Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Introducing The Sexiest Woman In One Industry In One Part Of The World

Esquire Magazine has labeled Penelope Cruz "the sexiest woman alive" and as you can see below, it's not a bad choice, nor is it the worst thing to be labeled.

Or perhaps it is a bad choice. Not because of Ms. Cruz's politics, which are, as applied to the Mideast, abhorrent.

In July, Ms. Cruz joined "dozens of Spanish film stars, directors, musicians and writers" in signing an open letter apparently penned by her husband, fellow actor Javier Bardem, condemning the Israeli incursion into Gaza. Ms. Cruz and Mr. Bardem (especially) faced much criticism, including from Hollywood screen directors, who even threatened to cut off business with the couple, which will probably work until they look at their bottom line.

Subtly entitling the letter "Genocide," Mr. Barden declared the Israeli actions "a war of occupation and extermination" and described as "disgraceful that western countries are permitting such genocide."   He noted  "my son was born in a Jewish hospital because I have very dear close friends who are Jewish." Some of us choose a hospital because it's close, takes our insurance, or has a particularly good reputation.  Barden selects one associated with the religion of his friends. Hollywood celebrities are different.

The actor maintained additionally "I also work in the U.S. where I have a lot of Jewish friends and acquaintances" ("who reject" Israeli policies). His effort at inoculating himself against charges of anti-Semitism should fall upon deaf ears of Americans old enough to recall people pleading, as once was the fashion, "some of my best friends are colored." Be forgiving: it was far more discreet and diplomatic than wearing a white sheet.

Not all, or even most, criticism of Israeli actions constitutes anti-Semitism.  Let's put aside those leaflets Israeli forces typically showered upon areas to be bombed, giving residents at least some time to evacuate.  Accusing a nation of genocide and pursing extermination when said nation is a nuclear power which invaded a country, then stopped and agreed to a cease-fire as it was attaining military success, is well over the top. It is so patently inaccurate (as well as obviously incendiary) that it fails to qualify as anti-Semitic only when compared to promiscuously labeling Jews as "k_ _ _ _.," which even in Mr. Barden's case would have been deleterious to a career

Still, signing a ridiculous letter penned by her husband should not be (and wasn't) sufficient to disqualify Penelope Cruz as being selected the sexiest woman alive.  Fortunately, there is something, to merit.

Nonetheless, it is extremely unlikely that Penelope Cruz is the sexiest woman in the world, and probably not even the second sexiest. (Must we say sexiest woman alive? The competition from corpses is limited.) Ms. Cruz may be the sexiest female celebrity, more impressively the sexiest female public figure, or at best the sexiest woman working in the United States of America.

But Ms. Cruz, it is safe to say, is not the sexiest woman anywhere in the world. In the USA alone, there is very likely a female college student, waitress, engineer, lawyer, retail clerk, truck driver, teacher, or homemaker who is sexier.  She faces huge odds.

And that is only in the U.S.  There are approximately 196 countries, as well as numerous territories and colonies, in the world.  Somewhere, there is a sexier woman, be it in Belgium, Zaire, Thailand, Palestine, or in 200 or so other places. We don't know where, but she is somewhere.

Penelope Cruz's talent is justifiably enjoyed and admired by millions of Americans and her beauty is appreciated, inevitably and understandably, by millions more. But her selection, added to that of prior winners Jessice Biel, Scarlett Johansson, Kate Beckinsale, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Minka Kelly, and Halle Berry, make clear the bias toward Americans- and much more so members of the Hollywood community.  

Esquire is not alone, as People magazine and others exhibit similar ethnocentrism, a partiality for individuals who make their bones entertaining us in the west. (And People is worse- its Most Beautiful List is all women. Quite a coincidence.) So let us celebrate the physical beauty of those women and men we know and love. But let's not pretend that we have reason to believe they are the sexiest human beings in the world.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Persistence Of Abortion

In July of 2002, Laura Ingraham on her radio program interviewed Reverend Rebecca Turner of Faith Aloud, an organization describing itself as "The Religious and Ethical Voice for Reproductive Justice."  Angrily, Ingraham asked her guest "where do you get the idea that Jesus knew about abortion?'  Reverend Turner replied "We know that abortion has existed for thousands of years, so I’m confident that Jesus would have been aware. There were many plants used as medicinal abortifacients in that part of the world. And yet his concern was for the way women were being treated."

Support for the idea that Jesus Christ knew of the intentional termination of pregnancy comes from an unlikely source, the virulently anti-abortion rights American Life League. Arguing the "very few (known) documents on abortion prior to the time of Jesus Christ "invariably recognize that abortion is not only deadly for babies and women, but to entire societies as well," it cites Provision 53 of the Ancient Assyrian Code, Aristotle's Politics, Plutarch, the theologian Minucius Felix, and Tertullain, who a couple of hundred years before Christ apparently described dilation and evacuation (D&E).

Jesus, however, evidently was silent on the subject, as noted by innumerable pro-choice advocates throughout the years.   Given various biblical allusions to the value of life in general, Jesus' knowledge of, and silence about, abortion may not be determinative but is of more than passing interest.

The prevalence of behavior other than the exercise of reproductive freedom in the time of Christ may be persuasive.  In June, CNN interviewed Carl Lentz (video below), pastor of the New York City mega church Hillsong (based in Australia),  part of the  75,000 member, worldwide church Hillsong. As his wife sitting next to him agreed, Lentz maintained "Jesus was in the thick of an era where homosexuality, just like it is today, was widely prevalent.  And I'm still waiting for someone to show me the quote where Jesus addressed it on the record in front of people. You won't find it because he never did."

In a news conference on October 16, founder and lead pastor of the worldwide organization, Carl Houston, explained

It can be challenging for churches to stay relevant. Because many mainstream churches upheld what they would believe is the long established view of what the Bible says about homosexuality. But the world has changed around and about them. On the subject, I always feel like there’s three things. There’s the world we live in, there’s the weight we live with, and there’s the word we live by. The world, the weight, and the word.

Amid some criticism, Houston on his website backtracked, clarifying

Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage. I challenge people to read what I actually said, rather than what was reported that I said. My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.

On Friday, Houston further clarified by stating

It’s very easy to reduce what you think about homosexuality to just a public statement, and that would keep a lot of people happy but we feel at this point, that it is an ongoing conversation, that the real issues in people’s lives are too important for us just to reduce it down to a yes or no answer in a media outlet. So we’re on the journey with it.

It's an "ongoing conversation," he notes, and "so we're on the journey with it."    That is the sound of a man (in Barack Obama's terminology) "evolving" and who is gearing up to endorse same-sex marriage because it is "relevant."  The  prevalence of same-sex marriage and more broadly, same-sex relationships, as well as gay individuals coming out is sure to grow and will form the basis of the megachurch's acceptance of ssm.

That is not surprising given the interest of Hillsong, whatever its adherence to traditional Christian theology, in witnessing to people alienated by modern religion (a term Lentz, like many evangelicals, disingenuously eschews).

As Lentz notes, homosexuality was "widely prevalent" in the time of Jesus Christ. But then so was abortion, it would appear.  Jesus said, as far as is known, nothing about homosexuality. Jesus said, as far as is known, nothing about abortion. Yet, notwithstanding the helpful remarks of Reverend Turner- who is deeply involved with the issue- there is little acknowledgement that abortion was practiced 2000+ years ago and that that the burden of the argument on of reproductive freedom belongs to those people and organizations which would restrict it.

There are activists who are on the front lines of the struggle for reproductive freedom, as there are for same-sex marriage.  There are reasons the former have not been as successful as the latter and the mid-term outlook is not rosy.  But the long-term outlook is far better, in part because of an inevitable acknowledgement that abortion, too is anything but a modern phenomenon.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Just Another Day In Pakistan. No Doubt The West's Fault.

A federal appeals court has upheld the death penalty for a Muslim woman convicted of blasphemy in 2010.

Andrea Wilkinson was found guilty of making derogatory comments about Jesus Christ during an argument with a Christian woman.

The Court rejected her appeal against the sentence passed by a lower court. Her lawyers have vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court.

Ms. Wilkinson's sentence in 2010 sparked global condemnation.

Ms.Wilkinson consistently denied the allegations against her,saying they stemmed from an argument with a group of women over a pot of water.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in the USA. Critics argue that blasphemy laws are frequently misused to settle personal scores and that members of minority groups are often unfairly targeted.

Since the 1990s, scores of Muslims have been convicted for desecrating the Holy Bible or for blasphemy.

While most of them have been sentenced to death by the lower courts, many sentences have been overturned due to lack of evidence.

Christians constitute a majority of those prosecuted,followed by minority Jews.

You probably have guessed this did not happen in the USA. Still, the above story would be identical to a recent BBC report if you substitute for the italicized words or phrases, respectively: Pakistani court; Christian woman; Asia Bibi; Prophet Muhammad; Muslim woman; Lahore High Court; Ms. Bibi's; Pakistan; Christians; Koran; Muslims; minority Ahmadis.

Now today we read

Pakistan's authorities have suspended a TV channel supporting opposition politician Imran Khan for 15 days for allegedly defaming the judiciary.

ARY News TV was also fined 10m rupees ($97,089; £60,182) by broadcasting regulator Pemra.

It is the second time in four months that regulators have halted broadcasts by a network.

In June, Pemra gave a similar suspension to GEO TV - Pakistan's most watched news channel.

In a statement, the watchdog said ARY News had been "maligning honourable courts and judiciary". 

Fortunately, such antiquated notions of repression and oppression are confined to the government and are thoroughly rejected  by the masses.  Unfortunately, not so, given that

Despite creeping modernity, secular condemnation and the fact there’s no reference to stoning in the Koran, honor killings claim the lives of more than 1,000 Pakistani women every year, according to a Pakistani rights group.

They have widespread appeal. Eighty-three percent of Pakistanis support stonings for adultery according to a Pew survey, and only 8 percent oppose it. Even those who chose modernity over Islamic fundamentalism overwhelmingly favor stonings, according to Pew research.

Three years ago, the former head of Pakistan's army and its president, stated of the nation's chief foe, India, "no one ever speaks of the dangers of a Hindu bomb."

Of course not, though they would if there were any reason. But there is concern about Pakistan, for reasons not completely unrelated to the regime having embraced Sharia law.

And yet, we have this (video below).  Bill Maher made a passing reference to Asia Bibi on last Friday's "Real Time" and sarcastically commented "So yeah, Sam Harris and I were way off on that." Predictably, yet another Salon writer flailed at Maher and fellow terrorism critic Sam Harris.  Sarah Gray remarked "David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, fired back at Maher giving him a history lesson on where the blasphemy laws originated and asked Maher if he had ever actually been to Pakistan."

A history lesson- naive and paternalistic, both in one short phrase. As for the  present, Maher admitted he had never gone to Pakistan. Perhaps he never has gone to Iraq and Syria either, though he has an opinion about the wars over there. You probably do, too, as does Sarah Gray in all likelihood. Alternatively, we could leave USA policy up to the generals who have been there. Not a wise move.

You knew that the report at the beginning of this post was a fake, and you probably are not surprised that the incident has been unraveling as the BBC reported it. That evidently puts you, dear reader, ahead of many of the critics of Bill Maher and Sam Harris.

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