The Name Is Bond, James Bond

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Imagine sitting down over a few beers with an old friend.
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You catch up on the years since you’ve last seen each other. You ask about spouses and kids. Take a few shots at each other’s appearance. You’re fat. You’re bald. Maybe you start to loosen up and take a few bigger shots. You’ve always been ugly. How’d you get her to marry you, anyway?
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Hahahahahahaha.
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Then you start the “remember when”s. You remember old pals and former girlfriends. Never thought she was right for you. Yeah? I never liked yours either. You laugh about the time when he did something stupid. Then he laughs at something stupid you did. To no one’s particular surprise, it isn’t hard to remember enough stupid things to make quite a conversation.
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How long is it until you talk about work? And that’s when you stop talking so much and become the listener. You see, while you’ve been bouncing around the American corporate world, or the skilled trades, or some other thing, your old pal’s been logging in a 25-year career with the CIA. Think about it. There’s no topping the stories from his office parties.
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It was during one of those boozy sit-downs when my friend gave me a little insight into James Bond, the great British spy character created in 1953 by writer Ian Flemming, after whom all modern literature’s spy characters are loosely or directly based.
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My pal said there’s always a Bond but he changes over time to reflect the values of the era he’s placed in. 
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Bond is always tough. Bond is always brilliant and fearless. Bond is always a sex machine. So, of course, the idea of bringing Bond to film was irresistible.
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Over the years, Bond has been portrayed on film by 9 very different actors but the character himself has changed significantly as well. Sean Connery was the first feature film Bond, in 1962’s Dr. No. He was followed by many, including, most notably, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.
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Connery was the perfect post-WW2 Bond, carrying himself just like a combat veteran operating in the murky ambiguity of the Cold War. He was outdoorsy, tough, mouthy and unfailingly sexist.
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Moore was slick, blow-dried, corporate, movie-star clean and pretty. He was perfect to represent the period from disco to the Reagan era’s faux tough-guys.
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Brosnan was smooth, implacable, brilliant. The personification of a New Millennium, Internet start-up, computer-nerd’s wet-dream spy.
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And now we have Daniel Craig’s Bond. Cruel. Violent. Heartless. Inhuman. A thug. In truth, the perfect Bond for today’s world.
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Real Eagles

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I earned the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank attainable in Scouting, almost 40 years ago. I credit to my participation in Scouting my first real experience in leadership, the origins of my confidence speaking in public, and a lifelong love of being in respectful and appreciative contact with nature. I have a confidence in the outdoors few of my city-raised peers do. I made very close friends in Scouting, some of whom I remain in contact with, now many decades later.
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Generally, I have been quite proud of my Scouting experience.
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Last week, however, I read news which troubled me deeply. A 17 year-old was denied the Eagle Scout award he’d duly earned for the sole reason that he is gay.
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Scouting has long wrestled with issues of sexual identity and orientation, in both membership and leadership, and religious faith. The organization’s current position is that, to be eligible for affiliation, both boys and adult leaders must profess faith in God and be heterosexual. Both requirements are, I believe, anathema to managing organizations in diverse societies. Further, and more seriously, they send precisely the wrong message to the young men Scouting hopes to develop into America’s good, strong, moral men.
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America is a diverse society in which everyone matters. People are of numerous religious faiths, and of no religious faith at all. Good Americans are straight and gay alike.
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The same should go, I believe, for Eagle Scouts. 
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What Makes a City Livable?

Before the advent of industrial-era construction machinery and the widespread availability of automobiles, cities were, of necessity, built to human scale. Buildings were smaller because of what it took to erect them, and cities were organized around neighborhoods, because people moved either on foot or rudimentary public transit.

Look in our cities’ older neighborhoods, to the extent they still exist, and see how livable those places can look. They were made for people, for communities.

Contrast them, for example, with the new, walled-in styrofoam-faux neighborhoods along the San Francisco Bay Area’s I-580 corridor. Every component of housing stock looks identical to every other. You must do freeway driving to get anything or anywhere. There is no feeling of place and, not coincidentally, no place where neighbors meet.

There is a place in the heart of San Francisco, down the street from the financial district, a short walk from AT&T Park, where the baseball Giants play, a nice stroll from the Embarcadero and the historic Ferry Building, adjacent to the convention center.

It is the Yerba Buena Center, a place of quiet beauty, a children’s playground, hundred year-old carousel, ice rink, bowling alley, theater, children’s museum, open space where office workers come to lunch in the fresh air.

One piece of art depicts a human standing atop the earth. Sit on a nearby chair and the human sits. Stand and the human rises. No user manual, no instructional signs. You find the secret chair by exploring. (Hint: here’s a picture.)

To the extent they are, cities are livable because they’re made to be, on purpose.

The Freedom of Speech

The majority-Muslim world is still on fire with reaction to a film (well, a crudely produced trailer for a film unlikely to actually ever exist) which purposefully pokes fun at their religion’s prophet. Many countries are in the process of instituting greater levels of regulation about similar types of speech. That is to say, freedom of speech is increasingly being limited along religious grounds.

A newly-democratic Tunisia is, at this very moment, trying to find its balance point. Where are the limits, within its borders, of free speech? Can the prophet of Islam be criticized, caricatured, used as the butt of jokes?

Many in industrialized democracies, both here and in Europe especially, see this as backward thinking, regressive, superstitious, un-modern. This criticism is, I believe, self-righteous and unfair.

Every single society I’ve ever been a part of, known of, or read or heard about for that matter has at least one thing in common: freedom of speech within that society is limited or regulated in some way.

Some examples of the limits of free speech in free societies:

In Denmark, known and often envied for freedoms afforded citizens, it is illegal for: “Any person [to] publicly or with the intention of disseminating … make a statement … threatening, insulting, or degrading a group of persons on account of their race, national or ethnic origin or belief.”

In France, individuals and media are generally free but subject to several significant exceptions, including prohibitions against “…incitement to hatred, discrimination, slander and racial insults,” xenophobia (including a specific prohibition against Holocaust denial), or hatred against people due to gender, sexual orientation or disability.

The Basic Federal Law of Germany affirms freedom of expression with the following exceptions:

  • Insults which do not respect human dignity
  • Malicious gossip, defamation
  • Hate speech against segments of the population and in a manner that is capable of disturbing the public peace (including racist agitation and anti-Semitism)
  • Holocaust denial, the use of symbols of unconstitutional organizations (e.g., the Swastika)
  • Disparagement of the Federal President, the state and its symbols
  • Rewarding and approving crimes, casting false suspicion
  • Insulting of faiths.

In addition, public outdoor assemblies must be registered beforehand. Assemblies at memorial sites are banned. Individuals and groups may be banned from assembling, especially those whose fundamental rights have been revoked and banned political parties.

In Greece, the Constitution makes it an offense for the press to insult the President of Greece as well as Christianity and any other religion recognized by the state.

In the United States, there are numerous oft-used exceptions to freedom of speech, including:

  • Obscenity
  • Defamation
  • Incitement to riot or imminent lawless action, fighting words
  • Fraud, speech covered by government granted monopoly (copyright), and speech integral to criminal conduct
  • Speech related to information decreed to be related to national security such as military and classified information

If there is a society in which speech is completely free and unregulated, I don’t know of it. All societies recognize that there are legitimate competing interests; to maintain a functioning society, there must be boundaries around free speech. Each society must (and does) decide for itself which interests need acknowledgment, which need protection.

Which brings us back to current events and reactions to them.

The desire of Tunisians to protect the image of their prophet is no different than prohibitions in, for example, Greece, in either intent or substance. And people of the Muslim world might therefore, I believe, fairly ask why the world’s industrial democracies can see fit to create judicial protections for the images of their precious presidents but believe Tunisians’ violent reactions to defamation of their prophet beyond the boundaries of modern, civilized behavior.