Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Progress in America:

(4) Guidelines for Citizens and Bike Riders

    Aren’t we lucky that we live in interesting times?  Who knows when our government will open? Who knows whether our bills will be paid?  Times when our pols shut down the government and scream that we must not close the very monuments they have just closed.  Times when we can watch the government’s shenanigans unsettle our faith in our Patria.  Times when some imagined cabal threatens Socialism / Communism / Bolshevism along with evolution to undermine the very ‘exceptional foundations’ of our country’s destiny.  Fortunately so much of this theater is a rerun.  But in this rerun, are we sure the actors haven’t changed the ending?

    Helen Epstein’s wonderful article in a recent NY Review of Books describing Sara Josephine Baker, a public health pioneer in New York City shows just how repetitive some of this is:

     “Articles about Baker’s lifesaving campaigns appeared in newspapers from Oklahoma to Michigan to California. In the late 1910s, she and other reformers drafted a bill to create a nationwide network of home-visiting programs and maternal and child health clinics modeled on the programs in New York. But the American Medical Association (AMA)—backed by powerful Republicans averse to spending money on social welfare—claimed the program was tantamount to Bolshevism. Baker was in Washington the day a young New England doctor explained the AMA’s position to a congressional committee:
            We oppose this bill because, if you are going to save the lives of all these women and children at public expense, what inducement will there be for young men to study medicine?” Senator Sheppard, the chairman, stiffened and leaned forward: “Perhaps I didn’t understand you correctly,” he said: “You surely don’t mean that you want women and children to die unnecessarily or live in constant danger of sickness so there will be something for young doctors to do?” “Why not?” said the New England doctor, who did at least have the courage to admit the issue: “That’s the will of God, isn’t it?”

    So Obamacare isn’t the first, or second, or even fifth or sixth sequel of this Republican repulsion to help the needy.  Rather it is all a class B rerun, so stale as even to being projected after the threat of Bolshevism has disappeared from the world scene. 

    If knee-jerk Republican opposition is formulaic, what is far more difficult to predict is how this shut down will play out in the end.  And as we citizens hang on for what could be a very rough ride, perhaps there are some lessons from experienced bike riders worth thinking about.  Here are some that come to mind:

1.    When you ride over rough roads, loosen the grip on the handlebars and raise yourself a bit off the saddle.  And we are being driven on very rough roads.  Americans hold onto the credo that we have the best democracy in the world.  We believe our constitution was given to our ‘wise founding fathers’ almost as the 10 commandments were to Moses.  We hold onto our constitution much as a religious fundamentalist grasps her bible.  Perhaps it is time to loosen one’s grip and think and raise up out of our saddles to think about designing a new constitution with institutions that serve us better.

2.    Though a bike in motion is quite stable, standing still while on the saddle requires serious skill. This is something to consider in your own planning when our government’s stops are so crazy. 

3.    The bike rider, like the individual citizen needs to be defensive.  A good defense is essential because you are rarely the biggest moving structure on the block.  So it is with the citizen - faced by the juggernaut of the state.  

4.    Appearance has little or nothing to do with performance.  All those fancy cyclist uniforms that cost a pretty penny have little to do with success on a bike ride.  No ride is successful without staying power: grit.  Similarly all those slick political ads our candidates and parties run.  Don’t trust the cyclist by the shirt, or the politician by their promises.

5.    Finally, it is becoming clear, that just like the biker, it is imperative for the citizen to have a strategy for the breakdowns.  No long term  ride can protect one from the unpredictable glass shard or sharp edge to a crack in the pavement.  Apparently we citizens must expect our political system to breakdown.  This requires a two prong strategy: plan your trips with that in mind, and think about redesigned, better gear.

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