On The Eve Of The New Year

I’ve never much cared for New Year’s Eve.  My father referred to it, with humor and scorn, as “amateur night.”  It’s a contrived holiday that tends to be the focus of too much partying anticipation.  I can’t remember how many New Year’s Eve parties I went to during my college years, but I can remember that none of them met my ridiculously high expectations.

What’s a year, anyway?  It’s a rough approximation of how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun, marked according to a calendar decreed by a long-dead Pope.  Logically, calendar years mean little.  They help us account for the seasons, and plan our activities, and look ahead to when we hope it will be warmer — but that’s about it.

And yet . . . years often have a consistent vibe to them, don’t they?  We recall good years and bad years.  We especially remember the bad years, when loved ones died or personal failures occurred or some other adversity dominated our intimate little worlds.  If we’re having a bad year, we hope that the change to the calendar that arbitrarily occurs at midnight on December 31 will similarly mean a change in our fortunes.  It can’t, obviously — but sometimes it does, just the same.

So, if you are having one of those bad years, I hope that your fate changes in 2013.  I hope that, as that calendar page is torn away, you start to realize your personal goals and experience satisfaction in your personal lives and feel contentment with your circumstances.  If you have had a good year in 2012?  Well, then I just hope that calendar years are as meaningless as our rational brains dictate they must be.

Happy New Year!

A Pox On All Their Houses

I’ve consciously refrained from writing anything about the “fiscal cliff” because I knew anything I had to say would come out as a vitriolic screed that wouldn’t accomplish anything.  But now that we’ve reached the last day before the automatic spending cuts and tax increases take effect and no deal has been struck, the time for the pointless yet heartfelt screed has come.

I say a pox on all their houses.  By that I mean the White House and both Houses of Congress; I mean the President and Congress, Republican and Democrat, “progressives,” liberals, conservatives, and “tea partiers.”  Congratulations to you all!  You’ve maneuvered us into a situation where tax increases and spending limits that were consciously designed to be so foolish and draconian that they would force a compromise look like they might actually take effect unless a lame duck Congress and a disengaged President strike some poorly thought out, last-minute deal that the American public has no opportunity to consider or voice an opinion on — just like the deal that got us into this stupid “fiscal cliff” predicament in the first place.  Your little plan about a “supercommittee” to reach a grand compromise failed, you frittered away the intervening months raising money from your pet interest groups and electioneering without doing anything to make meaningful progress on the tax policy changes and spending reductions that every conscious American knows must occur to avoid enormous impending debt problems, and now you are frantically trying to avoid the imminent, painful consequences of your years of stupid politicking, indolence, and irresponsibility.

What’s sad about this is that the President and the Republican and Democratic leadership probably all think they’ve got the other guys just where they want them; they likely think the opposing side is bound to knuckle under today and give them a huge, last-minute victory.  Here’s some news for you all:  we shouldn’t be governing through a process that sees us lurching endlessly from crisis to crisis.  Your failures to do things like propose, debate, and pass meaningful budgets, hold hearings on spending, tax and budget proposals that allow citizens to comment and thoughtful changes to be evaluated, and engage in the standard activities of government as our Constitution contemplates reflects badly on you all.  Even if an eleventh-hour deal is reached and everyone declares they won, you’ve achieved no victory.  The American people have come to realize that, unfortunately, we have no real political leaders — just political hacks, buck-passers, and pipsqueaks who don’t have the sense or courage to put the interests of the country ahead of their personal political interests and the narrow perspectives of the pressure groups that contribute to their campaigns.

I know most of the people reading this will say “hey, it’s not my guy’s fault!”  Supporters of President Obama will say it is the no-new-tax-pledge intransigence of the tea partiers that have brought on this ridiculous crisis; tea partiers will say it is the President’s and the Senate’s unwillingness to make meaningful spending cuts that is to blame; and everyone will point the finger elsewhere.  My response is that it is everyone’s fault.  In the past, when large problems have loomed, American politicians have managed to reach compromises that have allowed the country to move forward.  The difference is that, in the past, our political leaders included real statesmen.

There is a reason why there was a huge fall-off in the number of Americans who voted in the most recent election.  Naive notions about hope and change and broad social movements to achieve fiscal responsibility have given way to disgust and outrage at the continuation of politics as usual.  The “fiscal cliff” crisis will just exacerbate those feelings.  Having a disillusioned, disgusted, and angry electorate is not a good thing for our country.

The Two Ronnies

While we were in Antigua we got to know a British family that also were guests at the Cocobay Resort.  One day the father, George, wore a t-shirt with four candles on the front.  I asked him about the significance of the four candles, and he told us it was a reference to a classic skit that appeared on the vintage sketch comedy program called The Two Ronnies.

I like British humor — I’m a big fan of Monty Python, I like the original British version of Whose Line Is It, Anyway?, and I’ve watched more episodes of Benny Hill than I probably should admit — but I’d never heard of The Two Ronnies, which apparently aired during the 1970s.  I found the sketch in question on YouTube, and it is, indeed, pretty hilarious.  It combines what I think are the best elements of British humor:  wordplay-based jokes, broad physical comedy, and some words (and accents) that I just don’t understand, now matter how many times I listen.

How Many Journalists Fake It?

Richard, in his very interesting Twitter feed, points to a thought-provoking and troubling story.  It’s a New York Times piece about another journalist who apparently has fabricated sources, quotes, and, therefore, stories.

The reporter was a 30-year veteran who worked for The Cape Cod (Mass.) Times.  She had covered the police and courts beats tor the paper and was held in high regard by those she’d covered.  However, she wrote an article about a Veterans’ Day parade that struck her editor as just a little too pat, yet unbelievable.  When the editor tried to identified the people quoted in the article, she couldn’t.  The newspaper, to its credit, then undertook a careful review of the reporter’s human interest feature stories, found other indications of non-existent sources, and reported the fact on its front page as part of an apology.

The Cape Cod (Mass.) Times‘ straight-up response to this makes this former journalist proud; its response speaks well of journalistic ethics and responsibility.  It also shows why newspapers staffed by skeptical, fact-checking editors still should play an important role in our democratic society.  Favorite news websites are nice, but how much of their content is reviewed, considered thoughtfully, and checked by someone as careful as the editor in this case?  And for those who complain that the newspaper should have uncovered the problem earlier than it did, isn’t the affirmation of journalistic skepticism shown by this story reassuring — and don’t most of us agree with the saying that it is better late than never?

The tale nevertheless makes you wonder how much fabrication may occur in our nation’s newsrooms.  If a respected reporter who’d worked for the paper for 30 years makes things up, how rare can it be?

Defining “Abrupt Change”

IMG_2705Yesterday morning Kish and I walked for one last time on the beach at Cocobay Resort in Antigua, where I took the above photo.  It was a beautiful, warm day, with gentle tropical breezes and temperatures in the 80s.  We sat at the open-air poolside bar, drank beverages served by the vivacious Sasha, and said farewell to friends we made during our weeklong stay.

By midnight we were back in Columbus, where snow blanketed the ground and temperatures were in the 20s.  This morning I woke up to the scene below, donned my hat, gloves, and overcoat, and went out to shovel the driveway covered with about 10 inches of snow and ice.

I can’t really complain, but I could have used a little transition period.IMG_2745