Saturday, October 6, 2007

What Our History Books Will Tell Us...

Is this man waiting outside for a bus?

I remember many years back during my high school days reading one of our "history" books about the completion of the United States transcontinental railroad system and seeing a very revealing photograph. No, not pornographic in the literal sense. Amongst a group of railway men crowded around two counter posed steam engine locomotives one man in the center can clearly be seen holding his fist aloft in accomplished victory.

What our history book had shown us wasn't exactly the truth.

You see, in the original photograph the man is actually holding a whiskey bottle. In the "doctored history lesson" version the bottle had been conveniently air-brushed out.

The un-retouched photograph looks like this:

1869 Completion of America's first transcontinental railroad
Promontory, Utah "Golden Spike Ceremony"

The bottle has been returned to the man's hand here and thank goodness; he was probably pretty thirsty after working all those years on that railway line!

The board of education at the time most likely assumed that showing a man holding up a bottle, presumably containing an alcoholic beverage, would somehow adversely effect a young adult's ability to make responsible choices. They had to "protect" us.

Thanks, but no thanks.

As I've watched the discourse in this country dissolve into some sort of primal simian screaming match over the last six years it is clear to me, and it has always been clear to me, that I like my information straight-up, no rocks (in the head), no salt (in the wounds).

I cannot stomach any commercial media news anymore (I rely on my old colleagues at NPR via the open airways every now and again for my News) especially television "news"; it is unbearable to watch. TV news contains nothing but tailored information and sensationalized brouhaha. It is a wonderful place for people with no opinion, or no original thought, to go mine their information from for their next cocktail hour conversation about social and political issues (e.g. - "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP!" -- Bill O'Reilly, Fox News).

CNN used to be valuable to me. Now, if I ever want to see how Britney Spears is doing in fighting against her own compounding irrelevance: "CNN is there for YOU!"

Pardon my 'Freedom Fries' but ... ahem... FUCK. YOU.

After a recent conversation and email exchanges with a friend of mine in the U.S. Military (an F-15 pilot who was assigned to patrol the skies over New England right after September 11th and who has seen combat action in Iraq) we discovered, quite surprisingly, that we share nearly the exact same social views - me being far more moderate than he might have once believed and vice-versa (Moderatism: the new chic Radicalism?).

My friend shouldn't be so surprised we agree on so many things.

After all we both grew up in the same country (yes, let the court records show he from the South and me from the Northeast...) and for awhile the same neighborhood. I was a bit more "radical" as a youth certainly but I have never been "anti-military" like he seems to suspect. My brother, Mike, was air force, for one, and I'm sure as hell not anti-Mike because of that fact. I also 'get' that countries are only doing what countries do to protect their own sovereignty. Not me condoning brash, thoughtless aggression but this is what we do as humans in independent collectives.

Don't forget...I'm a "sports fan"; we do a lot of irrational things.

My point being certain political figures would have my F-15 pilot friend and myself as mortal enemies. Indeed, I am not happy with the situation in Iraq. But due to irreversible circumstances the guys with guns gots to be there!

I do not value my friend or his points of view any less because he is in a conflict I am having trouble understanding and believing in. He, however, must believe in what he believes for his own physical and psychological survival and, undoubtedly now, ours, too. That's a good thing, ultimately, because I know he's a smart guy and that he sees the world from multiple different angles at the same time.

He is like me; he wants to get the whole picture.

What worries me is that he might think that I was ever "against him" because he serves the federal government and I once served public radio. Current rationale, nay Conventional Wisdom, would have it that the two entities are mortal enemies entwined in a battle of wills (progressive v. conservative), the victor the one who overcomes the other a la 'Survivor' : Out think, out wit, out live! Or, how ever the foolish branding tag line goes...

Here is where getting the facts right is essential. We Americans can be told a number of things by a lot of outside and differing sources (forces?). I'm finding that none of the information media conglomerates and government pundits are telling me float with my own 'reality t.v.' I must be very careful now of deception. We must all be very careful of deception - even, and especially, if we want to believe it.

I am not buying the whole 'with us or against us' mentality and never will either. That's what's known in some circles as a very scary form of 'Nationalism' (read your un-doctored history books, kids, and see where that gets a country). This 'us v. them' position, in many cases, has even managed undoing the average American family household with its winless and opinionated bickering (oh, the irony with all of those family values messages so in vogue right now!).

I stopped picking arguments with people over 'political disagreements' because I no longer see the point in having these debates. I am not in government nor do I hold any position of power (anymore...) to change the current state of affairs - except perhaps with how I manage my consumer dollars. It is, in my view, energy better spent doing rather than debating.

I like my F-15 pilot friend for who he is. Hell, I like my F-15 pilot friend because he's a damn good pilot and despite the ramifications of the situation in Iraq he's the guy who's now responsible for keeping all this shit from completely going to pot.

I admire and respect that.

So, to the rest of you who are trying to win my heart and my mind over to whatever cause you're wearing on your own sleeves, left or right, don't bother; I like the facts that I'm finding all by my lonesome just fine.

As for my friends and family? You don't own me there either; I like them exactly the way they are already.

Now, would somebody get this guy a drink.

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