My disdain of politics, politicians and political processes - necessary evils all - is such that I do what I can to avoid them whenever possible. I'm hardly bragging; it's just the truth. Since there isn't much I can do about it without joining the fracas (a most unpleasant prospect with not an iota of hope for success), I choose the path of least resistance. It's a lesson I gleaned from early childhood family gatherings: When my obnoxious, know-it-all cousin walked into the living room, I'd retire to the basement, out of earshot from the inevitable scorched-earth-causing tumult.
This strategy has met with reasonable success in keeping the aggravation factor somewhat manageable - it's persistence notwithstanding. A stomach-churning exception occurred recently when I made the mistake of checking out a cable television newscast while my young - and über-curious son (he has more questions than breath) - was in the same room. Within a span of 15 minutes, it was upon me to explain to him:
• “How come people are mad at that lady (Terri Shiavo)? Or are they mad at that man for trying to kill her? I thought she already was dead. And isn't that the man she married? Why are they talking about judges? Don't doctors take care of that kind of stuff?”
• “Why are people mad at the president because of Social Security? I thought saving money is good. I have $34 - and a $10 Best Buy gift card; can I spend it when we go on summer vacation?”
• “A guy from Mississippi and a another guy from Massachusetts are fighting about drilling near the North Pole. Even though Santa is make-believe, isn't there a real person in charge of the North Pole - like a mayor or governor or something?”
I'm just grateful that some right-to-life extremist didn't shoot up an abortion clinic earlier that day; I've got nothing for that.
I did my best to explain that sometimes some people feel so strongly about something that they're mad at anyone who doesn't think the same way they do. He responded, “Like the Sox fans and Cubs fans at school? A lot of the kids argue about that every day. It's dumb - I like the White Sox; I don't even care about the Cubs.” A very proud moment for the old man.
And I was especially proud of his insightful questioning of how two guys thousands of miles from “the North Pole” could be deciding what was going to happen there. The senators from Massachusetts would sprain their necks turning up their noses at anyone from Alaska with the temerity to tell them how to serve clam chowder. Can you imagine the umbrage that would be taken by the good people of Mississippi if an Eskimo tried to foist upon them his advice on the cultivation of magnolias?
If only things were that simple.
Yes, the elected officials in Alaska - Alaska, the place where they actually live, work and raise their children - support responsible drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They cite the benefits to their state, the country as a whole and to the advances in drilling technology that minimize the footprint the drilling operations would leave - unlike the strip-mining-like vision that the tree-huggers put forth.
But what about the native Alaskan population? Obviously, nobody cares. It's nothing personal; it's just that since about, oh, 1492, the native population of North America has been allowed to cheerfully endure massacre, broken treaties, blatant racism, internment and second-tier entertainment bookings at their casinos. Clearly, they should have done a better job of checking passports at the border back then. Oh well, live (or die) and learn.
The Eskimos who live, work and raise their children on the coastal plain of the Refuge support the drilling operations. The Gwich'in Indians, who live farther inland, voice serious concerns about their local caribou that go to the refuge to calve and then return. Another case - if to a lesser degree - of outsiders chiming in on other people's stuff? But I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that these two groups could come to an agreement they both could - and would - live with in a timely manner. But throw politics, pork, power and partisanship into the mix and you've got one giant living room full of obnoxious, know-it-all cousins - and they all deserve each other (you'll find me in the basement).
Relieved that my son asked his questions, got (hopefully somewhat) satisfactory answers and quickly moved on to more pressing matters - like beating his high score in Grand Theft Auto 2 - I couldn't resist asking him a trick question: “Who discovered America, kid?”
“Gee dad, that's kinda hard to say exactly.” Another very proud moment for the old man.
It was getting late, so I figured I'd just wait for someone from the government to come and brush his teeth and tuck him in bed.