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Archive for May, 2008

Memorial Day was created to remember our war dead. It’s also a good time to remember what a special place we live in. Because despite the criticism, the irritation, the frustration and the fear that we “citizen bloggers” (as the Pew Research Center calls us) sometimes feel compelled to express on our posts, we know we are lucky to be citizens of this country. Sure it can be argued that America isn’t living up to its potential (and neither are its citizens) but for such a relatively young democracy, we’ve got a lot to be proud about. Look around and see how, despite the occasional dark mutterings and predictions of disaster, we so easily assimilate newcomers. Check out the new Indian-American governor of Louisiana and our Presidential candidates. We may lag behind a few other countries in terms of elevating women to positions of power but we’re improving. Racism exists in this country but not nearly, I will venture to say, as much as exists elsewhere. We are absolutely more tolerant in that regard. We haven’t experienced and couldn’t imagine ethnic violence on the scale experienced in many parts of the world.

There’s more than a little room for improvement. We’re a stable democracy but we still have too much violence, too many people in jail and a rapidly growing discrepancy between the rich and the poor. I have some grave concerns about the way the government does business at home and abroad. And recent videos on YouTube and elsewhere demonstrate how ignorant, willfully or not, most American citizens are when it comes to history, geography or politics. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so scary. 

Still…

Information is power and while we often don’t work hard enough to get ours and then sometimes have to push a little too hard get it, we can get it. My friends from abroad are amazed at how accessible our government is, comparatively speaking and they insist that American society is far more open and stable than almost any other. They’ve got a point. Not only that, we can comment with as much impunity on our current Administration as we can about our current favorite celebrity. Now that’s freedom, my friends. 

 

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For some people, the world after 9/11 became black and white but I suspect that for those people the world was always black and white – good versus evil, right or wrong, you’re with us or you’re against us. You define your enemies, maybe expand that definition a little and turn your back. There is no room for discussion and no room for compromise and certainly no room for new information. It’s a frighteningly simplistic worldview and this week it was depressingly on display.

As has been reported (over and over) in the news, President Bush warned against “appeasing terrorists” in a speech in front of Israel’s parliament, which surely doesn’t need such reminders. The comments seemed directed at Candidate Barak Obama and his pledge to meet with a variety of leaders, a charge the White House denies (though the people who write and vet the President’s speeches give some thought to how their words will be heard, even if the President himself doesn’t). Obama has been accused by members of the Republican party (and by his rival Hillary Clinton) of being “naive” for imagining that he could actually have discussion with leaders who have made verbal threats against the U.S. and its allies. 

Obama was ready to return fire, reminding anyone who would listen that he has been talking all along of practicing diplomacy, an approach that was a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, at least until recently. He might have added that we talked with the leaders of the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War, though they created some of the most creatively inflammatory language in calling for our destruction. Then again, the U.S. came up with “The Red Menace” to describe the threat of the spread of Communism, complete with our own marketing materials.

The hypocrisy of the President’s outburst and the other candidates’ insistence that we can’t talk with Iran and Syria is especially galling when we are treated to the sight of the President of the United States begging Saudi Arabian leaders to please produce more oil so the United States can get some relief. Saudi Arabia, we seem to be required to repeat endlessly, was home to fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers – “terrorists” if you will  – who flew planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Some terrorists are more equal than others apparently.

A few years ago, I attended a conference in Spain sponsored by Club de Madrid, an international organization of retired world leaders and others to discuss democracy, terrorism and security. There were any number of specific issues addressed, including those related to international cooperation but the one thing on which all participants agreed was that there is no justification for terrorism, which was defined as the targeting of civilians and non-combatants through intimidation and deadly acts of violence. The behavior as defined could include a host of countries the U.S. already considers allies, but we won’t get into that now. It should be obvious that this country can, in theory, make that message the cornerstone of our foreign policy – that we can reject terrorism without rejecting diplomacy.

On another note, Mike Huckabee, the apparently affable preacher, one-time Presidential aspirant and rumored Vice-Presidental candidate, showed his true colors with an off-center remark about a sharp noise that disrupted his speech to the National Rifle Association. He commented that it was Barak Obama tipping over and diving under a chair after someone pointed a gun at him. I hope I don’t sound too PC here but that was so not funny.

 

 

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The lead article in my morning newspaper was about how gas prices are causing riders to use mass transit. That’s not much of a surprise; neither was the comment by one rider that he was willing “give up his independence” in order to save money. We sure do love our cars out here in the wilds of the U.S. of A.

I think a lot about independence; I’ve got long-term care insurance, pretty decent health insurance (comparatively speaking) and a stake in keeping myself as healthy as possible so as to ward off whatever infirmities might assail me in my so-called golden years. My mom was a big believer in mind over body; she espoused a positive attitude. In truth she hated to exercise, like so many women in her generation. Exercise would have helped her keep moving despite arthritis just as physical therapy would have helped her after her first stroke. Instead, she became more and more sedentary until at last she became completely immobile, which no doubt contributed to her second stroke. She was a stubborn woman who ended up losing the very independence she craved.

Americans are also stubborn about their independence but selectively so. For example, no one among the general populace seems inclined to question whether we have sacrificed some of our independence for good when it comes to government involvement in our lives. Take our domestic surveillance programs. Sure, we’re being X-rayed to within an inch of our lives at airports; okay, someone wants to know what library books we’re reading; yes, that may be a camera trained on me at Grand Central Station and possibly someone we know has experienced being profiled but liberty requires the abrogation of certain freedoms, right?

In the meantime, our idea of freedom is all about driving – solo, if possible. It gives us a sense of power that is likely missing from other parts of our lives. Never mind that we’re mostly stuck in traffic and wholly dependent on fuel imported from countries that have us (pardon the pun) over a barrel. Years of successful marketing have convinced us that we’re in control behind the wheel of a car that really zooms. By we I mean guys and gals. I confess to being drawn at times to the charms of a fast car. Just look at Kate Walsh in the sexy new Cadillac ad; she pulls up next to a car at a stoplight with two admiring men, then peels out just as the light changes. Who wouldn’t want to be her? I mean, who cares how much fuel it wastes to accelerate like that if we can leave the guys in the dust, right?

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Several young friends, including some mothers, have written me to ask that I comment on the Myley Cyrus “scandal”. This involves the series of photos for Vanity Fair  for which the “Hannah Montana” star, beloved of way younger than pre-teens, posed recently.  Disney Productions, which has carefully cultivated and controlled the image of its money-making teen celebrity, is joining a chagrined Cyrus in blasting Vanity Fairand celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz. If you don’t know who she is, click here and you’ll see her  famous photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono among many other classics.

Okay, here goes: First, Myley apparently thought the shot was artistic but now is upset because it’s in the public domain. Doesn’t she know – don’t her handlers know, for heaven’s sake, that everything about her is going to be in the public domain? And what, no one knows who the infamous photographer Annie Leibovitz is and what kind of pictures she takes and what kind of pictures Vanity Fair runs, which is to say, provocative and grownup?  Second, supposedly her dad, former country star Billy Ray Cyrus, had left the set after the all-too ubiquirtous daddy figure posed with daughter Myley in a shot (definitely click on this one) which creeped me out far more than a picture of the thin teen’s backbone, although her rumpled bed hair was over the top.  He looked like her, um, much older boyfriend. Now that’s provocative.

Second, I sourced this story by looking at two articles, from AP and from the Daily News article and the two pictures of 15-year-old Myley in her little dresses leave little to the imagination. She’s entitled because that’s how we market teens nowadays which is why this overkill reaction seems a tad hypocritical in the age of Britney Spears. The majority of high fashion models these days appear to be between fourteen and nineteen and are dressed to suggest activities beyond their “maturity level” (to paraphrase the title character in the hit movie “Juno” ). It may be out of control but it’s what we’ve all accepted.

Third, I thought it interesting that several articles referred to Myley’s fan base as being teens because I’ve seen girls in the 6-10-year-old range drooling over the cute teen as their slightly older sisters did with Hillary Duff, who’s gone to full-fledged vamp in less than a year. This is what pop culture is nowadays and expressing selective outrage, as the Disney Company did only because of the selective backlash from the mothers of tiny fans is about as hypocrtical as watching scantily dressed teens compete on “American Idol” and then voting one off because the song she sang, “Jesus Christ Superstar” was considered “blasphemous” by the voters.

While I continue to believe that our pop culture reflects the inconsistant and conflicted views we have about youth, puberty, sexuality and women in general, we’re the consumers and we’re the ones buying. The teen stars rule and everyone wants to imitate them, with middle-aged moms dressing up as if they were getting ready for prom night and little kids dressing up as if they were getting ready for wedding night.  Given all the real problems in the world, it’s laughable that so much outrage is expressed over something like this (then again, France is expressing similar outrage over its leather jacket wearing President and his sexy Italian model-wife). But our outrage has a shelf life. As with everything else, from global warming to government waste, we get excised, then we get over it.

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