The Comedy of Distance

My friend Geoffrey Blainey wrote a great book about Australia called The Tyranny of DistanceThe book meditates on how the remoteness of Australia from the (then) civilized world shaped the character and history of the country.  Distance is a curious and polyvalent mirror. Its distortions are sometimes obfuscatory, sometimes merely comic.  As I mentioned yesterday in this space,  I am huddled for a few days with a few savants in far-away Antigua.

Down here in the West Indies, the doings of the pukka sahibs back home seem almost surreal, especially in conjunction with one another.  The “sequester” we’ve all been hearing about — the proposed tiny cuts in government spending that have sent otherwise decorous men and women into a tizzy — seems to be going through. "Obama signs order for $85 billion in spending cuts."  Good for him — though bear in mind he is one of those who recently insisted that "We don’t have a spending problem." In other news, he also told us he is not — repeat, not — a dictator. I feel so much better. (And Caesar three times refused the crown.) That’s not as fatuously irresponsible as Mayor Michael “I’m your nanny” Bloomberg. The federal debt may be $16-point-whatever trillion, but, hey, no worries! With his straightest face, Bloomberg just told his courtiers that we’ll never run out of saps, er, creditors lining up to lend us money. “When it comes to the United States federal government,” quoth Bloomberg, “people do seem willing to lend us an infinite amount of money.”

Did he, I wonder, send the Chinese this memo?  I hope so.  That’s an important detail for someone who believes that “the lenders” just “can’t stop lending us more money.”  Do you feel better now?

Michael Bloomberg’s stupid statement was pretty funny all on its own, but taken together with another story from the home front, it assumes a nemesis-like minatory quality, at once comic and horrifying.  I mean the story about the hapless fellow in central Florida who, together with his entire bedroom, was suddenly swallowed up when a giant sinkhole gaped open beneath his house.

You might think that Michael Bloomberg would ponder that sinkhole, but no: he’s too busy meddling in the diets of New Yorkers, telling them what they can and cannot eat and smoke, what sort of transportation they may avail themselves of, etc. to catch the edge of irony in that sinkhole.  They open suddenly, without warning, Mike.  They swallow the unwary in their beds, and guess what? They’re never heard from again.

There’s a moral there, but it’s not one that’s being heeded by the fellow in Washington who assures us he’s not a dictator, or the one in New York who acts as though he were.

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