Sunday, June 24, 2018

Americans Must Define 'Great' and Who it Applies to

Has the President of the United States lived up to his campaign promise to "make America great again?" The answer may depend upon whom you are asking. Looking at the advertisements for the midterm primary elections, it is glaringly obvious that the divisions we see in the electorate are largely manufactured by our two major parties, designed to pit us against one another such that the status quo of prosperity for the few is maintained. Citizens need to ignore political rhetoric and keep chugging along, as we have always done.

Let us start with immigration since that is the hot-button issue of the day in the wake of images of children sleeping under sheets of silver mylar inside fenced areas resembling cages. Children. Forget everything else. They are vulnerable human beings first, and every other label second, if applied at all. Speaking for myself, one of the facets of this nation that I believe makes it great is its desire to comfort the afflicted, as so perfectly worded on the plaque beneath the Statue of Liberty.

I did not know that our sentiments had an expiration date. When you are fleeing for your life and seeking safety, you do what you have to do, "legal" or not, to get yourself and your loved ones out of harm's way. This is not criminal behavior, it is a heroic example of one's obligation to oneself and their family. The United States can compound the problem, or it can do what it does best and create new and unique solutions that do not further traumatize people who are already victims.

One must also recognize that the U.S. does not exist in a vacuum, "America first!" chants to the contrary. Immigration is a global crisis. Withdrawing from United Nations Human Rights Council, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the Paris Agreement (on climate change mitigation), and other international bodies and treaties only exacerbates issues with immigration and other forces that impact U.S. citizens. One of the great historical aspects of the U.S. has been its willingness to cooperate in global peace endeavors. We are now abandoning our obligations and abdicating our world responsibilities.

Some will argue that previous presidential administrations have abandoned obligations to our domestic citizenry, especially in rural areas where fewer voters are dispersed over vast expanses of agricultural landscapes. The current Commander-in-Chief has managed to convince those folks that he can make them great again, when in reality it is business as usual, with more mom-and-pop farms, ranches, and businesses going belly-up or being gobbled up by multinational corporations. There may be an immediate infusion of cash into rural economies when a company purchases land, a business, or equipment, but it is a quick fix that will leave that community begging again in another few years, though hopefully not before the next election cycle.

Economic prosperity, this writer would argue, is not what makes America great. It should be a byproduct of greatness, if anything, something that comes as a tangible reward for selflessness, not greed. Aspiring to material excess is what empires do, and we know from history that such greedy pursuits end badly.

What is truly making America great right now is the stubborn determination of Americans to succeed in spite of government, regardless of what political party is in power. We come home after a long workday and rail at the television newscasters bringing us stories of want, war, and woe; but we go to bed, get up, and go to work again.

That work may be volunteering at the food pantry, for Planned Parenthood, the local chapter of the Audubon Society, or any number of other organizations doing what we believe the government ought to be doing. Bless each and every one of you. Whether your neighbor agrees with your "agenda" or not, you are making society great, and that transcends borders, politics, religion, race, economic status, and all the other things that supposedly divide us. It is that daily commitment to participating in things greater than yourself that makes you great, and by extension makes America great. Not "again," but still.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

I Once Had Good Hearing


My eyesight has long since deserted me, but I pride myself on having excellent hearing. Well, I once did, anyway. I desperately want to avoid the stereotype of the hard-of-hearing old fogey who is pitied, barely tolerated, and written off as irrelevant. It is a bit more complicated than what the aging process contributes, though. Up until now I have not admitted as much, not even to myself. Confession time.

Here is an honest-to-God example of one of my more recent telephone conversations. Mind you, I was on my cell phone, inside a storage locker, inside a building, and deaf in my left ear from a recent airline flight. That said, I had the phone to my good ear....

Woman: "Hi, I'm calling from Speed's Towing. We just picked up your deceased father's car which you kindly donated to Oregon Public Broadcasting? Well, turns out we do need that Power of Attorney before we can transfer it elsewhere."
Me: "Steve's Towing? I can do that, but it will have to wait until I get back to Colorado next Friday."
Woman: "That's fine, but it's Speed's Towing. You can just mail the POA when you get home."
Me: "Ok, good. So let me get the name again, and the address."
Woman: "Speed's Towing...."
Me: Ok, I got that, Steve's Towing...."
Woman: "No, Speed's Towing."
Me: "Alright, let me spell out what I'm hearing: S-t-e-v-e apostrophe 's'...."
Woman: No, two 'e's'...."
Me: "S-t-e-e-v-e 's?"
Woman: "It is S-p-e-e-d-s. There is no 'e' on the end."
Me: "Steed's Towing?" A horsepower-themed towing company did not seem like a stretch....
Woman: "No."
Me (sighing heavily and pausing): "Ok, can I get the address at least?"
We manage to agree on the street location, city, state, and zipcode.....
Me: "Ok, let me try spelling this out one more time: "S as in Sam, T as in Tom, e-e, d...."
Woman: "No, it is S, p as in Paul...."
Me: Oh, Speed's Towing, as in going fast!
Woman: "Yes!"

I cannot believe I did not remember the name from the logo on the side of the tow truck, but I was trying to keep all the paperwork organized, so I'll stick to that story of trying not to be distracted. Meanwhile, had the woman merely said something like "Speed's, like going fast, vroom-vroom!," we might have not exhausted all the minutes on my Tracfone.

I still pride myself on being able to track down katydids and crickets from their songs, but even a few years ago a fellow entomologist was pointing out the song of a certain katydid species....and I could hear nothing. The frequency of the song was too high. Last year I found another katydid with a flashlight, and observed his wings moving at high speed, but again I could barely make out a sound.

I have some tinnitus in my left ear in particular, and occasionally it loudly asserts itself, but overall I am more bothered by external noise than I am unable to perceive it. I am wishing right now I could tune out the noisy neighbor kids who insist on shouting and shrieking during their play right outside in our closely-arranged townhouse complex. Apparently the architecture amplifies sound. Lucky us.

Most of us men will not admit it, but more than half of our "hearing" problem, especially when it comes to our spouses, stems from the fact that we are not very good at listening. It is sad to realize that as I age I care less and less about what other people have to say, much of the time anyway. There really is a steady stream of dialogue that literally goes in one ear and out the other, or vanishes somewhere in a sea of neurons in the auditory lobe, never registering in our cerebral cortex. When we are halfway paying attention, then our translation of the sentence or monologue can get scrambled.

For example, on one occasion my wife was reciting to me the hour that our upcoming airline flight would be leaving. She said something to the effect of "Our departure time is eight-thirty AM...." My appropriate and respectful response? "What about The Partridge Family?" I now have a ringing sensation in the other ear, and I may need to see the dentist, too. Honey, I'm only kidding. Honey?