Monday, August 27, 2007

Consider the bald eagle

Consider the bald eagle. The symbol of the world's greatest nation, he is unaffected and lives modestly without roof or walls on a pile of sticks, the very lifestyle that signals failure among his adoring subjects. An unschooled observer might believe he actually represents only Arkansas
or Mississippi. This shabby existence reflects not only humility but ignorance, each eagle feeling it must be some other eagle leading the free human world.

Maybe the choice of national symbol was made hastily. We look at the eagle as we do a recently squashed pet, seeing only those characteristics that we cherish. In a transparent attempt to create common ground, we even have treated the eagle as ourselves, trying to poison him into extinction. Selectively, a case can be made that this is a noble or an ignoble bird, a being that shares many traits with Americans or none.

The eagle got in as the national symbol because he can fly really high and still see details on the ground, or at least pretend to; and he is a hunter and fisher, living on top of a tree or rock, ruler of all he surveys, tax exempt.

There is little here that makes him an appropriate standard bearer for the American people. However, this bird also walks badly, eats carrion and gets a white head with maturity. So after all he is like us. We like favorable associations and are not bothered by the uppity bird's reluctance to fraternize. Although this indifference is necessary to reverence, some might say that it shows plain good sense.

The fundamental problem with America is the eagle. Americans spend far too much effort trying to be worthy of this icon. We climb trees, scale rocks and jump off them, go hunting and fishing, even built the U-2. We need a symbol we can realistically aspire to and then get on with life.
Whittling down the field of logical successors is easy.

Americans, by and large, can't fly. This leaves only birds with one wing shot off. Suddenly the bald eagle rushes to the fore. We could live calmly with the "wounded eagle". For promotional purposes, the wound could be rotated. For example, the "Eagle with its Head Blown Off" would be appropriate for armed forces recruiting posters.

Moving down the line, bees and other flying insects also exceed us but are less enviable due to size. However, the North American truck grill dragonfly would be a fine representative. It accomplishes very little and travels a lot without seeing anything.

Americans can survive in water for short periods but, compared to most aquatic animals, we can't swim. This eliminates aquatic mammals, turtles and fishes. However, laying on the bottom, the sea cucumber comes to mind, total lethargy within reach of any American with a television.
Of rocks, bituminous coal is most likely, being soft and flammable.

Plants are too beneficial for consideration.

The mammal category gets complicated, many mammals sharing characteristics with us. I have narrowed it down to two: the first is the domestic dog. To signify America of course, the dog must be a big mutt. Of the many classic canine poses, humans everywhere relate to the "big dog
defecating". Americans can emulate this ecstasy and likely achieve it every morning, leaving the rest of the day for industry. And the dog's countenance will rival the eagle's for severity and concentration. There is some question, however, whether "dog with head blown off" would have the desired impact on recruitment posters. The competing mammal candidate, logically enough, is the human. And why shouldn't we celebrate ourselves? In particular, I propose SUPERMAN. He would be better than the eagle because he can do more things yet he is an American. We would not be obsessed with equaling his achievements as we are with the eagle, because he is one of us. We could simply sit back and root for the man of steel, speaking with familiarity about his performance.

If we wish to display our sense of humor to the world, then "Indian with an Arrow through his Head Drinking on a Can of Beer" is a good one. He's a universal metaphor. For a touch of the old aggression, put an eagle feather in his hair.

For women, we must tap the "red '57 Chevy convertible with a nekkid lady propped across the back seat." It just feels comfortable. The finalists for the symbol of America are:

Wounded eagle
Truck grill dragonfly
Defecating Dog
Sea cucumber
Bituminous coal
'57 Chevy

For practical reasons, I have to go with the wounded eagle. It will be a simple matter to convert all the present paperweights, the lopped off material sent to recycling centers to add nicely to our gross national product. Changing to an entirely new idol would over-stimulate the economy, ballooning inflation and bringing on recession.

Although Superman is tempting.

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