I have a sister who’s 18. She’s studying nursing at Northern Arizona University, and I’m really proud of her. Occasionally, though, she sends me chain letters, and I just got one from her today. It consists of couplets contrasting our relative comfort against the struggle of our soldiers in the Middle East:
You walk down the beach, staring at all the pretty girls.
He patrols the streets, searching for insurgents and terrorists.
You’re angry because your class ran 5 minutes over.
He’s told he will be held over an extra 2 months.
You criticize your government, and say that war never solves anything.
He sees the innocent tortured and killed by their own people and remembers why he is fighting.
And so on. It ends:
If you support your troops, send this to 7 people.
If you don’t support your troops well, then don’t send this out.
You won’t die in 7 days, your love life won’t be affected, and you won’t have the worst day ever.
You don’t have to email this. It’s not like you know the men and women that are dying to preserve your rights.
And that was enough to set me off.
The classic subtext in the “support the troops” argument is that those who oppose the administration’s objectives in prosecuting the war are somehow “against” the troops. Which is like saying you hate your favorite sports team simply because you think the owner or general manager is a bum. Actually, it’s far worse than that: it is to suggest that you therefore hate each player to the extent that you don’t care if they die.
During the first Gulf War, I was proud to wear a yellow ribbon because I was proud of the individuals that make up the military, if not the proverbial owners and general managers. That’s still true today, individual crimes and misdemeanors notwithstanding. But the yellow ribbon is now driven by that quiet dual meaning, and I won’t wear one because it’s more important for me to be clear about my divided opinions of the management versus the rank and file.
What really got to me about this letter was that it reminded me of a story from my past, and since my sister was so young, I thought it best to relay it to her:
So, you probably don’t remember this, since you were 2 at the time. But during the first Gulf War, there was a billboard on the railroad between Santa Fe and Butler (in Flagstaff, Arizona) that had a “We Support The Troops” sign. One night, someone went up and papered over the words “the troops” with “Death and Destruction”. The next day, my friend David and I climbed up 20 feet onto the billboard to scrape it off. And I’d do it again.
So if you ever meet whoever started this chain letter, tell them I said if they think I don’t support the troops because I won’t forward their preachy, jingoist message, they can FUCK RIGHT OFF. For real.
Nothing personal. I still love you. It just pisses me off like nothing else when people confuse being against the war with being against soldiers. I care a lot about the soldiers, and I’m willing to do a hell of a lot more than start a chain letter if it would help make them safe, strong and free.
“There was one proposal in Sir Rod Eddington’s report to the Treasury with which, when I first read it, I wholeheartedly agreed. He insists that ‘the transport sector, including aviation, should meet its full environmental costs’. Quite right too: every time someone dies as a result of floods in Bangladesh, an airline executive should be dragged out of his office and drowned.”
George Monbiot, in a column on transportation and emissions in the Guardian
Two stories I found today explain why it’s important to be precise in matters of communication. It would follow that both of them are political in nature, as politics is the domain of compromise language.
The first is about a proposed agreement on Quebec’s status in Canada. The Bloc QuÃ©bÃ©cois, a separatist party, had planned to make a motion in the Canadian House of Commons to recognize the province of Quebec as a nation. The word “nation” itself confers all manner of political implications, and would push Quebec further toward a legal separation from the rest of Canada than it had been. Later, the proposal was modified to indicate that Quebec is a nation that is “currently within Canada” — a phrase that would be ambiguous, if only the separatists were able to pick up their territory and move it somewhere into the Atlantic.
But on Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper proposed language to state that Quebec is “a nation within a united Canada.” Quebec separatists are happy that they are recognized as a nation by somebody, and will certainly use that recognition to their advantage where possible. What the rest of Canada gets in return is the faith that one single word — “united” — will preserve peace and order, on an issue that may never see a full resolution.
The second story is about Hugo Chavez, who is running for re-election in Venezuela. In the article, Chavez is cited as having called George W. Bush “a devil” in front of the United Nations.
But Chavez didn’t call Bush “a devil.” He called him “the devil”. A devil is nothing to write home about: there are ten of them on the court whenever Arizona State plays Duke in basketball. However, the devil, as a definite noun, has many names — Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, you name it — but means one thing: the representation of all that is evil. Irrespective of what you thought of his speech, Chavez did pick his words carefully, and it is important to recognize that clarity of expression, lest the reader confuse the message with something substantially more imprecise.
Words often carry many meanings, both in the clear and shrouded in nuance. During times where many parties are fighting over a certain phrase, it is best to take all of those potential meanings into account, particularly from the perspective of the advocates themselves. This kind of circumspection is why making laws and standards is hard, time-consuming, and has the tendency to drive its practicioners to drink. It is when a clear message is coming from a known source, however, that it is most necessary to protect all of the intended meanings of the speaker. If we fail that, as people who pass that information along, then we become the story.
Filed in: politics, Sun, Apr 10 2005 08:55 PT
The Other Matt May takes note of a vandalism attack on a Medal of Honor memorial in Indianapolis, and responds:
Oppose the war, hate the military, disparage those who sacrficed for their countrymen, associate the president of the United States with the Nazis, do whatever you want to proclaim to the world that the march of freedom is “not in your name.” Use your “creative talents” to make signs spelling America with three Ks, portraying the President as a baboon, and constructing flag-draped coffins out of cardboard. But do it out in the open(…) Leave the buildings, monuments, and places of honor alone. They are not yours to deface.
Amen. The Other Matt May and I are pretty well entrenched on opposite parts of the political spectrum, but both of us find it unconscionable to deface such a thing as a veterans’ memorial.
When I was 17, the Gulf War was on, and a billboard in Flagstaff, Arizona, where I was living, had been put up to display the message “We Support the Troops.” After a couple of weeks, someone had gone up and pasted “Death and Destruction” over “the Troops,” and a friend of mine and I went up there and tore the edited bit down. Even then, I was deeply against the war, and still I couldn’t bear to see the soldiers defamed in a cheap attempt to score political points. And if I saw it today, being against the Iraq War, I’d do it again, too.
Just be careful applying politics to an act like this. Some of us can blame “the left” for this defacement, even when it disgusts most of us who identify as lefties. And some of us can blame “the right” for some nasty things undertaken in the dark of night, as well. Politics is a spectrum of opinions. And supporting our troops is not exclusively a conservative value.
A US appeals court has determined that the FCC lacks authority to impose the broadcast flag which consumer electronics will have to obey as of July 1. We probably won’t hear a final verdict from the court for another few months, but this appears to mean that, if it holds up with the Supreme Court, this generation of the broadcast flag is dead on arrival.
Could it be that the consumer might actually win one of these battles? Or will the media outlets simply find a way to force electronics vendors to block digital TV recordings by other legal means?
Filed in: politics, Mon, Nov 8 2004 10:26 PT
So, it’s been about a week since my last blog posting. Which is a rarity for me, while I’m still at home. I suppose it’s safe for most to assume that I’ve been sitting around licking my wounds, recounting exit polls in Ohio, or doing the random screaming, crying and/or hand-wringing now common among those of us on the wrong side of the cultural divide.
But in fact, I got over the Bush victory pretty quickly. I’m just glad the campaign is over. It’s been too long, it’s cost too much, it’s flooded our brains with data that has everything to do with politics and nothing to do with governing. It’s been a cancer on the people of this country, and I for one am glad it is now in remission.
If you are a Democrat, realize this, and move forward: we got beat. Straight up. Three and a half million more people voted for their guy than our guy, a statistic that suggests to me the answer isn’t really hidden in those black boxes in Ohio. I know that most of us will go to our graves knowing that 2000 was a tragedy, but 2004 was not. How we recover depends on whether we’re willing to draw bright lines between ourselves and our opponents, which is something the Republicans have been crushing us at since the Lee Atwater era. We tried finding new votes, and that didn’t pan out. Now we have to take what votes are out there and convince them, with a common image and voice. And we’ve got to go to Bush territory next time to do it.
If you are a Republican, you need to realize that only the barest majority voted for Bush. The Sunday morning talking points for the Republicans was that this was the first time since 1988 that a majority voted for a single presidential candidate. Well, duh. Ross Perot got 19% of the vote in 1992, and still managed 8% in 1996. Ralph Nader pulled down 2.74% in 2000, in the tightest election sine 1960. This year was the first time since 1988 that it was pretty much a heads-up contest: Nader claimed only .4%. Of course somebody is going to win a majority.
Any way you spin it, 51% is not a mandate. Bush’s father won 59% of the popular vote in 1988, and Reagan took 58.8% in 1984. So let’s stop playing with the figures. We’re not all that dumb.
Either way, you need to realize that holing up amongst yourselves and coming out every two to four years to sling arrows at one another is not a productive strategy for governance. The reason I was so relieved at the end of this election is that we’ve been at this campaign for two years now, and rather than separating ourselves on issues, we’ve separated ourselves on gut instinct. Our opponents’ party is this or that, things we’ve heard for decades. My guy is looking out for me. Any agreement between the candidates is spun as softness; any strong disagreement, and our opponent is “out of touch”. There’s very little in the way of discourse since 2000, and even if you’re on the winning side of this election, this should be a cause for grave concern.
John Perry Barlow has plenty to say about this, as well:
At the very least, I need to take the other side seriously. Dismissing them as a bunch of homophobic, racist, Bible-waving, know-nothing troglodytes, however true that may be of a few, only authorizes them to return the favor. I don’t want somebody calling me a dope-smoking, fag-loving, one-worlder weirdo, however true that might be. We are all masks that God wears, whatever God that is. We might try to treat one another with according reverence. At least we might try to listen as though the other side might have a point. I truly think we all owe one another an apology.
We cannot forget the flip side to majority rule. It’s minority rights. The State Department has a great explanation of this principle, which is worth reading at least once:
Majority rule is a means for organizing government and deciding public issues; it is not another road to oppression. Just as no self-appointed group has the right to oppress others, so no majority, even in a democracy, should take away the basic rights and freedoms of a minority group or individual.
Minorities — whether as a result of ethnic background, religious belief, geographic location, income level, or simply as the losers in elections or political debate — enjoy guaranteed basic human rights that no government, and no majority, elected or not, should remove.
What should happen, in these circumstances, is the formation of a center-right government. We all know Karl Rove thinks he has a mandate. But we should also know that this is a fallacy, and he should know the positioning of his party in 2008 depends on remaining palatable to moderates. Rove can guide the Republicans to a position of strength, election after election, by keeping Democrats engaged somehow. Appointing four Antonin Scalias to the Supreme Court, on the other hand, will shore up the base Bush no longer needs, while energizing the left and shaking free a lot of the soft Republican support. A two-party system is only viable as long as you don’t try to swallow the opposition whole.
Another thing to think about: the last terrorist attack had America rush to Bush’s defense. The next one breaks strongly the other way. Likewise, the next recession can’t be blamed on Clinton, or liberals in Congress. With great power comes great responsibility, and the greatest of majorities in Washington can come apart pretty quickly when it fails to dance to the music that’s playing. Food for thought.
I have been focusing on two things over the last few weeks: the election, and the Red Sox. It has been physically and emotionally exhausting, in both cases, for similar reasons, but naturally with different implications, different gravity.
I am a Red Sox fan by birth. I was too young to suffer Bucky Dent, but hitting my baseball-watching prime around the Bill Buckner incident (which can now be discussed openly in Sox circles, where until this Series it was strictly Not Spoken Of). Aaron Boone’s homer last year was tragic, but for a Sox fan, not unexpected.
But this year was different. Even down 3-0, having been crushed 19-8, a lot of us suspected something could happen. I was on my way to Dublin when Game 4 happened. Then I saw that the Sox took Game 5, then Game 6, and I knew, despite all evidence, despite all of my history, dammit, this is our time.
The best part was, I wasn’t alone. I know friends across the country who felt the same way, who traded nods and high-fives with total strangers during the comeback. Something similar even happened to a friend of mine who was traveling in Ethiopia. We could feel something happening. But we never said it. We didn’t want to jinx it. We wouldn’t dare do that to our team.
And oh, how I suffered that Wednesday night. I lay awake from 2:15 to 5am in a Dublin bed and breakfast, trying to sleep, but knowing that history was being made back home. I called my wife to find out that it was 6-1 in the third, and again seconds before the final out. It was something I knew would happen.
That’s how tonight and tomorrow will feel to me. I’ll go to bed, hopefully physically exhausted from my workout. But I’m apt to wake up early, and dig around for every resource available to see how things will turn out. I will turn on the postgame at 4pm to see what is happening thousands of miles away. I’ll watch the highlights, follow the box score. And if I’m right, I’ll celebrate like I did last Wednesday night, and the Wednesday before.
I have my gut feeling for how it will go. I won’t say it out loud until it happens. But you know what I’ll be thinking.
Dammit, this is our time.
Dave Winer says on his blog that Judith Miller of the New York Times is wrong to withhold her sources in the face of a contempt of court charge:
Fact is, sometimes the public need for information trumps a writer’s guarantee of privacy to sources. Why should Miller be able to offer anonymity if a blogger can’t? The Constitution does not give special status or protection to reporters. The First Amendment applies to all, not just people with a press badge.
I’m sorry, Dave, but you just succinctly explained why bloggers aren’t journalists. Not yet, anyway.
Over the years, journalists have gone to the same extent as Judith Miller to protect their sources, risking contempt of court and jail time. If you are not prepared to go to jail to protect sources, you do not belong in investigative journalism. It’s bad enough that Miller is probably going to have her phone records gone over with a fine-toothed comb — an egregious invasion of privacy in itself — but she’s fighting for her liberty and her work at the same time.
Turning over confidential sources not only destroys your career, since one can no longer be a trusted mediator to the people who wish anonymity, but it morphs the journalist’s role to one of de facto government informant: a law enforcement official in disguise. Think about that for a moment before taking shots at Miller and the Times for defending that position. They are part of an increasingly rare group of people with the courage to speak to power. When you as a blogger, or when bloggers as a class, are willing to risk their freedom in an ethical stand to protect their profession, I think that even the journos will say you’re one of them.
But first you have to get what this is about. This is an act of civil disobedience on the part of Miller and the Times, and part of a long tradition of such. It is a means of protection of the free press. You as a blogger can do this, if you desire. But those who do, know that they are taking an unpopular position in the name of overall greater access to information, rather than acquiescing to government power. That is, it is “the public need for information” that is being satisfied by this approach. This is a good thing, even when in this case it doesn’t meet our expectations. Law enforcement has its own means of conducting investigations. Let them do it themselves, and let them leave the journalists alone.
Filed in: politics, Wed, Oct 20 2004 09:21 PT
Before I say this, full disclosure: I want Bush to lose this election. Badly. I even joined the Democratic Party in earnest for this election cycle.
Don’t help. Please.
Americans know that wherever they go, they’re going to get lectured about politics. I’m a political animal myself, and even I’ve found ways to short-circuit the inevitable rant. (You can’t out-anti-American me. Stop trying.) We are going to respond poorly to receiving letters from outside the United States, even when we’re sympathetic to the sentiment. And if the states where these letters are received end up breaking Republican as a result, a lot of the Americans who are on your side, or at least on Kerry’s side, are going to be super-pissed. Indignant. And more closed off to the world than ever. Especially if Bush wins as a side effect.
So, to those of you who are doing this, I ask:
“The accusations coming from (DNC Chairman) Terry McAuliffe is that because there’s some elements of this that may reflect poorly on John Kerry, that it’s somehow an in-kind contribution to George Bush; if you use that logic and reasoning, that means every car bomb in Iraq would be considered an in-kind contribution to John Kerry. Weak job performance ratings that came out last month would have been a… in-kind contribution to John Kerry. And that’s just nonsense. This is news. I can’t change the fact that these people decided to come forward today. The networks had this opportunity over a month ago to speak with these people. They chose to suppress them. They chose to ignore them. They are acting like Holocaust deniers, pretending these men don’t exist.”
Sinclair Broadcasting Group exec Mark Hyman on CNN, 12 October 2004
There are no words.
(In case you don’t know what this is about, start with this Nation article.)