Column by Paul Hein.
Exclusive to STR
The small things in life are sometimes enclosed in ritual. There’s nothing wrong with this per se; it often adds an appropriate appreciation to the simple thing being done--as, for instance, being married. The accompanying ceremony may give the couple an awareness of the importance and significance of what they are doing.
Sometimes it can be amusing. We’ve all seen the oenophile contemplating the first sip of wine. There is the intense gazing at the glass to appreciate the color. (Has anyone ever returned the bottle because the color wasn’t right?) The glass is swirled to generate the wine’s “legs,” which merit consideration and discussion. The nose, inserted into the glass with deep inhalation, provides the imbiber-to-be with an incredible bouquet of fragrances. (At a wine-tasting I attended, I thought I detected the faintest aroma of WD-40, but my mention of it turned out to be unwise.)
At last, some of the wine is actually taken into the mouth and sloshed about, while sucking air in through pursed lips--a noisy but important procedure. By this means, the sophisticated palate is able to detect not just wine, but hints of strawberries, pine forests in the Alps—evocative of one’s childhood--and the smell of the sea. My palate detected, I thought, a whiff of cocker spaniel, but after my unpleasant WD-40 experience, I kept this discovery to myself.
Similar ceremonies attach themselves to tastings of whisky and beer, although to a less theatrical degree.
All right, so what is the simple thing behind these recherché tableaux? Simple: it’s the desire to consume alcohol. The wine could be of astonishing color, with legs to rival Betty Grable’s, a smell to drive men wild, and a taste rivaling bacon, honey, chocolate, and cherries combined, but without the alcohol, it wouldn’t sell. Indeed, there are, I believe, low-alcohol wines, as well as low or no alcohol beers. Nobody, or almost nobody, buys them. Of course, if you should prefer no-alcohol whisky, you could just drink water. Remove the alcohol, and all the swirling, sniffling and snuffling would be a pointless exercise.
Few simple things are as embellished as government. Consider the magnificent buildings. The robes of the judges (even wigs, in some jurisdictions). “Hail to the Chief” when the president makes his appearance. The airplanes, the limos, the security, the insignias, banners, and flags. Ah, the statutes! Millions of words of statutes, carefully preserved in thousands of volumes. Meetings, committees, hearings, investigations. The Constitution, carefully preserved under glass, in the unlikely event that anybody might want to look at it. Airplanes, ships, soldiers and memorials to those who died in the ritual of the Rulers’ most profitable activity: war.
What is the simple thing behind all the embellishment? Money. Some might argue that it’s power, but power comes after money. Would anyone pay much attention to Warren Buffet's advice if he weren’t one of the world’s richest men? As a poor man, his advice, no matter how wise, would be like the non-alcohol beer: of little interest to anyone.
Does anyone involved with government ever go broke? Not today. Perhaps, as a result of his own foolishness, but not because the government is billions in debt, and growing more indebted with each day. Somehow, unlike the workers in failing private concerns, the actors in government manage to thrive.
Did our rulers plunge their soldiers into Iraq to bring democracy to that country? Oh, sure. But, as it happened, there was a lot of money made on armaments, tanks, planes, and fuel. And the war on poverty? It’s still being waged--and lost--although for the thousands waging it, it’s a profitable undertaking. How about the war on drugs? Has drug use been eliminated, or even greatly reduced? No, but the billions being expended find their way into somebody’s pockets, don’t they? Have food stamps eliminated hunger? Have various aid programs helped families stay together? Have the funds poured into education brought about a more knowledgeable population? Maybe not, but perhaps that’s because not enough was spent on them. The bureaucrats administering those programs could change society for the better--no doubt about it--if they only had even MORE financing.
It’s all about money. That’s the simple fact. Everything paraded before the public eye is window dressing--a distraction. It makes the role of government seem important, beneficial, and necessary. In actuality, it’s a means of growing rich at the benefit of others under the “color, legs, aroma, and taste” of “law.” Mindful of my WD-40 wine experience, however, I wisely keep this simple fact to myself.