Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

by Fred Marx

Before I retired, there wasn’t time enough to add something to my life, even if that something was important and I ached to do it. When I retired and moved to Colorado, my activity level did not change as expected and I could not squeeze  anything new into life.

Well, it must be something important — whatever it is — because I received the ultimate notification just recently: ‘You have heart disease and it could kill you. But it won’t, this time. You’ll live a long and healthy life and you’ll get an inarguable second chance to do this thing for once and for all.’

‘Voice-Of-God’ notifications are rare, I think. Too often you and I have seen them used to give legitimacy to a project wanting to be done by the receiver. I don’t know how God uses his voice. So let’s just say that if such a thing were to happen to me, I’d vet it six ways from Sunday and still come out on the doubting side.

My special project is writing a book.

Let the doubting begin.

Who cares!? Everyone I know wants to write a book. I don’t even know yet what the darn thing is about. Yet I cannot stop thinking about it. I must sound like the boy who cried “fire” in a crowded theater so often that no one believed him when one actually occurred. Can’t blame anyone for not believing. Still, the book burns in me.

A confluence of factors brought me here. First, I’ve been telling doctors for decades that there is something wrong with my heart. No one listened until early this year. My new doc heard something I said, ran a test, connected the dots and announced: “Heart Disease.” This was later confirmed by CT scans which impressively showed calcium blockages in three of the major arteries servicing my heart.

Things began to happen fast. A long trip to a major medical center; laparoscopic surgery to determine the adequacy of stents (nope. Gotta be vein grafts; three of them). Two days later, I was on the schedule and on the table. My sternum was zipped open and the surgeon bypassed my clogged arteries with replacements from other parts of my own body. Let the recovery begin.

Of course, any confluence has at least two parts. My ‘part 2’ actually began when I was just 2½ years old; the first time I realized what life on this planet meant to me. I was a gifted communicator. Through the years, I wrote, spoke, broadcast, produced, interviewed, researched, contextualized all manner of material for the good of my fellow man. It was all well accepted by my peers and I couldn’t wait for tomorrow when I’d be able to do it all over again.

Except for that elusive book.

Maybe it’s the enormity of the task. Research, drafts, editors, congruity. Maybe it’s the success rate of books on the shelf. How many books are written only to be ignored at the library or bookstore? So much work. Failure cannot be an option. Success cannot be guaranteed.

Am I even a good writer? Yes. I believe so. Absolutely. But then I am not the reader of my own material, am I? You be the judge. Sunlight Blog and ElderBlog are readily available for inspection. Countless additional materials rest in my own files and in the files of companies for which they were created.

The need to write remains so loudly pronounced that all the if’s are swept off the table. You don’t write because you want to; you write because you have to.

And that brings us back to this moment in time. It’s not a deciding moment; I rather think that the decision has been made for me already. If it’s a book that’s useful to others, I’m good with that. If it’s fiction, well, I’ve always written reality; fiction could be fun and interesting to me.

Whatever it is, it’s time for me to get on with the physical healing of my body. I hear that book tours are murder.

-23ºF. That’s the kind of temp that earns Minnesota its reputation. Factor in the wind chill, and it’s -60º. That’s the kind of temp that earns Antarctica its reputation. Yet, here I am … at home in Minneapolis with my wife and 500 channels of cable and a Christmas Tree that won’t come down until March, and a wind chill of -60. I’ve heard so many adjectives, I don’t know which apply: crazy cold, dangerous cold, historic cold, this-ain’t-fun-anymore cold.

Now, I’m pretty smart and I know a lot of things. I won’t bother you with the trifles you’ve been getting from  the media about cold weather consequences. What I know is that when things get this cold, things break. Take my car, fr’instance.

My little car has twice as many miles on it than it was originally designed for. Yet it keeps on going. Going so well that I’ve actually come to trust it; a trust hard-earned — we’ve done tens of thousands of miles on unpaved, dusty, gravel-y roads together. The car gets regular service, and I get chiropractic adjustments. The car has often taken me through dangerous weather, sometimes with precious cargo (wife). Just the other day, we drove for 24 hours through extreme cold from the middle of Montana to the Twin Cities. As its reward, I got the car’s tires rotated.

Then it happened: the power steering went out. All of a sudden, I was driving my mother’s red and white ’59 Nash Metropolitan again. A simple left turn was a smack-down wrestling match. This would not do, of course, as I had ceased wrestling so many decades ago. So I drove my little car (not the Metropolitan which was so much littler) straight to the shop. That was Friday.

This morning came the call. I was thinking cracked pulley; stretched belt; a couple hundred bucs; back to Montana tomorrow.

Wrong.

Oh, the pulley was cracked alright, and the belt was stretched. But the actual official professional diagnosis was “Timing Belt Tensioner Assembly.” The guy needn’t have said another word after Timing. I was already sorting through my vast storehouse of knowledge and had arrived at the critical datapoint: this was going to be expensive. And, of course, I was absolutely

Correct.

$741.82 parts & labor. And they won’t fix it till tomorrow because of all the other cars that broke due to the weather.

Now let me pause for a moment to say that I’ve been blessed with a car that got us here safely before it broke. And I’ll say further that I am blessed with $741.82 to pay for the repairs. Even further than that, the world won’t stop spinning on its axis if I don’t travel back to Montana until Wednesday.

Being a naturally curious person, though, I Googled the parts and found them available for as little as $212.00 plus shipping. And herein lies the problem.

I am also blessed with supreme intelligence and a newly-discovered ability to do things with my hands (like building furniture, loft beds and such). Intelligence + ability = I can do this myself. And so I set about preparation for the job. I’d need

  • a rental propane space heater for the garage (frostbite, hypothermia. Hello?)     $37 for one week plus $25 for gas
  • a rental hoist with which to pull the entire engine out of its cavity     $150/wk
  • a rental set of tools (mine are in Montana)     $200/wk
  • a rental pickup truck to haul the above to my garage     $39 twice (here and return)

It was to be another fun project in which I would learn and accomplish a new thing. It all seemed reasonable and doable, too, until I streamed a YouTube video on how to replace the Timing Belt Tensioner Assembly for my car. It was doable alright, if you knew what you were doing – which I don’t. And this easy-to-do four-hour project could easily take me four days taking into account the redo’s to fix my mistakes. And, I realized, there were yet further costs: $0.97 for the bandaids, and an extra $150 for Sunday’s offering plate to cover the colorful language eminating from behind my garage door.

Since this post is a well-disguised lesson in calculus, I must correct my original formula: ‘Intelligence + ability = I can do this myself’ is incomplete. The complete formula is: Intelligence + ability + experience + tools = I can do this myself. (If using this formula in your college thesis, please attribute to Fred Marx.) Put another way, Intelligence + $741.82 = let-the-pros-do-it-right-the-first-time.

So here I am, at home in Minneapolis with my wife and 500 channels of cable and a lovely Christmas Tree that won’t come down till March, and a wind chill of -60. Maybe it’s crazy cold or dangerous cold or historic cold or this-ain’t-fun-anymore cold. But I don’t really care. I’m safe, warm, loved and blessed. Life just don’t get much better than this.

And I’m ever-so-slightly smug in the knowledge that the application of the second expression of my formula is actually the right one. It pays to be supremely intelligent.

My heart swells at the sight of our flag, but it sinks with news like this — a just-released Pew Poll reveals that almost half of us don’t know that the Supreme Court approved the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) six days ago.

How can that be? Network or cable news, online sites or blogs…the number one topic for months has been the ACA and the consequences of the Supreme Court ruling both before and after the fact.

This is why politico’s can lie to us and get away with it (death panels?). They know we’re barely paying attention. And if we vote at all, it will be with impressions derived from “issue ads” funded by anonymous deep-pocketed special interests.

All of the bunting is well and good. But after we celebrate our country’s birth, we must re-commit to its growth — a work-in-progress, and one that requires the engagement of all of its people.

Of course, I’m preaching to the choir.

A cold rain fell, and the flags snapped smartly in the breeze. I was parked at the town square where I could get a consistent cell signal. It was a good day, I figured, for catching up with friends.

As I gabbed, a well-choreographed event unfolded around me. The city’s two police vehicles blocked off the street; lights flashing. Then, from around the corner appeared the U.S. and state flags followed by their holders and twenty or so assorted marchers; most of them very young. The fire truck brought up the rear. No band. No sirens.

They reached the square and, without formal ceremony, placed a wreath there. And as quickly as it began, it was over.

There is nothing about Sidney Montana that won’t improve just as soon as I adjust to living here. Little things like today’s parade might help. When you think about it, our war heroes have been as honored here as they have been in any larger city. And after all, isn’t that what Memorial Day is all about?

An amazing thing happened today. A Canadian-made robot arm secured a space capsule and then attached it to The International Space Station which is comprised of operational units shared by cosmonauts and astronauts, and is managed by NASA. What was interesting was not the tricky ballet high above, however; it was the collaboration of cultures that made it work down below.

You’ve seen Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. There’s the huge room with wall-sized screens displaying video and data. There’s the well-anchored rows of science positions, each with a specific responsibility, each with access to real-time information to aid in critical decision-making.

And you’ve seen the engineers in their white shirts and slender ties. Today, women were notably in charge. The big room operated at a pace and with a proficiency we’ve come to expect. Theirs was the job of consummating the outer space marriage.

Meanwhile, at SpaceX in Hawthorne California, another control operation was flying the same mission. It seemed, at first glance, to be a primitive copy of the JSC. But quickly you noticed many more differences.

The well-ordered rows of scientists were sitting at long tables with collapsible legs…the kind you find in a hotel ballroom. Each operator peered into two or three flat-panel computer screens just like yours. There were no buzz-cuts as in Houston. The dress code here was: whatever. Jeans and sneakers. Hoodies, t-shirts, a Batman sweatshirt.

To this group went the job of designing, building and launching the first-ever privately-funded, reusable cargo-bearing spacecraft.

When the capture was confirmed, there were handshakes and hugs in Houston. When the capture was confirmed, there were chest-bumps and hugs in Hawthorne.

Epic accomplishment though it may be, the real takeaway is that disparate cultures with a common goal can work together to produce a great thing. This applies to every area of endeavor: the assembly of a car; the building of a sandcastle; the running of a country.

Mike Daisey is a monologist. He’ll stand before an audience for ninety minutes and tell stories. Upon leaving the theater, you’ll likely feel that you received the value of your ticket and then some. He engages you; speaks to issues you care about; informs you; motivates you. Many of his works can be seen on YouTube.

His most recent work, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, tells of Daisey’s experiences in China as he collected anecdotes from factory workers who make Apple products. He paints pictures of Gestapo-like guards, slavish conditions, horrendous injuries, sardine can-like living quarters, suicides, underage labor…all in the name of the iPad, iPod and iPhone.

This stage presentation was so compelling that it attracted the attention of Public Radio International’s This American Life who asked Daisey for a 40-minute version of the story for presentation on that NPR show in January.

I heard it. And then I listened to the rebroadcast a day later. And then I listened to the podcast. This was activist storytelling at its very best.

When the show’s host and producer Ira Glass Tweeted last Friday about a problem with the Daisey show, I was curious, but thought initially that some journalistic technicality had been discovered and TAL needed to do a ‘mea culpa’ in order to maintain its integrity. TAL would never air such a thing without rigorous vetting: standard operating procedure (and an audience expectation) for the show.

The problem is that Daisey lied his way through the vetting process, and TAL did not fact-check his assertions adequately. It then aired a show on NPR that was packed with fabrications.

To its credit, This American Life devoted its entire hour, this weekend, to an illumination of the problem. The program included an extensive interview with Daisey, asking the tough questions in the way I would’ve asked them: ‘Did you lie about…?’  Most telling were the long periods of silence during which Daisey considered the way in which he’d spin his answer. Glass was an excellent surrogate in this situation: he confronted Daisey boldly; he told Daisey that he felt lied to.

It should never have come to this.

No NPR listener expects journalistic integrity when Garrison Keillor launches into his tales of Lake Wobegon. The place doesn’t exist in reality, and we understand that the characters so lovingly portrayed are composites of people we might very well know if they weren’t fictitious.

Such is not the case with This American Life. As Glass, himself, explains, listeners should expect his show to adhere to the same journalistic standards as any other NPR program: complete truth – verified.

I fault Mike Daisey for lying to TAL. I do not fault him for this debacle. He is an artist who pretended to be a journalist in order to gather material for his performances. He then stitched disparately-gathered information together to suit his purposes. 

The real fault belongs to This American Life. Ira Glass manned up and accepted responsibility for airing the program. You could hear him thinking that no one would ever believe him again. You could hear him feeling like he’d failed a sacred trust.

He did.

Now we listeners have to wrestle with forgiveness. Do we discard our relationship with a program we’ve loved for seventeen years, or do we figure that its producers have been sufficiently – and publicly – punished? I’m leaning toward the latter, though I will admit that it will likely be a while before my anger subsides.

I remember learning about The Boston Tea Party in grade-school American History class.  This was a protest against the reach of Britain into the lives and pockets of the colonists who then dumped three shiploads of tea into Boston Harbor rather than pay a tax on it.  This event was a precursor of the American Revolution, and of the tempestuous creation of government of, by and for the people.

The King referred to the colonists as “rebels” among other things.

Suns vainly will rise, showers vainly descend, if we are to drudge for what others shall spend.

The Liberty Song, John Dickinson of Delaware, 1768

I remember a time when a large number of Americans trusted their government; my parents among them. I also remember a time when a generation spoke ‘loud and proud’ against a government unworthy of trust.  That would be my generation, and I was among them.  Civil disobedience became the order of that day.  There were marches and protests and burnings and speeches all crying out for reform; for a government working for its people.

We were called “communists” among other things.

What we now know as the ‘Tea Party’ was born in 2006 of Libertarian ideology.  It died ingloriously on election day, 2008, and was immediately resurrected by the oil-billionaire Koch Brothers and others who’s intent seems only to be the stirring of hornets, fomenting of chaos, and weakening of government.  This artificial support lends itself to the term “astroturf.”

And the hornets are being called “neo-Klansmen” among other things.

There’s somthing happenin’ here; what it is ain’t exactly clear…

For What It’s Worth, Buffalo Springfield, 1967

I don’t know what to think about what’s been happening for the past few weeks. There are hundreds of protesters; sometimes thousands. They’re pitching tents in city parks and marching through New York’s Financial District.  They’re calling themselves the “99 percent” and “Occupy Wall Street”. Unions are adding to their number.  Environmental groups and others are considering their positions.

They’re demanding that government support education, infrastructure, and jobs; getting rid of corporate tax loopholes; strengthening democracy; fighting climate change. They want a lot.  But they lack a tidy, headline-making ‘hook.’

Other such efforts are being mounted in cities across the nation. How? Who’s in charge?

No one is in charge.  Their structure is not hierarchal. The “top” is flat: no leader; no spokesperson; no single theme.  They seem intent on maintaining the purity of individuality, even amongst the many; even if it means molasses-slow decision-making. They seem intent on building heft through the universality of their message(s). This is both “grassroots” and a true “movement,” having only spontaneous formation.

They are a growing bunch of disaffected people who want to make a statement. Or many statements. They see a government overtaken by special interests: all power accruing to the few; shrinking benefit to the many. They’re as angry with the president as they are with Congress.

This generation’s got no destination to hold.  Pick up the cry.

Volunteers, Jefferson Airplane, 1969

I worry that mal-intents will jump into the mix and turn thus-far-uncertain public sentiment against the movement. I worry that this nascent organization will collapse for lack of structure.  I worry that leadership will enter or emerge and give unwanted focus to those who are uncertain of the movement’s motives. I worry that civil disobedience — and the resulting damage and massive arrests — will be seen as merely rebellious. I worry that dressing like zombies will not be clearly understood as a message about corporate greed.

But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao,
You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.

Revolution, The Beatles, 1969

I wonder if the movement will grow; or, even, if it should grow. I wonder which types of individuals will join; which groups. I wonder if my standing back is cowardice; if my joining would add only to futility; if it’s the only right thing to do.

These people are being called “dangerous” “anti-Capitalist” “anarchists.”

—–

If history teaches us anything, it is that we infrequently learn from it.  The colonists seeded the birth of a great nation, but it was a delivery of great agony. The Constitutional convention was highly contentious and produced a document with many flaws. Blame the Constitution for the protests of the 99%.

My generation did do some good; did affect some change to the betterment of most.  But we then became the people who ran things, ultimately, as badly as any before.  Blame us for the protests of the 99%.

The Tea Party-hijacked Republican Party is — right now — gerrymandering election districts to favor their will over the collective will of the people; to sway politics and policy for generations to come. Blame them for the protests of the 99%.

Whatever the causes, whichever the influences, the integrity of our nation’s future depends, I think, on the success of the 99%.


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