Friday, December 28, 2012

Field Test: Drake Waterfowl LST Down Vest with Magnattach

In a typical Maryland winter, hunters might set decoys in the morning to temperatures that are below freezing, yet expect to spend most of the day in temps that are above 40 degrees. Its the kind of weather pattern that finds a heavy down vest particularly useful, good at keeping your core warm and giving you the flexibility to do things like climb in and out of blinds and boats in the predawn darkness.

I bought the Drake Waterfowl Down Vest after feeling its dense weight and seemingly durable outer shell. Tough, warm, and with big pockets, including a magnetic chest pocket that snaps shut for protection of cell phones and goose calls, the vest looked like a good addition to my outdoor closet.  It also helped that in olive green, and not Mossy Oak Duck Blind, I could wear the vest with a pair of jeans, as well.

But in the year that I have owned the Drake Waterfowl Down Vest, I have only worn the thing a handful of times. The first sign that things were not right was when I got out of my truck and saw that my seat was covered in feathers. When I made it back into the house, I took the vest off and saw that it was hemorrhaging goose down, big and small feathers were poking out of the vest everywhere you looked, and I was trailing feathers around the house like a molting mallard.  Chasing aloft feathers with a broom is not a task I anticipated when I bought the Drake down vest.

Because of this unfortunate quality, I have had to use the vest only in the most utilitarian of chores, and even then it generally hangs in the closet as I opt for some other less messy option. Everything else about the vest is great, but the feather leakage is a deal breaker. At nearly $100.00, this should be a much better product.

The Drake Waterfowl LST Down Vest with Magnattach is NOT RECOMMENDED by Kline Online.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Kline Online's Best Book of 2012

It's that time of year again, to name the winner of the world-famous, highly coveted, Best Book of 2012 award from the "staff" here at Kline Online (award only redeemable at participating locations and holds no cash value). Just to reiterate, in case you somehow missed last year's award, although I am not sure how that is possible, the Best Book of 2012 is simply my selection of the best book I read last year. It is more a book recommendation made from my own personal library than it is a thorough review of the American literary landscape over the past year.

I hemmed and I hawed before I wrote this blog, thinking to myself, surely I cannot award the Best Book of 2012 to the same author who won the award (albeit posthumously) in 2011! But alas, I can. And I have. Why should I kid myself and all of you wonderful folks who visit this corner of the information superhighway about what the Best Book of 2012 was because of some arbitrary feeling that I should share the wealth with another author? The fact of the matter is that the best book I read in 2012 was David Halberstam's The Fifties

Halberstam has long been a favorite of mine, and he should become a favorite of yours. When he died in a car accident in 2007 the world lost a phenomenal writer, whose brand of journalism, which was comprised of an almost evangelical commitment to truth-telling no matter how painful, has nearly disappeared from the planet, much to everyone's loss.

I stumbled upon a 1993 first edition of The Fifties at The Book Plate in Chestertown, and it sat on my bookshelf for a few years before I picked it up in the spring of 2012. Like everything else I have read from Halberstam, the quality of the prose and the flow of the story were both first rate. I immediately regretted settling for lesser fare while The Fifties sat unread on my shelf. 

In the minds of many Americans, the 1950s represent this time of tremendous innocence, when life was simple and the economy roared. Largely we think of Andy Griffith's Mayberry when we think of the 1950s. But in what is his trademark detail, Halberstam, himself a child of the 1950s, paints a picture of a decade of tremendous technological advance when America evolved from the unassuming and isolated society it had been prior to World War II into the modern society that we can largely still recognize today.

Ideas that saw their genesis in the Fifties, like the highway system and large suburban tract development have in the intervening six decades come to dominate not only the American landscape, but help to define our very society. Everything from the modern daily commute from the suburbs to the city, to the ease of airline travel is traceable to this fascinating decade in which America came to be, well, America. Perhaps the most important thing to come out of the 1950s was the creation of the American Middle Class as we would still recognize it today.

Halberstam covers a lot of territory in the 700 page tome, but the book never feels dense. The Fifties is as close to a page-turner as I think history can well get, as Halberstam tells the well-researched and detail oriented story of the decade that saw the beginnings of Holiday Inn, McDonald's, McCarthyism, the race to space, television, effective contraception, and much else besides.

Halberstam also reflects pointedly on the consumerism that was rampant during the 1950s, and how a system that was struggling to be modern was actually still fundamentally underpinned by some very old concepts that were beginning to fray at the seams. We see long-held beliefs related to sexuality, race, gender roles, and youth beginning to be questioned by thought leaders in the 1950s. Those same questions would be asked much more forcefully and by many more people in the decade that followed.

And like any good history, one can easily find tangents to their own time, when a sometimes crippling dependence on technology has us wondering where we end and where our devices begin. You can get a copy of David Halberstam's The Fifties for less than ten bucks on Amazon. Put down your e-reader and pick up a copy.

Honorable Mentions for Best Book of 2012: H.W. Brands: The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses S. Grant in War and Peace and John Lewis Gaddis: George F. Kennan: An American Life   

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Where Have All the Moderates Gone?

Jim Saxton, Sherwood Boehlert, Mike Castle, Lincoln Chafee, Wayne Gilchrest, Nancy Johnson, Chris Shays, Rob Simmons, Clay Shaw, Tom Davis, Vernon Ehlers, Bob Inglis, Norm Coleman, Gordon Smith, Olympia Snowe, Jeb Bradley, Steven LaTourette, Charlie Bass, Jim Leach.

I realize that this list of names means very little to most Americans; most might not even recognize a single name. That's not a knock on anyone; these people aren't famous, at least not by an relevant popular culture standard. So far as I know none of them have ever appeared on a reality television series, produced a best-selling hop hop album, or made millions off of an accidentally-on-purpose sex tape.

They are Republican members of Congress that have retired, are retiring, or lost their bids for reelection. None of them were Speakers of the House or Majority Leader, and none made themselves famous on the Sunday talk show circuit. But in their collective prime, taken together, they formed a core of thoughtfulness in the GOP that could steer policy-making away from the rocky coasts of partisanship.

When I first came to Washington in 2003, all of these people were actively serving in Congress. 2013 will be my ten year anniversary as a lobbyist in this town, and as of January each of the names that started this blog post must be referred to as former members of Congress. This represents what I view as being the single most important and influential shift over the past decade, away from the political middle and towards the political extreme.

Many of these people, like Mike Castle, Wayne Gilchrest and Bob Inglis, to name but a few, were beaten in hotly contested GOP primaries by candidates who were much more conservative, much more "acceptable to the base," so to speak.

In some cases, the Republican "base" doesn't represent the views of the electorate in the general election, which means their red meat candidate winds up at the butcher's come election day. These folks, who comprise a significant chunk of the GOP primary electorate, would rather lose on dogma than win on more practical considerations.  This was perhaps best illustrated in Delaware in 2010, where Mike Castle, long a respected figure in state politics was beaten by a wing nut in the GOP primary (that wing nut being Christine O'Donnell, who during the campaign found it necessary to deny that she was a witch). The wing nut had no chance in the statewide general election (which Castle would have won easily) and instead the win went to the upstart Chris Coons, a Democrat, who now serves as Delaware's junior Senator. As I have always said, when wing nuts dominate the primary elections, the primary elections can be counted on to produce wing nuts. 

But for whatever reason, all of these folks and a lot more, Republicans and Democrats alike, with a similarly middle temperament are gone, vanished nearly entirely from the American electoral landscape. Leaving behind them a wide gulf between the Right and the Left in Congress, which is now largely comprised of party-first groupthinkers who lack the ability or the desire to compromise on anything. And this despite the fact that every reliable poll of the last 25 years shows that more Americans self-identify as moderates and independents than as Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative.

It is strange but true that Congress doesn't actually look much like America politically, and I think there is more than a casual relationship between the reduction in the number of Congressional moderates and the reduction of Congress' approval rating; the slide in both has been concurrent and is almost assuredly related.

We see now with the Fiscal Cliff, which is only the most recent example, of two sides that seem unwilling to budge from what have become very deep lines in the sand. Every decision that Congress makes comes down to the last minute (the fact that the Fiscal Cliff was approaching was common knowledge in this town in the Spring of 2012, and yet still here we are), a redundant exercise in can-kicking. The fact that we have reached the Fiscal Cliff at all is because Congress has repeatedly punted on responsible revenue increases and spending decreases.

 In the days after the 2012 election, when Republicans lost the presidential contest by losing every swing state, and lost seats in the House, they started to assess just what went wrong and they decided that their candidates weren't ideologically pure enough, they were not sufficiently committed to the cause. And now, moving forward, the Republicans appear poised to double down on crazy.

Which brings to mind 1964, the year that Barry Goldwater, whose conservative purity no one can question, got rolled by Lyndon Johnson for the White House. That election has been viewed historically as a necessary bludgeoning, essential to returning the Republicans to the mainstream. In short, the Republicans had to get destroyed in a national election in which they put forward someone of unquestioned philosophical purity, so that the party could return to some level of intellectual normalcy. It has become clear, to me at least, that this type of election that serves to fundamentally reject scorched-earth conservative ideology, is necessary again. The future of the Republican Party, and perhaps the future of functional government might depend on it.