Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

The importance of context

From an article in the May 24, 2014 issue of The Economist about how racial minorities in the United States live in places where they breathe dirtier air:

[…]The study does not address why [race matters more than income in determining whether someone will live exposed to dirtier air]. A possible explanation is that many Americans prefer to live among people who look like themselves. For example, well-off urban blacks may be choosing to live in traditionally black neighbourhoods, despite the worse air and the fact that they could afford to live elsewhere.

A slight re-write of the paragraph above:

[…]The study does not address why [race matters more than income in determining whether someone will live exposed to dirtier air]. A possible explanation is that people prefer to live where they will be treated like fellow human beings. For example, well-off urban blacks may be choosing to live in traditionally black neighbourhoods, despite the worse air and the fact that they could afford to live elsewhere.

The latter paragraph tells a different story; a story readers of The Economist need to hear.

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“[Latin America] must pass from nationalism to interdependence, but interdependence is senseless without a basis in independence. Only independent nations can become interdependent partners. If not, they become protectorates, neo-colonies, subject states.”

— Carlos Fuentes, Foreword, Ariel by José Enrique Rodó (Austin, TX : University of Texas Press, 1988), pg. 18.

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What Americans expect

When we pick up our newspaper at breakfast, we expect—we even demand—that it bring us momentous events since the night before. We turn on the car radio as we drive to work and expect “news” to have occurred since the morning newspaper went to press. Returning in the evening, we expect our house not only to shelter us, to keep us warm in winter and cool in summe, but to relax us, to dignify us, to encompass us with soft music and interesting hobbies, to be a playground, a theater, and a bar. We expect our two-week vacation to be romantic, exotic, cheap, and effortless. We expect a faraway atmosphere if we go to a nearby place; and we expect everything to be relaxing, sanitary, and Americanized if we go to a faraway place. We expect new heroes every season, a literary masterpiece every month, a dramatic spectacular every week, a rare sensation every night. We expect everybody to feel free to disagree, yet we expect everybody to be loyal, not to rock the boat or take the Fifth Amendment. We expect everybody to believe deeply in his religion, yet not to think less of others for not believing. We expect our nation to be strong and great and vast and varied and prepared for every challenge; yet we expect our “national purpose” to be clear and simple, something that gives direction to the lives of nearly two hundred million people and yet can be bought in a paperback at the corner drugstore for a dollar.

We expect anything and everything. We expect the contradictory and the impossible. We expect compact cars which are spacious; luxurious cars which are economical. We expect to be rich and charitable, powerful and merciful, active and reflective, kind and competitive. We expect to be inspired by mediocre appeals for “excellence,” to be made literate by illiterate appeals for literacy. We expect to eat and stay thin, to be constantly on the move and ever more neighborly, to go to a “church of our choice” and yet feel its guiding power over us, to revere God and to be God.

Never have people been more the masters of their environment. Yet never has a people felt more deceived and disappointed. For never has a people expected so much more than the world could offer.

— Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (New York: Atheneum, 1987 [1962]), pgs. 3-4.

I agree with all of the above, and yet I also have to say that part of what makes Americans exceptional and great is that by expecting the seemingly impossible, we sometimes achieve it.

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The Republicans deserve the broom.

United States President: Barack Obama (D)

United States Senate: Jeff Merkley (D)

United States Representative, 3rd District: Earl Blumenauer (D)

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American freedom

The land of the free! [America] is the land of the free! Why, if I say anything that displeases them, the free mob will lynch me, and that’s my freedom. Free? Why I have never been in any country where the individual has such an abject fear of his fellow-countrymen. Because, as I say, they are free to lynch him the moment he shows he is not one of them.


[People emigrated to America] largely to get away—that most simple of motives. To get away. Away from what? In the long run, away from themselves. Away from everything. That’s why most people have come to America, and still do come. To get away from everything they are and have been.


Which is all very well, but it isn’t freedom. Rather the reverse. A hopeless sort of constraint. It is never freedom till you find something you really positively want to be. And people in America have always been shouting about the things they are not. […]

Men are free when they are in a living homeland, not when they are straying and breaking away. Men are free when they are obeying some deep, inward voice of religious belief. Obeying from within. Men are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealised purpose. Not when they are escaping to some wild west. The most unfree souls go west, and shout of freedom. Men are freest when they are most unconscious of freedom. The shout is a rattling of chains, always was.

Men are not free when they are doing just what they like. The moment you can do just what you like, there is nothing you care about doing. Men are only free when they are doing what the deepest self likes.

— D. H. Lawrence, “The Spirit of Place”, 1924.

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Newspaper control

Newspapers have a much greater importance in America than they do in Europe. You must not conclude, however, that the press is more free in the New World than in the Old. With us it is the government that watches over and controls the newspapers; in the United States, the religious sects and political parties tyrannize over the editors, who, it must be said, rather cultivate this servitude and even take advantage of it.

— French composer Jacques Offenbach, 1876. Had he been alive to visit the United States 50 years later…well, he would have been a marvel for being so very old; but, aside from that, he could have added “department stores” and “car dealers” to his list of tyrants.

(Offenbach, by the way, was the composer of the “Can Can”.)

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