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November 27, 2014
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Peace and Justice Files

Hark, our better angels sing

Writing here in 2006, I suggested this possible definition of “civilization:” “...we can be said to be more or less ‘civilized’ as a society, culture, or species to the extent that intentional acts of violence are unnecessary.”

Dr. Steven Pinker, I suspect, would not only agree with that definition, he would say that as a species, we have made significant progress towards its fulfillment. Pinker, a cognitive neuroscientist and Harvard professor, recently published (to near-universal praise, by the way) a book entitled “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined.”  Read more

Not a moment too soon

As of the day of this writing, I have officially joined the ranks of the carless.  Read more

You say you wanna revolution

“Well you know, we all want to change the world...”

—Lennon/McCartney

Google the word “revolution.” Your first result might be the Wikipedia entry, which provides a useful place to begin exploring this wide-ranging concept. The entry opens with a definition: “A fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time.”  Read more

Quote, unquote, Part 2

First, let’s check our quiz answers from last month, shall we?

Here’s the actual quote from President George H. W. Bush, from his State of the Union Address for 1992: “The opponents of this measure [cutting the capital gains tax] and those who’ve authored various so-called soak-the-rich bills that are floating around this chamber should be reminded of something: When they aim at the big guy, they usually hit the little guy. And maybe it’s time that stopped.”  Read more

Lay them to rest

It didn’t take long at all, once they got around to it—less than 40 minutes from arrival to departure. No time, apparently, for epic hand-to-hand struggles, breathless pursuits, or final, defiant soliloquies (though these will no doubt be added to the movie and video-game versions). A bit of gunfire, and the job was done. And just a few hours later, a weighted bag containing the shroud-wrapped corpse of Osama bin Laden slid off the deck of the USS Carl Vinson into the waters of the Arabian Sea.  Read more

Nasrudin’s donkey

You may not be familiar with the Mulla Nasrudin, but he’s a fascinating fellow to get to know. Apparently a real person at one time, he now lives on as a character in folklore, appearing under various names and guises from Bulgaria to Afghanistan and beyond. (Look in Wikipedia under “Nasreddin” to learn more.)  Read more

Rumblings

Has the earth shifted under your feet yet?

No, I’m not talking about Christchurch, New Zealand, which was recently hit by its second major earthquake in less than six months. I’m not talking about Arkansas, where a recent increase in seismic activity has been linked to the “fracking” process for extracting natural gas. And while I am speaking metaphorically, I’m also not referring to the political changes that are still reverberating across many Arab countries as I write, “earth-shattering” though those changes certainly are.  Read more

Preferred narratives

Happy New Year! A recent “Morning Edition” segment discussed how newspapers in England are more openly political than ours. In that story, NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen opined that we should know more about the biases and beliefs of reporters, rather than rely on their supposed objectivity (which Rosen referred to as “The View from Nowhere”). I think Rosen has a strong point. So, although I’m a columnist rather than a journalist, let me start this year by sharing some of the experiences that have led me to my present positions.  Read more

The power of the preferred narrative

The ink had barely dried, so to speak, on last month’s column before events offered a textbook example illustrating the power of the “preferred narratives” about which I had written. On Saturday, January 8, just a couple of days after I had submitted the column for publication, a young man walked into a crowd at a shopping center in Tucson and opened fire—shooting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in the head, wounding many others, and killing six.  Read more