Windows and Doors

Below is a copy of the Statement I got from the White House, and while I appreciate the words, I can’t help but also ask, “Is this the best we can do?” 

United States Mission to the United Nations

Office of Press and Public Diplomacy

799 United Nations Plaza

New York, NY 10017

(212) 415-4050


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USUN PRESS RELEASE #170                                                                    September 7, 2011


Statement by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, on Her Meeting with Noam Shalit, September 7, 2011


I was honored to meet with Noam Shalit today, 1,900 days after his son, Gilad, was taken captive. During this period, Hamas has held Gilad hostage and without access by the International Committee of the Red Cross, in violation of international humanitarian standards and basic decency. I expressed to Mr. Shalit the solidarity of the United States with him and his family, and I reiterated our strongest condemnation of his son’s detention. As I have said repeatedly in the UN Security Council, Hamas must immediately and unconditionally release Gilad Shalit.



For more than 5 years an innocent kidnap victim has suffered, and words are the best we can do?  The United States is the most powerful nation in the world, and while I know that the fate of virtually no single person will be at the top of a nation’s priority list, our country needs to do more.  Frankly, I believe that Israel does too, but that is a different conversation — one about how standing on principle gets dangerously in the way of saving this kid’s life.  But let’s keep this close to home.  What more could, and should, the United States be doing to secure the release of Gilad Shalit?



I know, at first it seems that ethics and reality TV are about as connected as fire and water – one being the antidote for the other.  But perhaps it’s not as simple as that, a conclusion supported by the recent spate of articles arguing that reality TV producers need to create, and commit, to a code of ethics which would govern their shows. Given the amazingly poor, and often self-destructive kinds of human behavior featured in such shows, it’s not surprising that more reasonable people are beginning to question how producers treat the casts of these shows and what they do to stimulate some of the more truly pathetic antics that make up what often count as the shows’ highlights.

This debate has erupted especially in light of the news that Russell Armstrong, featured in Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, committed suicide after complaining to family members about the ”overwhelming” pressure of life in the spotlight.

Such questions become especially acute as reality TV reaches beyond adult performers, and features children in what are sometimes pretty sick situations. Another current example showed up in “Toddlers & Tiaras” and the case of a four year old child who was paraded on the stage in a Dolly Parton outfit complete with fake boobs and a “tush enhancement.”

This is sick stuff, but only slightly more extreme than what passes for normal on this show, which focuses on kids ranging in age from baby to pre-adolescent, competing in contests which reward them for dressing up as street walkers. Okay, that may be a bit harsh, but only a bit. These pageants demand that little girls slink across a stage in adult cocktail wear, swimsuits, and other apparel which puts these shows on the edge of kiddie porn. That’s just not right.

Suggestions for the content of the proposed code of ethics include limiting the appearance of children, assuring regular sleep for those who do appear, limiting cast access to alcohol, and guaranteeing contact with family and friends not associated with the shows. These are all reasonable enough suggestions, and it’s hard to imagine that such shows wouldn’t retain their enormous appeal even if they were implemented. But even if implemented, such a code is only one third of the answer, and the easiest one at that.

It’s easy to blame the companies who produce these shows because it shifts all responsibility away from us and onto what are, for most people, nameless, faceless entities. Blaming them and only them is the perfect way to avoid responsibility while sounding off about ethics – talk about an ethical short fall! The bigger and more difficult ethical issues with reality TV lay with those who perform in them and the audiences who watch them.

The producers need to do better, to be sure, but so do the cast members. Demanding more of them, would also need to be part of any truly ethical reform process. Who are the people who perform on these shows? Does anyone evaluate their mental health before allowing them to go on air? Why is nobody making demands about the ethical obligations which they need to assume before being allowed to participate in such shows? But that leaves the third, and most important part of this equation – us.

We, the American viewing public, have real power here. If we really wanted this to end, we would stop heckling the producers and simply turn off the shows. Television is a market, and if the market for exploitative reality TV dried up, exploitative reality TV would go away. If they didn’t make money for their producers, the producers would stop producing them.

Of course following the above course of action means giving up something many millions of us really love. Exploitative reality TV is like the worst kind of junk food which we almost all of us crave at one time or another – really tasty in the moment and incredibly unhealthy if consumed in large quantities or on any kind of regular basis. But also like junk food, the American public is not simply going to give up on this stuff, and pretending that we will is silly.

My own healthy, well-adjusted, generally quite successful teenage daughters are occasional viewers of some of these shows. As one of them said to me, “when I finish my homework at midnight, and my brain is totally fried, it’s what I want to watch.” I get it. It’s how I feel about pizza and beer from time to time.

Rather than bemoan the existence of most of this programming (the sexualization of children really should be banned without exception, in my view), laying off all the blame on others, why not look to ourselves, and admit that we want these shows, but will consume less of them. Think of it as a TV diet. Like any successful diet, it respects both that which we want and that which we need.

The ethical thing to do is always about doing better given what can’t or won’t be changed. It demands a mindful response, even when conditions are not ideal. That is what we should demand from the producers of reality TV, and from those who appear on it, and from all those who watch it.

Secularists, atheists really, are following other ethnic and religious identity groups in using academia to create and/or shore up a particular cultural identity.  For example, noted atheist secularist, and editor of the Humanistic Bible, A. C. Grayling is opening a “secular university” this year. 

Jews, African-Americans and Hispanics have all used academic studies for just that purpose and now atheist secularists are following suit. Whether this new initiative is a good thing or not, depends on how it is handled.  There precedent for doing it well, and for doing it quite badly.

In doing so, atheist secularists must also admit that despite claiming otherwise, theirs is every bit as much an identity claim as it is a supposedly neutral approach to a bunch of cold facts. That alone may be a valuable issue to surface.

Like their predecessors in this process, these atheist secularists seek recognition of a particular identity, in this case a sort of anti-theistic religious identity. That claim will disturb the many secularists who take great umbrage at having their secularism described as a faith, but what else could it be?

The kind of secularism advocated by people like Professor Grayling, is not determined by race, ethnicity, or by geography. It is determined by commitment to a premise for which there is no proof i.e. the absence of God. While I don’t share their conclusion, there is no reason why either that claim, or the work of those who espouse it, should be any less worthy of exploration than Judaism or Buddhism, which already have their place in the academy.

Like other so-called area studies advocates however, secularists now also run the risk of becoming myopic defenders of an intellectual fiefdom whose value is inversely proportional to its ability to interact with and be informed by other disciplines. And based on the number of statements and publications which are more concerned with explaining the “foolishness” of faith and the threat of religious domination, which come from this community, it seems that they may be traveling down just that road.

The issue for any identity group is the degree to which it can maintain its particular identity while also remaining engaged with the larger community — both learning from it and contributing to it. There is no doubt that many religious and ethnic groups have done, and continue to do a remarkably bad job in that regard. There is now increasing evidence that secularists will continue that tradition rather than help correct it. I hope that I am wrong, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Of course, it may just be a matter of time. The early generations of Jewish studies programs were mostly for Jewish men, and they were none-too-friendly for others. The early generations of African-American and women’s studies programs were famously hostile to whites and to men, respectively. Perhaps, just as there has been improvement in those fields, we will see the same evolutionary process in secular studies. One can hope.

And hopefully, those pursuing this field will begin that process by acknowledging how remarkably like those they most oppose they really are. That is the recognition which accompanies most great leaps in personal awareness and intellectual growth — the kind, presumably, to which Professor Grayling and his supporters are most deeply committed.

An ugly fight over what prayers can be said, and by whom, at Houston’s national cemetery, is getting uglier.  Plaintiffs are now suing the Department of Veterans’ Affairs over what they call “banning God at military funerals” and for making “Jesus unwelcome at gravesides” of fallen veterans.  That simply isn’t true.

And while as VA officials say, they simply want families to decide the nature of their loved one’s funeral service, including the words which are said, those same officials could be more sensitive to the religious sensibilities of many of their clients.

Not only is the suit unnecessary, it is part of a well-established national trend that wastes an enormous amount of money.  According to the Manhattan Institute, The United States struggles with a uniquely costly civil justice system. The direct costs of tort litigation, in particular, reached $247 billion in 2006, more than what Americans spend every year on new automobiles!

That God is being used to fuel that kind of needless fighting and wasteful spending should disturb all of us, especially people of faith.  Religious people should be at the forefront of working problems out, not exacerbating them.  They should be taking the lead in using conversation, not leaping at every opportunity for increased litigation.

Win or lose, the plaintiffs in this case are using personal pain to score political points, which is certainly as bad as VA officials lamely hiding behind words like “inclusive” and “respecting families’ wishes”.  Litigating God is rarely a good idea, and in this case it’s both costly and foolish.