Monthly Archives: May 2013

Guess Who?

LeMay - Korea


Source here, on page 88 of the original doc.


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Memorial Daze

‘The new normal’ is a phrase in vogue recently, and for good reason. What used to be considered outrageous, cynical, even profoundly absurd is now treated with all the deference one bestows on their polar opposites: appropriate, right, just, fair. Is it normal that the Department of Justice, in the midst of its leak investigation, kept logs of the phone lines of one of the world’s oldest news organizations? Is it normal that hundreds of marathoners and their families happened to collide with two troubled kids tangentially connected to separatist struggles against Russia? Seem alright that the choice presented to the public from self-designated experts is the false dichotomy of “job growth” versus “protecting the planet”? Have we become so propagandized that these questions no longer make sense?

Oftentimes this correspondent is nearly slack-jawed at some of the headlines buzzing around, and wonders what happened to the strange notion that if Americans change the way they live, and live in fear, the terrorists win. Most of the paranoia and anxiety in the land seems directed at the federal government — and “the world” is dismissed as irrelevant, as if we have nothing to learn from other nations. In the last decade, some of that arrogance has faded, probably because it has gotten too costly to be a global constable. And, you know, those benighted natives will never embrace democracy…

It is normal, now, that the Associated Press gets subpoenaed for doing its job, in a move its own chief bluntly described as against the law, and it is normal that a CIA whistleblower got slapped with violating the Espionage Act of 1917 for outing the identities of known torturers. It is also standard operating procedure that the man who destroyed the videotapes of those tortures recently received a promotion. These sordid affairs all took place during the reign of Hope and Change.

Meanwhile, our men and women in Afghanistan are being commanded to train an irredeemably corrupt and incompetent national police force, as shown in shocking detail in a recent documentary. This writer is not old enough to remember Vietnam, but this mess sounds an awful lot like it.

Lest we forget our dead, reqiuescet in pacem.

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Awkward Incident on the J Train Over the Weekend

On the J train headed home to Brooklyn on Saturday night, I was sitting next to an older and tired man reading a paper on an arcane subject. The words “deleveraging” and “Japan” caught my eye and I could see graphs and lines and figures. His age was not immediately discernable, but the xeroxed copy of his economic paper was. Also, he was a Black man who was heading home from what seemed like a long day. It showed in his pock-marked face. Naturally curious and eminently sociable, even when I probably should not be, and without reading his body language — after the fact, it seemed he did not want to be bothered by anyone — I asked a very simple question: “Hey, are you an economist?”

He folded the paper and set it down on his chest, as if guarding a secret. He suddenly looked pissed off, or at the very least hurt somehow. Then he said the following right back: “What’s the question?”

I was completely mystified by his reaction, and kind of stung: what had I done to upset a stranger who seemed to share a similar interest in global economics and scholarly things? “What is the question?” he repeated after I had asked again, thinking he did not hear me the first time. Then I went on to stammer about what he was reading: “Oh, well, I saw that it’s about Japan and debt and…” and so on. His eyes looked cold, but I could not figure out what was the matter. Eventually, I copped an answer, that is, I had the Question: “Do you think the yen will survive given Japan’s aging population?” After a brief silence, he simply said, “No.” Whether he said that to end the conversation or if he really believed it, I will never know.

After a few moments, it dawned on me that his apparent hostility may have had something to do with the fact that a Black man reading a paper about an economic issue was asked by a younger white guy if he was in fact an economist. Then, I started to feel bad, but had no way of possibly going back a few train stops to apologize and explain myself, and therefore know more about what happened. His defensiveness could have stemmed from a number of other things: what was going on in his life or in his line of work, or any infinitude of possibilities that I will never know.

The only remaining piece is that I appeared to offend him by simply asking what I thought was an innocent and curious question that would have passed my lips had he been the Asian guy across the aisle reading an economic report. To me, it does not matter who is reading what. This man’s question, “What is the question?” raised a number of questions about how we had seemed to misunderstand each other. Why did we fail to communicate as people? I can’t ask him that question.

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