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Cars
According to Aristotle, there is an ideal form for every object, and it exists, conceptually, within all objects that claim to be true manifestations of that ideal form. For automobiles, that ideal is a ’53 Chevrolet Business Coupe.

It’s bright blue-green, so painted to conceal its previous identity as a captain’s car in the fleet of the California Highway Patrol. It never let me down, and although it would not count as a technological wonder when compared to our modern, computer-managed cars, it could teach those modern marvels a few lessons it in its role as the ideal form.

Its most striking feature is its shape: round, feminine, lovely. The shape of today’s cars, by contrast, has been dictated by practicality, or so they would have you believe. The teardrop profile now seen in almost every vehicle is the product of an effort to promote superior aerodynamics. I know these engineers are just trying to help, but practicality has bought us stultifying sameness from top to bottom. Nowadays, you can’t tell a Maserati from a Mazda. I never had any trouble distinguishing my Chevy from its cousins, the Buicks and Pontiacs, much less from Fords and Desotos. All were round, and some were lovely, but none looked like any of the others. More importantly, they gave the impression of aerodynamics — a much more satisfying attribute than a low coefficient of drag. Cars used to be art; now they are little more than the creations of other machines.

Beyond the drive to enhance (perceived) practicality, there is also the unrelenting pressure to make things new and exciting. As with most of the “advances” made since the Golden Age of the automobile in the 1950s, however, new does not necessarily mean better.

Take the horn. On my Chevy, the big, obvious button was right in the middle of the steering wheel, as it was on all cars. If there was an emergency need to honk, my hand — all our hands — knew exactly what to do, without thought or visual confirmation of the button’s whereabouts. Today’s horn could be anywhere; it is merely one of a dizzying array of buttons that might activate anything from your clock to your cruise control reset. In an emergency, when fractions of a second are often critical, the time for action might easily slip by — leaving you to be smeared like a bloody booger across eight lanes on the interstate.

I am sorry to be so rough with you, but these are life-and-death issues we are dealing with. The high beam button is another of these. There was a time (in 1953) when high beams were activated or deactivated by a button on the floorboard. It was situated to the left of the gas, brake, and clutch pedals, and it was operated by the ball of the left foot. Why was this perfectly good system abandoned? As with the horn, this button was moved to the edge of the steering wheel; as with the horn, it is now in a different place in every vehicle; and, as with the horn, it now takes extra thought and time to use. These changes were made in the name of practicality, but in reality they only serve the mindless mandate of novelty — mindless and deadly. This is particularly true in this era of halogen headlights, which (I have been told) can cause blindness in those unlucky enough to stare at them head-on.

The misguided quest for the new harms us in subtler ways as well. More often than not, the changes rob us of our competence to drive by shunting vital functions away from the driver and into the car. Cruise control, GPS, obnoxious warning alarms, and (stop the madness!) self-parking cars all fall into this category. Why not go all the way and simply let the cars go out and drive themselves while we stay home relaxing like those poor schlubs in The Matrix?

It would be easy, I know, to dismiss these insights as the kvetchings of a grumpy old fartknocker. I plead guilty to that charge, including the part about fartknocking, but I do not take offense. People have to do something to make themselves feel better about the creeping takeover of their lives by machines; I get that.

But one would do well to remember that Aristotle himself was a bit of a grumpy old fartknocker. His work De Charioti (now lost) outlines his observations on similar matters with respect to the vehicles of his time. I am confident, in fact, that were he alive today, Ari would choose to roll on wheels quite similar to my ideal form. Perhaps in something a bit more suited to his station: I see him in a top-of-the-line Bel Air Convertible, baby blue with white trim. Yes, there he is, conducting driver’s training with the young Alexander the Great, or just cruising the main with the top down on the streets of ancient Mieza — while Plato, riding shotgun, moons a Packard full of Peloponnesians. That, indeed, would be the ideal in its fully fleshed-out form.
No
I am a secret nudist. I sleep in the nude. Sometimes, I eschew underwear. I have been to nude beaches and have run, jumped, and cavorted in the altogether. And, underneath all these clothes, I am always bare-ass naked.

Even so, the San Francisco Supervisors scared the hell out of me. On November 20, 2012, they passed an ordinance banning public nudity in the city. That is not the part that scared me, though. It was the fact that the ban squeaked by on a 6 to 5 vote that sent shivers up my fully clothed spine.

Some of the rationales presented by the losing side included references to freedom of expression, San Francisco’s reputation for openness, and the ever-popular “slippery slope.” The slope here, it seems, threatened to send us careening downward into outlawing, among other things, “piercings, tattoos, and yellow hair.” To my mind, that would only happen if gravity were reversed and we were in danger of sliding up the slope toward patently unconstitutional bans.

We are not close to that here. As to limits on freedom of expression, the only communication now prohibited is the right to declare “I am naked” to legions of more modest strangers — by actually being naked. Wouldn’t a simple tweet serve just as well?

I don’t think I need to outline for you the arguments in support of the ban, which encompasses such public places as parks, streets, plazas, and public transit. Let’s just say that your otherwise pleasant trip on the Muni might easily be spoiled by someone’s in-your-face expression of freedom.

A part of me is thankful, I suppose, that the city of my birth is the one place on earth where such questions are asked seriously and discussed with a straight face. Another part of me, however, is reminded of a poem by the Russian Nobel laureate Yevgeny Yevtuschenko entitled “City of No, City of Yes.” His City of Yes is a beautiful, loving place where all is given and nothing is denied. The City of No, by contrast, is repressive and cold. In the end, he decides to divide his time between the two. According to Yevgeny, too much of a good thing is not such a good thing after all.

He might have had something there. I love my City of Yes by the Bay. I love the wackiness, the kookiness, the openness to odd beliefs and odder lifestyles, and the rejection of mere appearance as a standard of personal worth. So, yes to the City of Yes, yes to its people, yes to its humanity.

But no to full frontal freedom. Secret nudists, after all, need a place to freely express their modesty.

Stupidity
You know, some of my best friends are stupid. Come to think of it, all of my best friends are stupid. Hell, I’m stupid.

So it is with respect that I say, dear reader, that you too are stupid. We are, in fact, bound together by our stupidity. We are all tiny specks of protoplasm wiggling around together here on the surface of this insignificant (though very pretty) planet floating through a limitless void. Why wouldn’t we be stupid? Stupidity is the natural state for finite, unsophisticated creatures such as ourselves. It’s a miracle that we can find food, shelter, or consensual mating opportunities.

Stupidity only becomes a problem for us when we think we aren’t. It is when people start thinking that they are smart that things begin to go haywire. Once you start thinking you’re smart, it becomes one of the core assumptions of all your thinking. Your thinking, then, will always begin with this same, mistaken premise, so that everything you think from there on out will also be wrong, like the fruit of the poisonous stupid tree. The resulting condition is much more than simple stupidity; it’s stupid squared.

Among the unfortunate side effects of being stupid squared is that it can transport you into universes that are not real. That might sound like fun, but consider those who believe in the coming Mayan apocalypse. If you are reading this essay while it is still fresh, then the world, according to these folks, will be ending soon. If you are reading it a bit later, then you know that it did not. The believers here are convinced that they are smart; some are so sure that they have made elaborate, irreversible plans based on the world ending. This is where being stupid squared gets you: up Shit Creek.

Fortunately, these poor souls only hurt people who are as easily duped as they are. While this is lamentable, I can’t spend too much time feeling sorry for people who have convinced themselves that they are much, much smarter than I am. Next time, I hope, they will have more respect for their native stupidity than to believe such outlandish claims based on so little evidence.

In some cases, though, the stupid squared will try to transform our reality into their unreality. Tea Partiers, for example, are trying to tell us that our government shouldn’t pay its legal debts as a matter of principle. Large numbers of Christians think we don’t have to worry about pollution because the Rapture is just around the corner. The NRA wants us to fight gun violence with more guns. I have no doubt that all these people think that they are not stupid. They are entitled to think so, but they are not entitled to have me think so, and they are not entitled to drag me along on their godforsaken journey up Shit Creek.

I’m just an ordinary stupid person, and I’m trying hard not to think I’m smart, but I do need to protect my butt. To do that, I plan to stay as far away as possible from the stupid squared. My limited knowledge of the world has led me to believe that such people are almost always the source of our man-made problems. Not only do they want to live in unreal realms, they want to suck me in, too. Sorry, but no, I’m not interested in timeshares up Shit Creek, no matter how good the price is. For one thing, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t find food or shelter or consensual mating opportunities there. And don’t try to tell me I can.

I’m not that stupid.
Tag, You're It
As a man, I have the power to make myself king. It’s a long-standing tradition among men. So, as of right now, I’m in charge. Okay, then: by the power vested in me, I hereby pass all responsibility for the Earth to the women.

The time has definitely come. The world’s population has soared, putting a strain on our resources. The rise of technology has only increased that burden while accelerating the poisoning of our environment and fueling the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Unless our attitudes about cooperation change, the vectors of these dangerous trends will soon cross, and there will be hell to pay. Everything may seem fine right now — the sun is shining, the children are playing, there’s food on the table — but it is clear that we are on the brink of something big and ugly.

I do, however, want to give some credit to the men. The same technology that threatens us has also given us wonders. Our increased life expectancy, our instantaneous access to information, the newfound pathways to understanding — these reasons for hope are all the products of the ingenuity and enterprise of men. Women have been there too, of course, but they haven’t been allowed the degree of participation they might have had under a matriarchy. So thanks, fellas.

Men have also been the prime inspirational movers behind our various religions. At their cores, these faiths often exhibit profound wisdom about the human condition and our obligations to one another. Our current patriarchal system, with its emphasis on the top-down, pyramid-style command structure, has predestined this male dominance, just as it has bestowed the power on men to administer that wisdom. It has been in the administration of belief systems, unfortunately, where the wisdom has turned sour. Even so, thanks are in order.

I will also acknowledge men for their efforts to promote the spread of democracy. This idea seems at last to have taken root in our world, and the result has been a decrease in wars among nations and a better life for many of us. I have no stats to cite, so let me simply assert that the incidence of war and violent death per capita worldwide has gone down in the last few decades. If true, that is certainly a good thing, but I fear that it may not be enough to forestall the looming crisis. Only changes within ourselves can accomplish that.

That’s where the women come in. Women are reputed to do well in a web-based societal structure. Well, the pyramid is crumbling, ladies, made obsolete by its ineffectiveness in coping with an increasingly complex, interdependent world. The worldwide web is fully installed and ready for you to move in. Here’s your shot. I know that you probably could have accomplished this without my help. Hillary’s a shoe-in for 2016; that gets us to 2024. That’s when Elizabeth Warren (or Kirsten Gillibrand or Tammy Baldwin or Amy Klobuchar) will take over. After that, there’ll be no going back; the healing will have begun, and we’ll be on course to a safe, sustainable Planet Earth. Still, I wanted to be sure.

One last note to my fellow men: we won’t be obsolete. We’ll still be in total charge of our own private (though tiny) pyramids. The women will run everything else. Which means we’ll be left to do whatever we want. Think about it.

And that brings me, ladies, to my one condition for this grant of power. Well, not a condition so much as a royal request regarding your treatment of me once you’ve assumed control. All I ask is that I be left alone to work on my little projects, whatever they may be. That’s all men really want anyway, unless you count world domination, and I’m proposing to give that up here and now.

So here, take it. Quick, while I’m still king.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon