Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thurvey 1/31/2012

Thursday survey.  The Thurvey.  It is time for you to open a booth in the world flea market of ideas. Surely there will be some rare and valuable finds.  Last week was stellar. In this place, thought is free, but it is not cheap . . .okay, that made little sense. you can do better.  Enter your responses to one or all of the questions below as a comment to this post.  Surely you know how to do that by now.  If not, it's time you found out.

TS #1   Winter is prime for TV watching.  This winter also brings us an unusual number of must-see movies. What TV shows or movies have earned your favor this winter?  Why?  Which did not?  You may also comment, if you wish, on the occasion of the final episode of Thirty Rock.

TS #2  Lip-syncing at the inauguration, making up girl friends who sadly die, it seems that we consider these things worthy of discussion as important, controversial topics of the day.  How do you feel about these things, or how do you feel about how we feel about these things?  What other similar pop-deceptions have you been intrigued by, or wondered why everyone else found interesting?

TS #3  Alabama taxes groceries.  One of two states that do.  Is that good or bad or does it matter?

TS #4  What gun violence federal legislative measures would you support?

TS #5  The Alabama legislature is beginning its session.  Dream wildly.  What do you want it to do?

TS #6  Do you know Twinkle Cavanaugh?  If you  don't, don't look it up, just make a guess for fun.   If you do, what do you think of her statements in the news last week?

TS #7  What question do you want answered this week?


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Darn Mother Teresa, that goody no shoes . . .

For those readers who are not Christian, or of no faith at all, this post is about a part of my Christian faith.  Just wanted to be upfront in case you aren't interested in that kind of thing. On the other hand, it couldn't hurt.

I am a follower of Jesus.  Sometimes from pretty far back, but a follower none the less.  Jesus has a lot of grace in that respect.  He keeps having to turn around and come back and toss out  some of the cans of soup and other heavy apparently non-essentials  that I have insisted on stashing in my backpack.

Probably the most central statement of Jesus in my thoughts and theology is found in Matthew 25:  Yes, I have probably quoted this four or five times already in the last 600 or so posts. But like I said, it is important, I think.  I am sure Jesus appreciates that endorsement:  

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

I think about this passage a lot.  It seems too simple.  It seems contrary to unconditional grace, you know the old "saved by grace, not be deeds" thing.  It seems too hard.  And it doesn't say anything about believing the "right" things, saying the "right" words, or even not doing any of those sins we keep accusing each other of.

I have a friend who used to say that it would be just his luck to arrive at the Pearly Gates and be right behind Mother Teresa.  She is like that nerdy genius in your calculus class that completely messes up the grading curve for everyone else.

Sometimes I wonder how it would be to be one of the goats or sheep, standing before the throne. What might Jesus' say?

I was hungry and you taxed my groceries so you could have a sweet tax break. Especially you guys in the Alabama, the buckle of the Bible belt.

I was thirsty and you let my water be poisoned to keep your electricity rates low, or your stock prices high.

I was a stranger and you called me "illegal" and an "alien" and made my life so miserable that I had to leave.

My clothes were ragged, I had no coat, and you walked to the other side of the street, called me names under your breath, and posted signs on your church asking me not to hang around there.

I was sick and you complained that it cost too much to take care of me. You said I should take care of my self.

I was in prison, and you said that's where I belong.

I was oppressed and you let me stand alone.

I was all of these.  Maybe you did none of these things to me.

But you did nothing for me.

Instead you worked hard, spending your precious  life on your money, your rights, your way,  your own.

I don't know what Jesus might say.

But the rest of my friend's joke is that St. Peter, after hearing all the good that Mother Teresa had done, shook his head and said, " I'm sorry.  That's just not good enough to get in."

And that's the way it is, I suspect. Nothing we can do is good enough. But Jesus' obviously meant for us to give it our best shot, and he would make up the difference with grace.  At least that is my hope.

  But we have loaded our backpacks so heavy with stuff and keep looking back to make sure nobody is getting any of it. We threaten to injure or even kill those that might try to take it from us.  We move slower and slower on the journey forward because the weight of our greed and selfishness is wearing us out, and we don't even know it.

And Jesus is now just a small figure on the horizon ahead. But He's never out of sight.  And we are never out of His.

But don't look now.  He's coming back for us.  And He's got his eyes on that backpack again.


Monday, January 28, 2013

I want to be like Thaddeus Stephens when I grow up . . .

I enjoyed Lincoln.  One of the things I enjoyed was Tommy Lee Jones' character, Thaddeus Stephens, a radical Republican congressman from Pennsylvania.  He ultimately publicly, though fraudulently, abandoned his radical purist ideological position that all men, including black men, were created equal by God, in order to assure the passage of the 13th amendment.  With great reluctance he pulled back from this radical ideology, and instead painfully recited the much more palatable line that he had been given for all the press to hear and print, "I believe that all men are equal before the law,"  much to the chagrin of his radical colleagues, who berated him in tears.  He was able to salvage the moment by observing that the very existence of his anti-abolition opponent across the room was evidence that all men were certainly not created equal.

By today's standards that doesn't seem like much of a concession, and I don't have time nor inclination to explain the situation here.  I would recommend you go see the movie. It is worth the price of admission and the Cobbster, which is quite a tidy sum.

The thirteen amendment passed.  Slavery was abolished. The war soon ended , to a great degree because the powerful Congressman Thaddeus Stephens of Pennsylvania sacrificed a sacred ideological belief to accomplish something real rather than perpetuating an unrealized high-minded ideal.

We are facing the same choice as old Thaddeus.  We cling to our high minded idealism in the face of opportunities to accomplish somethings real.

I am a fan of ideals.  In fact, I suppose I am an idealist.  I believe there is merit in recognizing the big idea. But a friend of mine used to remind me that I should avoid being so heavenly minded that I was no earthly good.

So, maybe we get it wrong.

We put the ideal first. Then we try to solve the problems. But it is the rare solution that could satisfy two warring ideals.

Perhaps first we should identify problems without ideals.  We have an economic problem.  We have a health care problem. We have a violence problem.  We have a poverty problem. We have an education problem. We have an environmental problem. We have an energy problem. We have an immigration problem. We have a big government problem. We have a small government problem.  We have a liberty problem. We have a security problem.

We have problems.  I am confident that we have the minds and hearts in this country to offer the best solutions.  But it won't work if we allow the ideal to continue to be enemy of the real.

 Maybe we should just try to do the best we can for people, not for ideals.

 Maybe that should be the ideal, at least for now.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thurvey 1/24/2012. Bread and milk, snow, guns and the inauguration

Thursday. Survey. Thurvey. Your opportunity to express your opinion to the world about the hot topics of the week.  Simply enter your answers to any or all of the questions in the comment box below, use your own i.d. or click on anonymous and then click on publish. Include your name in your comment if you wish to be unanonymous.  If the comment box does not appear below this post, click on the little "comments" below and the box should open up.  Exercise that first amendment. Keep it strong.

#1   North Central Alabama was hit with a brief snowstorm last week.  It has become a common joke that we all rush to the supermarket for milk and bread at the first mention of frozen precipitation.  And yet, it is no joke.  We rush to the supermarket for milk and bread.  I hear the denials even now.  "I just happened to need to go to the grocery."  "I didn't just buy milk and bread, I bought some other stuff."  Why don't we change the culture?  What other two or three items should replace milk and bread as the State of Alabama official wintry weather essentials?

#2  Snow and ice this week, seventies and storms next week.  Glaciers are disappearing all over the world.  Polar bears in the Locust Fork River. Not really.  Anyway, do you believe there is any merit to the climate change hypothesis or do you believe it is an over reaction or hoax? If you feel like ranting on either side, it is encouraged.

#3  The second inauguration of President Obama is in the history books.  If you watched all or part of it, what was most memorable for you, and why?

#4   The second amendment and gun control is a hot topic. If you believe that some regulation is needed, what specifically would you recommend.  If you are opposed to any regulation of the second amendment, make your case.

#5  Specifically, following up on #4, it has been suggested that the answer to gun violence is simply arming more people, the idea being that there would be more of a chance for responsible gun owners to inhibit or stop nut cases from using their guns so easily.  Are you in favor of the proposition or against, and why?

#6  A lot has been made of Beyonce's lip sync at the inauguration this week. Of course, it was a recording of her own voice.  But, if you could sing using someone else's voice, whose voice would you steal?  Why?

#7  What question of your own would you like answered this week?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Basketball lessons (yeah, Bama beat Kentucky)

I watched the University of Alabama defeat the University of Kentucky in men's basketball last night. in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a feat not quite so rare as some would believe, but, rare enough.  The crowd was great, I saw a lot of old friends in my superstitional  half-time stroll around the concourse, and we beat the Wildcats again. I'm glad I cheered from the stands instead of the sofa.  Plus I got another free t-shirt and another plastic cup.  I can now serve a party of about 240.

I am a bit of a basketball geek.  It is a fairly benign means of escape.  And I have learned a lot of life's lessons through the years watching and playing the game.

There was a turning point in last night's game.  Alabama had trailed by eight to ten points.  Kentucky's big man was on his way to setting a record for blocked shots as Bama players aggressively attacked the lane.  As they approached the Kentucky giant they would finesse, go under and up, or attempt to stop and out jump the big guy.  He pounded enough spikes to build a railroad track half-way to Lexington.  But something important happened a little more than half-way home.

Andrew Steele, fifth year senior guard for the Tide, the old wise man of the squad, had the ball in the right corner, a few feet outside the lane.  He beat his man off the dribble and headed toward the lane.  There was no finesse, no dipsy doodle.  Just enough movement to avoid the charge, making the the defender move his feet and lose a little of his balance.  Steele, a strong physical player at about six feet two, subtly put his shoulder into the big man's sternum and jumped straight through him, his shot moving through the up stretched arms of the off balance mega-Wildcat like a football through an upright, then rolling over the rim into the basket. And one.

The momentum was shifted. The giant had been conquered. It was Alabama's game after that moment.

At least that's my opinion.

Sometimes that's what it takes.  You gotta take it straight to the heart of the giant. He'll always beat you if you give him his space.  Sometimes you gotta get so close he can't effectively swat you anymore.

But that is unnerving.  It is illogical. And, of course, with a giant, it seems a little dangerous. A little risky.

There is a time for dancing. A time for finesse.  A time for  the 3-bomb.  But if you don't deal with the giant in the middle  .   .   . you're going to lose.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

I-65 Rest Stop

Last Thursday I was headed to Huntsville from Oneonta, a drive of sixty or so miles that should take a little over an hour.  I had heard the weather folks saying that snow would be coming. I heard the same weather folks saying that there would be no travel issues at all because temperatures would be too warm for the falling snow to affect roadways.  So, being the weather expert that I am I figured that trying to get through the snow band in the warmer middle of the day would be better than waiting until later in the evening after sunset, when the air would get colder and any water on the road might freeze. I also thought that I-65 would be better than lesser traveled highways, or highways that moved through higher elevations.

I was wrong.  And so were the weather folk.

It was snowing hard but traffic was moving along in fine fashion on I-65 north around 2:00 in the afternoon.  I passed the last exit for Cullman, traffic still moving along famously.  I made the right decision, I thought.  Then I saw the brake lights ahead of me.   .  . as far as I could see.  And none of them were moving.

And that's the way it was for the next fourteen hours. Until some of the lights went out for lack of fuel or electricity or sliding into a ditch.   I was able to move around 4:00 a.m. Friday morning.

It was no big deal.  The Prius is a great car to get stranded in.  With my full tank of gas I  probably could have sat there with the heat running for two or three days before I ran out.  I found a half a box of chocolate covered Christmas pretzels under the seat, so I wasn't going to starve.  In fact I had a couple of boxes of girl scout cookies in the back seat that I had forgotten about and never opened.

I had no water.  That was a good thing for the first ten hours or so.  Being dehydrated, I didn't have to worry about where I was going to go to the bathroom.  Of course, there wasn't a bathroom. But I saw a few people head toward the tree line and back.  I assume they had not had the foresight to become dehydrated.

But, after awhile, dehydration didn't feel too good.  So, being the good Boy Scout that I am, I looked around me.  There was snow and ice everywhere.  (actually a good Boy Scout would carry a couple of bottles of water in his car always, so I'll have to take a refresher course later)  But that which was immediately accessible was muddy and oily and nasty.  And slippery, as it turned out, when I stepped out of my car to further my plan.  But I was thirsty.  I looked to the tree line.

Hmmm.  It was going to be important to find the kitchen portion of the tree line as opposed to the bathroom area.  So I set out, slipping and sliding across the icy ruts of the emergency lane before reaching the crunchy  undisturbed snow off the right of way.  I wasn't thirsty enough to risk gathering snow that might have been made yellow by other travellers, something I couldn't detect in the dark.  But I ran into a limb of a bush, about head level, that was bent down with the weight of snow . . . fresh clean snow.  I made a quick determination that it was unlikely that anyone could have hit the height of the branch with  . . . .well, you know.    I made a couple of snow balls from the limb's generous offering, walked back to the car, and sucked on the unflavored all natural snow cone.

And so I survived the boredom of fourteen hours in the car.  I wish I had a more exciting tale to tale, but it was just the opposite.  The only real danger I faced was being bored to death..

It was a treacherous ride at 4:00 a.m. on I-65 North creeping down Mt. Lacon.  Apparently that incline was the problem.  Cars and trucks were stranded on both sides of the slope as I moved down at glacier like speed.  And then suddenly, everything was clear, and I moved on.

I learned a few things from this unexpected winter retreat.  .In Alabama we do not know how to handle even a little snow and ice.  I learned that local news outlets, radio, TV and Internet, sometimes miss reporting important real time events.  I still do not know what really caused that delay of 14 hours.  Me and a couple of thousand of my traveling companions really wanted and needed to know, but it just never happened.   I saw close up that eighteen wheelers do not do well on packed snow and ice. And I was affirmed in my belief that cleaning out your car on a regular basis is over-rated.  I learned practical things like that.  The first two made me a little angry after a while.

I have traveled that part of  I-65 over a hundred times I suppose.  I never noticed Mt. Lacon, except for the exit sign. But now I have, because I had to. Because it stopped me.

And that's the way it is, unfortunately. .

What else have I failed to see as I speed through my life, with nothing to stop me?

 I haven't been laid off from my job, so maybe I haven't noticed the hardship of the unemployment line.  I haven't been homeless, so maybe I have been oblivious to those stuck in place as I pass by except for the signs they hold on interstate exits. . I haven't suffered serious illness, so maybe I have avoided the pain and isolation of others. I haven't fought in wars for my country, so maybe I haven't taken time to know enough about it and fight for those who have. And so on .  .  .

I haven't tried to find out what happened to these folks and all the others who are fighting uphill battles and told their stories loudly and clearly when they could not.  I haven't tried to find ways to help them find their footing on their slippery slopes. I haven't helped them find a clear safe path.

I haven't had time to stop and see for myself.

Fourteen hours is a long time, but really, it's nothing.

Except an excellent time to stop . . . and think.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ready on the right, ready on the left, ready on the firing line . . .

Stand down.

We have a second amendment to our federal constitution, and most states have constitutional provisions, that protect citizens' rights to possess firearms. The Supreme Court has upheld that right.  Sure there are nuances and interesting arguments to make, but it is fairly simple and straightforward in the eyes of the U. S. Supreme Court.

It is equally well settled that the federal government has the constitutional authority to reasonably regulate that right.  The Supreme Court has upheld that premise as well.

Politics makes strange bedfellows, but the history of gun rights and gun control discloses clandestine lovers worthy of exposure.

If you want to read a really good article on this, this article in Atlantic is great.  If you are a fan of lesser quality and fewer words, read on.

The second amendment is in the Bill of Rights of the U. S. Constitution, which was adopted a few years after the original document.  Our founding fathers limited the right at the time, contrary to the rhetoric of today.   Only qualified men could own and possess firearms.  In fact, eligible men were required to own and possess firearms  (interestingly, one of the earliest basis for the mandate for health insurance required in Obamacare).  Those eligible men who were required to possess firearms were also required to muster from time to time, with their weapons. They were required to register their ownership of the weapons. And you could only own a gun if you made oath to support the young government of our country.

The National Rifle Association came along after the Civil War.  One of the founders was a reporter with the New York Times. (Who would've thought?)   The NRA, in the early twentieth century, proposed and advocated many of the same gun control measures that are being debated right now. Registration. Permits required to carry concealed. Waiting periods. Eligibility requirements. All advocated, some even originated, in the NRA.  They supported these positions well into the 1960's.  They mostly just wanted gun owners to be better marksmen. It was embarrassing when we started getting into wars in other countries and so many of us were bad shots.  Weird, huh?

It gets weirder.

The original proponents of the modern second amendment gun rights movement were . . .the Black Panthers in California in the 1960's as inspired by Malcolm X.

The original opponent of the modern gun rights movement was .  .  .Ronald Reagan, governor of California.

It will be inspiring.  Alabama libertarians and California Black Panthers marching hand in hand to defend constitutional protections for all people.

And that's what makes America great . . . and a bit humorous sometimes.  C'mon, we gotta laugh at ourselves. Otherwise we're all gonna go crazy, if it's not too late.

What is not funny is that we are becoming callous to our children being killed.

Jesus said we can't serve two masters.  .   .

Neither the  Remington GameMaster that killed Martin Luther King back in 1968, nor the BushMaster used in Sandy Creek, nor any of the other inanimate instruments of deadly violence fashioned by the hands of man that have become the master to a few. Certainly not every gun owner.  But apparently to an increasingly scary few.

Guns don't kill people. People kill people.  There is a lot of truth in that bumper sticker.

When I was young I was fascinated with my dad's guns.  He was a quail hunter. I loved to watch him clean his shotguns. I can still smell the sharp odor of the cleaning fluid. I loved it when he let me shoot it.  And I will never know if he knew of all the times I snuck his shotguns or pistols outside while he was away and did a little target practice of my own. Or shoot a rattlesnake. But those are different stories. Don't tell anyone.

But one thing I do not have to guess about.  Guns were serious business. They were dangerous. He had me convinced they could jump off the wall and go off  unprovoked if I didn't show proper respect.  And to suggest that they would or should be used against another human being would have resulted . . .well I don't even want to think about what the results of that kind of talk would have been.

Would he have protected his family with his guns if it was necessary?

Probably.  If it was absolutely necessary.

But  not to protect his stuff.

And certainly not to attack his own country.  That's just crazy talk.  So I agree. It is true. It is not the inanimate guns that scare me so much.  It is the people who apparently worship them.

I watched an interview with some of the parents of children who were killed at Sandy Hook.  The talking head followed the interview by saying that the course of the gun control debate was solely in the hands of those parents at Sandy Hook. They would have to be the advocates. It was up to the victims to get something done.

What a sad thought. As if they were in this all alone, even more than the tragedy must have made them feel. As if that tragedy belonged only to them.  It belongs to all of us.  Gun advocates and gun control proponents.  It doesn't matter.  It is our country. It is our tragedy.  Surely we are better than that.   Surely we can work on this problem together.

 I don't know the answer.  But I do not accept that the daily tragedy of American gun violence can be excused as the price of freedom.  There is a reasonable solution that is consistent with the second amendment and our real history.

And I am sure we can begin to find it.  All sides together.

But not by looking through the cross hairs.

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