The Decline of the United States of America

One of a series.

I drive under the bridge that the Amtrak train tragically jumped the track on in Dupont, Washington over 300 times a year. A considerable part of the coverage was surprise at how fast the train was going. “Even faster than the freeway traffic.” Turns out it was maxing out at 80mph or 129kph. The train lacked the “smart” self-stopping brakes that are de rigueur on trains in other developed countries.

Here’s some perspective for the globally challenged.

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At 320-350 kilometers an hour, Seattle to Portland would take about 50 minutes. Once up and running again, our new, ten minute faster train, will still take over three hours. Plain and simple, we’re getting our ass kicked.

Sayonara Ichiro

On Monday afternoon Ichiro switched lockerrooms and traded his Mariners uni for pinstripes. Wins for losses. Unless you’re a Pacific Northwesterner or serious baseball fan, you probably don’t know that veteran Mariners don’t fade away, they just sign with the Damn Yankees.

I’ll never forget one of Ichiro’s first Mariner games when he threw a guy out at third from deep right. The “laser beam”. The best throw I’ve ever seen (at 3:52).

Despite having played 11.5 years in Seattle and being a future Hall of Famer, most Mariner fans have an “it’s about time, don’t let the door hit you on the way out” attitude towards the trade. When Griffey was traded to the Reds in 2000, M fans were crestfallen. Why the dramatic difference?

Here’s the alleged rap against Ichiro:

• he’s selfish as evidenced by his singleminded pursuit of a record number of hits at the expense of working counts, getting walked, and creating even more havoc on the bases

• he’s selfish as evidenced by his keeping to himself and providing zero clubhouse leadership despite being the team’s best player throughout most of his M career

• he was a diva—as his salary skyrocketed and his skills declined in recent years, coaches couldn’t move him in the batting order, rest him, or (until Monday) trade him because over the years, the team’s Japanese owners, his agent, and him yielded more power than the team’s shorter-tenure GM and coach

• he was duplicitous, speaking English in private while using a Japanese interpreter in public

To muddy the water even more, reporters that covered the team in the 90’s describe Griffey as difficult, surly, impersonal. Maybe the dramatic difference is the result of one, or a mix, of three possibilities.

Theory One. Griffey’s passionate style of play, his prodigious homeruns and willingness to run full speed into the centerfield wall to make a catch, more than compensated for his own interpersonal limitations. Also add into the mix the way he came up, starring immediately, with his dad in the lineup. The Kid.

Theory Two. Griffey was beloved in part because at least half the time his M’s won. The M’s lost for eleven of Ichiro’s twelve years. His popularity suffered as a result of management that wasn’t willing to spend enough to build a team that could compete. Just as Griffey benefited from positive winning vibes, Ichiro paid the price of mounting fan frustration.

Theory Three. Admittedly, far less flattering. Instead of seeing Ichiro as one, especially introverted person, many M fans didn’t understand or appreciate the cultural differences he had to deal with daily, and ultimately ended up resenting his foreignness. Given the stark contrast, I can’t help but wonder if the Grif-Ichi public sentiment chasm is at least partially explained by xenophobia.

Any of these resonate? Have another theory?

Before

After

A More Gentle Pace

I recommend Roman Krznaric’s “The Wonderbox“. From the book flap:

There are many ways to improve our lives: we can turn to the wisdom of philosophers, the teachings of religion, or the latest experiments of psychologists. But we rarely look to history for inspiration—and when we do it can be surprisingly powerful. Uncovering the lessons that can be learned from the past, cultural historian Roman Krznaric explores twelve universal topics from work and love to money and creativity, and reveals the wisdom we’ve been missing. There is much to be learned from Ancient Greece on the different varieties of love; from the industrialising British on job satisfaction; and ancient Japanese pilgrims on the art of travel.

I just finished Chapter Five titled “Time”. I appreciate your making the time to “read me,” but my guess is you won’t follow the book link, let alone read the book because you don’t have the time. Here’s one pgraph from Chapter Five to give you the flavor flav of the book:

My adventures with time are not simply a rejection of the clock, but an embrace of absorbing the world at a more gentle pace. When I got to an art gallery, I try to visit only two or three paintings. Each morning I walk in the garden and search for something that has changed—perhaps a bud that has opened or a new spiderweb—which helps bring a stillness to the beginning of the day. I attempt to eat slowly, savouring the flavours. Almost everybody laughs at my tiny diary, which give each day a space half the length of my little finger. As it is so easily filled, it helps keep down my number of appointments. Artificial? Absolutely. But it works for me. The best way I know to have more time, to feel less rushed, and appreciate life to the fullest, is to plan fewer activities.

Krznaric doesn’t wear a watch, programs his phone and other gadgets so the time doesn’t show, and covers the built-in clocks on his kitchen appliances in an effort to resist modern society’s all encompassing artificial demarcations of time.

You may do the same a few days or weeks a year when on vacation. There’s nothing much more liberating than, temporarily at least, disconnecting from time.

Most people equate minimalism with decluttering and that’s an integral part, but planning fewer activities may be even more essential to living more slowly and simply. My North American, upper middle-class suburban peers are particularly susceptible to over planning because they fear their children will be disadvantaged if they don’t participate in nearly every extracurricular activity including sports, music, theater, religious youth or service groups, and family travel.

Chock-full family calendars, found in most suburban kitchens, are testaments to hyper-activity. Consequently, most children really don’t know what to do with “free time”. Especially, screen-free free time.

An insight worth repeating. “The best way I know to have more time, to feel less rushed, and appreciate life to the fullest, is to plan fewer activities.”

The audacity. Slate’s Rachel Larimore disagrees with Krznaric and myself. In Defense of Busyness.

How ’bout you?

Slowing to a complete stop recently on the Deschutes River in Sunriver, Oregon

The GalPal’s morning “to do”—sit by the river.

Our Passive Acceptance of Evil

I’ve been subjecting my unlucky, long-suffering wife to a string of intense foreign flicks. Most recently, In a Better World, which won the Oscar for the 2011 Best Foreign Language Film. One reviewer explains that “the film examines the different ways people react to injustice, and looks at how what counts as ‘revenge’, as opposed to ‘justice’, is a matter of perception.” Watch it and let me know what you think.

How do you react to injustice? What, if anything, do you do when you see an adult hit a child in public? What, if anything, do you do when you learn someone is a victim of domestic abuse? What, if anything do you when your tax dollars make it possible for drones to kill bad guys and innocent civilians anonymously from the sky?

I know what you do when an evil person, family, or cadre in Zimbabwe or North Korea hits, impoverishes, and imprisons on a national scale. Nothing. Most people cope with the atrocities of those regimes by not paying attention to them. If we don’t even know where Zimbabwe and North Korea are, who Kim Jong-un and Robert Mugabe are, or what Zimbabweans’ and North Koreans’ lives are like, it’s so much easier to just make fun of how backward the countries are.

On the other hand, if we’re better than our popular culture, and press pause long enough to learn what life is like for fellow humans who were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, it’s impossible to watch the North Korean succession without getting sick to your stomach.

The North Korean tragedy is nearly impossible to grasp, but here’s an imperfect analogy. If your politics are anything like mine, after John McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate during the 2008 U.S. presidential election, you had a few “Oh shit, there’s a possibility of an ill-informed, right wing dilettante becoming president” moments. Forget President Sarah Palin. Instead imagine if the vote was canceled and Jenna Bush was appointed President. Jenna, not Barbara because she revealed a greater capacity for cruelty. One of Jong-un’s alleged childhood pastimes was torturing small animals.

I miss Christopher Hitchens’ writing. This incredibly vacuous New Yorker essay on North Korea’s Kim Jong-il’s funeral ceremony/performance begs a question—who will fill his shoes? Without Hitchens’ passionate, populist voice the Kim Jong-un succession has even more of a feel of inevitability.

I get it, the immediacy of the evil in North Korea pales in comparison to the violence in our own neighborhoods and communities, but the scale of human suffering deserves more of our attention. We can and should be committed to a more peaceful and just 2012 both in our own communities and on the Korean Peninsula.