Thursday, April 3, 2008

Jeff Sharlet on NBC News Tonight.

Jeff Sharlet's book, The Family, which I mention in a previous entry, was featured in a segment by Andrea Mitchell tonight on NBC Nightly News. You can view the clip here.

Jeff's been researching this book for years and knows more about their history or "works" than anyone.

The segment goes a long way in introducing the reach and duration of the organization in Washington but unfortunately doesn't hit the proper emphases that are necessary to make the public pay attention. Commonly both the media and the viewing public glaze over when religion comes up. The idea that religion is a personal issue and that religion is a good thing, bringing people under the umbrella of a loving and caring morality, make many disinterested or even overly tolerant.

This organization is Jesus to the core, but the way they use Jesus' teachings and the cover that faith plays for a more central objective of power is misleading. The current campaign climate, with discussions of Obama's pastor still whirling in heads, also drags down what I think is the central story here.

What the segment fails to do is convey the "good works around the world" that the Family is doing. Their international reach has proved disasterous in various international arenas, particularly on the African continent. Mitchell fails to look into how the organization survives financially, disregarding a lead into the story that would give it more teeth. Is Hillary Clinton a contributor? Who is contributing to The Family? How does The Family influence domestic policy? What is The Family's objective? And why all the secrecy?

Hillary's campaign is given a chance to respond to her relationship with The Family (mentioned by the former First Lady in her book) and she uses it to dig at Obama's relationship with his minister by saying, "He is not her minister", refering to Doug Coe, the central figure in the segment. Of course he isn't, she's a Methodist. Using the narrow discussion of religious influences here only distracts from the difficult-to-explain power that The Family weilds in Washington. There is a world of difference between a lone minister in a baptist church and the breadth, reach and power of this organization.

There are racial undertones to how big the Wright story was - a point that will be proven if the media and the public don't jump on Coe's Hitler and Mao stories with the same vigor.

Here are a few of the articles you can read to learn more about The Family:

Harper's, March 2003
Mother Jones, September 2007
The Nation, March 2008

You can get Jeff's book here.

For more information, google Jeff Sharlet and The Family.

If you don't read carefully, you can fall into the dismissive attitude that this all sounds crazy. You can tell yourself that in a Democracy like ours influential people are voted into power and ethically and equally represent a very diverse population that ascribes to a host of beliefs and political views. Read carefully! Our government needs a lot of light and our failure to recognize this has done a world of damage these past few decades.

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Taggart on Religion in Howe on Dickinson.

The earliest of the cited images of the book's picture involves not only the forest of language once more but also religion and poetry in a relation of conflict. Religion hunts for poetry's freedom because it is dependent on the images of vision for its own existence and organization. Take away those images, and all the churches fall down. The church does not produce vision but enshrines and builds basilicas around it. Through these actions vision is turned into static dogma, suitably "stable" material for erecting an organization. Once an image is selected, all others are suspect and must be denied. To promote itself, religion becomes a demonstration of authority in the name of the chosen image. By definition, the hunter poet cannot be satisfied with the restricted movement permitted by the leash of dogma. There is no other recourse than rebellion. "Dickinson takes sovereignty away from God and bestows it on the Woods." And the woods are made of words.

from A Picture of Mystery and Power by John Taggart on My Emily Dickinson by Susan Howe


On This Day Last Year...

Ngorongoro Crater; Hippos; lions in the shade.
Let me take a moment to qualify these photos: I was in Africa for ten months, three of which were spent in the Siwa Oasis in Egypt, less than thirty kilometers from the Libyan border. The rest of my time in Africa was in some of the poorest countries like Malawi and Ethiopia or the most ravaged, like Rwanda. I was also in Namibia and South Africa, both with their shattering history of Apartheid not far in the past. Burundi, Tanzania, Zanzibar too held great lessons for me.
But to say that conditions in one country on the continent are better or worse than another is to fall into the statistical justification of human rights efforts and errors, the soft media pieces that parlay limited knowledge into tacit complicity, the well-meaning but fruitless endeavors from both inside and outside these locales. That Tanzania is one of the better off countries in East Africa meant little to the hungry and optionless Tanzanias living outside Congolese and Burundi refugee camps in western Tanzania, literally watching food pass them by.
This little safari expedition taught me a lot about how the tourist industry is conducting itself in Africa. From the Hemmingway days until now, only those with the money are able to tool around in expensive vehicles and see the remaining big game animals of Africa. It was a splurge and a lesson for me. As you can see from the photo of the lions in the shade of a touring 4x4, these animals may still be dangerous but they are not exactly wild.
Enjoy the pictures. I was able to take them only because I could muster the couple hundred dollars necessary. What percentage of the world population can do so? I don't know exactly, but almost every one of the tourists I saw was white and American or European. Yes, I feel better knowing I was bringing dollars to these economies, these tourguides, but the reach of such income is not at all far. Some say that these animals are only protected because of the tourism industry (wait until I get to the gorillas of Rwanda!) but even that argument side steps real discussions of western conscience, true preservation, and local economics and custom.
Once this safari is over, I hope I can show you images of the Africa that I fell in love with, the real people, the friendliness, the removal from westernization. But I also hope to further expound on what I observed of tourism, the aid "industry" and ideas of poverty and corporate globalization as the days carry on and the photos allow.