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Local View: Tumultuous times trigger more of our thanks

From the column: "Mankind, rather than turning into ... cynical, hopeless, and dystopian savages following wars and other catastrophes ... has historically always endured, adapted, recovered, and moved ahead with renewed hope."

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Dave Granlund / Cagle Cartoons

What can we possibly have to be grateful for in a year marked by multiple western forest fires of unprecedented size and destructiveness; a pandemic disease in which more than 700,000 Americans have died; and an attack on the Capitol in Washington, D.C., by a violent mob intent on overturning our democratic election?

Actually, according to Rutger Bregman’s “Humankind,” the more tumultuous the year, the more we have to be thankful for, since research detailed in his best-selling book shows that mankind, rather than turning into the cynical, hopeless, and dystopian savages following wars and other catastrophes like the London Blitz or the 9/11 attack, has historically always endured, adapted, recovered, and moved ahead with renewed hope.

“Most people, deep down, are pretty decent,” wrote Bregman.

What follows, therefore, is a Thanksgiving list that affirms the Bregman dictum.

First, thanks and praise are owed to Lady Gaga, not just for her musical talents and eye-catching fashion, but for her embrace of elderly, ailing American icon Tony Bennet in musical collaboration on a new album. Of course, it is for her, at least partly, a profit-making venture. Nonetheless, with grace and reverence, she served as catalyst for Bennett’s amazing, if short-lived, escapes from the tyranny of Ahlzheimer’s through the memory-sparking miracle of music, while she helped raise awareness, as well as research funds, for this dread disease.

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Speaking of miracles, we can also be grateful to Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, the only man in NFL history to throw 600 touchdowns and win a seventh Super Bowl at age 43. He is playing great again in his 20th year, in a sport in which most quarterbacks’ careers last but four seasons. Thank you, “Tommy Boy,” for inspiring and enabling me and other seniors to think, if not feel, 20 years younger.

Humble thanks to Connecticut's Bill Shufelt and John Walker for founding The Athletic Brewing Company, among the first American breweries with a recipe for palatable no-alcohol beer. Last year, after swearing off NA (mediciny water with bubbles) in one of the resolutions in my New Year’s column, these two entrepreneurial saints answered my prayers by concocting a handful of craft beers with names like Run Wild and Upside Dawn, which are absent the alcohol yet still possess the sudsy and resinous beer flavor I love. Besides making lots of money, 2% of which is donated to the preservation of green spaces and nature trails, the two master brewers have done the world a solid by enabling those who must avoid alcohol entirely or others who want an IPA at lunch and a clear head the rest of the day to still enjoy the world’s oldest, natural, sophisticated, and social adult beverage.

Blessings for Frances Haugen, data engineer and former Facebook executive, for blowing the whistle on Facebook’s express mission of prioritizing profits over the safety of its users, especially young children, and for knowingly serving as the vehicle for all the lies, propaganda, and hate that have been ripping our country apart. Thanks especially for calling out the hypocritical affectation of innocence we’ve become accustomed to seeing on the face of Mark Zuckerburg at congressional hearings.

At least 60% of us should say thanks to Robert Glaser, ex-Microsoft executive and founder of RealNetworks, the pioneer of live streaming, whose debut experimental internet audio broadcast of a baseball game between the Seattle Mariners and the New York Yankees in 1995 paved the way for Youtube, Netflix, and AppleTV, among other live-streaming services (which 60% of Americans are said to use). Movie lovers in the 1950s who were thrilled for a double feature on a Saturday night could have never imagined that someone live streaming at home in their La-Z-Boy would have 14,000 films to choose from, and that’s just on Amazon Prime.

The country’s utmost gratitude goes out to Sen. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, who, at grave risk to her political career, stood up and spoke out against the big lie that the 2020 election was stolen, in a monumental display of courage and character in the face of President Donald Trump’s cowardly sycophants in the Senate. Cheney’s bravery was remarkably reminiscent of the heroism of legendary Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, R-Maine, who in 1950 called out the scurrilous lies and “Red Scare” conspiracy theories of one of her own party leaders, Sen. Joe McCarthy, R-Wisconsin, with this telling proclamation that, “I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear.”

Finally, over the course of a long life, my favorite hour has been just after dusk in summertime, heading home across a Wisconsin lake in a fishing boat, when the first of the fruit bats are peeling out of the woods, gliding low above the water, vacuuming mosquitoes. On a collision course with my bow, they veer away at the last second like Navy jet fighters, as water blends with stars and sky and rapture fills my heart. And today I wish to say thanks to the scientists who invented those ingenious vaccines that enabled me to survive COVID-19 this past year and to live to see more of those perfect endings to those glorious days.

David McGrath is a former Hayward resident, an emeritus English professor at the College of DuPage in Illinois, the author of "South Siders," and a frequent contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page. He can be reached at profmcgrath2004@yahoo.com.

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David McGrath

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