I have been decidely scroogey this Christmas. I never forget “the reason for the season,” and that it has absolutely nothing to do with the trimmings and trappings and culinary excess and checking with relatives to see who bought what for the little ones and trying to out-decorate neighbors to show how much merrier we are… But even trying to dwell upon the birth of Christ has not helped this year. There is the slightest sense, I must confess, of — oh, how shall we say this? — futility? I know I’m not alone; I’ve talked to friends and acquaintances who feel the same, regardless of their religious affiliations or lack thereof. And I feel slightly guilty admitting it – especially when I just read this generous comment below. But there ya have it.
We had a quiet, somewhat unconventional Christmas day. We joined friends for a walk and a picnic along the water’s edge at Crissy Field, in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. (The gull above was part of the scenery.) They brought flowers for each of us to scatter in remembrance of special people who are no longer with us. It was actually a perfect way to spend this particular Christmas.
Perhaps I’ll perk up a bit by Epiphany…
Well, this is my last column for 2004, so let’s play a little “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me.” I’ll give you 10 news stories from the past few weeks and you tell me what they all have in common.
1. The report that Colin Powell told President Bush a few weeks ago that we do not have enough troops in Iraq and that we don’t control the terrain. 2. The report that the Pentagon’s $10 billion-a-year effort to build an antimissile shield, and have a basic ground-based version in place by the end of this year, ran into difficulty two weeks ago when the first test in almost two years failed because the interceptor missile didn’t take off. 3. The report that the Bush-Republican budget for 2005 contained a $100 million cut in federal funding to the National Science Foundation. 4. The report that at a time when young Americans are competing head to head with young Chinese, Indians and Eastern Europeans more than ever, the Bush team is trimming support for the Pell grant program, which helps poor and working-class young Americans get a higher education. (The change will save $300 million, while some 1.3 million students will receive smaller Pell grants.)
5. The report this month that children in Asian countries once again surpassed U.S. fourth graders and eighth graders in the latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. (U.S. eighth graders did improve their scores from four years ago, but U.S. fourth graders remained stagnant.) A week earlier, the Program for International Student Assessment showed U.S. 15-year-olds scoring below average compared with those in other countries when asked to apply math skills to real-life tasks, the A.P. reported. 6. The report this month that the Bush administration has reduced America’s contribution to global food aid programs intended to help the world’s hungry feed themselves. (The Bush team said the cut was necessary to keep our deficit under control!) 7. The report that U.S. military spending this year is running at about $450 billion.
Wait, wait, don’t go way; there’s more: 8. The report that Donald Rumsfeld was confronted by troops in Iraq about the fact that they did not have enough armor on their vehicles and were having to scrounge for makeshift armor to protect themselves. 9. The report that among President Bush’s top priorities in his second term is to simplify the tax code and to make the sweeping tax cuts from his first term permanent. (The cost to the Treasury for doing so, the A.P. reported, would be over a trillion.) And finally: 10. The report that the U.S. dollar continued to hover near record lows against the euro.
So what is the common denominator of all these news stories? Wait, wait, don’t tell me. I want to tell you. The common denominator is a country with a totally contradictory and messed-up set of priorities.
OK, this was short and grumpy, but I have to give up for the night. Our 1950ish gravity heater gave up its ghost (via a cracked chamber leaking carbon monoxide) and we have been without heat since November (the landlord is hoping for a cheaper replacement estimate). Those of you buried under 3 feet of snow and 6 inches of ice might not sympathize, but these old (1929) uninsulated San Francisco houses get mighty damp and nippy during the winter. It’s 53 degrees inside, I’m wearing three layers of clothing, and typing in rubber gloves (the wooly kind being a little cumbersome
for a keyboard). I can see my own breath. Refrain, if you can, from the “hot air” jokes.