When I was a little boy, 50 years ago, riding up into Indiana from Cincinnati on old Route 52 to visit rural relatives, there were a few scenes that were always repeated.
The first was me or my sister commenting on the smell of animal waste and getting a brief, good-natured lecture from Dad, who I now realize was just a city guy engaging in a little nostalgia about the glories of livestock. If you'd forced him to go back to his Uncle Bob's 160-acre dairy farm - he'd worked there summers growing up - he would have beaten you to the ground and run away.
The second persistent memory, because my dad always commented on it, was seeing some farmer, on his knees, running some of the earth he tilled through his hands.
Those scenes still resonate. Those old, mostly Dutch and German, southern Indiana farmers loved, hated and lived off that land. They were in direct contact with their means of livelihood.
Fast-forward 35 years or so to the darkened interior of a Seattle movie theater. I'm watching Oliver Stone's over-the-top yet powerful movie about the Reagan years, "Wall Street," and Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko (the gecko is a lizard, common in Hawaii, that eats bugs) is declaiming that "greed is good." Cinematic proof of the completion of the transition of America from a semi-rural society, where people stayed in close contact with their bread and butter, into a paper tiger hiding behind oft-broken fiduciary rules that rich and wannabe-rich folk have agreed to give value as it suits their pocketbooks and portfolios.
What would happen if someone somewhere called in our current $500-trillion (and growing) deficit? It's all built on sand, if you apply pre-Reagan economics. Not to mention ethics.
And yet people, many of them friends of mine, instead of worrying about where we are going as a country (and a city), continue - although they are not doctors - to argue about what exact moment a fetus turns into a future CPA.
Or - although they are not theologians (self-appointed reverends do not count) - why God or Allah, despite creating one in 10 people gay, doesn't, according to these self-appointed righteous folk, think gay lovers should be married.
And these folks can make the argument that they are distracted by something of at least temporarily great moment.
There are millions of other folks whose only real question is, Will the Mariners finally go all the way to the World Series this year?
Now I am not talking down to anybody from the mountain here. I have my opinions on abortion, gay marriage and the Mariners' apparently skinflint ownership. But other things worry me quite a bit more.
For example: government corruption. According to a wire item published the other day in The Seattle Times (and what editorial genius decided this was a page-five story instead of a page-one?), almost four years after Congress passed a law to help nuclear-weapons-plant workers who got sick on the job, there has been a grand total of one check sent out to an ill worker.
That solitary check was for $15,000.
How many nuclear-industry workers have died in the past four years while their families awaited help from a government that promised help and hasn't delivered?
But much worse, much more Gordon Gekko-ish, is the startling fact that the government, ours - which includes the Congress and Senate that has raped Social Security reserves for the past 18 years, under the leadership of Democratic crooks and Republican crooks, and now says benefits might not always be paid - these same crooks, many of whom are quoted endlessly on the subjects of gay marriage and late-term abortion, these same corrupt, noses-in-the-trough folk, including many in the Washington delegations of the past two decades, authorized $74 million to the nuclear compensation program.
That's right. Our government, our "public servants" (it has to be in quotes to call it into question grammatically as well as morally), has spent $74 million to pass out $15,000.
In China, anyone involved, at least up to a certain level, would have been beheaded in a public square.
Can there be a culture more corrupt right now in the entire world?
I'm not saying more barbarous; I'd much rather live here than Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, etc. But isn't America supposed to be about being better than our basest nature?
It is not a political statement to condemn the recent Bush-administration tax cuts, which benefit the top 1 percent of our population more than the other 99 percent. Those tax breaks are a quasi-criminal act, not to mention as cynical a policy as our government has ever carried out in my 50 years and change on this earth.
I cannot for the life of me understand why all the workers whose jobs have been outsourced in the past five years alone, spend most of their time talking about abortion or gay marriage, if they talk about anything other than Britney Spears or Ichiro.
And it's not just our government.
In 2001, a tight-fisted year for Verizon employees and shareholders, Ivan Seidenberg, then the CEO, was paid $13.5 million. That is not capitalism - it is piracy.
Closer to home, Boeing paid then-CEO Phil Condit $4 million, not counting benefits. That was 20 times more than the U.S. Army paid any of its top generals.
And yet, not too much later, our governor, Gary "I Love Tax Breaks for the Rich" Locke, paved the way in meetings - which remain secret - for Boeing to get more tax breaks than they'll ever build planes in Everett.
Mark Twain made a good living talking about the corruption of America's government toward the end of the 19th century, once his superior, fiction-writing muscles wore down. The so-called Gilded Age featured child labor, instant millionaires and nationwide poverty, and high birth/death rates.
Birth/death rates are on the rise again in America. We are not in the top 10 for safest countries in which to deliver a baby. And there's plenty of poverty not far outside the gilded edges of Seattle if anyone wishes to drive into the hinterland and look.
I may be opinionated, wrong-headed, fill-in-the-blanks, but I am not greedy. And I guess I don't understand what has happened in this country to the idea that enough is enough.
Or at least, if you are going to become rich, you get down on your knees once in awhile and run your own dirt through a pair of work-gnarled hands.
Getting rich from unfair tax breaks, stock manipulation and taking advantage of greedy and gutless politicians is not the alleged American Way. Even if it has happened off and on since we threw off the first King George's yoke.
I think we should be ashamed of what we have allowed.