Monday, August 18, 2014
Two weeks, two thousand miles, Chicago to the Atlantic Ocean and back, showing various Southern and Tidewater colleges to the younger boy—more about that later.
Lot of trash on the roads, particularly ripped apart tire treads. Lot of crosses too: whitewashed wooden memorial markers, some hung with garlands of flowers, emblazoned with names that register for a moment before they flash by and vanish forever.
I wondered about the connection, and concluded: slashed local municipal budgets. Less money to repair roads, never mind clean them. The highway around Gary looks like it's reverting to prairie, with goldenrod and Queen Anne's lace crowding the shoulders. They should just stick a sign on it calling it "The Indiana Prairie Reclamation Project" and pretend it's intentional.
Oh, and the shell of a high rise hotel right next to the City Hall that I've read three times Gary has begun to tear down. It is still up, untouched.
Having been on the road for a solid two weeks, pulling into town late Sunday night, news came to me through the great national conduits of broadcast television and USA Today, which is like trying to breathe through a pair of straws.
Only two big stories happened, knocking Gaza and Ukraine into the memory hole of oblivion, for now. Two American deaths, one famous, one obscure, blotting out all that foreign carnage which, I assume, is still going on.
Robin Williams, the famous comedian, and Michael Brown, the 18-year-old Missourian. The first died by his own hand, the other, by a police officer's.
First Williams, whose suicide sincerely upset people, to judge from the heartfelt tributes and expressions of shock on social media, which thrives on surprise and bathos. We think we know celebrities, we think we own them, and they owe us fidelity. Reading the keening posts on Facebook about Williams, I almost commented, "Hey, save it for someone you actually know." But why stick your hand into that blender? People are entitled to their emotions, I suppose.
The media, scrambling to catch up, gave him what I long ago dubbed "The Full Diana"—well, not quite the black-bordered, special theme music threnody given to the British princess, but a treacly blast of overkill that reached its nadir, at least for what I saw munching Holiday Inn Express breakfasts, when the Today Show flashed photos of Koko, a gorilla whom Robin Williams once met, being sad at news of his death.
"Wow, that was powerful," a Today Show newsgal chirped, reminding me why I never watch television, and shouldn't even complain about it, breaking my own adage that complaining about the content of television is like criticizing the wallpaper in a brothel: the validity of whatever point you might have is dwarfed by the fact that you shouldn't be there in the first place. TV is crap, you deserve what you get. If you want to watch models on CNN trying to deliver and report the news, you should take what you get.
USA Today had the most shocking story on Williams; shocking in that it was in the hotel freebie publication, yet still conveyed something important and factual that I hadn't known before: that the suicide rate is double the homicide rate, greater even than the number of people who die in car accidents. My respect for USA Today is such that I immediately double-checked the figures, and they held up, a reminder that the things we're scared of—such as being murdered—are often far less of a threat than fears we usually shrug off, like the risk of killing yourself.
We get upset over the rare stuff, and ignore the actual problem.
Keep that in mind.
You'd think that would be something every educated person would know. But I'm not embarrassed to say I didn't because I suspect most people don't know either.
Speaking of fear, and the way the news twists the actual risks in life, enter the Michael Brown story last weekend. An unarmed 18-year-old shot by a cop in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, a tragedy soon eclipsed by the cycle of protest and official overreaction that captivated the nation. Lots of shots of tear gas and a dozen or two people standing in the street, and no perspective. Was the city burning down? Or one block having a disturbance?
What is it about a white officer killing a black youth that so captivates everybody? Is it a chance for urban black communities to off-load their frustration over the horrendous toll that black-on-black crime takes onto a villain more acceptable than themselves? Just as everybody would much rather worry about some monster murdering them than the far more likely chance that they'll murder themselves, so black communities seem to prefer focusing on the anomaly of official violence than the daily routine of black-on-black crime, and the media, obviously, prefers chewing over it. Department of Justice figures over a 30-year-period show that 94 percent of black murder victims are killed by other blacks (the figure for whites is 86 percent). Maybe USA Today has a graph on that—the past few nights have been in a Quality Inn, which doesn't carry it.
If the story is "about" anything truly significant, it seems to be about how legitimate unrest is blown into crisis by hickburg Barney Fifes armed to the teeth with military weaponry. What do you expect? One of the many unfortunate repercussions of 9/11 is the federal government flooding flyspeck police departments with funds earmarked for tanks and other heavy weapons, SWAT teams and all sorts of superfluous police state gear that, being cops, they are just itching to use. To a hammer, the saying goes, every problem looks like a nail.
Anyway, grim though the news be, it's good to be back home. If the above seems punchy, slapped together by a guy who drove 350 miles up from Covington, Kentucky on donuts, White Castle sliders, coffee and chocolate, well, it was. I'll be more balanced tomorrow, I hope. Thanks for slogging through two weeks of my 2002 kitchen remodeling series. Sorry about that. In retrospect, it was too long, violating another rule of mine: three columns, tops, on a subject, before it's time for move on. The world is too varied and interesting and fast-changing to fixate.
Enough. Sunday's New York Times and Sun-Times were waiting on my doorstep, and I think I'll brew some tea and catch up on what else is going on in the world. See you tomorrow, and every day, onward into eternity.