Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Snotty noses in frowning fortresses?

It’s my impression that American embassies around the world have become very unfriendly places.  I’m ignorant: maybe they always were.  Or maybe they aren’t really that bad now.  But I have heard one horror story after another for several years now, without any counter-balancing stories of pride. 

We have been turning the embassies into fortresses, because we have a growing number of very angry and violent enemies.  Step one building a new embassy: dig a moat.  For real.  But that’s not the whole explanation. 

Embassies are set up to maintain government to government communication; they aren’t tourist agencies.  But that’s not the whole explanation.

We are rejecting visa applications at a very high rate, and maybe that sets a tone.  Take a look at some websites giving advice to people from India who want to visit America; they are preparing for very unpleasant encounters.  But I don’t really understand.

Everyone in Washington is piling on now, attacking that dreadful Clinton woman.  She responded breezily yesterday, and started her presentation on silly secrets by bragging about her work in Beijing.  Wow.  20 years ago, she went to Beijing, and did zip about forced abortion.  Pro-lifers and HONEST pro-choicers both oppose forced abortion in China: it is arguably the worst human rights abuse of the century.  Previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican, had sputtered and fussed about Tibet and forced abortion and other human rights problems; but the Clintons let it slide.  So it was mind-boggling yesterday!  When she explained why she violated State Dept policy on e-mails, and why she chose to be secretive about her leadership of our foreign policy, she started by directing everyone’s attention to her debacle in Beijing!  I do not understand that lady!  I’m sorely tempted, then, to blame the shift in America’s face abroad – from the occasional ugly American to the universal deliberate governmental-policy repulsive snotty American – on her.  I think she was a complete disaster, not just on the abortion issue but also on immigration.  I think she’s getting a free ride, after another shocking bomb crater.  But I admit promptly: I really don’t know (yet).

First, am I right?  I have scattered anecdotes, no more.  Are our embassies repulsive and snotty?  If so, then a second question: why?

My family shapes my identity -- more and more

Catherine Rampell asks plaintively, “Why should women need to be seen as daughters before we can ever be recognized as human beings?”  I understand her point: she is a proud and independent woman, not just a decoration in some male’s life – and it almost doesn’t matter whether the male is a good guy or not.  Independent.  Got it.  But …

You have no idea who I am if you don’t understand that I’m Roy’s little brother (Special Forces medic, killed in the Tet offensive).  My sister’s Kathie’s thought and experience is woven inextricably into all my writing about nonviolence and eugenics.  Your picture of me is pretty stunted if you don’t know about my astrophysicist father and my mystical-lit-crit mom.  You can’t get at the motives that drive me if you don’t know about my relatives in the CIA, my pro-labor great-grandfather, my royal peace-making great-great-grandfather, my mayor aunt, my drunken uncle.  I am hugely proud of my second cousin, once removed, who wrote a great novel, The Book of Jonah.  If you want to know how I think, watch the quirky twists in my daughter’s blog,  (And of course, if you go back millions of generations, one of my distant ancestors was a blazing explosive star, fresh and hot from the hands of the Lord – who, by the way, is a collateral cousin through Mary as well as an adoptive Father).

My identity is tied tightly to my family, a sprawling brawling complex creation.

One significant family detail.  More and more, my identity is tied to the coming generations more than the past, my progeny more than my predecessors.  And it seems that when my grandchildren describe their ancestors, they will include me and my Irish and Swedish ancestors – but they will also lay claim to roots in El Salvador, Peru, Philippines, Africa, and the African-American south.  My roots are not Asian or Latino, but my branches are.  With each passing year, my family and my own identity become more global.

Isn’t immigration a great and wonderful thing?

(Rampell’s article was not about families; it was about cyber-bullying.)  

The mystery of hate

Michael Gerson wrote a fascinating article about Ferguson and Selma, that included an insight into a more general truth.  “But the situation in Ferguson also reveals something broader: How people who do not regard themselves as biased can be part of a system that inevitably results in bias. How men and women who view themselves as moral can compose an immoral society.” (Washington Post, 2/10/2015)

What he said about racism is interesting, and has application to immigration.  I often wonder how people – who are truly good people (as far as I can tell) – can pour out inexcusable vitriol about the children of Guadalupe.  That is, how can a person simultaneously get excited about the Virgin Mary’s appearance in Mexico City in 1521, and then still post hate-filled pictures of Latino immigrants, one ugly picture after another?  One picture of violence, or three, or even five in a row – I guess that could be a way to explain a worry.  But 30?  Without any beautiful pictures mixed in?  That’s hate. Why doesn’t it give the angry poster a headache, or a heartache, or a hernia?

Gerson continued, “It is inherently difficult to stand in judgment of a social structure that one is part of. It is hard to see the wheel on which we turn. This requires empathy — the ability to imagine oneself in a different social circumstance, to feel just a bit of the helplessness and anger of someone facing injustice. And it calls upon moral imagination — the capacity to dream of a better future in accord with first principles.”