Five Pieces for January

shepardfaireyUsually, at the end of each month I compile links to stories and pieces I found thought-provoking in some way. But this past month has been an inundation of news, most of it bad, and I’m reluctant to feed into the chaos by recapping it all. Instead, here are five pieces that helped me understand something differently about the state of the world:

The Humiliation of Entering the United States as an Arab – Elia Fares

“On my second visit, the border control officer said his system “couldn’t process” me, so I was taken into another room where, an hour and another interrogation later, I was permitted entry to come into the US to do my medical residency interviews. This happened again on my third entry, with longer waiting times. Entering the US has been the most invasive thing to my being, and I’ve survived medical school.

It’s also what has been happening to many of my colleagues and friends: doctors, scientists, researchers, humans. Just because they were unfortunate enough to be born in countries that are not worthy enough of having their citizens treated with the minimum of human decency. I can tell you stories about physicians who were kept in those rooms for four hours, waiting for who knows what. It’s never easy to sit there and not know what’s going to happen to you, just because you dared seek entry of a foreign country that you’ve already been thoroughly vetted to be given a visa to.

This process that we go through every time we want to come here, that we know we have to willingly subject ourselves to in order for us to visit New York or some monument or even see some extended family is, apparently, not “rigorous” enough.”

Peculiarities of the Yankee Confederate – Alex Nichols

“Well, fortunately, an identity just for you has been consolidated into a few symbols, hobbies, and character traits, turned into a packaged cultural commodity for your instantaneous adoption and consumption. This identity is The South. The fake, commodified South, that is, not to be confused with the actually existing South, which has a rich cultural history and (unlike the commodified South) has black people in it. This imaginary South is about all-camo outfits and huntin’, fishin’, and spittin’ to spite coastal elites who want to make it illegal to hunt, fish, and spit. The commodified South is Duck Dynasty, McDonald’s sweet tea, and country songs that have “country” in the title. People seem to really like this stuff, which is why, compared to other regions, the South is overrepresented among Zippo lighter designs and truck decals.

Partially divorced of context, what was once a symbol of an aristocratic slave society becomes, paradoxically, part of a tradition of populist Americana along with John Wayne, Chief Wahoo, and the Pixar version of Route 66. Fully divorced of context, the flag becomes a symbol of vague, noncommittal rebellion. It takes its place alongside a series of meaningless but ubiquitous kitschy products including wolf shirts, the pissing Calvin decal, skull-adorned lighters, and overly aggressive Minions memes about what people can and can’t do before you’ve had your coffee.

The small bit of context that the flag does retain is used to sinister ends. Among rural whites, a watered-down version of neoconfederate ideology serves as a kind of mutant substitute for class consciousness.”

This is What it’s Like to Read Fake News for Two Weeks – Simon Van Zuylen-Wood

“For the most part, the folks in Phil Dick’s twitter feed are not that interested in policy. While much of the “corporate media” was scrutinizing Donald Trump’s cartoonishly rich and well-connected cabinet appointees, Johnny Deplorable and the rest were posting racist memes about Michelle Obama. (And this was before Trump ally Carl Paladino posited that she should move to Africa and live with a gorilla.) Mainstream commentators suggested Trump’s working-class supporters would eventually feel betrayed by their candidate’s sudden lurch towards plutocracy. But judging by my sample size, the news from the #swamp wasn’t even coming across their computer screens.

All that said, real news did occasionally find its way into the feed. But it lived or died based on its partisan potential. Two non-invented stories in particular were shared widely. First came a Detroit News report that more ballots had been counted in some parts of the city than there were voters. (Only 782 of them, though, the Detroit Free Press later reported. Hardly enough to sway the election.) Second, more recently, was the news that a professor at Drexel University had sent out a possibly satirical tweet that seemed to endorse “white genocide.” Yet reports of Russian interference in the presidential election were denied or mocked as irrelevant. When former Illinois Republican Congressman Joe Walsh sent a tweet expressing concern over the hacks, one of the users I follow suggested he “shut the hell up, you insufferable moron.” ”

Who are the three-quarters of adult Americans who didn’t vote for Trump? – Mona Chalabi

“If you were to knock on the door of a random house in a random street in America and ask a random person if they voted for Donald Trump, chances are they would say no. That’s because three in four US adults didn’t check a box in November to say they approve of the president-elect.

Some 63 million votes were cast for Trump out of America’s 250 million adults. The rest of the population includes several different types of people. There are the 73.5 million people who voted against Trump. They include more than 65.8 million who cast a vote for Hillary Clinton – a majority by a straight popular vote count. Then there are those who didn’t have the right to vote, and those who didn’t exercise that right for various reasons. (Still others voted for third-party candidates.)

Some of these people raised their voices in the weeks after the election to say “not my president”, while others will surely not be part of the formal resistance movement against Trump and would never have had the chance to vote regardless of the choice of candidates. But probing the demographics within these groups reveals that many marginalized groups of US residents are disproportionately unrepresented by the president-elect.”

What if it Works? – Sean Patrick Huges

“Not long ago, I shook hands with my commanding officer on the tarmac of an airfield in San Diego. His only words were “Bring them back Sean. All of them.” Then I waved goodbye to my wife and kids and got on a C-17 to Iraq. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I would have done harder, if he’d asked me to. I would have laid down in traffic if that’s what he told me America needed. Because I know he wouldn’t ask me unless he had to. And I know he’d do it himself for me, if he could. Because our relationship was based on the trust that he valued the greater good above all and himself, after everything else.

I don’t know much about the future. But I know there’s very few of us who believe that of our incoming president. If for no other reason that he’s gone out of his way to show us otherwise when others perhaps at least tried. And I don’t know that he’s had to ask anyone to follow him into the darkness for the greater good of others. But we’re about to find out what happens when he does. And even if it works, it’s up to all of us to insist it’s the exception. And not the new norm.

So what if it works? If the price we pay is our notion of leadership as a culture, then the price was far too high.”


Image Credit: Shepard Fairey


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