MY COUNTRY ‘TIS OF THEE
In a time so long ago, that no one knows exactly when, legends grew from the smallest and seemingly most innocuous of occasions, where deals were discussed and finance was a thing of the abacus, paper and mental calculations. A man walked into the king’s chamber with a deal. He’d part with whatever valuable thing he had in order to secure a few grains of rice. He carried under his arm a chessboard. He laid it at the king’s feet and placed one grain of rice on the first right hand square. Then he placed two grains on the next. He offered the king a deal. If the king would double the rice on each additional square, then they would shake hands and make it a contract. The king consulted with a couple of advisors behind him. All three laughed. What a fool, giving up something of value for a pile of rice, which the kingdom had in abundance. Needless to say, the deal bankrupted the kingdom, because using only the 64 squares of the board, doubling the rice amounted to over nine thousand quadrillion grains to be placed on the last square alone.
What’s the lesson? Be aware of science, including mathematics, and don’t fall for special deals that appear to look too good to be true. Those two things are offered as advice to almost all humans, by older humans at an early age. The parable, for want of a better word, to describe the scenario of the man with the chess board and grains of sand, is a parable founded on the deft application of science and mathematics.
In a second serial story, two agents of the CIA are awaiting a mission that was to kick off from New Orleans. They wandered the brightly lit neighborhood around Bourbon Street. A young man with some friends approached and pointed to one agent’s shoes. He said, “Hundred bucks if I can tell you where you got dem shoes.” The agent started to laugh, turning to his partner and whispering that he was wearing special custom shoes he’d had made in San Francisco. There was no way some street kid was going to guess that. The other more traveled and senior agent replied, “we don’t do this for a living but he does.” However, his partner ignored him and accepted the boy’s challenge. “Okay,” he said, after producing the hundred-dollar bill and waiting. The kid said, “you got dem shoes on your feet.” He then grabbed the hundred out of the stunned agent’s hand and fled with his friends. The agent who’d lost the money turned to his partner and asked what they should do since they were both armed. The senior agent said, “nothing, so you’ll remember.” “So that I’ll remember that I got conned on Bourbon Street in New Orleans?” replied his partner in anger. “No,” the senior man said, “so you’ll remember where you got dem shoes.”
There’s no science in the second parable. There is street knowledge, and experience in dealing with the world. No study of science or high intellect is going to help someone win the hundred-dollar bill in the second parable, only being street smart and having enough life experience not to play could help.
What happened in this last election? Which parable applies, if either? Did America, symbolized by the king, sit and listen to the presentation of a man offering something of great value in every area and in return offer up a chess board with one silver dollar on the first square? Did the ‘king’ agree, and in these early days, the price of this populist great deal has only been about eight bucks so far? Jobs for all were offered. Medical insurance for all was offered. A great wall of America was offered. Extreme racial and trade divisions were offered. Instead of there being 64 squares on this trader’s chess board, there are 1480, the days left in his first administration. Now, as this paper is printed, there are only 1475, as five have gone buy. One dollar, then two, then four, then eight, then sixteen today. Twenty-nine bucks so far. Not bad. But what about the second parable? Has America gotten itself involved with Donald Trump, the street kid? Here he came along and offered to tell America a secret about itself that would change life from misery to some sort of return to magical bliss for everyone. And America laid down it’s metaphorical hundred and said “okay?”
There’s another game that’s really become something of a parable in and of itself all around the country. It’s called the parable of the lottery. People pay a buck and take a chance on winning hundreds of millions. The game is really simple. Every once and awhile the numbers of the lottery, that everyone’s been purchasing, are put on ping pong balls which are then put into a giant fish bowl. This giant fish bowl is then jostled, twisted and spun to the point where a theoretically objective human is allowed to draw out some ping pong balls, i.e. numbers. The last number removed is called the powerball. Has the nation succumbed to this parable and does it now stand waiting for the big bowl to come to a stop so it can take a chance and pull out the Powerball number to see if it’s won?
So what can we do? Oh, there are the protests, and there is plenty of justified bitter vitriol to write and pass on. But, really, what do we do, those of us who are taken aback, feeling left out, and worried right down to our core, that the country’s most dependable feature has been fractured to its foundations, and ours along with it? What is that feature? Its our country’s stability. We all get up every day and depend on that stability, in one way or another. We look back, and are still shaken by past times of potential, or real instability, whether we lived them or not. The JFK assassination. WWII. The racial riots of 1968. 9/11. Those events or occurrences shook our own stability because we became afraid that we could no longer depend on the enduring lack of foundational fear which had been provided for us by the efforts of generations of Americans that came before. I didn’t go to Vietnam and get my ass shot off for you. I went to assure that stability, or so I believed. You, or someone like you, sent me there to do that because you feared waking up and living in fear, as most of the world does; every day and every night. But most people living here don’t know that. Things have been forgotten and hidden by a compliant media. No news on Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, or even Argentina or Ulaan Baator. Places mostly ignored and hidden away, where fear lives, as it does in most all of the other 194 countries out there. For the first time in contemporary history, Americans must begin to band together again. Technological advancement, and naked loads of monetary wealth, have allowed a great gulf to be inserted between and among our citizenry. We sit at the same table talking on cell phones or working data. We are together, and yet alone. The country has elected and installed a frighteningly dangerous buffoon as its leader. Many will not know of the real danger until the fear begins to return. But it’s out there already, coiling and seething, waiting to be released back on the American human condition. You can watch some other countries celebrating the fact that America will now get to find out how they live, and their misery very much wants company.
Talk to the people around you at the coffee shop, at the market, at church and at home. By coming together, we can make it much more difficult to be torn apart. We can weather any storm together, given that past generations built us a damned sturdy ship of state. We owe those people who paid with their lives, spent their lives and now work for their lives, to give you what you have. Believe that they gave it to you, for you. Then believe you owe something back. Talk to me. Talk to each other. The reason is immaterial. The talk is everything. This may, indeed, be our very own winter of our discontent.
~ James Strauss