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Works and Days

Change—and Some Hope

May 12th, 2012 - 4:46 pm

What a weird, weird bi-state. In the Bay Area, acquaintances initiate conversation by announcing the discovery of a new underappreciated bistro in Los Altos, Palo Alto, or Menlo Park. In Selma, conversations are started with the latest weird theft. (Yes, roses are the most recent: any rural residence with lots of roses growing near the road will find them gone, periodically picked for the new burgeoning flower industry of peddlers, who sell pilfered bouquets on the rural intersections. [This Mother's Day I feel like buying back at the stand down the road the long-stemmed roses that were stripped off my roadside bush]). Oh, for those who write in: The tab the last two weeks? Just roses and an air compressor. Not too bad.

In the last few months some disturbing statistics made the news about California. We now have about nine million residents who were not born in the U.S—or one of every four Californians. In recent public school science testing, California school students ranked 47th in the nation. That’s the scientific reality beneath the thin tony veneer of Apple, Facebook, and Google elites. And of the last ten million persons added to California’s population, seven million of them are now on Medicaid. In that same last twenty years the number of new tax filers (150,000) was almost matched by the number of new prison inmates (115,000).

Yes, it is the best or worst of times in California. My poor grandfather huddled around an ancient black and white TV to get the news; I flip open my laptop in his house and in a nano-second read analysis about the news in Germany, or access the corpus of Greek literature. Yet he never had a lock on his door; I’ve installed gates to close my medieval compound at 9 each evening before the hunters and gatherers begin their nocturnal foraging for copper wire and tractor batteries.

Now and then, you can almost catch glimpses of greatness again. Were the borders to close, were integration and assimilation to catch up, were we to unleash the entrepreneurs in farming, oil, and minerals, then these isolated spots of prosperity would spread and turn the desert green. Even a Jerry Brown, the California legislature, the Berkeley professor, or the Santa Cruz activist could not stop the prosperity.

Give Obama some credit. He has framed the 2012 election as a conflict of visions unlike any of our time. It’s our choice now, no excuses, no one left to blame. Change is coming, and with it, hope. This week I saw a ray of sunshine amid the clouds.

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