Monday, February 15, 2016

The stuff of life: Politics

In the interest of full disclosure, I stipulate upfront that I have been a Democrat since the difference between the two parties was explained to me when I was about 10.  I will further stipulate that I may be best described as a bleeding heart liberal.  With that out of the way, I feel I can present a few political observations. This blog is, after all, about the stuff of life and politics affects our “stuff” in ways we are not always even cognizant of. 

In this age of social media, I do not know a single person – myself included – who has not lost a friendship over politics.  It also affects families and can strain already emotionally fraught relationships to the breaking point.  Politics invade our bedrooms as well as our laws.  It sits at our dinner tables like an unwelcome guest.  It can take our children from us either with alienation or with war.  Politics is serious stuff.   Some try to opt out by refusing to discuss it or even become educated on the issues, but no one can escape its ramifications.

Justice Scalia died this weekend leaving a vacancy on the high court and a convoluted path forward.  The way such a vacancy on the Supreme Court is supposed to be filled is by the sitting President nominating a jurist and the Senate confirming or blocking the nomination.  Within hours of Scalia’s death, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell stated that the Senate would not hold hearings on anyone President Obama nominates because he wants to wait almost a full year until after the election when a new President will be named and inaugurated in January of 2017.  The current slate of Republican candidates, who could agree on nothing else during their debate that evening, agreed with McConnell.  

In contrast, President Obama praised Scalia during comments he made and said he would fulfill his constitutional duty to nominate someone to fill the empty slot on the bench. His likeliest nominees are all moderates. Most pundits believe it is unlikely that his nominee will be confirmed. This is where politics gets interesting.

If no one is confirmed, the high court is split and any 4-4 tie results in the lower court’s latest ruling remaining in force.  This will benefit the left and the right, but not equally.  More left-leaning rulings are up for review.  So refusing to confirm a moderate candidate might be counterproductive for the right.

Another scenario is for Obama to read McConnell’s statement as pure obstruction and go around him with a recess appointment.  This would likely work and Obama has used his executive powers more in recent months.  He could appoint a wild progressive to the court this way, especially if he waits a bit so that the Senate would be unable to challenge his appointment.  This is, I think, unlikely, though tempting.

Of course, the Senate can do exactly what they have threatened to do, not hold hearings on any proposed jurist.  That’s a risk.  People already view this Congress as the least productive ever.  Also, there is no guarantee a Republican will win the presidential contest.  Should either Sanders or Clinton win, a liberal nomination would be assured and in the unlikely event that the Senate remains red, they would be forced to finally hold hearings and rapidly fill the vacant post, even if with a liberal.

Then there’s the irony inherent in the Republican proposition that since Scalia was a purist, or textural in his interpretation of the Constitution, any replacement should be likewise.  A pure reading of the part of the Constitution that spells out how Supreme Court vacancies are to be filled flies directly in the face of what they have said they would do.  There is no mention of any continuing legacy of a deceased jurist, only that the sitting President nominates and the Senate confirms. There is no language that can be construed to make any exception for an election year.  So in defense of the most purist of interpretations, the Republicans are willing to impute meanings not written in the Constitution they say they are defending.


No matter what the Republicans do, they will likely cause harm to themselves, but they are determined to thwart Obama at every possible turn, regardless of the cost.  I think most Americans find that offensive.  We need a government that does not grind to a halt when one side or the other does not get its way.  We need a full court.  We need a passed budget.  We need to pay our debts.  We need to respect each other’s differences and beliefs.  That should be the stuff of politics.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


I've been thinking a lot about vocabulary lately.  For one thing, I homeschool my granddaughter in language arts.  She's just in the fourth grade and she has a large vocabulary already so I decided to give her some vocabulary words from the S.A.T.  And then there's my own vocabulary that has grown by leaps and bounds due to my study of genetics.  It dawned on me that one learns nearly everything through words.

Not being a geneticist or even a scientist, reading advanced medical texts and academic papers left me feeling like I was missing more than I was understanding.  So I made a concerted effort to look up every word I did not know, as I came upon it.  I used my cell phone and a pocket medical dictionary to do so.  My knowledge of genetics grew as I began to understand the words in their context and it convinced me that my readers will need to at least have access to these words as well.

My second inter-library loan came through yesterday, a medical book exceeding 600 pages, and as I browsed the pertinent parts, the terms were familiar and my understanding of my topic grew.  I have always loved words.  I love their specificity, their ability to elicit feelings, their power, the funny way so many resemble their meanings.  I have a new respect for them now.  I can see how just learning the vocabulary of a new field of study opens it to understanding.

I need not be a scientist to write about genetics and my granddaughter need not be a high school student to call her grandfather cantankerous or know that bovine should elicit a moo.  Words are presents just waiting to be unwrapped.  I can't wait to learn more.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

This tenuous life

Sometimes we forget how tenuous life is.  Once born, our lives are at the mercy of pure chance: a semi on the highway, a tiny bacterium or virus, a misplaced step on a flight of stairs and it can all end.  Just getting born is a crap-shoot. We talk callously about poor women who "pop babies out" like it is easy, but it is not.

I had several miscarriages in my youth and  a still-born child.  It tore the heart out of me.  Now it's happening again, just not to me. There will be blood and tears and pain.  And again I am helpless.

I am writing a book on rare genetic disorders and I understand how this happens and that some children might be better off not being born.  My belief system does not include any kind of grand ringmaster directing the affairs of men.  I believe that we are all miracles - miracles of stardust and chance.  I think our souls are no more or less than the energy we contain and expend and that just as energy and matter cannot be destroyed or created, these souls are recycled and born to another or in another time.

Still, at this moment someone I love is losing part of her heart. There will be no child to hold, just pain and damage and doubt.