A few years ago my daughter and I were on our way back from LA to Denver, at the end of the Thanksgiving weekend. The Sunday morning news in Albuquerque ran a story on the drunk driving accident tally for the weekend, with a twist I hadn’t seen before.
They were focused on accidents from people driving the wrong way on the interstate. There are only two interstates in New Mexico, so you might think this should be a rare event. I was surprised that it seemed to be such a regular occurrence that it was meriting a focused New Mexico State Police patrol and a standard check-in story, sort of like the Black Friday shopping reports that were also part of the newscast. Although it ranks 9th in the country in terms of drunk driving accidents per capita (after Montana, the leader, most of the other leaders are Southern states) parts of New Mexico have a terrible drunk driving, apparently concentrated in the northern Mountains and around the Indian reservations. This particular weekend, there had been one accident and two deaths when a pickup had entered the eastbound lanes of I-40 near Gallup, heading west into the Navajo Nation. Somewhere west of the Lupton exit the pickup collided head-on with a semi and that was that. What stuck with me the rest of the day was how clearly predictable and expected this all was from the newscaster at the Albuquerque station. The tone was something like, “See, we knew this would happen,” but with no smugness. No surprise. Nor any outrage either.
I thought of this Saturday with the news of Amy Winehouse’s death, generally expected to be from one of the several substances she abused in her short life. This wasn’t unexpected — I continually rooted for her to make at least one more album, and not really believing we’d ever get that. How much I hoped for one. It’s been a long time since a singer came along who said so much, both with her clever lyrics and that voice that purred and growled a mile deep. And now it’s over, already. She joins the ranks of great pop artists who have died at age 27, going the way with Jimi, Janis, Kurt Cobin, and Mr. Mojo Rising.
What seemed different this time, and what was sad and sickening about it, was the predicted spectacle of it. Like the Thanksgiving weekend drunk-driving watch, this was a story we knew would happen; we were just waiting around carelessly for the details. Given that, at first it seems pathetic somehow that no one could change the outcome, or seemed to try. (Of course the addict’s decisions are ultimately theirs alone.) With reflection, though, what’s most awful about the story is how we all stayed close enough to the story because we wanted to see its sordid end. It’s not a story I wish had been given the Entertainment Tonight! treatment, or whatever those news-celeb shows are now. I wish I had just walked away a long time ago.
Since local craft beers (and wines) are a topic near and dear to this blog – and since so many good ones are made within the region on which we’re focused – it seems only fitting to mention that an Austrian brewer has gotten permission to market a beer in the EU under the name “Fucking Hell.” Although that’s obviously inappropriate in English, as this article in Der Spiegel online points out, the name in German could correctly denote a light (“hell”) beer made in the town of Fucking, Austria. So there you have it.
(Hat tip to James Fallows.)
There’s a great post on the Minnesota Land Stewardship Project’s Looncommons blog about the importance of preserving land, not as land to look at but land to be well-used, in this case to grow food near a major metro area. It’s about preserving land as an asset, an asset that can be well used (if well cared for) as opposed to just providing a kind of picturesque relief for people in cities. Author Brian Devore has this right – we are making some progress in our thinking.
As we learned in the first few months after we moved up here from Colorado, what the term “Minnesota nice” really means is the smiling but passive aggressive behavior you can get when trying to get help or something else from someone. (At first we thought it just referred to how apparently polite everyone was.)
But the term works because people here really are nice. This weekend we went to a public fireworks display and thought nothing about leaving camping chairs and other belongings sitting out for several hours at the spot where we planned to watch fireworks after it got dark. They are nice camp chairs but obviously nobody would think of stealing them.
A few weeks ago my nephew was visiting from Oregon and after a few days, he asked us, “So what’s the deal with this niceness?” We asked what he meant.
“I mean,” he said, “the first day or so I was confused. I wondered why people were being nice. I thought they were mocking me. Then I realized they were serious, seriously nice. Even college students! Where do college students come from who are nice like this?”
Horrible story, courtesy of FriendsEat, about a study by Russian scientists that found that the third generation of hamsters fed an ample amount of genetically modified soy were unable to reproduce. Your first response, if you’re a healthy soy eater, is that this probably doesn’t apply to you because you buy your soy at Whole Foods. Or you don’t eat soy. Well, soy, being somewhat subsidized, is one of those unhealthy things that have permeated just about everything we eat, and not only goes into food called “soy” but also some of those long-named food additives like lecithin that you never knew where they came from. About 85 percent of the soy grown in the US is one genetically modified brand, a Monsanto brand called Roundup Ready. You may know the first part of that name – yep, it’s because these beans are perfectly suited to be sprayed with Roundup, the same herbicide you use at home when you’re feeling too lazy to pull weeds. Monsanto apparently makes some claims that Roundup is a safer herbicide than others, but it it still reportedly toxic to other plants and fish; see here.
Bottom line is that you may have been trying to eat more healthily and ethically and instead you may have inadvertently committed your Darwin moment. All thanks to your good friends at Monsanto, the good people at the USDA who regulate their crop offerings, and of course our friends in congress who routinely pass regulations that prohibit truth being printed on food products about its safety and healthiness.
A few years back, Barbara Kingsolver published an entertaining story (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) of the adventure of trying to feed her family for a year with food grown locally to the family far in western Virginia. It’s an adventure in trying to keep up with the garden in summer and to do without greens and fruit in the winter and early Spring. But the more we read these stories the more it seems there is wisdom in it, if not only because one would thereby avoid soy that will sterilize you and preservatives and binders and such full of exotic chemicals and oil.
I’m about halfway through Raymond Arsenault’s Freedom Riders, an astonishing history of the 1961 rides to de-segregate Trailways and Greyhound bus lines and stations across the South. For those who don’t know this history, a racially mixed group of a dozen or so riders left Washington, DC in May 1961, with the aim of traveling across the South and ending in New Orleans. They never made it, at least not by bus. On the way they were mobbed, beaten, their bus firebombed, all of this assisted by the governments of Alabama and Mississippi and documented in newscasts that shocked the nation. More importantly, it’s an incredibly story of courage in the face of hatred and violence that is hard to imagine and often harder to read through. It’s a story I hope to properly tell my children when the time is right. It’s a story about a group of students and activists who put their lives on the line not only so that states in the South would live up to the letter of federal law, but because the country was failing to live up to the promise enshrined in The Declaration of Independence, which we celebrate today.
It’s good to keep perspective on why The Declaration is important. It’s not because it spawned the strongest, most special, he-man nation in the world. It’s not because the Founders were demigods (we can start debunking that just by counting how many owned slaves). But through Jefferson’s words, John Adams’ oratory in support of it, and the votes of the majority of the Continental Congress, we fixed a great idea, one better than we have ever been in trying to live up to it. It’s an idea to which we return, generation after generation, trying to make it real in “more perfect” ways. It’s the trying that matters. Virtue is not something inherited by a people, no matter how special we think we are. We have to take it on and try to live, each generation to each. It’s when we stop trying, when we take it for granted, that the game will be over. More than a day for fireworks, today should be a re-dedication to a good ideal that remains timeless.