Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Recycled ideas

This morning I read an interesting column by Clarence Page, in which he talked about "the dumbing down" of America. It was in association with the latest polls about President Obama's religious beliefs.

The number of people who believe Obama is a Muslim has actually increased since he's taken over as President. This is more than a little scary. After all, Obama's biggest problem during the primary season was his association with Reverend Wright, whose rhetoric was most obviously over the top and who most obviously was a Christian.

The fringe groups love to say that Obama has been bowing to the Muslims on the world stage since taking office. They love even more to use his middle name, Hussain, as a putdown, even though most of us learned when we were 12 that there wasn't much someone else a person could do about his or her name. "Yeah, Obama's mother knew in 1961 that her son would be President of the United States shortly after a dictator had ruled Iraq."

Obama also hasn't gone to church much in public since taking office, which has drawn criticism. Ronald Reagan didn't go much either, as perhaps both men quickly came to the realization that Presidents can't drop in on a church for a service without causing a ton of inconvenience and commotion for the rest of the parishioners.

Page's article goes on to point out how few people know how many Senators there are, and who their own Senators are, and how many branches of government there are, and so forth. It's all a little discouraging, and Page ends with the line, "Heaven help us."

And then I went to the supermarket. Bear with me on this; there's a connection coming.

I stopped at the recycling area to put 16 bottles into the return machine. There were three machines for plastic bottles, but two were flashing "Error. Call for repair." A line, therefore, developed. At the front was two 20-something males with a shopping cart of bottles. One was shoving the bottles in quickly -- perhaps too quickly -- and the machine wasn't keeping pace and making odd sounds. They gave up after a short time, leaving the cart behind with the parting comment, "They're all yours," for the rest of us in the room.

Next in line was a woman with another good-sized collection of bottles to be returned, which had just received a boost from the two guys. This woman was carting a baby around. A quick look at her cart revealed that she had a variety of bottles in her possession. But a majority of them wouldn't do her any good, since they were water bottles or small juice containers. In other words, she didn't know that there's a few lines printed on the container saying where a bottle can be returned for a deposit. And that the odds were pretty good that she was going to jam up machine number three.

As I waited, another 30's-ish man walked in with some plastic bottles. He looked at the sick machine #1, and tried to put one of the bottles in the opening. He got nowhere. "They are both broken; only that one is working," I said, trying to be helpful. The man didn't pay attention, and tried to put bottles in sick machine #2 and then #1 again.

Luckily, a store employee came along, opened up the sick machines, cleared out the jammed openings, and got us all back in business. I grabbed one of the machines, claimed my receipt for 80 cents, and headed for the store to shop.

Thinking about Page's article while still feeling frustrated, I remembered that all of those people in the room had an equal say in the electoral process. One person, one vote -- that's the genius of the system. But if they can't figure out how recycling machines work, it's easy to wonder what they think when they walk in the voting booth.

It's probably unfair, but Page's closing line came to mind again.

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