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Posts Tagged ‘patriotism’

The Obama effect

For months we heard rumours that Obama was some kind of closet Panther, hiding his afro pick while plotting revolution.  Starting around 11 PM on November 4, the same people who made these claims suddenly decided he was actually a center-rightist, that his victory reflected America’s inherant conservatism.

Obviously, this put actual black nationalists in a weird spot. Today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution featured a piece by Muhammad Yungai, a Decatur, Georgia artist and self-identified member of this group:

“As a black nationalist I have considered myself an American only as a technicality or an accident of birth. I’ve never hoisted the red, white and blue, only the red, black and green. I gave up on the American dream a longtime ago. I have worked and looked forward to autonomy and self-determination in our communities. I never imagined that I would live long enough to see an African-American president. I never even believed that I would live to see a black Miss America. But America fooled me! Even as I predicted an Obama nomination and then a presidential win, the reality of what happened on Nov. 4 still has me totally stunned.”

Yungai, whose excellant website is as aesthetically threatening as a puppy wrapped in a blanket, goes on to express his optimism at this development:

“And now we have a President Obama! The mold has been irrevocably broken! The possibilities of opportunity in American life have been exponentially expanded.”

The ongoing structural inequalities in American socioecomics keep Yungai appropriately skeptical.  However, he describes the election as “psyche-shattering” and, as per the title, is “revisiting [his] stance.”

The article is here.  The cynic notes of course that the Journal-Constitution would never have run this piece of Yungai had attacked Obama as a race-traitor; it’s much more palatable as an inspiring conversion to Americanism.  That said, it’s a notably unique perspective.  I will paypal $2 to any commenter who can find another mainstream editorial featuring the phrase: “As a black nationalist…”  So good on Yungai and the Journal-Constitution for expanding the discourse on the op-ed page beyond the usual suspects.

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Humanizing Ataturk

The Times has a video feature today on Mustafa, a controversial new Turkish film portraying the life of national hero Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.  Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish Republic, is revered in a way not normally seen outside of countries ending in “-stan.”  His image as a war hero, statesman, and ideological guide is unparalleled: imagine rolling George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln into the same superdude.  Ataturk’s memory, (neatly cleansed of the troublesome bits), is the cornerstone of what is arguably the most defensively nationalistic country on earth.  The thoroughly modern Ataturk adorns literally all denominations of the Turkish Lira.

So along comes journalist Can Dundar, with a film portraying Ataturk as a human being.  The movie Kemal is a drinker, a smoker, and a bit of a paranoid, and his staunch secularism is driven as much by personal resentment of his childhood religious education as by ideological commitment.  Dundar wanted to rectify an image “devoid of human qualities“; someone far more a hero than a man.  Critics have hit the film from all sides, with devout Kemalists worrying it will weaken the image of the nation and the religious community bemoaning their founder’s on-screen taste for raki and women.

Mustafa Akyol, (a strange cat in his own right), noted in the popular nationalistic daily Hurriyet that critics of the film have not actually questioned its veracity.  The problem is not that the movie isn’t accurate, but that the accuracy is unacceptable.  Amidst all this controversy, Turks are flocking to it.

For more on the film and surrounding hullaballoo, check out both the Times video and the companion article.

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“Somewhere in the universe, a gear in the machinery shifted.”

-Eldridge Cleaver on Rosa Parks

I haven’t Cleaver’s way with words, so I hope you’ll forgive my reducing history to one man’s personal narrative of 12 hours of chaos.  At best, this will fade into the millions of personal sketches that comprise the people’s history hiding behind any newspaper headline.

Two fucking years of this stuff boiled down to one day worth of drinking, voting, waiting, waiting, drinking, waiting, and drinking again.  We kicked off at Busboys and Poets, Andy Shallal’s Washington leftist landmark.  (I met Shallal when he guest-lectured on business and peacebuilding; he’s fantastic.)  Busboys is a good place to spot Dennis Kucinich and his amazon wife.  Unfortunately, the place was packed like sardines in a Chongqing bus, (line around the block,) and eventually we left for more breathable climes.

Second option was a dead little Ethiopian restaurant. There must’ve been four people in the place when our group showed up and promptly piled bottle after bottle of honey wine on top of the prior stuff.  By the time they called Ohio for Hopey, everyone was shitfaced.  At this point I started texting WIN! to 18 people at a time, even while it was still technically too early to call the election.

Once Virginia came around, the entirety of DC hit the street.  Here’s photographic evidence, and the videotape.  (Sadly, we lack footage of Mireille shrieking “I LIVE IN BLUE VIRGINIA!” for the next four hours.)  Open bottle laws went the way of the permenant Republican majority, and people were passing champagne bottles (and what I believe was heroin) along the street.  I don’t think I’ve ever hugged so many strangers.

A few thousand people marched in the rain to the White House, a sort of traveling Woodstock complete with SDS signs.  Chants of “Yes we can!” and “U-S-A!” rang out in Lafayette Park as a revelers welcomed their new patriotic hero with the funny name.  Amidst the crowd I see a familiar-looking woman, and amidst the vodka I approach her.  “Excuse me, but you look exactly like Joan Baez.”  The woman puts her hands on her face, smiles, and replies: “I wonder why?”  And then, piss-drunk at 3 AM on election night at the White House, Joan Baez hugs me.

Last night was spectacular. This morning, Washington ran out of newspapers.  DCist reports that the Washington Post printed special editions to distribute Wednesday evening.  I got home to Eastern Market around 6:30, and there was a line around the block outside the CVS.  I was carrying a paper I had bought on the way to work this morning, and three people asked me where I got it — two yelled out of car windows, one offering to buy it.  (If anyone has a copy of the New York Times, name your price.)

Undoubtedly, you all have your own stories.  It’s a rare day when an editorial cartoonist brings tears to your eyes:

Having just hugged Joan Baez, I called my mother.  It was 3 AM and I’d spoken to her earlier, but I figured it was worth waking her up again.  My mother is the most patriotic person I know.  Working for Gene McCarthy at 14, she organized a walkout of her Rockaway middle school to protest the Vietnam War.  A few years later she considered joining the Weathermen.

My mother is the most patriotic person I know.  Her parents had campaigned for communist New York City councilman Ben Davis up in Harlem, and her aunt (who used to feed me Ricola cough drops as a kid) is the subject of a 91-page, largely-redacted FBI file. My mother was raised by people who inhabited a unique social and political culture, one which simply ceased to exist with the decline of the old left and the dissipation of working-class Jewish neighborhoods in New York.  My grandparents, raised in this Yiddish socialism, still see America more as the place they are than as the place they are of.

Stuck between this passing world epitomized by my great-uncle’s charcoal drawings of Paul Robeson, and the often flaky, psychoanalytic approach of the early 70s left, my mother developed a strongly class-based political consciousness devoid of both the Yiddishkeit of her parents and the hippie ethos of her generation.  Without either, she clung to a certain cultural Americanism, maybe best described as either Woody Guthrie’s red-dirt radicalism or the likely politics of the love-child of Mark Twain and Emma Goldman.

My mother is the most patriotic person I know.  She told me that she’s tried her whole life to ensure that my sister and I grow up feeling like America is our country, rather than just our home, because it took her so long to come to that conclusion.  She doesn’t fly a flag on her house, and I’m not sure she could sing you the national anthem, but that was me leading the drum line cadences in the Veterans’ Day parade and that was my sister camped out at the revolutionary war reenactment at Ticonderoga.

My mother is not a central-casting patriot.  She disdains the accoutrements of country, is uncomfortable praising a government simply because she lives under it, and tends to exist in a perpetual state of dissent.  Sadly, these traits are often mistaken for (when not deliberately spun as) indicators of ambivalence towards the fundamental promise and potential that this country has offered four generations of my family.  My mother has simply been waiting:  Waiting for a politician to talk straight with her; waiting for a politician to inspire people rather than just scaring them; waiting for a politician to reach out to people who are used to being ignored; waiting for a politician to, as John Edwards once said so well, “be patriotic about something other than war.”

So I called my mother at 3 in the morning last night to tell her that I just hugged Joan Baez in front of the White House a few hours after 64 million Americans handed a landslide victory to a half-Kenyan man, middle-named “Hussein,” raised by a single mother.  And to this my mother said the thing I’ll leave you with:

“I am amazed by your generation.”

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I read the news today, oh boy:

CHICAGO (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says he didn’t know that one of his relatives was living in the United States illegally and believes the appropriate laws should be followed.

The Associated Press found that Obama’s aunt had been instructed to leave the country four years ago by an immigration judge who rejected her request for asylum from her native Kenya. The woman, Zeituni Onyango (zay-TUHN on-YANG-oh), is living in public housing in Boston and is the half-sister of Obama’s late father.

So this is our October November surprise.  The Obama campaign has released a statement denying knowledge of Onyango’s legal status and stating that “any and all appropriate laws [should] be followed.” Senator Obama has met Onyango literally a handful of times in his life, once in Kenya and once in Chicago, and she attended his Senate swearing-in in 2004 without visa assistance from Obama’s staff.  She’s mentioned in passing in Dreams of my Father, but has played no role whatsoever in the campaign or the public discourse.

We have a sick, sick media.  Ms. Onyango is the half-sister of a father that Barack Obama barely knew, a father who left when his son was two years old, and who subsequently saw his son a grand total of one time after returning to Kenya.  The Senator’s childhood, teenage years, adulthood, all of it was spent with his mother’s family, with no connection to Onyango or any of the rest of his father’s family.

This is personal.  My biological father was an alcoholic who was functionally out of my life from the moment it began, and physically out of my life by the time I was three.  For close to 20 years I had no contact with him, no child support, nothing, until I exchanged literally two letters with the man something like three years ago.  My entire life has been a product of my mother’s family (and my stepfather,) and when Senator Obama writes that he “was probably shaped more by [his father’s] absence than his presence,” this speaks directly to the experiences of both myself and others who’ve been through such situations.  He speaks directly to everyone who’s had to hear some so-called friend proclaim: “well if I was in your position, I’d be curious to know what my father was like.”

So let’s do a hypothetical.  Let’s pretend I was electable for a moment, (somewhere other than Kerala,) and running for some public office.  Obviously biography matters.  Both candidates have made this about their personal stories.  Family stories are relevent to the extent that they shape the person’s values.  (I recently received the 91-page FBI file on my great-aunt, so you can file my political chances…)  The problem is, Barack Obama’s father’s side of the family is exactly zero part of his life, and has been such for decades.  He’s no more answerable for his father’s half-sister than I am for my biological father’s sister, whose name I can’t even come up with offhand, but who, I was once told, lives in an Orthodox community in Monsey, New YorkMazel tov for her, but for all I know she could be Chairwoman of the Aryan Brotherhood Jewish Women’s Auxiliary.  What that has to do with the price of hash in Herat, let alone my hypothetical Senate campaign, is unclear; and any journalist who decided that this woman’s personal life was a front-page story three days before the election could consider himself expelled from the press room the day after I won.

It is fair game to profile a relative who the campaign has cited to help their candidate’s chances.  Scarborough might be a douchebag, but Senator Obama did turn his white grandmother into a public figure when he mentioned her in his speech on race.  Just the same, Joe McCarthyCain matters because he had been working on his brother’s campaign in between the red-baiting and abuse of emergency services.  Onyango’s composite contribution to Senator Obama’s campaign, let alone his life, amounts to something like $200 worth of campaign cash.

The context makes this story even nastier.  Going on two years, the press and the political right have debated everything from Senator Obama’s birth certificate to his childhood education to his alleged Arab heritage.  The Very Serious Media has alternated between giving equal time to and debunking smears on his patriotism including the flag pin flap and the national anthem story, while the Know-Nothing McCain-Palin ticket slices America into real and fake segments.*  The press frequently presents both sides of every story with equal weight, even while partisans of the right bring outright white nationalist perspectives.  (Sorry Kathy, but “blood equity” is a bit too Ein Volk, Ein Reich for my taste…)

And so, into this foreigner-smearing, patriotism-questioning, race-baiting, not-like-us discourse, the entirety of our big media chooses to excrete a story about the illegal immigration status of Obama’s distant aunt some three days before the election.  The Washington Post, MSNBC, and Fox News are all running this as the second story on their websites as of 3 PM Saturday.  Jerome Corsi would be proud.

*(New York and northern Virginia become “Real America” on occasions upon which they are attacked by terrorists.  Offer not valid after 30 days.)

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Meanwhile in beer news

August 12  (Originally posted by Mireille)

A British friend of mine once described American beer thusly: “Its like having sex on a life raft– fucking close to water.”

With the pending purchase of Anheuser-Busch by the Belgian-Brazilian InBev, there has been a scramble to name the next great American-owned beer. Many assume that the Beer King’s perceived betrayal of his most ardent supporters, working class flag waving white men, will cause their loyalties to shift. In Anheuser-Busch’s defense, they have no plans to close their iconic St. Louis factory. On a personal note, it pains me to defend the company that is responsible for Nattie Light.

Salon has a run down of the contenders. It begins with an interesting analysis of the marketing strategy of Pabst, favorite of broke hipster kids because of its ‘lack of pretension’. It’s an good example of how subtle identity and ideology driven choices affect how a brand is perceived independent of their own marketing effort. Though unbeknown to the hipsters, their beloved blue ribbon actively cultivated their mystique upon learning of their popularity among this fickle niche. The article unenthusiastically concludes that Yuengling, the country’s oldest continuing brewer established in 1829, would be the most likely successor–were it not for its limited distribution. I can say that Yuengling is better quality than your average mass produced American lager, it has the cool uniformity of taste without being watery–But I’m really more an ale person so it wouldn’t be my first choice to begin with.

Having said all that, I doubt that there will be any colossal consumer shift. Bud will continue to be all stars, titties and stripes and the average American consumer will continue to be beguiled, sub-par quality be damned.

In this interview Sam Adam’s Jim Koch summed up nicely by saying, “No, I’ve always believed people should drink the beer for its inherent quality. To me, waving the flag doesn’t make the beer taste any better.”

Truer words, Jim, truer words.

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