05 November 2008

PBS, budding patriotism, and russian spies

Because PBS (pork-barrel spending) is such a crucial issue, a few lab buddies and I have committed our time and efforts to the cause of PorkBusters -- a political action committee devoted to the eradication of earmarks and PBS. We also happen to find the imagery of the term "PORK BARREL" quite hilarious. Try whispering it into an unexpecting colleague's ear, and you'll get a glimpse of the joy that we feel on a daily basis here at the lab. We guarantee that your colleague will also find it comical, and will only respect you more.
We had a pork-barrel party on election night. Only pork products were consumed, and we made sure that all of the funds used to purchase the goods for the party were earmarked from our stipends and scholarships.

While watching the election results roll in, the conversation turned to the topic of the American flag. As Canadians, they were curious about why so many Americans are anxious to display their flag. I did my best to explain the special brand of patriotism that belongs to Americans. It got me thinking.

When Kris and I went to Europe a few years ago, I attached a Canadian flag patch to my backpack. A number of folks had suggested doing this to avoid catching any of the fabled anti-American sentiment that is so rampant in places like Paris. I don't know if it helped, but I did it -- I tried to hide the fact that I was American.

I'll be honest. I still find politics repugnant. As I listened to McCain's beautiful concession and Obama's inspiring acceptance, I wondered why that tone couldn't have been the tone of the campaign. Why not? Are so few American's swayed by generosity, honesty, and love, and so many Americans swayed by hate, suspicion, and fear that those who would lead our country are now counseled that the most effective campaign strategy is to drag an opponent's name through the mud? Why does this work so well? Forget the promises that are impossible to keep. Forget the irritating slogans and catch-phrases. Forget the emotional fortress that candidates, of necessity, build up in order to survive the pervasive, invasive scrutiny of the press -- but which simultaneously leads to a detached (and detaching) calculus that weighs the political ramifications of every . . . single . . . word. No wonder George Bush's ability to articulate his thoughts has steadily deteriorated over the last eight years. Forget all of this. The one thing that aggravates me the most about politics is the meaninglessness of the discourse -- on both sides of the podium. It's gotten bad: I've caught myself trying to deconstruct what a candidate means when he says he is a "straight-shooter." Call me old-fashioned; I just don't think semantic flexibility is a skill we should seek in the person who makes some of the most important promises on earth. I don't put all of the blame on the politicians themselves. After all, it works. Maybe that's what frustrates me most.

Now I'll be even more honest. Living outside of the US for this past year has given me time enough to reflect upon the past eight years, and to do it from a pseudo-outsider's perspective. There have been times when pictures of that American flag conjured up feelings of embarrasment, doubt, and cynicism. I'm not the type to demonize George Bush and his staff, but some heart-breaking mistakes were made. Who is America? Do we break international agreements and torture our prisoners? Do we fight (bravely) in a war that was started under false pretenses? Are we reviving imperialism? Are we going to define ourselves through a war on a group of terrorists? Do we really care about the poor in our country? Do we try our best to give immigrants the same freedoms we all enjoy? Do we care about this beautiful earth and the animals that share it with us? Do we do our best to both understand and teach our children about that beautiful earth, the history of mankind's works upon it, and the cultural skills and arts that help us see aspects of that beauty and history that are difficult for us to see? Do we care about the world outside of our borders? Are we really so vain and greedy that we're willing to live a lifestyle that we can't possibly afford? Is this America?

I suspect there are many good and honest people that haven't had this dilemma. But there are enough good and honest people -- Americans and non-Americans -- that have had this dilemma, so much so that an immense pressure has been building up, and we just heard a deafening cathartic sigh last night. I've been honest about my distaste for politics and the bleakness of my recent views of the US. I don't know if I'll ever enjoy listening to a politician tell me why I should make him my leader, but I do know that the American flag has taken on a new significance for me over the past few weeks. Last night I watched the American people solidify a sense of America's identity that has been fuzzy for some time now. I'm glad Obama won. He'll do a great job. But the reason that the American flag makes me warm inside isn't because of Obama. It's because of the Americans who gathered in the streets, lined up at the booths, and put a black man at the head of a country whose history needed this. I love my country.

I'm gonna go out and buy an American flag as soon as I can find one here in Canada.

* Side note 1: My sincerest apologies if you started singing Neil Diamond while reading this.

* Side note 2: Ever since I've started getting more vocal about my love for the states, I've been getting more and more emails from a Russian dating agency telling me that there are lots of Russian women who want to date me. Most of them are named TatianaG, apparently. I have little doubt that these women are, in fact, spies. One hundred points to Russia for creativity. MEMO TO OBAMA: If you're anxious to protect America, forget about Al Qaeda. Focus instead on the TatianaG cell.
* Addendum to side note 2: I must make it clear that these emails are unsolicited spam. I have the best wife in the world, and I hate borscht. And I hated Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. And Putin sounds like a euphemism for passing gas. And Sputnik is a stupid name for a satellite. All points awarded to Russia are hereby rescinded. Sorry for any confusion.


mer said...

Oooh, this was good. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

PS: Does Kris know about TatianaG??
Just kidding :)

daniel said...

Please see the recent addendum to side note 2.



Steviep said...

We await the prop 8 entry. I wonder who you will receive unsolicited e-mails from after that is posted.

cconz said...

love your post. 1st off, i think your monkey picture looks like hugh hefner when he's without teeth. My husband and went to Europe in 1983. there was hatred for us then, i can't imagine what it's like now.I'm happy and still can't believe Obama's the next pres.