By Silverfish Imperetrix's Incorrupted Eye

This page written circa 24 October, 2002.

"American Pie" by Don Mclean is a famous and famously cryptic lyrical puzzle. (There is a superior critique of it at http://www.understandingamericanpie.com/.) Mclean laments the passing of the comfy, prosperous, stable America of the 1950s and the arrival of the `rebel-without-a-cause' America of the 1960s, facing military threats, assassinations, the Summer of Love, protests and so on; this lament is dramatised by drawing a parallel to the shift from the solid, small-town, unthreatening music of his youth, epitomised by Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley, to the in-your-face, raucus, untamed rock by the likes of Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin, and Bob Dylan.
The critique site above (at the time of writing) epitomises another lamentable shift: From the internet being about access to information to being an amateur (read bad) graphic design fest. The site presents some brilliant thinking, in a graphically artistic way, but in creating the visual spectacle the site becomes unusable by old or original browsers, unsupportive of simple tools such as cut-and-paste, and a perfect example of web design gone over the top at the expense of simple usability. Refer to people like Jakob Nielsen or Vincent Flanders if this idea is new to you... but I digress.

I like analysing poetry and lyrics and I appreciate the reinforcement of a message through reference, analogy and metaphor. My drive to understand what motivates people is connected to the same fascination. People often appear inscrutable and can be quite devious. Yet they are commonly driven by very basic forces whose discovery can put the observer in a commanding position to predict or influence behaviour. Fear is the best one to find if the game has high stakes! I have dealt with someone whose fear of publicity was his weakness, and I have benefitted from a fear that hypocrisy would be uncovered, and all the time I suspected neither conciously acknowledged their fear. Do I digress?

I am currently reading "Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Speculation". This is a superb book, erudite, insightful, comprehensive, fascinating. I wish I had had some of the financial wisdom it imparts years ago, but it is not that aspect that ties it to this essay. This book says a lot about how people work. It is history, psychology and stock market---but in all these it speaks about people.

It is as hard to see your own inside workings as to see those of others, maybe harder. ("Oh the gift that God could give us, to see ourselves as others see us"---Robbie Burns.) I have been surprised at the depression and stress I felt during the layoffs at work, even though I am pretty safe. My weakness is empathy I cannot help feeling. I have discussed my Teflon Soul in past soapboxes, speculating on its origin. Am I slow to allow myself to trust because my father betrayed my trust in leaving me? Perhaps. I do not digress.

America is currently struggling in the world on account of its foreign policy. Most Americans are at a loss to understand why current US foreign policy is so distasteful to so many other nations. They cannot see that it is invasive, selfish and rude. Americans remember Pearl Harbour and 911 and feel this should justify their actions in everyone else's eyes. A recent radio vox pop in Lubbock, Texas, from where George W Bush hails, yielded a list of comments that would constitute satire in any other country. The subject was attitudes concerning the possibility of war with Iraq. "I think Iraqi oil is worth fighting for" said one concerned citizen. Comments range from "I can't see what is in it for us?" to "Saddam Hussein is evil, that's all". Polls tell us that most Americans think these attitudes are right and wise, and support politicians promoting them. It reminds one of the comedy skit on the "Welsh Art of Self Defence"---the policy of bludgeoning your opponent before the thought of attacking you has even occurred to him.

Thirty-eight years to the day after Pearl Harbour reminded the Americans, I was personally reminded of how unwise it can be to misplace trust. Perhaps my skin gained another coat of teflon then; I have not thought that much about it in the last couple of decades. The USA is a bit more anal, the PH and 911 stories are retold and remembered. I think I handled my Pearl Harbour better. I eventually sorted out that I was chiefly angry at myself for putting the wrong person first. I hope I have not picked up offensive, self-righteous attitudes. If I have been "inaccessible" to anyone, it has saved me from greater catastrophies more than once.

In the same way that it is hard to see one's own motivations, it is hard for a country to see its own faults. Time and again in the last century America showed herself to be rather tight, repressive, and morally controlling---from prohibition to a war on drugs to wars in response to terrorism. The rebels without a cause who soured Mclean's era had direction, but it was away from something unpleasant, not towards something good in particular... Mclean failed to grasp the point, and it was not taken to national heart. Do not ignore Iraq, but do not go looking for trouble, making enemies. After my PH38 I lost some "friends" but I believe I did not subsequently make enemies in securing myself. With the possible exception of Desert Storm, US meddling in the Middle East seems detrimental to the West. Can anyone tell me what we get in exchange for the aggro?

If you do not see with your eyes closed, visit the Workshop of Telescopes.

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