Wednesday, January 25, 2012

LEAVE THE THINKING TO SOMEONE ELSE


January 25, 2012

My beliefs are the same as those of everyone around me and that validates me. It means I’m on the correct path. If I didn’t think like all these other people I’d be misguided, wouldn’t I? Because they must be right. How soothing this is. How fortunate that we’re all so... together.
We look around us and take enormous comfort from that fact. We dress similarly, eat the same food, we all dislike abortionists and homosexuals and Muslims and illegal immigrants and welfare recipients and taxes. We all watch Fox News. We all detest Obama. We’re all doing everything we’re supposed to do...
And isn’t it time we abandoned this perfunctory Group Think and instead began exercising our own brain – each one of us. Wasn’t this country built on “rugged individualism”, as Rush Limbaugh is always braying about while inciting us to keep on hating Obama and homosexuals and Muslims and watching Fox News?
Then why do we look to our neighbors for reassurance? Disappointingly, this means we’re no individuals, we’re conformists. Herd animals. We’re followers who want someone else to do our thinking for us while we watch ‘Dancing With The Stars’.
Here’s the problem: the folks around us don’t know either, they’re all waltzing to the same tune, drawing their information and their conviction from us. The blind leading the blind. Which leaves us all easily managed, allowing an astute – no, let’s call it correctly and say ‘cunning’ – individual to assume the lead animal position. We all follow.
Time to mention Battle At Kruger, an exciting amateur video shot in South Africa by American tourist David Budzinski, that’s on the Internet. it shows a line of Cape buffalo heading to the waterhole where a pride of lions lie in wait. It’s an ambush and the dominant bull leads his retinue right into it; the result is pain and suffering for a calf and severe anguish for its mother and the entire herd.
These were faithful followers and they all relied on the good sense of the leader who steered them wrong. His problem was stupidity, perhaps inexperience. There are human animals elbowing their way to the front whose main attribute – if you can call it that - is something far less forgivable. They play us for suckers, tell us leave the thinking to them and all we need do is check the box with the appropriate letter.
In the Walton Tribune last month News Editor Robbie Schwartz recalled a voter complaining at a non-partisan Loganville City Council election that there were no Rs and Ds. He called dumb voting like this a slap in the face of democracy and he’s right.
You see a D or an R and that’s good enough for you? Low-information voters are bad enough, but no-information voters should be denied a voice. Absolutely. If you can’t even be bothered to find out what it is you’re voting for or voting against then you shouldn’t be allowed to vote at all.
“My father was a lifelong Democrat, grandpa too, therefore I’m the same.” Groan. So your forebears already did your thinking for you? It’s handed down through the family like an heirloom? That kind of laziness should disqualify you at the polling station door. Take that person away! You’ll get what you’re given and no more!
Clubs, societies, associations – an eagerness to belong is the continuation of that pre-teen insecurity where we crave acceptance from our peers. The Belonging People yearn to be embraced by the herd and thereby lose their “rugged individualism”. What a shame.
You don’t have to be particularly intelligent or well-educated to think independently, insists Australian sage Tom O’Leary. Simply switch off the TV because all mainstream news is tainted. Read newspapers with opposite political leanings. On the Internet be aware that everyone has an agenda, so question everything.
The most important thing is to ruminate - be a good buffalo and chew the information before swallowing. Be skeptical. What does the writer or the speaker have to gain from making me believe this? Could he be hiding something? Pushing something?
Nobody’s suggesting we should all become philosophers or shrinks but we must spend a little time away from the tube to examine what it is we want for ourselves and our children. ‘America’s Got Talent’, but America’s also got too many couch potatoes who are quite willfully closed-minded. It so-o-o much easier to cling to two or three “core principles” than to activate the brain. God. Guns. Country. That’ll do. Leave everything else - like the economy, the distribution of wealth, world affairs and the entire direction of our country – to a wily politician who stokes those three ideals.
Go it alone and you may be labeled a “loose cannon”. Yawn! That unimaginative, worn-out phrase has been applied to me pejoratively but I take it as a compliment. Wifey and I are mavericks, not the John McCain/Sarah Palin toe-the-party-line type mavericks but an actual pair of lone wolves.
As Americans we pay lip service to the notion that we’re self-reliant and free when in fact we’re being corralled like cattle. Willingly. Nevertheless we can each have a personal Independence Day the moment we take an active interest in our future. Personal independence is intoxicating; the reward in self-esteem is remarkable once we see the world around us with our own clear eyes and not through the red or blue colored lenses of others.
So step out of the herd. It’s safe, you know.

ENDIT

© 2012 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

HEY, THAT’S MY CAR! OR IS IT YOURS?


January 18, 2012

Beep beep! How many older vehicles does one see on the roads these days? Occasionally you’ll be passed by a throaty muscle car or spot some other nicely restored classic on the interstate, but where are all those bigol’ beautiful buggies from the heady days of yesteryear?
Almost none around. Everybody’s behind the wheel of something new or new-ish, and they’re all smaller and they’re all virtually identical in appearance. Samemobiles. A Mercedes looks like a Nissan looks like a Ford looks like everything else on the road. The character’s all gone. Today’s boring Blah Cars have been stripped of personality and still proclaim to be “different”.
This one has marginally better gas mileage. That one shades the others in shape because the wheel arches are a bit more pronounced. The makers like to plug the sound system, multimedia, inbuilt GPS and other unnecessaries because there’s precious little else to distinguish their actual automotive product from that of their competitors.
We’ve bought into this marketing ploy. Surely we all realize that the reason you can’t your find your own transport in the supermarket parking lot is that it’s lost in a sea of sameness.
Inoffensive doppelganger autos that are, shall we say, politically correct, they’re manufactured to a price, and that means standardization. With gas again nudging four bucks a gallon, fuel economy is the name of today’s game and aerodynamics has become the way to ease vehicles through the air with minimum wind resistance. Smooth curves replace straight surfaces and even door handles are designed for sleekness; about to disappear are the jut-out side mirrors. With a sharp forward edge piercing the air cleanly and an abrupt cut-off at rear to escape the drag, the new cars all emulate today’s airplanes.
Yesterday’s didn’t. Nonetheless those older vehicles, while using heavier engines and more fuel to attain the same performance, were immensely more attractive. The designers cared about beauty
Each car made its own proud statement and many look back on that time with deep affection. Folks gave their motors names; some guys loved them more than their womenfolk. After a two-year courtship fixing up my seductive MG sports convertible they wouldn’t let me marry it.
Ignoring the dawn of motoring where vehicles were basically black boxes on wheels and blasted pedestrians with oogah horns, there came a period in the when style and color went wild, almost psychedelic.The Fifties to Seventies were the halcyon days.
When Elvis drove his famous pink Cadillac, America’s streets were filled with impressively expansive autos that were fixing to take up a lane and a half although they never did. The Germans called them “strassenkreuzer” – street cruisers. The British simply dubbed them Yank Tanks.
But they’re gone. Another golden age on the scrapheap along with the trains and boats and planes that all showed such singular flair in design.
Tailfins ruled the streets back then like land sharks. Along with the distinctive radiator grilles came the haughty mascots atop the bonnet (as we in Walton County call a hood). Here the standouts were British: the leaping jaguar spearheading the car of that name and Rolls-Royce’s flying lady, official title: The Spirit of Ecstasy. Powerful hood ornament classics included Ford’s greyhound, the merry Oldsmobile rocket and the sculpture of Chief Pontiac on “his” automobile.
All enfeebled now. Folks used to snatch off the three-pointed Mercedes emblem that was only held on with a spring. Today it’s been replaced with the same kind of integrated badge you see on other makes.
And where are the chrome bumpers? Wasn’t their purpose to help absorb the impact because they were attached to the chassis, thereby minimizing front or rear body damage and, most importantly, damage to human bodies? But where is the chassis? That’s the question. With current monocoque construction there is none.
The thin shells of today’s chariots can crumple with impacts of minor force. And we still refer to them as fender benders when neither of the vehicles involved even had a fender. Oh, I forgot, on some models they paint one on; it’s gray. A picture of a bumper as though this affords any protection at all. Like warding off evil spirits with a ferocious-looking concrete gargoyle that can’t even prevent birds from pooping on it.
First-rate Monroe auto technician Randy Stovall notes the change. “You used to be able to diagnose and fix those older models with straightforward tools. Now that everything’s computerized we have sophisticated diagnostic software to pinpoint the problem quickly. It’s good on the whole, although I liked the old days when all you needed was a sharp mechanic’s brain.”
America’s ho-hum highways are now filled with bland high-tech blobs that look, from the air, like herds of woodlice. We go faster cheaper but we’ve lost the individuality.
Where, then, are the oldies? Parts of them are in places like Turkey, where you’ll see the rear half of an Edsel being drawn along, amusingly, by a horse or an ox. For a real-life glimpse at the fascinating automotive Fifties, though, it’s Cuba. Castro’s hapless subjects have learned to be inventive: because US imports are banned they still drive those wonderful high-finned Gringomobiles. And they’ve learned to improvise, making many of the spare parts themselves.
Necesidad es la mama de invention – except in this country, where even the needy need a new car like everyone else.

© 2012 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

SO MAGNIFICENT HE NEEDED KILLIN’


January 11, 2012

In the photograph, this Captain Macho holds up the head of an eight-point buck he just shot. “It was running,” he crows, clearly seeking more praise than if it had been standing still, when all he’s really saying is that the animal was trying to get away. There will be folks who find that as tragic as I did. My wife cried.
Had this guy sent me a picture of a grizzly he wrestled to death I would go learn more languages so I could applaud him in additional ways. But ending the life of a scared, defenseless creature makes him a lesser being in my eyes than the deer he shot.
Okay, before the local camouflage army start to mobilize, I’ve heard the argument that there are too many whitetail so they need to be culled. That they’ll die of disease and starvation. That they’re destructive. Flea-bitten. Not particularly nice to know. And also that it’s more economical to zap bigger animals because more buck for your bang also means more processed buck for your buck.
But none of that applies here.
To anticipate the local curmudgeon twisting my words again I want to be real clear about one thing. Folks round here shoot for food. I don’t have a problem with that. It’s a fact of life. And this painfully unequal economy forces more ordinary folks to provide their own vittles, meat included. So it’s understandable.
But I take serious issue with hunting a creature down for its tusks or its skin or, in this case, its antlers. This was a trophy killing, no question. Nothing to do with the necessity to eat. Our boastful “hero” stalked this particular male with the stately antlers for weeks before he bagged it. He wrote, bragging that every hunter in ten square miles had been searching for “the monster”. Therefore any claim that this buck was put to death for the venison would be untrue. What all these guys were really after was the horns. Here was a creature so majestic it didn’t deserve to live.
There’s my outrage. So-called “sport” hunting where some among us have fun – an actual thrill – whacking one of God’s creatures. Some sport, huh. My salute to those people does not involve multiple fingers.
If the deer had the guns they might be killing those of us with the most elaborate haircuts: to survive, we’d all be running around bald.
To test marksmanship how about aiming at a mechanical target? Doesn’t account for those whose bloodlust demands a living victim. While the Bible doesn’t condemn hunting, it decries animal mistreatment and it adduces that the Lord looks into the hunter’s heart and motives. I don’t think trophy killing ranks very high with Him.
No, there’s nothing manly about shooting a deer. Nothing. At least in bullfighting – a blood sport I find repugnant – there’s an element of risk to the human. A small one: in more than two centuries only eight matadors have been gored to death. More courageous would be running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, where foolhardy young men scamper through city streets amid a stampeding herd bound for the arena anyway. Since counting began in 1924, there have been 15 deaths.
Still want to be Prince Testosterone but without the cattle battle? Try an extreme sport. How’s about BMX, where champion rider Mat ‘The Condor’ Hoffman has broken nearly every bone in his body, had over 50 surgeries, and even died briefly. Measured against that kind of bravery, drygulching an unsuspecting herbivore from concealment – well, it speaks for itself, doesn’t it.
Some hunters do have a personal epiphany. Anglers too. Beatle Paul McCartney’s love of fishing came to an abrupt end when, in an instant, he considered his catch: “I realized I am killing him and all for the pleasure it brings me. Something inside me clicked. I realized as I watched him fight for breath that his life was as important to him as mine is to me.”
An incredibly eloquent - almost poetic - statement from a real man, not one of those posers you see strutting around in camouflage gear.
A disdain for animals begins with children pulling the wings off insects. Clearly, they don’t all wind up like despicable Kennedy clansman Michael Skakel who graduated from torturing dogs and cats to murdering neighbor Martha Moxley. But folks develop an insensitivity.
Contemptible, too, are the bluebloods whose jollies include watching a pack of hounds tear a fox to pieces. And I don’t buy that hoity-toity claptrap about how you’re helping with pest control. It’s barbaric. Queen Elizabeth’s husband, son and grandsons are avid foxhunters despite vehement condemnation from the RSPCA (Britain’s ASPCA) whose titular head happens to be... Queen Elizabeth.
Don’t get me started on those canned hunts where they prop up old, sick zoo and circus animals – mostly big cats - to be executed by big-paying “Great White Hunter” cowards.
Yes, I eat meat. And I own some antlers, which, according to the inscription, are from a stag shot in 1892 by King Albert of Saxony. Another “hero”.
I have more respect for the deer than for the guy who pulled the trigger, be he king or country cousin. You want to prove your manhood? Get in the boxing ring. Become a firefighter. Better still, join the military and fight for your country. But sitting in a tree waiting to bushwhack an animal – well, that just don’t cut it.

ENDIT

© 2012 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

WRING OUT YE OLDE, BRING IN THE NEW


January 4, 2012

We’ve just teetered into an election year and folks are looking for something to end the gloom. We can make a start right here in Walton County by telling the Old Guard they don’t run the place any more.
A friend said many of us remain silent “as a way to protect ourselves”. Really? This isn’t Al Capone’s Chicago or Castro’s Cuba. There’s nothing to fear from the bully boys. They only seized power through the apathy of the rest of us. We never got involved, and now we must.
It’s time we told the politicians and their enablers who for so long have been telling us what to think that these days we think for ourselves. Theirs is an orchestrated attack on free speech. In particular, they take up the contrived Glenn Beck mantra and call anyone who’s educated and informed an “elitist”. Which is the word Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch turned into an ongoing jibe after he was shunned by the British establishment.
They’ll use threats and rudeness to silence opposition. They pretend they’re the only true Americans and anyone who disagrees with them is treasonous. Well, there are plenty of patriotic ideas to replace the worn-out catchprases propounded by Ye Olde Gang.
Sure, these guys still shriek about public education being “socialism” whereas it’s desperately needed. They invoke Nazis and Commies and damn pinko lefties and “looneys”, most of them quite unaware of exactly what it is they’re saying because all they did was hear it on Fox. Sniggering smugly behind these low information individuals are the sly old manipulators.
We’re supposed to be interested in a balanced budget and “the debt ceiling” instead of keeping our jobs? We should care more about hating homosexuals and Muslims and abortion doctors than about feeding our families?
Geddaway with all that stuff. It won’t wash any more. Walton County has grown and grown up. Many fresh opinions make short work of those tired old ditties that The Gang keep chanting.
Lower taxes! Less government! As though the struggling folks of Walton County gain from either one of these notions. We already have almost the lowest tax rate in the world unless you count volcanic Tristan Da Cunha with its population of 271.
If you earn the average Georgia salary of $25,098 you’re paying $2,626 Federal and with exemptions it’s a darn sight less. One in six Georgians lives below the poverty level and if you’ve lost your job you’re not being taxed anyway.
It’s the mega businesses that don’t want to pay the taxes but they’ve convinced some of us still working to fight for them. And less government? That just means less oversight and less ability to keep the greed of these giants in check.
So it’s time we were heard. It’s time we spoke up and challenged the lies and distortions we’re being fed. Time to seek information from all sources and decide our own future..
Sling out the slogans. It’s all just bumper sticker politics. .All that twaddle about what they claim “the American people” want when the only American people these real elitists give a hoot about is themselves and the corporations who pay them. We are the American people and we want fairness and justice. We want sunlight brought to bear on the shady backroom dealings that always end up favoring a few and depriving everyone else.
You don’t agree with these guys, therefore you’re un-American? Hogwash. But closing down a factory and then calling those you’ve instantly made jobless “lazy” is unfair, un-American, un-Christian and un-just-about-everything. And applauding the death of a cancer patient with no health insurance is downright inhuman.
They’ll attack anyone looking for the truth, even the Walton Tribune. Most interestingly, in a reader’s letter last February 9, local Republican chairman Roy Roberts sprang into action, heaping praise on the now-indicted Wingo family and their Angel Food Ministries. In response to an editorial seeking information on the Wingos, he lashed out with an insinuation of wrongdoing at this newspaper itself. Of course there was none.
We Americans enjoy freedom of religion as long as that religion is Christianity and no other. Last week, publisher Brian Arrington made the succinct point that if the NFL’s Tim Tebow were a Muslim his on-field religious displays would spark outrage. This prompted one reader to claim the “liberal media” was to blame.
I’m straining at the halo, really determined to remain mild-mannered St Freddy, turning the other cheek, and it’s difficult to do. When I appeal for civility the result is a certain geezer’s barrage of name-calling and insults. But that’s to be expected: feeling their hold on Walton County slipping away, Yesterday’s Men lash out.
As we all know, the Tea Party is run by huge corporations (Koch Industries, Mellon Scaife) but one of its earliest ideas before Big Money took it over is still a sound one: get rid of all incumbents! Vote ‘em all out of office, Republicans and Democrats alike. They’re all on the take anyway, except maybe a handful. Last month a Pew poll revealed 67 percent of Americans would not re-elect their current representatives and Gallup had it at 76 percent.
America wants to kick the bums out. We should too, we Walton folk. What have we got to lose? So what if the replacements are just as scurrilous! We’ll remember to give them the boot next time.

ENDIT

© 2012 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.