and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
August #4

Decisions, outrage put on hold until Labor Day
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, August 23, 2007

The only way I'm going to get some vacation time while it's still summer is to tune out, drop out and ignore all bad news.

I need a break from outrage about, in no particular order -- government in general, public pensions and unmaintained infrastructure in particular; illegal immigration; cruelty to animals (give me a chance to gamble on Michael Vick, unarmed, vs. a pack of pit bulls); sub-human beings who abuse kids; drug dealers, dictators and drunken drivers; and the people who pay attention to nothing but the sex lives of celebrities.

I'd become a Buddhist and study equanimity, but even thinking about it I get outraged about what the Communist Chinese did to Tibet. Which reminds me of how outraged I am about poisoned toys and dog food from China; and, yes, what the Turks did to the Armenians. No Place for Hate, indeed. There are a lot of things going on in the world that we need to hate.

It's also good to think broad philosophical thoughts about freedom vs. security, which by the way, is often at the root of the debate about war.

The debate is legitimate when it addresses the validity of a particular war, or how well it is being run. But the people who talk "peace, love and understanding" are making a choice, stating that freedom isn't worth a fight. They're foolish, of course, to think there can be safety in a country that isn't free, that is governed by Nazis, communists, fascists, psychopaths or religious fanatics; and their naive self-righteousness outrages me.

Where is that book on Buddhist serenity? Breathe, breathe.

Let's talk about my goldfish.

Fish swimming in a tank are supposed to be a calming influence on the modern, distracted mind, just as cats are supposed to lower blood pressure. I buried the ashes of my cat Tandy last weekend and am no longer stressed by trying to decide the right time for euthanasia. Now there's just me, my overgrown goldfish Moby, and the mouse that moved in when the cat was gone.

I should probably adopt another cat before I get attached to the mouse.

The fish is not a calming influence. I get claustrophobic watching it swim three laps and turn in the 20-gallon tank. I was planning to use my sales tax holiday savings, and more, to buy a larger tank; but then I was given an opportunity to release Moby to a large pond to live with other fish. Now I am stressed by decision-making.

What do I do? Keep him safe here with me, who feeds him, makes sure his water is clean, and talks to him now that the cat is gone? Or do I set him free? (More or less - I wouldn't just drop him off in a wild pond with the wrong pH and herons and kids with fishing poles).

In the book "The Life of Pi" by Yann Martel, there is a discussion about zoo animals, which Pi's father says are fine with their lives because they get what they want - safety and regular feeding. The freedom thing is simply ascribing human desires to animals. I'm not sure about that. I think that leopards and gazelles, for example, are meant to run, even though they run after and away from each other respectively.

It's true that our dogs and cats adapt to limited freedom. My friend from Living Aquariums says that goldfish don't have much memory capacity; so I don't suppose Moby would miss me if I gave him away. Yet "The Little Prince" is responsible for his rose, which I assume has even fewer human characteristics than a fish. Maybe I need a pet rock.

The vacation I'm looking for is a vacation from outrage, decision-making and responsibility for anything but myself. Once upon a time, I grabbed my passport and a knapsack to go a-travelin'; strong and determined to travel the open road, like Walt Whitman, more or less. Now I'm not so strong anymore, the roads and bridges are crumbling, and flying isn't the fun experience it used to be.

I'm glad I spent time in my youth diving into lakes, pools and the ocean; climbing around mountains; exploring ruins and castles; strolling the streets of Paris, Rome and Stockholm; filling an adequate-size tourist seat in a plane going to Australia or Greece. My vacations were usually unstructured; freedom was everything. Safety rarely entered my mind as I hiked alone, took rides from strangers, and drank foreign water.

Now I'm content with a quiet afternoon reading in the hammock. There is enough freedom and illusion of safety here for me. In a perfect world, there'd be a cat on my lap and a large goldfish pond near the tree.

But as noted above, this is not a perfect world. I'll have to settle for a perfect August afternoon, with decisions and outrage deferred until Labor Day.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.