Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union: Not so good

The president's SOTU address last night left me underwhelmed. When I woke up this morning and parsed what I'd heard, I went from underwhelmed to full-on depressed.

Let's see: we've given $700 billion to bail out banks, and a mere $30 billion will go to help small businesses hire people for jobs that don't exist because nobody is buying anything? People still losing their homes and jobs while Wall Street execs are buying Bentleys instead of Rolls Royces with their bonuses so they don't appear too flashy. Pandering to obstructionist Republicans who sit on their hands when he talked about tax cuts for the middle class.

The situation our country is in is arguably worse than the 1930s. I worked hard over the last couple of years to get Obama elected because I believed him when he spoke about lifting up the middle class. I was full of hope when he won. Now that it's clear he's just another puppet of the bankers, my disappointment is so bitter that I am turning away from electoral politics.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Says it all

“The GOP is out shopping for a new dining set, a new couch, a flat-screen--anything to make the crib look a little more inviting. Meanwhile the water bill is two months past due. The lights are off. And the eviction notice is in the mail.”

This from Atlantic Magazine.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Working with wood


Well, I see February was a blog post-free month for me. I had this nagging suspicion I should update infocloud, but figured my reader had probably stopped visiting anyway.

Part of my reluctance to post is not really knowing what my guiding theme should be. I tend to alienate some people when I write about politics, and don’t think I have much original to say anyway.

So I’ll just riff a little as I get back in the blogging saddle.

Travel is foremost for us now. On Thursday my wife is leaving for Cuba. I’m jealous and excited for her. She doesn’t speak much if any Spanish, but a combination of her curiosity, Spring Break, and her desire to do a documentary have motivated her to use our university’s license for professors to visit.

Me, I’m only going to Austin next week for SxSW Interactive. It’s an annual ritual for me, a chance to hang out with some of the smartest people in the world—my authors, and people I hope to make into authors.

The woodworking class I’m taking with my son (who turns 22 today) is a lot of fun. I love it most because it’s a complete break from the way I spend my time at work: onscreen and on the phone. Just walking into the shop on Tuesday and Thursday evenings brings me into a different state of mind. I take a deep breath of the sawdust and the tension drops from my shoulders. I go into a slower pace, and find a new kind of creativity.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

A revolution of the spirit


Events unfolding in a shockingly depressing sequence make me fearful. The fear can be immobilizing, and confronting it and breaking through is my new obsession.

I find that concentrating on the positive outcomes that lie on the other side of all this economic despair is the most helpful mindset. Maybe we’ll emerge with a culture that values things other than consumption at shopping malls. Things like: growing gardens, cultivating friendships, sharing what we have, building parks, bike trails, caring for our children, making college educations available to anyone who will do the work, rethinking health care and how it’s dispensed. Those things can all create jobs for people. For an eloquent and inspiring essay about this revolution of the spirit, go here.

James Howard Kuntsler says our “Happy Motoring” culture is coming to a close. Now I love my car (actually a truck) as much as the next guy, but I’ve long been a big critic of our car culture and the soulless urban/suburban landscapes it has enabled. Some of that blight will go away, but it will take a long time. Let the infill begin.

The pop-up lid of our kitchen garbage can broke, and we planned to throw it away and buy a new one at Target. One night after we’d gone to bed, our son got a drill, twisted some wire in the new holes, and the next morning it was working again. Although you wouldn’t say it’s as good as new, it’ll make do for the time being. To me this stands as a symbol of our new realities. At the end of the day, we saved $24.99 and kept a lot of material out of the local landfill. (Of course, someone making trash cans lost their job. And Target’s shareholders got a smaller dividend.)

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Racism: Bad for your community


A holiday faced us, a sunny, wintry day just before the inauguration of our transformational president. The university and my wonderful publishing company both acknowledge the day as the holiday it rightly is. No sense giving in to guilt and working. This day was asking for a short road trip.

We decided to go somewhere we had heard so much about, just an hour away. It’s at the confluence of two powerful rivers: the Ohio and the Mississippi. Cairo, Illinois.

Now I don’t know much about the history of Cairo, only that racism killed the place. I had read about it, and to be honest, was afraid to see it. What better day than the Martin Luther King holiday to go there and confront the demons?

In some ways, it was more pleasant than I expected; in others, it was more horrible. There were some mansions in an area with brick streets. But then there was the once-downtown. The photo here shows how sad and complete the state of decline. You think about “the tipping point” and wonder what date that was in Cairo.

I’ve been to places defined and shaped by their racist pasts: Birmingham, Chicago, Memphis, Detroit, Newark, Philadelphia—but none have touched me like this. This is where fear met despair.

~

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Living with chickens


“May you live in interesting times.” Sometimes, that thought is all the solace I can take away from the relentless drone of the day’s frightening news. Insecurity grows with stories of foreclosures, job losses, store closings, bankruptcies and suicides. I obsess over blogs like that of James Howard Kuntsler, check in on the stock market at Bloomberg.com, or quickly check the latest headline at the Huffington Post to see how much further the world has fallen apart while I was on that last phone call.

But other times, I adopt a more sanguine attitude. I’ve been through tough times in my life, and I know how to survive. I make a mental note to dissociate my concept of who I am from the trappings around me. I am not what I “own,” nor am I the job that pays me. I’ve started changing my myriad of passwords to affirmations instead of cynical constructs full of @ signs and !s. Using words like “light,” “new” or “hope.”

I’m getting as fit as possible. That’s why I’m swimming a half mile three times a week and have kept it up for three months now. A new personal best.

I’ve looked around at the resources at my disposal, and they are vast. Based on them I’ve developed a plan to expand the list of things I can do to survive—whatever happens next. The plan includes:

• utilizing the wood all around me. We’re culling trees, using the tops for firewood and turning their trunks into lumber. Oak. Cherry. Poplar. Pine.
• further utilizing the wood around me by taking a woodworking class at the university craft shop.
• getting serious about getting chickens. Living with Chickens is my current favorite book.
• focusing on the garden. We need to make it better than last year’s.
• apprenticing myself to the region’s best wine-maker. He says his business is recession-proof. No doubt.
• toying with the idea of turning our walk-out basement into an apartment. Help with the mortgage might be good down the line.
• also thinking of becoming a B&B here on the lake in the Shawnee Hills Wine Country for a couple of months next fall.

It’s a lot better to think about positive things.

~

Friday, December 5, 2008

American cars


As a child of the 50s and 60s I was obsessed with cars. I filled notebooks with drawings of how I thought they should look. The highlight of my year was going to the Indianapolis Auto Show with my dad. Back then, “foreign cars” were odd, small, and to my thinking, not very appealing.

Through my adulthood I’ve always bought American cars (except for that one kind-of-regrettable Saab.) My 1984 Mustang Turbo convertible was probably my favorite, and driving it solo across country with our dog Lola for company was sublime.

It makes me sad to see the state of the big three today. In September I thought about buying a new Ford Focus, but when I went to the dealer to take a closer look I discovered they are just a shadow of the original models, of which we’ve owned two: dumbed down styling, a reduced choice of body types, and little, if any improvement in mileage. They scream “bland!” so I walked away.

I hope the government rescues the car companies so they can try again. I want them to succeed. I want to buy their products—just not the ones they’re offering now.

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