Realism is a virtue and sanguinity a vice. We need to admit that things are bad right now, perhaps as bad as they've been during most of our lifetimes.
But there are reasons to be grateful and have hope. A new presidential administration is already delivering on its promise of change - at least back to how things used to be in the 1990s, under Bill Clinton.
Here in Wisconsin, the state is facing a $5 billion deficit; the squeeze is on state government, as on local governments. The good news is that this is going to force a few long overdue cuts in spending and hikes in taxes. Yeah, I said it.
Mostly, though, people here should be grateful that we are so well situated to face the future. The energy of Madison is not in its brawn but in its brain; as technology changes, the need for ingenuity does not, and that is what Madison is set up to deliver.
Three weeks back, Isthmus ran a cover story ("Spark, Fuel, Air," 11/14/08) about several up-and-coming biotech companies in the Madison area. These companies are generating millions of dollars in revenue for research, developing products that, as our story put it, "could save lives and change the world."
But our advantages as a community run deeper than that. There is also ingenuity in the retailers who are embracing the Internet to expand their markets, the subject of our cover story this week. We should also take pride in people like Mary Dowling and Lisa Fernandez ("Dynamic Duo," 11/21/08), two Madison nurses who have taken it upon themselves to create networks for bringing wheelchairs, medical supplies and health-care teams to Third World countries.
And let's not forget the teachers and human service workers who find ways to make a positive difference in people's lives. Or the local officials who push for different kinds of parking meters or new systems of garbage collection because they are more efficient.
Let's be glad we have elected leaders who by and large tend to their tasks more than their egos. A county executive who's willing to tackle as vast and ingrained a social problem as our tendency to drink too much. A mayor who grasps that designing an environmentally friendly neighborhood (see "Mayor Dave Launches Green Scheme," 12/2/08) can help Madison enhance its reputation and ensure its vitality.
But there are other reasons for gratitude and hope, beyond the ingenuity, wisdom and decency of the people who make up this community.
We live in one of the prettiest and most livable cities on earth. Whether the stock market is booming or tanking, we can go for a walk in the Arboretum, explore Picnic Point or watch the sunset from Governor's Island. We can canoe into Cherokee Marsh or bike from Madison's east side to Dodgeville without ever leaving a path.
Here's a little something from Wordsworth, to pull us back to earth:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!