Monday, February 15, 2016

A Most Unbecoming Bicker

The steps of the Supreme Court were designed to optically elevate the work of the Court above the partisan morass of an otherwise swampy Washington. A grand illusion that rings largely true in the American political psyche. The beauty of this ongoing American experiment with democracy is that just about anyone can manage to get themselves elected to Congress, a fact reflective of the body's very conception. Increasingly the same looks true for the presidency. But the Court seems to possess a higher gravity. In a town where just about everything has been co-opted by a PAC contribution, the Court gives the impression of existing above, although perhaps just above, the daily fray.

Unlike so much else, Supreme Court nominations are the kind of thing that senators and presidents seem to take seriously. A Supreme Court nomination with the reek of cronyism is poorly tolerated. It is a matter of legacy for both the Senate and the White House. Laws can be changed, but Supreme Court justices and their decisions tend to persist. Roger Taney was appointed to the Court by Andrew Jackson in 1836. His opinion in the Dred Scott case, decided fully twenty years later, was one of the motivating forces of the Civil War. Jackson had been dead twelve years, but his Supreme Court appointment was still influencing national political discourse. 

And now a vacancy occurs on the Court, at what is also the dusk of the Obama administration. The right honorable Justice Antonin Scalia, the high priest of conservative jurisprudence has passed away. Agree or disagree with his political frame of mind, his impact on the Court and on American political life was outsized and would be difficult to overstate. On a Court that has fallen into a generally conservative pattern, his absence as that Court's most boisterous and straightforward conservative voice will be noticed.

The Constitution beckons. It's frosty 18th century language ill-abides the abdication of a fundamental duty of any branch. A fully functional Supreme Court represents a load-bearing column of the separation of powers, a concept so primordial that it is practically woven into the sacred parchment itself. For one branch to advocate a politically motivated delay in order to curb the functionality of another branch, strains at the very foundations of American democracy and as such is Constitutionally untenable. 

While much of the President's agenda runs counter to my own, the basic functionality of government must persevere. Barack Obama was properly elected by the American people. His role as the head of the executive branch, whose role itself in this matter is etched into the Constitution, is not a matter for debate on the Senate floor, any more than it is a matter for debate on social media. The Supreme Court is comprised of nine members, it currently has only eight. It is the duty of both the legislative and the executive branches to ensure a full complement of justices, so that democracy can carry on. It is the role of the president to nominate. It is the role of the Senate to advise and consent - hardly carte blanche for delay and dissembling. For the Senate to demand the results of a future election before acting, ignores the conclusions made by America's voters in the last presidential election, and serves to fray the rightful bond of the electorate to its representative government. 

Fealty to the Constitution is not a part-time affair, nor a political expedient. It is difficult to imagine the man and the public servant that we mourn today advocating to cripple the Court for baldly political justifications, in stark violation of the Constitution.  Much of the Constitution is a document open to interpretation, a role that the Court itself has filled since Justice John Marshall, joined by a unanimous court, established the precedent in Marbury v. Madison. But what is not open to interpretation is the Constitutional role of the Executive and the Legislative branches in addressing a vacancy on the Court.     

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Water Retrieve

It has not been a great hunting season here in Maryland. Early waterfowl efforts were beset by unseasonably warm weather, which otherwise normal people seem to enjoy and encourage. But hunters need cold for success. Cold forces animals of all kinds to move, to find food and shelter, and ups the odds significantly that they'll wind up in range of our weapons. But warm weather makes game animals complacent and content to loll around with a noticeable lack of urgency. The geese of the Chester River on a seventy degree November day are a good case in point, they appear for all intents and purposes to have the mindset of midsummer beach-goers.

The deer haven't been much more compelled, although their habits and their basic presence on the local landscape aren't quite as hardwired to the forecast. I hunted a warm early muzzleloader season in mid-October that saw visibility and shooting lanes limited dramatically by the leaves that were still in a September state of mind, having been bitten by only the lightest of frosts maybe once or twice. The deer in such a situation, unstirred by hunger, as yet unpossessed by their annual mating rituals, moved only sparingly.

So with a hacking cough and a sore throat, I climbed the tree on the opening morning of modern firearm season with moderate optimism and an empty freezer. The two does I had killed last year all but consumed at the family dinner table. Almost as soon as I got settled in 15 feet high in my tree stand, I notice the gray outline of a deer popping out of the heavy brush that borders the bean field I am hunting. Far earlier than shooting time, I shoulder my slug gun to peer through the scope, instead of digging loudly through my backpack for my binoculars. The scope gathers what little light there is well, and I see the deer clearly in the scope. I watch this early doe poke around in the field for a few minutes before another deer walking briskly along the edge of the dense cover catches my eye. I notice the neck: it is huge. Legs that look too short for the animal's body. All the signs of a large buck.

And as I put the scope on the animal to take a look, I saw that it was indeed a bruiser. Likely better than 8 points at the tips of tall tines, although it was still too dark to get a great look at him. He was the dominant animal, and his presence made the other deer nervous. And so was I, my heart racing in the hopes that he would hang around until legal shooting time, which was still 30 minutes away by the clock.

But in order to get that big, a buck has to have some nocturnal habits; this wasn't a deer that moved around much during the day. And he never stopped walking for the minute or so I watched him, as he ducked right back into the dense cover 45 minutes before official sunrise, the place he would likely stay until the sun went back down.

90 minutes later a small yearling doe popped out into the field and spent 20 minutes feeding alone without so much as a wink of caution. A second small deer, her twin perhaps, came out with her; they had the typical giveaways for young deer: the rounded look of the head, the short snout, and a belly that doesn't seem deep enough for a mature animal. But then two does that looked shootable entered the field at about 100 yards south of my stand, eyeing the two yearlings nervously. After a few minutes that felt more like an hour the two does started towards me at a fairly quick gait, but the larger of the two, stopped broadsides about 60 yards in front of my stand in a clear shooting lane. With the crosshairs of my scope just behind the front shoulder, I took the shot.

The deer jolted from what I knew immediately was a kill shot, and ran to the northeast, towards the woods. When I started to track her about an hour later I didn't think I would have to walk very far, but I didn't see her nearby. A clear, abundant, and very bright blood trail followed for about 100 yards, maybe even more, and ended, very frustratingly, at the banks of Southeast Creek. Where was this deer?

I started to walk the boggy shoreline, expecting a dead deer at any minute. But the blood trail left me, and I was left to do little more than hope and scratch my head. As I looked up and down the shore, what on any other day would have struck me as a log, I saw what appeared to be a deer, dead, 30 yards from the shore in the middle of the creek. After a quick call, the boat from duck camp was zooming up Southeast Creek, and together me and a friend were able to lasso the deer and tow her to shore, where I could start the process of field dressing. In probably 25 years of deer hunting, I have never had to retrieve a deer from the water, let alone one that had somehow got out into the middle of a fairly large tidal tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.

I am glad I was able to successfully find the deer and fill my tag, but the shot had me fretting. In years past I had shot a Winchester Partition Gold slug through an H&R Ultra Slug 12 gauge, which I had borrowed from my dad. I had kept buying the slugs he had sighted the gun in with, and deer never went very far after the shot. Indeed, the gun worked so well that this fall I had bought my own H&R Ultra Slug, and had sighted in with Hornady SST slugs in 2.75 inch, in order to attempt to cut down on felt recoil on the shooting bench, which was substantial with the fat Winchesters.

The decision to hunt with the SSTs looks to have been a bad one, as what should have been a very rapid kill shot turned into a track of nearly 200 yards, that included the animal wading through the water for quite some distance, since I don't think any tide or current carried her very far. Upon inspection, the shot was true to the vitals, and at 60 yards, I think the old Winchester Partition Golds would have knocked her down for good on impact. While the Hornady SSTs were fantastic at the range, I think I have given up something in energy on impact and expansion. I am not in the ethical business of losing deer if it can be at all avoided, so it looks like a return to the big Winchesters may be in order.   


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015: So Long, Facebook

Each year at around this time, I usually sit down to one of my favorite tasks, writing my Thanksgiving blog. In the past, the blog has, maybe unsurprisingly, been reflective about all the things I have to be thankful for: love, health, the peacefulness of my home, a rewarding career; the foundations of what have long been a profound contentment with the life I am blessed to have. These annual posts have been, without exception, optimistic and positive. I must admit I am having trouble this Thanksgiving season summoning that optimism. 

I am worried about my country. I see candidates for leadership who reflect a base of fear, of cynicism, of bigotry; not to mention a run-amok anti-intellectualism that denies the existence of basic facts that it finds inconvenient or problematic to its preferred narrative. 

What once was Reagan’s ‘shining city upon a hill,’ has become a place of hatreds fueled by fear. There are many who seek to seal off America, turn this great nation into a vacuum against the perceived threat of the things it does not know and does not seek to understand; but they fail to recognize that the gravest threat is internal to ourselves, the one which consumes our compassion, extinguishes the lighted flame of our shared humanity and leaves us in the profound dark.  

Turning away mothers, and fathers, and children, who are seeking little more than the chance to stay alive, that is not American. It can be rationalized, but in a nation whose foundational documents prioritize over all else the protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, closing our doors to those whose life, liberty, and happiness is in most dire jeopardy is not American. Those who seek to guarantee their own safety by risking the safety of others harm both in the bargain.

But the refugee issue is but a symptom of a deeper cancer. We are Huxley's Brave New World come to life. Our culture has come to be defined by our distractions: social media being foremost among them. We've replaced meaningful connections with memes, thoughtfulness with an anonymous and argumentative online existence. Perpetuated a profound narcissism that threatens to define us offline, as it already does online. 

So with that, sometime before December 1, I am signing off of Facebook for a while, deactivating my account. Not sure how long I might be away, a week, a month, a year, forever, it doesn’t matter. I don’t delude myself into thinking that my presence on social media is important. I do think, however, that pushing back against the meme-driven, reductive, and argumentative society that we have become is important, and for those of us who strongly object to the impacts social media is having on ourselves and on our relationships with others, the easiest solution is to sign off. To seek some other, more thoughtful and patient way to engage with one another. I am not entirely sure what that means in the long-term, as I have forgotten how, in the absence of status updates and hashtags, we actually communicated. Although yesterday I actually picked up the phone and called a friend to wish him a happy birthday. In the short-term, it means limiting the distractions that have so often come between me and my wife, my kids, and my friends.  

It will do no good if thoughtful people disengage altogether, and I want to be clear that isn't what I intend to do. Maybe with the time I won't be wasting scrolling through status updates and suggested content, I can blog more frequently, gather more actual information, make more informed opinions, spend more time actually talking to the people I care about. It's worth a shot.

You can always reach me, and I would love to hear from you, at stevenkkline(at)

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Visions of 1968: Bernie Sanders and Eugene McCarthy

War raged in the jungles and rice paddies of Southeast Asia. More than a thousand American servicemen were dying in Vietnam each month, and unrest set the streets of the United States aflame. A profound generational gap separated young from old, and the racial divide was as complex and as violent as ever. Division defined the era. It is always easy to conflate the current hard time as the worst hard time, but things in 1968 looked especially bleak, as a war without end carried on, and American leaders were gunned down in Memphis and Los Angeles. Against today's politics-as-reality-television backdrop, 1968 appears dense with a wholly different sense of gravity.

But there are relevant comparisons to be made, particularly in terms of the 1968 Democratic presidential race and the one that is shaping up for 2016. I think past is indeed prologue in this limited case.

Lyndon Johnson was mired in the Vietnam War, to which he was committed, for better or worse. His social welfare programs, Medicare for instance, had been subsumed by a legacy of military failure and the growing sense that tens of thousands of Americans were dying in a place and for a cause with no strategic importance for the United States. Early in the war Johnson believed he could deliver  both 'guns and butter,' his phrase for pursuing the war to a victorious end while also delivering Great Society domestic programs that would forever change Americans' relationship with their government. But the collective attention of American society focused by 1968 only on the war. Vietnam would be Johnson's legacy.

Enter Eugene McCarthy, a progressive anti-war Senator from Minnesota, who in 1967 took the bold step (for an established politician, that is) of challenging his party's presidential incumbent for the White House. Generally speaking, incumbents do not draw credible opposition in their races for reelection to the White House, but Gene jumped in. He ran hard, inspired a clutch of young folks who volunteered for the campaign by shaving, putting on ties (getting 'Clean for Gene') and going door to door for their brave and bold anti-war candidate. And it worked. In New Hampshire, McCarthy came within a hair's breadth (7 percentage points) of beating Lyndon Johnson in the Democratic presidential primary. A scant four days later, the ground sufficiently prepared by McCarthy's bravery, Robert F. Kennedy joined the race and immediately became the odds-on favorite in the progressive/anti-war camps, much to McCarthy's chagrin. A few more days go by, and Johnson, reading the writing on the wall, becomes the first president in modern history to decline to run for a second term.

Fast forward to 2015. There is no powerful incumbent to head the ticket for the Democrats, but there is someone with incumbent-like name recognition and fundraising capacity, Hillary Clinton. Since her loss to Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary, Hillary has been the candidate of inevitability, ambling with seemingly little effort towards what appeared to be shoo-in nomination amongst a field of lesser-beings. Her toughest competition in the primary race promised to be her own history, the pant-suit clad skeletons of her ample closet. 

But then Bernie Sanders, like a modern Eugene McCarthy, considered more or less un-electable by many in the mainstream of American politics, including those in the Democratic party, bravely dove in to the race. Like McCarthy, Sanders's populism has struck a chord amongst liberals, who have always looked somewhat dubiously at Hillary. Like McCarthy, young people have turned out with an especially high enthusiasm for Sanders. Like McCarthy, Sanders has become surprisingly competitive, especially in New Hampshire. Like McCarthy, Sanders has entered the race with passion and honesty, and with that passion and honesty he has made the inevitable vulnerable. And like McCarthy, Bernie Sanders won't ever be president.

Because he has now cleared the way for an establishment candidate, just like Gene McCarthy did in 1968. Obviously tragedy struck that Democratic field with the assassination of RFK in Los Angeles the night after he won the California Democratic primary, but McCarthy, who assumed all the initial risk, took all the early arrows, was toast by then. McCarthy was third in delegates the night that RFK was killed, the candidate that looked so promising so early, who had chased an incumbent president from the field, was done.

Bernie Sanders has softened the ground, made the race safe, for Joe Biden. Hillary Clinton, who a year ago looked inevitable enough to keep Biden out of the race, now looks eminently beatable to Biden, and Sanders (along with Clinton's poor handling of several issues) helped to prepare that ground. Clinton as LBJ, Sanders as McCarthy, and Biden as Hubert Humphrey. I suspect that Biden will enter the race, and that Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States in 2016.     

Monday, August 03, 2015

A Hunter's Perspective on Cecil

Hunting is in the fabric of my being. Some of the earliest and fondest childhood memories I have were made afield, and it is my hope that my kids Alex and Emily will get the same chance, to head outdoors on frosty mornings and enjoy the immense range of experiences that Mother Nature offers. The shifting public perception of hunters compels me to tell you that there is not a single piece of taxidermy in our house. No guns over the fireplace, no deer shoulder mounts look down upon us, no ducks fly in dusty permanence on the living room walls. I eat what I kill, and kill only what I know I can eat.

I have believed for a long time, and have stated it publicly, that the biggest threat to the future of hunting comes not from anti-hunting animal rights groups, but from hunters ourselves. In a time and place when every photograph or video can quickly become a viral phenomenon that loses all context, bad actors can come to define a whole segment of the population in the eyes of the public, who then make sweeping judgements that have real impact. 

And hunting, like all human pursuits, has its share of bad actors. We call them poachers or outlaws, and as any law-abiding hunter can confirm, lawbreakers are frustrating. They run the gamut from the less serious infractions: maybe they don't have a plug in their shotgun, to the more serious, and serial, offender, that regularly baits a duck hole, consistently kills over the limit, or hunts in places where no permission has been granted.

Poaching tips the field in the hunter's favor in a way that belies what we consider the 'ethic of fair chase,' which explained simply is the notion that the result of the hunt is unknown, that the animal has at least a 50/50 (but usually much higher) chance of escape. The end result of fair chase hunting more often than not means that the hunt has not been 'successful' in the most utilitarian meaning of that word; the hunter has come back to the truck empty-handed. Not so the poacher, who has bent the odds in his or her favor by using unlawful means to ensure a certain outcome, whether that means the quantity or the quality of the quarry.

It is imperative, for the very future of our passion, that ethical and law-abiding hunters do a better job of self-policing our community. We should be reporting incidents of poaching, refusing to hunt with those who won't follow the rules, and teaching new and young hunters that the point of a hunting trip is more, and more important, than simply filling a tag.

Cecil the African lion is proof that the eyes of the world are watching, and they are making searing judgements about what it means to be a hunter, and not always with all the facts close at hand. This is a public that anthropomorphizes wild animals (not only does Cecil have a human name, but I have heard him referred to as 'personable' and 'charismatic'), that has a tenuous understanding of the impacts of hunting on wildlife populations and little knowledge of the fact that hunting and hunters are responsible for some of the greatest conservation victories in history. 

As the population of this country and the world grows, the population of hunters is getting smaller, and the connection of non-hunters to wildlife is ever-more distant. This is the reality we face, and as much as we may not want to admit it, the future of hunting is in the hands of an ever-increasingly non-hunting public who react to the actions of a single poacher by vilifying all hunters. Decision makers listen to that kind of outcry. By accepting the excuses of poachers, by tolerating the actions of a few and by not calling them out more forcefully, we risk being smeared with the same brush.      

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Brilliance of Donald Trump.

The headline on my copy of the Washington Post this morning blares: "Trump takes big GOP lead in poll." Trump now has a double digit lead over his nearest opponent, Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin. His mug litters my Twitter feed. People are shocked (shocked!) that Trump, he of the biggest in a field of big mouths, likewise leads the field in this latest poll.

There is nothing absurd about this poll, or Donald Trump's place in it. There is absolutely nothing absurd about the Trump candidacy. This is simply the near-culmination of a national movement, comprised almost entirely of suburban and rural white folks over the age of 55, that has spoon-fed itself, quite willingly, a steady diet of fear, indeed has well gorged at the buffet of political fear. Fear has become quite an industry in the modern United States, and Donald Trump is the fear industry's candidate. Fear is a moneymaker - and it might be a kingmaker.

Trump is not particularly creative with his outlandishness, he just reflect the language of countless American living rooms, where 24 hour news and blaring talk radio fill the domestic ether. From that standpoint, the Trump campaign is actually brilliant, tapping into a pulsing vein of the society it seeks to lead, like so many other successful presidential candidates have done over the years.

Trump is the candidate of the anonymous online commenters, the meme generators, the Confederate flag wavers, the conspiracy theorists, and those who nurse a whole slew of phobias with tender care and feeding. Despite what may be the hopes of the political establishment, and of thoughtful people generally, they are not a mere fringe and they are unlikely to go away soon.

His campaign blends two trademark American qualities, a run-amok disdain for political correctness with a penchant (one might even say a boastful pride) for being half-informed.  To some it comes across as buffoonery, but it is the stuff of life for a significant stripe of the voting public. 

It would be a grave mistake for anyone to think that Donald Trump doesn't closely reflect the mindset of many, many Americans. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

More on Centreville election...

The town did in fact communicate the upcoming election to the citizens via a press release and with a small advertisement on page 27 of the February 13th Record Observer. A February 26th town email newsletter also carried the election notice and filing deadline (that email was delivered 2 working days prior to the filing deadline). There is no archive on the town site for either the press release or the email newsletter.    

With slightly more than 3 weeks before the planned April 6th election, however, the town has not made clear who has filed, how many candidates have filed, nor that there will not be a need for the April 6th election. The process by which the town can "formally" announce who filed as a candidate, and subsequently announce that there will not be an election, takes time. Both the Board of Elections and the Town Ethics Council need to review candidate filings; the Board of Elections was scheduled to meet last night.

Perhaps the process has been slow rolled because only one person has filed, perhaps not. But if multiple persons had filed as candidates on the filing deadline of March 2nd, and another nine days passed before those candidates were made official, the voters would have a short three weeks to make their decision. This leaves little time for research, candidate forums or vetting by the press; and these candidates, if elected, deal with serious matters, making decisions with profoundly long-term impacts. The risks to the voters of not knowing who is running seem to be higher than maybe some realize.

It is clear to me at least that a month between filing deadline and election, knowing the process that has to occur before a candidate can be made "official" by town entities, is too short of a time frame.  I would suggest that the town either make the filing deadline a month earlier, or make the election a month later. The process should also codify that the Board of Elections and Town Ethics Commission will meet within 2 days following the filing deadline. The process should be clear, easy to understand, and it should be consistent.  I would also suggest that the town post candidate filings as soon as they are submitted, and simply mark those candidates as "provisional" pending the completion of the town process.

Elections are important, knowing who is running is important. There should be signs announcing Town Election - April 6, the election should feature prominently on all town communications, on the town website, and perhaps include an announcement with the utility bill, and all of this should begin well in advance. The town should have no qualms announcing who the candidates are, and no qualms about promoting the election.