Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Arlen Specter D-PA

Just another reason I like politics as much as I like sports!

Senator Specter has stayed put politically for many years—his party has drifted farther and farther to the right, leaving him vulnerable to a challenge from the right for his party’s nomination next year. I have always thought of him as a bit of a weasel ever since his questioning of Anita Hill all those years ago, but at least now he is OUR weasel.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Early Review

My name is Chris and I am a political junkie.

I can’t help it. I always have been. I know that “experts” still debate whether someone is BORN a political junkie, if they CHOOSE junkiehood, or if there is some mysterious interaction between genes and upbringing that “activates” an unhealthy obsession with politics.

Whatever the case, I clearly remember being six years old in the summer of 1972 as the Democrats held their National Convention in Miami Beach. The night George McGovern was nominated I was in the back seat of my friend Timmy MacAteer’s car, returning to the suburbs of Wilmington, Delaware from a night at Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia. Timmy’s dad was listening to the news in the front seat, as was I, (intently), in the back seat.

When I heard that George McGovern had gotten the nomination I was thrilled to the very core of my six-year old being. I knew that McGovern was anti-war and I wanted him to be our next president. When I got home, I crowed to my parents about the good news. My dad, without batting an eye or missing a beat, said “Nixon’s gonna kill him in November.”

So here it is almost forty years later and I am still left-of-liberal and I am still addicted to politics.

Because of this lifelong fixation on all things political, I feel qualified at this early juncture in his first term to comment on the Presidency of Barack Obama. These last few months have seen the near-collapse of America’s banking and automobile-manufacturing sectors. They have also seen enormous bailout packages cobbled hastily together and passed just as hastily by Congress.

We have been made privy to the tortuous legal “reasoning” employed by advisors of the Bush Administration to simultaneously justify and excuse torture. And we have heard the chorus of boos from both sides of the spectrum as liberals call for investigations and prosecutions and conservatives call for less transparency and greater immunity for those who administered the “enhanced techniques.”

We have witnessed a new Administration tackling issue after issue as critics (mainly from the Right) accuse them of trying to “do too much,” and other critics (mainly from the Left) accuse them of “not going far enough.”

I know that Barack Obama has not yet been in office for 100 days, but based on the reaction from both the Left and the Right and upon my many, many years as a political obsessive I feel absolutely confident in my judgment that President Obama will be remembered as one of our most effective Presidents ever.

He is leading exactly as he said he would—from the middle. He promised an end to blind partisanship and he is delivering. What more evidence could anyone need than the anger being hurled at the President from both sides? The Right, without a leader or a coherent philosophy, has become the Party of NO. The Far Left, with dreams of revenge governance, has become the Party of Let’s Do To Them What They Did To Us. Barack Obama, in the meantime, has become the President of What Needs To Be Done.

Being a proud member of the Far Left of course I want Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Jay Bybee, John Yoo, et al to be brought to justice for their crimes against humanity. Of course I want the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to be changed so that all willing Americans can serve with pride in the Armed Forces. Of course I want banks partially nationalized. Of course I want even more funding for education.

Being a lifelong student of politics I know that Barack Obama has chosen his path as President. It is a path leading through the middle. It eschews polarization for efficacy. And it is exactly what we need as a nation to bring us out of the frightening straits we find ourselves in and to bring us together (eventually). I know it is early, but what I have seen so far from President Obama makes it clear that he is one for the ages. I look forward to seven more years of disappointment that he has not been “liberal enough.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thanks, Governor Paterson

Each year I ask my fifth and sixth grade students to zip forward 100 years and, from that vantage point, to look back on our times. I ask them to predict what issue will be the one where, when people in the United States study the history of the early 21st Century, even the children will ask incredulously, “How could they have possibly thought THAT?”

Governor Paterson of New York is not one of my fifth graders, but I think he just gave his answer to the question.

I live in Connecticut, (where, by the way, gay marriage is legal), but I have not followed Governor Paterson closely. I have the sense that he is merely adequate as a leader for a hugely important state that is facing tough times. However, when I saw that he is leading a push for New Yorkers to seriously debate allowing two people of the same gender to get married, he rose two or three notches in my estimation.

It seems patently clear that to exclude two citizens from enjoying the rights and privileges that two OTHER citizens can enjoy is unconstitutional. If two men or two women fall in love and decide they want to spend the rest of their lives together, why should the mere fact that they have the same reproductive parts bar them from partaking in the many advantages married men and women receive at both the state and federal levels?

No church or religious group would have to condone the joining of two men or two women in marriage. Religions have no say over who can be licensed to cut hair, drive a car, operate a restaurant, practice as an electrician, or serve as a doctor. Neither should they have any say over who can marry.

Nationally, the tide is turning. When today’s teens and twenty-somethings are in charge, gay marriage will not even be an issue. It was surprising to see Connecticut and Iowa out ahead of New York, but I am glad to see Governor Paterson stepping up and taking a stand.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

On the Cusp

That we are on the cusp of a new season became manifestly clear to me as I ran down the Farmington Canal Trail in Hamden this afternoon. I had my dog Ginger with me and the first thing we encountered as we trotted on the pavement was a pile of poop. I saw the pile at about the same time that Ginger smelled it and we both noticed something peculiar that made us slow down and 1) take a closer look, (me), and 2) take a deeper whiff, (Ginger). Being olfactorally challenged myself, I can’t say what Ginger noticed. What I saw was a bleached-out, grayish pile of crap with small slivers of bone and bits of teeth and fur embedded.

I am pretty sure it was coyote scat. In fact, a few months ago, back when the sun was setting at 4:30, I saw a coyote cross the trail as I was running very near this exact spot. It was probably the same individual that left his calling card there on the trail. As I finished my examination of the poop and Ginger strained at the leash to be allowed to continue hers, the cloud that had been blocking the sun blew a little farther south. The change was stunning. The air got ten degrees warmer and I looked up to see a deep blue sky punctuated by dramatic dark grey clouds.
Where even just five weeks ago the woods were relentlessly brown, tan, and grey, there were now patches of vibrant green where the skunk cabbages were unfurling their flags and staking out their yearly claim as earliest bloomers.

We ran on and Ginger became reluctant. First she slowed and then she stopped dead. I looked to the left and there were four large wild turkeys in a clearing about thirty feet off the trail. Something about them freaked Ginger out a bit. What I noticed was the flash of bright red coming from their wattles. It stood out like the little girl in red in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

I managed to drag Ginger on and not even a half mile down the trail an Eastern Bluebird flew directly in front of us and landed on a branch just off the side of the path. If you have never seen an Eastern Bluebird, then no matter what words I use to name the color, you will not be able to picture it accurately enough to do it justice. What comes to mind is the image of an avian black hole, only the bird somehow manages to gather only blue from all around and then, instead of swallowing the blue, it reflects the most amazing shade back out to the world. It really was spectacular.

And now this may sound like piling on—like I am making this stuff up—but I swear it is true. Just then an osprey flew overhead and it was clutching a fish in its talons, heading to its nest to feed its young. The bird flew low enough that I could tell that the fish was still alive.

By this point in the run I was aware that the place I had spent three days a week all winter, running alone through rain or sleet or snow or ice or shine, was waking up to spring. There were more people, more birds, more plants, and more life than there had been in many months. And I must admit that I had mixed feelings about the whole deal. Part of me really liked having that trail and those woods to myself. If it took cold temperatures and icy footing to do it, so be it. I certainly won’t begrudge spring its chance to shine. In fact, I love the signs of color and life everywhere. But I think maybe I just wasn’t quite ready yet.

That run today went a long way to getting me ready, but it also performed a valuable service for me. It gave me a chance to see the trail almost as I have seen it all winter with its greys, tans, and browns. But sprinkled right on top, so startlingly as to be almost garish, were the colors and signs of spring.

I ran a little farther—to the point right around mile 5.5 where the trail goes under a road—to where I had seen a hawk perched much of the winter. I used to imagine that the hawk was waiting stoically for spring and whatever came with it. Today, the hawk was gone. But in the understory of shrubs and bushes there was a brilliant flash of red and a sharp series of chirps. I caught sight of a male cardinal—resplendent in the crimsonest crimson there is as he sang for a potential mate. He was fidgety and loud and certainly IMpatient to get things started. He looked me in the eye much the same way the hawk had just a few short weeks ago during a heavy snowfall. Only, the cardinal wasn’t preaching patience. His chattering call seemed to say, “What are you waiting for?”