You Wouldn’t Hit a Guy With Glasses, Wouldja?

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Arriving on time for things has never been my forte. Perhaps I have what could be called a “punctuality disorder.” So there I was, running late for a meeting once again, with the words of my boss’ last email racing through my brain: “You will be at the table, laptops plugged in, and ready to roll at 9:30. No excuses!” I was pretty sure the strong language had been aimed at me, the one employee who is perpetually 20 minutes late…for everything. This meeting having been set aside for some sort of training, I knew it would be pretty awkward of me to saunter in ten or fifteen minutes late in the middle of an instructor’s presentation.

But naturally, I’d left the house a bit later than I should have, and had to blast down the freeway accordingly, trying to make better use of road space than those dullards who like to park in the left lane going 55 miles an hour (there’s something about California drivers that rules out proper understanding of what a left lane is for). In and out, back and forth I went in my friend’s battered blue 1984 Volvo 240, executing a handful of flawless, highly technical slalom maneuvers along the way. As I approached Santa Barbara‘s Garden street exit, I noticed that I’d managed to make a mistake, and had inadvertently boxed myself into a tricky situation that was going to take a pretty bold move to get out of in time to make the exit ramp.

In situations like that, losing your nerve at the last minute is not an option. All it takes is a solid cognizance of your vehicle’s dimensions (trust me when I say that there aren’t many people who possess that sort of knowledge), a brief moment of opportunity, and nerves of steel to pull it off without causing a pileup. Seize the moment and you’re in like flint. Needless to say, I executed the maneuver perfectly, eeking into a tiny and rapidly closing space with ease. Unfortunately, the bro driving the truck I had just cut off didn’t share the enthusiasm I had for my driving prowess, and signaled his displeasure with a series of crazy lane changes that seemed aimed at following me wherever I happened to be going.

Shooting for the center lane of the exit ramp, I noticed with dismay that the light was red, and pulled to a stop. The truck behind me — a white Toyota Tacoma with slightly larger-than-normal BF Goodrich All-Terrain tires — swerved into the right lane, stopping alongside me. All I was really expecting at that point was for the guy inside to roll down his window and shout, or maybe even throw something at the beat up car I was driving. But no. he got out of the truck and strode purposefully toward me. He was a deeply tanned, muscular man with a shaved head and goatee who — judging by his physique and the steel utility rack on the back of his truck — must have been a construction worker.

Have you ever been confronted by an angry motorist who stands in front of or beside your car, shouting profanities and waving his arms wildly? Yeah, not this guy. He marched quickly and quietly up to the passenger side of the car, and before I could say, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, asshole?!,” he had opened the door, leaned across the center console, and punched me right in the face. In the face!

As soon as I realized what had happened, he had already dove into his strategically-parked truck and was speeding around the corner, obviously going about 50 miles per hour. In my blind rage, I ground the gears trying to squeeze my way out of the traffic cue, inadvertently ripping the knob off of the shifter handle and scattering pieces of my now-broken cheap sunglasses in the process. When I finally escaped the snarl, I took off with a squeal of spinning tires, swerving crazily as I approached the corner.

I suppose part of me just wanted to get his license plate number, but my darker side pictured this man running in terror before the dilapidated Volvo as I chased him through an abandoned construction yard at top speed, cackling evilly as I kept him within the rifle-like sights of the car’s long snout. By some stroke of divine providence, though, anger got the best of my motor functions, and I clipped the curb as the car rounded the corner in hot pursuit. As luck (or basic physics) would have it, when you hit a curb with both right tires while traveling at 35 miles per hour, those same tires have a tendency to pop like inexpensive party balloons. Such was the case on my friend’s poor Volvo, and I felt myself awash in the shame of a double defeat as the car loped along the side of the road, lilting to one side on two flats.

The industrial park next to the freeway turned out to be an ideal place to park the thing until after the meeting I was by then late to had reached its denouement. There was no way I’d have time to take care of the two punctured tires until then, especially since I was a little afraid I’d be fired for failing to show up on time in the face of so dire a warning.

There was nothing left to do but sling my computer bag onto my shoulder and begin jogging the rest of the way to the office in the building morning heat. Aside from the bleeding eyebrow, two flat tires, and severely injured sense of pride I’d just received, all that seemed to be missing from my morning so far was to get fired from my job right after receiving a “Hey loverboy, I’m pregnant with your baby!” call from some random bar hookup. I felt like an utter loser.

In a few short minutes — minutes that were well after the appointed meeting time — I showed up at the meeting dripping with sweat and with a small trickle of blood running down my forehead onto my eyebrow. As it turned out, the guy who was supposed to have come to train everyone on some website function hadn’t even bothered to show up, so everyone was just sitting around wondering what to do. My arrival sparked curiosity, as everyone wanted to know what had happened, but I kept my poker face when I told them I had been punched in the face, and proudly let the blood dry into my eyebrow hairs as I opened up my laptop as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Looking back on the incident, I’ve had conflicting feelings about it. On the one hand, what I considered to be skilled execution of driving skills most likely appeared to be erratic driving to others on the freeway, and probably wasn’t the most responsible thing to have been doing. But while it clearly warranted some kind of reprisal, who the hell goes around punching people in the face?! Based on the surgical precision with which my attacker had carried out his assault, my guess is that this hadn’t been his first rodeo. Whether or not the guy goes home and beats his wife and kids — a point raised by more than a few self-righteous suburban white people types with whom I’ve shared the story — at the end of the day, the little cut where he hit me healed in a matter of days. If it had been a cop who had gotten out of the car instead of an angry bro, I may still be dealing with the consequences. Besides, it makes for a funny story and an excuse to buy a new pair of cheap sunglasses.

Independence

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Dr. Walter Monk with a somewhat less talented journalist

As luck would have it, I found myself celebrating Independence Day this year at the La Jolla home of Dr. Walter Munk. Of course, there’s no way I would have been personally invited to what I’ve been calling a genius festival, but there I was, riding on the coattails of the brother sister combo providing musical entertainment for the shindig — Matt and Jasmine are old friends from high school whose brother happened to be one of the geniuses invited to the genius festival, hence my fringe attendance.

Dr. Munk and his guests were very welcoming, and of course, interesting to chat with, but the thing that struck me above all else about the celebration (aside from the amazing blufftop home Munk and his wife Judith had designed and built in the late 50s), was that a reading of the Declaration of Independence was one of its key features.

Most of my Fourths of July past have been spent consuming various meat and alcohol products and watching fireworks, but it had never really occurred to me to delve into the holiday’s deeper meaning. I guess it took hanging out at a genius convention at the home of a guy who had been called on by the US military to provide wave forecasting during Normandy and other amphibious invasions for me to engage in that sort of reflection. Munk is what most of us would call a patriot! Of course, there was plenty of memorabilia around the house giving silent testimony to the man’s years of service to his country. I can’t help but admire people like that.

At any rate, there was a little kernel of the Declaration that caught my attention as it was being read — something that holds relevance today.

“[The King of Britain] has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”

Although I can never be 100 percent certain of exactly what the Founding Fathers meant by that (we lose so much context with the passage of time), perhaps I can apply it to today’s immigration problems. Demographics, resource distribution, and landmasses have changed pretty drastically in this country since 1776, but maybe we could use this little passage as an impetus to treat our hardworking illegals a little more nicely. I know, I’m a bleeding heart, but the folks who risk all to cross the border and start a new life want the same things all of us do: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

The State of the Mighty Colorado

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Once the crown jewel of North American wetlands, La Cienega de Santa Clara, in Northwestern Sonora, is a tenth of its original size

While physically not the most impressive of American rivers, the Colorado has become a central artery in the life of the American West. Today it is perhaps the most litigated river in the world, and all of its water has been allocated to one use or another, whether agricultural, urban, industrial, or now, environmental as well. When states in the Colorado River watershed met in 1922 to divide the river’s resources, what was supposed to be a simple formula to provide a fair share for all parties quickly became a convoluted legal mess. Over the years, the construction of several large dams — including the legendary Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams — as well as the advent of environmental awareness and subsequent regulation — have, along with all of the interstate bickering that has occurred between Compact members, changed the shape of the formula.

The Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, tucked into a bend on the Arizona side of the Colorado River, is a living botanical laboratory for the US Bureau of Reclamation

This winter, I had the pleasure of visiting a few spots along the Colorado River’s Lower Reach, which — from Las Vegas down to the Gulf of California in Mexico constitutes the Delta. Once an alluvial floodplain with a wetland the size of Rhode Island at its terminus, the Delta has been levied, diverted, and dammed beyond recognition. But the US Bureau of Reclamation and a handful of American and Mexican environmental NGOs have been working not only to preserve what is left of the critical wildfowl habitat, but to restore parts of it. Because so many cities and food production operations rely upon Colorado River water, the consensus amongst these conservationists is that it would be unrealistic to completely restore the river. But they also realize the value of having of native plants and animals in places where they once thrived.

An hour west of Blythe, California, across a stretch of desert, repair crews fix a section of line coming from a hydroelectric power plant fed by Colorado River water

Below are the links to a three part series I wrote about habitat conservation and restoration along the Lower Colorado River, on both sides of the Frontera Internacional, for Miller-McCune. In writing these, my goal was to create as comprehensive a source of information as possible about a subject as broad and difficult to tack down as can be found. I never did get into Native American populations and connected local economies, but from an environmental standpoint, I suppose it’s pretty comprehensive. Enjoy. I hope you learn something — I sure did.

Part I: Something for Everyone — Boulder City Nevada to the International Border

Part II: Just Add Water: the Colorado River Delta Resurrects — La Frontera Internacional to the Sea of Cortez

Part III: The Risky Business of Slicing the Pie — International Relations

Addendum: A few things you should know about water storage on the Colorado River

Red State Rove Meets Pacific Blue

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UCSB student Max Einstein contends that there's a strong connection between Rove and Goebbels

Having a large university nearby is one of those rare blessings that people living in big cities don’t often share with a lot of other locales. Luckily, Santa Barbara is a place that in addition to being beautiful, enjoys the benefit of its very own University of California campus. Despite and because I’m a starving journo, I go to as many lectures, plays, concerts, and whatever else the university has to offer as I can (we journalists might be hated by the masses, but the university’s Arts & Lectures Department likes us enough to give us free tickets to most events).

An announcement by UCSB’s College Republicans that Karl Rove — the legendary and reportedly diabolical senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to former president George W. Bush — was to make an appearance at UCSB kicked up quite a fuss around town. Santa Barbara, not unlike many California coastal communities — other than the ones in Orange County — has more than its share of tree-hugging liberals. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that there are plenty of hawkish conservatives, too. Even on college campuses.

At any rate, I viewed Rove’s impending visit with a mixture of vague disgust, burning curiosity, and an unwholesome excitement at the prospect that protesters might get stupid. After all, what did I really know about Rove or what he would say to a group of malleable university students? I knew that he, like Dick Cheney, had been involved in an administration that unapologetically promoted the interests of the United States above all else. I also knew that Rove, having been bitten by the political bug when still a gangly high school student, had gone on to become a national leader of College Republicans. Years before anyone knew the name Valerie Plame, he had become involved in a couple of scandals before he’d even turned 25, one of which resulted in attention from the FBI, President Nixon’s chief counsel, and the eye of then Republican National Committee Chair George H.W. Bush. From then on, Rove was constantly involved with one campaign or another for some of the biggest right wing names out there (a few of whom, like so many politicians on both sides of the aisle, have been associated with scandal).

His youthful indiscretions aside, Rove’s work with the W. administration has given him credibility as one of America’s more controversial figures, but realizing that he was no doubt a very clever man with something of interest to say, I was intrigued by the prospect of hearing him speak. First, I had to break through the legion of protesters lined up in front of UCSB’s mammoth Campbell Hall. By and large, they were somewhat of a disappointment — they weren’t intimidating and their slogan chanting wasn’t all that creative — but there were a lot of them. I had a chance to talk with a student named Max Einstein (yes, that’s right, Einstein, who said he’s distantly related to the Einstein) who was holding up a wooden sign bearing photocopied pictures of Rove and Joseph Goebbels side by side. A large swastika with an X through it was painted in the middle. “A lot of people look at this sign and say, ‘That guy’s an idiot.’” he said, confirming my initial impression of him. “But if you look at Rove’s function in society, a strong connection can be made between him and Goebbels.” He proceeded to explain that in his view, the Bush Administration had surreptitiously declared war upon the Muslim World, albeit without the overt viciousness with which Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Party had attacked the Jews. “It’s a soft racism, it’s a quiet racism, but it’s just as dangerous.”

Alessandro Morosin, a global studies masters student and self-proclaimed communist, helped organize the Rove protest under the auspices of SB Antiwar

My new friend Max was a soft spoken lad, given the gathering crowd of protest “organizers” who were beginning to shout the same predictable slogans I’ve heard at other rallies (rallies, I might add that were completely unrelated to this one) with increasing frequency. One guy who had hurriedly scrawled a detailed message on the bottom of a cardboard box began to shout something repeatedly. When he saw TV cameras, he ran over to garner his slice of dinnertime news hour fame, chanting the same line to thousands of local news viewers (unless of course the station had wisely cut the sound out while their reporter explained the situation).

An older, long-haired gentleman leaned against a tree, smiling to himself as he strummed an acoustic guitar and sang a few bars from Buffalo Springfield’s 1960s protest ballad, “For What Its Worth.” He seemed to be enjoying some private moment from years past, when these gatherings were his bread and butter. I had a private moment, too, although mine was perhaps somewhat darker. It consisted of a scene from a not-yet-created absurd faux-reality show forming in my mind. My vision was constructed thus:

[Smiling older hippie plays Buffalo Springfield song. Protesters get violent; out come the Molotov cocktails. A College Republican can be seen, on fire, diagonally-striped tie half burned and in flames, running away screaming. Police, armed with truncheons and riot gear tear gas the crowd. In the ensuing foggy confusion, cops all gravitate towards the musical hippie like metal flakes to a magnet. When the smoke clears, protesters are still organized and chanting. Police are in the corner beating the old hippie senseless with truncheons. Smoldering College Republican is being sniffed by the police department's bomb-sniffing dog, who finds a charred bag of cocaine in his pocket.]

*Sir, please do not smoke near the dog. He may have explosive residue on him from inspecting suspected enemy combatants.*

Of course, thankfully, none of that happened in reality, but they did have a bomb-sniffing dog at the door. He sure was cute. Especially since I didn’t have any bombs or drugs in my bag.

But finally, it was time to hear Karl Rove speak. I can honestly tell you that my impression was formed from the first and last five minutes of the speech. The rest was a rapid recitation of fiscal data that I doubt few in the audience, including myself, understood all that well. It looked like he’d lost some weight, and amidst the cheers of College Republicans and catcalls from his detractors, his Texas twang cut right into the meat of what he wanted to talk about, which was, of course, fiscal policy. Like many Americans, his role was that of Monday morning quarterback, pointing out the Obama Administration’s failure to rope in the financial crisis. I sat there, sullenly listening to the figures he was spitting out. Although I’m aware that he has a knack for twisting peoples’ perception of certain facets of a political campaign to play into the favor of his brand, it seemed that his assessment of how fucked we are right now was spot on. The question that was bouncing around in my head had been, though, whether anyone else could do any better.

Rove also railed against Obama’s foreign policy, saying he was being weak when he should be strong — especially with respect to Iran, Asia, and the ill-fated Copenhagen Climate Change Conference — but he didn’t offer any suggestions as to how his own administration’s foreign policy decisions, if they were so great, could have been improved upon. In other words, he didn’t seem like a guy who sought any kind of balance, but was above all else about the bottom line. Plenty of questions about the Iraq War were sent his way at the UCSB lecture. Some, I regret to say, were shouted out in the form of profanities by students who made themselves look like idiots (this is the first time in my life that my opinion of the liberals in the room was lower than that of College Republicans, who were above reproach in their conduct).

Waiting for relief supplies every week amongst the squalor of a city without a functioning trash removal service is the reality these women face.

Rove lauded Obama’s Iraq policy and its extension into Afghanistan, but only because it was a continuation of Bush-era policies in Iraq. While I know little about fiscal policy, I do know a little something about conditions on the ground in Iraq — well, in Baghdad, anyway. By saying that Iraqis and the world are better off without a “tyrannical dictator such as Saddam Hussein” was an oversimplification of the situation in that region of the world. Some Iraqis are better off, but when I was there, my observation was that most were not. One of the interpreters in the army unit I embedded with last spring was not what you’d call a Baath Party supporter — he’d deserted the Iraqi Army and fled the country in 1990 — but he shook his head when beholding today’s Baghdad. The place is, by and large, an utter shithole, where it had once been a gleaming metropolis. Infrastructure around the country is failing due to a fractious and corrupt government. I’m not so sure that anything the US has done there until the last two or three years has been all that helpful (yes, the Coalition did a fantastic job vanquishing their foes and getting rid of a lot of insurgents, but much of the work now consists of undamaging the damage that was done by poorly considered foreign policy). Bearing in mind that Iraqis have been subjected to a decade of UN sanctions and over six years of continuous warfare, it comes as no surprise that the going is slow when it comes to well-intentioned US aid.

But I digress. Rove also deflected questions about his role in initiating the war by ticking off a list of Democratic Senators who had supported it. He even read the transcript of then Senator and 2004 Presidential candidate John Kerry’s fiery speech on the floor of the Senate in which he had wholeheartedly supported the resolution calling for the invasion. Nothing, mind you, was said about the alleged falsification of WMD documentation by CIA officials. One student had submitted a clumsily-worded question that insinuated that Rove and his cronies had planted WMDs in Iraq when UN inspectors couldn’t find any. Rove responded with a joke; that he wouldn’t do that because they’re too valuable and he might need them later. That the crack was directed at a student who hadn’t taken the time to think through the question was humorous. The idea behind it wasn’t so funny.

I wasn’t surprised that Rove said a few things I was in agreement with. “The Senate is supposed to be the saucer that cools the passions of the House,” he said in response to a question about the effectiveness of filibustering. Sure, great, but how much is too much? Both sides of Congress seem to have gotten themselves into a pretty constant state of gridlock. And, “It is right for us to be engaged in the world, but it is also right for America to be respected, and in some cases feared.” Sure. I can go along with that, but to what extent? I didn’t get the impression that the Bush Administration was thinking too far into the future when it came to relationships that didn’t currently involve large sums of corporate money. We can’t be hardasses all the time.

This guy is an Einstein. No, really. His name is Max Einstein

Rove is a hive of sharp intelligence. Of that there’s no doubt. But his world view appears to lack that touch of humanity which perhaps the current administration has in excess. With Rove’s lot, America is number One. Period. He carries around a picture in his pocket, along with a stirring story about a Navy SEAL who, despite the fact that his face had been ripped apart by bullets in Iraq, can’t wait for the reconstructive surgery to be completed so that he could rejoin his comrades in arms on a mission in Afghanistan. I’m truly inspired by the Navy guy, but I can’t help picturing Rove, when he stumbled across this patriotic gent, rubbing his hands with glee at so fortunate a find of political leverage. At least he ended the lecture by saying that despite our differences, we all need to embrace our common goals, blah, blah, blah. If our futures are decided by politicians — who, regardless of their political stripe, are of Rove’s ilk — our society today can be best summed up by the words of an elderly printing press operator in Kirk Douglas’ 1975 Western Posse. “Politicians are all full of shit,” he said disgustedly to his editor as the two watched a Senatorial campaign rally. True, the movie was filmed at the height of the Watergate Scandal, but its characterization of elected officials so prosaically states the obvious.

Rove addresses students and a handful of well-dressed ladies who could afford the $200 fee outsiders had to pay to watch the lecture.

The Last Wave In

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On some nights, the glow of moonlight and the Christmastree-like glare of the offshore oil platforms are all that's needed to enjoy the ocean.

It was getting dark, and the surf looked a bit ragged. Maybe it was best to soak in the glow of a cold winter sunset for a few minutes and make my way home. But wait. Wasn’t that someone taking off on a wave twice their height? I needed no encouragement. I ran to my car a few yards away and threw on my clammy wet wetsuit as quickly as I was able. There was still some light left — there was still a little time for a wave or two. Timing the sets right, I managed to get out without getting pommeled, which is always a good thing, especially when there’s any size to contend with (for those of you landlubbers, that means the ocean is angry at things that try to get into it and likes to hit them violently at times). It had been a long day of banging my head against the wall over where I should peddle my freelance story ideas, but that was gone now. Paddling frantically as I punched through the last wave of a sizeable set, I was free. For the time being, there was no more danger of being pommeled. I no longer had to worry about the late rent check, the pile of unpaid bills, and the scores of freelance queries that had gone out that month, unanswered. All I had to do was scan the orange and purple horizon for the long, dark lumps that indicated an incoming set.

There were a few that looked enticing, and I squinted to try to see them in the waning light. It was all too clear that most of them were massive. These waves could be neatly categorized into two varieties — the ones that looked tough but turned out to be nothing when I paddled to catch them, and the kind that didn’t look like anything until the massive black wall arched well over my head, threatening to crush me if I didn’t scratch towards the horizon for all I was worth. I tried and failed and tried and failed to catch a wave, and all the while it grew darker. Hanging my head forlornly, I noticed the glint of the crescent moon reflecting from the sheen of water spattered on the deck of my surfboard. Maybe, just maybe, if I concentrated more on the sheen than the black abyss that opened up every time a wave jacked up, I could get one. Again I paddled into a wave, its sheer size obscuring the silver shine of the moon. It was like jumping into the unknown. It was jumping into the unknown. Try as I might, I could not master my fear of that nebulous, although fleeting dark cave that appeared every time a wave moved into catching range.

Sitting out in the ocean whilst surfing — well, trying to surf — is one of those activities that invites all kinds of loopy self-directed philosophical thought. Why the hell was I so scared to drop the nose of my board into a black pit whose dimensions I could only guess? Taking a step further, why had I been, for years, too timid to try anything really, really new; unknowns of a different variety? I was always reading about adventurous souls conquering the wilds of places that other Westerners had scarcely dared tread upon. My Walter Mitty reflex kicked in, and I pictured myself walking through a jungle in, oh, I don’t know, Africa. The photographs taken and the stories published — by my own camera and pen, I might add — and the lectures given at prestigious universities after the conclusion of such trips were enough to keep me going for months. Long enough until the next adventure, when I would be surrounded by more jibberish-speaking natives and inquisitive young co-eds eager to learn how they too could one day be a great journalist.

The mental mirage melted, and I sighed. More likely, I thought, I would be relegated to the George Bailey existence from It’s a Wonderful Life, sticking around my own Bedford Falls until it was too late to leave. With friends, family, and the constant, if mundane entertainment offered by working at a local weekly, life wouldn’t be so bad. There would be squabbles over building heights, dog catcher elections, and any number of trivial things to keep me amused. Oh well, if I wanted to be half as good as the George Bailey character, I’d better start volunteering at a homeless shelter or something. Perhaps it would be better to be the town drunk instead. He always seems to be having a good time…

A small wave approached, and my absurd internal dialogue faded. I stroked once, twice, sliding into a chest high wave that scarcely had the power to propel me forward. It was now completely dark. “Whooo hoooo!” I shouted, realizing how ridiculous it was to be so excited about such a small wave. I smiled as I glided in toward the beach, nothing to guide my way but the light of the moon and the phosphorescent froth splashinf off of the sides of my board. What could be better than the last wave in, besides a burrito afterwards?

*****

The author; looking unusually clean cut.

A note from the author: You may wonder where I’ve been. Why no blog entries? Why no photos? Then again, you may not care, may never have read my little yarns. Perhaps this is your first time, and you’ve been mildly coerced by one of my many facebook or email bombardments indicating that you should really, really read my blog. Well here it is. I’m back from the dead, having traveled all over California, Arizona, Northern Mexico, etc, in search of answers. I’m not quite sure what sort of answers, but I guess you’ll have to wait and see. More of my drivel is forthcoming, good citizens of Gnarnia!

The Long and Winding Campaign Trail

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Our chief puckers his way to the top.

Our chief puckers his way to the top.

There’s something about political mailers that is particularly enraging. I can’t decide whether it’s their cheap tabloid name smearing, the fact that they probably cost a lot of money, or the notion that whoever prints them assumes I’m a semi-literate jackass who doesn’t take the time to read about the candidates I vote for. Perhaps even worse is the fact that most of the people receiving these ill-intentioned placards in the mail are probably just the sort of non-participatory goons I’m loath to be associated with. They’re the last sort of people anyone would expect to pick up a newspaper — or, god forbid, use the internet for something other than twittering to the world that they just ate a cheeseburger — to read about the various candidates up for sale. Once you consider that, thanks to the evil genius Karl Rove, a lot of these same poorly-informed slobs a very unwitting part of the electorate, the value of false advertising on a glossy eight-by-ten piece of cardboard — to candidates and their special interest groups anyway — becomes readily apparent. One can only hope that the ones who don’t decide to truly participate and educate themselves before wielding their electoral stick at society will eventually lose interest and get back to watching whatever mindless talk show ruled their lives before someone fear-mongered them into leaving what they would normally be doing on election day.

After I threw the latest pile of political mudslinging cards in the trash, my mind drifted again back to the money people are spending on campaigns. The ads littering my doorstep are from a city council campaign! People are throwing gobs of money at a local election for god’s sake! The small city of Santa Barbara is awash with candidates, some of whom have six figure campaign war chests, paid for by every group or individual that would otherwise benefit from bribing a candidate outright. Not that our illustrious President Barack Obama made the situation any better by spending $740 billion (more than George W. Bush and John Kerry both spent during the 2004 presidential election campaign) during his successful 2008 run for the free world’s top spot.

The sad truth is, that’s what it takes to win, but that brings me to another point. Political campaigns are too goddamned long. Why should it take two years to campaign for a four year term? Political oneupmanship has turned our country’s elections into a semblance of the US-Soviet nuclear arms race of yesteryear, albeit with time and money skyrocketing to unparalleled levels as these competitions play themselves out. The bad example the big boys set at the national level has trickled down to small town politics, in places where you can live in a town of 30,000 and start hearing about campaign donations being made before most people even knew there was an election coming up. Wanna run for the vector control district seat in your neighborhood? Better have cash on hand or the ability to get some. I’ll admit that begging people for money is a good way to practice kissing ass when you’re trying to get elected, but I think we need to institute some kind of campaign finance non-proliferation treaty at this point in the game — not just for the amount of money being sucked into the hole, but also the length of time this irritating circus goes on. I’m not alone in my opinion that the carnival-like atmosphere of campaign time cuts into the productivity of elected officials when they’re constantly having to worry about kissing babies and panhandling.

My suggestions: Let’s do away with the two year campaign saga and put a very low, very tight cap on spending. New Zealand, the UK, and a few other countries have the right idea by limiting political ads. If special interest groups want to influence peoples’ decisions about who gets elected, they can get busy writing opinion editorials — after they get past the initial screen of the newspapers’ bullshit detectors. Other than that, candidates and their staffs can use their creative ability to make the best use of limited time and resources, much like most Americans should be doing anyway. As for the thick cardboard tabloid mailers, I think we’d all be better off if a few trees were saved instead of making them at all. But then, my starry dreams of a better world are all hinged upon people taking more interest in what’s going on and informing themselves before they hit the polls. Too optimistic? Only time will tell. The record of history doesn’t bode well for such an eventuality, but stranger things have happened.

Barber of the ‘Burg

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You don't have to worry about coming out of this place smelling like hibiscus blossoms.

You don't have to worry about coming out of this place smelling like hibiscus blossoms.

The Supercuts on State Street in Santa Barbara is not necessarily a very clean place (if the busted sewage pipe or whatever it was causing such an awful smell last time I went is any indication), but it is sterile. I couldn’t escape the drab, impersonal hue of the place as I punched my name and hair color into a computer check-in console. Even the signs on the wall screamed corporate indifference. “If I don’t make a product recommendation, your service is on me!” one of them exclaimed cheerfully. I was there to get a fucking haircut for god’s sake, not buy toiletries. My mind snaked through the possibility of getting my wily ‘fro reduced for free, but then I thought of the shy, awkward Mexican girl cutting my hair. She wouldn’t be so ecstatic over my score when her boss took $17 out of her paycheck, even if she had forgotten to try to sell me styling gel I didn’t want or need.

I kept my mouth shut, but my mind drifted away from the offensively coporate hair salon and the stench of its many hair care products back to the Northern Virginia and Coastal North Carolina barber shops I had loved going to as a kid. Smelling of rubbing alcohol fumes and cheap shaving cream, these were places where men went to get haircuts. You might walk out with a crew cut, a duck tail, or some sort of fancy mullet, but goddammit, you weren’t going to come out smelling like a pansy.

Fredericksburg, Virginia, where I spent my college days, was possessed of a surfeit of barber shops, each with its very own old guy at the helm, but each with its own character. Having gone to the same few barber shops all throughout my childhood, I was forced to undertake the unnerving task of finding someone I trusted to cut my hair. Unfortunately, the first one I visited scared me away. The barber was so old that he couldn’t see what he was doing, and I watched in horror as he rubbed my head with the inoperable bottom half of his clippers for half an hour. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he had basically dry humped my skull with his electric shears, so I just smiled feebly and told him it looked fine, paying him the $6 anyway.

For the next couple of years, I opted for the guy whose shop was a few doors down. A brusque, taciturn man with a huge belly that bumped my arm a lot while he was cutting my hair, Jack Sullivan had been in business there for a number of years. Every visit was painfully awkward — the man was unfriendly and impossible to talk to — but he had a lot of cool car memorabilia to gawk at while I was getting my hair cut. Across the street on his lawn were parked a VW Beetle and a Ford Ranchero, both gleaming in bright hot rod colors. Always peering at me unsmilingly through his coke bottle glasses, Jack was perennially unpleasant, but he gave a good haircut, and always shaved the back of my neck with a straight razor.

It wasn’t until my girlfriend at the time moved downtown that I even bothered to look at another barbering outfit. Right across the street from her apartment, which was situated above an old funeral parlor (doing laundry in the basement of that building, right next to what was so obviously an out of use cremation oven, was the epitome of creepy), was the Allen & Brown Barber Shop. It looked like the backdrop for an episode of the Andy Griffith Show, and I’ll be damned if the guy inside didn’t look like a white-haired Floyd the barber. “Mornin’ young man!” he said with a smile as I sat down to wait my turn. The place was had it all. Copies of Car & Driver and Guns & Ammo were stacked in neat little piles on several of the green vinyl-covered waiting chairs. I toyed with a freestanding brass ashtray, the remnants of someone’s Camel still resting in one of its grooves, as a Coca-Cola clock that predated my mother’s birth ticked its lazy, but regular cadence. I knew then that I would never again go back to Jack Sullivan’s sombre establishment.

The man himself: Rogers Chenault.

The man himself: Rogers Chenault. Photo courtesy Fredericksburg Freelance-Star

“Rogers Chenault” was printed in thin white letters on a nameplate in the large, plate glass window, amidst a pile of New Testament copies bearing the same name. My new barber chatted cheerily as he put the finishing touches on an older gentleman’s crew cut (from the light cigarette smell hanging in the air, no doubt the owner of that abandoned Camel stub). “Well, young fellah, what can I do for ya?” he asked with a smile as he popped a rag against the seat of the barber’s chair a few times, dusting it off. I sat down and ordered my usual, which he completed perfectly, chattering away happpily all the while. “Ya know, when I was at Wake Forest College — I think they call it Wake Forest University now — I never knew I was gonna cut hair. I did know I was gonna be a preacher though. And now, every Sunday by God, I’m preachin’ at the Calvary Reformed Baptist Church.” Apparently, regular Baptist churches weren’t Baptist enough for him, so he’d formed his own congregation. Sounded kooky to me, but who was I to judge.

As I handed him $5 for the haircut I had received, he pointed to the pile of books by the window, explaining that they were his own translation of the New Testament from the original Greek text. “I want you to take one of those and see what you think. It’s always good to have a college man read my work,” he said, not knowing that my knowledge of bible lore is scant at best. As it turns out, my barber wasn’t just a barber, but also had a PhD in Theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He had labored over his translation for nearly a decade, but boasted that it was the only literal translation of the New Testament to be found anywhere. “You know, the King James an’ all that, it’s been translated so many times, you can’t tell what they tryin’ to tell you anymore,” he expounded in his smooth Richmond drawl.

I never was much into bible study, nor did I agree with most of Rogers’ political views — in fact, we were about as ideologically opposite as two people can get — but he was colorful as hell, so I kept my mouth shut and enjoyed his company, as well as his flawless haircuts, month after month. As I sat in in his red vinyl-covered swivel, he had a peculiar way of looking me dead in the eye through the mirror as he spoke — usually intent on filling me in about the communist plot to take over the world through the United Nations, Bill Clinton’s complicity with them, or some other such conspiracy theory worthy of a tinfoil hat shaped like Ronald Reagan’s head — grabbing both of my shoulders gently when emphasis was required. Sometimes he even pulled out a magazine article he had clipped from American Spectator or some other right wing rag.

Since I respected the man, I made an effort to read a bit of his bible translation — well, in typical college fashion anyway, just enough to be able to talk about it when pressed — but wasn’t really able to discern too much difference from any other version of the bible I’d dipped into. But the man’s stories kept me coming back more than the haircuts, as did the steady stream of old guys who looked like they’d just driven up from Mayberry. They made for such good atmosphere, and their conversations were always entertaining. As a matter of fact, the only people close to my age who came to Allen & Brown were guys who either believed the stuff written in Rogers’ political magazine collection, or who, like me, had a genuine appreciation for the ability to travel 50 years back in time just by walking into a barber shop.

A flumoxed Floyd tries to cut hair.

A flumoxed Floyd tries to cut hair.

Eventually, I moved away from Fredericksburg, bound for more cosmopolitan environs than the sleepy southern river town could offer. On my last day in town, my old pickup truck piled high with my earthly belongings, I swung by Rogers’ shop for a last haircut and to say goodbye. Rogers bid me farewell, warmly wishing me the best of luck in my future endeavors. “You c’mon back anytime. We’ll be here,” he said with a smile. I knew it was the end of an era.

One day, not long after I had sat in downtown Santa Barbara’s foul-smelling Supercuts franchise wondering where I made a wrong turn, I stumbled upon a Fredericksburg Freelance-Star article about Rogers Chenault. It turned out that, after having retired from the baptist church a couple of years ago, at 86 years old, he decided that it was time to hang up his clippers for good, too. Although I hadn’t thought about going to a barber shop in years — perhaps because of some latent notion that reinventing myself as a Californian involved shedding the trappings of some of the distinctly southern experiences of my formative years — reading that article unsettled me. I think it’s time to find a barber shop in Santa Barbara!

Two-Wheeled Loophole

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A few splashes of pastel color bring out the 90s on this modern day classic.

A few splashes of pastel color bring out the 90s on this modern day classic.

“Hey, nice bike! Where’d you get it, Sesame Street?” sneered a group of neighborhood bullies as I glided past on my sparkly green and yellow 1957 Schwinn Stingray. A small rock lobbed by one of them sailed past my head, and I knew it was time for me to start thinking seriously about getting a new bicycle. I wondered how I’d held on to a bike with 20-inch wheels for so long, especially at a point in life when being different in any way whatsoever is so frowned upon.

The spring of my seventh grade year began like many others — bicycles, skateboards, and other fun things were dug out of the dark recesses of the basement and placed in the more accessible environs of the garage, to be used during the summer months. When the old classic that had brought me so much joy during other summers was hoisted up the stairs once more, it had scarcely occurred to me that it was time to move on. What was I doing riding a little kid’s bike anyway? After all, in that suburban land of plenty, there were other options to be had.

The bullies’ cruel laughter rang in my head as I mapped out a scheme to replace the Schwinn. Thinking their old Raleigh three-speeds were the next evolutionary step in bicycle ownership, my parents urged me to get one, too. I knew they meant well, but I had other ideas. There was only one type of bike for me, and that was a mountain bike. I suppose the fact that they were the rage in 1991 had something to do with my choice, but their rugged off-road capability presented a loophole solution to a particular problem I had. My parents wouldn’t allow me to cross the main road into town, so I was confined to a monotonous suburban hell from which I desperately needed to escape. My plan? If I couldn’t go across the road, I’d go under it. I had noticed a number of rock-strewn culverts that were big enough to ride a bicycle through — owning a mountain bike was clearly the way to go.

Having toured several bike shops, I was nearly overwhelmed by the number options, but eventually, I found one with a bike that spoke to both me and my wallet at the same time. Its steel wheels glinted under the showroom lights, its bright yellow letters resplendent upon a black frame; I knew that the 1992 Diamond Back Outlook was exactly what I needed. The salesman, a long-haired teenager sporting bloodshot eyes and a smelly flannel shirt, tried to talk me into a model with more bells and whistles, but with a strict budget and simple goals to be minded, I was not to be dissuaded. I placed my hands on the squishy handgrips and gave the brakes a squeeze, closing my eyes as I took in the smell of new rubber. This was the one. This was my salvation. My dad must have thought I was nuts as I stood there silently, conjuring images of freedom. When I got it home, I was about to take a ride down the creek trail near our house, but was cut short by my mother. “It’s too dark out, Ben. You’ll get hit by a car or something.” In my excitement, I hadn’t even noticed that night had fallen.

The next morning, I was up and out the door with a quickness that no school day could ever muster. My mom protested as I bolted outside without having eaten breakfast, but there was no stopping me. There was a whole world to explore on my new Diamond Back. In fact, my family wouldn’t see much of me for most of the summer. I spent most of my time exploring creek beds, gas pipeline rights-of-way, wide culverts — any rough path that would gain me access to the world outside of our development. Sometimes I went with friends, but most of the time I didn’t. By winter, a thick layer of mud coated the frame of my well-used mountain bike, and the wheels were warped enough to warrant upgrading to aluminum ones. When my dad finally let me pull it out of the basement the next spring, I had saved enough for a fresh set of knobby offroad tires. With the new meats on it, the bike looked as good as it rode when I was charging though the cold Northern Virginia mud that spring. Eventually, my parents lifted their seasonal restriction, and there was many a day when I braved the biting mid-winter cold to enjoy the crunch of ice-encrusted mud beneath my bicycle’s wide tires.

My parents' idea of cool wasn't quite the best way to go in 7th grade.

My parents' idea of cool wasn't quite the best way to go in 7th grade.

The seasons came and went, and as I got older, I found myself spending more and more time exploring pockets of the suburbs that had yet to be turned by a dozer’s blade. Unfortunately, when the car bug bit me sometime toward the end of my sophomore year, I got caught trying to fix my parents’ broken Pontiac so that I could take it for a spin. They responded harshly to my attempt at unlicensed driving, by taking away the thing that meant the most to me — my Diamond Back. The term of punishment was unthinkable — an entire six months — so I did what anyone would have done and took the bike out when my parents weren’t around, putting it back in its basement dungeon when I was done. As luck (or lack thereof) would have it, my dad noticed the thick, red clay splattered all over its black frame, and compounded my sentence by an additional three months, removing the front wheel and locking it up. As if to add insult to injury, the aluminum wheel was prominently displayed a the glass-doored closet in our garage; a constant reminder of my transgressions.

When I went off to college my trusty Outlook became my primary form of transportation, but four years of outdoor storage, post party crashes, and general neglect took their toll. One day in the summer of 2000 — the summer after I graduated — I gazed wistfully at my old friend as I loaded my belongings into a moving truck. The once straight handle bars were bent. The black paint was faded. One of the brake cables had finally snapped. Sadly, I passed it off to a friend who needed a bicycle for his commute to work.

I’ve often thought about my days bashing through the muddy Northern Virginia woods in the years that have passed since, but I never did get another mountain bike. Things have a funny way of working out though. It turns out that my girlfriend had a 1992 Diamond Back Outlook when she was a kid, too. Then one day, someone left a bike in the ivy patch across the street, and none of the neighbors knew whose it was or where it had come from. It was none other than an early 90s Diamond Back Outlook. I was flooded with happy memories of my days spent exploring muddy trails on my old Outlook, and it seems they’re destined to return with the winter rains.

Who Needs Healthcare?!

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Capps tells it like it is, to a crowd that was one third angry and confused, two thirds fed up.

Capps tells it like it is, to a crowd that was one third angry and confused, two thirds fed up.

For whatever reason, there are a lot of people who seem to believe the negative rumors associated with the national healthcare reforms Congress is trying to bring about with HR3200. Quite simply put, these people are wrong. While it’s true that there are many facets of the current healthcare scenario that are good — the technology available today is simply amazing — the manner in which it is administered is absolutely appalling. For starters, corporate insurance companies, and to a slightly lesser extent pharmaceutical companies, have got us all firmly by the balls. Why is this, and why are people so afraid to let go of a system that doesn’t work, and is only going to get worse? In this case, I think we will have to attribute their extreme anxiety to the same Rovian fear mongers that got us into Iraq and Afghanistan. Yep, Republicans who are stuffed deep into the pockets of corporate interests. Disclaimer: I do not mean to suggest that all Republicans are scuzzy corporate whores, and there are plenty of Dems who are, but there is a very cohesive group of Republicans whose lipstick can be seen smeared on the zipper flaps of many of the worst corporate entities (do I really have to dredge up Enron, Haliburton, or any of that not-so-ancient history?). Like my grizzled editor always tells me, if you want to find the source of a problem, follow the money.

The reason why I think that the most bitter opponents of healthcare reform are off base comes from a variety of sources. Some of it is from what I’ve read and soaked up as one of print media’s ink-stained wretches, but a lot of my view comes from working in the medical field for three years (I was on an ambulance crew for a year and a half, and worked in an emergency room as an EMT for almost two). The real kicker came for me within the last year, when I started dating a girl who is in the midst of filing Chapter Seven bankruptcy paperwork due to a $150,000 medical bill (consequently, two thirds of all bankruptcies are filed because of unmanageable medical bills). Somebody drove her off of a cliff, and after nearly dying from internal bleeding, she was left holding a big bag of debt that has proven too heavy for her to carry.

During my time working on an ambulance crew, and later as a patient care tech in the ER, I found that the industry was largely driven by pharmaceutical and insurance companies which paid little heed to either patient or provider welfare. It was all about bottom line, and this manifested itself far beyond the ER docs griping bitterly every day about the reimbursement so stingily doled out by insurance providers. This scourge showed itself more profoundly in the people who came into our small ER on a daily basis. Because so many people couldn’t afford health insurance, the ER — a place where they by law cannot be refused care — became like a regular doctor’s office. I can’t tell you how many sore throats I saw on the disposition list, and most of them weren’t even strep! Unfortunately for those patients, ER visits are markedly more expensive than going to a primary care doctor. Unfortunately for everyone else, beds that might be needed for real emergencies were otherwise occupied.

Hundreds of people came to ask a few questions about a confusing healthcare reform bill. Only 210 made it in.

Hundreds of people came to ask a few questions about a confusing healthcare reform bill. Only 210 made it in.

Now lets take a moment to go back to those bitching doctors. They had good reason to complain because insurance companies pay them based on how many procedures they perform, not factoring in final patient disposition. The doctors I worked with were always thinking of better ways to see more patients in a day. Granted, an ER should see fast turnover, but fostering a factory-like output of bodies is never a good way for medical providers to make money. At a town hall meeting on healthcare reform that I attended in Santa Barbara last night, Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA) called this an archaic, disease-based treatment system. Well, if preventative treatments and doctor visits aren’t covered by health insurance, and if doctors are cranking out patient discharges like Model-T Fords from an assembly line, how is she wrong? Furthermore, many doctors order extra tests that aren’t needed just to avoid being sued for malpractice (the insurance for which is no cheapie, even in California, where legislation has been passed to limit its cost). I can’t tell you how many times our overworked X-ray techs rolled their eyes and frowned blackly at the waste of time (which, of course equates to money for the patient) that was generated in their little corner of the world.

I’m not saying there aren’t people who abuse the system, but it seems to be more because when people get sick, they get scared, and without good education as to what they’re supposed to do with their bodies when they’re not working right, they go to whoever will help. As far as deductibles go, that’s fine for minor visits or the odd sore throat, but preventative maintenance should be not only incentivized, but people should be better educated about it in school. While I understand that insurance companies don’t want to get ripped off, and there are plenty of malingers who malign the system, that doesn’t justify leaving people out in the cold because a few bad eggs are causing a stink. HR3200, with all of the problems its 1,000-pages of legalese is bound to contain, makes sure that everyone gets some kind of coverage from somewhere.

That brings up my next point, which is that in a democratic society — especially one as gargantuan as ours has become — along with the protections that such a monstrosity brings, we are somewhat responsible for those who can’t take care of themselves. The problem with the folks who say that everyone before World War II paid for their own healthcare so we should, too — apparently, this would promote more responsible use of the system and better lifestyle choices — is that they discount the many people who are getting just plain screwed. How would you feel if, God forbid, one of your children caught some terrible disease that put you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt because someone said, “Sorry pal, paying for medical care is your fucking problem.” It seems to me that the benefit of buying into our whole society goes by the wayside because you’re not protected from shitty luck.

It's not a million dollar wound, but with a bunch of others alongside it, ended up costing $150,000.

It's not a million dollar wound, but with a bunch of others alongside it, ended up costing $150,000.

That very thing did happen to my girlfriend last year. Someone was driving a car, it went off a 400-foot high cliff with her inside, and she would have died had she not been picked up by a helicopter and rushed to the nearest hospital to correct her profuse internal bleeding and other injuries. The driver’s insurance didn’t pay, she couldn’t afford the $400 per month insurance offered by her $27,000 a year job, and she is now staring at multiple collection agencies who want a grand total of $150,000 for medical services rendered. Could anyone, with any seriousness, say that she should have been more responsible, or that her lifestyle choices were the cause of it?

Some opponents of the healthcare reforms proposed on Capitol Hill think that doctors are being paid too much, and that this is a major reason why paying for medical help is so expensive. All I have to say to that is, au contraire, my friends. Primary care doctors — the really important variety of physician that keeps you healthy before you have to be airlifted to New York City for a heart transplant — are going out of business left and right, not only because of the high cost of malpractice insurance, but because they cannot get paid enough by most insurance companies to cover their overhead. We’re seeing it here in Santa Barbara, but this isn’t the center of the earth — it’s happening everywhere. Plus, when you have to go several hundred grand into debt to go to med school, there has to be some kind of return on your investment, or you won’t be too motivated to do it (for example, I recently turned down offers to attend graduate jounalism programs at NYU and USC because I don’t fancy a $100,000 debt in return for a $35,000 a year job). That is why a lot of doctors are going into specialized residencies instead of becoming what’s needed — plain old physicians. The result is an overall medical system that is top-heavy with expensive specialists. Dr. Ned Bentley, a practicing gastroenterologist and the head of the Santa Barbara County Medical Association, said at Capps’ forum that he gets a lot of late stage colon cancer (the second highest producer of cancer-related death) cases that could have been headed off at the pass by regular checkups performed by, guess what…primary care physicians.

While regulating the shit out of everything can be an impractical solution, and government-run health agencies are in fact rife with inefficiency, private insurance companies are horribly inefficient and practically stealing from us to boot. Image paying premiums for years only to have some lawyer find some technicality in your record that allows the company to drop your policy as soon as something bad happens. We need to find some balance point where everyone is taken care of, but everyone is also liable for their actions rather than their luck. Otherwise, we may as well be living the law of the jungle, where the few haves have all, and the rest of us drink the koolaide and think that’s ok.

I don’t have the answers, and doubt that many people do, but I’m hopeful that our policymakers have selected more prudent advisers than during the last presidential era. As American society expands in sheer number of bodies, and hopefully becomes more mature, it would seem logical that we could finally shed the outdated image of the quintessential American as a rugged individualist who takes care of his or her own and expects in turn not to be bothered. That may have worked fine in the days of the old West when there weren’t so many people around, but with today’s throng, we can’t ignore the impacts other people have upon us even if we choose to ignore the people themselves. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that something better gets hashed out in Washington, but until then, I guess I’ll be busy helping my girlfriend with the misery of sorting out bankruptcy proceedings.

Requiem for a Kennedy

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So long, Teddy; it’s been a helluva ride.

It's nice to remember him as he was; young, drunk, and with his father's connections at his fingertips.

It's nice to remember him as he was; young, drunk, and with his father's connections at his fingertips.

Despite his personal quirks, the deposed Democratic senator from Massachusetts did something that most people don’t do — he made a difference. He reaffirmed my conviction that well-connected, affable mediocrity is the key to political success. Edward Moore Kennedy came from a powerful family. All three of his elder brothers — Joe, Jr., Jack, and Bobby — charged at life from the outset (even if they all ended up meeting with premature finales). It took their baby brother a while to catch up, and with a few hiccups along the way, but in the end he made good use of his pedigree and got things done. That’s more than can be said for our old pal W, but then, where was the disparity between the two of them? Was one man better than the other? Probably not by most measures, but one man — the New England Irishman — picked better people with which to surround himself. Kennedy’s staff was renowned for its competency (as was the cabinet of JFK, nepotism notwithstanding, and RFK’s campaign staff), and he must have listened to them, because he managed to stay in office for 46 years, regardless of the Chappaquiddick drama.

The man, the myth, the legend, the Kennedy that didn't die until much, much later.

The man, the myth, the legend, the Kennedy that didn't die until much, much later.

Depending upon your beliefs, Kennedy’s next chapter will either be spent in some intangible nether world or as a host for worms and vermin, but regardless of that, he is done answering for Mary Jo’s watery demise. And after all, lesser (and greater) men have wreaked more havoc upon peoples’ lives and deaths without so much as batting an eyelash. So today, in deference to his accomplishments and his love of drink, let’s all raise a glass to the genial senator who was simultaneously loved and despised by so many. A toast to the late Edward Kennedy.

It happened long ago, and we can finally put it to rest.

It happened long ago, and we can finally put it to rest.

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