Sunday
Jul042004

« Patriotism, 2004 Style »

Sixty years ago (very likely on the 4th of July), my grandfather Norman was in the Navy as part of the war against the Japanese. Eight years ago, he died in San Diego, on the 4th of July. Twelve years ago, I had just had my first kiss with my first girlfriend, a few hours before the fireworks were about to begin. This year, I was with my fiancee Kelli, and instead of going to the fireworks displays, we went to see Fahrenheit 9/11 for the second time. So what do grandfathers, girlfriends, and fourths of July have in common? I suppose I would say these just indicate how things change, or how certain times can morph to take on new meanings. In 1992, as I began to know first love, you can bet there was no such thing as war or politics on my mind. But a week later, I was on a plane to Germany for six weeks. That time away was an important part of who I am now. That trip, little did I expect then, was a key to an understanding of the world that I feel I have now. But at the time, it was a summer of new love. This summer, all I can think about is politics, war, and well, yes, my coming marriage.

Let's face it—1992 was hardly a year when Americans felt too hassled about the world. The Soviet Bloc had failed not long before, Iraq had been tamed the year before, the recession was gone. I remember being so far removed from politics then, even though 1992 was the first presidential election year since I came of age. I voted for Clinton. I can't even remember why or how I came to that conclusion, but I never really lost sleep over it. I voted for him in 1996 too. I voted for Gore in 2000, and will vote for Kerry this year. I guess that makes me a Democrat. But not really. However, this year, I feel as if I have done a better job in doing my homework. And yes, I have done more than watch Michael Moore movies (though I have seen three of his movies this last week or so). This year, I think of this stuff endlessly. I can barely think music anymore, or much else. I am as awake to the world of politics and life now as I was asleep in previous years. Of course, anyone with half a brain knows this election is a no-brainer, but still, I have done my research.

This year, maybe unlike 1992, the long term implications of relationships are on my mind. Gone are the super carefree days of yore. Now, Kelli and I are making plans, real plans for the future. We often sit at our computers across the room, reading different web sites covering any of our favorite topics, and we trade off reading things to each other. Kelli basically got me into paying attention to politics. She has a far longer history of that than I have. I sort of felt like I had to catch up to keep up, but funnily enough, she has sort of let some of her passion for that stuff slide some. Not a lot, but it's not like before. So, in effect, I do a lot of the reading and report back to her. Either way, we benefit.

Kelli and I are in the social services. We want to stay in that field. She has more legit and documented experience, though I have some hands on experience, and hope to sort of ride a wave until I get some sort of degree to legitimize my interest (to employers or people who will pay me to snipe at the status quo, etc.) The thing is, Kelli and I are basically poor. Our particular industry of choice is really being whittled down by funding cuts, at the local, county, state, and federal levels. If it's not one thing, it's another. I have long felt that the people who build society should be revered and well compensated. You know, in some societies, teachers, religious leaders, health care workers, counselors, artists, and advocates are all the kingpins of life. Over here, lucky bastards win the lottery, corrupt career politicians buy or trade their way into office, sports stars throw a ball a few times for a million dollars, music stars do substandard and uninspired ripoffs of yesterday's music, and make a killing. Yup. As much as Kelli and I would like to think our positions as concerned citizens will pay off, in today's climate of ethical bankruptcy, it's hard to really expect anything of the sort. Kelli provides programs for seniors to spend their time with, keeping them socially involved, and having some semblance of a life. I take food to the people that are just a little further down the line than her people. I would like to think we both fill important and needed positions. But we basically work for a glorified minimum wage. We have some health benefits to claim, so it's a little better than the numbers alone make it seem, but still. People give handshakes and more money is exchanged than what the two of us make in a year!

So we keep our eye on the matter of politics, war, societal issues. Sometimes it's flat out depressing to think that there is so little economic future in what we do, but so damned much need for it. Or sometimes, we think we'd like to slip through the cracks of the corporate America that governs nearly everything any of us do, from eating to dressing, to thinking, to you name it, there is some sort of corporate underpinning. We talk about learning how to make our own clothes, so we could live cheaper, or with less weight on our conscience. Or we talk about driving less and biking more (we do have bikes and have taken to using them more often), or maybe learning how to grow our own food. But it's hard to get around a lot of that. Making our own clothes would be okay for around home, but would be hard when it comes to making a business getup. Living in San Diego, or almost anywhere now, requires a car. Or farming is hard fucking work. And where would we have to be in order to farm?

The thing that depresses me is that we are utterly hamstrung, unless we live in some hick town or out in Montana, or in order to remain relatively civilized, move to Canada, where the social support network is valued more, by citizens AND government.

In 1992, when I was in Germany, I enjoyed Nutella—the peanut butter smooth spread made from hazelnuts and cocoa. That stuff still rocks my world. When I went home from Germany, I had several containers of the stuff, because it wasn't available here. It took me five years or more to find a reliable supply of the stuff, and even then, I paced myself and didn't buy too much of it. In the rural area of the southwest part of what was then West Germany, I glimpsed a way of life that was so much simpler, so much more at ease. Sure, the Germans had trains, cars, planes, and all the accoutrements of modern life. But they also had a respect for a way of life that their ancestors lived. I think about it in different terms now, but there was a different pace, or a decent attitude that supported sustainability. It seems to me like what America must have been maybe between the wars. I didn't know much then, but I did like what I saw and experienced. It seems that they could balance the drive for progress with the respect for their past. They didn't just trash yesterday in favor of tomorrow. Their schools were sophisticated, instead of gutted and crumbling. Their old people still were engaged in society, doing what they always have, not relegated to the nursing homes that evoke images of cows being put out to pasture. They had affordable and accessible transportation options so that no one felt like a second class citizen for not owning a car. They ate healthy and tasty food, had tasty beer and pretzels—the same as their ancestors did. They had huge corporations, but there were also many small businesses that served small communities, for generations, even. Your butcher was the son of your father's butcher.

So what is it? I have a feeling that my grandfather went to war to support a lifestyle like I saw in Germany in 1992. I just think that the post war era has done a lot to destroy America, even while it purports to build it. More cell phones and bigger cars do not make stronger families if the people are put out of work, and the kids don't get to know anything resembling a stable and maybe even happy home. More TV channels don't make better parents for kids, or better lovers for adults. More goods and services from overseas or Mexico don't make our social fabric tighter here at home. Faster food doesn't give us time to sit down and have dinner with the family. We are now beginning the 3rd generation away from traditional practices such as farming/agriculture, textiles, heavy manufacturing, and so forth. I was the second generation; my grandfather was actually FROM a farm. But my dad, one generation removed from farm life, can't grow a garden to save his life. I don't think he ever slaughtered a steer or milked a cow to live. I certainly haven't. It's not looking like my kids will, either. So tell me how that makes us great? We can't support ourselves, even for survival. The nation has given itself over to convenience, leisure, and waste. And the corporations are only too happy to oblige. Our president sucks the cocks of the corporate interests. Without them, he can't be in office. On the flip side, maybe without them, we could all go back to the true investment in our communities—working for our own well being, making a modest but needed contribution. No wonder everyone is so fucking depressed. We all feel unneeded and unwanted. People need to feel like their lives are worth something. No wonder the Americans are so apathetic about voting. No one feels like they make any difference.

My patriotic act for the 4th of July was to forego the empty flag waving and fireworks, the boozing and the hanging out (something I rarely ever did anyway). I went to see the most amazing movie I think I have ever seen, with someone I love, with the memory of my grandfather surging in me when Michael Moore asks at the end of the movie (about the use of poverty poor soldiers in the ethically bankrupt Iraq war) "will they ever forgive us?" My grandfather didn't fight for nothing. At least I hope he didn't. He never let on if he knew differently.

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