Maybe Cliven Bundy needs to give Vladimir Putin a call

In case you weren’t aware, and you surely weren’t unless you are a Nevadan or an avid watcher/listener of conservative media outlets, there is a battle brewing in Nevada over the grazing rights of Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy. I stumbled across an editorial about it in the New York Times. As you might imagine, Timothy Egan of the Times made the guy out to be some sort of deadbeat who was unwilling to pay what was legally due to the federal government for him having grazed his cattle on Bureau of Land Management acreage.   The controversy is far more complicated than that. It began with a tortoise. In 1989, no less.

Way back then, the EPA designated a desert tortoise in the area as endangered, which was downgraded to threatened a year later.

By 1993, the BLM developed a plan to save the desert tortoise that included prohibiting grazing on vast tracts of land it nominally owns in Nevada. It sought to purchase grazing permits it had previously issued to ranchers. Cliven Bundy, among others, refused to sell. He racked up about $31,000 in fines for grazing cattle without permission after his permit was revoked. He never reapplied for a permit, but continued to graze his cattle.

Shortly after the designation of the desert tortoise as endangered, over thirty counties in the state of New Mexico moved to legislatively gain ownership to land the federal government claimed. Nye County in Nevada, with a land area comprising almost 17% of the state, followed suit. Clive Bundy is not alone in his fight against the Feds. This is, in fact, just the latest iteration of a long-simmering feud between the Federal government and the state and local governments representing the people out West. The locals say the Feds try to oppressively control things from the Washington without really knowing what they’re doing, while the Feds say it is their prerogative to protect and manage land it acquired in the nation’s push westward. The federal government is far and away the largest landowner in the Rocky Mountain states, owning 87% of the land in Nevada alone.

By 1996, Federal courts were striking down local legislation refusing to recognize their claims of ownership. The ranchers were not dissuaded. Cliven Bundy said his family’s claim to the grazing rights preceded the claims of the Federal government. Nevada was a part of the Utah Territory won in the Mexican-American war in 1848. Cliven Bundy’s family homesteaded their ranch in 1877, well after Nevada’s silver rush led it to break away from Utah and become its own territory before being admitted to the Union in 1864 as the 36th state.

There is a principle in real estate law, simply stated, that first in time is first in right. By that reckoning, it at least superficially appears Cliven Bundy’s claims to the land fail. But it’s not clear when the Federal government asserted its claim to the land upon which Bundy grazes his herd. But Bundy had been, until at least 1989, acknowledging the Federal government’s claims by paying the permit fees for grazing. As such, it did not appear Bundy had a good legal case, which is how the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco saw things in 1998, issuing an injunction ordering him to remove his cattle.

Nothing much happened for over a decade afterwards. Bundy kept grazing his cattle. Then in 2012, the BLM filed for an injunction in Federal court against Bundy, and two years later, in March, 2014, moved to remove Bundy’s cattle from the land and impound the herd to pay for his fees and penalties, which by then exceeded one million dollars.

Bundy refused to let the impoundment peacefully proceed, becoming something of a cause celebre among the militias and anti-government types commonly found in the West. They rapidly descended on the aptly named Bunkerville, Nevada, where Bundy was holed up with his family, to aid in preventing the impoundment of Bundy’s cattle. Bundy’s legal case had actually vastly improved since 1998, as whatever the government’s rights might have been, they sat on them for over ten years while Bundy openly allowed his cattle to graze on their land. Thus he would meet at least two criteria necessary for making a claim of adverse possession—open possession which is flagrantly hostile to the owner’s interests. And for now, the Feds have backed down, calling off their impoundment operation under the threat of violence by the small army now gathered to protect Bundy’s cattle.

This case might seem something of a run of the mill Branch Davidian type dispute, where a bunch of cultists have sequestered themselves against the world and are ready to fight to the death anyone who tries to intrude. But this is not like that. Bundy has the support of local, and even state politicians, even if the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association has decided to keep its opinions to itself. Bundy is no kook, but is a family man trying to protect rights he feels are his, his family having exercised them for over a century, and he has the support of a good many of his neighbors.

There is a backlash building. The usurpations and predations of the US Federal government have grown at an accelerating rate since 9-11, and especially during the Obama Administration. To many people, particularly in the West and the South, the Federal government has become an enemy to their way of life, expressing and defending repugnant values, and ceaselessly encroaching upon rights they hold dear.  Rural whites in both areas are often deeply resentful of the federal government, believing it exists to favor minorities over them. More broadly, there is at least a plurality of conservative whites in all areas—rural, urban and suburban–who fear the relentlessly expanding writ of the Federal government, particularly as expressed most recently with the government takeover of the healthcare industry, as indicative of their loosening grip on the nation they and their ancestors built.

The perception is that the Federal government is run by a cabal of urban sophisticates who believe they know better how people should live their lives. And that government exists as a platform for expressing their progressive ideals, gaining power to do so by pandering to a coalition of minorities, immigrants and homosexuals. The whole thing seems to be a conspiracy to rob the backbone of the country, the sons and daughters of European immigrants who came together and cooperated to build the greatest nation the earth has ever know, of their patrimony. And they would by and large be right.

Which is how these ranchers and militia men and others have something in common with Vladimir Putin. On the international stage, the US government is every bit as oppressive, expansive and hubristic in its relations with other countries as it is with its uncooperatives at home. It has been reading its press clippings, thinking that it is tantamount to God, with limitless power, incapable of doing wrong; that even when it does things reasonable people might agree are wrong, like killing people more at less at random through Predator drone strikes, it doesn’t matter, because it does it all for a good purpose, which is to spread its particular version of secular Western values to all corners of the globe. But the US government is not as powerful as it pretends. Putin, for one, has realized as much, spitting in the West’s eye, “liberating” Crimea with nary a shot being fired, and only a few peeps about the “consequences” from the Progressive cabal. Maybe Cliven Bundy has realized the same. The expansion of the domestic Federal writ can not continue apace. Never mind Ukraine, even in Bunkerville, Nevada, the Federal government has little power to impose its will on the ground. And it has pandered itself to ultimate domestic irrelevance by promising far more than it will ever be able to deliver.

It’s too bad Bundy doesn’t speak Russian. Putin might then have an excuse to intervene.

For more details on the history of the confrontation, the Washington Post has an excellent summary, found here.

In this new age of Romanticism, fear means terrorism wins

Bertrand Russell described the 18th and 19th century Romantic movement in literature and philosophy as founded upon the notion that it is the heart, not the head, that animates the human experience.  Truth is derived through emotion.  The truth of a thing depends on how deeply it is felt to be true.  It seems that something of a new age of Romanticism is upon us, particularly regarding perceived threats to our way of life.  We are consumed with fear that someone or something might destroy or damage our society, so we try to eliminate the sources of fear.  But in the process of trying to eliminate the source of our fears, we do more damage to that which we were concerned with protecting than any actual threat ever could.

Auburn University shut down its campus the other day because someone scrawled a threatening message on the wall of a campus restroom. Discovered three weeks earlier, the graffiti promised a rampage of biblical proportions on the anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre. I mentioned to my son, who is a second year student at Auburn, that I could only imagine how the walls of the restrooms will look as it gets closer to final exams.  He agreed. 

I could have used a sharpie my last semester of college to get a little extra time for finals—I was taking eight classes and they were killing me. But back then nobody would have given a ripe damn what sort of nonsense I might have scrawled on the bathroom walls on campus. American society and culture had bigger fish to fry, worrying over whether it would be the Soviet Union that would bury it politically and militarily, or Japan, who would do it in economically.  The possibility of some deranged soul pulling some outrageous stunt like happened at Virginia Tech would not have registered on the radar screen, even as only a few years earlier the University of Texas had seen its clock tower shooter.   Scrawling threatening messages on the bathroom walls wasn’t a strategy for eliciting attention back then because it would have been ineffective.  But now, we are so afraid, and so adamantly convinced that fear can be eliminated if only we could eliminate all possible threats,  that no measure is too great, no caution is too burdensome to bear, in the service of pretending that we can eliminate threats.

But threats can never be eliminated.  Attempting to do so anyway means the deranged has won the battle for attention without firing a shot or blowing up a bomb.  And in so far as the attempt to eliminate threats impairs the purposes for which society exists, such as with a university, the dispensing of knowledge in classroom, then the self-inflicted damage far exceeds anything a deranged gunman might have conjured.

The Auburn University scare and overwrought reaction came at the same time Boston was caterwauling over memorializing the anniversary of having been the latest victim of terrorism. Vice-President Joe Biden stood before Bostonians and proclaimed that, “…it was worth it…” but probably meant to say that the struggle the injured endured to overcome their injuries was worth it.   After all, he is Joe Biden. But he ended in thunderous defiance of the terrorists, who in this case were two rather confused young immigrants from Kyrgyzstan, from the LA Times:

 “We will never yield, we will never cower, America will never ever, ever stand down,” Biden said. “We are Boston. We are America. We respond, we endure, we overcome, and we own the finish line! God bless you all, and may God protect our troops.”

The very fact that a crude bomb that succeeded in killing only three people and wounding about two hundred more—a routine occurrence, except usually far deadlier, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and not unusual in Palestine, Israel, Egypt, etc., etc.,–warrants a rally and some impressive chest-thumping by the second-ranking politician in the government, means nothing else than that the terrorists accomplished exactly what they intended. In fact, they probably accomplished far more than they had hoped, leveraging a thin sliver of explosive violence into an emotional pity party lasting at least a year long, not to mention also shutting a whole city down to look for the perpetrators. Had it been a routine gangland slaying of a few Southies in Charlestown, nobody would have raised an eyebrow.

This age of opulent wealth, where the greatest problem facing the average person is in deciding what to eat, not in figuring out how to secure the resources necessary to acquire something to eat, has fostered a new of Romanticism where emotional indulgence, along with gastronomic indulgence, is de rigueur. It is utter emotional claptrap to proclaim that America won’t cower in the face of two disturbed young men.   Of course it won’t, unless it decides to.  No two disturbed young men, or two thousand disturbed young men, or even two hundred thousand disturbed young men, could present anything but a niggling irritation to the continuance of American civilization, no matter what outrageous things their disturbed minds lead them to believe or do. But to feel the need to proclaim that “America will never, ever, ever stand down,” implies that America might otherwise stand down, except for the proclamation.   

Then some white supremacist decides to commit a ‘hate’ crime against a Jewish community center.   Check that, some lunatic decides to kill a few people because they happen to be, or at least he thinks them to be, Jewish. Which is hardly remarkable. In a population of over 300 million, there are bound to be a few crackpots willing to go the full monte in expressing their rage at a world that seems indifferent to them and their concerns. What was remarkable, however, was an editorial published in the New York Times that essentially claimed most white supremacist crackpots get radicalized in the military, from the article:

The report [by the Department of Homeland Security in 2009]singled out one factor that has fueled every surge in Ku Klux Klan membership in American history, from the 1860s to the present: war. The return of veterans from combat appears to correlate more closely with Klan membership than any other historical factor. “Military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists carrying out violent attacks,” the report warned. The agency was “concerned that right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.”

The apparent affinity veterans have with hate groups, and their occasional violent outbursts, also have roots in resurgent Romanticism. These trained killers can’t be loved or welcomed back into a society shameful for having created them, and so they lash out in rage, much in the manner of Shelley’s Frankenstein, who killed his creator and all those around him because his creator failed to make him loveable. If it’s okay to wallow in indulgent emotions for having suffered an act of random violence, it appears it is also okay to wallow in indulgent emotions in order to commit one.

I understand a bit of what the veterans might be feeling. My daughter asked me the other night during a discussion at dinner about returning to the United States after having served in the first Gulf War, whether I kissed the ground in Atlanta upon my return to terra familiar. I told her that, no, my attitude at the time was more one of “Fuck America” for having sent me to kill people just so rich white soccer moms could have cheap gasoline for their hulking SUVs. And I still feel that way about the war. But I haven’t spent the last two decades wallowing in self-pity. And I did nothing to express my anger and disgust at what I saw then and still see now is a country that is no longer worth fighting for. I just went about the business of life, trying to live in the world but not of it, perhaps something in the same way an ancient Skeptic might have lived.

But what this article and study reveal is that our fighting of this amorphous War on Terror is a net creator of terrorists, if by terrorist we mean anyone who wants to garner attention for their cause, however twisted their cause might be, through violence.  We had to know that invading Iraq and Afghanistan would create some new terrorists among radicalized Islamists. What we might have missed is that it would also create some domestic terrorists among the people asked to do the invading (which it has, though in the particular instance, the Kansas City killer was a Vietnam era veteran). More broadly, when a man is asked to forsake his humanity so that he might kill others, it had better be for a good reason, or his resentment at having been so asked might well radicalize him against the entity that asked him.  And really, there is no justification worthy of killing another man than that he has first tried to kill you. But the killing monster, once created, can be quite difficult to restrain.

(Incidentally, it is utterly irrelevant to anyone except the politicians that an outburst of violence such as happened in Kansas City be denominated a hate crime or not. Hate was undeniably a motivating factor, but hate is quite routinely a motivating factor in a murder. Just as are lust or money or power. I wonder, if the crime was motivated by a more politically acceptable reason than racial or sexual bigotry, but instead by something like homosexual lust, should it then carry a lighter sentence? There are any number of motivations for murder. That one of them might be hatred of another’s membership in a group enjoying protected status, like gays or blacks or Jews or women, hardly makes the deceased more dead. And in a death penalty state, it is not possible that it makes the potential penalty more severe. Hate crime enhancement affixed to criminal charges of murder are just prosecutorial plumage.)

 The Kansas City killer was an old man, in his seventies. By my reckoning, he knew he was soon to die and wanted to go out in a blaze of glory such that he wouldn’t be quickly forgotten. Which is, in a sense, the motivation most people have for murdering others. The quest for immortality resides deeper in the human heart than even racial or religious bigotry.

There is really no question that the US government is breeding more terrorism than it thwarts through its War on Terror, in much the same manner as it supports the illicit drug industry through its efforts in the War on Drugs. Which is not surprising. Without wars to fight, the US government might just be reckoned irrelevant, and it fears irrelevancy more than any returning veteran ever did.  Fear is the coin of the realm.

St. Augustine perhaps summed things up best:

All wicked people, just like good people, desire to live without fear.  The difference is that the good, in desiring this, turn their love away from things that cannot be possessed without the fear of losing them.  The wicked, on the other hand, try to get rid of anything that prevents them from enjoying such things securely.  Thus they lead a wicked and criminal life, which would better be called death.

How America lost Ukraine when it won the Cold War

For people not old enough to remember what the world was like before the Berlin Wall fell, there was a time when the United States faced an existential threat the world over.  The Soviet Union, who we were told had more or less enslaved its people in an uber-socialist/Marxist experiment called Communism, was bristling with nuclear weapons and ground, sea and air forces spanning the globe, bumping up against US hegemonic designs at every turn.  For the vast majority of Americans, the Soviet Union was the embodiment of all that was evil and dangerous in the world; as much had been drilled into their hearts and minds relentlessly, practically since birth.  The Soviet Union’s Communism was the antithesis of freedom, that most cherished of American ideals, and represented freedom’s greatest threat.  Its nuclear arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear submarines and long-range bombers sent schoolchildren scurrying under their desks, practicing for the day when the threat to freedom was actualized through nuclear mayhem visited from abroad.   The fear was real, even if scurrying under a desk to protect from a nuclear attack held only the pretense of preparation.

It was almost inevitable that nuclear weapons would arise to threaten the greatest of man’s civilized creations, the modern city.  The power to create and the power to destroy are two sides of the same coin.  With nuclear weapons came the power to destroy in seconds what it took centuries to build.  Destruction is always easier than creation. 

But the bombs never fell.  After a great scare over Cuba in 1962, which may or may not have been a bit overwrought in hindsight, except that nobody quite knew back then whether anyone would really push the button to start World War Three to end civilization, the world settled down and lived in MAD-ness for a few decades (Mutually Assured Destruction, like two bears who meet in the woods but don’t fight because either or both of them would surely be killed in the process, which they both know), until the Soviet Empire got itself overstretched after the high price of oil proved the perfect cure for high oil prices, and basically fell completely apart in the early nineties (the Soviet Union then, and Russia now, are heavily dependent on oil export revenues).  The Cold War was over and the US won!  President Reagan had taunted Soviet Premier Gorbachev, telling him to “tear down this wall” in 1985, and before the end of the decade, the Berlin Wall fell, by God, if by the hands of the German people and not on Mr. Gorbachev’s instructions.    Gorbachev could only stand idly by while his last stab at saving the Soviet Union, perestroika, which effectively represented an abandonment of Communism as a socio economic system, instead propelled its disintegration.

So what did the US do with its bounty of spoils after winning the Cold War?  It promptly set about imitating its vanquished foe in its socio-economic organization.  It saved the world from the liberty-threatening scourge of Communism only to adopt, in gradual turns, the same cradle-to-grave government caretaking of individual lives that Communism most radically represented.   It relentlessly expanded the social welfare state, until its fullest expression was realized in the passage of Obamacare.  It encouraged an unelected cabal of Politburo-type political economists to set prices and determine winners and losers in the marketplace (the US Federal Reserve).  It turned the mechanisms of the federal government into a grievance factory, encouraging a victimization ethos (Affirmative Action, gay marriage, etc).   It turned the armed forces into a social laboratory, eschewing the purpose of protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States for which they were charged and designed, for the purpose of proving the fantasy that gender-normed standards made females the equivalent of males in combat roles.   The greatest sacrifice it asked of its citizens during the prosecution of war was to shop, all the while cajoling them into trading constitutionally protected liberties for the illusion of security (the Patriot Act and its progeny). 

And so now, the Russian Bear, arouses from its slumber, and senses weakness all around.  It sees an America grown fat and lazy and soft, concerned more with trivialities like the self-obsessed tweetings of Hollywood celebrities and the expansion of the marital institution (constitutionally decreed, no less) to any and all who wish to consecrate a private sexual relationship with the blessings of the state.   America is silly and the Russian Bear is serious.   It forages around the Middle East and Eastern Europe, gobbling up swaths of its former empire, while America warns of “red lines” and “consequences” it has neither the will nor the means to impose. 

There is nothing stopping Russia from reconstituting its empire, a fact its leader, Vladimir Putin, well understands.  His provocations and insults grow bolder each passing day.  He knows there are no consequences; he knows there are no red lines he can’t cross with impunity.  Because he knows that Americans willingly traded their greatest treasure—freedom—for a pocket full of hollow promises from their government, and that any people who would so imprudently bargain away their legacy are hardly the type of people who would sacrifice their sedate comfort for the inconveniences of war.  In the cold logic of diplomacy, he knows America has nothing with which to bargain.  He sees it for what it is, a paper tiger the Russian Bear needn’t much consider on its path to resurgence.  Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula wasn’t Russia’s first reacquisition of territory lost in the Soviet’s disintegration, and it won’t be the last.

Book Review: The Stories of English by David Crystal (2004)

David Crystal provides, in The Stories of English, an immense treasure trove of English language history.  It is the stories of English because there are a great many more than one—there are no straight lines make up the evolution and development of the language–and Crystal covers them all.     Anyone who is at all interested in the history of the English language, nay, the history of English speaking peoples, would be hard pressed to find a better overview.  It is sweeping in grandeur, yet intricate in detail.  David Crystal is an academic linguist by trade, but one of such extraordinary merit that he was knighted by the British Crown for his service to the English language. 

Suffusing all the stories of English that Crystal relates is the egalitarian nature of its development, and the personal philosophy (shared by every linguist I have encountered in regard to every language I’ve studied) that there is no such thing as one correct and proper English.   Even so-called “Standard English” varies according to locale.  The best can be said is that Standard English is an aspirational abstraction for those using English as a lingua franca.  Further, Crystal will not abide the notion that the particular type of English one speaks reveals the value of one’s character.  Crystal decries the way that dialect is used to stereotype in much the same way as skin tone.  Language is language.  It is the currency through which ideas are exchanged between human minds.  But people being people, language, particularly dialects of a language (e.g., for English, cockney, London, etc.) are the second most powerful indicia of tribal membership, coming in just behind more readily ascertainable visual cues like skin tone or sartorial choices.

But enough of the adulation and praise.  It should be clear that I would highly recommend the book to anyone interested in the English language and its histories.  What I hope to accomplish here is a quick sketch of the high points of English development, mainly so that I might better remember them.  This list is mainly derived from “The standard story” on page 3 of the Introduction; some portions are quoted verbatim, but without proper attribution, with apologies to Mr. Crystal:

~In 449, Germanic tribes arrived in Britain from the European mainland, displacing the native Celtic population, eventually establishing a single language, which was Anglo-Saxon, thus is English born as a Germanic language (Anglo=Ingles=English).

~West Saxon, the language of King Alfred, spoken in Southern England around Winchester, became dominant, later known as Old English.

~During the later Anglo-Saxon period, fundamental changes to grammar and pronunciation arose; with the Norman Conquest in 1066, the language accepted a huge influx of new words; this era became known as Middle English.  Anglo-Saxon, i.e., Middle English, remained the language of the common people, though Norman French was used in by elites in government, the courts and business.

~During Middle English, literary use of the language gathered force, culminating in Chaucer in the 14th century.  Something of a Standard English emerged in this time.

~Printing was introduced in 1476, which greatly expanded literary efforts.  It was about this time that spelling standardization arose, haltingly, which commensurately led to the divergence of spelling and pronunciation.

~Early Modern English arose around the time of Shakespeare, with further changes in pronunciation and grammar, and an enormous increase in vocabulary.

~Beginning in roughly the 17th century, the increase in range and creativity brought about an impulse to catch the language tiger by the tail through its first dictionaries, grammars and manuals of pronunciation.

~As the British Empire reached its apex, there emerged a sharpened sense of correctness in relation to a standard form of English, which was complicated by American English from across the pond, which also developed a standardized version, but that was incrementally different from British English.

~By the end of 18th century, standard language had become very close to present-day English, i.e., Modern English arose.  But the language, as standardized as the dear British would liked to have kept it, just kept evolving, adding vocabulary at an explosive pace, and spreading relentlessly across the globe, as the American Empire acceded to much of the detritus of the fallen European, particularly British, empires.

The foregoing is just a bare sketch.  Read the book to fill in the details.

In Mr. Crystal’s discussion of British dialects, he made the observation that the pronunciation, or lack thereof, of the letter “H” distinguished between the upper crust, who pronounced, and even stressed H’s, and  those who didn’t pronounce their H’s, who were low class.  I told my family that we should have a day each year, sort of like Pirate Day (where everybody speaks like a pirate), when we lose the H’s.  We would ‘ave a ‘ot cup o’ coffee to start the day, especially if we’d ‘ad a few drinks the night before and felt like ‘ell.  You get the picture. 

This is a great book.  It amounts to an abridged encyclopedia of English language history.  I highly recommend it to anyone who loves language or history or simply wants to learn the story of how the English language came to be, which is also a story of how we—every one of the over 1 billion English speakers, either as a first or second language—came to be.

From Socrates to Christ to Augustine to Spinoza to Bono: A short treatise on Love

Originally posted on The Curmudgeon's Attic:

Listening to an old U2 album recently, and reading some old Greek philosophers (I really am a nerd, along w/ being a Curmudgeon), set me to pondering: What is love? Through the thousands of times I’ve professed my love of something or someone through the decades, it occurred to me that I’ve never really known what it is.

So I started at the place that prompted my ruminations and tried to discover the meaning of love through the vehicle of pop music. In U2′s Rattle and Hum album (is it okay to still call collections of songs, regardless the media upon which they are stored “albums”?) seven of the seventeen songs–all of the ones that mention love–have love as their central theme. (Seven is a number carrying all sorts of baggage with it–I wonder, any significance?)

There’s Desire, written by Bono, that talks of love as desire–in this case apparently…

View original 4,221 more words

Mother Nature 4; Mankind 0

About two weeks ago in Birmingham, Alabama, among other locales across the Deep South, Mother Nature let loose a rare winter storm (I live in Birmingham, so know its experience first-hand).  It was a whole lot of nothing–about two inches of snow–but nothing was enough to leave thousands stranded at work or in schools or along the highways and byways in their vehicles.  Two inches of snow compacted into ice was enough to render the roads impassable, turning the highways into parking lots, where confused and dazed erstwhile motorists wandered around like extras in the cast of the Zombie Apocalypse. 

That should have offered a powerful clue as to whether man and his supposed technological prowess are in charge, or if Mother Nature still holds all the trump cards (not to spoil the ending for you, but she does).  Mankind’s civilization proved to be delicately poised on the edge of the abyss.  A feathery touch of Mother Nature, and things were tipped the wrong way.  And Mother Nature refused to reveal her play until the last second, coyly frustrating mankind’s most astute observers and predictors of her behavior.  Mother Nature 1; Mankind 0.

Then, last week, a dusting of snow sent people scurrying home early from school and work, lest they be caught out again like the week before.  They weren’t caught out, because the dusting never amounted to anything.  Mother Nature, in a feint, 2; Mankind still 0.

Now this week, schools here in Birmingham have been canceled for two days running, businesses who can do so, like too-big-to-fail banks, which by dint of their importance, are also too-big-for-it-to-matter-whether-they-are-open-for-business-or-not, are closing up shop and sending people home.  But of the forecast snow/ice storm?  Nothing.  Just a bit of very cold, and thereby very chilling, rain.  Mother Nature 3; Mankind still 0.

And finally this, from the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky:

A sinkhole (pictured above) has swallowed eight of the Corvettes that had been on display in the museum.  The museum is located just across from the Corvette assembly facility.  Mother Nature 4; Mankind (ever and always) 0.

I always used to think Mother Nature was indifferent to mankind’s fate.  Here lately, I’m beginning to think she is actively and intentionally engaged in shaping it to his detriment.  But I sort of like it.  Any society that devotes a museum to mass-produced, clunky motor vehicle deserves to raise Mother Nature’s ire.  But I do wish she would allow my daughter to soon go back to school.

Wendy Davis, the Face of American Feminism

On American feminism, from Chapter 11, The Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, by Albert Jay Nock, 1943:

Toward the end of my term as an editor in New York I stumbled on a statement that considerably more than half the national wealth of the United States was in the hands of women.  This interested me to the point of taking measures to find out if it were true; and it was true, to my surprise.  I knew that the dean of St. Paul’s had described American society as an ice-water-drinking gynecocracy, but did not imagine that his view could be borne out by anything so cogent.  I immediately formed the reasonable notion that so large an amount of economic control combined with full political equality, full equality of educational and cultural opportunity, and an unprecedented liberation from traditional disabilities,–all this should be showing some distinct and salutary social effects.  I not only saw no signs of any such effects being produced, however, but I also saw no signs of any disposition to produce them, still less of any sense of responsibility in the premises; and this excited my curiosity.  Considering the great enlargement of opportunity for American women to do what they liked with themselves, I was curious to see what, if anything, they were actually doing; and I made this a matter of observation and inquiry for several years, whenever occasion offered. 

Putting the results in a word, I found they were contenting themselves with doing exactly what men do.  Their conception of their new-found liberties and the use to be made of them did not reach beyond this.  All the evidence I could turn up tended with unfailing regularity to this conclusion.  Women entered the same trades and professions as competitors with men, played politics with the same unscrupulous predacity and mountebankery*, shared the same unintelligent habits of mind, accepted the same cultural standards, the same codes of life and manners. 

*a mountebank is a “flamboyant charlatan”

Is there any better station in American political life these days than to be a female graduate of Harvard Law who started out life as a poor single mom living in a trailer?   (Or, perhaps, to be a black lesbian female graduate of Harvard Law who started out life as a single mom in the ghetto—her baby daddy having been shot in a gangland slaying on his way to her house with milk and bread for her and the child and her lesbian partner.  But to be all those things might make one appear to be feeding predaciously at the deep trough of the American victimization culture).

Such is the tale of Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for Governor of the State of Texas.  But it’s not true.  It hasn’t even the ring of “essential truthiness” as Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg News described Ms. Davis’ narrative.  In her apologia of Ms. Davis, Ms. Carlson observed about journalism, that it is nothing “but organizing facts into a compelling narrative”.  But see, the narrative needs to begin with facts. 

Here’s the “compelling narrative” of Ms. Davis’ background, as posted on her campaign website:

Raised by a single mother, Wendy began working after school at age 14 to help support her mom and three siblings. By 19, she was on her way to becoming a single mother, working two jobs just to make ends meet.

Knowing that education was the only path to creating a better life for her young daughter, Wendy enrolled at Tarrant County Community College. After two years, she transferred to Texas Christian University. With the help of academic scholarships, student loans, and state and federal grants, Wendy became the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree, graduated first in her class, and went on to Harvard Law School.

Incidentally, notice how the statement, “By 19, she was on her way to becoming a single mother” sounds like something to which she aspired?   And well, looking back on things now, and how important is the narrative to her political ambitions, a bit of truthiness was probably revealed in its tone.  She was on her way at age nineteen to writing the perfect script for an ambitious female politico in 21st century America.  Or, at least that’s probably how things feel today.

But here’s what actually accrued, according to The Dallas Morning News:

Davis was 21, not 19, when she was divorced. She lived only a few months in the family mobile home while separated from her husband before moving into an apartment with her daughter.

A single mother working two jobs, she met Jeff Davis, a lawyer 13 years older than her, married him and had a second daughter. He paid for her last two years at Texas Christian University and her time at Harvard Law School, and kept their two daughters while she was in Boston. When they divorced in 2005, he was granted parental custody, and the girls stayed with him. Wendy Davis was directed to pay child support.

The article goes on to say that it was her dad that had introduced Jeff to Wendy.  Her dad owned a Ft. Worth dinner theater and was friends with Jeff.  So, even the part about her being raised by a single mom sounds a bit fanciful. 

But all you need to know about Wendy Davis is what she said when she and Jeff were divorced, and he was awarded custody of their daughter:

“She did the right thing,” he [Jeff Davis] said. “She said, ‘I think you’re right; you’ll make a good, nurturing father. While I’ve been a good mother, it’s not a good time for me right now.’”

Could there be a more selfish woman in America?  (Yes, yes, I know.  Of course there are more selfish women in America.  So far as selfishness in American women goes, you can never be too skeptical.) She gave up custody of her daughter because it wasn’t a “good time for me right now”, even as she was making good money as a Harvard Law graduate, the tuition for which was paid by Jeff Davis from his cashing in his retirement account, and by taking out an additional loan. Jeff Davis noted the irony that Wendy decided to move out on the same day in 2003 when he made the last payment on the loan for her schooling. 

Ms. Davis gained notoriety for filibustering the Texas Senate about a year ago to prevent the passage of a restriction on abortion past the age of fetus viability—a restriction to which even Ms. Carlson did not object.  No matter, the theater of the filibuster in her pink running shoes worked its magic, and Ms. Davis made a name for herself, which she leveraged into a run for governor, and recently, a fluff piece on NBC’s Today Show. 

A former colleague explains Ms. Davis’ character, from The Dallas Morning News article:

“Wendy is tremendously ambitious,” he said, speaking only on condition of anonymity in order to give what he called an honest assessment. “She’s not going to let family or raising children or anything else get in her way.”

He said: “She’s going to find a way, and she’s going to figure out a way to spin herself in a way that grabs at the heart strings. A lot of it isn’t true about her, but that’s just us who knew her. But she’d be a good governor.”

With that last comment, he must have been worried of a potential reprisal, scared that she might figure out who it was had offered the assessment.  Because a person who puts political ambition above even their own issue is a person who hasn’t a proper sense of priority, i.e., is a person who would make a very bad governor, so his final statement hardly flows from his description of her character.  Unless it is imagined that the sleazier the politician the better. 

A more insightful and truthful narrative of Wendy Davis’ life might go something like this.  She was born into a white middle class family that suffered financially, like most do, when its principals divorced.  She decided to get married and pregnant at a young age, perhaps to escape a dead end life at home, as compels many a young woman who pursues the strategy, but with the security of a husband in the breach.   That marriage ended in divorce, like so many of its type do, probably because she figured out she had struck a poor bargain.  She then struggled a bit as a single mom, but with both parents nearby to help her out (she waitressed for her dad at his movie theater and moved in with her mom after living in a trailer for a short while), the struggling wasn’t terribly severe.  She then used her beauty and her dad’s connections to seduce Jeff Davis, a moderately successful lawyer, and hitched her star to his, using him to get through two years at Texas Christian (an outrageously expensive private school in Ft. Worth, TX) and then three years at Harvard Law (an outrageously expensive private school in Massachusetts).  Once she had ridden his train as far as she felt it might take her, she jumped off to travel solo for a while, bringing her roughly to today, where she tries to make out like she got where she is all by her pretty little lonesome self.   

Wendy Davis’ narrative of her life ought to have a disclaimer like the lead in to the 2013 movie, American Hustle, “Some of this actually happened”.  In her ability to massage the truth by both commission and omission, she shows at once her bona fides as a lawyer, a politician and a feminist.   Lawyers and politicians lie; feminists, as Nock pointed out in the opening passage, use their new found liberties to behave just as men would.  Nock wrote that in the early 1940’s.  Plus ca change.

In the Dallas Morning News article, Davis acknowledged some problems with her narration:

 “My language should be tighter,” she said. “I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.”

“Broader, looser language” is a euphemism for obfuscation and prevarication, things at which male politicians have been always expert.  Once she perfects the art, she might even be qualified to serve on the Federal Reserve Board. 

Incidentally, she’s really pretty.  A bombshell blonde.  Label her political career, blonde ambition, because at least regarding her education, it appears to be her beauty is what financed it.

To Paul Krugman of the NYTimes, spending on WWII was a splendid economic stimulus package

French President Francois Hollande is not liberal enough for Paul Krugman.  He started out a bit left of center, but quickly strove to the right, pushing for tax reductions (!) on businesses and cutting government spending to offset the revenue lost.  Oh, the humanity.  Krugman calls Hollande’s turn to the right the real French scandal, instead of the one where Hollande is cavorting with a French actress.  I’ll concede that point.  The only thing scandalous about Hollande’s affair is that he’s making every heterosexual male in the Western world jealous.  In my next life, I hope to be a French libertine. 

Krugman would apparently prefer, instead of a tax cut, a military buildup yielding to war, genocide and oppression.  There is nothing like war, or preparing for war, to warm the cackles of the Keynesian heart.   Here’s what he said, in his column in the New York Times today (January 17, 2014) regarding the Keynesian stimulus that lifted Europe from the funk of the Great Depression:

They went off the gold standard; they stopped trying to balance their budgets; and some of them began large military buildups that had the side effect of providing economic stimulus. The result was a strong recovery from 1933 onward.

Indeed, recovery was quite strong, especially after 1940 or so, especially for Germany.  If only the Germans had been allowed to continue their reign, Europe would not be in this mess today.  Besides, Germany is now poised to do economically what it failed to do politically and militarily after 1933—to exert its hegemonic influence over the whole of the Continent (save, of course, that rocky, wind-swept isle, Britain).   The world will know the blitzkrieg of London is on again (in a more placid iteration) when German bankers show up to buy that portion of London real estate not already owned by other foreigners, mainly oligarchs from a nation (Russia) that has seemed always to present an impediment to German imperial aspirations.

In any event, it was just a matter of time until Krugman got around to admitting what he’s long believed—there is no such thing as bad government spending.  Even when it’s motivated by fascist dreams of empire and ethnic purity, government spending sure makes the GDP numbers look swell.

Argentina and Venezuela: Two examples of the Progressive Paradigm in Practice

Part of the Progressive catechism, if not openly acknowledged, then certainly suffusing its every policy–creating impulse, is that government, when properly tweaked by, you guessed it—Progressive techno/bureaucrats shuffling about like Google interns doing no evil—can change actual, real things to be something other than they are, just by dint of decree.  Thus with Obamacare, for instance, the cost to insure men relative to women is decreed to be precisely equal, whereas the reality is quite different—women consume far greater quantities of health care than do men, and so are quite a bit more expensive, on average, to insure than are men—a reality the government refuses to allow the marketplace to officially acknowledge. 

This means male health insurance will be overpriced and female health insurance underpriced.  Which in turn means that there will be a surplus of male health insurance policies offered in the marketplace, while the demand for female health insurance policies will outstrip supply, or would, if supply were not also a function of government decree.   But no matter what the government decrees, it still costs more to insure a female than it does a male.  Somewhere, somehow, the discrepancy between government fiat and market reality will be resolved.  Perhaps the discrepancy will be resolved informally by markets outsmarting the bureaucracy (not hard to do, it has to be imagined).  Maybe it will be achieved through hidden taxes and fees imposed upon female policies.  It could be reconciled through brute force.  Or maybe, if the discrepancy is large enough, the faux pricing scheme implemented by the government will simply fail, causing the whole edifice created around it to similarly fail.  In fact, the whole of Obamacare depends for its survival on a similar mismatch of prices with costs, as it depends on young healthy people voluntarily agreeing (sort of, on the pain of a tax for failing to do so) to pay above-market prices for insurance policies so that the discrepancy can be used to subsidize older, sicker people being sold policies at below market prices.   Like a Progressive’s dream, Obamacare eliminates by government fiat cost differentials between young and old and male and female.  The Progressive conceit is in believing themselves so powerful and so wise as to be able to command the markets and market pricing through government decree.  They might as well order the oceans to cease rising.    

Argentina and Venezuela, both of which are now governed by statists who believe that government is vested with the power to shape truth in the marketplace, i.e., both of which are governed by people  embracing the Progressive Paradigm, offer poignant examples of how wrong-headed is the idea. 

In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, has hired an army general to run its Finance Ministry in an attempt to quell debilitating inflation (perhaps if prices won’t lie down on their own, he can point a tank at them).  The reason there is debilitating inflation is quite simple—there are debilitating shortages of nearly every imported thing Venezuelans need in order to survive and thrive.  The reason for the shortages is also quite simple—Chavez, and Maduro following him, chose to deal with fiscal insolvency by printing money.  But to keep the people from rioting in the streets (only marginally successfully so far), they outlawed price increases.  The money kept losing value, until no vendor could afford to purchase and sell at the government-dictated prices.  The sub-market prices meant that people could nominally still afford to buy what they needed.  But the sub-market prices also meant that no vendor was willing to import and market what they needed.  It officially takes 6.3 Venezuelan bolivars to buy a dollar.  On the black market, it takes 74.  The inflation rate, while quite hard to calculate under these conditions, is estimated to have been about 55% for the last year.   In contrast, in the US, it was effectively zero, perhaps because the price-setting mechanisms of Obamacare haven’t really begun to take effect, or because the mismatched prices and costs in Obamacare affect only a portion of the American economic system, or, more probably, because the US borrows money in the same currency it prints, which it can do only because its currency has the full faith and backing of the US military.    

Argentina is similarly situated, if not quite as severely, in its inflation situation.  Official statistics put Argentina’s inflation rate at 10.5% in the year through November, 2013, but private analysts peg the figure as at least twice that.   Inflation is expected to clock in at roughly 30% in 2014. Its source is the same as Venezuela’s—a spendthrift government that prints money to pay its bills.  Of course, in both Venezuela and Argentina, government deficits have to be financed in foreign currencies—no creditor will lend money to either country in their home currencies.   Argentina is also attempting to quell inflation with mandated prices.  But it works no better there than in Venezuela.  When mandated prices are below market prices, shortages inevitably arise.  Argentines are already suffering through a hot summer with electricity outages caused by insufficient generating capacity, which in turn arose because price controls made investment in generating capacity unprofitable.  The supermarket shelves are growing bare, as grocers have been forced by government fiat to sell at a below market prices.  In the meantime, the natives are getting restless.  Argentine police recently staged strikes in the local provinces to protest that their salaries were being eroded by inflation, which then led to looting in some cases, as there were no police to protect shop owners from vandals.  Of course, the reality of declining real wages with inflation is hardly limited to the police in Argentina.  It is happening also in Venezuela.  And in the United States, it is the more or less overt strategy being pursued (though quite unsuccessfully, so far) by the US Federal Reserve in trying to reduce the number of US unemployed. 

Price-fixing has become something of a government fetish the world over.  China does like the US, and tries to fix prices for favorable economic outcomes through its central bank’s control of the currency.  The European Monetary Union, while not technically a governing body, tweaks its interest rates to achieve with faux precision what it decides the general price level should be.  And Japan’s central bank is the basket case of interventionism.    The Japanese people will die off before the debt they have accrued here on earth has any hope of being repaid, which, when expressed like that, almost sounds like a viable strategy. 

The US is far from suffering the fate of Venezuela and Argentina, or even Japan and the EU, mainly because the US has the military might to enforce its price decrees (which actually amount to property transfers), whereas none of these other countries, not even internally, have the wherewithal to issue a decree against the economics on the ground and robustly enforce it.   But the strength of the US will ultimately be its weakness, as each time it imposes prices by fiat rather than allowing market mechanisms to work, it spends a measure of its accumulated wealth to do so.  And each time it appears to have successfully defended prices so mandated makes the strategy ever more appealing, bringing it closer to the day when there is no wealth to spend and no military might to enforce its decrees.

In the meantime, we have the Latin American failure of the Progressive Paradigm to reveal the fallacy in believing that prices can be set by government fiat.  Prices bubble up from the activities of millions of economic transactions taking place every day.  As Argentina and Venezuela poignantly attest (and the failure of the old Soviet Union did also), they don’t trickle down from above.  But it’s doubtful we’ll learn the lesson without which we experience the phenomenon first-hand in a manner that even our mighty military strength can’t resolve.

Movie Review: “Nebraska” starring Bruce Dern (Woody Grant); Will Forte (David Grant, Woody and Kate’s son); and June Squibb (Kate, Woody’s wife). 2013.

Through all my travels, crisscrossing the country several times, I’ve somehow never been to the state of Nebraska.   What I know of its people, I mostly know by the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers football team, which has been very good at times in the distant and recent past, but not so much so lately, and really, since all big-time football teams look pretty much the same, all the way down to their brightly-hued uniforms, knowing only the football team of Nebraska’s flagship university means I know not much of anything about the state at all.  In all my travels, I can’t recall ever having met someone from Nebraska, which seems odd.

I remember well Bruce Springsteen’s album bearing the state’s name.  It followed closely behind his 1984 multiplatinum, Born in the USA, and was as bleak and foreboding in both its music and its lyrics as its predecessor was in lyrics alone.  The music of Born in the USA bore quite a contrast to the lyrics.  It was vibrant and up-tempo, while the songs were about regret and injustice and emotional pain (born down in a dead man’s town, the first kick I took was when I hit the ground; end up like a dog that’s been beat too much, ‘til you spend half your life just a covering up, yeah…born in the USA, I was born in the USA…).  I always thought it hilariously ironic that Reagan’s reelection campaign tried to ride the coattails of Born in the USA’s popularity, and particularly its title song, to re-electoral success.   The upbeat rhythms and melody belied the gritty lyrics about the downtrodden and time forsaken; Springsteen was hardly celebrating what it mean to be “born in the USA” through the song or the album, a fact lost on the stage managers in Reagan’s political campaign.  (And, incidentally, lost also on the whole state of New Jersey, which adopted Born to Run as the official state song, which is a song filled with angst at being born with nothing to lose…baby this town rips the bones from your back, it’s a death trap a suicide rap, we’ve got to get out while we’re young, ‘cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run).

Springsteen’s Nebraska, with its soulful acoustic guitar accompanying lyrics that might have made the final cut for the Old Testament Book of Lamentations in a much earlier age quickly became my favorite of Springsteen’s discography.  The music was finally as bleak and foreboding as the lyrics.  The album had a black and white feel to it, where not color, but only light and dark, should provide the contrast in the mind’s eye to the visual images it created.   So it seemed quite natural to me that a film sharing the Springsteen album’s title should be shot in black and white, as Nebraska’s director, Alexander Payne, did with this film, over the objections of the film’s distributor, Paramount Vintage. 

Nebraska (the state), though I don’t much know her, will forever more exist in my mind’s eye as a bleak and colorless place, never mind the gaily decorated uniforms of its football team.  The album, and now the film, have more or less permanently implanted in my mind an image of a place without color, with only contrasts in shading, contrasts that force clarity in the viewing, whether seeking it or not.  Nebraska, for me, is a place that dispenses with the crutch of color in order that stark realities might better be revealed.   And think about it for a moment.  Color is more often than not a distraction, and one that can occlude seeing things the way they really are.  I like seeing things in shades of light and dark.

The landscape cinematography alone is worthy of an Oscar.  As Woody and his son, David, leave their home in Billings, Montana to pick up Woody’s million dollar prize in Lincoln, Nebraska (from an outfit modeled in the movie to recall The Publisher’s Clearinghouse and its sweepstakes—Woody is obviously suffering the first stages of dementia in his belief at having won but David agrees to the trip to placate him), the camera sweeps panoramic shots of a landscape where color is superfluous at best, unwelcome for its pretentiousness at worst.  On grey, windswept days, the sky over the great Rocky Mountain plateau in Montana and Wyoming is colorless.  The grey seeps right into your bones.  The cinematographers did a beautiful job of capturing the desolate feeling, and bringing it home for Woody and David. 

This is a movie of the road trip genre.  But the road trip isn’t really what the movie is about, in the sense that some great discovery awaits Woody and David as they embark on their journey.  The road trip is surely Woody’s final such excursion.  He knows it, and so does David and Kate.  He’s getting old.  He wants to win the sweepstakes, and seems to think he has, because he wants a new truck, and to leave something for his sons, David and Ross.  It’s all an old man, grizzled by time and years of hard work and hard drinking, can hope for in the way of eternity, of extending his life past the grave.  Woody can’t build a McMansion-esque ode to his legacy—the modern day version of the Egyptian Pyramids or the Chinese terra cotta soldiers.  All he has is the vain hope, yielding to belief, that he has won a million dollars in a publisher’s clearinghouse sweepstakes.    

Woody’s trip takes a detour through his hometown of Hawthorne, Nebraska after an unfortunate experience with a railroad track leaves him toothless (actually denture-less) and with a nasty gash on his forehead that requires a few stitches.   David arranges for a family reunion at Woody’s brother’s place.  It is a dismal interlude; as one reviewer eloquently put it—an elegy for the American family.  The most poignant shot is of all the men gathered around the television watching a football game, stone-faced and reticent, each of them barely acknowledging the others.  It reminded me of my wife’s extended family up on Sand Mountain, in Northeast Alabama, who would get together at Christmas all crammed into Granny’s little house where they all grew up.   Woody’s extended family looked a lot like my sepia-tinged memories of those reunions before Granny died. 

The movie is about a lot because it provides a fair rendering of life as it is actually lived.  There are no caricatures.  No car chases.  No quiver of arrows that magically refill whenever the heroine (Jennifer Lawrence) fires them all at marauding apes (Hunger Games, Part II, Catching Fire).  No fist fights, except a minor altercation between Ross (the other of Woody’s sons) and his cousin over whether or not Woody would share his winnings with the family.  The fight was forcefully broken up by Kate (June Squibb), who stole every scene she was in.  Woody’s family and friends believe him when he says that he’s won a million dollars.  And they all want in on the action.  Nothing extraordinary there.  Like a buddy of my truck-driving father-in-law once told a fella who asked him how come he didn’t have any friends, “Because I can’t afford ‘em.”  Family can get pretty expensive, too, and particularly so when there is no tie, except a slender tendril of genetic similarity and a shared past, binding a relationship. 

The reviewer could have said the movie was an elegy for the white American family.  Families of the type portrayed in Nebraska are rapidly growing old and dying out, and there is not much coming up to replace them.  The cobbled together European culture who came, saw and conquered America is being displaced by Hispanics (Woody finds the garage he once owned in Hawthorne now owned by Hispanics who had never heard of him or his old partner) and Asians and Africans, but very few Europeans, and practically none of the natives.  The transience of things for which some permanence might be expected, or at least desired, is driven home hard with Woody’s visit to Hawthorne, and especially to the old homestead where he grew up.  The only things that abide are the petty flirtations and indiscretions of Woody and Kate’s long past days courting; the selfish and venal attributes of friends and family alike, and the bleak and barren hardscrabble landscape waiting to break a new generation of invaders. 

This is a very good movie.  Bruce Dern will surely be nominated for, and should win, an Oscar for his performance; June Squibb, too.  Will Forte was more than adequate; the perfectly reasonable looking and sounding foil to Woody’s insanity borne of dementia.  Forte’s character was in the world but not so much of it; capable of immersing himself in the craziness without being consumed by it.  The movie is something of a stark sequel, or at least segue, to the baby-boomer’s good and bountiful life, which was lived to an upbeat tempo amidst historically unparalleled post-War success, much like Nebraska the album was a sobering sequel to the upbeat vibrancy of Born in the USA, even as its tempo, like that of the baby boom era, masked a lot of pain. 

The end of the baby boom era is nigh.  The party is mostly over.  The generation that vowed never to trust anyone over thirty is now twice that age and more.  And like Woody, for all its successes and excesses, it has nothing much to look forward to, and nothing much to leave behind.  It turns out the baby boomers, as exceptional as they always thought they were, are pretty ordinary when it comes to dying.  Nebraska is in sense futuristic, offering a glimpse of what awaits them.

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