"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Inflatable Jesus–Better Cancel Easter And Christmas If It Comes To This

After Halloween’s displays of inflatable witches and ghouls; Thanksgiving’s giant turkeys and John Smith and Pocahontas dioramas, and Christmas’ oversized Santas, sleighs, mangers, and reindeer, it was no surprise that a giant, plastic, inflatable Jesus on the cross appeared on the lawn of 114 Prospect Street at Eastertime. 

Image result for images large inflatable jesus

The figure was two stories high with arms as long as the limbs of a live oak.  Even in a slight breeze the figure swayed and dipped, and in a wind its wire tethers screeched and moaned. Jesus’ brow was dripping with painted blood, his eyes, illuminated from within, looked agonizingly upwards.  His wounds were wet with oozing watercolor, his nailed hands oversized, knotty, and grotesquely misshapen. On the roof was an animated, plastic, inflated figure of God Almighty, surrounded by sunbeams, his arms outstretched and extended down to the beseeching figure of his son.  Bach’s Easter Oratorio was heard from speakers mounted on trees, secreted in the rhododendrons, and attached to the porch swing.

For all intents and purposes the Richards were an ordinary family, and although their lawn decorations bordered on the politically incorrect – a white jockey, realistic-looking dwarves bowing to the fairest, blondest, more exaggeratedly white Snow White ever imagined by Disney, Christian Crusade figures on Arab stallions charging scattering Saracens – they were taken as honest expressions of faith.  A bit crass, the neighbors snickered, but within the bounds of free speech if not the social propriety for this upscale, politically aware enclave of Washington.

Image result for images lawn statues snow white seven dwarves

The Richards’ home became a minor tourist attraction, all bells and whistles, tinsel, and action figures animated by a religious faith all but absent in the community.  The little choo-choo trains that wound in and out of the shrubbery were cute, the animated scary cats and skeletons that shook and wobbled and scared little children were all in good fun, and one of the Richards – a large family of five children – was always out on the lawn greeting passersby.

Families from the suburban working class neighborhoods of Gaithersburg and Rockville shoehorned into garden apartments or condos just off the Pike and with no lawns of their own were frequent visitors to the Richards’ home.  No display was too exaggerated or too showy.  In fact, the more lights, the bigger the inflated figures, the more lively the animation, and the louder the music the better.  

These families, many of whom were immigrants from countries where displays of faith were common, saw nothing garish or tacky about the Richards’ displays.  In San Salvador, Huancayo, and Tegucigalpa saints days, Mardi Gras, Christmas, and Easter were all celebrated with parades –with festooned and bedecked bishops and prelates, oversized crosses and statues, live manger scenes with real people, goats, and sheep, loud,  bright colors, and festive music. 

Image result for images easter parades latin america

These new arrivals, surrounded by Protestant minimalism and barely-noticeable devotion, were overjoyed to find a place they could relate to, something emotional, personal, and moving.  The Richards’s front lawn at just about any time of year was it. 

As much as the people of Valley Park tolerated the Richards’ displays, the residents across the avenue in Barrow Hill, one of Washington’s oldest, wealthiest, and most socially conservative neighborhoods, were outraged.  Not only did such garish shows offend their prim, tailored, temperate tastes, but the crowds from the unpleasant suburbs with too many children, too many unintelligible languages, and far too many cheap clothes, toys, and accessories, loaded into twenty-year old Corollas, and shortcutting across their neighborhoods to the Richards’ home were about as unwelcome and unwanted as the homeless on Thomas Circle.

Image result for images homes spring valley dc

Worst of all, knowing that this pretentious, ugly, crass display was only a few blocks from their leafy enclave and separated only by the avenue, was just as bad as seeing it in person.  Seeing it once was enough to infect and pollute the images of their carefully preserved community.  In fact, it wasn’t the leafy sycamores, the flourishing azaleas, or the light, tumbling sound of the creek that ran through their neighborhood that they thought of, but the flapping, tooting, moaning effigies on the Richards’ lawn.

The erection of the huge Eastertime inflatable Jesus on the Cross was a game-changer.  The Salvadorans and Mexicans from Silver Spring and Rockville now came in even larger numbers and instead of drive-by looks, double parked on Prospect Street, got out of their cars, and prayed and blessed themselves in front of the Richards’ house. The corner of Prospect and Fairchild became Washington’s Lourdes or Fatima. No suspension of disbelief at these online Walmart-purchased images was required.  The new Americans were quite easily able to overlook the plastic, the generators, the guywires and tethers, and props and fall to their knees.

At the same time the residents of Barrow Hill had finally reached the end of their rope, and they claimed loudly and persistently to their Councilmembers.  The lawyers among them looked through DC zoning statutes to see under which legislation or hidden codicil the Richards could be forced to take down the Inflatable Jesus. How could dismantling a religious icon under public law still be Constitutional and respect the Freedom of Religion not to mention the Freedom of Speech?

The political progressives of the other side of Prospect Street, residents of a neighborhood best known for its Black Lives Matter, Biden/Harris, and Hate Has No Home Here rainbow signs and deeply committed to inclusivity, diversity, and social change, were conflicted about the whole affair.  While they instinctively sided against the Barrow Hill white elitists and with the immigrant poor who were expressing their newfound democratic rights, they were secretly appalled at the tastelessness of the Richards’ lawn display.  

These progressives, all with advanced degrees, tenured positions at Washington’s universities, or senior posts at liberal advocacy groups were supposed to take the underclass – the underclass as a whole – without question as the core of American society.  It was these new arrivals with their mariachis, rice and beans, huipils, and happy faith who were to be championed just as the white, elitist, racist wealthy plutocrats of Barrow Hill were to be deposed.

Image result for images rainbow signs hate has no home here

Yet, one look at the 40’ high, swaying, tipping and tilting, garishly bleeding, grotesquely agonized  plastic inflated Jesus and the distorted, twisted image of Michelangelo's God on the roof was enough to force them to reassess the limits of ‘inclusivity’.  None of these white, liberal, progressives had grown up with such absurd displays.  Whether on the East Coast or West, they grew up in an environment of social conservatism – simple clothes, simple homes, simple cars, and simple worship.  The Inflatable Jesus was their line in the sand.

It was agreed to first talk with the Richards, to reason with them, and to appeal to wider community values; but when that didn’t work and the family insisted on its displays, the whole kit-and-caboodle of knights, saints, God, and the Inflatable Jesus, the lawyers got involved; but that simply opened a maze of complex legalisms.  Was there a height limit for religious displays? And would the community accept a twenty-foot Inflatable Jesus instead of forty?  And what about the smarmy dioramas and animated action figures? Could they be toned down?

The Chairwoman of the City Council, a black woman from Southeast who had made her bones under Mayor-for-Life and convicted criminal Marion Barry, who knew a political opportunity when she saw it, and who felt she could use the issue of the Inflatable Jesus to blunt if not neuter lawyerly white interests in the city and pave the way for more generous public investment in the inner city, voted in favor of the Richards and the caravans of immigrants who were coming from her constituency as well as from the Maryland suburbs.  The Inflatable Jesus was also her line in the sand.

So the Richards were snubbed by the residents of Valley Park, hated by the white elitists of Barrow Hill, and paid lip service by the DC government and council.  None of this bothered them, however, since they were never out to prove any point except the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Idealism, Realism, And Virtuality– How Befuddled Politicians Bang And Whinge Their Absurd Way To Office

Metaphysicians since the Ancient Greeks have pondered the nature of the perceived world – what is real and what is not; what exists only in the eye of the beholder and what actually exists – but have never agreed.  

Plato, considered to be the father of Idealism, believed that the physical world was not real and since it undergoes constant changes, one cannot take its measure. Only the individual’s immediate subjective, personal experience –‘ the intuitive self’ – which is able to achieve a direct knowledge of ultimate reality. 

Consequently, the idealist can bypass normal cognition and eliminate the process of mediation interposed between the objects observed and the perceptions of them.  Such mediation – or the intrusion of cognitive, rational analysis and the disruption of direct intuition – reduces the ability to perceive and understand the world.

Image result for images plato

Realists like Aristotle believe that reality exists independent of the human mind and the ultimate reality is that where physical objects actually exist. Realists, therefore, believe that truth is objective, and can be discerned through logical analysis and scientific method.

Phenomenologists like Bishop Berkeley muddied the waters by saying that human perception influences the nature of reality. If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to hear it, it does not make a sound. Of course this was an irrefutable position, since it could not be proven, but it did add an unusual dimension to metaphysics.  

Max Planck, the father of quantum physics travelled down the same road as Berkeley, suggesting the role of perception in determining the nature of particles.  If you can determine the speed of a particle, then you cannot determine its place; and vice versa.  Einstein suggested that time and place were not absolute but relative, subject to the speed of movement.

Image result for images bishop berkeley

Virtualists believe that none of this matters, for within a generation the symbiosis or interface between mind and computer will be so complete that existence within a virtual, personally mediated world will be the norm.  The virtual world will be so indistinguishable from reality and so preferable to it (who could possibly turn down a world of imaginative fantasy when only brick, mortar, weeds, and jealousy await on the other side?) that choice will not be an option.

For the time being, the world will have to put up with the competing visions of idealists and realists.   Idealists are now in the American political majority.  In their Platonic rejection of cognition and embrace of intuition and subjective perception, progressives are pure idealists.  Millennia of history and the persistent expression of self-interested, territorial, defensive, defiantly aggressive human nature notwithstanding, progressive idealists believe that the world can become a better place.  It has be become a better place because goodness always triumphs over evil, or so their tautology goes.

Conservative realists say that on the basis of human history and its inevitable, predictable repetition of war, expansionism, civil conflict, international dispute, and short-tempered nationalism, belief in progress is but a vain hope.

It is hard to disagree with this assumption.  The Twentieth Century alone should be enough to convince even the most idealist doubter that mayhem, brutality, insane ambition, slaughter, and genocide are very real indeed, and haven’t changed much since the days of Genghis Khan, responsible in the 14th century for more deaths than all those of the many centuries to follow.

Both conservatives and progressive idealists pile on the idea of virtual reality.  Progressives see entry into virtual worlds as escapism, flights of irresponsible fantasy, and dereliction of duty.  The world can only progress to a better place, to Utopia in fact, if everyone pulls his own weight.  Selfish absence is tantamount to gross immorality.

Conservatives, always grounded in reality, one which to be sure has been unpleasant and bloody but which after all has Jesus Christ, travel in a virtual universe as an escape from penance, redemption, and resurrection.  The real world is the necessary precursor to the spiritual, heavenly one. 

Historians like Francis Fukuyama who thirty years ago proclaimed the end of history and with the fall of Communism the entrance of a new, harmonious, conflict-free world.  Fukuyama of course was as wrong as could be, for the demise of superpower antagonism only let political dogs out of their kennels - ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, Hamas, and the Ayatollahs - and once détente, the nuclear stalemate, and the modern Pax Romana of the Cold War were ended, human nature and its violent ways were once again rampant.

Image result for images francis fukuyama book the end of history

Virtuality will also sound the death knell of history; for once everyone has pulled the plug on brick and mortar and can travel freely within a personally mediated universe, the features of history – nationalism; territorialism; and ethnic, religious, and civil conflict - will cease to matter. The only vestiges of the real world left will be the automated support systems that will nourish the new cybernetic race, genetically engineered to be finally mind over matter and requiring little sustenance.

Meanwhile, in this pre-virtual reality interregnum, the New York Times and Washington Post howl about systemic racism, economic inequality, and white supremacy;  the National Review, the Federalist, the American Spectator, and the Christian Science Monitor rail against the self-righteous intrusiveness of big government and the erosion of Constitutional freedoms. 

Commentators on both sides of the political fray decry the divisiveness of American political discourse, the loss of civility, compromise, and good faith; and hope for a meeting of the minds to resolve America’s problems; yet their political philosophies are set in concrete.  It is not disagreement on border, financial, economic, or foreign policy which divides the nation and its politicians, but very fundamental beliefs.  

How can two groups which so profoundly and adamantly disagree on the influence of human nature and the course of history ever agree on anything?  Progressives insist that they are good and represent goodness; and that they are the avant-garde on the march to a better world.  Conservatives sniff and say that there has never been any goodness – or evil for that matter – in the world.  Competition – the upside of divisiveness – the opposition of countervailing forces, is the engine of evolution, an amoral process which sorts out strength and weakness and results not in a better world, but a different one.

In conservatives’ minds progressives who harp on community, cooperation, love, responsibility, and dutiful investment in a common future are just whistlin’ Dixie.  The world will change not because of any deliberate attempts to mold it to any particular philosophical notion, but because of social evolution.   

Progressives of course insist the opposite.  Goodness does indeed exist as an absolute, and they have the keys to that particular kingdom.

So, for anyone with even a slight interest in human nature and the philosophies which have grown up to explain it, the antics of today’s politicians are comic, more worthy of vaudeville and Barnum & Bailey than Washington. Those who have seen beneath the veil and the absurd doings of legislators and presidents appreciate Donald Trump.  

While no philosopher, Trump was the liveliest exponent of Absurdism – perhaps the most important philosophy of the interregnum.  He was never a conservative purist, religious fundamentalist, historicist, or idealist.  He was a performer, a Hollywood star, a vaudevillian, and ringleader of a three-ring circus who saw only the absurdity of political expression and its deadening, suffocating, self-righteousness and reveled in it. 

Image result for images donald trump with beauty queens

Absurdism is nihilism taken to the nth degree – not just Nietzschean will, but a flamboyant rejection of all cant and dutiful, right action.The world is an absurd place, but a delightful one.

Philosophy is often considered an academic subject, stuff of professors; but it is no such thing.  Political philosophy – the way one sees the world – is the heart and soul of human enterprise, politics in particular.  One should not expect politicians, willingly engaged in an absurd world with no clue as to its meaning, to probe any depths.  Let them hector, admonish, preach, and dun in the name of whatever they are selling.  It simply adds freaks to the side show.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Pigs At The Trough–Mayors Are Licking Their Chops At Joe Biden’s Multi-Trillion Dollar Give-Away

Mayor Marion Barry of Washington, aka Mayor for Life, was famous for his largesse – walkin’ around money it was called, spent freely in the poor black wards of the city and made possible by ‘Barry’s Siphon’, tax money sucked from the wealthy white wards.

Image result for images walking around money

The money went into the pockets of ‘the community’, no questions asked as long as they voted Barry’s way come election time; and since the voters of Wards 7 and 8 had no clue about electoral politics other than patronage, it was a cinch. Barry, despite his peccadillos was as sure as the sun rises would be returned to office every four years.  

In fact, Barry’s dalliances with hookers, smoking crack, and freewheeling political ways only enhanced his image among minority constituents.  He was Mr. Macho sticking it to the white man.  “Bitch set me up”, he said, and his supporters cheered.

Image result for images marion barry

No one ever kept track of Barry’s walkin’ around money and no one was ever asked to.  ‘Showin’ the green in the mean’ and the votes in November were all that mattered. 

Washington, thanks to Barry’s mismanagement went into receivership presided over by  scrupulously honest accountant Anthony Williams.  The money siphoned off by Barry from the white wards and raked in from K Street high-rolling landlords was apparently not enough to stave off bankruptcy. 

Walkin’ around money increased the deficit, but so did other ‘social programs’ passed by the city council, boondoggle ‘investments’ with no purpose whatsoever other than to pacify the teachers’ union, pay lip service to ‘governance’ and pay dues to the city’s white progressive supporters.  School performance not only did not increase but decreased consistently.  Rates of crime, family dysfunction, drugs, and truancy were par for the course.

So, one can only imagine how delighted the mayors of America’s big cities are with President’s Biden’s two mammoth, multi-trillion dollar spending bills.  Any legislation of this size with the political will to spend it quickly is guaranteed to foster municipal corruption on a scale that Marion Barry could only envy.   Not only will these mayors have a virtually unlimited source of funds to spend as they wish, they won’t have to bother siphoning off tax revenues from the wealthy.  

It matters not a whit that there are federal guidelines for public spending.  Municipalities, states, and counties have always found ways to take their cut or to divert funds for politically remunerative projects.   ‘Roads and bridges’?  No problem there. 

Image result for cartoon biden giving away money infrastructure b bill

Washington, despite years of post-Marion Barry political rectitude, is now more than ever in the mood for open-the-sluice gates spending.  “Given the systemic racism persistent in our city”, said one prominent DC politician on the day of the signing of Biden’s infrastructure bill, “and given the social, economic, and financial consequences of such racial oppression, we will do our utmost to right the ship and bring Black Washington into the mainstream”.  Which meant of course that most if not all this big-time walkin’ around money would be spent in minority wards and “Get over it” would be all the white ones would ever hear. 

Given the nature of American federalism the federal government can only suggest how money is spent.  Jurisdictions will have full authority to dispense Biden’s trillions as they see fit as long as they match approved categories.  If Washington, Detroit, St. Louis, or Baltimore choose to prioritize certain areas of the city over others, that is their prerogative; and if they build ‘bridges to nowhere’, repave streets already repaved, shore up old, unused trestles, and build pedestrian walkways where pedestrians are afraid to walk, no one can interfere with their choices. 

Image result for images bridges to nowhere

Everybody makes out under the Infrastructure bill.  Cities will contract work for unnecessary public works, contractors will overcharge municipalities, and cities, knowing that there is more money where first rounds came from, will cause no fuss.  Since cities have no real stake in the investment per se, contractors are sure to have cost-overruns, long delays, and only marginally code-worthy construction.

A number of years ago, one of India’s largest states benefitted from similar federal financing, and to great hoopla began an ambitious road improvement program.  Urgency was of the essence said the Chief Minister, and roads should be completed before the monsoon.  So, thousands of workers, coolies, mules, and imported labor from neighboring states began work.  In early June, just before the onset of the rains, the Chief Minister with great fanfare, elephants, trumpets, and parades, opened the state’s most important and well-travelled route.

Image result for images indian laborers repairing road 60s

It looked marvelous, unlike any in India, most of which were potholed, cratered, and barely passable.  The rebuilt road was a showpiece - its black tar glistened in the summer sun, its white center line bright and luminescent.

Then, the rains came, and the illegally overloaded trucks returned.  After only a few weeks of wet weather the road, constructed with more sand than stone, with old landfill as foundation, and only a thin layer of so-called tar covering it, began to show familiar cracks, gouges, potholes, and craters caused by the banging and hammering of swaying, unstable trucks piled high with goods, contraband, and desultory products of ‘import substitution’. 

No one complained because no one expected any different. Of course for a few rupees  the operators of truck weigh stations allowed the most flagrant abuses to go unpunished.  Of course the road contractors used inferior materials and paid off public works inspectors to look the other way.  Of course the road inspectors had no interest in doing their job because all roads in India were in disrepair as this one soon would be; and of course the political leadership of the state was diffident at best because a show of largess – tamasha -  image, intent were all more important than the real thing.

While no one in America expects such universal, rampant, and institutionalized corruption, the clean, Boy Scout image the country likes to promote is as much of an illusion as Hollywood myth.   Roads will be built to code but they will go nowhere.  Bike lanes will be coopted by vehicle traffic as soon as the icons and white lines are painted. 

Image result for images american boy scouts poster 50s

The two trillion dollar social welfare package is even easier to mine for local profit. The idea of universal, free pre-school education has been around for decades, and despite the cheers of its progressive backers has little to show for the billions invested.  Children might get something out of the program at first - Sesame Street simplistic learning at best – but when measured against non-enrollees a year or two later, there is no difference.  When graduated from a sheltering environment onto the mean streets, there is no doubt who wins.

Nevertheless, the old adage of walkin’ around money prevails – “We have learned a lesson, know how to fix pre-school education, and will use the money wisely”.  No one, however, has learned the lesson – it is parenting, the home environment, a positive, socially moderating community ethos which determine educational performance and ultimate success.  Good money after bad; but school districts and teachers’ unions are salivating.

What more can be said of a boondoggle-ready Child Tax Credit, a payout, payoff to dysfunctional families with no codicils, conditionalities, or requirements; and no defined goals of graduation. 

The biggest joke of all is the Social Welfare Bill’s inclusion of almost two trillion dollars for ‘Immigration’.  Immigration? Payouts and payoffs to those who have crossed the Rio Grande illegally, who use every ruse to stay, who have no wars, civil abuse, and persecution behind them, and who simply want the easy life of El Norte.  The Biden Administration and its Congressional supporters haven’t the slightest idea how to fix the immigration crisis, and throwing tax-and-spend money at it is the time-tested, tried-and-true easy solution to it and every problem the country faces.

Image result for images illegals storming us border

Walkin’ around money.  Illegal immigrants will get some easy cash to ‘ease their transition’ to American ways and markets; and will tell their relatives in San Miguel, Tapachula, Tegucigalpa, and San Pedro Sula to come on up.

Since it is too late to stop this once-in-a-lifetime boondoggle, better to line up and take what you can get.  Not the American way of enterprise, hard work, discipline, and rectitude bandied about for sure, but the human nature way.  It’s ok to cater to it, but to pander to it? Salivation all around.