Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Musings: Whole Lot of Nothing

What a marvelous morning it was, with a soft red-gold sunrise that touched everything with a fleeting, rosy alpenglow. As I basked in that brief and special light, and Koko ran wild circles the way she likes to do, the finest little rain began to gently fall. And just as we returned to the house, it began to pour in earnest, giving a moist, fresh start to the day.

I like to get up and out early, because I never know what I’m going to find, much as I never know how people are going to respond to each day’s blog post.

Yesterday’s post drew a whole slew of comments, many from people who have never commented before, and I was impressed by the numerous thoughtful proposals and intriguing views. (One exception is Doug Carlson, who in his comment wrote: “Since I'm the subject of much that's written in today's post and comments, let me weigh in.” Huh? Guess it's typical of a PR man to have an exaggerated sense of importance.)

At any rate, it’s clear from the comments that most people are aware that even as the information age continues to wildly expand, they’re still getting a whole lot of nothing. And they’re not happy about it.

A whole lot of nothing seems to characterize so much of the modern age: the abundant processed food that’s nearly devoid of nutrition; the “goods” sold at Wal-Mart that are essentially trash in waiting; the political rhetoric that sounds great, but ultimately goes nowhere.

Even the American dream, as it’s currently served up to the poorest and most desperate of immigrants, is proving to be a whole lot of nothing, as a really heart-wrenching story on Democracy Now! revealed yesterday.

The story actually starts some five decades ago, when the U.S. (at the urging of United Fruit Co.) sponsored a coup against Guatemala’s democratically elected president, Jacobo Arbenz Guzm├ín, which put an end to land reform and led to the beginning of a military regime. From there, we went on to spend millions of dollars helping to train and equip the Guatemalan Army to carry out its brutal, repressive regime, including the use of death squads.

As a result, we now we have a country of about 10 million people, most of them desperately poor, especially the indigenous Mayan Indians. Worried about how they’re possibly going to feed their families, the thoughts of some turn north, to America. Surely, in that land of incredible wealth and abundance, they can earn a pittance that will help their families survive.

And so, as Democracy Now! recounted in its report, some of those desperate Guatemalans entered the U.S. without the proper documentation. One man walked all the way, alone, across Mexico, and slipped across the American border.

Some of them banded together and header further north, to Postville, Iowa, where work was available in a meat packing plant. And why was it available? Because it’s the kind of crappy, low-paying, injury-inducing work that Americans don’t want to do. And then on May 12, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested some 400 of them, in what was touted as “the largest immigration raid in US history.”

So they’re carted off to jail and quickly processed through on plea bargains that most don’t fully understand and many are ordered to spend five months in jail before they are deported.

Erik Camayd-Freixas, a professor and Spanish-language court interpreter who was flown into Iowa for the trial, is the one who broke the story, explaining the incredible hardships endured by these people and how “every waking hour they would be consumed by the worry as to whether their family was going to make it, as to whether any of their children was going to make it that day. And on top of that, they would have to carry the burden of having failed their families."

With no money or support coming in for five months, they worried, rightly, about what will happen to the family members back home — to those who are waiting in a land that was headed for the kinds of land and social reforms that could have eased their misery until America stepped in and quashed it because one of our corporations didn’t like it.

Professor Camayd-Freixas, in describing one interview with a man who wept throughout the entire session, because he was the sole provider for his wife, children, mother and sister, said:

And one of the burdens of the interpreter is that in order to really be able to interpret accurately and convey the meaning and the spirit of the meaning that each person says, you really have to put yourself in their place. You have to become them, so to speak. And when I became this man, so I could interpret for him accurately, I was placed in the position that he was in, and I found it, quite frankly, to be an intolerable burden.

Yet day in and day out, we as a nation are forcing people to bear those intolerable burdens. First, we thwart their attempts to achieve democracy and land reform, then when conditions get so bad that they come to the U.S. to work the crappiest imaginable jobs for low pay, we arrest them and put them in jail, prolonging the misery of them and their families. In short, we're continually screwing with people's lives to support our own selfish political and economic interests.

Oh yes, America’s particular brand of "cultural melting pot, land of the free, home of the brave, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, liberty and justice for all" rhetoric sounds so good. But the minute you start scratching into the disgustingly dirty real history of this nation, you quickly learn that all that patriotic mumbo jumbo is just a whole lot of nothing.


JIM LOOMIS said...

I note your slap at PR people in general and Doug Carlson in particular. There are, of course, good and bad in all professions, including both PR practitioners and journalists. Doug has many years of print and broadcast journalism among his credits and is trusted and respected by all who have dealt with him in any capacity. That said, in my experience it's always the couldn't-cut-it, second rate 'journalists' who sneer at PR people.

Katy said...

Thank you so much for this posting, Joan.

As one for whom questions of immigration have been central to my understanding of social justice, I appreciate the way you start from a position of human compassion.

As far as I am concerned, that's the only way to enter this discussion. And it must then be followed by a realistic analysis of the oppressive role the US has played in the global south, helping to create the miserable conditions so many are forced to flee.

Anonymous said...

> ...in my experience it's always the couldn't-cut-it, second rate 'journalists' who sneer at PR people. <

In all the world there isn't enough sneer to go around for PR people: practitioners of the manipulation of the many for the gain of the few.

Anonymous said...

Let's see, you take a swipe at a guy (getting his name wrong in the process), then make fun of his "exaggerated sense of importance" when he defends himself. Must be those wonderful "professional journalist standards and ethics" at work. Thanks for the lesson!

Anonymous said...

some people forget that they too are PR folks (or pukes, depending on their view) esposing any issue(s) they promote in their blogs.

Joan and Katy are PR folks/pukes for consistant rhetoric on the themes of their choice.

Merely doing a blog with consistant topical focus makes you a PR person/puke.

Only the commenters are not.

Anonymous said...


anyone standing on a real or virtual soapbox and crowing out at the world is doing PR for their chosen point of view.

Anonymous said...

But if you do a blog without a "theme", you are not a PR person/puke since you are not consistantly pushing a particular point of view.

Like a blog about scuba diving or photography, etc...as long as you don't say, for example, that Nikon is king and all else is garbage, etc.

Anonymous said...

Charlie's blog isn't a PR tool since he covers broad topics and doesn't promote one side over the other, when sides are apparent.

Well, maybe he promotes wine over quality craft-brewed beer, but nobody's perfect.

Anonymous said...

> Joan and Katy are PR folks/pukes for consistant rhetoric on the themes of their choice.

Merely doing a blog with consistant topical focus makes you a PR person/puke. <

Joan and Katy are PR people.

Okay, tell the truth... you're the guy from a couple weeks ago who posted that the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy and the American Revolution were the same thing, right?

Anonymous said...

A man walks into the office of a newly established public relations consultant. Wanting to impress his first client, the PR consultant picks up the telephone and says, "I'm sorry, but I have a tremendous workload at the moment and I won't be able to look after your campaign for at least a month."
He hangs up, turns to the client and asks, "What can I do for you, sir?"
"Nothing," replies the man. "I'm just here to hook up your phone."


A doctor, an engineer and a public relations consultant are arguing about which was the oldest profession.
The doctor says God created Eve from Adam's rib -- clearly a surgical procedure.
The engineer says before God created Adam and Eve, He created order from chaos -- clearly an engineering feat.
The PR man says, "Yeah, but who do you think created the chaos in the first place?"


A mathematician, an accountant and a PR consultant all apply for the same job with a large company.
The interviewer calls in the mathematician and asks, "What does two plus two equal?"
The mathematician replies, "Four point zero."
The interviewer calls in the accountant and asks the same question, "What does two plus two equal?"
The accountant says, "On average, four -- give or take 10 per cent."
The interviewer calls in the PR consultant and asks the same question, "What does two plus two equal?"
The PR consultant locks the door, closes the shade, sits down next to the interviewer and smiles, "Well, what do you want it to equal?"


Ed Coll said...

PR is propaganda. That's why the father of PR Edward Bernay called his seminal 1928 book "Propaganda."

Bernays wrote "In theory, every citizen may vote for whom he pleases. Our Constitution does not envisage political parties as part of the mechanism of government, and its framers seem not to have pictured to themselves the existence in our national politics of anything like the modern political machine. But the American voters soon found that without organization and direction their individual votes, cast, perhaps, for dozens of hundreds of candidates, would produce nothing but confusion. Invisible government, in the shape of rudimentary political parties, arose almost overnight. Ever since then we have agreed, for the sake of simplicity and practicality, that party machines should narrow down the field of choice to two candidates, or at most three or four.
In theory, every citizen makes up his mind on public questions and matters of private conduct. In practice, if all men had to study for themselves the abstruse economic, political, and ethical data involved in every question, they would find it impossible to come to a conclusion about anything."

Of course mass communication media outlets hold this all together but is beginning to show serious signs of coming apart like a cheap suit as the net Balkenizes and fragments people into different virtual worlds. Can anarchy save us from chaos? Stay tuned!

Anonymous said...

First of all, Joan didn't take a swipe at him in yesterday's post, she was just pointing out, in true Charley fashion, what others had said about him. Oops, did I just take a swipe at Charley? Sorry old chap.

Then she does have a point because she only mentions him once, and one comment mentions him to correct the name. And she was honest about showing her mistake with the name, she could've edited the post and deleted the comment and you would've never known. Given that context, "exaggerated sense of importance" is an accurate assessment of "I'm the subject of much that's written in today's post and comments" Plus it's rather kind, I would've said 6th grade reader. Oops, there I go again.

That's an easy jab, and even easier under the guise of anonymity. I was just going to say I don't know Doug, so I really mean it all tongue in cheek. But then I read his blog where he really dishes it out himself, especially with the whole big-tent/sideshow metaphor. So I would say he has a character in his writing that seems to provoke responses (all the better for readership, not coincidentally).

As a side comment, Doug seems to be a blogger first, then a PR person. But I've noticed also that blogging gives some people an exaggerated sense of importance. Unless it's just that people like that are attracted to blogging and PR work.

Just so Doug doesn't bash me too hard, I love the idea of rail, but when you see how it's been implemented in the US, there is reason to be weary of the whole process. Then again, the inefficiencies and klunkiness are often the result of compromise with the large segment of people who oppose it.

Bloggers as PR people? Everyone is PR?

PR == public relations == paid representation

I'm sure Joan would love it if some rich liberal were paying her to advocate for progressive measures through her blog, but somehow I doubt that's why she writes.

Did someone mention Guatemala? You'd think this whole thread is about Doug.

Joan Conrow said...

Thank you, Katy and Watchdog, for noticing that the post was really about Guatemala and our nation's immigration policies. I'm sorry no one had any thoughts on that subject.

And thank you also, Watchdog, for observing in Monday's comments that my blog is my personal opinion. It is not journalism. I try to uphold certain journalistic standards, such as accuracy and honoring off the record requests, and sometimes there's original reporting. But it not journalism. It's a blog. And the two, as I noted in Monday's post, are very different.

Anonymous said...

like i said following watchdogs comment on monday's post: if blogs are just personal opinions and not journalism, they should not be offered legal protection given to traditional/professional journalists.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:46, this thread is about swipes and paid bloggers. The other thread was about paid bloggers and journalistic rights and responsibilities. Go read the responses over there.

Re: Guatemala, Joan, it's just a huge topic, and having read the cannon, in particular the Book(s) of Zinn, I'm part of the choir anyways. All I need is the t-shirt with the photo of Geronimo that says "Homeland Security, fighting terrorism since 1492." The ruthless nature of American "manifest destiny" and imperialism can and has filled volumes, not to mention graves.