson, played by Jude Law, is the other half of this dynamic duo, and he certainly pulls his weight better than Robin (perhaps because he was allowed to wear pants). No mere sidekick, Watson is a field medic and war hero, with formidable deductive skills of his own. Perhaps his greatest asset, though, is his ability to keep the eccentric genius of his partner grounded in reality. Though he won't admit it, Holmes needs Watson, and much of the intrigue is built around this tension in the relationship, with Watson ready to move on to married life and Holmes working to keep his 'old chap' in his life.

The one disappointment I had with the cast was with Rachel McAdams, who played the obligatory femme fatale/lady criminal Irene Adler. Her performance seemed out of place, her delivery forced and almost anachronistic. It was as if the character wandered in off of Red Eye, got a change of wardrobe, and decided she was Victorian England's new Carmen Sandiego. Perhaps the flaw was that her character was supposed to be the only person to ever outsmart Sherlock Holmes, but either the actress or the role lacks that aura of genius that Downey lends the detective. The romance between the two therefore feels contrived and almost superfluous, as if the writers felt a bit of romantic tension was required in any blockbuster formula.

First Batman and Wolverine joined forces to give us the thoughtful Prestige, then Iron Man took off the suit for Sherlock Holmes. Superheroes seem to flourish in Victorian England. Whether you see it as a dumbed down mystery or a thinking man's action movie, I am very much enjoying the trend.

SPOILER: Just as Batman Begins ended with a tantalizing reference to the Dark Knight's most iconic foe, I look forward to seeing the alluded-to battle of the minds between Sherlock Holmes and his most brilliant nemesis in the next film.

Sherlock Holmes earns 4 out of 5 smoking pipes, having come out of nowhere to surprise me with how much fun it was to watch.

I was pleasantly surprised by the depth in Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps this is the beauty of low expectations because my surprise was anything but pleasant at Miguel Artets's Youth in Revolt. Michael Cera reprises his standard role as the awkward, pale teenager pining for a quirky, cute girl that's clearly out of his league. Don't get me wrong, I loved the character when I first saw him in Arrested Development, and he hadn't worn out his welcome in Juno, but by now its starting to wear a little thin. Its a lot of ennui coming from someone who skipped Superbad, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and Year One (more on the last later).

The movie's disappointment cannot be placed solely on Cera's skinny shoulders. The quirky animated montages and 'look how indie my soundtrack is' background noise lends a haze of pretentious arthouse smugness to a movie that is is essentially a shallow, cookie-cutter romantic comedy. The movie begins with an interesting premise. Cera notices that, while in movies the nice guy gets the girl, in real life, the opposite is usually the case, with jerks ending up with the pretty girls and nice guys left out in the cold. He formulates an alternate personality, a bad boy to let him test the theory while he attempts to woo the girl of his dreams. Here was a chance for Cera to show a bit of flexibility and finally play a character diametrically opposed to his normal type-cast. Instead, we got Cera and then evil Cera with a pencil-thin mustache, who is still adorable despite his cigarette and occasional f-bomb. Its no more believable than evi Spock with a goatee, and even then does not get enough screen time to really develop. Instead we're treated to a bevy of two-dimensional supporting characters such as Slutty Mom, Dead-beat Dad, Overly Religious Parents of Love Interest, Stoner Brother, and of course, Zany Neighbor (who is literally introduced as the zany neighbor in Cera's narrative).

SPOILER: Because this is a cookie cutter romance, Cera does end up getting the girl, but not without -GASP- messing up first and making her mad at him. Fortunately, his awkward, stumbling apology "I wrecked two cars, got you expelled and nearly killed, but I did it all for you, because I love you and want to be with you" earns him, not a restraining order, but the girl's unabashed love and his ultimate goal: underage sex, (remember the movie begins with him complaining about still having his virginity at the ripe old age of 16, not his desire to change his facebook status to "in a relationship").

Anyone who knows me has heard my rant on 'chick flicks' and the distorted messages it sends to impressionable young girls about romance (if not, that will be the subject of a future blog). In Youth in Revolt, I have found a movie that is guilty of confusing impressionable boys with more lies. It presents two options: The whiny, doormat "Nice Guy" who feels entitled to the love of the hottest girl he knows and somehow slighted when she doesn't return the affection, as if he earned it somehow by being 'nice'to her (read: doormat). Or, alternatively, you can be the self-important, douchebag jerk who is mean to girls, playing off their insecurities and daddy issues until they leap into bed with you. Abusive or doormat, those are your two options, and guess what, only one of them gets you laid. Thanks, Hollywood, but I'm going to wager there's a middle ground somewhere that leads to healthy relationships with girls that aren't so full of self-loathing that they think they deserve to date jerks.

Youth in Revolt earns a very generous 2 out of 5 wrecked cars, and spends up the last of my once limitless goodwill for George Michael of Arrested Development.

Finally, I began to watch "Year One", Jack Black and Michael Cera's buddy/road trip movie through the Old Testament. This was largely against my better judgment, but I had seen funny bits in the trailer (such as Michael Cera being passive aggressive about spilled berries and the subsequent lack of fruit salad so 'everyone loses'). I enjoyed Jack Black in School of Rock, and find his band Tenacious D a brilliant parody of the whole concept of "Rock and Roll" while at the same time managing to rock pretty hard even in its satire. Awkward, dry humor from Cera combined with the over-the-top antics of could it go wrong? Easily, as it turns out. The jokes were juvenile, stale, completely lowbrow, even for cavemen. Their journey through the Old Testament could have had plenty of funny things to parody, but they aimed for the lowest common denominator (lol! Sodom and Gommorah! This calls for a buttsex joke for sure!) I got to the point in the movie where Jack Black and Michael Cera (playing Jack Black the Caveman and Michael Cera the Caveman) were exiled from the tribe and forced to begin their epic journey. At that point, I could take no more. I cannot know for certain if the movie redeems itself after the 10 minute mark, but judging from its Rotten Tomatoes score of 15%, I'm thinking it probably doesn't..

Year One gets 1 out of 5 ...I don't know...dinosaur bones or something. I really don't care enough to pick a clever rating system for this one. Were there dinosaurs later in the movie? We'll go with that.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Before you tie the knot, untangle the Church and State

One of the blessings of living outside the country is that I'm largely insulated from the Gordian knot that is American politics. Unfortunately, my blissful ignorance is often ruptured by the various newsfeeds that Google and other internet companies like to helpfully spew at my unsuspecting eyeballs.

Anyone who had the misfortune of living in America during 2008 will remember the battle for Prop 8 in California, an epic struggle that seemed to consume our attention spans all over the country (see, its not just vapid and shallow Hollywood celebrities that can get us to pay attention to the Golden State). After the dust settled, Prop 8 had passed and a lot of angry fallout settled on the Mormon Church. This is not surprising, considering how sensitive an issue it is. I mean, its hard not to take it as a personal attack when someone is raising money to say your marriage isn't 'real'. Emotional responses are to be expected (and nothing says 'I'm angry' more than sending anthrax threats with white powder to Mormon Temples).

Now its 2010 and since California, more and more states have been quietly voting on the same issue, with much less fanfare. Google's newsfeed informed me that the gay marriage issue is now being brought before a federal court. Now it could be a result of living out of the country, but considering how much higher the stakes are here, I certainly am not hearing a big deal being made of this. Could it be that the media is more concerned with Nigerians lighting their underwear on fire in airplanes and where Tiger is sticking his Wood to cause a huge media circus? Even the plans to air the trial on Youtube were postponed.

Of course, in any issue where basic human rights are involved, there's going to be a lot of outcry when they are taken away. This raises a question that rarely gets brought up: Is a state-recognized marriage a basic human right? I do not recall much being written about life, liberty, and the pursuit of wedding bands. Civil rights are, as correctly recognized in the American founding, inalienable. They can neither be given by government, nor rightfully taken away. These rights are those which slaves, and all subjects of tyranny, were denied: free speech, the free exercise of religion, a free press, the right to peaceably assemble, the right to vote, to be free from unlawful intrusions of government on their persons or property, and the right to fair and equal treatment under the law in all other matters mentioned in the Constitution and its amendments.

Marriage is an institution, not a right. The distinction is important. What this debate is about is not a civil rights issue, but rather, the redefinition of an institution. And this is the great irony. This great quarrel is essentially an issue of semantics. It is the word 'marriage' that is the real point of contention.

Historically and culturally, marriage has fallen under the domain of religion. For many faiths, it is one of their sacraments. This is where the supporters of Prop 8 take umbrage with the state's redefinition. It is somewhat akin to the President telling the Pope that from now on the Communion must replace wafers with gummy bears. The government has no right to redefine a religious sacrament.

If marriage were only a matter of religious significance, the debate would not have even arisen. As the opponents of Prop 8 rightfully point out, married couples are given certain legal and economic privileges that unmarried couples do not get. Imagine for a moment that your partner has been injured in an accident and you are not allowed to see him or her in intensive care because only family members or spouses are allowed. Unfortunately, though you've been living in a monogonomous relationship for years, you don't qualify as either because you're both homosexual. You can see, then, the frustration.

Why do married couples receive such benefits from the state? From a real politik perspective, I'd venture a guess that the state is rewarding them for contributing to its future. By producing stable families, the state grows stronger, and thus incentives were put in place to reward what was the only institution designed to create stable families. The fact that this was a religious institution was irrelevant, it became a politically convenient way to reward couples who provided stable family environments (in theory). And so the religious institution and the government became intertwined until now it seems rather messy to untangle them.

As Alexander the Great knew, sometimes the easiest way to untangle a knot is to sever it completely. America could take a cue from France here (I had to bring up France at least once to justify blogging about it here). Sever the civil union from the marriage entirely. Gay or straight, let the government regulate all civil unions in a town hall or a courthouse, let the institution be stripped of any spiritual or supernatural connotations and kept strictly in the realm of legality and economics. This would result in legal equality, and leave the debate about marriage with the churches where it belongs. Whether or not God gives your union a thumbs up or thumbs down largely depends on which denomination you're asking, and since this only impacts the insubstantial metaphysics of eternity and not the rather concrete facts of mortality, the government really does not need to get mixed up in this. Let the people go to the flavor of church that matches their preference or none at all if they don't care. The all important legal and economic rights are granted by Uncle Sam, not Father Brown or Pastor Smith. Let us render unto Caesar the political and economic benefits of union (and the painful divorce paperwork that often follows). God can sort out the spiritual benefits without legislation.

Most opponents of the idea of 'gay marriage' are more concerned about the word 'marriage' than the idea of gay people living together. Take the word out of the equation, take the government out of the marrying business altogether, and we'll find a lot less to argue about. Maybe then we can get back to the important business that's monopolized my newsfeed, like security breaches, deaths in Afghanistan, and baseball legend Mark McGwire admitting to steroid use when he broke the homerun record in '98...

Weighty matters indeed, and only one of the three stories even made it onto my current news feed (Which one? The answer may surprise you...unless you guessed the trivial steroid story, because was totally that one.)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Back in Action

So I got bitten by the blogging bug again, reading other blogs and realizing that I too am a whore for attention.

It's been awhile since I last posted and a lot has happened.

I sang in a local choir for Christmas, though I only knew "Silent Night" of the repetoire. The other songs were all regional French songs that I had never heard before. It was interesting to say the least. After the show I met a very pleasant English couple who took pity on my relative poverty and invited me in out of the cold to feast on lamb and relate tales of adventure.

Christmas was going to be rather uneventful. My friend went to Paris with her friend and I was going to just hold down the fort here in Nerac. However, when one of my French friends from the states heard about my lack of plans, she had her parents invite me to stay with them in beautiful southwest France, where I ate like a king, learned a new French card game, and generally relaxed and made merry.

Now it is 2010 and the snow is falling again, making a general mess of the roads. Snow is a rare event here, and, like Northern Arkansas, they are ill-equipped to deal with it. Kind of feels like home.

I'd like to share some deep thoughts, but I really don't have any today. I have been steadily distracting myself with podcasts, ranging from the political to the educational to the merely entertaining. This has spared me the need to think about anything at all...a mind-numbing opiate that I can indulge in anywhere but the shower.

Still, it IS a New Year, and I have yet to think of any good resolutions. So far all I have is:

Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

Any suggestions to help me flesh out the list? What are you resolving this year?