November 2012


Whammy Burger Nation

The Platonic idealist is the man by nature so wedded to perfection that he sees in everything not the reality but the faultless ideal which the reality misses… George Santayana

Irony, of late, has garnered a bad name. Sincerity is the valued coin of the realm these days. And so it is with the burgeoning Secessionist Movement, where disillusioned Americans petition to withdraw from the Union. My inclination is to ridicule such sentiments particularly since the location of secessionist rhetoric is centered in the Heart of Dixie. I do attach racist and nativist underpinnings to the Secessionist “argument” but I think something else is going on as well.

An appropriate illustration of where a number of our fellow citizens find themselves (me, too, at times) is in our sympathy for the character Michael Douglas plays in the 1993 movie “Falling Down.” Douglas portrays a recently laid off defense contractor employee, William Foster. Foster is divorced, disillusioned, depressed and in despair. All he wants is to attend his daughter’s birthday party but has a restraining order against him by his divorced wife. Caught in LA freeway traffic, he abandons his car and begins the long walk across the city to see his daughter.

Foster has many run-ins on his journey crossing a modern American hell but the classic confrontation (for me) occurs in a fastfood restaurant featuring the Whammy Burger. Foster orders off a visual menu showing the quintessential perfect hamburger—The Whammy Burger—photographed to steaming culinary perfection. Alas, when it arrives, it is anything but. It’s pathetic. Soggy bread, wilted lettuce and a piece of meat the size of a burnt quarter. What happens next is what all of us have all dreamed of—Walter Mitty-like—doing. Worth a look-see.

I liken the Secessionist mindset to Foster’s viewing of the perfect Whammy Burger. In the back of the Secessionist mind is some ideal of an American golden-age, a blessed America, of that “shining city on the hill.” Yet the reality of our pluralistic democracy, with all our diverse constituencies vying for power and preference, well, it is a shockingly rude slap to the face to those who have an idealized (or infantile) conception of American history. As has been observed the making of slaughterhouse sausage and representative democracy have much in common.

Secessionists lament the loss of freedom. I am unsure of what loss they mourn. I recently attended a private Shoot’N’Annie along the St. John’s River with enough guns and ammo to have respectably defended Stalingrad in 1943. I do not see any loss of freedom when it comes to the Second Amendment. No one is requiring anyone to attend a specific church. You definitely can speak your mind in America.

No, Jepson, loss of freedom when it comes to taxes and onerous regulations (like being required to contribute to your healthcare). Ah, taxes and regulations. “Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly” to again have an American population of 3.9 million, as was the United States in 1787, with an entire continent at your feet, virtually vacant, to exploit. Just over the next hill, the long arm of “that” onerous government nonexistent.

America was never the “faultless ideal,” the most perfect of Whammy Burger Nations. And this, Dear Reader, is what is. A diet of illusion and ignorance are always menu options in a democracy. What’s the tagline? Tastes Great! . . . Less filling! Not very sustaining in the long run, however. For the individual or the nation.

It’s All Mirth To Me.

But you’ve got to try a little kindness
You show a little kindness . . .
. . . overlook the blindness
Of the narrow minded people
On the narrow minded street.

Glen Campbell

I get sorrow. I do. It’s part and parcel with being human. Lives abruptly end, rudely out of natural “sequence” (my incredible sister Susan for example, a son in Afghanistan or a child at birth). Floods (see: Katrina/Sandy) wash away our possessions (mom & dad’s treasured marriage certificate and photos – my gawd how young and beautiful and full of life they were!). Relatives/friends deconstruct in real time—over decades no less—sorrowfully sucking the joy out of daily life. Tragedy (sorrow) is one job loss, one car accident, one diagnosis, one fall, one moment away.

And then you die. I am 63 and by my reckoning I have 19 years remaining. And I am completely okay with that. My grandfather lived until age 83, my father until age 81. I’m splitting the difference. I’ve eaten far less red meat and consumed but a mere fraction of the whiskey they downed. Each generation, however, has its vices. I’ve also been exposed to far more pesticides and industrial chemicals/additives—we’ve all been—than our parents and grandparents. I will, however, be extremely disappointed (and will, indeed, rage) if I do not get my full 82 years. Give or take six months.

Intellectually, I am disappointed that this shell called Christopher Robin, like all human carapaces is built for speed (metaphorically speaking – our all too brief life spans) and not for the long haul (hundreds/thousands of years— as some trees for example).

My death does not in the least perplex me. I wish I could have it “all” but, alas, sigh, my end is knowable and certain. I entertain no fantasy of an everlasting afterlife sitting at God’s feet, in raptured bliss, singing hosannas to His splendiferous magnificence. That is so much nonsense (to me). Asserting there is life after death is a mythology, a bridge to get “you” through the darkness of that long night (the realization and disappointment accompanying the finality of individual human existence).

Some argue that in order to rein in humanity’s excesses, religion was created (by man) and the cudgel of “judgment” the ultimate instrument of control. What you do in this life determines the quality of your next existence. The Ancient Egyptians had Ma’at. She weighed souls in the underworld and a “feather” was the measure of whether or not your ultimate destination was paradise. Christian beliefs are essentially not much different.

It’s all myth to me. Or, shall I say, it’s all mirth to me.

Ah, the timeless question. If there is no personal god, no life after death, how then shall we behave today? If I am not going to be judged—rewarded or punished—why act one way or another?

I find this question infantile. You don’t rape your neighbor’s daughter because you might go to hell?

We’re a young species, out of the trees, walking upright but for a brief few moments (relatively speaking). We’re (humanity) making it up as we go.

This Thanksgiving, let’s all pursue, as pragmatist Richard Rorty recommended, “The creation of a world in which tenderness and kindness are the human norm.”

Yes, as Otis Redding once so melodically sang, “Try a little tenderness.”

Make that your Thanksgiving grace. For all seasons.

New Tricks For Old Dawgs?

A lot has been said about the Presidential election that unless the Republicans expand their base of support, the GOP will inevitably slide into irrelevant obscurity, modern day Whigs, if you will. The GOP is essentially a white person’s political party. Break it down even further, it’s essentially an old man’s whites-only club. Deconstruct it even more, Romney carried the Old South (Dixie) and a few low population western states. It begs the question of how much of the anti-Obama white vote was based on the President being a black?

Racial prejudice is something I’ve never quite understood. Interesting that some of the whitest states, Iowa for example (90%+ white) voted for Obama. A majority of white Iowans voted for Obama whereas that was not the case in Southern States. A vast majority of white Mississippians, for example, voted for Romney. Why the difference? Why would Iowans, an overwhelmingly white state vote for Obama yet a majority of white voters in Mississippi would not?

I believe a percentage of the anti-Obama white vote was based on voter discomfort with having a black man lead the United States. A black president does not validate or confirm “that” voter’s worldview. I think if you pressed such a voter, they would predictably deny racial prejudice.

Of course, there are a myriad of reasons why anyone selects one candidate, one political party over another. I do believe, however, that a candidate’s race does, pardon the pun, “color” some voter’s perspective and how they ultimately vote.

What does any of this mean for the Republican Party winning national (or even statewide) contests? If a vast majority of your party is made-up of old white men (and women), future demographics are running against you. The reality is running, contrary to the lyrics that, “Time is on my side, yes it is.” Except it isn’t. Our growing multi-cultural, ethnically diverse population will not come “running back” to white America. It’s over, white boys.

As a white boy myself, I grew-up in lily-white Iowa. In my hometown of Sioux City in the 1950s & 60s, there were perhaps, at most, 50 black families. Even during the demonstrations and violence of the Civil Rights movement race was not a regular topic of discussion around my dinner table. Vietnam was a much more discussed issue because of its potential impact on the family (my brother and I were of draft age).

None of my friends, save my best friend Ron Jones, ever mentioned black people or the challenges they faced. Racial epithets were never thrown around because, I believe, it was not the language we heard in our homes. Not because “we” were better but because race wasn’t an issue, in the community’s face, so to speak. There were no civil right’s marches in Sioux City that I ever recall.

In 1974 while back in Sioux City, my father volunteered (out-of-the-blue) something to the effect, “You know, son, I had it wrong. Negroes have had a raw deal in America. They were enslaved and are horribly treated yet today. They are just seeking their due justice. They want to have what the rest of us have.” Amen, Dad.

That didn’t mean he’d have been overjoyed with a black family moving in next door. My father is dead. As will be the GOP if Republicans do not lose their prejudice of minorities—of every color and, as importantly, of every persuasion.

All Aboard!

There is a part of me that wants to be more detached from the daily hub-bub of modern life. I don’t want to care so much about who won Tuesday’s election or whether or not the Florida Constitution is amended—again—by right-wing craziness. Obama-Romney? Tweedle-dee-Tweedle-dum. But, but, but he’ll nominate Supreme Court judges who’ll, who’ll . . . Yep, he probably will. Yet, as Annie sings, “The sun will come out tomorrow.”

I’ve been reading of late on Epicureanism. I recommend, my informed reader, that you do as well. The faithful are typically told to dismiss Epicurus and his philosophy as treacherous hedonism because of his emphasis on the pursuit of pleasure and happiness. Oooooh. Nasty, nasty. Pleasure and happiness. Nasty. Read last year’s Pulitzer Prize winning book for history titled, The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt. Quite an enjoyable read on how the West (Europe) was fortuitously reintroduced to Epicurus in the 15th century.

Epicurus was a 3rd century BC Athenian philosopher who advocated sensible approaches to living, one of which, however, I have a hard time following. Epicureans avoided politics (governance), that hot, tumultuous cauldron of public life. Epicurus recommended we literally tend our “garden” and avoid the meaningless distractions from that riotous mob forever barking nonsense at your “garden’s” edge. Mind your own business, be contemplative, pursue friendships, live moderately, happiness and pleasure are life’s legitimate pursuits, think/live rationally and do not fear death. That is quite a reasoned agenda. And, one sadly at odds with our increasingly superstitious and religiously reactionary times.

I am drawn by the idea of withdrawal from society or, rather, withdrawing from actively participating in the idiocy of my fellow man.

I am such a fatalist, at this point, concerning the environment of Florida, or of any of the, as yet, still pristine parts of Earth. For that matter, I am beyond weeping for what “we” are losing or have already lost. Everyday a new report is issued on the ongoing rape of the planet. If Republicans think—really?—that women experience illegitimate rapes, one can only imagine their explanations for the ongoing rape of our Mother Earth. Democrats are complicit as well in the desecration of the planet. It’s all a matter of degree, of proportionality. It’s all about jobs don’t-cha see.

As well it should be. Seven billion swilling at the trough today, another two billion predicted to arrive this century. 310 million Americans today, perhaps 500 million before 2100? Won’t that be just great, so environmentally healthy for North America? Sustainability? Why consider such nonsense?

Our industrial farming is poisoning our land and water and our agricultural practices are washing our topsoil at record levels to the sea.

Our military is a bloated albatross around our national neck but instead of lightening the burden we forever mindlessly salute the Stars & Stripes and look for other world “opportunities” to liberally impose democracy at the end of an American gun barrel.

I enjoy mindless bromides such as, “There is no I in Team.” Well, we’ve reached a point where, “There is no “WE” in America.” Our politics, our leaders, our policies are obscene.

Perhaps this is what fixes our interest and participation. With fingers splayed, we watch transfixed at this utterly fascinating train-wreck called humanity. Such art! Obscene? You bet! But, my gawd show me more.

Mr. Conductor, puh-leeese, punch my ticket through to the end of the line.

I’m going all the way! Woo-Woo!