Thursday, December 29, 2005

Man of the Year

JohnEJonesFederal Judge John E. Jones III for the Middle District of Pennsylvania is my nominee for Man of the Year.

Providing a lone bright spot in an otherwise bleak year, especially for federal employees and elected officials, Judge Jones ruled December 20th in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District that "Intelligent Design" (ID) is not science and should not be taught as such in public schools. You can read his entire ruling here. Judge Jones receives my nomination less because of stating the obvious than the clear and straightforward language he used in his ruling. Go John E., Go.

Before the ruling, in a confirmation of sorts that ID is a thinly veiled form of creationism, Pat Robertson warned the citizens of Dover, who had already voted out of office the School Board members responsible for the pro-ID policy, that disaster might strike their community because they "voted God out of your city." But Judge Jones was not intimidated.

What made the ruling all the more galling to the right wingnuts was that Judge Jones, a long-time Republican, was appointed by George W. Bush and approved unanimously by the Republican controlled Senate. One might wonder if, as he prepared his ruling, the judge weighed how it might affect his career. Should we then praise him for his courage? Or just acknowledge an honest man.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Season's Greetings - 2005

As I write this it is dark outside. Winter Solstice was two days ago but I still must remind myself that now the sun will be rising sooner and setting later. It is cold for around here, close to 20 (F). But in a few hours it will be pushing 60. It has been that kind of year - a year of extremes, a year of cycles.

2005 was dominated in this household by the health of others. While we have been well - save that broken little toe I managed - others we care for have not. John Donne hit it hard, straight on. I haven't the energy to chronicle the anxiety, pain, and loss; after just finishing the better part of a week with my mother in the hospital - the same building where my step-father died in May - I am spent. And this is neither the place nor time.

This time of the year - Thanksgiving, Winter Solstice, Christmas - reminds us of the larger picture we are all part of, like it some days or not. But each of us has only a short time in that picture to figure it out, make it ours, pass it on. Oddly, if we draw back the lens and take in that picture we really don't get smaller, we grow with it.

So this season is not a time to dwell on just one part of life's cycles and rhythms; it is a time to try to see it whole. It's a Wonderful Life. Really. And these are the good times, even if they don't seem like it.

Season's Greetings.

The illustration was scanned from a drawing I made in 1974 and used for Winter Solstice cards. Thus began and ended my watercolorist career.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Eugene McCarthy

4mccarthThe first person I ever voted for for President of the United States died the 10th of this month, Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota. He was not on the ballot, but that didn't stop me. Of course, write-ins were not allowed then - as now - and my ballot was voided. Even though the close election brought us Richard Nixon instead of the much more preferable (in retrospect) Hubert Humphrey, I would not trade my memory of how good I felt leaving that polling booth for anything. It was a bipartisan act; I wrote in John Lindsay, Republican mayor of New York, for VP. All this was odd behavior for a country boy from Virginia.

1968 was a dramatic year in our nation's history. We were at war in Vietnam, and with ourselves. American flag decals were pointedly on - or not on - vehicles everywhere. Our cities were literally smoldering through riotous "long, hot summers." There were youth riots in Paris and men with longish hair were making more than a fashion statement. I watched on TV that summer evening as people like me were clubbed and gassed outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. I felt guilty not being there, although I am sure I would have been totally lost. Jim Crow was dying a slow death in the south, and taking some of us with him.

Before 1968 was over a President would decide not to stand for re-election, only four years after receiving the highest percentage of the popular vote in modern history. Two major political figures, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, would die assassins deaths. And two guitar gods - Clapton and Page, alums of the Yardbirds - would help harden rock, forming Blind Faith and Led Zeppelin. Drugs were suddenly everywhere; the Magical Mystery Tour was just about over.

I was a senior in college majoring in Political Science, plugged in and observing everything with the full intensity of youth and doing what I could to stretch my college career out another year; the draft board knew where I lived. The previous fall I had traveled the world for four months as a student, absorbing what it meant to be more than a Virginian, more than an American. While I was on the Indian Ocean, midway between Mombasa and Bombay (Mumbai), on November 30th, 1967 a little-known Senator from Minnesota declared that he would challenge the President - a member of his own Democratic Party - in the upcoming New Hampshire primary. McCarthy eventually lost but the political dialogue had been changed. It was not whether, but when we would back out of Vietnam.

In many ways Eugene McCarthy was an odd duck for a political figure. The public and his supporters often found him vexing. Historians - and most recently obit writers - have struggled to take the measure of the man.

He was a very private person who nevertheless seemed to enjoy running for president. He did so five times, always knowing he had little-to-no chance. He was a semi-pro baseball player, public school teacher and college professor. As a young man he lived in a monastery for nine months before thinking better of becoming a monk. He was a poet who recently complained that in the judgment of history his short anti-war campaign would always eclipse his verse. He left his wife of 24 years in 1969, but they never divorced. He was a classic liberal with an independent streak that made other liberals very uneasy. Among other things, he wanted to abolish the two-part system and supported Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" initiative. He had the biting dry wit of a cynic, a frustrated idealist. Yet he once admonished us to "always speak as if a child is listening."

If we only could.

He seemed to enjoy being the outsider, which is exactly where most Americans preferred him to be. I wanted him President. He was 89.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

7 Drinks of Mankind

I have been on the road again, again at my mother's. Visiting with her has become an adventure; what I plan to accomplish seldom gets done, what I get done is almost never what I planned. Now that I am home I have even more reason to smile at the opening lines of a new blog series found at one of my favorites, Locust Street.Six Glasses
As we enter the holiday season, our thoughts turn to drinking.
Inspired by the recent book, A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage, Locust Street is guiding us through some of our favorite beverages in much the same fashion as the Seven Deadly Sins series.

Mr. Standage ventures that human history, for the most part, can be summed up in the history of six types of beverages: Beer, Wine, Spirits, Coffee, Tea, and Coca-Cola. Chris is now halfway through, having dispensed with the alcohol portion of the list. I'll drink to that and suggest you enjoy the musical appreciations of each beverage at Locust Street along with me.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Dorothy Allison

dorothy_allisonOne of the perks of being a faculty spouse is the occasional meeting of campus visitors; last night it was author Dorothy Allison. She spoke about writing to my wife's 2 o'clock class and in the evening offered a public reading from her forthcoming novel. In between a small group of us had dinner with her at a local restaurant. It was a most refreshing - and enriching - experience.

While some authors may be better read than met, Ms. Allison is not one of them. Both through her writing and in sitting across from her eating fried seafood and discussing hushpuppies, she reveals herself as one who is as real as the day is long, and as honest as most of us can generally stand.

Such a combination can make unpleasant company - but not in her case. She is a person who writes as if her life depends on it. It probably does. And she believes with a ferocious intensely what she has to say. But she is also comfortable enough within her own skin to put others at ease, all the while focusing their attention on subjects they otherwise might not want to think about. It is a rare combination.BastardOutOfCarolina

Ms. Allison's world is large, too large to visit here today. It is a world I inhabit only at the fringes. But yesterday I had the opportunity to listen to someone saying well many things that needed to heard, especially by young writers, young people. If you know her work, and a little bit about her, you understand. If not, I suggest you explore the world of Dorothy Allison.