Of the Fourth of July, UNESCO’s Buddy Bears, and Atheists

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The Cuban Buddy BearRemember the U. N.? UNESCO, anyone? While lower Manhattan appears to have become the playground of incompetents, real estate manipulators, and egomaniacial poseurs, they have sponsored an amiable world tour of painted bears, one more variant of a popular shtick in public art, but one which seems, if you examine Joanna Gabler’s photographs, to have provided a fair share of fun, comfort, and instruction for the citizens of Warsaw. Lucas Miller’s latest post in his coverage of the Edinburgh International Film Festival is his review of Errol Morris’Standard Operating Procedure, which deserves our full attention.

So far, this Fourth of July message hasn’t offered much to get one out into the streets singing “You’re a grand old flag,” but there is hope yet. Ronan Noone’s The Atheistshows that the spirit of those grand old Americans Ambrose Bierce and Mark Twain lives! Earlier today, July 5, it warmed my heart to see two or three Americans stomp out of the theater, one of them contentiously asking for his money back at the ticket office—a telling sign that the WTF is doing good work this summer. Of course Bierce and Twain, especially the dark side of Twain, are as American as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. I am only concerned that the play may give some people the wrong idea about atheists and journalists—some people, I mean, those who aren’t really paying attention, and of course most people don’t. We must cherish our atheists. In this country as in the Middle East, both good atheists are as urgently needed as good journalists. In fact, some of the most moral people I’ve known are atheists or agnostics. They have to go it alone, you know.

It is hard to see The Atheist without thinking of Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, a long-neglected masterpiece whose time has come. And who can watch the manipulations of the cynical journalist Chuck Tatum without thinking of the Bush administration’s falsification of evidence in pushing the country into war in Iraq, the absurd rainbow of security alerts to engender fear and keep it alive, and a host of other deceptions?

As frustrated as we are with the state to which the Bush administration has brought us, none of us have forgotten the greatness of what is in danger of becoming more of a tradition than a reality, dare I say, a myth? Why don’t we celebrate the national holiday with a reading of the Constitution before we light up the grill and break out the Bud Light?

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