This is my last blog for True/Slant. It looks like I'll be blogging elsewhere come September- but since no contracts are signed, I can't really tell you where (hint: it rhymes with Morbes). In the meantime, the LAST column gives me a chance to do something that blogging rarely allows me to do: reflect. And upon reflection, this is what I've learned from my time at True/Slant.
When I first started this column, I was pissed. Bush was still in office, two illegal and imperialistic wars were in full swing, and although the Wall Street Ponzi scheme built on the democratization of debt had not yet collapsed, it was increasingly clear that most of us had been screwed by Neoliberal capitalism. Three decades of tax giveaways to the richest Americans and the destruction of the social safety net meant 80% of us were worse off than in 1980. I was finishing up a book on just that topic (American Plastic) and the more I knew about how in debt Americans were, the more angry I became. It was clearly a case of us vs. them, the working classes vs. the super rich who were robbing us blind. I truly believed that it was time to stop this nonsense, band together as the majority, and take our country back. It was in this spirit that I started "Class Warfare."
Ah, has the world changed since then. Oh, don't get me wrong. The rich got even richer in 2009, the rest of us are worse off than ever, but the idea that there might be a possibility of uniting around our common class interests and taking our country back from the robber barons who have been running it seems so completely disconnected from reality that I want to travel back in time two years and throw a bucket of ice-water into my stupidly optimistic face.
If I had been shocked into reality with a faceful of water, perhaps I would have predicted the success with which white resentment would be mobilized in groups like the Tea Party. The righteous anger of the white masses is not at the bankers and politicians who put us in this mess, but at Mexican immigrants. And if I could have predicted that a huge portion of angry white Americans would have their rage misdirected, perhaps I could have also known that the Obama administration would not be able to resist the lure of military "solutions" to political and economic problems. I might have even predicted that the Obama administration would be given far too much of a free pass by the "Left" to do whatever they saw fit, and what they saw fit to govern as a Centrist Right party, especially without any pressure from their base.
Ah, but I was ever so young when True Slant editor Coates Bateman called me up two years ago and said "Listen, we've got this idea." Of course, I'm ever so much older now and can see that the world we have won is a bigger mess than I could have ever imagined. A good map of the place we're at can be found at today's New York Times. It is a map of the latest vote on military spending in Afghanistan. Just days after WikLeaks released documents to illustrate what a futile waste of life and resources the war in Afghanistan is, the House voted to spend another $59 BILLION dollars on it. And where is the resistance to this total disaster? The usual places- Democratic Vermont, Massachusetts, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin. Some unusual resistance in Florida, Arizona and Texas and then some Republican resistance in Utah and Texas.
The rest of the country? Firmly on track to the end of Empire. Red and Blue armies marching to their doom- too distracted by the promises of patriotism, guts and glory, to notice that the economy is collapsing, the environment is destroyed, and the Empire has already imploded.
But here's the other lesson that I've learned . We cannot give up. There is too much at stake. We can all do things- right now- to protect ourselves and our futures. Here are ten of them. You readers can think of hundreds, maybe thousands, more. In other words, I may be less naive than I was at the beginning of "Class Warfare," but I'm angrier than ever and more convinced that WE must do something about it.
1. First and foremost, we must demand that our government be of the people and for the people; not of and for big banks and big guns. The only way to make this happen is to get campaign finance reform through. Without that, no matter how brilliant and even ethical a candidate, they will be sucked into the inevitable desire to get re-elected and the constant prostitution of themselves for contributions to their campaigns.
2. Second, we must convert the economy to peaceful means. Guns into plough shares and all that. Economic conversion is NOT a pipe dream. It is an absolute necessity because without it, we will always be wasting our resources on getting ready for wars and therefore there will always be a need to have wars.
3. Third, we must reinvigorate labor. Until workers have some ability to represent themselves, Americans will continue to work more hours than anyone else on earth. And working more hours means less time to exercise, to eat real food, to spend with our families, etc. It's not that Americans are falling apart because we live in a toxic food environment, but we live in a toxic food environment because our work environments are toxic. Stop feeling lucky to have a job and realize that without workers, capitalism would not produce profit. The owners of the means of production live off of our labor, and they live well. Let them share the wealth or face strikes, walk outs, and general sabotage.
4. Fourth, we must figure out a way to get single payer healthcare. We cannot even do it at a state level right now because the Obama administration not only shut down single payer as an option at the national level, but insisted that states not be allowed to implement their own single payer systems until well after the patchwork, half-assed system of national healthcare reform gets put into place. States must fight for their rights to have single payer and opt out of the national Frankenstein monster of insurance coverage we're being offered. Healthcare should not be a product sold in the market for profit. It should be a basic human right. Once all Americans have it, we will be able to band together for better working conditions. In other words, a social safety net also allows labor to get organized against greed and exploitation.
5. Fifth, higher education MUST be reformed. The system we have now of poor and working class students taking on ridiculous amounts of debt to get an education and then in half of the cases being forced to drop out of school before they've even finished their degree while upper class students get degrees from elite institutions at the cost of $50,000 a year, graduating with little or no debt and all the connections they'll ever need, is the opposite of democracy. It is an aristocracy- a way of passing wealth- economic, educational, and social- from one generation to the next while the vast majority of us are shut out. Higher education should be affordable to anyone who qualifies and should not require a lifetime of debt. Without this basic mechanism of fairness, the ruling elites will become increasingly dynastic.
6. For higher education to become more fair, we have to make our elementary and high school education more fair. No longer can we fund schools on property taxes- a way of ensuring rich neighborhoods with high property values have far more money for their schools than poor neighborhoods with low property values. Higher education must be funded fairly across an entire state. All students receive the same spending, regardless of the neighborhood they live in. No more kindergartens without paper and crayons while in the next town over kindergartens have state of the art computers and swimming pools. Education that is fair and equal is a basic building block of democracy. Without it, we are doomed.
7. Localize as much as possible. We must opt out of the global economy. Buy local foods, of course, but also move your money out of mega banks and put it in a local credit union, go see local live theater, consider a staycation and spend your leisure time and money where you live. This is good for the environment, good for your money, but even more importantly, a necessary brake on the madness that is globalization.
8. As long as we're localizing, we might as well get involved. Social psychologists are showing us what we already know: Americans are a socially isolated and therefore unhappy bunch. And coupling does not solve our isolation- in fact, coupling may increase our social isolation. So we must go out and join a local knitting group or even a religious group, invite your neighbors for dinner or start a community garden. We cannot solve our social isolation by technology- social networks, blogging communities, and online dating are fine, but we actually need to spend time in the same physical location with other human beings.
9. We may have screwed up the earth beyond repair, but we better start working now on creating real alternatives to the oil economy or we're going to burn up in a blaze of global warming as we drown in seas of oil. In the same way that we must force the government to convert the military economy to a peaceful one, we damn well better force them to convert the oil economy to a sustainable one. We have to force the state to regulate oil, tax gas, and invest in public transit and clean energy technologies. Period. Or we all die.
10. This is the most important one so pay attention. I know this is a long blog and kinda preachy, but it's aimed as much at me as at you. Anger is a far better response to threat than depression or apathy. We ought to be angry and we have to utilize that anger into action or we will perish as a country and possibly as a species. We cannot afford to wait and see. We cannot afford to allow half of the country to flirt with fascism. We have to work now to convince our fellow Americans to stop worrying about imaginary threats and focus on what's really going on. We have to work right now to focus ourselves on what our real interests are and not get distracted by pretty little pieces of plastic- like our new i-phones or our new breast implants. We have to band together as a class of people who are less economically secure, less environmentally secure, less emotionally secure than ever. Even if we don't figure a way out, at least we'll perish knowing that we're in this together.
And it is that human connection, the class as a group with solidarity and support for itself, that can move us from Class Warfare to class action.
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As I sat in a bar to watch the Ghana/US football match on Saturday, I was struck by the intense optimism of the young American men milling around the TV sets. Their faces painted red, white and blue and their large, corn-fed bodies tensely focused on the game, they really and truly believed that the US could win the World Cup. Their chants of USA and "You Suck" toward the enemy team were a stark reminder that not just masculinity, but national identity too is being created and performed in the ritual of televised sport. And then just as suddenly this boisterous gang of American men were quiet, fear showing on their faces, as the realization that America could lose hit them. These same young men who imagined America as heroic in all things- from football to war- suddenly looked like they might cry. The US lose? To Ghana? To the Taliban?
Increasingly, the reality of Afghanistan is sinking into an increasingly sober Obama administration and US Army. The Taliban is not going to be destroyed. Instead, it will be accepted as part of the mess the US will leave behind in Afghanistan. This is being described as a necessary response to the corruption and incompetence of the Afghan government.
The approach amounts to "Afghan good enough" instead of an overly-idealistic "Afghan impossible," said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In Washington and NATO capitals, there is now "more willingness" to reach an accommodation with middle and lower level members of the Taliban, as well as trying to peel away some senior figures if possible, he said.
Or, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, the Taliban are part of the "political fabric" of Afghanistan. Continuing the sports/war metaphor, the Chair of the House Subcommittee that oversees Afghanistan, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens) told the New York Daily News
The strategy in which we're engaged is certainly not a slam dunk. We're doing the best we can with a bad situation with players that we don't - and didn't - have the expectation of being able to completely control."
Meanwhile, back at the game, my table, a bunch of unAmerican types, joked about the End of Empire, but quietly, so as not to make the young men angry, but also so we wouldn't make them cry. After all, these beefy young men might be going to Iraq or Afghanistan. And even if they weren't, their friends were. It's one thing to lose a game; it's quite another to be killed in what is now being described as the Ignored War.
At $6.7 Billion dollars a month, Afghanistan ought to be a source of pride and prejudice for these young men. Instead, like the game on the TV, everyone, even the people running the war know it cannot be won. With tens of thousands of casualties (even though the US media usually only counts military casualties, there are far more Afghan civilians killed every day than soldiers), this is not a war to be celebrated.
And yet, like the US defeat at the World Cup, the best defense is a good offense. Soccer sucks. Who wants to play it anyway? Afghanistan? Let's either turn it into a real American style football match and kill the bastards or get the hell out of the game. As Ross Douthat points out in today's New York Times, there are apparently only two possibilities open to the US: soccer or football. If we continue to play soccer, we fight the counterinsurgency with strategic violence. If we play football, we kill indiscriminately and therefore "win."
This grim possibility is implicit in the Rolling Stone profile that undid Gen. Stanley McChrystal last week. Ostensibly a left-wing, antiwar critique of counterinsurgency, Michael Hastings’s article relied heavily on complaints that the current strategy places too much value on ... innocent Afghan lives. “In a weird way,” the Center for a New American Security’s Andrew Exum pointed out, Hastings ended up criticizing counterinsurgency strategy “because it doesn’t allow our soldiers to kill enough people.”
It's really too bad so much masculinity and patriotism is at stake in war and sport. Otherwise, the US government and the American people could think outside the football/soccer metaphor and see there are all sorts of other games. Like withdrawing all military and feeding the billions of dollars we're spending now on war to aid Afghan groups that support democracy in the region. But that might be too Ultimate Frisbee for the American jocks who run this country. And Ultimate Frisbee just doesn't have any balls.
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Here's the thing about bros. They are an amusing lot- like poorly behaved dogs they run around in packs playing highly sexualized games of dominance and submission. And just when you think that maybe bros aren't dogs, maybe they're not such pack-oriented, status-driven animals that they'd sniff each other's butts if it was part of a fraternity ritual, they come up with a new ritual that reinforces the bro=poorly trained dog equation.
This summer the newest "game" of the bro-eoigsie is called Icing. Apparently spreading across the nation, from college campuses to Indie rock bands to the weddings of the young and bro-like, Icing is a game the New York Times describes as
simple: hand a friend a sugary Smirnoff Ice malt beverage and he (most participants have been men) has to drink it on one knee, all at once — unless he is carrying a bottle himself, in which case the attacker must drink both bottles of what Mr. Rospos (a 25-year old aficionado of the game) described as a “pretty terrible” drink.
According to the website Brosicingbros.com, the rules include public humiliation and "shunning" for any bro who refuses to get down on one knee and slurp the painfully sweet drink in one gulp.
Let's call Dr. Freud, shall we? I mean, are there sublimated homoerotic desires or what? How about this: Smirnoff's Ice is a drink targeted at and primarily consumed by young women. Thus sucking it down is an already feminized act, even if your bro didn't force you to do it on one knee.
Still not convinced that the bros are a bunch of sexually repressed pack animals? How about we call Dr. Mead and get an anthropological perspective. In Papua, New Guinea, among the Sambia, young boys are expected to fellate adult men in order to ingest enough semen to become men themselves. They do this not because it's some big gay partay in New Guinea, but because the boys feel shame and disgust at their association with women and solve this by sucking... well, not Smirnoff's Ice, but the real thing.
In cities and college campuses across the country, young men feel a need to assert their "heterosexuality" and "masculinity" by forcing other young men to suck down a drink that is "girlie" and "gross."
So if a bro comes up to you this summer and tells you to suck it, remind him that you need not prove your manhood by performing degraded and feminized acts that are probably the result of not just insecure masculinity but a viral ad campaign by Smirnoff's in the first place.
And if that doesn't work, tell him that you'll suck his Ice if he'll suck your...
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Yesterday, as we walked around our Montreal neighborhood, we noticed the huge Catholic Church next to us blessing hundreds of motorcycles and their riders. The large bikes and their even larger riders, clad in leather and Harley insignia, looked out of place in front of the imposing stone steps that lead up the mount to the even larger and more imposing St. Joseph's Oratory. Someone in our family found the entire scene "ridiculous," but I actually thought it was okay. Better the priests should be worried about giving motorcycles a prayer and some holy water than bashing fags and feminists. Of course, I should have known that this small act of kindness toward leather-clad, HOG-riding sorts was a momentary blip in the hate machine that is the Catholic hierarchy.
Today's New York Times has an article about how the Church, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary, has conflated pedophilia and homosexuality and so is now screening out any and all gay men from the seminary. Apparently barring gay men from the seminary has become a "top priority" for the Church in the wake of child sexual abuse cases.
According to 2005 guidelines issued by the Vatican, anyone with "deep-rooted homosexual tendencies" or who supports gay rights should be barred from the priesthood. This last one is particularly disturbing since now it's not just men who are attracted to other men who are barred, but men who believe in social justice (which is kinda gay anyway).
Director of Vocations of the Brooklyn diocese, Father Kevin J. Sweeney, said gay men, even celibate ones, could not be priests since although
homosexuals have been good priests...But it has to do with our view of marriage. A priest can only give his life to the church in the sense that a man gives his life to a female spouse. A homosexual man cannot have the same relationship. It’s not about condemning anybody. It’s about our world view.”
Oh, so a straight man can marry God/Jesus and it's no homo, but if a gay man devotes himself to a masculinized church, it's homo? Perversely confusing, to say the least, but not nearly as dangerous and just plain mean-spirited as blaming pedophilia on homosexuality. The conflation of pedophilia and child-molestation is long-standing our culture and has resulted in a variety of mean-spirited laws, from barring gay men and lesbians from teaching young children and adoption to barring gay men from the Boy Scouts.
The claim by the Catholic Church and many conservatives that homosexuals are more likely to molest children is simply not true. In fact, of all the respected studies of child molestation and sexual orientation done, none have established a connection between homosexuality and child molestation. Instead, studies seem to show that those who molest prepubescent children often do not have an adult sexual orientation and those who have sex with pubescent children are far more likely to be attracted to women or women and men (i.e. are straight or bi, but very rarely gay).
And yet despite evidence that the cause of the child molestation culture that is the Catholic priesthood is arrogance, the Catholic hierarchy refuses to look at the facts. In April, the Vatican's Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said
Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and pedophilia. But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true. That is the problem."
Sure, if you listen to crazy, ideologically-driven studies you can find evidence for anything you want. Even, gasp, heterosexuality as the cause of child abuse. But the real link- between masculinity, privilege, and a sense of entitlement to others' bodies- remains unseen and unspoken. Bless the motorcycles, but condemn the fags. Bless macho men, even welcome them into the priesthood, but bar men who love other men from serving male deities. Act in ways that pervert truth and logic. And then be surprised when yet another "accident" of child sexual abuse happens despite all your holy water and your prayers.
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Yesterday I was in the grocery store and got sucked into my favorite journal of American popular culture. No, not People. The National Enquirer. In case you haven't noticed, the National Enquirer always has the absolute juiciest celebrity gossip in print. Obviously there's even better stuff on the web, like Perez, but when forced to wait in long check out lines, I like to think that my grocery store is really inviting me to take a few minutes to catch up on important information, like "How to have the best sex ever" (Cosmo) or which Hollywood star is pregnant (People) or how to better organize my closets (Real Simple). Mostly, I read the National Enquirer because for the past fifteen years or so, they've been right a lot of the time and way ahead of the news cycle when it comes to sex and famous people.
Remember when Ellen was straight? Guess who wrote about that long before she became Ellen the lesbian? Remember when it seemed like Bush was untouchable? Guess who wrote about his drinking problems and how Laura wants to leave him long before his popularity in the polls started to slip? Yup. The National Enquirer. The reporters there seem to know things that other journalists just don't see. Not that other journalists don't love a scandal.
After all, when the Enquirer broke the John Edwards affair, other "reputable" news outfits couldn't get enough of it. And when Edwards' affair killed his chance at getting the Democratic nomination for President, it was not the Enquirer that continued to play and replay the story because they had already moved on to drunken Dubbya or still philandering Bill.
And now the tabloid has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism and it is no doubt driving "real" journalists crazy. After all, real journalists don't care about whether politicians have extramarital affairs; they care about policy. As if!
The truth is that "real" journalism is increasingly concerned with the personal life of everyone. This "oprahfication" of news- where it's all personal all the time- happened alongside a "de-fanging" of independent journalism as news outlets became controlled by a handful of corporations that cut budgets for investigative reporting and limited the media's role as watchdog to the point that political and corporate leaders are no longer even questioned by most U.S. reporters.
The emphasis on the personal even as news was depoliticized makes it impossible to say that the New York Times is "real" and the Enquirer is "gossip." The Enquirer is unabashedly about the personal; the Times tries to maintain a veneer of the fourth estate about it. But the actual line between "real" journalism and tabloids has become so blurry that it can no longer be discerned.
And so the National Enquirer may get a Pulitzer for investigative journalism, as they should. And if we're really lucky, the story about Oprah's big fat gay lies and Liz Taylor getting married again and Taylor Swift being a sex addict will also be true. Not because it would "change history" the way the Edwards' story did, but because it will make my check out line reading ever so much more amusing.
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1.an apology, as in defense or justification of a belief, idea, etc.
2. Literature. a work written as an explanation or justification of one's motives, convictions, or acts.
On the front page, the New York Times published what can only be called an apologia for the soldiers' behavior in the now infamous Apache helicopter shooting video released by Wikileaks.
The video shows the shooting of Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and several civilians when his cameras were mistaken for weapons. It also shows an incredibly callous attitude on the part of the soldiers.
According the BBC, the video has already been viewed over 4 million times and the Army is now investigating WikiLeaks, but is not going to reopen an investigation of the soldiers who did the shooting since they have already been found innocent of any wrongdoing.
According to WikiLeaks and their defenders in the independent media, the intelligence agencies of the US government have dramatically increased their harassment of the organization since they announced the video's immindent release a couple of weeks ago.
So what exactly does the video show that got intelligence agencies to threaten independent journalists and the Times to write an apologia? The video itself is worth watching:
As you can see, it shows a scene that is probably typical for war. The soldiers say things, according to the Times, like
Look at those dead bastards,” one said. “Nice,” another responded.
After the helicopter guns down a group of men, the video shows a van stopping to pick up one of the wounded. The soldiers in the helicopter suspect it to be hostile and, after getting clearance from base, fire again. Two children in the van are wounded, and one of the soldiers remarks, “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”
If we are to believe the experts in the Times, such an attitude is necessary in war since
Military training is fundamentally an exercise in overcoming a fear of killing another human, said Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of the book “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society,” who is a former Army Ranger.
And according to the Times reporter, Benedict Carey,
(A)t a more primal level, fighters in a war zone must think of themselves as predators first — not bait. That frame of mind affects not only how a person thinks, but what he sees and hears, especially in the presence of imminent danger, or the perception of a threat.
I have no intention of weighing in on the video itself or what soldiers were or were not doing in it. But I must weigh in on the utter and complete lack of journalistic integrity at the Times. What is the Times thinking writing an apologia like that for? The video might show a civilian massacre. It certainly does not show anyone with a gun.
I am sure being a soldier is very difficult work. The impossible mix of being both a killer and a hero busy saving "nation" and "democracy" and "freedom" is obviously one that we ordinary humans, neither heroes nor murderers, cannot fathom. But the role of a news agency is not to defend US foreign policy and therefore insist that
The viewer sees a wider tragedy unfolding, in hindsight, from the safety of a desk; the soldiers are reacting in real time, on high alert, exposed. In recent studies, researchers have shown that such distance tempts people to script how they would act in the same place, and overestimate the force of their own professed moral principles.
Actually, the social psychological evidence is not new. Fifty years ago a series of experiments showed that most people lose all moral grounding when put in conditions where hurting another human being is seen as the "right" thing to do. For instance, in 1961, in response to the Eichmann trial, Yale social psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted his now infamous experiments on ordinary people who were instructed to administer electric shocks on strangers. And they mostly willingly did it, without any hostility or anger toward the strangers. Simply because an authority figure- like a boss or a commanding officer- told them to. Milgram's conclusion was that:
Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority
But Milgram's point was that we therefore have to be hypervigilant as a society to not create immoral tasks for our citizenry. And that is the issue. The war in Iraq is immoral. The invasion was based on "false intelligence" or more likely, out and out manipulation of the public and the press by the Bush-Cheney regime. The job of journalists and citizens now is not to judge the video and the soldiers in it, but nor is it the job or journalists and citizens to apologize for it by saying "anyone could have acted this way in that situation."
Our job is to ask why this situation is still going on. Why is a war that we know was not a response to a threat, but to a desire for regime change and access to oil, is still going on? Why are any US soldiers are still there, let alone 200,000US soldiers at a cost of nearly a TRILLION dollars?
Instead of apologizing for the Apache massacre and instead of demonizing the soldiers who were put into the Apache by our leaders and with our tax dollars, let's use the horror of the video to motivate us to once again demand an end to an illegal and immoral war.
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I just spent the weekend with a bunch of academics obsessed with cosmetic surgery at Kwantlen University in British Columbia. The conference, "Scholarship, Teaching and Learning in the Age of the Plastic Body," put cosmetic surgery on the table and dissected it with a variety of disciplines (sociology, philosophy, literary criticism) and paradigms (postmodernism, feminism, marxism).
The results were beautiful- like the perfectly sculpted flesh made thought- a room full of teachers and students thinking critically about the plastic body. Philosopher Cressida Heyes talked about how all cosmetic surgery is part of the racialized project of "passing" even though when white people try to look whiter, it's never noted as such. Sociologist Rachel Hurst talked about how the skin has been increasingly treated as a textile, which makes Orlan's recent work of constructing a coat of human and animal skin grown in dishes all the more interesting.
On my way back east, I was surprised to read in the New York Times, by the fairly savvy Natasha Singer, that the plastic body may be passe, not just because of frozen credit lines, but because Americans may be rejecting the "extreme makeover" of times past. According to Wendy Lewis, plastic surgery consultant (yes, there are people making a living at such things),
I think there has been a backlash against the total transformation when people wanted to have everything done head to toe... There are too many bad surgical results walking around
At the risk of sounding as if I know more than a plastic surgery consultant, I think the idea that the plastic body is passe is merely wishful thinking. The desire for surgical bodies is still there, it just may be going elsewhere. In other words, as budgets get tighter, many Americans are turning to cheaper alternatives than the ones being caught in this survey. The survey is from the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, an organization that certifies cosmetic surgeons. But US healthcare, as we all know, is more or less unregulated. Anyone with an MD can perform cosmetic surgery- your dentist, your gyno.
As Americans look for ways to cut corners and save money, they are far less likely to go to the more expensive board certified surgeons. Also, more and more Americans are using “surgical tourism” sites to find cheaper boob jobs in the Dominican Republic or Thailand. What can easily cost $8000 in the US can be half that price, including airfare and a “vacation,” somewhere else. Even within the US, Americans from more pricey states in the Northeast are traveling to less expensive states in the South to save some money on their breasts. Finally, there are thriving black markets in cosmetic procedures in every major city in the US.
My point here is that the plastic body is not passe. And I’m not just saying that because my book, American Plastic, will be published this year. I”m saying it because the plastic body, invented at the birth of consumer capitalism, is central to what it means to be “modern.” Modernity demands that we work on ourselves, seek a better version of ourselves, and buy products to make ourselves more like the unattainable ideals that float through our cultural consciousness.
Of course none of this is preordained by the gods, but as long as consumer capitalism can make billions of dollars selling us bodily insecurities and the products that promise to make us feel relief from them, the modern body will remain plastic. Cosmetic procedures, gyms, make-up, and fashion will promise us perfection as we empty our wallets in pursuit of peace with our embodied selves.
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What if history really does repeat itself? What if we are doomed to make all of the mistakes of our predecessors and never learn a single lesson? What if rather than being progressive or at least additive, history and humans just circle in on themselves? It certainly seems that way. Afghanistan as Vietnam. Obama as Clinton. The collapse of Empires and economies.
This sense of "what's old is new again" is all over the place in a new Christian movement that is a reassertion of white masculinity and machismo. This "new" movement is one we've seen before: Muscular Christianity.
The 2nd wave of Muscular Christianity began with the Promise Keepers, that men-only movement that rallied in football stadiums in the 1990s so they could cry and hug and promise to go home and take their rightful place as head of the household. To wear the pants and make sure that women did not.
We saw it this month in the Super Bowl advertising controversy, where a political ad condemning a woman's right to an abortion was accepted by CBS, but a purely commercial ad for a gay dating site was rejected.
The "new" Muscular Christianity is also rearing its macho head in churches and gyms around the country as "combat" sports are used to make church a more manly, less feminized space. Instead of recommending football or weight lifting, the way the first Muscular Christianity did, this one offers mixed martial arts and beating each other into submission as the way to Christ.
According to an article in the New York Times, churches like Xtreme Ministries ("Where Feet, Fist and Faith Collide") near Nashville combine training in mixed martial arts with evangelical Christianity to make church manly again.
Recruitment efforts at the churches, which are predominantly white, involve fight night television viewing parties and lecture series that use ultimate fighting to explain how Christ fought for what he believed in. Other ministers go further, hosting or participating in live events.
The goal, these pastors say, is to inject some machismo into their ministries — and into the image of Jesus — in the hope of making Christianity more appealing. “Compassion and love — we agree with all that stuff, too,” said Brandon Beals, 37, the lead pastor at Canyon Creek Church outside of Seattle. “But what led me to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter.”
Son of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Ryan Dobson, made the sissification of Christian boys clear by pointing out that
The man should be the overall leader of the household. We’ve raised a generation of little boys.”
I've seen this marriage of martial arts, machismo and God in my own sport, taekwondo. My own association was torn apart when one of the master instructors became an Evangelical Christian and started to use his gym as a way to convert people to his beliefs. I once went to one of his Christian workouts, to see what it was like. There's nothing like having the Gospel shouted at you as you spar, doing push ups for not saying you accept Jesus Christ into your heart as your own personal savior, and generally mixing faith and fighting to make me think that if there is a God then S/He should smite the hell out of these people.
But alas, there seems no God willing to punish Christians for using combat sports to reinvigorate an insecure and white masculinity. Black evangelical churches have chosen not to participate in the "kicking for Christ" craze and, like the original Muscular Christianity, the 2nd wave of macho godly men is about fears that white men have been feminized by our economy and culture. Facing growing economic insecurity, the increase in women's educational levels and salary potential, and, lets face it, the fact that American culture just doesn't consider straight white Christian guys very sexy, many of them are drawn into the promise of the Promise Keepers (or the new Dockers ads for that matter). The promise goes something like this:
Wear the pants. Be a man. Act macho. Show that you're physically tough and willing to beat the shit out of anyone who tries to take your power. Then all the rest- the structural collapse of white masculinity, the economic and military collapse of America, the environmental collapse of the world, uppity women and racial others- can all be beaten back into submission so that once again you can rule the world.
Sadly for these boys, it just ain't going to work. Structural problems cannot be solved by getting in the ring. I should know. I have been doing combat sports for 15 years and although I love to beat the crap out of people, it's just not going to change my position in the wider world. And white men fighting in the ring to re-secure the privilege of their religion, race, and gender in the world is never going to work, If for no other reason than a lot of us are much better fighters than they'll ever be.
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I'm not really sure what to think of the New York Times anymore. During the early years of the Bush madness the Times decided to give up on its role as a free press and publish any bullshit the Bushies sent out. Weapons of mass destruction are in Iraq. There are connections between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.
I stopped reading the Times at that point. As did many people with a shred of critical thinking left in their brains. But after a while, the Times apologized for publishing the lies of the Bushies and started to get pretty damn critical of them. Possibly even fulfilling their role as journalists.
Now the Times is showing the same sychophantic devotion to President Obama that they previously showed to George W. Bush. The President as hero, infallible, no need to ask any tough questions about him or his policies because he is large and in charge.
In today's paper, there is an article about Obama's decision to waste $100 BILLION and risk a 100,000 American lives and many more Afghan lives to continue waging a war that cannot be won at a time when the costs include what cannot be done at home, where the economy continues to collapse.
The Times portrays the ten month build-up to Obama's Afghan war as an incredibly well thought out process with lots of facts- thousands of pages of briefing memos and maps. Gee, if they had maps they must have made a good decision, right? Plus hours and hours of discussion between important members of Obama's team and the Pentagon. Gee, discussion between people who represent all points of view, right?
But even within this Soviet-style "Our Great Leader" type drivel are some interesting facts. Like
Mr. Biden asked tough questions about whether there was any intelligence showing that the Taliban posed a threat to American territory.
The report doesn't reveal an answer to Mr. Biden's question, but it does mention that
But Mr. Obama also firmly closed the door on any withdrawal. “I just want to say right now, I want to take off the table that we’re leaving Afghanistan,” he told his advisers.
So in October Obama knew he would escalate the war in Afghanistan. October! From there it was just bean counting- 10,000 or 40,000 or 100,000 troops?
Despite the Times' slavish devotion to creating a cult of the current president (and the last one for many years), deciding between 10,000 and 40,000 is not great leadership. Deciding between total withdrawal or total withdrawal of all military personnel to be replaced by Peace Corps volunteers to build schools and wells or creating more war would be leadership. Not considering all the options left Obama with no choice but to continue Bush's war.
How Obama Came to Plan for ‘Surge’ in Afghanistan - NYTimes.com.
Now the GOP is saying that Obama's Afghanistan strategy is “a reassertion of the Bush doctrine.”
“The [Bush] doctrine is no safe havens [for terrorists intent on harming the United States] and we go after those that provide a harbor [for such terrorists]. That’s the doctrine,” Republican strategist Mary Matalin explained Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
Actually, what the Bush Doctrine is is the idea that the US has the right to go in and bomb the shit out of anyone who we consider a possible threat, even without any direct threat to us. The Bush/Obama Doctrine directly violates the Geneva Convention, decided on after Hitler Germany exerted the same right to preemptive invasion.
Or as an Afghan woman recently told a Code Pink leader:
You want me to believe that the most powerful nation in the world is being held hostage by those skinny, lice covered, illiterate, dirty men in those craggy hills of this broken country?"
No one believes that. Not the Times. Not Obama. But somehow we are subjected to a lengthy story about Obama the Great Leader that reveals Obama the Great Bean Counter who is also Obama the Bushie. If only the Times would change its name to Pravda, we could pretend it is the time of Brezhnev and Khrushchev- where you could vote for the Communist Party or the Communist Party. GOP or Dems. Pravda or the NY Times. Coke or Pepsi. Take your "choice."
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Freud was right. Our dreams are evidence of what we really want. I just fell asleep at my desk. In my dream, I had strapped Dick Cheney into a chair. He was naked except for a hood over his smirking face. I was wearing thigh high black boots and a catsuit of black leather.
I walked into the room wishing that I had something in my hand to strike with, if need be, and in that dreamlike way, I suddenly was holding a black leather riding crop. I walked up to him and placed one leather-booted leg against his naked, vulnerable, ultimately human chest. I wasn't sure what I was going to do. Kick him hard in his solar plexus or bring my foot down on his groin or just hold it right there, getting off on his fear.
That's when I woke up because the rats that feast on the garbage on my fire escape knocked the trash over and every dog in the building started barking. The rudeness of my awakening was only matched by the equally rude shock that I had dreamt I tortured Dick Cheney.
I am opposed to torture for practical, ideological, and yes, ethical reasons. It doesn't work; it undermines our moral authority, as tattered as it is, in the world, and it is, by definition, not just cruel and inhumane, but actually inhuman. Torture is one of the few things that can completely destroy that core of ourselves that is always potentially redeemable.
Unless you go to the dark side. Unless you lose your humanity so thoroughly that you lie about Weapons of Mass Destruction to start an illegal war so that you and your cronies at Haliburton will get even more wealth, authorize torture because it makes you feel good, and generally make the world a much more rotten and awful place. In other words, unless you're Dick Cheney.
Even the ever so sensible New York Times, the same paper that published Cheney's lies about the need to invade Iraq without a whole lot of fact checking, has written an editorial saying Cheney is a liar who has repeatedly spit on the Constitution and should go to jail (okay, they didn't exactly say that, but they very thoroughly pointed out all the untruths Cheney told on Fox News on Sunday.
Cheney says torture worked, the Times said:
Mr. Cheney claims that waterboarding and other practices widely considered to be torture or abuse “were absolutely essential” in stopping another terrorist attack on the United States after Sept. 11, 2001.
Mr. Cheney is right when he says detainees who were subject to torture and abuse gave up valuable information. But the men who did the questioning flatly dispute that it was duress that moved them to do so.
Cheney says torture was legal; the Times says:
In reality, those opinions were based on a corrupt and widely discredited legal analysis cooked up after the White House had already decided to use long-banned practices like waterboarding. Mr. Cheney was an architect of the decision to “get tough” with prisoners, as the bureaucrats often say to soften the outrage of this policy.
The government owes Americans a full investigation into the orders to approve torture, abuse and illegal, secret detention, as well as the twisted legal briefs that justified those policies. Congress and the White House also need to look into illegal wiretapping and the practice of sending prisoners to other countries to be tortured.
Mr. Cheney was at the center of each of these insults to this country’s Constitution, its judicial system and its bedrock democratic values. To defend himself, he offers a twisted version of history:
Translation: Cheney is a sociopathic liar who has committed crimes against humanity and MUST be sent to jail. This last part is especially important since apparently Cheney's name is being floated as a Republican Presidential Candidate in 2012.
James Taranto wrote in the Wall Street Journal that President Cheney wasn't a bad idea since
If the Bush administration's policies really did keep us safe for 7½ years, then it stands to reason that the Obama administration's policies may be endangering us now...Under such circumstances, it's hard to think of a better candidate--assuming, of course, that he could be persuaded to run--than Richard B. Cheney."
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President Cheney over my leather-clad dead body.
This is where the torture dream came from. If I could just get him to admit that he has been lying, that he has put this country and the world at risk with his sociopathic need for power and money, then he could never be President because he would be revealed to be the evil-doer he truly is. Right? Or wrong?
That's the problem with the desires we push down into our dreams. When they come bubbling to the surface, we never really do know what to do with them.