JIM STOCKTON: Promises rise; promises fade

By Jim Stockton • Last Updated 11:38 am on Thursday, March 01, 2012

A glorious Wednesday it was, sunny bright and calm, acclaimed by a choir of songbirds. After all, it was George Washington’s birthday, worthy of the chirping oratorio. Never before had I heard songbirds so early in the year, celebratory and jubilant in premature welcome of spring. They got it wrong. They were too darned early.

The following Saturday, cloudy with bitter cold, opened to the strident dissonance of starlings and their dirge of disappointment over paradise lost. It is sunny and calm again, but cold, and the feathered choraliers are huddled elsewhere. They’ll come back when the signals are more reliable. Even then, promises of good hope do not always materialize. Any human who has found and lost a job can tell you that. Our lives are punctuated by promises that fall short.

Like Charlie Brown, we can’t always get our kite into the air, and if we do it might come back down again. It all depends on the winds, in local experience, the winds of foreign competition. We welcomed Solar Ovonics amid fanfare laced with anxiety. It was our newest, greatest hope, our bold step in a new direction. In the wake of the Great Departure, we set out to reinvent our means of livelihood, sending workers to college to prepare for tasks beyond their current expertise. The choraliers of hope sang mightily as we set about the endeavor and cheered as the new balloon of industry rose up.

Now the starlings are back, most intoning disappointment as black as their feathers, others in diaphanous rage of accusation. At least we tried, and maybe the promise isn’t beyond hope. There was risk in the beginning and great courage, considering the massive wall of unfair competition from abroad. Other such efforts have come to naught elsewhere, among them one Solyndra, which benefited from government largesse.

I do not fault that effort, except for the part suggesting political payback. That is the possibility that hurts, exemplified by Nancy Pelosi. Speaking of retirement, she is reportedly more concerned about the impact on her donors than about the constituency she purportedly represents. I seem to remember her daughter saying so. That was the flavor of the rant that cost Andrew Napolitano his television program despite his popularity. It was too blunt, too truthful, and too revelatory about why promises are not fruitful.

Disappointment and dour outlook are not strangers to my small town. Once upon a time we were the silk capital of the world. Despite the onslaught of depression, there would always be a need for silk stockings and other upscale (sometimes hidden) garments. Then somebody invented nylon, if only by accident. We recovered as new industries moved in and new ventures took root. Then there were departures. The songbirds choraled and the starlings dirged anew. If I were musically inclined, I might see a rhythm to this.

Reading from the Belding Banner-News of June 1967, I see that structural decay was a chronic problem. A parapet had collapsed in 1964, the debris falling onto and killing a missionary’s mother. Now the buildings on South Bridge Street were under consideration for demise. There was a need for a new beginning, originally presented as renovation of the entire downtown. Ultimately most of downtown was razed in favor of a new mall. It is still there, mostly inactive and empty. A great hope in tune with the fervor of the times, it didn’t work out. I am led to believe that small town malls, whether merely streets closed off for pedestrian use or built entirely anew, were generally unsuccessful. At least somebody tried. There is seldom guarantee of success.

Other potentially false promises touted today speak of energy. We have lots of resources, it is said, so developing them should guarantee independence and lower prices, even though President Obama says that we cannot drill our way out of the problem. He could be correct because of what Lou Dobbs calls a global market. The big new pipeline from Canada, say unreliable sources, is mostly for export to other countries, not for our use. The desire of Big Energy, say the same, want to export our vast reserves of natural gas, which would raise our costs by 57 percent.

There is always hope, though. There was once great concern that Japan’s television technology would overtake ours, but then breakthroughs occurred and television sets are once again made in America. Maybe there’s a breakthrough in solar panel technology to our benefit. I hope so. Strike up the songbirds and cross your feathers.

Jim Stockton is a retired bookkeeper who lives in Belding. His email address is biffles@charter.net.

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