Thursday, May 16, 2013

No Mas Pantalones

There has been nothing BUT headline after headline concerning the, if not downright illegality, than at least significant improprieties on the part of various government agencies. Recently, we have heard of inaction when the US Consulate in Benghazi was attacked by terrorists, leading to the death of 4 Americans including the ambassador, the I.R.S. announced agents had improperly targeted conservative groups, and the Justice Department seized the phone records of Associated Press journalists. The common refrain from BOTH President Obama and Attorney General Holder has been that they knew nothing of these events UNTIL the press reported them. That means either a) BOTH Holder and Obama are ineffectual, feckless, asleep at the switch and incompetent, or b) they are lying.

The White House released a hundred emails between the CIA, State Department and the White House concerning the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi. The back and forth was slow, laborious, semantic driven and constantly being updated as information became available. The initial talking point parroted by Susan Rice on 5 Sunday morning news shows that the attack was an unpremeditated by-product of a demonstration over an anti-Muslim internet film later proved to be not only false, but patently untrue. Whether that was simple ineptitude, or something driven by politics is the wedge issue. Whatever the case, 4 Americans died waiting for relief which never came, as officials debated distinctions such as US Consulate vs. diplomatic post.

Beginning in 2010, and continuing for more than 18 months, the IR.S. targeted groups based on their names and/or policy positions. The names and policy positions were ones linked to conservative groups and caused extraordinary delays and requests for unnecessary information. BOLOs, a law enforcement acronym for Be On the Look Out, were used to flag Tea Party, Patriot, or subject line references to government spending, debt or taxes. Of course the I.R.S. Commissioner informed us, “We believe the front-line career employees that made the decisions acted out of a desire for efficiency and not out of any political and partisan viewpoint." That statement may stretch credulity. The notion however, that both Steve Miller, the acting IRS commissioner, and the Treasury inspector general investigating the complaints, J. Russell George knew of the activities for months, while the Attorney General and President did not, until reportage by the press, appears to stretch the truth in ways that would make Mr. Fantastic and Stretch Armstrong envious .

During April and May of 2012 the Department of Justice obtained the phone records of more than 20 separate phone lines for the AP, its editors and journalists. They did not follow Justice Department policy of giving news organizations the opportunity to negotiate or contest the subpoenas before casting their huge net. The explanation for this irregularity is the old standby of National Security, but more than 50 major media outlets have protested the activity and publicly called for action. Attorney General Holder testified that he recused himself last year from the AP probe so as to “avoid the appearance of conflict”. According to press secretary Jay Carney however, The White House had “no knowledge of any attempt” by the Department of Justice to collect the phone records of Associated Press journalists other than press reports. So the Attorney General knew of an operation with far reaching National Security consequences, which was sure to make headlines once it was revealed, but did not bother to inform his boss. That is certainly something that makes you go hmmm.

I am not a President Obama hater. There are a myriad of musings in which I give him credit where credit is due. Nor have I fallen into the derangement syndrome about his birth certificate or supposed Muslim heritage. Here though, I must pointedly ask how this president, or any president, could have events of this magnitude swirling around him, but NOT know anything about them. Is President Obama’s managerial style such that he reserves only the ceremonial duties for himself and delegates ALL else to underlings? Since he obviously cannot trust Vice President Biden to handle anything of import we must deduce, if we continue to follow the no-nothing defense, that anonymous, unelected officials in the administration are responsible for not only day-to-day functions, but matters of paramount importance too.

As for Attorney General Holder, he has become the Teflon Don of AGs. Black Panthers at polling places, Fast and Furious gun deals and Associated Press subpoenas fall off him like racketeering charges on John Gotti. Holder’s suits are not as nice, nor his hair as coiffed, but his straight faced denials of knowledge would make Gotti as green as artificial turf. State officials and captains of industry have been fired after being publicly excoriated for much less, even when they honestly knew nothing of the goings on during their watch. Holder knows all this but, when questioned about any impropriety, steadfastly continues to simply say, I don’t know.

Okay, so maybe a lack of executive experience could have explained how something got away from the President during his first term, but not this far into a second term. He would have to know something about each of these cases simply because of their magnitude. Would not his daily briefings by Cabinet and Department heads contain at least some mention of some of this? Is he so removed from everything and everyone that none of his aides dared mention the actual business of government to him? Or were those aides leading rogue operations and purposely keeping the President in the dark because the Constitutional scholar in him would never have allowed it? He is smarter than all of us, and knows it, but he relinquishes control to play golf with Tiger Woods? Not likely.

All those options seem outlandish to me. What is more likely, is that a politician schooled in the rough elbows of Chicago politics encouraged, at least in part, some of the actions and took the (im)plausible denial route on the others. With helpful members of the press backing him, and an ever present race card up his sleeve, it is more likely to me that President Obama’s hubris makes him believe that no one will dare challenge what he says. Of course many people will, and have, defended him to death, while declaring that the government is too big for the President to know everything that is going on. If you are reading this and believe that, there’s nothing I can say to change your mind. If, however, you are reading this and agree with me that the President is either incompetent or dissembling, I can only ask, what now? Like those who suffer Mayhem in the Allstate commercials are we but spectators to the disorder, or are we the agents from A-Nother Insurance Company who have no mas pantalones? Because if the President is incompetent or lying and we do nothing, so are we.

Friday, March 29, 2013

My Heroes Wear Green

I arrived at my permanent duty assignment with the 7th ID (light) on 2 November, 1986 and was met at the door by 1st Sgt Darryl Gates, SFC Stephen Turner and SSgt. Michael J. Mills. All three men were Vietnam veterans, 1st Sgt Gates with the 25th ID, the Electric Strawberry, SFC Turner with the 23rd ID, Americal and SSgt. Mills with the 1st ID, Big Red One LRRPs. It will, no doubt, come as a shock that I had a big mouth back then and quickly talked myself into a position as the Company RTO, as well as the Guidon Bearer. The three men all took turns trying to dissuade me from both gigs, but I was having none of it. RTOs get lots of face time in war movies and the Guidon Bearer gets to be out front leading the way. That was, to the best of my recollection, the last time I failed to do exactly what any of those warriors “suggested” and that may very well have kept me alive. That’s a debt I can never repay and why, to this day, my Gold Standard for warriors are the Vietnam Veterans. They are, quite simply, my heroes.

I knew I was a soldier when I was 5. I had to wait to enlist until I turned 17 and left for Basic Training/AIT at Ft. Benning, GA a little over a week after I graduated high school. Every man in my family older than me had done it and, though there was no pressure, it was just kind of known I’d do it too. I turned down a chance for an appointment to the US Air Force Academy, US Army Flight School and a full, college ride on the Navy’s dime if I would agree to be an officer on a submarine. I wanted to be an infantryman, mainly so I could bust a cap in a bad guy’s ass. Any bad guy ass would have done. Let me be clear. I have no awards or decorations for valor. What I have is 4 years of honorable service as an enlisted man, most of it in the finest fighting force known to God or man: the 9th Infantry Regiment “Manchu”. The men with whom I served, from the battalion commander, LTC John G. Hathaway, another ‘Nam vet with the 173rd who lost a lung in that war, down to my fellow privates were then, and are now, my heroes.

Since my time in uniform I have had the high honor to meet everyone from Medal of Honor recipients to payroll specialists in the Army National Guard. I’ve escorted men and women home from deployments in the Middle Eastern war zones and taken KIAs to their last resting place. I’ve had a beer with veterans of the Frozen Chosin, Battle of the Bulge, Ia Drang Valley, Fallujah, and Operation Anaconda, as well as veterans from a number of places no one but they remember and a lot of men and women who never heard a shot fired in anger. They were draftees, veterans for whom it is a familial obligation to serve, kids who enlisted after 9/11, some that served between wars and many who would simply rather not talk about it. Every one of them is my hero.

When I first met Sgt Major Jon Cavaiani, Medal of Honor recipient and a POW for nearly 2 years it was after a ceremony in Philadelphia. We were at the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial Society “Hooch” and I asked if I could buy him a drink. When he said sure, I told him how impressed I was with his citation and how proud I was to have served in his Army. He, with the equanimity I have found to be consistent amongst Medal of Honor recipients, said, “Ah hell Hill, it wasn’t anything you wouldn’t have done”. “I’d like to think so Sgt Major”, I said, “but all I did was carry the radio for my infantry company”. I still vividly remember the look that only E-9s can summon as he grabbed me by the front of my shirt. “I don’t ever want to hear you say anything like that again. We’re a team. From the cooks in the mess hall to the LRRPs out alone in Indian Country, no man can do anything without the others. Every man’s service is a valuable as any other. I just happened to be where I was”. For that, as much as the Medal he wears around his neck, the Sgt Major will always be my hero.

To me, it’s always been braver somehow to enlist during war, but a WWII Ranger who served with the 2nd Battalion and climbed the cliffs of Pont du Hoc thought differently. I was standing in line at the opening of the World War II Memorial when I noticed two women wearing shirts with a photo of a WWII Ranger on the back. I asked who he was and they pointed to an older gentleman in line ahead of us. Turns out it was his sister and wife wearing the shirts. I was in awe of a man who could summon the courage to make it across the beach at Normandy and then climb the cliffs when seemingly ever German soldier on the planet was trying to kill him, and said as much. He looked at me rather mischievously and said, “When did you enlist son?” “In 1985”, I responded. “I don’t remember any war going on then”, he said. “No sir, it was pretty quiet”, I said, with somewhat down-turned eyes. It was then that he put a knuckle beneath my chin and raised my eyes to meet his. “Well son, that makes YOU my hero. I enlisted because I had to. The war was on and we each had to do our part. YOU enlisted because you wanted to and that’s ever so more important to me”. He made my chest swell with pride, and for that, he and all the veterans of WWII, men and women who literally saved the planet, including my grandfather who served in Merrill’s Marauders, will always be my heroes.

I could go one about men such as Dr. Leonard Miller, an RTO in the 24th ID who went ashore at Inchon during the Korean War, or women such as Maureen Robinson, who served two tours as a nurse in Vietnam and adopted an orphan of the war. Or two of my Lionesses, a female soldier named Jess and female Marine named Erica who embraced me after a speech I gave one 4th of July, where I extolled them and theirs for their service. I never forget Sgt Major Cavaiani’s admonition and have adopted it as my own. If it’s good enough for him it is certainly good enough for me, and I have passed it along to the O.E.F. and O.I.F. veterans with whom I have become so enamored. I address each and every one of them as Hero, because in my mind they, too, are a special breed worthy of the moniker. Once, after we escorted an O.E.F. veteran home to his house, his parents had a barbecue and beer spread ready for us all. The young Sgt was clearly overwhelmed by the attention and didn’t truly have the words ready when someone shouted, SPEECH, SPEECH. I yelled, “WELCOME HOME HERO! Anything you say will be right”. I remember how embarrassed he looked as he said, “I’m not a hero sir. I’m just a soldier who did his job”. I pushed my way through the throng surrounding him, grabbed him by both shoulders and said, “Sgt I truly love you, but I get to choose my heroes”.

I can understand why those who have worn the uniform would shy away from being called hero, even if they do wear the Medal of Honor around their neck. There’s something a little crass about calling yourself a hero, even if you are one. Hero is a word that gets thrown around for performances on the basketball court and for writing big checks to good causes. It’s a word many people don’t think much about when they use it. I don’t consider my service heroic and would certainly never call myself hero. I know though, that in a country with somewhere north of 330 million people, only about 25 million of them have EVER worn the uniform of the military. I also know that the overwhelming majority have never seen combat and for those that did, most sometimes wish they hadn’t. None of that matters to me. The brother/sisterhood of arms is bigger than that. It’s about knowing how the other guy feels when he talks of the people with whom he served. It’s knowing that, no matter our skin color, political affiliation, economic circumstance, age or gender, all of us once upon a time raised our right hand and swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, and sincerely meant it. Every person who has every worn the uniform of the United States military signed that blank check, up to and including our very lives, when we swore the oath and I have yet to meet any who regretted it. It may be different for some, but, because I get to choose, everyone who has ever worn the uniform will always be one of my heroes and, I, now and forever, get to choose my heroes.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Black and White and Read All Over

Philadelphia Magazine recently published an article titled, “Being White in Philly”, which has apparently convinced our very honorable mayor, Michael Nutter, that only black people and/or elected officials are allowed to discuss matters of race. Mayor Nutter was so “disgusted” by the piece that he called on the city’s Human Relations Committee to investigate some of the issues discussed in the article and, if warranted, to rebuke both Philadelphia Magazine and the author of the story Bob Huber. Apparently Mayor Nutter has confused criticism of the story with “official” government action to shut down the story. His honor might do well to remember that The Declaration of Independence was read aloud in Philadelphia and was a direct response to unwarranted government intrusion into the lives of people here in what would become the United States.

I am, as most of you know, a white guy. A white guy of Northern European stock so I’m white even in the summer months, which means the Mayor doesn’t deem me fit to discuss matters of race, and certainly not matters of race relations here in Philadelphia. I seldom do as I am told, (yes I know another shock), though. What I do as often as not, is to speak my mind with as much ordinary sense as I can muster. With that thought upper most in mind, I am here to tell the august Mr. Nutter that he is out of his friggin’ mind if truly believes this is the way to further race relations in the city. Race relations here in Philly are, as was plainly evident in the article, tenuous at best, and fractured at worst.

The problem is that people are afraid to attach their names to anything having to do with race. That’s not unique to Philly, but with the overwhelming majority of the city government, both elected and not, being black many people are scared of the inevitable responses from others if they voice their true feelings. You’re either a racist or race traitor, depending upon the color of your skin if you do or say anything contrary to the party line. If any of the people quoted in the story had given their full names it is not a stretch to believe that their lives would have become more complicated. The complication could and would have taken many forms, from glares in the grocery to sudden problems with Licenses and Inspections. The much loathed Philadelphia Parking Authority is the only agency in the city that runs with any efficiency, but when the others have nothing to do except inspect you it is amazing how well they too can run.

A person who had the temerity to voice an actual opinion in a magazine article which was inconsistent with the prevailing views would instantly be presumed racist. If you had the foolhardiness to attach your name to that statement too though, all the agencies of government would somehow become as efficient as the much hated Philadelphia Parking Authority and you would be Public Enemy Number One. You see, the mayor, who loves to throw the word ass around to seem tough, is actually an I.D.G., an Inordinately Delicate Gentleman, who himself was blamed for not being “black enough” not all that long ago. Since rising to national prominence with the US Conference of Mayors, Nutter has had to shift from the pragmatic, problem solving guy he promised to be, to just another big city cog in the liberal machine. He, like Attorney General Eric Holder, is completely comfortable calling everyone else a coward for not speaking about race relations, but when they do they’re called racist. Why would anyone bother when those are the only two predetermined results?

So why am I bothering? Well I am not racist and I am certainly not a coward. What I am is someone who is increasingly sick and tired of government officials telling me what I can and cannot do or say. It is Nutter, and those like him, who are afraid to discuss race because they do not want the dirty truth to ever be public. The dirty truth is that race relations are strained because they want them to be. For generations we have been told that solving society’s ills is just a matter of throwing enough government and enough money at the problem. The truth is that the political system prefers a permanent underclass from which votes are guaranteed. Nutter’s predecessor was referring to Philly when he infamously said, “the brothers and sisters are in charge” while speaking at a regional meeting of the NAACP. An attempt was made to temper the statement, but to everyone here in Philly the point was abundantly clear.

Philadelphia is 44% black, 39% white and 12.5% Hispanic, with “other” races making up the difference. The brothers and sisters are running the city though. The Mayor, District Attorney, Police Chief, Fire Chief and City Council President are all black. Somehow though that hasn’t translated into much of anything for the brothers and sisters not in government employ. Philadelphia has the highest rate of “Deep Poverty” in the United States, 12.9%, or some 200,000 people, most of who are, no doubt, black. Instead of making strides to address that problem, Nutter cries foul on an article in a magazine which had little regional, let alone national attention until he voiced his disgust at its “reckless disregard for speech”.

Mayor Nutter certainly knows how to run a city though. Only a day before this pathetic attempt to silence a magazine, the mayor was booed off the podium in City Council Chambers by the city worker’s unions. In the city which arguably created the American brand of democracy the First Amendment is only a right when the government or the unions say it is. Neither knows how to comport themselves with anything approaching civility or etiquette. All either can do is feed at the trough of the public coffers. The coffers are only full enough to feed at if a public exists to fill them. With the mayor acting as High Commissioner for Race he is fundamentally implying that only government can discuss race relations and only on its terms. Well Mr. Mayor that tactic is what loses you not only votes but taxpayers.

Philadelphia cannot consider itself too big to fail. As Detroit saws its industries sink into ever burgeoning debt, the old ways failed to adapt and the white flight was on. Now Detroit’s Police Department won’t even respond to some types of calls anymore. How long before both white and black citizens who are able to depart the city for good do so? Race relations are horrible in the city because of just this attitude. More people than would care to admit it harbor feelings akin to those in the article because we have been splintered by race intentionally. It does not do the powers that be any good to have the hoi polloi united against them, so they raise false tumult to distract us. Maybe too many of my fellow Americans have become “low information voters” or are genuinely content with receiving public largesse and will not rock the boat. I certainly hope not. If we have become the illiterate and unwashed masses there won’t be any race by which to discern us. We will simply be what the pols want: a permanent and dirty underclass.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Garden of Eden Need Not Apply

The Supreme Court of the United States is set to hear two cases which could change how we as Americans see each other moving forward into the 21st Century. The court may, or may not hear arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case which could decide the constitutionality of California’s gay marriage ban. I say may or may not because the court has yet to rule on whether or not a group called has the legal “standing” to represent California in the case since they have no personal stake as it is defined by the court. The Court will hear arguments in United States v. Windsor, which challenges the section of the Defense of Marriage Act that denies federal benefits to same-sex couples even if they are legally married in their states. As someone who has been married three times I am either an expert, because I now know what not to do, or I am a twice a failure, depending upon your viewpoint. What I am either way though is someone who has heard the rites recited by several wedding officiants and none of them referenced sex when posing the questions of marriage. To my mind, that’s because marriage is now, and has forever been, only about love.

There have been other laws enacted to determine who could and, more importantly, could not be married. Here in North America, laws were enacted from the late 17th century onward to prevent the “mixing of the races”. Those laws were enforced until 1967 when Loving v. Virginia was held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and ALL anti-miscegenation laws were struck down. Some of the same arguments used to prevent the mixing of the races are currently being used in opposition to same sex marriage; “It is against God’s will”, “it violates Natural Law”, “it turns a moral wrong into a civil right”. In my opinion, those arguments all have in common a basis in some sort of religious scripture and should not even be a starting point for discussions. That, to me, they are simply daft is more to the point.

I can hear the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth through the ether as people read that statement, but I seemingly must remind people that freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. Since no one actually knows for certain what God’s will is regarding anything, I would suggest that none of us make our decisions based solely on that. Rending and gnashing again for sure, but consider the Americans who were here when the Europeans arrived. While they may have agreed with the sentiment banning same sex marriage, they would not have considered it as the word of the Christian God, and all those good Christians would have deemed them savages worthy of eternal damnation just the same. It is fairly well known that I believe in no god, but I do not have any beef with those that do, provided they do not attempt to force their beliefs on me. In the case of same sex marriage, those who believe it against God’s will are attempting to play Christians and Indians, with those of us unopposed to same sex marriage as the Indians.

I don’t play Christians and anything though, so unless someone is prepared to begin the Inquisition anew we should all agree that only secular arguments need apply whenever a law is going to affect all of us. We should, as calmly as possible, present our case(s) and let the majority decide. Unfortunately, that is not how the world works, so we are treated to whether or not something is moral more often than not. The problem with that is that morals change with the times. One of the most common arguments against same sex marriage is that it violates “traditional values”. With traditional being defined by Merriam-Webster as, an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior it is hard for me to see what people believe traditional to be. It was once traditional for men to wear wigs and stockings, but that’s not the norm now, unless you’re Dennis Rodman or a drag queen. Likewise, polygamy was once traditional and even lauded by the same scripture people use to demonize same sex marriage today. I’m guessing no one reading this believes either of those to be traditional, much less normal.

Another argument which bears discussing is that same sex marriage is a State’s Rights issue. Then all those crazy liberals who want the world to implode could be happy and us God fearin’ folks could remain safe in our marriages. Unfortunately for those hitching their wagons to this argument, the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution states: Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof. So, while the Marriage License Laws for a man and a woman to marry vary from state to state and there are differences in requirements in the various states, a marriage between a man and a woman performed in one state must be recognized by every other state. The reason(s) for this are simple: you cannot have legally married people denied rights or privileges by various states, or criminalized in others as was the case in Loving v. Virginia. People travel for work, education and amusement every day, all across the country and, as we all know, shit happens. Of the over 1,100 federal benefits of marriage, none apply to civil unions, even if those unions are recognized by the state in which you reside. Now imagine you and your same sex spouse are on vacation in another state and the worst happens. Are we saying that we are in favor of making that worst time even harder because the two people who have pledged their love to each other just happen to be of the same gender? Are we also saying that if you’re gay the federal government deserves a larger share of your income via taxes? Neither of those statements sounds very conservative, nor compassionate to me.

I recognize that nothing I say here, or anywhere else for that matter, will change the mind of those for whom the Biblical Word of God is inviolable, but I would hope that none reading this now are in that camp. The Westboro Baptist Church believes they are in the right when it comes to same sex marriage, as do the Taliban commanders who dynamited the Buddhas of Bamiyan. While I am not suggesting that everyone who disagrees with same sex marriage is in that stratum, I am saying that they most certainly champion your cause simply because they believe two people of the same sex cannot love one another as the tenants of matrimony dictate. Times change though, and my hope is that people today do not hold to the WBC or Taliban ideas of marriage anymore than they hold to the idea of a wife as the property of her husband. It is the 21st century and time for homosexuals to be allowed the same strife we as heterosexuals have had for thousands of years.

I’m wholly in favor of allowing same sex marriages, and not because I looked absolutely smashing as a groomsman in a same sex wedding and want to see more violet, pirate tuxedoes in my future. I also don’t believe love is all we need. I’d prefer shame and humiliation heaped upon my enemies and consistently good parking before universal love, but I do believe it is a step towards making the entire world a better place. Palaces won’t fall, dogs will not start dating cats, and the fabric of society will not come apart at the seams if two men or two women marry. Nor will the heterosexual marriages already consummated be lessened. What we will have is more family units, and less reason for government to intrude into our bedrooms, and isn’t that what traditional values are all about?

Monday, March 25, 2013

When Muskets Were A Must

Last year the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to protest at military funerals.  They cited the 1st Amendment as a rationale and suggested that offensive or unpopular speech is the speech most in need of protection.  While I understand that, I disagreed vehemently with the Court as to what the right to Free Speech entails.  However, if we are going to agree that the Bill of Rights are just that, Rights, and not privileges then we must except them as they are and not attempt to attach any modern opinions to them, unless of course we are prepared to utilize the methods by which the Constitution can be amended.  Unfortunately, too many people are now engaged in rants about the 2nd Amendment and what the Founding Fathers meant by it.  I am not a Constitutional scholar, but I am of above average intelligence and can understand the militia argument.  I am not going to argue that here, but simply say: the Founding Fathers named it the Bill of Rights and not the Bill of Privileges.

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, the Bill of Rights are: A formal summary of those rights and liberties considered essential to the people”.  A privilege is something enjoyed by a person beyond the advantages of most.  None of us would want any group enjoying privileges of speech, worship, or assembly not afforded to us all as citizens of the United States.   Why then does the 2nd Amendment engender such hostility and parsing of its text?  It’s simple.  Bad people do bad things to good people with guns.  That’s truly what this is all about.  That and nothing more.  I was at the funeral for LCpl. Snyder when the WBC protested and saw the pain it caused his father.  I saw too that pain revisited when the Supreme Court affirmed their right to cause that pain.  When I ranted about the unfairness of the verdict I was told by numerous people things to the effect of, “I don’t like it, but it’s the correct verdict.  We don’t want to limit WBC only to find ourselves limited when we wish to protest some action of the government and that’s where this would go if we don’t let them protest at funerals, as vile and despicable as they may be.”  

I still disagree with that sentiment, but do understand the argument.  In his opinion on Schenck vs. United States Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. is typically, and inaccurately, quoted, you can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater.  What he actually said was, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”  The difference is that falsely shouting fire is a reasonable restraint on Freedom of Speech.  Just as limiting military grade and/or fully automatic weapons from citizens is a reasonable restraint on the Freedom to Keep and Bear Arms.  What’s lost in this discussion is the distinction.  Military grade does not mean weapons that look like, or bear common attributes with, actual military weapons.  An AR-15 is NOT a military grade weapon.  An M-16 or LAWS Rocket are.  Just because something looks like something does not make it something.  You can buy a Chevy Impala, festoon it with NASCAR stickers and paint, but it isn’t Jeff Gordon’s car, nor could it compete on the track.  

What this argument truly boils down to is emotion.  The emotion of seeing small, innocent kindergarteners riddled with bullets fired by a mad man from a weapon that looks like the one a soldier carries into battle.  No one gives a damn if you want to fire a thousand rounds into a stump somewhere out in the woods, but everyone cares when an evil man uses a weapon for nefarious ends, and quite rightly so.  Blaming the inanimate object and not the user is the issue.  Nowhere in the United States is the speed limit higher than 75 mph, but dozens of models of cars and motorcycles are sold that can easily exceedtwice that limit.   Why should we be allowed to purchase a Ferrari that can attain speeds in excess of 180 mph when there is nowhere to legally drive  that fast?  Simple.  Because we have a driver’s license and the money to afford one.  There is no difference in kind between the maniac who drives his Ferrari into a busload of children and the maniac who shoots up a classroom, but no one even considers banning cars that can drive that fast.

In 2010, according to the National Highway Traffic safety Administration, 32,885 people were killed in automobile accidents, of those 6,414 were passengers, 4,280 were pedestrians and 618 were pedalcyclists.   That means 11,312 people, who were not driving, were killed by cars in 2010.  In the same year, 11,015 people were ruled as homicides due to firearms.  Those numbers are stunning when you look at them; especially if you consider another 21,000 drivers were killed in those auto accidents.  To be fair, in the same year another 19,908 deaths were either firearm related suicides or accidents.  Which still begs the question, why not just ban cars?  Because that’s nonsensical is why.  No rational human being believes the car is to blame when six teenaged girls are killed because the driver was texting while driving.  That’s no consolation to the families of the dead girls, but the rest of us say, What a shameand forget it the next day.

I am not suggesting anyone should ever forget the sweet angels murdered in Sandy Hook, but I am also not blaming the instrument of their deaths.  I blame the man who repeatedly pulled the trigger.  No one may need a car that is capable of being driven 200 mph, but we are all capable of owning one and no one, save some environmental loons, would suggest otherwise.  The argument, therefore, that no one needs a semi-automatic weapon is not only sophistry and sophomoric when seen in the context of a Ferrari, but completely and utterly wrong to boot.  The Founding Fathers feared an intrusive, big government would counter what they had fought and bled to create, so the 2nd Amendment was adopted to guarantee that we would always remain a free state.  We can argue back and forth on the language of “a well regulated militia”, but ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” is the salient point.  Farmers, longshoremen, bankers and drunks collected their trusty muskets and with some military instruction, a lot of heart and not a little luck, defeated the most powerful army in the world.  They did it not with weapons which could only be used for hunting, nor with handguns, nor low caliber weapons.  They did it with the most technologically advanced weapon of the day.  That weapons are now more technologically advanced, as are cars, has never been the point.

Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, et al made lofty speeches, wrote lofty tomes and proclaimed lofty ideas about what the United Colonies should be become, but it was the lowly citizen armed with a musket who made those dreams a reality.  To this day, members of the United States Army Infantry wear crossed muskets as the symbol of their branch.  They don’t wear those muskets to honor the Red Coats who massacred Americans in Boston, nor the husband who murdered his wife, but rather in homage to the men who left their homes to fight for an idea, musket in hand.  That idea is who, and what we are.  I am not suggesting that some limitations to the Bill of Rights should not be considered and, if after sober thought, adopted.  I am saying though that denying good, law abiding people the right to anything because an evil man may make use of it and wreak havoc is simply not who we are as a people.  We should make it ever more difficult for criminals or mentally unbalanced people to attain firearms, just as we do with cars, but we should never, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, trade freedom for security.  If we do, we are nothing more than a lesser version of the shining city on the hill our founders wanted us to be, and rights will be replaced by privileges, with the American Dream lost.  

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Believe It or Not

I am not an atheist for one reason only: it simply takes too much work.  An atheist has to be upset by the word god existing on our currency and could not possibly utter the word god when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.  Neither of those things bother me at all, nor do a myriad of other religion inspired things like nativity scenes in the public square or a crucifix hung on a wall.  Atheists are also always called upon to defend their godless by the faithful.  Yeah? Don’t believe in God huh?  Well how do you explain …….?  I do not care what anyone chooses to believe when it comes to religion; unless you worship in such a way as to be an immediate danger to others.  I can make the argument that all organized religions are a danger to anyone who is not one of their adherents, but you get my point.  The problem arises though that I cannot be left to my secularity by the faithful.  Someone or other has to explain to me the error of my ways or take umbrage at some slight, perceived or otherwise, to their faith.  I am, therefore, not an atheist.  I simply do not believe in god.

I wish there was some epiphany to which I could point as the seed of my disbelief, but no one event or experience comes to mind.  I was, after all, baptized as an Irish Catholic, dutifully made my Communion and Confirmation, sang in my Catholic elementary school choir as a fourth grader and can still remember the majority of the prayers.  As I made my way through the above lessons I always had the vague and eventually overt notion that this religion stuff was all just a racket of some sort.  Not that Sister Colleen nor Father Al were bad people or even profiting off the faithful, but rather that too many people seemed to have bought into something which I simply could not believe.  It wasn’t so much a mass hypnosis as it was a go along to get along and any of you who have known me for any length of time know that I am many things, but not one to do that.

I have visited many churches and the odd synagogue or three and, while there, do as the faithful do.  I will cover my head for my Jewish friends and kneel, sit, stand, kneel for my Catholic ones.  I can even admit to understanding why the pageantry and ritual of it appeals.  After an all too brief exposure though my mind will begin to wander and I will wonder how best to make a graceful exit from whatever house of worship I might find myself in.  I absolutely marvel at the artisanship of St. Louis Cathedral and the Sistine Chapel, but that is what it brings to my mind: the artisanship of the mortals who created it from stone, paint and glass, not the supposed breath of god that compelled them to do so.  I no more believe that an alleged perfect being, who created man, would then speak to any of them, directing his wishes, than I believe that the pig in the Geico commercial is actually flying first class.   

Why would a perfect being and all faiths believe their god to be THE perfect being, after having created man need to tell usanything?  Wouldn’t he have imbued our genetic code with all the markers necessary for us to worship him or her faithfully?  Why would a perfect being create something decidedly less than perfect, but fail to provide it innate rules for worship?  Why wait until after the creations screwed up to demand that they worship the big guy in specific ways to exalt him, or her?  I mean truly, what perfect being would give a rat’s ass what his creations do, unless that was part of the program from the get go?  I mean a perfect being couldn’t possibly make a mistake, right?  Because if he did that would mean the perfect being was either all powerful or all knowing, but not both because to be both would mean everything you did could only be perfect.

Bo Derek may be a 10, but neither she nor Cindy Crawford, (feel free to add your own here and I’m perfect okay with it being Clooney or Pitt, by the way), are perfect, not in the biblical sense anyway.  Nor was the contemptible Mother Teresa, or the gracious Pope John Paul, or the prophet Muhammad, or Judah.  They were all just what you and I are: imperfect human beings.  It is there that I have snared some of the faithful.  If you are a believer and are nodding your head as you read saying, “well of course those people are imperfect human beings”, than I have you partly in my boat.  Because if the aforementioned people are imperfect but they are if not the creators of their religion, they are indeed progenitors of them.  If we agree there we must therefore agree that no religion can be perfect for they are all man-made.

I know, I know.  It was the word of god, or the spirit of same that moved mere mortals to create the religions to praise him.  I won’t go into the specifics of how an illiterate merchant was dictated to solely in Arabic to establish his, or how another founder was actually the son of god, but him at the same time.  Those conundrums never move the ball because you either believe or you don’t, and I don’t.  What I will say instead is that if all humans are fraught with imperfection, equals parts good and evil, avarice and philanthropy, then anything created by them to worship their creator must itself be intrinsically flawed.  Even if we presuppose that the spirit of god moved them to create something, no imperfect being could possibly create a perfect rendition of what the perfect being wanted.  Truthfully, it occurs to me that not only would no perfect being need our supplication, there is no reason for said being to want it. 

If by now your hackles are up and you are ready to start typing furiously to expose the errors of my words, do not bother.  I’m not an atheist.  I just don’t believe in god.  This missive is only about me and no shot across the bow for any of you.  It is simply me expressing a view that I hold dear and, hopefully, explaining some of the why I do so.  It has always annoyed me that the creator would create us and then demand that we worship him.  Seems a bit cursory and superficial for someone that can chart the course of planets and move the tides to expose the seabed, doesn’t it?  I, for one, could not care less what entertains those humans I consider beneath me.  I do not spend any time wondering why American IdolDancing with the Stars or Duck Dynasty not only survive but thrive.  I chalk it up to the general appalling, illiteracy of the masses.  Should I not believe that as far from perfect as I am, that a perfect being would be similarly unconcerned not only with our daily routines, but would give our machinations nary a thought?  

I know, I know.  It’s because god is so loving that he/ she cares about us.  Didn’t Jesus restore the sight of the blind man he met on the road?  Well if I believe he did, I would have to ask why not just cure all blindness?  Do some people deserve to be hindered such?  Again, I know I know.  It is not for us to understand the ways of the lord.  Yeah well that is where I have to leave the wagon train of religion.  If we are supposed to love our brother, without exception, why should god do otherwise?  Ahh… because god moves in mysterious ways my son.  It is not for us to understand his will.  Well, uhh, yeah, but that’s not coherent, much less proportionate.  It seems like the created has to do all the work in this relationship, constantly striving to attain a perfection he cannot achieve.  Might just be me, but that seems like a pretty unethical thing for a perfect being to do.  

That leads me to the question of ethics.  All the major religions believe that without them the world would be a lawless, contumacious place.  Dogs would be dating cats and evil would reign across the world as it did in Gotham in the last Batman franchise.  Why though would this be necessarily so?  Many civilizations existed before the major religions and some even thrived.  I am aware of no annotated scholarly work that suggests atheists are more prone to crimes of violence or greed.  I would posit a guess that were we to undertake such a treatise that we would find many more acts of an egregious nature have been committed in the name of religion, than have been in the furtherance of atheism.  Muhammad didn’t put entire villages to the sword because he didn’t believe, but rather because he did and they had the temerity to not believe as he did.  Likewise, Torquemada didn’t sentence heretics to the rack, or burn them at the stake for being atheists, but because they had the gall to be witches!!   Proving your innocence of course was as likely to kill you as his proving your guilt though, so I fail to see how that furthers your religious concepts, but hey, what do I know?  After all, I’m not even smart enough to believe in god.  I am, to put it succinctly, without knowledge.

This leads us to why I am not an agnostic either.  Not only do I see that as a milquetoast way of addressing an issue, but it opens the door to the Gnostics were the ones with “special” knowledge of Christ and god.  All others were agnostic, literally without knowledge.  Forget that the Gnostics have been roundly extirpated for centuries because they were/are, apparently heretics to true Christianity.  Odd that those who most loudly profess to “know” the word of god would be most roundly denounced for it.   It’s sort of like Dionne Warwick should have known her Psychic Hotline was going to go bankrupt before it did, shouldn’t she?  Although there are pagan, Gnostic, Jewish and Greek influences in the modern Bible, Christianity became a separate religion and the Gnostics were deemed heretics.  Again, not because they failed to believe, but rather because they did not believe as the prevailing authority did.  Agnostics then have the double whammy of being despised as intellectually lazy by both the fervent believers and the equally fervent non-believers.  

All of which leads me back to where we started.  I am not a believer in any religion nor god, am not an agnostic, and not an atheist because all of those positions require that I deem what someone else does as to be blasphemous, evil, thick headed, obtuse or stupefying.  All that takes much more work than I am prepared to expend in what, for me, is the pursuit of proving a negative.  I sincerely could not care less how you worship if I am left to my own devices unfettered.  I can sincerely appreciate the beauty of a sunrise with those of you who believe it to be god’s will, as easily as I can who will seek to explain the red coloration of it in strictly Stephen Hawking-esque terms.  I only ask that we just simply regard it silence.  

Thursday, February 28, 2013

All That's Left to Respect Is the Gun

Are you going to believe what I told you happened, or rely on your lying eyes?  That appears to be what former Philadelphia Police Lt. Jonathan Josey has to say about a video in which he sucker punches a woman half his size.  Even Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey characterized the action as reprehensible and referred to Josey as a 6’ 1” muscle on a radio show in Philadelphia.  Josey was found Not Guilty in a bench trial by Judge Patrick Dugan who, it turns out, is married to Philadelphia Police Officer Nancy Farrell-Dugan.  According toThe Philadelphia Inquirer, when Josey was found not guilty the courtroom which was “packed with police officers, erupted in applause,” and among these officers whose Motto is Honor * Service* Integrity was Mrs. Dugan.  The question is not why the judge found Josey not guilty.  Based just on the information in the previous sentences, I am fairly certain we all have a good idea.  The question truly is: Why was the courtroom “packed”with ANY police officers?  

The Philadelphia Police Department has had its share of problems in the last few years.  Dozens of Philly cops have been arrested in the past three years.  The charges range from the misdemeanor assault of the coward Jonathan Josey to theft of services from area utility companies, to drug dealing and manslaughter.  In the case of the manslaughter charge, had any of you reading this done what that cop did you would have been charged with premeditated murder, but that is something for another day.  What concerns me now is just how Judge Dugan could believe that this ruling would not have ramifications for him?  Has the Philadelphia system of justice become such that the judges and police believe they are not accountable to the same laws as the rest of the city’s citizens?  Sadly, the answer appears to be yes.  

On a local talk radio show earlier today, Enrique Latoison, the attorney for the female sucker punched by Jonathan Josey, stated that Mrs. Dugan was heard to make a “disparaging, perhaps racist statement about the victim,” while in the hallway outside the courtroom before her hubby returned his verdict.  Mr. Latoison said he discounted it at the time, but was forced to consider it when he was driving home after the verdict.  As of today, Mr. Latoison has not ruled out the possibility that a federal Civil Rights violation might be in the offing for the coward Josey.  A similar thing happened in California when the officers who viciously assaulted Rodney King were acquitted in state court.  If that happens, the coward Josey might very well wish that Judge Dugan had found him guilty of misdemeanor assault because the penalties involved in a federal Civil Rights complaint are much higher than those for misdemeanor assault.

It is laughable when one hears the excuses that have been offered for why the coward Josey was found not guilty.  Apparently, Judge Dugan believed that the atmosphere at the Puerto Rican parade that day was such that the officers feared for their safety and thus, Josey who has said he “didn’t know he struck her, but thought he knocked a beer bottle from her hand,” was to be excused due to the tenseness of the overall situation.  First off, the coward Josey is over 200 pounds of muscle and allegedly a work out maniac and the victim was barely 5 feet tall.  Second, not one single officer followed Josey as he stalked his victim and finally, in the video it is clear that the majority of the boys in blue have their backs to the crowd.  Are we seriously supposed to believe that they feared for their safety so much that they would turn their backs to the threat?  If that is the case all those present should be fired for having IQs which are lower than the temperature that day.  

I am friends with a few members of the PPD, and acquainted with more.  Some of them may even be reading this now.  Don’t worry fellas.  I have no plans to out you.  I believe those men to be good, decent, honorable stewards of the public good.  Unfortunately though I must now rethink my position that officers like the coward Josey are in the distinct minority of the Philadelphia Police Department.  When the Philly F.O.P. held a fund raiser for the coward after he was dismissed from the force, I chalked it up to a union thing that just had to be done.  I found it distasteful, but understandable.  After hearing about the cheering in the courtroom and seeing the number of officers flanking the coward as he fist pumped his way down the street after the verdict exonerated him, I must now rethink my position.  Those members of the Philadelphia Police Department whom I know to be honorable, law abiding men who would no more do as the coward Josey did than would they steal candy from the mouths of children, MUST be in an ever shrinking minority.

As one who lived through the bad days of the New Orleans Police Department of the 1990s, I can say the signs were there before two officers committed murder with an aplomb that boggles any rational mind.  The NOPD had been slipping toward becoming a criminal syndicate for years before Len Davis and Antoinette Franks snuffed out the lives of innocents.  It started with substandard applicants becoming the norm, rather than those interested in serving the public filling the ranks.  The dismal pay further diluted the pool and then the means of making up that money just went from extra work to illegality for all too many.  What we have witnessed here in Philly may one day be looked back on as the first telling sign of how the PPD finally went wrong.  When police officers who have been sworn to uphold the law can pack a courtroom in support of one of their fellows who nonchalantly broke the law on video we have all lost.  When uniformed police officers can cheer a monster who not only struck a woman literally half his size, but who did so in full view of dozens of his fellow officers and thousands of city residents, we have not only lost but we have become endangered.  The final straw will be the coward Josey’s reinstatement with back pay.  I have no doubt that arbitration will get him his job back because, hey, he was found not guilty.  At that point his brothers in blue will no doubt cheer again and the rest of us who look to them for safety will just have to turn out the lights.  No more will we cross the street to avoid just shady customers, but now we’ll do it for the boys in blue too.