Friday, February 19, 2010

How Far Have We Fallen?

What have we become?

A story long ago: Today’s post mixes personal history with confusion and frustration. Bear with me if you will, or click it off and wait for a happier post if you prefer. Fifty years ago this June I was lucky enough to count myself among the Clairton High School graduating class. I left the quencher, Clairton Park, Haines Super Market, the Daily News, Clairton Progress, and all my boyhood memories behind and traveled 2,000 miles to attend a university. I did not want to attend college but my father insisted, so thinking I’d trick him into letting me join the Marines, I said that I’d only attend college if I got to choose the school. Then I laid it on him – a school I’d only heard of from a classmate. It was thousands of miles away. A church-sponsored university sponsored by a religion that neither my father nor I had heard of. No way would he say yes. But he said yes, and at the tender age of 17 I ended up a stranger in a strange land – Provo, Utah.

With the help of my parents’ financial support plus working nearly full time in the campus library, and being a bit entrepreneurial, I graduated four years later debt-free and with a degree in Psychology. Whoops! No job prospects for a psych major (except car sales, clerking in a J.C. Penney store, or flipping burgers), so I accepted an offer from a family friend to teach the sixth grade for a year until I decided what I wanted to do when I grew up. My gross salary that year, 1964, was $4800 and by the time the school year ended, my bachelor lifestyle had put me in debt by more than $12,000 – more than one-quarter of my salary.

Back to the Wild West: I returned to Utah, married a college girlfriend, and moved to Idaho to teach school. The next 20+ years were spent working two and three jobs trying to extricate myself from debt while raising a family and living a “normal” life. Finally, as I neared my 50th birthday the residual debt was cleared and I began to save a little for retirement.

Mine is not a unique story for those of my era – the leading edge before the baby boom generation – we were generally responsible about living up to our obligations. Times were not always good. Sometimes we would pay $5.00 per month on a debt until it was retired, but rarely did we stick a merchant with an unpaid bill. Rarely did we hide behind bankruptcy, or attempt to get debts discharged without paying them. That was unheard of.

TV ads galore: Fast forward to 2010. I am inundated daily with TV ads that blare, “If you owe more than $10,000 we can reduce or eliminate your debt.” The ad includes testimonials of people who boast, “I had $ 25,000 in credit card debt and only paid $2,000.” Other testimonials boast that their entire debt was “wiped away” by using the company that is being advertised. What is wrong with this picture? To me, those ads are like fingernails being scraped across the blackboard. Advertising media is encouraging Americans to eschew their obligations, and that is just plain wrong!

Americans are whiners: I fear that we have become a nation of snipers and I’m concerned that people like those who have made this country great over the years might buy into the mentality that pervades the airwaves. Why think? Why create? Why be innovative and try to solve your problems when it is so easy to dismiss them? Blame it on the government. If you are a Democrat, blame the Republicans. If you are Republican, blame the Democrats. If you are an ultra conservative or liberal, blame everybody. Pick at the country as though it were a scab. It is so much easier to criticize rather than offer solutions. Sit around and get fat by eating comfort foods then blame the airline that says you’re too fat to fit in one seat.

An old and dear friend and regular blog reader sent me an email that included a song called “Born Again American” sung by multiple people, all complaining that their government had let them down. My response was as follows:

An opposing opinion: This piece (that was sent to me) was well done and creative. However, it feeds into all the negativity that is much of what our problem is, in my humble opinion. I hear people pissing and moaning, and bemoaning what our country has become. I see a Republican in Arizona attacking another Republican (John McCain) in Arizona because he is not Republican enough. I see a Democrat Senator with a legacy of governing in Iowa quitting because he is fed up with the hatred and bullshit that pervades Congress. I see right wing radio attacking their foes like the Devil himself and listeners piling on like a bunch of hyenas who have discovered fresh prey. Everything I see and hear on the internet and in the news regarding our country smacks of "Oh my, what victims we are. Our country has been taken from us and we want it back. Boo hoo. The other side is trying to destroy our country...." etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum.

What I DO NOT hear: "This is how we can make America great again." What I do not see is what has made our country great in the past – Henry Ford with the automobile, American men and women uniting for the cause during WW-II when our country went from ground zero to the mightiest nation in the world by turning our factories into suppliers of needed goods, or two college dropouts like the ones who started the Hewlett Packard company in their garage, or two other college dropouts who started up Apple computers in their garage or Bill Gates who created the means for us to do what we are doing this instant.

We have always had a propensity for whining in this country but there have also always been those gifted, creative folks who ignored the "poor me" syndrome and focused on creating or inventing something that was the next big boon in our economy and for our society. I don't see that happening today. All I see and hear are the TV and radio pundits attacking but do not offer solutions, and their 300 million listeners who nod and clap their hands in approval like so many trained seals.

Where are the thinkers? Where are the creators? Where are the inventers? Until they step forward you can have as many "Born Again American" songs as can fit on a CD-ROM but our great country will continue to wallow in the pettiness and bickering of the lost tribe of Washington DC and the jackals who continue to attack them.

The antidote: Identify the problem(s) then stop the bitching, bickering, whining, pissing, and moaning. Instead, work toward a solution.

A little blogging Maestro… “Welcome to the Working Week,” by Elvis Costello

Dr. Forgot

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So true Andy from a former St Clair Ave. ash scarred street inhabitant.