Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Blast From the... Present

"In our country the constitutional separation of church and state has obscured the nonetheless real connection between the two as fellow enforcers of conformity, mystification, and hierarchy. Prayer in the schools will mkae it plain to see. It's never too early for the young to take the measure of the forces arrayed against those who would think for themselves. Right now religion has the romantic aura of the forbidden-Christ is cool. We need to bring it into the schools, which kids already hate, and associate it firmly with boredom, regulation, condescension, makework and de facto segregation, with business math and Cliffs Notes and metal detectors."

I found a used copy of Katha Pollitt's "Subject to Debate" in What the Book? and it's interesting how much a series of The Nation columns that ran from April 4, 1994 to October 23, 2000 remind me of, well, today. Reading a Katha Pollitt column generally feels to me like someone opened my brain, took the ideas, and then married them to superior reasoning and incredibly more extensive reading in order to say what I think but in a much more impressive way.

"Tacitus famously wrote that the Roman army made a wasteland and called it peace. America, it might be said, creates its wastelands by proxy. It romanticizes as noble freedom fighters thugs and fanatics who throw acid on unveiled women's faces and have no interest in anything but their own power, and then looks at the result with puzzlement, as if Afghanistan were as distant and strange as the surface of the moon."

As then; now. In Pollitt's book, there are columns about Iraqi civilians dying in bombings - then by Clinton, now by Al Qaeda (and other terrorist groups) brought into Iraq by George W. Bush's war. Back in the 90's American terrorists murdered Dr. Bernared Slepian and three Canadian abortion providers; this year, an American terrorist killed Dr. George Tiller. People decried the Miracle Mom, a 64-year-old woman, for having a baby; more recently, the focus was on the Octomom. Rwanda then; Darfur now. Afghanistan still.

"Apologies about past misdoings are all the rage. The Southern Baptists apologized for slavery, and so has President Clinton, who also apologized for Monica Lewinsky, for the Tuskegee experiments and for permitting genocide in Rwanda. Australia has National Sorry Day, to send its regrets to the aborigines. Bus what does it mean to regret a hundred-year-old crime, or a five-hundred-year-old crime, or even the murder of millions after it is too late to help them? Apologies of this sort usually mean the person who make them is tryiing to close the books, not open them. Thus, President Clinton could simultaneously regret inaction in Rwanda and stay aloof as Central Africa goes up in flames."

"Not so long ago, Americans did the same things for which we now place the SErbs in Kosovo beyond the pale of humanity. Like Serbs with their 'war psychosis,' their 'victimization mentality.' millions of Americans believed we were endagned by people who posed no threat at all. Like the Belgraders quoted in news reports, lots of Americans denied the massacres or justified them by appealing to the confusion of war, the stress of combas or the lone crazed soldeier. Except for the case of Lt. Willliam Calley, who served only four years under house arrest for My Lai - there were no war-crimes trials of U.S. soldiers, much less of the men who set the policies and gave the orders. "We weren't the murders," said one Viet vet after the film. "The people at the top were the murderers. We were just their tools." O.K., but whould you accept that from a Yugoslave draftee? ... You would think our history in Vietnam would give us special insignt into Serbia-another country whose young men do terrible things tha tdon't register strongly enough back home; where many people have trouble withholding loyalty from their government; where people think nore about what's done to them, in fantasty or reality, than about what's being done in their name; where resisting war makes you an outcast, not a hero."

"The truth is, medical ethics, like the media, and like medicine itself, treats indiviidual cases as if they were about personal choices when they really represent masked soical decisions... The Miracle Mom brouhaha obscures another reality too. Like the ongoing sensation of the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, it allows an outlet for self-congratulatory indignation on behalf of cihldren while haivng almost nothing to do with the conditions in which children actually live. It feels good to fire off a letter about how foolish a late-middle-aged woman is to imagine she can keep up with an active toddler, , and how said ti will be for her child to spend her yougth caring for aged parents or mourning their deaths. And yet we live placidly in a nation in which thouseands upeon thousands of poor children are being raised by their grandmothers, under truely grim conditions, and in which, indeed, those grandmothers may be all that stands between those children and the new for-profit foster care businesses permtted under the welfare reform... in the time the nateion's spent obsessing over Miracle Mom, how many babies have been born to girls in foster care? To women living in homeless hselters? on the streets? These questions, unlike those of Miracle Mom's longevity and Miracle Baby's future happiness, have answers. Maybe that's why we prefer not to ask them."


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