Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mood for the day

It's been a bleak day for me for a variety of personal reasons. And rather than seek out some sunshine to remind myself that life goes on, I've retreated to the comfort of food... my original comfort food, actually: macaroni & cheese, the first food I ever learned to cook.

And I read two columns today that gave me reason to frown for the country as a whole. David Brooks wrote yesterday about the risks we face because of the profligate path we've taken:

Our current cultural politics are organized by the obsolete culture war, which has put secular liberals on one side and religious conservatives on the other. But the slide in economic morality afflicted Red and Blue America equally.

If there is to be a movement to restore economic values, it will have to cut across the current taxonomies. Its goal will be to make the U.S. again a producer economy, not a consumer economy. It will champion a return to financial self-restraint, large and small.

It will have to take on what you might call the lobbyist ethos — the righteous conviction held by everybody from AARP to the agribusinesses that their groups are entitled to every possible appropriation, regardless of the larger public cost. It will have to take on the self-indulgent popular demand for low taxes and high spending.

And Thomas Friedman cites the dangerous parallels between the atmosphere in Israel that led to Yitzhak Rabin's assassination and the current mood in America:

I remember the ugly mood in Israel then — a mood in which extreme right-wing settlers and politicians were doing all they could to delegitimize Rabin, who was committed to trading land for peace as part of the Oslo accords. They questioned his authority. They accused him of treason. They created pictures depicting him as a Nazi SS officer, and they shouted death threats at rallies. His political opponents winked at it all.

And in so doing they created a poisonous political environment that was interpreted by one right-wing Jewish settler as a license to kill Rabin — he must have heard, “God will be on your side” — and so he did....

The American political system was, as the saying goes, “designed by geniuses so it could be run by idiots.” But a cocktail of political and technological trends have converged in the last decade that are making it possible for the idiots of all political stripes to overwhelm and paralyze the genius of our system.

Those factors are: the wild excess of money in politics; the gerrymandering of political districts, making them permanently Republican or Democratic and erasing the political middle; a 24/7 cable news cycle that makes all politics a daily battle of tactics that overwhelm strategic thinking; and a blogosphere that at its best enriches our debates, adding new checks on the establishment, and at its worst coarsens our debates to a whole new level, giving a new power to anonymous slanderers to send lies around the world. Finally, on top of it all, we now have a permanent presidential campaign that encourages all partisanship, all the time among our leading politicians.

I would argue that together these changes add up to a difference of degree that is a difference in kind — a different kind of American political scene that makes me wonder whether we can seriously discuss serious issues any longer and make decisions on the basis of the national interest.

I also read a new article in Nature that examines the key parameters that have made Earth so conducive to our species' expansion over the last 10,000 years. It warns that for three of those parameters--climate change, the nitrogen cycle, and species loss--we've already passed thresholds which endanger the balance that has allowed us to thrive.

BUT TO LEAVEN IT ALL, my cousin Kim reminded me of a quote from a woman that we both adored as children, Gilda Radner:
I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.
There is no perfect ending. There's just tomorrow. And there's no way it's supposed to turn out. It's up to us to figure out if we can overcome the challenges we face. And if we fail that test, life will go on... somehow.

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Blogger TomS said...

Michael, you intrigue with your enigmatic personal references to your bleak day. May things become less bleak for you, whatever your circumstances.....feel free to reveal more....
Maybe there is something in the air today... I found an article on Newsweek on-line titled "Positively Downbeat", by Julia Baird, which argued that happiness is overrated. Basically,the article is a promotion for Barbara Ehrenrieich's new book, "Bright-Sided: How Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America".
Macaroni and cheese: Elbow macaroni, or Tube macaroni?

7:52 PM  

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