April 20, 2008

“Just the Black Notes”

Filed under: Church,Music — Bob Gifford @ 10:18 am

Via Andrew Sullivan, some music theory, some history, and a lot of grace from Wintley Phipps:

Amen, and amen.

April 9, 2008

Free Tibet

Filed under: Politics — Bob Gifford @ 8:35 pm

Friend and colleague Ed Murphy spent today in San Francisco protesting for a free Tibet. He invited me to join him, which I considered, but ended up demurring not because it’s not a worthy cause, but it just isn’t my cause. But to assuage my guilt, let me address a question my son asked me last night: why should we protest for Tibet?

It is a simple issue of self-determination for a people suffering under ethnic, cultural, economic and religious oppression. From Chris McGowan, writing at the Huffington Post:

The Tibetans are ruled by the Beijing government; they have no freedom of speech, political autonomy or self-determination. The “freedom of religious belief” line is equally ludicrous, and somehow it doesn’t harmonize with Tibetan Buddhist monks being forced to attend “re-education” classes that (surprise) denounce the Dalai Lama and praise Chinese rule.

Abrahm Lustgarten, also at the Huffington Post, puts it this way:

China has consistently pursued a policy of “taming” its far-flung western regions through economic and ethnic assimilation. It has crafted tax incentives to encourage Han business owners to move west from eastern cities and has loosened migration rules. “Go West, Young Han” is the clarion call of the times. Chinese state-run firms have staffed large construction projects such as the railway and even local road building with Han Chinese contractors and crews, who send their earnings home.

All the expansion and wealth that has streamed into Tibet has benefited Tibetans very little. Even after decades of investment, the illiteracy rate remains four times that of neighboring Sichuan province, and there are one-fourth fewer vocational schools per capita than in the rest of China.

Tibetans have been resisting this state of affairs recently, resulting in a harsh crack-down by the Chinese military. In the words of the Dalai Lama:

I am very much saddened and concerned by the use of arms to suppress the peaceful demonstrations of Tibetan people’s aspirations that have resulted in unrest in Tibet, causing many deaths, and much more casualities, detention, and injury. Such suppression and suffering are very unfortunate and tragic which will reduce any compassionate person to tears.

Read the Dalai Lama’s full statement regarding the current situation in Tibet and beyond here.

Our American principle of political, economic and religious freedom is meaningless if we look the other way when it is denied to others.


April 3, 2008

Spring Break DVD Recap

Filed under: Culture and Media — Bob Gifford @ 8:08 pm

Last week we had spring break, complete with lots of DVD watching. Herewith, a round-up:

Michael Clayton: An excellent movie, if a bit challenging. The movie starts about three-fourths of the way through the story with a series of scenes without context or exposition. It then backs up four days to start at the beginning, proceeding until the meaning of the already viewed snippets emerges. It forces the viewer to be comfortable with their ignorance, letting these early scenes sit off to the side completely uncomprehended for over an hour. A great exercise in living with ambiguity. Oh, and the plot is good too.

No Country for Old Men: Lousy. The plot goes something like this: a guy takes some money from a drug deal gone bad, a bad guy goes after him to recover the money, the bad guy kills everyone. The end. Oh, and then the sheriff retires. Now I get the point about “no country for old men”, i.e. the sheriff, but there’s a hell of a lot of gratuitous violence to make a smallish point.

The Kingdom: Just a fun action movie, but with an interesting bit of social commentary at the end. Most of it is kind of a CSI Saudi Arabia, with a big final battle at the end when the FBI catches (and kills) all the Saudi terrorists. So far, a typical good-guys vs. bad-guys movie. But at the end, one of the FBI agents is asked what he had said to a woman agent to comfort her in her grief over the death of her boyfriend at the hands of the terrorists. He says he told her “don’t worry, we’ll kill them all”. Cut to the survivors in the terrorists’ household after all the adult males have been killed by the FBI, and a mother asking her 10 year-old boy what the patriarch had told him as he died from his wounds. The boy replies “don’t worry, we’ll kill them all.” All of a sudden, a cold splash of moral ambiguity in the viewer’s face — we see that this cycle of revenge and hatred will never end.

Sweeney Todd: A dark, but fun and funny, musical. It’s gruesome, but in an outlandishly exaggerated way that makes it comic. Some pitch-perfect (literally) comic turns by Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, Alan Rickman and Sasha Cohen. And a great moral to the story — when we seek revenge, we end up destroying those we love. But I found myself gingerly rubbing my neck for the rest of the night.

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