Budget Chicken

We are a few hours away from the point at which the federal government will run out of money and have to shut down — at least in certain respects.  President Obama, House Republicans, and Senate Democrats are trying to hammer out a deal as the witching hour draws ever closer.  It is like a huge game of chicken, where each side hopes the other will blink.

In the meantime, the competing factions posture in an effort to assign the blame for any shutdown on the other party.  Today House Republicans passed yet another stopgap bill that would fund the Defense Department for the rest of the year and give negotiators another week to try to work out a deal.  Even though the President has signed other continuing resolutions to provide interim funding, he says this one is a mere distraction and, if it is presented to him, he will veto it.  Senate Democrats say House Republicans are in thrall to “extreme” elements, like the “tea party” movement, that makes reaching an agreement impossible.  Finger-pointing rules the day.

How fractured and ridiculous our governmental processes have become!  Our politics are so polarized that we can’t do anything without having our backs to the wall and disaster looming just ahead.  Consider that the budget being discussed now is the current budget, and is an issue only because last year Congress and the President didn’t enact a budget when they were supposed to — and that was when the process was totally controlled by one political party, with a Democrat in the White House and huge Democratic majorities in each House of Congress.  If agreement wasn’t possible then, what chance do we have now, where Democrats control the Senate, Republicans control the House, and President Obama has already announced that he is running for reelection?

Regardless of their political beliefs, every American should be disgusted and concerned about what is happening right now.  This is not “good government.” Small groups of legislators, aides, and administration officials are engaging in closed-door negotiations, cutting the kinds of back room deals and unholy bargains that inevitably make us cringe.  Crucial decisions are being made under enormous time pressures, without the kind of careful consideration and public scrutiny that help politicians make sound judgments.  In this kind of super-heated atmosphere, can anyone have confidence that the strutting negotiators will reach reasonable and rational decisions?  And if agreement is not reached, and a shutdown occurs, we can be sure of one thing:  the bickering and bitterness that will occur in the wake of that failure will make the current hyper-partisanship look like the group hug in the last episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

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Mona Ghoulish

Obviously, some people wonder about who Mona Lisa really was — but is it really worth digging up the remains of some woman who has been buried for centuries in the potentially forlorn hope that you can figure it out?

Italian authorities apparently have answered that question in the affirmative.  An art historian named Silvano Vinceti thinks that the model for Mona Lisa was a woman named Lisa Gherardini who died in 1542 and is buried in a convent in Florence.  He is going to start excavating at the convent Saint Orsola, searching for Ms. Gherardini’s bones.  When he finds her skull, he hopes to extract DNA that will allow him to “rebuild her face” using “scientific techniques.”  There is some skepticism that the results of the effort will be conclusive.  (No kidding!)

I’m all for science, but doesn’t anybody else think this effort is disturbing and ghoulish?  Ms. Gherardini was laid to rest more than 550 years ago.  Why should her bones be disturbed and used in some dubious science experiment in an effort to satisfy the idle curiosity of the art historians who want to know the subject of the world’s most famous painting?  Have we lost all notions of respect for the dignity of the dead?  And isn’t part of the allure of the Mona Lisa its enigmatic quality, anyway?