Monday, October 22, 2007

And so Dumbledore is gay. Fabulous!

OK, but seriously, is it really that big a deal?

Well, yes, it is. And what has surprised me (although it really shouldn't), is how many people are actually angry about this newly disclosed aspect of a popular fictional character. Check out the comments on so many of them express dismay at Dumbledore's outing by author J.K. Rowling. Why did sexuality even need to be an issue?

If you have not read the books and wish to, then READ NO FURTHER, because it is not possible for me to comment on the plot points and characterizations without revealing important details from any one of the seven novels.


The overriding theme woven throughout all seven novels is the power of love. Harry's life was saved time and again because of the different manifestations of love: his mother's love for him, Snape's love for Harry's mother, Harry's love for his school, etc. But what about sexuality? How does sex play a part in the Harry Potter stories?

A year before The Order of the Phoenix came out, I remarked (half-jokingly) to those who were fans of the first four books that the maturation of the themes and writing of the books reflected the maturation that a teenage boy goes through, and that it was just a matter of time before Harry got laid. I didn't expect J.K. Rowling to have the courage to write something like that, but I really felt it would have been a fantastic representation of adolescent life. Harry was capable of anger and vengeance; it was just a matter of time before other hormones started interfering with his logic centers.

And so it happened: Harry found love and desire from Ginny in the last novel. Had Harry and Ginny not been interrupted, they would have had sex. I was thankful to Rowling for writing that scene because it showed that she took teenagers seriously. Too often have teens in novels, films, and television been sterilized to fit an unrealistic mold. These characters reflected natural feelings in a supernatural world.

And then we realize that throughout the novels, all issues that give us pain through life were touched upon: the loss of parents, death of loved ones, teenage heartbreak, dropping out of school, sports injuries, domestic abuse, corporal punishment, murder, torture, interracial dating, and of course the pain that comes with being special for no other reason than circumstance. Harry was The Boy Who Lived, and despite simultaneous fame and notoriety, Harry found love. Remus Lupin was a werewolf, and despite his affliction, Lupin found love and acceptance. Bill Weasley was scarred, but Fleur's love for him continued. All these characters found love and kept it, making it all the more tragic for Dumbledore when we learn that his rival Grindelwald was also his love.

No, there are no such things as wizards and magic. But there is such a thing as life. Joanne Rowling, you have shown us how love can affect us all in all ways imaginable. It's life. Thank you.

And now for the crude stuff:
  • Does this make Professor McGonagall a fag hag?
  • What does it really mean when everyone says that Dumbledore was the best "headmaster" Hogwarts ever had?
  • Is it a coincidence that Fawkes is a "flaming" bird?
  • Would a boggart appear to Dumbledore as himself but dressed in flannel robes?
    and finally,
  • Has Dumbledore ever apparated in a Minneapolis airport bathroom stall?

Feel free to add!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Why don't Muslims condemn Islamist violence?

It's a question that is framed in different ways, but the general idea of the variations remains the same: In a religion whose followers claim to be non-extremist and peaceful, why is there not more outrage and condemnation against violent extremists who have supposedly perverted a peaceful religion?

First, a little background information. I was raised Muslim. My father is Muslim, and my mother is Catholic. I was quick to learn that my parents had different beliefs, but many of the stories were generally the same. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Job, and Jesus were in both religions. In fact, as far as theology is concerned, the only difference between my father's religion and my mother's was the belief in the divinity of Christ. Besides that, the basics were the same: be good, be nice, and worship God.

My Islamic religious education was on Sundays. While my mother went to Mass, my father took my sister and me to the Muslim Community Center near our home. Sunday School did not consist of understanding the English translation of the Qur'an, but of knowing the stories of the prophets, knowing the five pillars, and the common bonds Muslims had with Christians and Jews. Christians and Jews were misguided, we were taught, but they were still "People of the Book," and blessed by God. Jihad, we were taught, was not "holy war," but "struggle for righteousness." (There is a Christian equivalent to the concept of jihad, and that word is "crusade." And like jihad, the word "crusade" has its connotations in the West and the Middle East.)

Because religion was never a subject that we as grade schoolers talked about, I never had to explain why Muslims did the crazy things they did like take people hostage or hijack planes. And the subject of terrorism and radicalism never came up in Sunday School. It was as if those planes were hijacked by members of some other religion not remotely affiliated with my faith. No one spoke out against Muslim extremism because it didn't require any explanation: there are some crazy people out there.

But now, Muslims around the world (and especially in the West) are being asked to explain why the terrorists act the way they do, and that the apparent lack of condemnation seems equivalent to tacit support of Al-Qaeda. The truth is, of course, way more complicated. And yes, at the heart of it, is Israel.

I won't get into the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it's an almost century-old problem starting with the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Since then, the Arab world (and to a larger extent, the Muslim world) does not feel that it has been taken seriously in the conduct of its own domestic affairs. The Palestinians have been the subject of foreign rule, and the growing resentment has erupted into violence and hatred. It is this resentment that eats at Muslims worldwide, and whenever the subject of Israel is brought up, Arabs and Muslims are immediately pre-judged to be anti-Semitic. Once that label has been assigned (regardless of whether or not the label is accurate), all discussion ceases, and reason gives way to polarization. The result is either silence or violence.

We've all been to the point where we are so fed up with not being listened to, that we just want to scream and yell. It happens on the social scale as well: the 1992 Los Angeles rioting is a perfect example. There are many who feel that the violence and looting was a justifiable reaction to the not guilty verdict of those four LAPD officers, in conjunction with 400 years of oppression.

Is it the responsibility for a religious or ethnic group to apologize for the actions of their extremists? No. But it would help those who don't know the history and culture to have it explained to them. Without explanation, the polarization grows, and prejudice and hatred rule instead of reason.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Equivocating SCHIP

It's very difficult to be diplomatic in the face of outrageousness. Politics is always a business where the bar setting the standard of offense is set so low that it gets knocked off if anything resembling a direct statement is uttered. The common term is "political correctness," because insensitive remarks are perceived to stand in the way of logic. Political correctness has its places: we no longer use the word "Negro" to describe Black Americans, and the word "Oriental" is gradually following suit. (Notice how I capitalized "Black;" that's a form of PC.) There are some detractors who insist that being PC is tantamount to Orwellian "Newspeak." Others are just mad because they can't tell ethnic or dirty jokes in public anymore.

So how does being PC this have to do with SCHIP and the latest Presidential veto? Everything.

The President vetoed the bill to expand SCHIP by claiming that it was another step toward government-run health care. In other words, placing health care in control of the government takes away from the capitalist nature on which this nation has grown and defended. Allowing SCHIP to be expanded is just a slippery slope toward communism and the GULAG. Republican defenders of the Presidential veto claim that the increased tax on cigarettes is inherently self-destructive, because the higher price of cigarettes will compel smokers to quit, thereby cutting off the very funding for the health care program. In other words, it's a legislative Catch-22.

Cynics would say that the bill to expand SCHIP was pushed by a Democratic Congress to trap the Republican Party by a) getting them to vote for the bill and thereby (hypocritically) go against the GOP standard of reducing taxation and governmental interference, or b) by getting them to stick to those Republican principles and be mocked as child-hating politicians who are indifferent to the nation's posterity.

No one would ever argue that government officials are 100% pure-of-heart, whether they are Democrat or Republican. The reason for that is political correctness. I personally believe that the SCHIP bill was intended as a "gotcha!" move on the part of Democrats, and that Republicans who voted for the bill were doing so to keep their jobs, not out of any love of health-care expansion. But because of being PC, no one in the government can assert the truth as their reasons for support for SCHIP. To do so would cost them politically. It would be politically incorrect.

Now let's step back from being PC and look at the results should SCHIP be ratified. First, poor kids would get guaranteed health care. Second, the tax on cigarettes would compel some smokers to quit. I'm fairly certain that there will be plenty of nicotine addicts who will continue to fund the program. So what's the downside?

I have a message to the President and the Republicans who sided with the Bush veto. Sirs and madams, I urge you to reconsider. Government social programs for the benefit of the American people are not going to lead to Stalinism. We have public education, Medicare and Medicaid, water and waste programs, and yes, welfare. These programs are consistent with the language of the preamble of the Constitution, which proclaims to "promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity..." You will lose your jobs and be vilified in history as men and women who couldn't trust the American people to not degenerate into a totalitarian society. If you are wondering where the money will come from besides taxes, I would just like to point out that we are spending around $25 million a day for our efforts in Iraq. The implications are clear, but I know you cannot state them outright.

It wouldn't be politically correct.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The First Equivocation

OK, so it's late 2007, and I am just starting posts. My goal for this blog is to be able to post my opinions without rant, and to give a forum for those who might be interested in what I have to say about everything. (That sounded really smart; I just defined what a blog is -- I am sooo going to disappoint!)

This blog is called Facets of Equivocation, because I have not met many people who are able to actually take the time to see what the world truly is and how humanity behaves. No one individual or group can be totally dismissed as all-good or all-evil. Each has different characteristics that I liken to facets on a crystal or gemstone. Some facets are more prominent than others, and when looking at this stone, they stand out more. Others tend to concentrate on the other facets, finding something worthwhile in them. All together, the facets make a whole, and it is the whole that we can judge.

My favorite example is Thomas Jefferson. To many, he is known as one of the American Founding Fathers, and the writer of the Declaration of Independence. As our third President, he acquired the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon, thereby setting the stage for American western expansion. Many see him as an American legend, a gentleman and a scholar.

Others see him simply as a slave-owner.

So how do we judge this man? Was he good? Was he evil? Is it possible for some to overlook the facet of his patriotic achievments and accept that his slave-ownership was reprehensible and hypocritical? Is it possible for others to overlook the facet of his slave-ownership and concentrate on the other facets of his life and personality? And therein lies the problem: there are those who cannot look at all facets and have to rush to summary judgments of good and evil without actually putting any thought as to context. (Bill O'Reilly, I'm look at you.)

My personal philosophy is that those who we consider to be evil do not themselves see anything wrong with what they do. At the same time, it must be understood that any attempt at understanding the reasons behind awful acts is not tantamount to excusal. There are evil deeds; it's just that evildoers rarely believe themselves to be actually evil.

No, this isn't some stupid Nazi/Klan/Marxist/Al-Qaeda apology statement. My hope, however, is that through education and the sharing of objective information, we can learn all the facets of our lives.