Richard Ammon
October 27, 2010

I awaken in the morning to a peaceful scene of the woods turning yellow, gold and rouge as October unfolds into November here in western Massachusetts. It is quiet except for the light rain that gives a shimmer to the colors outside my window. The moment is quite serene and calm.

But as the day moves into the afternoon and evening another sort of scene unfolds as well–information overload, On Sunday the New York Times loads up my brain with the day’s trauma and drama, with a special section to recap the week’s top drama divas–politicians, industrialists and insurgents and their naughty deeds.

On this particular weekend the visual and audible stimuli pick up their pace and overlap. At one point I found myself reading a Times Magazine article about Ellen Sirleaf, Liberia’s president being interviewed about her first term in office as Africa’s only elected head of state.

In front of me on the TV is an engaging and very informative docudrama about the Native American leader Tecumseh in the early 19th century as he attempted to rally the many tribes into a coalition against the encroaching American military and settlers into Indian territory now called Ohio and Kentucky. It was a battle of will and manpower of two leaders, Tecumseh and Governor Harrision (later president) that ended in the death of the Indian leader at Tippecanoe. Never again would the Native Americans attempt such a massive resistance to the white man’s occupation.

Meanwhile Sirleaf is dealing with the seemingly unstoppable corruption around her and the enrichment of the few against the many in Liberia, a repeat of the same story in most African countries since independence in the 70’s and 80’s from European colonialism. The capital city of Monroeville has only one paved road–but does have a bit more electricity than before.

The following day I went to see two movies on my list of must-see: ‘Howl’, a documentary about Allen Ginsburg and his hippie world of words and beatniks. That same day I saw ‘Social Network’, a true fiction-filled history about the conflicted founding of Facebook and the odd personalities that battled and betrayed for control of the business. It was not a pretty portrayal.

The next day I watched a documentary about Pat Tillman, the American football ‘hero’ who joined the Army and went to Afghanistan and was killed by friendly fire as his own troop panicked and mistook him for the enemy on a dark desert pass. The years-long efforts by his family to have the truth told was painful to watch as the US government tried to cover up the truth and stonewall the family’s effort to have the story revealed. The moral evil of the military hierarchy is almost as horrifying as the death of Tillman and the film leaves yet another black mark on the Bush years of incompetence and deception.

A couple of days later on PBS TV a pair of gripping back-to-back documentaries on Nova about the intense and harrowing risky rescue of the 33 Chilean miners from two months trapped underground , a tear-jerker result but also an eye-opener about the harrowing and gritty lives of the miners and their lives.

Followed by a Frontline episode about the BP oil spill and the apparent forces (bank pressure to increase profits for stock holders) that led to much cost cutting and increase in worker risk that killed eleven workers in April when the Horizon platform exploded and sank, leaving hundreds of miles of polluted water and shoreline. The CEO and upper management tried to wiggle out of full responsibility.

Next up was the cinematic ‘Waiting for Superman’, a frightening portrayal of American public education and the various stressors of life and living that contribute to failing schools and failing students. In Washington,DC, only 14% of students in high school are proficient in math and science, compared to 84% in Norway or Belgium. The look inside the dysfunctional system is heartbreaking as the film follows five young students, all in middle and grammar schools in New York, DC, Chicago, etc, as their distraught parents try in vain to get their kids into a charter or private school that offer better quality classes. Much blame is aimed at the teachers’ unions who have successfully forced school systems across the country to give tenure to teachers after only two years of teaching–meaning they cannot be fired no matter how poorly they teach. Bad teachers equals bad education with the teachers getting paid and the students dropping out, in many places over 50% quitting before graduation.

Not to mention the blizzard of sick political ads running in the media that lack truth and decency. Behind this are the millions of donated dollars by anonymous forces vying for power in the now-polarized and paralyzed government. The Indians fought for their land and lost and today the common woman is lost in the tsunami of male cash for political influence over her life–lost also in the contrails of financial wizardry of Wall Street and Big Banks that play with billions of dollars and billions of stocks in a country drowning in debt with no visible way out other than to keep building a house of cards and hoping the Chinese don’ call in their debts.

So the point of all this: life as overload and forgetting. There is no much information that enters my brain that I often feel like a mental battle field where data and imagery artillery bombard my mind resulting in an unrelenting level of discontent and anxiety about my world, my country, human rights, my gay subculture, my financial security. And I can hardly remember what I see or hear from one week to the next. So what’s the point of all the information if it’s so easily lost down the tubes of memory.

Thank goodness for “sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of time” and I can wake up to the bright colors of autumn outside my window for a while each morning. Such moments might serve to remind me that I have a choice about how much chaos and drama into my personal world–but do I really?