27 April 2011


OBAMA'S BIRTH. At 7:24 p.m. on August 4, 1961, Barack Hussein Obama II was born at Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii. His mother was white and born in Wichita, Kansas. His father was black and born in Kenya. By virtue of his mother's U.S. citizenship, and by virtue of his being born on U.S. soil, the infant Obama was inherently an American citizen.

Fast forward 45 years. Now-Senator Barack Obama has decided to run for the Presidency of the United States. For much of his campaign for office, and for over two years of his first term in office, reactionary forces within American society relentlessly beat the dead horse of the legitimacy of Obama's citizenship, claiming that there is no proof of his citizenship. The proof of his birth is public record, yet the forces of paranoid denial (now called "birthers") relentlessly insist that no such proof exists. Even the self-serving 2012 presidential hopeful Donald Trump debased himself by getting in on the act.

Today, in order to set the matter to rest and get on with the important issues the nation faces, President Obama released a detailed, certified copy of his Hawaii birth certificate to the public. Administration officials said they released the birth certificate "partially because the issue had moved beyond fringe discussion." They also criticized a media culture which would not let the story go. You can view a copy of the birth certificate below (click to enlarge), or you can view a much larger and more legible version by viewing the news release (which is worth reading in its entirety), and clicking on the prompt labelled "Click here for a close-up look at the birth certificate."

The entire affair is a sad commentary on the insidious nature of racist bigotry in the United States. Does anyone really imagine that if the child in question had been born in the U.S. to a white American mother and a white father from Europe, there would ever have been any controversy over his/her citizenship? No, there would not. The lynchings of the not-so-distant past have simply taken on a more subtle form -- character assassination. I have only pity for anyone who is terrified of having a qualified black, Asian, Latino, or Native American man or woman in public office. Wake up, people, we live in the 21st century. It's a new world. Whites are already a demographic minority in California, and soon will be in the nation at large. Get over yourselves.

The often-satirical news source The Onion posted a tongue-in-cheek followup story in which birthers have morphed into afterbirthers, "demanding the authentification of Barack Obama's placenta from his time in his mother's womb." This would be merely mildly amusing, if it weren't something to which conservative extremists might actually resort. We live in troubling times, characterized less by decency and dignity, and more by venom and hysteria. Thankfully we have a president who is capable of rising above the cat fighting -- a man with a longer vision for our country, guided by a firm understanding of its founding principles, as well as by his own ethics.

Speaking of venom and hysteria, I came across a refreshing treatise on the concept of hell. I'm decidedly not religious. In fact, I'm inclined to agree with Dustin Hoffman's character in the movie Straw Dogs when, in refuting the proselytizing of a local cleric, observes that more wars, torture, and human misery have been inflicted in the name of religion than any other cause. My own perception is that each of us creates our own version of heaven or hell, right here on Earth, and that if the potential for divinity exists at all, it exists within each of us.

Literal interpreters of various scriptures see things differently. I'm in accord with the writer of the treatise, who says that "This enthusiastic stumping for the reality of Hell betrays not only a shriveled sense of human decency and a repulsive interest in pain inflicted on others, but a deplorable lack of imagination. People have a hard time taking eternity seriously. I don't know of any theological descriptions of Hell that involve some version of parole hearings at regular intervals. The usual assumption is that it is an eternal sentence. For all the pious musings about the centrality of human choice, few of Hell's advocates allow for some version of that choice to persist after death. Seventy years or so on Earth, with unclear instructions and bad advice; infinite years in Hell for making the wrong decisions.

"Hell isn't an essential ingredient in humanity's freedom of agency. It's a horrible invention by despicable people who can't rise above their own petty bloody-mindedness .... I tend to take issue with religion on the grounds that it is factually wrong, not morally reprehensible. But if you want evidence for the latter, here [the concept of Hell] you go."

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