Thursday, July 10, 2008

Going to hell in a handbasket

Dear Friends --
I remember when I was younger, much younger, I used to listen to my parents and their friends talk about how the world was “going to hell in handbasket!” I never understood what that meant. I mean, what is a handbasket, and how do you go to hell in one? On top of that, I didn’t think things were so bad when I was growing up.

Well, I still don’t know what that particular phrase means, but I tend to agree with the sentiment now. Maybe people my age just get cranky -- feel as though nothing’s as good as it used to be. But maybe not. Maybe there’s something to that observation. I’ll tell you something for sure – fishing’s not as good as it used to be. Here in my home state of Washington native salmon are on the brink of extinction. So that’s not a cranky old feeling. That’s a fact.

I’ll tell you something else. When I grew up in Los Angeles back in the middle of the Twentieth Century, you could smell the orange blossoms in the spring, and you could look up in the night sky and see the millions of stars, then wake up in the morning and see the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains off to the East. Unless you think smelling exhaust fumes and squinting out with burning, red eyes at an orange-brown sky is a good thing, then I expect you’d agree things were better in LA then.

But these are just my personal recollections. And they probably color my thinking about a lot of other things – like the way we live, the way we bring up our children, the way we run our country. Things like that.

It never would’ve occurred to me when I was graduating from college in 1961 that kids going to school today, Elementary School at that, would be searched for weapons because 12-year olds and younger are shooting each other to death. I used to worry about my kids when they were growing up in the Seventies and Eighties, but I will tell you, I never worried that they’d go to school one day and get gunned down.
There’s been a lot of press over the years about efforts to get the entertainment industry to tone down the violence in films, television, and video games. I agree with that, and I’d add the Internet to the list. But the industry argues that there’s “no evidence” that the subject matter in these media influences people’s behavior. In fact, they argue that the films and television that they produce simply reflect society itself. You know, I don’t buy it. The biggest “e business” on the Internet is pornography and it isn’t there because it’s producers are simply “reflecting society.” It’s there because the scumbags of the world are out to make a buck any way they can. Pornography debases society and no one needs a statistical study to know that.

I’ve never watched a whole lot of television, but I’ve watched it for some fifty years and I’ll tell you what – in today’s television, from comedy to drama, almost nothing seems to be out of bounds. In the past, sponsors seemed to take some responsibility for the content of shows on which their name and product were advertised. Now, their primary concern is ratings. In other words, they’re interested in what percentage of their target audience is watching, not what they’re watching.

Corporate “social responsibility” seems to be on the decline generally. Senator John McCain once tried to get a bill passed that would’ve held executives personally responsible if their companies withheld evidence of product defects that resulted in injury or death. Members of the Senate beholding to industry special interests killed the bill. What’s worse, they were able to do this anonymously. Frankly, I feel strongly that one of the greatest threats we face as a democratic society is the unchecked influence of corporate and other special interests on our government. When George W. Bush, in his preliminary debate with John McCain before the 2000 Presidential Election, said that he wouldn’t support Campaign Finance Reform, I decided right then and there that I wouldn’t vote for him – ever –and I didn’t. I’m sorry that he was ever elected president, but I least I didn’t vote for him. Little did I know that not supporting Campaign Finance Reform would be the least of his mistakes.

Of course, I’ve got a lot of reasons for not voting Republican: I am in favor of paying down the debt, and saving Social Security, rather than making big tax cuts – who ever heard of cutting taxes during a war? I think we need to spend more money on education, not on the military (despite my 20 years in the Air Force). And I favor teaching science in our public schools, not hocus-pocus. George W. Bush wants creationism on the curriculum along side evolution. I say, “Nuts!”

Well, I’m rambling, but I’m old and that’s what old folks do sometimes. Now let me tell you what I’m reading. I’m reading an article in my automobile dealer’s magazine, of all things, “Drive,” from Subaru. It’s telling me that today 116 square miles of rain forest will be destroyed; 250,000 newborns will join the World’s exploding population; “at least” 1.5 million tons of hazardous waste will be released into our air, water, and land; Americans alone will throw away enough garbage today to fill the Superdome in New Orleans twice; some 40 to 100 species will become extinct. I’m a cranky old guy that, like my parents before me, thinks things are getting worse rather than better, and this article is telling me that at the end of today, “the Earth will be a little hotter, the rain a little more acidic and the water a little more polluted…crowded cities will be more crowded and the air…will be a bit dirtier…the web of life will be a bit more threadbare. Tomorrow it starts all over again” Hey, this is my automobile dealer talking to me! Guess what I’m reading in Audubon magazine, for crying out loud!

And speaking of “drive,” I don’t like paying more than four bucks for a gallon of gas any more than the next guy, but drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge isn’t an option for me. It won’t have any impact probably in my lifetime, and haven’t we done enough harm to the environment? By the way, my son and his family live in Europe. They pay well over $8/gal for gas. They get along.

So here’s what I’m doing:
1. Vote the Republicans out of office – they had their chance and screwed things up royally. Let the Democrats screw things up for a change.
2. Turn the water off while I’m brushing my teeth -- turn it back on when I need to rinse.
3. Write this essay (don’t you find it helps to get things off your chest?)

I’m also thinking about meditation. If I understand it, you sit there and try not to think about anything. Hey, that could help. When I told my wife, she said, ”Meditation, hell. You need medication!” She could be right.

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