Sunday, September 26, 2010

Simple Pleasures

Fall is here -- translated that means increased highway traffic on weekends for the foliage, crisp, cool nights and still warm days, and fall sports. For me that means soccer. Between coaching my son's eighth grade team and ferrying my third grade daughter to her games, I am a busy soccer Dad. But I love it. Sports are an escape into a time and space separate from the concerns of the everyday - green, mythic fields ruled by the eternal verities that we like to believe translate into moral character: hard work, hustle, the ability and desire to rise to meet challenges, bravery.
I never played soccer. I was a decent miler and half miler in high school and played winger on my college rugby team, but I fell in love with soccer as a twenty two year old assigned to cover the U-17 World Cup in Acapulco, my first year working for the old UPI. The athleticism, the combination of technical skill and sheer improvisation, and the constant pace won me over. When we moved back to the States, the presence of a strong youth soccer tradition was something that made me feel good in the midst of the Bush years and the rightward drift of the country. I was right in my hunch that my kids, at least the first two, would enjoy the sense of accomplishment and competition. Michael is turning into a solid and selfless midfielder, and Eve has become the revelation of the season, with dribbling skills and a knack for making beeline, cutting dashes for the goal from anywhere, the ball seemingly glued to her feet.
Sometimes I am one of those parents that has to force himself to take a step back, to reengage with the reality that life is not about soccer, that it's just a game, one of the many pastimes and entertainments available to us in our media-soaked global village. But I am grateful for it and look forward to the fall and my escape into a simpler time and space.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lies, Photos and Dead Fish

Putting the lie to claims the oil spill is over with no ill effects, this photo of a massive fish kill in the bayou outside New Orleans was released by a Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana resident to the media on the same day BP claimed the leaking well had finally been capped. In the age of the Internet, the news has spread far and wide. Fisheries experts claim the die-off is due to low oxygen levels, just the effect predicted by scientists, the outcome of exploding populations of oil-eating microbes in the presence of all the oil that BP and the clean-up crews never found. What makes this die-off noteworthy is that it is spread across a wide range of fish species, not just the usual one or two.

In an eerily parallel story, experts from the National Bureau of Economic Research declared today that the recession officially ended in June. We need no photograph to tell us how absurd that feels. In today's issue of the Concord Monitor, I counted two jobs for employment, two babysitting jobs at day care centers. What a long way we still have to go to get back to good times, and yet, it could be worse. The interesting thing is that the people complaining the loudest, apparently, are the very rich, as noted in Paul Krugman's opinion piece in the NY Times. I still can't get over the vehemence of the conservatives who, in the name of fiscal responsibility were asleep at the switch during the Bush years -- as we squandered the nation's surplus built up during the Clinton era 90's. And now they are oh so angry as Obama tries to implement the long feared communist takeover of America. How dare he enact health care for the sake of 40 million uninsured Americans. Bush's lies about WMD, well, never mind those. The redness of their faces, according to Krugman, is due as much to good living and overindulgence as to genuine anger.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Monk, the Philosopher, and the Tea Party

My daughters love going to the dump, or the "transfer station" as we call it. Ever since the town put up a swap shop where people bring goods they no longer use for others who might find a use for them, it's become an adventure for them. They never come away empty handed, and their bedroom is brimming with stuffed animals that have taken on a communal life, a virtual world, that is sometimes more compelling for them, it seems, than the ordinary and humdrum goings on in the house. I picked up a book there, The Monk and the Philosopher, that I started reading. It's a conversation between a renowned French scientist, Jean-Francois Revel, and his Buddhist monk son, Mathieu Ricard, a stream of consciousness ramble through the foundations of Western philosophy and Eastern mysticism and the roots of human consciousness from diverging points of view. Although I only started it, it got me thinking about the popularity of Buddhism, especially for young progressive folks like myself disenchanted with traditional values and lifestyles and the mess we're in as a society. The problem I see with it is that as a religion it espouses a liberation from the material world that can seem selfish and uncaring, an escape into a personal space of enlightened peace, no doubt, but sterile. This generational yearning for escape from the madness of modernity might also help with a problem that's been bugging me for many years: how to explain the dominance of right wing bigots and ignoramuses in our national politics, as evidenced nowadays by the coming Tea Party tsunami that the press has done its best to fabricate and help along. It doesn't surprise me that people in backwards nations of the world can be manipulated into supporting their would be oppressors under the guise of national pride or ethnic superiority or whatever, but that here in the United States we are going to place back in the position of power the party which just oversaw an era of unprecedented corruption and erosion of our economic, social and moral fabric, resulting in an economic crash it will take maybe a generation to dig out of, because they stand up for the ideology of Ayn Rand? What kind of world is this? I can understand the frustration with business as usual in Washington. And I even like some of the Tea Party ideas. A sales tax to replace income tax? Why not? But so many of them are just the type of scary followers, believing in any lie that supports their bigoted, angry world view, that put the Nazis in the driver's seat in Germany. I'm not equating the Tea Party with the Nazis, I'm just saying many of their supporters aren't too discerning. What's this have to do with Buddhism? Well, it's the absence of any countervailing progressive populist movement. I think too many of us are walking away from the fight just when it's heating up with the attitude of what's the worst that can happen, we get gridlock for another six years and the Republicans set up committees to investigate Obama's ties to Islam and Michelle's trips to Spain. Ho hum. Maybe I'll light a candle and meditate and it will all go away.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Freedom Falling

Labor Day weekend -- the last stretch of free days before the fall comes down with its head-long plunge into the long hours of work, the busy weekends of soccer, the preparatory chores for the cold season. We are lucky and grateful for labor rights and union rights. So many countries lack those basic rights and freedoms, such as the right to form unions, which form the backbone of our middle class way of life.

Today I woke late, catching up on sleep after the first week back at school and the typical insomnia that accompanies all the excitement and energy of dealing with classrooms of eager and edgy adolescents. The sky is bright blue with the cool of autumn in the wet grass left behind in the wake of the tropical storm that just blew up the coast. A lamb escaped through a downed fence, and Drew Major, our local Fish and Wildlife officer, parked in our driveway to try to get him back. Susan interrupted me as I was about to sit down with my coffee in front of the computer to go help him. Here goes, I thought, reflecting on the madness impinging on my free time. Afterwards, she had me hitch up the trailer and drive with her around the loop to the Russells, who live on the land first homesteaded by the original Connor family, up on the edge of the Mink Hills protected area. They were having a yard sale, and the two kids sitting in the grass brought out the tables and whatnot that Susan had bought. As she wrote the check, I talked with Mr. Russell about the Troy Bilt Rototiller that his wife Margaret's father first used back in the 1930s.

I'm lucky to have a job, given the economic situation facing many around the country. By all accounts it looks like we are facing years of structural weakness in the job market. Robert Reich has an informative piece in the NY Times explaining the predicament facing the American middle class. As opposed to the 1930s with FDR, I don't think the country is ready for a massive retooling, the kind it would take to turn us around. And the sort of ideas Reich proposes in his piece, tax breaks and incentives to increase middle class purchasing power, are not going to do the trick either. Instead I think we are turning inward, especially if the Republicans win back control of Congress, and we will have a locally driven resurgence based on small business, family business and local innovation despite, not because of the government and its relative powerlessness in this globalized and technology-driven economy. I used to think Obama could pull off an FDR style project of renovation, but it looks increasingly likely we are facing a rerun of the Clinton era of governmental gridlock. Thank you Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, who, to steal a line from a fellow blogger, is so stupid she couldn't pour piss out of a boot if there were directions on the heel.