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June 29, 2003 Mail

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I do send out some odd email, and receive equally odd email in return.  Here I will print some of it, with, now and then, my responses.   Before I post anyone's writing, I will ask your permission to post your comments and whether I should use your name or not, or use an alias you wish to use.
Received recently -- 
Two voices from the heartland, Allen Schwartz and Bill Nichols.  The first is a narrative that shows something good at the core here in America, and the second is a cultural analysis that ends with a question I cannot answer.

Allen Schwartz is someone I know from undergraduate days, at Denison, a small college in the middle of Ohio.  I was there from September of 1965 until June of 1969 - an interesting time to be a college student. 
There was the Vietnam War.  And there was this revolution and that, some political, most cultural.  The White Album came and went.  We had the idea we were going to change the world.  And things were happening around the world.  In the spring of 1968 there was the student uprising in Paris, but in August the Soviet tanks rolled into Prague and that Velvet Revolution was over.  There was Woodstock, but then there was Altamont.  The Beatles broke apart.  We observed a decade of assasinations.  And we all went on to do what we went on to do. 
Here's Allen on now, not then.

In these dark times I am always looking for evidence that we, as a country, have moved forward in my life time, the happy inference being that perhaps our years of 60's rooted cultural activism have done some good, and perhaps some good will come.  I was recently invited to be on the founding board of a community development foundation in a small town in Southern Ohio.  While the town has a strong and prominent history of pre-civil war abolitionism, and one of the few places where Blacks and whites worked together on the underground railroad, it is in many ways a small southern town, in which there are two communities, white and Black; race mixing takes place as children and then separates, and the two communities live often separate existences.

At the meeting there were three "outsiders" and four locals.  I had noticed when I was invited that all the invitees were white and I came prepared, as I have many times before in my life, to explain why it is important to get Black folks included on the ground floor, but about midway through the agenda a young man who owns the local gas station and car wash said, "I don't know how to say this any way but directly.  We need some Black folks on this board."

Another local spoke up, "You know ten years ago we never would have even thought of that because we have no discrimination in this town.  We are colorblind."

At the end of a long ten seconds in which I was feverishly trying to figure out what I could say, and what I had the right to say, the local druggist spoke up and said,"You know, that is just wrong. We are not colorblind in this town.  We have two coexisting communities, and yes, we need to get some Black representation right away"

The resolution to find that representation immediately and unanimously passed.  Aside from my vote, the discussion proceeded without me.

Some things have changed.  There IS a god.

Bill Nichols wrote the following for the Granville, Ohio Sentinel.  Yes, Granville is where Allan and Bill and I went to college - that is where you will find Denison University.
In a previous issue there was some discussion on the "male" versus "female" elements of out political culture - see 26 May 2003 Reviews in the Books column on the left.  Here Bill gives his thoughts, and a good summary of the current situation.  And I have no answer to his last question.  I wish I did. 

Is the New Machismo Triumphant?
Machismo hasn't found it's way into my "Oxford English Dictionary," and its shortened form, the adjective macho, is defined there as a fish found off the Pacific Coast.  If we've been slow to adopt the word into English, it's probably because we've considered the aggressive masculinity it describes as something found mainly south of the border. But like killer bees and cocaine, machismo has found a solid a foothold here in the U.S.A.  When linebackers beat their chests and crow after a tackle, we cheer them on.  Basketball has become a variant of wrestling in our time with players occasionally breaking loose for a jump shot or a slam-dunk and topping it off with some in-your-face trash talk.  We love it.
When Annika Sorenstam decided to play in a PGA tournament at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, she probably thought dominating the women's tour for a few years gave her the right to see how she could do against the big boys.  A few years ago she might have been right, but that was before new machismo came to dominate our culture.  Now you get the feeling from the sullen comments made by great golfers that she would have been better off asking to use the Men's room.
But if you want to see indisputable evidence of the new machismo's apparent triumph in our society, consider our response to the war in Iraq.  We've found no weapons of mass destruction, the ostensible reason for the war.  For all we know, Saddam is now hanging out with Osama although the two of them didn't used to get along very well.  Our government made no provisions to protect priceless art works in Iraq, and they've been stolen from under our noses. 
Our leaders seem to have completely misjudged the task of restoring electricity and water in Iraq and, most importantly, order. Or we simply didn't prepare for it.  When General Jay Garner arrived in Baghdad in late April to begin rebuilding postwar Iraq, he could not be reached by telephone, had no access to email, no transportation, and no interpreters.  After a few weeks of understandable floundering, Garner was replaced by L. Paul Bremer III, who seems genuinely surprised by the predictable chaos in Iraq.  (And we seem to have turned our backs on the chaos in Afghanistan.)
In the meantime, the acts of terrorism our bombs were supposed to obliterate have increased, and there is growing evidence of successful international recruitment by terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda.  Our insistence on making war in the face of worldwide opposition will almost certainly foster more terrorism for our children and grandchildren to confront, and we seem to be further than ever from addressing the hunger, economic injustice, and health crises that feed the hatred required to sustain terrorists.
If these colossal failures in foreign policy were not enough to cause a crisis in governing, we have an economy in shambles here at home.  Public schools in the Pacific Northwest have shortened the school year to save money, a desperate response not required even during the Great Depression.  Growing numbers of people are unemployed, and the main remedy proposed by our leaders is tax relief for the wealthy. It is now government policy to squander our forests and pollute air and water for short-term corporate profits.  To top it off, we are being told to give up some of the very freedoms our young men and women are supposedly defending in Iraq.
But if we can judge by opinion polls, there is no crisis.  President Bush is about as popular as a president can hope to be.  In a society shaped by the new machismo, it is seemingly enough to be able to claim military victory, no matter how hollow. The trick is to roar onto the carrier's deck and talk trash to international terrorists.  If our leader's poll numbers begin to fall, I imagine he'll parachute presidentially onto a red, white, and blue trampoline at Ground Zero. And we'll probably love it.
How do you solve a problem like machismo?  I honestly don't know.
Published with the permission of Bill Nichols.  The Granville, Ohio Sentinel has granted him use of this text in his book.  He in turn allowed me to reprint this.