Word and Image of Vermont

Principles vs. Balance
July 31, 2009

Glenn Greenwald's essay yesterday at Salon.com makes a point I wish could be discussed more openly among the American political classes. It's quite simple, actually. There is a difference between principles and political motives.

If people are arguing about their desires, there's plenty of room for trying to find the good in the various positions. But when you're discussing a principle, you have to be either for or against it. You can't support a principle just some of the time, when it goes along with what you want. If you do, then it's no longer a principle; it then becomes just a sort of guideline that you try to follow so long as it's not inconvenient.

The Constitution of the United States is supposed to be a set of principles which define the fundamentals of government in the United States. It is not a set of guidelines. When, for example, it says that treaties entered into by the government become the law of the land, it means that if you violate a treaty, you break the law and become subject to prosecution. Nobody can shield you from the consequences of that violation. The President can't say, "Oh well, I wanted him to do it and so nobody should look into what he did."

This is a truth Glenn Greenwald regularly attempts to bring to the attention of journalists. As a consequence, he is regularly denounced as being extreme. Evidently, in the Beltway mindset, to view the Constitution as the law of the land marks one as an extremist.

His recent argument with Chuck Todd of NBC News made that point clearly. Every time Greenwald pressed Todd on a point of Constitutional law, Todd would respond that Greenwald was right as long as things were being viewed from 30,000 feet. In other words, to perceive the Constitution as the actual, functional law of the land is, in Todd's view, impossibly ideal. It doesn't comport with politics as usual.

Todd can't see that the Constitution was drafted for the purpose of protecting the population from politics as usual. That would be bad enough, if it were coming only from one prominent journalist. But, in fact, Todd is better on Constitutional issues than the average journalist. The majority of notable figures who cover politics in the United States are focused on who is gaining power -- in the game of politics as it's usually played. Nothing else matters to them.

Down this path lies disaster, says Greenwald. And, he's right.

July 30, 2009

I read a profile of Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma by Denver Nicks on The Daily Beast. Nicks argues that though Inhofe may seem to be nuts, he's really a shrewd political operator. In the reddest of the red states, he tells the voters what they want to hear, no matter how crazy it is.

Nicks leaves me with a question I've never been able to answer satisfactorily. When operatives like Inhofe make seemingly insane statements, such as that God allowed the attacks of September 11, 2001 because the United States wasn't sufficiently supportive of Israel, are they simply being cynical and feeding red meat to the bigots and fanatics among their constituents, or do they actually believe what they say?

It's hard to imagine that belief in such a case is genuine. Yet, the evidence leans in that direction.

Who can enter the mind of a man like Inhofe? Who can fathom how it got to be as it is? Is there any explanation for it? If I had grown up in a world of rationality and respect for evidence, I would have a better excuse for my befuddlement. But, I didn't. I grew up among people who were likely to turn out as Inhofe did. But, I still don't understand them. That's why my mind reverts, from time to time, to the hypothesis of cynicism. It seems impossible for anyone to be as crazy as Inhofe's proclamations make him out to be. So, he must be just playing at it, right?

I've had the same feeling watching Bill O'Reilly. He doesn't believe anything he's saying, I tell myself. All he cares about are ratings.

Yet, if there are people who believe what comes out of the mouths of right-wing publicists, then I have to accept the possibility that the publicists themselves are sincere.

When you get to some of the most bizarre things they say, you realize it would take a cynic of extreme genius to make them up. Take this doozy from Inhofe: "I'm really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we've never had a divorce or any kind of a homosexual relationship."

Who would be brilliant enough to enter thinking that twisted just for the sake of garnering votes? The idea almost defies possibility.

I am left with the sinking thought that Inhofe really believes what he says. That, in turn, tells me what kind of species I am a member of. Is there enough time left for evolution to do anything about it?

Unguarded Moments
July 29, 2009

I see that Bill O'Reilly has struck again, announcing that Canadians naturally have a longer life expectancy than we do because there are more of us than there are of them.

It's easy to forget how scripted most of the people are whom we see on TV. As a consequence, we tend to think of them as better informed and more intelligent than they are. It's only at occasional moments that political pundits reveal themselves as having the minds they actually possess, or as living the intellectual lives they actually live.

It's not accurate to make blanket statements about all pundits. They, like other public figures, range across the spectrum of intelligence. But we can say that a considerable number of those who reach a large audience are dumb as posts, O'Reilly being one of the more notable among them.

Think of the condition of mind of a man who can sit and read utter nonsense off a television prompter and not for a moment sense that something is going wrong.

I see that Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly has posted four possibilities for how O'Reilly could have revealed himself so completely. Of them, the one he sees as most likely is that some members of the staff at The O'Reilly Factor had to recognize what a blunder the boss was making but that they were afraid to point it out to him.

I don't much care how it happened, nor do I really care about its portrayal of O'Reilly. Anyone who has listened to him carefully knew before this screw-up that he is not a thoughtful man. But the incident ought to jog us into recalling what it is we're getting when we turn on our television sets. If you rely mainly on TV for learning what's going on in the world, you're not in much better shape than O'Reilly himself.

July 28, 2009

A friend sent me a link to a video of a young woman testifying in California to a city council. She was offering suggestions about how to solve numerous social problems and she was vacuously stupid to a degree we might not have believed possible just a couple decades ago.  It was an amusing item in one sense, much like Jay Leno's sidewalk interviews. But from another perspective the fun goes away.

We have had speeches from a recent candidate for the vice presidency which are scarcely more coherent than the California woman's testimony, and, yet, she continues to be spoken of as a serious candidate for the presidency in 2012.

Bill Maher, who is fashioning a successful comedic career simply by speaking truths forbidden to politicians, told Wolf Blitzer on CNN yesterday that in this stupid country even such an occurrence as Sarah Palin's being selected as a major party candidate might be possible.

Blitzer evinced a mock surprise that Maher would call the country stupid. I suppose that's the response required of TV newsmen as well as from politicians. But Maher was serious, and rightly so.

The United States is suffering significantly from a large portion of its citizenry being pathetically ill-informed. In the media, there is some attention given to political groups who exploit that portion of the population. There's even a beginning admission that the Republican Party exists mainly for that reason alone. Yet, you can find almost no commentary about the responsibility of citizens to possess basic information, nor about the dangers posed by the large numbers who fail in that responsibility.

The going assumption continues to be that Americans have every right to be as stupid as they wish, and that their choices in that respect have no effect on their neighbors. That's not true and we should start facing the falseness of it. No intelligent public policy can come forward if vested interests can count on always being able to mislead a significant portion of the public. And that's the situation in which we now find ourselves.

The New York Times this morning published an article about Senator Jim DeMint in which a South Carolina citizen was quoted as demanding at a town hall meeting, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare." You might want to hope that this is simply the typical South Carolinian in action. But, I'm afraid this man has his counterparts, in large numbers, all across the nation. They are the most serious threat we face and we had best start recognizing who they are and what they promise for our future.

The Serious Yardstick
July 26, 2009

The best measure of corruption in government is not what bad men do but, rather, what good men do. I have been a strong supporter of Barack Obama and I support him still. But a number of his actions recently have disappointed me.

His administration has gone alone with efforts to banish the writ of habeas corpus, which is the bulwark of civil liberty. Evidently, there are strong forces within the Obama administration which care nothing for the rights of the individual citizen. And Obama appears to think they are so strong he has to placate them. It can't be repeated often enough that if the government can seize and imprison a person and subsequently deny him the right to defend himself in an open court of law then it can imprison anyone in that way and not a single one of us is protected against the abuse. That doesn't concern people who seek always to expand the government's police power and they seem to have enough influence to cause the president to go along with them. That's as corrupt as you can get because it undermines the foundation of all other civil rights.

Much evidence is emerging that the barons of Wall Street have so much sway within the administration that the public money turned over to them doesn't have to be accounted for. They don't have to explain how they used it.  Neil Barofsky, who heads the office set up to keep tabs on the TARP funds, is being attacked by major figures within the administration simply because he is trying to do what his job requires. There is now a strong effort to place him under the control of the Secretary of the Treasury, which would make a farce of his function. The actions of the Treasury are exactly what Barofsky is charged with reporting.

These are just two examples of what we see over and again. What ought to be done is not being done. And the reason is that a phantom called bipartisanship would be offended if it were. Given the nature of the current political class, "bipartisanship" means making deals with crooks. That's all it is. Yet, a good president is driven to do it.

When government has to pay off the tyrants and the criminals, that's the definition of corruption. And that's exactly where we find ourselves. The first step in correcting the situation is for everybody who is not a part of a corrupt arrangement to recognize the corrupt nature of the government and to examine its transactions with the expectation that corruption will be present. Over time, that habit might lead to a healthier society, that is if a majority of us can hold ourselves outside the culture of corruption.

A Subservient Public
July 24, 2009

A strain of bizarre and troubling sentiment has emerged as a result of the Henry Gates imbroglio. I have read at least a half dozen comments declaring that people have to be aware of the kind of persons cops are. If you don't get that they will bully you unless you defer to them, then you're just stupid and deserve to be locked up. This is said as though the nature of cops is ordained by the universe and expecting anything else is like expecting the law of gravity to be repealed.

I don't know exactly what happened when the Cambridge police came to Henry Gates's house and I don't suppose I ever will. The media has not been astute in filling me in. I suspect that Gates, having just returned home from a long trip, was grouchy to the point of rudeness. But I can't understand why that caused things to get out of hand. The police went to his house to investigate a possible burglary. When they discovered that no burglary had taken place, I don't understand why they didn't just leave. Gates couldn't have stopped them.

No news account I have yet read has explained to me why the police found it necessary to put Mr. Gates in handcuffs and haul him off to the police station. They must have known that would inflame community passions. What possible good could come from it?

Yet, a goodly number of Americans think Gates got what he had coming. He didn't take into account the street wisdom of who cops are -- i.e., a pack of bullies with power -- and modify his behavior accordingly to avoid bringing the wrath of the bullies down on his head. The most common phrase I've heard about the incident is that you can't expect to give the cops lip and get away with it.  Why not?

It would be better, of course, if everyone in any social confrontation behaved courteously. But just because someone fails to be courteous is not a cause for arrest. And to advise the general citizenry always to bow down before the police doesn't lead to the kind of society I want to inhabit.

I can't find anything wrong with the president's remark that the Cambridge police, in arresting Henry Gates, behaved stupidly.

July 23, 2009

Having been rather hard on warmongers lately, I guess it's only fair for me to ask, honestly, what we would do if we decided to curtail war and killing. Would we simply languish into a paralysis of boredom?

After all, for millennia, humanity's principle diversion has involved one group denouncing another as a threat to all that's holy and promising to wipe it off the face of the earth. These threats have provided all people with a sense of their own rectitude and a reason, as they say, to sacrifice themselves for something greater than self -- something generally that's highly abstract.

What will we do if we don't have people against whom we must wage war? How will we waste the billions that allow congressmen and comparable figures in other countries to pontificate? How will true patriots get rich? These are daunting issues.

There is, of course, sex. But, as everyone knows, sex is immoral whereas war is the most moral thing you can do. And people like to be moral above all else.

Next after sex comes, I suppose, technology. We can get more ingenious gadgets. We can drape them all over our bodies. We can say they're necessary to our security when we go away from home -- or even at home in the event we should slip on a moist spot in the kitchen. Great fortunes can be made supplying them to us.

Next, for some, would come nature. We could go out and walk along trails. We could stop to ponder the scenes at the tops of rises. We could watch bugs as they conduct war against one another.

And, of course, there are restaurants. We can stamp out home cooking. We can consume ever more esoteric dishes. We can dream about eating them as we watch chef contests on TV.

You can make up quite a conglomeration and tell yourself it would be immensely satisfying. But could it really replace the dramatic pleasure of wiping out thousands of other people, of dropping bombs on babies and then announcing sententiously that you wish you didn't have to do it? What other than war would allow men to wear strange looking suits and stick small emblems all over the front of them?

I can't be sure. William James wrote a famous essay about all this quite a while ago. He didn't really solve the problem and no one has since. I won't solve it today. Yet, I continue to think it's worth working on.

It may be that I'm just squeamish and weak, but I confess that war gives me the creeps. It seems that we should be imaginative enough to find something to put in its place.

Human Smoke
July 22, 2009

This morning I finished reading Nicolson Baker's Human Smoke. It's a book I would recommend to anyone, even to those well-versed in the history of the World War II period. It's hard for me to imagine anyone who wouldn't learn from it.

At bottom, it's an explanation of war mania, constructed by collecting hundred of anecdotes and quotations. It shows how lust for war takes over the mind, driving out all other considerations, including those we like to think are most fundamental. Love, as a practical matter, disappears when war mania takes over.

The book also demonstrates, beyond question, that those who conduct war come to love its excitement, come to love it so much they can't be bothered to direct their imagination to what it does to the bodies of those who suffer its direct effects. Ripped apart infants mean nothing to war lovers, except for their use as hate propaganda.

The hero who comes off worst in this account is Winston Churchill. I confess that when I was young he was among the historical figures I admired most. His ringing phrases seemed to me the essence of fine language. Gradually, I have come to learn that he stood in the first ranks of war mongers. He loved war; it gave him everything that boosted his ego. Without it, he would have remained an eccentric retrograde politician. He had nothing to offer the world in peacetime. It makes me sad to say this. Yet, I can't deny its truth, nor can I fail to be grateful to Nicolson Baker for showing me how complete Churchill's glorification of war was.

We, humans, think of war leaders as our finest figures. It's not for me to say we're wrong. I suppose the human race can cherish whatever it wishes, regardless of how bloodthirsty it might be. But if you read this book, your taste for military grandeur might be somewhat diminished. Try it and see.

Illogical Respect
July 22, 2009

I was glad to see Chris Matthews take on California congressman John Campbell over the bizarre campaign to cast doubt on Barack Obama's citizenship. The nonsense about the president's birth certificate is all over the airwaves, and it seems to me we should ask ourselves why.

The motives of the so-called "birthers" is obvious. They're racists and they will do anything to try to deny the legitimacy of a nonwhite president. In their minds, the idea that a nonwhite person can be president is beyond reason. They echo Pat Buchanan's claim that this country was built by white men and seem to think that the ethnic categories of two hundred years ago ought to control our behavior in the first decade of the twenty-first century. There could not have been a black president in George Washington's time and for them that means there shouldn't be a black president now or any time in the future. A black president means that their country has been taken away from them and there's little likelihood that their thought processes on that issue can ever change.

There are also persons who think the earth is flat, and those who believe space aliens are controlling the brains of political leaders all over the globe. The latter, however, are simply dismissed as crazy and not give much attention in the press or on TV. Yet, on many media outlets, people who want to deny that Obama was born in Hawaii are treated as serious political participants. Why?

The reason is the media-generated concept that if you can get a large number of persons to go nuts, then their dementia becomes irrelevant. In the media mind, numbers offset looniness. Many politicians have picked up on this notion and regularly make a pitch to crazy people as their base. And if they manage to get a big enough base, their goofy assertions are treated by the media as though they deserve the same respect offered to sane proposals. This, the media call objectivity.

It's a dangerous practice. It can lead to pure horror. But politicians who think they can ride horror to success, don't care. In their minds, if something can be successful, it can't be horrible. After all, it's rewarding them, isn't it?

The press used to see itself as a guardian against that sort of mania. But now, many elements of the press have joined it. That's why we need to recognize anybody, with any voice, who refuses. I don't always admire Chris Matthews. But I have to give credit where it's due, and he did, yesterday, name craziness for what it is.

Sealed II
July 18, 2009

Given that you can't expect to have genuine conversations with closed minds, what's a reasonable response to the fulmination of pure ideologues? Some advise simply ignoring them, but that's more difficult than it sounds. If sensible people remain silent while closed minds roar, the general public might conclude that the latter are the only voices that have anything to say.

I, for example, have just read a proposal from the right-wing Cato Institute for solving the medical insurance problem in America. Instead of offering coverage through public programs that cover everyone, the Cato Institute wants to mitigate the difficulties caused by private insurance policies through more insurance. All citizens, say the Cato folks, need to have insurance, that is policies which insure people against the failures of their medical insurance policies. One begins to imagine an interminable chain of polices, each one designed to make up for the deficiencies of the one that proceeds it. We might, eventually, move towards the right-wing utopia of providing employment for more than half the population by large insurance conglomerates, headed by brilliant CEOs, each making more than a hundred million dollars a year.

What is one to say? And to whom? The proposal is absurd. But the Cato Institute envisages a population in which a majority trill to absurdity. The right-wing vision is, at bottom, always based on a mass of peons who happily maintain worthy people in the style of life to which they are accustomed, and to which, somehow, they have a perfect right.

It wasn't, altogether, a bad argument -- say four hundred years ago --when it could be made forthrightly. But, now, we live in a presumably democratic age in which calls for the luxurious maintenance of insurance executives have to be framed in the accents of hypocrisy. That's the problem. Hypocrisy rankles. And we are left wondering what to do when we see it pumped out at us.

We are not going to get through to the Cato Institute people. I suppose you might find one or two who in certain situations would admit that their arguments, on the face, are silly but that they are designed to produce a desirable social outcome -- that is the sustenance and rule of the rich. Most, however, have been so deluded by their own rhetoric they actually believe their nonsense.

You can't talk to them. But you can't remain silent. So, what's to be done?

I think we have to fail back on a kind of faith in testimony. We have to hold onto the notion that there's some worth in speaking the truth, though it may have -- at the moment -- small practical value. It's good for your own heart, if nothing else.

A society in which large numbers testify is not an unworthy vision.

July 17, 2009

It appears to be the case that many human minds -- and perhaps a majority of them -- by the time they have been in existence for twenty years or so have become closed boxes. Nothing of significance any longer gets into them and nothing escapes. Why this should be the case is, perhaps, the biggest mystery.

Clearly, it's the reason why most political debate goes nowhere. When closed boxes argue a point, nothing happens. They just keep on being the boxes they were before the debate started.

I sat yesterday with two friends in the snack bar of a golf club and speculated about why most of our fellow citizens would under certain circumstances be in favor of torture committed by the U.S. government. We realized that out of the men in the room, we were probably the only ones who would not be.

The closed box theory came almost immediately into our conversation. But none of us had serious explanations about why it was valid. It was simply there, so powerfully in front of us we couldn't deny it. But neither could we understand it.

We discussed trying to have a conversation with Jeff Sessions of Alabama. And we all realized it would be pointless. One of my friends had actually written him a letter about his behavior during the Sotomayor hearings, which he pretty well knew in advance would be futile. He did it, anyway, just to unburden himself, which is one of the main reasons I continue to post comments on this web site. They are unlikely to engage anyone's mind who wouldn't already have entertained them.

The human inability actually to engage in dialogue may be the most striking feature of our species. Socially, we change very little because of discussion. Change takes place simply because some people die and others, of a different sensibility, come to take their place.

I suppose argument has a certain utility because, while new members of society are forming their minds, arguments that are present have a chance to influence them. So those of us who would like different thoughts to shape social arrangements have a duty to keep the arguments flowing. Yet, we shouldn't frustrate ourselves with hopes of really talking to Jeff Sessions. He's in his box and he isn't coming out.

July 14, 2009

If you're an ordinary American citizen and think you own some portion of your country, you're deluded. The nation is owned by the finance industry, and the evidence for that ownership is widespread.

If you think that's an exaggerated statement, go to the article about the influence of Goldman Sachs which appeared yesterday on Salon.com. It's a long article containing numerous quotations by knowledgeable people. And what they say isn't equivocal. Simon Johnson, for example, former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund, announced recently that the finance industry has effectively captured the United States government. Senator Dick Durbin said last April that the banks own the place.

Their operation is not subtle. When they get into trouble because of insane financial gambits designed to pump up short term profits -- and huge bonuses -- they simply order the government to turn billions of taxpayer dollars over to them. And then they go merrily along with their operations and inflated compensation. It's nothing more than a form of theft, and they practice it every day. And the people in government who might like to do something about it are powerless.

Taking ownership back from the banks will not be an easy or short process. Some "realists" would say it's impossible. But if it could happen, the first step would be to spread information about what the banks are doing, and who's getting paid for what they do. "Realists" say the public can't pay attention to anything that detailed. And if they're right, the prospect of a democratic nation is effectively lost.

The argument the bankers use to maintain their reign of theft is that only they have the sophisticated knowledge of the financial system required to head off economic collapse. So, they have to be supported in their state of splendor in order to save the rest of us from total collapse. It's no matter that they brought the prospect of total collapse into possibility. It's too bad, they confess, that our financial system can't be fair. But fair or not, they are the only ones who can head off perfect disaster. And they won't do it unless they are paid millions every year.

People who fall for that argument have no backbone. As long as they make up the majority of the political class, the banks will continue to own us all.

A Show
July 14, 2009

The Senate hearings on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court are an exercise in absurdist theatre. It seems that most people participating in the process understand its nature, but that causes them to be no less eager to make fools of themselves.

The nominee herself professed that her only loyalty was fidelity to the law -- whatever that means. No one at the hearings would dare mention the truth that the law is often murky and that applying it is not a simple process of reading it right. Many of the laws passed by our legislatures have no right reading, and that's one of the main reasons we need courts -- to try to make some sense from a mishmash. But that's not a fact that can be uttered.

The chief clown in the procedure is Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. He announced that bringing empathy or sympathy into the judicial process is a really terrible thing. From his point of view, a judge has no right to know who he or she is. A judge has to be an automaton. If we follow Sessions's reasoning -- an admitted impossibility -- we would be better off with a computer program to render judgment from the bench. Anything human in the procedure is bogus.

It doesn't help much that Sessions looks as silly as he speaks, but, I suppose, that's not supposed to be a factor either.

The only reason I can discover for this overheated melodrama is that it attempts to play to the public taste, or whatever it is that passes for the public taste. We don't know what that is anymore than we know what the law is, but we have different judges to pronounce on what the public likes and doesn't like. And they may be even more absurd than the denizens of the bench.

Foreign Indignation
July 8, 2009

Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said recently about the prospect of bombing Iran, "I worry a great deal about the response of a country that gets struck." In making the remark, Mullen is running counter to a deep vein of belief in the American psyche. Many Americans seem to believe, with a near-religious faith, that the rest of the world ought to welcome American bombing anytime and anyplace. Some Americans even believe that the country being bombed has no right to resent the destruction America might rain down on their country and their fellow citizens.

This is a peculiar attitude, one whose origin is worth investigation. How is it that Americans think they have privileges no other people on the face of the earth possess? Is it, simply, they are so convinced of their own virtue, they can't imagine anyone not sharing the conviction? Or is it that American reverence for military violence exceeds any other passion or concern that might be raised against it?

At times, when I've been out of the country, I've talked with other people about this sentiment. They generally find it incomprehensible. Majority opinion around the world holds that military violence is horrible and obscene. I don't think there is any other country where it is regarded as glorious as it is in the United States.

There's nothing wrong in being distinctive, but this is one area where it's sad for us to be different from everybody else. Nothing would be more healthy for the citizens of the United States than a shift of opinion away from the glory of military destruction.

If we could understand, with Mike Mullen, that the people of Iran would be seriously angered by being bombed, and would respond in ways we might find troublesome, we would take a major step towards mature comprehension of the reality of international relations. Bombing is an unreasonable solution to almost every international problem and if we should decide to make it a barely considerable option, we would, overnight, transform our standing in the world.

Not New
July 2, 2009

There is a rising belief in this country, to which I may have contributed in a tiny way, that current Republican leaders and their publicists are making more idiotic statements than have ever before been made. Given the nature of Republican commentary, it's not hard to understand this belief. Still, we need to be clear that it is not valid.

To think that it is would accord today's Republicans far too much originality.

If you want to see it thoroughly refuted, simply thumb through the first thirty pages of Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke, where the author recounts statements made by Western leaders in the 1920s and 1930s. He has examples which rival anything John Boehner, or even Paul Broun, has been able to concoct.

In late August 1920, Winston Churchill, Britain's secretary of state for war, wrote to Hugh Trenchard, head of the Royal Air Force: "I think you should certainly proceed with the experimental work on gas bombs, especially mustard gas, which would inflict punishment on recalcitrant natives without inflicting grave injury on them." The recalcitrant natives, in this case, were the inhabitants of Iraq, who were being indoctrinated into the virtues of Western civilization. Churchill knew that mustard gas blinded children and infants. But then, one defines "grave injury" according to his own hierarchy of values.

When you compare this with Missouri Republican Cynthia Davis's demand that school lunches be cut off because hunger is a great motivator, she doesn't really come off sounding too bad -- by historical standards that is.

We descend into the fallacy of gross egotism when we tell ourselves that the fatuity with which we have to contend rises sharply above examples from the past. We should guard against that stripe of self-grandeur.

July 1, 2009

Every day when I go out I see cars with signs on their bumpers urging me to support something or other. The "support our troops" signs are not as ubiquitous as they once were but they're still common and they still leave me as confused as ever. How am I supposed to support them and what is it that I'm supposed to support them to do? The "our" part of the sign bothers me too. It suggests that I share in the ownership of these troops. But that's not true. I have no element of possession whatsoever. Mostly, the troops are doing things I don't want them to do. They're dropping bombs on people I don't want bombed; they're shooting people I don't want killed.

I realize the majority of my fellow citizens do want them to bomb and kill people. And since I live in a quasi-democracy I'm more or less obliged to acquiesce in their mayhem. But I have neither the will nor the means to support them.

Now, however, it's not just the troops I'm supposed to support. Today I saw a sign telling me to support the Vermont State Police. I suppose, in a way, I do support them by not squealing mightily about the state taxes I have to pay. But, beyond that, I don't have interaction with the Vermont Police. And, I have little idea how they spend their time or what they do. I see them, now and then, driving along the highways in their Vermont State Police cars. But it's impossible to tell where they're going and what they're going to do when they get there. I don't actually have anything against the Vermont State Police, but to say I would go to the lengths of supporting them is a stretch.

All in all, I wish people would stop putting signs on their cars. Most of the time they are not objects of beauty. And some are obnoxious. And even though they don't create noise, they take the form of shouting. It's not a happy thing to be shouted at, and, for me, it's mildly irritating to be told to support something by the bumper of a car.

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