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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: February 10-March 12, 2008

Thursday, February 14, 2008:
Valentine's Day

The above picture is from the back of a towel I impulsively bought off the clearance rack at my local hardware store. (49 cents!) I purchased it solely for the packaging and so I haven't opened it, but I think it's basically a ShamWow. So I could be saving lots of money on paper towels if it weren't for my enduring fondness for Engrish. Below is all the product information printed in English on the plastic sleeve. (Despite its all-caps claim that it's "MADE IN CHINA," the hardware store worker confirmed for me that the Asian characters on the bag are Japanese. That's hardly the only contradiction, as you will see.)

"100% RAYON. Import Wood Fibre of Natural quality. Non-pollution & environmental protection articles.

"Pliancy,drink water & endure the washing, & dry easily.

"Be hard for concealing the dirty and growing the germs.

"Be used for the Tour & Sanitation Towel.

"Be suitable to all kinds of washes such as the Hair, China Bricks, Gas Cooking Appliance, Family Electric Things,oil & dirt of machine.


"Series Production:Washing and cleaning Towel, German-styled Omnipotent Cloth,100% Cotton Dishcloth."

Finally, the package is sealed with "China Good Brand Haoling Tape."

I have nothing to add.

CURRENT MUSIC: Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts by M83.
10:18 p.m.

Doot? | |

Sunday, February 10, 2008:

This has been percolating in me for a long time, and it seems like as appropriate a time as any to let it out, since I'm irate about the vindictive Republican response to the Berkeley City Council's approval of a measure encouraging military recruiters to leave the city. (Republican senators have introduced a spiteful bill that would withhold more than $2 million in federal funds from Berkeley and its University of California campus. The money would instead go to the Marine Corps, so they won't have to hold that bake sale to buy a bomber.) I also feel a need to ensure that I will forever be unelectable to any public office, so with that in mind, I have a confession to make: I don't think I'm supporting our troops.

Well, that's a bit of a glib overgeneralization. I just dislike the phrase "support our troops," because it's become such a meaningless rah-rah slogan during this war. In early 2003, when it became clear that war was inevitable, conscientious peaceniks were determined that our current soldiers should not receive the same unjustly hateful reception that Vietnam vets received upon returning home, when some Americans transferred their fury about Robert McNamara's policies onto young men who often hadn't wanted to go overseas in the first place. So this time around, extra effort was put into emphasizing and vocalizing the distinction between an amoral administration that barged into Iraq with no regard for human life (to say nothing of facts, laws, or world opinion) and the individual soldiers assigned to carry out these bloody plans. And since no one wants to completely girdle her car with a bumper sticker reading, "It's not the troops' fault that they're being misused on a violent errand designed to make six rich guys richer still," "Support the troops" quickly became the bite-size mantra, while the official rationale for invasion mutated from a 9/11 link to WMDs to Iraqi liberation. However, the Bushies even more quickly co-opted the phrase, obliterated the line between "supporting the troops" and "supporting the war," and began accusing their detractors of having a deleterious effect on soldier morale, thus not supporting the troops. In so doing, they robbed the slogan of any meaning whatsoever--a fate that often befalls slogans, of course--and so I've held a special disdain for those words ever since.

Long story short, I'm being a smartass when I say I don't support the troops, because I still hold to the saying's original intent. Obviously, I don't want anyone to die or get injured in the war, be they U.S. troops or Iraqi civilians. Furthermore, I think it's only fair that if such dangerous military jobs are being (disingenuously, in my opinion) sold to recruited kids as their duty or their chance to do something meaningful/courageous/whatever for this country, then the government needs to back up its sales pitch with proper equipment, care, and benefits. So in that regard, I think I support them more than the Bush administration does.

But I don't think any attitude I hold beyond wanting troops to remain alive and whole would count as "support," simply because I don't buy into the notion that there's anything inherently glorious or heroic about joining the military. I think violence is cowardly and ignominious, so I don't think much of an organization that's largely devoted to the use of force. Again, I reserve my enmity for the military as a whole and not the individuals who populate its bottom rungs, but I still don't think enlisting automatically imparts any type of honor upon a person.

I'm not saying I automatically deduct 50 points from someone's personal score if I discover a military service background. (Yes, I keep a mental scoresheet for each person in my life, and I add or--more frequently--deduct points according to my whim. Doesn't everyone?) I know perfectly nifty people who joined the armed forces solely to pay for college and not because they were impressed by the macho recruitment commercial with 3 Doors Down that played before some movie they saw. It was a job they were willing to do for the amount of money the government was offering them, and that's an individual choice I'm not prepared to argue with.

On the other hand, I will admit to holding something of an unfair prejudice against people who build their whole identity around their military service--particularly those who are no longer even active in the military--because so many of those people turn out to be creepy dicks. Like my sister-in-law's useless ex-husband, who used "Marines" as his password on assorted porn site accounts (despite having been dishonorably discharged from said organization). Or the husband of my mom's old friend Barbara, who would harangue Mom for not addressing him as "Colonel," as though he held some real-world authority over her. Or any number of reality-show contestants who incessantly boast that their veteran status makes them "the best of the best" despite being the sort of person who will appear on reality shows.

A particularly gross example of the latter appeared on last week's episode of Moment of Truth, FOX's abysmal new game show in which people earn money by answering humiliating personal questions while attached to a lie detector ("So reliable they're inadmissable everywhere!" was Television Without Pity's line). From memory, a transcript of the segment in question would look something like this:

MARK L. WALBERG: Well, thanks very much for serving our country!
AUDIENCE: [sycophantic applause] Woo! Country!
MARK L. WALBERG: Let's get to it! In the past six months, have you driven a car while intoxicated?
AUDIENCE: Oooohhhhh!
LOATHSOME CONTESTANT: [20 seconds of "pained" expressions punctuated with snickering glances at his buddies] Yes.
AUDIENCE: Oooohhhhh!
VOICE OF LIE DETECTOR: That answer is...
MARK L. WALBERG: Welcome back to Moment of Truth. We're talking with Loathsome Contestant, a former Marine, and before the break, we asked you this question: In the past six months, have you driven a car while intoxicated? You indicated that yes, you have.
LOATHSOME CONTESTANT: [mugs in "ain't I a stinker?" fashion]
MARK L. WALBERG: Well, let's see what our lie detector has to say about your response.
VOICE OF LIE DETECTOR: That answer is... [15-second pause] true.
AUDIENCE: [applauds wildly for drunk driving]

It probably makes me a total snot, but there's a part of me that really resents being constantly asked to dole out gratitude for "serving our country" like Walberg did there. I reflexively push back against being asked to thank veterans of my generation, because I didn't and wouldn't ask them to fight. It's pure, pigheaded stubbornness on my part, I know, since it's not like saying an insincere "thank you" just to avoid making waves would hurt me. But I still feel indignant about it, as though I'm being asked for a dollar by some guy who ran a filthy squeegee across my windshield before I could stop him. "How dare you ask me for anything in payment for an activity I would've requested you not do, if you'd bothered to ask?" cries my self-righteousness.

Of course, karma then dictates I get extra-rankled by equally self-righteous arguments like, "The only reason you have the right to express your disapproval of the military is because soldiers fought and earned that freedom for you." (There's a sign to that effect hanging in the armed forces recruitment center next to my favorite record store. I'm paraphrasing.) It's a fine argument if you're defending World War II veterans, since I think it's unanimously agreed that they did fight off a very real and imposing evil force who sought to restrict or eliminate any number of his victims' freedoms, up to and including life itself. I refuse to use the term "Greatest Generation" because Tom Brokaw and I have a longstanding feud (whether he knows it or not), but World War II veterans, many of whom joined the military in the sole hope of amassing an insurmountable stand against evil, deserve all the gratitude they get.

That doesn't mean all our nation's subsequent military activities can piggyback on that nobility, however. There's a big difference, in terms of liberty-securing efficacy, between taking on Hitler's army at Omaha Beach and, say, knocking over a fruit stand in Granada on Reagan's watch. I understand that many servicewomen and servicemen may believe that they are indeed fighting for our freedom in Iraq, but I do not. I don't believe that the current conflict will result in any net benefit to the vast majority of Iraqis or Americans. Quite the opposite. I'm sure that many of our troops are doing a fine job with the tasks they're given, but it's naught to do with me, and I certainly don't want my name on the violence. In short, I do not feel "served."

Now, in an ideal world, we wouldn't need a military at all, but this is far from an ideal world and I recognize the practical need for some form of organized defense mechanism. I tend to think that our military should serve the same function as the lock on my front door: it's inexpensive, unobtrusive and it makes me feel satisfied that no one is going to barge into my private space uninvited and try to harm me or steal my stuff. We can count my smoke detector too, as part of this metaphor, since it seems reasonable that the military should include a disaster response component. If that were the full extent of the military's role in our nation, I would feel adequately and appropriately defended.

That's not how we do things, though. Spending on the military and Operation Iraqis Love Us has ballooned to a level that makes me yearn for the common-sense thrift of Caspar Weinberger, and I believe that the actual percentage of those funds that goes toward preservation of our freedoms is negligible. (Particularly since I believe that the greatest threats to our freedoms have, of late, been coming from our government itself and not from some amorphous "terror" spectre.) I find it infuriating that ever-increasing armed forces budgets are wordlessly rubber-stamped by our lawmakers, plunging us further into a debt we didn't have before a certain warmonger took office and necessitating further cuts in programs that millions of Americans depend on for simple survival. And frankly, I worry that knee-jerk obsequiousness toward the troops (which goes well past the mere human respect anyone deserves for doing a job) may be part of the problem, since it artificially inflates the importance of the military in our nation, thus hamstringing any real consideration of trimming its ludicrous expense.

I suspect this is an unpopular opinion, and I accept the possibility that it's a completely unfair one springing from my own flawed frame of reference. I started paying attention to (though admittedly not fully grasping) national issues in the early '90s, around the time of the Tailhook scandal, the introduction of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and endless newsmagazine segments about violent military hazings (in the spotlight thanks to A Few Good Men). So I didn't come of age at a time that fostered much esteem for the armed forces. Moreover, I've never developed a real sense of patriotism: I am fond of this country and its culture, but my personal ties aside, I remain unconvinced that it's objectively "better" than nations like New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, etc. So the problem may be with me, and you can feel free to rip me any brand of new hole you'd like, if you think that's the case. Mostly, though, I felt the need to unburden myself of all this because I strongly resist the notion that violence is anything to be honored or celebrated, and that's where my real problem with the military lies.

Also, I think saluting is silly.

ADDENDUM 2/15/08: The ever-eloquent and knowledgeable Steve Knowlton e-mailed me with the following commentary:

While I understand the sentiment that, "The only reason you have the right to express your disapproval of the military is because soldiers fought and earned that freedom for you," it is basically not true. Consider the many countries whose soldiers have made similarly courageous sacrifices, but are not yet free (to take the most salient example, the Red Army of the Soviet Union suffered horrific losses during World War II.)

While our soldiers have worked hard to preserve American interests abroad (including democracy in our allies), it is more appropriate to say the reason we enjoy our rights to (do whatever it is you appreciate doing) is that our country has a long tradition of :
- Respect for the rule of law, including abiding by court decisions we don’t favor
- Civilian control over the military, to which the military accedes
- A separation of civilian law enforcement from military activities

Aside from the soldiers of the Continental Army who fought to throw off the mildly oppressive policies of Lord North, the soldiers who served during the formative years of our country were mostly occupied with killing Indians. I’d say our tradition of freedom has more to do with the success of the Parliamentary party during the English Civil War; so thank a Roundhead next time you enjoy your local newspaper.

This is not to denigrate our soldiers, but their sacrifices should be placed in the proper context; they have preserved our nation and its interests from outside threats. If you want to know who to thank for our freedoms, thank generations of law-abiding civilians for bestowing upon us these blessings.

CURRENT MUSIC: The self-titled album by Songs: Ohia.
Braced for impact.
In The Dead Milkmen song "The Thing That Only Eats Hippies," I realized that the line "Now it's got a sweet tooth for long hair/So Bob and Greg and Grant, you should beware" refers to Husker Du! How the hell do they count as hippies?
12:14 p.m.

Doot? | |

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