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Sunday readings in the age of empire

4 October 2009

Anti-imperialist hero

… If national honesty is to be disregarded and a desire for territorial expansion or dissatisfaction with a form of government not our own ought to regulate our conduct, I have entirely misapprehended the mission and character of our government and the behavior which the conscience of the people demands of their public servants.

Grover Cleveland, 1893

Writer Sarah Menkedick, who with photographer Jorge Luis Santiago, put out Posa Tigres, post from Oaxaca… often about Oaxaca… always put out something worth reading, or looking at, as in Sarah’s “My Crush on Grover Cleveland“:

clevelandSomething about Grover Cleveland is funny. I don’t know why, but Grover is just one of those things you can sprinkle into the conversation for some sudden hilarity. He’s one of those presidents that we all vaguely remember from some high school history class we dozed through, but unlike, say William Henry Harrison, he’s funny. All the stiff mustachioed seriousness of White Male American History is summed up by Grover.

I realized Grover was funny when I was writing a stick-a-needle-in-your-eye boring TOEFL passage about his second presidential term. As sometimes happens writing these passages about tapirs or biomechanical engineering, I get sucked into the topic. So with this slight curiosity about why Grover was so funny I wikipedia-d him and found out that actually, his presidency contains some of the great themes of American history. Namely, fruit company barons taking over sovereign countries, American businessmen snuggling up with Congress to take over a country here, overthrow a government there, and the general subjugation of native peoples, etc, etc, etc. It also contains one strikingly NON-American theme – a president who apparently opposed imperialism.

Blow against the empire

Dr. Nagarjuna G. of Mumbai (Gnowgi) fires off a sternly worded letter to U.S. Ambassador to India, Timothy J. Roemer in protest of the unfair treatment of one class of visa applicants:

… namely, an imposition on all citizens to use a particular proprietary commercial software in order to submit their application for visa.This is how it happens.

All applications for a U.S. visa from India are done through the Visa Facilitation Services (VFS). The procedure is to first pay the visa fee, wait for two days or till the number gets activated, and then proceed through the filling of forms at the website ( As I did the above, along the way I found that the VFS site did not work with my Mozilla Firefox browser. On inquiring with VFS I found that the site works with Microsoft Internet Explorer only.

As a regular user of the GNU/Linux operating system, I do not use any proprietary software either at work or at home, hence I found this an unwarranted restriction on my individual freedom.

The growth of empire

David Mobert (In These Times) on the unlikely roots of our imperial overlords:

The success of Wal-Mart is in many ways paradoxical. The world’s biggest corporation—and one of the most technologically sophisticated—emerged from the poor, rural backwaters of Arkansas, a state regularly at the bottom of most state achievement rankings. Increasingly global in procurement and sales, it grew from a base that was racially homogenous—a result of the violent expulsion of African-Americans—and suspicious of all outsiders. A company that plays on “family values” is based in a region with one of the highest divorce rates in the United States. A region of low-income families adhering to a range of anti-materialist Protestant faiths gives birth to this colossus of consumerism…

A division of the spoils

The right wing in the United States, normally the “we’re number one!” bunch, cheered when the International Olympics Committee by-passed the United States when awarding the 2016 Summer Games to Rio de Janeiro. In the weird world of U.S. political discourse, the right decided that losing the Olympics was more important than the temporary discomforture of the President (who lobbied for his home town of Chicago). What they didn’t seem to realize is what it says about the previous President and about those U.S. visa problems:

(Think Progress)

… the International Olympic Committee (IOC) may have chosen to reject hosting the 2016 summer olympic games in Chicago due to the post-9/11 visa tourist policies established by his predecessor, George W. Bush. Michael Froomkin, Professor at the University of Miami School of Law, is convinced that the “the same stupid anti-visitor policy that is destroying American higher education” also sunk Chicago’s Olympic bid.

Imperial style

Prairie Mary” — whom I discovered through Jason Dormady’s “Secret History:  Reflections on Latin America” — is Mary Scriver, a Montana writer and minister. Prairie Mary introduces us to the upside down discussions of imperialism in the work of world of “Eric Blair” — not the one better known by his “nom de plume” George Orwell, but University of Chicago professor Norvel Morris.

Morris’ work was focused on the insanity plea, but within the context of the hard work of trying to get justice to bear some relationship to the law — or the other way around — esp. in places where an empire-mongering nation had come in over the top of an ancient pre-existing way of doing things. In order to do this in a class discussion without either free-floating in theory or invading someone’s privacy (often legally forbidden) and in order to make sure the salient points were covered, Morris wrote up what amounted to short stories…

Morris decided that he would write taking Orwell’s real name as his nom de plume. Orwell/Blair is considered one of the finest of writers of his type. Morris pretended — as has often been done, maybe more commonly with paintings — that he had found a cache of long-lost manuscripts. Morris, as an Aussie, was rather audacious. The trouble was that since he could write as well as Orwell, his faux essays were picked up by the credulous media as real. So he had to get a friend to label him a hoax. It happened that I was typing for him and even answering his phone (his secretary must have been on vacation) when the media began to call about the “hoax,” which excited them as much as the original “discovery.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. 6 October 2009 6:58 am

    Don’t even get me started on visa policies – Jorge and I just had to jump through about 8,000 hoops to get him a tourist visa to visit my family, and it was pretty appalling. In the end, he was told he was “lucky” for getting it, despite having brought a truckload of all the required paperwork and more. I really, really want to do some massive investigative piece about where all the money from rejected visa applications goes (because nowhere in the world do you get your $131 back even if they reject you, which they do most of the time).

    The whole experience did provide me with the greatest quote ever from immigration, however. I was waiting and waiting for Jorge to come through and finally I said screw it and crossed the forbidden red line to ask one of the immigration guys, some young Texan dude, if Jorge had been detained. He proceeded to tell me that if he had been detained, there was nothing I could do about it and I’d just have to wait it out for hours, and if he got sent back well, too bad for me. Then he said, sternly, with utter seriousness, “We don’t just let anybody into this country, you know.”

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