Thursday, April 30, 2015

Don't cut Baltimore rioters too much slack

Today we find our land coming out from underneath another cloud of rioting and looting. The scene as become all too familiar: the police allegedly mishandle/abuse/kill an innocent and chaos ensues. We will stand by the word allegedly, for now anyways. If everyone has the right to their day in court then the cops and even the government does as much as those they pursue. Rioting, doing great bodily harm, and destroying property will not help anyone.

Yet there are folks out there who seem to feel that the Baltimore rioters are doing the only thing they can do in light of the issues they face. When you are poor, come from poor schools and poor family environments and then have the government (one can almost hear someone accusing The Man of holding them down) and society working against them through supposedly racist institutions, the only option they have is the riot. It's the only way, the argument goes, in which they might change the system and perhaps make it more equitable.

Right.

We've mulled that idea over a bit in the last few days and we are close to believing that the it might harbor either the most patronizing view of the downtrodden than almost any other liberal or progressive idea concerning the poor in history or, worse, the most insulting. To assert that they have no choice but to riot seems to say they lack free will. But if that's the case, then it seems that violence back at them may be society's only recourse. If they don't (or more to the progressive point, can't) understand right from wrong them there's no reasoning with them is there?

We can't accept that. The reaction of that one mother who openly berated her rioting son appears to demonstrate that yes, the poor can know the difference between right and wrong. And to the other point, that those born without the silver spoon somehow have the philosophical understanding that the system is stacked against them and that looting is the only means of change, well, we think that gives them little more than license. Rioters simply don't think things through quite so deeply. They tend to simply react, and arguably only because opportunity has knocked. The opportunity to act with impunity.

Yes, there are ways in which the government and police act and react which should be changed. They are human like the rest of us who can and will make mistakes for myriad reasons. Yes too that the poor merit a certain extra consideration because their poverty often does work against them. Yet at the end of the day they are responsible for themselves as much as the rest of us. Cut them slack perhaps as circumstances allow. But don't write them a blank check either: they have an idea of what they're doing. They know that breaking the window of a squad car is as wrong as breaking the window of their neighbor's car.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bruce Jenner is a Man

Bruce Jenner, the former Olympic athlete, has come out and said something which surprises no one. He has announced to the world that, for all intents and purposes, he is a woman.

We beg to differ with Mr. Jenner. For more than any intent or purpose, you are a man.

This is not a philosophic point. It is based on hard and certain science. Science tells us whether we're male or female. In fact, that's one of the easiest things science can tell us, based on our DNA. Your DNA tells us that you're a man or woman. Nothing else determines your gender. You can have whatever surgeries you want and take whatever pills are available and you will still genetically be (outside of rare cases of which Jenner does not fit) what you were born being. Period.

Yet he feels like a woman and feels he can help other guys who feel like women. But what good is that? How can it possibly be helpful for anyone to encourage them to be what they are not? How can denying physical reality actually help anyone in becoming what they are unless we accept that physical is reality is the most obvious determinant of what we are? And we will say here without reservation that it isn't bravery to chalk things up to how we happen to feel. Folks have 'felt' wrong things to be right for all of history. Simply put, feelings and yearnings cannot make a given position right. That position must right on its own merit.

This doesn't mean that we should not have compassion for those who struggle with so-called gender identity issues. Why they feel as they do may be the result of many things, from a psychological issue to a deep seated delusion. We say delusion as nothing more than an observation rather than an insult; aren't we all at times delusional over this or that, especially when we may want something patently untrue to in fact be true? Why ought the Bruce Jenners of the world not be subject to that same scrutiny so long as it's done within an honest and charitable framework?

The world wants us to believe in science. That is, until science dictates something which we don't like. In this case, it tells us emphatically that we are either male or female. Denying that will help no one's mental health. Accepting it more likely will.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Why Replace Obamacare?

Now that it seems as if Obamacare may be gutted after all, if opponents win their current Supreme Court battle, it is said that Republicans may have to come up with a replacement. Our question is, why?

Because that's how government works. An idea get forced onto the people, the opposition bemoans the force then later descends to the mire themselves. That's how most government expansion occurs. Once some heretofore unknown or unwanted program get put in place it simply can't be taken out of place.

It's an idea which boggles the mind quite frankly, especially if as seems to be the case that the view of Obamacare is at the least ambivalent and at the most downright hostile. Why would either party or political group want to see anything so either divisive or yawn inducing remain?

We wonder whether it's misplaced perception, or worse. Is it that the GOP fears that the electorate once having had to deal with the health care initiative will come to like it? They think that maybe familiarity will breed not contempt but acceptance, even reluctantly?

If that's the case, that's no way to lead. No wonder too many voters see the major American political parties as interchangeable.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

No Excitement for 2016 Elections

November 2016 is a long way away, and several candidates have formally entered the fray. With such notables as Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul testing the waters for the GOP and each offering what on paper seem substantial differences with the anointed Hillary Clinton of the Democrats the prospects for next year should be appealing. But the fact is that it's getting a lot harder to become excited about elections, and that's considering there are things which at one time would have made excitement easy.

Take for example Dr. Ben Carson. It's pretty obvious that many conservative media and social organs like him, and no doubt that he might well be a good right winger. He's surely outside of the Washington loop, which is supposed to make him all the more appealing. Yet it's quite easy to say the right things to an audience which you're trying to cater to. But can you actually translate that into good use of real power?

That's a very difficult thing to do. Outside of the political structure one can say whatever they want. Inside the structure, when there are hundreds of elected officials many of whom are working at cross purposes to you, and millions more bureaucrats who can effectively stymie your efforts, well, how effective can you be?

This is not to let politicians off the hook. When you pledge something you must do your best to make it work. Yet all too often the invariable compromises move you father away from your mark. And that's before the courts allow their various opinions of the non-elected to block your way too. It makes one wonder whether, as many libertarians assert, voting is worth it.

It is, but only because the alternative of long range tyranny is far worse. Sadly, that assertion really doesn't inspire the citizenry very much. That's no doubt in part because of the force everything to the middle thrust which defines American politics. Why get excited when you know the end result will most likely satisfy no one?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tax Day 2015

Today is Tax Day. April 15, 2015. Yet we haven't worked enough just yet to have actually paid our taxes. That day comes later this month. Or maybe in May. Whatever. You want to make people into Republicans? Or better, you want to make them conservatives? Make their taxes and not their tax forms due on April 15. You want a second American Revolution? It would start April 16th if we would play fair with workers. Probably sooner. We're so happy when we get a refund that we don't notice what we actually pay. Yet we're happy when we get our own money back from an interest free loan given the American government. Anything wrong with this picture, Americans?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Masters and John Cosgriff

I don't watch golf very often. But I always watch the Masters. Although I do find that I like the game more and more as I grow older, there's a part of me which still doesn't really see the allure. Hitting a small ball hundreds of yards into a cup maybe twice the size of that ball just doesn't seem a very entertaining way to spend an afternoon. Still, I find that golf and I have a history. Lately that's been played out through 'swing and sweeps', combined golf and curling tournaments. They're great fun, especially if, as a curler (as I am) it gets you two more curling games per season. I do look forward to them.

But more than that. My father's youngest brother, my Uncle John, liked to golf. He always bet something or other with a coworker on the outcome of the Masters. He and his boss would pick five guys alternately, and who had the winner won a sleeve of balls. I'm not sure who won most often. But I know my uncle was always proud of his picks.

I golfed with him many times years ago, when he was young and I was younger. We'd go out for nine holes after work many a summer's day. Those evenings were always good fun. If I could relive just one...we would joke and laugh, and simply enjoy the quiet and the game.

He was a lefty. That was fairly rare in golf at the time. His swing seemed unusual even to me, but for a duffer he was okay. I scored my only birdie to this date while golfing with him. The Eighth hole at Dearborn Hills, a 170 yard par 3, a Thursday night in an August which escapes my memory. I made the green off the tee with a four iron, and hit a 25 foot putt which ran hard left to right right into the cup. I made him sign the scorecard to attest that I had birdied. He remarked, "No one will believe us, because I'm family". It was lightly drizzling as he signed the card under the glare of my car's headlight after that round. I still see him doing it. Why do such things stay in our memories? But when he died, the first thing I did was dig up the scorecard and the ball that I birdied with.

When he had decided he was through with golf he gave me his left handed clubs. Several times I played rounds with them. If you have any idea how poorly I golf, you would know that it hardly mattered from which side of the tee I would address the ball. Might as well play lefty.

I kept those clubs for years. Then I bought a better-than-mine set of used right handed clubs (used better than I ever will), and decided to sell Uncle John's clubs at a yard sale. Who needs two sets of clubs, especially opposite sided ones, right? A young left handed guy practiced swung a few of them, decided that he wanted to golf enough so that it mattered that he ought to have his own clubs, and bought them.

I watched him walk away, dragging Uncle John's clubs behind on the cart which went with the deal. I felt a pang of remorse as the man disappeared with his new found treasure.

I sincerely hope that he has golfed well with them. And I wish I still had those clubs.

Where society and religion can agree

The conflict between freedom of religion and civil rights is one which will not go away any time soon, if ever. Often the two questions intersect so tightly that it may be difficult if not impossible to separate them. Still, that doesn't mean that there isn't some method of telling when and where either notion ought to get precedence. Perhaps the issue of seating on airplane flights could illustrate that point.

Orthodox Jewish men (or at least some of them) believe that they cannot sit next to a woman not their wife. As such, according to an article in a recent New York Times (you may read it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/10/us/aboard-flights-conflicts-over-seat-assignments-and-religion.html??WT.mc_id=2015-APRIL-AOL-EMAILED_AUD_DEV-0401-0430&WT.mc_ev=click&ad-keywords=AUDDEVAPRIL&icid=maing-grid7%7Cmaing15%7Cdl8%7Csec1_lnk2%26pLid%3D641839&_r=0 ) there have been flight delays caused when an Orthodox male refused to sit immediately next to a woman. How might we address such concerns?

The best way may be to accept that there is a difference between solely religious beliefs and real secular intrusion upon religious rights, and that reason can determine where one trumps the other. After all, and we will argue this as axiomatic, no true religion can violate reason. Similarly, no illogical societal prohibition on a given religious practice should be used to impede that practice. If a seemingly religious practice is itself unreasonable, then the general society has grounds to ignore it. If it is reasonable, then society must allow and even arguably make accommodations for it.

In this case, the idea that merely touching a woman not your wife violates the sanctity of marriage is unreasonable. If it weren't, then a male priest baptizing a female infant would be wrong; even such mundane things as a hug or handshake between a man and a woman would be immoral. In short, the simple and incidental touching of a woman whom a man is not married to is not, by any reasonable standard immoral. As such, society may rightly refuse to recognize that any religious right exists on that ground.

This is not to single out Orthodox Jewish men. We're, ahem, reasonably sure that similar conflicts can be found within Catholic, Protestant, Islamic or almost any other creed. Neither are we trying to suggest that every conflict between religion and society can be so readily addressed or dismissed. We will even admit that the case here is so clear (accepting the Times reporting as accurate, and there is no compelling reason not to) that Orthodox Jews on the whole accept what society says on the matter.

But that's part of out point. We're admittedly using a question with an obvious answer just to show how reason should be applied. The line will be more difficult to draw as the issues grow more complex and heated. But at the end of the day what we need is for both society and religion to seek, accept, and live by and within a rational framework. If we can do that, then we all ought to get along just fine.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Sensory Overload: Is the World All That Bad?

A South Charleston, South Carolina police officer has been accused of murder following a traffic stop. Based on the video evidence, the case against him seems clear, although we must remember that even a police officer has the right to his day in court. This incident follows several other similar incidents of supposed police brutality such as in Ferguson Missouri and New York City. These and other altercations across our country have led to cries against police brutality (as though anyone is for it) and have caused others to question our cultural respect for authority, particularly authority with a badge. Our police, they say, have been militarized and too often abuse their power.

In the middle of Detroit we have the Woodbridge Historic District. It is an active community and perhaps the most vibrant of its kind inside the city limits beyond the more well known communities such as Indian Village and Corktown. Woodbridge is a nice place to live in part because it has an active online community along with a messaging system to alert neighbors of mischievous to downright reprehensible behaviors within its boundaries. It is interesting to note that when something unsavory is noticed residents are encouraged to notify the police immediately. At times, and we say this with all due respect, the shrillness ad insistence is so intense as to make one wonder whether its okay to go outside, because every day some new evil arises to almost make one feel unsafe.

What might these two seemingly diverse issues have in common? Nothing short of the information revolution.

That by itself isn't bad, of course. On the whole its surely a good thing. Yet as with all human endeavors it comes with a caveat: it may make things appear worse than they in fact are.

Hardly a day goes by anymore without some new tale of an abuse of police authority rising or of a suspicious vehicle creeping down a thoroughfare in Woodbridge. Many such reports from either source are worth public notice, and even censure. Still, two things come to mind: are things all that bad in Woodbridge, and are cops all just so much evil waiting to strike?

No to both. It is at least within the realm of possibility that we these days simply know too much too quickly to digest it all properly. Woodbridge isn't a bad area at all (far from it!) to live, work and visit merely because a car has been stolen or a potential ne'er-do-well has been spotted by a local big brother (at times simply someone with nothing better to do) snooping from his window. Neither are police officers poorly trained gunslingers because the few who are get caught on someone's cell phone camera. We need a sense of perspective in almost all areas of life if we are to function well as citizens and individuals.

By all means, neighbors, keep an eye out for threats to yourself and your community and duly report the real troubles. And we should be wary of always and everywhere blindly accepting the stories put forth by police authority (or any authority for that matter). Still, we can't help but think that perhaps the feeling of unease over arguably isolated incidents is little more than a result of sensory overload. Things may not actually be so bad as all that. Indeed, they almost surely are not. We ought to bear in mind the logical fallacy of the hasty generalization.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Libertarians and Social Responsibility

Robert Bork was an American law school professor and jurist. He is perhaps the greatest American legal scholar who was never on the Supreme Court; that is the greatest crime of the Democratic Senate of 1987 and the greatest mistake of the Reagan Administration. If anyone should have been on the highest court in the land, it should have been Judge Bork.

He wrote a nifty little book back in the 1990s titled Slouching Towards Gomorrah. In it he opines on what has become wrong with America, and the book is chock full of good ideas and excellent ruminations on what has gone wrong with the US body politic as well as its legal system. We intend to explore a few of those ideas in the coming weeks. Today we will begin with this one: his view of libertarians.

If we understand the man correctly, he argues that libertarians lack a sense of social obligation. If we understand that correctly, we agree with him. Libertarians fail to grasp that there are more injuries possible to people than those which are physical or material. People can be harmed in ways beyond that, and we have an obligation to avoid that sort of harm as well.

Take illicit television or vile and despicable music, for example. All that is defended on the the First Amendment right to free speech. On that basis the libertarian says if you don't like the show or the song, simply change the channel or don't listen. Yet that argument is ultimately shallow and indeed insulting to the person who is trying to make themselves, their children, and their world better based on rational and objective standards of decency. One parent can turn off the radio, yes. But other parents might not, and it is a practical impossibility to keep our children away from every worldly influence. Society has the obligation and parents the right to expect the cooperation of society in raising their children well. This means making decisions on what ought and ought not be broadcast, and that society has the right to make such decisions. They do not involve physical or material harm, but they may well harm folks just the same in making them effectively less than human, again by rational and objective standards.

No man, it is said, is an island. What we do affects what other people do; what we think affects how other people think. Without a proper consideration of that we risk harming the people around us and damaging our own spirits as well. We are all role models whether we think so or not. Circumstance forces that upon us. We have no right to say, as the libertarian too often does, that I own myself and am therefore not responsible for anyone else. They forget that a very important part of ownership is stewardship, which demands that we do what is best for all involved and not merely for what suits our perceived immediate needs. Such needs may only be vile and contemptible. A rational, reflective, self aware being surely recognizes that. They must also know, in their hearts anyway, that ownership means not only self interest but also responsibility.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Sunday 2015

On this Easter morning, we are reminded that this great Holy Day seems to play second fiddle to the other greatest Christian feast, Christmas. Not that Christmas is a lowly event, either; far from it! Yet we cannot help but conclude, in reconciling the levels of attention paid to each, that we ought to focus more of our efforts, if even only slightly, on Easter.

We do not pretend to be theologians, but as wonderful as December 25th is, it is something of a precursor to our salvation: Christ comes into the world as all the rest of us have, as a child. His is the promise: for God so loved the world that He sent His only Son for our redemption. Christmas is hope. The celebration of it demonstrates trust in the future which Our Lord has set before us.

Easter fulfills that hope and promise. Though we grieve so deeply and so rightly at the misery and death which Christ took upon Himself for us, it is not His Death but His glorious Resurrection which redeems us. Who else has come back from the dead? Who else has defeated that last obstacle to secure the possibility of our everlasting joy?

So while we tread lightly in making such comparisons we have to believe that Easter should be felt more profoundly than any other Christian celebration. He is Risen. Our Heavenly destiny is opened to us should we accept. Let us rise with Him to the level for which we were created, made possible by His love for us. Made possible through the Resurrection.