The Mudgelog > November 2 to November 18, 2010

November 2, 2010.   It's Election Day – Big Deal!

I did not vote today, but don't start screaming about my civic duty.  My wife and I voted by mail about ten days ago because it's more convenient and because we didn't feel that any number of political phone calls or campaign ads would change how we voted.  In fact, we had very few political phone calls.  Perhaps politicians have wised up and realized that these calls do more to irritate people than to get their votes.  A sensible decision by a politician – is that possible?  More likely, there weren't enough high-level contests in my state to bring out the big guns and the big money.

Unlike some of the political junkies I know, who regard Election Day the way sports fans regard the World Series or the Super Bowl, I can't get caught up in following the returns.  I can wait to read tomorrow's newspaper.  In fact, I treat the election about the same way I treat the Series or the Super Bowl.  I may tune in if I have nothing better to do.  If I happen to be strongly supporting one side (I'm usually not), I don't go into a twit if they lose.  I've learned through my lifetime that the outcome of an election has no more significant effect on my day-to-day life or on my well-being over the long term than who wins the Series or the Super Bowl.  I've watched different players march off and on the stage, but they enact the same farce no matter who they are.  

The metaphor goes deeper.  I used to follow sports, especially college football, with some interest.  However, I gradually became aware that they were all money games.  They were more about fortune, fame, or power for the players than about engaging in sportsmanlike contests for the benefit of the rest of us on the sidelines.  A great deal of manipulation was going on behind the scenes, and sometimes it involved outright cheating.  The real contest was among the owners of the teams because winning means big bucks.  Similarly, politics is a money game, and it's more about fame and power than about serving the public.  A great deal of manipulation goes on behind the scenes, along with some outright cheating.  The real contest is among the vested interests who stand to make big bucks by manipulating politicians.

From the looks of things, we shall have a divided Congress.  We shall also have a situation in which the legislative and executive branches are even less willing to work together than they have been the last two years (which wasn't very much).  Moreover, it seems likely that a number of people will have been elected under the banner of a major party even though the party is not very happy with them.  The Tea Party people have made it perfectly clear that they have no intention of compromising with anybody.  In this atmosphere, we are likely to see a Congress with so much head-banging and contention that it will make the previous Congress (which a vast majority of us thought was terrible) seem like a model of cooperation and efficiency.

Two years ago, we were unhappy with the way the government was running the country and how it was treating us.  Our approval of Congress was especially low.  We voted for many new players.  Now, we are unhappy with the way the government is running the country and how it is treating us.  Our approval of Congress is even lower.  We've had another election.  In this one, even more voters than usual felt that their choice was between bad and worse.  It's not surprising that we aren't dancing in the streets, rejoicing at a new dawn and predicting a brighter future for the republic.  Two years from now, we'll be ready to give the boot to as many incumbents as we can.

So it will go.  Some faces may change in the top-heavy, bloated bureaucracy of Washington and all the state governments, but the bureaucracy will remain intact.  Soldiers will continue to die in wars that few can convincingly explain why we are fighting.  The economy will bump along, with most of us struggling to make ends meet, while the same people who nearly wrecked the economy altogether will be making more money than they can count.  Some scattered reforms may be made in education but not enough to even begin to get us out of the dysfunctional hole that the school system is in.  Environmental issues (obviously figments of the imagination of tree-huggers and egghead pseudo-scientists) will be largely swept aside because addressing them conflicts with the interests of the money-makers.  Talking heads will chatter, argue, and rant on TV and in the houses of Congress but that's all they will do.  Weeks and months will go by in which the crowning achievement of Congress may be little more than perhaps passing a bill to declare National Eat Your Spinach Week (sponsored, of course, by the Spinach Growers of America).

Pundits and professors – oh, those wonderfully wise men and women! – will shake their distinguished grey heads and asks, "Whatever happened to American optimism?  How can these people with their SUVs, flat-screen TVs, and cell phones be so down?"  What could we reply?  We are frustrated with the bloated bureaucracy under which we live.  We are anxious about staying afloat in an economy where salaries are stagnant and jobs are drying up.  We are angry that a privileged few are reaping all or most of the benefits.  We are fearful that another terrorist attack may occur while security officers are busy frisking little old ladies.  We are worried that, as all the interest groups pursue their self-seeking agendas, the power and influence of America is slip-sliding away.  We are in despair because, no matter who we elect, they just fight among themselves and don't do anything to address the nation's problems.  We're tired.  We are very tired.

November 5-7, 2010.   Idle Thoughts in November

> Today is Guy Fawkes Day, celebrated in Britain to honor the day when this guy named Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament.  The plot was foiled.  Brits celebrate the occasion by shooting fireworks and engaging in other revelry.  Though I was raised for twelve years in a country that was then part of the British Commonwealth, I never quite understood the point.

> Fall is the season when the leaves die.  Many assume bright colors before they drop to the ground; others just get brown and wrinkled.  There's a metaphor here somewhere, but I'm not sure what it is.  I do know that the trees will become "young again" in the spring, but I won't.  That's a metaphor I won't dwell on.

> Holiday planning starts early in our house.  It isn't that we rush the season but that we've learned that everything goes more smoothly is we plan.  It's also easier on the budget because, despite the hype about sales, many items cost more in December.  As usual, I'm planning to make anthologies of recorded music to hand out to friends, with at least one disc of holiday music.  These have to be ready in early December.

> Because I need to make room for the Christmas stuff that gets hauled out of a walk-in closet around Thanksgiving (we have not attic or cellar suitable for storage), this is the month when I attack our storage rooms (pack rat heaven).  One perpetual mystery is why I keep all the packing boxes from things I have bought.  Maybe this year I'll throw some out – or at least those that go back before year 2000.

> As of Nov. 7, we're back on Standard Time in those parts of the country that shifted to Daylight Time.  That means it will get dark an hour earlier.   I wonder if these time shifts make sense.  I seem to have a biological clock that senses time fairly well.  At any time of day or night, I can usually guess the correct time within about 15 minutes as long as I haven't drastically altered my routine.  When the time shifts or I fly to another time zone, I am vaguely disoriented for several days.

> Here I go again.  I know it's futile to complain about spam, which is right up there with death and taxes as inevitable.  Yet I still don't understand why.  The geniuses at outfits such as Microsoft and Google can do amazing stuff, but apparently they are ouwitted by half-wits who spew millions of messages into cyberspace undeterred.  It does no good to flag the spam in these companies' online e-mail pages.  It still gets through.  It may not be in the inbox, but it's still delivered.  If any nerd discovers a way to destroy this garbage en route, I'll nominate him for Emperor of the World.

> I have access to a program that tracks traffic on this website, including how many page views and individual visitors it has in any given day.  One interesting pattern is that, almost every week, activity peaks around Wednesday or Thursday.  It's fairly high on other weekdays but drops off by a third or more on weekends.  I wonder why that is.

November 9, 2010.   Politics Revisited

In the week since I wrote the Nov. 2 entry, a few people have taken exception to what they perceive as my view that it doesn't matter who's elected.  These individuals assert, for example, that some things that happened under George W. Bush would not have happened if Gore had been elected.  I don't question that, and I didn't mean to imply a categorical statement that who we elect doesn't matter at all.  My point is that our overall government has become so dysfunctional in so many ways that I don't believe that the entire entity that we call the government is capable of operating effeciently and sensibly, no matter who gets elected.

Political campaigns consist mostly of propaganda, financed by conflicting interest groups.  There is even less truth to many of these campaigns than there is to commercials that show cars driving up walls or people altering their entire lives by using a certain deoderant.  A credulous public may be aware that the campaigns add up to lies, half-truths, and other propaganda, but they vote on this basis anyway.  Even the few who diligently try to find some kernels of truth among the mountains of sludge have difficulty discovering where the candidates stand on the issues.  If they do, there's little guarantee that elected officials will follow through once they are in office.  Typically, politicians flip-flop like landed fish, either because sticking to principles is not the way things are done in Washington or because they were not sincere in the first place.

Elections are a big-money game, with all the self-seeking, corruption, and slight-of-hand that exist in any situation where moneyed interests trump any concern for the public welfare.  All parties are awash in patriotic platitudes, but both are convinced that the only patriots are those in their own party (and they're suspicious of those whose moderation might make them depart even slightly from the party line).  To see how party trumps any larger concern, we need only listen to those newly elected or reelected Republicans who say that their primary goal in the next two years is to ensure that Obama does not get reelected.  I have no doubt that, if a Republican were president, quite a few Democrats would be saying that their primary goal is to ensure that a Republican doesn't get elected or reelected.  It's all about getting or staying in office, not about getting anything done.

Mark my words.  A divided Congress does not mean that we're about to see an era of bipartisanship in which our legislators seek constructive comporomise and address the many issues facing the country, from the economy to the deteriorating infrastructure, from the ongoing wars to our still-porous security system.  They'll spend far more time fighting and posturing than they will addressing any issues.  When they do, they will be hopelessly gridlocked.  In 2012, the cry will rise again:  "Throw the bums out."  Deja vu.

November 18, 2010Shocking News About the Three Wise Men

I've just found out that, despite all the depictions of the manger scene associated with Christmas, the three kings or wise men were not present when that event supposedly happened.  If you want to be accurate, leave them out of your nativity scenes and dismiss them from the Christmas pageant.

I discovered this when proofreading the annual Advent booklet that my wife prepares for her church.  This year the theme was angels, and she mentioned that, though the Bible refers to angel messengers who bring news of the birth, there are but two that refer to the wise men.  One says that the wise men came to the "house" looking for the "child" who is Jesus.  The other notes that, when the wise men chose not to divulge to Herrod where the "child" was, Herrod decreed that all male children two years old or younger should be slaughtered.  Both passages suggest that the wise men did not find Jesus lying in a manger soon after his birth but much later – possibly as much as two years later.

Thus, even if you take the gospels as literally factual, there is absolutely no basis for placing the wise men at the stable in Bethlehem.  Word probably got to them much later, and they may not even have followed a star but rather rumors that spread about the countryside some time after the event celebrated on Christmas Day.

Too bad.  It means that you'll need to change the configuration of your nativity scenes (angels, shepherds, and sheep, yes; wise men, no), must shun all the Hallmaek cards depucting the kings at the manger, and may need to stop singing "We Three Kings."  And, by the way, Santa Claus is a myth, and reindeer cannot fly.