Monday, December 21, 2009

Modern Day Nostradamus?

I had a strange experience this week when a former reader managed to track me down to inquire about getting a copy of a column published back when I was writing for King Features Syndicate. The column appeared in the Youngstown, Ohio Vindicator in 1986. How she found me all these years later, I don't know, but she did. I dug into the back of my closet and pulled out the old notebooks in which I kept these columns, not having looked at them for a couple of decades. I found the column she wanted and as I was looking, I found another one that I'd forgotten about.

It was one I'd written about things my father used to tell me. At the time, I thought of him as being rather a conspiracy theorist, his paranoia branded into his soul during the terrible times of the Great Depression. He died on my 27th birthday, 1972.

As I read it, I was stunned by how prescient he had been about what might occur in the times ahead. I always remember my father telling me, as his mother had told him, to get myself "a little piece of ground", a bolt hole for tough times, if you will. If could rig up an independent energy source, such as wind or water power, so much the better.

For my father believed that "They", meaning the people in power, I guess, would eventually try to control the populace through Six Steps:

1) Long before Jimmy Carter and OPEC, Dad expounded on his view that They would manufacture a phony energy crisis and that oil prices would soar. Eventually, he thought, they might go up to as high as $2 a gallon (a little off the mark there!) but then, they would subside and the people would be happy that their representatives who'd managed the crisis had their best interests at heart. In the aftermath, those who controlled energy would hold the levers of power.

2) Step Two would be a push to break the unions. My father's prediction was that they would choose one particular union and convince the people of its outrageously unfair demands. When it was sufficiently unpopular, it would be crushed with the blessing of other American workers. (PATCO, anyone?) One by one the other major unions would begin to topple.

"They won't tolerate a highly-paid workforce with as much excess income as we have now. By the time you're 40 (which was in in 1986 when I wrote this column), you'll see people standing in bread lines (now, called soup kitchens) again and if you're fortunate enough to be working, you'll be making close to minimum wage. It will take most of your income to pay for the basics - food, shelter, transportation."

Step Three. Breaking labor would be following by dispossessing the family farmer. Dad didn't think both things would happen at once because, They couldn't take a chance that labor and the farmers, typically somewhat adversarial, would align as allies.

"By the end of the century," he told me, "the small farmer will be on his knees. If he's still farming, he'll be nothing more than a tenant to the banks."

In conjunction with the others, Step Four would consist of encouragement by the government of more and more installment debt with less and less savings. Dad thought the Communists were stupid to rule their people through repression when they could convince people to give up their freedom voluntarily by extending them unlimited credit.

I remember him saying, "when a man is ass over elbows in debt, he can't go on strike for better wages, he can't protest, he can't quit, because he needs his paycheck to keep his creditors off his back."

About the time, these other events were taking place, Dad thought businesses would begin to stress the thinking of thoughts rather than the making of things as the key to the country's economy. There would be few good jobs for young men who got out of high school and started a family. The vast middle class workforce, our former economic backbone, would become superfluous.

"Wait and see," Dad said, "by this time, you'll see that the same group of men are on the boards of directors of all the largest corporations."

Lastly, would be Step Six. "When you see the insurance companies come from behind the scenes in a naked power grab, you'll know it's almost over. If you haven't protected yourself by then, my girl, you'll be in a world of trouble."

An eccentric man, my father. I wish I'd paid more attention to him when I had the chance.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tiger's Troubles

Some people are outstanding in particular areas of their lives. Case in point, Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton. Tiger is an exceptional golfer; Clinton is an exceptional politician. That is what they offer us and that is all we have a right to expect. But Americans are naive. We want our heroes to be well-rounded in their perfection and free of human frailty. We like them perched up there high on their pedestals.

But, we are almost always doomed to disillusionment because, of course, it is the rare person who can live up to what we require of them to remain on that pedestal.

Most of us are fortunate if we excel in one endeavor, be it sports or art or invention. It doesn't follow that having reached that level of achievement, we are free of fault in every other part of our lives. Being the best at politics, golf, investing, singing, etc. doesn't protect us from exhibiting weakness regarding sex or gambling or substance abuse.

Come on, people, Tiger is a golfer for God's sake. He fascinates us by providing us a show that no one else can. He enthralls us with his incredible talent. Isn't that enough? No? Well, how about the massive amount of money he donates to charity through his foundation? Still not enough?

Oh, you say he has to also be true to his wife, loving toward his family, appreciative of his fans and, in addition, he has to go to church every Sunday. Well, you know what? I think you better find yourself another hero/heroine. Mother Teresa is the only one I can think of who might have met your criteria.

And Bill. We elected him to be our president. We hoped he'd be an excellent one and for the most part, I believe he was. He was known as a president who worked his heart out for us. Spent less time on vacation and at Camp David than any of the others. Put our budget in surplus. Lowest unemployment rate ever. Highest stock market ever. No piddley little wars, like Grenada, to stroke his ego. But, he faltered on the rocky shore of sex as we all know and was impeached as a result. No flawed leaders allowed in our White House! Like there are any other kind.

You can be a great football player and be violent; you can be a great baseball player and be a gambler; you can be a great actor and be an alcoholic; you can be a great politician and be addicted to sex. As far as I'm concerned, none of that is any of our business unless it affects the bargain you made with us and that's to satisfy us on the field, on the stage or in the Senate.

We don't own these people's lives because we watch them or listen to them or elect them. There is no such thing as a role model. We should teach our children to admire skill without expecting perfection and to assume that professional honor may not carry over into the personal. Greatness is something to be aspired to but for most of us, there will be some slips along the way. Those slips don't necessarily negate our accomplishments.

Tiger is still the world's best golfer. Can we continue to respect him for that?