Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A time of juveniles

Note: This appeared as an op-ed in the Valley City Times-Record. The title is from an essay by Eric Hoffer, which seems prescient at present.

Question: What is the most dangerously stupid thing that walks the earth?

Answer: An above-average bright adolescent.

What's that you say? If the kid is so smart, why do you say he's stupid?

It's this, the better-than-average bright adolescent can see that he's better-informed about many things than most of the adults around him. What he cannot realize is that experience counts for something. He can't see it of course, because he doesn't have any.

I'm not being holier-than-thou. I was that smart-aleck adolescent, and the memory of it is painful.

But what's really painful now, is my growing suspicion that we're ruled by highly-educated people with no experience of normal life, i.e. bright adolescents.

Case in point. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom paid the first state visit to the United States in this administration. He brought the gift of a pen holder, carved from the timbers of the Royal Navy vessel HMS Gannet, which played a prominent role in the anti-slavery crusade, a gift designed to symbolize the "historic ties" between the two nations.

In return, he got a set of DVDs that probably won't play on English sets, and a couple of toys from the White House gift shop for his kids.

It's customary on such occasions to hold a joint press conference with two podiums and the flags of both nations prominently displayed. The president didn't have time for that, though he did have time to meet with the Boy Scouts that week.

The British press are aghast. Speculations abound. The President is tired and on the verge of a breakdown, he's hostile to Britain because his father was Kenyan and Kenya was a British colony, he's signaling an end to the “special relationship,” etc.

The thought that the head of the mightiest state on earth simply has no idea how to behave on the world stage and has no one to tell him how, hasn't come up. Probably because the thought is just too scary.

Remember how scornful the Europeans were that cowboy George Bush didn't have a passport, didn't know people from Kosovo are “Kosovars” not “Kosovians,” and couldn't pronounce “nuclear?” Do you think they're reassured now?

When the present economic crisis emerged in the last months of the Bush administration, Bush junked everything economics and common sense says about not going deeper into debt, and threw money we don't have at the problem.

Can anyone see anything different in the present administration's policy? Except perhaps for who gets the pork?

Do I have to point out that indifference to tradition, courtesy, and the long-term consequences of profligate self-indulgence are the hallmarks of an adolescent mind?

Obama has spent his entire working life seeking every-higher public office, except for a grand total of one year's experience in the private sector. A year he described as like, “being a spy in the enemy camp.”

Bush's experience in the private sector was brief, heavily dependent on family connections, and largely a financial failure.

And it's not just presidents, it's cabinet officials, advisors, and congressmen. We are increasingly ruled by people whose career choices begin and end with the pursuit of power.

Former Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern realized this is a bad idea too late, after leaving office for the private sector. “In retrospect, I wish I had known more about the hazards and difficulties of such a business.... I wish that during the years I was in public office I had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day. That knowledge would have made me a better Senator and a more understanding presidential contender...”


  • At 8:22 AM, Blogger Ted said…

    If the upper echelons of our government were teaming with inexperienced zit-faces, it couldn't be any freaking worse than what we have now:
    Khazakh bankers dictating fiscal policy and having their way with the tax-payers via the Papist political class (PC for short).
    Religion dictating policy everywhere from California's unConstitutional Prop. 8 to Alabama's draconian adoption dogma.
    The names and parties of the tyrants change, but the authoritarianism remains; the altruism continues.
    Apparently fascism is only wrong when it's inflicted by the left.

  • At 1:39 PM, Blogger Atomic said…

    Almost totally irrelevant digression: Bush did and does not "mispronounce" nuclear. He just doesn't use the pronunciation Easterners and the possessors of the flat American non-accent do. Los Alamos is chockablock with, y'know, actual nuclear physicists and engineers, and how they pronounce it depends entirely on where they're from- nobody gives a damn.

    As for the rest, I suspect you're entirely correct, and it makes me twitch and giggle in a very uncomfortable way, especially since I was one of those teenagers, too.

  • At 1:58 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Speaking as a fellow who speaks with a pretty pronounced Okie drawl when he's not trying to sound Yankee-pedantic, ctiticisms of George Bush for his accent chap my rebel ass!

    Awhile back when I was recording English lessons for Radio Bulgaria, I noticed on the replay that a feature of the "Arkahoma" dialect had crept into my pronounciation.

    In our part of the country "i" and "e" tend to merge when they occur before a nasal consonant.

    That means we pronounce "pin" and "pen" identically.

    I said, "Omigod, I try to talk like a Yankee when I teach English."

    A Bulgarian teacher (who spoke perfect English with a toney British accent) said, "But you are a Yankee."

    I said, "No ma'am, I'm not," noticing that by now I was drawling all over the floor.

    An American girl nearby said, "He's a Southerner."

    I said, "Not quite, I'm an Okie, it's not quite the same," thinking, "Aw, it's hopeless."

    Good subject for a post.

  • At 2:03 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    P.S. To be fair, I remember on a Nova program about the background temperature of the universe, which featured a southern professor saying, "Well we figure a background temperature of three degrees absolute..."

    Now imagine that said by a tall lanky Texan, with his cowboy boot-shod feet up on the desk, with a drawl you could cut with a knife...

    Even I had to admit to a moment of cognitive dissonance...

  • At 2:20 PM, Blogger Atomic said…

    Given that Los Alamos has absorbed enough of New Mexico culture that cowboy boots and hats are worn non-ironically and the boots especially are considered "nice clothes" suitable for a mildly fancy evening out... no cognitive dissonance for me in that case, either. ;)

    Then again I also get drawlier as I get drunker, with more of my parents' East Texas/Central Louisiana creeping in... yeah, good subject for a post.



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