Monday, January 1, 2007

Time for Change

It’s been some time since my last post.  I must confess a life that has been somewhat in limbo in the back and forth between New York and Chapel Hill in what can only be described as an incremental move.  During the past years I have spent a few hours every other day running in that treasure New Yorkers know as Central Park.  It is a welcome respite of greenery in the midst of the concrete and, however stimulating and engaging, loud bustle of the city.  Looking out my window in Chapel Hill it is as if I’ve moved into the park.  Altogether there is a kind of transitional reverse taking hold of my life.  When it all started in July with an air mattress, card table and four folding chairs (speak of sparse) I defined this place as “the house” from which I made my way back “home” to New York.  As some new furniture (including a real bed) began to arrive and with successive full car trips an increasing number of my possessions from dishes to art coming to rest within these walls, Chapel Hill suddenly emerged as home and the place where I’ve lived for almost forty years became “the apartment”.  You can see I haven’t done this sort of thing often.  The transition will continue, though with ever diminishing impact, until everything is moved and I turn the keys over to the young family that is purchasing “the apartment”.

As they say, it’s been a year, for me it’s been an interesting one with a forward look, but for the country and the world, for the human family, not one that many will remember with much fondness.  If you are one who believes in symbolism there was plenty of it in the closing days, the three most dominant involved deaths, perhaps appropriately so.  Gerald Ford died peacefully in California a few days ago, Saddam Hussein was executed in Baghdad and just as we were ready to ring in 2007 it was reported that the 3,000th American succumbed to the violence that is Iraq. 

President Ford, as those of us old enough to have experienced Watergate know (40% of Americans were not yet born when it happened), returned stability to a government that had been torn apart and discredited by the what was sadly only the first throws not the end of the Imperial Presidency.  Ford was a refreshing every-person who embodied a kind of essential decency that we all hope characterizes the real America.  But in a larger sense while Ford’s body lies in state at this moment only a corridor away from his beloved House Chamber, we lost him and his kind of politics and governance a long time ago.  Civility, which he embodied, died so many years back that even public affairs junkies like me can’t fully visualize it any more.  So as Gerry Ford will be laid to rest amid limited (his wish) pomp and circumstance, we will be reminded of what is no longer but which, as his life demonstrated, apparently can be.

Saddam’s end can only be described as a gangland execution carried out by sectarian thugs wearing the hoods that we have come to associate with terrorists.  An ironic twist, that lays to rest the charade of “fighting it there” and bringing democracy to Iraq.  After a trial that should have taken place in The Hague but played out as a pathetic circus in a mock court setting followed by a laughable appeal process, the Shiite Prime Minister authorized back alley justice.  What could be more appropriate and symbolic of the quagmire that is Iraq these three years after our ill conceived invasion?  Ink stained thumbs of voters notwithstanding, if this what democracy is all about we are all in real trouble, though clearly not nearly as much in trouble as the children, women and men who now inhabit the cradle of civilization.  If there was any doubt left that Iraq has submerged into civil war and that radical Shiites are pulling even more strings in this puppet government than the Americans just take another look at the grainy cell phone images taken in that dark room early on Saturday morning.  Muqtada al-Sadar, the man whose Mahdi Army you may remember we routed early in the conflict, is alive and well, presiding in the not so hidden back halls of the apparent real seat of government, Sadar City.

We probably won’t know who the 3000th U.S. service person to die in Iraq was – war is one of those imprecise things.  More likely than not he or she was young, another twenty something, perhaps even a late teen.  It is hard to justify any of these losses or the many more lives that will be spent in various forms and stages of incapacity long after the hostilities end.  It isn’t only that war sucks; it is that this kind of war undertaken dishonestly and led ineptly makes those losses all the more poignant.  Of course we must all support our troops, the cannon fodder sent forth on a misguided mission each of whom have committed themselves with good conscience and a valor lacking in their national leaders.  Not only have they been sacrificed for what is undoubtedly going to end badly, but those who sent them lack any sense of urgency as they muddle toward a new way.  Gerry Ford died peacefully, Saddam at the hands of modern day Al Capone’s, but these kids and the lesser number of older more seasoned warriors along with them died senselessly.  Ford’s death makes one nostalgically sad, Saddam’s angry but these 3,000 make you really mourn.

Perhaps 2007 will be better.  We will have divided government and possibly some semblance of checks and balances, but presidents in our system hold most of the cards.  George Bush rules.  Logic and the facts on the ground suggest that we should begin the process of disengagement, the sooner the better.  More likely, if reports are correct, is a Johnson-like escalation that so-named “surge” as if it were some kind of inevitable force of nature in already turbulent sea.  The ’08 presidential aspirants are already lining up, some of them so unlikely that you wonder why they bother.  Could vanity be coming into play?  Most of these pretenders either come from the past, been there heard that, most carry the distinct baggage of what Republicans mockingly call “flip flop”.  They voted for and then voted or spoke against.  Most, in both parties, are bet hedgers moving back and forth from one interest group or ideology to another.  Perhaps it’s the way it has to be done in this democracy at this time, but I hope that’s not the case.  I’m still with Barack Obama, with something and someone totally new and fresh.  I expect that 2007 will tell us whether he has both the intention and possibility of taking it all the way to the White House in January 2009.  I think he does and will, but surely remain humbled by many wrong calls.  Let’s hope the odds are in my and our favor this time.

I’ll be fully moved in 2007 and am looking ahead with anticipation to the refreshment of change.  Change, now that’s something that we all need in times like these.  I bet that’s what you toasted to last night – real change.

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