Two Bald Eagles: Symbols of Divided Attitudes?

I spotted two Bald Eagles today in Cincinnati, which is really fitting for the Fourth of July. The two Bald Eagles—one indolent and one vigilant—capture not only the attitudes of two influential figures in American politics about this national symbol that was hotly debated till 1789, but they also reflect the fractured character of these United States.

You probably already know that Benjamin Franklin was an outspoken detractor of the bald eagle. He stated his disinterest in the national symbol in a letter to a friend:
“I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor, and often very lousy. The turkey is a much more respectable bird and withal a true, original native of America.”

In contrast, President John F. Kennedy wrote to the Audubon Society:
“The Founding Fathers made an appropriate choice when they selected the bald eagle as the emblem of the nation. The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird aptly symbolizes the strength and freedom of America. But as latter-day citizens we shall fail our trust if we permit the eagle to disappear.”

The two Bald Eagles, which symbolize, in my estimation, two divergent historical viewpoints, show us that American history is splintered into sharp conceptions of the past as it has been politicizedly revised to forge a more perfect union. There is little question that the tendency toward seeking out varied intellectual interpretations of US history is unabating and maybe essential to the growth of a mature republic. On holidays like the Fourth of July, however, a modicum of romanticism of the past is also required if revisionist histories make it harder and harder for the average person to develop a classicist vision of the Republic as a good—if not perfect—union and make it seem like a simple-minded theory. 

The two Bald Eagles aren’t just symbolic of the past; they also stand for partisanship and apathy in the present toward issues like inflation, NATO strategy, Roe v. Wade, and a variety of other divisive concerns. In addition, I learned there is an unfortunate debate on whether to have a 4th of July concert without hearing the 1812 Overture. For those who are not familiar, it is a musical composition by the Russian composer Tchaikovsky that has become a staple for July 4th events since 1976. 

In view of this divisiveness here is my unsophisticated theory of American unity for the present moment: Although the rhetoric of entrenched divisiveness and the rage of political factions—against internal conflicts and international relations—are not silenced by the Fourth of July fireworks, the accompanying music, festivities, and the promise of harmony, they do present a forceful antidote to both. So why have a double mind on a national ritual that serves as a unifying force and one of the few restraints on partisanship? Despite the fact that I am a resident alien, I propose preserving Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, arousing the inner dozing Bald Eagle, and making an effort to reunite the divided attitude toward all challenges. The aim, in my opinion, should be to manifest what Publius calls in Federalist 63 the “cool and deliberate sense of community.”

Have a happy Fourth!

Liberal Authoritarianism: Independence Day, the Sequel

This is Part Two of a report on my American Independence Day (Part one is “An Eventful American Independence Night.” It was posted on July 5th 2012.)

The best beach in Santa Cruz was cordoned off for the evening with plastic netting, and illuminated by powerful projectors. There were only a small number of narrow entry points where beach-goers were inspected individually for contraband. I don’t know if anyone was frisked but younger people were intimidated into answering questions they should not have to answer routinely according to my understanding of the Constitution. (I think law enforcement officers may not stop you at all without cause or probable cause.)

There were two kinds of contraband, possibly three. The first was obviously alcohol. Alcohol is outlawed on that beach at all times. I regret to admit that I think it’s a good policy. In the days before the prohibition, I had the feeling that the same beach was more dangerous to children. The “maybe” contraband would be weapons although I don’t understand by what authority a quasi-municipality, the harbor, and a county could jointly or separately restrict the citizens’ right to bear arms. Incredibly, it being the Fourth of July, Independence Day, the second kind of contraband was… fireworks.

Local government entities routinely ban fireworks for the Fourth of July. They ban fireworks in the towns were many houses are made of wood. They ban fireworks in brush and forest areas, reasonably enough. They also ban fireworks in the sand and on the water. Public safety specialists in the Santa Cruz area apparently believe that sand can burn and that the sea can go up in flames. Note that even the most fanatical local greenie will no affirm that the local seawater is so polluted that it will catch fire. (In fact, it ‘s not polluted at all, except very segmentally and only by concentrations of seabird shit. Bird dropping being natural, greenies should love them and not fear breathing them while swimming or swallowing them accidentally. But I digress in the most disgustingly self-indulgent manner!)

The local prohibition of fireworks makes me wonder how thousands of French villages, many quite a bit smaller than Santa Cruz, manage to offer a beautiful, complex fireworks to their citizens on Bastille Day, year after year. It makes me wonder why France has not yet been burned down to the tree roots and French beaches sand melted into glass. Of course, the French often have their fire department take charge of fireworks, even volunteer fire department. The system seems to work for everyone.

Someone will object that involving fire departments would cost money and that this is not a good time given that so many local entities are in dire financial straights. I don’t know about that. They did not rely on that obvious situation when they thought, and we thought, they were rich. And I don’t believe paying locally employed law enforcement officers time and half or more is economical. That’s not counting the private security employees hired for the occasion of this every labor-intensive endeavor. Why does the uncharitable thought cross my mind that providing overtime for public employees is one of the motivation behind the fireworks ban, possibly not a conscious one?

Later in the evening, leaving the scene in my truck was like moving across a city under martial law. There were law enforcement officers in the fog under the street lights at every crossroad directing traffic into unnatural patterns. One sent me into an eternal loop I could only escape by cheating. The police occupation continued much after the crowds had left the area.

A harbor guy I won’t name because it would be bad for this career confided to me that the real issue occasioning this vast deployment of armed force was concerns with possible mass rioting. I know a little the guy who said this. He strikes me as a reasonable person. He was not putting me on. This raises the question: Who would riot?

Santa Cruz is Silicon Valley’s beach town. Directly as my informer stopped talking I conceive visions of hordes of rowdy India-born hoodlums descending on my city, their pocket protectors bristling with non-pens pens of unknown usage. I could just see them in my mind’s eye sowing wi-fi havoc on our rudimentary 2010 !phones.

Or, maybe, just maybe, political correctness being what it is in this left-liberal region, this bastion of 1970s political culture, another fear underlaid the ban and the security measures. I don’t know that what came to my mind is true. It may just be speculation. Is it possible that the local authorities are afraid that the gangs from nearby towns such as Watsonville and Salinas would seize the opportunity of lose revelry to transform the beaches into battlefield where to continue their deadly wars ? Is it possible the same local authorities don’t have the internal fortitude to name the object of their fears? The problem is that upward of 99% of violent gang members seem to have Spanish surnames. Could it be that stating that they, the authorities close the beaches to contain gangs would be considered the sin of sins, racial profiling?

PS I like Santa Cruz Harbor a great deal. It’s this extreme rarity: a public entity with quasi-municipal powers that does not rely on taxes. It’s long overdue for my complimentary essay.

An Eventful American Independence Night

Yesterday night, July fourth, American Independence Day, around 8:30 pm, I was out of the Santa Cruz harbor in my humble and felicitously stable 26-foot boat. With me, an immigrant, were three immigrants and one of their offspring plus one college-educated Oakie. (Oakies who can’t find a job raising beagles and who are too lazy to trim trees will go to college, contrary to widespread opinion.) The immigrant offspring is only three and we were offshore trying to catch as many outlawed fireworks as we could for her. All the immigrants were legal but, for two of them, it had not always been so. I don’t know the third immigrant well enough to ask him.

We were meandering slowly when one of us spotted an overturned kayak in the distance. There were two people in the water trying in vain to get back on. I hurried there slowly, as in the books. My mostly inexperienced crew did a great, calm job of retrieving the kayakers and even their kayak. The Oakie did a stellar job although his proximate ancestors got no closer to the water than when noodling catfish. All the retrieved kayak gear seemed to me fairly new and expensive. One of the kayakers, a woman, obstinately tried to recover all her equipment from the cold water. To my experienced free diver’s eyes and ears, she was showing the first signs of delirious disorientation from cold exposure. Nevertheless, we got both of them aboard as well as most of their stuff. Continue reading

The American Parade

In the United States, a strong indigenous form of theater has not developed (middle-brow and high-brow forms were both imported from Europe when already mature). Had a specifically American variety of theater arisen, it would probably not have become tied to locality because of the high geographic mobility of the population. So, instead of theater, Americans have invented their own, strikingly direct kind of identity-enhancing performance: the parade.

In lesser American towns, parades are often a disorderly or downright messy mixture of military spit-and-polish, of crass commercial advertising, of ideological propaganda, of politicking, and of public declarations of self-satisfaction with one’s hobbies. In one very small, prosperous town on the West Coast, the last 4th of July parade included, among other attractions, the Kazoo Club, the Folding Lawn Chairs Marching and Drill Team, Zero Population Growth, the local Democratic Club, a grassroots group intent on gaining school district autonomy, and two old car buff clubs. These were followed by a lone couple (a pair) of tap dancers. There was also a moms’ club, whose sole purpose appeared to be Momaffirmation. (They did not seem to be bragging either about themselves or about their kids, who incidentally, were not even dressed up for the occasion.) Of course, there were several musical marching bands – at various levels of proficiency, from the superb to the pathetic – all much and equitably applauded. Continue reading