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Albert Einstein’s transcendent admonition to mankind to “widen our circle of compassion” across both time and space, was central to the context of my history of the global socializing role of the French fry, when I addressed the tuber topic before The Chicago Literary Club. Here’s an excerpt from my essay:
“By now, you’re probably about done in, as well. So, I’ll bring this “appreciation of the french fry” to a close. But, I realize I’ve left out, until now, one final dimension from the title of this essay, which again is — French Fried: From Monticello to the Moon. What’s this about french fries and outer space, you ask? Well, in 1995, NASA and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, created a new technology with the goal of feeding astronauts on long space voyages, with a view to eventually feeding future space colonies. In October of that year, the potato became the first vegetable to be grown in outer space.
“It’s a funny thing, because one of my first assignments shortly after becoming a McDonald’s consultant, some 30 years ago, was to help associate McDonald’s image, as it approached its 30th anniversary, with the space age.
“One of the fun facts we worked up in support of the premise that McDonald’s menu might literally reach space one day, was to compute the number of McDonald’s french fries, strung end to end that it would take to reach the moon. To figure it out we sent for a box of fries and measured each one, then divided and determined the average length, and multiplied by the average mileage to the moon – a quarter million miles. If you’re curious, pick up a box of fries at McDonald’s, do the math, and see how close you get to 4.5 billion fries to the moon.
“I’d like to take that long ladder of moon-bound french fries just one last step farther into the future, as I wrap up this voyage through history. Albert Einstein thought that perhaps the greatest challenge facing mankind is to “widen our circle of compassion” across both time and space. Our ethnic and geopolitical squabbling might pale into insignificance if our compassionate circles were wide enough, he reasoned.
“So let’s no longer worry whether the little fry is French, Belgian, American or Russian, but take it with us into the future, even into space, as a tasty treat for our frail band of wandering humanity, and continue to enjoy the good little things in life.
“John Calvi, in a 1982 poem called “French Fries,” perhaps said it best, in his final stanza, when he wrote:
“Some think the army, the bombs and the guns
Will one day save all of our lives,
I don’t believe it – heat up your pans
Make peace, and lots of French fries.”
Here is a link to my complete essay: “French Fried: From Monticello to the Moon”
The latest furor over the Boston bomber is his picture on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, or rather the reaction of some retail businesses, refusing to sell this issue. It is a classical, visceral response triggered by the association of the alternative media reputation of the magazine with the attractive picture of the young man, as if it were some kind of endorsement of his deeply anti-social act.
Of course, it is and it isn’t. The cover copy describes him as a “monster.” And the same photo has appeared elsewhere, including in the New York Times. But, the combination of the appealing photo on the cover of this infamous alternative media publication seems to imply to some that he is being treated as some sort of rock star.
I have my own reasons for disliking the style of Rolling Stone, having once been personally attacked in its pages, and quite inappropriately so. But I suppose Bill McCrystal thinks the same thing about himself.
Anyway, that some companies like Walgreen drug stores refuse to sell this issue of the magazine is their own business, in my view. After all, companies are made up of people, just like magazines, and they have a right to their own views. The bomber is repugnant, and on this most agree. How we choose to treat him in the court of public opinion is up to each of us, and the private sector organizations to which we give our fealty. But what the courts do is a matter of law, not just of taste. And the taste we have in our mouths is a pretty awful one.
In today’s New Yorker, in an article about the NSA by Hendrik Hertzberg, he recounts how our calcifying government and political system is increasingly eating away at the core of democracy, as minority, economically-powerful interests co-opt the economic and social balances in our American society. He makes it clear how the antiquated Electoral College system of electing our Presidents is increasingly being manipulated to serve these undemocratic interests. Here’s the relevant excerpt from his article:
“The real danger to civic trust (and ultimately, perhaps, to our freedoms) is the calcification and unresponsiveness of our political and governmental machinery. The post-2000 Supreme Court is part of that long, sad story. So is the filibuster, which is a bigger threat to small-d democratic governance than the N.S.A., the C.I.A., and the I.R.S. put together. The same goes for the electoral-college status quo; the built-in, and increasing, malapportionment of the Senate; and the malapportionment of the House, both deliberate, via gerrymandering, and demographic, via population patterns.
“These structural horrors don’t make us a police state, encroaching or otherwise. But they do enable minorities—usually conservative, mostly monied minorities—to systematically thwart the will of the majority. They don’t necessarily require anybody to act in bad faith in order to do their damage. And they damage not just people’s faith in democracy but democracy itself.”
And, as to what we are losing as a society in the tightening national security state, which some describe as neutral to the interests of everyday Americans, the 5th Amendment itself is being neutralized. While the Amendment proclaims we may remain silent and not be forced to incriminate ourselves, the increasing surveillance in all aspects of our lives makes our option for “silence” unlikely to be possible, when cameras and monitoring of every kind of communications is pervasive. The anxiety alone that this sort of intrusion into our personal lives permits undermines the very sense of democratic self-determination upon which our modern society is built, and certainly undermines the essence of the 5th Amendment.
If you care about these issues, and you should, do something. Tell your family and friends, write your newspapers, blog about it, put your views on Facebook, and, of course, tell your representatives in government that you are on to the erosion of our personal rights to democracy and privacy.
If you are research-oriented, look back at my blog postings of yesterday, and of the 4th of July for the past 3 years, and you will see concerns about our losing touch with the meaning of independence, both perceptually and in fact. A big part of independence is our right to privacy. Spies — our own and others — undermine that. And as another day dawns, and we further forget that the meaning of the “4th of July” to Americans is really all about independence and freedom, we lose another piece of our culture, of who we are.
Happy Independence Day 2013!
When Brian Williams signed off the network news tonight, he said “Happy 4th of July.” And of course, tomorrow is the 4th day of July.
But, it’s a lot more than that in the USA — it’s Independence Day. It’s the day we celebrate the independence and freedom we enjoy in our nation. I’ve gotten used to so much dumbing-down in our society, but I refuse to give up on this one, and so might you.
Happy Independence Day, and many more!
With the recent and accelerating leakage of the convoluted plethora of national security intelligence programs afoot in the land, maybe it’s finally time for Big Brother to come out of the closet and tell the American people how and why we are giving up so many of our rights to privacy. I’m tired of hearing from retired Admirals and former security people and frustrated hackers about all this. Let’s hear it directly and from the top. Is our government so afraid that the American people can’t handle the truth? If they are, they should either bite the bullet and find a way to tell it, or step down in favor of those willing to trust the electorate. If we can’t trust our leaders then they can’t trust us, and they won’t be our leaders for much longer. I’ve seen too much intelligence BS in my 70 years, from Vietnam forward, to believe that the rationale for our intelligence programs can’t stand the light of day. We don’t need to know all the details that would aid our opponents, but we do need to know the foundation of principles upon which our intelligence systems are based and regulated, and from whence the trustable oversight is coming.