Saturday, January 30, 2010

Laws z mercy

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

Rules and laws are necessary; a source of immediate, useful wisdom of generations that have gone before. The body of rules and laws that grow through the decades, centuries, millenia, are not perfect, but rather a work in progress marked by the timeless pattern of two steps forward, one step back, a rhythm that probably had its beginning when our ancestors decided that walking on their hands to the dinner campfire was making the meat too gritty.

Frustration sets in when we feel like the value of our generation's contribution may be questionable. And it is easy to sit in judgment of a particular moment in the past when our ancestors made horrible mistakes, so easy to see in hindsight. But if one steps way back for some perspective, the direction is generally forward, advancing civilization and humanity in positive ways.

But rules and laws have limitations, at least the way we humans choose to use them. We want to know the minimum daily requirement.

Rules and laws become our standards for how little we can do to get by, or how much we can do and still stay on the good side of the law.

That sounds worse than it is. In fact, that is probably a good definition for rules and laws. The Rule of Law, even imperfectly executed, has been and continues to be a foundation for the advancement of human civilization. Or if not the advancement, then at least it has prevented us from killing each other off until we can come up with something better.

Rules and laws are not enough.

There must be something more that drives us to exceed the minimum daily requirement if things are going to get better.

Take the ten commandments, the tablets God prescribed to cure human ills. Ten rules. Simply and clearly stated. (Perhaps because Moses could not have carried more than two tablets, we'll never know.) But those who were called to follow the Decalogue also felt called to define them. After a few hundred years the Commandments became a way to be good enough, but also an excuse for not "getting better." I haven't murdered, coveted, adulterated, swore falsely, stole, forged graven images or false gods or worshipped any other god, haven't worked on the sabbath, haven't mistreated my parents, and haven't used God's name in vain, so I'm okay. Nothing else is required.

Jesus tried to straighten this out. He often said "It was written . . ." or "It has been said . . ." and then He would say "but now I tell you . . ." Murder became a matter of what is in your heart. Adultery came to include what is in your thoughts. Other gods are all the things that we give a higher priority than we give to God. According to Jesus there is no minimum requirement. If one were able to flawlessly follow the law as He described, there would be no room for improvement. There would be perfection.

The original ten commandments were much more manageable. More black and white. Or terra cotta and black. (I am ignorant of the geology of Mt. Sinai)

And we like black and white. If the written law is our only standard, we have some wiggle room.

If our only standard is to satisfy the law, we can still pollute the air and water. Maybe not as much as we would if environmental laws did not exist, but a certain amount is legal, so that makes it right, doesn't it?

We can still take advantage of employees. Maybe not as much as we would if labor laws did not exist. But some things are still legal, so that makes it okay, doesn't it?

We can still rent out substandard housing. Maybe not as much as we could if housing laws did not exist. But we can still get away with a lot. If it were wrong, we couldn't get away with it, could we?

We can still ignore the cry of the needy. After all, we pay taxes for welfare programs. I've got no choice. The government takes my money to give them. If they're still crying, that's not my problem is it? I follow the law, that's enough isn't it?

Rules and laws serve us well. They are necessary.

But they are not enough.

Take the U. S. Congress for instance.

A majority party with sixty votes doesn't have to listen to what anyone else thinks. A minority party with forty one votes can stop anything that the huge opposing majority is trying to do.

Those are the rules. That is the law.

That makes it okay, doesn't it?


Monday, January 25, 2010

Minority Report Card

I am frustrated with politics. A couple of posts back I expressed dismay with the U. S. Supreme Court's opinion in Citizens United vs. FEC which will allow corporations to spend as much money as they want to in any federal election. The decision upset my idealistic notion of how our democratic republic is supposed to work. Big money should not translate into big power in federal government. Naive, I know. But in reflection I've decided it won't be that big a deal.

After Congress's performance the last few months, surely no CEO worth her or his salt would spend more than a few dollars on the whole kit and caboodle. I don't mean that, it's just the frustration talking. I still believe that our Congressmen and women desire to serve the best interest of our nation.

But still, many in Congress are behaving very poorly. It serves no purpose for me to try to address that in my present state. Maybe tomorrow.

I think I have identified a problem.

It is not so much the majority party that lets us down. It is the minority.

I'm not saying that just because the Republicans are the minority party right now.

Let's review.

In 2002 President George W. Bush was determined to act on a long-held desire to attack Iraq. He and his Vice President did so by fraudulently linking Iraq to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001.

Republicans were the majority party in Congress. One would expect them to generally support the Republican president. And let's face it, in recent history Republicans have tended to favor military actions in the middle east, and the "war on terror." So in supporting the Iraq War, they were acting as expected.

But the Democrats were the minority party in 2002. And let's face it, Democrats generally tend to be more reluctant to go to war. And here is where the Democrats were not a good minority party. They betrayed their character, the reasons they were elected. They were not elected to be like Republicans. They were elected to be Democrats and give voice to those ideas and ideals that Democrats hold, even without enough votes to win the day.

But the Democrats failed to be a valuable minority party. A few voted against the Iraq War resolution, but more voted in favor. And very few questioned the Iraq policies with much fervor. They did what they thought was politically wise.

I don't know whether the Democrats could have helped our government make a better decision about the Iraq War had they insisted on more debate, We'll never know, because the Democrats failed to be a good minority party. That failure may have cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.

But the Republicans aren't doing any better. They are failing the same way, but differently.

Republicans, at their best, can be trusted to be in favor of fiscal responsibility. They are supposed to be conservative, financially. And so it is a valuable thing to have that voice in Congress, even as the minority, during these times when so much money has been spent because of the financial crisis, and the programs that the Democrats want will require more spending.

But the Republicans failed to be a good minority party. Most Republicans in Congress acknowledge and believe that some health reform is needed. But instead of making an effort to truly assist the process to get the best health reform legislation by keeping pressure on the costs, they simply voted against everything, even things that they themselves had proposed earlier in the process and in years past. They made it clear, this was not about health care. It was about handing President Obama a defeat. Obama's "waterloo" as South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint called it. "It will break him."

The Republicans sold out, just like the Democrats before the Iraq War. Their first priority was their political well-being. The nation's interests came in a distant second. We could have used a dose of fiscal responsibility offered in a spirit of doing what was best for our country. What we got was nothing.

I am not really naive. I know that the minority party is not interested in making a President from the other party look good. I know that members of Congress want to be re-elected.

And I know that sometimes Congressmen are going to truly be so opposed to something upon which they cannot compromise.

The Parties just got it backward.

War should be a matter where compromise comes, if at all, only after much intense deliberation, debate and examination. The Democrats folded up quicker than a cheap lawn chair.

Health care reform is needed. Republicans have said so time after time after time. So this was an issue upon which compromise should have been assumed. Republicans became the Viagra party. Unnaturally stiff. But come to think of it, helpful for what they were trying to do to the President.

Minority parties are important.

To keep some balance.

Congressional Yin Yang if you will.

Another Chinese import. Politically touchy.

Guess we know how that will turn out.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Read Badge of Courage, just not when I was supposed to . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It is Saturday morning after all. On Saturday mornings I prefer not to get all het up, but just listening to the news has set my kindling to smolderin'. When the dulcet tones of NPR get me fired up, it is time to hit the lotus position and meditate.

Or maybe just hit something.

By the way, I am heartened that one can google the phrase "all het up" and find definitions. Even origins. The main reference in literature is in "The Red Badge of Courage," Stephen Crane's novel which endeared itself to millions of junior high boys for its subject of war and deception, and its brevity for book report purposes.

I always loved to read. The problem was, I did not enjoy reading on demand. Even when Mrs. Lybrand allowed us to choose among thirty or forty perfectly wonderful books, something in my adolescent psyche rebelled. I put off reading the book until the last minute . . .literally the last minute a time or two.

Don't judge me.

With the minute that I had I reviewed the information I had gleaned. The title of the book. The author, who I probably remembered something about from class or from another of the author's books that I read voluntarily. The artwork (paperbacks gave a significant advantage here). The comments on the back cover and jacket (hardbacks definitely the better choice here). Mental notes of any mentions of the book in class or elsewhere.

With the 45 seconds I had left I would review the first page or two (which I had usually read earlier in a good faith effort to change my ways), the titles and sub-titles of the chapters (writers who just numbered their chapters were inexcusably lazy) and the last couple of pages.

I got by. At least for the oral report in class that day. At the time I thought I fooled my teacher. Now I wonder if she just gave me massive credit for gall and creativity.

I learned something important from those oral book reports.

A lot of folks can tell you about a book, but no one can read it for you.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Quick, hand me the judicial ridalin . . .

Let's face it, when we are drawing our last breaths it won't be the things, the stuff in life that we remember, that we long to be with us in these final moments. No it won't be the artificial, the superficial, the plastic that we recognize as precious.

It will be those persons that have shared this terrestrial journey with us.

And today I know I can rest a bit easier, if not in peace, that millions of those "persons" have finally been released from oppression. Free at last. Whole persons. The foot of the man has been removed from the throat, the political vocal cords of . . .

Exxon. Blackwater. Microsoft. Wal-Mart. General Electric Lockheed and millions of poor wretched corporations across the country. Their long nightmare has ended. Power to the people, or at least quasi-people.

Sacrificing their self-proclaimed status as non-activist judges, five U. S. Supreme Court Justices could not resist the tugging on their hearts, (they are only human after all) and indulged in hyperactivity from the bench, ignoring decades of established precedence. Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas agreed with Justice Kennedy, the author of the opinion in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Committee. Corporations have been recognized as persons for years. Now corporations have been given the same constitutional rights that you and I enjoy, particularly first amendment rights. For all practical purposes, corporations are now people, according to the U. S. Supreme Court. Except that corporations have a lot more money, have no morality other than making a profit, and many are owned in part by citizens of other countries.

To put it simply, as of today, Exxon or Haliburton, the AFL-CIO or Move On. org can put as much money into any federal campaign it wishes. With no limitations, the mega-corporations, many of which have major foreign stockholders, can spend billions, if they choose, on one U. S. Senate or Congressional race, or on all of them. And our votes will be sold to the highest bidder.

What will happen? Oil, gas and coal companies will buy enough Congressmen and Senators to open wilderness and off-shore drilling and gut environmental regulations. Financial Institutions will buy enough Congressmen and Senators to deregulate banks and eliminate consumer protections. GE and Lockheed will buy enough Senators and Congressmen to keep the military industrial complex healthy. Corporate taxes, and taxes on higher income individuals will be cut. Programs for lower income folks will be cut. The free press will be in jeopardy as media is deregulated even further and controlled by mega business. And I am not going down the paranoid road of what happens when a very wealthy Iranian ends up buying a Senator or Congressman through a broker (launderer) corporation, I mean U. S. citizen.

But of course it is fair because you and I have the same right. Our money is also recognized as free speech when it comes to political communications. So no problem. I'll look under the sofa cushions, you get the change out of the console of the car. Let's see how many Senators or Congressmen you and I can buy.

What's good for business is good for America.

Great ad slogan.

Terrible law.


Macadamia is good too . . .

I have a friend who is thinking of throwing a party because Republican Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senatorial race. Another cause my friend champions is the medical treatment of children with cancer.

I doubt my friend knows much about Scott Brown except that his may be the vote that kills health reform.

I wonder if my friend is still worried about the sick children. It's gonna take a lot of bake sales to do much good.

My friend was not aware that Massachusetts has a good state administered health insurance system. Scott Brown does not believe the people of Massachusetts should have to pay more taxes to take care of the rest of the country, since they have taken steps to care for themselves.

Wow. I hope that kind of thinking doesn't catch on. If we in Alabama wake up tomorrow and learn that the rest of the states are no longer going to take care of us, we might as well call in sick, but do it quickly, because neither the phone system nor your job will likely survive very long if our federal aid fix is taken from us cold turkey. Hopefully you won't really be sick, cause our health care system would be on life support as well. But I digress.

No one knows what will happen with health care reform.

But if you are one who is giddy about the possibility that it is dead, what now?

I hear chocolate chip is always popular.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sam Dixon

Dr. Sam Dixon, Deputy General Secretary of UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), who was found alive under the Hotel Montana, has died. It is so sad. He was alive with his colleagues, talking while they were awaiting rescue. His daughter was just interviewed on CNN. She talked about his desire to serve victims of disaster, a desire that put him in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. Pray for his family and his co-workers.


Unity . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I am watching the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake on the news channels this morning. The coverage in Haiti was interrupted for a few moments for a formal announcement from the White House. President Obama requested former Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush to be co-heads of the Haiti fund, an offer they both accepted. As they appeared together outside the White House, President Obama spoke of both former Presidents' efforts to relieve suffering of the sick and impoverished in the world. Clinton and Bush made gracious remarks about President Obama and each other.

It is not necessary to be a serious student of history to remember the harsh words and feelings that from time to time have existed between and among these three in different permutations. It has not always been pretty.

But there they were this morning. There was humility, graciousness, a sense of grief, and an air of determination to get this done as well as possible, considering the reality of the disaster.

Disasters unify.

I do not believe that the path to the unity of humanity is to hope for a continuing series of serious disasters.

So what is it about major disasters that bring out the best in the rest of us? Is it possible that we could experience unity without disaster?

Or as I asked in the last post, why did it take an earthquake to get me to see the plight of Haiti?

With apologies to Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, and revival preachers everywhere, I believe humans are basically good. We have just been conditioned to think that good is not smart. Giving away what you have worked for, storing up no more than you truly need, seeking to serve instead of be served, choosing to be last instead of first, loving enemies, not insisting on being right. Not smart if you expect to be successful in this world. Smart people are successful people.

We want to be successful. And we want to be smart. Smart is a good thing, right?

It is supposed to be. But what is smart? What is good? What is success?

And what's that got to do with Haiti and disaster and unity?

You tell me what you think. Click on "post a comment" below. Type your thoughts in the screen that opens, press anonymous if you don't have one of the other id's, sign your name to your statement or not, and click publish.


Friday, January 15, 2010


There is only one thing to write about today.

Do what you can to help the people of Haiti. There is no shortage of great organizations to give to. My favorite is UMCOR but there are so many others.

Politics, religion, economics . . . these discussions can be had another day.

But not today. Because what difference do those things make when family members cannot be found, when the only water available might kill you, and when travel through the streets is made difficult not only by the rubble of collapsed buildings but by the dead bodies of those who were their victims. More than fifty thousand.

So many people want to help, and there is so little that anyone can do.

For me it is even hard to pray to God to give relief and comfort when God is the only one who could have stopped the earthquake.

But God is looking at me and wondering why it took an earthquake before I truly looked at the plight of Haiti . . .

So we are not talking much . . . just sitting quietly.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Wrong hat . . .

I love magic. Not the dark, hexing curses, cast you into hellish eternal darkness pin in the voo-doo doll kind of magic. I like sleight of hand. Legerdemain. Prestidigitation.

When I was young, and even now that I am not, I loved watching Uncle Johnny do magic tricks. He made thimbles and coins disappear and move and re-appear in unsuspecting ears or shoot through bodies with no pain and leaving no scars. Playing cards would migrate mysteriously through the deck at his mystical direction. I could not figure it out even while looking right at him.

I know now that much of what Uncle Johnny does is sleight of hand. It doesn't diminish my enjoyment of the tricks at all. In fact, I am even more amazed. Uncle Johnny uses his big hands and an artistic ability to divert attention to make people like me believe we see something that never really happened. Maybe he'll do some tricks for us sometime. It is really cool.

One of the ironies of the magic tricks is that Uncle Johnny constantly says, "now watch carefully." His eyes would be fixed intently on the object of the trick. He would be pointing at an open palm with an authoritative index finger. I would do what he said. My eyes locked on the focus of his gaze, ignoring everything else going on in the room as I tried to catch him and figure out the trick.

As it turns out, Uncle Johnny did that on purpose. He made me look where the trick wasn't. The important stuff was happening in the other hand most of the time. But I never saw it. I was always looking in the wrong place. Where Uncle Johnny was subtly telling and showing me I should look.

It is not enough to watch carefully.

You gotta look where the important stuff is happening. The real stuff. Not the tricks.

But it is hard these days.

Republicans are pointing at Harry Reid's words about Barack Obama with moral outrage and demanding his resignation in the name of racial harmony and equality.

Now watch carefully, because in the other hand Harry Reid has one of the best and longest records for promoting civil rights in the U. S. Congress, most of which was opposed by Republicans.

Republicans, led by head cheerleader Dick the Rifleman Cheney, point at President Obama's deliberate manner and lack of macho swagger and suggest he does not understand the gravity of the threat of terrorism.

Now watch carefully, because in the other hand the Obama administration has taken more aggressive and broad action than his predecessor, militarily, diplomatically, and in matters of intelligence gathering and domestic security, most of which the Republicans have questioned and criticized, at least publicly.

Republicans are pointing at the Democrats failure to deliver on President Obama's promises regarding sweeping health care reform.

Now watch carefully, because in the other hand Republicans voted against all health care reform, even some that they themselves had previously proposed, and have offered no alternatives, all the while saying that they want true reform.

Republicans point to the huge stimulus bill and says that the resulting deficit will destroy our economy.

Now watch carefully, because the Republicans hold their share of the stimulus money clutched tightly in the other hand.

The Republicans, while not nearly so noble, are like my favorite moose, Bullwinkle.

Despite what they would like you to think, and no matter how often they yell "Presto," there is nothing up their sleeves.

In fact, they go Bullwinkle one better.

Empty suits.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Double dog Dareus . . .

It is a cold day and the driveway is too icy to negotiate. I suppose it is. I haven't been out to check. I,like many others, have been recovering from, reveling in, and reflecting on Alabama's championship won last night.

The individual leader in yards-gained-after contact. What an achievement to be at the top of that stat list. So I thought it was a bit unfair that it went unheralded when Mark Ingram slipped into second place last night, bumped by a team-mate.

Tide defensive lineman Marcell Dareus deftly cradled the ball after his interception at the 28 yard line. He was hit once (admittedly by the freshman quarterback), throwing a stiff arm that made Tim Tebow look like a peanut leaguer, and pirouetted his 296 pounds like a jumbo sized Baryshnikov. Then he sprinted, not at all like Usain Bolt, into the end-zone. Average of about twenty yards after contact. And his sprint to the end zone virtually ran out the clock in the first half. When you add in the offensive yards he took away from the Longhorns with his smashing, debilitating tackle of Texas QB McCoy, he probably should get credit for a couple of hundred more yards after that contact.

What a fun season it has been. RTR.


Monday, January 4, 2010

My apologies in advance. Too much coffee.

A couple of random thoughts that found a vacancy in my brain today. I suppose that is one good thing about not being too thoughtful. Plenty of space to work with.

Our nation has desparately needed something we can agree upon. Something upon which a consensus can be built.

It is cold.

There it is. In all my running around today I said a hundred times, or if the person walking toward me beat me to it he or she said, a hundred times, "Cold enough for you?" or "Can you believe how cold it is?" or perhaps just "BRRRRRR." There was no debate, no conditions, no wrangling for position. Just simple acceptance. All the polling numbers show that everyone thinks it is cold enough. Even the push polls that had questions like "if cold weather improves sexual performance, would you think it is too cold," or "if Democrats would lose control of Congress because it is too cold, would you still say it is too cold?" still resulted in a huge percent of people agreeing that is too cold. There were a small number of those identifying themselves as Republicans that changed their opinion when responding to the push poll. Both questions.

Now that we know we can achieve such unity, perhaps we can build upon it, maybe about something we can actually do something about.

The second random thought, in no particular order of significance or importance, is that we need creative thinking. Get out of the box. I have devised a method of problem solving. I call it the intersect solution.

We face countless problems in our society, in our country, in the world.

For instance, affordable health care. One of the things that is consistently suggested as a cause of high medical costs is the cost of tests, particularly that of diagnostic imaging, such as mammograms, x-rays, and a variety of scans.

Another controversial issue in the news this week is airport security. The ACLU and those of us who are lying about our weight and how we go to the gym regularly are raising objections to the enhanced screening that has been proposed. Specifically, there are new machines that see through your clothes all the way to the body and, I suppose, below the surface of the skin. The resulting image is your naked body, exposed to TSA officials and inevitably you-tube and facebook.

So what about just turning up the power on those machines occasionally, and when you travel by air, you get a complimentary copy of the body scans to take to your doctor on the next visit? Timely travel and medical diagnostics. And an amazing new profile picture. All for the price of an airline ticket.

Voila. The intersect solution. The book will be in stores soon.

Because in this cold weather you might need a good read. And if the snow comes to the south you may not be able to make it to the store and you might run out of toilet paper. Bad book? No toilet paper?

Voila. Another problem solved by the intersect solution.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Be alert. We need more lerts . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I drive a car that runs like a golf-cart at low speeds. All electric. It gets really impressive gas mileage. And it is quiet. Too quiet. A few days ago as I pulled up to my carport the phone vibrated. I stopped the car, answered the phone, and finished my conversation. Then I opened the car door, ready to scurry into the house. I had one foot on the ground and was half-way out of the car when it began to roll forward into the too-full-of-junk carport. Only nanoseconds before the thick plastic bumper connected with the side of the mini-fridge sitting on the simulated cedar round picnic table with a missing leg temporarily replaced by two terra cotta flower pots, I dove back into the cockpit, stomped on the brake, and averted an unnatural disaster. Then I actually turned the car off. It had been so quiet when I got off the phone I thought it wasn't running.

Because the car runs so quietly at low speeds, the manufacturer felt compelled to provide an annoying safety feature. When in reverse gear a warning beep begins to remind the driver and his annoyed passengers that the car is on and moving backward. As you go backward it beeps and beeps and beeps until the backward motion ceases.

The annoying alert is a great idea. It is so easy to go backward without being aware.

Peter King, a U. S. Congressman, is advocating the legalization of ethnic profiling as a legitimate means of law enforcement, and specifically, investigation of terrorist activity. This position is obviously in response to the failed terrorist bomb attempt in Detroit on Christmas Day.

Maybe I make too much of this. Maybe it is just a matter of semantics. Truly, most investigations result in a profile of the perpetrator. The more specific the profile, the better. That is an acceptable, in fact, desirable law enforcement technique. For instance, if a witness says the perpetrator was a tall, white male with a scar on his face who was last seen driving a van from the Full Gospel Double Portion Second Baptist Church of the Revival, then the investigators should round up all male Baptists over six feet tall and hold them for questioning right? Maybe throw in those women who are particularly sturdy just to cover all the bases.

Silly? You are right. Because in the above scenario the investigation is being done after a crime has been committed and a perpetrator has been seen by witnesses. The ethnic profiling being proposed by King and others would occur before any crime has been committed. It would assume that a certain ethnic or religious group, even those who are U. S. citizens, would no longer be presumed to be innocent. No big deal if you are innocent, right?

Congressman King, and millions of others, perhaps many of you who read this blog, believe that if one is of a particular religion, nationality, or ethnic group, he or she should automatically be under suspicion and watched carefully, perhaps even prevented from travelling from place to place, before any crime has been committed.

As I write this I am struck how reasonable this position sounds. Surely it is far more desirable to investigate terrorist activity in an effort to prevent attacks rather than explain them after the fact.

That sounds reasonable because it is. Law enforcement and intelligence communities should investigate the environments, conditions and associations which evidence leads them toward.

What is not reasonable is assuming that a terrorist is going to be of a certain age, sex, nationality, skin color, or professed religion. Such an assumption could unnecessarily take an investigation down a dead-end, wasting precious time.

Or more importantly, it is unreasonable to assume that a person of a particular religion, ethnicity, or nationality is guilty, or more likely to be guilty, based simply on those factors. Such an assumption takes us backward. Backward to Germany or Scottsboro in the 1930's. Backward to thousands of times and places where fear has spawned prejudice and bigotry and threatened freedom and civilization far more than the original object of the fear. Backward quietly, with no alarms or alerts. Or if there are any, they are drowned out by the background melodies of national anthems and onward christian soldiers.

So be alert.

Be an alert.

Even if it seems to annoy. It's better than running backward into the trashcan and spilling it out again. It is tiresome haveing to pick up the same old trash over and over.

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