February 8th, 2006

Turning Tide?

My mother-in-law regularly forwards everyone in her address book the messages that others forward to her. Consisting in equal measure of inspirational sayings, Reader's Digest-style humor and photos of adorable puppies and kittens, these messages are the air fresheners of the internet, ubiquitous and irrelevant. I'm sure you know the kind. Sometimes, though, a little political content seeps through. I have expressed outrage over the offensive racist content in a few messages which my mother-in-law had apparently not bothered to think about before passing them on. Today's missive, under the rubric "3 Thoughts," doesn't fall into that category, but it is interesting to me for a couple reasons:
1- Zero Gravity

When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they quickly discovered that ball-point pens would not work in zero gravity. To combat this problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion developing a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside-down, on almost any surface including glass and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to over 300 C.

The Russians used a pencil.

Your taxes are due again -- enjoy paying them.

2 - Our Constitution

They keep talking about drafting a Constitution for Iraq . Why don't we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys, it's worked for over 200 years and we're not using it anymore.

3 - Ten Commandments

The real reason that we can't have the Ten Commandments in a Courthouse is that you cannot post "Thou Shalt Not Steal", Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery" and "Thou Shall Not Lie" in a building full of lawyers, judges and politicians! It creates a hostile work environment.
Recognizing that these messages constitute the sort of data that a contemporary folklorist might subject to critical scrutiny, I wonder what the binding together of these three items says about the temper of the times in Middle America.

The first item repeats a common theme of government waste familiar from comedians' monologues -- remember all those references to $700 hammers in the military? -- but throws in the odd counterpoint that, "The Russians used a pencil." Is this a backhanded endorsement of Communist efficiency? Or is the point that even the backward Russians weren't as given to governmental excess as we are?

The second item repeats an argument that has made the rounds on the talk radio circuit, but adds the bit about "not using it anymore," suggesting either that the point functions as a critique of Bush Administration policy or that the abandonment of the Constitution being lamented is the result of liberal misdeeds.

The third and final item is another staple of comedy, but serves to make the second item seem less like a poke at Bush & Company's overstepping of legal boundaries and more like a lament for the loss of the good old Constitution of the Framers.

What's odd about the list taken together is that it allows -- not unlike the slogan in my previous entry, "We need to stop belting our children and start belting our children" -- for a wide range of interpretation from a political standpoint. I was sure that the second item was directed at the Bush Administration, for example, and didn't see the other alternatives until I thought about if or some time. This suggests, among other things, that the animus against government that has formed the backbone of Neo-Conservatism from Thatcher and Reagan onward is now being shared by many on the Left as well. Conservative or liberal, the temptation to regard the government as wasteful, out-of-control, and corrupt is hard to resist these days.
  • Current Music
    If You Knew My Mind - Colossus - West Oaktown Remixes</e
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Float On

I've got my legs under the covers, my daughter next to me, the cat burrowing between us. I'm reading The Hobbitt. We're on the chapter where the dwarves are prisoners of the elven king and Bilbo walks around the palace and its vicinity with his ring on, wondering what to do next. There's a passage that describes his plight in terms eerily similar to the movie Groundhog Day. My eyes are tiring. I lose my place, nearly drift off. And then I get a vision of a European-style 1960s apartment building, all degraded Modernist right angles. I can make out a white car in front, roof and hood sloped, but it's not a Citroen or any other model I recognize. I'm jolted out of this ever-so-brief reverie by a, "Dad?," and proceed on in the book, wondering what I always wonder, which is how the flotsam and jetsam in my stream of consciousness is connected, if at all. Later, when we come to the part where Bilbo stuffs the dwarves he's freed into empty barrels and they all float downstream, I think back to the incongruity of my anachronistic moment. Maybe the items bobbing up and down are linked only by the fact of their floating downstream together. But what sets the stream in motion?
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    a memory of Modest Mouse
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Where I'd Rather Be Right Now

I pulled this flyer off a telephone pole across from Malcom X School on Sunday, along with one for a Bob Mould solo show on Saturday at Slim's.

I'm so jealous I can barely type. But I suppose I should content myself with the memory of Sheff and company writing lines from their favorite Modernist poets on a whiteboard in a certain 3rd Avenue basement, their spirits soaring on suspiciously acquired Muscat.