Friday, January 28, 2005

The Magnet Coda

History Friday must take a back seat once again this week as the great “Weasel versus the Yellow Ribbon Magnets” saga reaches its rather desultory conclusion.

For those of you who have been half-paying attention over the past couple of weeks, a post concerning my feelings around for-profit yellow ribbon car magnets drew a response from Micah Pattisall, Legal Coordinator for Magnet America (the largest producer of these things) which disputed the numbers I had drawn from a magazine article on the company he works for. I got back to Micah to ask a couple of questions based on the article, my math, and his message. Micah to his great credit took the time to reply in depth but sadly asked me not to reproduce his email on this blog.

In his message Micah makes a passionate and heartfelt case for Magnet America and its altruism, and I am inclined to take him at his word. I’m sure he won’t mind too much if I quote him just a little:

“I guess the main problem with your (argument) and that of most of the negative media swirling around these yellow ribbons, is the sweeping generalizations applied to Magnet America. I AGREE with you wholeheartedly that most of the companies that sprung up to jump on the bandwagon are doing it for one reason, the almighty dollar. They have little if any scruples and care even less about individual needs. So comments directed at “war profiteering” would in my opinion be accurate when applied to most other companies. But I think a short visit to MA would leave even the most hardened liberal realizing that we are a different company. We do care about individuals and we care nothing about “getting wealthy.”

Mea culpa: of my original post I think it can be said that I allowed the fires of righteous indignation crowd out my points and I unfairly categorized Magnet America as something less than wholesome. I also can’t shake off the image of “hardened liberalism” stalking the land with goatee, rimless glasses, beret, and Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book” under one arm, sneering that all business represents the excess of capitalism and demanding the forced collectivization of magnet manufacturers. Let me say it in black and white, 12 point Arial, that Magnet America are not war profiteers, anymore than liberals are anti-business or unpatriotic.

What of the yellow ribbon? Watching CNN trail a story about the youngest female military fatality in Iraq tonight, I was struck by the powerful imagery of her family tying homemade yellow ribbons around their property in solidarity with the other families of the fallen and those still serving in combat zones around the world. In an ideal world, anyone who displayed a ribbon would be stating an apolitical message of caring and support. Alas, I cannot help but feel that for a significant number the ribbon has come less to represent shared concern but rather is now emblematic of a partisan position. Maine writer Jim Baumer relays a good letter by local celebrity “The Humble Farmer” (as the local bumper sticker says “The Humble Farmer is Neither”, but I digress) here that sums it all up nicely.

So in keeping with my New Year’s resolution to be more intellectually rigorous and less reliant on ideological shorthand I’ve refined my position on this subject:

a) The yellow ribbon in and of itself is not an indication of shallowness;

b) Only if one is also committed to advocating for veteran’s rights, soldiers’ general welfare, and a smarter (i.e. less dogmatic, more considered, and more finessed) foreign policy;

c) And that buying a ribbon does not mean that you feel that you have met your obligations as a citizen of a nation allegedly at war.

To my mind, it is still preferable to make a donation of the full retail price you were going to pay for a ribbon to service charities rather than rely on a commercial enterprise to cover a percentage of your giving capacity on your behalf so that you can proclaim your supposed patriotism to the world. If you feel the urge to buy a ribbon (of any color, for any appeal), at least consider giving an equal amount to the cause your purchase fractionally supports. Whatever happened to stoicism and reserve? I thought they were pretty good moral values, but perhaps that’s because I’m an English East Anglian who lives in New England. Perhaps my anachronistic values have finally lost the battle with vulgarity.

Here endeth the Magnet epic.


Mondale said...

As another 'English East Anglian' I would just like to agree on the "stoicism and reserve". They are decent, unspoken values that are important factors in our cultural upbringing. Long may that continue. Remember the old poem? "They are strange folk, born of the east wind".

Jim said...

I think one of the things that will make or break the blogosphere is honesty and a commitment to the truth. I was impressed that you sought to set the record straight concerning Magnet America, for which, their intentions are all so pure and unmotivated at all by the excesses of capitalism. Bravo!! Chalk one up for the good guys!

While partisanship and ideological fervor certainly plague those on the left, as well as those on the right, it appears from my anecdotal experience that it's the left that is more rigourous in setting the record straight when they err. I commend you on your commitment to truthtelling.

As for the yellow ribbon thing, while I'm sure there are those like the military family that you mentioned, tying ribbons around trees in an act of solidarity w/ other military families. I find it dubious however, that all of the cars and particularly SUVs driving around w/ not one, but two ribbons on their fat ass-ends are truly apolitical and honestly supporting the troops in some meaningful way. I'm afraid its another token gesture of feel-goodism that Americans are so proficient at.