Category Archives: Keep the population in check

Election Night 2016: The Nightmare

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‘History is a Nightmare from which I am trying to  awake.’

So says Stephan Daedalus in James Joyce’s Ulysses, in a moment in which he refuses to be politicized by the history of 800 years of British oppression of Ireland.

It puts things in perspective.

Election night. My fellow registered Democrats and I stand in a bar in Central London watching the results roll in. We have been working for weeks, and in fact most of my fellow Democrats for several months leading up to the election. We have regularly sat around a table littered at various points with laptops, bowls of potato chips, takeout coffees and sugary snacks, high up in a building let to the Democrats Abroad near Covent Garden, phonebanking our fellow Americans in order to get out the vote. Some of us — not me personally — have made thousands of calls. This is a massive global juggernaut of a campaign in which we have taken part. It has reached out to millions of compatriots worldwide.

Perched atop our liberal London eyrie, we steadfastly believe that our candidate is about to spread her flawed but moderately progressive wings and fly into history, heroically heralding in great swooping strides four to eight more years of Democratic residency in the White House.

Even as results roll in and we stand holding our collective breath, fingers crossed double behind backs, sugar plu, Joe Bidens dancing in our heads, even when we see the blue states crash blood red, even then we believe all is not lost, though our hearts are not as buoyant as they were when the evening started. Even as I leave my second party of the evening, the one I have got to after 2 am, the one where all the guests have already left in despair and the host ruefully sips wine and says ‘hath no man here a dagger for me?’ with his eyes, even then I think that the unions of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in my home state of Pennsylvania, which has not gone red for a generation, I feel even now most in our hour of need, the treacherous rednecks of Bucks, Monroe, Lackawanna and Susquehanna counties won’t betray us. Surely not now.

Only bleary eyed, in the cold, harsh political hangover of the next day after several precious but fitful hours of sleep the Ipad unusually laying beside me open to the BBC’s all night coverage, only then do I find that history is indeed a nightmare from which I am trying to awake all day long, and the corrosive politics of my country will once again away at itself and the world at large for a sustained and unpredictable amount of time.

Our eagle has flapped and fallen and we’ve all come tumbling down. Like the destruction of some intergalactic world, defenseless and full of reasonably progressive politics, it is as though a thousand leftist voices cry out in pain and then stop, disturbing the galactic balance of the force.

Well… the voices don’t stop for a good few weeks. They still haven’t.

Much to the displeasure of Trump voters and gloaters including my own Republican parents.

And well those voices shouldn’t stop.

The easiest path in the universe would be to throw in the towel, lie down and characterize your fellow citizens inbred piles of chewed up tobacco for brains as I did just six paragraphs ago, like the smug liberal piss ant than I am.

But we know what we have to do.

No. It’s not to rally together and bond, ‘healing wounds’ in some saccharine crusted patchwork quilt. Cauterize maybe. but not heal. Some wounds are worth keeping. Some pain is worth remembering.

We need to do what we did not do during the entire campaign. We must tell a compelling story about the terrible risk and the horrible threat that our own commander-in-chief poses to us as Americans. We need to keep raising our voices as loudly and clamorously as possible.

We need to keep on waking each other up from this nightmare of history, keep waking each other up every day and stay as woke as we can.

 

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Crazy Sh*& My Republican Parents Say or Trying to Find Traction in Nonsense

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ibtimes.com

 

“But Dad, I read an article from Alternet that meticulously compiled Trump’s interviews and public statements. You want to know how often he lies? Statistically, he lies every five minutes.”

“Yeah?! Well She lies every two minutes.”

“Um… uh… um… well. That’s pretty bad.”

My father. Just a few weeks ago. Making a sound case that a vote for Hillary is just as bad as a vote for Trump.

I mean, come onAmerica! What do you do? And I’m not talking to just my small, closed-with-an-insularity-and-fascism-that-stinks-of-npr-the-guardian-the-new-york-times-and-radio-4, left wing, like-minded card carrying traitors commies liberals. I mean the almost sensible compassionless, selfishly driven amiable and good tempered conservatives and libertarians that I haven’t unfriended and or stopped talking to.

How do you find traction in a post-fact, post-truth world of unreality and ignorance. Like the young Republican — with whom I had a bizarre exchange back in my college days in front of the Willard building in Penn State — who told me in front of my Green Party Stall that he’s an environmentalist and has a great bumper sticker that says ‘pave the rainforests’ right before hearty guffaws of laughter, sudden change to seriousness and then, “but seriously, what about the family planning clinics that are responsible for the fall of Western Civilisation?” with no irony whatsoever, the right wing modus operandi is science fiction.And aside from my old pal ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, how is a thinking person to respond?

It’s the bistro ship in The Hitchhiker’s Guide. It defies all laws of history, memory, logic and thought to drag its notions of fancy and imagination from the ununiverse of black space dust and anti-matter into existence and real form, looking odd, misshapen, lumpy and… well… not of this world.

How else do you explain Trump? He’s finally used enough of his underpaid workers from his various restaurants and hotels (whose nationalities he loves) to bring himself from the void of nothingness in between dimensions into reality like some hideously deformed, monstrous product of hate fostered over say… oh… I don’t know… the last eight years or so (that’s right, Republicans, it’s true. This is of your own making. What Republicans read my blog?).

I thought that if I was honest with my father for the first time about my political views (I’m in my… ahem… late thirties), that we’d have a productive exchange of views, that we’d air our differences, that we’d get to know each other better. I mean, did my Dad really not know all these years that I was as far to the left as the hard shoulder of an American passing lane. Well as far to the left as a European Conservative. Well, as far to the left as an American socialist?

But my father, like so many Republicans so happy to trample all over Godwin, likes to pull arguments out of all sorts of places and as long as he emphasises them with enough conviction, brandish them as truth or fact or legitimate even. It’s difficult when truth gets in the way, so it’s easy to brush aside. Like when my mother also said over the summer:

“I’m hopeful. George W. Bush didn’t seem too smart at first but he did pretty good,” to which of course my reaction was absolute horror, or in the parlance of the post-truth millennial world, shocked face, shocked face, shocked face, pile of poop. How could my mother not know to say pretty well instead of pretty good? So embarrassing.

And how could bad, Northeastern Pennsylvanian grammar erase the truth from one’s mind of one of the most divisive presidents in history?

In the same way that the constant drip of Hannity, Dennis Miller and the strange, circuitous, other-worldly logic of Trump can make you think that he’s “not that bad”, that he’s going to “make America great” again and that he’s going to somehow “sort out the jobs for everyone” by closing us off to the world and tacitly encouraging a violent dystopian society in which dissenting voices are dragged out and silenced.

And I suppose this is why the best argument we have lies with the post-millenials, like my nine year old son, who, on our first morning of our annual trip to America, said to my father, “Grandpa, do you actually like Trump?”

My father cautiously replied with, “Well, I like some of his ideas,” to which my son, with great conviction responded with, “don’t! I think he’s a big fat idiot and farthead!” and continued making fart and poop jokes about Trump for another ten minutes.

Out of the mouths of babes comes the most effective rebuttals to the childish arguments of the right.

Laughter, the most potent weapon.

Trump’s America

You don’t have to look far to find this strange and delusional man’s vision for the country

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From Deadspin.com, 1990, The Tour De Trump

I have an abiding memory of Donald Trump that seems illustrative.

I am 12 years old. It is 1990. I am laying lazily on my grandmother’s sofa sheltering from the summer heat. The TV is on. I haven’t put it on, haven’t tuned in, haven’t consciously looked for a particular show. It’s just on. And I am vaguely aware, from my almost supine position on my grandmother’s sofa after spending all day at the beach near Point Pleasant, New Jersey and then collapsed from sheer, childish exhaustion, that there are sports commentators narrating the events of whatever I’m watching. I’m furthermore vaguely aware that there are athletes in spandex shorts and oblong helmets and brightly colored shirts  and muscles rippling beneath spandex, that are pelting down asphalt, sweating their hearts out, determination and hope in their eyes.

I look up to my uncle, who has just walked in from the kitchen, probably with a sandwich in his hands. He takes one look at the TV and says to me what is perhaps one of the most politically perceptive insights I have ever had imparted to me.

‘Ah. The Tour de Trump. I think he must have been very insecure as a child. He seems to have a compulsive need to name everything after himself.’

My uncle then plops himself down on the couch and proceeds to finish his sandwich while watching the race. Nothing more that I know of was said about it, certainly not in the vast stores of my memory banks. But the more I reflect on it as I see that the Republican Party has given in to is baser urges and finally taken complete leave of its senses, shifting the responsibility of steering the thing to those who have a compulsive need to take a hard right towards the next rocky outcropping, the wiser my Uncle’s insight seems.

Because Trump did name everything after himself back then including his galactic failure of a cycling event. Trump Tower, Trump Marina, Taj Ma Trump… no wait a minute… the Trump mahal… hang on a sec. The point is, for a time in the 80s, before Trump decided to upend the monopoly board with everyone else’s pieces on it, declare bankruptcy, and start buying the world and charging us double the rent for living in it all over again, Atlantic City became Trump World, an idealistic utopian space into which we walked when we wanted to each perfect venture capitalist paradise.

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From business insider.com

So, if actions are indeed stronger than words and if we take Trump’s purchase and branding of  a whole city as his model for his vision of America, what do we learn, boys and girls? Well, do we want an America in which retirees gamble away their pension plans, trust funds and retirement savings on slim chances in which there are no real winners? Do we want an America that looks shiny from a certain angle, say, coming at us from the Eastern side of The Atlantic only to find that the sheen we project is only as substantial as the glass front of a seaside hotel and beyond that, we are nothing but hypnotised obese, complacent automatons, waddling or scooting to the next billboard without questioning whether our lives belong to a higher purpose? A homeland where beyond that sheen, our poor, our starving, and our huddled masses continue to huddle and continue to reach out their hands in supplication lumped together with the degenerates, the undesirables, and anyone else whose lifestyles or beliefs are alien to the interests of the United States, leaving The Great Gamesmaster in his great tower, the great big insecure child presiding over, and branding us all, from his little fiefdom on the Jersey shore to his great inward looking fiefdom smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic?

Oh, Republicans, my fellow Americans, my moderate peeps, where are you? I used to number among you. With his latest call to boycott Apple for their cowardly call to stand up for civil liberties, Trump turns my stomach. If I was still a young conservative, he would certainly have turned me liberal. 

Unwittingly Racist $#*! My Dad Says

trayvon martin shooting

image taken from otherwords.org

We are in Friendly’s, an American institution that provides serviceably mediocre food and miraculously pleasure-inducing concoctions called Fribbles. I am immensely content. I am on my annual summer pilgrimage back to the homeland and my younger brother, Paul has come out to dinner. The atmosphere is jovial, even though my parents are also out.

I usually know what subjects to avoid with Mom and Dad, such as politics, on which my father and I stand on violently different ends of the opinion spectrum on most issues, but I am relaxed, my guard is down, and it is July. The Trayvon Martin case is still fresh in the national consciousness, open and raw as a wound. I forget myself and marvel aloud, “Whew. That Trayvon Martin case. Pretty horrible stuff, huh?”

My Dad’s eyes widen in what I mistake for agreement, ‘Absolutely. Such a terrible case. I feel sorry for his family.’ I am touched by his uncharacteristic compassion until he continues, “I mean, if I was in his situation, I would’ve killed a black guy too.” I hear a record suddenly screech and come to a halt in my head. My brother’s fork drops from his hand to his plate with a loud clang.

My father looks around at all of us to make sure his assertion has had its intended effect, hooking his audience. There are several black families in close proximity to our table, some in clear throttling distance of my father. He continues chewing his rubbery steak vigorously and continues asserting with equal vigour. “Yeah. I’d have killed a black guy too in that situation. I definitely would have killed the black guy if I were Robert Zimmerman,” and then as an afterthought, perhaps registering slightly the collective horror on our faces, adds, “Or a white guy,” making no attempt to lower his voice.

Most people would look around and lower their volume. Most would know better than to say something like that out loud anyway. My father is not most people. He could not care less whether he is in the comfort of his own home where none of the public at large can spew racist bile even in context never mind utterances taken out of context. I am inclined to think that even people who agree with Dad know better than to say so out loud, in public. For I feel most would have the wherewithal to fear for their safety after exhibiting such behaviour. Frankly, I think even David Duke would know better than to say such things out loud.

But not my father. Oh no.

He is at the point in his life, his mid 70s, where he is both aware of his own impunity due to age (“Mommy, who is that racist firebrand in the corner?” “Oh, leave him alone dear. He’s from a different generation. Don’t stare now.”) and feels duty bound, utterly convinced of his own rightness, to “spread the word”. Ed Lawler, truth-teller, Christian soldier, saviour of the universe.

Likely as not, none of the other customers really care about what my father says as he launches into a tirade — before Paul or I can get over our collective shock and construct any kind of coherent response —  about how much Trayvon Martin had it coming to him, how he was a gang member who bragged on video about how many people he had killed, about how he sold drugs and about how he was “high on drugs” that infamous night in Florida. In a furious internal race for a response, I discard the idea of reminding my father about that part in 12 Angry Men where Jack Lemmon proves to the rest of the jury that just because you talk about killing people doesn’t mean you are going to or have done the deed. Instead, I opt for a gentler, socratic method.

“But Dad, he would have had to have been high on PCP to act as ragingly violent as you say he did, wouldn’t he?”

Without missing even a half-beat, “That’s the least he was high on according to reports!” He’s worked up a righteous sanctimony at this point. What drugs, I wonder, that my Dad actually knows about, are worse than PCP for turning human beings into raging lunatics? Amanita Muscaria? Sure, my Dad has worked as a social worker with disadvantaged youth, but a narcotics squad consultant he is not.

As my blood pressure rises, I try a different tack. “But the emergency services told him not to approach the kid, didn’t they?” I think I manage a pretty reasonable tone.

“No! No they told him not to let the kid get away because the police were looking for him! He might have gone on to kill someone that night. He was into all sorts of gangs.” Should I mention that loyalty in sticking to one primary gang is generally valued as important in gang culture? Nah. Besides, facts are no longer germane to Dad’s argument.

Even as he makes this last comment, my mother, the June to my father’s Ward Cleaver (my parents’ relationship started in the early 60s and has worked its way backwards ever since), the woman who has most adeptly mastered the Nancy Reagan gaze of unquestioning adoration, even my mother is shaking her head in disagreement, “No Eddie. I think Pete’s right. The police…”

“No, let me finish,” Dad barks as we waves away my mother’s words with his fork, wielding it like an imperial sceptre.

He is in his irrational stride and has struck upon  another favorite of the right wing debate playbook: emotional blackmail.

“Think about Paul! The guys who attacked him were black. They targeted Paul. If anyone’s guilty of racial profiling, it’s them. Paul could’ve sued them for discrimination.” Ah yes, from the sublime to the ridiculous in one short leap. The dogmatic AK 47 rifle of the conservative arsenal — reverse racism. My brother looks less than impressed that his experience of a few years before of being beaten to the point of hospitalisation being moved out as a pawn in our father’s great oratorical onslaught. Then comes the proverbial smoking sidearm.

“If Paul had a gun, he wouldn’t have ended up in the hospital. They would.”

“Actually,” Paul pipes up, “I’m glad I didn’t have a gun because frankly, I think I’d be dead by now if I had since they probably would have used it. On me.”

This neutralises Dad’s attack, momentarily, but long enough for me to seize the momentum and redirect the course of the conversation, “Well done!” I exclaim in my son’s direction. “You’ve eaten all your vegetables!” The boy beams with pride and my mother, rallying without hesitation, says, “I think someone deserves an ice cream.”

And with that, hostilities temporarily subside, but this conversation is not over. And I know it.

That evening, I find myself driven by rage to the internet, desperate to find cold, hard fact, verifiable, documented, evidential weaponry with which to penetrate my father’s impregnable fortress of fiction founded on hoodie wearing youths, brains addled with a toxic combination of THC and PCP, knives and guns drawn, rampaging through the streets looking to slaughter innocent white and Hispanic neighborhood watchers concealing weapons.

I search out my father’s insular illusions first, entering the search terms, “Trayvon Martin was high on PCP,” only to find that he has gorged himself on the gluttony of a steady diet of Fox, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Greg Gutfeld, and others derivatively drawing on this guest list for the party to take America back for the stuffy, rich and white. Sifting past, I finally find what I’m looking for, print out my research, study it, and tuck myself into bad with a sense of excitement and smugness.

I don’t have to wait long the next morning before My father somehow manages, in the uncannily circuitous way he has, to bring the topic of the conversation back to his own myopic vision. Like me, he has trouble letting go. Over breakfast:

“That’s why I say, this guy was on drugs. He represented a clear danger to society.”

I waste no time.

“Actually Dad, according to the toxicology report from the trial records, there were only trace amounts of THC in his system that could have been at best, three days old and therefore would not affected his behaviour at all. Plus, since it was THC, not PCP, it would have made him anything but aggressive.”

This gives him pause. But not long pause. Here peers down at me as he helps himself to more coffee, with obvious patience and a bit of condescension. Suddenly I am 11years old again. He is teaching me chess and I have just fallen into the trap of the devil’s crossroads, again. Oh Pete, his eyes seem to say, will you ever learn?

“Well, a toxicologist is not a psychologist. I worked with a psychologist for years who said that anyone on drugs would kill their own mother for their next hit. Believe me. Being on drugs affected Trayvon Martin and he had no morals.” Believe me. Hmmm. With this pronouncement, he shrugs and walks back into the kitchen to fetch the maple syrup,

But, but.

“But did you know that Zimmerman rang the police 40 some odd times in the last couple years to alert them to his suspicions of random black people around him?” I call futilely after him, to which his response is another shrug, as though calling the cops every day to express suspicions about racial minorities is a daily occurrence in his life. Surely, we should all have a quota of calls to make to the police expressing some anxiety about random strangers of a different skin color?

His defences are back up. My attack of reason has failed. My father retired from New Jersey to the backwoods of Pennsylavania to isolate himself from the challenge of the outside world and his mind has remained comfortably, sitting, defensibly, atop the peaks of his mountain.

But then, I consider, perhaps if a position is unassailable by logic and refuses to give account for itself through vigorous interrogations, then perhaps it is not a position any rational, reasonable person would take anyway.

Cold comfort, as I sip my coffee and look over at my son, carelessly popping Cheerios into his mouth and I wonder about his cultural inheritance, and the world into which he is growing.

For Shame, Homeland

Trayvon Martin

Image taken from guardian.co.uk

Good God, America.

Good God.

I try to be a good ambassador. I really do. I argue that we have culture and intelligence and that we’re an ethnic melting pot built on the highest ideals. But you know what? You make it hard not to have contempt for you, my country, when things like this happen.

The internet is already awash with a raging war of words about Trayvor Martin, by individuals far wiser and more eloquent than myself, as is right and to be expected. This kind of case rips open the sensitive scar tissue of a nation. It sparks fears and riots and intense divisions.

One of the best that I’d seen though, shared by a friend on facebook earlier today was not from a pundit on either side, but from a great novelist. Ah those amazing observers of human behaviour and psychology. The storytellers. The novelists.

Trayvon Martin

image from frrole.com

The empty calls for calm ring hollow in the midst of such clear injustice and since your various feeds will be saturated, I’ll be quick and share a poem I like an awful lot about what use words, poetry or beauty are in the face of such callous disregard for the principles of fairness. It’s called “For Saundra” by Nikki Giovanni. You’ve got to stick around for the end. That’s the kicker really. Enjoy.

For Saundra
Nikki Giovanni


i wanted to write
a poem
that rhymes
but revolution doesn’t lend
itself to be-bopping

then my neighbor
who thinks i hate
asked -do you ever write
tree poems – i like trees
so i thought
ill write a beautiful green tree poem
peeked from my window
to check the image
noticed the school yard was covered
with asphalt
no green -no trees grow
in manhattan

then, well, i thought the sky
ill do a big blue sky poem
but all the clouds have winged
low since no-Dick was elected

so i thought again
and it occured to me
maybe i shouldn’t write
at all
but clean my gun
and check my kerosene supply

perhaps these are not poetic
times
at all
 

Jim Carrey Sort of Missing The Target

Jim Carrey Gun Control

Jim Carrey incisively sticking it to the gun lobby (image via theblaze.com, still from ‘Cold Dead Hand’ on Funny Or Die)

I like Jim Carrey and I admire his brave stance on gun control; I laughed at him for the first time in years when I watched ‘Cold Dead Hand‘. Over. And over. And over again.

So I hate to say this, but I think he’s missing the point here.

I know. I know. The twitterstorm about his refusal to promote Kick-Ass 2, in which he appears, is old hat (Geez, Pete, like epic #timeliness #fail. That is so June 24th, 2013), but bear with me for just a few seconds because this is an attempt at drive-by pith here.

Carrey’s backed out of promoting the film because he ‘cannot support that level of violence,’ which is fine. Anyone can have a change of heart and he probably wanted to appear consistent given the vocal stance he’s taken on Sandy Hook. Typically, howls of hypocrite have come frothing unpleasantly from the mouths of cadres of conservative do gooders looking to sort ’em out on earth like our Puritan forefathers.

I do not know what Jim Carrey’s response will be to these fits of verbal flatulence coming from the wrong ends of the twitter accounts of loudest mouths on fox, but I can’t help but feel like by backing out of promoting the film, he missed a real opportunity to confront this vicious political environment on its own terms by stating the obvious: there is no direct causal relationship between violent media and violent behaviour.

I watched all the Freddy Kruger films and the Friday the 13th franchise. I even saw one of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films in the theatre, but I somehow grew up to be a productive non-violent member of society. So have millions of others. None of these films lead to massacres or murders because they encapsulate and articulate the fears of us all during the 1980s about what lay lurking behind the rapidly decreasing family structure and what happens to our children when we aren’t there to protect them, but by articulating those fears, as awful as those films were, they functioned to help us deal with them. And yet, there are so many gun deaths and so much violent behaviour. I admit, I find some videogames irresponsibly violent, but that does not mean I hold them responsible for gun violence.

But don’t take my word for it. See what Dr Gene Beresin says in Psychology Todaybacked up by studies done by the FBI, the Secret Service and various other medical researchers who conclude that there is ‘no causal relationship between violent games and violent behaviour.’ So no matter how much blame-shifting the NRA does, there is no getting away from the corrosively unhealthy gun culture alive and well in America today.

I still think Jim Carrey is a good guy. I wish he’d made that point.

I’ve got the power! But how much Choice?

Election2012

Just look at all those Candidates!

To paraphrase The C & C Music Factory, we’ve got the power. This is a cropped bit of my absentee ballot, which, after much negotiation I had emailed out to me by the good people at the Monroe County Board of electors. And with the race as close as ever, and the GOP making a last-ditch effort to throw my home state back into play, this will be in the early pickup tomorrow, post-haste as every vote counts and the latest polls have Romney and Obama in a statistical tie.

Still, I have to admit, it’s not as exciting as it used to be.

I remember excitedly ripping my envelope marked Board of Electors in elections past and relishing the long list of names and choices competing for everything from local councils right up to the top job and marveling to myself, “Ain’t democracy grand?” This year of our lord two thousand and twelve, I can’t help but feel palpably disappointed. Four candidates? Is that all? Are there are only four possible political platforms in our vast and socially diverse nation from which to choose our next leader? No, I’m not so naive as to think there’s effectively any more than two, but in theory at least, the choice is there. I still think, as I have always done, that our system needs to allow for more room for third parties and a plurality of representation of different voices, but that is a debate in which we’d have to talk about overhauling the whole election system and anyhow would that even get third parties themselves to take responsibility and learn from their European counterparts that you have to start from the ground up?

But in theory, in theory, we are supposed to have an openly representative democracy. Is it becoming less so with each election? Back in 2000, I would have had no less than seven candidates from which to choose a new president. Four years later, that number would be reduced to six. In the year in which we elected our first black president, we had a total of five candidates who had enough ballot access to win 270 electoral votes. In a week’s time, it seems we will have a measly four candidates making up our pool of potential head honchos.

My worry is this: with an ever-diminishing choice of potential candidates, are we becoming a more closed, polarized nation divided in bitterness and rancor and unable to open ourselves to the plethora of possibilities that a democracy should be? I lament the loss of Nader. He consistently brought our attention back to issues that candidates, this year especially, refuse to acknowledge as important. I feel for someone like Gary Johnson, a man who has admirably consistent, intellectually grounded freemarket, independent principles. I could never vote for him, but it is thoroughly loathsome that Republicans in some states are trying to prevent me from doing so. If we refuse to even allow certain candidates to play the election game, whose voices are we excluding? And more importantly, what are we refusing to talk about? What are we afraid to hear?

Election2012 Thirdparty candidate

We certainly haven’t heard much in the national discourse this election season about climate change, have we?

You might also like to check out this fascinating article on the marginalization of third parties in US Presidential politics from the AlJazeera website.

Mitt Romney: Truer American Historically? Possibly, but we are still making history

The Republican Presidential Nominee 2012

I’m on my way to the Meeting House… I mean White House to take charge around here (Photo taken from the Wall Street Journal’s website).

Many years ago, when I was a slip of a youth attending history lectures at Penn State University, one of my most brilliant and dynamic lecturers, Dr. Harold Aurand, said something that’s stuck with me. He probably didn’t think about it much at the time; it was more by way of instruction that he told us that America’s first two colonies were The Virginia Company and The Plymouth Colony. The first, founded in 1606, was a commercial venture, driven by the need to make money out of fertile unexploited land in ‘the new world’. The latter, founded in 1620, was a group of ‘pilgrims’ fleeing religious persecution and setting out to create a perfect puritan society, a low church utopia.

What struck me was that there you have the twin pillars upon which our fine nation has been founded: Religion and Profit. In the 90s, when I was attending university and ever since, it’s been a helpful filter through which to understand a lot of what goes on in my homeland, including the increasingly bewildering alignment of the extreme right with big business and major American corporations financing people like the moral majority and charter schools that have an austerely puritanical ethos.

And so it is with the GOP’s offering this year for the highest office in the land; he happens to be the two things most beloved by reactionary America: severely Christian and rich. I’m not holding either of those things against him personally, but extremist elements of the right have been misquoting history for years now starting with the “Tea Party” (terrorist act against the crown anyone?), so it is no surprise that the North Atlantic Tories have a special place in their hearts for Mitt.

I just worry.

Great as our nation is and great though our forefathers were, I have no desire to return to a society that outlaws general rabble-rousing, hunts down non-conformists as witches, and declares the church to be at the centre of society. Nor do I want to be a remote cog in some grand business plan, for I fear I would not last long as a cog always wanting to spin in different directions and fit into square holes as a round peg and whatnot. I want neither a business or a city on a hill out of my America and frankly, I’m sure there were many in Plymouth and Jamestown who felt the same.

And besides that, we have accomplished so many things since the days of cash crops and the intolerant north. From basketball to Broadway, tall tale to short story, Great American novel to Hollywood, Jazz to trip hop, the Hudson school to Ivy League schools, there is so much in our rich history in which we can take pride. We can acknowledge where we came from without embracing the baser parts of our origins and be a better nation for it.

So while there’s nothing innately wrong with Mr. Romney’s profession or his religion, what he seems to be peddling to us is old school Calvinism at its best. He may have got his sums wrong, but clearly, 47% of us are not of the 144 chosen that will ascend with him in the rapture and sit at the right hand of that great CEO in the sky. 47% were not born to greatness.  Our destiny has been written with no possibility of veering off of a course of victimhood and sloth and we are clearly not worth Mr. Romney’s effort or campaign advertising. But if my country is to be cynically turned into a business and run like one, with the ‘unprofitable’ cogs in this great vision left behind, I shall proudly stand with the 47%.

But let us hope it doesn’t come to that. Even as we ponder these issues of the past, we seem to be living history. The Wall Street Journal, no puppet of the liberal left-wing media, wrote this  earlier today, and it seems to me as good a reason as any to spread the good word.

Flying the Flag

Burning of The American Flag

I had just begun to feel comfortably at ease with my nation being, if not the object of affection, at least, as Happy Loman put it, ‘liked but not well liked,’ widely generating respect and general good feeling around the world.

I lived in the UK during the Bush years, when that right honourable Texan went around brazenly offending the world for eight years, storming out of Mexican state dinners, invading Middle Eastern countries under false pretences and rather callously joking about it, and doing his best to alienate Muslims and the whole of Europe at the same time (no mean feat).

I’m familiar with the generic reaction — ‘Who cares? We’re American Dammit! We do what we want and if the rest of the world has a problem with it, they can go take a jump in a lake! U!S!A! U!S!A! U!S!A!’ Which is fine. There are plenty of other countries who adopt similar attitudes, China, Iran and Malaysia among them, but I for one would like to avoid odious comparisons, not invite them.

And our current president, for whom I have great respect, has made great headway in healing the wounds opened and liberally salted by his predecessor, building bridges and consciously acknowledging America’s important part in and dependence on the global community.

Which, I suppose, is one of the reasons why it seems such a shock to me that the divide between the Middle East and the West is still so acrimonious and so filled with the bitter bile of irrational, mutual antipathy.

It puts me in mind of September 11th, 2001, when I lived in Dublin, and saw first hand how Dubya inevitably failed to even attempt to open channels of communication between America and the moderate voices in the Middle East, but instead, went in, unilateral guns blazing, ingloriously entrenching us first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. In doing so, he effectively obliterated the genuinely heartfelt outpouring of sympathy that the rest of the world had expressed for the indescribable tragedy that was 9-11 and very quickly ignited and fanned the flames of Anti-Americanism for the rest of his time in office.

The barely elected man-child gave the world every excuse to berate America in terms of the laziest and shallowest of stereotypes, condemning me as an American abroad to morning break monologues and dinner party diatribes decrying the loudness, brashness, obnoxiousness, arrogance, and naked belligerence of Americans. After the kind of battering foreign policy and countless Bushisms did to our reputation abroad, it became damn difficult to defend our nation. I did my best, but I wasn’t a paid diplomat.

I ended up playing devil’s advocated on both sides, which I suppose is a tautology in terms of devil’s advocates. I argued with friends and family back home who astounded me with their support for what seemed to me to be a catastrophic and vindictive military action. But I also argued with my colleagues who persistently encouraged me to attend anti-war demonstrations in Dublin, to which I would always frown, shake my head and say, ‘No. It’s simply uncritical anti-Americanism at its best. I can’t go.’

Due in part to their repeated insistence that it was ‘anti-American foreign policy not anti-American,’ and in part to curiosity about something happening so close to me and to which I felt so intimately connected, I did eventually attend and take part in one of the largest anti-war demonstrations at the time. Nothing unusual there: placards, posters, beards, megaphones, chants, the usual. I was taken aback however when I saw one young member of the Socialist Workers’ Party flying Old Glory. And then I realized it wasn’t. The stripes and the colours were there all right, but in place of the stars were neatly lined swastikas, all 50 of them. Sanctimonious as it may sound, something bilious lurched in my stomach. After all, this was just a flag, but it was also a national symbol that I had stood to attention for and adored, hand on heart pledging undying allegiance to every day of my childhood. That kind of indoctrinated loyalty doesn’t just fall away because you criticize your leaders. And here was the symbol of my nation superimposed with a symbol of everything that is loathsome and base in humanity.

Swastikas and Stripes

Taken from aconstantineblacklist.blogspot.co.uk

This did not bolster my colleagues’ case about the nature of the demonstrations and I felt at least temporarily vindicated in thinking both sides were uncritically dogmatic. But, as a friend told me on recounting the demonstration years later, a flag is a symbol and means very different things to different people. The Irish tricolour, which means freedom fighting and resonates with phrases like ‘tiocfaidh ar la!’ (‘Our Day Will Come!) is never flown in schools in Ireland for fear associations with militancy. The Union Flag (sometimes incorrectly called the Union Jack), once indelibly associated with imperialism, has acquired a cult status cool that’s gone from punk rock right into the main stream and onto toilet seats and SMEG fridges.

Hard and bitter a pill as it is for us to swallow, there are many who see the flag above as more representative of the kind of American foreign policy that’s struck a dangerously Machiavellian balance of sabre-rattling, ‘devil-you-know’ funding, and bombing back to the stone age that’s left many with the bitter taste of ash on their tongues.

It is certainly more difficult to engage with other nations while being a critical friend to our own, and infinitely more complicated, but the fundamentalists of the right wing of America have spent too long nourishing the bitter nightmares of a sleeping tiger (forgive the exotic metaphor) and unless we start to engage with the rest of the world in meaningful terms, I fear we have only begun to feel its bite. Yes, it is easier to be an American abroad now than it once was, but as we revel in our current chic, we also find ourselves, as another great American writer once put it, ‘borne back ceaselessly into the past.’

Five Things About The Olympics That Will Sodden Your Sporting Spirit

I have to admit, I like the concept of the Olympics. I like the idea of the whole world being united in a sporting contest that goes back to antiquity and encourages a striving for excellence in physical abilities as well as sportsmanship. I like the idea of sport, unmotivated by lots of corporate sponsorship and greed as it seems football is here in England (and Baseball was in the 1990s, when I stopped following my team, The Mets, because I lost faith in players during the strike). And in some weird, perverse, London way, I feel a sense of pride that we got the games. But being an adoptive Londoner, I think I’ve also acquired a kind of second-nature scepticism about waves of positivity sweeping over a place like a juggernaut leaving nothing but vitamin C and sunshine in its wake. It smacks of the worst of blind American optimism and as Springsteen said, blind faith in your leaders, or anything, will get you killed.

There’s no smoke without fire and no scepticism without a seedy little fact lurking behind those shiny Olympic rings.Whilst I think The Games should be an enjoyable experience, here are a few uncomfortable truths to bear in mind as we are jubilantly celebrating sport.

Mowing down the Marshes

The Borough of Waltham Forest, on 7th February, 2011, greenlighted The Olympic Development Authority to build a large basketball training facility right on top of a massive amount of green space in the Porter’s Field section of Leyton Marshes. You can read all about the campaign to prevent the courts from being built here. The ODA say they are obliging themselves to restore the Marshes to their former state by 15th October 2012, but as with rainforests, no matter how many trees you plant and fields you build over, there is no going back to the ‘original state’ of an historic green space. And I have to ask, why does London, a city with a surprisingly large amount of green spaces, need to sacrifice some of them? We host millions of commuters from the home counties every day. It’s not as though we don’t do big events.

Roll up, roll up, Olympic festival fans, it’s Walthamstock

Exploiting green spaces for quick cash during the Olympics seems to be a real trend with Waltham Forest. A council licensing panel granted the Big Events Company (BEC) permission to sell alcohol and have dancing and recorded music between 1 and 10 pm, despite protests from local residents. According to The Waltham Forest Guardian‘s website: 

 ‘Last year the council secretly signed a contract to lease the land to the firm, hoping that a share of the profits from the deal would help pay the estimated £1.5million bill for its ‘Big 6′ series of events to celebrate the Olympics.’

A cynical person might think Waltham Forest was milking the games for all it was worth.

Branded like Cattle 

We have new stadiums, we have a new shopping centre, we even have a new postcode (E20, as if we can really call Stratford a city) but could we please leave our E15 greasy spoons alone? Kamel Kichane, the owner of The Olympic Cafe in Stratford was forced to change the name of his caf or have to pay the council £3,000. The following is Mr. Kichane’s low cost solution to the problem.

What it reveals though is a wrong-headedness, a blinkered vision about the Olympic Brand. What was I saying up there about a competition untainted by commercialism? Correction. The sponsors and organisers project an image that the Olympics is not motivated by commercial greed and work very hard to project that image, but the fact is, according to Adweek magazine, the Olympics has been about greed and private sponsorship since LA in 1984 when Peter Ueberroth, the president of the Los Angeles Organizing Committee of the games that year, actively gunned for private, corporate sponsoship to resurrect a moribund tradition lurching towards oblivion.

Ben Johnson, left, beats Carl Lewis in the 100-metres on Sept. 24, 1988.
Growing up in America, the notion of purity in the Olympics was cultivated. There was a general sense that these weren’t like quarterbacks and big hitters getting paid several hundred thousand dollars per game; you expected double dealings and deviousness in sports like American football and baseball, what with their stink of greasy piles of dollar bills wafting through ballparks and stadiums acorss the country.  We were taught that Olympians were different; these were hard working athletes training for seven or eight hours every day to represent their country in some noble tradition.

We grew up with names like Flo Jo, Greg Luganis, Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson ringing with heroic clarity in our heads. And even in this short but famous list, only the reputations of of Joyner and Luganis remain intact. Lewis is still dogged today with the cloud of controversy caused by his testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and still being allowed to compete. Canadian Johnson famously tested positive and was stripped of his gold medal the same year. Such was the pressure of the freshly minted money-fed sponsorship-driven games that a slew of Athletes are alleged to have taken steroids and got away with it. Is it pure coincidence that this unethical practice became popular in the wake of the games going corporate? This was an atmosphere that was capable of corrupting even Canadian athletes. Canadians, I say. Canadians! When you’ve got to the point where can wreck the moral compass of the good founders of The Peaceable Kingdom up north, all hope is very nearly lost.

As a result of all this branding, aside from it not being a fair representation of unenhanced human athletic ability, to paraphrase Steve Punt in last week’s episode of The Now Show, the official food of the Olympics is McDonald’s, drink is Coca-cola, official chocolate is Cadbury’s and official disease is type 2 diabetes. Perfect Pint UK reports that there is no British beer to be represented either at the London Olympics, just Heineken. God help you if you are drinking any water except Evian anywhere within the walls of the fortified Olympic Village. The Olympic village will have a ‘pop-up McDonald’s’ that will officially be the largest in the world. With the Olympics in London for the first time since 1948, what do we want to showcase? The sophisticated array of top-notch intelligent chefs and creative organisations and restaurants that the British food industry has grown up into, or the ode to efficiency that is the brainchild of American Ray Kroc? Actually, the former might take some effort. It’s not as though there are any Olympic boroughs serving any good British food nowadays and what chefs can we really claim of any reknown, let’s go with cheap and cheerful, eh?

In efforts to protect trademark rights, you are not allowed to consume anything made by anyone outside of those producers who are official Olympic sponsors. Bog standard confidence trick: advertise freemarket and freechoice, get the punters inside, eliminate the choice and jack up the price, thus annihilating any image the games ever projected of being a competition of pure, uncorrupted athletic prowess for the sake of athletic prowess.

The World’s Biggest Competition to Demonstrate What Exactly?
 
For an event that’s been advertised as a massive benefit to London in the long-run, it doesn’t seem to be doing much for us in the short term. A path I have only just started enjoying along the canal between Hackney and Stratford or rather Stratford and everywhere has been closed and placed under armed guard. Yes, because of the potential threat, you are no longer able to use your own athletic abilities to get near the site at which athletes from the world over are competing  to demonstrate their athletic abilities. Surely this is sending the wrong message, especially since the Games organizers had originally put money and efforts into improving the path and making sure the public knew that it was going to be an enjoyable way to get to Olympia, East London.
G4S — The Mos Eisley of Olympic Security?
Indeed, as the list of revelations slithers out from under the carefully closed and locked doors of the Olympic media machine, I wonder if it would be possible to find a ‘more wretched hive of scum and villainy’ than in the offices of the firm G4S. I posted about a protest I saw at St. Paul’s about the Anglo-Danish firm, not knowing much about them at the time. I’ve since researched and correct me if I’m wrong here, but we seem to have contracted a lawless band of unaccountable mercenaries to guard London in the summer of 2012. Were G4S a Catholic, the list of sins it might start with in the confessional booth run as follows:
  • The death of Angolan refugee Jimmy Mubenga whilst in the custody of G4S guards on a flight from Heathrow to Angola
  • Hiring confessed murderers as security guards
  • Carrying out the government’s deportation policy while sustaining 773 complaints of those that were within their custody
  • Failing to fulfill the contract to keep The Olympics safe in 2012
  • Hiring a director with really bad hair. I’m no one to talk, but if you had as much money as a CEO with a company like this, wouldn’t you try to look like you were older than 14?  
Probably best we just leave G4S and the local priest in the confessional. No telling how long either of them might be there.

When you wade through cliches, slogans and soundbites like ‘take the stage’, ‘London prepares’ and ‘Take the respect’, what do you have left at the centre of all the smoke and mirrors? We seem to have a London that has taken performance-enhancing security firms, regulations and cash injectiosn in order to improve its performance as a city this summer. It would probably be wise for us as Londoners to bear in mind that the Olympics committee chose London, in all its brash and savage beauty, not some sanitized, tarted up, Americanised caricature of itself.

Will we, for these and other less than savoury things about the 2012 Olympics, be like the people of Ursula LeGuin’s people of Omelas, and our joy be all the richer for knowing its real costs? I’d like to think so, but I’ve got a feeling that we shall just close our ears, open our mouths and eyes wide and smile, asking only for bread and circuses, lights and neon.

For more on G4S, take a look at http://notog4s.blogspot.co.uk/
For more on the creepy crawly things scuttling around underneath the sheen of the Olympic brand, look at
http://www.olympicsredflag.blogspot.co.uk/
To find out more about the efforts being made to fight the deleterious effects of the Olympics on Hackney and the East End check out http://saveleytonmarsh.wordpress.com/

To read about a very clever  and creative response to all this Olympian palaver, have a look at ‘The Austerity Games’.

This post has also been informed by the following two articles:

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