Thursday, March 25, 2010

Right Wing Freak Show

I've been observing the soi-disant "conservative movement" for some time now, and I think I should say something.

Y'all do know the rest of us think you're crazy, right?

I should preface this by saying that I'm specifically not speaking of the self-identified Republicans or other conservatives who still have a lick of sense. I wish to praise and encourage, not disparage you, poor beleaguered souls. Though we might have a word or two about the company you have been keeping.

That's actually just what I want to talk about. Your fellow-travelers. You know. Them.

The birthers. The wingnuts. The people who think Obama is a radical leftist, or an Arab, or a citizen of Kenya. The ones who claim that there's no such thing as separation of church and state, and that the Constitution, against all tradition and the words in the document itself, is based on "'God's law. " Or that global warming is a hoax. I could go on in this vein for a while. Far too long. Lately, there's been this brick-throwing problem. Not metaphorical bricks; literal ones.

We have our own crazies, it's true. God love 'em. But we keep them where they will do the most good, out on the range and off the grid experimenting with alternative sources of electricity and fuel, working out the bugs so the rest of us don't have to turn off the lights to take a shower when we finally get our solar-powered home.

You run yours for office. Worse, you vote for them. Just for one example, Mike Huckabee sincerely believes that the Constitution should be altered to conform to the Bible. He is not only not automatically disqualified, he is considered a serious contender. And, well, Sarah Palin. Michele Bachmann. Need I say more?

Barack Obama is not a radical, by the way. You can tell because a real leftist radical wouldn't be caught dead in a suit. Or running for President. Or voting. They think the whole system is corrupt and the only way to transform society is through making their own clothes, growing their own pot, and barter. You see, I have met actual leftists, and actual radicals, and hung out with them quite a bit. They are more fun than your radicals because they are often stoned, and less worrisome because they think guns are categorically wrong rather than thinking of them as accessories. You should try hanging out with some, yourself. Then you will know better than to mistake Barack Obama for one.

He is also no kind of socialist. He's a moderate Democrat just perceptibly to the left of Bill Clinton. Try not to hyperventilate.

You have been listening to your own talk radio too long. You've lost perspective. You gave up facts and truth and reasoned debate for hostile polemic, and now it has come home to roost. You're just lost, and you're following the loudest voices, because they got you some air time and traction a couple decades ago, and it has worked so well for so long, so you thought, because you weren't noticing while the bozo you elected was running the country off a cliff. But the problem with letting the shouty people do your public relations is that they attract more like themselves, and the next thing you know you're losing the middle and kissing Rush Limbaugh's ass. It is not a good place to be.'s getting worse.

Don't tell me I don't know what I'm talking about. I live in Paul Broun's district*, and I know crazy when I see it in my mailbox. In addition to the cracktastic screeds he likes to send his constituents, have you seen his website? This is what you have wrought.

It pains me to bring this up. I love freaks. I live in Athens. But, dang, baby.

*Half of Athens got gerrymandered out of John Barrow's district and now shares a Congressman with Habersham County. Do not speak of it further.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Imaginary American

My family, the part from Europe, came to these shores very early. Pretty much as soon as there was a boat to Virginia, they were on it. I'm a descendent of two Revolutionary War captains (Capt. Thomas Amis and Capt. Thomas Austin) and also, via my great-grandmother, of one Thomas Pitman. Pitman was involved in Bacon's Rebellion, which was sort of the seventeenth-century practice run for the Revolution, except that it didn't go so well. Many of the participants were hanged; my progenitor was pardoned by King Charles II, and thus I am here to talk to you today and carry on the family tendency towards troublemaking. I am a tenth-generation American...not including the ones who were already living on this continent and whose generations are uncountable. I don't think this makes me better than anyone else, mind. I think America is something you show up and participate in, and what you do counts far more than how long your history here is. Nonetheless, I do have history.

Members of my family have served this country in various wars (well, some of them were technically fighting against the United States, but we will gloss over that.) My father was a decorated hero in World War II and four of my five brothers served in Vietnam. Many members of my family have served their communities and people as educators, from my great-grandfathers on two sides of my family, my grandmother and great-aunt, my mother, my aunt, my sister, and myself.

I was born and raised in a small town in north Georgia, at the southern end of the Appalachians, and have lived in Georgia all my life.

And yet, I have a sneaking feeling Sarah Palin and her ilk would not consider me a "real American." This in spite of the fact that my family gave up secessionist tendencies over a hundred years ago, unlike some people.

It seems you are only a real American, according to the Republicans, if you live in the states or rural areas where they have the most support, and you agree with the majority there. In other words, if you vote Republican. Being a citizen and knowing what the Constitution actually says don't count any more. Being a part of this country's two-hundred-year tradition of volunteerism and "community organizing" is obviously right out.

I now live in the liberal hippy-dippy freaktastic indie-rock epicenter of Georgia, described by comedian Patton Oswalt as a "weird bubble dream city of goodness," which lies along the axis of woo running south on US 441 from Asheville, NC...that is to say, Athens, GA. Athens, a city of about 100,000 people, has its own Human Rights Festival and its own drag king troupe, more independent record stores than corporate ones, and a Tree That Owns Itself in defiance of human-centric notions of property rights. The University of Georgia is here and while we do have the Cult of the Bulldawg and a thriving population of rednecks (smile when you say that, bubba), we also have suspiciously liberal-sounding educational practices such as the only School of Ecology in the country. I personally have an MFA in Creative Writing with a graduate certificate in Women's Studies, and I work in the English department. I recycle and eat organic, locally grown food. I have been known to organize in my community. I even worked on the campaign of a local Democrat...which around here, I might add, makes me a political moderate.

Apparently all this means I am not a "real American." I guess that makes me an imaginary American.

All right, then. I will imagine. America.

I imagine an America where everyone can get health care, and we have the lowest infant mortality rate in the world...instead of the highest among industrialized nations.

I imagine an America where the government does not issue slithery and putrid justifications for the torture of prisoners, because no one in any position of authority would ever condone such a thing.

I imagine an America where we do not allow children to go homeless or hungry, because we recognize our obligations to each other as citizens of a common society.

I imagine an America where the Constitution is both well-understood and well-revered by those who vow to uphold it and whose authority to govern flows from it.

I imagine an America where no one suffers from the delusion that one can bestow democracy or freedom at gunpoint.

I imagine an America where I, as a woman, get paid equally for equal work, and no one questions that my health is a legitimate concern, even when it conflicts with the desire of others to impose their religious mores on everyone or to avoid being grossed out by the facts of reproduction.

I imagine an America where dissent is as patriotic as Thomas Paine, and not only when you agree with conservatives.

I imagine an America that lives up to its better self. I imagine an America that is not divided. I imagine an America that remembers who we really are.

I like that America. I want to live there. It's not where I have been living, to be sure, but it seems like a place that is possible.

Let's go.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Our Adventures on Tybee Island

I like to take my son somewhere new for spring break every year. Last year, it was Milledgeville, Flannery O'Connor's house, and the Okeefenokee Swamp. This year, it was the beach. He liked last year's vacation as well as this one; after all, he is my child.

He wanted to get up early and watch the sun rise. If you have never seen the sun rise over the ocean, I recommend it. The water glowed pink reflecting the sky and there were little shore birds running to and fro, as well as the usual seagulls.

I found a stick and drew a labyrinth in the sand, a seven-circuit labyrinth. Then I walked it. This is one of my personal things; not that other people don't do it, but I have written about labyrinths and in the year after my mother died I walked all the labyrinths I could find. So I drew my labyrinth in the sand, walked it, and faced the rising sun, which showed fiercely orange-red through the clouds on the horizon.

Then my son flung up his hands and sang, "Nants ingonyama bagithi baba! Sithi uhhmm ingonyama! Nants ingonyama bagithi baba! Sithi uhhmm ingonyama! Ingonyama!" Which is, of course, the opening lines to the theme for The Lion King.

Later, we went wandering about. There are many, many cats on Tybee. Every place we went has cats: the lighthouse, Captain Mike's, the Crab Shack. They all seem pretty well-fed and sassy.

We walked past a car, and Raven remarked, "That guy looks very stern and angry. He looks like...who was that guy who was Vice President under Bush?"

"Dick Cheney."

"He looks Dick Cheney angry."

So, then, we went to go on a dolphin tour. While we were waiting for the boat, we discussed the number of pelicans in view. "You said four, now you say three."

"One flew away."

"Right, so long as we are clear on the number of pelicans. It's vitally important."

"Darn right it is!" says my son. "We have to keep up with the number of pelicans. The Marsh Pelican Naturalist Society will be very disappointed if we don't. There's a grant. Pelican population survey grant. The participation of the ordinary man, such as myself, and the ordinary Mom, such as yourself, is crucial."

"You are totally making that up."

"Yes, it's a gift. I inherited it from my Dad. You may have noticed how he tells elaborate lies on short notice with a straight face."


"Anyway, all I have to do is turn in my four to five page scientific report on these pelicans, and we're all set."

"How are you going to get five pages out of three pelicans?"

"There were four."

"Nonetheless. 'There were four pelicans sleeping on poles. One flew away. The end.' That's it. That's not even one page. You can't base a report on that."

"I'll make some stuff up. Height, weight, know."

"That," I said severely, "is not science."

"It's scientific guessing."

"Guessing is not science. Knowledge is science. Facts! Here, listen, kid. This is what science is: If you observe the pelican's behavior carefully for days, and write down whenever it eats, poops, or interacts with another pelican, that's zoology. If you take note of the pelican's diet and habitat and its interactions with other species, that's ecology. If you weigh the pelican and measure its windspeed, that's physics. If you kill the pelican and dissect it, that's biology. And if you interview the pelican, that's social science."

My son died laughing at this juncture, though he recovered in time to see dolphins.