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Stateside With Rosalea: Think Big. Move Fast.

Stateside with Rosalea, Part 2

Think big. Move fast


So says the TV ad for CONOCO, whose double-hulled oil tankers are probably at this very moment hanging out at the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan waiting for that pipeline from Central Asia to arrive. Hey, maybe the Pope's going to turn the spigot while he's visiting Kazakstan this weekend!

It's so good to have commercials back - and they're so patriotic. Why, General Motors is doing its bit for the sagging economy by offering interest-free financing on its new vehicles. "The American Dream. We refuse to let anyone take it away. Believe in the dream. Believe in each other. Keep America rolling." Not that interest-free financing is any big deal in the auto market here. Ad breaks have been saturated with substantial cash-back offers and zero-percent financing for cars and SUVs for at least as long as I have been living here. And automobiles are incredibly cheap in the first place.

The US national obsession with the car worries even conservative commentators. Back on June 7, 2000 in the 'San Francisco Chronicle' Robert Ware, who conducts field research in the Caucasus and has published extensively on Islam and ethnic politics in the region, wrote: "A storm is brewing in Central Asia, and we Americans are literally driving into it." The article refers to Harvard professor Samuel Huntington's concerns about the effect of the appropriation of natural resources and of globalisation on countries where the benefits of it go to the few, while the many find themselves excluded and see their traditional life destroyed - which makes them easy converts to the conservative, often puritanical backlash against the globalising force.

During the past two weeks the only channels that continued carrying advertising were the public television stations. My secret reason for watching public television is that among the sponsor promos between each programme they screen a graphic saying "Viewers like you", which does wonders for my self-esteem. The thought that countless anonymous people are fond of me is a beacon of hope in workdays filled with countless fears that people don't like me. Why else don't they do what I want them to do? Can't they see I'm important? Isn't being important why people are liked? Sigh. I can see that already I've absorbed the fundamental insecurity of people in the US, reflected so eloquently in its foreign policy.

Of course I really watch public television because it brings me what one vox-popper in KQED's promos calls "informed information." If the notion that information could ever be "uninformed" seems oxymoronic to you, I suggest you are one prefix away from self-description. By the way, I am totally puzzled by the local CBS channel's choice of music for its vox-pop promos about "this national tragedy". Since when was 'God Save the Queen' a patriotic tune in the United States?

As an example of rampant idiocy labelled patriotism you need go no further than the comments Senator John McCain made at the memorial service for one of the people on Flight 93, which some people believe was headed for the Capitol or the White House but was crashed instead into a field in Pennsylvania by the actions of some passengers.

Don't listen to people who think the United States brought the events of September 11 on itself, he said. "Their hearts are cramped by hatred and fear." Since a large number of highly knowledgeable and respected people in the United States - from ambassadors to military affairs correspondents - have been warning for over a decade of this very fate, I think the senator should get a grip. Not only that, but he should realise that there is only one currency which can repay the "debt you incur for life" that he and other occupants of "the Great House of Democracy" in Washington owe to the humble people aboard that plane. That currency is truth. Anything less is an outright insult.

Earlier in the week a comment by Ambassador Oakley on 'Jim Lehrer's NewsHour' about the failure of sanctions in Central Asia took my thoughts back to the talk I attended in May this year - "Rediscovering the Silk Road" - given by S. Frederick Starr, Chairman of the Central Asian Studies Institute at John Hopkins University. Four hundred thousand people have died of starvation in Afghanistan in the past six months, he said, but don't despair. "It's a problem of poverty, therefore it's soluble." The tools needed to solve the problem? "A hoe and a shovel, combined with modest hillside irrigation schemes." How hard can that be?

While we're on the subject of tools, here is what Dana Priest, military affairs correspondent for 'The Washington Post' said in remarks she made to an Open Forum at the State Department in March this year. Referring to the department's underfunding and its lack of transparency to the media she said: "Is it any wonder that the public is willing to fund a new generation of precision guided missiles -- things that can fly through clouds, enter a building through a chimney, speed down three floors and not explode until it reaches the basement -- but that no one is clamoring for a new generation of precision guided diplomacy, something to replace antiquated economic sanctions which have done little to effect regime changes in Yugoslavia, Haiti, Iraq, Cuba, Afghanistan, and North Korea, but are just as certain to cause civilian casualties as the use of cluster bombs in a market square, which no one would approve of?" No doubt she didn't have the financial world's market square in New York in mind when she said that, but surely her point was all-too-sadly proven on September 11.

The most a propos quote I've come across for what's happening on the Hill at the moment actually comes from a US congressman. It refers to the passage of the joint resolution of annexation of Hawaii that was whooped through both houses on July 7, 1898 in order to protect the business interests of a couple of individuals there: "The jingo bacillus is indefatiguable in its work."

I wonder, wonder whose payroll it's on.

Lea Barker
Berkeley, California
Sunday 23 September 2001

For the transcripts of Priest's speech and Ambassador Oakley's comments on it go to

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