Summer of our discontent
First, summer wouldn't come. Now, it won't stay. That was fast.
I'm reminded of a cartoon a reporter friend had on her cubicle wall for years. A baby grows into a little girl, then a big girl, then a young woman. She expands into matronly middle age, then shrinks into little old ladyhood, the female counterpart of the geezer. In the last drawing she speaks.
"Well," she says, "that sucked."
Wicked nihilism aside, that catches something of the evanescence of time. And since some things, as Ernest Hemingway said, cannot be learned quickly, and the little new you get from life is very precious, there's a kind of cruel arithmetic afoot. Tempus, as the Romans said, fugit.
My father, no Hemingway, remarked one day late in his life, "Man, I don't know where the last 50 years went."
That struck me as very funny at the time. Now, not so much.
It was just the other day that we were saying, hey, it's June already, what's with the rain every day and highs barely out of the 60s. And everybody's baby tomato plants sat in the rain looking forlorn and doing nothing.
It's all about what you pay attention to. Early on, with corporate profits rising and signs that the economy was turning around, if glacially, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 12,800. The sun came out. The Yankees and the Red Sox were dominating baseball. Maybe God was in his heaven and all was right with the world after all.
But good news mixed with bad, and a gulf stretched between the everyday details of what went on to become one of the mildest Oregon summers in memory and events in the wider world. Something fresh was in the air as revolutionary movements sprang up in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen. There were waves of protests in Algeria, Jordan, Morocco and Oman, and stirrings even in Kuwait, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
Unlike the mass movements of the '60s (with that tag line "The revolution will not be televised"), these events took place in the previously unimaginably public environment of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Skype.
We watched in horror as Arab autocrats, many of them long-time "friends" of the United States, responded with violence and Internet censorship. We felt the pain as the news media put faces on the victims of dictators' jackbooted militiamen.
It came to be known as the Arab Spring, a name that was an implicit comparison to the Prague Spring of 1968, another time when something was in the air — Alexander Dubcek's liberal reforms — until the Soviet Union stormed into Czechoslovakia and grabbed Dubcek and dismantled his reforms 43 years ago last week. The Arab Spring wore on into the summer, and Libya heated up, and we somehow managed to avoid getting up to our necks in a third war as the other two kept dragging on.
Meanwhile, we watched Washington, D.C., in morbid fascination as, in the battle of the debt ceiling, scorched-Earth Republicans turned what's always been a routine housekeeping matter into all-out fiscal brinkmanship that disrupted world financial markets. If two sides are playing chicken at the edge of The Abyss, the side with the wildest crazies, in this case Washington tea baggers, has a built-in edge.
Since 1962 the debt ceiling has been raised 74 times. Reagan raised it 18 times, and George W. Bush did it seven times with the routine support of Republicans. The biggest obstacle to fixing the deficits now is that one party declares flatly that Bush's tax breaks for the rich and the corporations, which were supposed to be "temporary," are now untouchable, and the other party is curiously unable to summon the requisite outrage to portray this as the travesty it is.
The other night on PBS's NewsHour, Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman seemed almost to glimpse the flagrant injustice of it all.
"As president, I wouldn't hesitate to call on a sacrifice from all of our people, even those at the very highest end of the income spectrum," Huntsman said.
Note that "even," as if the suggestion that the rich pay their share were a novel idea. But he quickly backed away, saying mysteriously, "I'm not saying higher taxes, but there are contributions they can make, too."
Meanwhile, President Obama's approval rating has plunged to a new low of 36 percent, or a little better than one person out of three. But he's a paragon of popularity compared to Congress, which is now approved of by 12 percent of Americans. What's amazing is the thought that one out of every eight people out there actually approves of Congress. Who are those guys?
Here's a sign of just how unpopular Congress is. Lawmakers during this recess are so gun-shy they're not doing those open forums and town-hall meetings that led to angry shouting matches with frustrated constituents over the past couple of years.
Well, OK. Meanwhile, Labor Day is bearing down on us. We had a summer with no 100-degree days or major fires, knock on wood. The nights are longer now, and football is in the air. This summer will soon become last summer, and its headlines will be forgotten in the wake of new horrors. It will be a fine September for tomatoes.
Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. If you have comments or suggested topics for the column, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.