Got caught in cold drizzle for two hours while hiking around the Etruscan Necropolis in Cerveteri a couple of days ago. Since I don't have the sense to come in out of the rain, I'm now laid up in my hotel in Naples with an awful cold. Fortunately, I brought along some audiobooks, so I'm not entirely at the mercy of Italian television (which, to the very limited extent I'm able to judge, is, per impossibile, even worse than the American variety).
Gibbon's Decline and Fall seemed a bit heavy duty for my present fuzzyish state of mind, so I started with Mark Steyn's latest venture in cheerful declinist fear-mongering, After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. Great fun, and frequently insightful - though there's no denying that he's a bit given to exaggeration; I can personally testify that, as of last Friday night, there were hardly any traces of graffiti at the Trevi Fountain. (His larger point, about the ubiquity of graffiti in Europe and its dispiriting effect, is right on target, though.)
My very favorite bit came in the Epilogue, where Steyn tackles the mawkish letter written by a certain Ty'Sheoma Bethea of Dillon, South Carolina, which Obama invoked in his first State of the Union speech, to general, teary-eyed, applause:
"I think about Ty'Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina - a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom.* She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people setting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, 'We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world...'"
Steyn's riposte, in a nutshell: this kid's idea of the way to bring change to the peeling paint and leaking pipes in her school is to write to Washington, begging for a handout? And we're supposed to be deeply moved and inspired by her aspiration to bring change "to the world?"
And what sort of "change" do you suppose that might be?
Well, let me take a wild stab in the dark: I think it might just possibly involve an even greater diminution of individual responsibility, and an even greater aggrandizement of The State than what we're already stuck with.
*A total lie, it seems - the train runs about 300 yards away from the school.