Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saturday Rock Show

About fourteen years ago, Molly Hatchet performed at a small speedway in southside VA. They stayed at the small roadside hotel at which I worked. I received quite a few complaints and ended up heading over to their rooms, to find the band had left (their tour bus was gone from the parking lot) and they had managed to trash their hotel rooms quite nicely. It ticked me off, because of all the later additions to the whole southern rock thing, I liked them quite a lot, and this cover of Greg Allman's "Dreams" is one of the few cover songs I think actually improves on the original.

The Scaredy-Cat Delusional Left

One would think that, having won two national elections in a row, liberals might be a bit more bold. I'm not talking about Democrats in Congress, mind you; since most of those folks spent a good chunk of their careers in the minority, they have become quite used to being cowed in the face of Republican intransigence and nonsense. I am talking, first and foremost, of those liberals and leftists who blog, comment on blogs and news articles, are most vocal in our current public discussions on health care reform, the economy, the opening of discussions on financial re-regulation, and, of course, the Presidency of Barack Obama. I have become increasingly frustrated with the fact that most of these folks believe, lacking any evidence whatsoever, that the radicalization of the Republican Party, its embrace of a combination of ignorance and a seething social rage just barely this side of out-and-out violence is a sure formula for success.

What utter nonsense.

Take, for example, the following comment, which follows a piece at Washington Monthly online on a Virginia Republican who, in the face of overheated rhetoric (the feds are gang-raping America), rather than confronting it and the person who said it, seems to agree with the sentiment.
The really scary thing is the potential snowball effect. Neo-Klan loudmouths talk rape, murder and revolution, rightwing politicans coddle them, Democratic supporters become disillusioned and don't vote due to Republican stonewalling and Democratic wimpiness, Republicans take power, fear the Baggers will turn on them if they don't deliver, and produce a fascist government they may not even believe in. I know Grassley doesn't, for one; like so many of them he's just terrified of a primary challenge from the right. But would he object to being part of a dictatorship? No, he'd love to be up on the balcony wearing the armband. Dark days, today and tomorrow.(emphasis added)

"Dark days"? Ridiculous. Last time I checked, the Democrats have 58 seats in the United States Senate, with the two independent members caucusing with them. The House majority is larger than any the Republicans had in their twelve years in control from 1994 through 2006. And while it is indeed true that his favorability numbers are falling, Pres. Obama is the first Democratic President since Lyndon Johnson to enjoy such wide support for so long after his election, and pretty much across the board. Indeed, even Ronald Reagan had serious problems in favorability as the recession of the early 1980's - a very different animal to be sure - dragged on and on. In many ways, Barack Obama is by far the most successful American President with the American people in a very long time.

Yet, the election of Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, a Democratic President, a resetting of our national policy agenda away from tax cuts in perpetuity for the wealthy and the freeing of any restrictions on capital and financial transactions does not seem to satisfy. The attention the press paid over the August Congressional recess to the Tea Party movement has only fed that particular beast, to be sure; the persistence of Sarah Palin in our national consciousness is the one gift, sad to say, the McCain campaign has bequeathed the American public. We face climate skeptics, evolution skeptics, even birth-skeptics who believe that Barack Obama not only was not born in the United States, but that a massive conspiracy has hidden this truth from the American people. Liberals, for all their claims to a greater clarity of vision and adherence to the principles of science and understanding, are actually surprised that these notions, all easily proven to be factually inaccurate, nevertheless survive and even thrive in the fever swamps of the right.

With the persistence of these imaginary threats, we also have the rough road health care reform has faced. The emergence of a few folks as opponents - Olympia Snowe and Ben Nelson; Joe Lieberman and Bart Stupak - has generated so much concern that there is the widespread belief that it will fail, to the detriment not only of the millions of uninsured Americans, but the electoral and political fortunes of the Democrats. Now, obviously, since the world is imperfect, this is a live possibility. Yet, it seems that quite a few minds have already been made up that even the bill before the Congress right now is so awful, so devoid of merit - the magic phrase "public option" is on everyone's lips, even if few seem to understand that it really is nothing more than Medicare for everybody; which is why (surprise, surprise) the insurance industry is opposed to it - that passage in a form even somewhat similar would be tantamount to defeat.

Now, I have issues with the way health care reform has been done. It seems to me the best things the sponsors of the legislation could have done would be to do a quick study of the way the varieties of public health insurance work in industrialized countries then cherry-pick the ideas and programs that best fit the United States. This isn't rocket science, and far too many people seem to believe we as a nation are reinventing the wheel.

My larger complaint right now, however, is with those who seem to believe that disagreement on this issue is not just error-prone, but somehow immoral. The language of rights, already overburdened, has been weighted down with the addition of health care. Without explanation, without defense, with more moral fervor than intellectual muscle, liberals and leftists are demanding opponents stand aside because health care is a right and the passage of health care reform is a moral imperative.

Are they so afraid of actual debate they would silence opponents by painting them as immoral, in much the way the whole "death panel" nonsense suggested that behind the Democratic designs on health care reform was a kind of eugenics? The fear and loathing among liberals has become, in many instances - far too many - a mirror of the delusions among those on the right. We cannot have a dispassionate discussion on the merits, accepting the good faith and will of our opponents. Indeed, the entire social and cultural basis of our democracy - our pluralist acceptance of difference as a boon, with those differences to be negotiated constantly, including on issues of power - is not only forgotten, it seems to be a matter of scorn.

I suppose mine is one of those namby-pamby voices of moderation, a phony liberal who would surrender in the face of opposition. Since my complain, however, is that far too many liberals have surrendered, not so much because of the merits of disagreement but its reality, I find this difficult to swallow. One of the merits, to me at any rate, of the Obama Administration, is the respect the President shows for the inherent limits of the office, including a refusal to act as if he is "legislator-in-chief". He has made his legislative program known, offered his preference for certain specifics, and is sitting back and letting Congress do its job. This display of respect for the Office of the President has few fans on the left, however. Since one of the many complaints about the Bush Administration was its Imperial nature, its scoffing at any limits on Presidential power, one would think that an Administration that makes a virtue of these limits would be celebrated.

Instead, we hear the constant complaint that the President isn't "doing enough" for health care reform. Um, last time I checked, we the people have a role in this. Contacting our elected representatives, getting information to them, insisting that a vote one way or another on their part would help or hurt their future electoral prospects - while there are some who voice this opinion, far too often what one hears is a whine that it's all the President's fault.

I guess this rant is about done. All I can say is the following, and mark this post for reference in a year's time: the Republicans are headed to electoral disaster next year, and there will be a leftward swing, not huge, but noticeable, among the Democratic caucus in both Houses of Congress. Health care reform, and soon financial re-regulation, will pass in some manner, fashion, or form, and form the cornerstone of the platform the Democrats will take to the American people next fall. The notion that the Republicans are poised for some kind of comeback is ridiculous on its face, considering the current state of the Party and its elected members.

We liberals need to learn how to celebrate victory a little, but also how to celebrate democracy, too.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Some Personal Thoughts

OK, I'll admit that, at the moment, I'm feeling more than a little maudlin. I had a brief comment-conversation on FB with an old friend of mine, found after many years, that said so much without saying a whole lot about a mutual friend of ours who is nearly 23 years gone now. With the help of a soundtrack via Pandora and YouTube, I've been thinking about time, and memory, and the way that old memories - some of which can be painful - are necessary for us.

That's the theme of one of my favorite movies, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. A couple, recently broken up, discovers they have availed themselves of the services of a company that erases memories. Love seems to be something "real", more powerful than our desire, let alone power, to control. Even more important, the film shows us that as painful as some memories can be, removing them robs us of something that makes us human.

Whether the pain is caused by a lost love, or the untimely death of someone near to us, that pain reminds us that what happened was real. The person who shared our life, now gone, was real. Those moments, never to return, live on.

It can suck, it's true. But the alternative is really too awful to contemplate.

Resuscitating A Good Lost Law

This is great news.
The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in the United States and provided a strong regulatory environment that largely served the nation and its banking sector well. The law separated commercial banks from investment banks by banning commercial banks from underwriting securities, forcing banks to choose between being a lender or an underwriter but not both. The law was finally repealed in 1999 during the Clinton Adminstration after 12 attempts in 25 years had weaken the provisions. [...]

This week five House Democrats - Maurice Hinchey of New York, John Conyers of Michigan, Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Jay Inslee of Washington, and John Tierney of Massachusetts - will introduce an amendment that would give banks one year to choose between being commercial banks or investment banks. I support this amendment and believe it critical to the future success of the country because it will restore a balance within the finance industry letting commercial banks do what they do and investment banks do what they do.

It took less than a decade after the provisions in Glass-Steagall concerning investment versus commercial banking were removed for the entire edifice to collapse. Think about that. From 1933 to 1999 - two whole generations, roughly speaking - the banking sector, and by extension the rest of society - were protected from the dangers of complete financial collapse. Then, from 1999 to 2008, and look where we are now. It almost makes me want to go back in time and smack Phil Gramm around.

Anyway, this is an idea that is long overdue, precisely as the House is taking up consideration of new financial industry regulations. It seems to me we don't so much need new ones as a return to the old ones that worked quite well. They weren't perfect, to be sure, but they worked, which is far better than perfection any day of the week.

Scrooge WIth A Lemon Twist

In 1843, Charles Dickens published a very short book that has become so much a part of our celebrations, we think of it as eternal. The message of the book was simple - part of the Christmas Spirit is remembering to live with our fellow men and women, with love and care and concern just because they are fellow travelers for our short season on this Earth. Far more horrible than poverty is the loneliness that leaves one unlamented, unmourned, and forgotten at death.

There was, of course, a social and even political dimension to Dickens' spirited tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge; yet focusing on that to the exclusion of the deeply human, deeply faithful theme at the heart misses the main point. The social and political dimension exists precisely because of the stresses and strains on human community and interaction.

Fast forward to our time, and we face this, which shows just how little times have changed, or indeed have degraded. Rather than create a marvelous world full of characters so memorable even the minor ones - like Scrooge's nephew Tom - stand out in our minds as people we know and care about, some people believe it necessary to forget that Christmas isn't about coercion, or laws, or forcing anything upon anyone. Christmas is the amazing story of Divine love entering the world in the most remarkable, unbelievable, fashion and form. For all their insistence that they are doing what they are doing in the name of Christmas and the faith of the child whose birth we commemorate, these latter day Scrooge's lack even the slightest notion that all their passion, all their righteous indignation could be far better spent working for others in the name of the Christ child, rather than legally demanding superficial conformity in the form of required artistic performance.

These are our Scrooges. Who, I wonder, could be their Marley, arranging an intervention to spare them, and us, from the ravages of their narrow lives? What answer could they give to the Second Spirit, who sees in Scrooge's pettiness nothing of merit, insisting that he (Scrooge) is far less deserving of life than millions such as Tim Cratchit (my guess is, for all his joviality, that Spirit was not one to mess around with)? They are just as petty, just as spiteful, just as removed from human fellowship as Ebeneezer. Just as his nephew did for Scrooge, we should pity them for their small minds, their shrunken hearts, their refusal to accept the invitation to be with others. Whether gold or god, an idol is an idol is an idol.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace"

I read the text of Pres. Obama's acceptance speech in Norway. What struck me the most? Not just his admission that he was probably far less deserving of this award than many others; acknowledging that was surely necessary. More than anything, what stood out for me was Obama's refusal to deny the reality that human conflict will ever be eradicated. This struck me as courageous, considering the venue and circumstances.

This is not to say that I believe the "wars" over which he presides as Commander-in-Chief of the US military meet the criteria of "Just War"; rather, it is to say that, on a theoretical level at least, Obama understands that there has to be a mixture of idealism and realism in pursuit of the most noble of goals, peace among nations and peoples.

The biggest problem facing the international community was addressed directly by the President - the reality that most conflicts, at least in the years since the Second World War, are civil wars, wars within states. Obviously there have been and will be exceptions (most recently the Israeli attack on Lebanon); for the most part, however, national collapse or an internal revolt have been far more destructive of human life than wars between states. Far more protracted, intractable, and difficult to deal with from the perspective of international law, civil strife within states, especially when combined with the overarching idea of the inviolability of national sovereignty, has yet to be untangled successfully.

Consider a couple examples. When the Khmer Rouge regime in Kampuchea created a refugee problem in Vietnam, and the reality of what was happening there became clear (not to mention historical animosity between them), Vietnam invaded, to all sorts of international condemnation, despite the fact that their intervention ended the worst of the horrors of Pol Pot's regime.

Similar reaction met Tanzania's military intervention in Idi Amin's Uganda.

Pres. Obama's Nobel Prize speech may just rank as among the most memorable precisely because of the clarity of vision, and the ready acknowledgment that the unity of peace and justice in the international sphere needs a grounding in the undeniable reality that injustice and violence and conflict are far more complicated issues, and necessitate creative measures to confront, and perhaps even prevent, in the future.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

When The World Collides

The Climate Summit in Copenhagen is providing interesting reading for folks. Apparently, Sarah Palin has weighed in via the always friendly op-ed pages of the Washington Post. Last night, California Republican Congressman Dana Rohrbacher took to the House floor to denounce "globalists" who have a secret agenda that only he, apparently is aware of, although what it is, he can't say, because then he'd have to kill everyone listening.

Then there's the alleged "Climategate" scandal, in which hacked emails from a British climate research institute reveal . . . that scientists debate stuff, including the political implications of their research. Ooo!

When politics and science collide, it is usually a messy business. Politics is about power; science is about explaining how stuff happens, a "best guess" based on publicly-accessible methods, providing answers that even the most dedicated practitioner would admit are nothing but provisional. After all, even Newton, Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, and Darwin were "wrong" in the sense that their theories have either been superseded or, at the very least, are known to be incomplete. Precisely for this reason, however, the introduction of scientific data in to political debate creates problems. Since there are actually politicians who are unscrupulous enough to point out that scientific data can be erroneous, we have the odd combination of a political conference, meeting to discuss the policy implications of scientific data, based in a theory, all of which, as some rightly point out, could be wrong.

"Could be" is not "is", however. Falsifying a scientific theory is difficult. A theory that is able to take in to account all sorts of disparate data, and predict the potential outcomes of future research is a pretty robust theory. Then there are the facts that the theory attempts to connect - the belching of all sorts of gases known to create the greenhouse effect by two hundred years of industrial activity in the west; rising global temperatures and sea levels; the disappearance of glaciers; the upward trend in global temperatures; the increasing instability of regional meteorological phenomenon; even species extinction rates and migration patterns of birds and sea mammals. These are phenomena that, taken separately, make no sense. Drawn together through a theory that states that they are related, or at the very least highly correlated, makes sense of this data.

No scientist, of whom I am aware, would make a policy recommendation based on any particular bit of research, or even an entire theory. At their best, as handmaids of politicians, they merely report their findings, based on current research models, and allow the politicians to figure out what to do, if anything.

Since it is devilishly difficult at the moment to get some folks in the United States Congress to understand the reality that we face, imagine getting delegates from nation-states as disparate as Uzbekistan, the Central African Republic, the Maldives, and Bolivia to come to anything like agreement on a kind of global policy regarding climate change. Yet, the UN is cowboying up, getting roughly representatives from over 200 nations together to discuss "what do we do about it." In principle, this is a good thing; global warming effects us all. No single country can possibly address this issue on its own. Yet, at the same time, there are all sorts of complications that make such a meeting not quite a farce, but certainly an exercise in futility, especially for those who are dedicated to the idea that global warming is the most pressing problem facing the planet at the moment. Energy-producing countries certainly have no interest in curbing the use of fossil fuels; some of those countries, like Venezuela and Nigeria, need that oil money for development purposes. Emerging economies like India, China, Brazil, and Argentina might balk at being told by those in western Europe and North America that they are required to take steps to make further industrial expansion more expensive. African nations that are potentially rich in mineral wealth and other natural resources might not be best pleased to be told that extracting that wealth would be a danger to the climate. It is difficult enough to find investors willing to risk putting their money toward mining ventures in unstable places in the world; now, it seems, it might be possible that such would be cost-prohibitive.

These are only some examples of the political realities the meeting will face. Then, of course, there are on-going international rivalries and even conflicts that make these economic questions pale in comparison. There is the developed world faced by an increasingly recalcitrant undeveloped world. Many of these latter states, only recently released from over a century of imperial domination, still de facto colonies of the interests and industries of the imperial power, might be a tad reluctant to be told by these same former colonial powers how to run their countries.

Finally, there are the activists. A fun bunch, they are convinced that the threat of global warming is such that we must simply disregard the social, economic, and political realities of the world and do somethingright now!!!!! What "that" might be . . . well, beyond "curbing greenhouse gas emissions" and "ending our reliance on fossil fuels" some might offer some ideas, to be sure. For the most part, though, the nitty-gritty details of policy - like cap-and-trade, say, in the United States, or investment incentives via the World Bank for developing nations to adopt "clean" industries - are up to other folks. Too many activists, in my experience, really can't be bothered with this kind of stuff. "Raise awareness" is their mantra and motto.

The clean lines and elegance of science meeting the dirty, sometimes nasty, occasionally delusional, world of politics can be fun to watch. Yet, when the issue facing us is as full of roadblocks and pitfalls, crazy folk screaming at the clouds and earnest do-gooders insisting that the entire planet is going to die unless we all shut up and listen to them, we have the makings not so much for a road map for future policy as an exercise in global futility. It may be that Rep. Rohrbacher's delusion of "global governance" is what is necessary to address the threat posed by global warming; sadly, the reality is that such does not exist, and even if it did, it would face these same problems, only slightly more organized.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

In Which I Attempt An Answer To A Conundrum

Via Duncan Black comes this question:
Still, one thing I've never quite understood is to the extent that they actually believe or claim to believe that it's all some liberal conspiracy, just what is it do they think we have to gain from it? What's the point of our little conspiracy?

The answer is really quite easy. You hear it all the time on Rush. In fact, it is one of his great themes. We liberals, really just socialists/communists, want to destroy prosperity out of spite and envy; since it is a product of capitalism, which we loathe, we want to end it. If that means impoverishing the entire world in the process, so much the better. Rather than offer a model of development and a standard of living to which the whole world should aspire, so this argument seems to go, we should destroy American wealth, American industry (or what remains of it, anyway), and our entire economic structure in order to share it with the rest of the world, not in any constructive way - that is, allowing others to copy its merits in order to lift themselves out of poverty - but to get even with all those wealthy people who have achieved something in their lives.

See, to a certain conservative mind-set, we liberals are not motivated by any sense of fellow-feeling, even less any love for all the makes the United States great. Rather, we are motivated by the most base feelings of loathing for all those political and economic and cultural values that make our nation great. Being nihilists, we wish nothing more or less than the destruction of those values in the name of abstractions that sound good, but are merely lies, hiding our true, nefarious desires.

Since any attempt to end global warming would necessitate moving us away from reliance on the oil industry, perhaps any industry as it exists right now, this obviously means that we liberals, standing behind our real leader, Al Gore, want to destroy American prosperity. Since it's snowing outside right now where I am, and since we had, here in northern Illinois, a mild summer by recent standards, global warming is a farce. Retreating glaciers and melting permafrost are as nothing to what is quite visible and plain for anyone to see.

I hope this clears things up.

On The (Different) Merits

I hate to disagree with Tbogg's casual dismissal of Stanley Fish's column on Sarah Palin's memoir, Going Rogue, but Fish has it right. For those who may not have heard of him, Fish is a big deal in the pomo world; he ended up at Duke University back in the 1990's, which sought to become the home of serious lit-crit. In the 1990's, he did a debate tour with Dinesh D'Souza, and published a summary of the event as There is No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's A Good Thing. Cantankerous, brilliant, always thought provoking, Fish has the ability to grasp not just texts, but reading in a way few can.

On how to read Palin's book, Fish nails it quite easily.
My assessment of the book has nothing to do with the accuracy of its accounts. Some news agencies have fact-checkers poring over every sentence, which would be to the point if the book were a biography, a genre that is judged by the degree to which the factual claims being made can be verified down to the last assertion. “Going Rogue,” however, is an autobiography, and while autobiographers certainly insist that they are telling the truth, the truth the genre promises is the truth about themselves — the kind of persons they are — and even when they are being mendacious or self-serving (and I don’t mean to imply that Palin is either), they are, necessarily, fleshing out that truth. As I remarked in a previous column, autobiographers cannot lie because anything they say will truthfully serve their project, which, again, is not to portray the facts, but to portray themselves.

The questions to ask then are (1) Does Palin succeed in conveying to her readers the kind of person she is? and (2) Does she do it in a satisfying and artful way? In short, is the book a good autobiographical read? I would answer “yes” to both.

Fish insists we need not bother with questions of reliability in any traditional sense precisely because these aren't the criteria by which the book is to be judged. Not just by "impartial reviewers", of which there are sure to be few. The question forced upon the reader of the autobiography is one not of "truth" in some verifiable sense, but Truth as a property of one's life. More than just integrity as a condition of singularity of purpose and vision and practice. In the sense meant here, Truth is something that one possesses that is a condition for integrity, gives strength in times that challenge the desire to live it out, and is recognizable to those who share it in their own lives. This is Truth not as something that is factually accessible; this is the Truth that Palin and her admirers understand lies at the heart of our common life as Americans.

Unlike liberal elitists, with their penchant for fact-checking and defining reliability as something that has nothing to do with personal integrity (also not defined with any reference to anything outside one's own sense of oneself), Palin understands, and communicates to her readers, that the threats to our country do not lie in abstractions like global warming or the still faltering economy. Rather, the real threat to America, far more sinister and dangerous precisely because it is cloaked in the rhetoric of concern and a kind of patriotism, comes from those who do not understand that reliability is a personal quality, Truth is a possession, and integrity is the drive that keeps one from succumbing to doubts in the face of outside criticism. Rather than consider criticism as a constructive discussion with others, Palin simply dismisses any and all criticism of her life-choices, at a professional level, as coming from those who do not understand how she is living out, with integrity grown from the inner light of Truth.

As a cultural artifact, then, Palin's memoir is important as a demonstration of the persistence of a kind of child-like refusal to submit one's life to the judgment of others. Rather than self-knowledge, or at least the kind of understanding that comes from wrestling with the doubts and differences of others, Palin's work stands out as a kind of defiant call to return to an earlier understanding of the self as something flowering from inside oneself. Should others not understand that, not see the way Truth and certain simple American values create a life that values family and mild ambition above all others, they are only revealing their own unAmericanness, their own adherence to alien views of Truth, their elitist concern with petty things like facts.

As a cultural and political artifact, then, Fish gives readers an understanding of Palin's book that should leave us pondering the question, "What next?"

Monday, December 07, 2009

Music For Your Monday

In memory of my Aunt Joan, the biggest Alan Sherman fan I ever knew, here are some examples of some of the best song parodies ever written. The Ballad of Harvey and Sheila ("The ladies of Haddasah!"):

Al & Yetta need a life.

I wonder if Tom Waits ever heard this song. "Shake Hands With Uncle Max":

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Christmas Memories - 1985

Sticking with my stated goal, this Second Advent Sunday brings another Christmas memory, from my college years. I have struggled, trying to determine how I should present this. In the end, rather than be retrospectively harsh on my 20-year-old self, I am going to write it from within the perspective of that young man, full of naive optimism, and with little understanding of the world or his place in it. There may come a time to make fun of the person I was, but this isn't it.

There are those fleeting moments in one's life when, despite all sorts of obstacles and in the face of all sorts of evidence to the contrary, one seems to have one's hand securely on the tiller of life. All the different pieces of one's life, once tossed in the air, seem to have landed to form the perfect picture. One can get a gliimpse - all too brief, and maybe even wrong - of the course one's life could take; as long as the course one is taking doesn't veer off too far, it is possible to get to where you want to go from where you are with a minimum of effort. That time in my own life - viewed with a mixture of harsh criticism and a kind of burning nostalgia - runs from the spring of 1985 through the end of the summer, 1986. Situated almost exactly in the middle of this time, Christmas 1985 stands out precisely because, having just emerged from my first straight-A semester, I felt like I was, indeed, sailing with the wind of life.

Four of the five children would be at my parents' that year. I was the first to arrive, on December 20th. The next day, I went with my folks to pick out a Christmas tree (this was pretty typical; some years, the tree wouldn't be finished until Christmas Eve!). My mother told me once, a few years later, that I picked out the best tree we could have found that year. Maybe, but it certainly seemed that way. Like a Saturday Evening Post cover, it started snowing as my parents and I walked through Rosh's Trees.

A couple days later, on the morning of Christmas Eve, my youngest sister, my brother, and I all went last-minute shopping for stocking stuffers for my parents (my youngest sister started that tradition, and it was enjoyable to get Mom and Dad stockings). The snow from the previous couple days was having additional inches added to it by a Christmas Eve snowstorm; I remember, as we drove in to the parking lot at Newberry's Department Store in Sayre, PA that it seemed as if nature was cooperating to provide a memorable, almost classic, Christmas.

As we adult children gathered around the Christmas tree the next day, for the first time the atmosphere was relaxed. We sat and drank coffee or hot chocolate, ate a little breakfast, checked out who had what package, laughed and looked forward to what turned out to be an almost textbook example of The Perfect Christmas.

In retrospect, though, I wonder about that. Does it seem perfect because it was filled with those elements that, as someone just emerging from adolescence, seemed to define what Christmas should be - snow, but not too much; friendliness, even joviality around the Christmas tree; family actually enjoying one another's company - or are those memories tainted by my own retrospective sense that this particular Christmas seemed to come in the midst of a time when my life was firing on all cylinders?

That is a question I cannot answer, not really. Rather than sit and deconstruct those memories, taking this very special Christmas from a very special period of my life and attempting to make it in to something it was not, might satisfy my own sense that I need to be far more critical of my younger self. Yet, the reality is, reading my journal entries from this time - I've kept a journal fitfully for over a quarter century - I get no sense of anything other than a joy at living at this place and this time. I was somewhat dimly aware that I was living in the midst of a very special moment, that I had to hold the wheel carefully, because life has a way of taking over and not just capsizing it, but dragging it to the depths. Rather than sit and write all sorts of things that pointed out my many quite obvious personal flaws at the time, I want to let this moment - this Christmas that was perfect it could almost be used as a template for what Christmas should be - rest in my memory for what it actually was. The six of us gathered that morning of December 25th had a wonderful time together, the run-up to Christmas was something out of a Hallmark television special, and all the moments of my time home between semesters was filled with a sense that life was going to provide even more special moments, as long as I was open to those possibilities. What actually happened, well, that's a story for another time and place.

For now it is enough to say that this Christmas stands out precisely because it was, like so much else during this all-too-brief moment in my life, just about as perfect as can be.

Virtual Tin Cup

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