Saturday, November 26, 2005

EPL, Lagniappe

For many members of an entire generation, the only time they felt significant was during the protests of the 1960s and early 1970s. These Baby Boomers have felt empty with their lives ever since, and have tried to rekindle that feeling (there’s that word again) by participating in protest movements such as environmentalism or animal rights or whatever the cause of the week is.

Unfortunately, these Boomers often sought to avoid real-world involvement by becoming journalists, college professors or show business performers. Now they have a new cause with the war on terrorism, and they are using their positions to protest again. Journalists “do what they feel is right” instead of simply reporting the news. (While I have no problem with someone using his or her skills or position to argue a point, label it as “commentary,” not as “news.” Google Dan Rather and Memogate.) College professors degrade and fail students who disagree with them politically. Musicians and actors – who have no other qualifications other than name-recognition – are trotted out to speak authoritatively on topics they know little or nothing about. (Google Meryl Streep and alar.) This creates enormous pressure on those who deal with them to go along, simply to survive.

To evoke the same feelings of significance they had as teenagers, these Liberal argue bitterly about something that they’re on the wrong side of history of. If the effects on the American public were not so broad and powerful, it would be pitiful, sort of like Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite, who wistfully wishes he could go back to 1982 and win the big game.

Ethos, Pathos, Logos

Recently a lady who I like and respect made the comment the she did not understand how anyone could be a conservative. She was speaking of my political persuasion, and those of some of my friends. It made me think about the political argument that is raging these days, and the nature of the two sides, liberal and conservative.

Listening to the extremes as I do on radio and on television, and reading the political news stories, I get a sense that we as political debaters are motivated by different forces. Liberals seem to be motivated by pathos, or feelings, and Conservatives seem to be motivated by logos, or logic.

This is demonstrated by the arguments put forth by the two sides. Liberals use words like “unjust” or “fair.” (“We should each pay our fair share of taxes.”) Conservatives tend to argue using historical precedents, facts and figures. (“The top 50% of taxpayers pay 96.54% of all income taxes”) While these arguments are made most vigorously when dealing with extreme cases such as the war in Iraq, they are used in various degrees when discussing abortion, gay marriage, and the role of Christianity in American society.

This difference in starting points is the reason the most extreme – read “loudest” – arguments get nowhere in actually persuading the opponents. In fact, it becomes ever more clear that their objective is not to persuade opponents, but to influence the public discussion.

There is a huge problem with this. Aristotle indicated that the best way to persuade is to use not only pathos and logos, but also ethos, or credibility. Those who start with a completely different base of beliefs have no credibility with their opponents. And while Liberals have tried to claim that they are “open-minded” or “fair,” the public debate has become two non-intersecting loops, with neither side really addressing what the other is concerned about.

One problem with the Liberal point is that they ignore history. This is not because they are stupid or ignorant, but because they can not get the pathos, or feeling of historical times. They are therefore left with only what they have experienced in their own lives.

Santayana’s oft-quoted remark about those who are ignorant of history may be glib, but brings up these questions: What did American citizens feel when they saw what Hitler was doing in Europe? How did they feel when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor? How did families feel with the deaths of thousands of their fathers, sons and brothers in the D-Day invasion?

Liberals can not answer these questions, because to do so would evoke the question that is even more important: What did these Americans do?

This is inconvenient for Liberals; because the “greatest generation” went on to do what had to be done. Americans defeated Hitler, defeated Japan, defeated Mussolini and all their followers.

Specifically when discussing the Iraq war, – either one, take your pick – and the battle against Islamic terrorists, the underlying assumption of Liberals seems to be “If we only understood each other better, we could end the violence.”

Conservatives have the underlying assumption of “We do understand them. They want to kill us and remove our way of life from the planet.” The president of Iran bluntly said as much in a recent speech when discussing Israel.

John Lennon sang “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” I would say that peace was given a chance, and the Islamic terrorists pretty much put the kibosh on that on September 11, 2001.

Although the United States has traditionally been an ally of Israel -- its proponent and protector whenever necessary -- America has been a leading instrument of peace between Israel and the Muslim world – do we remember Menahem Begin and Anwar Sadat shaking hands on American soil? Liberals seem to forget such things. Do we remember that Anwar Sadat was assassinated by his own people for trying to achieve peace? Liberals seem to forget that, also.

At the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972 Palestinian terrorists killed Israeli athletes during the one showcase that tried to prove we could put aside our differences and coexist peacefully.

History has shown that Islamic terrorists are not interested in peace. They are interested only in eradicating first Israel, and then America. Liberals are determined to ignore such inconvenient facts. Their historical starting point they is the Vietnam War. Therefore it's the only example they cite in their arguments. (If you don't believe this, Google "Iraq, Vietnam.") Unfortunately, Liberals also selectively choose what current events are important to their argument, like a stone skipping across the surface of a pond. Camp David and Munich are just words on a map to them.

While I sincerely believe that we should “give peace a chance,” I wonder: On that December evening in 198o, if John Lennon had seen the gun that Mark David Chapman held…. what would John have done? Give peace a chance, or defend himself?

As for my friend who can’t understand how anyone could be a Conservative, I offer this ubiquitous quote: “Anyone who is not a Liberal as a youngster has no heart; anyone who is not a Conservative as an adult has no brains.”

I guess I just don't understand how anyone could be a Liberal.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Fish, Blame and the American Character

On the way to work today, I was listening to National Public Radio and its coverage of the New Orleans situation. They were conducting their typical anti-Bush harangue, this time in the form of Daniel Schorr’s commentary. Among the things he said, one stood out: “The federal government is ultimately responsible for its citizens.”

This, in a nutshell, is the dividing line between capital-L Liberals and capital-C Conservatives. Liberals believe that the highest level of government possible should handle a situation – thus their infatuation with the United Nations and the wish that the UN dictate policy to the United States government. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that situations and problems should be solved at the lowest level possible.

Some things the federal government does very well – national security, the interstate highway system, the electrification of rural America in the 1930s – but most it does not. One thing that it does not do well is to micromanage experts or local leaders on events in their areas of expertise or familiarity. This includes natural disasters.

Daniel Schorr blamed President Bush’s administration for failing to do more before and after Hurricane Katrina hit. He cited FEMA’s 2001 study which indicated the three most likely disaster scenarios as 1) Terrorist attacks in New York City; 2) A major earthquake in San Francisco; and 3) A major hurricane hitting New Orleans.

The question regarding allocation of resources is this: How many billions of dollars should the federal government commit to protecting against something which, up to this week, had never happened? Especially when the locals themselves are not interested in contributing to that protection.

Prior to Katrina, there were suggestions on how to lessen the blow of a major hurricane. More marshland between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico would reduce the storm surge, thereby lessening the damage. Exactly such steps were taken in Florida, which received $4 billion in federal aid to restore the Florida Everglades. To receive the aid, Florida had to match the federal funding dollar for dollar. In Louisiana, they were only willing to match 15 or 25 cents. "Our state still looks for a 100 percent federal bailout, but that's just not going to happen," said University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland, a delta expert.

To the extent that any preparation could have lessened the damage from Hurricane Katrina, that preparation should have started decades ago – and that preparation should have started at the grassroots level in Louisiana, not with the politicians in Washington.

The old proverb says, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The Liberal corollary to that is, “Give a man a fish, and he has to keep coming back to you for more fish.”

By keeping citizens dependent on government, Liberal politicians have stolen self-reliance, determination, ambition and fortitude from the American character. By cultivating a society of the needy, they have sown the seeds of decay and corruption that destroyed Rome.

UPDATE: 9/7/05

From the July 24, 2005 New Orleans Times-Picayune:

"In Storm, N.O. Wants No One Left Behind," by Bruce Nolan

City, state and federal emergency officials are preparing to give the poorest of New Orleans' poor a historically blunt message: In the event of a major hurricane, you're on your own.

In scripted appearances being recorded now, officials such as Mayor Ray Nagin, local Red Cross Executive Director Kay Wilkins and City Council President Oliver Thomas drive home the word that the city does not have the resources to move out of harm's way an estimated 134,000 people without transportation.

In the video, made by the anti-poverty agency Total Community Action, they urge those people to make arrangements now by finding their own ways to leave the city in the event of an evacuation.

"You're responsible for your safety, and you should be responsible for the person next to you," Wilkins said in an interview. "If you have some room to get that person out of town, the Red Cross will have a space for that person outside the area. We can help you.

"But we don't have the transportation."

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Perfect Hard-Boiled Egg

Ever since our marsupial ancestors decided to eat what came out of a chicken's behind, mankind has looked for the perfect way to cook it. The advent of cooktop stoves made it possible for us to finally do it right. For taste, texture, portability and ease of preparation, nothing beats a hard-boiled egg. After years and years of searching, I've found a fail-proof way to cook and peel the perfect hard-boiled egg every time.

1. Carefully place the eggs into your favorite pot or pan. Add enough cold water to completely cover the eggs.
2. Place on the stove, turn on the heat and bring water to a boil.
3. Boil for ten minutes. No more, no less. Use a timer if you have to.
4. When ten minutes is up, pour out the water and rattle the eggs around in the pan. The idea is to crack the eggs' shells fairly evenly around the entire shell, not to pulverize it.
5. Immediately plunge the eggs into icewater.
6. Wait a minute or so and peel the eggs. I start with sort of a belt around the middle so the ends just lift off.
7. Rinse away whatever small pieces of shell remain. (The only thing nastier than getting an eggshell in your food is getting a piece of pecan shell anywhere in your mouth.)
8. Salt, pepper and eat. Or devil. Or make a salad. Or slice and put on a salad.


The Power of Power

I recently finished reading the book Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger by Laurence Learner.

This biography of Arnold Schwarzenegger would be easy to dismiss as a portrait of a bodybuilder, but it’s actually a Shakespearean portrait of the use of power.

Throughout his story, Schwarzenegger used whatever leverage he had, from his humble beginnings in an Austrian village to being elected governor of California. In the early days he used his body to attract women (a trait which he continued until well into his marriage) or gay admirers/sponsors, and to bully those he considered wimps, sissies, or beneath him.

In later years he used his stature as a bodybuilding champion to squeeze concessions from business partners such as Joe Weider, who created an empire with his bodybuilding magazines, equipment and nutritional supplements, and who was himself known for his overbearing business tactics. Friends who did business with Arnold suffered the same fate as strangers. His ability to separate business from any other considerations (while trading on friendship himself) brought him success, and eventually to the governorship of California.

Along the way Arnold met Maria Shriver, one of the Kennedy clan – another family that knows how to use its power. Friends and strangers alike are acceptable targets for browbeating, whether for political purposes (Ted Kennedy) or for good causes (Eunice Kennedy Shriver).
Again, they have been rewarded for their use of power.

Although the final act has yet to be written in Schwarzenegger’s drama, I’ve already learned a lesson, one which would have been useful long ago. The use of power (or leverage, or advantage, or whatever term you want to use) is acceptable and even admired by the vast majority of people…..from a distance. Regardless of your political views, the Kennedys are admired by the majority of people. This is despite the fact that the family fortune was based on illegal liquor sales. (A parenthetical thought: Michael Corleone had it right in The Godfather. If you can sustain a fortune for at least two generations, regardless of how it was earned, then you can win respectability.)

Arnold is also admired by a majority of people who know his story. Along the way, though, he amassed a lot of enemies by his semi-ethical business dealings, and his ability to run roughshod over anyone or anything in his way. In that sense, Schwarzenegger really is the Terminator.

An old adage says “The end justifies the means.” A refinement I read once noted that if you use evil means, then the end can not, by definition, be good. Power used without regard of how it affects other people is wrong, and the user deserves to suffer the consequences of his or her actions.

Some of us, however, have had power at certain times that could have been turned into better circumstances for ourselves and those around us – without impugning the rights of others. I should have read Anthony Robbins’ Unlimited Power when it first was published.

Perhaps I would have been on another, more successful path. Maybe even the governorship of a state.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Politician's Folly

Why in the world would anyone want to be a politician? Don’t bother with the “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” answer; I’m sure they all want to do good things for the world, society, etc. But if you want to help your fellow man, aren’t there better ways than going into politics? The rules of the political game are as inane and arbitrary as having to dribble a basketball and not being able to use your hands in soccer.

Example: Illegal immigration is crushing our country. Mainly coming from Mexico, illegal immigrants are the recipients of the largesse of American taxpayers. In California’s Los Angeles County, the medical system has been basically bankrupted. The Department of Health runs a $1.2 billion deficit. According to a DoH official, “Caring for illegals is siphoning money from other services and forcing clinics, trauma centers and emergency rooms to close.” About two million illegal aliens in LA County alone go to emergency rooms because they can’t afford to see a doctor. Sixty percent of the county’s uninsured patients are not U.S. citizens, and half of them are illegal immigrants. Last year the county paid $340 million to treat these people; that’s about $1000 for every taxpayer. Legal residents are denied treatment because of lack of resources, while money is taken out of their pockets to pay for the treatment of those who use up the resources

Given this information, what would you do? How about 1) Deport these criminal trespassers back to their country of origin; or 2) Demand proof of legal residency before treatment of anything other than life-threatening injuries; or 3) Demand repayment for their treatment from their country of origin.

These are pretty straightforward, right? Analyze the problem, find a solution. However, politicians have to think about their popularity polls, getting reelected, how their stance will sound in a ten-second soundbite and how they will be portrayed by the press.

The first two solutions above are from the point of view that when a person’s inaugural moment in America is to commit a criminal act, then that person forfeits certain rights. Especially when there are legal alternatives to that criminal act.

The third suggestion, forcing the home country to bear the burden of its own citizens, points out another politician’s folly: taking a knife to a gunfight.

While American politicians – including President Bush, who has mollycoddled Vicente Fox way too much – tiptoe around, trying not to offend Mexico, Mexican politicians are taking an aggressive, hostile stance toward America. Mexico has said it may even use international courts to challenge Arizona laws regarding illegal immigration.
That’s a foreign country trying to tell our lawmakers what they can and can’t do.

Whether it’s building the American equivalent of the Great Wall of China, or using the military to patrol the borders, or using a “guest worker” program, something has to be done. The current situation is not working, at least not for Americans.

When the word “racist” is used (and it will be), or the argument is mischaracterized as opposing any immigration (and it will be), or we’re told that the American economy will collapse without illegal workers (and we will be), that opposition needs to be brushed aside. But don’t count on our politicians to have the guts to do it.

Friday, April 15, 2005

A Letter to the Senators

A copy of the following was sent to U.S. Senators Cornyn and Hutchison of Texas, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist:

The debate over President Bush's judicial nominees is coming to a head. I write you this note to urge you to support the constitutional right of the President to appoint judges, and to bring the nominees to the full Senate for a vote.

I have voted Republican for 20 years. Now that the Democrats no longer have a majority, they have acted as though they still have control of Congress, violating the limits of the "advise and consent" duties given by the Constitution. They do this by threatening to filibuster. It is important that elected Republicans make decisions based on principle, and not out of fear. You have shown great courage in this area, and I commend you.

I decided to write you based -- of all things -- on an article on the National Public Radio (NPR) website.

As much as it danced around the subject, NPR (no conservative bastion) could not give historical precedent for the current Democratic tactic. The closest it came was the 1968 nomination of Abe Fortas to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. However, the telling sentence is this, directly from the article: "An effort to cut off debate and proceed to a vote on the nomination failed to receive a majority, let alone the two-thirds vote then required for cloture." In other words, they tried to do the very thing that they now want to block.

With the national conversation raging over the limits of the courts, and the powers of judges, it is vital that President Bush have the same right to choose judges as previous Presidents have had. Unworthy candidates will be denied on the Senate floor, where the decision belongs.

Please support Senator Frist's decision to exercise the "constitutional" option, and bring the vote to the full Senate.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Poll Positions

Recently the headlines have trumpeted the results of the ABC News poll indicating overwhelming American support for the death of Terri Schiavo. Discussions about the negative impact of the Republican Congress's interference dominate political discussions. The March 21 ABC News Online headline screamed "Poll: No Role for Government in Schiavo Case" and "Federal Intervention in Schiavo Case Prompts Broad Public Disapproval."

Most people try to be well-informed citizens. They read such stories, and hear the stories discussed all over the place. After a time, the story itself becomes a "fact," with no discussion of the details of the story.

Polls use numbers to present ideas in a form that enhances credibility -- we believe science and mathematics. The problem is that the questions that are asked on the poll can affect the answers considerably.

The ABC poll quoted these numbers:

[From the ABC story]: "The public, by 63%- 28%, supports the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube, and by a 25-point margin opposes a law mandating federal review of her case."

In contrast, a Zogby poll found that 79% of those surveyed opposed the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube, and favored government action to saver her life by a 24-point margin.

How can two respected polling agencies arrive at such opposing conclusions? Simple -- they asked different questions.

The ABC poll phrased one question this way: "[Terri] Schiavo suffered brain damage and has been on life support for 15 years. Doctors say she has no consciousness and her condition is irreversible. Her husband and her parents disagree about whether she would have wanted to be kept alive. Florida courts have sided with the husband her feeding tube was removed on Friday. What's your opinion on this case -- do you support or oppose the decision to remove Schiavo's feeding tube?" 63% supported removing the tube.

The Zogby poll phrased a similar question in a different way: "If a disabled person is not terminally ill, not in a coma, and not being kept alive on life support, and they have no written directive, should or should they not be denied food and water?" 79% said the person should receive food and water.

With the ABC poll loaded as heavily as it was, the answers were a foregone conclusion.

ABC asked: "Would you support or oppose a new federal law requiring the federal courts to review the Schiavo case?" 60% opposed; 35% favored such a law.

Zogby asked: "When there is conflicting evidence on whether or not a patient would want to be on a feeding tube, should elected officials order that a feeding tube be removed or should they order that it remain in place?" 42% thought the tube should remain in place; 18% said removed.

The media's manipulation of data to shape public opinion has been demonstrated very well the last few years. What is amazing in this case is how what is presented as public opinion is the tool they use to shape that very opinion.

The national dialogue is controlled, and it takes a great deal of will to cut through and see the essence of what is actually going on.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Contract Reprise

In 1994 the Republican party swept into a majority of both houses of the 104th US Congress. The Republican vote increased by nine million from 1990 to 1994 (while the Democratic vote declined by one million). One of the major tools used by the Republicans during their campaign was the “Contract with America.” The Contract read, in part:

On the first day of the 104th Congress, the new Republican majority will immediately pass the following major reforms, aimed at restoring the faith and trust of the American people in their government:

· FIRST, require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress;
· SECOND, select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse;
· THIRD, cut the number of House committees, and cut committee staff by one-third;
· FOURTH, limit the terms of all committee chairs;
· FIFTH, ban the casting of proxy votes in committee;
· SIXTH, require committee meetings to be open to the public;
· SEVENTH, require a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase;
· EIGHTH, guarantee an honest accounting of our Federal Budget by implementing zero base-line budgeting.

The Contract also promised an immediate vote on ten pieces of Republican/conservative legislation.

From a political point of view, the Contract appealed to voters for three reasons;

1) The Republicans adopted a contract instead of a platform. They bound themselves to do something (a contract) and not simply to be for something (a platform). [With regards to Newt Gingrich, Winning the Future, Regenry Publishing, 2005]

2) They provided an easy-to-grasp list of actions for voters to consider. This is a key concept. If Americans know nothing else, they know that politics in Washington is a complex, dirty game. The intricacies of committees, pork barrel spending, add-on legislation, presidential vetoes – these are beyond most voters. The Contract promised to cut through all the junk. Voters could look at the list and say definitively, “Yes, I’m for that.”

3) The Contract provided a scorecard to judge the new Congress. Either a congressman did what he said he was going to do, or he didn’t. Although not articulated, this concept of accountability is what most Americans want from their politicians. Elected officials dance around subjects, hoping to never take the consequences for their actions. (“I voted for it, before I voted against it.” – John Kerry, on the $87 billion Iraqi spending bill)

The 2004 campaign was one of the most bitter political seasons ever in American history. Although all of us were exhausted by the seemingly endless commercials and arguments, we don’t have time to relax; the next round of campaigning has already started. Politicians are positioning themselves on certain issues, and their bridesmaids-fighting-for-the-bouquet-like battle for camera time (“Oh, you’ve written a book?”) starts to look like Saturday night roller derby.

We as voters must insist that each candidate promise to do something specific and measurable, explained in easy to understand language. The media’s job is to help candidates who are willing to do this to get their message out, and to expose candidates who refuse to comply with this requirement.

If a candidate won’t do what voters ask during the campaign, why would he do what voters want once he’s in office?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Latro Ergo Sum #1

latro ergo sum - "I rant, therefore I am"

So much to drive you nuts, so little time....

Social Security
For twenty years, we've been hearing that the Social Security system will go broke some time in the first half of the 21st century. Fewer and fewer taxpayers will support more and more recipients. The Baby Boomers are approaching retirement age -- meaning I'm approaching retirement age, so I'm concerned. There is no Social Security "guarantee." The government does not keep its promises. ("Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river." --Nikita Khrushchev) Unless something is done soon, the next generation of taxpayers will be paying 30% of their income to support the "promise" of Social Security. Better to let all of us keep more of our money now and put it into something that will earn us more. Running the funds through Washington only supports the bureaucrats; it does nothing for my future.

Iraqi Elections
The anti-Bush crowd has pooh-poohed the elections in Iraq. Now, even if the sole reason for the large turnout was to hurry and get the Americans out of their country, Iraqis stood in line to vote, when terrorists had threatened to blow them up if they did. We Americans won't even get out to vote if it looks like it's going to rain....So maybe this election in Iraq was a wee bit more momentous than the Left wants to let on.

Super Bowl Ads
I heard today that Fox executives pulled the second of two ads for after that company had paid 5 million dollars for the time. Apparently the spot was considered "too controversial." Now, I'm among those who thought the Janet Jackson thing was very inappropriate, in poor taste, and that someone's head should roll. But the backlash has gone too far. The Budweiser ad that never made it to TV (called "Wardrobe Malfunction") was hilarious, but was never shown because it was "too controversial." The powers that be -- the FCC and media execs who are too gunshy to show any guts -- need to be pulled back. While I don't want smut to show up unexpectedly on regular broadcasts, all the flavor and originality is being removed from our programming. What used to be harmless, or at worst, suggestive is being banished by the FCC's heavy-handed tactics (or the threat of their use.) They need to ease off.

Because if, by God, I spend 5 million bucks for two ads, they had better both show, or it's gonna be somebody's ass.

No Smoking
Weyco, a small insurance benefits administrating company in Michigan, began a policy in January that forbids its employees from smoking -- at home.

My hometown of Lubbock, Texas, passed a no-smoking ordinance a few years ago banning smoking in public places.

Although I'm not a cigarette smoker, it's about time that someone stood up for individual choice. These rules regarding personal use of a legal substance are a huge invasion of privacy. In principle I agree with Weyco's right to employ whomever they want....but to control every aspect of an employee's life is a bit cult-like. One can only hope that the karmic wheel turns enough so that Howard Weyers, the president of Weyco who implemented this policy, winds up running the whole place by himself, because no one will work for him anymore.

As for Lubbock's invasion of business owners' rights, let me quote Augie Smith: "I don't like Bed Bath & Beyond. I don't like what goes on at Bed Bath & Beyond. But I don't protest, or start a petition to close them down. I just don't go there." If someone doesn't want to be around smoke, or doesn't want to be someplace that allows smoking....don't go there.

The hyprocisy of the government's stance -- federal, state and local -- is staggering. If the politicians are as concerned with smoking's effects as the prohibitions indicate they are, then tobacco should be illegal, period. But the governments love the money that tobacco brings in. When it comes to the subject of smoking, then our politicians are common streetwalkers, willing to do anything if there's enough money in it for them.

At first they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak out, because I was a Protestant. And they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak out. - Martin Niemoller, Protestant minister and German protester against the Nazi abuses in Hitler's Germany

Saturday, January 22, 2005

American Tapestry

When I hear a girl say “I’m not really religious, but I’m spiritual,” I feel like saying “Well, I’m not really honest, but you’re attractive.” – Augie Smith

President Bush’s detractors – and even some political allies – have made much of his embracement, and public display, of his religion. His enemies claim that he is trying to turn the United States into a theocracy, while the doubting friends are uncomfortable and even embarrassed by his public mentions of God.

The enemies are in two camps: those who have a complete disdain for all things Christian (the secular Left), and those who think religion is only good as a way to hook more gullible voters. The former are characterized by Katie Couric, who in a 1998 interview suggested that Christian organizations were responsible for the death of Matthew Shepard. The latter are represented by the major Democrats, such as Hillary Clinton, who – evidently as a result of a recent conversion -- in a recent speech in Boston invoked God more than half a dozen times.

At this point we come to a blending of problems: many people believe that the Constitution maintains that there is a “separation of church and state.” This view has been supported by several courts, who apparently see “separation” as a synonym for “outlawing any public display of Christian faith.”

Historically, the decisions by judges to ban prayer at football games, or declaring unconstitutional the phrase “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals did, are relatively new, within the last sixty years or so. The current Supreme Court overruled the Ninth Court’s decision based solely on procedural grounds – it did not affirm our right to say the word “God” during the Pledge.

The modern point of view originates from an opinion by Justice Hugo Black in Everson v. Board of Education (1947). In his opinion, Justice Black used broad language to systematically argue for the complete removal of any religion from governmental discourse. This decision was followed by Engel v. Vitale in 1962. Next was Abrington v. Schempp, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Bible reading in schools was unconstitutional. This is widely regarded as the case in which the Supreme Court began to blatantly attempt to change America from a pro-religious society to an anti-religious one.

Modern courts have chosen these precedents to support their own biases and preferences. They ignored precedents such as Vidal v. Girard’s Executors (1844). In this case, Justice Joseph Story included in his majority opinion: “… the Christian religion is a part of the common law.”

In 1892 the Supreme Court noted: “…this is a Christian nation.”

In 1931 the Supreme Court said that the government must make decisions in the belief that these decisions “are not inconsistent with the will of God.”

In 1952, Justice Douglas wrote: “We are a religious people and our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being….We cannot read into the Bill of Rights a philosophy of hostility to religion.”

Clearly, those who try to play the “separation of church and state” card are on shaky legal ground.

As for those who are now trying to put God into their public language for political gain – good luck. This ruse will fool some of the people, but most will see through it. And perhaps those of the secular Left who disdain religion in all its manifestations will be consistent in their actions, and come out against those who dare to invoke a higher power.

As for those friends who feel that too much emphasis has been put on God, they also fall into two camps – those who are uncomfortable with discussing their own religious beliefs, and those who feel that Bush loses political credibility when he expresses his.

There’s nothing to be done about the first group; my advice for them is to deal with it. Become comfortable with discussing it, or don’t discuss it at all. But accept the fact that many people – Bush among them – use their faith as a source of strength, and don’t mind others knowing.

As for George Bush’s religion and his political credibility…David Aikman, a former senior correspondent for Time magazine who has written a book about Bush’s Christian faith, says “Virtually every American president in office has either been a person of faith or a supporter of the principle that faith was a good thing. I think this particular president – although he has been more outspoken than most recent people in office – is absolutely in the mainstream of an important American historical tradition.” In terms of religiosity, Aikman compares Bush to Democrats Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter and Republicans Abraham Lincoln and William McKinley.

After all this, some readers will think I must be some sort of religious kook. Far from it – those who know me best will vouch that my problems stem from other mental or emotional imbalances. But I understand that for a society to survive and thrive, it must have some sort of underlying foundation of right and wrong, a sense that there are rules that we break at our own peril. For an elitist group – 5 of the 9 Supreme Court justices, for example -- to try to unravel the tapestry of religion that is part of the essence of the American nation and society, vexes me.

Oh, by the way, the First Amendment says, in part:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…[emphasis added] The Founding Fathers should have included the judiciary.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Home Deposed

Owning a house is like feeding a teenager. They both have voracious appetites, and are a never-ending source of bother and comfort.

My wife reminded me again that the toilet in the guest bathroom takes too long to fill. She first told me about this problem sometime before Thanksgiving (she'll claim around Labor Day.) I have no reason to doubt her word, but I find it hard to believe that I would risk putting off something as important as a - gasp - slow-running toilet in the guest bathroom.

My original solution was to tell her to quit inviting guests. That didn't get much traction, so I pointed out that if they're guests a) they probably won't be over very often; b) they shouldn't be here long enough to need to use our bathroom; and c) they certainly won't be here long enough to know that the toilet is slow-filling. This theory was good until Thanksgiving, when her entire family (somewhere between 30 and 1000 people) showed up at our house to eat dinner. They consumed entirely too many liquids, necessitating numerous trips to the guest bathroom. Seeing that it was not filling fast enough, they transferred the traffic to our private -- and therefore not "company clean" -- bathroom.

That was the last straw.

Every man has his sanctum sanctorum, his batcave, his fortress of solitude where visitors are neither permitted nor welcome. My turf had been invaded, and it was time to do something about it.

Now it's January. Last night my wife again reminded me of the toilet. Her mind is all-encompassing and nothing escapes her notice. She is omniscient. Last night, after a full day of semi-torpor (aided by some heavy-duty cold-fighting medicine), I'm about to drift off to sleep, with nothing more on my mind than breathing.

My wife, after five days of serving as a juror in a high-profile trial that garnered world-wide headlines, still had enough awareness to focus my thoughts once again on the plumbing problem in the guest bathroom. "When are you going to fix that toilet?"

Her attention to detail is why I love her.

Heading into my day off, I need to 1) Repair the infamous toilet; 2) Repair our balky doorbell (which decided to convert its familiar ding dong to a sound akin to an angry wasp); 3) Replace three or four dozen light bulbs which manage to always burn out at the same time. This last chore is not as simple as it sounds, as we have ten-foot ceilings which make the light fixtures just this much too high for me to reach without help, but not high enough to require getting the step ladder. What this means is that I take my extra-large frame and step up onto a flimsy chair to change a light bulb, which often leads to a humiliating fall, and occasional shards of glass in my hair.

My Monday morning will complete the experience, as the guys I work with will be discussing the NFL playoffs, while I savor the memory of a full toilet tank.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Where Have All My Heroes Gone?

In 1979 I read a book about a good ole boy Texan who goes to the big city and shows the city slickers how it's done. Through hard work, bravery and horse sense, he wins the day and becomes a hero.

The book, "The Camera Never Blinks," was the story of Dan Rather, who rose from east Texas as a newscaster, braving hurricanes to get his story. He finally hit the big time with his coverage of John Kennedy's assassination in 1963. He moved up to the networks and New York City, where he eventually replaced Walter Cronkite as the anchor on the CBS Evening News.

I was 21 when I read Rather's story, and remembered seeing him on TV covering Vietnam. I hadn't realized he was from Texas until I read his book, and I was proud on two counts: 1) He earned his position with the networks, and 2) He was a Texan.

Imagine my chagrin 25 years later when I'm rooting for him to be fired, and am convinced that he represents everything wrong with what is commonly called "the mainstream media."

The report from the internal investigation into CBS News and the so-called "Memogate" scandal came out today, and four people lost their jobs. Dan Rather was not one of them. The man who was out front, who took over the position of trust from "Uncle Walter," who reportedly has nearly ultimate power in his division, came out clean as a least as far as the report is concerned.

It is complete blind arrogance on the part of CBS for them to think that anyone can have any doubt that the report on 60 Minutes was politically motivated. A scandal (backed by hard evidence!) that shows (beyond a doubt!) that George W. Bush shirked his responsibilities in the Air National Guard -- seven weeks before the election! I'm flabbergasted at their hubris. OF COURSE IT WAS POLITICALLY MOTIVATED. To deny something so obvious is nearly as big a crime as the original report. What kind of contempt for other people does it take to try to pass a story like that off as the truth?

There is a trust that Americans place -- warranted or not -- in the major media. Network news, major newspapers, and the wire services have traditionally presented themselves as impartial, reporting the truth. Jack Webb used to say "Just the facts, ma'am." That's what the major media want us to believe they present to us. The truth is that they've betrayed that trust.

That's why it hurts to render judgment on Dan Rather. Despite my initial admiration, he betrayed me; he betrayed us, and I watch what's happening to him with grim satisfaction. His fall from grace is Shakespearean in scope; his reputation is in a shambles. The only compatible scenario is what happened to Richard Nixon. Nixon's abuse of his position has been documented for a generation, and he has long been held up as the ultimate example of corrupting power. It's ironic that his major nemesis in the media, Dan Rather, is experiencing the same fate. The truth caught up to him, and it crushed him beneath its wheels.

Let's hope that for justice's sake Rather's name is uttered with Nixonian scorn 25 years from now.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

A Tale of Two Mothers

Among the overload of news stories the last couple of weeks, two caught my attention because of the contrasts.

Story #1: The tsunami that hit Phuket, Thailand, forced Jillian Searle to make a choice no mother should ever have to make: which son to hold on to in raging flood waters, and which to let go and hope he survived.

Searle, of Perth, Western Australia, was near her Phuket hotel pool with sons Lachie, 5, and Blake, 2, when the tsunami hit last Sunday. "I knew I had to let go of one of them and I just thought I'd better let go of the one that's the oldest,'' she said. "A lady grabbed hold of him for a moment but she had to let him go because she was going under. And I was screaming, trying to find him, and we thought he was dead.''

Lachie was found safe two hours later after surviving the raging waters by clinging to a hotel room door.

Story #2: A Texas appeals court has overturned Andrea Yates' capital murder conviction for drowning her children in 2001. She was sentenced to life in prison, but the appeals judge has ruled the case included erroneous testimony by a witness to the prosecution. The ruling was in response to testimony by psychiatrist Park Dietz who referred to an episode of "Law & Order" that did not exist.

These two stories attracted my attention because of choices. Searle had to choose which child she had to let die so that the other could live. Yates had to choose which of her children to kill first.

On the face of it, overturning Yates' conviction because of a TV show looks ridiculous. She did it, doesn't deny that she did it, the entire world knows she did it. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

But the American judicial system is funny -- when it works right, it even protects those that are guilty. It doesn't protect them from punishment; it ensures that they get a fair chance to present their arguments, and to defend themselves vigorously.

In the Yates case, Dietz claimed that an episode of "Law and Order" told the story of a woman who drowned her children in the bathtub and got away with it by pleading insanity. Andrea Yates was an avid watcher of that show; ipso facto, she got the idea of how to get away with murdering her own children. The jury heard this, and the prosecution referred to it in its argument.

The only problem is, such an episode never aired. Dietz was wrong. And Andrea Yates did not get a fair trial.

The overturned conviction will be appealed all the way up the judicial ladder, so Yates may not go free, as many people fear. Then again, she might.

Most people cry out for justice for the five dead children. (Some think the father is just as culpable as she is, but he's not the one that held their heads under water.)

The justice system becomes stronger when it's applied appropriately and fairly. Old-time lynchings and kangaroo courts tested the mettle of the US system, but it survives. Every accused American, including Andrea Yates, should have his or her day in court.

Having said all that, Andrea Yates should never see the light of day again. Our culture has become a little too tolerant of the murder of children for my tastes. Let Andrea Yates have her day in court, but she did kill her children. If she's sick, then treat her, but treat her behind bars.

God forbid that she should ever come face to face with Jillian Searle in free air.