June 2011

American Exceptionalism On Parade.

This past Sunday I watched New York City’s annual gay parade. Standing at the corner of 5th Avenue and 14th street I was struck by the incredible diversity of America. Every imaginable ethnic group, race, religion and political affiliation were represented in the pageantry and along a parade route made all the more festive and celebratory because of New York’s recent passage of a gay marriage law. Many corporations, too, had floats and people participating. I tip my hat to Macy’s Department Store for so prominently supporting gay rights.

For years I’ve thought about American Exceptionalism, what it is and whether or not it is mere national jingoism that America is “special” among the world’s nations. To suggest otherwise is to open one’s self to criticism for not being sufficiently patriotic or pro-American.

We, as a people, are smitten with the myth of our national creation. I’ve been consuming history for over 45 years and have a graduate degree in the field. I’ve read a lot of history and have a sense for the marvelous, ever-entertaining story of our species. The founding of America and our subsequent ascent to being a world power is a mixed bag of promise and vision leavened by reality and human nature.

The Republican wingnuts (Bachman, Beck, et al.) who are rewriting American history to conform to their ridiculous quasi-religious “city on the hill” illusions are doing the nation a grave disservice. They are ignorant fools. Our Founding Fathers were an exceptional assortment of men who took humanist Enlightenment values and created a form of representative democracy that, over time, came to include most us. That many were slaveholders and that they sanctioned the dislocation and extermination of whole native populations should give us all pause when evaluating and understanding our national history.

From 1848, from our war with Mexico, America has been an unrepentant imperialist power. America, our country has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide. We occupy nations and influence events to secure our power and authority. That is what imperialistic powers have historically done since time immemorial. What is different about our story is we wrap our aggression in sanctimonious BS that we are “bringing” democracy to the downtrodden of the world. Tell that to the Moros we slaughtered in the Philippines during the Spanish-American war or the governments we’ve overthrown in Central America for corporate interests such United Fruit Company.

Yet? Is there American Exceptionalism? Yes. It was Alexis de Tocqueville who first described America as “exceptional.” But it is, to me, Walt Whitman who best captures American Exceptionalism by depicting our diversity, our pioneering spirit, our unequivocal commitment to variety, to reveling in the infinite variousness of human expression. Read or reread Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. It is a seminal work of American literature. It will put joy in your heart. It will. So to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Standing on 5th Avenue watching the gay parade and absorbing the astonishing, wonderful diversity that is America, I inwardly acknowledged that we (Americans) are capable of change, no matter how inexorably slow it may seem to those historically outside the tent (so to speak).

American Exceptionalism isn’t the projection of our power (economics) through our military, it is America’s clarion call that all humans are unique and worthy of respect and in our historical struggle to actually achieve that value.

We’re Meat With A Story.

I’m privie to a small universe of women who use the internet to date. I have first hand tales of Constant-Weinerisms. Gentle reader, it is not uncommon for men and women to e-mail images of their junk. Really. The question reasonably asked is, “When is it time (appropriate) to e-mail the person you don’t know or just met photographs of Mr. Johnson or Miss Prissy?” In color, of course, and in various, uh, stages of, m-mmm, exhilaration.

“Oh, look, Girls! Another Johnson Towel Hook! How novel. Too bad it’s a tea towel!”

What causes more shrinkage than cold water? Words.

On-line dating is not for the timid. Women subtract weight, men subtract years. That’s a generality. But I know two men who shaved years off their biographies. A decade here, a decade there. Ten pounds here, ten more pounds here. A biography and a photo. We’re meat with a story.

Life is unfair and nowhere is that more apparent then when God dished out looks. Regardless I would tell anyone serious about dating on-line to invest in professionally taken, flattering head shots, a full body candid (playing tennis) if your are fit and an honest biography.

At some point in this exchange (e-mail, texting, a Tweet or two) actual communication begins. I was asked what I would do to separate the wheat from the chaff. That is a problem. I was going to say that is more of a challenge for women than men but I suppose it all depends on what you are looking for.

I said I would use books (What do you regularly read?) as one way to cut to the chase. You really cannot lie (for long) about what you read, besides it is sooo subjective.

If a respondent gets back to you that Ayn Rand floats his boat and he actually has a “Who Is John Galt” sticker on the back bumper of his 1967 Ford Ranchero (turquoise no less), you know one of two things. Either he encountered Ayn Rand when he was 16 and, sadly, never matured or he recently fell-off the turnip truck, joined the Republican Party, has taken to ingesting Tea Parteee Kool Aid and has bought the nonsense that Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is more than what it is, simplistic, infantile banalities. You let the Michelle Bachman’s of the world have that special catch.

Because the bus makes more stops. I’m of the opinion there are seven people out there for everyone. So if you have to toss one back, sobeit.

It’s no different for my Gay friends either. While having a tender heart to heart just last week—on finding true, everlasting love on the internet—my comrade in conversation said that her recent internet “find” might come with some specific baggage. DEPRESSION. I said, “Nobody wants a Re-Hab!”

No Re-Habs! Some folks like projects but I am not so inclined. All the women I know looking for men (or women) have already had their fill of “failed” relationships, disappointments if you will. They want the next go-around to be easy. Or, at least easier. Better, richer, more soulful or supportive or affectionate, whatever it is that has you putting yourself out there.

Putting yourself out there? There’s Anthony Weiner’s way. Meat.

Not much nuance there. And, what is it you seek?

Something that’ll support a beach towel? And a reader! Better. Much better.

An Affair With Himself.

It’s a comfort, it is, that poor taste, bad judgment, infantile behavior and narcissism is such a universal male quality. I mean, what if Jewish boys never acted stupidly or childishly? What if outlandish behavior was, well, strictly a Catholic or Southern Baptist “thing?” But nooooo, being a sexual doofus is just as much a Mormon quality as it is Presbyterian. Blessedly.

Not only that but “it” crosses political lines. When do Republicans and Democrats come together in, uh, agreement? Well, it seems when they are marginalizing women while thinking only with their Johnson’s.

I am so sorry Anthony Weiner isn’t a Republican, you know, one of those “family values” Republicans. Actually, is there any other kind of Republican? I just love Republicans for their family values, don’t you? Particularly when they cut state/federal programs for children and women’s healthcare. Preferably poor children and women.

I really admire Republican family values when they are so publicly at odds with their pious proclamations on the sanctity of marriage. Newt Gingrich set the bar quite high in this regard. His current wife, Tiffany, ur, Callista was Newt’s at-the-time, twenty-something limo-knob-polisher. Newt was, of course, leading the impeachment of President Clinton for lying about sexual improprieties. All the while Newt hypocritically practiced infidelity himself.

Weiner, however, has affairs only with himself. Women want (so I understand) intimacy and fidelity. Weiner offered or violated neither of those. If you’ve read any of the conversations between Weiner and his untouched (by him) paramours, intimacy was not on the agenda, was not the topic of discussion. Organs were described in various stages of turgidity and/or liquidity. There was, at times, graphic dialog as to how and where organs and orifices (all) would be displayed and/or engaged. The language lacked creativity and imagination with no feelings of genuine ardor. What strikes me is the infantile quality of the exchanges.

I do not know whether the Weiner’s will remain married. The wife is a high-powered, accomplished women who signed-up (married) for a much different scenario. I believe the only way Weiner keeps his wife is if he keeps his Congressional office. If he resigns, he potentially loses much more than a job.

What exactly did Weiner do that he should resign? He sex-texted (not even cleverly) women other than his wife. He sent pictures of his bare-naked chest and his Johnson (Atten-hut!). He publicly lied about doing so. He engaged in idiotic exchanges. He appears infantile and profoundly needy (insecure). He did all this while married and a U.S. Congressman.

Personally, I think he should resign but I understand the arguments why he should not. If lying about insipid, juvenile and tasteless behavior sufficient cause for censor and expulsion from Congress, well, how many men would actually remain in office?

I can list a myriad of legislative and executive examples of behavior I find more egregious. Consider President George Bush’s immoral, unjustified invasion of Iraq killing 4,000+ Americans (dying for what?). Reflect on the lies and misrepresentations associated with that war and the resulting death and carnage.

But that is not the issue. Congressman Weiner is a distraction and a joke. He is a buffoon. Pride would suggest he pursue another course. But for all his puffery (and chest-beating), pride is in short supply in the man. Profoundly, obviously so.

The Difference Between Luck & Fate.

We are all fated to die. Such is our fate, our condition. That, in and of itself, does not necessarily mean our lives are determined, although that is a subject worthy of debate. We may “determine” that walking down the eastside of 5th Avenue today is preferable although the Barneys store window across the street looks particularly inviting with its provocative window displays of sexy, flirty, diaphanous come-hither summer clothing. And our crossing the street, therefore, already determined by our need to be sexually attractive . . . desirable. Sigh.

Ah, the meaning of life. I am one of those, you know, those who believe that human meaning is an individual construct. Those indoctrinated with religious dogma will find meaning spelled out for them. Which is a comfort I well understand. Most of us prefer certainty, myself included. But I find the “structural” inconsistencies, superstition, historical cruelty and absurdity associated with organized religion too big of a laughable hurdle for me to “jump.” Is it particularly important how you’ve arrived (what metaphors you embrace) at being a “good” human being? I think you can arrive at such a juncture without the benefit, nay, in spite of any religious upbringing.

I’ve thought for years that the biggest gift one generation can give the next is to let go of the shopworn ideas that informed that “age.” Look at how far we’ve come (and we have) regarding race relations or sexual preferences or what is expected of women. In spite of the ignorance and intolerance of older Americans (Boomers on up), America is inexorably moving to a better place when it comes to viewing humanity as incredibly, richly and fortunately diverse. It is.

I was prompted to write today on fate vs. luck by a recent conversation and the subsequent notes I took—you know what Abe Lincoln said, “The faintest ink is better than the fondest memory.” Are we lucky or is it fate? Does luck exist? Does fate? Do bad things happen to good people because their luck ran out or because the fates interceded?

Is fate the same as determinism? Is every human act the inevitable consequence of antecedent actions? We shouldn’t confuse determinism with pre-determinism where “all” was decided during the big inning—HAH!—in the beginning. Love dat Gospel!

The Ancient Greeks were big into the “fates.” The Romans adopted, fawn-like, the Greek gods and ideals but fate, over time, became Fortuna, more of a goddess of luck than fate.

So where are we today in this Fate vs. Luck discussion. I ask, “What is the luckiest thing that can happen to a (any) human being?” Consider that for a moment. Some will convincingly argue for “one’s” attitude, that regardless what life pitches one’s attitude sees it as either, to use the shopworn, a lemon or an opportunity to make lemonade. I like that. I do. However.

We’re fated to have parents. It cannot happen otherwise. Biological, involved, even absent. But the complete luck of the draw is to whom one is born.

There is no bigger gift in life than catching the lucky train of good parents, specifically the good mother. We do not ask to be born. So when we arrive — POP!— into the arms of a loving, nurturing mother, fate may have determined your arrival. But not to whom. Luck did.