Published Date Written by Curtis RobinsonBeyond a certain age, faux cynics pretend to wonder if birthdays are really worth "celebrating." They argue that a quiet dinner and maybe some reflection during the Daily Show commercials feels about right, or maybe just this once some carbs with lunch — par-dee down!
But they are wrong. The fact is that marking another year of existence is a huge deal, if only because it so closely resembles American presidential elections: The primary joy (and motivation) comes from avoiding the alternative.
So when we celebrate the birthday of America this week, let us embrace the fact that Mainers will once again be reflecting on the wonders of our democracy, and once again we can frame that discussion with current events.
And by that I mean Thursday's Supreme Court decision on our health care act and Maine's new law allowing fireworks to be sold legally for the first time in decades.
Could anything be more illustrative than figuring out how we take care of one another and changing the rules on where, and what, we can blow up?
The first topic is naturally a bit controversial, if only because the details are still murky. It turns out that when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi famously said that the Act should be passed "so you can find out what's in it," she was wildly optimistic.
It has been the most important law in the land for two years and only one person has actually read the entire text with add-ons from the Reconciliation Committee and referenced data — and nobody has even counted the pages, with the New York Times being reduced to describing it as "thousands" of pages long.
And even the One Reader, as he's known, doesn't know what's happening now because the document has begun to spontaneously reproduce.
"We think it started with a simple computer virus," said James Harding, the Dallas-area speed reader who read the document as it existed in October, 2011. He told a Smoking Gun website freelancer that MIT technicians reported that the Act was adding so many pages it was virtually impossible to print with conventional devices.
"It just pulls gibberish from Wiki and re-purposes through an Apple language app that includes CongressSpeak," explained Harding, adding that Senate interns eventually printed two hard copies of the thing by first downloading it to the Bureau of Engraving, where high-speed presses usually used for printing currency were converted for the job.
"Those presses are very fast and have been going full-tilt, 24/7 for years," Harding said.
Sitting in his study tucked into a corner of the safehouse where he's kept, Harding seems comfortable and even casual about his unique knowledge.
Any surprises lurking in all those pages?
"Well, the Alien Care Omnibus section was startling," Harding said. "At first, I thought they meant, you know, immigration-type aliens then I noted the reports all came from Roswell. It turns out suspended animation ain't cheap."
Another surprise was the discovery, deep in a sub-table on or about page 1,666, of the Higgs Boson, the so-called "god particle." Proof of the particle's existence has eluded scientists for years and huge super-colliders have been developed to aid the search.
"They're keeping it secret until America's birthday," said Harding. "They're going to let some Europeans make the announcement on the Fourth of July, kind of like that Independence Day movie a few years back but without the spaceships."
Harding said some officials have speculated that the Higgs Boson is so important that the Future has chosen to communicate its existence via the Health Care Act mutations. That could not be confirmed at presstime.
As for the second great Indy Day issue, local police are gearing up for our first legal fireworks Fourth, and some area towns are stressing that they are not among the legal zones, so we can expect that at least some of us are going to become well-versed in the confluence of law, health care and explosives.
And if all the rancor over health care and politics and fireworks seems messy, just remember that democracy is seldom defended as a perfect system. Like elections and birthdays, it's just better than the alternative.
(Curtis Robinson is the founding editor of The Portland Daily Sun.)