July 30, 2011

Going all to pieces

John M., whose comments I always value, recently asked me if I had lost my marbles completely. (He added the honorific "sir," so I know it was all in good fun.) In point of fact, yes. At one time I had them all in a kind of rawhide bag - the steelies, the purees (some made of real amber - what opulent times, the 1950's!), the boulders, the cat eyes, and of course the small, generic "marbles," which looked like they were made of, well, marble, because they were. We played two kinds of game. One was played in the gutter where we shot the marbles along the street, using the up slope of the gutter to allow a kind of parabolic trajectory to get at marbles beyond those in our way. And the other the usual circle game, maybe marked out by string, where the object was to use one marble (maybe a fierce ball bearing) to knock an opponent's marble out of the circle. Maybe winning it (temporarily), if we were playing for keeps. But I didn't lose my marbles playing for keeps, because I was actually pretty good at the games. I just lost them, the way you lose most of your toys. One day you move on to something else and forget all about them.

John's question had to do with some comments I was making about the possible breakup of the United States into its constituent parts. Now, I have no idea whether such a thing is really likely to come to pass. The main things favoring the integrity of the USA are, at this point, (a) inertia, and (b) the dependence of the Red States, particularly in the Deep South, on central government largess, since they are the net beneficiaries of all that money flowing into Washington, 40% of which comes from five large, populous, mostly Blue states, California, New York and Illinois prominent among them. The Red States, of course, are the bastions of the anti-government Tea Party, and I would imagine that if 22% of all "income" these days is the result of federal "transfer payments" (Social Security, food stamps, unemployment), which it is, that the percentage is even higher in the states complaining the most about "big government."

But who ever said that American citizens weren't stupid? Wasn't me. Anyway, in this morning's San Francisco Chronicle, a lead article lamented the reduction of California's federal funding. With the budget problems in Washington and all this belt tightening, the Golden State might lose about 10% of its fed money, and the feds send California bout 1/3rd of California's total annual funding. So that's about 3.3% of the total budget, on top of the other problems we're having out here. It should be remarked that about 1/10th of everyone in the United States lives in California. California's return on taxes paid equals about 87 cents on the dollar, a bad ratio, though not as bad as states such as New Jersey and Connecticut. New Mexico, on the other hand, receives about two bucks for every dollar it sends in, Mississippi a buck eighty, Alabama a buck and a half, Kentucky (Mitch McConnell's home!) a buck forty-eight, Oklahoma (power base for James "Global Warming is a Hoax" Inhofe), about the same as Kentucky.

Incomes tend to be higher in the Blue States, where many of the citizens have read science books which look favorably on Darwin's Origin of Species, first published in 1859, and since these states also tend to be more populous and urban, and the federal income tax is progressive, it is perhaps natural that Big Blue States would send a lot of tax money to D.C. In exchange for this tribute, the Big Blue States are held hostage to the obscurantism and pure ignorance of the Bible Belt. If 53% of the entire American populace believe in literal Creationism (which they do), then one can surmise that in the humid precincts where the mega-churches provide most of the instruction on cosmology and the ascent of Man (as in plop! - he was just there!), this would be a very conservative number.

Well, Barack Obama never believed in this "Blue State, Red State" stuff. Remember that thrilling passage in one of his stump speeches on the campaign trail? "There's no Blue America or Red America," he intoned, "there's just the United States of America." To which I would ask the O Man in all candor these days: How's that workin' out for ya?

Oh, the divide is there all right. Now, there are advantages to a united nationality. Freedom to cross borders, for one thing, with only completely unmanned vegetation check points on the California line to force your speed down from about 80 miles per hour to 60 as you shoot the booths. Okay, that's the only advantage I can think of right now, but that's not negligible. I'm up in the air about the federal government's program of killing Muslims more or less at random in countries halfway around the world. Does that make me safer? I tend to doubt it, actually. I note ruefully that the same edition of the Chronicle reports that Iraq is descending into complete chaos again, with the violence approaching levels last seen in 2007. Were you aware that 15 American soldiers were killed in Iraq in June, in other words, last month? Of course you weren't. Why would anyone talk about that? Shiite insurgents are upping their activity in order to "force the United States to withdraw" according to the Status of Forces timeline, at the end of this year, but the Ungrateful Nouri, a Shiite, is not certain that's advisable. Al-Maliki thinks that it may be necessary to maintain a larger U.S. presence to quell the Shiite violence that is apparently the result of having a large U.S. presence in Iraq.

It's good to know that things in Iraq make as much sense as ever. It would certainly be difficult, if the dissolution of the U.S.A. should ever happen, to leave all that behind. Although I must say again: one can't predict what will happen over the next decade or so. I suppose if I were trying to sound intellectual about it, I would say that future developments belong to the realm of chaos theory. Who's to say how all the various competing forces of unity vs. dissolution will play out against each other, how desperate financial matters might become, how fractious the national discourse might get. We do have our own version of James Buchanan as President right now. What we don't have, anywhere on the horizon, is our own Abraham Lincoln.

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