Monday, June 30, 2008

The Sky Isn't Falling

COURTESY of the Associated Press, here's the latest missive from the Chicken Little school of journalism:

"Midwestern levees are bursting. Polar bears are adrift. Gas prices are skyrocketing. Home values are abysmal. Air fares, college tuition and health care border on unaffordable. Wars without end rage in Iraq, Afghanistan and against terrorism ...

"... a battered public seems discouraged by the onslaught of dispiriting things. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll says a barrel-scraping 17 percent of people surveyed believe the country is moving in the right direction. That is the lowest reading since the survey began in 2003.

"An ABC News-Washington Post survey put that figure at 14 percent, tying the low in more than three decades of taking soundings on the national mood."

Let's not bury our heads in the sand. Nobody is going to mistake this particular moment in time as America's golden era.

And while many are quick to blame George Bush, the Saudis, global warming or Kobe Bryant for the miserable state of things, let's get real for a moment.

While it's not the best of times, it's not the worst of times either.

Consider this era as described in an online history:

"What was once the land of opportunity was now the land of desperation. What was once the land of hope and optimism had become the land of despair.

"The American people were questioning all the maxims on which they had based their lives: democracy, capitalism, individualism ... the income of the average American family was reduced by 40 percent, from $2,300 to $1,500. Instead of advancement, survival became the keyword."
That, folks, was the Great Depression.

Unemployment rose from 5 million in 1930 to 13 million by the end of 1932. Unemployed fathers saw children hired for sub-standard wages. In 1930, 2.25 million boys and girls ages 10-18 worked in factories, canneries, mines and on farms. Children left school to support their families.

Kids in Appalachia were so hungry they chewed on their hands. The nation's suicide rate was at an all-time high.

Families split up or migrated from their homes in search of work. Shanty towns - constructed of packing crates, abandoned cars and other scraps - sprung up across the nation. Gangs of youths, whose families could no longer support them, rode the rails in box cars hoping to find a job. Victims of the drought and dust storms in the Great Plains left their farms and headed for California, the new land of "milk and honey," where some were stopped at the border.

And at the outset of the misery, Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon advised President Hoover that shock treatment would be the best response:

"Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate. ... That will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people."

Tough times? The toughest.

Then there was 1942. Hitler and Mussolini occupied most of continental Europe and many Americans believed England would soon fall. The Japanese were sweeping across the Pacific toward Australia. People on the West Coast feared an invasion, or at the least another Pearl Harbor. Nazi leaders were coordinating the "final solution to the Jewish question."

Fear? You bet.

The year 1968 was no walk in the park either:

Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were murdered in the prime of their lives. The North Vietnamese launched the Tet offensive, changing the course of the war in Southeast Asia. American casualties mounted. Anti-war protests paralyzed college campuses. President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not stand for reelection. The Democratic National Convention in Chicago was marred by violent clashes between protesters and Mayor Daley's police force. Richard Nixon is elected president.

Chaos? Absolutely.

And now, polar bears are adrift? Costly gas? We've seen a lot worse. And survived quite nicely. I'm not prepared to write off America yet.

Or as George Easterbrook of the Brookings Institute put it, "Would you rather live as an average person in the United States of the present day or in this or any other nation at any time in the past? That question answers itself, and is a reason for fundamental optimism."

I am not a sportswriter. This is not a sports column. But I am a golfer. And as such, a word about Tiger Woods.

Let me get this straight. Young Eldrick wins the U.S. Open, arguably the toughest tournament of the year, contested on a course the length of the 405 Freeway with Brazilian-rain-forest rough, while playing on a broken leg with a torn ACL. In sudden death. After a 18-hole playoff.

They say Tiger is out for the year with knee surgery. Don't believe it. He's out for a lube and an oil change.

Because he's more machine than man.

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