Shall We Rehearse?

I’m hungry! I’ll just stop up here and grab some breakfast…

I read much of my daily news on the Associated Press utility (when did “app” become a word? Honestly!) on my “smart” phone, which is not intelligent in itself, nor is it dressed well, a sharp pain, or brisk. It is definitely well-designed, but if I never turned it on, it would just be a well-designed chunk of glass, plastic, metal, and some exotic elements used in specific and increasingly clever and minuscule ways. I like this thing and it’s AP utility principally because I can invoke it when my attention flickers from whatever entertainment I have chosen and catch up on what others are doing with their lives.

A few days ago, by which I mean Friday, 19 May 2017, I noticed a headline in the “Most Recent” tab of the utility that piqued my curiosity, to wit:

Police: Body dumped along Texas road after hearse stolen

Okay, I may have said to myself, I will press my finger against the plastic membrane that protects the glass screen of my hand-held computing device and read more about this “Most Recent” news. It was a very brief piece, readable by you, dear reader, by clicking on the link above, which goes only to the apnews.com website and not down any ratholes of internet mischief, but I will summarize the story for you.

The driver, employed to deliver a recently deceased person from a location more closely associated with their demise to a funeral home selected, one assumes, by relatives of the decedent, found themselves in need of sustenance. And lo! there was a McDonald’s restaurant ahead, so this driver (I have not determined their gender, nor is it material to our story) pulled into the parking lot, exited the vehicle, and ambled inside to order some victuals (I’m going to pretend I know that it was breakfast on their mind as it was around 5:30 AM when the hunger struck our protagonist). As they perused the gleaming menu, ensconced in yellow plastic, as they watched and waited for the bleary-eyed, caffeine-fueled workers to fill orders for other supplicants at this purveyor of food-like items, nefarious deeds were being executed in the parking lot.

A person” (so says the news) entered the driver-side door of the hearse and, finding that (1) it was, in fact, thrumming away in neutral and/or (2) had the keys in the ignition and was waiting to be ignited, threw the gearshift into “D,” and drove away with the material remains of someone lying in repose on a gurney in the portion of the vehicle designed for this purpose. Approximately 90 minutes later, a passerby noted a corpse-like object supine on a gurney “on the side of” or “in the 6000 block of Dick Elliott Road.” A brief search of today’s (22 May 2017) news shows no indication that the hearse has been recovered, although the supine individual (gender not available to me) successfully completed their journey to the funeral home.

I am a curious person and this story raised several questions regarding the behaviors of at least two individuals of whom we know very little: (1) the hearse driver and (2) the hearse thief (an updated version of the more antiquated Texas vocation of horse thief).

Here are my questions, although I leave it to each of you to place them in a sequence of importance that you find most appealing:

  1. When a hearse driver is hungry, is it ever appropriate for said driver to stop between receipt and delivery of a decedent to allay the hunger?
  2. Is it appropriate for a hearse driver to stop for a meal whenever they are actually driving a hearse… regardless of contents other than themselves?
  3. Is it not possible that the mere presence of a hearse at a restaurant of any description (barring for the sake of argument fuel stations that have restaurants inside) may raise thoughts among those dining inside (or in the parking lot outside) that the driver is in the process of treating a decedent with less care than is warranted?
  4. Do individuals engaged in the act of sating their hunger want to think about hearses and their contents whenever a hearse driver thrusts that option before them?
  5. In areas of this nation, perhaps elsewhere as well, it is considered courteous to pull over and wait for a funeral procession to pass, whether that procession is performed by horses and carriages, by people on foot, or by a line of cars with their headlights on. If a hearse is involved, isn’t it already a procession marking the end of a life, and should that procession lead through a restaurant parking lot? Ever?
  6. Is it ever a good idea to leave (1) the engine running (either for convenience or temperature control) and/or (2) the keys in the ignition, and/or (3) the vehicle doors unlocked when the driver exits the vehicle whether for a stop at a restaurant or a restroom (in this context, “rest room” is fraught with other meanings)?
  7. If one finds themselves in a parking lot and sees a hearse sitting there, hears the engine chugging away in neutral, sees the driver exit the vehicle and do nothing to secure the vehicle, why does this bit of happenstance, of utter serendipity, turn into a perfect occasion to hijack the hearse, regardless of its contents?
  8. Was the person who jacked the hearse out that morning hoping to find a hearse to purloin or did it just seem like a good idea at the time? A better idea than, say, completing the more probable mission of having a bit of breakfast at the “Arches?”
  9. Having stolen the hearse, what would make the newly ascendant driver take a quick look in the back, notice that they were not alone, and decide that having a passenger in the hearse—a vehicle intended for the transport of supine and lifeless passengers—spoiled “the game” and the passenger had to go, but the hearse could remain with them?
  10. What was it about the 6000 block of Dick Elliot Road that seemed like the right place to pull the hearse over, place the transmission in neutral, exit the vehicle, walk around to the rear of the vehicle, open the large tailgate door with the glass window and pleated draperies, pull the gurney out with the individual in place, leave them “on the side of” or “in the” road, close the tailgate, return to the driver-side door, enter the vehicle and drive off?
  11. Where is the hearse? I mean, we are not talking about a white 2005 Chevrolet Cavalier, a car that must populate the roads of Texas and the U.S. in general in multitudes. The missing “car” is black, probably recently cleaned and polished, with large windows, curtains (! – this alone makes it rather rare amongst vehicles), and quite possibly the name of the funeral home etched into the window glass or painted on the doors. How hard could it be to find this vehicle? It’s been three full days and half of today and it is still out among the other hearses of America!

Those are my questions. There are probably other questions, but those are mine. Astonishingly, stealing hearses seems to be a “thing” here in the U.S. While finding the exact story I read from the AP utility, I found several other such stories:

Thieves steal Ohio hearse, dump corpse, leave note

Family chases down man who stole hearse with relative’s casket inside

If hearse-thievery is going to happen, perhaps Mumbai-based Lunatic Koncepts has the solution:

Is THIS driverless hearse the future of funerals? Bizarre transparent coffin beams hologram of deceased and plays their favourite song

I’m hoping that spontaneous human combustion will visit me in my last seconds and relieve me of these worries.

Adrift

Unmoored

Farce

Final

Featured image by Aalborg Stift

The Crown and Hill Country Summers

Have you noticed that we sometimes inter an idea before it’s actually dead?

Have you noticed that sometimes you stumble into a pattern in your film and television viewing without having a conscious intent to do so? This can even extend to what you just happen to be reading and what music you are favoring as well, but I found myself watching two shows, one on NetFlix, one on Masterpiece Theatre, the U.S. show that mainly imports shows produced in the U.K., sometimes Europe, and packages them as aesthetically and intellectually superior (less true in the realm of contemporary streaming options than in years gone by).

This happened to me recently when The Crown popped up on NetFlix and Indian Summers was running through its second season on PBS. To put reviews to the side, I “enjoyed” them both, although my tastes are suspect in this matter.

(1) I tend to gravitate towards productions that peer into British subcultures (in this case, the ascension and early years of the current Queen Elizabeth’s reign and 1930’s colonialist behavio(u)r in the Himalayan foothills);

(2) I am very interested in how colonialist behavior (“u” implied) continues to permeate so much of how white people behave in their own countries and around the world.

In The Crown, the principal colonialist behavior is seen in how Prince Phillip behaves in Kenya and Barbados, how he speaks about other countries that once were under the none-too-subtle boot of British rule, and how this attitude is seen in other court and government attitudes. Whether accurate or not, it is not shown to be an important aspect of Elizabeth’s thinking, although she is shown to be laughing off Phillip’s boorish comments (and what an ass he is portrayed to be!), which is a complicit form of acceptance in my view.

In Indian Summers, the blatant racism permeates virtually every aspect of the story. Here is a country that has astonishingly deep roots in pre-history (that would be India, or the agglomeration of principalities, etc. that comprise “India”) having to defer to Anglo-Saxons, who started their dominance of the British Isles in around 400 C.E., after the Romans had to end their own colonialist incursions through much of their empire. The British had moved into India, following the Portuguese, Dutch, and others, to establish an import/export relationship in the early 1600s. Once they figured out how profitable these markets could be, they brought their military and seized the whole country. The Indians, when they had to contend with them at all, deferred to the British under threat of imprisonment, violence, and death. The Indians were called all manner of insult to their faces and behind their backs, were treated as less than human, were viewed as incapable of managing their own resources, people, and country. Of course, the Raj ended, India gained “self-rule,” an astonishing concept all on its own, and the grim and unresolved process of partition occurred over the next 30 years (creating Pakistan, Bangladesh, and whatever Kashmir is/should be—no dog in this hunt, just reporting).

The key issue here is this attitude of cultural, economic, moral, national, ethnic, and racial superiority imposed on other cultures. It is this brimming suitcase of beliefs that made subjugation of nations and people possible. The British were by no means the first to do this, of course. They weren’t the last. It’s all too human to come up with a list of rationales for why “some of us” are better than “those people,” and we sort these differences in whatever way suits our needs. We pretend we are better than other family members, near or far. We pretend our family is better than another family, our neighborhood is better than a nearly identical one built one street away, our community holds some superiority to others that are demographically identical, our town is better than another town, etc. When it comes to matters of religion, race, gender, national origin, those of “us” who consider ourselves superior impose a kind of colonialism on anyone we can, particularly if we are reasonably confident that our new “subjects” (use here in the general sense of “those who are subjugated) would not fight back.

What an utterly disgusting and morally bankrupt way for we humans to behave!

In The Crown, it is almost comprehensible how a young lady, raised in the self-aggrandizing hothouse of the British royal family, “destined” to rule after King Edward VIII abdicated to pursue Wallis Simpson, could allow herself to be surrounded by racists, nationalists, colonialists who believed that they were God’s chosen family to rule over the Empire and could tolerate these behaviors. At least until she matured in her thinking.

It is not acceptable in the least how a bunch of expatriated English from non-royal families could settle in the Himalayan hill country and treat everyone around them as inferior. If these people were a hive of bees, they would be the drone bees, male bees whose sole function is to mate with the queen bee (not to be confused with the popular contemporary singer with this nickname). The worker bees, as their name implies, actually do the work, including feeding the drones, that helps the entire hive exist. I have no idea whether drone bees “think” the workers are inferior due to their distance from the queen and their lives of endless labor, but I am sure you get the metaphor here. “I represent the Queen” versus “I work for a living” somehow allows for the superiority of the royal-proximate to those who work.

In the U.S., we seem to be in the throes of embracing this kind of differentiation between our citizens (and non-citizens, for that matter). This morning, I saw the following item in an email I receive from fivethirtyeight.com, a website that is predominantly focused on statistical trends (and also sits on WordPress.com).

$9.5 billion

Total wealth of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet appointees so far (including cabinet-level positions). That’s more money than belongs to the 43 million least wealthy U.S. households combined. Quartz

The odd thing is that the U.S. chose in the late 18th C. to become something other than a monarchy. It chose a republic system of government, that is a government in which the hopes of the population are represented by elected persons. They chose to break with the non-representative, monarchic, imperialist government of King George III. I suppose it can be argued that we have often elected representatives from our own elite groups to serve as our leaders, but we’ve also elected people from impoverished families who won their battles with inequity and became very effective leaders. In a monarchic system, people from the “wrong” classes do not become leaders… full stop (as the British say). In representative systems, they can and sometimes do rise to the challenge.

A difference between leaders from these two backgrounds—and I’m aware this is a rhetorical difference, as leaders also come from all backgrounds in between—is that the leader from meager beginnings is less likely to forget their past, while a leader from elitist beginnings has no other past than of wealth and privilege. Either can be a great, mediocre, or poor leader. , but I would prefer that I am represented by someone who remembers whence they came.

We are increasingly “represented” by lobbyists for various interests. The more powerful interests wield the most influence in legislation, and so on until we reach the individuals, families, communities, towns, regions, that have no power because they have no resources worth considering, no jobs worth protecting, no money that will buy them a seat at the table. Often, people who have these traits don’t educate themselves to understand how the global economic and political systems work and don’t vote because they believe themselves powerless to make a difference. When they do vote, they often think about what might be, rather than what is. They might win the lottery. A plane carrying money to Fort Knox or a Federal Reserve bank might crash in the woods near their home, making them imaginary billionaires (imaginary because how are they going to spend that money without revealing themselves). A meteor composed entirely of platinum might crash through their outhouse and make them rich.

The odds of each of those happening are roughly the same, give or take a couple of orders of magnitude: for Powerball, the odds are 1 in 292,201,338 (two hundred ninety-two million). If the payout is about $200 million, somewhere around 50 million tickets are sold; only 1 of those people is going to win and have to deal with instant wealth. As the jackpot rises, even more tickets are sold, investing the payout with more “loser’s” money, yet the odds of winning (and losing) remain the same. I actually have no idea about the probability of the plane crash and platinum meteor scenarios, but they are both entirely chance circumstances instead of driven by a particular behavior.

In the 2016 presidential election, about 58% of eligible voters exercise their right to do so; 42% (over 90 million people!) did not, thus deferring their right to the ones who did. Of those who voted, about 48% voted for Clinton and 46.6% voted for Trump. The winner is determined by the electoral system, which assigns exclusive party-designated representatives from each state to cast their vote for whoever wins the most votes in that particular state. Electors are selected through a crazy-quilt of state-specific laws which can be reviewed here, along with other pertinent information. The key factors are that (1) the electors are not given their responsibilities in the popular vote, they are designated by political party rules and are as often as not people with the money/power to get noticed by their parties (i.e. donations, friendships, corporate interests, family interests, etc.) and (2) the electors from each state do not end up representing the popular vote in that state so much as they overwhelmingly represent the internal machinations of their political party.

There are 538 electors nationwide, which is the number of U.S. senators and representatives BUT senators and representatives cannot be electors. So, in 2016 when roughly 129 million people voted, their votes will be “represented” by 538 people, none of whom received a single vote.

Finally, back to my overall point here, we will have an incoming government “elected” by 538 people who did not receive a single vote but who are supposedly representing the 129 million people who did vote (for those of you who enjoy percentages, (538÷129,000,000) x 100 = 0.0004% of the voting population) PLUS (one could argue) the 96 million that chose for reasons only known to them to not exercise their right to vote AND all the other folks who, for whatever reason (and there are many, including youth and various levels of conviction, depending on state) could not vote.

The U.S. population has a lot of that colonialist superiority vibe going on at the moment. “We” elected Trump (although “we” most certainly did not!) because he promised to do all sorts of stuff that pretends to a superiority that just doesn’t exist in the real world. We are all, quite simply, human beings. There are →7.4 billion of us. We all have the same general list of problems because we all live in the same neighborhood. Those problems are health, shelter, livelihood. Sure, a very small number of our fellow citizens have insulated themselves from one or more of these, but they are still affected by those who have desperate issues with one or more of them. There is no U.S. There is Earth, upon which a huge number of biological entities do something called “life,” which varies in its scope so enormously that it fills shelves and shelves in museum warehouses and on overburdened journal shelves at academic libraries around the world—and we still don’t understand it all!

It is a little mind-boggling that all of this thinking came out of watching a couple of dramas on television. For me, though, I watch stuff that MAKES me think, MAKES me consider the world in which I live. What I thought was that our world is still rife with colonialist thinking. Corporations, who still attempt to alienate resources from various countries, who still pay their foreign workers the least they can manage, who still object to the unification of workers whenever they can hire other workers at cheaper rates, are running a colonialist scheme on us all. In this country, they are powerful due to their profits, wrested from foreign soil and foreign labor, and the influence those profits purchase from our government.

The attitudes on display in The Crown and Indian Summers are those of people who believe that everyone who is not them is inferior. Is this who we are? Is this who we are becoming, are we already there, or have we always been this way in spite of our pretenses to being otherwise?

I fear that we have always been this way and that it is not getting better.

Featured image: For no particular reason, the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor, except that it looked misshapen, gaudy, and had a rather unsubtle cross sticking out of its front. By the way, you can rest assured that it is worth quite a bit more than the miners who found the gold and gems were paid for their labors.

Conundrum

Folly

Maddening