Here ... more than anywhere else that I know of or have heard of, the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal folly—the unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages and throat-slittings, of theological buffooneries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries, of miscellaneous rogueries, villainies, imbecilities, grotesqueries, and extravagances—is so inordinately gross and preposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality, that only the man who was born with a petrified diaphragm
can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night,
and to awake every morning with all the eager, unflagging expectation
of a Sunday-school superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows.
If you want to become angry (unless, of course, you happen to be a wealthy American) and, perhaps, concerned about the future of a once-great, once-respected country, simply read the Vanity Fair article written by Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz (http://www.vanityfair.com/society/features/2011/05/top-one-percent-201105).
This is a disturbing article, which illustrates many things I have observed and even written about. I have noticed how the country has been evolving in the wrong direction and am concerned that there is no solution. Someday--not in this generation--people will rise up against the inequity. The wide spread of firearms will make it rather messy and unpleasant, not that mass uprising ever are. Even the police may change sides, having noticed that wealthy politicians keep lowering their pay and benefits. At some point, the military could also notice the inequity and might no longer be placated by calls for patriotism and flag waving by those who make no sacrifice or even know the meaning of the word.
Everyone in the world knows that the United States is the land of consumerism. Americans have spread and made fashionable the lust for things and brands. Who can forgot Dear Leader Bush’s imploring people to “go shopping” to relieve the shock caused by the September 11 attack on American complacency? What better therapy for the masses than to increase their credit card debt?
Of course, not every country in the world allows people, companies, and organizations to shop for the verdict they desire in a criminal or civil law case. How can anyone believe in a legal system that lets people bargain for their punishment or shop around for a judge to provide a favorable ruling on their case? The current battle between NFL owners and players illustrates this perfectly. Every few days a new court ruling reverses the one recently reported. Each side merely finds a new judge to give them the ruling they want, which merely means the other side spins the cycle another turn. And, every report of some case includes the words “plea bargain”, which makes one wonder about the seriousness of the legal system.
It is no wonder that the United States is the land to lawyer jokes. I have not heard one in any other country I know.
Marriage: The state or condition of a community consisting of a master,
a mistress, and two slaves, making in all two.
The Devil’s Dictionaryby Ambrose Bierce
I read somewhere that there have been over 100 million blog postings about a certain wedding in a small, insignificant country off the coast of Europe (the one that lost its empire but still does pageantry rather well). I will not mention the name of the country or the lucky couple for fear of turning up in search engine results. I can’t handle more dedicated followers and wish to keep the experience intimate.
Before leaving to do something useful (work out at the gym), I watched a bit of the blanket coverage. The wedding has certainly been a boon to the flag, bunting, hat, and dodgy souvenir industries.
I now know where the phrase “the last shall be first” comes from: this country’s protocol. The least important people arrived at the church first and were forced to wait the longest. The most important person, not counting the bride, arrived last. Who can blame the old lady for not wanting to sit around in a drafty cathedral and wait?
It was interesting to watch how people arrived and how they were greeted. The least important had to walk, followed by slightly important in buses, followed by members of less important royal families in large vans, followed by members of the home team in limos, followed by the families of the bride and groom, followed by the boss lady, and finally the bride. I spotted a bit of unconcealed snobbery, which was surely intentional. The mother of the bride is, after all, a mere commoner (the more snobbier remind her constantly of being a stewardess, because working is frowned upon in aristocratic circles). She was allowed to arrive in a less posh limousine (Jaguar, not a Rolls or Bentley). All others had red-uniformed penguins stationed to open limousine doors: not her. She waited inside until some guy in a suit noticed that something might be amiss, when all others ignored her. Boy, did that put her in her place!
I also have a wedding coming up in a few weeks. Fortunately, the world media have not noticed or been informed, surely distracted by all the pomp and circumstance not far from here. Our guests—a discreet bunch of non-celebrities—have kept quiet and can look forward to being able to act however undignified they wish. There will be enough wine to tempt even the most dignified. And, we won’t have horses and carriages...
The cleverly expressed opposite of any generally accepted idea
is worth a fortune to somebody.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, is one of the best, most-insightful writers around (leading a pack of that magazine’s great writers). In a recent piece (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/04/trump-birtherism-and-race-baiting.html), he addressed the ridiculous issue surrounding Obama’s birth. The entire fabricated mess underlines the stupidity and gullibility of people, since recent polls suggest that a not insignificant number of US citizens question his origins.
There is more behind this than a mere birth certificate. By questioning his birth, nasty people have come up with a convenient euphemism. Convention does not allow anyone (in public, that is) to attack the color of his skin. Added to that is his unusual name and (inappropriate) middle name in an age when all things Muslim are suspect and, for many, evil. Nasty characters (Limbaugh, Beck, Trump, various Republican politicians, et al) take advantage of human foibles (a word related to feeble) for personal gain—monetary, name recognition, and/or inflated self-worth.
These characters know how to stir up emotions among those that cannot accept a black man as president (or anything else that appears to be superior themselves); cannot accept a black man as being intellectually superior (after years of basking in Bush/Cheney intellectual heaven); and cannot accept a black man that is a pragmatic realist (as opposed to rabid, dogmatic Republican stonewaller). These people need, and are conveniently presented with, a bogeyman that can be blamed for their own lack of accomplishment, the country’s decline (much of it caused by Republicans and greedy businessmen, who transferred jobs overseas to increase profits), and the grim future they imagine will be caused by this evil force in the White House.
There is no remedy for Obama's problems, because the First Amendment lets anyone say anything, no matter how untruthful or how idiotic...and some media will repeat and multiply the words. The self-serving will always seek to take advantage of the weak, stupid, and gullible in the land of the free and the home of the credulous.
A celebrity is a person who works hard all his life to become well-known,
then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized.
Comedian, Fred Allen
What explains the popularity and increasing prevalence of sound bites? It is more than simply Twitter’s 140 character limitations, because the blight began earlier.
First of all, laziness, ignorance, and prejudice provide one explanation. People satisfy themselves with artificial information, like taking crack cocaine to block out reality. Thought is too much trouble and can be troubling. Simplistic soundbites satisfy the natural inkling that some knowledge is necessary.
Next, it is much easier to stir up emotions (a la Glenn Beck) by distorting issues, ignoring facts, and outright lies. Equal time to different aspects of an argument might lead people to reach the “wrong” conclusion. Demagogues and pundits want only one side to be known, so that must be presented simplistically. Solid information might dampen emotions.
Of course, none of this explains why education has been reduced, watered down, or neglected. Then again, less educated people are more easily placated with simplistic sound bites. Perhaps politicians know what they’re doing by dumbing down the population…
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.