Wednesday, July 22, 2009

They Fear Evolution. Should We Fear Their Revolution?

As anyone who reads my blogs knows, Bill Maher is a particular hero of mine. He's a social and cultural agent provocateur, who forces me to think and re-think some of the posits he presents on his weekly Real Time programme. I think he does a good job of saying a lot of things many political pundits, from both sides of the political divide, either don't risk saying or simply don't have common sense enough to realise.

Bill also maintains a forum of his own, which encourages like-minded people who watch Real Time or who are fans of his to exchange ideas. That's good too. It's sort of like Real Time for ordinary people. It's interesting, illuminating and fun.

But it can also be a bit disconcerting.

Several weeks ago, Bill was interviewed on CNN by Howard Kurz, and he made an observation, which I found very perspicacious and disarmingly to the point. It was also disturbingly true.

Howard and Bill were discussing that most basic of Constitutional precepts, freedom of speech, in light of some of the things various right-wing commentators had been saying about the Obama Administration and the proposed Democratic agenda; and the discussion was made in the light of certain remarks Sean Hannity had made with regard to Bill, himself.

Bill said, quite rightly, that he had no problem with people expressing their opinions, political or otherwise. That, basically, was what the concept 'freedom of speech', after all, was all about; but what he did find a bit troubling, was that there seemed to be a strident strain of thought running through the left of the political spectrum - and particularly amongst the younger members of that body - against allowing certain right-wing commentators to expound their opinions, that - basically - their freedom of speech should be curtailed, restricted. Bill seemed concerned about this, as well he should be, as well any of us should be.

This season, in particular, I've found his programme to be scrupulously fair in giving both sides of the political coin ample time to defend their ideas and their actions. Sometimes, admittedly, it hasn't worked; but most times, it has, and Bill has always shown immense respect for the oppostion's ideas and viewpoints - far more so, than the Fox News' talking heads allow anyone of the liberal persuasion.

About a week or so after that interview, The Guardian, a British broadsheet daily, produced in its online edition, an op-ed by an American writer, opining on the latest pronouncements made by Rush Limbaugh and his ilk. The article, more or less, was a rehashed lambast, most of which I agreed with, until I read her closing statement - which was something to the effect that America couldn't begin to move forward until people like Rush were, effectively, silenced.

Suffice it to say, that when I read that sentence, I was, effectively, silenced.

To say something such as this, and, specifically, to have someone of the Progressive persuasion advocating a denial of the rights encompassed in the First Amendment of the Constitution, was and is a patent disgrace. It puts anyone on the left believing that on the same substandard level as the Bush-fed deficenti, graduates of the Bible School masquerading as a law school, who populated the Department of Justice, during the second Bush Administration. It almost makes one a disciple of Gonzales, of Bybee, of Yoo.

Needless to say, the online commentators - 90% of whom were British - pounced on her case like the proverbial duck on a June bug. They certainly knew a thing or two about curtailment of civil liberties, and in particular, freedom of speech. They've certainly had enough of their basic rights eroded under the Blair-Brown regime of the past 12 years, with the enactment of religious hate laws, the censoring of the Muhammed cartoons, and other enactments made in the interest and 'safety' of the British people.

She only proved to reinforce Bill's observation.

A similar sort of observation, recently, was made by a commentator in Bill's own forum, regarding the brouhaha surrounding the infamous C Street abode in Washington, de facto home away from home for the Congressional Christian Brotherhood.

The commentator, rhetorically, ponders the purpose of this house, the reason for its existence - wondering if it were, indeed, established for rehabilitation purposes or even as a house of discrete, hypocritical, sexual release - before revealing that it was, in fact, owned by a group known as Youth With a Mission, a fundamentalist Christian organisation, whose aim is to infiltrate their core religious principles into every aspect of Christian life. They want, in short, to rule the world, according to, the Huffington Post, and Rachel Maddow. Furthermore, because of this, we should be very afraid of them - this warning issued after further wondering why an organisation which used the word 'youth' in its title should offer a home to anyone who was anything but ... young.

Hmmmmmmm ...

Now I'm a pretty leftist kind of gal, but I'm no conspiracy theorist, and - without sounding too much like Sarah Palin - I was kinda-sorta-you-know educated to look at both sides of an argument before, ultimately, making a decision about something; and - with due respect to the commentator - I somehow don't think she's either done that or that she's even willing to do so. So that would indicate to me, that maybe some minds on the left of the political spectrum are as closed as those on the right.

I'm a regular - in fact, a daily - reader of The Huffington Post, and I read the articles it published about the C Street house. One of the articles directed me to another aggregate, Politico, which ran a lengthy expose of the C Street house, its inhabitants and its activities.

Throughout the article, the secret nature of activities surrounding the house's inhabitants and visitors was constantly emphasised, but not in a particularly pejorative way. On the surface of things, it appears to be a house, owned by a Christian organisation specialising in international youth ministries and missions. It was probably bought as an investment and rented out on a boarding house basis, to earn some capital. That the owner happens to be an organisation specialising in 'youth' no more means that its inhabitants should adhere to a specific age demographic any more than the International Youth Hosteling organisation caters only for young people wanting cheap accommodation whilst traveling. It's tautological.

On the face of it, the house appears to offer accommodation to practicing and openly Christian members of Congress, and most of its inhabitants appear to be or to have been male, and most of them were married. That's not unusual, really. Here in the UK, many Members of Parliament leave wives and families at home in their respective constituencies, whilst the government is in session; it's reasonable to think that these particular honourable gentlemen might, for whatever reason, do the same. Of course, the seasoned cynic in me knows very well that absence, all too often, doesn't make the heart grow fonder and that if someone's not with the one he loves, he's all too apt to love the one he's with; and even the most milquetoasted variety of man is capable of doing that. After all, it was John Major, himself, who romped the beds of Number 10 Downing Street, with one of his (married) female Cabinet ministers, whilst Mrs Major remained in the family home in Cambridgeshire.

The house also served as a base for Christian prayer breakfasts and Bible study groups, consisting of Congressional members; and the Politico article provided statements, not only from Republican Christians, male and female, as to the veracity of this, but also from a few participating Democrats, as well. In fact, the highest profile Democrat in attendance at these functions was none other than Hillary Clinton, herself, whilst a serving U S Senator.

On the basis of the HuffPo article, the place really doesn't seem to have been anything more than an upmarket boarding house and meeting place where practicing Christians came to gather; and it probably would have remained a non-descript entity, in and of itself, had it not been proven to have a curious coincidence of having given shelter to three fervent Christian Republican politicians who literally got caught with their pants down around their ankles and their asses up against the wall of blatant hypocrisy. And they weren't being serviced by their wives either!

All of us are human, and all of us have the innate capacity for sinning, especially when we think we're not going to get caught. According to the testimonies of these remorseful miscreants, some of them even received counselling of a sort from various other inhabitants and regular guests at the abode. Senator Coburn counselled John Ensign in his hour of adulterous need. Lindsey Graham was on hand to support Mark Sanford (albeit Sanford's sin came after he left off being a 'fraternity brother', both he and Graham have C Street connections). Those revelations are particularly astounding, considering that Senator Coburn, a doctor, is an obstetrics-gynaecologist, which leads to all sorts of speculation as to how he exactly 'counselled' John Ensign. One has visions of Eric Idle, in full Monty Python mode doing a 'nudge-nudge-wink-wink.' Equally astounding is the fact that that noted expert on marriage (not), Lindsey Graham, should offer a shoulder for Mark Sanford.

The absolute truth is, we don't know what occurred in the C Street house - maybe something salacious, probably nothing. (The mind boggles at the thought of Hillary Clinton getting her own back for Bill's fabled 'Monica Moment' with the likes of Lindsey Graham! I'd best stop thinking that, considering I've just eaten lunch.) It was just coincidence. Sheer unadulterated (emphasis on the 'un' part) coincidence.

But the assertion that the landlord group owning the house, Youth With a Mission, was seeking to rule the world by infiltrating every aspect of life with its fundamentalist Christian message, intrigued me; so I did what any self-respecting person would do, who wanted to know more about them.

I Googled them.

And here's their website:-

Basically, it appears to be a Christian outreach group, which specialises in worldwide youth ministries, specifically in developing countries. Its financing is dependent on contributions and donations, and such donations are tax-deductible. That's not unusual. Most donations to organisations like this, worldwide, are tax-deductible in many countries.

It's a charity, in other words.

Does it have a sinister purpose? Well, it wants to spread the Christian word, and Christianity is a proselytising religion. It exhorts its members to go forth and witness for the Lord. But so does Islam. In fact, these two religions spent the better part of the Middle Ages, right up until 1492, battling for the collective, politcal and geographical soul of Western Europe; and both religions gained a lot of converts by the sword as well and killed those who wouldn't conform. It appears to be doing a lot of work in sub-Saharan Africa - in Darfur, in particular, amongst the refugees there. Even Bill Maher, who's a virulent opponent of any organised religion, acknowledges and recognises that religious organisations do a certain amount of good and charitable works. I agree. I also agree that most practicing Christians, especially the 'born-agains' want to promote their religion and 'bring people to the Lord.'

I respect that. Just don't try to bring me to your altar.

I wouldn't expect this oganisation to be any more sinister than the Freemasons or the couple of secret societies with whom I maintain membership left over from my time at university.

Look. Allow me a Thomas Jefferson moment here.

Like it or not, we are a secular nation. Our written Constitution specifies a distinct separation of Church from state. We have no established church, per se, no recognised religion as the national norm. In fact, the Constitution is written specifically to allow freedom to follow whatever faith you wish or to follow no faith at all - after all, many of the original colonists came to the New World as victims of religious oppression, and it's mete to remember that our nation was founded by people who, themselves, were educated products of the Age of Reason and Enlightenment.

Of course, we know that there are religious fundamentalists in this country. We know that a great many of them make up the base of the Republican Party. We know that they believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, they believe the world was created by a faceless, inanimate 'being' in the space of seven days and that dinosaurs and cavemen roamed the earth together, probably much like a cross between Roy Rogers and Trigger and Fred Flintstone and his faithful Dino. We know that this lot are poorly educated, live in rural areas or small towns in the South and sparsely populated West, and distrust anyone who's attended any university other than the ones founded by Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell. We know they are pro-Life, yet in favour of the death penalty and unlimited war in the Middle East, that they support Israel because when Jesus comes again, the Jews are gonna cop it, so we gotta keep them alive and safe so they can be condemned to hell, goddammit! They're homophobic, until someone opens the closet door, and every father's daughter is a virgin, who isn't averse to sucking cock or taking a stiff one up her posterior portion.

In the words of the late Wise Uncle Walter, 'That's the way it is.'


The commentator's admonition that we should fear these people distinctly bothers me. Fear them? Why?

This is a free country. They have their right to a belief I take to be patently absurd, just as I have my right not to believe in a benevolent, paternalistic God and his only begotten Son, or even to doubt. I can tolerate their ignorance, as long as they can tolerate what they perceive to be my elitism. That's called freedom. It's when they encroach upon my beliefs, in thought, word, or violent deed, is when the line is crossed and my rights violated. It's when they seek to impose a god or a religion that distinctly isn't specified, into the body of Constitutional law or even to impose, via amendment, an article of law specifying a governmental association with a particular religious faith, that I take exception. That the previous Administration sought to do such a thing and actually allocated government funding to various religious organisations (and I don't know if Youth With a Mission was one of these) isn't just naughty, it's unconstitutional and illegal!

In fact, given my druthers, I'd go as far as abandoning the office of Senate or Congressional chaplain and ensure any elected or appointed government official take an oath of office, not on a book of faith, but on the Constitution, itself - because such people swear to preserve, protect and defent that document, which should be the ONLY document we hold sacred.

Fear this lot? No. Why? Two reasons.

First, you never let your opposition smell your fear. It makes them stronger. It emboldens them. They then have the upper hand. How do you think the neocons were able to hold onto power, especially since 9/11? They instilled a fear in the citizens of this country that we were under attack from an unseen enemy, and anyone who questioned their subsequent tactics (i.e., the Democratic opposition) held questionable patriotism. If you're going to give these people this much ammunition, you may as well hand them the shotgun, itself. Hell, give'em a cannon!

Secondly, another manifestation of fear is oppression. One of the unsaid, subtle warnings of this commentator's admonition to fear the fundamentalists is, like the woman who wrote The Guardian op-ed, that perhaps they and their ilk should be oppressed. And that would be wrong too. Even moreso. Oppression breeds a type of 'freedom fighter' commonly known as a terrorist, and haven't we seen enough domestic terrorism of various sorts since the Democrats gained ascendancy? Besides, if we oppress through fear, we then risk becoming the poachers who turned into gamekeepers. And the Republicans, themselves, seem to be doing an ample job, when not fucking other men's wives or South American women and getting caught, or trying to recapture that lost allure of the white male-oriented pseudo-Confederacy, or throwing quasi-fascist teaparties, of scaring their own base regarding proposed evil Democratic socialists and the havoc they'll reap on them by giving them, at least, an affordable universal healthcare plan.

Simply leave them to it.

We've bigger fish to fry.

Fear these people? Pity them, maybe. Disdain them. But recognise that they're entitled to the freedoms accorded citizens by the very document they and their leaders don't really know and should: the Constitution. And they got that right because of people who thought the liberated, enlightened way the Founding Fathers thought. People like Bill Maher.

People like us.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Life's a Bitch and So Am I


You either love them, or you hate them.

That's speaking as a woman.

The late George Carlin once said that women were crazy, and men were stupid; but women were crazy because men were stupid. That may be true to a certain extent. The greatest sex appeal a man can have for me comes from sheer intellect and a quick wit. That's why I'd choose Frank Rich anytime over Brad Pitt, but I'm not certain I'm in total agreement with George on this one. Of course, men, at their worst, can be frustrating and even infuriating enough to drive a woman to the verge of a nervous breakdown, yet women have ample ways and means of doing that, and doing it deliberately, to respective other members of their gender.

After all, as the song says, 'Sisters are doing it for themselves.' I'd go one step further and say that sisters are also doing it to themselves.

I've had a love-hate relationship with my own gender since I came into the world, with the end result being that the women I love mean the world to me and the women I dislike, I could easily obliterate.

In the last episode of Real Time with Bill Maher before a hiatus, my spiritual twin interviewed the actress Cameron Diaz, who'd recently made headlines (coincidentally immediately before the release of a film) by saying that, as a woman, she didn't particularly want to have children and wasn't worried about being childless. If she meant this, I applaud her.

Not every woman is meant to be a mother, and no one should assume that all women want to be; neither is motherhood the right of every woman, although there are some women who genuinely believe that. Conversely, there are some women, mostly of the fecund variety, who look upon childless women with varying degrees of pity and disgust, mostly the latter; because most women with children assume that women without children are childless by choice; and that's not always the case.

So, if Cameron were being truthful, I admire her for admitting as much; but the cynic in me doubts that this was anything more than a clever publicity ploy, meant to draw attention to the fact that an ageing ingenue has reached her late thirties, come off a long relationship with a male singer a decade her junior, and is now at an age where she's cast as playing the mother to adolescents. It's an actor's way of throwing our indirect vibes which say, 'Hey, I might be pushing forty, but I'm fun, I'm skinny, I come with no strings, and I'm available.'

It's the last cry of the It Girl.

Besides, she qualified the statement by saying, in the next breath, she could change her mind the moment the right man comes along to sweep her off her feet - someone like George Clooney, Jake Gyllenhaal or one of the Jonas Brothers - or she may decide, in the next couple of years, like Madonna and Angelina, to make a 'Mercy' mission to Africa; so, forgive me, if I take what Miss Diaz says, regarding this subject, with a large, unhealthy portion of salt.

There was another salty section of the twenty-minute interview as well, when the discussion veered onto the subject of women in general. Bill Maher remarked upon the particularly vicious and competitive nature of women, especially in the show business industry, opining that women were 'haters'. Diaz demurred and denied this strongly, asserting that nothing of the sort was true.

Well, I beg to differ.

I happen to think that Bill Maher nailed this one, and I've lived the life to prove it.

All one has to do is look at nature ... 'deadlier than the male' ... 'queen bee' ... 'black widow spider.' All are feminine derivatives and all denote the ugliest sort of power-broker. Women do nothing for women, and a woman in power is the first to break the mold and forget her sisters under the skin.

Margaret Thatcher, in the years she served as Prime Minister of Great Britain, did less to advance the role of women in society and even less to enhance and insure women's rights in the workplace and in the home, than any Prime Minister, either before or after her. Sarah Palin, as Governor of Alaska, charged female rape victims for the cost of the rape kit used in their examinations at hospitals. As a Vice-Presidential candidate, she wanted abortion wiped from the legal statutes, making it a crime, no matter the circumstances of the unwanted pregnancy. Thus, she would have forced victims of rape and incest to carry their children to term; she even went as far as wanting to outlaw contraception. In short, she was denying those of her gender, a choice; yet in the Todd Purdun interview in Vanity Fair recently, we heard Palin voicing uncertainty in wanting to give birth to her fifth child, musing about finding out about her pregnancy whilst out-of-state, and contemplating the fact that, since she was relatively unknown in the area she was visiting, she might just, you know, mosey on down the street to the local abortion clinic and ... well, you know ... So Sister Sarah would have exercised the choice she, as a potential Vice President, would seek to deny to others.

The two worst bosses for whom I've ever worked, both sides of the Atlantic, have been women. The first one was the principal of the junior high school in my home town, where I went to teach after graduating from college. She was known as 'the White Tornado', and she was the wife of a local Baptist clergyman. Years later, I found out she'd been having a lesbian affair with the head of the English department at that school, and between the two of them, they made the faculty's collective life hell on earth. I left after two years, and when I did leave, I managed to find out that that particular school, alone, had a faculty turnaround of 33% each year, mostly due to the atmosphere emanating from the principal's office.

A fish stinks from its head, they say.

My second encounter of feline envy in the workplace occurred in the Nineties, when I was working in publishing in the UK. The editor of the specialist publication, for which I worked, was taking semi-retirement. She nominated, as her successor, a woman who worked in the department, who just happened to be her closest friend; but who was woefully underqualified for the task at hand. She was a German woman, whose English left much to be desired, and the word 'jealousy' was simply invented for her personality. It fit her like a glove. Until that moment in time, I had absolutely no conception at all about what a child, much less an adult, must suffer at the hands of a bully. She humiliated openly, she shouted, she swore; at times, she looked as though she could easily have resorted to violence. She would have made a martinet look like a pansy; and all this was because she was inadequate professionally, knew it, and her pride would not allow her to admit her shortcomings; but pride goeth before the fall, and at the end of her tenure of one year, she was sacked.

Did I mention her staff consisted solely of women? It should come as no surprise.

So when I watched that interview, I was suddenly filled with the urge to find Commander Scott of the starship Enterprise and have him beam me up and over to LA, so I could stride into that studio, excuse myself politely for interrupting and then say, 'Cut the shit, Cameron, and shut up. Bill, you're right. Women are haters. They're bitches, they're competitive, they manipulate, and they do themselves and their gender no favours at all.'

I have worked with women, on both sides of the Atlantic, who've progressed up the ladder of professional success on their backs, and then lorded it righteously over those of us who didn't deem it necessary to compromise our ideals and morals to do so. These poachers then became gamekeepers, having used everything other than professional ability and intelligence to achieve their success. You'll never know how much I pumped the air in triumph last week when Liz Trotta, a conservative columnist, schooled the male cheerleader on Fox News by telling him Sarah Palin had blatantly used her looks and sex appeal to secure every bit of political success she'd garnered, only to have her glaring intellectual inadequacies shown up for the shams that they were.

On this side of the Atlantic, the BBC recently sacked Arlene Phillips, one of the nation's top choreographers and an OBE (who happened to be 66 years old) from the British version of Dancing with the Stars, only to replace her with a former winner of the contest, who's a pretty twenty-something singer (but no trained dancer), in order to attract the youth, sorry yoof audience. Is it no wonder, then, that what women do to themselves, is mirrored in men's treatment of us?

Another hero of mine is Florence King, a southern journalist and writer, who describes herself as a misanthrope. Back in the Seventies, King wrote a book of essays, describint Southern types, called Southern Ladies and Gentlemen. She devoted two lengthy chapters to young Southern womanhood, maintaining that there were basically two types of Southern women: Scarletts and Melanies.

Margaret Mitchell was no fool, and when she wrote her one great literary work, she peopled it with character types whom she'd observed and with whom she'd grown up. It was as realistic a piece of life imitating art as was The Andy Griffith Show in mirroring the lives of the people in a small Southern town.

King described the 'Scarlett girls' in depth. They were always the girls who had to be at the forefront or centre of attention. They may not have been the prettiest girl at the dance, but they were easily the loudest or the ones attracting the most attention. Their manner often belied or masked any deficiencies of character or looks. They were flirts, voracious flirtsl when it came to men and all things masculine; and here's where the Melanie connection comes into play.

Scarletts were like succubi to Melanies. The Melanies were always the humble, little wrenlike girls, the ones who volunteered to man the refreshment committees for the Prom or the Homecoming dances or whatever. Melanies were always polite and pleasant and usually found themselves sitting at home watching The Love Boat alone on a Saturday night.

Scarletts sought out Melanies like magnets seek metal. Every Scarlett needed a Melanie friend. Not only did having a Melanie friend make a Scarlett seem nicer, reasoned King ('Oh, isn't that Ellie May just too nice, the way she's so friendly with that poor plain little Gertrude Lipshitz?'), and thereby make Scarletts seem such sweet-natured women in the eyes of the men they sought to conquer, having a Melanie friend hang out by her side, only emphasised how pretty Scarlett was and how ... plain the other girl was in comparison. I mean, didn't Gidget have LaRue? Didn't Lucy have Ethel? Wasn't Elly May's cousin called Jethrene and looked like a man in drag? (Wait, Jethrene was a man in drag).

Melanies did things out of the goodness of their hearts and natures. Scarletts did things in order to make themselves look good in the eyes of the objects of their desires. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn't. Offtimes, you found that the men who bought into this phoniness, at the end of the day, weren't worth entertaining at all. I mean, how can anyone respect someone as shallow as an Ashley Wilkes, who bought the Scarlett act as the real thing, when you could let your hair down and let rip mentally and physically with someone like Rhett Butler and end up looking like the cat that ate the canary, amongst other things?

Myself, I never liked Scarletts, and Melanies bored me to tears. Scarlett girls, mean girls, Heathers, whatever you call them, brought out the natural bitch in me. I was nice to Melanies, but beyond civil pleasantries, I didn't give them too much time of day as well. So I was, like my native state Virginia, in the general scheme of US history, in a 'straddle state' - not quite a Scarlett (in my opinion) and - thank whoever - not a Melanie.

I could bitch and plot with the best of the mean girls, but I couldn't quite bring myself to the point where I played 'dumb' and flirted openly. A quick verbal repartee and exchange of wits was what aroused me in dealing with a man. As far as the other sort of girl, I simply was too selfish enough ever to be that good and pure. Later, Florence King, again, explained this sufficiently for me.

Virginia girls, she opined, were not Southern Belles. They couldn't be, because Virginia was a state born of the Age of Reason and Enlightenment. Virginia girls were taught and taught well, and raised to show and appreciate intelligence. Martha Jefferson spent her last days, copying out passages from Tristram Shandy. We gave the world the first woman to be elected to the British Parliament, Nancy Astor. We claim Willa Cather, Ellen Glasgow and Margaret Sullavan. Katie Couric, a Virginian, is the only woman in America anchoring a network news program. We educated Tina Fey. OK, we made some mistakes. Pocahontas married a Brit and died. I like to think I'll learn from her misgotten fortune.

Yet what Florence King so eloquently explained, can't only be applied to Southern women, but to all women in general. Not only are women haters, they are fierce competitors and blatantly subtle users of other women in order to achieve their own ends. As bullies, they used to use psychological cruelty, and in doing so, they hurt far more effectively than their male counterparts, who used their fists and physical force. Now, however, in some parts of the world, the girls are doing the same - and by combining psychological bullying with the physical aspect of it as well, makes them truly deadlier than the male.

The accents might be more airhead Valley Girl than Southern, but the aims are the same.

But, having said, all of the above, I have met, befriended and been befriended by some of the most wonderful women in the world, in my opinion. I'm still the best of friends with two women, whom I've known since grade school. One's a lesbian, and the other is a businesswoman, who runs two businesses non-stop seven days a week. Each time I go back to Virginia, there are several evenings spent with the girls - all-night talkfests, fueled by raspberry ripple icecream as teenagers have been taken over by all-night discussions of everything from politics to local gossip, fueled by Chianti or double gins and tonics. My two best friends from college are the daughter of an Army officer, who, herself, is an FBI agent, and a born-again Christian, who works as a recreational therapist (and who knows better than to foist her beliefs on me, although I'll allow the occasional quiet prayer from her on my behalf; one can't be too cautious). In the UK, I'm friends with a snarky Welshwoman, who's Celtic with a distinctly capital 'C' and a no-nonsense Geordie girl who calls a spade a spade, unflinchingly.

And then there's the wonderful batallion of women I've met via the Internet on a particular forum of interest to us. Intelligent, articulate, informed, perspicacious, of various age groupings and spanning, geographically, from sea to shining sea. Along with my plethora of relatives, they keep what's happening in my country real for me and they've no idea how much they defray the homesickness.

There's even the occasional man in the equation too.

The surprising element about, well, life, as much as femininity, I suppose, is the amount of mellowing a person does as they do get older. I read recently of an encounter between Denis Healy, an elderly Labour statesman in the UK, and Margaret Thatcher, once his political nemesis. Someone noted that, when Healy and Mrs Thatcher met again, when both were elderly, they embraced. Healy noted that as one grows older, one's enemies become one's friends.

That's so true.

Through Facebook, I've started talking with a woman who was a year behind me in high school. Put bluntly, we never liked each other. I always thought she was, in a nutshell, stuck so far up her own ass, she couldn't see the daylight it she tried; but we've been talking pretty civilly for the past few months. A couple of weeks ago, when I was feeling a bit down in the dumps, for some reason, we started a conversation online. First asking about this person and that person, until such a point in time, that we actually agreed to get together for lunch when I'm next home in November. As I was about to log off, she piped up and offered: 'You know, you're really nice; but I was scared shitless of you in high school. You and Sharon and Robin really ran that school your senior year.'

'You what?' I exclaimed. 'I never.'

'But you did!' She insisted. 'You've no idea. EVERYONE bowed to you.'

'NO!' I protested. 'Who was I? I was a geek. I was never the cheerleader or the homecoming queen. Me?'

'You've no idea,' she repeated, insistently. 'It was just YOU, your manner. It wasn't hateful or anything. In fact, I damn well admired it. It was your name, your family, you and Sharon had that antecedent, and Robin got carried along. Believe me, whatever YOU thought about any person, is what everyone else's idea eventually was. And then,' she concluded, 'Y'all left.'

So there I had it - if not from the horse's mouth, then from the mare's, which is far more important. I was a bitch. I had been, all along and unbeknownst to me, a Scarlett woman. For a sheer hundredth of a second, I was genuinely without words. It was as if my breath and all articulace had been suctioned out of me by a hurricane-force wind. Then I remembered this woman had not only feared me, she'd admired me as well. Besides, it was getting late in my evening, I was five hours ahead of her and I wanted to go to bed.

'I may have finished high school, honey,' I typed. 'But I left the baton of bitchiness behind for you. Did you pick it up?' I asked.

'Damn right!' came the reply.

I suppose the key to being a Scarlett woman is simply to embrace your bitchiness and run with it - and always, always seek to use it in a positive way.

Y'all take care now, y'hear?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Patriot Gamesmanship

So here it is Independence Day, and here I am in Enemyland - otherwise known as Great Britain, specifically England. I've been thinking a lot about this particular Fourth of July, in the days approaching the holiday. For some reason, this year, it's made me nostalgic and more homesick than I've really a right to be.

Something's happened to me as an American within the past year - at least since the Presidential campaign of last summer. I seem, at long last, to have developed a nascent patriotism; and that's a truly new feeling for me to experience. After all, my early adolescence was spent at the height of the VietNam conflict. When social commentators remark on how television brought the VietNam War into our living rooms, I remember it. I was there, doing my homework whilst the likes of Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and wise Uncle Walter Cronkite spoke the words and showed the pictures which told the story. I saw Kent State, Woodstock and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.

During the Seventies, Watergate and Nixon's treachery dominated the news agendae. I sat up until past 3AM at my boyfriend's home in Salamanca, Spain, where I was an exchange student, to watch Nixon resign on a flickering black-and-white screen. I came of age when patriotism was being downplayed, where it was considered not only au fait, but positively de rigueur to be patriotically lackadaisical. On Grounds at the University of Virginia, the only people 'allowed' to show overt patriotism were the ROTC boys, and - as potential dates and suitors - they were considered naff and to be avoided at all costs.

The US had barely got through the ill-fated Carter administration, when I upped stakes, got married and moved with my British husband to the UK, becoming, in effect, a Reagan exile.

There's something quirky about living abroad. It's one thing to visit a country for a few weeks, even to remain a year, working or studying. It's quite another to live, work and pay taxes in another regime. You become a paying guest. You're part of the proceedings, but you're not really a player in the game. After awhile, you blend into the woodwork, especially in Britain, where - in unguarded moments, the Brits forget their ingrained 'political correctness' (something they've grasped with fervour until they've practically made it a religion) and let fly with some particularly ignorant remarks. Not long after I'd married, I went to a cocktail party given by some pretty awful friends of my inlaws: jumped up types effecting the mores of the upper middle classes. I found myself in a gaggle of braying women and guffawing men, whom I was certain were the prototypes for Terry Jones's Pythonesque Village Idiots sketch. In my presence, the conversation turned to the subject 'Stupid Americans I Have Known' or something of the like. Every other sentence began with 'Americans are SO stupid that ...' and so forth.

After about 20 minutes of this hogwash, someone suddenly remembered that I was 'Jack and Amy's daughter-in-law'. Er, wasn't I Canadian? Sorry, no. Wrong nation. American. There followed much clearing of the throats and aversion of the eyes until some duffer in his infinitely ignorant hubris, remarked to me, 'You know, I think America has the most beautiful golf courses.'

I think at that point I understood the meaning behind de Tocqueville's phrase 'American exceptionalism.'

The myth of American stupidity abounds in Europe, especially in the UK. I've worked as a linguist for three different international companies, basically communicating with Spanish, French and Italian clientele in the vernacular (because there wasn't a single Brit to be found who could be assed to learn another language). In every job, there have occurred occasions when someone would stop, gobsmacked, and stare at me in wonder upon discovering my nationality. American? But educated in Europe, surely? Nope. Like the song says, 'Born in the USA'. Like the union label used to say, 'Made in the USA' too. The idea that a seemingly ordinary American could be coherent, articulate and educated to a high standard was beyond their ignorant ken.

Worse than that, were the American expats, members of the entertainment or news media world here, who - in a pithy attempt to 'go native' - end up dissing their own and thinking they sound clever. Ruby Wax, an American comedian who relocated to the UK some 30 years ago because the US already had Joan Rivers, and Louis Theroux, the son of Paul Theroux, forged television careers from nothing more than mockumentaries showcasing the weird and creepy underbelly of lower-class American society, cleverly edited (of course) by the BBC in order to make the assorted people showcased (usually people from the Deep South) look one shade to the left of Deliveranceland. That eminent American intellectual, Gwyneth Paltrow, most recently weighed in on the subject of how stupid Americans are ... of course, that was said about a week after she let rip on how boring British men were ... until she found herself a British husband, a bore who fronts a boring British band.

I have never been in the least tempted to become British, even though now I don't really have to give up my American passport to do so; and - curiously - I have never felt the slightest impulse, especially during the last 8 years, when the status of being an American abroad was positively at its nadir, to identify myself falsely as a Canadian, which some American expats did during the Bush regime, out of fear for repercussions against Americans.

Regarding taking up British citizenship, from time to time, both my husband and my inlaws sought to convince me; and, I'll admit, I was almost tempted. After all, the UK was a part of Europe. I was a linguist. I may, at sometime, have wanted to live or perhaps work in another European country. Having a British passport would facilitate things, because I would be considered 'European'. Travelling to and from the Continent, I was always the one who delayed proceedings, having to queue in the lanes labelled 'Non-EU Travellers' - and this always took longer. I even went as far as contacting the US Embassy to enquire about the actual procedure.

I was assured it was only a formality. The laws had changed to allow spouses of foreigners to acquire citizenship from the spouse's country. I'd have to go to the US Embassy, basically 'disavow' allegiance to the US, then go to the Home Office, swear allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen, and then reapply for my US passport. I could only travel to and from the US on my passport; otherwise, I'd be British. Not English. Not Welsh. Not - God forbid! - Scottish. British. And, instead of a citizen, I'd be a subject of the Queen.

Two things stopped me doing that. The first was an insipid American writer, Bonnie Greer, who became the BBC's resident 'per American' and expert on all things American, who wittered on ad nauseam about abandoning the US when Ronald Reagan was elected and who showed up on every political discussion show to weigh in her expertise on matters American at hand. Frankly, if I were going to choose to be a member of such an elusive club as the former British Empire, then I really didn't want to belong to the same club as such a ditz trying to tart herself up as an intellectual. I didn't ever remember seeing any of Bonnie Greer's books in print, much less on the Best Sellers' Lists.

The second was something I remembered from my 11th grade government class: That whilst we were citizens of the United States, the 'citizens' of Great Britain were actually subjects of the Queen. Our ancestors, I was taught, had fought against subjegation and had come out successful on the other end as free men, citizens of a country founded on the premise that all men were created equal. OK, so that phrase in 1776 wasn't the all-inclusive mantra it is today; today that phrase is understood to include all races of men and women who come under the blanket citizenship of the United States. It has yet to include all gay citizens of whatever hue. I'm hopeful it will.

To be a 'subject' of a ruler who rules by dint of birth and not achievement intimates that one has to know one's place. That's the great unspoken tenet which runs rampant through British life. It's the great, dark fear in the soul of everyone who began life in a humble station and advanced - be it by luck, ability or marriage - to the upper echelons: that he will have to know his place on the social scale of life. This fawning admiration of the lower classes for the upper class in British life gave the world three of the greatest British comic characters of the 1970s - Rigsby, Basil Fawlty and Del Boy.

That second fact, alone, was enough to convince me that I was really better off keeping the nationality with which I was born.

Then came George Bush.

It's ironic that I felt the first stirrings of what I now know to be patriotism during the regime that did more to negate and vilify the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence than any single person in the history of the United States. It happened on the 12th of September 2001, the day after 9/11, when the Queen asked that the Stars and Stripes fly over Buckingham Palace and that, instead of the usual marches, the band play nothing but Sousa marches during the Changing of the Guard. Surprisingly, the BBC, never a friend of the United States or anything American, showed a clip of this on the news that evening. When, at the end of the parade, the band played our National Anthem, I did something I'd never done in my entire life. I cried.

As Bushco went from bad to worse, as I read more and more pithy writings from American expats or writers living abroad about how, when questioned on their accents, looked the other way and claimed to be Canadians, I began to feel angry and justifiably so.

I did not approve of George Bush. From the moment I saw him campaigning in 2000, I had that bastard pegged. He was a dimwit frat boy, legacied into an Ivy League uni he would never have had a snowball's chance in hell of entering if he hadn't been the son of an alumni. He was the fuckwit in the corner at every frat party, always with a big glass in one hand, a streak of white powder under his nose and his other hand down the blouse of the latest, blondest co-ed. He was the proverbial 'stupid American.' I did not vote for George Bush. George Bush did not act in my name. There were other people, other Americans, I knew, who felt exactly this way - members of my family, people with whom I'd grown up. Cindy Sheehan. Alec Baldwin. Bill Maher. Why should I, living abroad, deny my nationality because of the tragic and ignorant blunders of a bunch of neocon marauders? It was they who'd ravaged my country's essence, why shouldn't I reclaim my nationality and make a positive statement with it? In my opinion, these people, turning their heads and averting the gazes of others, whilst claiming to be Canadian, were not only disrespectful of their own origins, but they were showing scant respect to Canada as well. Canadians are a proud people; they would run a mile rather than associate with intellectual lightweights like that.

Besides, hadn't they read Mark Twain, he who said, 'Patriotism means loving your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.'

That's very true.

And now we're entering into the age of Obama, an age when - as presaged by Bill Maher in his Patriot Editorial of November 14 last - the world, again, looks at us with envy. We the people were smart this time. We elected the leader best qualified for the job; and we elected him because of that and not because of the colour of his skin - which would have been, as Bill pointed out, a pretty cheap gimmick. In the course of one night, every pejorative thing the BBC and the British press had written about racial prejudice being rife in the United States (notwithstanding the fact that such prejudice in the Mother Country is conveniently and surreptitiously swept under the carpet) was thrown out like the baby with the bath water. Both David Cameron and Gordon Brown clamoured to proclaim themselves the British Obama. The French are suddenly pro-American again - to the point that the French President 'forgot' to invite the Queen to the 60th Anniversary celebrations of the D-Day Invasion. We're everyone's best friend, but you get the feeling that behind all the smiles, the Europeans are just waiting for Obama to fail.

Like Rush Limbaugh, only subtler.

I cried again for the second time when Obama won the election. I'm easier now in my American skin. I can admit to patriotism, because my country is my country and I am an American. I'm part of my past, a lot of which was shameful. I come from a large and prominent Virginia family, and my branch had ties, as colonials, to the Royal Navy. The first shameful thing one of my ancestors did was to desert and link up with John Paul Jones. The next shameful thing they did was to carry on as slave-owners until the Civil War saw otherwise. But we all have shameful things our ancestors did too. We have to take our nation's good history with its bad - and with that, the histories of all the people who came to our shores and made the US the great teeming melting pot that it is. We're all a part of that, and I remember that, when I look out on the UK and on Europe at the moment, struggling and fighting with their heritage and the future as more and more ethnically diverse people pour into these heretofore homogenous countries.

Ours is an evolving and young country; where we were formerly exclusive, we are now inclusive or trying to be; the Europeans, are having their problems. We shall see.

You know, sometimes I still get homesick, and I have a moment of doubt as to who I am culturally; because sometimes when I do go home, the first day generates a feeling of being a stranger in a strange land, that's really my land. And here, there's that feeling as well - because I can be 5 hours ahead of the East Coast and 8 hours ahead of the West, but still lag a day behind in news. Out of kilter just isn't descriptive enough. But at the end of the day, I'm still an American after all these years, and I don't think I'd ever really want to be anything else.

Have a Happy Fourth from the land that lost the Revolution.