Rambling Around Granville
Grappling with the Growing Greed
Nancy and I recently bought a new car. We've had good luck with
pre-owned machines in recent decades so I'm not sure why we did this.
Maybe we've been watching too much television.
I told the salesperson at a Newark car dealership that we were willing
to pay a little extra to buy locally, and he named a price that seemed reasonable until members of the younger generation
arrived for a visit over the Fourth. They insisted that we check the Internet for the "real" price of the auto, and we found
we were paying quite a lot extra to buy locally. Time to pick up the phone, our younger friends and relatives said. Let that
salesperson know you're not as innocent as the day you walked into the showroom. I couldn't bring myself to do it.
So Ed Kraus, son of our next-door neighbor, got on the phone with
our salesman, and after a short time, the price came down. I was feeling sheepish but good on the day we went over to pick
up the car, and our salesman seemed as friendly as though we'd paid the higher price.
He sat us down at a table and showed us a map of the U.S. that reveals
just how badly Ohio is afflicted with acid rain. This was a surprise to me. I thought we exported most of it to New England.
For just under $900, he said, we could protect our new car from the rain and buy some very spiffy cleaners for the interior
too. I nervously pointed out that Oregon, where I grew up, has chemically gentle rain, lots of it, so I'm unaccustomed to
needing such protection. The salesperson then took us to the cashier, who was unable to accept our money without first revealing
at considerable length why we needed to invest in an extra warranty for an additional $1000.
A few days later I needed the address of a Granville acquaintance
who recently moved to a new house within the township, and I searched for the address on an Internet site that offered free
addresses. After I typed in his name and zip code it didn't take long to get enough information to convince me they knew the
person I was seeking. Then they told me I could get the address for $19.95, all money to be refunded if they had the wrong
guy. Since then I've received several emails from the site with invitations to buy the address. For a little extra, they remind
me, I can get a credit report. I tried Yahoo, and they had a cut rate for addresses: $9.95 apiece with no credit report.
How are we to make sense of so much unapologetic hard selling? It
appears to be an affliction of our culture from the top on down, and apparently it's spread to the British. Our President
and Tony Blair tried for months to sell a war on Iraq to people around the world, and when they wouldn't buy it, in spite
of some exaggerated talking points, our leaders gave it to the world for free. But those of us here at home will be picking
up the tab for years, and young people who couldn't afford to stay out of the military will be paying with more than money.
Our military giveaway programs are part of the profiteering.
Companies with ties to the White House will make millions as we privatize the rebuilding of Iraq. Our government distributes
bombs and bullets for free, hires friends to restore what we've destroyed, cuts back on government services to fund the war,
and increases the national deficit with tax breaks for wealthy folks who have taken a beating on the stock market.
It's enough to make you think those folks who made greed one of
the Seven Deadly Sins had it right. In our time at least it might be the deadliest sin of all.
Rambling Around Granville
Thinking Again About Machismo
How do you solve a problem like machismo? Even though I sound
like the singing nuns in The Sound of Music, I asked this question very seriously in a column a few weeks ago, and
I was genuinely puzzled. With the help of readers, I've begun to find the beginning of an answer.
The rise of the new machismo in our culture probably grows from
desperation, a correspondent suggests. We've run into so many reasons to be afraid since September 11th that we long
for solutions like the ones John Wayne gave us in the movies. We want decisiveness, certitude, and victory over evil. If our
nation's new assertiveness doesn't solve our problems, if it often creates more, we are still comforted by an approach to
international complexity that offers the clarity of big belt buckles and swaggering tough talk.
What we need as an antidote, perhaps, is a glimpse of authentic
heroism, real courage. As an undergraduate, I read John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage, a book that seems even
more hopeful today than it did not long after World War II, when the influence of men like Roosevelt, Churchill, and Eisenhower
was still alive. Kennedy's book appealed to me in those years, although I appreciated Kennedy himself more for his wit and
idealism than for his emphasis on courage.
Political courage has always been rare, but today it seems to be
an endangered species. Politicians still take risks, frolicking with interns and hurling themselves unnecessarily onto aircraft
carrier decks, but their pollsters don't encourage moral valor. Historians will probably see ex-Governor George Ryan of Illinois,
a Republican, as a lonely figure. He appears to have been genuinely moved by evidence that capital punishment was not being
applied justly in Illinois, and he acted courageously on his conviction.
Part of what draws us to John Wayne impersonations in the White
House, another correspondent suggests, may be our national sense that, historically, Somebody Up There is on our side. We
began by beating back the British rascals. Then we fought among ourselves over slavery, and the good guys won. World War I
exposed the insanity of war for all to see, but we could still commend ourselves for toppling Hitler in the next one. Somehow
we came away from Hiroshima, Korea, and Vietnam with our sense of our nation's unique virtue intact although there was a period
of national humility and caution after Vietnam.
When the horror of September 11th hit us, our leaders had been scoffing
at nation building, the idea that we should help other countries deal with environmental devastation, overpopulation, and
political instability. They were withdrawing the U.S. from acts of international cooperation like the environmental agreement
made in Kyoto. But suddenly, it was time to restore international order, and within a few months our administration had developed
a new foreign policy that says the U.S. is in charge of the world. We will sometimes use the United Nations for public relations,
but when push comes to shove, the citizens of the world should recognize that we have more dazzling military technology than
But of course no nation can really be in charge of the world, and
Jared Diamond reminds us in the June Harper's Magazine that the kind of arrogance our leaders now embody is what
makes civilizations collapse.
If we are going to act like the Romans, we need to remember what
happened to Rome. It will probably take a hero to convince us of this truth. Humility is at the heart of authentic heroism,
and heroes know we're mortal. They don't expect to win every battle.
I've been looking around for a heroic moderate Republican who might
help us recover our national equilibrium. It must take great courage and humility to suggest moderation in this time of extremist
triumphalism. Maybe Olympia Snow or Ohio's George Voinovich?
The Democrats who seem most willing to call attention to our national
arrogance are Howard Dean of Vermont and Ohio's own Dennis Kucinich. But I wonder if we need someone who unmistakably embodies
genuine courage, someone whose background and demeanor would expose the hollowness in our leaders' strutting bravado. That
might be John Kerry of Massachusetts, a war hero who understands the cost of sending men and women into combat. Maybe we're
ready for another JFK. I'd be interested to hear what others think.