The O-town Scene

July 28, 2011

The O-town Scene - Oneonta, NY

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Living Long and Prospering by Sam Spokony Is it a bad thing that America no longer sees itself as invincible? In its July 11 issue, Time Magazine published a 10-ques- tion poll (created by Time and Aspen Ideas Festival) of 2,017 Americans _ along with a brief article explaining the results, which was written by Mark J. Penn, CEO of Penn Schoen Berland (the research firm that conducted the poll). The piece was entitled “The Pessimism Index.” The professionally arranged and prettily displayed data reveals to the hapless magazine reader that, according to more than two-thirds of our fellow citizens, the past decade has been a period of American decline. The poll “confirms that the country is going through one of its longest sustained periods of unhappiness ever.” And Penn chalks that all up to the simple fact that America’s “feelings of invincibility have been replaced by a new sense of inevitable vulnerability.” I’m sure a lot of thought went into the design and imple- mentation of this “major” poll _ and I’m sure that it will, to some degree, achieve its implied goal of shocking the reader. That doesn’t mean that it’s not entirely and thought- lessly misguided. It is. I’ll tell you a story about a 17-year-old American boy. Once he had learned to drive _ and was subsequently granted both a driver’s license and access to an automobile only spoiled teenager that this has ever happened to. Never mind death, because that really didn’t ever register as a possibility _ it was the consequences of those personal choices that I was willfully ignoring. Again, not hard to believe, yes? So, why do the lessons we learn as children not apply to the way we view ourselves as a collective nation? If your child has proven, after answering a 10-question gauge of his personality, that he has finally recognized his own vulnerability, his own fallibility, and his own human finite- ness, would you show him his graphed results in the form of a silhouette of the World Trade Center _ and start, with a prodding tone, brainstorming ways in which to return him to his period of ignorance? It is this portrait of America that Mark J. Penn (along with, apparently, the editors of Time) has painted _ and the displayed image I gave wasn’t a metaphor; it’s exactly what he did. It is not an image of pessimism; that is only a hazy background. It is a failure to understand something much deeper. Each question of the Time poll ties back to a central theme: where do threats to our safety, security, and livelihoods lie, and how have perceptions of those dangers changed since 9/11? Similarly, the results all point to one common answer: much of the problem is our fault. We have acted incorrectly, and the choices we have made were, and are, foolish. How then, is it possible that, as Penn writes, “After two or three years of anxiety and worry, the electorate normally re- turns to its innate optimism”? Why would we soon forget our mistakes, and why would we willingly disregard the flaws in our societal outlook, destined as they were to come back and bite us someday? Is it not because the American populace, for 235 years, has felt invincible? Is that not how we are taught the history of this nation? Why do the lessons we learn as children not apply to the way we view ourselves as a collective nation? (after, of course, failing his first road test), this sprightly fellow decided that it would be a nice idea to, whenever pos- sible, try to reach his vehicle’s greatest possible speed (110 miles per hour? 120?) while traveling on the New York State Thruway. And while not traveling at unsafe velocities on the Thruway, this same young gentleman took great pleasure, not in doing his math homework, or reading the newspaper, but in getting unbelievably (astronomically) high and laughing at mun- dane, decidedly unfunny things. The strangest part though, was that I … I mean he, eventu- ally reached a point of diminishing returns (or, perhaps, diminishingly good Times). That, in turn, led to a peculiar realization: no, not that he was now able to grow a massive beard, or that he could no longer, in good conscience, go trick-or-treating. What occurred to the wisest of all subur- ban youths was that there had to be some reason why he had chosen to do these things, why he had disregarded so mindlessly the simplest, most effortless solutions _ solutions to the self-made problems he had once considered to be of unstoppably epic proportions. I had thought that I was invincible. Right? That’s not very difficult to understand, is it? I have to assume that I’m not the Penn writes that America is a “country long celebrated for its optimism amid adversity.” Are you serious? Who else has been celebrating our optimism all this Time? And who do you think is the one getting high at that party? So he’s right to say “It is hard to overstate what a funda- mental change this represents.” But he’s looking at it from the wrong side of change. He’s wrong, however implicitly, to portray a new sense of vulnerability as a sign of weakness. Once America is no longer the superpower it once was (or is now), that lesson _ however we end up learning it _ is what might keep us in one piece through the decades to come. Regardless of how any other 21-year-old intern keeps his head screwed on straight in Times like these, I can think of one reason why I’m passionate about honing my craft _ and it’s not because I think I’m invincible. It’s precisely because I know I’m not. That’s why I don’t have a pessimism index. Sam Spokony, a music industry and English major at SUNY Oneonta, is spending his summer interning at a publication in Chelsea, a neighbor- hood in New York City. His column had previously been titled “College Guy.” Working Girl by Jennifer Tighe Friend or foe? So I recently had the bright _ and extremely spontane- ous _ idea to adopt a dog from the local shelter. After walking through the kennel and seeing everything from the beaten and lonely Chihuahua to the man-eating, teeth-bearing German Shephard, I settled on what seemed to be a very calm American Staffordshire Terrier. I took him home to foster him, sent him to be fixed, and opened my home to him. Things seemed to be going along just great with my family liking him, his getting along fairly well with our other pets, and of course, me thinking he looked pretty damn bad-ass walking around at my side. But things quickly took a turn for the worse. First off, from my understanding, the dog is not a Pit Bull. From the research I’ve done, he is along the same family lines as a Pit Bull, but not the same exact breed. And here lies my problem. The shelter told me he was an American Staffordshire Terrier and they listed him online as such, but on his paperwork, they conveniently wrote “Pit Mix.” Now, homeowners, renters, and anyone who has insurance and lives anywhere, what does this mean? Yeah, I’m screwed. I’m currently attempting to move into an apartment soon, and now I’m hit with this major road block that is this 80-pound Pit Bull-impersonating beast. Uh oh, now what do I do? So I took the dog to the vet for a check-up _ and of course, when it rains it pours _ he refuses to classify the dog as anything else because of some kind of liability issue. Really? Sweet. So now I have the only option of going back to the shelter and arguing up a storm until they’ll agree to classify him as an American Staffordshire Terrier, because as sad as it is and as much money as I’ve already put into him, I just can’t keep him if he’s a Pit Bull. Even though I know that the meanest thing Hoody is capable of is destroying my make-up with a face full of kisses or falling asleep on top of me _ which at 80 pounds makes for a difficult escape route and some seri- ously cut-off circulation _ who’s to say the person who rents to me will understand, or even believe me? To them, he’s nothing less than a blood-thirsty barbarian. The “Pit Bull” title to a renter is like the plague _ it’s an automatic no and there’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. It will be sad to let him go if I have to, but let’s face it _ Pit mixes just aren’t a renter’s best friend. Jennifer Tighe recently graduated from SUNY Oneonta with a degree in English. She is spending her summer waitressing in upstate New York. Her column had previously been titled “Col- lege Girl.” July 28, 2011 O-Town Scene 5

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