Saturday, November 20, 2004

History In Red And Blue

An honest-to-God historian taught me something new the other day. I like it when this happens. I like feeling smarter than I was the moment before. Garry Wills in his newest book, Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power, explains that Jefferson was only elected, and very narrowly elected, because southern slave-owners got an extra 3/5 of a vote for every slave they owned. A Virginian (like Jefferson) who owned, say, 50 slaves got to cast an extra 30 votes in the Presidential election in addition to his own personal vote; in other words he cast 31 votes to every single vote cast by some Vermonter or Pennsylvanian who owned and ran his own farm or shop. It was a nice rule for southern slave-owners. I’m a little embarrassed that I never knew this, or that I’d forgotten it. I’m glad I know it now. Jefferson wouldn’t have won election over Adams without this slave technicality. Most of the Presidents before Lincoln were slave-owners too. And now I know why slavery held on as long as it did. I’m not less proud of America, nor do I despise Jefferson for this. I’m just glad I have more information. I might, for instance, despise some modern President who used such a racist technicality to win election. We like to think times change.

In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety Two Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue. I learned this when I was in the first grade. Columbus was a hero who bravely ignored popular opinion, traded his Italian loyalties for Spanish, sailed beyond the horizon and discovered a New World (or rediscovered it) which they later named after somebody else. However you feel about it, it was a great thing, a big deal. Columbus was greeted with appropriate awe and naive generosity by the natives of various islands, whom (and this I didn’t learn until later) he brutally enslaved and in some cases murdered. I didn’t learn all of the gory details in the second grade or in the sixth grade, but I did learn it eventually mostly because historians stopped keeping the unflattering truth from us during the Sixties. Did you know that the native population of the Americas pre-Columbus numbered between 50 and 75 million, which was about the same as the population of the continent Columbus sailed from? The arrival of the Europeans was catastrophic for the Americans who already lived here. I learned this too, eventually. Most of the millions of Native Americans who died shortly after 1492 were not killed by Columbus personally. Most were not killed by the Seventh Cavalry either. Most never lived to see a settler, much less disagree with one. Most died from diseases brought from Europe, particularly smallpox and measles. Some of the diseases, I suppose, might have been brought from Africa with the slaves because half the early population came from there in chains. Does the importation of deadly diseases make Columbus or Walter Raleigh or Miles Standish less brave? Does it make the discovery a bad thing? It certainly makes it less wonderful, a mixed bag. These are the sorts of things that make for lively classroom discussions. This kind of information also makes some people angry and embarrassed and confused about what they should feel or believe.

The Native American Pandemic can also teach us about unintended consequences. The “Oops Factor” worked to somebody’s benefit; in 1492 it worked to the advantage of the Europeans, just as the Oops Factor of nicotine addiction has long worked to the advantage of the makers of cigarettes, and the Oops Factor of illegal contract workers never hurt WalMart’s bottom line, and the Oops Factor of thousands of legal voters accidentally-on-purpose taken off the voter lists in Florida didn’t exactly harm George W. Bush. Was it mean for me to mention all of this in one breath? It wasn’t an accident, so I won’t say “Oops”.

We learn a lot of different lessons in school; not all of them are simple ones. Learning carries unexpected consequences of its own. Education is risky just as democracy is risky. The Founding Fathers knew this about democracy and considered many different ways of tempering it. They never could agree about free public education. A well-informed population is less obedient, but it is also more responsible. A better-informed citizen thinks for himself or herself and isn’t as easy to push around, which can be a nuisance if you are in charge. But isn’t this what we want? It depends on who this “We” is. If the We who are making the decisions are the same We who pull the levers of industry and commerce perhaps We would just as soon the levers (meaning everybody else) behaved more like levers. We (meaning We The People this time) sometimes forget that Capitalism and Democracy are not the same thing at all.

Garry Wills says something else in his new book that I didn’t know before. Did you know that one of Jefferson’s private reasons for founding the University of Virginia, and perhaps his main reason, was to keep the sons of Virginia from going north to Harvard and Yale where too many of them were learning to despise slavery? I’m sure most schools in Virginia don’t teach about the nobility or the common sense of the slave system anymore. Now that Wills has let this last cat out of the bag I would bet they’ll be less inclined to tell stories about happy slaves, even if they were happy sometimes; we are all happy sometimes. We are fools to sugar-coat history. Sad and terrible stories tell us just as much as bright and sunny ones about Presidents throwing dollars across rivers or being pulled up the driveway by their happy but unpaid servants, perhaps more. Even if the truth is a bit embarrassing, it is also a prod to do better and we are happier knowing it.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

It’s Really Happening. Try To Enjoy It.

This is really happening. It’s real and it’s official. Bush is still president. There is no point in arguing about it. Worrying about whether it should have come out like this is so yesterday. It isn’t good to think too much about things like this. Did it really happen the way everybody says? Don’t be an idiot, of course it happened: you saw it on TV and TV doesn’t lie. If you see it on TV it is automatically true.

Stop asking stupid questions. Stop arguing. Don’t fight the reality. Learn to live with it. Try to behave like a grownup. President Bush’s new nominee to head The Office of Women’s and Minority Rights, Robert Knight said it better than anybody: “If the rape is inevitable you should just lie back and enjoy it.” That is very good advice. Take it. Accept it. Go with it. Face facts. It’s happening. Facing facts is what made America great. Fact: George Bush is our ruler. More about what that implies later.

We are a fact-based culture. America loves facts. What is IS and always shall be, amen. Is it true? Like factually true? Get a life. Of course it’s true. How come? Because. It was on TV, wasn’t it? You saw it with your own two eyes. Are you blind? What wasn’t true is the part they reported and backed off on, the part where voters were exit-polled and Kerry was winning big in Florida, Ohio, Nevada, New Mexico, Iowa and everyplace else except the places where it is still legal to own other people. They lied. The bit about Kerry winning in a landslide was an absolute dirty lie that nobody should have believed for a minute. Once you accept that reality, that everybody was lying when they came out of the polls on Tuesday, it is easy to get to the actual truth that most people voted for Bush even if they said they didn’t. Voters are notorious liars. Lucky for us they left the truth inside specially-made electronic machines that never lie. That’s where the truth is kept: on electronic machines controlled by God. Then on early Wednesday the truth came out. I read it with my own two eyes on the Drudge Report. And I knew.

Since Wednesday everybody has been telling the complete truth. When you saw Bush saying he won, that was the truth; it really happened. He really did say it because everybody heard him say it on TV. “I won.” And Kerry really did concede. He called the president. I can show you the phone records if you want to make a big deal out of it. That was not faked. We have it on videotape.

Here’s where we stand: People went to vote on Tuesday. They voted. They lied to everybody when they came out of the voting booth (except in the states where Kerry won, which are populated by people who do not believe in God and hate America.) Luckily their actual votes were recorded on electronic machines incapable of lying, and the numbers from those electronic machines were written down by special government workers in indelible ink and are being kept extra-safe in secret locations where nobody will ever find them. What possible motive could those machines have to lie? Machines don’t lie. They don’t even care. They hardly ever even make mistakes. And wherever the numbers are mixed up, like more people voting for Bush in some places than there are people in those places, there’s probably a simple explanation, and it doesn’t matter anyway because he won and Kerry conceded and we saw it on TV.

The important thing to remember is what really happened really happened. If you don’t believe me go read it in the newspaper. Go watch the TV. The results are in. So now the Democrats are all unhappy. Why? Because they are losers again, and losers will say anything. Sore losers are the worst kind. Don’t you hate sore losers? Sore losers can’t face facts. Winners embrace facts. Fact: George Bush won the election. How do we know? They announced it on TV. No more questions. Everybody can go home now and await further instructions.

How do we know for sure he won? Because he did. He won he won he won he won he won he won he won he won he won. Go home and shut up and stop bothering me.

Should he have won? What a stupid question. Monday morning quarterbacking is so unattractive. Only babies ask for do-overs. Nobody likes that. Nobody is helped by that. Do you have any idea how much a question like that embarrasses our troops? How does dredging all that up help anyone? Closure is what America needs now. The people have spoken and Bush won. Now go home and quit annoying people. Go home and take your medicine. Go home like a big baby and call all your friends on the telephone, it won’t change anything. How come? Because you are all a bunch of losers and nobody believes losers anyway any more than they believe people who lie about how they voted.

Why don’t people like losers? Because they’re losers. I am so tired of all the negativism I am hearing from blue state people. Iraq is half full! It’s a great success! Hello! Everybody loves America except the people who hate us for our freedoms, like Michael Moore. God told George Bush to invade Iraq. God wants him to be president again so he can really, really finish things off in Iraq where everybody hates us. And then he can make sure that all of the other things people wouldn’t let him talk about during the election get done and done good so they can never be undone. Amen.

George W. Bush doesn’t even really care how unpopular these things are because he doesn’t look at polls. He doesn't care what people think, because he's in charge. He's the ruler, remember? He doesn’t care what the newspapers say because he doesn’t read them. He listens to his gut and to Dick and nobody else. Why? Because people lie all the time, even to the president of the United States, so he doesn’t trust anybody, except his friends who give him money, which is smart, which means polls can be wrong, except when they’re done on specially-made electronic machines, closely monitored by trustworthy friends of the president, with no paper trail to mess things up afterwards. No do-overs.

And now that he’s won again he doesn’t even care what anybody says and he can do whatever he wants. And nobody can say anything about it. They can all just shut up. And if he doesn’t want to nobody can make him. He can do anything he feels like, because he’s the most important man in the whole wide world. He is the President. How come? Because the machines say so. And the machines were made by people he knows really, really well, and they said they would work perfectly just like they were meant to work, and they did. So there. And that’s all I’m going to say about it. And if you don’t like it, well, tough toenails. The other guys who liked the other guy better must really like losers, because that’s what he is. Those spoilsports and traitors who were trying to take it all away, ended up losing after all, and Bush won, and there’s nothing they can do about it no matter how hard they try.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Getting Rid of the Good Life

When you’re up against it, you sell up. That’s where we are today. Our government is selling everything. Nothing is too special to get rid of. They’ve tacked the flyers up all over the neighborhood, they’ve dragged the stuff out onto the yard and marked everything cheap so it will sell, because we need the money. They’ve told us we can’t afford the life we’re accustomed to, so they’re selling it. Republicans are very practical people. We paid for this good life, but that doesn’t mean we get to keep it.

Public Libraries are a burden on the public purse. Some people need public transit, but not me. Public Health professionals cost money we don’t have. If you don’t have Special Needs why should you pay for those who do? When did the city parks ever make anyone a profit? Maybe we could sell our boulevard trees to a timber company. It’ll save raking in the fall. Isn’t it wiser to sell these things?

Two potential buyers have their eyes on Yosemite. One of them owns amusement parks. The other just wants it so he can put his name on it and charge admission. A gas company wants to buy most of Utah (but if he’s nice to the cashier he might be able to tap it for free instead). Lots of people want to buy the National Forests. Nobody wants to pay very much, but who can afford to let trees just stand around? Not us.

I’ve heard somebody’s offering a lot of money for the Great Lakes. Should we sell? Maybe we better.

The public schools are for sale. Cheap. There are lots of entrepreneurs who know better than us how to turn out better, more obedient workers. More students per class means higher productivity, doesn’t it? Of course, like anyone looking for a bargain, they’re turning up their noses at the goods, saying the schools are lousy. They still want the franchise. Everybody has to go to school. Why should we own when we can rent? The schools will look a lot better when they belong to somebody else. We’ll pay top prices then.

We can’t afford Medicare, so the Republicans are selling that too. There are two or three humongous health care companies looking to buy it, then they’ll sell it back to us. Buy low, sell high—that’s why they’re rich and we’re not. When it’s a matter of life and death, some shrewd operator ought to be able to make a killing. Got medicine? How much are you willing to pay? How much do you hurt? Our tax dollars paid for the research for many of the new drugs, so actually we’ll get to buy them twice.

Congress is for sale. Did it ever really belong to us? We chose them, we sent them there, we paid them, we thought they were ours. But other people, big companies, people who own big companies, the heirs of people who own big companies, the lobbyists representing all these moneyed interests, all have more money to spend, and money talks. We can’t afford Congress; these other people can. Did we really need it? If we can’t pay more do we deserve it?

The Republicans tell us government is a wasteful luxury. They should know wasteful luxuries better than anyone. How many of these governmental agencies did we ever really use? Do you remember what they’re for? Do we really need a Small Business Administration? It’s more efficient to hand out help to fewer larger companies. Take FDA, EPA, FEMA, the SEC, the FERC. (Please.) Do you have the time to take advantage of them? I know people who do. When’s the last time a broadcaster acted like the airwaves belonged to us? Sell them. What about the FCC? Did I ever tell you the one about the Fox who saved up his money and bought a henhouse? The egg supply went down very quickly.

Yard sales are such fun. Such bargains.

Social Security is for sale. Cheap. The demand will be very high in a few years; somebody should be able to make serious money. Only super unlucky people really need Social Security, and we’re really lucky so we won’t need it. Hope the buyers don’t look inside. Before that sharp-eyed Republican put the price on it, he took a lot of the parts out. Selling the insides helped buy a lot of other things we never wanted or needed, and never asked for. Boondoggles: fancy office parks in special Republican districts, fancy ray-guns that can’t hit anything, a lot of real estate in Iraq. That’s for sale, too. It looks broken to me. I wouldn’t buy it.

The C.I.A. is for sale. No surprise there. It’s very used. I understand the current owner installed all of the conclusions for you, so no thinking is necessary. Once it’s run like a real business they’ll do a much better job of telling the President what he likes to hear.

National Defense is for sale. A lot of it was sold to a Mr. and Mrs. Halliburton a few years ago, and they do very nicely with it. Protecting America abroad by paying lavish executive compensation into offshore bank accounts. There is profit in defense. Profit is the whole point, isn’t it? The soldiers wish they got fed better and on time, but soldiers always complain. Sometimes they run out of bullets and body armor, but business is business. Does a for-profit military win more wars more quickly? Will for-profit cops catch more crooks?

Smart entrepreneurs could convert fire departments into profit centers: you’d be glad to pay them anything to save your house and belongings once they’re on fire. Maybe they’ll install a coin slot on the sides of fire engines. "Pay as you go" was a stupid idea when John Kerry said it, but now that the old regime has won the election it is definitely the idea of the moment, especially if ordinary people like us are the ones paying. Why should we keep our hand in?

The Republicans are selling our good life, bit by bit. Outsourcing it. Privatizing it. Profitizing it. Or shutting it. What doesn’t sell will be folded up and given away. We’re already giving a lot of things away almost for free. Which is good for the people who are buying, and most of them are Republicans. These things weren’t free when we bought them. How did we ever afford it all in the first place? We managed, I guess. Some of the fees we will pay instead are just as high or higher. When everybody paid their taxes, didn’t it cover the good things we decided we needed? And weren’t most of these things smart things to have? Were they really luxuries? Where is all the money going now? Will the selling price pay our debts? Who is really profiting from this yard sale? Is it too late to think about that now? If we change our minds we can always buy these things back. I’m sure they’ll cost a lot more then.