Sunday, April 20, 2008

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: 'A More Perfect Union'

Philadelphia, March 18, 2008

"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union."

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution - a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part - through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign - to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together - unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction - towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts - that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either "too black" or "not black enough." We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

"People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend's voice up into the rafters....And in that single note - hope! - I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories - of survival, and freedom, and hope - became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame about...memories that all people might study and cherish - and with which we could start to rebuild."

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety - the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America - to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through - a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven't fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments - meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today's urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family, contributed to the erosion of black families - a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods - parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement - all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it - those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations - those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances - for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives - by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American - and yes, conservative - notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright's sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country - a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds - by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world's great religions demand - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle - as we did in the OJ trial - or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation - the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I'd like to leave you with today - a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King's birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother's problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn't. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, "I am here because of Ashley."

"I'm here because of Ashley." By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New DVD Report: Best Foreign Films in DVD

Title: Letters from Iwo Jima (USA/Japan)

Pictures and Dreamworks Pictures present a Malpaso/Amblin Entertainment production ; produced by Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Steven Spielberg ; story by Iris Yamashita & Paul Haggis ; screenplay by Iris Yamashita ; directed by Clint Eastwood.


Sixty-one years ago, the United States and Japanese armies met on Iwo Jima. Decades later, hundreds of letters are unearthed from that stark island's soil. The letters give faces and voices to the men who fought there, as well as the extraordinary general who led them. Leading the defense is Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi. With little defense other than sheer will and the volcanic rock of the island itself, Gen. Kuribayashi's unprecedented tactics transform what was predicted to be a quick and bloody defeat into nearly 40 days of heroic and resourceful combat.

Title: The sea inside ‪[‬Spain‪]‬

Producers, Alejandro Amenábar, Fernando Bovaira ; screenplay, Alejandro Amenábar and Mateo Gil ; director, Alejandro Amenábar.


Ramón Sampedro wants to end his life because a diving accident 28 years before that turned him into a quadriplegic. For most of those years he made the most of it: writing, developing a close relationships with his family, who all help to care for him. While grateful to his family and friends for their help, Ramón was always an active person. He has come to see his life as frustrating and pointless and wishes to die with what remains of his dignity. Gené is a friend who works with a ‪"‬Right to Die‪"‬ organization who introduces Ramón to Julia, a lawyer he hopes will help him persuade the courts to let him end his own life. As Ramón and Julia work together on his case, Ramón finds himself falling in love with his attorney, but Ramón remains convinced that the greatest gift to him would be an end to his life.

Title: No man's land ‪[‬Bosnia]

Producers, Marc Baschet, Frédérique Dumas-Zajdela, Cédomir Kolar ; writer, Danis Tanovic ; director, Danis Tanovic.


It is about the height of the Bosnian War in 1993, this film represents the grim futility of war. A group of Bosnian soldiers are advancing on Serb territory under the cover of a foggy night. At daybreak, the fog lifts, and the Serbs open fire. Soon Chiki is the only Bosnian survivor because he was able to dive into a trench in no man's land. Chiki then watches as two Serbian soldiers use the body of a fallen Bosnian to bait a land mine. He fires on them, killing one, and taking the second, Nino, hostage. Stalemate--both are alone and equally armed, so they are forced to share a wary trust as they try to attract help from either side.

Most popular Japanese Animated film DVD

Title: Bleach.02 video recording,

It is in Japanese or English dialogue, English subtitles. Published by San Francisco, 2007.


Rukia must assist Ichigo in learing to use his new powers to destroy soul-devouring Hollows. But more trouble arrives when a modified soul takes over Ichigo's body and runs amok all over town.

Title: Fullmetal alchemist 7, Reunion on Yock Island

English version by FUNimation Production, Ltd, 2006


Lieutenant colonel Hughes' investigation of Lab Five leads him to a starting discovery of military corruption and conspiracy that could topple the entire national government and put Hughes in considerable danger.

Title: Paradise kiss. 2

video recording, original Japanese version produced by Sky Perfect Well Think Co. Ltd. ; Fuji TV. English version produced by Geneon Entertainment (USA) in association with Bang Zoom! Entertainment ; producers, Swako Furuya, Eric P. Sherman, Kaeko Sakamoto.


Yukari takes the drastic step of running away, when her mother vehemently objects to her involvement with Paradise Kiss. Dropping out of school, Yukari pursues the only goal left to her; becoming a professional model. As her whirlwind romance with George passionately heats up, a worried classmate, Tokumori, shows up to warn her that she's in danger of being expelled from school and questions her relationship with George. Now Yukari faces her most difficult life-altering decision: giving up what her heart desires.

Book review: Dangerous Nation, by Robert Kagan

Dangerous Nation, by Robert Kagan


From the beginning, Americans liked to believe that they were free of Old-Worldly original sin, dwellers in a city on a hill who “cherished an image of themselves as by nature inward-looking and aloof.” And from the beginning, Kagan argues in “Dangerous Nation,” they were wrong. In this, the first of two volumes on the United States as an international power, he shows how America was always a player, and often a ruthless one, in the great game of nations.

Its foreign and domestic politics were continually intertwined, from the first conflict between Jeffersonian Republicans and Hamiltonian Federalists. The great overarching question of slavery also had large international implications. The British campaign against the slave trade enraged Southern slaveholders, while British sympathy for the South in turn enraged the North, as personified by Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. But even his anger was far from disinterested, since he spent most of his career “eyeing Canada as a great prize to be annexed to the United States as soon as circumstances permitted.” The American self-image of immaculate conception was indeed absurd in the light of slavery, of expansion across Indian lands and of territorial ambitions.

And it was far from shared by Europeans, who viewed the infant republic as a threat from its earliest days. When John Quincy Adams was American minister in London in 1817 he reported home (in words that give Kagan his title) the universal European feeling that the United States would become “a very dangerous member of the society of nations.” As well as apprehension there was understandable disdain in Europe for American hypocrisy, and here Kagan seems a little perverse.

He plays a lengthy riff on the term “liberal,” as in the “liberal view,” or the liberalism that, for “200 years, was the main engine of American expansion.” This obviously isn’t using the word as Republicans do in denouncing “liberal Democrats” (or the way neoconservatives sometimes use it pejoratively), but in the way some historians would say “bourgeois.” “Liberal” here refers to the modern commercial society that emerged in England and then America in the 18th century, and whose theorists were John Locke and Adam Smith.

Although Kagan’s larger point is valid, it is incongruous to categorize as liberal the early American belief that one day “the United States would stretch across the entire expanse of the continent,” or to describe the brutal expropriation of the indigenous inhabitants as “liberal expansion.” When some piece of public skulduggery was once described as “a pious fraud,” that cynical 18th-century pol Lord Holland replied, “I can see the fraud, but where is the piety?” Contemplating the fate of the Cherokees, one can likewise see the expansion more clearly than the liberalism.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Book review: Made to Stick: Why some ideas stick and others don't, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Reviewed by Michael S. Hopkins, a contributing editor of Inc. magazine

On April 29, 1999, an article appeared in the Indiana Daily Student headlined "Indiana U. Senior Gains New Perspective on Life." You'll recognize the story. It profiled a 425-pound college kid who cut his weight in half by eating fast food. His name was Jared.

Part of the reason you know the story is that Subway – the place Jared got his veggie and turkey subs every day – turned it into an ad campaign that transformed Jared into an unlikely celebrity. (Possibly you can still picture him in his "after" version, stretching the 60-inch waist of his "before" pants between two widespread hands.)

But the Subway campaign alone doesn't explain the nearly viral phenomenon it triggered. There have been countless other ad campaigns since Jared's debuted, and none of them imprinted an unknown college student on the nation's memory the way Subway's did. Nor did many of them so swiftly and lastingly get their message across. ("Our food, though fast, is actually so healthy it can help you lose weight.")

Why not? What was it about Jared's message that made it – and him – stick?

Now, thanks to Made to Stick, we know. Coauthors (and brothers) Chip and Dan Heath – a Stanford Business School professor and an education entrepreneur respectively – spent a decade disassembling and trying to understand the inner workings of memorable, persuasive ideas, no matter what kind of packages they came in.

They studied political speeches, urban legends, news reports, management directives, and marketing messages like Subway's – not to mention culture-crossing proverbs, the various fables of Aesop, and the many soups of chicken (for the soul).

It didn't matter whether the ideas themselves were good or bad, just that they'd "stuck." (Not only is the Great Wall of China not the sole man-made structure visible from space; it isn't visible from space at all. And still...)

What the Heaths discovered was that the stickiest ideas, regardless of intrinsic merit, had a lot in common. Or, more accurately, the ways they were presented had a lot in common.

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Irma Rombauer: "The Joy of Cooking"

Irma Rombauer, the author of self-published book "The Joy of Cooking".

Seventy-five years ago, a St. Louis widow named Irma Rombauer took her life savings and self-published a book called The Joy of Cooking. Her daughter Marion tested recipes and made the illustrations, and they sold their mother-daughter project from Irma's apartment. Today, nine revisions later, the Joy of Cooking -- selected by The New York Public Library as one of the 150 most important and influential books of the twentieth century -- has taught tens of millions of people to cook, helped feed and delight millions beyond that, answered countless kitchen and food questions, and averted many a cooking crisis.

New Book Report: Power, Faith, and Fantasy/ America in the Middle East, 1776 to the presen, by Michael, B. Oren

Power, Faith ,and Fantasy: American in the middle East, 1776 to present, written by Michael B. Oren, is a good book to read if you want to know the epic of the Middle East relation to the United States. Around the time of the War of Independence, America’s main contact with the Middle East consisted in trading Caribbean rum for Turkish opium.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

User's Review on Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA

by Retired Reader

As Tim Weiner makes clear in the first pages of this book, the driving force for the creation of CIA was to establish a clearing house where all intelligence information available to the U.S. could collated, vetted, and organized into coherent knowledge. And as he also makes clear this mission was subverted and overshadowed from the start by the culture of the veterans of the WWII Office of Strategic Services (OSS) who dominated the early CIA. These veterans were far more comfortable with covert action and clandestine collection of intelligence than desk bound intelligence analysis. So from the time of its creation to the present, the Directorate of Intelligence (analytic shop) has existed in the shadow of the Directorate of Operations (DO). Virtually every CIA Director from the beginning has focused on one or all of the following: initiating DO operations; cleaning up messes left by DO operations; or reorganizing the DO to do a better job.

This book is a case in point. Although ostensibly about CIA as an institution, the book really focuses on DO and its alleged failures. This fascination with the DO by journalists, Presidents, and CIA Directors has allowed the analytic arm of CIA to atrophy from almost the very first. Yet the many failures and embarrassments that Weiner has chosen to chronicle in this book are as much the fault of DI as DO.

Now this book is essentially a massive and well written critique of CIA and especially the DO. For the most part it is pretty accurate, but as CIA has pointed out in a rather pitiful rebuttal of the book, it is not entirely fair and balanced. For example, in 1998 India exploded a nuclear weapon to the utter surprise and amazement of the entire U.S. Intelligence Community (IC). Weiner jumps on the CIA in particular for its failure to predict this event. What he did not mention was the fact that India used its considerable knowledge of the workings of the U.S. Intelligence System to develop and execute a masterful denial and deception program. Further, India has a world class counter-intelligence service that makes collection of secret intelligence in India a very dicey proposition in the best of circumstances. True CIA was guilty in this instance of mirror imaging and failed to creatively use a number of clues available from secret and open sources, but it also had a really tough nut to crack, As Weiner chronicles the many missteps that CIA has made, he would be more credible had he also gone into a bit more detail about the impressive obstacles faced by CIA operations officers. In the end this is a fascinating book that accurately chronicles a part, but not the entire CIA story.

Book Review on "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA ": From The Washington Post's Book World/

Reviewed by David Wise

The CIA is a fat, easy target these days. Under George "slam dunk" Tenet, it failed (along with the FBI) to prevent 9/11, and then it famously and wrongly estimated that Iraq's Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Tenet's $4 million memoir to explain these failures merely subjected him to more slings and arrows, soothed only somewhat by all that moola.

Morale plunged under his successor, Porter Goss, who brought a clique of unpopular flunkies from Capitol Hill to Langley. The spies revolted, and Goss had to walk the plank. Now the agency is presided over by Michael Hayden, the same Air Force general who supinely created President Bush's warrantless wiretap program to eavesdrop on Americans despite the Constitution. Given the checkered history of the CIA, it is small wonder that Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes is a highly caustic, corrosive study of the beleaguered agency.

But Weiner, a New York Times correspondent who has covered intelligence for years, cannot be accused of kicking the agency when it is down. It is his thesis, amply documented, that the CIA was never up. He paints a devastating portrait of an agency run, during the height of its power in the Cold War years, by Ivy League incompetents, "old Grotonians" who lied to presidents -- an agency that, more often than not, failed to foresee major world events, violated human rights, spied on Americans, plotted assassinations of foreign leaders, and put so much of its energy and resources into bungled covert operations that it failed in its core mission of collecting and analyzing information.

To compare some of the agency's antics revealed in this book to the Keystone Kops is to do violence to the memory of Mack Sennett, who created the slapstick comedies. My personal favorite is an episode in Guatemala in 1994, when the CIA chief of station confronted the American ambassador, Marilyn McAfee, with intelligence, as she recalled, that "I was having an affair with my secretary, whose name was Carol Murphy." The CIA's friends in the Guatemalan military had bugged McAfee's bedroom, Weiner reports, and "recorded her cooing endearments to Murphy. They spread the word that the ambassador was a lesbian." The CIA's "Murphy memo" was widely distributed in Washington. There was only one problem: the ambassador was married, not gay and not sleeping with her secretary. " 'Murphy' was the name of her two-year-old black standard poodle. The bug in her bedroom had recorded her petting her dog."

Forty years earlier, the CIA had overthrown the legally elected government of Guatemala, a covert operation long touted as one of the intelligence agency's grand "successes." It was even called Operation Success. Guatemala was made safe for United Fruit -- talk about banana republics -- but not for democracy. A series of military dictators followed the CIA coup, with death squads and repression in which perhaps 200,000 Guatemalans perished.

Weiner's study is based on a prodigious amount of research into thousands of documents that have been declassified or otherwise uncovered, as well as oral histories and interviews. And one of the truly startling, eye-opening revelations in Legacy of Ashes is just how close even the agency's avowed triumphs came to disaster. As Weiner documents, both the Guatemalan operation and the overthrow of the government of Iran (Operation Ajax) in 1953 teetered on the edge of catastrophe. They were run by old boys whose management skills seemed to combine Skull and Bones with the Ringling Brothers.

And of course the "success" in Iran, restoring the Shah and his notorious secret police, the SAVAK, to power, was all about oil, grabbing it back from Mohammed Mossadeq, who had nationalized it. The coup, run by the CIA's Kim Roosevelt, Teddy's grandson, was followed in 1979 by the takeover of the ayatollahs, arguably a direct outcome of Islamic resentment of the agency's meddling in that country. Today, Iran, with its ominous nuclear weapons program and defiance of the West, looms as a much greater foreign policy challenge to the Bush administration, and to world peace, than Iraq ever was. Thanks a bunch, Langley.

Weiner carefully traces the agency's history from the start, when Harry Truman, realizing he had disbanded the wartime OSS too quickly, anointed Sidney Souers, a St. Louis businessman who had run the Piggly Wiggly supermarkets, as the first central intelligence chief. In a White House ceremony, Truman presented Souers and Admiral William Leahy, the White House staff chief, "with black cloaks, black hats, and wooden daggers." Weiner recounts a series of botched operations run by the likes of Tracy Barnes, Desmond FitzGerald and Richard Bissell, who were among the CIA's leading spooks in the agency's early years. But he reserves his greatest contempt for Frank Wisner, the agency's first covert operator, who sent dozens of agents to their deaths in the Ukraine and Albania and wasted the CIA's millions on a phantom army in Poland that was invented by Soviet and Polish intelligence to befuddle the agency.

As Weiner tells it, the arrogance of CIA Ivy Leaguers was matched only by sheer incompetence. From the start, the CIA hid its failures behind a Top Secret label and was useless in its ability to penetrate the Soviet Union or any other foe. In one year, he notes, the agency managed to miss the Soviet atom bomb, the Korean war and China's entry into that conflict. Weiner also finds little to admire in Allen Dulles, who presided over the agency in its heyday but had to depart after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion. He portrays Dulles as a sort of duplicitous Santa Claus, over the hill by 1961, shuffling about in carpet slippers. But Dulles's OSS record in penetrating the Nazi high command from Switzerland had been impressive. And based on my personal observation and conversations with Dulles in the early 1960s he was not a doddering old man in carpet slippers but a shrewd professional spy.

Although most of Weiner's research is superb, he unfortunately perpetuates the legend that CIA director Richard Helms stood firm against Richard Nixon's Watergate cover-up. Not so. In an odd footnote, Weiner says Helms "complied with the president's order to go along with the cover-up for sixteen days at most." But the author, who quotes extensively from dozens of CIA documents, curiously makes no mention of the damning memo that Helms wrote to his deputy, Vernon Walters, on June 28, 1972, about the FBI investigation of the break-in: "We still adhere to the request that they confine themselves to the personalities already arrested or directly under suspicion and that they desist from expanding this investigation into other areas which may well, eventually, run afoul of our operations." It was a bald-faced lie, exactly what the White House was demanding that Helms tell the FBI.

If there is a flaw in Legacy of Ashes, it is that Weiner's scorn for the old boys who ran the place is so unrelenting and pervasive that it tends to detract from his overall argument. He is unwilling to concede that the agency's leaders may have acted from patriotic motives or that the CIA ever did anything right.

Nevertheless, Legacy of Ashes succeeds as both journalism and history, and it is must reading for anyone interested in the CIA or American intelligence since World War II. Weiner quotes Dean Acheson's prophecy about the CIA to good effect: "I had the gravest forebodings about this organization . . . and warned the President that as set up neither he, the National Security Council, nor anyone else would be in a position to know what it was doing or to control it."

Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

New Book Report: Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner

Is the Central Intelligence Agency a bulwark of freedom against dangerous foes, or a malevolent conspiracy to spread American imperialism? A little of both, according to this absorbing study, but, the author concludes, it is mainly a reservoir of incompetence and delusions that serves no one's interests well. Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times correspondent Weiner musters extensive archival research and interviews with top-ranking insiders, including former CIA chiefs Richard Helms and Stansfield Turner, to present the agency's saga as an exercise in trying to change the world without bothering to understand it. Hypnotized by covert action and pressured by presidents, the CIA, he claims, wasted its resources fomenting coups, assassinations and insurgencies, rigging foreign elections and bribing political leaders, while its rare successes inspired fiascoes like the Bay of Pigs and the Iran-Contra affair. Meanwhile, Weiner contends, its proper function of gathering accurate intelligence languished. With its operations easily penetrated by enemy spies, the CIA was blind to events in adversarial countries like Russia, Cuba and Iraq and tragically wrong about the crucial developments under its purview, from the Iranian revolution and the fall of communism to the absence of Iraqi WMDs. Many of the misadventures Weiner covers, at times sketchily, are familiar, but his comprehensive survey brings out the persistent problems that plague the agency. The result is a credible and damning indictment of American intelligence policy. (from Publisher Weekly)

Monday, November 5, 2007

National Gallery of Art Exhition: The Art of American Snapshots, 1888-1978: from the collection of Robert E. Jackson

The Art of American Snapshots, 1888-1978: from the collection of Robert E. Jackson
October 7---December 31, 2007

This exhibition of approximately 200 snapshot photographs chronicles the evolution of snapshot photography from 1888, when George Eastman first introduced the Kodak camera and roll film, through the 1970s. During this time it became possible for anyone to be a photographer, and snapshots not only had a profound impact on American life and memory, but they also influenced fine art photography. Organized chronologically, the exhibition focuses on the changes in culture and technology that enabled and determined the look of snapshots. It examines the influence of popular imagery, as well as the use of recurring poses, viewpoints, framing, camera tricks, and subject matter, noting how they shift over time. By presenting the history of snapshot photography instead of concentrating on thematic subject matter, the exhibition and accompanying catalogue mark a new approach to the genre. The exhibition is drawn from the collection of Robert E. Jackson and from recent gifts Mr. Jackson made to the National Gallery of Art.

Organization: Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Schedule: National Gallery of Art, Washington, October 7–December 31, 2007; Amon Carter Museum, February 16–April 27, 2008

Sponsor: The exhibition is made possible through the generous support of the Trellis Fund and The Ryna and Melvin Cohen Family Foundation.

New Book Report: "The Death of Progressive Education: how teachers lost control of the classroom" Roy Lowe, 2007

A new book by Roy Lowe has just published by Routledge, 2007, on education. The title is "The Death of Progressive Education: how teachers lost control of the classroom".

This is the first book to take a long, hard look at the changes that have taken place in the classroom over the last thirty years. Roy Lowe examines the rise of child-centred approaches to teaching in the period following the Second World War and then traces the process by which the role of the classroom teacher has been almost completely transformed since major debates on what should be taught and how it should be taught during the 1960s.
Just some of the questions raised -and answered - by this original and freshly researched examination of what has gone on in our classrooms include:

  • Who were the progressives and what influence did they have on what went on in the classroom?
  • How widespread was the teaching revolution that many claimed was taking place during the 1950s and 1960s?
  • What exactly were the changes in classroom practice at that time?
  • Why is it that the coming of a new politics of education during the 1970s and 1980s was able to have such a massive impact on classroom practice and on the role of the teacher?

This study of recent educational practice and policy should be essential reading for anyone concerned with what our schools should look like into the 21st century.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Berkley: Online courses-American cyberculture (Fall 2006)

The Foundations of American Cyberculture in Berkley is providing a free online course on American cyberculture. The lectures are provided in fall semester, 2006.

This new course will enable students to think critically about, and engage in practical experiments in, the complex interactions between new media and perceptions and performances of embodiment, agency, citizenship, collective action, individual identity, time and spatiality.

Come to enjoy this free audio lecture series by clicking

Foundations of American Cyberculture