Thursday, May 30, 2013

'I Hope He Hears the Call'

"Someone walks among us 
And I hope he hears the call 
And maybe it's a woman 
Or a black man after all 
Yeah maybe it's Obama 
But he thinks that he's too young "
-- Neil Young, "Lookin' for a Leader"

This morning in the car I listened to Neil Young's 2006 album Living with War. I hadn't listened to the entire album since 2006 when it was first released, though "Let's Impeach the President" turns up via iTunes shuffle from time to time. The more I thought about the lyrics, the more I thought about the time in which the album was released, the more I realized there are still themes from that album that apply today. Neil Young has always been a master, but this album is more than a musical triumph; it's anger on full display against a deceitful administration and a reminder that it wasn't just Bush that provoked the ire of the American people, but the people he (and now Obama) surrounded himself with.

Without going into my many frustrations and disappointments with the Obama administration on national security and foreign policy, I can point out how eery it is to listen to lyrics like "let's impeach the president for tapping our computers and telephones" at a time like this. We've come so far in many ways and moved not an inch in others. 

I was particularly struck by "Lookin' for a Leader" due in part to Neil Young's mention of Obama. Unfortunately, sometimes it still feels like we are looking for a leader. A leader who will shun the nonsense. A leader who will stand up to the opposing party and push for measures that aren't politically popular. Measures like gun reform and closing the military detention center at Guantanamo. We need a leader who doesn't attempt to compromise with an unmoving force. Yes, healthcare is a huge win for the American people. Yes, we've ended the war in Iraq. Yes, we're slowly bringing our troops homes from Afghanistan. Yes, there have been successes, but we aren't there yet. We aren't where we need to be as a nation. Not while we skirt the freedom of the press. Not while we continue to participate in drone strikes on terrorists, foreign as well as the four Americans we have killed. Not while we remain without a clear plan for a country like Syria where people are being killed every single minute of every single day. Not while we continue to play by the same rules for the War on Terror that were written by former administration. The former administration that Neil Young not so subtly refers to as "criminals" on his 2006 album. And certainly not while the current administration continues to surround itself with the people that participated, directly or not, with the policies of the previous administration.

I am not disillusioned enough to jump on the crazy train that many on the right have with President Obama and I'm not cynical enough to join the bandwagon of those on the far left. All I want is to a see a bit of daylight between the Bush and Obama administrations on matters that are so intertwined with American civil liberties. That is apparently too much to ask.

Leave it to a Canadian to make me think long and hard about leadership. If you haven't listened to Neil Young's Living with War, I cannot recommend it highly enough. And if you haven't listened to it in a few years, now would be a good time. If it doesn't make you reflect on the current state of our country, you probably think what Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs were singing was just music.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

'Wise Up Ghost'

It's official: The new collaboration between the great Elvis Costello and The Roots has a title and it will be Wise Up Ghost.

The title of the album to be released September 17th turned up in my inbox because of what Questlove had to say about it:
Roots drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, who produced along with Steven Mandel, said, "It's a moody, broody affair, cathartic rhythms and dissonant lullabies. I went stark and dark on the music, Elvis went HAM on some ole Ezra Pound s---."
I happen to have a Google News alert set up for all things Ezra Pound. Imagine my surprise when my Ezra Pound obsessing led to finding out the name of what will be a fabulous album. Come on, September!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Hitchcock: 'Hard Times for the Homophobic'

Editor's Note: The following piece was submitted by Leonard Hitchcock to the Idaho State Journal. It runs just as a nondiscrimination ordinance is being reconsidered by the Pocatello City Council. The piece appears here with his permission.


It is increasingly likely that the average American citizen is personally acquainted with someone whom he or she knows to be gay.  It is also increasingly a matter of general awareness that scientific research has established that being gay is the result of biological causes.  Admittedly, a complete and comprehensive biological explanation has not yet been achieved, but it is now widely accepted that two of the operative biological factors are a genetic component, and the chemical environment in the womb. It is becoming clear, as well, that a gay sexual orientation usually manifests itself in childhood.

These two advances in public knowledge have made things tough for anti-gay activists.  Arguments that used to be effective now seem not merely unpersuasive, but downright offensive.  The fulminations of ministers and priests depicting gay people as monsters of perversity, abhorred by God, detested by the righteous, and damned to eternal suffering, were far more plausible when most people thought homosexuals to be exotic and rare creatures, like witches or atheists, and weren’t aware that gay people were there, among them, as neighbors, co-workers and relatives, behaving like perfectly normal human beings. Once gay people began to stop concealing themselves, and the rest of us were allowed to know them as they are, those Biblical characterizations came to seem both unfair and absurd.

What science has revealed about homosexuality has confounded the church’s teachings.  If being gay is to be labeled a sin, it must involve the will; it must be chosen, just as adultery or lying or idolatry must be chosen.  But if it emerges through the operation of biological forces well before it makes sense to speak of “choosing,” then moral strictures do not apply.  Being gay is, instead, morally equivalent to being black or female.  Consequently, discrimination and moral condemnation are, for a majority of American citizens, no longer defensible.

How, then, do those who are determined to keep homophobia alive carry on their crusade?  For one thing, many of them now conceal their own religious convictions and are careful to refrain from publicly attributing to gays the sinfulness and personal guilt that they believe them to bear. Instead, they pretend to be concerned about other peoples’ religiously-based opinions of gays and the danger that those persons’ constitutional right to practice their faith will be interfered with by laws that protect gays from discrimination.  Alternatively, they profess concern about preserving peace in the community if those with such opinions are not appeased.

For some anti-gay religious sects, doctrinal change has accompanied the accumulation of scientific evidence and change in public attitude.  Rather than asserting that being gay is intrinsically sinful, some denominations now take the position that it is only acting gay that constitutes a violation of God’s law.  Which is to say, desiring to have sex with someone of the same sex is excusable, because it is biologically determined, but actually having sex with that person is immoral because it is a willed act, i.e. within one’s power to refrain from performing. 

The upshot of this humane and enlightened doctrine is that you may, if you are gay, be accepted as a member of the congregation, but only if you pledge to live a life of celibacy.  This raises the obvious question: Why does God, who is surely responsible for your biological nature, implant in you a powerful desire that He then forbids you to satisfy?  Is this consistent with His goodness and mercy? 
Another tactic of anti-gay activists, in response to the fact that the public no longer seems tolerant of outright condemnation of gay people as individuals, is to attack something called the “gay agenda.”  They present the gay agenda as something sinister, conspiratorial, and subversive:  Gays are plotting to undermine Christianity, to weaken the country’s moral fiber, to infiltrate liberal organizations and turn them to their own purposes, to seize political power and pass laws that give them free rein to parade their perverse “life style” publicly and without interference. 

So, do the gays have an agenda?  Of course they do, but it is neither hidden nor nefarious, and it is fundamentally the same agenda that all victims of systematic prejudice and discrimination have been forced to formulate and act upon.  Didn’t African-Americans have an agenda?  Women? Native Americans? Disabled people?  Did we find it suspicious that those groups had agendas?  If we did, it was not because there was something wrong with having an agenda; it was simply because we didn’t believe they deserved to enjoy the same civil and political rights as the rest of us.  And underneath the camouflage of arguments about “free exercise,” and keeping peace in the community, and sinister agendas, that is what anti-gay activists assert: gay people are morally unfit to be treated equally.

Friday, May 3, 2013

TDIH: The Medal of Honor

Kennedy greets Gino J. Merli
On May 2, 1963, President John F. Kennedy invited all the living recipients of the Medal of Honor to the White House. In 1963, there were 290 living members of that exclusive club and 240 of them attended the ceremony. At the time, there were a large numbers of veterans of both WWII and the Korean War as well as at least one living veteran of the Civil War. 464 men were awarded the Medal of Honor for combat during World War II alone. It was an impressive assemblage of American heroes. However, there were heroes missing that day, heroes who did not receive the recognition they deserved until much later.

In President Kennedy's address to those 240 recipients at the White House, he spoke of pride, pride in the men who have fought so bravely for their country. He went on to speak of the rarity of the honor:
"Not many Medals of Honor have been won, if any, in this country in this century. There are thousands of Americans who lie buried all around the globe who have been fighting for the independence of other countries and, in a larger sense, for the independence of their own [..] In honoring you, we honor all those who bear arms in the service of their country."
As Kennedy historians marked the fiftieth anniversary of that Medal of Honor ceremony, it would be remiss of me to not mention those who were missing from that distinguished group. Missing that day in the White House Rose Garden were members of the Japanese American 100th Infantry Battalion or 442nd Regimental Combat Team who had acted in heroic ways during World War II, but had not been recognized for their service, patriotism and heroism.

Kennedy congratulates Private Wilburn K. Ross
The 442nd Infantry Regiment was a fighting force made up of Japanese-Americans, many of them Nisei or second generation Americans often born to Japanese immigrant parents, that volunteered to fight during World War II while many of their families were interned in relocation camps across the United States. The 442nd fought primarily in the European theater. They remain the highest decorated regiment in the history of the United States Army. The 100th Infantry Battalion was also comprised of Nisei, many of them from Hawaii and part of the Hawaii Army National Guard. Like the 442nd, the 100th saw heavy combat during the latter days of World War II. In June of 1944, the 100th Infantry joined with the 442nd Regiment. The all-Nisei unit was given the name the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team under the 34th Division.

It would take thirty-seven years from when President Kennedy convened 240 Medal of Honor recipients that day in the Rose Garden in 1963 to when President Clinton would finally bestow the Medal of Honor on twenty-one members of the 100th Infantry Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Prior to the ceremony at the Clinton White House in 2000, only Sgt. Jose Calugas, of the Philippine Scouts, and Pfc. Sadao Munemori of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were awarded the Medal of Honor. It was a glaring oversight, driven by unfortunate institutional racism that had persisted since the order was signed by President Roosevelt to intern Americans of Japanese ancestry, and one that should not have taken fifty-five years since the end of World War II to reverse.

President Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor to Pvt. Mikio Hasemoto, Pvt. Joe Hayashi, Pvt. Shizuya Hayashi, Staff Sgt. Robert T. Kuroda, Pfc. Kaoru Moto, Pfc. Kiyoshi K. Muranaga, Pvt. Masato Nakae, Pvt. Shinyei Nakamine, Pfc. William K. Nakamura, Pfc. Joe M. Nishimoto, Staff Sgt. Allan M. Ohata, Pfc. Frank H. Ono, Staff Sgt. Kazuo Otani, Tech. Sgt. Ted T. Tanouye, and Capt. Francis B. Wai. Additionally, during Clinton's ceremony, he had the privilege of presenting the award in person to Rudolph B. Davila, Barney F. Hajiro, Shizuya Hayashi, Yeiki Kobashigawa, Yukio Okutsu, George T. Sakato and U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye.

Kennedy meets Daniel Inouye in 1962
President Kennedy had met Daniel Inouye, a member of the 442nd who lost his right arm in combat, as Inouye was beginning his campaign for the United States Senate. At the time, Inouye was a sitting member of the United States House of Representatives. Inouye's story was not unknown. His Medal of Honor citation, like the other members of the 442nd who received the medal, reads like a Hollywood movie script:
"Second Lieutenant Daniel K. Inouye distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 21 April 1945, in the vicinity of San Terenzo, Italy. While attacking a defended ridge guarding an important road junction, Second Lieutenant Inouye skillfully directed his platoon through a hail of automatic weapon and small arms fire, in a swift enveloping movement that resulted in the capture of an artillery and mortar post and brought his men to within 40 yards of the hostile force. Emplaced in bunkers and rock formations, the enemy halted the advance with crossfire from three machine guns. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Second Lieutenant Inouye crawled up the treacherous slope to within five yards of the nearest machine gun and hurled two grenades, destroying the emplacement. Before the enemy could retaliate, he stood up and neutralized a second machine gun nest. Although wounded by a sniper’s bullet, he continued to engage other hostile positions at close range until an exploding grenade shattered his right arm. Despite the intense pain, he refused evacuation and continued to direct his platoon until enemy resistance was broken and his men were again deployed in defensive positions. In the attack, 25 enemy soldiers were killed and eight others captured. By his gallant, aggressive tactics and by his indomitable leadership, Second Lieutenant Inouye enabled his platoon to advance through formidable resistance, and was instrumental in the capture of the ridge. Second Lieutenant Inouye’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army."
This man was serving in the United States Senate, the very Senate where Kennedy once served, as a ceremony was taking place at the White House to honor men of Inouye's caliber. Here was a man who enlisted in the 442nd as soon as the military lifted its ban on Japanese-American servicemen, lost his arm while in combat and never once directed anger or cynicism toward his county, but instead devoted his life to public service. This man embodied what the Medal of Honor represents. This man was as deserving of that award as any to which it had been presented. And yet he had to wait.

Obama and members of the 442nd in 2010

In addition to the Clinton White House ceremony in 2000, the 442nd Infantry Regiment, the 100th Infantry Battalion and Nisei who served in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010. What was widely celebrated in 1963 as a great feat by the Kennedy White House, bringing together 240 recipients of the Medal of Honor, seemed to come full circle finally with Clinton and Obama.

The finality of bestowing proper recognition on the Japanese-Americans who fought for this country during World War II was all the more important because of the time in which we live. Americans will witness, as we have twice already, the awarding of the Medal of Honor to soldiers who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. And those soldiers will not receive awards based on anything but their service and devotion to their country. Hopefully no generation, no regiment, no demographic will ever again be denied proper recognition like those brave men who fought with the 100th Infantry Battalion or the 442nd Infantry Regiment.

TGIF Tunes

Another great track from Marc Scibilia, "Something Good In This World," that I discovered thanks to Bones.