Honestly, I don’t understand humans. Take this convention center expansion idea we’re kicking around these days in Bloomington. County Commissioner Amanda Barge, a pol I respect greatly, one of the few forthright, smart, optimistic, sensitive, and calculating (in the right way) public servants around, got up at the Monroe County Council’s special meeting last week. The Council was deciding whether or not to impose a one-percent prepared food and beverage tax to raise enough dough to pay for the proposed $72 million new convention center and hotel.
Well, okay, supposedly some private developer will come up with the scratch to build the hotel, but the rest of us will be stuck with the tab for the convention center itself. Every single burrito, slice of pizza, Moscow Mule or mojito we shove into ourselves at any local eatery and drinkery will be assessed at an extra penny on the dollar so we can come up with the ten of millions we’ll need to pay for the new building. It ain’t gonna kill us. In fact, the tax won’t even hurt those most likely to suffer whenever some municipality or state comes up with the bright idea to build something and realizes it has to pick our pockets to pay for it. The poorest among us, acc’d’g to Forrest Gilmore, director of the Shalom Community Center, our town’s resource for the homeless, aren’t going to starve even more than they are now if the tax would be passed. Adding an extra six cents to the price of a six-dollar hamburger isn’t a homeless person’s biggest worry.
So let’s drop the hand-wringing about how the tax is such an unbearable burden.
Amanda Barge stood up at the meeting and said, Heck, yeah, let’s impose the tax and start putting up the darned thing and be snappy about it. We can quibble with her over whether this town needs a big shiny new convention edifice. Supposedly, it’ll generate excitement and business downtown and more tourism dollars and tax revenues and yadda yadda. Maybe. Maybe even probably.
But here’s one of the arguments Barge employed in favor of the expansion. “I want you to imagine a Habitat breakfast that could bring in double the amount of money than it does today because the convention center’s too small,” she said. “Imagine the Soup Bowl benefits, the Boys & Girls Club, the Youth Services Bureau, or Stone Belt being able to use that space, a space that would really fit their needs.”
She’s right, you know. A bigger convention and conference facility in town would make for bigger charity benefits and auctions and holiday parties at which all the do-gooder organizations could, conceivably, rake in more needed cash. Inarguable!
Maybe I’m a curmudgeon — okay, definitely I’m a curmudgeon — but ain’t it bizarre that we can’t simply levy a tax on ourselves to raise enough money for all these great social service operations? We have to promise to build monuments to ourselves, big soaring, steel and glass and limestone cathedrals in which we’ll throw parties so the charitable among us’ll toss a few extra coins at the drug-addicted, the needy, the at-risk teens, and all the rest of those whose problems are costly. We’re going to squeeze extra pennies out of every prepared nosh and quaff sold in these parts for the next few years or decades or however long this tax will last, raising tens of millions of dollars in the hopes that one result will be a little bump in Habitat for Humanity’s yearly fundraiser.
Here’s my refrain: when a guy comes up to us on the street and asks for spare change, we cry to the mayor and the police that downtown’s getting “threatening,” that these homeless people are going too far, and we’ll be damned if we’ll dig into our wallets for a dollar. But when the town’s movers and shakers want us to build a big $72 million facility, they say, Hey, we’re doing it for that homeless guy!
Okay, I say, let’s do it. Sure. But, man, we’re weird.
Oh, You Have No Idea!
How weird? This weird.
I watched a documentary last night about the Voyager 1 and 2 space missions to the outer planets of our solar system. The spacecraft were launched within weeks of one another in 1977. Years later, they passed within shouting distance of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Our knowledge of the solar system and the origin of our little cosmic neighborhood grew exponentially as the ships passed each of the gas giants.
Voyager II carried what was called a Golden Record, an audio-visual LP packed with Earth sounds and messages to whatever intelligent civilizations might snatch the thing from its sky. The idea being, Hey, everybody, we’re here. We’ve got scads of languages and we make music and bullet trains and presidents and Secretaries General of the UN and we eat tasty things. The LP also carried some images of humans in some little anatomical detail, hinting that our little brats came from inside one of our sexes.
See, that last detail was fudged quite a bit, hinting, but not really being specific about how we reproduce ourselves because — wouldn’t you know it? — NASA was afraid of offending a bunch of bizarre fuddy duddies!
Scared, and not without good reason. A pair of etched plaques had been placed aboard the Pioneer 10 and II spacecraft just four years earlier depicting a man and woman in all their naked glory. This is who we are and what we look like, was the gist. And thousands and thousands of good god-fearing Murricans went bonkers!
Here’s the image engraved on the plaque:
Clearly the dude’s junk is hanging out and the woman’s breasts are exposed. Quelle scandal!
And hell, the plaque’s designer, Carl Sagan, even glossed over the woman’s genitalia, portraying her as some kind of smoothie because he was jittery about NASA’s potential rejection of a more accurate representation of something half the world’s human population possesses. In fact, one NASA big shot in his memoirs swore that Sagan had, in fact, drawn a little line to indicate the woman’s labia minora but other NASA big shots actually erased it!
And, still, moralists and fundamentalists blew their tops over the drawings.
Did I mention we’re weird? I misspoke. We’re deranged.