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Category: Culture

The End
I had a dream last night about the end of the world.

You know about the Gyre, don’t you? That’s the Texas-sized island of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean. It’s a vortex of mostly microscopic plastic bits: tiny pieces of styrofoam, polypropylene, and other synthetic refuse too small to be strained out and too unnatural to biodegrade.

It may even be Alaska-sized by now, and there appear to be four other, similar vortices growing in the South Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. In my dream, they are five gigantic mouths, like plastic black holes, relentlessly sucking in every other bit of plastic on the planet.

The Gyres coalesce, joining to form one irresistible, all-consuming maw. And so, we too will be drawn in — slowly, inexorably — along with our entire plasticized civilization.

The end. Eaten alive by our own garbage.

Hey, it was just a dream; that could never really happen. Although, the Gyres will probably coalesce eventually into a single, swirling mass. It might even grow so large that it will make the Earth ever so slightly lopsided. That will be just enough, perhaps, to cause continental plates to be hurled into space and the Earth to spin out of its orbit and into the sun.

But I wouldn’t worry. Before that happened, we’d surely develop some super plastic-eating enzyme to devour the Gyre and save us all. But what would stop that mad molecule from then turning on us? Humans are probably half plastic at this point; the enzyme would simply do what enzymes do and catalyze us into extinction.

Still, I’m confident we could survive an enzyme apocalypse. As long as we all lived in perfectly airtight domes. And wore impermeable, double-walled suits. And traveled in hermetically sealed vehicles.

Made of plastic. So don’t worry.
My Apologies

First, let me say that, as a fully accredited liberal, I love my fellow men and women, all seven billion of them. I care about them, I feel their pain, I welcome them all to dinner at my place (please call first).

The tricky part of such a position, of course, is that so many of these people are hopeless boneheads. Let me explore a few areas of concern.

Religion. Let’s not talk specifics about religion; that would only end with hurt feelings. Let’s just say that all faiths have their share of crazy stuff you’re supposed to believe without question. That is precisely the problem. I distrust any system that requires me to do things without question. Do we really need all the dogma? What’s wrong with just trying to do right?

No offense, but I’m tempted to chalk it up to laziness. Doing right is a personal responsibility; you can’t palm it off on your spiritual leader, no matter how big his hairdo is. I worry when we consign all the tough thinking to someone else without asking at least a couple of questions. I suppose we do this all the time with experts of every kind. Still, shouldn’t we at least retain the veto power over an idea that seems crackpot on its face?

As it is with religion, so it is with economics. Some guy says we’ll all get rich if we give our money to rich people. Cut tax rates and the government will take in more money. When I first heard these supply side notions, I thought, “That’s too good to be true.” I still think that. Why is it that so many of my fellow citizens immediately swallowed them whole, without so much as a “Hey, wait a minute”?

This readiness not to think has got to be more than just laziness. We all hope we can find simple solutions to complex problems. We all prefer not to worry. But come on, people! We’re supposed to worry. It’s a democracy; we’re in charge. So get a grip.

Okay, I’m sorry I spoke in such a disrespectful way. As a liberal, I am not supposed to do that. I intend to apologize for this insensitivity, but first, let me discuss another disquieting problem area: reality TV. And by reality TV, I mean “reality” TV. I understand that this is a rather narrow topic, but it is emblematic of an ugly theme that permeates our culture: utter stupidity.

Reality TV. I hesitate even to mention this topic because the probability of offending people is so great. Everyone watches reality TV of some kind, be it sports or politics or these silly, scripted, poorly acted dramas in which ordinary people humiliate and degrade one another on national TV. It is the last category, though, that I am griping about here.

There are still good, honest portrayals of fiction available, even on the telly. We can witness degradation and shame just by going to the mall — without commercials, it should be noted. So why do we have to have clog up my TV with this stuff?

It may sound as if I’m a bit of an elitist, as if I think I’m better than everybody else. Well, yes I am and yes I do, but be assured that I know this and also that it is wrong to feel this way. Believe me when I say that this bitter self-knowledge is part of the pain I feel so deeply. Oh God, the pain.

All right, now for the apologies; first, let me apologize for this apology. I know they can make some people uncomfortable, and that makes me feel guilty, so I have to apologize. Sorry. Furthermore, I apologize if I have bruised your feelings in the slightest way, even if your feelings are a by-product of your own boneheadedness. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Those on the right are not burdened in this way. They feel superior and wear it as a badge of honor, as if they actually were superior. The tragedy of such a position is that the right (where it now sits on the political spectrum) is so often wrong. Worse, they do not sense the irony of their position (that capability is a left-wing exclusive, it appears). Let me say, however, that I even care about these misguided souls (with the possible exception of Newt Gingrich). It’s part of the liberal ethos.

That is, in fact, the great liberal dilemma: we care so deeply about people we don’t really like. We suffer by caring too much, both for our fellow elitists and for the hopeless boneheads. That is our cross to bear, and I accept that. I would only ask of those boneheads: haven’t we suffered enough?

Sorry, I had to ask.

Evil
Some people think of evil as an independent force operating in the universe, like gravity or nuclear fission. To them, it is a calculating menace abroad in our lives, actively plotting to ruin us by making bad things happen.

I don’t think so. I don’t think we need to look any further than right in front of our noses for an explanation for badness. Bad choices, bad attitudes, bad luck — these are the causes of our troubles, and nothing more.

Evil, I would suggest, is like coldness. Cold is not a force in and of itself, but simply the absence of heat. When all heat has gone, you’re down to absolute zero, and you can’t get any lower. Heat, on the other hand, essentially has no upper limit. Similarly, evil is nothing more than the absence of good, and there’s plenty of good to be had in the world.

So evil is not a dark, mysterious entity to be battled, but rather a condition (like freezing temperatures) to be avoided. To make the badness go away, try to make good choices, focus on having a good attitude, and be ready for good luck.

If you want to defeat Satan, in other words, try putting on a sweater.
Capitol Crime
I was sitting in the U.S. Senate the other day, and I couldn’t help noticing the décor.

One of the reasons I couldn’t help it was that Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley was reading a long, impassioned speech into the public record. If you’ve ever heard Grassley speak, you’ll know that I had to focus on something, anything, to keep from nodding off.

But back to my thesis: the U.S. Senate, for all its magnificence, is a nightmare of tackiness. Now, before you start getting huffy about lack of respect for treasured national icons, let me just say, “U.-S.-A.! U.-S.-A.!” So I’m a patriot, okay? I am simply suggesting that the upper house needs a visit from “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

First of all, nothing matches. The wallpaper, the carpet, the furniture, the hair plugs — there’s just no consistent theme. While there is nothing inherently wrong with contrasting patterns, the Senate chamber has become a blizzard of clashing elements, styles, and colors, including a shade of green I would name “Twilight Nausea.”

I advise the 113th Congress to take it on the road, spend 2013 and 2014 lawmaking in the Hollywood Bowl, and let a team of interior designers create something to match the eminence of this august body.

Come to think of it, all of official Washington, D.C. needs a radical re-do. Is anybody else tired of the classical style of architecture? It worked for the Greeks, then the Romans overdid it, but now we’re into sloppy thirds, and this burg resembles nothing less than a field of Transformer droppings.

I’d keep all the monuments, the White House, and the Supreme Court, but the rest of these architectural blots should be hauled away to the landfill. I’d probably keep the huge, hulking Capitol itself, as well. It is, after all, the mother of all statehouses. On the other hand, it would be tempting to start from scratch, go modern, and get all Gehry with it.

Or how about a log-home look for some of the office buildings? You know, to honor Honest Abe? An all-Lego version of the Library of Congress might be interesting, too. The whole idea would be to have fun with it — maybe with a giant roller coaster spanning the Potomac!

Also, while we’re at it, how about team uniforms? Republicans in red, Democrats in blue, perhaps with some details picking up the design themes of the new décor … tiny brushed nickel eagles on the epelets, say, or modest satin sashes draped over the shoulder (slashing left for the men and right for the women, if you like).

Anything to jazz it up a bit. On the day I visited the Senate, Oregon’s Democratic Senator Ron Wyden was the acting President of the Senate and the only other lawmaker in the room besides Grassley. Imagine the exciting contrapuntal splash of color he could have added to set off the Kansan’s attire. Maybe that would have kept us awake in the gallery.

Again, this is not meant as an attack on the institution itself. I only wish that we provide the best possible working environment for our leaders. Is it too much to ask for a little style from my government? It’s not as if I’m complaining about content.

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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon