Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Reading

Roger Ebert — What do you mean by miracles?

I’m not a miracle. And neither are the Chilean miners. We are all alive today for perfectly rational reasons. Yet there is a common compulsion to describe unlikely outcomes as miraculous — if they are happy, of course. If sad, they are simply reported on, or among the believing described as “the will of God.” Some disasters are so horrible they don’t qualify as the will of God, but as the work of Satan playing for the other team.

The 9/11 tragedy, for example, was described by very few as the will of God, although many blamed it on Satan, and Pat Robertson briefly believed it was God’s way of punishing us for our sins. Within Al Qaeda circles, of course, it was seen as the Will of Allah, and, given the competence of the first-time jet pilots, perhaps qualified as miraculous.

Like so many of us, I watched with joy as the miners emerged from their tomb, one after another. In a year of sadness, it was a blessed moment. One can sympathize with those who called it a miracle, but actually it was the result of perfectly understandable engineering techniques. The construction of the mine itself, so deep in the earth, was a much more impressive feat, but no one thought to describe that as a miracle.

How much better to describe the rescue as the result of the fortitude of the miners and the skill of the good-willed people on the surface who reached them in what was, after all, a very short time. How much better to say the outcome in Chile was the result of intelligence and good will. But there seems to be a narrative in these matters that requires the citing of divinity. Newscasters, victims and their families alike praise the powers above. This reassures us — of what? That everybody knows the script.

More below the fold.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. — The end of DADT will happen.

Change, like babies, has this way of coming, ready or not.

We seem to have reached such a moment with regard to gays in the military. It is worth noting that the 70 percent of American adults who support allowing gay service members to serve openly includes majorities among some rather unlikely groups: 53 percent of conservatives, 57 percent of regular churchgoers, 60 percent of Republicans.

Those numbers would have seemed farcically improbable 20 years ago, when conservative, churchgoing Republicans were still scared to death their sons and daughters might catch gay if forced to share a barracks with homosexuals. That the numbers are what they are now is telling.

They speak to that gathering force, that growing sense that “don’t ask don’t tell” is doomed. The unthinkable feels like the inevitable.

And the White House better recognize it. It would be both regrettable and bizarre if a president who came into office on a mandate and battle cry of change were to falter on the very threshold from a failure to comprehend the fundamental nature of the thing. See, there comes a point when change gets rolling, when it gathers momentum, when it cannot be stopped, cannot be managed, can only be ridden.

And you find yourself, like the White House, facing a simple choice: lead, follow or get out of the way.

Frank Rich — The hate won’t end in November.

Don’t expect the extremism and violence in our politics to subside magically after Election Day — no matter what the results. If Tea Party candidates triumph, they’ll be emboldened. If they lose, the anger and bitterness will grow. The only development that can change this equation is a decisive rescue from our prolonged economic crisis. Not for the first time in history — and not just American history — fear itself is at the root of a rabid outbreak of populist rage against government, minorities and conspiratorial “elites.”

So far neither party has offered a comprehensive antidote to our economic pain. The Democrats have fallen short, and the cynics leading the G.O.P. haven’t so much as tried. We shouldn’t be surprised that this year even a state as seemingly well-mannered as Connecticut has produced a senatorial candidate best known for marching into a wrestling ring to gratuitously kick a man in the groin.

Doonesbury — A leg up.