Our Passive Acceptance of Evil

I’ve been subjecting my unlucky, long-suffering wife to a string of intense foreign flicks. Most recently, In a Better World, which won the Oscar for the 2011 Best Foreign Language Film. One reviewer explains that “the film examines the different ways people react to injustice, and looks at how what counts as ‘revenge’, as opposed to ‘justice’, is a matter of perception.” Watch it and let me know what you think.

How do you react to injustice? What, if anything, do you do when you see an adult hit a child in public? What, if anything, do you do when you learn someone is a victim of domestic abuse? What, if anything do you when your tax dollars make it possible for drones to kill bad guys and innocent civilians anonymously from the sky?

I know what you do when an evil person, family, or cadre in Zimbabwe or North Korea hits, impoverishes, and imprisons on a national scale. Nothing. Most people cope with the atrocities of those regimes by not paying attention to them. If we don’t even know where Zimbabwe and North Korea are, who Kim Jong-un and Robert Mugabe are, or what Zimbabweans’ and North Koreans’ lives are like, it’s so much easier to just make fun of how backward the countries are.

On the other hand, if we’re better than our popular culture, and press pause long enough to learn what life is like for fellow humans who were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, it’s impossible to watch the North Korean succession without getting sick to your stomach.

The North Korean tragedy is nearly impossible to grasp, but here’s an imperfect analogy. If your politics are anything like mine, after John McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate during the 2008 U.S. presidential election, you had a few “Oh shit, there’s a possibility of an ill-informed, right wing dilettante becoming president” moments. Forget President Sarah Palin. Instead imagine if the vote was canceled and Jenna Bush was appointed President. Jenna, not Barbara because she revealed a greater capacity for cruelty. One of Jong-un’s alleged childhood pastimes was torturing small animals.

I miss Christopher Hitchens’ writing. This incredibly vacuous New Yorker essay on North Korea’s Kim Jong-il’s funeral ceremony/performance begs a question—who will fill his shoes? Without Hitchens’ passionate, populist voice the Kim Jong-un succession has even more of a feel of inevitability.

I get it, the immediacy of the evil in North Korea pales in comparison to the violence in our own neighborhoods and communities, but the scale of human suffering deserves more of our attention. We can and should be committed to a more peaceful and just 2012 both in our own communities and on the Korean Peninsula.

I Recommend

Hope you had a nice Christmas and have a nice New Years.

Best piece about Christopher Hitchens following his recent death—Christopher Hitchens’ Unforgivable Mistake by John Cook. Truly outstanding and more evidence of karma. Some may find it impolite. Wrong. It’s an insightful, unflinching, hard hitting piece, and the perfect tribute to Hitchens’ work.

Best three hour long Bollywood film about the detrimental effect of mindless competition on schooling and society—The Three Idiots. Prepare a ginormous bowl of popcorn, pour some extra-large ones, and enjoy the largest grossing Bollywood film of all time.

Best hour-long television series about a physically and emotionally close extended familyParenthood. Maybe the best television show ever about what it’s like to parent a child with Aspergers? Frequently moving and really well acted, but the four sibs don’t look enough like one another.

Best track to get your 2012 groove on—Electric Feel by MGMT. “You shock me like an electric eel. Baby girl, turn me on with your electric feel.” That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

Best part of Juliet Schor’s—True Wealth: How and Why Millions of Americans are Creating a Time-Rich, Ecologically Light, Small-Scale, High Satisfaction Economy—Chapter Four—Living Rich on a Troubled Planet, pages 99-144.

Best athletic sock for running, cycling, just plain kickin’ it—Road Runner Sports Dry as a Bone Medium Quarter.

Best newly discovered app—Zite Personalized Magazine.

Best non-PressingPause blog post of the recent past—Love is Beautiful.

Best “news junkie” website/portal en todo el mundo—Newseum (thanks to the Golden Girl).

Best actress/actor of our time—Peggy Noonan who has already seen “The Iron Lady” which opens December 30th writes: Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Mrs. Thatcher is not so much a portrayal as an inhabitation. It doesn’t do justice to say Ms. Streep talks like her, looks like her, catches some of her spirit, though those things are true. It’s something deeper than that, something better and more important. Look for the Byrnes family at “The Iron Lady” before the clock strikes 2012.

And from the offspringers—Best book to pass time with on an airplane—

The Most Difficult Three and a Half Words

A close friend has been experiencing extreme leg pain for over a year. She’s seen a medical conference worth of docs, had tons of tests, and is still lacking the thing she wants most—a diagnosis.

A month ago I went with her to an appointment with a rheumatologist who said the root problem was not rheumatological. Unable to string together the most difficult three and half words, he offered up a boilerplate myofascial something or other hypothesis.

Today we travelled long distance to see The Man at the Pain Center at the hospital in the Big City. I am always in awe of ace doctors. Dr. Ace studied her file for a long time, asked clarifying questions, and then continued with more questions during a physical exam.

In the end, he said, “I’m not clever enough to know what’s wrong.” I dig the way Brits use “clever” instead of “smart”. It’s clever. “There’s still a lot we don’t know about the brain,” he explained. Deeply disappointed, my long-suffering friend pleaded with him for a diagnosis. “I just want to know what’s wrong with me.” At which point he said the three and a half words, “I don’t know.”

Imagine if we lived in a world where one political candidate attacked another about flip-flopping and asked, “How can we be sure you’re not going to change your mind again?” And the candidate responded, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which every financial analyst asked to make predictions about the market in 2012 said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which a Westpoint political science prof when asked about the lessons of the Iraq War said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which Christopher Hitchens, when pressed to explain why he was so sure there’s no God had said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which a man driving aimlessly in a car, when asked by a woman whether he’s going in the right direction said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which Billy Graham, when asked to explain why he’s so sure there’s life after death said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which Hilary Clinton, when asked what will be required to bring genuine Middle East peace said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which Tom Friedman, when asked what the United States must do to reclaim it’s greatness said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which Bill Gates, when asked why he thinks his teacher evaluation plan is going to improve schooling said, “I don’t know.”

Or one in which a blogger, when asked why he thinks everyone would be well served by greater humility and honesty said, “I don’t know.”


As these new entries in the 2011 Webster’s dictionary illustrate, the English language continues to evolve. Remember, to truly learn new words it’s important to integrate them into your speech as much as possible.

• dinorossi—to repeatedly come up just short of one’s objective. Also rossied or d-rossied. I hit the jump hard and caught major air but rossied the landing.

• notredame—of or pertaining to a once great individual or group that is loathe to accept its obvious decline. Also notredamed; notredamenation. Like Ancient Romans, 21st century citizens of the United States were caught off guard by their collective notredamenation.

• christopherhitchens—the incessant turning of events and topics into unmitigated negatives. Also c-hitched. I enjoyed Lester Brown’s newest book until he returned to form and c-hitched half way through.

• obamathon—something doomed, over time, by unrealistic expectations. Also female-obamamama; conservative-obamanation. It became clear early in the season that Jake Locker’s Heisman Trophy campaign was an obamathon to the voters.

• tigerwoods—to forego one’s family and reputation for extramarital sex. Also tdub; tdubbed; tdubbing. The South Carolina Governor said, “The hell with it, where’s my hiking boots and map of the Appalachian Trail? I’m tdubbing it.”

• claybennett—1) to say one thing and do another; 2) to steal. Also cbennett; cbenn; cbenned; claybennetted. 1) Whenever I call her, it’s someone else, think she cbenned me? 2) I didn’t have my wallet and was really hungry, so I claybennetted some powder donuts.

• nancypelosi—to fake smile even when deeply angered. Also nancypelosied. Despite the auditor’s obnoxiousness, I nancypelosied my way through the IRS interview.

• hailegebreselassie—to dominate opponents at different times and in different contexts, also gebb; gebbed; hgebb; hgebbed. Again, Ron gebbed Dave and Lance throughout the 2010 cycling season.


Christopher Hitchens, prolific, ballsy writer, interesting cat. Author of God is Not Great and a top ten most influential columnist. Krugman, #1, had a good line in response, “Why would God allow that?”

A month ago he switched from religion to sports and wrote an anti-Olympics screed. Hitchens plays an important role if for no other reason than by comparison I’m nowhere near as cynical. When it comes to cynicism, Hitchens has the gold wrapped up.

Makes me wonder, given his bleak worldview, what inspires him to get out of bed in the morning? His wikipedia essay provides some possible clues: George Orwell, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Lenin, Trotsky, cannabis, and alcohol. Hard to play golf with those guys. Note to self, stay away from the cannabis and limit the alcohol.

Hitchens is busy putting the final touches on his “Summer Vacations are Not Great,” “Motherhood and Babies are Not Great” and “The Natural World is Not Great” essays.

Hitch, keep bringin’ the doom and gloom so I appear downright cheery.