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23 March
someone else (room for debate)
link : thoughts (1) : track it (2) : in generally political stuff

I hate major political events.

They worry me.

Specifically in the sense of this: when politics go grand-scale, it seems like ambivalence - the acceptance that one does not know and can see validity in multiple perspectives - becomes unacceptable.

This is the thing that worries me most about this Iraq war. Its opposition and support are on such a global scale that it seems there's no room to question either opinion; you support one or the other, or you're "ignorant", "apathetic", "oppressed", any number of epithets that may or may not be true.

Is it impossible to see both sides of a grand issue?

I don't think so. But I also don't think there's room in this debate for my opinion, or for the opinions of millions of others who just aren't sure. And neither side is actually engaged in debate, from what I've seen. There are people moving forward on one opinion (roughly stated as "America Kicks Ass") and people shouting another (also, roughly, "Give Peace A Chance"). I apologize for trivializing your opinions, but please - it's just not that simple.

Nothing is that simple.

The war "debate", if you'd like to call two sides shouting into microphones that, has also brought out two dramatic stereotypes of what it means to be American. And both are so simplistic, so offensive in nature and intent, that they make me want to weep as much as images of explosions in an Iraqi dawn.

We have, of course, the now well-known governmental and media slant on things. War on Iraq is not only a way to defend ourselves - nay, the world! - against potential terrorists with potential weapons, it's also about Protecting American Freedom. Iraqi Freedom! World Freedom! All Americans are Heroes. All soldiers are Heroes. It goes on and on and on. Surely it must be exhausting to repeat this litany of the greatness of America?

I have a series of WWII propaganda posters in my hall. They're narrow-minded to an extent (they're Rosie-the-Riveter sorts of things), but I find them somewhat reassuring. A nation steeling itself for war can appear to be a nation of small-minded idiots, but that isn't necessarily the character of the nation.

I worry sometimes that to be liberal, to be progressive in our modern world, is to essentially hate humans. To look at war, say "this is human" and "this is appalling" and to equate those two statements. To feel humans are appalling. This is extended in our current "debate": now, not only are humans appalling, but Americans who fail to come out against the war are "apathetic", meaning brainwashed by the machine of capitalism. Meaning we don't read, don't investigate, don't question.

I strongly believe that most educational systems in [the English-speaking, at least] world fail to equip people with the tools they need to be effective learners and critical thinkers. I suspect that mass-produced education is inherently flawed and aspects of the media support these flaws by delivering information in the most simplistic ways possible.

But those of you who work in bookstores and libraries (a common liberal occupation for our generation) know, fall 2001 showed a huge spike in the number of copies of the Qu'ran, books about Islam, books about Afghanistan, sold and read in America. And we've seen an increase in sales of books about the Middle East and its history in the past six months. What this means is that Americans, lacking an effective means of mass distribution of this information (a gap that exists in most countries), are still trying to figure things out. For every person who simply accepts on perspective or another on war, there's someone else who won't do that.

Thank god for someone else.

There are, of course, stupid Americans. There are stupid everythings. But there is always someone else. And as someone else, I will at least do this much to question the validity of this war - and, now that it's started, what comes after.

 

21 March
yellow ribbon
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If someone offers you a yellow ribbon today. Take it.

Don't take it because you believe that to be a patriot means to unquestioningly accept a Commander in Chief, whoever he may be.

Don't take it because you're for or against war in Iraq.

Don't even take it because you care about the life(ves) of a particular soldier or soldiers who are just doing their jobs.

Take it because, even if you don't have someone you love fighting in a war or living in the midst of one, if you did, you'd feel a little better seeing yellow ribbons and knowing they weren't ignored. Because you, whatever your situation, care. [I'm trying not to sound like a television commercial for sick kids, impoverished kids, kids on drugs, etc. - but I might be failing]

I haven't talked much about war because, unlike a lot of my fellow liberal bloggers, I'm not sure this one is wrong. I'm not sure it's right, either. But I do think it's possible that something done the wrong way and for the wrong reasons might turn out to have been the right thing to do after all.

I haven't talked about the war, but I can't help feeling strongly about the people who are active participants. The soldiers and civilians who have a perspective on war that I, as an American who doesn't exactly hang out in war-torn countries, simply do not have.

So, yeah. I have a yellow ribbon making whipping noises off my car antenna. You should, too.

 

19 March
i started a webring
link : thoughts (2) : track it (0) : in fat & health stuff

I started another webring (something I haven't done in ages). What happened was this: I went looking for webrings that represented some of the things I am.

And there weren't really any that expressed my attitude towards size and substance. This strikes me as really rather odd - I mean, there's this whole fat activist movement out there and only a handful of rings for them. Most of the rings that do exist seem to be "chubby chaser" sorts of things. Fine for you, but not really what I'm about.

So, I started this ring. It's called "person of size", and it's for people of any size who are active proponents of size acceptance. You should join it. [And you can find it here: person of size.]

 

18 March
feminist men, part two: bad boys
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This is a continuation of my response to the collab topic for this week. Sometimes I just don't have the patience to write everything I'm thinking.

One should not assume that the entirety of the South is populated by well-mannered men with an unhealthy fixation on chivalry.

It's not.

I may have known a lot of good boys, but I've also known some fabulously bad ones. Not boys who are evil exactly, just with the capacity to break rules. To question, even undermine, authority.

but wait! there's more »


 

17 March
feminist men, part one: good boys
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On We Have Brains this week, Roni's getting everyone to talk about the men and boys they know.

I don't think I know a man whom I don't consider, to some extent, a feminist. Unless you want to include the guy who was trolling around the collab a week or two ago talking about the men we bring down and child support and how he's very, very angry. Because feminists are bad and women are increasingly in prison. [I don't think this stuff up, I just report it.]

A feminist is someone who believes men and women should be equal in the sense of legal, social and economic choices. I would say equal in every way, but not everyone agrees with me on that. There are plenty of people (feminist and not) who include an element of biological determinism in their idea of sex/gender. I don't agree with those people, but that doesn't exclude them from feminism. It doesn't even exclude them from going to the movies with me on a Friday night.

I'm choosing to address this in two parts, equating to the two traditions of boyishness I've known.

but wait! there's more »


 

16 March
participating in a research project
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I started writing out my response to Jordynn's research questions (posed to the WHB contributors), but then I figured... why not post them here? [I'll finish this post as I have time to answer the remaining questions.]

Online Identity & Community
What attracted you to WHB?
When I started the site (in 2002), I was really looking for a way to share opinions and to have an opportunity to challenge my own feminist leanings with others'.

As a feminist in a relatively conservative town, I found myself serving as a representative for all feminists. My typical feminist debate focused on me trying to educate others or convince them that feminism is still valid. They might have learned, but I didn't. That's not to say that interaction wasn't valuable - I still feel that nearly anyone who actually thinks about what feminism means will recognize him/herself as a feminist - but it's also important to refine your own opinions by learning from others who differ in some respects, but know where you're coming from.

I tried starting a webzine (in late 2000), but it felt like a solo effort most of the time. Zine submissions from others don't foster conversation the way that blogs can - because they're so immediate.

What kinds of people do you think are attracted to WHB?
The one commonality that WHB participants seem to share is that they already identify as feminists. They're also primarily women, though the site was never intended to exclude men. Initially, the lack of male participants bothered me - but then I realized, the accidental femaleness of the site also creates a sense of sisterhood for me, and probably for others. It's not all bad. Not to say men wouldn't still be very much welcomed. ;)

Do you feel like you assume a different identity, or shape your identity in different ways when you write online? (i.e. do you feel like you can be more assertive, or more outgoing? Can you share parts of yourself that you might not reveal in ěRLî?)
When I first ventured into online journalling a few years ago, I did assume another identity. I was a little more aggressive and political than in my daily life. It helped me discover my inner soapbox. I'd always been inclined towards dispassionate debate, but I discovered a streak of self-righteousness that I've become fond of.

I found over time that I incorporated those things into my daily life as a result of "putting them on" online. That, combined with a shift in employment (now I work for a company that wouldn't care about my online presence), led me to drop the facade, for the most part. I don't feel there's much I couldn't just express as myself. [I should add, though, that I speak mostly in opinions; very few of the daily events of my life are posted to my site.]

Has blogging or WHB changed how you think about yourself?
I mentioned above the shift from dispassionate observer to quasi-demagogue. That was definitely a big shift as a result of blogging. A large part of that was others' reactions to me.

In addition to the learning opportunities presented by people who agree with you, the blog community creates the potential to find others who will see your opinions and say "Hell yes!". Take that, plus the sense of respect for each other that builds between people of like minds and different voices, and you begin to have a sense of your opinions as more valid. I think that's why so many people have started blogging - the potential for recognition by kindred spirits.

What kinds of relationships have you been able to form online in the blogsphere?
For the most part, I've formed transient friendships. When I first started journalling, everyone I met online seemed brilliant, fabulous, like the best friend I might wish for. You can form attachments based on very limited information very quickly. But. People stop journalling temporarily, or their sites go in a different direction, and you don't have as much in common.

Most of the longer relationships I've made online have been intellectual - formed based on respect for someone's opinions, writing style, what little they share about their life. In that context, you know you're only getting this disembodied voice, but that voice can still be very important.

I have, however, met one on my netfriends in person (and attempted to meet one other), and I have a handful of others who know more specifics about what's actually going on in my life.

Do you find it easier to ěspeak outî when you write online? Have you encountered any barriers to speaking out, forming relationships or communicating in the ěblogosphereî?
There's a lot of talk about sexism in the blogosphere recently (a lot of it from women bloggers who wouldn't call themselves feminists), but when I started blogging, I ended up in a community filled with supportive people who seem to really respect each others' opinions - so my experience is different from some of the women who've participated in the "boys' club" environment of techbloggers (bloggers who focus on technology topics).

An interesting side note to this: I've noticed a tendency in myself to assume other bloggers are like me, more or less. This means, primarily, that I assume a female sex if not told otherwise. I thought many of those "blogelite" guys' sites were published by women for quite awhile.

Blogging tends to skip over the basic pleasantries that allow you to get to know someone closely. That's both an advantage (you get straight to the discussion) and a disadvantage (you don't form close friendships based on those discussions). And of course, there's the communication factor - without the nuance of voice and body language, you can misunderstand others pretty easily. I've had several episodes of that - and probably alienated some people who might have been friends as a result.

One of the other common complaints about blogging is the tendency for like bloggers to gather. The theory being: if only like bloggers interact, they're not actually sharing opinions beyond saying "of course" and "hell yeah" to each other. I disagree - you are generally more likely to understand and respond to a slightly (or even wildly) different opinion that comes from someone you share some background with than with someone whose experiences are foreign. No blogging community is completely homogenous.

What have you learned from being involved in WHB? How has it affected your life?
I think I've refined a lot of my opinions based on what the other participants' share. For instance, while I haven't necessarily changed my opinions on these topics, I now at least understand where anti-porn feminists are coming from, or why one might think men couldn't be feminists.

I also feel more like a part of the greater feminist community because I have the give and take of the collab. If you're in an area where you don't have an active feminist organization, or if you just don't have time to participate, it's nice to know that there are other similar-thinking people out there.

Writing, Technology & Collaboration
How do you write for the collab or for your blog? (i.e. do you write a draft first, go back and revise, etc.?) How has blogging changed how you think about writing?
I've never been a draft-writing person. I type my collab entries straight into my blog tool. I do, however, add postscripts occasionally (say, if the comments I receive spark a new idea or highlight a need for clarification).

Journalling - which is different, more personal than simply blogging, in my mind - shifted my perspective on writing somewhat. I've discovered that I care much more about style than clarity when reading someone else's journal, and that the writing I'm most proud of is the most abstracted, imagistic side of my journal. Blogging, though - well, the act of blogging is just a means; it's not about the writing so much as the opinions that get written. I have a set of blogs I read for their opinions, their clarity of thought; I also have a set of journals I read simply for the experience of reading. The two sets appeal to completely different aspects of me, the reader. I'm not certain if this split-personality reading style is something I would have thought about before I started blogging/journalling online.

Is there something about blogging thatís different from other forms of writing or communication? Does it change how you communicate?
The differentiation between blogging and journalling is interesting here. I journal as if I have no audience, and even find it irritating sometimes when my audience doesn't "get it". The webjournal is one of the internet's great ironies.

I find, conversely, that I'm likely to directly address my audience in the context of my blog: you know, "What do you think?" - because blogging is, to me, all about debate and exchange.

I find myself unconsciously slipping into rhetorical form in blogging opinions: posing a question (implicitly seeking a response), following it up with background information, and drawing a conclusion. I never used to write, or debate, this way. But there's something about the exchange of blogging that makes me want to draw the audience along, allow them to draw their own conclusions: it wouldn't be any fun if we weren't all trying to figure things out together.

How do collaborative blogs like WHB connect personal and political action? Do they enable feminist action in ways that might not be available otherwise?
To an extent, yes. The value of blogging, to me, is its power to create a community out of empty space. People end up building relationships out of common causes, and digging deeper into political issues as a result of friendships they make. Of course, this happens in the day-to-day world away from the internet - but the internet enables this to happen quickly and over great distances.

 

11 March
learning about women's history
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I posted this week's We Have Brains topic after musing quite a bit. Ironically, I left off a key part of my topic that actually kicked off the idea - one borrowed from a suggestion eris made a while ago.

I meant to talk about not just history, but things you might wish you'd been given, gifts or information. But the topic morphed as I wrote. Well, I'll save the rest for later.

What was the most important thing you've learned about women's history?
What do you wish you'd been taught that you had to find out for yourself?
And finally, how does that apply to where you/we are today?

Rev already said what I wanted to say on the first one: that it existed.

More specifically, that there was a history of women not serving merely as helpmeets and icons of grace and loveliness. A lot of American history textbooks are aimed at teaching children to be some state politician's idea of Good Americans. Unfortunately, that doesn't just mean we leave things out of textbooks: we revise history entirely. Of course, I've talked about that already, and James Loewen does a better job of grounding this assertion than I could do in a single blog post. Read his book, Lies My Teacher Told Me for more.

Part of what your history textbook insinuated, for girls, was what made a good female American. Thus, you get Helen Keller, blind wild child transformed into docile activist for teaching blind people to read, and not, say - Helen Keller, feminist, communist, and so-called enemy of the people. Textbook-brand history glorifies the woman as support figure, homemaker, first lady, sewer of flags. [That's "person who sews flags", not "place where flags go when flushed down the toilet", mind you.]

This is not, by the way, a slight on the good people like Cinnamon who help write those textbooks. It is an unabashed dig at the bureaucratic process by which curricula and textbooks are selected in each state.

And this "good girl" quality doesn't just appear in textbooks. It was in all those little biographies, with series titles like "Young Patriots" and "Young Americans". The ones with the photos of faces superimposed on illustrations, remember those? I happened upon a handful of these at a thrift store when I was in college; it's surprising how pronounced the gender stereotypes were.

I read a lot as a child. I consumed a lot of these sorts of things. Things I wish no one had taught me.

I've also read the Standards of Learning in my state. I worry that those things are still being taught. Or rather, insinuated.

The most important thing I learned about women's history is that it existed. And I learned that on my own.

I had a series of excellent history teachers, too. One who put ancient history and all the civilizations into context, helped us to see how threads of each are visible today. One who laid Vietnam, school desegregation and the big bang theory side-by-side as a total picture of American adolescence. One who laid out for us the history of blacks in America from slavery through Malcolm X and tied it into McCarthyism.

Not one of those excellent teachers pointed out that ancient Crete may have been matriarchal, that the nascent women's movement was a sister to - and in some ways a splinter group of - abolitionism, that there was a whole branch of feminism associated with 1960's peace movements or that lesbian separatists and the Black Panthers might have had some things in common (or even that lesbian separatists existed).

What do I think this means today?

One of the advantages of not being taught things you should have been taught is that you begin to suspect education. To question what you are told. This is true, at least, if you find things out later.

There are ways beyond teaching to learn this trait and to learn the things no one taught you. Most of us probably get it from college, but the beauty of modern media is that you can now also learn about women's history, black history, Indian history - from the media. Even, a little, from pop culture.

I think, despite anything schools may teach about being American, that learning to critique what you're told is a key part of citizenship. It would be grand to teach that in schools, because not every kid responds to "girl power" by seeking more to learn, not every kid goes to college, not every kid reads Loewen, but every kid grows up into someone who ought to vote.

 

08 March
macguyver fondue
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I fell in love with a fondue restaurant last fall. This is a problem - fondue restaurants are expensive, and we can only afford to eat at this place for special occasions.

So, awhile ago we bought a cheap pot for meat fondue, which also led me to discover a great, inexpensive way to do chocolate fondue.

Ingredients: chocolate chips (slightly fancy ones, like Ghiradelli, are best - but even generic ones will do), a splash of some sort of liquer, and something to dip in your chocolate.

Put a small ceramic bowl in half a pot of water on your stove. The bowl needs to not be floating in the water, but still be at least 1/4 submerged. Heat until the bottom of your bowl is uncomfortably hot to the touch, then pour in chocolate chips. Add liquer (amaretto fades into the chocolate chips nicely, but just about anything will do, depending on what flavor you want to add). Stir slowly but constantly until chocolate is melted. Your "fondue" will stay melted for about 15 minutes - eat fast!

 

07 March
je projette des vacances
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We're planning a trip to Manhattan later in the spring. I've been collecting random things I want to do and then losing them, while I have this perfectly lovely website that I could be using instead.

So, read on only if you're curious about what I like to do on vacation. It's not exciting, I suspect, if you're not me.

but wait! there's more »


 

office, streets of paris - same difference
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I walked into work today with Colm Wilkinson singing in my head.

one day more!
another day, another destiny.

You know you're a tad overworked when Friday takes on the drama of revolution. Ah.

And when you think about it, a lot of my job (serving as a sort of ombudsman) is all about hearing the people sing, singing the songs of angry men. My coworkers and our customers will not be slaves again.

 

05 March
sexism where it don't belong
link : thoughts (2) : track it (0) : in feministy stuff

Kerri's talking on href="http://www.wehavebrains.com/archives/000143.html">We Have Brains this week about internalized sexism. I think, given Kerri's own interpretation of the subject (very insightful and a little incendiary, go read), that she's talking about two things: sexism in the groups we fight alongside, and sexism in ourselves.

Many feminists are also politically liberal. Many would argue that a feminist political agenda is inherently a liberal one. To an extent, I agree - I mean, I don't feel you can really be defending choice for women if you don't defend choice for all women - and that means you have to think about welfare, sex, a lot of social issues, from a liberal angle. But. I don't think a fiscally conservative or libertarian viewpoint are inherently counter to feminism. Nor do I think liberalism need equal feminism.

So, when we talk about "enlightened" people and assume that to be liberal/progressive/activist, it limits the definition of enlightenment. Politically speaking. Is it inherently less enlightened to be hawkish? To not claim a feminist identity? I'm not sure.

Blah blah blah - enlightenment is in the eye of the beholder, essentially.

Most people - I believe this strongly - would actually understand and accept feminism if they were served it properly. That doesn't mean there aren't barriers to their understanding - not at all. People come with a thousand biases they pick up along the way. People are, often, stupid. That is - they don't fully consider or research their opinions and what they believe to be their knowledge. We all do this.

People are also entitled to opinions. Even the ones I don't like.

But. I still find aspects of various movements frustrating. Like the issue I mentioned awhile ago about the Green Party - I failed to add that the party was also dominated (locally) by twenty-four-year-old white men from liberal, economically safe worlds. I haven't seen a lot of concern for women and, more importantly, various ethnic and educational backgrounds - the key to a solid grassroots movement. There is a certain elitism to radical organizations and activism - the very ability to be radical is seen as something of a privilege in modern political action. This bothers me more than sexist implications.

The anti-war movement currently buzzing around has also been guilty of a fair share of sexism. I've mentioned, and will continue to be irked by, the perception [by any group] that women would rule more justly, more peacefully, simply better. I do not believe that men and women are different enough for this to be true. Claiming women are more peaceful, more concerned for others, more diplomatic - while touching and sweet - also defines limits on acceptable, womanly behavior: to be hawkish is to fail at womanliness, if you listen to some of the mailing lists who started sending me stuff a few months ago.

It's not uncommon, even today, for such trivializing attitudes towards women's "betterness" to be loudly touted in feminist, fat activist, environmentalist, and peace-making groups. Again, being any of those things (except feminist, one would suppose) doesn't necessarily mean you're hip to the latest feminist discourse.

And yes, women or men who speak up against this can face accusations of being naysayers, of clouding the more important issues with details - we may, in fact, be doing just that - but that doesn't mean we don't need people to step up on these things. I'd argue the opposite. It's important for anyone who sees an injustice to speak to it, to take action against it as much as possible.

We have to speak out until we're the majority.

Personal sexism is more challenging. Because what one person defines as sexism is what another defines as empowerment.

Take, for instance, the idea of pornography. I think the issue of pornography about allowing sexual choice. Others think it's about reclaiming the way we think about sex to make women no longer the primary sex object, a commodity. My perspective is doubtless interpreted as sexism by anti-porn feminists, and I've been heard to call them anti-sex and anti-woman.

I feel much the same way about the traditionally feminine trappings of makeup and girly clothes. They're a choice you can make, in full [or partial] understanding of the cultural implications and irony of wearing an apron and pearls. But there are radical perspectives that would argue a need to eliminate those things, since they have all these cultural implications that we can't get past. Choice may be radical or conciliatory.

Who is right?

We are.

There's the problem. Whose opinion is ultimately the result of years of cultural pressure? Who has grown beyond the limits of cultural stereotypes? The truth is - both.

Of course, there's also less subtle internal sexism. There's I can't do that, I'm a girl and I have to do that, I'm a girl.

Hey, I've said it before: People are stupid. Or maybe [we hope] uninformed. Feminism may seem obvious to us, but that doesn't mean it's obvious, or even available, to everyone.

As for unsubtle sexism - the way through that is persistance. Persistance in an aggressive sense when others try to take away our right to lead, to speak, to act. Persistence to more softly support, to bear up the women around us when we see them hesitate to do those things.

 

02 March
apologies to you
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I haven't slipped off the planet. But. I haven't been posting with my usual regularity for a couple of reasons.

There are the the two sites I've been setting up and designing, one of which is really slow going. [Note to self: do not, under any circumstance, simultaneously work on two full sites and MT installs. You will find yourself feeling stupid and confused most of the time.]

And then - this is the big one - our internet access at home has been really spotty. We've never had issues before; I think it's actually the phone line. In any case, I don't have time to post at work, even if I didn't think it would be frowned upon.

There will be more, regular posts coming as soon as these other things are out of the way. Soon. I swear.

 

what is anti-american
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Many people who feel themselves patriotic feel an obligation to be so blindly. To be patriotic is to think - no, to not think - only that your country is the greatest, best best best thing ever. This is true, I think, primarily in America, where the idea of patriotism appears to have outgrown itself. Instead of an idea, it appears to many people as tangible fact.

Perhaps, lacking a distinct mythology, Americans have forgotten how to treat symbols as symbols. So much of our popular culture is literal. And simplified to a degree that permits transmission in as many media as possible.

I read this article about Toni Smith, a college basketball player who turns her back on the flag in protest of the possible war on Iraq and the social inequities in the US. I read this article because someone at the office saw a picture and was so appalled he had to share. She's a bad American. Yankee go home. Love it or leave it. These colors don't run. Push it or shove it. [Er, wait, maybe that last one isn't exactly a slogan.]

I'm not appalled. It's appalling for a college student to have no political views. That is, in my opinion, being a bad American. The flag, though, that's just a representation of the people - including that girl - who make up a country. It's also a symbol of the government, which is democratically elected and does not require fealty. And, if the people around you ignore something you think is important, a gesture towards a symbol they won't ignore is powerful.

I've said before that the function of any democracy depends on the participation of its citizens. And, if you believe the hype, America is all about Betsy Ross, the mother of invention, independent spirit and all that: exactly the qualities one expresses when publicly and creatively shunning a symbol. What, exactly, is anti-American about that?

 

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