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Reflections

Reflections

I’m in my late sixties, too old to hold up fingers showing that I’m this many years. Besides, I don’t have sixty-plus digits or even sixty visible body parts, so using some physical yardstick is out of the question. But if truth be known, and it rarely is, it’s the “years old” preceeded by a number that I loathe saying. For me and for most of my peers, the word “old” has gone from being an adored adjective for something quaintly antique, to a slurred-over, execrable part of speech. Its arthritic allies are elderly, geriatric, senile, infirm, decrepit, over-the-hill, and worst of all, the treacly cloying “senior citizen.”

I can remember, as a child, being asked my age and quickly calculating to the exact month. “I am eleven… and a half.” Don’t forget the half, oh best beloved! The half demonstrated that I was no mere child of eleven, but one nearing twelve, a truly advanced age. When I finally did turn twelve, I answered any age questions with “twelve years old,” “years old” being an important suffix, one that conferred status.

On occasion, it is suggested that “ how old are you?” is better framed as “ how young are you?” I have tried this on for size and find it binding and unbecoming. Once I remember answering the “age” question with “ I’m ‘blank’ years young,” only to roll my eyes at my juvenility.

Like many of us who are old, I find references to physical age depressing. My hair, while showing a slight tonsure, is still abundant, healthy, and white, and white, it is said, is the new brown. What idiot said that remains a mystery, but probably the same one who said sixty is the new forty.

Thus, in keeping with my dislike of age related subjects, I have chosen to ignore the obvious in favor of the optimistic, note optimistic, not quixotic. For example, I am assured by my dermatologist that the liver spots on my hands are, in fact, large freckles. That the creases beginning to appear around my various facial features are character lines, not wrinkles. And out of vanity, I tell those who for the first time are to meet me at a restaurant or on an airport sidewalk to look for a mature man with white hair, of medium height and a generous build. I like “generous build”; it trips off the tongue with the grace befitting a man who still has an ego and illusions of youth.

What I do not say to first-timers is to look for an aging Baby Boomer. First, the designation offers nothing by which to identify a person. No one in that generation even remotely resembles a baby, and boomer is a useless designation unless you’re referring to the generational inclination to flatulence. Second, the so called Baby-Boomer generation now ranges, according to demographers, from late sixties to late forties, a gap both physically and culturally wide.

The sixties experience for those persons born at the end of the Boomer generation, included Pablum, Similac and Huggies not Kent State, Woodstock, and Viet Nam which the early Boomers endured. A forty-plus body still has tone and some promise of improvement while we sixty-plusers are somewhat inured to being occupants of the used or “previous-owner” lot.

So what is the value of a generational classification in which the classifieds are worlds apart? I’m thinking that the primary benefit is to give the Boomers of academia something to write about. Vast tomes have bubbled forth from the tortured brows of the Baby-Boomer demographers. And what do they say? That the Baby Boomer generation thinks this or that, will do this or that, has done this or that. A vacuous and pointless exercise, because it’s doomed to abstraction.

What I see when I look into my mirror is something factual and singular. A man slightly wrinkled, sagging on the edges, and boiling on the inside. Mirrors can’t see boiling. Mirrors only see the physical, so unless my eyes give me away, my mirror sees only the character lines, white hair, and generous build. It doesn’t care when I was born or what my contemporaries thought about the war in Viet Nam or even what I think.

My mirror shows me, illusions aside, that the operative word in my opening paragraph is, indeed, “old.” I naturally prefer mature or seasoned, but no matter the adjective, the only description I clearly loathe is Baby Boomer. My mirror’s only job is to reflect its version of the truth, and as with Oedipus, “How dreadful is knowledge of truth, when there is no help in truth.”
And the truth is that I am, like Lewis Carroll’s Father William, old, and my hair is very white, and not only do I wince with the occasional pain, but am becoming cranky and frequently given to dismissive quips and snide rejoinders when confronted with muzzy thinking or bigotry. Patience was never one of my virtues.
My mirror reflects only the present, but memory and imagination allow me to overlay what was onto what is. It lets me, when I wish it, remember my past dreams as I regard my present form and so to see the possibilities of my future, perhaps not as expansive as in times past, but optimistic enough to allow waking each day with plans and plots that will engrave my name into history books or lavish upon me new-found riches.

But showered, shaved and into my second mug of dark-roast Columbian, suddenly the history books seem less relevant, and post constitutional, new-found riches seem a stretch too far. Still, looking forward keeps the blood flowing and the neurons firing, and hope, while not eternal, is at least a better salve than Bengay.

As for the Baby Boomer classification, sometime in the middle fifties an eager demographer noted that the American soldiers home from WWll were reproducing like rabbits, not that they weren’t reproducing like rabbits during the war, and that there needed to be a generational title created for the progeny of this group of prolific fathers. The all-knowing internet stipulates that a reporter for the Washington Post coined the term ‘Baby Boomer’ as the generational moniker, and apparently the demographers accepted this as their best description. I don’t know whether this term also applies to the legions of Europeans and North Africans who can trace their lineage to a member of the American armed forces, but it has been dog tagged to my generation of Americans ever since.

Given the differences in age and attitudes among Baby Boomers noted above, I was also curious about the proper definition of, “generation.” Several worth considering.

  1. The entire body of individuals born and living at about the same time.
  2. The term of years, roughly 30 among human beings, accepted as the average period between the birth of parents and the birth of their offspring.
  3. A group of individuals, most of whom are the same approximate age, having similar ideas, problems, attitudes, etc. examples: beat generation, lost generation, baby boomer.
  4. A single step in natural descent, as of human beings, animals or plants.

Clearly the first definition is completely out the window. The entire body of individuals living at the same time includes people ninety-nine and people nine, or one, for that matter. The second definition requires that demographers include children born in 1976 in the Baby Boomer generation, meaning that my daughter and I would be of the same generation. Inconceivable! Nothing similar or even vaguely familiar linked her view of the world and mine. Possibly we would have agreed that the sun rose in the east and set in the west, but would definitely have argued this point on cloudy days.

So there you have it. In spite of the attempt of the demographers, academics, and technicians to muddy the waters, what is clear to me is that a generation is a state of mind encompassing any age and sex, not a finite period of time. Miniver Cheevy was indeed the child of another time. He belonged to another generation, and declared his generation against physical reality. So I tell my mirror that I can see what it calls truth, but can also see what it cannot, that I am more than the reflection it gives back. I am Miniver Cheevy if I wish to be.

U S Supreme Court v. Common Sense

U S Supreme Court v. Common Sense

The common qualifier used by anyone who is not an attorney but is addressing a legal point is, “ well, I’m not a lawyer but…”. Since this is often confessed to people who already know that the speaker isn’t a lawyer, it would seem to be at best redundant and at the very least, irrelevant. So, let’s get that non-sequitur out of the way. I am by the grace of God not a lawyer.

Now to the legal point I wish to address…unlimited contributions within the political process. In the recent Supreme Court ruling McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission all caps were removed from federal elections on the basis that said limits unconstitutionally infringed on the freedom of speech portion of the first amendment. Now remember that I’m not a lawyer thus only allowed to argue based on logic and equity. By granting Mr. McCutcheon the right to give large, perhaps even obscene, amounts of money to federal candidates from whatever district within whatever state he wishes, the court has opened the gate to further financing what James Madison called “ the vicious arts”, a reference to the rhetoric of electioneering. Madison in Federalist number 10 spoke to the danger and management of what he called, “ factions”, within the electorate. He felt that, “ the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.”

Since those who hold the vast amount of property constitute a substantial minority of the electorate, allowing them to control the rhetoric of an election by virtue of buying the means and distribution of that rhetoric under the rubric of “free speech” tilts the process in the favor of a pronounced ‘faction’. While Madison recognized that economic stratification was inevitable and that it did in fact allow for predictable differences in view point, he concluded that the negative results of this natural faction could only be compensated for by controlling the effects. He further stated, “ the regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.” In all of this distant and somewhat awkward prose one gets the clear impression that Mr. Madison was trying to apply a practical leveling effect to the society which he and his peers were trying to create. He realized that legislating perfect equality was not only impractical but virtually impossible; therefore he suggested that the most efficient form of government was a large republic with elected representatives which allowed for the minimization of factions or at least the distribution of factions to a wide assortment of interests thus diluting their power.

The problem with granting a small but financially powerful minority the unlimited ability to control rhetoric is that they then control the selection of the “fit characters”, as Madison termed the elected legislators, and thus their own interests. Madison says, “ The inference to which we are brought is, that the causes of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects. If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote.” He further stated, “ the influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other states.”

So, what is the common sense interpretation of this eighteenth century logic? That the founders, or at least one of the most influential of them, was trying to form a society where every citizen would have their vote and personal interest count on an equal basis. He never supposed that rhetorical ability would be equally distributed. He never imagined that property would be equally divided or even that it should. However he did envision that property alone should not allow a small minority to control the rhetoric and thus the choice of “fit characters”.

No breathing American citizen can actually believe that an elected official whose office is beholden to the generosity and self-interest of a powerful patron will not give undue and thus unequal consideration to that patron. If the Koch brothers or Mr. Soros or any other financially powerful entity supplies the means for a legislator to maintain their seat in the congress, then that seat is for sale and the votes that arise from that seat belong to its patron.

Equating unlimited political contributions to the exercise of free speech as enumerated in the first amendment is not unlike equating the ownership of a claymore mine to the provisions of the second amendment. I’m a long way from Washington but I swear that on April 2nd, 2014 I heard someone yell fire in the crowded chamber of the U S Supreme court

The Hatter, The Hare, and Sarah

When is a party not a party?” asked the Hatter.

“When it’s a movement,” said the Hare.

Replied the Hatter, “Does a movement have to move or can it just sit still and pontificate?”

“ I don’t know what the Pontiffic ate,” Sarah joined in, “ but I know the difference between a soccer mom and a pit bull.”

“ Pass the jam,” said the Hare.

Confused? You should be, because the above is utter nonsense. Perhaps you anticipated disagreement. Perhaps agreement with conditions. But whether agreement or disagreement, I doubt that you expected confusion. Yet such is the world in which we now live.

“ What sort of people live about here?” Sarah asked.

“ In that direction lives a Hatter, and in that direction lives a March Hare. Visit either you like; they’re both mad.”

“ But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Sarah remarked.

“ Oh, you can’t help that,” said Newt, “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

In Newt’s world, and Sarah’s, mad means angry-mad, but in today’s American Wonderland, the equally prevalent mad is crazy-mad, just as in the original Wonderland of Lewis Carroll. But crazy-mad or angry-mad, it’s a distinction with little difference since both mads carry power in the here and now.

The ex-mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, Sarah Palin, since being tapped by John McCain as his vice-presidential running mate in the 2008 presidential election, has raged across the stages and political platforms of America like a starved and un-muzzled sled dog. Her entry, or descent, to the innermost circle of the political inferno, is very like Alice’s tumble, a century-and-a-half ago, down the rabbit hole into Carroll’s Wonderland.

This analogy becomes even stronger when one considers the fact that one of the chapters in Carroll’s book is entitled, ‘A Mad Tea Party.’ Could there possibly be a more appropriate metaphor? Let us imagine Mayor-Governor Palin and Alice standing side by side. Both are female. Both have long hair. Both have five letters in their first name and both were supremely unprepared for what they found on their sudden journeys. The people, places, ideas, and logic they encountered confused, confounded, and frightened each. They were strangers in a strange land. Travelers, without luggage or maps, looking for some familiar face or sentiment but finding neither.

Of course there are differences. Alice was young and innocent. Sarah is older, far from innocent, and possessed of a voice that can shatter glass from a mile away. Alice, being a curious girl, often asked questions of the people and creatures she met along her way. Sarah didn’t know what questions to ask. Alice loved her cat Diana. Sarah might use Diana for target practice. While there are differences, suffice it to say that the parallels are compelling. Sarah and Alice wander through Wonderland in a dream while the world around them gets curiouser and curiouser.

Someone, not Sarah and not too long ago, was thinking about a name for the growing horde of angry-mad, anti-tax, anti-government, anti-everything Americans who were raging against the light. Folks like Sarah and her fellow- traveler Newt. I don’t know why the mob needed a name, but someone came up with the red, white, and blue, apple-pie name, The American Tea Party. Carroll would have been proud, though he might have called a spade a spade, not a heart, and dubbed it, more truly, The Mad Tea Party.

Without identifiable leaders, founding documents, or guiding principles, The American Tea Party, didn’t fit the standard definition of a political party, so someone attached a qualifier, ‘not actually a party, rather a political movement.’ This answered the Hatter’s query, “ when is a party is not a party?”

Now there was a brand, The American Tea Party; a tag-line, An American Political Movement; and a wonderland vision for America itself, which Sarah and Newt and their fellow-travelers claimed to have exclusive providence over.

A standard rule of marketing is that brands need sex appeal. Movements, however, need time and space because movements are often boring, hard-work, un-glamorous pursuits, like the Environmental Movement, Workers Rights, Ecofeminism, Hare Krishna, Flat Earth, Temperance and the Gold Standard.

Enter Sarah and the other champions of the American Tea Party. In order to elevate, substantiate, and sexify their brand, the champions promulgated the delusional back-story that the name, Tea Party, was derived from an early act of colonial sedition. To wit: in December of 1773, as a protest against the recently passed Tea Act, a group of American colonists dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded a British East India company ship in Boston Harbor, and threw overboard 92,000 pounds of tea meant for the American market. This protest, later known as the Boston Tea Party, was not, as has been bandied about by contemporary co-opters, a protest against taxes as much as an “ up-yours, you-can’t-order-our-lives” protest. Taxes on tea had already been established with the passage of the Townsend Revenue Act of 1767 and modified in 1770.

The Tea Act, therefore, was not a tax or even a typical law or statute; rather, it was the granting of a monopoly to the British East India Company for the sale of tea to the American colonies. Think skullduggery and financial bail-out. The British East India Company, because of weak economies in India and Europe, as well as annual contractual obligations of £400,000 to the British government, had, over the years, accumulated a staggering debt.

Parliament, wanting to shore up a major source of revenue to its coffers, voted to solve its problem by granting a sales monopoly to one of its largest debtors. Given the fact that the company’s customers destroyed its inventory, one would have to say that the plan was a failure. But clearly the concept of “too big to fail” did not originate in twenty-first century America.

Poor strategies and ill-conceived objectives have been a hallmark of the Tea Party from its origination. Theoretical, because, as previously stated, there are no organizing papers, no mission statement, no founders, no recognized birthdate and no manger to call a birth place.

The Tea Party movement is comprised of hundreds of organizations on the grassroots level, each with its own size, influence, and priorities. The movement is highly factionalized, with no clear leadership or centralized structure. In fact, different groups affiliated with the movement adopt disparate stances with respect to any given issue.

This dog’s breakfast of a political movement can best be understood as a fourth-of-July parade led by a band of fife and drum playing sons-of-liberty with no drum major and a musical score characterized by confusion, disorganization, and madness.

But to give the devil his due, any movement which can capture the imagination of millions of Americans must have something to recommend it. As Twain said about the aforementioned devil, “ a being who has for untold centuries maintained the imposing position of spiritual head of four-fifths of the human race and political head of the whole of it, must be granted the possession of executive abilities of the loftiest order.”

Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Sarah. While she was elected mayor of a small, small town and Governor of a large, large state, she never got the hang of sane administration. And then there is the uncomfortable question of resigning the Governorship in order to appear regularly on Fox News.

Talking, that’s the talent most politicians need and Sarah has it in spades, or to continue the analogy, in hearts. Even the mob realizes that someone has to translate its passion into votes and petitions. After all, anger-madness without direction births futility, and futility, unresolved, births more anger. The movement has begun to devour itself.

To its credit, the Tea Party has not lacked auditioners for drum major/majorette. Sarah was first. Following her was Michelle Bachman, the Red Queen; Newt Gingrich, the Knave of Hearts; Rick Perry, the DoDo; Mitt, Herman, Jon, Ron, Pennsylvania Rick and an entire deck of wannabes. The whole gang has claimed Tea Party credentials, but since there are dozens of local tea parties and each feels that it has the right of certification, bragging about a Tea Party endorsement is like bragging about having ten toes.

The Republican Presidential auditioners rallied the mob with slogans like,   “ The founding fathers worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States,” or “ Any child born prematurely, according to the president, can be killed,” or “ I have no problem with homosexuality, but I have a problem with homosexual acts” and finally, to prove the primacy of Tea Party madness,               “ There isn’t one study that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas.”

So what does any of this have to do with throwing 92,000 pounds of tea into Boston Harbor, eliminating taxes, minimizing government, and certifying America as a Christian nation? Nothing. And nothing has become the accomplishment of The American Tea Party.

“Take some more tea,” said Senator Cruz.

“I’ve had nothing yet,” said Sarah, “ So I can’t take more.”

“ You mean you can’t take less,” said Newt, “ It’s very easy to take more than nothing.”

“ Nobody asked your opinion,” said Sarah.

It has a familiar ring, doesn’t it? Sarah, Newt, Rick, and all the other cards in the Tea Party deck promote ideas as nonsensical as those of the Cheshire Cat and the Hookah-smoking Caterpillar. Guns, without qualification, for any Dormouse, DoDo, or Knave that wants one. Federal laws telling a woman how, where, and when she has sovereignty over her own body. A Party led only by white rabbits. A judiciary that screams, “Sentence first—verdict afterwards.”

What is this if not confusion? How they hate. How they rant and rave and wave their arms about. A party indeed. Their recipe for a prosperous America calls for ingredients to which most Americans are allergic– a cup of suspicion, a tablespoon of intolerance, and a quart of arrogance squeezed from the belief that all compromise is wrong for a person with principles.

Such a meal can only attract and thus produce a society driven apart by hatred, mistrust, and intolerance. Compromise is the sedative of society and always has been, but poor Sarah still rages through life uncompromising, uncomprehending, and, one trusts, unelectable.