Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Early Exits

In keeping with the sort of lighthearted subject matter normally found on the Square Peg, we turn today to yet another—suicide.

A disturbing report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention not only reports that suicide is up 24% since 2001, but that it is up across all demographics. Age. Race. Gender. The biggest increases were seen among middle-aged white men aged 45 to 64 and young girls between the ages of 10 and 14.

Of course, the overarching question is why? Why, in a country we are told from birth is the greatest in the world, are people voluntarily ending their lives in record numbers? Unrealistic expectations? The economic realities of post-recession America? Hopelessness?

Teens have traditionally suffered from a high incidence of suicide. At a stage of life that can be confusing and even terrifying, high hormonal levels can abet intense emotional swings which escalate uncomfortable events into tragedies.

Historically, the elderly have also suffered, the most obvious reason being declining health. Coupled with limited financial resources, an inability to live independently and a lost sense of purpose it can be a time of deep distress and despair.

The appearance of pre-teen girls and middle-aged men is new.

I will speculate that this group of girls may be extremely apprehensive about the onset of puberty, and whether they will be physically attractive and otherwise able to fulfill the increasingly high expectations our society holds for women.

Be a Nobel Prize-winning physicist-slash-model and raise Nobel Prize-winning children or risk being considered a failure. 

Hey, no worries. 
 
The last group I am quite familiar with, and that is middle-aged white men. A group that constitutes 18% of the population now accounts for 33% of all suicides.

In certain quarters, this might elicit muted satisfaction. Or even not so muted satisfaction. 

White men have enjoyed the best of everything and are to blame for everything, so it's only fair that now they kill themselves in record numbers, right? This is cultural payback. A societal market correction.

Before we sign off on this conclusion and move on to the next thing, I'd like to point out that the white men terminating themselves aren't the white guys you hate. The white guys you hate are still in positions of power, immensely wealthy policy-makers largely untouched by the ravages of the Great Recession.

The middle-aged white men killing themselves are being cast into the insidiousness of poverty despite spending 35, 40, or even 45 years doing all the stuff they were told would prevent it.

It's one helluva mind-fuck.

So. Our kids and our dads and just about everyone else are killing themselves in numbers never seen before, leaving behind a scarred and grieving trail of friends and parents and siblings and children.

Are we going to take a long, hard look into the mirror and ask why? Are we going to ask ourselves how do we stop this?

Or does this conflict with the 'It's all good' ethos? 

Just asking. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

In Memoriam

My favorite FDR moment arrived during a speech he gave in New York City just before the 1936 presidential election.

Addressing those who felt his New Deal policies served him better than they did the country, as well as those who simply disliked him on principle, Roosevelt thundered “They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”

It was one of the strongest, most-galvanizing statements I ever heard a Democrat make. It reeked of defiance and purpose. Hearing it again in the midst of the Obama presidency, it seemed strangely powerful and provoked this question:

Given congressional Republican's abject refusal to even consider anything emanating from his administration, why haven't we heard similar words from the Obama White House?

Yes, Obama has faced protracted and entrenched resistance for most of his presidency. He could have invented sex and Republicans would just say they got screwed.

On the other hand, he too often played the role of Republican appeaser rather than the world's most powerful Democrat, and this was true before the GOP's takeover of Congress. Obama never grasped the dynamic at work, and squandered a fortune in political capital in the process.

It's no wonder frustrated Democrats (myself included) flocked to Bernie Sanders.

True, Sanders was soft on guns. And we're only too aware of his oft-ridiculed notion of free college tuition.

Yet Bernie Sanders was the sole candidate addressing the outrages perpetuated by our corporate banks and Wall Street and big business in general. Of the relentless march of corporate greed and its devastating consequences.

Sanders shone a very bright light on the corrosive effects of big money on politics, and came thisclose to upending the conventional campaign model. Sanders moved Hillary Clinton's campaign decidedly to the left, which never would have happened otherwise.

He made Clinton a stronger Democratic candidate.

I am deeply saddened his campaign is all but over. He was that rare presidential candidate who inspired something as opposed to merely being the lesser of two evils. He was bold. He was different. He had ideas.

He wasn't the latest media-approved brand name our simple-minded culture could digest. If you believe Donald Trump is a rebel, and that by voting for him you are too, think again. He's a billionaire reality TV star. A celebrity. 

It doesn't get any hoarier. (Pun intended.)

Bernie was our best chance to slow the nation's unquestioning lurch to the right. Our best chance to combat what increasingly appears to be an emerging corporate-run police state, a dystopia fueled by slave labor yielding grotesque wealth for an even more-grotesque sliver of the population.

A nation which cuts the Three Musketeers' ethos of “All for one and one for all” in half.

The best we can hope for is that Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign was a door opening, and not a door closing.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Learning to Respect The Man

As a product of the late-sixties and early-seventies and witness to posters, t-shirts and bumper stickers offering variations of the era's don't trust anyone over thirty mantra, I was reluctant to admit The Man mattered.

I was more inclined to believe The Man was an out of touch, over-fed Republican intent on exploiting the masses for personal gain when he wasn't entertaining thoughts of shearing off my hair and packing my ass off to Vietnam.

Okay, so The Man was (and still is) looking to exploit the masses for personal gain. But as I would learn, he could also serve a useful function. 

One was reviving moribund sports franchises.

By the mid-seventies, the Chicago Bears were a pathetic sight. Offering some of the most anemic, unimaginative and uninspired football ever seen on NFL turf, the once-formidable franchise couldn't even lose well.

Their four, five and six-win seasons meant they weren't able to enjoy the restorative effects high draft picks could supply.

The watershed moment arrived when their once visionary owner looked in the mirror and realized what was wrong with the Chicago Bears. It was only then that George Halas stepped aside and hired a GM conversant in post-WW II-style football.

Jim Finks had masterminded the Minnesota Vikings' late-sixties rise to NFL prominence, after resurrecting the Calgary Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. He possessed an uncanny eye for evaluating talent and potential.

Just three years after Finks' arrival the Bears participated in the NFL playoffs, a once-unimaginable occurrence. Finks moved the franchise away from drafting players the frugal Halas believed he could sign on the cheap to drafting players Finks thought could excel at professional football.

During Finks' tenure Walter Payton, Mike Hartenstine, Doug Plank, Roland Harper, Dan Hampton, Al Harris, Otis Wilson, Mike Suhey, Keith Van Horne, Mike Singletary, Todd Bell, Leslie Frazier, Jay Hilgenberg, Jim McMahon, Jim Covert, Willie Gault, Mike Richardson, Dave Duerson, Tom Thayer, Richard Dent, Mark Bortz and Dennis McKinnon were either drafted or signed as undrafted free agents.

Castoffs like Emery Moorehead, Steve McMichael and Gary Fencik were signed as free agents. It's worth noting that twenty of the twenty-four starters on the 1985 Super Bowl team were acquired during Finks' tenure.

But The Man is relative. While Jim Finks appeared to be The Man for all intent and purposes, George Halas still owned the Bears and was still breathing. He had influence to exert and an ego to satisfy.

The first dent in the Halas-Finks relationship was Halas' hiring of Mike Ditka, during which the old man apparently forgot he had hired Finks. Further eroding the relationship was Finks' drafting of Jim McMahon, whom Halas didn't think highly of.

While history proved both decisions to be sound ones, the relationship was damaged beyond repair. Finks resigned shortly before the 1983 season began, and Halas died just two months later. The 1985 Bears famously won Super Bowl XX.

The raft of talented players Finks brought to Chicago did what players do. They got injured. They got old. A few held out and never regained their career momentum. Without Finks' unerring assessments to replenish the team, this talent was never adequately replaced, putting the franchise in a nosedive that, for the most part, it has never been able to pull out of.

Ironic that even The Man has to please The Man. It's always something.