Tag Archives: David Schaengold

Taking A Bite Out Of The Big Apple (Yes, The Worst Post Title We’ve Ever Written)

Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic:

New York City’s role on the American scene isn’t unhealthy merely because it attracts creative, ambitious people with its dynamism, or because its residents have a healthy ego about the relative merits of their city. The problem is that along with those inevitable traits of great cities, Manhattan and certain of its surrounding boroughs happen to dominate American media, finance, and letters so thoroughly that even the most impressive achievements of other cities are routinely ignored while New Yorkers talk about local matters of comparatively smaller consequence, either tempting or forcing the whole nation to eavesdrop on their chatter depending on the day.

In Houston, Phoenix, Dallas, San Diego, and San Antonio, all among the top ten most populous cities in the United States, the smallest with well over a million residents, the average person has watched countless hours of television set in various New York City apartments, and perhaps never seen their own city portrayed in a sitcom. The executives read The Wall Street Journal far more carefully than the local newspaper, the aspiring writers dream of getting a short story published in The New Yorker, the local Starbucks sells The New York Times, the romantics watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s on AMC at six month intervals, and every New Years Eve people gather around to watch a tape-delayed broadcast of a ball that dropped on Times Square hours earlier.

New York is a great city, but in America today, someone who seeks out the best television or novels or magazine writing or art or newspaper reporting is confronted with an even greater degree of NYC centric stuff than is justified. The city is a legitimate giant, yet its shadow somehow reaches much farther than it should. It thereby deprives other cities of the light they need to grow half as tall.

Andrew Sullivan:

I feel exactly the same way. I love it to death, but would never live there. And the narcissism of its inhabitants (yes, I know I’m not exactly one to talk) is deeply irritating. It’s much less different than it once was; and nowhere near as interesting as it believes.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

I think this definitely true of media in the New York-Washington region. We give way too much attention to what happens in our backyards. On a personal note, the first five times I visited New York, I absolutely hated it. Everything just felt so inconvenient. I basically moved here because all the magazines were here, and Kenyatta (unlike me) grew up wanting to live here. But I didn’t come because I thought New York was the greatest city in the world. I came here because work was here. Even now, if Kenyatta weren’t in school, I would gladly live in a Denver, a Seattle, an Oakland, a Charlottesville, a Richmond, a Chicago or, above all, a Baltimore.
But that’s not because I think New York isn’t all it’s cracked up to be–if anything I think it’s more.
I think it’s hard to get what happens when you slam millions of  people who are really different into close proximity. It’s incredible to watch. I think that’s only smug if you’re the kind of person to attribute accidents of environment and history, to genetics.
Moreover, I think New Yorkers only seem more smug, because there are more people in New York and thus more arrogant New Yorkers. In my time, I have watched mo-fos from everywhere from Dallas to Cleveland to Columbia, Maryland hold forth about why their neck of the woods is touched by God. This kind of person would be that way, no matter where he or she were born. Regrettably, in New York we have more of those kinds of people, because we have more of all kinds of people. It’s worth remembering the sheer population size of the city–it’s like ten Detroits.

Ezra Klein:

“I think New Yorkers only seem more smug, because there are more people in New York and thus more arrogant New Yorkers,” writes Ta-Nehisi Coates. “In my time, I have watched [folks] from everywhere from Dallas to Cleveland to Columbia, Maryland, hold forth about why their neck of the woods is touched by God.”

This is true, of course. About the worst thing that can happen to you in life is to be in a room with two Texans who start trying to tell you about the Alamo. Or about Texas. Or about how Texas was affected by the Alamo. But there’s something endearing about it, too. Texans are battling stereotypes that don’t tend to favor them. It’s like talking up your mom’s meatloaf. New Yorkers, by contrast, have what’s considered the greatest city in the country and can’t stop talking about it. It’s like an A-student bragging about his grades, or a rich guy making everybody look at his car. It’s unseemly.

Amy Davidson at New Yorker:

But on to the really baffling characterization: the supposed “tyranny” of New York.

In that context, it’s exceedingly odd that neither Friedersdorf nor Sullivan mention the most relevant fact about New York, vis a vis its supposed power over America: our city is not the nation’s capital. (We’re not even the capital of our state.) For all our business and media influence, and the endless sitcoms that bother Friedersdorf and, he worries, give writers in Phoenix complexes, we have deferred remarkably to a city built on disease-ridden wetlands (as opposed to on one of the best natural harbors that tectonic plates and glaciers ever conspired to carve out) and give to, rather than take from, places like Alaska. If we were actually tyrannical maybe we wouldn’t have to bother with an ethanol subsidy—the tyranny of Ames—or, looking backward, about a disproportionately powerful Southern bloc in the Senate. Perhaps we have let our retiring nature get the better of us, and should learn to assert ourselves more. But it’s for the best, really—good for our democracy. It’s steadying, and probably helps explain our resistance, over more than two centuries, to things like coups. If we were truly a country unbalanced by its metropole, those other cities Friedersdorf feels are unappreciated might never have emerged with the same force, or flourished.

The separation of political and financial-and-cultural power has benefited the country as a whole, and helped make America what it is. Really, far from being pathological, New York’s role has been remarkably healthy. Call that a narcissistic view, if you want to. New York can take it.

Julian Sanchez and Conor Friedersdorf at Bloggingheads

David Schaengold at The League:

But why did Conor pick a list of cities unusually famous—justifiably or not—for their blandness? Is it because the average American has watched countless hours of television set in San Francisco, Boston, LA etc, underscoring how much of a non-problem the supposed tyranny of New York is?  Baltimore, for instance, recently received a thorough, realistic, and gripping 60-hour treatment on television. Arguably national television audiences know more about how Baltimore works than about New York.

Conor’s lament wasn’t confined to television, however. He also objected to New York’s dominance in print and in the national imagination. This is a little more on the mark. People from the around the country really don’t read the sometimes pretty good stuff published in Baltimore magazines, or dream about kissing in fabled Baltimorean parks. I don’t see what’s so bad about this, though. People in Baltimore do read local magazines, and dream about leading lives in the city, even if a small, usually college-educated and fairly transient sub-set of the population reads the Times every day and knows more about Breakfast at Tiffanies than breakfast at Howard’s down the street. It seems inevitable that as a country we will have national newspapers and national magazines and places that loom large in the national consciousness. Isn’t in much better that these national institutions retain some local savor? Isn’t the New Yorker, in part because it sometimes seems like a local, even a parochial journal, superior to the tranquil no-whereness of Time magazine? Isn’t the inimitable New Yorkiness of the Times, what Fr. Richard Neuhaus used to call “our parish newsletter,” one its few redeeming features, especially compared with the truly national and placeless USA Today?

What Conor is complaining about is just that we have a cultural capital. Admittedly, having a cultural capital can be galling for provincial cities, even if ours doesn’t loom nearly as large over our country as Paris or London or Toronto or Lagos or Buenos Aires, say, do over theirs. But this isn’t an unusual set-up. The concept has a wikipedia page. In fact, national cultures without such dominant cities, Germany for instance, are quite unusual and usually indicate a fairly late or incomplete degree of cultural unity. Is it really so terrible that we have one?

Mark Thompson at The League:

Anyhow, there’s one important justification for New York’s cultural dominance that I don’t think David touched on, a justification that explains why large cities like San Diego, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Phoenix have little-to-no national cultural significance – and, indeed, why they shouldn’t have much: longevity.

New York is not only our biggest city/metro area, it’s also always been our biggest city/metro area. This is important – for the amount of time that New York has been a major center of American population and business, it has been able to develop deep cultural roots from which to build. To complain as Conor does about the lack of cultural import of San Diego, Houston, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Dallas is to ignore the recency of their development. Until about 1950-1960, not a single one of those cities was even in the 20 largest American cities, much less the top 10, and none was even regionally dominant like New Orleans was.

Point is, it takes time to develop a thriving and distinct culture that will interest people nationally, or even regionally – local hangouts don’t become dining meccas overnight; locally-published magazines need time to develop a national reputation; and brilliant artists need time to gel into a cohesive group.

And on top of all that, a deserved reputation as a cultural center can and does help to ensure that a city will continue to be a cultural center – as it should. Talented young writers want to write for the New Yorker or the New York Times in no small part because of the giants that have written in the past for the New Yorker or the New York Times and, significantly, the legacy those giants have left in their wake, a legacy that guarantees a certain level of prestige to anyone who writes for them down the line.  I realize that Conor laments the pull of this prestige factor on potential cultural elites from other cities, but that lament ignores that those cultural elites may (and often are) only able to realize their full potential by working in close contact with other cultural elites.

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“You Know, I’ve Learned Something Today”

David Itzkoff at NYT:

An episode of “South Park” that continued a story line involving the Prophet Muhammad was shown Wednesday night on Comedy Central with audio bleeps and image blocks reading “CENSORED” after a Muslim group warned the show’s creators that they could face violence for depicting that holy Islamic prophet. Revolution Muslim, a group based in New York, wrote on its Web site that the “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker “will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh” for an episode shown last week in which a character said to be the Prophet Muhammad was seen wearing a bear costume. Mr. Van Gogh was slain in Amsterdam in 2004 after making a film that discussed the abuse of Muslim women in some Islamic societies.

The new episode of “South Park” on Wednesday night tried to revisit this character, but with the name and depiction of the character blocked out. It was unclear how much of the bleeping was Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker’s decision. In a message posted on their Web site, SouthParkStudios.com, they wrote that they could not immediately stream the new episode on the site because:

After we delivered the show, and prior to broadcast, Comedy Central placed numerous additional audio bleeps throughout the episode. We do not have network approval to stream our original version of the show.

On Thursday morning, a spokesman for Comedy Central confirmed that the network had added more bleeps to the episode than were in the cut delivered by South Park Studios, and that it was not giving permission for the episode to run on the studio’s Web site.

Andrew Sullivan:

I know I’m a broken record, but the two-part 200th episode was about as close to genius – and hardcore fan-pandering – as you can get. Hennifer Lopez, Mr Hat, Mephesto and Stan Tenorman: what more could you ask for? Well: you could ask for a reprise of South Park’s pioneering decision not to pander to idiotic Islamist threats by treating the figure of Mohammed the way they treat every other religious icon. And that’s what Matt and Trey delivered.

They had done it before with no problem. In 2001, they’d already run an episode with the Super Best Friends, Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Muhammed, and Seaman – pronounced SeamAAAn – portraying Muhammed with no fuss or complaints. Then after 9/11, when all media should have been even more insistent on not caving to Jihadist thugs, Comedy Central forbade a reprise in a subsequent episode. Viacom looked really stupid, but that’s hardly unusual.

Then the last two weeks. In the first part of the 200th episode, South Park went to hilarious lengths to have Muhammed but cloaked in various disguises – a U-Haul van, a bear mascot, Santa Claus. But any actual depiction,as in 2001, was covered with a block of black with the word “censored” on it. In some ways, this act of censorship wasn’t too big a deal. It actually helped illuminate the unique intolerance of Sunni Islam among world religions today. SP has long had Jesus and Satan, they have ridiculed Mormonism, eviscerated Scientology, mocked Catholicism and showed the Buddha actually doing lines of coke. None of the adherents of these other faiths have threatened to kill Matt and Trey, but, of course, some Sunni Islamists did so.

Ann Althouse:

Did Revolution Muslim truly threaten Stone and Parker or was it merely warning them? That is, were they indicating that they would commit and act of violence or were they only opining based on their prediction of what others, more extreme than they, would do? Revolution Muslim says it’s just a warning:

In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Younus Abdullah Muhammad, a member of Revolution Muslim, repeated the group’s assertion that the post was a prediction rather than a threat. He said that the post on the group’s blog “was intended in a principle that’s deeply rooted in the Islamic religion, which is called commanding the good and forbidding the evil,” tying the group’s complaints about “South Park” to larger frustrations about U.S. support for Israel and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.They have freedom of speech too, so the question is whether it’s a true threat.

ADDED: I have no end of respect for Stone and Parker. What brilliant artists! What political heroes!

Instapundit:

Obviously, Christians — and Sarah Palin fans, and lovers of My Mother The Car — should take heed of this incentive system our modern media is creating. Don’t want things you treasure satirized? Just issue a “prediction” and — voila! Meanwhile, note how entirely real radical Muslim threats and violence are treated as just part of the weather — something you have to adapt to — while nonexistent Tea Party violence is an existential threat to the Republic.

But here’s a warning of my own: Those who have no backbone will do the bidding of those who do.

Allah Pundit:

One mystery lingers: In the final scene, in vintage SP fashion, a bunch of characters gave mini-soliloquies about the moral of the story. The twist this time is that they were all bleeped out — roughly 30 seconds’ worth of airtime, filled with nothing but bleeps. I thought for sure that that had to be a joke — the moral of the story was how absurd censorship can be, and that was a perfect way to show it — but now I’m not so sure. Says the AP, “Comedy Central also censored 35 seconds’ worth of a conversation toward the end of the show between the characters Stan, Jesus Christ and Santa Claus. The network wouldn’t say Thursday whether this contained any reference to the warning [from jihadists].”

New York Times:

The “South Park” creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, have issued a statement in response to Comedy Central’s decision to alter an episode after a Muslim group’s warning:

In the 14 years we’ve been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn’t stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn’t some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle’s customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn’t mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We’ll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we’ll see what happens to it.

Aziz Poonawalla:

Most other blogs and news sites are not providing a link to RevolutionMuslim.com – which appears to have been hacked, possibly by angry fans of the show – but I think it’s important to let these idiots know that they are being critiqued. And my critique of them is much the same as my critique of Anwar al-Awlaki: they are cowards, who seek to gain publicity for themselves. In a lot of ways, they have much in common with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, except that the latter are at least funny on occassion.

The Prophet SAW has been depicted by non-muslims with respect many times in the past – including a marble frieze of the Prophet as one of history’s great lawgivers, on the South Wall inside the Supreme Court building in Washington DC (photo at right). Muslims themselves, particularly in Iraq and Iran, are fond of depictions of the Prophet, with many public paintings and billboards of him and Ali ibn Talib AS. These are expressions of respect or love, and are not in any way an insult or an undue reverence.

In fact, it is precisely the over-reaction of extremist muslims who wave around threats of violence that leads to more depictions and insults to the Prophet, not less. The right way to inculcate respect for the Prophet among non-muslims is not to act like a barbarian but to simply express ourselves and explain our beliefs – and then excercise our own right, to walk away. It is by their own actions, supposedly in “defense” of the Prophet, that these extremists actually cause greater offense to the Prophet’s legacy than any mere cartoon. After all, the Prophet SAW is judged by non-muslims solely by the behavior of those who profess to follow him.

I don’t watch South Park, and likely never will. But I much prefer their attempt at depiction of the Prophet SAW, which is rooted in a simple need to assert their creative freedom, rather than any genuine intent to defame or insult Islam – quite unlike the Danish newspaper cartoons, which were created with only malice in mind. To understand this, compare and contrast the images of the Prophet as a super hero or a bear, versus a dark figure with a bomb in his turban. The real insult to the Prophet is in refusing to make a distinction at all.

Related: The muslim women lawyer organization KARAMAH visited the Supreme Court to investigate the frieze of the Prophet SAW and have a very nice report on their findings.

UPDATE: A conversation with a reader about muslim sensibilities, assimilation, and tolerance.

UPDATE 2 – it wasn’t Mohammed after all in the bear suit, but actually Santa, according to people who’ve actually seen the episode. This revelation makes me realize that the South Park creators Matt and Trey are, quite simply, brilliant demigods. Well played, sirs. Well played. Of course, that didn’t stop Comedy Central from censoring the episode anyway…

manas at Ijtema:

Fox news seemed to revel at the episode. God forbid, if one of the writers get killed, they get a double bonus. South Park is something they don’t like. Islam too.

It is true that most Muslims believe that the Prophet (SAW) should not be drawn, but drawing him will cause more annoyance than offense or anger. The reason Muslims were offended and angered by the Danish cartoon is not because it drew the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him), but rather because it portrayed him as a terrorist.

When the Muslims conquered Mecca, they forgave the persecuting Quraish. They destroyed all the idols that were there in the Kaaba, which was built (or rebuilt) by Abraham (AwS). However, there was a picture of prophet Jesus (AwS) and his mother Mary (may Allah be pleased with her), which the prophet carefully put away.

Muslims love and respect all the other prophets, including Abraham, Moses and Jesus (AwS). Whenever they are ridiculed, we are hurt too. The difference is, as Jesus (AwS) is “shared” between us and the Christians, so we do not feel we (Muslims)  are being picked on.

The episode of South Park in my opinion was not trying to offend. It was trying to engage/incorporate the Muslim faith into the dialogue the way they know how. That’s the problem. Americans do not understand other cultures, not even European ones, and do not attempt to understand them. They expect them to ‘know what we are talkin’ about.

It just does not work that way. You can’t converse in Bengali with a Chinese.

Personally, I did find the show a bit offensive. One, because it showed the Prophet (SAW) clad in a stupid teddy bear costume. Two, it made innumerate references relating Muhammad (SAW), Muslims and violence. (Three) nor is Muhammad (SAW) immune from criticism. Even Muslims believe that he was a fallible human. We just believe that overall he was an excellent person- an example for all humanity to learn from. We are open to sincere criticism, but we do not like him ridiculed.

So, in short, I am a somewhat offended by, and a bit dissatisfied with the show, but in no way angry with it. I urge my fellow Muslims to engage the larger society- including the media, and use this opportunity to create some positive atmosphere. I urge the media to talk to representative Muslim organizations, and emphasize that they are such, before talking about fringe groups.

UPDATE: Ross Douthat in NYT

Doug J.

E.D. Kain at The League

Andrew Stuttaford at Secular Right

Michael C. Moynihan at Reason

UPDATE #2: Glenn Greenwald on Douthat

Daniel Larison on Douthat and Greenwald

UPDATE #3: David Schaengold at The League

Peter Worthington at FrumForum

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Center-Right, Right-Wing Bloggers On Torture Arguments, Part 2

Let’s focus on morality:

Peter Wehner in Commentary:

http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/morality-and-enhanced-interrogation-techniques-15125

Jim Manzi: “Maybe I’m morally obtuse about this (again, I mean that non-rhetorically), but I don’t see how a non-pacifist makes the moral case against torturing captured combatants. Of course, there are at least two ways to interpret that. One is that torture of captured combatants is not morally wrong. The other is to see this as an example of why we should be skeptical about moral reasoning as a way to answer the question; that is, of why we must rely on moral intuition and the traditions of our society.”

http://theamericanscene.com/2009/04/27/why-is-torture-wrong

Will at Ordinary Gentleman picks up on part of Manzi’s argument, where Manzi wonders what the difference is between killing on the battlefield and what happens after a combatant surrenders:

“In the case of torture, then, a captured POW is no longer participating in combat and therefore entitled to certain basic protections. This is entirely consistent with the notion of limiting the number of acceptable targets for military retaliation to certain readily-identifiable actors.”

http://www.ordinary-gentlemen.com/2009/04/why-they-fight/

And some other responses to Manzi. John Schwenkler:

http://theamericanscene.com/2009/04/27/why-counterfeiting-is-wrong-and-why-torture-is-too

Daniel Larison weighs in on the torture debate, answering Manzi’s post:

http://www.amconmag.com/larison/2009/04/27/torture-and-war/

See the debate continue? Put it in the comments.

EARLIER: https://aroundthesphere.wordpress.com/2009/04/23/center-right-right-wing-bloggers-on-torture-arguments/

UPDATE: Ramesh Ponnuru at the Corner:

http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=ZThiODIwMjJhYmNkY2FlODVjYzdiYWMyZTcyNzY1NTI=

UPDATE #2: Chris Orr at The New Reublic responds to Manzi:

http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/the_plank/archive/2009/04/28/the-difference-between-battle-and-torture.aspx

As does David Schaengold:

http://plumblines.wordpress.com/2009/04/27/why-torture-is-wrong/

(h/t: Andrew Sullivan)

UPDATE #3: Jim Manzi write a long post against waterboarding:

http://theamericanscene.com/2009/04/29/against-waterboarding

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