Monday, October 31, 2005

Two Seats, Four Announcements

President Bush has made four attempts at filling two Supreme Court vacancies. He nominated John Roberts twice, the second time as Chief Justice. He tried to put his personal lawyer in the O’Conner seat. Today he nominated New Jersey Judge Samuel Alito, Jr. after the Miers nomination fizzled.

He has this thing about making 8AM speeches; three of his judicial introductions were held at that hour. Maybe he thinks reporters will be more lethargic at that hour. The speeches begin to sound alike: lots of references to character, experience, distinction, respect, accomplishment. Some more than others, of course; Bush was attacked for the Miers selection because she has no judicial experience. He viewed that as an attribute with her; in distinct contrast, he highlighted Alito’s long judicial experience.

We have also witnessed Bush’s strange speaking style in the past few days. On Friday, we had the spectacle of an American president extolling the virtues of someone named Scooter – who either picked up that moniker as a boy, or, more likely, earned it while carrying wood and water as a political lackey. Bush insisted on using that nickname while talking about Libby; he could have accorded the man more dignity by simply referring to him as Mr. Libby. It didn’t help that most pictures that day were of Libby on crutches, trying to scoot away from reporters.

Today Bush decided to mention a similarity between himself and Judge Alito. While introducing Judge Alito this morning, Bush quipped, “Sam and I both know you can't go wrong marrying a librarian.” Nationwide, librarians shuddered, wondering how they had become so lucky, as they burn their copy of the Patriot Act.

Sacandaga Road on a Fall Night

Telephone poles lean universally
in one direction at night,
slightly askew but in a perfect line,
showing my way down the street.
The lights from an oncoming car
reflect off the wires hung in fours,
a musical line without meter or key,
shining in the dark cold rain,
just waiting for the blowing leaves
to attach themselves as notes, humming
a song in green, red and yellow.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Storm priorities

Florida is hit with another hurricane, cutting a swath across the peninsula. Power is off in millions of homes. The power companies determine that power will be restored in two primary locations: grocery stores and gas stations. Food and cars. The same two elements that predominate in television ads

Monday, October 24, 2005

October baseball

I am a baseball bigot. Other sports barely exist.

The irony is that I rarely watch a whole game on television. It can drag. Too much time between pitches. Too many commercials. I lose focus.

But the playoffs and World Series are different. Every event is magnified. Pitchers are stellar, and the one-one-one confrontation between a great pitcher and a power hitter can be dramatic.

So I have watched much more baseball in the past two weeks. We have witnessed classic sequences: Roger Clemens as the last pitcher off the Houston bench, sentenced to the mound for interminable extra innings against the Braves, and he wins; Albert Pujols carrying his bat like a thin tree limb, slowly walking to first base as his laser beam of a home run bangs off the back wall in Houston to win Game 4; and the last three innings of last night's World Series Game 2, with each team fighting back to tie or go ahead against the other's best late-inning reliever.

I am not rooting for one team in this series. I root for seven games -- even though one team will be disappointed.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

NPR, liberal arts, and baby boomers

A recent article on Bob Edwards describes National Public Radio as a listening post for boomer liberal arts majors.

I didn't realize we were such an identifiable category. Do boomer liberal arts majors have certain personal attributes? Do we have distinct character traits? Do we carry similar values or ethics? Have a clear voting pattern?

How many of my 300 classmates in the Lycoming College Class of 1976 -- each of whom graduated with a B.A. or B.S. in a particular liberal arts subject -- listen regularly to an NPR station? How about Colgate University Class of '68? Lafayette Class of '79?

Feels like an empty generalization, with rather negative overtones about liberal arts. Or a slam at boomers.

I suppose it's an analogy: NPR is to media, as liberal arts is to education.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Women in Leadership

This week’s Newsweek has a cover article on “How Women Lead.” According to their numbers, 23 percent of all state legislatures are women; 15 percent of Congress are women. Women currently comprise 46 percent of the US labor force, but only 14 percent of all boards in Fortune 500 companies. In contrast to these low numbers, women made up 50 percent of the entering class in law and med schools in 2004.

Women have had the vote for less than a century in this country. Europe was not significantly ahead in granting the vote to women, but many European countries have a much larger proportion of women serving in government.

The Center for Women in Government & Civil Society published a report on women and leadership positions in December 2004. Some of their data, women as a percentage of:

*Statewide elected officials: 25.2
*State legislators: 22.5
*Highest court justices: 28.8
*Department heads: 29.7

Clearly, gender should not be the sole reason for selecting a person in a leadership position. But the imbalance in America is striking, particularly for a society that considers itself egalitarian.

Harriet Miers doesn’t really help that balance.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Poetry's smoldering source

From a poem by Kate Barnes, “To a Skylark”:

needing someone on hand to defend them
from the words they mutter when they have no idea
what they're saying, when they're overcome
by the fumes that rise from the smoldering tinder
of their anxious natures.

A good explanation of what happens when writing a poem. I never know how it will turn out as I write it. I try to retain the point or theme, but sometimes the phrases take a turn and a different story is told, a different point made. They are almost always personal, and others who read them may not understand them – because they are ‘fumes that rise from the smoldering tinder’, and no one knows where the flames came from, or where they went.

Hell, half the time, neither do I.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Cigars, cigarettes, tiparillos -- and Chinese taxes

An interesting fact, taken from Harpers Magazine: The state monopoly on cigarettes in China provides 10 percent of government revenue; annual sales amount to 1.8 trillion cigarettes, or approximately one third of the total sold worldwide.

China is a society that still retains a preference for male children, so it maintains a male-dominated culture. And the state actually markets cigarettes extensively, touting the supposed benefits of smoking.

Those are two social elements -- equality of the sexes, and the health risks of smoking -- where American government has made significant changes in the past generation. Federal, state and local legislation has created a foundation for gender equity (even if income inequality is still part of the economic structure). Largescale health studies have demonstrated the health costs of smoking, which has led to more stringent restrictions on distribution and sale of cigarettes and warnings on the products themselves (even if government still is addicted to the taxes generated by these products).

Women, cigarettes, and taxes. We are a far way from the cigarette lady on 1930s movie screens who pranced among men at their barstools, hawking cigars, cigarettes, tiparillos. At least, we seem to be in this country.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Oligarch's Board of Directors

Theodore Roosevelt warned a century ago of the subversive influence of money in politics. He said the central fact in his time was that big business had become so dominant it would chew up democracy and spit it out. The power of corporations, he said, had to be balanced with the interest of the general public. That warning was echoed by his cousin Franklin, who said a "government by organized money is as much to be feared as a government by organized mob." Both Roosevelt's rose to that challenge in their day. But a hundred years later mighty corporations are once again the undisputed overlords of government. Follow the money and you are inside the inner sanctum of the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Petroleum Institute. Here is the super board of directors for Bush, Incorporated.
Bill Moyers, in a speech before the Society of Environmental Journalists, 10-1-05.

Moyers has a name for the core members of the Bush Oligarchy, the ‘super board of directors’. These are the folk who, together with George Sr and his advisors, selected the son, propped him up, and ran him for the highest office in the land, the leader of the most powerful economic and military force in the world.

We have three more years to live with this. Hopefully, the damage can be undone after the election of 2008.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Oligarchs have ideas for the Judicial Branch

David Frum, Bush’s “axis of evil” ex-speechwriter, didn’t bother to hide his scorn. “In the White House that hero worshipped the President, Miers was distinguished by the intensity of her zeal,” he wrote. “She once told me that the President was the most brilliant man she had ever met." Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker, issue of 10-17-05

The Oligarchs selected GeorgeW as their boy for President. They got him elected once, with a great deal of help from the Supreme Court (who know the proper interests to protect when they see them). He delivered their tax cuts. He found the external bogeyman to blame for terrorism, and declared war (on the flimsiest of pretenses). He found plenty of work for them without bids. He protected their energy incomes by subsidizing their oil and gas works. And they delivered a second election for him by polarizing the nation with patriotic fervor.

Like a good oligarch, he has appointed a good buddy as a Supreme Court Justice. Keep it in the Texas family – but more importantly, keep it within his circle. Trust only those you know. The oligarchic way.

Harriet Miers appears to be a competent attorney. She has experience running a government agency, having pulled the Texas Lottery Commission out of the sewer. She is loyal. She managed the White House's daily briefing process. She is a workaholic. And she thinks GeorgeW is the smartest man she ever met.

But if her resume were in a stack of 1000 attorneys, would it even be in the top 750 for appointment to the highest jurist body in the country?

Monday, October 10, 2005


I am nearly 30 years removed from college. But Lycoming College has never been removed from me.

I was recruited for the Alumni Association Executive Board seven years ago. At first, I was driven by nostalgia and sentiment. But that soft sense of the past was quickly replaced by a much stronger belief in the present: today, Lycoming College is an even stronger educational institution. The school has weathered the doubts that have been raised about liberal arts education, and has overcome the retrenchment that most smaller schools went through during tight fiscal times in the past 20 years. Lycoming has raised the bar and is a different place: high education values, strong experienced faculty, sound fiscal practices. In the past ten years, the school has added a recreation facility, rebuilt a neighboring building into an Honors Hall, and tripled its endowment -- all while reducing the debt load of the school. Thanks to national exposure (partially because of a winning football team, partially because of the use of the internet by students searching for schools), nearly 40 percent of this year's freshman class is from out-of-state -- a turnaround from the 1980s, when it became primarily a Pennsylvania school.

I sound like a marketing brochure.

I spent the past weekend at Homecoming, and presided over the my last AAEB meeting as president. But what struck me the most this weekend were conversations with faculty. The educators I spoke with all speak the same message: Lycoming is a strong environment for learning, and the faculty is a supportive and caring community. One long-term professor spoke of the number of faculty who turned out to help him move into a new house, on short notice. When I asked another long-tenured prof if he was considering retirement, he replied, not for another few years -- they treat him well at the school, and he still enjoys it. A new professor described how he was attracted to the place by the sense of community, and it bore out in his first few weeks there: when he returned from presenting his doctoral dissertation at another school, people who he had only know for a short time were inquiring how it went and expressing support. A recently-retired professor said that the school's leadership seemed to be making the right decisions.

Yup, still reads like an admissions glossy, huh?

But if someone Googles 'Lycoming College' and lands here, my words are not driven by sentiment: I do believe in Lycoming. Strong leadership, experienced and skilled faculty, good programs. The school can compete with any other college.