I’ve been thinking about the whole “coast” “heartland” thing, as noted by Yglesias and others, and had a hard time finding a way into the issue until last night.
We were driving home from the movies, Tenacious G, Middle Guy and I (we saw 8 Mile again, because the two of them wanted to), and I was punching the buttons on the stereo in the Mighty Odyssey Minivan when a discussion broke out.
The top 3 buttons on the stereo are taken up by the three major stations that TG and MG listen to (I tend to listen to the CD’s in the changer because I hate commercials).
KCRW, the local NPR station; KZLA, the local corporate-owned country station; and KROQ, the local corporate-owned alternative rock station.
The voting politics are complex. I’m totally fickle. I’ll mostly turn things off; KCRW when it gets too sanctimonious or the World Music interludes become intolerable; KROQ when the grindcore songs come on; KZLA when really bad country-pop gets played. TG likes KCRW and KZLA. MG hates KZLA.
So when we got into the car, some awful Incubus song came on, and I punched KZLA, which was playing a current country hit called “The Good Stuff”. In case you don’t listen, here’s a typical lyric:

Not a soul around but the old bar keep,
Down at the end an’ looking half asleep.
An he walked up, an’ said : “What’ll it be?”
I said: “The good stuff.”
He didn’t reach around for the whiskey;
He didn’t pour me a beer.
His blue eyes kinda went misty,
He said: “You can’t find that here.
“‘Cos it’s the first long kiss on a second date.
“Momma’s all worried when you get home late.
“And droppin’ the ring in the spaghetti plate,
“‘Cos your hands are shakin’ so much.
“An’ it’s the way that she looks with the rice in her hair.
“Eatin’ burnt suppers the whole first year
“An’ askin’ for seconds to keep her from tearin’ up.
“Yeah, man, that’s the good stuff.”

And Middle Guy looked disgusted and asked me “Why the hell do you listen to that stuff, anyway? How can you like the Vines and this?” That answer’s another issue…
But what I told him was that I liked the sound of good country music, and then started talking about the changes in country since I’d started listening to it, and that today it was almost the last music about love, fidelity, loss and hope, and that I liked that.
And that one thing that I missed from rock was the hope and yearning that used to be a part of it back when I was Middle Guy’s age.
And, as these kind of talks tend to do, they got me thinking.
I’d been thinking a lot about the Great Cultural Divide…the whole red/blue thing, and I had a brief moment of clarity.
It’s all about country music.
Or, rather, it’s all about the worldview that country music encapsulates.
Here’s a counterpoint. My subscription to Harper’s hasn’t run out yet, although I won’t be renewing it in spite of the flood of imploring letters and postcards I’ve received from their subscription service, and in this month’s is a classic explanation of why (not available on the web):

‘Comfort Cult’
On the honest unlovliness of William Trevor’s world
By Francine Prose
If part of what we seek from art is solace and consolation, an interlude of distraction, a brief escape from our daily cares, even a glimpse of happiness – and who, in these disturbing times does not, or should not want all of that and more? – it is simple enough to understand why the products of what we might call Comfort Culture should dramatically outperform a writer like William Trevor in the marketplace of analgesic entertainment. The Lovely Bones is narrated from heaven by a fourteen-year-old girl who has been raped and brutally murdered by a neighbor (think Our Town with dismemberment) and who receives as compensation for her earthly travails, an afterlife that includes a nice apartment, plenty of teen-girl magazines, a paradisical version of high school, and a front-row seat from which to observe the folks back home coping with their grief and puzzling over her killer’s identity. No such comforts are provided the unfortunate young women dispatched by Hilditch, the creepy serial killer in Trevor’s Felicia’s Journey; indeed it is characteristic of Trevor’s bravery as a writer, and of his passionate sympathy for even the most loathsome outsiders and misfits, that a good part of the book is written from the point of view of the demented and delusional Hilditch himself.
(emphasis added)

First, I can’t help myself, but the idea of a literary critic with the name ‘Prose’ does give me the giggles…
…but to get back to culture; while I can see a sensitive reading of Felicity’s Journey and a sympathetic nod to the loathsome outsider as a steady part of the programming on KCRW, and a speed-metal version on KROQ (in fact the song probably already exists), there is no way that sympathy would be found on KZLA. No contemporary country song would celebrate that kind of brutality and despair. We’re talking about a fundamental difference of worldview and taste, and this issue ought to serve as a pathway into understanding the gap between the worlds.
In the next part, I’ll talk a bit about the social and economic realities behind the gap.
(added emphasis)


Bob Morris links me over to this article by Patrick Seale on the roots of terrorism.

One strong possibility is that the “enemy” is not just a terrorist network but a broad, militant, grassroots rebellion against American military and political interventions in the Arab and Muslim world, against Western arrogance, racism and bullying.
For decades now, but especially under the Bush administration, America’s triumphalism, its contempt for the views and interests of others, its boastful displays of military power, its refusal to recognize and address the “roots of terror,” its apparent indifference to international law, its economic supremacy all these have created a worldwide backlash which has put Americans at risk in many countries. History suggests that any power which dominates others will inevitably create violent opposition to it. If this is true, then what we are witnessing is nothing less than an anti-imperialist movement of the 21st century.
Although often expressed in Islamic terms, the movement of rebellion is essentially political. It aims to liberate the Arab and Muslim world from the suffocating embrace of the West and above all from American neo-imperialism and its Zionist handmaiden. Future historians might well judge Osama bin Laden, for example, not as the outrageous pariah he now seems, but as only the latest in a long line of Islamic activists who include such well-known figures of the past as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Hassan al-Banna, Said Qutb, Musa Sadr, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and even Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.
Many separate streams feed the river of rebellion. There is no doubt that the epidemic of anti-American sentiment raging from Morocco to Indonesia is fed by American support for Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. This is the main spring of the rebellion. But there are many others. Israel’s repeated aggressions against Lebanon, as well as its 22-year occupation of the South supported by the US have bred an army of bitter opponents. The 12-year sanctions against Iraq the worst inflicted on any country in history have mobilized opinion powerfully against America and Britain, as has the obsessive threat of war against Baghdad repeated almost every time Bush or Prime Minister Tony Blair open their mouths.
Quite apart from its irresponsibility, there is something incomprehensible and irrational about America’s fixation with Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. As the distinguished American columnist William Pfaff wrote the other day, “There is, to the best of specialist opinion, no scenario by which the American public is threatened by nuclear, biological or chemical weapons of Iraqi origin.” In other words, there is no credible Iraqi threat to the United States. Why then is America making more enemies for itself? Is it because hard-line Zionists, anxious to ensure Israel”s regional supremacy, have captured American foreign policy? The well-founded suspicion that this is the case is yet another source of anti-US rage.

Well, while I see the world pretty damn differently from this author, I do agree that the actors are part of a more diffuse set of organizations than we are assuming, and that simply decapitating these organizations will not make the problems go away.
He and I part company here: Where to place the responsibility for resolving these issues? While I think that the US and the West have to reach out, it’s equally clear to me that the other side…the Muslim and developing world’s responsible actors…need to reach out as well. Why?
Because if there is no one on the other end of the phone, we in the West will do what it takes to protect ourselves.
I commented earlier:

I don’t want to be a part of a society that eradicated another culture; I don’t want to commit genocide.
I don’t want to be put in a position where genocide is either a reasonable option, or where my fellow citizens are so enraged that they are willing to commit it, and my opposition will be washed away in a tide of rage.
I want a calm, prosperous Middle East, and believe that the Palestinian Arabs who have been royally screwed by everyone…by the Europeans and Americans who established Israel without planning or compensation; by their leaders who have led them into several suicidal wars; by the leaders of the other Arab states who use them as cheap labor, exploit them economically, and exploit them politically…deserve decent lives.
They won’t get them following the path they are on.

Neither will the ‘enraged’ Arabs, who will simply add to the world’s toll of sorrow until we get tired enough of paying it.
That’s a sad truth.