Saturday, October 28, 2006

Don't Fence Me In

I want to ride to the ridge
where the west commences,

And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses,

And I can't look at hovels and I can't stand fences,
Don't fence me in.

--Don't Fence Me In, Bing Crosby


Now Saudi Arabia's on the fence-building bandwagon, planning to build one along it's border with Iraq. It's aim: to keep terrorists from infiltrating its territory. A double fence, topped with razor wire and sensors. It's not clear whether the fence will extend the entire 560 mile border, which includes large swaths of barren desert.

It got me thinking about the Israeli's fence, and our proposed fence on the Mexican border ("Mr Bush, build this wall now!" as Don Goldwater urged), and those superannuated fences--Hadrian's Wall, and the Great Wall of China, and the Berlin Wall. Another Republican 20 years ago petitioned for fence-toppling: "Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

The wall came tumbling down on cue, and of course, like good Americans, we disppeared when the rubber hit the road. Our moment to step in a big way and help the Russians on the path to democracy crashed with a great thud, and the gangters obliged by filling in the vacuum.

And more fence phrases and images came to mind. In
Mending Wall, Robert Frost said, "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know/What I was walling or walling out,/ And to whom I was likely to give offense." Of course, for everything you fence out, you are also fencing something in. Fences imply the Captain's statement in Cool Hand Luke--"What we got here is...failure to communicate.

The 1981 movie Escape From New York might prove to be morbidly prophetic. It envisions a Manhattan of 1998 which has been walled off to contain a prison population (rogue Enron-type traders?) Not the sort of place you want to drop by, but unfortunately, a hijacked airliner drops the president in the heart of it. A criminal is enlisted to rescue him, and thereby, gain his own release. A tough order by any accounting, for how do you tell the president from the indig? A lot of wish-fulfillment going on in that one.

It seems we're all a bunch of tribes, tribesman with fence-building or fence-rending tools. The wealthy among us live in gated communities; the rest, behind chain link. NIMBY is their motto.

We're naught but a bunch of hamsters, some in older wire cages, some in nicer plastic Habitrails. But we're all running the same path. To continue from Frost, "Oh, just another kind of outdoor game/One on a side. It comes to little more." I'm getting a little antsy myself...where's my wheel.




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