Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Finally!

Monica Conyers has seen the light and resigned from the Detroit City Council. Another shameful chapter in the history of our city has ended.

Of course, it took threats from the city itself as well as from Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox to actually get her to hang it up, so she doesn't deserve much credit for what might have been, if done immediately after her pleading guilty to bribery last Friday, an at least vaguely admirable act. When she actually did step down, it was with a terse three line resignation letter to the council clerk. Don't cry for me, Argentina.

What it means for Detroit is that we finally have the most polarizing vote on the Council gone. Conyers as a political player did more to drive support away from the city than even the former mayor whose name I will not mention. We can now actually get to the work of seeing ourselves in a regional light, a light which will surely allow us to progress on such major issues as Cobo Hall expansion and revamping the water system. A light which should make it easier for new Mayor Dave Bing and recently restored Council President Ken Cockrell Jr. (she thought about challenging that, if you'll recall) to move Detroit forward.

It is, as I have said all too often here, sad that it had to come to this before saner and cooler heads prevailed. Hopefully, we are now beyond crisis and into positive action.

Or do I hope too much?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Honduran Independence

An interesting and arguably illicit thing has happened this week. It puts Central America back in the news in a way in which it hasn't been in quite some time: a coup has ousted, at least for now, the democratically elected president of the tiny nation.

President Manuel Zelaya was arrested by his own military and forced into exile in nearby Costa Rica. He vows to return, and world opinion appears to support the view that he should. Maybe so, maybe no; I have long had the impression that the left desires that nations take care of their own politics. We only need witness President Obama's reluctance to speak out critically about the recent troubles in Iran as an example. Yet the world at large seems very intent that Zelaya be returned to power as soon as possible.

Is it because Zelaya is a leftist? I note with interest that the handful of his supporters who appeared outside of the Honduran Congress chanted things such as 'death to the bourgeoisie' in support of their exiled president. But it strikes me as relevant that his own party, presumably at least as leftward leaning as Zelaya, does not appear to harbor any great feelings for him.

Arguably, Honduras is seeing to its own future in attempting to reject a leader who, according to the newly sworn in President Roberto Micheletti, sought to grab a more permanent power base in the mold of Zelaya's ally, the Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. He believes that '80 - 90 percent' of the Honduran people support the recent actions to depose Zelaya. If he is right, then perhaps we ought to keep our mouths shut and respect that as the decision of the Hondurans to make for themselves.

In the end, all we can do for now is watch and wait. It does make for fascinating drama.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hours of Painstaking Research

I have reached a certain conclusion this morning which I am sure will shake the scientific community to its very foundations. Dare I say that it may ring more true than any other measurement of any other principle in our little world. It shall indeed overwhelm the mind of man.

It has taken me hours of careful and thorough research to establish my hypothesis. Yet being a man who takes extraordinary care in establishing truth, using great and tested formulas in carrying out my experiments, testing my thoughts and means against the absolute soul of reason, I have no doubt but that my findings are correct and would be easily verified by any objective authority.

There is my challenge to all who may dare take it on. Try as you might, you will be trying in vain to disprove what I have so firmly concluded this very day, in the culmination of my studies. Your work will only frustrate you, so perfect are my axioms. Try anyway, and weep, foolish one.

For now comes the unveiling. The perfection of perfections, the final say in my morning's efforts, true beyond reproach.

It is, quite frankly...you are prepared, aren't you?

Playing solitaire does not get a blog entry written.

Hold you applause. Let wonder and awe overwhelm you. Feel free to comment; yet, I ask humbly, what more is there to say?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saturday Musings

Do you ever get tired of all the politicians who think they are above everyone else even when the dice are stacked against them so obviously? Monica Conyers, Detroit City Councilwoman, has had her day in court, yet she still asked her adviser about her chances of reelection. The Governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, apologizes for a trip to see his mistress and compares himself to King David. Can they not see the arrogance that their questions infer? You're caught, folks, the jig is up. The very least you can do is back out as gracefully as you can.

I kind of feel sorry for Farrah Fawcett. She has been inadvertently overshadowed by the death the same day she passed on by Michael Jackson.

It would be easy to criticize both of their life choices. I find myself very quick to think of the issues and events in their lives negatively, so much so that I have to remind myself that none of that matters now. Whatever mistakes they may have made, the right response to their deaths is to pray for them. God will handle the rest; they will have to answer the questions about their lives. We should, I should, take more interest in the questions He will ask me. That thought is scary enough that it should be problems others may have to rest so far as I'm concerned.

Indeed, Ms. Conyers and Mr. Sanford should get our prayers too. The one difference is that they are still alive and as such their positions relative to their constituents are fair game. Even so, and I am guilty of not following this guide on too many occasions, those issues should be handled with charity.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I'm Becoming a Curmudgeon: Part Six in an Everlasting Series

Overmanaging! I am sick and tired of it. I am especially sick and tired of how everybody seems to think that stupid thoughts and actions are actually good thoughts and actions simply because it has been drilled into their minds that they're in truth genius despite themselves. Yet overmanaging still reigns supreme in baseball.

Jim Leyland, the overmanager of my Detroit Tigers, overmanages with rapacity. Wednesday night he used six pitchers in a nine inning game. Two of them only pitched to one batter. Then, in the bottom of the ninth with his closer on the hill and in trouble (shocking!), he has only one relief pitcher left. What would have happened if the Cubs had tied the game? This is not long term thinking or big thoughts, folks. And I don't care that it worked: that could just be plain old dumb luck. Either way, simply because you got the best result doesn't mean you should have done whatever you did the way you did. You can race across the freeway at rush hour and perhaps make it safely to the far side. You were still stupid to do it. So again: six pitchers in a nine inning game? Outside of a bizarre series of injuries, that is silliness on a grand scale.

Still, in comes the closer in yesterday's game, because of course you simply must have a closer because...you need a closer, darn it, and the guy gets a save despite giving up a home run and a double. He has an earned run average of over four runs per game, yet he's our star reliever because he's designated the closer. What a vaunted position in the parliament of fools!

They need to tighten up the save rule: it is easily the most overrated statistic in baseball. The winning run ought to be on deck in order for you to earn a save; or you should have to pitch at least three innings while preserving the lead for the starter to get one. As it is, anybody ought to be able to get three outs with a three run lead at the top level of play. They get a statistical credit for that? It's a useless measuring stick.

Overmangers need to get rid of the situational left hander. Some guy gets two million a year just because he has a left handed delivery simply so he might have to pitch to one left handed batter in a game? Stupid, overthinking strategy, and nothing more. How much difference can in make? One in five thousand? A fresh arm of major league quality ought to be able to get out any given major league batter most of the time. Why this inanity over extremely slim statistical chances?

Stop overmanaging and let the players play the game, Jim. And Tony and Ozzie and Mr. Torre too. Baseball would go faster without all the unnecessary delays, and you would still be thought godsends so long as you team wins. Which it can, if it's any good, without all the hoopla over inconsequential overthinking.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Not So Wrong as I Hoped I Was

It turns out that the ruling class of Iran isn't so willing to look into election irregularities as I had hoped they might. Reports now are that thousands of government troops and civilian militias are out and about to quell what has dwindled down to mere hundreds of protesters. Supreme Ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has made it clear that the election results will stand, meaning that the madmen will keep power.

I really never should have given them the time of day last week when I expressed hope that they might actually reconsider their original position. Tyranny breeds tyranny, and tyranny does not give up without being smashed. Still, with the memory of how easily Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union fell from communism, I had though that, just maybe, we might see another miraculous turn of events.

Now we see what radical Islam actually intends: to keep people under its thumb. There is no negotiating with such a force, as the Iranian opponents of the Ayatollah have experienced personally and directly. Madmen don't compromise. It's as simple as that.

Mr. President, are you paying attention now?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tuning Out toTune Back In

Last night I did something that I rarely do. Rather than watch the Tigers baseball game on the tube I elected to sit in my bedroom and listen to it on the radio. And while it was not exactly like the days of yore, it did allow me a little taste of that childhood of mine spent next to the small transistor radio of my Dad's hearing the wonderfully dulcet tones of Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey as they called Detroit games back in the day.

It probably helped that the game ended dramatically. Ryan Raburn hit a pinch hit walk off two run home run for the Tigers to down the Chicago Cubs 5-4. Further, there is strong link to my Tigers childhood fandom in that one of the current announcers, Jim Price, was a backup catcher on our 1968 World Series Championship team. The other, Dan Dickerson, has a great radio voice, a necessity when it comes to sports broadcasting on the small box.

Any way you slice it, It was a great way to rediscover the joy of listening to a game rather than watching it. To be sure, seeing probably trumps hearing, but I have to admit there is an added excitement in having to wait for someone else to tell the story. On TV or in person, you see what's developing and usually know what's about to happen as it unfolds. Yet when someone else controls the tempo, it adds something to the event. The unknown gets thrown into the mix; how can that not be enthralling?

I don't want to risk overstating the point, but it's a little like being read to by your parents. You're arguably more engrossed in the action precisely because you must actively imagine what's going on, and perhaps anticipate just a bit more what may happen next. It isn't simply there in front of you. You must take some part in the construction of the story. You must be able to accept that just maybe a guy from Franklin actually caught that foul pop into the stands and is taking home a souvenir.

Undoubtedly part of my reaction is nostalgic. I do miss Ernie and Paul recreating the action from old Tiger Stadium during those pre-teen nights, their words emanating magically from my father's old black and white transistor radio. But why should we ever want to leave our past completely behind us? Especially when we are talking about the good old days?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Bolt from the Blue

Last night we sat down, my wife, daughter, and I, and watched the Disney cartoon movie Bolt. It had arrived yesterday (it should have arrived sooner, no thanks to the United States Postal Service, but we'll save that issue for a later rant) as part of a movie club Abby has joined, and it made for a neat Monday evening treat to watch a family friendly movie as a family.

I liked it. It was classic and sentimental, with no real crudeness that I can remember. You know, crudeness, which seems to appear even in children's films these days? Why a show or movie aimed at seven year olds has to have bathroom humor even of the weakest strain is beyond me; it certainly can't make our kids more cosmopolitan or mature.

Yet that too is a rant for another day. What I want to talk about now is how we should never allow ourselves to get away from enjoying things aimed at the young. The Wind in the Willows may have been aimed at a younger audience, but I still find passages in it almost magical. Dumbo can bring a tear to the eye, and there are chills for me to this day when Aslan is resurrected and the stone table cracks. In short, we know, as C. S. Lewis points out so correctly, that youth is sentimental. And the proper amount of sentimentality is exactly what we should strive for in our own consideration of the people and things around us.

It is a quality which, it seems to me anyway, is most often found in our children's tales. I see it occasionally in stories aimed at general audiences: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books, and In Terry Brooks' The Sword of Shannara. The movie Rudy evokes the right spirit quite well too. Tim Burton's Big Fish is also quaint in a delightful way. Almost anything by Frank Capra should delight the truly open mind.

An interesting contrast can be illustrated in the fact that Silence of the Lambs, a revolting film on several levels and most of those levels cinematic rather than moral (I know the conclusions that some of my readers will jump towards but I assure you that, seen objectively, the movie fails in more ways than simple crudity) won best picture of 1991 over the truly marvelous and well spun Disney cartoon film Beauty and the Beast. If you would kindly set aside any shallow qualms about the folks at Disney adapting the story to its own purposes, I have to believe that part of reason for that travesty is that too many adults feel they can't possibly appear to like a kid's fairy tale ahead of something more 'stark' and 'gritty' and, that awful and arrogant word, 'modern'. We adults have risen above that level of sappiness.

If we have, that is truly sad. Sadder still, only the sentimental among us will recognize that.

Yet rather than end on that note, I will offer you the highest advice that I believe I can: read good children's books and watch good children's movies without shame. You will be a better adult for it. You might (horror of horrors!) find them better than even the best adult stories.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Europeanization of America

Among this morning's headlines on the website of the Detroit Free Press was an article about how the Democrats are willing to go on their own and attempt to set in place some type of national health care. They cite polls which support the idea.

I do not know all the details of their scheme other than that it would include government health care plans which might be purchased by middle class families. These plans would be set up alongside current private health care insurance.

But in the end, exactly what type of plan gets put into place won't matter. What will matter in the long run will be that we will have taken another step towards losing our identity as free people. We will have given over to the government one more reign of power over our lives. We will become, eventually, like Europe, where under the guise of helping everyone the middle class will simply demand more and more for itself in terms of entitlements.

The trouble with this approach, in part at least, is that it presumes that the money to fund such endeavors will always be available. It doesn't take into account things which Europe didn't take into account years ago when it set itself along this path: social programs of a magnitude such as national health care only work so long as there are people adding wealth to the economy to fund them. When people start taking more from the system than the system can provide, when they begin taking what isn't automatically theirs, the system must implode.

Or worse, and that generally is the case. The worst is exactly what we see in Canada and Europe: increasing government control of doctors and hospitals and the rationing of health care, or short cuts in its treatment. One of my Canadian friends had no option but to walk with a brace for several years rather than get the knee surgery which would have taken care of the problem more quickly. Why? Because the money wasn't there for the operation. Because when the government controls health care it ultimately controls who gets what out of it.

That is not a scheme which respects humanity or human rights. It is a scheme which makes people into the playthings of those in charge. We become the rag dolls of the government, who alone will dress us and feed us and care for us.

We do not want Washington to have that kind of power over our lives. Yet it is where we are headed if we don't get straight on what it should and should not do for us. Flawed though it may be, we must remember that nothing made by human hands and minds is perfect. Yet it is only by leaving choice to the people, especially in the critical areas of life, that we leave the power to them.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day

Happy Father's Day everyone out there who is a dad. But don't let this force you into showing respect for your pop today only. The greeting card people should never hold the power to channel your feelings about those close to you into one lonely date out of 365. Make every day Father's Day.

Now fire up the grill and crack a cold one, all you dads out there. And laugh good naturedly at the jokes which will be told at your expense at that.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Dry Spot in the Alley

For many years now a rather strange thing has happened with haunting regularity right outside of the place where I work. An alley runs immediately alongside our shop, and every time it rains a circle of about five feet in diameter dries out, in the exact same place, well ahead of the the remainder of the alleyway.

When it snows, the snow will melt faster, sometimes quite amazingly fast. So fast that there will still be several inches of powder running smack up to the circle, leaving the edge of the snow with the appearance something like surface tension on an almost overfilled glass. Consequently, in the winter we often have the unusual sight of perfectly dry cement on extremely cold days.

I have long wondered about that spot. I would love to know what causes it; is it caused by some alien object buried along ago, unnoticed until the alley was run over it about 100 years back? Are there rays from the sun who have decided it was their duty to keep the circle dry and safe for all its life? Might there be some supernatural explanation? Could I have, right outside my own back door, the equivalent of the mysterious crop circles which appear around the globe?

I don't believe any of that, not for a minute. There has to be some perfectly natural reason for the regular appearance of the dry spot in the alley. Perhaps there are electric lines under it, although I can't imagine electric lines creating enough heat outside of a problem we would have found by now. There certainly cannot be heating ducts there, can there? If they ever rip out the cement, I would dearly love to be there to see what the might find in the dirt below. The bottom line is, there must be a rational explanation for it, right? But that wouldn't be much fun, would it? Would it?

Conspiracy theorists, I may just have something for you.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Next Hot Spot?

A friend of mine, a career soldier in military intelligence, told me years ago as the Soviet Empire fell that the next major theater which concerned the Army the most was the Korean peninsula. I was surprised at the assertion. To be sure, it made sense on several levels, not the least which is that the Korean War was (and is) still technically a live war. We merely signed an armistice in June 1953, an agreement to stop fighting. The North and South have been in eternal negotiations since, with varying degrees of clamor.

Nevertheless, surely the Middle East or the threat of China (we must not, even now, discount their leadership's resolve to stay in power by keeping their people under Beijing's thumb), or even potential instability in former SSRs who may have inherented old nukes, loomed more ominous. Yet as recent times have brought us the saber rattling of Kim Jong-il, it is time that the public took a greater interest in the affairs of East Asia. Particularly as Japanese intelligence has reported that North Korea intends to fire a missile towards Hawaii within the next few weeks.

It is widely accepted that their missiles do not have the capacity to reach the Hawaiian Islands. Yet the Department of Defense has wisely set up an increased defensive capability around the Fiftieth State, and the fact that we are on alert about an act which is in defiance of overwhelming world opinion (even Russia and China have recently warned the government of Pyongyang to back down) hopefully means that we are interpreting things with the right amount of gravity.

In the meantime we need to be preparing the right, measured response to the missile should it actually be fired towards us. I would say shoot it down, of course, if it even appears to be heading towards any US territory. Beyond that, it may soon be time to tell the world that if she doesn't act to stem the increasingly insane and ill considered actions of an increasingly rogue nation, then we will.

Yes, I mean that it may be time to consider going it alone against Mr. Kim Jong-il, bringing along as many allies as we can but nevertheless doing what we must in the interest of our security and regional stability. Some folks may say that it is foolish to think that North Korea would actually do anything so brazen, especially with a US military presence already immediately south of them. Some may even assert that time is on our side and thus advise caution, as most analysts believe that Pyongyang is at least 3 - 5 years from threatening our west coast. We must remind them that firing a missile towards us must be interpreted as provocation enough to see to our own defense.

President Obama must look to address this issue immediately. Perhaps he might try the Cairo speech on them.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Monica Conyers: Yet Another Detroit Disaster.

When will it end? The Common Council of the city of Detroit has been striken with another legal bombshell: Monica Conyers has been hit with federal bribery charges, and it seems only a matter of time until she is forced from her seat.

Her all too typical reaction? Arrogance, this time in the form of asserting that anyone who does not pray for her to be saved from the current mess of her own making is not a 'child of God'.

Interestingly, she is right. Sort of. But certainly not for the reason she cites. We indeed ought to pray for her: not that she escape the prosecutor's noose necessarily (though it is of course more than acceptable to pray for that should she in fact be innocent of the allegations) but that she should see and accept whatever God wants for her in this debacle. Our prayers might be aimed for her to accept His Grace and take proper responsibility for herself and her actions. We might want to pray that she see the light, sees the embarrassment she has become to the city and her family and friends and give up the ghost.

We might want to pray that she stops seeing herself as the center of the creation and leave that role to He who actually is. Am I asking too much?

Maybe I am. In that case, let's hope that Ms. Conyers begins asking for enough.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Clive Staples Lewis

If it isn't obvious enough by now, I am a huge fan of Mr. C. S. Lewis. My wife found a copy of The Screwtape Letters at a garage sale almost 30 years ago, and I read and was hooked. As is my usual habit when I discover an author I like, I proceeded to seek out and read all of his books.

I haven't quite made it. Not being interested I have never read any of his books in his academic specialty, Medieval and Renaissance literature. And two of his books, Dymer and Spirits in Bondage, being published early on in his career and before his reconversion to Christianity, well, I haven't honestly looked very hard for them. I have read a passage from Dymer and it sounds interesting, though.

I cannot begin to tell you enough about a later edition of Screwtape which includes the addendum Screwtape Proposes a Toast. As it happens he was addressing American education, and was dead on in his assessment. I have used his arguments there quite often in my dealings with, ahem, modern educators.

The Abolition of Man may be the best work of nonfiction outside of the Bible. Mr. Lewis' defense of the doctrine of objective knowledge is far more fantastic and profound than the small book in which he delivers it. In short, I adore the man, and must credit him to a great degree in cementing my belief in God.

Yet there is a skeleton in the closet which most of his admirers, Catholic and Protestant alike, tend to downplay or ignore. And that is his refusal to make pronouncements about certain particulars of Christian doctrine. He asserts that he is not enough of a theologian to do so.

I am not aware that one must be a theologian in order to understand most theology. I understand, as a Catholic, that the consecrated host is really the Body of Christ. Lewis famously says in regards to this that Christ's directive is, take, eat, not take, understand. I say with all due respect that he rather begs the question. Why would God not want us to understand? Wouldn't we want that closer relationship with Him?

Much of it can be linked to the psychology of Mr. Lewis I'm sure. Dr. Joseph Pearce wrote a very good book called C. S. Lewis and the Church of Rome which deals with the issue of why Lewis never became Catholic as he certainly was very close to it. Dr. Pearce's answer was, essentially, because of Lewis' background and his Ulster stubbornness (he was Northern Ireland).

I would have to agree. And I don't mean that without sympathy: sometimes, and I say this with absolutely no disrespect intended, invincible ignorance gets in our way. Lewis may not have had the capacity to take that next step; it's the same as I think of my dear paternal grandfather who, though he came to accept and respect my father's Catholicism, could not be expected to easily let go of his Southern Baptist background. Thankfully, God will accept us on those terms, if the situation is real and sincere, and not an intentional blindness.

That question used to plague me yet now I can accept it. But even in that light, we still must address our skeletons as honestly and openly as we can. C. S. Lewis did what he could with what he given, and had accomplished with it a far sight more than anything most of us have managed. So he perhaps could not take that last step towards full Christianity. How many of us can? It is an area in which we must be supremely grateful for God's mercy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

You Can't Fix Stupid

A police officer in Oklahoma pulled over an ambulance which was transporting a patient to a hospital last month, for failing to yield to his squad car as he was heading towards a situation which required backup. His actions and the arguments with the ambulance driver and paramedic, having been caught on video as so much is these days, are now all over the Internet.

Jon and Kate Gosselein invite cameras into their lives, then blame the cameras for violating their privacy and adversely affecting their family life. They didn't see that coming?

David Carradine is found dead in his hotel room, apparently as a result of sexual foreplay gone bad. Are sexual thrills worth endangering your life?

What do these three items have in common?

They all involve supposedly sensible people doing dumb things. Of all the attempts we may make to educate others, folks still manage to be stupid. And you just can't fix stupid.

The truly sad part of all this is that I'm sure there are many more examples of it out in the world. Always have been, and always will be.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Elections in Iran: Part Deux

As I find myself home for lunch (working within a block and a half of your job can be a tremendous advantage for the erstwhile blogger) today I thought it wise to study the news as it develops. By great good fortune I see that there are events today which allow me the opportunity to expound on what I posted earlier this morning.

It appears that, contrary to my ominous warnings of about four hours ago, a Moslem cleric has acted in a way which I predicted he would not. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, has ordered a probe into possible election fraud from Friday's vote in the conservative Islamic nation. I had averred, given that his candidate seemed to have won and he had accepted the result, the prelate would never reconsider his position.

He has not, per se, at this point. But he has directed the Guardian Council to investigate allegations of fraud in this increasingly momentous event in Iran's history. Apparently the depth of the protests by the Iranian people have caused him to reassess his position. This after he on Saturday called the re-election of current President Ahmedinejad a 'divine assessment'.

Did I jump the gun in the wee hours of this day? It would not have been the first time in my 49 years on this orb that I have. Nevertheless, it creates an interesting situation. One that I shall monitor much closely than I had planned.

Elections in Iran

The government of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, backed by the 12 member Guardian Council, has declared itself the winner in the recent elections in their country. The protests of thousands of opposition voters, along with the relatively mild violence they have employed in trying to draw attention to their cause, has become a concern to the West. The protesters feel the election was rigged.

Consequently, the Ahmedinejad ruling party has reacted in a way that a dictatorship generally does, shutting down protest sites on the Internet, closing the offices of foreign journalists covering the activity, and even detaining overnight some of the top aides from opponent Mir Hossein Mousavi's campaign. Even Mousavi's newspaper was interestingly unavailable Sunday; there are certainly in place all the earmarks of an autocracy unwilling to hand over power.

It won't happen easily. For starters, the Guardian Council apparently holds the real power in Tehran, witnessed by the recent action on the part of Mousavi himself to try and convince it to overturn the election results. Beyond the Council itself is the man with the most real authority in Iran, the Muslim cleric and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has endorsed the results. A conservative Islamic religious leader is not, in my humble opinion, a likely candidate to overturn on appeal an outcome he surely wanted.

So, what to do? Watch and wait, basically. We do not want or need another unstable nation in the Middle East. On that point alone I do not see President Barack Obama acting quickly, and to be fair, why should he? If Iran is to fall internally anything he might say or do to encourage it could be seen as threatening to the rest of the Arab world, and I don't see him wanting to risk that after his recent speech in Cairo. After the bad old days of aggressive Bush foreign policy, he wants nothing more than goodwill.

The problem is, does Ahmedinejad or Khamenei or the Guardian Council? And that is exactly why Obama's little fatherly talk in Egypt will fall on deaf ears in certain quarters no matter what. Some folks just aren't interested in playing fair no matter how much you cajole and plead.

Finally, to the question of whether Ahmedinejad really won in Iran, I have to say that we will likely never know. That fact itself tells us all we need to know about the leadership of that Persian Gulf nation. When your power is consolidated by closing offices and detaining supposedly free people, perhaps we already know the answer.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Corpus Christi

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi on the calendar of the Catholic Church. We honor the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ for the very reason that it is through His Precious Body and Blood that we are saved. The Gospel of Matthew spells it out quite clearly: unless the eat His Body and drink His blood you shall not have life within you.

Christ is very emphatic on the point: the Aramaic verb He used for eat translates into 'munch or gnaw'. It caused many to leave the fold the day He uttered it, and He even tells the Apostles, in so many words, that they could leave too if they didn't like it.

What we have here is another great example of who He is: lunatic, liar, or Lord, as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it. Do you have the courage the be in the right column on the issue?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Personal Revelation.

I did not watch the bulk of last night's Stanley Cup Game Seven between the hometown Detroit Red Wings and the now champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Part of the reason you know: it isn't worth the emotional investment. But more than that, in this instance. I knew last week that if the Wings didn't win the third game of the series that they would not win the Cup.

Don't ask me how, but I swear that I simply knew. Consequently, I did not have too difficult of a time essentially ignoring the series as it progressed. But to my real point this morning: beyond innocuous and ultimately unimportant events such as sports and games, I believe that there are times where, for our own good, we are simply told things which we need to know, things which generally cannot be proven within the scope of reason alone.

What I am speaking of is nothing less than personal revelation, and I see no reason why such revelation should not come from God. Yet I understand that this is a dangerous ground upon which I trod, for obviously, it is an area fraught with trouble. That does not mean my point is invalid. For it stands to reason (you should note that I never said reason is completely beyond the realm of revelation; it cannot be) tests of revealed truth exist.

If a voice in you head says to rob or murder, reason tells us that revelation would not encourage that. I could give out may more examples but I think the point is already made. God may well tell you from time to time what you need to do, with no explanation. There will simply be a morsel of knowledge planed within you for your aid merely because it is impossible to know everything on reason alone. You cannot argue by reason whom you should marry, yet you may be told who it is, if you listen, and have a bushel of trouble avoided.

That morsel will never be unreasonable. All you need to do is be open to it when it comes.

Friday, June 12, 2009

We're All Gonna Die!

The World Health Organization (a nanny group) has declared the swine flu epidemic a pandemic, now that the number of cases worldwide has risen to 30,000.

Why the interest in such an announcement? To be sure, part of it is intended as a plain old warning. That's okay. In this day and age where we have the technology to spread news quickly, it is good that we can caution the general populace about dangers such as this. But I must wonder whether there is an ulterior motive involved.

You see, at least according to the article I'm referencing as I pound this out on my keyboard, part of the reason for issuing this 'long awaited' announcement is to get drug companies to act faster in developing cures (and as with the above mention, I really have no issue with that) but to encourage governments to 'devote more money' towards the purpose of containing the virus.

It would be easy to say that all we have here is the voice of genuine concern expressing the opinion that we must devote more time, effort, and yes, cash, to the cause of eradicating disease. A third time I say, nothing wrong with that. Yet the same article which I am referring to (it's on AOL under 'Swine Flu Pandemic') also assures us that most cases of the disease are 'mild and require no treatment' while the leader of the WHO describes the virus as 'moderate'. So while none of the deaths because of the virus should be treated as unimportant, it sounds as though they're overstating their case. In that light particularly, what I find worrisome is that when we begin to encourage governments to ante up, I have to wonder whether we are significantly concerned enough about the real power of government to stop such things. Have we really reached the point where we believe that only government can help us?

How much government effort was involved in the search for a polio vaccine? Was it government concern or private interests which lead to the eradication of smallpox? Was penicillin developed as a result of government efforts and infusions of money or as the product of the medical community striving for ways to kill a virus and save lives?

I do not know, off the top of my head, the answers to these questions. But to the best of my knowledge, the greatest innovations in medicine came the most quickly from doctors who had true and immediate concerns in helping sick people. Why do we not trust such altrusitic endeavors today?

It would probably serve me right to contract the swine flu in repentance for this column. Even so, does that answer my questions? Since when does reason dictate that we should trust people who know nothing about diseases and cures to enhance the development of diseases and cures? Why ought we trust a tall black monolith ahead of people who actually know what they're doing?

I recently read where Pravda has begun calling Americans sheep for our blind fawning over Barack Obama. Perhaps our bleating has deafened our ears towards actually considering issues on merit over substance.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Nature of Rights

It is not unusual in America today to hear people bandying about their rights. Sadly, this typically involves pressing for rights which do not in fact exist. These are people attempting to expand the sphere of rights into areas where there can be no rational conversation, no logical expansion or existence of whatever type of 'rights' are presumed to exist.

Take gay rights for example. Does anyone really have a right to act in a manner which is incongruent with natural law? No. Likewise, it is wrong to think that an atrocity such as assisted suicide should be allowed. What person, knowing in their hearts that they had no say in being put here on Earth can reasonably conclude, outside of the very noble concept of laying down one's life for family or friends (and such folks are generally not trying to die so much as willing to accept that they might well die in protecting others), can reasonably argue that they have a right to determine when they leave?

Animal rights are another area where rationality is thrown out the window. Not that we have any right to maltreat animals of course. But as an old priest once told me, "You show me an animal with responsibilities and we'll talk about an animal with rights".

This is a statement which puts issues of rights in the proper context. We have no right which does not spring from a responsibility we hold. I have the right to compete fairly in the job and housing markets but I have a responsibility to care for myself and my family. I have the right to choose which schools to send my kids to because I have an obligation to see to their education. I have the right to own property because I have the need to develop a stable environment for those near to me. There is not a right which does not emanate from a responsibility.

Those who argue that they have a right to act on a homosexual impulse simply because they are born that way are being irrational; I have a tendency towards bad temper yet when I act that out I am told, rightly enough, that I need to get over it. Those who argue that animals have rights are talking nonsense: is there any evidence that animals are acting on a thought out moral code, a feeling of obligation, rather than plain old instinct? Do you actually have a right to leave when you were given no option on coming by in the first place?

We are human beings. We have human rights by virtue of that humanity and nothing else. When we are speaking outside of that context we have stepped into a void. It is in that darkness where the faux rights dwell. Quite naturally, there we cannot see properly.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Grandpa Joe

Note: This is a reprint of my blog from about a year ago. I find I have the same sentiments at the same time this year, and as I really like this entry I wanted to offer it again.

-Marty


Funny, isn’t it. how we sometimes identify people with certain times, places, or things.

In the alley behind our old family repair shop there is a row of mulberry bushes which have been there for years. My grandfather would, in the late spring when they were in season, always stop and treat himself to a few of the little fruits as he went to and from work.

Little? Well, mulberries are small compared to most fruits. In context, they’re like raspberries who have spent a lot of time in the gym; a scant few are a handful. They’re juicy and sweet, and Grandpa Joe liked them. I remember vividly his picking and popping them into his mouth as he made his way down the alley, as though he were a kid again.

Time passes, and so, sadly, did Grandpa Joe. Yet the mulberries still grew, and I couldn’t help over the years but develop a liking to them myself. As I hike to and from work nowadays I’ll stop and have a few. As it were, my daughter also came to know and like the mulberries too. Often we’ll take bowls and go fill them with the little purple black fruits, snacking as we pick, and my wife will make pies out of those which make it back home. I like the idea that three generations of a family have been able to enjoy those berries ripening on the same bushes.

Now, I’m not all that naive; I know that Joe Cosgriff was ornery and arbitrary, with a hair trigger temper. I know it from the tales my Dad and his siblings have told, and from the personal experience of having worked with him for a good 15 or 18 years. I know too that there was a part of him which was somehow kind and appreciative, and that there were moments when these came out despite, perhaps, himself. There were good times and trying ones, and lasting impressions. I find as I grow older that, in the end, it is the good times which matter more than the difficult, even if it seems there were more tough days than easy. I believe too that the smallest, almost innocuous, memories can also be the greatest insights into the honest character of someone.

What prompts me to write this? It’s June, and the mulberries are in. And I’m thinking about you, Joe.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Things I Need To Do

Get the bulk trash out this morning.

See if I can find another six pack of Guinness 250, their limited edition stout in honor of Guinness' 250 years of brewing. It's great, but like all limited editions, limited. Why do they tease us so?

Go out to a training session for the financial planning sales that I'm looking into offering. I hate to do it, but I have to do something in this poor economy to expand my options.

Exercise more. Yet the older I get, the harder that is to do!

Be more aggressive with my current sales job. Not obnoxiously so, but simply by hitting the ground harder to move forward with it.

Decide whether to watch Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight. But my regular readers know all about my struggles with that!

Fix that slight leak which remains from my laundry basin episode. Hey, I said I'd keep you informed. Today the update is, I still haven't done it!

Promote my books in a more aggressive fashion. They're worth it: buy them! A Subtle Armageddon, Michael's Story, Triumph of the Ignorant, and David Gideon, all by Charles Martin Cosgriff. With Father's Day coming up, why not widen Dad's circle of great literature! A pipe, a comfy chair, a good book, and viola: Ward Cleaver.

The password is: aggressive .

Buy a Tim Horton's coffee on the way to that training thing. Tim Horton's are a sign that Canada is taking over the US one coffee shop at a time. They kick hell out of Starbucks, that's for sure.

Get that bulk trash out. Now. So until the morrow...

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Battle of the Laundry Basin

Our old laundry basin has been in need of replacement for years now. It has been leaking rinse water for as long as I can remember, and the ancient barrel trap underneath has plugged constantly. When it sprang a fourth leak, the time had come to permanently replace it. There were by then more buckets catching drips below it than actual floor space beneath the cement double basin.

The campaign began with a trip to Home Depot, where we found most of the materials we needed. I say most because efforts like this always end up needing more supplies than one at first thinks, and the history of the conflict, man versus plumbing, bore out this truth. Yet we had garnered the bulk of what was necessary, and the enemy was duly engaged on Saturday morning.

The old tubs we had were too heavy to be moved easily, so they had to be broken apart and carried out in pieces. Selecting a short handled five pound sledgehammer which looked like the one Thor uses in Marvel Comics, I began to strike the cement walls of the beast. I felt a little like the ape in 2001: A Space Odyssey who has just learned to use that bone as a weapon, banging the hammer into the cement as Also sprach Zarathustra resounded in my mind. Soon the old basin was in small bits, which I carried out for the bulk trash pickup.

While setting the new basin in place after clean up, I made one tiny miscalculation. I love using PVC for the drains, but you have to make up your mind exactly how you're going to piece it together because when the glue sets, and it sets frighteningly fast, you're, ahem, stuck with the final product. There are no mulligans, no re-dos. So when I secured two parts together and stupidly angled one 180 degrees opposite of what was required, it meant simply yet quite maddeningly that all I could do was go and buy another trap. Yet with the trap purchased at a local hardware and the correct alignment, I was soon finished with Saturday's work and sat back to relish my victory on day one of the battle.

Day Two should have been easy, but I went a step too far, trying to remove an old cast iron pipe which I could have and should have worked around easily. But arrogance and pride being the Devil's tools I had made up my mind that it had to go. I mean, it had to. I had already bought the PVC supply line to replace it. I was, I believed, more of a man that it was a pipe.

A sad and silly mistake. I would have been better off sacrificing the, literally, 89 cents the proposed replacement parts cost me, for all I did was create a leak where one had not before existed. Yet now it was far too late on Sunday to do more than make a fifth trip to the hardware (I did mention the other four, for those unexpected yet necessary parts, didn't I?) for putty to mend the leak temporarily so that we could use our washing machine. But the putty would not hold, even after the third application (and two beers; was there a connection?), and the drip, though slight, mocked me. The battle mainly won, though, the drip caught easily in a two and a half gallon bucket, I resolved that total victory would come today, Monday, June 8th, 2009. I was 95% victorious as it was.

It is dripping more slowly this morning. The bucket is not even half full. Do I call off a permanent solution until the weekend, take time from work today to end it all, or call a plumber?

Heh, heh, call a plumber. Right. I'll keep you informed.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

For All Times

And behold, I am with you always, until the consummation of the world.

-Matthew 28:20

This short line from St. Matthew's Gospel is stunning in its challenge to our belief. All that we do, all that we seek, all that is expected of us, is predicated on this guarantee. Christ Himself tells us right as he is leaving us that He will still be with us. The Apostles see Him go, yet see, eventually, anyway, that He has not even left.

What the Lord is telling us is that our work will not be in vain so long as we keep the faith, because it will be Him working through us. Not having barged into our souls, mind you, but having been there because we have let Him in. All that is required of us is that we believe He is present to us, at all times and in all places.

It is important that we hear the words of St. Matthew today, on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, for Christ being in us means God is in us, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It isn't as though we are promised aid by one, but by all the Persons in the Godhead. Who can know defeat with such help at hand? Perhaps more critically, who cannot know true and deep joy when all the Power of God walks with us?

Deus nobiscum, quis contra? If God is with us, who can be against us? Defeat can only be temporary or merely temporal when God is in us. By His Grace, he is with us always.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Courts Full of Empaths

"The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges."

-President Barack Obama

There are times when I find myself actually warming up to our President. Then there are times, many, many more times, when I have to tell myself that it's not about his charisma, not about how likable he may be. It's about who he really is and what he'll really do.

The so-called Empathy Standard is an example of how he truly intends to govern. Let's set aside for the moment that Mr. Obama is being pretty openly hypocritical on the question of how judges should rule. He said in 2005 that: The test is whether he or she (a judge) can effectively subordinate their views in order to decide each case on the facts and the merits alone. That is what keeps our judiciary independent in America. That is what our Founders intended. That statement appears to be in keeping with the ideal of judicial restraint, although I would have to add that every case should be decided on facts and merit and law alone in order to be more fully and correctly understood. Once beyond that, I must say that any standard which encourages, as this one does, judges and justices to rule with their heart and not according to the law are, at the very least, nonjudicial. At the worst, they are a threat to future of our republic.

We cannot have judges ruling on empathy alone: it is a short step after that to a land where law becomes transient, a mere passing fancy. A quick and easy example of what this would be can found in, of all places, the film Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Aunty Entity's idea of justice makes it little more than a game: gladiatorial style combat in the Thunderdome itself, with the macabre chant of 'Two men enter, one man leaves' or Wheel of Fortune like: a wheel, segmented by various punishments and including, for fairness sake one might suppose, a thin sliver of an option for acquittal. We will have shallow law according to the rules an expectations of a game show.

Do we want justice to be a game? I should hope not. Yet when we say that judges should rule on how they feel rather than on what the law says, we will get exactly that. It will be on the quicksand of legal apathy that we shall choke.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday Musings

President Barack Obama yesterday gave what was expected to be a significant speech on the relationship between Americans and Muslims. Yet the way it sounded to me, it was little more than a variation on an old theme: if everybody plays nice, everybody will get along.

I don't disagree, of course. I will even go so far as to say that it is something which should be said every now and again as a healthy reminder of how things ought to be. The trouble is that they are not and will not likely ever be that way. So the test of the President's resolve will ultimately be how he reacts when (and notice, not if) the Middle East turns a deaf ear towards his words. He's established the ideal backdrop. Can he handle the situation when human nature gets in the way of the perfect?

I had to stop watching the Stanley Cup playoffs last night. The emotional roller coaster, as I've said too often, simply isn't worth the payoff of a potential win. But thanks, Bruce, for predicting the loss. It made the burden easier to bear.

I just finished a comparison survey of cereals on AOL. Has my life devolved into this for entertainment?

Why, no! It simply gives me the introduction I need for my next bit.

A California court has been forced to rule that the crunchberries in Captain Crunch cereal with Crunchberries are not real fruit. A woman brought suit against the company over the nonissue. That woman ought to be flogged along with the fruitcake who sued McDonalds because her coffee was hot. Her lawyer ought to be disbarred for such frivolous actions. Has the world gone mad or is it just me?

I'm not sure I phrased that quite right.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Save the Whales? By What Right?

Whale Wars is a reality television show on the cable channel Animal Planet. It follows a ship, the MV Steve Irwin, captained by the co-founder of Greenpeace, Paul Watson, as it tries to deter Japanese whale fishermen. They attempt to prevent harvesting of the large marine animals by throwing stink bombs at them and physically cutting off the whalers from their prey using their ship. My question is, by what right do they do this?

Essentially because these do-gooders don't believe in whale fishing. They further do not recognize that maybe, just maybe, some things aren't wrong merely because they think so, or that any legitimate cultural differences exist which might allow whale fishing even when other peoples may frown upon the practice.

We must be careful with the question of cultural differences, for of themselves they do not legitimize an action either. Whatever else he might have done, Cortez was right to end the Aztec practice of human sacrifice. But I am willing to say that by and large such differences must be respected.

Put it this way: if Americans can stop Japanese whaling, it is fair to ask whether Hindus can stop American cattle slaughter for beef products. Could Jews and Muslims prevent our pork processing? Buddhists could perhaps stop everything. When we start putting our fingers in other pies, where does it end?

It is that attitude, the idea that because I'm certainly right and you're so obviously wrong that I can do most anything to stop you, which has caused more wars and hardship on this globe than most any religious movement or belief. We're all guilty of that to some degree and require an open introspection of our thoughts and actions in order to see things in their proper light. In the meantime, we need to be very careful when judging the actions of others. It may be we rather than they who are all wet.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Privacy Rights of the Road

I read this morning an article on the use of cameras on the highways to catch speeders. Two States are apparently employing them while 13 have banned their use; meanwhile, a relative handful of communities use them, and not without some success. Speeding is apparently down in those places, which makes those particular driving arenas safer.

That's as may be. It certainly makes sense that drivers who are aware that they might be under the glare of a lens would surely be more careful about the laws under any circumstance. What I worry about more is the issue of due process, not only in how it might apply here but in other areas as well.

For starters, I'm not all that sure we have a right to privacy in the purest sense. To be sure, in the United States we actually have the right to the due process of the law more than any inherent right to privacy, such Supreme Court rulings as on abortion (Roe v. Wade is simply bad law by any reasonable constitutional measuring stick) notwithstanding. Yet if privacy is a right up there even with liberty and the pursuit of happiness then at the least it is subject to be violated, as our liberty may be violated, when a question of serious criminal action or intent becomes involved.

With roadside cameras, though, I am concerned that we are seeing a form of entrapment. We would be presuming that everyone on the road will speed. I don't think that very fair.

I know that driving is seen as a privilege rather than a right. In that light, as we would not have the right necessarily to be on the road anyway we may have no say in the matter. Yet I do not agree with that privilege idea: if I am competent to do so then I have the right to drive as much as I have the right to compete fairly in the job and housing markets. I have the right, too, of not getting a speeding ticket unless an officer of the law catches me red handed just as I have no reason to expect that same officer to burst into my house outside of reason to suspect I've been a bad boy. He can't point a camera into my living room just in case I may be concluding a drug deal.

In short, the bottom line is that we need to guard against presumption. If we are in this country innocent until proven guilty according to the due process of the law then we ought not need to fear robotic speed traps. It should only be from actual human beings out there doing their jobs as legitimate government agents playing catch as catch can. Without that, the authorities have to presume that I an not speeding.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Nature of Freedom

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has come out in favor of gay marriage. If you're trying to appeal to liberal voters, Dick, you're about eight months too late. Besides, they wouldn't have voted for you anyway.

However that may be, what the former veep is ignoring on the issue is that freedom means more than doing whatever you want to do. What you ought to be able to do is a matter of justice, of which freedom must be subservient.

Should Hitler have been allowed to dominate Europe simply as an issue of freedom? No. But I know the objection which will come next, because it always does. I will be told that freedom means respecting other people's rights.

That sort of talk is nonsense, unless we in fact believe in a standard which does not rely on freedom for its legitimacy. For when we say that freedom means that everyone else has to respect the rights of others, we are saying two things. One, that freedom is not absolute, and two, that there is an objective standard by which we decide who is free to do what, and when they are free to do it.

That standard, as a good friend of mine commented on these pages back in January, is justice. We must do what is right because it is right. In that light, freedom is a means, the best means, generally, to see justice done. But it only a means. It is not an end. As such, freedom is ultimately under the aegis of another philosophical force. It is not, and cannot be, the catch all be all of our moral universe.

The right frame of the question of gay marriage is should gay marriage be allowed. To argue that 'freedom' warrants it begs the question.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Halfway Home, but With Issues

With an exciting 3-1 win last night over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Detroit Red Wings are two victories away from a twelfth Stanley Cup. Too bad the National hockey League doesn't want it to happen.

The NHL is bending over backwards to make the series tight. Most notably, the powers that be rescinded an instigating a fight penalty against the Pens' Evgeni Malkin because it ordinarily would have meant an automatic suspension. It would have meant that a Star Player would have missed game three of the Finals, and we can't have things like rules getting in the way of the hopeful coronation of new Cup champions.

The Wings for their part are saying the right things: it doesn't matter, it's just hockey, and so on. But it does matter. I'm about to say something that I think will draw the ire of many of my Canadian friends, but I've said it many times before and I stand by it: rules have to be enforced no matter when the transgression occurs. Rules are part of the game. If a penalty calls for a suspension then it calls for a suspension, whether it happens in an October game or in Game Two of the Stanley Cup Finals. Otherwise the League should simply own up and drop all rules and let teams bloody up each other.

If depravity is what you want, then at least drop any semblance of civility and not pretend that you actually care about the integrity of the rules. If Detroit should lose this series I will be the first and loudest crying foul.