I have been adopted by the mother of exiles and am now the peer of kings – a citizen of the United States of America having passed my US Immigration test. Today on July 16th 2013, not only do I pay taxes but I get to vote. After a drawn out affair at the LBJ auditorium which included a video from the President and a court proceeding of 370 applicants from 68 countries, I got my certificate that says I’m a ‘Merikan.
Having grown up with a father who was a child of World War Two, and wasn’t particularly fond of America, I am still somewhat surprised that I’m American. I guess that’s what happens when you meet the woman you’re destined to spend your life with on a joy ride through personal freedom and reinvention in a foreign land. Or maybe it was the playing of the Star Spangled Banner while video games from the popular game distributor US Gold were loading on my Commodore 64 in the 1980s that set the scene.
Along the path to citizenship I’ve learned all sorts of things about the US system of government and history. I even built a site which shows my cramming notes for the test. In the end, the immigration officer asked me questions like “what ocean is to the West of the US?”, and “What is the national anthem known as?”. So all of that hard won knowledge has no current use and has been metabolized from my brain. Still, the site remains, so hopefully google adwords will deliver me some advertising revenue in the land of the free.
During the oath ceremony, there were numerous reminders that citizenship gives all sorts of opportunity, and also comes with great responsibility. Voting seems particularly important in addition to participation in other civic duties. During the two hours of mandatory seated presence before the standing and swearing started, I had ample time to read the book about Constitutions and bone up on my patriotic poems. In truth, I forgot to join in with the first half of the pledge of allegiance, despite having stayed up until 3am researching the Supreme Court’s rulings about applying the Lemon test to the phrase “under god”, and learning all about ceremonial deism – the idea that the overuse and of the word god in so many ceremonies takes away any special meaning from the term.
That said we were invited to pray twice during the oath ceremony.
There seem to be a few inconsistencies along the way, even in the condensed and concentrated “America-with-a-capital-MERIKA” message we were given. I am somewhat at peace with the idea that America’s constitution doesn’t actually say anything about separating church and state, but more refers to the idea of a Supreme Being giving men inalienable rights, and that the men in the US shouldn’t particularly favor one religion over another, or over a lack of religion.
The definition of men has been updated over the centuries to include black women for example, yet the definition of a Supreme Being hasn’t really been updated to include multiple or zero gods as far as I can tell.
So now that I’m a citizen, it seems fitting that I want to do something, rather than just be something. I’m sort of wired to do rather than be, and although I have taken on a responsibility to be informed and to vote, that doesn’t seem to ignite my inner drive. I came up with a few alternative ways in which I can mark my passage to becoming the peer of kings as Coolidge described my ascendancy to the throne in a prophetic speech he gave at Arlington National Cemetery in 1924
1. Buy a Camaro.
I found myself saying to my wife, “Now I’m a US Citizen, I feel like doing something stupid.” I didn’t mean to imply that Americans are stupid, I just meant that I wanted to mark the occasion. However, I suggested buying a Camaro, which can only be described as stupid. I went to test drive one, and got some insight.
The base level V6 really doesn’t seem that peppy, and gets a claimed 30 mpg highway from the 323 HP motor. So I’d need to go to the V8 SS1 or SS2, bringing me to the 426HP range with a claimed sub 5 second 0-60mph time. Chevy make a Hot Wheels edition of the car for over $45,000 which really would make my 3 year old son happy. I saw one of them at the dealership.
Getting to the 580HP supercharged Camaro ZL1 costs over $55,000, for which you might as well get a proper car. I asked the car salesman if the Camaro had a live axle or a differential, and he replied that he thought only trucks had differentials. But he successfully tapped into the 3 year old boy within me as he showcased the car’s incredibly simple value proposition.
2. Start a Religion
It seems that there are many reasons why one wouldn’t have to stand and place your hand on your heart while staring at the flag or engage in callings for national duty. I’m not against national service – but I realize that some people can claim exemptions from responding to the call by saying that they answer to a higher power. And they don’t have to take their head gear off while others do. In the interests of granting freedom to people to honor and respect their own beliefs about removing headgear, I did think of starting a religion.
One of my duties as a citizen is to pay my taxes on time. If I had my own church, then I’m guessing my property tax bill would be lower amongst other things and I could elect to task the saved tax obligation to generate more of the things that I think are good in the world. Like setting up a Flying Spaghetti Monster Flying Spaghetti kitchen for the needy.
3. Build an Orphanage
I have been incredibly fortunate thus far to have parents and to be around to help parent my own family. After looking at the cost of a Camaro and imagining my own ennui within 6 months of ownership of anything less than the ZL1, I wondered what kind of lasting difference an orphanage might make to a few other lives outside my own. I do what I can for the Austin Children’s Shelter when I can, but I haven’t ever built an orphanage. It strikes me that labor costs and materials might be better value in, say, the Democratic Republic of Congo than in Texas, but on reflection it still seems to cost over $2m, which I don’t really have.
Given this is ‘Merika though, we have payment plans! The International Humanity Foundation estimates it costs just $37 a month to bring someone into their orphanages.
So the choice is simple – drive a depreciating vehicle that would please my inner 3 year old, sponsor 26 children in an orphanage (rates based on currently offered UFCU auto loans on a 2013 Camaro SS2), or start a religion. Or all three.