Welcome to PULSE. This space is devoted to an animated, ongoing discussion of contemporary politics, culture, and society. We are your hosts, Pacificus and Helvidius (for more on this obscure nineteenth-century reference, click here
). Pacificus hails from New York; Helvidius writes from across the Atlantic, in a certain cheese-loving French capital. In our postings, we will bring to your attention news items that are routinely overlooked by mainstream media outlets. We provide the incisive analysis and thoughtful insights; you provide the withering criticism and rigorous debate
. The end product will, we hope, be a lively exchange among readers and editors that is a tad serious, and a tad not. The PULSE page will be updated as often as practical.(January 4, 2004 - 4:55 AM PDT)QUOTE OF NOTE
“It shows how frantically the ruling class is rushing toward a revival of militarism.”A statement by the North Korean state radio agency, Korean Central Broadcasting, regarding Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine on New Year’s Day. The shrine serves as a memorial to Japan’s war dead, including convicted World War II war criminals. While Koizumi has stated that this was a personal visit, various governments in East Asia have objected to the visit on the basis that the shrine celebrates Japanese militarism.
—The PULSE staff(December 29, 2003 - 8:45 PM PDT)QUOTE OF NOTE
“It breaks my heart... I think the Episcopal Church is headed down the path to secular humanism."A statement by Shari de Silva, a neurologist from Fort Wayne, Indiana, commenting on the Episcopal Church’s decision earlier this year to ordain an openly gay bishop. The decision has resulted in controversy; some parishioners have left the Episcopal Church and converted to Roman Catholicism, while others have joined the Episcopal Church in support of its new policy.
—The PULSE staff(DECEMBER 27, 2003 - 10:14 AM EST)
As we all celebrate the holiday season with our friends and families, let's not forget the holiday news sent from out of this world. The European Space Agency continues to wait
for a signal from the Beagle 2, the British-made spacecraft meant to analyze the surface of planet Mars. Although the Beagle has yet to make contact with planet Earth, scientists from around the world continue to hope for a holiday gift
from outer space.
—Helvidius(DECEMBER 13, 2003 - 5:40 AM EST)
Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian lawyer and human rights activist who won this year's Nobel Peace Prize, gave a speech this week in which she criticized the Bush administration's foreign policy — more or less in its entirety. "Some states have violated the universal principles and laws of human rights by using the events of Sept. 11 and the war on terrorism as a pretext," she said. A adapted version of the speech was published inThe Globe and Mail
, a Canadian newspaper.
Here's one particular quote from Ebadi's essay that deserves re-reading:
I am a Muslim. In the Koran, the Prophet of Islam has said: "Thou shalt believe in thy faith and I in my religion." That same divine book sees the mission of all prophets as that of inviting all human beings to uphold justice. Since the advent of Islam, Iran's civilization and culture have become imbued and infused with humanitarianism, respect for the life, belief and faith of others, propagation of tolerance and avoidance of violence, bloodshed and war ... The discriminatory plight of women in Islamic states, whether in the sphere of civil law or in the realm of social, political and cultural justice, has its roots in the male-dominated culture prevailing in these societies, not in Islam.
Commentators like to blame Islam for creating suicide bombers, oppressing women — even, as bizarre as it might seem, encouraging pedophila
. As is the case for most religions, of course, Islam the faith is a lot different from Islam as the faithful practice it. After all, Christians found ways that the teachings of the great pacifist, Jesus Christ, could be used to justify burning alive thousands of Jews and Muslims during the Spanish Inquisition — it doesn't take many aspiring demagogues before a religion of peace starts spawning legions of hatemongers. Thankfully, questions are beginning to be raised these days about the un-peaceful practices of certain religious extremists (during the Cold War, the United States found it useful to ignore the Muslim ones
). Scholars are even questioning whether conventional translations of the Qur'an, Islam's holy book, are accurate about some rather important points — is it seventy-two "virgins" or seventy-two "fruits"
? (Not to be outdone, scholars of the New Testament are also raising some crucial questions
In spite of what the fundamentalists (of all faiths) might say, religion is a quite malleable thing — the devil, so to speak, is in the details, and who decides those details matters a great deal. The face that Islam will show in this new century will depend on which leaders take power in Muslim countries. Which brings me back to Shirin Ebadi. She is the kind of leader that Western countries should be encouraging — a Muslim feminist who implores other Muslims to remember their faith's humanitarian spirit, its vision of global unity that the Iranian poet Rumi once described in this way: "The sons of Adam are limbs of one another/Having been created of one essence." If Ebadi and other like-minded Muslims can gain power in their countries, they could do much more than the hordes of CIA agents and Special Forces commandoes embedded abroad presently seem capable of doing — that is, sweeping away the terrorist-inspiring hatred that has become America's bugbear ever since it clawed its way across the ocean on September 11. Even the more neoconservative figures in the Bush administration — Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for instance — are finally coming to the view that, in addition to dropping bombs, it might be a good idea to start peddling a "kinder and gentler" Islam abroad
The problem is, of course, that even liberal-minded Muslims like Ebadi are being alienated by the "shock and awe" foreign policy of the Bush administration. Ebadi asks: "Why is it that some decisions and resolutions of the UN Security Council are binding, while other council resolutions have no binding force? Why is it that in the past 35 years, dozens of UN resolutions concerning the occupation of the Palestinian territories by the state of Israel have not been implemented — yet, in the past 12 years, the state and people of Iraq were twice subjected to attack, military assault, economic sanctions, and, ultimately, military occupation?"
These are troubling questions — for the extremists, without question, but also for those Muslims who want to see an end to the fanaticism. If the United States truly wants to stop terrorism, it needs people like Ebadi on its side. But as long as the Bush administration stubbornly clings to its current policy of hyper-aggressive unilateralism — a policy that has created only more enemies in the Muslim world
— liberal Muslims will have a hard time convincing anyone in their countries to listen to them. And that does not bode well for the sanctity of Islam, nor for the security of Americans.
—Victor Tan Chen(DECEMBER 5, 2003 - 1:15 AM PDT)QUOTE OF NOTE
"I will never use the word 'gay' in school again." — The statement which second-grader Marcus McLaurin was forced to repeatedly write after he informed a fellow student that his mother was gay. McLaurin explained that his mother was gay when another child asked him about his mother and father.
—The PULSE staff(November 27, 2003 — 10:08 AM PDT)
The possibilities of integrating Internet capabilities with democratic rule are virtually limitless, yet are the risks to our system of government just too high to allow for a transformation to a world of e-governance
? Keith Culver offers an intriguing new look at the future
of e-democracy, analyzing the lessons from a recent Canadian experiment in e-participation in democratic decision making. Although many herald the democratization of information made available via the Internet, the Web may also pose serious risks to the ideals of democracy
as we know it. Whether integrating government with the technological capabilities of the Internet would result in e-democracy or e-dictatorship is still up in the air.
—Helvidius(November 14, 2003 — 6:38 PM PDT)
“Bravehearts: Men in Skirts,” an exhibition sponsored by Gaultier at the Metropolitan Museum, has been greeted by very positive reviews
in all the right publications
. The show features male fashions without pants, from kilts to sarongs. Your own Pacificus had a chance to go. From the title, which has all the charm and cleverness of a sophomore women’s studies paper, to the jargon-laden placards, this exhibit shows the smugness and lowered standards that accompany anything with even a hint of avant-garde genderbabble. The pieces, all but a few of which are recent designs by the sponsor, are twice written up in the exhibit itself as “flaunting convention.” Such a statement is true only because the facile, liberal-robot underpinnings of the show are so visible.
—Pacificus(NOVEMBER 17, 2003 - 12:30 AM PDT)QUOTE OF NOTE
"Where are you from? ... What country in China?"—A racially charged statement attributed to Mets special assistant Bill Singer. Singer made the comment last week to Dodgers assistant general manager Kim Ng. Ng, an Asian American woman, was deemed the thirty-eighth most influential minority member in sports by
Sports Illustrated in May 2003.
—The PULSE staff(November 14, 2003 — 6:38 PM PDT)
It seems that despite the repeated rhetoric of bringing democratic values to Iraq, the Bush administration has strangled efforts to develop a free press in occupied Iraq. The New York Oberserver reports
that the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), led by the United States, has severely limited journalists' access to news stories throughout Iraq, largely in order to ensure that news coverage from the beseiged country will make the coalition's position a bit sunnier. Access to morgues, police stations, schools, and hospitals have virtually been blocked off by CPA authorities. When journalists are given reasonable access to Iraqi facilities a CPA "minder" tends to follow. Despite the Bush administration's contention that America is the democratic liberator of the Iraqi people, these limitations on freedom of the press appear not so very different from the draconian measures reminiscent of the days of Saddam.
—Helvidius(November 11, 2003 — 12:35 AM PDT)
Several priceless archaeological treasures were rescued
on Thursday from a cesspool in Baghdad. That they were dumped in a swamp at all should remind everyone of the Bush administration’s total lack of concern for the archaeological heritage of Iraq. Bush’s mistake is an economic one, because the tourist draw these artifacts could create in times of peace is substantial. Once destroyed, such an economic resource can never be replaced.
—Pacificus(November 10, 2003 - 2:15 PM PDT)QUOTE OF NOTE
"They that live in sin shall die in sin."—A controversial statement attributed to Ronald Reagan, concerning his view of the AIDS epidemic. It appeared in the mini-series "The Reagans," which presented a fictionalized biographical account of the former president's life. Screenwriter Elizabeth Egloff has said that she invented the statement. CBS canceled the mini-series last week, saying it was not a "balanced portrayal of the Reagans."
—The PULSE staff(November 7, 2003 — 2:55 PM PDT)
The continuing saga of Jessica Lynch, the Army private who was heroically rescued from a hospital in Baghdad on April 1, 2003, took an alarming turn
yesterday, when she revealed that the military has manipulated her story for political gain. During an interview with Diane Sawyer, Lynch said she was bothered by the military's portrayal
of her ordeal, saying "they used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff." If true, the military's flagrant misuse of the Lynch story for the purpose of domestic pro-war propaganda is abominable, yet it is nonetheless expected. By propagandizing the truth behind the Lynch tragedy into a Hollywood search and rescue thriller, the military not only hurts the victim but avoids admitting to the realities and horrors of war.
—Helvidius(October 30, 2003 — 4:43 PM PDT)
Opinions around the world are mixed as Dr. Mahathir Mohamad leaves the premiership of Malaysia after twenty-two years in office
. Mahathir, lauded by some for setting Malaysia on the path towards sustainable economic development, is perhaps best known for his fiery tongue and unabashed anti-Western commentary. The latest Mahathir diatribe, delivered at the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit and rebuked by dignitaries around the world, argued that Jews
"rule this world by proxy." The festivities surrounding Mahathir's last day in office today were unusually subdued — the
outgoing Prime Minister urged
the Malaysian people to be "diligent, disciplined, in control of their feelings and prepared to face challenges and overcome obstructions." For both those who love him or hate him, there's no denying that "Dr. M" will be a tough act to follow.
—Helvidius(October 28, 2003 — 8:29 AM PDT)
Yesterday's tragic attack
on the Red Cross' Baghdad headquarters will likely be written off
in Western media circles as yet another act of cowardice on the part of fundamentalist terrorist groups, this time against an international relief organization that only wishes to help the Iraqi people. Yet this newest bombing against humanitarian interests shows the lingering difficulties Iraqis have in distinguishing the occupying military force from Western non-governmental groups whose only aim, the Iraqis are told, is to help reduce the terrible suffering of the Iraqi people. The overarching reason for this continued misunderstanding is the flawed rhetoric of the occupying force, which continues to claim that the American military force on the ground is itself an international humanitarian relief effort. Is it any wonder that Iraqis, embittered by the stifling presence of an occupying force, strike international aid agencies with the same ferocity as they attack the military forces on the ground? One can only hope that these humanitarian groups will remain on the ground in Iraq, and continue their priceless work in ameliorating the dangerous situation in Iraq.