Sports Metaphors and Politics

I don’t intend to get into a full-fledged rant against sports-themed metaphors in general; I don’t have that kind of time or space to work with here. But I would like to address, in brief, the strange propensity of politicians to use these metaphors, often in rather inappropriate ways.

Take for example the phrase “political football,” which seems to be especially favored by members of the current administration. Now, while this one is fairly understandable (the “opposition” essentially takes their idea and runs the other way with it), I’d like some clarification. After all, there are many things you can do with a football. You can run the other way with it. You can throw it down on the ground for no particular reason. You can throw it to somebody else. You can trip and fall on it, and have a guy throw a little political bean-bag flag at you.

Most of the clarity ends there. What about “The ball’s in his court”? What is he actually supposed to do with it? It’s not always clear whether he’s supposed to shoot or pass or whatever else you do in basketball. Most of the time, people with balls in their court just stand there dribbling them stupidly anyway (that was not, I repeat NOT a double-entendre).

And what about “Home run”? This term is thrown about so freely that it’s lost all semblance of meaning. In politics, sometimes it’s not a good idea to go on bashing everything out of the ballpark. “Ballpark” is another one. Have any of these politicians actually seen a ballpark? Pretty damn large, it turns out. Actually, considering the level of accuracy we’ve learned to expect from modern government, “ballpark” might be pretty apt…

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CISUM

Since I was a boy, I’ve always had a fascination with things that are flipped or reversed. Eventually, I taught myself to write backwards. Rednu doog secnatsmucric I nac epyt sdrawkcab. But only lately have I discovered the joys of reversed music.

Please note, I am not some sort of satanist looking for “hidden satanic messages,” and as paranoid as I am, I am not a conspiracy nut looking for “subliminal mind-control signals” (although I should note that I probably would have done that in the past). I’m simply listening to it because I’ve discovered that reversed music is nice. It sounds strange and eerie and unconventional. It’s actually a very attractive sound. If you want to try it, rip the songs from your favorite CD, plop the audio files down in a sound-editing program (I recommend Audacity, since it’s free, easy to use, and has a lot of cool effects for when reversing loses your interest), then reverse it. I find that E.L.O. (Electric Light Orchestra) songs work especially well for this. “21st Century Man” becomes very ethereal and celestial when played this way.

English and I Don’t Get Along

I may have mentioned this before, but I have a problem with the English language. Ever since I was a child in elementary school, I’ve had in the back of my mind a list of contradictions and problems with the language. I was always harshly criticized by my friends and teachers when I attempted to fit the irregular verbs into the regular framework, and as a result, I was forcibly taught the language properly. But my discontent at its irregularities, contradictions, and problems remained, and to this day, they still annoy me.

These thoughts were forced back to the forefront when I began taking German in high school. So much of German made sense, all fitting into the established grammatical rules, that I began to see English the way non-native speakers see it: an overly complicated and contrived bundle of words and makeshift, jury-rigged rules. And having seen this in English, I began to see it in German as well. German may be much more sensible than English, but it, too, has its irregular verbs, verbs that don’t conjugate properly, for whatever reason. So my search for a less-confusing language continued.

I then learned of Esperanto, and after perusing some introductory material on the Internet, began an attempt to teach it to myself. This attempt turned into a whole series, each one punctuated by my losing interest for a few months, forgetting what I’d learned, and then going back and having to re-do the online course.

At some point during all this, I learned of Lojban. Lojban is now, in my mind, the best artificial language on the planet. It may be the best overall. It is, from the material I’ve read and from what little experience I’ve had with it, completely unambiguous, logical, and sensible. The only downside is that, after many years of English, my brain is apparently quite averse to a language that makes perfect sense. I simply have trouble wrapping my head around it. That (coupled, probably, with my utter impatience) has made Lojban the most difficult language I’ve yet tried to learn. But, if nothing distracts me, perhaps I’ll be able to give it another go.

I have just one more thing to say. To the English language: Curse you English, curse you.

Our State

Now, when most Americans think about corrupt states, I doubt that North Carolina would be the first one to come to their minds. I, however, beg to differ. This, it has always seemed to me, is one of the most socially and economically backwards states in the union. Let me explain why.

This state houses the city of Charlotte, where I was born, and where I currently take up residence. Charlotte has been a rat’s nest of problems for at least the last decade, and possibly longer (since I wasn’t paying attention to all of it until about a decade ago). First, there’s the ongoing, painfully slow road construction. It never seems to finish, making an already-congested city clog up even worse. And what’s more, they do all the road construction on the best roads. It seems to me that they should do something about the roads where the pavement has had to be replaced so many times that the asphalt has become three-colored. Or the roads that have had all their lane markings worn off. Or the ones that are so warped that driving on them is reminiscent of being in a small boat in a hurricane.

Next comes the arena scandal. Many years ago, a select group of high-powered executives decided that they wanted a basketball arena. The only problem was, the people voted it down. So the city council lumped the arena into a package with Discovery Place, a cool childrens’ science museum (trips to which were the highlights of my youth), so that we couldn’t vote down the arena without voting down funding for Discovery Place. So, in a nutshell, this is what happened. They wanted an arena. The citizens didn’t want it. So they built an arena…

And finally, in ascending order of severity, comes the current scandal. It seems that some of North Carolina’s corruption has leaked across the border into South Carolina. There, Duke Power (the Haliburton or Blackwater of the North Carolina power industry), asked for funding to build a new nuclear power plant. That’s all well and good; I’m not terribly fond of nuclear power, but at least they didn’t get the coal power stations they wanted. But then comes the corruption. Apparently, in order to “protect their financial interests”, they’d like to be able to recover $125,000,000 in planning money if the project doesn’t go forward. Where is that recovery money going to come from? They want to take it out of the taxpayers’ hides! They actually want the people to pay them for something they didn’t build. The main problem (one of many, of course): the government funds the plant, but the people pay for not building it. It’s been called “An open-ended nuclear spending account.” How stupid does Duke Power really think we are?

And to my fellow North Carolinians who may be reading this: move now! Save yourself while you still can!

Contractually Obligated

Ever since 2001, the United States has been spoiling for a fight. Granted, back then, we had a perfectly good reason. But now, six years later, our reasoning is beginning to fall into question. We’ve got a war going in the Middle East that has outlasted almost every other modern war (including World War Two), and several other wars threatening to take hold in Korea and Iran. In light of all this conflict, the phrase “military contractors” has become something of a buzzword among American political pundits. This did not seem, at the beginning of the war, to be much of a problem. It was actually quite nice that there were civilians willing to help out the war effort. But that was then. Now, trouble is brewing.

Let’s go first to New Orleans, which was smashed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina (a name that anybody who listens to the news even occasionally will be tired of hearing). Since the government relief efforts were, shall we say “lackluster,” there was a desperate need for aid, any kind of aid. The military contractor known as Blackwater stepped up and sent people to New Orleans to help in the repair and recovery operations. This was all well and good, until they billed the government for several hundred million dollars. Still, for a great humanitarian effort like the rescue of New Orleans, they certainly deserved some pay. But problems arise when you look at just how the money was broken down. Blackwater billed the government for $950 per person per day. The problem is, the actual contractors who went into New Orleans only reported being paid $650 per person per day. Somewhere along the way, almost a third of the money is unaccounted for. It is not difficult to go from the missing money to foul play on Blackwater’s part.

The problems do not end there, by any stretch of the imagination. The contractors often refuse to release documents to Congress, claiming that they are classified. But aren’t they working as employees of the government? And aren’t most employees obliged to disclose information on the request of the employer? It gets worse still: there have been several reported cases of privatized military forces disobeying congress’s orders. This is a very dangerous situation, exacerbated by the fact that, when they cause or get caught up in a problem, they refuse to abide by, or find legal loopholes in the contracts they have with their employees.

By now, I’m sure, the little alarm bells will be ringing madly in some of my readers’ heads. They ring in mine, too, and here’s why: we have private armies entering war zones and disaster areas, where they have a tendency to get killed, or perhaps to exacerbate an already-serious situation. They then refuse to release the documents concerning these affairs, even to Congress. This has all the makings of an embryonic coup.

Now, perhaps I’m being dismal and paranoid. I’m sure my more conservative readers will agree with this, but I see a truly frightening scenario:

The military contractors refuse to withhold from the government vital documents concerning incidents in which they are involved, thus creating a sphere of deniability. They use some of the money that they report to have spent on their employees in order to buy equipment and train more employees. Before long, the number of members of the United States military is overtaken by the number of soldiers employed by military contractors. We have, at this point, a force capable of overtaking the military forces of the U.S. government. This would make a coup, should the idea cross their minds, relatively easy to execute. Now, I’m sure there are some radical individuals who would like to see the government overthrown, and in any other case, I might agree with them; the only problem in this case is that the contractors are already known for lying, denying, and abusing their power. Were they to get control over the government (that is, assuming they don’t already have it), what kind of totalitarian state could they build?

Just something to think about…

Governments are Doomed to Fall

Ever since I read 1984, I’ve been thinking about the permanence of governments. And I’ve noticed that most seem doomed to fall over time, often very soon after their inception. And that led to a whole train of thought about governments in general.

You see, all governments are doomed to eventual failure. Either they change until they have become something entirely different from what they were when they began; or they succumb to strife between their different internal parties; or corruption alienates the governed from their government, and the governed rebel; or the government is attacked and demolished by a much more powerful one, which then consumes it.  But are there any sorts of government which are immune to these forces?

History teaches us that totalitarian nations have perhaps the shortest lifespan, falling to internal rebellion in short order; and if they don’t succumb to rebellion, they will, in all likelihood, be paralyzed by their own stringent organization, until the people begin to starve and die, which often fragments the nation, or causes it to collapse altogether.

Communist governments rarely fare much better, no matter how good the idea may seem on paper. But in practice, people will not be separated easily from their money and possessions, and the officials in government will rarely be able to resist the ease with which such governments can grant them more power. Thus, if they do not collapse into famine and confusion, as the USSR did in the 1990’s, they will almost certainly become a strained totalitarian state, as China — to some peoples’ reckoning — has.

Democratic governments have been in existence for such a relatively short time (only a few centuries, at the most) that it is difficult to project how (and notice that I did not use the word if) they will fall. But from examples such as Ghana, it can be seen that there are two types of democracies in the world: the type (as in Ghana) which is in turmoil from the beginning, with wild elements within the government continually overthrowing one another and changing the government from democratic to totalitarian and back again; and the type (as, one might argue, America was in the nineteenth century) which remains stable, but seems to move towards more and more government corruption and public mistrust. So perhaps this is the doom of democracies: a slow decay into corrupt bureaucracy, which can easily be usurped and controlled by totalitarian regimes; or simply a continual oscillation that demolishes the nation bit by bit.

In view of all these, it may seem impossible for any government to last which maintains the individual freedoms of its subjects. I would tend to agree with this, but I have a proposition for maintaining such freedoms indefinitely: managed Anarchy.

Managed Anarchy is not the wild chaos and confusion that plagues countries whose governments have suddenly disappeared, or abandoned ship. Managed Anarchy, as oxymoronic as it may seem, is more a type of government than the lack of a government. MA is a grassroots government in which all power is handled by the people, and all power passes from the people,  to the people, without any governing middlemen. I believe that people are capable of self-managing, without the artificial constraint of a government. Now, I do not claim that even Managed Anarchy is an immortal form of government, but I believe that it could be maintained for quite a long time, by following a few guiding principles, the Principles of Managed Anarchy:

  • The people who subscribe to MA must learn to resist all forms of imposed governance, and they must teach their children and grandchildren such resistance.
  • Centralization should be minimized, or eliminated entirely. Centralization gives one individual or group more power than those who depend on the centralized organization. And, in the spirit of this:
  • Hierarchies should be eliminated. The only way true equality can be accomplished is if all people are truly on the same organizational level. This is why centralization must be eliminated.
  • The people should produce the commodities. As above, those who depend for their food, their water, et cetera, on a centralized producer can easily be subjected to the control of that producer.
  • Desire to rise politically should be seen as a very bad trait, and it should be curtailed wherever possible.
  • Violence must be severely controlled or limited. Those who are violent may enlist other violent people to bring their violence on a peaceful group, conquering it, and therefore forming what is, for all intents and purposes, a totalitarian state.

Daylight “Savings” Time

Since I was a little kid, I’ve always been mystified by the practice of Daylight Savings Time. It’s always struck me as one of humanity’s most illogical practices, and considering what humanity is like, that’s saying a lot.

The very idea of Daylight Savings Time annoys me to no end.

Mister Government: Okay, remember to set your clocks ahead so that your internal clock will be confused all day!

Humanity: But why? It doesn’t help anybody!

Mister Government: It’s so the farmers can have an extra hour to work in the fields!

Humanity: But most farming these days is done by machines, many of which are computerized, and many farms are becoming part of large corporations.

Mister Government: Do it because I say so!

Humanity: Okay…

Mister Government: You didn’t say “Simon Says.”

But the final insult: the government has decided this year to arbitrarily move this already-arbitrary event a couple of months earlier than usual! And the justification for this idiotic move? To save energy. Now, perhaps in other circumstances, perhaps with different people in government, this might not seem like such an insane decision. But we’re talking about the administration that gives tax breaks for people buying gas-guzzling Hummers. The same administration that actively discouraged almost every type of energy-efficient vehicle that ever came down the line.

Can you tell that I’m pissed about this?