Saturday, January 28, 2012

American Nightmare

“No modern society could function under a libertarian government, which is why none exists,” says a reporter in today’s Doonesbury, poking fun at Ron Paul for his utopian delusions.

Well said, though it could be pointed out that no modern economy has enjoyed enduring prosperity under the kind of “small government” raw capitalism that all the GOP candidates espouse. Those eras in which we got too close to this small government model led directly to economic crashes and widespread suffering. Exhibit A: the economic collapse of 1929 which followed a reign of unbridled, pro-corporate, Republican conservatism.

Republican leaders seem to love the idea of small government because it will give rich people, and the corporations on which their wealth is based, more power. This power would come at the expense of the rest of us, who depend on democratic government to protect us from exploitation by the rich and powerful.

It’s peculiar that any middle class voters would support a program aimed specifically against their own economic interests. The explanation for this support seems to lie in the GOP’s success at promoting the idea that democratic government is the enemy of democracy. “Freedom,” the conservatives argue, will be enhanced if we restrict government and thereby further empower the corporations which already dominate our economy – and which, by the way, operate on a “one-dollar/one-vote” principle.

The good news is that lately the GOP primary candidates have been effectively beating each other up. They seem like nothing so much as a pack of drunken kangaroos as they smash wildly against each other. Gingrich says Romney is a politician with no enduring principles and Romney says Gingrich is a loose cannon unfit for the White House. I’m inclined to agree with both of them.

Of the two, Gingrich would make the worse president. He resembles Dick Cheney in his ethical standards, but he has less charm than the former vice president, and an even scarier wife. God forbid that he would ever make it to the White House, but if he did, the end times would surely be near. The only reason he is attracting almost as much support as Romney in the primaries is that he is so damn mean that Republicans who hate the president keep picturing him being vicious and nasty in debates against Obama.

It is still all but certain that Romney will get the nomination, despite Gingrich’s recent surge. As president, it is hard to say what he would do since he apparently would do whatever he thought would get him re-elected. This is one reason why so many Republicans don’t like him. He doesn’t appear to believe in anything except advancing his own interests.

For those of us who believe that the Constitution is not just something to talk about, but is actually the document on which our government and our freedoms are based, none of these fanatic, small-government Republicans would make an acceptable president. Weakening the government would only diminish the power of the Constitution to enhance our rights. The causal chain is direct: it runs from us, the citizenry, through the Constitution into the hands of our elected representatives. To weaken any link in this chain would only strengthen the hands of the oil, tobacco, drug and insurance companies as well as the banks. And if they were to be so strengthened, we could not expect them to do right by us.

A libertarian society, in which every individual struggles against every other, is a society in which those controlling concentrated wealth control everything. That is not the American Dream, though messrs. Romney, Gingrich, Paul and Santorum would have us believe that it is.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Perhaps You've Heard this Before...

Prepare to be totally bummed out. Last week a friend of mine, who is currently in law school, wrote of the fear he felt but was unable to acknowledge when, as a child, he contemplated the vastness of the universe.

Fear inspired by the limitless cosmos must be common among children, since I recall experiencing it myself and I have reason to believe others have as well. And I don’t believe it’s confined to children.

Recently I watched a series on PBS which explained our current understanding of both subatomic particles and the extent of the universe. One point the program made was that we may well inhabit one little universe among a collective multiverse whose dimensions and numbers are immeasurable and uncountable. And somewhere in this endless collection of universes, there may be one identical to our own, inhabited by people just like us.

The prospect that we may have cosmic doppelgangers living their lives in a neighboring universe exactly as we do is a consequence of the possibility that the cosmos in its entirety is limitless and time is endless. Everything we will do today has been done before by our exact replica in some twin realm somewhere in the infinite everywhere.

Go ahead and pretend that I didn’t just blow your mind.

As Nietzsche once wrote, “Everything becomes and recurs eternally - escape is impossible!”

If escape were possible, where would we escape to? Somewhere with indoor plumbing and decent Chinese food, I would hope, but there are no guarantees. It would be interesting to know exactly what wormhole leads to the twin cosmos where I could enjoy a life identical to the one I now live, except, perhaps, with no mention of any Kardashians ever.

The thought that existence comprises multitudinous universes extending ad infinitum through time and space makes our infinitesimally tiny selves and accomplishments seem utterly inconsequential. Damn.

As scary as the infinity of time and space can be, the idea that they are limited is equally scary. If time is destined to end, then what? Well, nothing, but how does that work? A related question is this, If time is endless, what is preferable, the prospect of death or the prospect of living forever?

OK, you may now thinking that worse than either of these is the prospect of my going on forever with these speculations, so I will bring them to a halt here. In doing so, and in line with my general policy of “Don’t worry, be happy,” I’d like to offer a couple of pictures representing Rollins’ celebration of Chinese New Year, which begins officially on Monday.

Who Better to Bring in the Year of the Dragon than Our Own Hongjin and Zhao Chang

Chinese Food - A Hit in Any Universe

Chi Fan, Sun Laoshi!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Free to Be Decidedly Different

Our neighbors, the Walkers, have been in the news again lately. The local Fox affiliate had a team out in front of the Walker compound on Thursday and on the web there soon appeared a report about the dispute between them and the City of Winter Park. Apparently, the right to free speech does not override some city code, like the one against having billboards in your front yard.

I have to admit to a degree of sympathy for the Walker family. It’s true that they are kind of unusual. This was made apparent by the U.S. Air Force’s maintaining back in the 1960s that the Walker patriarch, Grover Cleveland Walker, was paranoid. This diagnosis has not been undone by his family’s subsequent behavior: They went on a 45-year rampage claiming they were being unjustifiably persecuted by their enemies, and publicizing their claim with huge front-yard flagpoles featuring upside-down flags and gigantic words of defiance painted on the front and roof of their house. When accumulated fines resulted in Orange County threatening to evict them from their home, Mr. Walker said that should that happen, he would fill his entire house with concrete. The Walkers also publicized their version of their persecution by stamping it in abbreviated form on dollar bills. I once came across one of their “We-are-not-paranoid-bills,” but, foolishly, I spent it. Wish I had it now.

The Walkers were probably helpful to us when we were house-hunting in 1989, since, by turning their front yard into a carnival of pseudo-patriotic defiance, they lowered the property values of the nearby homes, including the one we eventually bought. When we were looking over our soon-to-be new home, the seller told us that every potential buyer that drove away in the direction of Tyree Lane turned into a lost cause once they saw the Walkers’ yard. One look at the display there and they would never come back. So, the Walkers made it possible for us to afford our little bungalow when other Winter Park homes were beyond our reach.

Yesterday we received a notice from the City of Winter Park asking us to contact them about an issue in our neighborhood. No doubt that issue is the Walkers. But what will I say when I respond? I really don’t mind the Walkers, but they are three or four houses away from us. What if they lived right next door? That might make their ostentatious displays just irritating enough for me to want them to cease and desist.

Their current notion is that Barack Obama’s health care reforms are communist tyranny. That, in itself, is a bit off center, but notice how many Americans share that particular version of off-centeredness. Do we want Rush Limbaugh and the entire Fox News team declared officially beyond the pale of reason because they say or imply that Obama is a communist or a socialist? Well, yes, I suppose we do, but I’m afraid we’re gonna have to file that wish under Impossible Dreams.

Food for Thought:

Is It Crazy to Think That Obligatory Health Insurance is Tyranny?

Is It Wrong to Undermine Your Neighbors' Property Values with Nutty Billboards?

I don’t think it’s likely that the Walkers will ever give up using front-yard billboards in a desperate effort to prove that they’re normal. But, should that happen, or should they move out, I wonder how much our little bungalow might suddenly be worth on the Winter Park real estate market.

(3/2 easy access to shopping, good schools)


Monday, January 9, 2012

Freedom’s Just another Word for Screw You

For some Americans, “Freedom” isn’t so much a concept as a logo. Its main purpose is not to promote a glorious idea but to simply stand for America in the same way that the Golden Arches stand for McDonald’s. This kind of “Freedom” is all about self-promotion and not in the least about souls unfettered.

As a vacuous tribal emblem, “freedom” was particularly on display during the Iraq War when a couple of Representatives named Ney and Jones demanded that Congressional cafeterias change the name French fries to “freedom fries.” These patriotic gentlemen were angry at France for daring to suggest that President Bush’s invasion of Iraq was not a cool idea. Before discussing further the stupidity of renaming Congressional foods, I think it’s worthwhile here to point out that France has been downright helpful at key points in America's history. Actually, without the help of France, the United States would probably not even exist as an independent (i.e., free) nation.

If we wander back into history to the Battle of Yorktown, my meaning can be made utterly clear. Yorktown led to the surrender of British General Cornwallis’s forces and is considered the decisive showdown of the American Revolution, the victory that secured our freedom. But it is worth remembering that General Washington led a combined American and French army at Yorktown and that the French fleet, which stood offshore and prevented Cornwallis from escaping or being reinforced, played a particularly vital part in Washington’s victory. In fact, when Cornwallis saw that his situation was hopeless, he insisted that he should surrender his army to the French. The French, however, graciously refused, saying it was the Americans to whom Cornwallis must surrender.

Let’s face it, without French help, our ancestors would probably have been defeated by the British and then have muddled along as colonies number 2 through 14, with mighty Canada being number one. No doubt the British Parliament would have given the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Valley to their well-behaved Canadian subjects and restricted the thirteen American colonies to a thin strip along the Atlantic seaboard.

Yes, insulting France just because the French thought invading Iraq was a bad idea was idiotic. But equally idiotic was the choice of the name “freedom fries.” These deep-fried little artery cloggers are yummy, but they have nothing to do with freedom. It’s also quite possible that they have nothing to do with France, but never mind.

What troubles me is the way the word freedom is tossed around to justify any sort of policy, foreign or domestic, that suits one sleazy politician or another. Every White House ignoramus who has needlessly sent our troops into harm’s way in some foreign land has claimed that he was acting in the name of “freedom.” But, more often than not, these hare-brained military interventions have had little to do with freedom -- ours or anyone else’s. President Bush’s invasion of Iraq, for example, was mainly a reflection of his interest in controlling Middle Eastern oil (and had the added advantage of supporting his profit-seeking buddies at Halliburton and Blackwater). Invading Iraq had nothing to do with our freedom, and rather little to do with Iraq's.

Domestically, the word “freedom” is tossed around just as shamelessly as it is in foreign policy. We are often told, for example, that owning household firearms is essential to our freedom. It is not, as any number of perfectly free and democratic countries whose citizens are not armed to the teeth can attest. Of course the NRA has promoted this bizarre mentality for so long that many Americans have forgotten that the capacity of Mom, Dad and the kids to mow people down with lethal firepower is not directly related to freedom. In fact, I think it’s time for the psychiatric establishment to give us a formal word describing that malady according to which the possession of murderous implements is thought to be the key to freedom.

Where real freedom is concerned, politicians like Ney and Jones of  the infamous “freedom fries,” seem strangely uninterested. There was an opportunity just a couple years ago to offer every family in America the freedom to choose publicly funded health insurance, but Representative Jones opposed it. I feel it’s safe to say that Representative Ney would also have opposed it, had he not been forced out of office and into jail before the issue came before Congress.

I don't think I'm asking for too much here. I would simply like people to stop using the word “freedom” as though it were a self-serving logo or a handy device for promoting aggressive wars. I say, let's not use it at all except when we are really enhancing freedom. And, by the way, contrary to what all of the Republican presidential candidates have been saying, dismantling the government whose democratic institutions are the very embodiment of our freedom, does not count as enhancing freedom.

Redneck Haiku

Oh, Canada!
So maply yet so gunless;
Ripe for Invasion

(Winking emoticon here)