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The Live Wire, Nov. 8: Americans Against Themselves, Miami Cult Deaths and Tall Jesus

| November 8, 2010

Tarragonia, Catalonia (© Sanmi Photography)

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Today’s Live Wire: Quick Links

Feed Flagler Update II

The drive is on to raise thousands of dollars for Flagler County’s food pantries and to pay for the Nov. 24 Thanksgiving meal for some 2,000 people in the second annual Feed Flagler celebration. The effort is also designed to stock families’ and food pantries’ shelves well beyond Thanksgiving, which is what makes this necessary and particularly worthy. There’s also a challenge on: several companies and government agencies are competing to out-raise each other, with Tax Collected Suzanne Johnston leading the way: By Friday, she’d raised $1,733.09. She may be over the $2,000 mark by now.

Please do your part. We’re doing ours. We started our own fund-raising through FlaglerLive, seeding it with an initial contribution and further contributions from Hollingsworth Gallery’s JJ Graham, David Millonig in Pensacola, Nancy Nally in palm Coast and Darrell Smith in Flagler Beach. And thank you today Palm Coast Bible Church for that $100.

If you;d like to donate but would prefer to remain anonymous, just send us a note here and we’ll leave your name out of it. Thank you all. Keep it coming.

Americans Against Themselves

Ronald Dworkin wonders in the New York Review: “The results of Tuesday’s election are savagely depressing, wholly expected, yet deeply puzzling. Why do so many Americans insist on voting against their own best interests? Why do they shout hatred for a health care plan that gives them better protection against calamity than they have ever had? Or stimulus spending that has prevented a bad economic climate from being much worse for them? Or tax proposals that lower their own taxes by raising taxes on people much richer than they will ever be? Why do they vote in such numbers for the party favored by the bankers and traders who brought on the economic catastrophe? […] We must take seriously what so many of them actually say: that they feel they are losing their country, that they are desperate to take it back. What could they mean? There are two plausible answers, both of them frightening. They might mean, first, that their new government is not theirs because it is not remotely of their kind or culture; it is not representative of them. Most who think that would have in mind, of course, their president; they think him not one of them because he is so different. It seems likely that the most evident difference, for them, is his race—a race a great many Americans continue to think alien. They feel, viscerally, that a black man cannot speak for them.” The full post.

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How Democrats Deservedly Lost

The party has been caving to the wealthy since the Carter administration, Salon writes. Will anyone stand up for the rest of us? Joan Walsh: “The smart money may be on Obama caving to the GOP, as he did when Republicans demanded a smaller-than-needed stimulus, healthcare reform without a public option or curbs on industry profits, financial reform without a ban on banks’ gambling with federally insured money — and then delivered few or no votes for the watered-down result, anyway. I still believe Obama can stick to his guns, realizing that he’s living through a depressing hazing ritual for Democratic presidents — being stuck cleaning up after a Republican bacchanal — and refuse to budge. Why? Because the alternative — Obama caving — is unthinkable, politically. It would extend the last 30 years of class warfare — the rich against the rest of us — indefinitely. It would doom the Democrats for the foreseeable future. And it could throw the country back into the recession from which it’s barely recovered, since paying more money to the uber-rich would make spending on jobs or any other kind of recovery measures almost impossible.” The full story.

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Cult Deaths in Miami

They weren’t even Democrats. From McClatchy: On the wall was a President Supermarkets calendar with a kitten on the cover, and the days X’ed out, one by one. In the bedroom, two women — a mother and her adult daughter — lay in side-by-side beds covered in blankets. Near the front door was the man of the house, Daniel Boli-Gbagra. Like the women — his wife and stepdaughter — Boli-Gbagra, 48, was dead, wasted away in what police say appears to have been a case of slow, collective starvation. Boli-Gbagra, apparently the last to die, had stuffed clothes under the door frame. In the white-tiled, one-bedroom Miami apartment were books and hand-scrawled notes attesting to the family’s devotion to a sect that believes in extraterrestrial beings and human cloning. As their lives flickered out, they wrote vivid, rambling letters in French invoking their faith and cataloging their physical and mental state. To homicide investigators, death is a part of everyday life. They are summoned when a corpse is discovered and attempt to piece together the puzzle. The strange deaths of Boli-Gbagra, his wife Magali Gauthier, 48 and her 23-year-old daughter, Tara Andreze-Louison, have yielded no such closure, just questions that have cops and the staff of the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s office genuinely perplexed.

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Academic Freedom And Holocaust Deniers?

Put another way: does the repulsive, the ignorant and the false have a place in academic research? The Chronicle of Higher Education has two views. Cary Nelson says it depends on the content: “Since historical accuracy is the determining issue, Holocaust denial is not inherently an example of speech that is politically controversial, although it certainly has been deployed for political purposes. Academe has no business enforcing conformity to political or religious beliefs or to matters about which there is substantive academic debate. But to describe Holocaust denial as fundamentally, rather than strategically, political is to fall short of the intellectual courage and professional responsibility necessary to describe it accurately. Holocaust denial is speech promoting falsity as truth. Unlike myriad lesser errors that academics might make, errors for which their competence should not be reviewed, Holocaust denial counters fundamental and well-established knowledge. It is also effectively hate speech, whatever the intent of the speaker. It denies people their history and obliterates the fate of their relatives on the basis of their religion and ethnicity.”

Naomi Schaefer Riley disagrees: “It isn’t easy being Cary Nelson. The president of the American Association of University Professors sometimes has to decide which Holocaust deniers in the academy he will defend and which ones he will not. Nelson recently said there were grounds to question the competency of Kaukab Siddique, associate professor of English and journalism at Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania, who has been publicly declaiming against the legitimacy of the state of Israel and suggesting that the Holocaust was a “hoax.” On other occasions, though, the AAUP has rushed to the defense of professors who don’t believe six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis. The AAUP’s reasoning in those cases requires the kind of intellectual backflipping that no amateur should attempt. And those gymnastics reveal just how bizarre our understanding of academic freedom has become.” See the full exchange.

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Poland Claims Tallest Jesus

From the BBC: Christ the King in Swiebodzin rises 33m (108ft) – one metre for every year that Jesus lived, said Sylwester Zawadzki, the priest who created the statue. But other local officials said the statue was 51m-high (167ft), if one included a mound it sat on and the golden crown on the head. They said it was higher than famous Christ figures in Bolivia and Brazil. The total height of Cristo de la Concordia in Cochabamba, Bolivia, is 40.4m (133ft), while Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer rises 38m (125ft). […] Town officials now hope that the statue will promote the town, bringing in tourists from around the world. However, some local residents have dismissed the statue as tacky, saying the money would have been better spent on social projects in the town.”

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Days of Our Lives at 45

From an Internet message board below a clip of the “Days of Our Lives” theme: “To be a child in the 70s and home sick….nothing but soap operas from 11 am to 3 pm! No video games. No Internet. No DVDs. No cell phones. No text messaging. Kids today would probably blow their brains out. Forty-five years ago today, the soap opera made its debut on NBC, with 11,454 episodes shown since (as of Nov. 5). We couldn’t possibly run a Days of Our Lives clip when you can just switch on your TV. But we can run this from Days of Our Lives:

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In Praise of Procrastination

From The New Yorker: “Academics, who work for long periods in a self-directed fashion, may be especially prone to putting things off: surveys suggest that the vast majority of college students procrastinate, and articles in the literature of procrastination often allude to the author’s own problems with finishing the piece. (This article will be no exception.) But the academic buzz around the subject isn’t just a case of eggheads rationalizing their slothfulness. As various scholars argue in “The Thief of Time,” edited by Chrisoula Andreou and Mark D. White (Oxford; $65)—a collection of essays on procrastination, ranging from the resolutely theoretical to the surprisingly practical—the tendency raises fundamental philosophical and psychological issues. You may have thought, the last time you blew off work on a presentation to watch “How I Met Your Mother,” that you were just slacking. But from another angle you were actually engaging in a practice that illuminates the fluidity of human identity and the complicated relationship human beings have to time. Indeed, one essay, by the economist George Ainslie, a central figure in the study of procrastination, argues that dragging our heels is “as fundamental as the shape of time and could well be called the basic impulse.” The full piece.

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