Thursday, August 26, 2010

What America do you live in?

So I'm sitting here at work, and someone left a newspaper out. One of the front page stories is apparently about how police forces around the country are cutting back response to "lesser" crimes like burglary. I can't get much further than that without messing with someone else's newspaper and, honestly, I'm feeling sort of ill and don't want to search for the news story online. (I ought to be home but need the money - ok, this is too much of a tangent now.)

You gotta wonder if the bastards at places like Goldman Sachs (or the aptly named Magnetar Capital) ever read the local newspaper. Or watch TV. Or have kids in public schools. Do they feel remorse for the domino effect their ideas and actions had on the rest of society? Working people have lost their homes, their jobs - all of the security that prosperous America once bestowed its middle class. Never again, reports the NYT, will real estate multiply the wealth invested in it. (Perhaps because the capitalist magic known as "bubbles" relies on speculation and market tricks.)

It may very well be that the era in which ordinary Americans participated in economic mobility is over.

So how do they sleep at night? I wonder if it isn't that they occupy a different social class than we do, and that the accompanying psychology inside that class creates a sort of co-occupant America, a country not of use and practicality but of trade-for-profit's-sake. Wherein everything has a price tag, nothing an end use.... Wherein we, the end users, the consumers and the workers, are, effectively, invisible.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

1300 Miles to Mexico

Many a terrible thing's been going on lately (when doesn't it?), but the immigration debate, perhaps, bothers me the most.

Maybe it strikes close to home because I'm from California. I went to a high school where the Latino students outnumbered the whites at least 2:1. In my lifetime I saw the population of California turn to 51% "minority." (And what a stink it caused!)

It also hits close to home for me today, where "home" means the Twin Cities. Recently the tiny Minnesotan city of Lino Lakes passed a controversial resolution in its city council, to the effect of not spending city money on translating city documents into languages other than English.

Lino Lakes, however, is some dinky-ass quasi-suburb on the outskirts of the metro area. In 2000, it was at least 95% English-speaking. Even if things have changed, there seems to be no need for such a measure. There are no expenses to printing said documents, probably because the majority of Lino Lakes is as whitebread as they come.

It's a conservative test. If they can pass it somewhere, they have an example to point to when it comes time to expand their English-only movement. The stakes have been raised.

It's part of a larger battle, to oppress, exploit, tyrannize, and generally destroy the hated brown-skins. I've seen it all before. "Why do we have billboards in Spanish?" "Why can't they learn to speak English?" "They take all our jobs!" "They're all having babies on welfare!"

I'm sure most people are aware of the Arizona law SB1070 that recently went into effect (with some federal injunctions - the proverbial 3" of knife pulled out). What most people may not be aware of is that there is an arm to this law that essentially attacks day laborers, making it a crime to hire or be hired from a vehicle that is in any way impeding traffic. So, right there, you have an economic front.

It's also illegal to "conceal, harbor, or shield" an illegal immigrant, which strikes me as awfully familiar, but maybe that's only because I had a "liberal" education.

Oh, that reminds me - there are attacks, again in Arizona, on "ethnic studies" in school.

Really the point the right-wing populists are making is that it is not ok to be in America and describe yourself as anything but an American. "We only want you if you jump through our hoops, submit to our re-education, and live according to our customs."

What is it Malcom X said? “History is a people's memory, and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals.”

It's clear how conservatives think of Latinos. There is a refusal to treat them like equals, to allow them their own history and culture. A refusal even to allow them to scrape by through working on the fringe of society - ironic, considering this is a country wherein we are "supposed" to "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps." Supposedly our white grandfathers did everything necessary to help our families pull through, but the old Mexican man selling oranges at the side of the road doesn't count for that, he's "stealing" a job, he's ahistorical, he's inhuman, even. And shit on the kids who depend on this man for support.

Arizona is even looking to ban such children from citizenship. That hard-line right-wing that so insists on the sacred immutability of the United States Constitution is willing to look the other way so long as they can attack the enemy they so detest.

It's pathetic. I still remember the mother of an ex-girlfriend of mine, back in California, a woman so loving and willing to take me into her own home, working overnights at the Swanson packaging plant. Her husband, gruff but no less open-hearted, crippled with arthritis after a lifetime of labor. They crossed illegally, contributed their share, raised three brilliant children, all of whom are college graduated (one at least from an ivy league) or at least college-bound. These are parents who are devoted to family and to God - ostensibly the same God that the right-wing supposedly worships.

But if it were up to this right-wing - and I'm not even talking about the extreme right, now, you understand - this family would have been split up, or deported, years ago. The world would indeed be a darker place if not for this family of immigrants.

It would seem, indeed, that the border does cross us.

Immigration reform isn't enough. We need an immigration revolution - we need a solution that shows just how obsolete the idea of national borders has become. Continues to become. This is going to be a turbulent becoming, because it will at the same time destroy what we see as the stability of our status quo. The immigration debate is a part of that, a part that proves how quick we are to blame people whose circumstances are forced on them. Forced by our lawmakers, who have pushed a one-sided agenda of globalization and free-market slavery. "Illegal" immigrants are victims of the same bureaucracy that entangles us all, strangles our livelihoods, keeps us from good jobs, and destroys our potential. A little equalization - scholarships for the children of immigrants, for example - can go a long way, but for every single gain the right-wing hollers and howls and tries to drag in average-joe workers.

It works. Why? Because we want some solution to the economic crisis (created, may I remind you, by our politicians and businessmen). We want jobs, we want less crime, we want a stable and dependable society.

Racism, however, is not the solution we seek.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Anti- Muslim Rhetoric Inflames Ugly Americans

Last week's mosque- bashing was the frosting on the hate cake. The not- really- built- at- Ground Zero mosque ( in reality a Muslim community center)is still portrayed as some kind of insult to the fallen of 9-11 by the usual right- wing blowhards. A Teabagger Republican politician claims that Islam is a not a religion but a cult of hate ( here we go again with the psychological phenomenon of projection- a speciality of batshit Christian reactionaries). A Florida pastor plans to hold a Quran burning rally at his church to memorialize September Eleventh. Hundreds of swaggering, " more American than thou" rank- and- file conservatives who wanted to join the in fun of picking on a minority which yields little power in our nation, picketed local mosques, insulted the Muslim parishioners and behaved like assholes in general.
Look, I'm no fan of either of the junoir Abrahamic faiths, but their followers have the Constitutional right to worship whatever faith they want to. A lot of conservative Christians don't like that, despite their lip service to the Constitution. Christianity and Islam are like estranged brothers, who hate each other because they are so much alike. The only reason Christians don't go around burning heretics, infidels, and women these days is that the secular power of the bourgeois state put a stop to that some two hundred fifty or so years ago. Back in the day, even your most ignorant peasant knew one thing- that the Church was an oppressive racket and needed to be beaten into submission. Christianity isn't innately more humane than Islam, only under much more control through humane secular law. But radical Christian fundamentalists seek to break their faith free of its restraints and subject the rest of us to their Dominionist vision for America. Call it the Christian version of Sharia Law ( actually both are very similar, coming from the same source after all). And believe me, the chance of that happening is far greater than some pipe dream about establishing Sharia Law in the States.
A few decades ago, it looked as if the sects of Islam was headed for the same fate as the Christian churches. After independence from their various colonial masters after the Second World War most of the predominately Muslim nations, with a few exceptions, adopted Westernized, secularized, Nationalist governments. Islam was the official religion in all of them, but did not dominate the state. True these states were far from perfect, mainly following the one- party state model, but a secular dictatorship was infinitely more preferable for women and religious minorities than the Islamic Republics of today. Unfortunately for the people of the Middle- East, the West decided such Nationalist governments, with their demands to control the resources of their own countries, had to go. After sixty years of having The United States, France, and Britain constantly fucking with them( via the C.I.A. or their favorite sword in the Middle- East, Israel)the Middle- East is made- up of theocracies or states that have adopted free- market "reforms" that have made them vulnerable to radical Islam as the number of desperately poor people increases.
Ironically the states that have dealt the most successfully with the challenge of Muslim fundamentalism have been the old Nationalist states like Algeria or Syria, with their creaky old welfare systems and conscript militaries.
So get off of your high horse, Christian fundies. For there is nothing as similar as a Muslim jihadist as a Christian Crusader. They are both bad news for the rest of us trying to get on with our lives without being constantly fucked with by The Ignorant Assholes Of The Book.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Time Magazine Is Just Awful

Hey Time! Nice cover, assholes! You know, the one with the young Afghan woman without her nose? " What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan" you admonish us. Now do you want to tell the rest of the story? Or are you too busy coming up with your next brilliant example of yellow journalism?
Let me just make the most obvious objection to this glaring propaganda piece: the young woman in question, Aisha, was mutilated by her husband ( may he rot in hell) in 2009. So unless the entire NATO occupation force went to Disneyland on the day of her "trial", Aisha was cut to pieces while " we" were in the fucking country! Has this kind of atrocity stopped since we invaded Afghanistan? Seems to me the only thing NATO forces have done has added bombs and bullets to the equation.
Kharzai, the U.S.A.'s part- time puppet, presides over an Islamomafia Republic, complete with sharia interpreted law in the courts and dope deals under the table. His government is about as much concerned about democracy as the Gambino Family was. Afghan men are completely free to beat, rape, or murder the women in their homes whether they are in a zone controlled by the government or the insurgents.
Oh, yeah. The insurgents. That's the proper term. For the Taliban is but one group out of many. I wonder how many of these guys were running around the Afghan hills thirty years ago, to bring down a regime that actually treated women as equals before the law. But that regime was controlled by the evil commies of the U.S.S.R. so the U.S. government couldn't throw AKs and other weapons into the hands of these bastards fast enough. Wonder how many of these weapons are being fired at our own troops these days?
Man,the bullshit of U.S. foreign policy piles up so fast, you need wings to stay above it.
So what can we do to keep other Afghan women from suffering Aisha's fate? The sad and honest answer is... not much. The seriously deluded amongst the American government and public believe that if we just add a little more to the bomb tonnage dropped on Afghan and Pakistani villages, then we can put on our white good- guy hats and ride to the rescue of these beautiful damsels in distress. In reality the damsel is more likely to be the victim of a bomb or Hellfire missile launched from a NATO drone than attacked by the Taliban. Better bring a shovel, good guys. The lady is probably buried under a ton of rubble.
That is what we can do- stop deluding ourselves that the occupation is doing Afghanistan any kind of good. We can demand that the U.S. and NATO get out of there and let the Afghan people decide their own destiny. Afghanistan was once a stable and peaceful republic that promoted gender equality before the eyes of the law. They might be able to get that back. But first foreign interference has to come to an end.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Why Movies About World War One Piss Me Off

I like war films. Most Americans do- I bet even Quakers secretly enjoy a guilty thrill when they close their drapes and throw Saving Private Ryan on the ol' DVD player.
See, nothing is as dramatic in film as a film about war. Decisions made by the characters effect the ultimate stakes of human existence- life and death. Stupidity, cleverness, heroism, cowardice, love, hate, cruelty, and mercy are basic human qualities that are portrayed on an epic scale against the backdrop of armed conflict. We can get a vicarious thrill watching Audie Murphy gunning down Nazi hordes with his Tommy Gun without the inconvenience of being in France in 1944. We can be horrified at the carnage of the landings at Omaha Beach without actually having nasty pieces of metal fired at you by someone who is desperate to kill you. Or we can marvel at the hideousness of fighting in the jungles of Vietnam without experiencing it firsthand.
What I am driving at is that there isn't really such a thing as a " war movie" ( or its cousin, the " anti- war " movie, which is a " war movie" with more gore and weeping). What is known as the war movie is really an action- adventure flick- granted usually a little more meditative on the human cost of armed conflict, but still a species of that genre. As Walt Whitman said of the American Civil War, " The real war won't get into the books." Or, as a German veteran of the Eastern Front of the Second World War suggested, his memoir should be read outdoors on cold nights in the rain or snow, in a hole you have dug, for days at a time. If you think you are learning something about the experience of war by watching a movie, you are badly mistaken.
But surviving the elements and struggling against the boredom of war are not what make exciting war movies. So Hollywood conveniently mentions these things in passing and gets to the good stuff- the fighting. For which I am extremely grateful.
Yet there is a war that is so badly represented in the film industry that it makes me want to tear my hair out. The First World War, aka The Great War, should be a source of action- adventure gold. Fighting in the trenches, fighting in the air, epic sea battles, campaigns in Palestine and Africa, heroic charges, stupid generals... it should be a no- brainer for movie producers.
Yet, time and again, movies about The Great War are produced as love stories. Yeah, that's right, love stories. For some reason what was probably one of the most unromantic wars in human history is constantly pitched as a great time to get laid. So there is too much smoochin' and not enough shootin'. This is especially true of the war in the air. Every single First World War aviation movie devotes an inordinate amount of time to dashing young fliers sweeping buxom young women off of their feet for a bit of horizontal refreshment ( the BBC comedy series Blackadder Goes Forth does an excellent job spoofing this stereo type). There is precious little time devoted to blasting an enemy fighter to shreds with a pair of blazing Vickers or Maxim machine guns. And even scenes like that are generally badly done (e.g. Flyboys, The Red Baron).Even infantrymen get their fair share of booty. Remember Brad Pitt stalking the battlefields of 1915 Ypres in the horrible Legends Of The Fall? The director must have invented two dozen reasons for Pit to remove his cap so he could strike poignant poses with his hair blowing in the wind. And of course we end up with about fifteen minutes of trench fighting and two hours of Pitt pouncing on everything wearing a skirt. And still striking those annoying poignant poses.
I am aware of the vast historical ignorance of the American audience. But why worry about it? Americans don't give a damn about historical content. Just show a bunch of Doughboys tearing the Hun a third cornchute with rifle and bayonet. Oh wait, they did!
In a rare burst of sanity and inspiration, in 2004 A&E network produced an awesome but little known movie called The Lost Battalion, a remake of the 1919 film of the same name. It tells the story of some 550 men of the U.S. 77th Infantry Division who became surrounded by the Germans in the Argonne Forest in October 1918.Despite being heavily outnumbered they held on to their positions for three days until relieved by the rest of the 77th. This has everything a good war movie needs- explosions, bad leaders who we can hate, good leaders we cheer for, ethnic humor, reflections on the insanity of war, bayonet charges, hand- to- hand fighting, and a chivalrous foe ( this is 1918 remember- the Nazis fought the next war). And not a single romantic moment! An absolutely classic American war film.
Other good films about the Great War:
All Quiet On The Western Front ( 1931): The soundtrack is scratchy and the special effects are dated but still stands out as one of the best war films of all time.
Paths Of Glory ( 1957): Stanley Kubrick's meditation on the bullshit of military justice devotes the first part of the film to some interesting trench fighting scenes. The rest involves a trial. Remove any throwable objects from reach- you will get very angry.
Lawrence Of Arabia ( 1962): A great film with awesome actors, LOA also has great battle scenes from a " a sideshow of a sideshow" of the war.
All Quiet On The Western Front ( 1979): The inevitable re- make. But surprisingly well- done. The sets are first- rate, the acting excellent, and the main character Paul Baumer narrates from the book during pauses in the action- nice touch. Surprisingly bloody for a made- for- TV- flick from the 1970s.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

State Of Crazy: Interview With An Arizona Comrade

An internet acquaintance of mine from the Liberal Gun Club, who goes by the screen name neotrotsky, lives in Mesa, AZ. He is representative of the thousands of white residents of Arizona who are disgusted by this rotten bill and want it repealed. Of course,they do not gather much media attention since the networks are working very hard to portray this controversy as a racial struggle. This is why the Minutemen and other racist groups get so much attention.
Neotrotsky is active in the arts and currently works for a theater company. Despite having a busy schedule, he took some time out to answer a few questions I had about the reaction to 1070's first few days as a law.
Comrade X: Where did the demonstrations occur?
Neotrotsky: Most demonstrations occurred at the Main County Jail on 4th and Jefferson in downtown Phoenix and at the Capital Mall. Other rallies have been held in the predominately Mexican town of Guadalupe, an unincorporated village surrounded by the city of Tempe.
Comrade X: Where you personally involved in or a witness to any of the demonstrations?
Neotrotsky: I was not involved in many of the protests due to my involvement with a theater production, but since the director of the theater I am working at is a Mexican- American, and less than half a mile away from the core city protests, we have been very much watching since the local Sheriff has been known to push crackdowns on mass groups of like- minded individuals. In fact the City of Phoenix has actively stopped lending police and logistical support to the First Fridays arts initiative, which seeks to hold street performances every first Friday of the month in order to encourage the arts scene in the downtown region. Many feel the timing was too convenient since there has been an increase of anti- 1070 sentiment in the community while the official city line is because of the summer heat- which has been fairly mild in comparison to previous years.
Comrade X: What is the general mood like in Arizona right now?
Neotrotsky: The mood is extremely tense, especially after the arrest of civil rights leader Salvadore Reza of the activist group Puente ( Mr. Reza was released yesterday- X), who was detained while standing across the street from a protest at the central jail a few days ago, and not even on state property.
The shooting of two police officers on the West Side due to an unrelated drug sting gone bad also has added fuel to the fire for both sides. Also, rumors posted on many activist Facebook feeds against 1070 , and for it, have stated that there is supposedly a $1,000,000 bounty on Sheriff Joe Arpaio's head, but there are many rebuking that, saying it was probably started as propaganda by the Sheriff's department to increase his tough guy image. What has been true are the bounties placed on Democratic Governor candidate Terry Goddard for his actions in bringing 1, 500 troops and millions of federal dollars to the border to investigate drug trafficking along the border, and his newly penned cooperative agreement with Western Union to start tracking payment transfers of large amounts of money across the border to try to find the money trail to drug traffickers using immigrants as drug mules or forced labor.
Comrade X: You recently related an incident about how a gun shop owner refuses to sell to customers who cannot prove they are a conservative. Could you expand on that?
Neotrotsky: My experience with the one gun shop ( owner) in Mesa that made ( a) comment about a T- shirt I was wearing- a plain red shirt with an image of Che screen printed on it... and kept asking me what I "planned " to do with the ammo I was buying. I said, " Er... shoot it?", thinking it was a rather odd question. Then he asked me for ID, when I then mentioned that there was no law requiring ID to sell ammo, but if he wished to verify my age , I had no problem. He then said, " Oh, don't need that. We need to make sure the wrong kind of people aren't getting this. You have a voter ID card?" I asked, " Why?" and he mentioned that it would prove if I were the " right" kind of person, because ( as he nodded towards my shirt) some people "should not have this - you should know". With Rush Limbaugh's talk show blasting on the stereo and shooting targets of Barack Obama on the wall, it didn't take me long to figure out what he meant. I walked out and he simply said, "Thank you. Now don't come back."
Comrade X: What a dick!