Tuesday, July 27, 2004
Democratic Convention in the Sudan
Yes, that’s right: balloons and the battle of images. Media analysts analyzing nothing but how they will all analyze the images: this way or that way? Was there enough blue in the red, white and blue? Meanwhile, genocide goes on in the Sudan. Not possibly-in-the-future genocide, or genocide according to vague intelligence reports, but actual, internationally verified genocide, ongoing. Thousands of unarmed men, women and children, gunned down. So set the balloons loose, and watch the analysts analyze the currents they roll on.
A cashier at the local convenience store catches me reading the newspaper headlines, and interrupts me before I can begin again: “Listen to me. Forget it, forget the politics. It’s always the same story and there’s nothing we can do about it. The people with the money, they decide everything. Go enjoy the sun. It’s a nice day.” For some reason, his advice hits home more than usual. Our national politics are a farcical game, the whole system is utterly crazy, and I can understand why lots of people don’t even bother to vote. But it is a nice day. And the sun is shining.
Thursday, July 22, 2004
All for a Laugh: Conspiracy Theories
I actually don’t feel like being political today. Let’s go for some laughs for a change. How about taking a look at some of those crazy conspiracy theories out there? You really have to wonder about some folk. I’ve run into fairly normal-appearing people who truly believe some of these things, and it never fails to amaze me.
Conspiracy Theory #1: Let’s look at that famous JFK conspiracy theory. Some people think that despite the federal commission that investigated President Kennedy’s assassination—with a lot of expert testimony—Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t act alone. They say that it was impossible for one bullet to strike Kennedy’s back five inches below the collar, then move upward to exit through the front of his neck, then enter Governor Connelly’s back, shatter one rib and then leave through his chest, continue on to break a wrist bone, exit the wrist and enter his thigh, then fall out of his thigh onto his hospital gurney bed in almost perfect condition. Oh, yes, and the bullet also caused a small facial wound in one man in the crowd. But obviously, it DID happen, because the Warren Commission said that it did, and who would know better? Some people just stubbornly like to believe the worst, I guess.
Conspiracy Theory #2: Others believe that credit card companies will jack up their interest rates by 10% or more if you’re even a day late for a payment. They believe that these companies put some unfair rules of use in tiny print and in difficult language deliberately, hoping you won’t bother to read all of it. Like anybody would actually sign a contract without getting advice from a lawyer!
Conspiracy Theory #3: Some people believe that salesmen at used car lots talk about and even plan how to get the most money possible for their cars, even if the cars aren’t really worth as much as they sell them for. Supposedly, sometimes they even use deceptive methods, such as rolling back the miles on the odometer. Can you believe some people think that?
Conspiracy Theory #4: OK, get this one. Some wackos think that the big corporations want to make money more than anything else, that they don’t care as much about things like preserving the environment for future generations, or people being able to have health care, or to make wages they can live on. This conspiracy theory doesn’t even stop there! They further believe that a lot of politicians—just because the politicians get some money from these corporations—care more about rich folk than about the rest of the people in this country. I can’t believe how many people believe that one! Then, of course, there are people who take it even further, who think it’s actually possible that a president of the USA—a genuinely nice man at that—might lie to the American people. Those people need to get a life!
A conspiracy is when two or more people plan or act together secretly for purposes that are harmful to others, or even illegal. A theory is something that you think of, or guess about, that relates to how it might work. Please don’t be one of those ridiculous, paranoid conspiracy theorists. First of all, thinking takes too much energy. For another thing, we all know that Americans don’t act in ways that might be harmful to others, and if they do, they always do it openly.
Sunday, July 04, 2004
The American Flag: Stealing a Symbol
An American flag. What does that stand for?
Some people are offended by even asking the question. The general sense is that we should just FEEL what the flag represents, and if we don’t automatically FEEL those appropriate feelings, then there’s something wrong with us, and we’re unpatriotic. What does that mean, unpatriotic? That’s BAD, something BAD, can’t you FEEL it?
What is it that turns us into little children like this with certain symbols?
Can we please THINK about the American flag without feeling threatened?
What does the American flag stand for? This country? What is the country? Is it the laws and the government? What, oh you don’t necessarily like the government?
It’s the land then? Oh, the land that we gained and claimed by military might? Stop bringing that up? Oh, we had a RIGHT to the land? God wanted us to have the land?
Who is the “us”? Is America its people then? Oh, the Native Americans, too, but they have to share with us? Us? And the Mexicans? Oh, no, I can understand that, only if they’re born here. That’s part of the legal government thing and the land thing, too; I do get that. Where did your great-grandparents come from? Oh, that’s different? No, I do get it, how that’s different. Yes, I FEEL that, but can we please THINK about it, too?
No, I’ve got it all wrong? It’s a warm feeling of pride, of unity with your own people? No, I think I do understand. But when I meet someone from Cameroon or Cambodia or Canada, can I get that same feeling, too? No? Maybe Canada? Because it’s closer? Like Mexico? No, not like Mexico?
I’m hoping you can at least understand why I get confused, and even angry sometimes when I get judged for thinking.
There are some ideals written into our founding documents—like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—that emotionally move me, and that give me those warm fuzzy feelings of an ideal to shoot for. You know the ones I mean—those beautiful idealistic principles that our founding fathers gathered from the seven Iroquois tribes and the Vedas (yeah, that’s from India; no, they were mainly Deists, not Christians; no, that’s not a conspiracy theory, just history; I’m sorry if you don’t feel like that’s true).
The flag stood for gutsy revolution, throwing off the yoke of empire, people having the freedom to decide their own futures. Well, unless you were native to this land, or black, or Asian, or female, or didn’t own property . . . But the revolution continued and the rest of us did gain a lot of the legal rights to be treated as equals to the “original Americans.” (No, I have to say “a lot,” because it’s not all yet; I’m sorry, that’s for another essay.)
But that original symbolism of the American flag has been stolen. Now, here, it means a blind pride to the point of arrogance. It means “God bless America,” as in a direct command to God to know that if people are born within these geographical boundaries, they’re better than other people. It means Might Makes Right, we can kick ass, we can take over any country we want to and they better listen because God made us strong and God likes us better. (Us who again? Oh, just born within the geographical boundaries, yeah.) It now means Alexander Hamilton won the struggle with Thomas Jefferson through his “Let the rich rule!” mandate. (Yes, he really said that; I’m sorry if you don’t feel like that’s true.) It means there is no freedom of religion because God and this country are now Christian. (Oh, Muslims born here can be American, too? What about Buddhists? Jews? Oh, they’re not the real Americans, the ones that God likes, but we’ll tolerate them until they change?) It means overthrowing democratically elected governments (I'm sorry that they didn't teach you about those countries in school), and stealing the natural resources of other countries. (Yes, you can call it privatizing for U.S. corporations if that makes you feel better.)
It means we have become the very thing that we celebrate overthrowing.
The symbolism of my American flag has been stolen—if it ever really did exist at all— which is why, when I found the new little American flags planted on every yard up and down the street (a good realty marketing plan), I removed mine.
Happy Fourth of July.