I’m trying to ignore the news from Washington. It’s the silly season---less than two weeks to go before the elections---and we should eye with suspicion any reports, analyses, studies, and surveys produced in this hothouse environment. Mud is being flung in every direction in the hope that not all of it will be washed off by Election Day.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of voters have seen this heavy breathing before, so they won’t care whether a senatorial candidate attended a risqué Super Bowl party, whether an actor exaggerated his disability in a commercial (or a radio talk show host was cruel such to opine), whether a senator had plastic surgery, or whether another senator used a mildly racist remark in an unguarded moment. In the silly season instant messages from a worldly young man to a pathetic middle-aged ex-Congressman have been scrutinized as if they were inscribed on stone tablets, then forgotten as the next scandal floated to the surface.
My gerrymandered-district’s representative to Congress could run against Abraham Lincoln and win without breaking a sweat. He has displayed good sense for a Democrat; I’ve voted for him in the past and am leaning toward voting for him next month. I’ll go to the polls because it’s my civic duty although my vote counts for very very little.
Nevertheless, it’s a good time to take stock. Our family is doing okay—we’re in good health (I don’t credit or blame the politicians for that)---and the country seems to be doing okay as well. The Dow Jones is at an all-time high, and our modest portfolio has recovered to pre-9/11 levels. My employer is going through some changes (whose hasn’t?), but if something happens to my job there seem to be a lot of want-ads for a person with my skills; most of my acquaintances who’ve been looking for work have landed jobs as good or better than the ones they had before.
I was pleasantly surprised at the fuel pump yesterday when I paid $2.39 per gallon; it was over $3 just a month ago. Gasoline has never been a significant part of our monthly budget—it’s about the same as our cellphone plan---so the recent drop in price is rationally insignificant but packs a feel-good wallop out of proportion to its importance.
The real estate market has cooled, so our house is worth less than it was a year ago. We ignored prices in the neighborhood when they were going up, and we’re ignoring the decline of the past year. When and if we move, our home’s value will cease to be academic and then we’ll care.
The most important topic in this year’s election is war and terrorism. We’ve not had another attack on U.S. soil since 2001, and that seems miraculous. But Iraq is a mess, and there seems to be no end to the expenditure of lives and treasure if we want to “win”, however winning is defined. And there are plenty of other trouble spots: Iran, Afghanistan, and North Korea are the main ones but if those aren’t enough we need to worry about Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Venezuela.
It’s possible, even likely, that we can’t have the good---no attacks on U.S. soil---without the bad. Iraq is a cause célèbre
that attracts jihadists like moths to a flame (or flies to paper
). This is a phenomenon that we have seen before: in the 1930’s Western dreamers and romantics took up arms in the Spanish civil war
'Spain' became the cause célèbre for the left-leaning intelligentsia across the Western world, and many prominent artists and writers entered the Republic's service.
Only now the dreamers are on the other side.
But back to the question in the title, I am better off than I was two, four, and five years ago. And yes, things could be even better, but they also could be a lot, lot worse. © 2006 Stephen Yuen