Rethinking Worry over Hurricane Sandy

This puts it in a little perspective, at least for me.

Arlington National Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknowns

One of Mummer friends shared this photograph.

“My Way”

Pall bearers steadily moved the flag-draped coffin carrying the body of Senator Arlen Specter through massive Har Zion Temple, and as they took their small, halting steps, Frank Sinatra’s large anthem of a full life, “My Way,” played to the 15 hundred people who had gathered to recall a “great statesman” and a remarkable man.Image

Friends, family and dignitaries gathered today in Penn Valley:  Vice-President Joe Biden, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, past and current U.S. Senators, elected officials from throughout the region, the Deputy Israeli Ambassador and more. The nearly two hours of reflection was at times humorous, at times tearful, but always as the Senator might have liked, moving forward.  It was also at times presented as if attorneys were making the case for a man’s greatness.  If it were a debate, they would have won it.

The Vice-President canceled campaign appearances in western swing states today to be here to say goodbye to his friend. He began his remarks with, “My name is Joe Biden. I was Arlen’s friend.”  He was in full Biden seriousness and in full Biden humor. It was no doubt like the train rides the two of them shared. Joe Biden said of his friend, “Arlen had exceptional character,” and that he had “never seen a man with as much undaunted courage.”

Former Governor Ed Rendell, who was hired by District Attorney Arlen Specter,  said ”We were proud of you…We will always be proud of you.” Rendell’s voice broke a couple of times as he praised his mentor and colleague.

Longtime friends of Arlen Specter remembered his early days and the personal side of the very public figure. Words such as “true grit,” “will,” and “integrity” filled the eulogies.  Arlen lived, “A productive and meaningful life.”  “He wasn’t afraid to fail.”

Tribute was paid to widow Joan Specter.  Granddaughters spoke, too. Said Sylvie of her grandfather, “He worked tirelessly to be the best grandfather ever, and he succeeded.”  Specter’s son, Shanin, summed up the afternoon’s recollections and expanded on his father’s love of the fight for fairness and of standing by friends in trouble, regardless of political consequences.  Said Shanin, “He was “the patron saint of lost causes.”

The above were among the public statements I heard, but before the service began I spoke with people from various walks of life, all who genuinely are pained by the loss of a man who made a difference. Among them, those with a stake in the fight against cancer, community leaders, as well as public figures indebted to his leadership. Pall bearer and Congressman, Pat Meehan, for example, who wore the loss on his face.

Arlen Specter did not plan this final  service. As he told his family, “surprise me.”  But as Sinatra filled the quiet of the Temple, it felt, after 82 years on earth, 59 years of marriage, kids and grandkids, students and colleagues, wins and losses, causes, quests, and even windmills, it felt right to say that Arlen Specter did do it his way.

Remembering Senator Arlen Specter

Senator Arlen Specter lived the U.S. Constitution. Yes, he lived it.  He saw the document as alive and properly adjusting with the times. He saw that as part of its greatness. Maybe it describes his greatness, too.

Mr. Specter lived as a thinking, adjusting public figure. His ground was a sense of fairness, and of need, with a solution reached through reason. He had many critics, but Pennsylvania’s longest serving U.S. Senator will be among the most studied.

Arlen Specter passed away this weekend at the age of 82.  Colleagues and those who admired him are remembering him as courageous, intelligent, a task master, influential and as effective. All true. He was always in the fight. My score count makes him 7 and 5 in elections.  There is a lot of resilience in that ratio.

On toughness, as a reporter I got to see glimpses of the personal courage. After one news conference in which he announced a diagnosis of cancer, he left the microphone with his notes rolled up and as he passed me, he paused and rapped me on the arm and said, “I’m going to beat this.” Another time, in talking about politics and tough times, he said to me, “I’ve got shock absorbers.” In his last interview with me I could see the body failing, but the spirit never wavered.

Arlen Specter, says Senator Bob Casey, “had a brilliant mind.” I think Specter enjoyed finding the path others could not see. As for his positions, he had a keen sense of self-worth but also a desire to find accord among competing factions and that often was the path he discovered or had the courage to embrace.

He will be remembered for the single bullet theory, which he told me is the single bullet “fact.” He will be remembered for being the deciding Stimulus vote, for his criticism of the U.S. Supreme Court (he complained to me that it it is too political) and many other stands and opinions at various crossroads of history. But, at them all he did not cower from controversy. He was there in the room in the very serious game.

He was cerebral, not warm and fuzzy. He enjoyed sports as much as anyone, from his squash games to his belief that the Patriots stole the Super Bowl from the Eagles. He was an observer of people and that often informed his humor.

He was willing to have a give and take with voters. I saw it when I covered his short-lived run for President in 1996 in New Hampshire. Everyone saw it when he was one of the few elected officials to hold real town hall meetings in 2009.

Late in life, as he discussed with me the cannibalism of Washington politics, he bemoaned the debilitating partisanship among elected officials and citizens who failed to see what is derisively referred to now as common ground.

Arlen Specter would have loved the Constitutional Convention of 1787.  Rarely have I met a political figure who would revel as much in the give and take of  ideas, of law, and of the possibilities inherent in a policy or belief.

The National Constitution Center, as the Constitution itself, has many parents, but if there is to be a father of the Constitution Center, it is U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, a man who lived it.

Mitt Romney won the debate, but what did he win?

Here’s the problem.  We’re a nation more into style than substance. The 1st debate between President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney had the makings of a conversation about in what direction the nation really needs to move. However, unless you had already devoted much time to knowing the issues and the candidates’ promises, it was difficult, as it usually is, to know not only the truth but also the effect of different paths of tax and spending policies. Each candidate did express different paths, but did we learn anything about which is the better way? We learned what we sometimes do, that one candidate was more convincing and politically profited from the moment.

If the candidates were honest and each more intelligently challenging of the other when his opponent painted too optimistic or too negative a take on a policy, that might have worked. If the moderator had known when someone was stretching a fact, and was willing to speak up, that might have helped, too. But neither happened consistently in the October 3rd debate. The moderator occupied a chair. If he had intelligently interrupted more it would have upset some partisans, but it  could have provided clarity.

The bigger fault, however, rests with the candidates. To his credit, Mitt Romney was more challenging and engaging than Barack Obama. President Obama failed at several key moments. Obama at times seemed unhappy about not being there, which has happened before to sitting Presidents. He at other moments seemed insecure or unfocused. When he spoke substantively, it often sounded like the first layer of a response and not the stronger, confident statements of a leader. When he did respond, sometimes it ironically was the failure of style, as much as substance to refute the aggressive, confident Romney. He also missed opportunities. For example, when Romney said he never heard of the tax deduction Obama talked about for companies sending jobs out of the country, Romney joked that maybe he, Romney, should get a new accountant. The President could have countered by asking Romney if that meant that Romney had sent  jobs (or cash) overseas. That would have certainly been a debating point. Perhaps, it would have led to a deeper discussion. For his part, for example, Romney could have done a better job challenging the President’s $4 trillion deficit cutting breakdown or explaining where the President’s savings were or were not in health care.

Both candidates made statements that were not entirely true and larger, more specific questions about hard choices were not answered, if asked, and the candidates seem to be saying,”Here’s all you need to know.” That is not saying that Mitt Romney would not have been able to hold his own in a more sophisticated discussion, but he rarely had to try. Romney also pretty much succeeded in criticizing without being disrespectful. Whether President Obama, by being so low-key, was trying to remain higher than Romney in favorably, or likeability, ratings I don’t know, but real discourse about American domestic policy suffered.

While images are an important part of leadership, the debates tend to limit most of the discussion to those images.  Would our opinions of who won and lost be changed to some degree if the split screen were not employed?  I’m not suggesting that it not be used, but rather that its effect is another example of how we are influenced in our conclusions about who won a debate. Substance has a hard time triumphing over style, especially when a candidate is complicit.

For the people who work hard every day, for the people concerned about liberty, for the U.S. Armed Forces personnel who died or were wounded, for the people living in violent neighborhoods, for the homeowner who is trying to live up to her financial responsibility, is a debate like this one or one between Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008, doing them much justice?

Republicans since 2008 have been claiming that America bought style and image over substance. Democrats may be worried that they’ll be uttering the line after November 6th. But more importantly, are we as Americans substantially any more educated about how government works, about how capitalism works, and about the serious financial problems which confront our nation, or are we just closer to deciding who looks like a leader, this year?

Harry Hill

Courtesy Woodland SB

There was something about Harry Hill. Something wonderful. Harry was a hard working man, a father and grandfather, and a Hall of Fame Mummer. Harry Hill passed away at the end of September.  He was just 57. Harry was a dedicated former String Band Captain that everybody in Mummery knew.  But, Jim Wolfinger may have said it best when he commented on Facebook that Harry Hill was an “excellent person.”

Harry made you feel at ease. He would do whatever he could to help.  That is how he made me feel when I would see him on the street or when I visited years ago in the Greater Overbrook clubhouse. So much work had to be done. Everybody was running around worrried, but Harry had a steady, determined handle on it.

The last time Harry Hill captained Greater Overbrook was in 2004.  Greater O’s theme for 2013 seems especially fitting now: “Greater O’s Headin’ for the Hills.” Hill is in the title and Harry liked the country.  Born in Norristown, he lived much of his life in the Trappe/Phoenixville area. After leaving Greater Overbrook, Harry joined Woodland String Band. He as much as anyone appreciated the victory Woodland earned on January 1, 2012.

Courtesy Woodland SB

What many people are remembering now are the snapshots of life, the easy-going, happy moments with Harry and there is no shortage of them.  A moment like Woodland President Tom Loomis singing  “On the Way to Cape May” with Harry Hill down the shore this summer.  It is that one to one connection that Harry was able to make as a Captain and as a person.  He was great with kids.  I remember asking little Foley Anastasi who his favorite String Band Captain was and Foley, who knew every Captain by name, instantly said, Harry Hill.  He was about 4 when I asked this.  He’s 7 now.  Foley’s answer is still the same.

Courtesy Woodland SB

As I was thinking about Harry today, about what I knew, but more importantly, what so many others who knew Harry better were saying,  a lyric from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man,” came into my head. “Be something you love and understand.”  Well, that was Mr. Harry E. Hill and it was something wonderful.

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