America the Beautiful?

by lizard

In 1893, Katharine Bates wrote a poem about Pikes Peak, the mountain that stands watch over Colorado Springs. That poem was the basis for what later became the song America the Beautiful.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As I walked with my kids and new pup along a beautiful creek, the trash I kept finding in the creek was definitely not beautiful. I think we can all agree on that, right? So, as we fished plastic cups and burst balloons from the water, I thought about how much people in this very conservative city of nearly half a million people really hate paying taxes for services. If having beautiful parks is going to cost us money, then screw beautiful parks. That is apparently the sentiment here. From the link:

In 2009 the city was staring down a $40 million revenue gap and a $700 million infrastructural to-do list, but even when residents were faced with drastic cuts to services, they voted overwhelmingly against a property tax hike. And so, as Zach Patton writes in the September issue of Governing, Colorado Springs’ entrenched base of tax-averse libertarians and conservative evangelicals has created a closely watched model of city management that resembles a civic version of the limbo dance.

How low can Colorado Springs go? Patton reports that the city turned off one-third of its streetlights, removed trash cans from parks, slashed funding to local museums and community centers, and stopped mowing street medians, which became so overrun with weeds that they violated property management codes. Evening and weekend bus service was eliminated entirely. The city flushed 550 people from its payroll.

Looking around my in-laws house, there are beautiful antiques everywhere. There is even a bronze nude statue in one of the rooms. Oh yeah, I thought, some of those artists back in the day used to think the human form was beautiful. Well, I might not be in Missoula right now, but I have managed to stay informed on the latest crisis to descend: naked bicyclists. It appears that there are lots of very passionate descendants of the Puritans ready to burn these evil nudists at the stake for threatening their…their what? I get the annoyance of having some Portland event transposed on our idyllic mountain college town, but there are literally people in tears over this. C’mon, people. Try spending some time in some hell-hole US foreign policy has created, like Libya, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Gaza, Yemen, Sudan, Honduras…I guess what I’m trying to say is be thankful you aren’t being murdered and raped and your home blown to pieces.

Of course if you’re black in America, there is always a chance you’ll be murdered by cops or vigilantes. That’s the ugly truth. It doesn’t matter that it’s 2014 and our president’s pigment is darker than all his predecessors. If you’re an unarmed black teenager, at any moment you might get shot and killed. And then, if people show their intense displeasure, be prepared for cops that look like soldiers. Oh, and if these cops need a media blackout as they terrorize you, then the FAA will be happy to oblige by creating a no-fly zone, so news outlets can’t record the police state response to justified rage.

I’m sorry, that’s totally not the official reason for the no-fly zone. From the link:

The reason listed on the Federal Aviation Commission’s website for the no-fly zone over the city is “TO PROVIDE A SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITIES.”

To get more of a sense of what that means, ThinkProgress called the helicopter dispatcher at the St. Louis County Police Department. St. Louis, not Ferguson, has been “responsible for crowd control,” a Ferguson Police spokesperson said.

According to the dispatcher, the department originally requested the no-fly zone — for certain flights; “the ceiling is only at 5,000 feet,” the dispatcher said, though the website actually lists 3,000 feet — for 24 hours. The department then asked the FAA to extend the ban on flying.

The reason? “It’s just for a no fly zone because we have multiple helicopters maneuvering in the area and we were having some problems with news aircrafts flying around there,” the dispatcher, who would only identify himself by his first name, Chris, said.

The effort to stop media from flying over the area to film is troubling, especially in light of reports that police have turned journalists away from the sites of the protests.

Sometimes artistic expression can make an impact on how we perceive violence in our communities and our world. One great example was the project Not A Bug Splat (please go to the link to see the picture):

We hear a great deal about the ruthless ingenuity of military hardware, but this is something else altogether. It is a new device currently on deployment in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. It has the power to startle an enemy for a moment and perhaps even render him incapable of using his weapon afterwards. In the medium-to-long term, the enemy may suffer from impaired judgment and, in some cases, be neutralised. The device is a picture of his victim.

Also, anything Banksy does is brilliant (pics).

But artists sometimes pay a steep price for their artistic sensitivity. Locally, Jaime Kelly killed himself last week, and yesterday the world learned Robin Williams decided to do the same thing. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s also very common. Here’s the wiki breakdown:

Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control, in the United States as of 2010, more people died of suicide than in car accidents. In 2010, the total number of suicide deaths in the United States was 38,364. Historically, suicide rates rise during times of financial stress and economic setbacks. In 2009 it was the 7th leading cause of death for males, and the 16th leading cause of death for females. Suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24.

Now that a famous person has killed himself, there is the predictable call to de-stigmatize mental illness; to implore those feeling suicidal to seek help; to properly acknowledge the mental health crisis that exists because it’s not a funding priority for a government that only cares what you think if you have money and influence:

A shattering new study by two political science professors has found that ordinary Americans have virtually no impact whatsoever on the making of national policy in our country. The analysts found that rich individuals and business-controlled interest groups largely shape policy outcomes in the United States.

This national outpouring will maybe last for a day or two. Then some other shiny object will come along and nothing will ultimately come of it.

Because America isn’t beautiful.

Empires in decline rarely are.

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