Monday, January 31, 2011

ONCE, THE QUIET MORNING


     We all have our time and mood anchors, those moments of memory that moor us in ordinariness as well as the storms which hit our lives. Stress of any sort -- financial, emotional, health -- drive us to port, and we are grateful for the safe harbor.
When I was a youngster, one of my safer slips was early morning in winter, about 6:30, when the house heat had started to come up and I was rousing to get ready for elementary school. My working mother was already off to work, and my father, on the night shift, would be getting breakfast for my brother and me, a simple affair of Rice Krispies, as well as making our lunches.
In those years, when there might be a new school to attend (we moved around a bit), friends to make, classes to get used to, different woods to explore in the semi-rural areas in which we lived, having the routine of a small breakfast prepared by a busy dad, in a house just getting nice and warm, with the dark of winter yet to raise its nightshade on dawn, with the wonderful smell of my father’s fresh-brewed coffee and the sound of radio’s Martin Block on 1130 AM, there was reassurance that the day would proceed in good-enough fashion. 
The scene was the same, you see, no matter where we lived, so it was one of those safe harbors. The available anchorage continued through high school, and the memory of it still comforts today.
When I was older but not far beyond my teen years, yet some seasons removed from my father’s breakfast morning routine,  another early-day moment came my way and also reassured.
In that time, I drove a friend daily to a New York City college, and since one of my many faults happily did not include honking the horn for someone to come out, I was invited in to wait a short while. In the winter, the same sort as my youth, in the dark, I again felt the rising heat of a household and the strong whiff of coffee brewing as my friend’s mother prepared breakfast for her daughter.
Not much conversation passed between me, shy enough, and the mother, though it was more than what was said between father and son just 10 years or so before. Yet nothing had to be spoken. It was the reassurance of the moment, and even if we were all deaf and mute, we could feel that, appreciate it. The memory of this woman’s welcome, as with my dad’s morning routine, was one of those small treasures available in the box that you open to begin your day today.
A polished jewel, really.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

'I'M MY OWN GRANDPA'


     An old song, “I’m My Own Grandpa,” made youngsters like me laugh back in the early 1950s when grandpa seemed ancient though mine was just about 52, 16 years younger than I am now. Listening to that ditty, I never thought about getting older. Or, for that matter, talking and acting like my grandfather.
Or grandmother. Or teachers. Or early bosses who seemed long on the horse. Being young means that you never get old, or at least it’s not what you think about, thank goodness. Youth may indeed be wasted on the young since when we are older, we wish we could go back and better live that time, make wiser choices, tell our family, friends and other loved ones how we really felt about them. Regret is a heavy blanket to carry.
In the metamorphosis that generations make as time passes, grandpa and the other oldies come with you. For example, I have long found myself saying things my gramps uttered, or thinking like a long-gone teacher who I might have characterized as an old fogey back in the day. If there is a heaven, these folks surely must have smiles on their faces, shaking their heads as they utter, “We told you so.” Of course, standing right behind them are their own elders, adding “What goes around comes around.”
I guess this natural progression of thought explains why once-liberal youth, so rebellious, become a tad conservative, or at least less laid-back. The responsibilities of life surely weigh more as you age, and the looking back that you do can sober your views.
It’s a good and fine thing, though, that other youth, liberal and rebellious, take your place, because it is a certainty that we adults don’t have all the answers, and, in fact, what we offer is sometimes dead wrong. Wars, greed, inequality, pestilence are not caused by the young.
If the human race is said to mature, if we are on the whole less barbarian, if material goods mean less drudgery, if humanity has become more humane in 2011, then we are different versions, improved models, than some of our old grandpas.Yet, on balance, many things my grandfather said and did were of better example than I have offered, so there is learning in both directions as I become even more “my own grandpa.”

Monday, January 17, 2011

'SECRETARY OF THE PEOPLE'


By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

     More than ever, special interests can buy an election, influence sitting officeholders and deeply direct U.S. domestic and foreign policy.

Investigative media that once would have looked at such a growing web of influence has shrunk in corporate downsizing. Attempts to bring light to deeply rooted, hydra-like interests, including the military/industrial complex, Wall Street-managed health care and lobbies of varied sorts, are met with planted news pieces, talking heads and blitzkrieg – misleading  advertising and loud din that seeks to give lie to truth. Mr./Mrs. Smith are simply shouted down.


Yet this nation has not arrived in the 21st century – after war, division and economic and social calamity – without a moderating factor, an accurate description since it has been the moderates in both major parties who have always represented basic common sense in America, the dream that is this nation, the ordinary person. They have kept the extremes, and they are more so today, from getting us into too much trouble, and they have provided much-needed course correction in various elections. They have done this, this middle-way steering of the American experience, by being so vast in number.

But in 2011 moderates are in danger of extinction. The power of special interests to wither away moderation is frightening as they seek high, sustaining corporate profit that offers downsizing, not new jobs; lobby for a banking and financial industry which grows profit but not re-investment in Main Street; boosts a health care industry in which Hippocrates’ model of serving the ill is shamelessly missing; and supports a military/industrial complex where expensive, long-term wars are the only way to maintain its profits.

The complexity is so great that the simple voice of Mr./Mrs. Smith, or a clergyman’s call to help your neighbor or a fledgling candidate’s eloquence in defining how civility and the other tenets of humanity require a boost in our nation are all increasingly drowned out by the orchestration of power and money.

It is time, then, for the country to have a spokesperson for the populace, a “Secretary of the People,” a Cabinet-level post as powerful as the Secretary of State. It would be filled by someone who advises the president, who can bring to that person’s ears the drowned-out voice of all the citizenry, surely, but especially those from the moderates, who speak the words of common sense, of everyday concerns.

If there were such a secretary sitting with other counselors of government, perhaps the White House cocoon that is inaccessible these days to ordinary people would at long last have an inside man to get to the man.

To prevent special-interest wooing of the Secretary of the People, the post would be held for just one year at a time, with the president choosing each successor from somewhere in ordinary America. The chief executive would not select the individual himself, but rather an independent, volunteer group would search the nation far and wide and make a recommendation. Senate ratification would be almost a given, in the spirit of cooperation and to avoid lobbying by groups sure to be hurt by “common sense.”

Special interests already have their counselors, appointed and otherwise. Why not the people?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

90 MILES TO GO


     It seems impossible that one decade has already passed in the 21st century. Though it was marked with the horror of Sept. 11 and awful war and terrible economics, these past 10 years ran faster than a super track star in the 100-meter dash. Perhaps our ever-more technological times, with rapid communication and the concentration of anything held to a few seconds make the clock spin so rapidly. Sitting by candle and anticipating the early milking of the cow gave more time to reflect. 

But progress is supposed to be good for us – it is light against the darkness, a chance to better lives, to bring ease. Progress has accomplished all that, our history shows, but in its name some have profited more than others. In this new century, special interests that seek money without giveback responsibility and political influence without an adjustment for all the people's needs largely steer growth. While most of us take the train ride – for it is the history of our nation that we chase a new frontier – we’re seated more toward the caboose than the locomotive. We can’t see the tracks ahead.

There are more people – rich ones – in first class these days, and they can see just fine. There are more of the good folk back at the end of the train, too, grateful for a ride though the engine’s cinders may fly through their windows. There is the hope, still, that on the next run, they may move closer to the locomotive. The passengers in the middle, those in second class, are no longer numerous, and it’s more than a pity, for it was their ever-growing ranks and the  appetite for middle-class living which built the railroads. And the output of the factories. And the need for housing, the roads, etc. - all progress, surely.

The speed of the 21st century is so rapid that we can’t see who is on the train, nor have we bothered to care. Americans have taken progress for granted for decades now, in a steady drive since 1945. If we can obtain cell phones and flat-screen TVs and an equity loan or a tax rebate or two to buy them, and if our days pass comfortably enough, we won’t look at the clock and notice it is close to midnight. That’s for another day, yet that dawn may not come. We don’t see horrible war, for it is not in our yards. We don’t hear the gold leaving Fort Knox to pay for a bigger and bigger national debt. We don’t fathom that more and more of us are not on the train to progress any more.

What was the wind that just passed through the station? Was it just a decade in modern speed?
Maybe we’ll get to reflect on it all, even by candle.