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October 8, 2009

Please don’t honor me with a cross

In the early 1980s, I was teaching philosophy at Stockton State College. At one point, I said something like, “OK, guys, let’s get started — and I mean ‘guys’ in the generic sense.” Afterwards, a couple of the young women in the class came up to me and said, “You can’t get out of being sexist by saying you don’t mean what you said.”

“‘Guys’ stands for everyone,” I said, thinking that my embedded apology had been rather enlightened of me.

“Then next time try saying ‘OK, gals, let’s get started.'”

Got it.

Justice Scalia says of a cross on public land* honoring U.S. war dead: “It’s erected as a war memorial. I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead … What would you have them erect?…Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Muslim half moon and star?”

He’s right that it’s intended to honor all the war dead. The problem is the assumption that you honor all war dead by putting up the religious symbols honored by some.

Scalia should talk with the young women who set me straight 25 years ago.

NOTE: I posted this at Huffington Post where the comments are, um, interesting.


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*The case seems to be turning on whether the land was made private simply to skirt the problem with erecting religious symbols on public land.

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September 10, 2009

Fear of leadership, fear of government

This morning on NPR, Mara Liasson wrapped up her coverage of President Obama’s health care speech by saying something like: It’s unsure whether the speech will have the effect Obama wants, but if it does, it won’t be because of its soaring rhetoric but because of the details he gave.

Are you sure, Mora? Are you sure that being inspired has no effect on political decisions? Is that why you dismissed the importance of public speech, of words, of vision? Was that a fact-based observation? Or was it perhaps because you feel you have to deny that you personally were so excited by President Obama’s speech that you felt that old thrill going up your leg, and that when he read from Ted Kennedy’s letter you teared up? Just like so many of us? Just like me? In any case, I thought it was a shame to end coverage of a beautiful, inspiring, moving speech with an explicit denial of the importance of what made it not just important, but great.

Next up on NPR’s coverage was a report on the Supreme Court deliberations about exactly how obscenely corporations can pollute our democracy — merely pornographically or the full auto-erotic asphyxiation stranglehold — in which we heard the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court casually say “Are we being asked to allow the government — Big Brother — to…” The quote is approximate, but not the apposite reference to government as Big Brother. Does Justice Roberts really think the government when it regulates behavior is necessarily totalitarian? Yikes.

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