Friday, January 02, 2009

In medias res: welcome young 2009

The year is barely 24 hours old as I write this, and 3 notable persons have already passed on:

For some time me brain been percolating a post about American decline, and given this background preoccupation, inevitably I find myself thinking about how these three person's lives illustrate various perspectives on that topic.

Nizar Rayyan was by no means a choir boy, but he was the closest thing Gaza had to a secretary of defense, and in some ways his death and the stolid, "nothing-to-see-here" way the US press has dealt with it helps illustrate one aspect of US decline, as we juxtapose the IDF airstrikes against Hamas with the EU's condemnation and the US's official impassivity, as Bush, jnr insists he won't break off his last Christmas vacation as president to address the Israeli violence. and our new talk-show-culture president elect insists on framing the conflict in terms of how he thinks he would react if he was an Israeli parent, discussing hypothetical danger to his daughters whom we should see as people, unlike, say, your average no-good Palistinian kid. Americans have traditionally flattered themselves that their government leads the world, but the EU shows leadership while the US establishment, the Congress having voted to supply the bombs that destroy Gazan lives, hide behind the moral indolence of their shrub-clearing lame-duck president.

Claiborne Pell's death reminds me of how forward-thinking the US welfare state once was with respect to financing higher education, as we juxtapose the 1960s and the era of the Pell Grant, still around but endangered , with the current state of financial aid and higher education, as state and federal budgets put the squeeze on working-class and lower-middle class aspirants to a better life.

Helen Suzman was a civil rights pioneer-- from South Africa. She was one of Nelson Mandela's few white friends who visited him in jail and agitated for his release, years before hip Western kids identified him as a signifier of coolness, like the Dalai Lama or Coldplay or yes, Barack Obama. Her life, and those (several) dark chapters in South Africa's history remind me of how, here in the US, we once had a functioning left, one that successfully shamed many American institutions into divesting themselves of their South African holdings, something that might be impossible today, when so many people seemingly settle for voting as absolution in which a vaguely religious political leader forgives you for your civic laziness because you voted for him. And don't forget to help him pay off Hillary Clinton's debt to pollster Mark Penn. I hear he doesn't really need the money, but hey, a contract is a contract. Yes you can.

photos: Reuters

cross-posted at Hugo Zoom

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At January 02, 2009 11:33 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

B-b-b-but Obama, he’s gonna, he’s gonna, he’s gonna you know, he’s just gonna.

Sorry about that, it was a relapse to my Dem days.

Before the Second World War college was only for the wealthy. It was the place where the rich made their friends and contacts. After the war was over our mighty leaders were worried that all those GIs coming back from the war and faced with no good job prospects would start a rebellion. That’s when they came up with the idea for the so-called GI bill which allowed common people to go to college. The upper crust of the academic world was not happy about it believing that only rich kids were smart enough to go to college. Looks like we are regressing to those pre-war values again.


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