The Answer Guy Online

Providing information to unwitting victims on a "don't-need-to-know" basis since 1974.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Burn It Blue

Yesterday I noted that the Washington Post, in their stereotype-flogging series about Blue vs. Red America. Yesterday, they went to Sugar Land, Texas and found a stereotypical conservative Republican household.

Today they found a liberal family living in the heart of San Francisco.

Being who I am, I found the "Blue" family much more compelling. They, like the "Red" family, are practicing Catholics, but have a differing outlook on life and on religion. Each family member has had problems in their life, and challenges to face, and yet have perservered.

Of course it will be easy for conservatives to demonize the "Blue" family - headed by an recovering alcoholic, with a mother from a broken home - compared to the "Red" one, which seems to be perfectly functioning according to the Ozzie & Harriet ideal, at least on the surface. (As typical of most conservatives, particularly in the suburbs, where appearance is nearly everything. they prefer to sweep any problems there might be under the carpet, so any issues there might be don't show up in that article)

As a liberal, I focused Instead of demonizing the "other" they way the Texans did, Mr. Harrison summed up his thoughts on Red America, more specifically, the idea that Red America considers his side "whiners" :
They've got the same dreams and hopes and desires and needs that everybody does...they're human beings. Except that they've got one gear that goes backwards. They're eating well; they've got a roof over their heads...they've got everything. There are no luckier people. How can they complain? About anything?"

It struck me that in the "Red" article, Sugar Land was described as a "utopia" by some of its residents. The Right is fond of characterizing the Left as being hopelessly utopian, and yet it seems that few urban progressives would describe any patch of earth in this country "utopia," least of all some place where your neighbors knocked on your door to bitch to you about a brown patch in your front lawn, and not any "Blue" major city, either, where you can often find poverty and homelessness at your front step.

I will hand it to the Post that they exceeded my expectations by finding a liberal household that's not quite as easy to pigeonhole as I had feared they would be based on yesterday's article. Nonetheless, I stand by my criticism that I think this exercise was far less useful than what it could have been, and was another chance for carefully selected people on the extreme ends of the American political dialogue to fling stereotypes at each other.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Red Lenses

So the Washington Post is doing what is thinks is a hard-hitting series of articles about America's political and cultural divide. Sunday, they offered up a cliche-laden essay about Red vs. Blue America. Today, they went to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's congressional district in suburban Houston and found an archetypal Republican. Tomorrow, they will show us a slice of life from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's district in San Francisco.

My first thought about the whole undertaking: Duh.

I guess I'm in one sense perversely impressed they managed to find someone who seems to conform to lazy stereotypes about Republican voters so perfectly.

On the one hand, the reporter is able to skewer the guy a few times and just lets him make a fool of himself. He talks a good game about family values and yet has no qualms about frequenting Hooters; that's someone else's daughter you're ogling, Mr. Stein. He castiagtes liberals for whining, and he incessantly bitches about his taxes and where his tax money goes. He hates "intrusive government" on principle and yet his local government seems to have picayune regulations about every last little detail of one's house and lawn. (Not to mention that he can afford to live in Sugar Land, Texas, and yet still drinks Bud Light. Ugh.)

On the other hand, all the talk in the article about these "strong communities" in "Red" America implies that "Blue" America lacks strong communities, that Blue America is all rootless atheists who hate America. I'm curious as to what sort of treatment the stereotypical "Blue" household, from San Francisco, gets tomorrow.

The few trenchant points the article makes about Red vs. Blue are all painfully obvious. Bush is the choice of rural and small-town voters, and voters in Sun Belt suburbia. Kerry is the choice of voters in larger cities, and most old-line suburbs in the Snow Belt. Duh.

Here's what I wish the Post would have done instead:
1. Find the liberal Democratic family in Sugar Land, or some other town like it; there must be at least one. Ask them why they think their neighbors are so misguided. Then do the same with a conservative Republican household in, say, Boston. That'd be a lot more interesting and informative than repeating the same tired Red vs. Blue bromides.
2. Go to a 50-50 area in a swing state. Dayton, Ohio. Orlando, Florida. Allentown, Pennsylvania. Find some supporters of both political parties there. See what those folks have to say about each other.

As much fun as it is for a cosmopolitan to rail against the Bible-thumping pseudo-rednecks of the strip-mall-hell that is Texas cookie-cutter suburbia - and I imagine said psuedo-rednecks enjoy contemplating their favored politicians sticking it to effete, latte-sipping, overeducated liberals - I would rather see a fresher take on things from a leading national newspaper. I think the two approaches I suggested above, rather than asking stereotypical voters in stereotypically "Red" or "Blue" areas to speculate idly about some mysterious "other" people far away, and encouraging them to spout yet more stereotypes, would likely yield something far more interesting and informative.

Friday, April 23, 2004

OK - I couldn't pass this one up.

A Louisiana state legislator wants to outlaw low-slung pants.

Imagine how much less fun this would make Mardi Gras.

My Louisianan co-worker said that the sponsor would probably be a Baptist from the northern part of the state (known to New Orleans-area natives as "South Arkansas") but the sponsor is from Jefferson Parish, which consists primarily of New Orleans suburbs.

It's not likely they'll spend much time on this legislation, mind you.

21 Days

Yikes - it's been 21 days since my last post of substance. Many things have transpired since then, both in my life and in the larger world in general.

But seeing as I'm at work, today's not the day for a big post of substance either.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Pointless Plug

Phase two of Jukebox From Hell starts tomorrow.

Friday, April 02, 2004

We’re Only In It For The Money?

As some of you may know, I am a fairly regular poster to a forum known as Daily Kos.

The owner of the site, made some indelicate remarks regarding the four American contractors killed in Fallujah the other day, who made world headlines, mostly because their bodies were horribly mutiliated by their killers and put on display.

As you can imagine, the warblogger community and the right in general jumped on it like vultures on a coyote carcass, taking his sentiments about the incident somewhat out of context.

It seems unspeakable to many to speak ill of the dead in such a fashion. I could expound hundreds of words on the hypocrisy of people who frequent some discussion forums where participants are all too eager to call for and celebrate the deaths of dark-skinned people the world over, in the Middle East in particular. If this sort of sentiment is the dominant one in America, then we are far closer to a fascist regime (or worse) than many of us realize.

The dead in this case were not U.S. soliders; they were private contractors working for a company called Blackwater Security Consulting. The link there suggests that they are a heavy-duty operation. This is a private company of the sort that conducts activities that government military forces, for whatever reason, are unwilling or unable to do. Personnel for this company and other operations like them are paid far better than soldiers of the United States or any other country. They’ve been known to hire veterans of the military forces from regimes like Pincohet’s Chile and apartheid-era South Africa, two of the more odious regimes of the last half-century, and one can guess they were not hired for their looks.

They are, in a sense, mercenaries, a word that carries a substantially negative connotation, and not without reason.

I was aware that there was some controversy in military circles regarding the increased use of contractors – most notably Halliburton (of which Vice President Cheney was formerly CEO) and Bechtel – to perform more services for the military. But this new information suggests that the lines between purely service functions which may be suitable for private-sector involvement and combat functions are becoming increasingly blurred.

What are the advantages of using a private military force? They are not covered by the Geneva Convention, or by other similar treaties. Their conduct is not governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or by the military law of any nation. They are not truly accountable to any nation’s law, or to international law, or to anyone save their employer.

As such, some unscrupulous or desparate governments the world over have turned to private para-military organizations. They could be, and in some cases around the world, have been, used to conduct operations that would be illegal if American soldiers performed them. One private unit allegedly ran a prostitution ring in Kosovo during operations there. It is not difficult to imagine a private unit being used to conduct torture, or assassination operations. In the fantasy world of some on the far right, a privatized military could conduct foreign operations wherever there was booty to be had, without having to worry about pesky things like Congressional mandates or the vagaries of public opinion. The idea of unaccountable private, corporate military forces in the world’s hotspots doing America’s dirty work is fundamentally at odds with the way Americans see themselves in the world

What were these men doing in Fallujah that our regular forces weren’t doing? We’ll probably never know. I would be quite surprised if it turned out their duties were limited to the guarding of food supplies.

On the other hand, if they actually were performing such mundane functions, then there’s something even more seriously wrong with our military planning than I had suspected. In such a case, the use of private security forces would be a colossal waste of money and may reflect that we are undermanned in the area, which in turn would reflect neo-conservative fantasies about how smoothly military occupation of Iraq would go and what would be needed to successfully rebuild Iraq.

Either way, however, these people are not there to serve their country, protect their homeland, or for any reason other than a fairly large paycheck. They went into what they had to have known was a risky line of work, and paid the ultimate price.

The difference is that once a solider enlists, where he is sent and what he is ordered to do is entirely up to other people – generals and their advisors, politicians and their spinmeisters. Yes, the solider assumes the risk that he will be sent into hostile territory, but, particularly in the case of those who sign with the reserve units, the solider has nothing to do with the decision to go into harm’s way. Furthermore, the ultimate mission of the solider is to protect his nation, his people, his family, and not simply his employer. (The orders he is given may not be in the nation’s ultimate interest, but that is a separate issue entirely.)

Is it a tragedy when the hired guns die? It is a tragedy when anyone dies, and I can especially conceive of almost nothing that the victims here could have done that would possibly justify such a gruesome means of death and savage mutilation.

But implicit in that special kind of grieving for the fallen in a war in which your country is involved is the idea that they died for you, sacrificing their lives so that you might live in freedom from the threat of whatever adversary they faced. And these people, whatever their individual merits might have been, made no such sacrifice.

Kos, himself a military veteran, happens to think there’s a substantial difference there - and I agree with him. He phrased his objection, to be sure, in a most intemperate fashion, but at its root is a truth that’s being buried under all the sound and fury.

Perhaps these thoughts are political poison in this climate, and indeed some Congressional candidates who had advertised with Daily Kos pulled their ads once the bad publicity spread.

But far more poisonous to me is the notion that forces in government are hiring unaccountable private armies in my name.

Powered by Blogger