Thursday, June 2, 2016

251. Farm work made me tougher

In one of my favorite movies, “The Natural,” New York Knights manager Pop Fisher and aging comeback star Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford, have an exchange about farming. Pop talks about what he would do if he had won a championship: “I’d have walked away from baseball and I’d have bought a farm.”

Hobbs replies, “Nothing like a farm. Nothing like being around animals, fixing things. There’s nothing like being in the field with the corn and the winter wheat. The greenest stuff you ever saw.”

Growing up on a small farm and loving baseball, I’ve seen that movie several times. There is a lot in that movie about life, comebacks, passion, greatness, mistakes, and greed. It’s an examination of how fast life can change.

Our farm was small and not necessarily commercial. It really only lasted six or seven years. We had chickens, ducks, rabbits, cows, pigs,and occasionally a horse. The 11 acres also had a barn, vegetable gardens, pasture, and tractors. My father was a city kid and I am still not sure what really inspired his attraction to farming. As a child, it was often a hindrance — creating a list of chores that delayed playing with friends.

However, I now look back at our time on the farm with great affection. For me, our farm offered more than just tomatoes or eggs; it provided an insight into life and nature. As a kid, so much was imprinted on me, from what cucumber leaves look like to the difficult realities of the lives and deaths of farm animals. I did a lot of things I wouldn’t do now, such as shoot a rabbit or kill a chicken. At the time they seemed like rites of passage.

Farms are a lot of work. There is not only the daily feeding and watering of the animals, there is work in the garden, maintenance, and other miscellaneous duties such as ordering supplies and feed. Animals need to be taken care of every day of the year—and that means in the freezing cold of winter and days we were going to Cedar Point. Some days were miserable. Others it was just an annoying chore. In between, it was learning about life — and is probably why I majored in biology. I spent time with the animals, worked with them, looked them in the eyes, played with them, and learned their personalities. I also cried when they died or it was time to send them to slaughter. It was certainly a family endeavor and some of our lasting family moments come from the farm, such as the time the horse got stuck on the frozen pond or the time the cows got out. There was nothing better than a home-cooked dinner after a long day of work.

With the advent of large corporate farms, genetic modifications, and modern science medicine, I think we have lost an important aspect of what it means to live on and off this planet. More than that, I think children have lost the opportunity to learn about nature, hard work, and responsibility. I don’t want to stereotype because there are still many farms but increasingly society is moving away from the viability of small farms and the families that work on them.

Living in the suburbs and cutting the grass once a week, walking through the metro parks on Saturday mornings, or attending farm camp once a summer is not a substitute for the experience of the daily responsibility of farm life — just as my experience was not nearly as difficult as those that lived in previous generations. When watching shows about life in colonial times or visiting historic sites and seeing what they endured, I am left in admiration.

If we want to make America great again, I think America needs to get tougher. Of course, I don’t mean gangster tough, I mean grind it out, down-and-dirty tough. We need teach the value of hard work and the appreciation of life to the next generation. It should be the personal work ethic that leads to future success — doing what it takes through adversity to get ahead.

A little farm work might just be the answer. There is nothing like it.

250. Explaining the right-left presidential election split

With Donald Trump securely now the Republican nominee for president, and Hillary Clinton the presumptive Democratic nominee thanks in large part to the ridiculous notion of superdelegates, Americans will likely choose between the two in November.

Trump survived more than a dozen Republican candidates in an entertaining primary. Though many candidates were seriously flawed, which convoluted support, the voters bought the notion of a “non-establishment” candidate despite his lack of professionalism and pervasive schoolyard name-calling. On the Democratic side, Clinton appears to have survived an unexpectedly strong challenge from socialist Bernie Sanders.

The match-up is ironic in that while winning their primaries, both candidates are widely unpopular. Their unpopularity ratings are above 50 percent, which suggests the general election may be decided by voting for the lesser of two evils. Trump has had difficulty unifying a Republican party that hasn’t been able to fathom the fact that he is their nominee. Likewise, the Clinton and Sanders’ battle has become so contentious that Clinton now faces the challenge of winning over Sanders’ voters even in the general election.

The support for Sanders has not only been a passionate plea for a new type of social equality, but also politics — particularity how political campaigns are financed. Sanders enthusiasts, who feel (rightly so) that the Democratic primary has been a highly prejudicial affair want big money, particularly corporate money, out of politics. In this respect, Clinton upsets a fundamental philosophy with Sanders supporters and to them represents everything that is wrong with politics.

Despite being highly qualified for the presidency, Clinton supporters lack the passion of the other candidates. Currently Clinton and Trump are running neck and neck, which is implausible considering that Trump is unpopular even among Republicans, Clinton has the chance to be the first woman president, and the Democrats should be united and highly motivated about the chance to elect another Democrat. I’ve personally heard from many Republicans who said they will vote for Clinton over Trump.

So why does this race appear to be so close?

The problem is those Sanders voters who reportedly won’t vote for Clinton. Polls indicate that up to 20 percent won’t support her in the general election. Some say they will vote for Trump, many indicate indifference or are holding out hope that Sanders will still somehow win the Democratic nomination or run as an Independent. Whether it is the superdelegates, perceived Democratic party favoritism toward Clinton, or Clinton herself, Sanders supporters are having a hard time warming up to her.

I suspect after the convention when Democratic voters are forced to deal with the reality that it will be either Clinton or Trump in the White House, more Sanders supporters will fall in line. If the Republicans had nominated someone a little more reasonable, Democrats — particularly Sanders supporters — would maybe have had a more difficult decision. But with Trump, it’s hard to see any progressive or liberal wanting that.

In addition, a looming issue in the November election is the Supreme Court vacancy. If Senate Republicans refuse to act and confirm a new Supreme Court Justice, the task will be left to the new president to do so. This important addition to the court might draw voters back to the party alliances. For example, my wife, who like myself is a staunch Sanders supporter, said she will not vote for Clinton unless a new Supreme Court Justice has not yet been confirmed. Thus, the abhorrent defiance of Republican senators might actually harm Trump in November.

Obama has nominated Chief Judge Merrick Garland, who seems to be quite fair and moderate by many standards. However, I’ve said, in line with my wife’s position, that if he is not confirmed by November, I will vote for Clinton and, if she wins, I hope she nominates the youngest, most liberal potential supreme court justice available. Swift justice for irresponsible and obstructive Republican senators.

The Presidential election will be not only historic and important, but also entertaining for political junkies. Clinton vs. Trump will certainly provide some amusing debates, but also has the potential to be one of the ugliest elections in recent history. Both are parts of political machines that are willing to win at all costs.