The Breakfast Table

Oy Vey, the Land of Oz Again

Dear tax-and-spend wife:

Don’t get me started on health insurance. I’m the one who deals with our claims–all of which are routinely denied on the first pass, as a matter of company policy, apparently. And we allegedly have Cadillac coverage, or pay as if we do!

But don’t get me started, either, on the old saw that everything in semi-socialist Australia is perfect (including your Mum), and everything in hypercapitalist America is a sham. Yes, if I were poor and uninsured, I’d much rather live Down Under. But what price security? Australia is lovely, sensible, sun-splashed, chardonnay-soaked–and frequently brain-dead. Where else does the nightly news often start with the cricket scores and the coliform count at Bondi Beach? And why are so many of our Aussie friends–many of them absurdly blessed with great jobs, money, waterfront homes–so dissatisfied? One reason, I suspect: They’ve got nothing to strive for, no challenges; it’s all handed to them on a plate. Sorry, mate, but a society needs edge to be interesting.

Now that I’ve picked a fight, I’ll have to be boring and agree with you on American hypocrisy when it comes to self-determination. One thing that intrigues me is why separatism is so resurgent worldwide. Why is it that as international borders become less and less meaningful, internal frontiers reassert themselves? Are we simply too tribal, and incapable of being happy global villagers?

I thought Clinton’s speech was good, too, though what was the deal with the coin collection swimming behind his head? I was much less impressed by the TV news coverage, which always seems to follow the same gung-ho pattern on the first day of military action. We see foreign correspondents in bomber jackets, standing on runways and drooling with almost pornographic delight over the sleek, muscular weaponry thrusting into the night. “NATO put a lot of lead on Serbia tonight,” one reporter cooed. Then we see somber, sycophantic Washington reporters parroting the euphemistic language of the military brass: “smart bombs,” “exit strategy,” “collateral damage,” “degraded facilities.” All of this interspersed, of course, with ads for NasalCrom, arthritis drugs, and various laxatives.

Where are I. F. Stone and Michael Herr when you need them? The only skeptical voice I heard all night was my father’s. He wonders if the whole exercise isn’t an excuse for the Pentagon to try out the stealth bomber, in somewhat the same way that the Germans and Italians used the bombing of Barcelona and Madrid in the Spanish Civil War as a test run for Rotterdam.

Is it any wonder I’m a cynic?