Embracing imperfection

BY BEAU ELLIOT | JUNE 09, 2009 7:26 AM

The first week or so of June is full of anniversaries, it seems.

What? You haven’t noticed? You really need to stop Twittering so much. Or Tweeting. Whatever.

Baseball is a much safer addiction. For one thing, you can follow baseball and still pay attention to the so-called real world.

And then you would know the first week or so of June is full of anniversaries.

Not that that is earth-shattering knowledge or anything.

But, for instance, last week saw the 41st anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.

(There was an American in Berlin when I lived there some years ago who told me that it was good that Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, because he would have been too charismatic a president.

(No, really. He told me that. I’m still amazed I refrained from immediately breaking his nose. He was no right-wing rube, either ? he was a liberal, of sorts. He had been a professor in the States.)

It’s interesting to wonder what sort of America we would have become had he not been killed, had he become president. No Watergate scandal, for one thing. (Would anybody know the names Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein?) The U.S. would have gotten out of the Vietnam War much earlier, saving thousands of lives and ending up with much the same result we did end up with. Would we have had better health-care policy? Possibly. At the very least, we wouldn’t need to fix it 40 years down the pike.

Well, maybe not. Human beings being, well, human, it’s quite possible we’d have to fix it today. I’m reminded ? well, only vaguely, I admit ? of a Stanislaw Lem story I read several years ago in which a scientist invents a time machine. And he and his research team travel back to the Big Bang to tweak it a bit in order to make a more perfect universe and better Earth. Their work goes quite well, as I recall, and they decide to take an afternoon off at the beach. (Yeah, I know ? beaches at the Big Bang? Suspend your disbelief for a moment. It’s a story.)

Unfortunately, one of the grad students (it’s always a grad student, isn’t it?) doesn’t take the afternoon off, does a bit more tweaking ? and everything turns out just as it is.

Last week also marked the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, which was noted pretty much everywhere in the world but China (except for Hong Kong, which was the site of a huge demonstration). Tiananmen changed my personal life tremendously, and the life of a girl I knew back then (it’s always a girl, isn’t it?), and every June 4 I wonder about those days and how different things might have been.

Well, I’d probably still be a musician living in cheap motel rooms and wondering why I was always on the road. Hmm. Tweaking the Big Bang can be dangerous.

An odd note: Many of the economic reforms the Tiananmen demonstrators wanted have now taken place in China.

June 4 was also the 20th anniversary of elections in Poland that the pro-democracy movement Solidarity won, the first step in a series of events that resulted in the dissolution of the Soviet Union. June 4, 1989, was some day.

And speaking of dictatorships, Monday was the 60th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell’s 1984, certainly one of the most important books of the 20th century. (And, most likely, next to the Titanic, one of the most overly used metaphors.)

I am not ? never was ? one of those lefties who saw 1984 lurking nearly everywhere ? say, in Ronald Reagan’s policies. But Orwell’s tale is a cautionary one, as is Lem’s.

Striving for perfection might be one of our biggest imperfections.

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