The Mythology of Bobby Kennedy

In his review of David Halberstram’s journalistic profile of Robert Kennedy, William Spragens writes that the author “feels Robert Kennedy was a transitional figure in American politics, with an understanding of the old politics but also with a rare feeling for the new politics.”[1]  Indeed, in the first chapter, Halberstram lays out this thesis quite matter-of-factly when he says that Kennedy existed “at the exact median point of American idealism and American power.  He understood the potency of America’s idealism, as a domestic if not an international force, and yet he had also exercised American power.”[2]  It is difficult to disagree with the latter assertion; Bobby Kennedy’s illustrious political career included stints on the McCarthy Committee and the Senate Racket’s Committee, time as John F. Kennedy’s campaign manager and one of his most trusted political advisors during his brother’s presidency, as well as an appointment to the most senior position in the Justice Department.  However, Bobby Kennedy’s evolving views on the Vietnam War from 1965 to 1968, ultimately reveal him to be, not an idealist, but, rather, a shrewd realist.  Continue reading

Lyndon Johnson & The Power of the Presidency

In response to Robert Caro and Lyndon Johnson’s other disparagers, Johnson historian Robert Dallek cautions that “we need to see Johnson’s life not as a chance to indulge our sense of moral superiority, but as a way to gain an understanding of many subjects crucial to this country’s past, present, and future.”[1]  Indeed, Dallek is correct in his implication that to view the decisions and the major policy initiatives made by Johnson during his presidency solely as products of a single mind and a single determination is an analytical mistake.  Continue reading

David Frum, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Corey Robin, and the Ideology of loss: On Conservatism’s Opposition to Reparations For African-Americans

Before diving into a discussion on whether or not African-American reparations are satisfactory on their own for rectifying the crimes of the past, it is important that one first methodically analyze, dissect, and ultimately dispose of the nonsensical arguments put forth in opposition by individuals such as David Frum and the multitudes who will eagerly lap up his illogic in order to justify their own prejudice and bigotry. Continue reading

Film Review: West Beirut

                     West Beirut depicts the trials and tribulations experienced by ordinary civilians during the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in April 1975.  The film begins with two feisty and self-confident teenage friends, Tarek and Omar, and their schoolmates filming and staring mesmerized and in awe of the aerial dogfight taking place directly above their heads.  With this scene, one immediately understands that the war has not yet touched the boy’s lives, and that, as a result, they are able to view the battle in the sky with a sense of gleeful detachment.  Indeed Director Ziad Doueiri comments that “During the first years of the civil war, despite the anxiety that I could see in my parents, I was incapable of feeling it myself.  I wasn’t born with fear; I acquired it.” (www.barbican.org)  Through the development of his young protagonist Tarek, Doueiri effectively captures the process of how a seemingly carefree, hormone-infested teenager comes to learn to fear, for the first time, for his family and his future in a time of war.  But not even his witnessing of a massacre of a busload of civilians right outside his school nor the frantic scurry of he and the inhabitants of his entire apartment complex into a bomb shelter in the middle of the night can dim Tarek’s adolescent whimsy or his desire to locate a shop that will develop the super 8 movies he and Omar surreptitiously took of Omar’s Uncle Badeeh and the old man’s attractive new girlfriend. Continue reading

Letter to the FIRE on Bill Maher

To Whomever This May Concern:

I would like to begin this correspondence by mentioning the fact that I greatly admire the work that FIRE does to protect the free speech rights of students and faculty on college campuses. Your organization was instrumental in helping a student organization of which I am a member beat back reactionary forces on my campus. However, I am concerned with your stated position on the push by students to disinvite Bill Maher as a commencement speaker at UC Berkeley. More generally, I am concerned with your position on the recent push by students to disinvite a number of commencement speakers at various universities across the country. This is not an issue of free speech, and by claiming that it is one you are revealing your organization to not just be a protector of free speech but also a reactionary force in your own right. Your deliberate obfuscation of the core issue here is troubling and speaks to FIRE’s ideological leanings and values. The students leading the charge to disinvite Bill Maher have made their justifications abundantly clear and not one of them has to do with free speech. In fact, in several instances, in articles and blogposts they have explicitly stated that their decision has nothing to with free speech.

http://www.dailycal.org/2014/10/31/mahers-invitation-shows-disregard-students/

“There is no question Maher has a right to speak on campus; but the question is whether commencement, a time of celebration for all students, including those victimized by Maher’s commentary, is the appropriate forum. UC Berkeley undoubtedly must remain committed to principles of free speech. But this is not a matter of free speech — Maher can iterate his beliefs on campus at a debate or club event. This is about granting Bill Maher the honor of being our commencement speaker when he clearly spreads ignorance and intolerance affecting the very people he would be addressing.

Though we strongly disagree with the substance of Bill Maher’s racist, sexist and homophobic language, we value the university’s role as a public academic institution committed to preserving the free exchange of ideas — even when those ideas are at odds with our own. If the administration worries that it is discouraging debate by revoking this invitation, the administration is welcome to invite Maher to an open forum on campus instead.”

I would encourage you to read the bold statements especially carefully. The same assertion was made in the case of Ayaan Ali Hirsi, and still FIRE continues to characterize this recent movement to force administrations to cancel commencement speakers as representative of an assault on free speech. The notion that a commencement ceremony can be characterized as a setting in which the free exchange of ideas is happening is patently absurd. The students are out the door. It is a celebration of their accomplishments. The speaker and whatever they are about to say are being honored and endorsed by the university. It is a choice to elevate one person’s voice above all others, and the notion that the students, the students whose accomplishments are being celebrated, should not have a say in choosing the speaker is anti-democratic. The plain fact of the matter is that they should decide who is going to speak because it is a celebration of their accomplishments. FIRE draws a false equivalence between commencement speakers and other speakers by asserting that this is an issue of free speech. University administrations do not endorse the views of other speakers, and, in fact, when calls for disinvitation erupt in response they are quick to assert that fact. The same can not be said for commencement speakers.

Regards,

Ephraim Hussain

Disability Perspectives: The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco

Here’s another paper I wrote for my Masters Degree course on special education for students with disabilities.  It analyzes the perspectives on disability expressed in The Junkyard Wonders, a children’s book written by Patricia Polacco.  You can find the book at a library or bookstore near you.

Trisha had hoped to be able to keep her dyslexia a secret, but unbeknownst to her, the school’s exclusionary policy on students with disabilities mirrors the one at her old school, and as a result her fellow students have already been made aware that there is something different about the new girl.  Continue reading