absurd hundreds of billions
Wednesday, February 6 2008
Imagine you have a neighbor who lives in a big McMansion and is running up massive debts on his credit cards so he can buy weapons. He fills his house with machine guns, hand grenades, expensive laser-sighting and night-vision technology, all because a couple of kids down the street like to crank call him and occasionally wrap toilet paper around his mailbox. Because of all the money he spends on weapons, he chooses to forego regular health checkups, healthy food, and travel. Indeed, he dropped out of college because he thought it made more sense to spend the tuition money on target practice and karate instruction. He gives alms to the poor, but only grudgingly, only after being shamed by the local priest and tripping over homeless men while spraying herbicide on the sidewalk cracks out front.
That neighbor is the United States of America. I just read another article at Slate.com where Fred Kaplan (who has written about this before) again brought up the fact that the United States spends more on its military than the whole rest of the world, combined. (I find myself wishing for a constitutional amendment that would set an American military expenditure ceiling of half the combined world military budget, thereby saving us an instant quarter trillion dollars a year.) This is where a little intuitive understanding of Darwinian reality helps with comprehending a lot more than just biology. Is there any way a society can continue behaving so irrationally without being crushed (culturally and economically) by the societies that don't? For the most part, you see, our military spending is a set of unexamined gifts to politically-powerful special interests and have nothing to do with actual military needs. Much of it is in preparation for a war that was already won nineteen years ago and that will never come to pass.
But our government is a kind of democracy, and it seems nothing can be done, not even by a wild-eyed proponent of change. We'll continue to spend these absurd hundreds of billions on unnecessary war hardware, swelling the national debt along with the accounts of a few well-connected contractors, while leaving vast swaths of our society in, for example, medical limbo.
The military waste is by far the biggest waste in the federal budget, but it goes completely unmentioned by the "deficit hawks" and others for whom a balanced budget is supposedly a thing to strive. Somehow our society has arrived at a strange psycho-emotional point of Rambo irrationality in which questioning the number and types of weapons we carry with us out onto the world playground has become taboo.
What with all the wasteful military uses to which our taxes are put, it's actually surprising our empire isn't crumbling a bit faster than it is. The only hope is that it is in fact crumbling. A society has no business succeeding when it makes the foolish decisions this one does.
Today I installed ten computers at the Bard computer lab down at Woodbourne, but unlike similar jobs in the recent past, this time I had absolutely no help. The inmates were kept from helping me on the fear that they might learn something that would aid their unknown-but-surely-devious plans and instead I was given a prison employee. But all he did while I worked was write down all the serial numbers, a job he could have done any time. It turns out that installing ten computers takes about three hours, and most of that time is spent ripping the various pieces out of their packaging. I didn't have a knife to help with the cutting of the tape holding the boxes together, but it turns out that the sharp corner of a compact flash card is almost as good. Compact flash cards are also contraband, but I'd had prior approval to bring one in to help with the transfer of files (something I never got around to doing today). Several times as I worked, the sharp edge of a piece of paper or cardboard inflicted painful gashes in my fingers.
Meanwhile a series of guards who had been assigned to me sat around with nothing to do. They hadn't brought any reading material and contented themselves by staring off into the middle distance. They didn't offer to help; they were just there to ensure that I wasn't alone. (In the past, though, the prison was perfectly happy to leave me alone with inmates who happen to be part of the Bard program.)
As a rule, prison guards aren't especially happy with the idea of inmates getting Bard degrees (a level of achievement they stand little chance of ever attaining). To them it seems grossly unfair. Here some guy kills somebody when he's seventeen and now he's getting a free liberal arts education, when they worked hard, went to church (lots of ashy foreheads on guards today), paid taxes, voted Republican, and otherwise did right in society, yet they're going nowhere. "These computers are better than mine," one guard observed, motioning over the murder of black Celeron-based Dells with their matching fourteen inch LCDs. Later, when I was looking for a place to squeeze in the tenth new computer, I rhetorically asked, "Where can I put this last one?" "How about my car?" offered the guard.
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