Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Perspetive on Islam and the United-States.

By Mark A. Schmidt.

Eating a burger with a conscience at IN-N-OUT.

Whenever I come to California, I make sure I always have a bite at an IN-N-OUT, definitely the best hamburger restaurant on the planet.

It has become an institution here in the Golden State since the first restaurant opened in 1948 and there are good reasons why that is.

Not only do they use natural, fresh ingredient, but they also have a great employee policy, so you can eat a burger and have a good (social) conscience.

The other day, I went to the IN-IN-OUT on Sunset Blvd (between La Brea and N Highland)....

... and I talked to the manager for a little while. A very nice guy. He has been working with them more than 20 years and one of his employees has been there 18 years. Not something you see in any other fast-food chain.

The meat is fresh, not frozen, and you can see the potatoes they use for the fries in the back kitchen. It is actually one of the only positive mentions in Fast Food Nation - a fascinating book on an investigation of the fast food industry that everyone should read -

The manager there also told me that it is difficult for IN-N-OUT to expand out east because it takes a lot of logistic to get the right fresh meat.

What I did not know though was that it is still a family business - owned by the grandchild of the founder. The manager there told me that they have a great employee policy, and indeed, unlike other fast food chains, they pay their employees significantly more than state and federally-mandated minimum wage. They also have all sort of positive incentives for their best employees - the guy told me he made a few trips to Europe thank to the company.

The other good thing is that their menu is very simple: three burger varieties: hamburger, cheeseburger, and "Double-Double" (or 2X2) - with or without onions and french fries.
But then, there's also their "secret menu" - the stuff that is not on the menu but that you can still order. I was told about it a few years back by friends here in CA, and it is fun because it makes you feel really special, like you're a local or something, which is always good when you're not.

NOTE: One thing I had never noticed before is that they also have discreet bible references at the bottom of their paper utensils, written in very small prints.

Times and Languages

This is what Benjamin Franklin wrote on the French and English languages more than 200 years ago :
French seems in point of universality to have supplied its [Latin’s] place.
This gives a considerable advantage to that nation. It enables its authors to inculcate and spread throughout nations such opinions and sentiments , as are more conducive to its interests or may contribute to its reputation by promoting the common interest of mankind.
Our English [language] bids fair to obtain the second place.
And if we were to endeavour the facilitation its progress, the study of our tongue might become much more general.
Letter by Benjamin Franklin to Noah Webster: on The English Language - Universality of the French language, 26 December 1789. (in The Works of Benjamin Franklin)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Today's Civil Right Issue.

Yesterday, the guest on Larry King Live (which I usually don't like) was American comedian Kathy Griffin. She was on the show not for her Emmy Awards controversial speech but for her activism in favor of gay rights - what is often called LGBT here in America (standing for Lesbian Gay Bisexual people).
The topic was Prop 8 - a very much discussed topic here in California. For those who may notknow, Prop 8 is a ballot proposition that would restrict marriage only to a man and a woman in the state of California and a majority of Californian voters (52%) agreed with the proposition, but it was recently struck down by a Federal court on the basis that it was discriminatory. The decision has been appealed and gay marriages have not resumed.

Griffin is not necessarily my cup of tea - she is too much out there, although she has the right personality for TV, but I liked that she said that the issue is not a gay issue but a civil rights issue. And when Larry King asked her about "Civil Unions" she rightfully said that for one thing, civil unions do not guarantee the same rights.
I think the legal issue is the most important one. Clearly history shows that the right things are not always the popular things.

That being said, a recent CNN poll suggests that more Americans are in favor of gay marriage :

This is only one poll, but what is even more interesting - and I believe very telling is the generation gap :
Nearly 60% Americans under the age of 50 say gay rights are protected under the Constitution. Only 38% of Americans over the age of 50 say the same thing.
And as can be expected the split is pretty clear between Democrats and Republican but this is one of the few instances when independents side with Democrats :
56 % of Democrats and 57 % of Independents think the Constitution conveys the right to marry to same-sex couples. Only a quarter of all Republicans agree.

These are interesting figures because they show that society is changing and is becoming more tolerant. But then again, rights take precedence over popularity - which is why it is actually very sad so see so many African Americans against gay marriage.
One argument I often hear from people opposing gay marriage is that "marriage" has always been with a man and a women. Well, yes, but it was also only between people of the same color for almost 200 years - in part of the country at least. Things change and as long as it goes towards more rights for individual, and that those changes do not take anyone's freedom away, change is good.

What I do not understand is why people are so worked up about it - giving more rights to people does not take away the rights from others.
Of course, a lot of the opponents are opposed on religious grounds - it turns out the Mormons had a big influence in the Prop8 campaign - but marriage does not have to be religious. And when people come up with the argument of the "sacredness of marriage," one can just point out the divorce rate or even better, the quick cheap weddings performed in Vegas. (Watch The Hangover, if you want to see why that's actually laughing matter!). Who are we kidding here?
Unfortunately, if the case goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Prop8 will be be upheld - most justices are conservative ... and old, and very unlikely to see it as a right. But it wouldn't be the first time that a Supreme Court would be on the wrong side of history!

It make take some time, but it'll happen and it is now just a matter of what side of history you want to be on.

In France :
Interestingly, polls in France show an even greater majority in favor of same-sex marriage and a slight majority of people in favor of gays adopting kids, but even though France has civil unions for people of the same sex, marriage is still illegal.

In Europe:
But that is bound to change fairly soon. Many countries in Europe already have it: the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Portugal and Iceland.

And people are ready for it :
A poll conducted by EOS Gallup Europe in 2003 found that 57 percent of the population in the then 15-member European Union support same-sex marriage. (Wiki)

Laws regarding same-sex partnerships in Europe Same-sex marriage Other type of partnership Unregistered cohabitation Issue under political consideration Unrecognized Constitution limits marriage to man–woman

Friday, August 20, 2010

How Many Morons are there exactly?

In case you're not convinced of how stupid people can be, (and how those are more easily found among Republicans) here are some rather telling figures for you :
- More than a third of conservative Republicans now say Obama is a Muslim, nearly double the percentage saying so early last year.

- Independents, too, are now more apt to see the president as a Muslim: Among independents, 18 percent say he is a Muslim, up eight percentage points.

- The number of people who now correctly identify Obama as a Christian has dropped to 34 percent, down from nearly half when he took office.

- Among those who say Obama is a Muslim, 60 percent say they learned about his religion from the media, suggesting that their opinions are fueled by misinformation.

But the shifting attitudes about the president's religious beliefs could also be the result of a public growing less enamored of him and increasingly attracted to labels they perceive as negative.
In other words, the less they like him, the more it means he's got to be a Muslim!

But I suppose that this must be put into perspective, since 21% of Americans also believe in witches.
And, 73% of Americans believe in at least one of the 10 items listed above, while 27% believe in none of them. (Thinkprogress)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Time: Is America Islamophobic?

Well, I do not seem to be the only one who has this concern, if it makes the cover of Time Magazine. Hell of a good question!

American Islamophobia bending the Constitution.

Whenever I come to the U.S. in the summer, it seems there is some collective hysteria or another - last year it was the health reform and "the government pulling the plug on grandma" (and Obama comparison with Hitler in insane town hall meeting)
This year, it is "the building of a Mosque on Ground Zero" or rather the building of a religious community center in downtown Manhattan, a few blocks from Ground Zero.
This has led to the most unbelievable islamophobic rhetoric I have ever heard in this nation.

Because this country was founded by people fleeing religious persecution (Oh, the irony!) freedom of religion is guaranteed by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. So it has been fascinating to see how the fear-monger right-wing politicians and media pundits have been able to argue around it. Essentially, it goes something like this: it is not about whether Muslims have the right to build a mosque but whether they should :
Jon Boehnet House Minority Leader "The fact that someone has the right to do something doesn't make it necessarily right to do so" (LATimes)
Sarah Palin "We all know they have the right to do it, but should they?"
In other words, they agree with the principle but not with the practice, which makes the principle totally irrelevant.

This of course comes in the context of the mid-term elections coming up and has been a great opportunity for GOP leaders to use more of the politics of fear to win votes. (that along fears that the country was being swamped by a tide of illegal immigrants, etc...). What has been really creepy is to see that this particularly case has allowed people to raise questions about Islam itself without knowing anything about it. This is not just about fear, it is about ignorance and laziness - a lot of Americans do not know anything bout Islam and are not in the least bit interested.
They equal Islam with radicalism and even terrorism and that's that. Who cares if most of the victims of radical Islams - including terrorism - are Muslims themselves. (As a republican friend told me recently, they should just police themselves - whatever that means)

In a few conversations I have had with Republican friends in Orange county (CA), I have been just baffled by the extremism of their rhetoric - if you listened to them, we should really start seriously considering a 10th Crusade! (although they mentioned the 6th crusade without knowing that one already took place!). It makes you wonder if Samuel Huntington was onto something with his Clash of Civilization after all. But now what? Go to war with 1.5 billion people?

Unfortunately, this nonsensical reasoning has not been limited to the far-right wing nuts. Here's what Harry Reid the House majority leader said on this"The First Amendment protects freedom of religion. Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built some place else" (LA Times)
As always, it seems the Democrats are pretty much shitting in their pants (Excuse my French!) and show no political backbone.

This has gone so bad that for the president to reaffirm the fist Amendment has become a "political liability" and the media ponder over he may be politically hurt by his stance. (which makes you think that G.W. Bush's statement "Islam is a religion of peace" would be really radical today) .

The greatest disappointment is certainly the Anti-Defamation League which has used a similar (crooked) line of thought:
"ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain — unnecessarily — and that is not right." (Boston Globe)
A few hopeful notes though:
  • NY Mayor Bloomberg has shown some very impressive courage in the face of criticism from his own political allies (and even hateful mail). (This NYTimes article has a very good analysis as to why).
Of course, his view is completely in line with a laissez-faire principles of old Republican ideaology - which the new right seems to have conveniently forgotten :
“If somebody wants to build a mosque in a place where it’s zoned for it and they can raise the money, then they can do that,” he said. “And it’s not the government’s business.”
Another note of hope is that a lot of the families of the victims of 911 have shown support for the religious center. (NYTimes)
It does make sense for them to support this project - as Bloomberg nicely put it in his speech - (notwithstanding the fact that many Muslims died on 911).
We do not honor their lives by denying the very Constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights — and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.”
And of course, there is Jon Stewart - phew!

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NOTE: Interestingly Thomas Jefferson explicitly included Islam in his defense for religious freedom in America mentioned Muslims (whom he called Mahometans) when writing about the movement for religious freedom in Virginia.
In his autobiography Jefferson wrote "[When] the [Virginia] bill for establishing religious freedom... was finally passed,... a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word 'Jesus Christ,' so that it should read 'a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.' The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan , the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination. (Source)

Resuming activity on this blog.

Sorry to my readers for this long silent due to family matters and a long needed vacation. Activity on this blog will resume shortly.