The shirtless young anti-war protester in this photo is Frank C. Plada. He later died in Vietnam.
Category Archives: Current Affairs
Just as the after-effects from the arrest of George Zimmerman for the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida began to die down, America has once again been hit with an uncomfortable reminder of the delicate state of its relationship with its dark-skinned communities.
On Sunday morning, a policeman in Oakland chased 18 year-old high school senior Alan Blueford and shot him three times (also managing to shoot himself in the foot once) as Blueford ran away from him. Blueford died as a result of his injuries. Blueford and two friends were standing outside waiting for some young lady friends to come and pick them up. According to Oakland police, two of their officers “believed one of them were carrying a hidden gun.” How they managed to deduce this from looks alone was not clarified, nor was it explained why this might be an issue in a country which thinks that carrying killing machines is a fundamental civil right.
Police say the young men ran. In light of what happened next, nobody could blame them. An officer followed Blueford for two block before recklessly firing at him. This is, by the way, against the law on a federal level in the US: in Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985), the Supreme Court specifically outlawed police shooting at fleeing suspects without probable cause. Nonetheless, the officer has been given a free holiday (“paid administrative leave”) for his troubles.
It is clear that Blueford was in possession of a gun at the time. Police claim he pointed it at them. However, it’s not clear when he might have had time to do this if he ran away from them immediately. The weapon found by his body was never fired.
Police detained his innocent friends for 6 hours and ignored protocol by neglecting to contact Blueford’s parents informing them of the death of their son, even though they had identified him. Instead, one of Blueford’s friends had to call them after he was released.
A summary execution such as this one shows just why a black American might have trouble trusting any police force. All of the officers involved were white. Their identities are being kept secret.
This case, along with Trayvon Martin’s killing, indicates the extent to which racial profiling has a detrimental effect on American citizens’ abilities to live harmoniously with one another. It also shows that the problem is not about to go away and illustrates just how disenfranchised black and coloured communities are within the States and how unfairly they are treated by the media, by law enforcement agencies and (as a result) by society in general.
This would not be as important an issue if so many white Americans weren’t convinced that racial discrimination is a thing of the past now that they have appointed a black president.
As Shani Hilton writes:
In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death, we’ve seen a lot of discussion of the larger societal issues that play into how and when people are perceived as criminals. There were hoodies, there were marches, and there were frank talks from parent to child about how to minimize the danger of being a young person of color. On the other side, there were justifications of George Zimmerman’s actions: a smear campaign against Martin’s character, and plenty of writers explaining that statistically, blacks are simply more dangerous to be around.
That framing ignores the realities behind the numbers.
Below is an infographic explaining how five popular presumptions regarding the relationship between race and crime are, in fact, not only false but very false.
It is relevant because, much though Europeans like to think of themselves as better, more equal and more liberal than America, our racial situation is only slightly less horrendous.
This week, the Catholic Church once again made headlines for its antediluvian rhetoric when it publicly reprimanded America’s largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns for promoting what it called: “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”
Putting aside the eyebrow-raising assertion here that the Church sees itself as incompatible with the equality of women, let us take a look at what exactly the group (the Leadership Conference of Women Religious) was promoting. This from Reuters: “the Vatican reprimanded [the LCWR] for spending too much time on poverty and social justice concerns and not enough on abortion and gay marriage.” Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby founded by sisters, said that she was stunned. “I would imagine that it was our health care letter that made them mad,” Sister Campbell said. “We haven’t violated any teaching, we have just been raising questions and interpreting politics.” To remind any readers who are a little rusty on their Gospel, Jesus spent his life talking about poverty, social justice and our duty to the poor, as exemplified in this passage:
“21Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. 22And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.” – Mark 10:21-22.
Meanwhile, regarding the issues of abortion and gay marriage, so much more fascinating to the Vatican than boring old poor people, Jesus said: nothing.
The Church has announced that it is appointing Archbishop J. Peter Sartain as delegate to ‘oversee reform initiatives’ in the LCWR. In other words, a man is being sent to rein the crazy women in.
This incident, on the greater scheme of things, is unimportant. There have and will continue to be many like it and nobody is too surprised that the Catholic Church appears to be out of touch. However, it is an exemplary portrayal of a Church which most Irish people (especially younger generations) feel no longer represents their beliefs. Indeed, a Church which, they feel, has abandoned them completely.
Concurrently, statistics are telling us that Irish people are moving further and further towards a secular consensus. More than eight in every ten Irish people want the church and state to be totally separate, 65% strongly agree that this should happen, and less than three in ten have quite a lot or a great deal of confidence in religious groups.
Nevertheless, this is not to say that Irish Christians have stopped believing. The results of Ireland’s 2011 census showed that 90.5% percent of people still identify as Christian, the vast majority being Catholic. While observers and pundits in other parts of the Western World proclaim a kind of Great Atheist Arrival, where atheism has become almost completely ordinary in the mainstream, I do not believe this is the case in Ireland. I think many young Irish people want to be Christian, they want to believe in God, in a higher power and in system of life based on faith in a divine creator.
Whether this desire is instinctive or socialised, it is nonetheless there. I know very few Irish people of my generation, or any other generation, who describe themselves as atheist. In some cases, they will call themselves agnostic. The vast majority will describe themselves jokingly as ‘lapsed Catholics’ or as ‘dirty Prods’. That is still an identification with a system of belief. My contemporaries still believe in God.
The long-running weekly hour-long radio program This American Life, produced by WBEZ in Chicago and hosted by Ira Glass, is broadcast across America by Public Radio International. Primarily a journalistic non-fiction program, it has also featured essays, memoirs, field recordings, short fiction, and found footage. Basically, for an hour every week, it gives America a compressed version of BBC Radio 4.
Last year, it invited the author and columnist Dan Savage (founder of the It Gets Better campaign) to speak about his relationship with Catholicism, one which had lain dormant for years until it was resurrected by the death of his mother from cancer. It is both hilarious and upsetting. It is as close a description of my generation’s feelings towards religion as I could think of. A deep, strong desire to be part of a greater, familiar community of belief. An inability to reconcile that desire with a Church that says condoms spread AIDS and protects rapist priests.
Trayvon Martin was a black teenager who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a white man (Jewish father, Peruvian mother) in Florida on the 26th of February. Martin, who was unarmed, had been walking to his father’s girlfriend’s home from a convenience store when Zimmerman called 911 and followed Martin after witnessing what he described as “suspicious” behaviour. Soon afterward, he fatally shot Martin during an altercation between the two. Zimmerman had called 911 over forty times in the previous 12 months. Martin, it transpired, was carrying nothing on him other than a bag of Skittles and a bottle of Ice Tea. Zimmerman told police he shot in self-defence (legal in Florida, even if your attacker is an unarmed seventeen year-old) and was not arrested. The public backlash has been immense.
This week, America’s west coast experienced two major developments in the ongoing fight for same-sex marriage. In Olympia yesterday, lawmakers voted to make Washington the seventh state to allow gay marriage, with the governor likely to sign the bill into law at some stage next week.
In California on Tuesday, a federal court ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional thus effectively paving the way for the gay marriage case to move to the Supreme Court.
Ted Olson and David Boies are the two plaintiffs attorneys who fought in the case Perry v Schwarzenegger. Although now firm friends, the ultra-conservative Olson and the liberal Boies were once famous opponents in the legal battle to decide whether Al Gore or George W. Bush would become the next President of the United States in 2000. The two became friends after Olson’s wife Barbara was killed on Flight 77 which crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11.
When they teamed up to defend the right for homosexuals to marry in 2009, they set tongues wagging on both sides of the political spectrum. Since then, they have both been named in the Time’s 100 Greatest Thinkers list for their work on the landmark case and in 2011, they were awarded the American Bar Association’s highest honour: the ABA Medal.
All said and done, the story is surefire Hollywood material, courage of conviction in the face of adversity mixed with setting aside political differences for the greater good. As well as this, it is a fantastic study in exactly why there’s little better than good law.
In this extract from a Fox News interview, Olsen calmly and thoughtfully takes apart all arguments thrown at him by a partisan conservative anchor who himself concludes at the end of the interview that he doesn’t see how Olsen could ever lose a case.
Coming soon to a cinema near you? I know I’d watch it.
Had you ever heard of the documentary Miss Representation? I hadn’t. And yet, it seems to encapsulate in one fell swoop almost all of the social concerns I have for the next century. The American documentary, premiered in 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival, explores how (American) mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in influential positions by circulating limited and often disparaging portrayals of females. For a prime (and frankly, shocking) example, pay close attention to the video below around the 2.45 mark.
Although the film is indeed very America-centric, this is still relevant to us across the Atlantic, given how much of the pop culture media we consume is American. Some of the statistics are quite stunning – America is actually regressing in its journey towards gender equality. This comes as less of a surprise once we consider such TV programmes as ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians‘, ‘Gossip Girl‘ and the late ‘The Hills‘. America is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an anomaly – there are only two countries with 50% or more women in parliament – Andorra and Rwanda. After that, the numbers fall dramatically.
Although we studied it at university, I have yet to see such a compelling distress signal regarding the deeply harmful effects that the misogynistic portrayal of women in the media might have on society as this film. Western nations love to pat themselves on the back for treating women equally, quick to compare themselves favourably against such backward nations as Iran where women are subjugated by the rules of Sharia law. However, the case against the Western (or at least, the American) media is strong and as the movie points out, it is only growing stronger,
It is my wont to swiftly draw comparisons between America and Europe. On Sunday the 15th of January, French journalist Anne-Sophie Lapix welcomed the far-right leader of the Front Nationale party Marine Le Pen onto her Sunday night current affairs show Dimanche +. In the space of about ten minutes, Lapix, probably as well-known for her looks than her journalism up to that point, calmly and efficiently destroyed Le Pen’s economic policies in a battle of the titans that is now all over the French press. If for no other reason, and even though the entire conversation is in French, it is worth a watch just for the pure spectacle – the meaning of what they are saying can probably be inferred simply through their body language.
What I found interesting about the segment was the way in which these women were being portrayed. Sophisticated, intelligent, and calm – they seemed to embody the exact opposite of the stereotypes referred to in ‘Miss Representation‘ of women as hysterical bimbos probably suffering from PMS. The more disappointing facet to this is the fact that France isn’t even a bastion of gender equality (although progress is slowly being made). I can’t even grin smugly and say ‘at least somebody’s doing it right – vive la différence!’.
How are we ever expected to achieve the dream of universal equality when we so readily ignore this derogatory treatment of women in a media we consume so voraciously? What does it say about our progress or indeed even our desire for progress? As the older brother of an eighteen year-old girl, the statistics and the evidence are hardly comforting. I don’t know what she wants to do with her life, I’m sure she doesn’t either, not just yet. No doubt her plans are ambitious. Looking at the trailer for this movie really makes me wonder what I’m supposed to say to her, other than ‘well, do your best’.