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The lead article in my morning newspaper was about how gas prices are causing riders to use mass transit. That’s not much of a surprise; neither was the comment by one rider that he was willing “give up his independence” in order to save money. We sure do love our cars out here in the wilds of the U.S. of A.

I think a lot about independence; I’ve got long-term care insurance, pretty decent health insurance (comparatively speaking) and a stake in keeping myself as healthy as possible so as to ward off whatever infirmities might assail me in my so-called golden years. My mom was a big believer in mind over body; she espoused a positive attitude. In truth she hated to exercise, like so many women in her generation. Exercise would have helped her keep moving despite arthritis just as physical therapy would have helped her after her first stroke. Instead, she became more and more sedentary until at last she became completely immobile, which no doubt contributed to her second stroke. She was a stubborn woman who ended up losing the very independence she craved.

Americans are also stubborn about their independence but selectively so. For example, no one among the general populace seems inclined to question whether we have sacrificed some of our independence for good when it comes to government involvement in our lives. Take our domestic surveillance programs. Sure, we’re being X-rayed to within an inch of our lives at airports; okay, someone wants to know what library books we’re reading; yes, that may be a camera trained on me at Grand Central Station and possibly someone we know has experienced being profiled but liberty requires the abrogation of certain freedoms, right?

In the meantime, our idea of freedom is all about driving – solo, if possible. It gives us a sense of power that is likely missing from other parts of our lives. Never mind that we’re mostly stuck in traffic and wholly dependent on fuel imported from countries that have us (pardon the pun) over a barrel. Years of successful marketing have convinced us that we’re in control behind the wheel of a car that really zooms. By we I mean guys and gals. I confess to being drawn at times to the charms of a fast car. Just look at Kate Walsh in the sexy new Cadillac ad; she pulls up next to a car at a stoplight with two admiring men, then peels out just as the light changes. Who wouldn’t want to be her? I mean, who cares how much fuel it wastes to accelerate like that if we can leave the guys in the dust, right?

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