By Jonathan Bradley

Photo by Flickr user caribb

Photo by Flickr user caribb

This was my final essay for the USSC postgraduate course The American City. It has been slightly edited.

Blame the bluster. That’s how the Illinois city of Chicago earned its Windy City sobriquet, but the name did not arise from the local meteorological conditions. It was the young town’s windbag citizens, rather than its blustery weather, who earned it the title; and even as the city grew into its outsize self-regard, it never lost its cockiness or its confidence (Encyclopaedia of Chicago 2004).

Chicago does not shuffle; it swaggers. Despite — or perhaps because of — its severe setting, it retains an optimism even where there is cause for none; this is a city whose citizens endure freezing winters and sweltering summers, who took their city’s rude manufacturing foundations and built on them glittering skyscrapers and world-famous architecture. It is a city that, upon holding the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, sought to outshine even Paris, the old world’s most refined cultural centre. Chicago developed its fortune from unglamorous industries, such as the unrefined and frequently dangerous meatpacking plants that earned, from poet Carl Sandburg, the city the designation of Hog Butcher for the World. Chicago’s politics is famed for its sleaze, its venality, its dependence on connections and repaid favours, and yet, its adopted son Barack Obama navigated his way through its ranks to become elected 44th President of the United States on a promise of bringing change to a nation weary of inefficiency and corruption. Chicago is renowned for its cultural vibrancy, particularly the creative contribution of the African American communities in the city’s South Side neighbourhoods, where Obama first launched his political career as a community organiser. Chicago is riven with ethnic division; various neighbourhoods are distinguished as Polish, for instance, or African American, or Irish centres, but yet these neighbourhoods act as launching points for the city’s migrants to find opportunity where there was none before. The South Side, for instance, may frequently trap its citizens in poverty and segregation, but the political and cultural networks formed within these communities gave their citizens a self-determination unavailable in the Southern states from which they had migrated.

Chicago remains America’s second city, even as it slips to number three on the population scale, having been overtaken by Los Angeles during the 1980s. In many ways it is the quintessential American city, a booming, thriving centre in the very belly of the nation. The Great Plains — the nation’s famed bread basket — stretch out from its edges, the Mississippi surges through its hinterland, and Chicago swallows immigrants, both the intra-national and international, seeking their fortune. Neither the world renowned centre of commerce that is New York nor the sun-soaked pop-cultural playground of Los Angeles, Chicago’s conception is intertwined with that of its nation; unlike New York, or Los Angeles, which have larger than life identities separate to America, Chicago’s cultural fabric is woven from the same stuff as that of the United States itself.

Chicago’s paradox is in the tension between its base origins and its soaring ambitions; the stoicism prompted by the former and the optimism derived from the latter. It is a uniquely divided city, but the citizens of its patchwork neighbourhoods are united in — as was one of the central themes of the Obama campaign — hope. This essay will examine the means by which Chicago, in its real and mythical guises, reconciles these tensions. With particular reference to the city’s representation in Carl Sandburg’s poetry, modern popular music and commentaries on President Barack Obama and his connection to the Chicago political landscape, it will find that the contradictory conceptions of Chicago are actually inseparable; each is a part of the other.

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“Here in the United States we have public schools and people also take violin lessons”: D.C. blogger Matthew Yglesias reacts to the USSSoc’s President’s views on health care policy

“Americans care so much about their Supreme Court, they just really wanted to meet its next member”: Learning nothing about Sonia Sotomayor

“It congratulates its practitioners on their virtue, condescends to its beneficiaries, and corrodes the racial attitudes of its victims”: Ross Douthat on the future of Affirmative Action

“Whiteness is no longer a threat, or an ideal: it’s kitsch to be appropriated”: Gatsby, Puffy and Stuff White People Like in post-white America

Photo by Flickr user littlephil

Photo by Flickr user littlephil

Last week, I contracted gastro. It wasn’t fun. My digestive system decided it hated me, and staged a coup. I’ll spare you any of the more vivid details, because they really aren’t pleasant.

So, after being sent home from work on Tuesday and not improving through the night, I called my local General Practice at 8am on Wednesday. “Erin, was it?” the receptionist asked. “Where do you live?”

“Ultimo” I told her.

“Oh, that’s a shame, ’cause we just had a cancellation for 8:15, but I don’t suppose you could get here in time. How about 10am?”

That was fine with me.

“Dr. Naomi E. isn’t in today, do you mind seeing Dr Naomi G?” she asked.

I assured her I didn’t mind at all, and drove the (very) short distance to the GP at 10am. Truth be told, I probably could have made the 8:15 appointment, as Ultimo and Glebe aren’t that far apart, but I was thankful for the extra sleep.

You see, my doctor is so close to my house, and so accessible, that not being able to see her on less than 2 hours notice was an aberration.

(By the way, I love that there are two Dr Naomis at the practice).

When I got to the surgery, I noticed a new sign:

We have a number of new staff,
And as they may not yet know your name,
Please be sure to inform them when you arrive.

I wanted to take a photo with my iPhone, but there are strictly no phones allowed.

When I was called into my appointment, a few minutes late, Dr Naomi G. sat with me and talked with me about what was going on. She listened to my concerns and my symptoms. She asked about my life: what I did for work, in my spare time, and asked was I stressed. She assured me not to worry, that it was probably nothing, but she wanted to run X, Y, Z test.

“I see you saw the other Naomi last time you were here, and you got a referral to see your specialist” she said.

“Have you made an appointment yet?”

I hadn’t, which I shamefully admitted.

“I know life is really busy, but I think you need to make this a priority,” she told me. She wasn’t admonishing me, she was just reassuring me that taking a day’s sick leave was ok, and that this isn’t something I should postpone for the sake of busyness.

After my appointment, I went to the front counter. My bill was for $60, for a half-hour appointment. The government would pay about $42 of it (I think). I could have given them the forms, and the government would have paid my rebate directly into my bank account, but I wasn’t organised enough to have already provided my bank account details, so I had to take it to the local medicare centre.

I’ve only been going to this GP for a little while. Before, when I didn’t earn as much money, I couldn’t always guarantee I had the $60 up front. So I went to a doctor that “bulk bills”- a doctor who charged only as much as the medicare rebate, and got the money direct from medicare. There are lots of them, and it meant I never had to worry about having enough money to see a doctor.

But I got a better job, and a bit more money, and I decided I could afford the gap in order to get better quality care. That was an option. So I asked my brother, who is a medical student, if he knew of any good places, and he told me of a local GP with an excellent reputation, so I tried to book an appointment there.

As I work full time, naturally I tried to get a Saturday appointment. No, they told me. They only had a limited number of Saturday appointments, and they prefered you to have a one-hour, first-time appointment, so you can get to know your doctor.

So I made a mid-week appointment, took the requisite time from work, and sat down with my new doctor. She asked all about my life. Not just about my health background, though she certainly interrogated me on that. She asked about my job, my personal life, my uni work. She wasn’t being nosy, she assured me, she just wanted to understand what kind of pressure I faced, so she could keep an eye on me. I told her about my history of problems with my stomach.
“You know what,” she said. “Rather than just giving you a referral to your gastroenterologist, I’d rather you came back in, for a shorter appointment, so I can really understand the history of your stomach condition.”

Again, I made the appointment, and took her through the long history of testing and treatment that ultimately resulted in a Fundoplication– an elective surgery at a private hospital, which occurred when I required it, with the doctor I chose- almost 10 years ago. And in that single appointment, for which my out-of-pocket costs were less than $20, she became familiar with my whole history, and was able to provide wise guidance as to what I should do next.

This isn’t really a revolutionary story. I’ve no doubt many of my Australian friends have similar tales. But it is an example of the excellent balance that can be struck when talking about government-sponsored health care.

There’s all this talk in the United States, mainly from conservatives, about how woeful a public health care insurance option would be in the United States. They talk about “socialized Medicine”, and use “Canada” and “France” as curse words.

And they speak of the government getting between you and your doctor. The government paying a proportion of my fee in no way “gets between me and my doctor”. I have lived in the US with really good quality health care coverage*. But I have never, ever had a doctor like my current one. She knows me, she cares about my health in a holistic way, not just in diagnosing a particular problem. She wants to know about my past, and my lifestyle, and integrate it into her understanding of my health. On my third visit to her, I broke down into tears about something not directly related to my health, and she listened, and said that it was probably affecting me more than I realised. She gave some advice about how I might deal with me problems better, and assured me that any time I needed her, she was there.

We have a wonderful balance here in Australia. If you need health care and can’t afford it, you can get it. Everyone can get it. There are a multitude of doctors who bulk bill. And you can use the public hospital system. But if you have a little more money, you can choose the extra cover. The government doesn’t decide what access I have- they just set a level of access, and everything beyond, I have to pay for.

Is that “rationing”? Perhaps. But at least we all have access to pretty good basic cover. At least a major illness will not bankrupt us. But, at the same time, if we have access to the extra funds, we can use them and pay for extra cover. Oh, and if a particular treatment isn’t available here, the government will pay for us to have it overseas- a fact Glenn Beck grossly misrepresented in his recent rant (Do Australians go to the US for certain treatments? Yes. But he neglected to mention the fact the federal government provides funding for that).

I am thankful for a system in which I can access a basic level of care regardless of my income, where I can choose to spend additional funds if I have them available, and where I have both public and private hospital options. For that, I’m happy to pay an extra $1.50 tax for every $100 I earn. It’s worth it.

*I actually remember going to buy glasses, and as our health care scheme wasn’t on the standard approved list, so they had to go and call my insurer. They came back with a slightly dazed look, having never heard of a premium that covered so much!

Cross-posted to All Good Naysayers, Speak Up!

All USSSoc blog posts reflect the opinions of the writer, and are not reflective of the views of the USSSoc.

“Yes, Minnesotans vote like crazy”: Minnesotan Democracy, Al Franken, Jesse Ventura, and “Governor Goofy.”

“They would be lionized by America’s Right, as similar Christian minorities, oppressed by tyrannical regimes, automatically are”: Glenn Greenwald on the Islamic Chinese Uighur minority.

“It’s like the Constitution …  the strike zone is a living, breathing document”: Why judges should not be like baseball umpires.

“Is Obama Improving America’s Global Image?”: Well, if you’re talking about within Kenya…

By Jonathan Bradley

Next moment she found that what she was rubbing against her face and hands was no longer soft fur but something hard and rough and even prickly. “Why, it is just like branches of trees!” exclaimed Lucy. And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her; not a few inches away where the back of the wardrobe ought to have been, but a long way off. Something cold and hard was falling on her. A moment later, she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air.

Entering America, even only in terms of considering it in a cultural sense, I feel like Lucy stumbling into Narnia. Not only is there the feeling of everything being the same but different, there’s also the sense of utter remove from the world I am used to, a sense rarely found in cultural artifacts created in many other Western countries. American culture makes sense out of American insularity; within it, the rest of the world seems impossibly distant. I am always attracted to items of Americana that capture this remove.

These items can be found in the most unexpected of places. Earlier this year, for instance, I was reading the classic Judy Blume young adult novel Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret. I had a good reason for doing so: I’d been denied the opportunity to finish it as a sixth grader, and it really is the kind of book you should be able to say you’ve read, even if you’d rather not say you read it as a 25 year old postgraduate student[1]. Lizzie Skurnick, writing at the self-described women’s Web site Jezebel said that, as an adult, she felt like she was spying by following the exploits of the pre-adolescent Margaret Simon. My reading was similar, but unlike Skurnick, I never even lived the experiences in question. To say that I felt slightly unsavoury in my perusal of this novel is an understatement.

But I’m not here today to discuss first crushes or menstrual cycles. What did stand out to me on my reading of this novel was a pair of passages that had a distinct Welcome to Narnia feel about them; paragraphs that distinguished this coming-of-age novel as something that was happening definitively in America, and not in some generic Western suburbia.

I was really surprised when I came home from camp and found out our New York apartment had been rented to another family and we owned a house in Farbrook, New Jersey. First of all I never even heard of Farbrook. And second of all, I’m not usually left out of important family decisions.

But when I groaned, “Why New Jersey?” I was told, “Long Island is too social — Westchester is too expensive — and Connecticut is too inconvenient.”

So Farbrook, New Jersey it was, where my father could commute to his job in Manhattan, where I could go to public school, and where my mother could have all the grass, trees and flowers she ever wanted. Except I never knew she wanted all that stuff in the first place.

The new house is in Morningbird Lane. It isn’t bad. It’s part brick, part wood. The shutters and front door are painted black. Also, there’s a very nice brass knocker. Every house on our new street looks a lot the same. They are all seven years old. So are the trees.

It is not just the references to the locations on the Atlantic seaboard — though they do help. It’s the specific narrative of white flight told in the transition Margaret’s family makes to the New Jersey suburbs. Magaret explains the move to us in terms of self-realization; her father can more effectively control his life by spatially seperating his domestic and professional activities and her mother has a blank slate (trees, flowers) upon which to develop her and her family’s life. The wide-spaces and architectural conformity of the New Jersey exurbs is understood to be a step up the ladder, even if Margaret approaches it with a level of ambivalence Skurnick relates to the character’s impending adolescence:

Don’t let New Jersey be too horrible….was there ever a greater metaphor for the terror one feels at the onset of pubescence? … But, in her merest, timid request, the person of Margaret Simon … puts her finger exactly on how it feels to start to grow up. It’s not like an exciting trip to Radio City Music Hall with Grandma. It’s a long, featureless ride in the other direction, culminating in an blank exit ramp off a highway into a town without anyone you know.

Skurnick’s description is in itself uniquely American, too; she uses geography to seperate the domestic suburbs from the commercial and cultural hub of the city, and her reference to a “blank exit ramp” is telling in that she defines locations by their relationship to Dwight Eisenhower’s Interstate highway system. (It is doubtful, for instance, that a Sydneysider would describe Parramatta or Blacktown by referencing the roads one takes to get there.)

American Suburbia is, for the Simons, like it was for a lot of Americans, a means of greater self-determination, a place where citizens could choose what elements of the wider world to incorporate into their lives instead of having them thrust upon them by the close proximity of the urban environment.

There is also the matter of Margaret being “able” to attend public school in New Jersey. Is this because of a lack of private schools in her new area, or does it carry the implication that while the middle-class, assumedly white, New Jersey schools were acceptable for a girl like Margaret, the more-diverse Manhattan public schools were not? After all, there is a reason why white flight was known as white flight.

So Margaret’s family, right from the beginning of the novel moves up by moving out, creating a secure environment, hermetically sealed environment for Margaret to live out her bildungsroman.

And yet, it isn’t only boys, ‘burbs and boobs on our young American protagonist’s mind:

“Oh Gretchen!” Janie said. “You and that Hebrew school business. Can’t you get out of it?”

“I’d love to,” Gretchen explained. “But I’ve got one more year and then I’m through.”

“What about you, Margaret? Do you go?” Janie asked me.

“You mean to Hebrew school?”

“Yes.”

“No, I don’t go,” I said.

“Margaret doesn’t even go to Sunday school. Isn’t that right,” Nancy asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

“How’d you arrange that?” Gretchen asked.

“I’m not any religion,” I said.

“You’re not?” Gretchen’s mouth fell open.

“What are your parents?” Janie asked.

“Nothing,” I said.

“How positively neat!” Gretchen said.

“But if you aren’t any religion, how are you going to know if you should join the Y or the Jewish Community Center?” Janie asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I never thought about it. Maybe we won’t join either one.”

But everybody belongs to one or the other,” Nancy said.

I love that Janie’s immediate concern about Margaret’s lack of religious association concerns how it will affect her socially. Janie isn’t worried that Margaret is amoral, and she doesn’t try to convert her: all she wants to know is how her new friend will resolve the difficulty of choosing which youth-targeted activities she will participate in.

It lends credence to my view that in America, religiousness is the default state; even if Margaret isn’t any faith, she is assumed to be something. When she tells her friends she is not, she is treated as an exotic oddity (“How positively neat!”), and she spends the rest of the book unsuccessfully trying to correct her idiosyncracy.[2] Religion in this passage has nothing to do with God or the reason for existence or the afterlife — or creation theories, or school prayer, or abortion, or any hot-button political or theological issue. It’s just a neutral marker of who you are and what sort of things you do in society. Try to imagine a group of Australian twelve year olds having the quoted conversation. It’s very difficult.

I do find it awkward that the  elements of American society that I see as being distinctly representative of the country as a whole are white and suburban. There is nothing about Margaret’s Jewish, New York grandmother, for instance, that is in the slightest bit unAmerican. Indeed, she is almost an American stock character. And yet there remains in my mind (and, I believe, in the minds of many millions of other people) a picture of America that is more Farbrook, NJ than Manhattan.

But if this picture of America was ever true, it is changing. Increased Hispanic immigration, intra-national migration changing the face of the country’s cities, and a more diverse political base have created an America that looks something not quite like the opening pages of Are You There God… Yet even now, those interstate exits, identical houses and casual discussions of religious affiliation pull me in through the wardrobe doors.

[1] But hey, I understand Sonia Sotomayer was doing much the same thing, so if it works for a SCOTUS nominee…

[2] In a not unusual display of American individualism, she eventually decides she can follow her own path.

All USSSoc blog posts reflect the opinions of the writer, and are not reflective of the views of the USSSoc.

by Dean Fernandez

Attached to this blog post was supposed to be a PDF-scanned photocopy of the front page of the ‘presidents’ section of the 1991 edition of World Book Encyclopedia. You know the one. The black and white one where Presidents George Washington to (then) George H.W. Bush were displayed, 1 through 41, portrait-style and impressive. Such portraiture is not, in the end, attached, because I remembered that I gave away my World Book set a couple of years ago to a friend of a friend’s kid who, my parents told me, needed it more than I did. Indeed, if that friend of a friend’s kid did not, in 2007, have the internet and easy access to Wikipedia then I guess they are right. Instead, what is attached is a JPEG image of something similar to the one in my erstwhile World Book set.
 
Look at it carefully. This version includes Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, and is somewhat out of date because our boy, Barack Obama, is yet to be included. But that is immaterial. I am trying to be nostalgic here, and this image is close enough to the Cold War-era one I had as a kid. Look at the distinction on these presidents’ faces and think about how powerful they were. Looking at them in chronological order is like examining the ringed layers in an old Sequioa tree trunk. These guys made history!
 
There are the almost comical paintings of the first 7 presidents up to Andrew Jackson. Number 8, I believe, is the first portrait photograph of Martin Van Buren. For your information, he was not a great president. None of the presidents from him to #15, James Buchanan, were. Then there is #16, President Lincoln, The Great Emancipator. As a kid I knew from The Simpsons that Honest Abe was a great and benevolent Civil War-era president, but only recently when I read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals did I truly appreciate how great he was. Read it. Please. So we have something to talk about.
 
Since I’ve begun pimping books, what made this presidential obsession worse was Louis Phillips’ Ask Me Anything About the Presidents, a book I inherited from my grandmother, who was an American history teacher. It is an interesting and funny book peppered with little-known factoids about the presidents. Going back to our list again, did you know that #17, Andrew Johnson, was a drunk? And that #18, Ulysses S. Grant’s favourite snack was pickles soaked in vinegar? No. 19 Rutherford B. Hayes was apparently an ambidextrous impresario who could write simultaneously in English in one hand, and Hebrew in the other. You should see the cartoon illustration of Hayes doing just that in Louis’ book. I still chuckle when I think about it.
 
You cannot see it in this version, but in my 1991 World Book, #22 and #24, Grover Cleveland, the only president ever to serve two non-consecutive terms, was actually reproduced twice, sandwiching #23, Benjamin Harrison. Benjamin Harrison was the grandson of #9, William Henry Harrison, the one who died in office after a month because he chose not to wear an overcoat or top hat while delivering his 2-hour inaugural address, dying of pneumonia. Lesson to future presidents: don’t be cocky. Keep your addresses short.
 
Who was the fattest president? No. 27, William Howard Taft; who was also the only president to later serve as Chief Justice of the United States, a job he much preferred even while he was president. Unlike some of us, he had choices. And look! There is “Silent Cal” – #30 Calvin Coolidge – who was so nicknamed because he was so reticent that at a party once two ladies struck up a bet to see if they could get more than two words out of him. President Coolidge, up to the challenge, responded by saying, “You lose.” If you didn’t like his laissez-faire economics during the Gilded Age, you must at least admire the efficiency of his smugness here.
 
People often ask me why I like the United States so much and I respond almost too glibly by saying, “Why wouldn’t I?” But seriously, anyone who likes history and appreciates how history can be shaped by anyone if they work hard enough knows that there is glory in it. Ask #32, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who is the longest-serving president and who was the only president elected 4 times. He was a silver spoon-fed child of the New York aristocracy who grew up a Democrat because he knew that the Depression required swift governmental action to help the poor and the suffering. He also did all of this in a wheelchair, and if that doesn’t bespeak a yearning for greatness, then you probably don’t know your American history.
 
If you ask me who my favourite president is, I would say that it was #33, Harry Truman, because HBO got in early and made the first ever biopic on a president I ever saw, which obviously made an imprint. A close second is #35, John F. Kennedy, because more than most presidents, he was urbane and witty and knew how to put words together, or at least hire people who knew how to put words together (shoutout to Ted Sorensen); and if you set aside his salacious character flaws, he and his family deserve massive props for making public service cool.
 
I will skip a few and end with #39, Jimmy Carter. I am currently in the process of revising history to resurrect his reputation. I am still researching on it, and do not quite have a complete grasp on his presidency, but at the moment I’ve got Jimmy Carter’s back. As a believer in human rights, he ‘practiced what he preached’ about US democracy, helping to bring peace to parts of the Middle East and Latin America, and upheld the view that if Americans were for freedom within its own shores and among its own people, they should be for freedom everywhere. As an Australian student of the United States at the United States Studies Centre, we can only hope that all presidents share this view.

All USSSoc blog posts reflect the opinions of the writer, and are not reflective of the views of the USSSoc.

By Paul Hemsley
 
Ever read a 1500 page book in a few hours?
 
Imagine being a Congressman and being asked to vote on a bill that you didn’t have time to glance at because it’s humanly impossible to read that amount of boring legal jargon in the space of a school morning tea time.  Yeah, I thought so, you’d probably want to vote “whatever” and go home for the weekend. The morons who wrote this Godzilla-sized monster must have been jumping for joy that a pop star had carked it, giving them a wall of shielding in the mass media because they were too busy talking about a tragedy in tinsel-town. They were accountability proof and rushed through the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (AKA, the Cap and Tr8or bill).  Franz Neumann’s ideas about fear and panic have as much validity in accordance to the global warming hoax as much as they do about terrorism under the Bush years – people clung onto the leaders for nanny-like support after the September 11th attacks, but after years of lies, people saw through it and the Military-Industrial Complex was caught red-handed (albeit still not brought to justice)– we can only hope people see through the outright fabrications that are being jammed down their throats like it’s supposedly our fault for the planet turning into Venus and we must be severely punished for it.
 
Bad humans, BAD!
 
From what I’ve managed to read of the bill, and believe me, I’ve only read small cited sections of it since I can’t stomach 1500 pages of this rubbish, which was probably the idea, so the Congressmen would be scared off from wasting their time, is that it’s probably the most draconian and unfair piece of legislation since the Patriot Act of 2001. It’s nothing but a rip-off that benefits only corporate and private interests with stakes in the matter like Goldman Sachs and Al Gore since they’ve invested in inherently flawed and unreliable technologies such as solar and wind so people will be forced to buy them because it will be made into law – this is a robbery of money from the taxpayer’s pockets to government and big business that has the potential to destroy the very fabric of the economy, I’m amazed people are begging for it to happen.  The point is they make you feel warm and fuzzy inside for being a good compliant citizen who uses mercury ridden light bulbs (I hear mercury is environmentally friendly, there’s no fraud there!) and take cold showers, but in the end, you lose.
 
Imagine being just a regular normal person, which you all are anyway, minding your own business, you get up, you work, you go home, enjoy your private life, and go to bed thinking about how you love being a grown-up because you hated being told how to live your life by snarling, nagging teachers in your childhood years – and then getting a knock at the door the next day by the Green Gestapo (sorry, government representatives) who demand to come in and carry out a mandatory inspection of your house, your castle, your private sphere, and find any fault with your private property like your light bulbs, your windows, and any other energy dependent appliance in your house that doesn’t meet the unrealistic standards of the Global Superstate, and finally they force you to pay for the renovations. You wouldn’t like it, and if you say you do, you probably have no idea what you’re in for. Deep down, you’ll want to cut their arms off for looking at you like you’ve broken some ridiculous law you’ve never heard of.  It’s an audit of the way you live, and if you do not comply, you could be fined a ridiculous amount, and every time you say “no” or you don’t let them in, once the accumulation of the fines exceeds the value of your house, they will have the power to take possession of your private property and kick you out. If you resist, you may be branded as a member of an Al Qaeda sleeper cell.
 
They’ve got you by the balls then, and you have to buy the dodgy new “green” junk.  If I wanted to destroy a superpower, I couldn’t imagine a more efficient and systematic way to bring down a country and have it surrender its sovereignty to an invisible, unaccountable and centralized global power that presents itself with a false mask of righteousness in fighting “man-made climate change”, and robs regular people of any scrap of wealth they had because they’ve been conditioned by the bankster-controlled media to surrender any sense of self-worth they might have left because our breathing is releasing a poison gas called carbon that’s going to kill us all, and the only way to fight it is to tax us until we’re bled dry.  People have become compelled to believe in all this carbon-disaster-boiling-temperatures hocus pocus because in the absence of state religion, they have become susceptible to following the new religion of extreme leftist environmentalism and believing the razzle-dazzle, confusion and Orwellian double-speak of supposed scientists, the high priests of the new order, because these scientists are infallible with the blessing of the United Nations – regardless of other scientists who blame sunspots for fluctuating changes in climate.  These scientists are given no airtime, and their opinions are suppressed because their facts are inconvenient – they’re party-poopers because their data doesn’t make for exciting banner headlines.
 
It’s unimaginable, but unfortunately true, that touchy-feely junk science based on a mere theory and not proven facts could be widely accepted as Gospel truth without question – it’s a sad time in history where society has lost its ability to be vigilant of snake-oil salesmen promoting alarmism and demand the preservation of their freedom from those who may want to control every aspect of their private lives. For the bankster syndicates who control the flow of this information, their coercive hijacking of a nation’s sovereignty through the environmentalist movement will pay off handsomely for them.
 
People say we don’t need to fight this because we can just kick the current government out with elections, but that’s irrelevant because by the time the elections arrive, the damage has already been done, and the next government doesn’t do anything to abolish draconian laws passed by the previous crooks, rather they just give it a new name and exploit it. When President Obama rubber stamps this bill into law and flushes the American way of life down the proverbial loo, it won’t matter if there’s a future Republican president elected in 2012 or 2016 to repair the damage, they’ll just use it to their own twisted advantage like the Democrats see the Patriot Act as a golden opportunity to muzzle anyone who stands up to them. It’s the Republicrat way! The Green-Industrial Complex has one goal in mind: total control of everything.  If nobody is able to comply with the new “green” building codes, these government vampires can take hold of everything everyone owns, bulldoze it all and give it back to nature – what eventually happens to the people who occupied those houses is anyone’s guess, but Mother Gaia will be most pleased.  It reminds me of the schoolyard bully attitude of “what’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is mine”, however the tactics of the big-boy world of economics and politics are just more sophisticated, coercive and deceptive.  Unfortunately, the common man doesn’t have the time or interest to give it the scrutiny it deserves.
 
If, in an alternate universe, they put this abomination in front of me to vote on, I’d read the whole thing aloud to filibuster it and agitate the House chamber until they were all forced to vote against it like their free time depended on it, like they should have done in 2001, rather than irrationally pass acts of legislation just to be seen to be doing something.
 
The human goal is freedom, liberty and individualism, but of course, there are also taxes, bondage and the pursuit of masochism, that’s if you’re into that sort of thing.  Pinhead from the Hellraiser movies would have a field day with the amount of willing souls into his collective domain.
 
But most importantly, this fourth of July, celebrate your independence not to pay crappy breathing taxes!

All USSSoc blog posts reflect the opinions of the writer, and are not reflective of the views of the USSSoc.

By Jonathan Bradley

OK, I’ve written about Martina McBride’s 1993 song “Independence Day” on 4th of Julys previous, but hopefully I won’t repeat myself on this one. There is a lot to say about the song; the Fourth is the day the story of the American founding, usually an unspoken but everpresent subtext in American culture, is brought to the surface and becomes something acknowledged, explored and celebrated. Art that uses this day as a motif forces ideas implicit in American life to be made explicit. If nothing else, you get an idea of what Americans think it is to be American.

I began thinking about this song recently when, during the our Key Issues in American Culture class (at the United States Studies Centre), Erin, the USSSoc’s President, proposed that in addition to the story of the Revolution and subsequent drafting of the Constituion that is the prevalent founding narrative of the United States, there existed an alternate story of the nation, which used the Bible as its founding document. Erin’s idea suggests two Americas: one based on liberty and self-government, the other on (Christian) faith. I like the notion, because it helps reconcile some of the more egregious paradoxes in American life.

McBride’s “Independence Day” combines both stories of America so naturally that on first listen, it isn’t clear how unusual that combination is. The central conceit underpinning the song is that it is a telling of a personal story using the symbols of the American natonal story; a woman, tired of her husband’s abuse, revenges herself on him by burning their house down (it’s not stated, but I suspect he perished in that fire). And it all happens on Independence Day.

McBride explicitly sings about the woman’s “revolution,” the verse references the lyrics of the “Star Spangled Banner,” and the chorus begins “Let freedom ring…”; this is hardly an allegory designed to be subtle. But apart from all the patriotic detritus floating around the track, there is also a strain of the religious as well, something that has nothing to do with the uprising against the British forces or self-determination. The song’s violent act — a fire — has Old Testament rather than military overtones (though the lyric “She lit up the sky that Fourth of July” also hints at fireworks), as does the idea of swift and destructive action being an appropriate punishment for sin. The lyric preceding the title in the chorus makes the song’s religiosity even more evident: “Roll the stone away, it’s Independence Day.”

Wait, what? “Roll the stone away?” Exactly what does the Resurrection have to do with the American Revolution. But this reference, seemingly airdropped into a song about something entirely different, works. McBride, starting off with an allusion to America’s birth, transforms it into a reference to American salvation so naturally this disconnect is barely noticeable. The America of “Independence Day” is a state safeguarding individual freedom while similtaneously being God’ beacon of liberty guiding the world.

(Interestingly, despite the genuine patriotic joy expressed in “Let freedom ring!” and the almost disturbingly pugilistic “Let the whole world know that today is a day of reckoning,” the song has an, at best, ambivalent conclusion, one which suggests none of the characters emerge better off. The house-igniting woman appears to be psychologically damaged by the abuse, and when the narrative concludes, she has lost her home and her daughter. This “Independence Day” has not the triumphant victory America usually celebrates each July.)

But what makes the song truly compelling is that, quite apart from all thematic complexity, it is a sharply drawn story with strong characterisation and resonant lyrics. The setting itself feels classically American without being trite. It is told from the point of view of the abused woman’s daughter, and there’s a nice sense of the mundane in between the more dramatic moments in the song. “I was just eight years old that summer, and I always seemed to be in the way,” McBride relates, making herself a universal observer (what kid doesn’t know what it’s like to feel in the way?) to the plot, and enabling her to narrate it with a candid remove. And she situates herself in what feels a highly naturalistic circumstance: “So I took myself down to the fair in town/on Independence Day.” In between the grand notions of America as God’s Country and America as Land of the Free sits these small scenes of America as a place where kids run off to the fair on a national holiday. Very often, these portrayals of the United States are incompatable. McBride glues them together the way — well, the way they’re glued together in real life America.

And if you’ve made it this far, do remember that on this Independence Day, the 4th of July 2009, the USSSoc is throwing its own celebration, at the Australian Youth Hotel in Glebe. Do take a look at our invite, and do join us.

All USSSoc blog posts reflect the opinions of the writer, and are not reflective of the views of the USSSoc.

By Erin Riley

Our wonderful Communications Director, Jonathan, has instructed us talk about anything American.  Anything American.

There’s so much to chose from.  I thought of writing about TV Shows, about books, about poetry or music.  But that really doesn’t make any sense.  What I should talk about- what I will talk about- is how I wound up here.

Granted, I’m not that interesting.  But I think the story is.  Well, perhaps interesting is a stretch.

I started following American politics a long while back.  It’s not a really remarkable introduction.  But a few years ago now, just after I started working at a certain football club that will not be named, I was starved for intellectual stimulation, really of any description, and so I started reading more about this interest I’d long held.  I liked Obama a lot, even before he announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination, so I started reading Andrew Sullivan’s blog.  Sullivan liked Obama.

I certainly wasn’t unaware of the blogsphere prior to encountering The Daily Dish.  In fact, my friend Bec and I tried (and failed) to keep a football blog.  But here blogging was something else.  It wasn’t a glorified, public diary.  It was journalism.  It was the democratization of publication.  It was a new outlet for reporting and commentary.  It removed politics from its rarefied world, and put it into a language- and medium- with which I could engage.

I had found my calling.

Perhaps.

So I read and read and read some more.  I read articles and posts.  I discovered the glory of the RSS reader (and for those of you who haven’t yet, it’s well and truly worth the effort).  And then, through Sullivan, I discovered a new blog.

Ezra Klein.

Suffice to say, back on my home blog (plug: http://www.naysayersspeak.com, which has been quiet for a while, but is back, I promise), Ezra Klein has had a fair bit of good press.  To be totally honest, I had a bit of a crush on him at the start.  (Not that you would ever have guessed that).  Now, that’s well and truly faded into a kind of admiration and appreciation for the writer who taught me a huge deal about digital journalism:  how to read about issues, how to find digital information, and how to write about politics in an immediate manner.

It’s been a year and a half since I discovered Klein’s blog.  He’s now at the Washington Post (was formerly at the American Prospect).  I started my own humble blog with grand aspirations but humble results.  But I’ve learned in the process the importance of the United States in developing digital democracy.  It truly in the centre of an emerging movement- a movement that empowers individuals.  It make the entry point for participation very low- all one needs is access to a computer, the internet, and some literacy skills.

It’s something that is bound to make democracy more robust as it develops.  I genuinely believe this development could be one of the most important in the history of representative government (read my appeal for an Australian digital political culture here).

So I wound up at uni, originally with the intention to study exactly that development.  The MA in US Studies has proved to be far, far more than that, and better than I could have expected, but it’s nice to remember, sometimes, the history.

So if you haven’t delved into the American Political Blogosphere yet, below are a few useful links:

Ezra Klein:  My favourite.  He writes an Economic and Domestic Policy blog.  He’s incredibly good on health care.  Also on one of my favourite issues, food policy.

Matthew Yglesias:  Harvard graduate.  He has written for a range of publications, including The Atlantic.  He’s kind of a generic liberal blogger, with interests in transportation policy and foreign policy.

Andrew Sullivan:  One of the first real American political bloggers.  He’s a little bit conservative, a little bit libertarian and a little bit liberal.  Occasionally histrionic, and certainly self-important, but a genuinely significant figure in journalism.

Will Wilkinson:  A libertarian, but not a contrarian, Wilkinson’s ideas are well-thought and interesting.  He poses some interesting questions for the liberal about the legitimacy of government involvement in a range of issues.

Spencer Ackerman:  The guy has attitude, but he’s awesome.  Actually, the guy has attitude AND he’s awesome.

Glenn Greenwald:  Worried that the administration isn’t respecting your consitutional rights?  Chances are that Glenn Greenwald is too.

Bloggingheads TV:  Bloggers skype each other, record it, and talk about stuff.  It’s way more interesting than it sounds.  This is my favourite episode ever.  It’s very dated, but it still makes me think.

All USSSoc blog posts reflect the opinions of the writer, and are not reflective of the views of the USSSoc.

Don’t forget, folks, The USSSoc will be celebrating the 4th of July tomorrow, on the 4th of July. Join us from 1pm at the Australian Youth Hotel and enjoy food, drinks and a surfeit of red, white and blue decoration! More details and an official invitation can be found here

And, as a special addition to this news bulletin, the USSSoc would like you to check out this rare correspondence, which USSSoc Vice-President Dean Fernandez uncovered at the National Archives in Washington DC only very recently, between Founding Fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. “The correspondence,” Fernandez explains, “was written circa 1782-1785 when both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson served their young country overseas; Adams dispatched to the Dutch Republic to obtain loans for the Republic, and Jefferson seconded as America’s ambassador to France.

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