Passport Propaganda

Last night I forgot one of my books and was stuck in a situation where I had nothing to read.  I started reading the quotes in my passport and realized that almost everyone was propaganda and most were easily disproved.  They are all part of, as George Carlin would say, “the national bullshit story.”  I thought I would post the quotes and then follow up with why a response to each one:

The principle of free government adheres to the American soil.  It is bedded in it, immovable as the mountains. – Daniel Webster

Ok, total bullshit.  First of all soil cannot be bedded with principles of anything.  Our soil, aside from possibly the particular chemical makeup of it, is no different than any soil.  Also, democracy and free governments are never immovable.  They are things which need vigilant citizens to maintain.  Just look at the history of our voting rights.  Look at the current NSA scandal or things Hoover’s FBI did or any of number of things to learn how free government and democracy are easily eroded. 

We have a great dream.  It started way back in 1776 and God grant that America will be true to her dream.  – Martin Luther King

I am nitpicking with this one.  Martin Luther King was obviously a great man.  The quote itself is fine in a kind of whitwashed way.  However in 1776 they did let slavery remain legal.  Also, whether or not there is a God, it is again going to take actual people to make us stay true to the founder’s more noble ideas. 

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.  – John F. Kennedy

Again, I like John Kennedy fine, but this is simply untrue.  If we look at the history of Guatemala or the Congo or many other examples, there are plenty of times that we let liberty be snuffed out. 

This is a new nation, based on a continent, of boundless possibilities. – Theodore Roosevelt

This might have seemed more true in Roosevelt’s time.  However, with our modern environmental problems we are seeing that even our vast continent is not boundless in its possibilities.   Nothing physical is boundless. 

Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come from the heart of America. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

This is a very vague statement.  What exactly is the heart of America?  Is it the people?  If so there have been many times when presidents passed things by executive order without the outright consent of a large amount of people.  Is it Washington?  If that place always has a heart I’ll shit myself.  Besides, the decisions they make there, look at Iraq, don’t always pass in the world as planned.  Again a vague statement that is a bunch of meaningless feel good nonsense. 

For this is what America is all about.  It is the uncrowded desert and the unclaimed ridge.  It is the star that is not reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground.  Is our world gone? We say “Farewell.”  Is a new world coming? We welcome it – and we will bend it to the hopes of man. – Lyndon B. Johnson

Again vague feel good nonsense, this time rooted in American exceptionalism.   Johnson himself found the limits to our power in Vietnam.  Case closed. 

May God continue the unity of our country as the railroad unites the two great oceans of the world. – inscribed on the Golden Spike, Promontory Point, 1869

This refers to the transcontinental railroad.   It should be noted that much of the work was done by Chinese laborers.  Although it is disputed how many, varying wildly, many of these workers died. 

We send thanks to all the Animal life in the world.  They have many things to teach us as people.  We are glad they are always here and hope it will always be so. – Excerpt from the Thanksgiving Address, Mohawk version

There is nothing wrong in and of the quote itself.  However when you use it as a selling point for our country it helps to remember how we treated the Indians and how we have exploited animals.  The Mohawks also fought against us in the Revolutionary War and The War of 1812.  We also took their land.  Also, look how we treated the buffalo, which we almost wiped out of existence during the western Indian wars.  Look now at how we treat animals in factory farming.  Again the statement is fine, but when you examine it closely as a selling point for America, it kind of makes you wonder. 

The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of human kind, the very birthright of humanity – Anna Julia Cooper

This statement is another one that is fine in and of itself as an idea.  However, it is false when used as a selling point for America.  Also, first of all, you are not born with the right to anything.  Rights have to be fought for and maintained by vigilant citizens.  If we were born with rights we wouldn’t have needed the Civil War or the women’s suffrage movement.  Also if one looks at gerrymandering today, you can still see that our freedoms, in terms of the right to truly govern ourselves as a true democracy, are still being eroded.  We are also not free in a lot of ways.  If I get caught with weed in Texas, a victimless crime that hurts no one, what freedom I do have will dissappear.  

My point is not to be a killjoy or to say we should stamp out attempts at using language to aspire to greater things.  It is just that we need to, as individuals,  to think.  Democracy and freedom are not birthrights, are not unique to America, and do not come from God.  Only by being vigilant citizens, paying attention to what is going on, and by standing up for those that are oppressed,  can we truly have a democracy that represents all.  Also, total freedom is an illusion.  To be free in a way in which we can all persue our own version of happiness, as long as we don’t hurt others, is still along ways off. There is much work to be done.

Pro Gay Rights

As gay marriage and gay rights comes more to the forefront of our society, I must simply state that I support anything that allows people to find personal happiness.  Life is hard.  Finding someone else that sees the world in the same way as you is one of those things that can make it less so.  Marriage itself is no promise of happiness.  Neither is sex.  However, if the law at least allows for that pursuit of happiness, then I am all for it.  I like some gay people I have met and dislike others, just like I like some heterosexual people and not others, or I like some guitar players and not others.  I think people should be treated as individuals based on their own merits.  Why judge anyone on a personal level other than how they act with you personally?  It seems silly to be typing this in the year 2014.  This is not a brave stance.  But although the side that represents decency is winning, the battle wages on.  Soon enough the bigots will seem as historically stupid as those that hated the Irish and Italians way back when.  Let it be soon. 

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology Review

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is an incredibly powerful film.  It is somehow able to pack in all of the ideas of a great book or the best of a college course, while also being highly entertaining.  It combines films, philosophy, religion, psychoanalysis, history, and politics.  Although the film was directed by Sophie Fiennes, whose visual mastery should not go unnoticed, the film belongs to the narrator and star Slavoj Zizek.

Zizek uses films such as They Live, Full Metal Jacket, The Sound of Music, and others to dive into big ideas.  Clips from the films are shown interspersed with shots of Zizek appearing on recreations of the sets of the same films.  Zizek’s narration is powerful because he is able to make even the headiest of ideas understandable.  The movie is so packed with interesting ideas that I feel that I would be doing the film a disservice without watching it again, or several times, before I tried to list all of the things it covered.

One of the biggest ideas in the movie is that all power, whether that is in the form of religion or even totalitarian atheism, drives from peoples’ belief in the Big Other.  The Big Other could be God or history or any idea that exists outside of the self that allows people to follow orders without questioning them.

He also talks about having the right and wrong dreams.  We often dream of an idealized version of the reality that is presented to us, a dream which would not make us happy if achieved.  In order to make the world a better place we need to change the kind of dreams we have.  An example is our common thinking that we would just be happy if we had more money, etc.; when it is very possible that the organizing principles of our society are what bring about so much unhappiness.  He focuses on ideology because from the very beginning he talks about how trying to see outside of ideology is painful and we often resist it.

He also talks about capitalism vs. environmentalism.  He asks the question why is it easier in some ways in our existing order to imagine the end of life as we know it rather than make a few small adjustments to our economic system.

Even if you end up not agreeing with Zizek, if you are the kind of person that welcomes big ideas this film will leave you with plenty to chew on.  I feel as if I am not doing this film justice.  This is a subversive, intelligent, entertaining movie that should be watched if you are looking for something stimulating.

P.S.  Make sure that if you watch the film that you watch through to the end of the credits.  This film is available for streaming on Netflix currently.  

Was the Past More Sophisticated?

Today, with a crushing hangover, I was listening to Frank Sinatra’s Only the Lonely.  I have always enjoyed the crying clown album cover.  I was thinking about how, compared to a good deal of modern pop music, complex the melodies are.  I also think the same thing when I think about how popular Joni Mitchell was for awhile.  Were music listeners more sophisticated in the past? If so, why were they?  Maybe I am viewing the past through rose tinted glasses, but it seems as though there was a degree of sophistication and complexity allowed in the mainstream that you rarely see these days.  It takes time and effort on behalf of the listener to appreciate things that aren’t easily digestible.   Maybe our culture has become too fast paced? I don’t have any answers today, only questions.  If you have thoughts on this, feel free to chime in. 

George R.R. Martin Interview

http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/george-r-r-martin-the-rolling-stone-interview-20140423

A thoughtful interview with George R.R. Martin, the writer of The Song of Fire and Ice series more wildly know as Game of Thrones. (The title of the first book and of the TV series that the series is based on.  I thought his comments on history and on the complex nature of man were particularly interesting.  I’ve read all of the books and caught up on the series when I was home last week.  I need the next book to come out!  

 

 

Arrogance in a Former Secretary of State

I have mentioned several times that I am reading the book The Brothers, a book about former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen Dulles, who headed the CIA.  These brothers not only ratcheted up the Cold War, but created problems for America that we are still dealing with.  I know I have talked a lot about this book, but it is something every American should read.  Foster Dulles helped the military gain power in Pakistan.  The following passage, where Foster is interviewed by Walter Lippman, would be comical, if the ending wasn’t so tragic.  You cant make this stuff up!  Remember this is an interview with a sitting Secretary of State during the Eisenhower Administration:

“Look Walter,” Dulles told him, “I’ve got to get some real fighting men into the south of Asia.  The only Asians who can really fight are the Pakistanis.  That’s why we need them in the alliance.  We could never get along without the Gurkhas.”

“But Foster,” Lippman replied, “the Gurkhas aren’t Pakistanis.”

“Well, they may not be Pakistanis, but they’re Moslems.”

“No, I’m afraid they’re not Moslems, either.  They’re Hindus.”

“No matter!” Foster replied, and launched into a half-hour lecture about the dangers of Communism in Asia.

George W. Bush and John Bolten’s spiritual father has been found. 

Deadwood and United Fruit

Everything leads back to DeadwoodDeadwood is my favorite TV show of all time.  I believe it is the closest we will get to Shakespeare in our time in terms of dramatic depth and the shows rich verbal complexity.  The show takes place in the illegal town of the same name in the late 19th century.  The show is about how societies organize themselves and also about the bloodier side of free market capitalism.

Today I was reading about how the connections between leaders in our country and the United Fruit company that lead to coup in Guatemala in 1954.  This coup happened because of the revolving door between big business and government.  John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles both represented United Fruit when they worked at the law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell.  When the Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz came to power he wanted to nationalize lands owned by United Fruit.  Arbenz was no communist, he only wanted an economic arrangement that was actually beneficial to his country.  However, the Dulles brothers, because of their long standing relationship to United Fruit, and their views that any kind of nationalistic indigenous behavior was the work of communists, decided to try to overthrow Arbenz government once the Dulles brothers became the Secretary of State and the director of the CIA.

The show Deadwood shows how economic forces shape political reality.  It is dramatic truth that helps one to understand the world at large.  During the second season the titan of industry William Hearst comes to the town.  His role in the town is the primary overreaching conflict of season three.   When he can’t get what he wants by using covert methods of misinformation, coercion, and bribery, he turns to violence.  He employs the Pinkerton detective agency, which in the show could easily stand in for the CIA.  They use violence to crush organizing activity, and eventually kill the person who most stands in the way of his ability to acquire a claim that he desires.

Our country has a history of allowing corporate interests to drive foreign policy decisions.  The incident with United Fruit and Guatemala is just one such incident.  One can look to recent events in Iraq, especially in the aftermath of the initial invasion, to see how companies help shape our policy for their own interests.  Sometimes these policies can even manifest themselves in overt violence.

What really great story telling can do is to relate truths in ways that are easy to comprehend.  Great art can help us to reach universal truths by allowing us to step outside of our current political moment. It can help us interpret the world around us in ways that journalism, which can often be biased and is also often the mere recording of data, cannot do.  If you are looking to understand the world that we inhabit it helps to pay attention to the news, it helps to read history books, but one should never forget the value of art.  Fiction can sometimes be more enlightening than mere fact.

Manipulation of the Press by the CIA

I mentioned yesterday that I am reading The Bothers by Stephen Kinzer. This is a book about Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles.  If anyone wondered what role the government has played in shaping public opinion, look no further than how the Dulles brothers influenced the press during their lifetime.  I understand that this took place in the mid 20th century, but one only needs to remember Judith Miller and others during the Iraq War, or look at the CIA’s manipulation of events surrounding torture today. The following is a passage from The Brothers (Henry Luce was the owner of Time and Life magazines):  

Their old friend Henry Luce put each of the brothers on the cover of Time during their first year in office.  Allen was pictured with his ubiquitous pipe, smoke curling up toward a black-cloaked figure carrying a dagger, above the title “In an Ancient Game, New Techniques and a New Team.”  Foster followed a couple of months later.  Wrinkled and sullen, staring out from beneath a black homburg in front of a globe encircled with red, white, and blue banners, he looked worthy of what Time described as his mission: “To Unite Principle and the Facts of Life.”  

Luce’s friendship was only one of the many assets that helped Foster and Allen project their views into the American press.  Foster built a dense network of media contacts, and once Allen became director of central intelligence he went even further.  Allen established discreet contact with owners, publishers, and editors of influential daily newspapers, magazines, and broadcast networks.  Among his regular collaborators were William Paley of CBS, Arthur Hays Sulzberger of the New York Times, Alfred Friendly of the Washington Post, and James Copley of Copley News Service.  Through them, and through the journalists who were veterans of the Office of War Information, the U.S. government’s official propaganda arm during World War II, he regularly planted stories about foreign countries and their leaders.  By one account he could “pick up the phone and edit a breaking story, make sure an irritating foreign corespondent was yanked from the field, or hire the services of men such as Time’s Berlin bureau chief and Newsweek’s man in Tokyo.”  The columnist Allen Drury called him “a man of notoriously thin skin who is not above trying to get the jobs of newspapermen who criticize his agency.”

Years later it became clear that Allen’s efforts to influence the American press were not casual or episodic, but part of a multifaceted project called Operation Mockingbird.  Through it he funneled information, some of it classified, to journalists disposed to promote the CIA worldview, among them James Reston of the New York Times, Benjamin Bradlee of Newsweek, and the influential columnists Joseph and Stewart Aslop.  Operatives also planted stories in smaller news outlets and arranged for them to be amplified through networks controlled by friendly media barons.  Frank Wisner, who helped oversee Mockingbird, called it the CIA’s “mighty Wurlitzer.”  

The Failure to Adapt

I saw the movie Glengarry Glen Ross last night for the first time.  It was a portrayal of the sales world that, although highly exaggerated in its language, rang too true in many cases.  I worked in sales and customer service for about six years.  My brother, who commented on the film’s depressing outlook, was also laughing at some of the darkly comic dialogue.  Meanwhile I felt my blood pressure going up as I relived certain situations that I have seen.

The movie tells the story of people in a real estate sales office.  In the beginning of the film Alec Baldwin, who plays a character that represents upper management, comes into the sales office and gives them an epic dressing down for their poor sales performances.  This sets the train of events that takes place in the movie and includes arguments, lying, and thievery.

The David Mamet play that this movie was based on was first performed in 1983 and the movie came out in 1992.  I don’t know how offices were in those years, but knowing how they are now, I knew that the dialogue was an exaggeration.  This movie has so many fucks in it that it became known to the cast as “Death of a fucking salesman.” In the neutered politically correct corporate world of today this kind of outwardly expression of vulgarity would never take place.  Sure, it might take place at moments or in some companies, but over all people would not be allowed to talk to each other like that.  However, this does not mean that the dialogue is untrue.  In its absurd exaggeration it exposes the feelings that I have seen in many coworkers and bosses.  It takes what often is going on inside in reality and moves it outside.

Earlier today I read an article about Hirdoo Onoda.  Onada was a Japanese soldier on a remote island in the Philippines that fought World War II for 29 years after the Japanese surrendered.  He believed that the war was still being fought so many years after it was over.  During this time he killed around 30 islanders who he believed to be enemy combatants.

Watching the movie, and watching these alpha males fight over such pathetic rewards, I couldn’t help but think that in our society we often behave in ways that are historically obsolete.  The men in this movie, and so many people in the business world, have some kind of delusion that they are part of some kind of lost warrior clan.  They are fighting and competing in ways that have no basis for what is needed in the modern world.  They are debasing their own and others dignity for nothing more than Willy Loman’s gold watch.  They behave with the ruthlessness of some kind of ancient guerilla general all for a couple extra bucks and a bigger desk.

In a global world with such global problems as climate change we must seek to see each other’s basic humanity.  The competition of tribes and clans, which the unfettered market still fosters in us, is out of date and will lead to our destruction.  Trouble always arises in the world when times change, but people fail to adapt.

Manifest Destiny and Eating Horses

We often hear about Manifest Destiny as part of our American Myth.  Here is what Manifest Destiny meant to those actually practicing it in 1870:  “The rich and beautiful valleys of Wyoming are destined for the occupancy and the sustenance of the Anglo-Saxon race.  The wealth that for untold ages has lain hidden beneath the snow-capped summits of our mountains has been placed there by Providence to reward the brave spirits whose lot it is to compose the advance-guard of civilization.  The Indians must stand aside or be overwhelmed by the ever advancing and ever increasing tide of emigration.  The destiny of the aborigines is written in characters not to be mistaken.  The same inscrutable Arbiter that decreed the downfall of Rome has pronounced the doom of extinction upon the red men of America.”

This was said by The Big Horn Association in 1870.  This association was a group of white frontiersmen and miners.  I got all of this from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. 

While I was reading my brother called me upstairs to watch a scene from the TV show Deadwood.   In the scene a U.S. Military leader is giving a speech to the town that is all about nobility and providence.  It is basically a composite of all of the military and political speeches that we always here with some period details thrown in.  While he is speaking a slightly deranged member of the audience is mumbling what really happened on their campaign.  He is saying things like, “We ate our horses!”

Always be aware that the myths and stories that we tell ourselves are often ancient oceans apart from the reality that went on.