(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2012)
“Life is full of obstacle illusions.” Grant Frazier
A recent San Francisco 49ers game ended in a tie with the St. Louis Rams, the first professional football game to end in a tie in four years. I’m still not used to the Rams being the St. Louis Rams because they were the Los Angeles Rams for all of my youth and for decades thereafter, which made them our dread rivals along with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Lakers and all things Los Angeles. The Lakers, by the way, are called the Lakers because they were originally the Minneapolis Lakers, Minnesota having lakes whereas Los Angeles has viaducts; but the Los Angeles Viaducts would have been a silly name for a basketball team, so…the Dodgers were originally the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Golden State (Oakland) Warriors were originally the Philadelphia Warriors, and soon the San Francisco 49ers will be playing their games in Santa Clara and…nowadays professional sports franchises move ever more frequently from city-state to city-state at the whim of their billionaire owners.
This year, for instance, the Brooklyn Nets played their first games with that moniker having been moved to Brooklyn from New Jersey by their new multi-billionaire Russian owner who just built a billion-dollar sports complex in Brooklyn to house his new team. The Nets are the first professional sports franchise to call Brooklyn home since the Brooklyn Dodgers fled to Los Angeles in the 1950’s, and now New Jersey is without a professional basketball or football or baseball franchise. Oh well.
Anyway, that 49er’s game ending in a tie took me back to my senior year of high school when I was the goalie of the Woodside High soccer team and we were playing Sequoia High for the league championship. The year was 1967 and a long time before soccer would become the major American institution it is today. There were no such things as soccer moms in those days because there were no soccer leagues for children to be driven to. In fact, very few American high schools in 1967 had soccer teams, soccer being of such little interest to most Americans that we never had more than a handful of spectators at our games, and most of those were girlfriends of the players.
When we played for the league championship against the perennial champion Sequoia, there were perhaps fifty people in the stands, most of them the fathers and mothers and siblings of Sequoia’s many Mexican players, the large Mexican population of Redwood City being the basis for Sequoia’s perennial dominance of a soccer league otherwise composed of white kids, most of whom had played soccer for a few years at most, while the Mexican kids had been kicking balls around since they began to walk.
Miracle of miracles, and largely due to our stifling defensive play, that championship game ended in a 1-1 tie, and in those days penalty kick shootouts were a thing of the future. Ties happened and that’s just the way it was. I do remember that most of my teammates and all the Sequoia players were angry that the coaches wouldn’t let us play on until one team or the other scored a winning goal, but our anger quickly morphed into relief. After all, we probably would have lost had the game continued, and what was wrong with being co-champions? Nothing. Nowadays every sport from the peewee leagues to the pros has elaborate protocols for coming up with a winner in the event of a tie at the end of regulation, and I’ll wager this latest 49ers tie will set off a flurry of demands for rule changes to eradicate tie games in professional football forever.
“It is never too late to be who you might have been.” George Eliot
As I was musing about why tie games have become so unacceptable in America, I happened to catch a few minutes of a radio program featuring the president of the California Teachers’ Association and two other well-informed educators talking about the educational holocaust created by Bush’s No Child Left Behind, a program Obama has continued under the new name Race To The Top. This asinine system has severely damaged an entire generation of students (and teachers) by teaching the kids absolutely nothing while insisting they memorize and regurgitate masses of useless information in order to be tested on how much useless information they can memorize and regurgitate. These millions and millions of brilliant young people were not taught to write well or how to think critically or how to create art or how to invent things or how to solve problems or how to play musical instruments, and most importantly, as far as I’m concerned—and this relates to our new cultural taboo against games ending in ties—students were not taught to work together, to help each other, to cooperate, to share, and to undertake group projects that end in ties with everyone winning.
Race to the top? The top of what? The societal pyramid, right? And doesn’t that imply that if a tiny percentage of the people race to the top of the pyramid (or more likely are born there and jealously guard their lofty domain) that many more people will be on the bottom of the pyramid or near the bottom? Most people? Of course it does. We have the newest fangled gadgets and phones and computers and cars, but we have a fundamental design flaw in the organization of our society, a flaw we teach and preach as the law of the land. Race to the top, sucker, and you’d better get to the top or you will lose, no tie games allowed.
“Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.” Henry David Thoreau
One of the things I greatly appreciate about living in Mendocino is that most of the full time residents I’ve gotten to know could care less about racing to the top of any sort of social or economic pyramid or heap, and that’s one of the reasons they’ve chosen to live here. After abiding for eleven years in Berkeley where such racing and clawing and competing is endemic and exhausting, I am greatly relieved to live somewhere where I am liked or disliked for who I am rather than for who I know or where I live or how much money I have or don’t have. That racing clawing competing energy visits Mendocino on weekends and during the summer months when folks from the Bay Area come up to recreate or occupy their second (or third) homes; and whenever I find myself in the line of such unfriendly psychic fire, I escape post haste and thank my lucky stars I don’t live in Berkeley anymore.
“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.” H.G. Wells
Speaking of what’s new, one of the best things to become established in America in my lifetime is the popularity of bicycles and bicycling. When I moved to Sacramento in 1980, my main means of transportation was a bicycle, and so few people rode bicycles in those days that I was soon known in midtown and downtown as “the guy who rides a bike.” Seriously. I’m not kidding. I walked all over town, too, and dozens of times I was greeted by complete strangers with, “Hey, where’s your bike?” or “Hey, it’s the bike guy.”
“You know what I always dreamed of? That with the greenhouse effect, one day Estonia can be what Los Angeles is right now. I always thought when the end of the world comes, I want to be in Estonia. I think then I’d survive.” Carmen Kass
Speaking of bicycles, things, as in the projected changes in the earth’s climate, based on actual measurable data, are not looking good for the survival of humanity beyond another couple of generations unless we dramatically fantastically and heroically shrink our carbon footprints to almost nothing, and soon. “Oh, dear,” we Americans collectively respond to the irrefutable information about what’s happening on earth at this very moment, “but how can we reduce our carbon footprints even a little if the powers that be won’t provide us with groovalicious mass transit and spacious sturdy solar electric cars made from recycled plastic and inexpensive renewable energy and stuff like that? How can we change the way we live if someone else doesn’t provide convenient and excellent alternatives to the way we’re living now?”
The answer is that we, you and I, are extremely intelligent and resourceful people, and there is no doubt whatsoever that we can figure out myriads ways to dramatically fantastically and heroically shrink our individual and collective carbon footprints to a perfectly reasonable level if we set our minds and hearts to the task. Not only that, but we are so resourceful and creative that we can dramatically reduce our carbon footprints and have fun at the same time. To get your imaginative juices flowing in that direction, think about walking, bicycles, insulation, potluck dinners, ride sharing, solar power, wind power, buying local, thermal underwear, driving less, candlelight, darkness, vegetable gardens…
And think about what Thomas Hedges just reported for Truthdig:
Since 2000, Germany has converted 25 percent of its power grid to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass. The architects of the clean energy movement Energiewende, which translates to “energy transformation,” estimate that from 80 percent to 100 percent of Germany’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2050.
Germans are baffled that the United States has not taken the same path. Not only is the U.S. the wealthiest nation in the world, but it’s also credited with jump-starting Germany’s green movement 40 years ago.
“This is a very American idea,” Arne Jungjohann, a director at the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation (HBSF), said at a news conference Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C. “We got this from Jimmy Carter.”
Indeed, the only thing stopping Americans from inventing and implementing wonderful new carbon-lite lives is our unwillingness to believe that such changes are truly necessary.