Gertrude Stein famously said of Oakland, California, that “there is no there there.” Contrary to this being a putdown of her home city, she meant that because the house she grew up in was torn down, she no longer had a connection to that place. Mobility, globalization, and modern technology have eroded a sense of place. Much of the time we live in virtual reality.
I watched State of the Union on ABC last night. Afterwards, in the brief window of frantic punditry before the rebuttal speech, the talking heads zeroed in on the lack of a conciliatory tone from the president. The GOP flipped the Senate! Shouldn’t Obama play it less arrogant and more chagrined?
President Barack Obama’s State of the Union proposed to enlarge the American promise of prosperity by introducing a new tax structure for the very wealthy, tax credits for families outside of the wealthy stratum, increased access to retirement plans for more American workers, and a plan to subsidize community college tuition. While there will be resistance to the president’s proposals, the impulse behind them is an appeal to an idealized form of decency that Lyndon B. Johnson believed would make his idea of a Great Society an American reality.
Fifty years ago this month, Johnson introduced his vision to Congress.
Calling for a new kind of politics, the Church of England has issued a 52-page letter in anticipation of the May general election in the United Kingdom. Exhorting Christians to engage in politics, it says the chief motivation should be to address the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Calling for an end to “retail politics” and a renewed focus on the common good, the letter suggests that voters should challenge political candidates on such issues as the accumulation of wealth by the few, the need for the participation of diverse communities, and the value of the weak, dependent, sick, and aging (Guardian, February 17).
There is an 80 percent chance that later in this century a megadrought will plague the American Southwest for decades, according to a study released by researchers at NASA and at Columbia and Cornell universities. The drought will be caused by reduced precipitation and changes in evaporation rates. The researchers say other factors, such as the El Niño weather pattern, could interrupt long periods of severe drought. The researchers say there is time to reduce the factors contributing to climate change (Washington Post, February 12).