Watching the wealth of our nation - as well as the blood and body parts of our soldiers - poured down a rat hole in Iraq is not the only thing that grieves me.
It's that we hardly notice as the world passes us by.
We are led by reactionaries who see the world is as it was in 1949, when America was the last nation standing. Or maybe as it was a century before that, during the time of the robber barons. Who knows what they really see?
Meanwhile, the Euro has surpassed the dollar in value; it's been this way almost from the day it was founded. China, which holds the paper on America, is now the world's fastest-growing economy. India's is the second-fastest.
Moribund America, however, slides deeper and deeper into debt. We have no jobs. We make no things. We make no capital investments in our future. Our housing bubble, which has sustained the economy for years, is bursting as I write.
The only analogy - and I'm not the first person to make it - is that we are behaving like drug addicts and oil is our drug. We live in constant denial. We've cashed in all our assets, borrowed from everyone who will let us, robbed our parents' wallets, and now we're breaking and entering to get our daily fix.
While we head for the gutter, the future has galloped past. Last week I saw this new reality at the Saratoga Race Course.
When it comes to my love of horse racing, I may be an anachronism. Americans, as a rule, are not interested in the sport. Most daily newspapers no longer have full-time turf writers. Not even The Boston Globe and The New York Times print daily racing charts. Legendary racetracks are being turned into housing developments. Even Saratoga, Aqueduct and Belmont are up for grabs today, because the New York Racing Association is on the verge of bankruptcy.
It's not that Americans don't like to gamble. We seem to like gambling more than anything except eating and cars. We even use lotteries to fund our schools. But it's football and poker on television and the Internet and Indian casinos that are the draw.
America has had a sterling history with thoroughbred horses and world-class races. The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont make up the Triple Crown - America took notice when the magnificent Barbaro broke his leg in the Preakness this year. The 137th running of the Travers was held at Saratoga last Saturday. And the prestigious Breeders Cup will be held at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4.
We still have magnificent horses here. But at the Saratoga meet the Maktoun family, owners of Discreet Cat, Ashkal Way, Incriminate, Henny Hughes and the amazing Bernardini, walked away with nearly all of the stakes races. Another of their horses, Jazil, won the Belmont Stakes. When Bernadini won the Preakness, he gave the Maktouns two-thirds of the Triple Crown. And Bernardini tops the family's Breeders Cup team. Their horses have already won most of the major races in France, England and Ireland.
You might not have heard of the Maktouns. The head of the family is Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, 57, sometimes called "Sheik Mo," who rules Dubai and is the vice-president of the United Arab Emirates.
This year Dubai briefly entered America's consciousness when one of its government-owned companies tried to take over port operations in several major U.S. cities. America woke up for a moment at the thought of Arabs running its ports. Then Dubai Ports World tactfully withdrew its bid and America rolled over and slipped back into its drugged-up sleep.
In Dubai, however (pop. 240,000), no one is sleeping. Sheik Mo, a poet, statesman and passionate horseman, is presiding over a construction boom that will turn his country into the New York of the Middle East. Time Magazine, which this year included the sheik in its list of the 100 people "shaping our world," calls it "urban planning on a cosmic scale... a blossoming financial center, regional headquarters for global brands, mega shopping malls, amusement parts, a world-class airline and an airport to go with it, luxurious hotels that play host to seven million tourists annually, and the world's largest man-made islands." Add to that a world-class race track and the recent ground-braking for the world's tallest skyscraper.
The Maktouns have stables in England, America and Dubai and set a record this year by spending $16 million at auction to buy a single untried two-year-old colt.
Instead of trying to return to the lost glory days of the Ottoman Empire, the Maktouns are creating Dubai, Inc., and racing full-tilt into the future. China, India, Singapore and many other countries are doing the same. What is America doing? Squandering its money, its history, its democracy and its blood in the Middle East.
While people in other countries learn to speak two or three languages, America still has vigilantes on its borders trying to keep out anyone who doesn't speak English. Instead of welcoming the immigrants who are already here, it tries to demonize them. Artists, students and intellectuals find it difficult to get visas. They go to other, more welcoming countries instead.
Many of us have been living with pain during the past few years. We love this country, both the greatness and the promise of it. We love the way every new wave of immigrants has come here to make a better life and has made everyone else's life better as a result. But it seems that now openness and opportunity are gone.
America is becoming a moral, cultural, religious and intellectual backwater, a banana republic without a hope or a prayer of catching up to the fascinating new world which is flourishing without us.
Joyce Marcel is a freelance writer and columnist in Vermont. A collection of her columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through joycemarcel.com. And write her at email@example.com.