Monday, April 30, 2012

I'll Be Back. (spoken in a vaguely Arnold Schwarznegger-esque voice)

Hello, everyone. I apologize for not posting anything in the past week. Everyone's lives are insane to some degree, and mine hit its stride over the past ten days. I will be posting something meaningful in the next day or two. Stay tuned and Be Aware!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

An Ode (of sorts) to History

Harlem Race Riot
- Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
I have the privilege of being able to teach a 20th century history class on my spare days, an experience which has invariably taught me more about the 20th century than it has my students. I have heard that a person will always learn more about his subject matter by teaching it than he will ever learn by being taught about it.

During my last class we were learning about the 1960's and early 70's, and inevitably the issue of racial struggles came up in discussion. The race riots and discrimination of the 60's in America are not subjects to be taken lightly in any conversation about the 20th century. However, one of my students raised her hand and made a point which not only took me off guard, but resonated as true the more we discussed it.

To paraphrase, this particular 16-17-ish student made the point that her particular generation (from her own experiential point of vew as a teenager) is relatively immune to the racial issues of the 1960's. Not only has she never had a problem with mingling with black people, but none of her friends have either. There is no discrimination in the circles she moves in and never has been. Whatever racial discomfort there has been in her experience has come from her elders.

It was a powerful point that I had never considered from that particular angle. And I realized that the same is true with my peers as well (I am only about ten years my students' senior.) We simply don't really care about racial issues the way our parents and grandparents did. This may not be the experience of my generaation as a whole, but it is of all the people my own age that I have encountered. I am constantly witnessing seamless integration of blacks and whites where I live, kids hanging out, going to high school and college together. Color just doesn't seem so important to us.

I wish I could say the same of my parents' and grandparents' generations. I was fortunate to have loving and racially colorblind parents who taught me that what people say and do matters infinitely more than what they look like, but the same cannot be said of the generation from which they came. The baby boomers have much to answer for in this respect, as do their elders who were responsible for racial segregation in the South and general discrimination against blacks nationwide. But the real sin of that generation is not so much that they discriminated and shunned in the past. No, their real sin is that they desperately attempt to foist this stupidity on every fuure generation they can get their hands on.

Think about it for a second. What is the average age of those news anchors who irresponsibly take hold of any story with a possible racial angle and run with it? I cannot be absolutely sure, but my best guess is mid-to-late forties. The average age of those political and social commentators who are stuck on the idea of perpetual racial conflict is no different, maybe even higher, as is that of racially-driven politicians. Barack Obama, who will turn 51 years old this year, is just as much to blame, especially when his own Department of Justice refuses to prosecute blacks who attack whites as vigorously as whites who attack blacks. As much as I dislike talk show host Neal Boortz, his description of Rev. Jesse Jackson as a "race pimp" perfectly sums up my point here. These commentators, politicians, and anchors all have one thing in common: a racial agenda that became old fashioned years ago but that they cannot seem to let die.

Perhaps the passage of time is a mercy here. It may sound harsh to phrase it this way, but it is true nonetheless: racism will only die when its perpetrators and hangers-on pass away. It does a tremendous disservice to the youth of America when one or another class or race is constantly portrayed by the 'older and wiser' as the victim group. People with a victim complex make poor citizens and even poorer human beings, and the ones responsible for perpetrating this idea must carry a good portion of the blame.

So, the next time you hear someone proclaim that we live in a 'post-racial' society as evidenced by the election of our first black president, it would be good to remind them that the same Obama who was elected because of unity of race should stop trying to divide them again. It would be well for all of Obama's generation to remember that as well, but for the moment it would seem that old dogs cannot be taught new tricks.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What If...?

Judge Napolitano
Photo by Gage Skidmore
I know very little about Judge Napolitano or his other activities, including his other writing, but I discovered this piece as I was trolling the news one day and I found it thought-provoking. You may think of it as you please.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

After 100 Years, Rest in Peace

Shipwrecked bow of RMS TITANIC.
- Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Imagine something for me, for a moment.

You are in close to pitch darkness, excepting the glitter of stars overhead. The ghostly dark shapes of people sit near to you, close enough to reach out and touch. The air is unforgivingly cold, penetrating even the warm clothes you wear and causing your teeth to chatter. The people sitting near you are weeping and shivering, and far away from you, over the sound of lapping water floats the eerie noise of anguished screams and cries for help.

It is 2:25 A.M. You are sitting in a longboat in the middle of a becalmed sea, alive by virtue of only two facts: you are a woman, and you are a woman of means. Only ten minutes previously, the stern of a massive ship had thrust hundreds of feet into the air only a couple hundred yards from where you now sit, clung to by countless passengers unwilling to surrender their lives to the freezing ocean just yet. The ship is gone now, and those countless people now float in glacially cold water slowly but surely freezing to death.

Forget about a certain cheesy shipboard romance between an upper-class girl and a dirt-poor boy with tousled hair. This is the year 1912, and Celine Dion has not been invented yet. There have been no World Wars, science still reigns supreme as a kind of god, and the memory of the late Queen Victoria of England still lives fresh in the memories of British subjects. What we are imagining here is an event that really happened to a diverse group of over 2,200 people, less than a third of whom lived to tell the tale of how the greatest ocean liner ever built sank on her first outing in open water. This event, this most famous of all shipwrecks, has both captured and haunted human imaginations for decades, nay, all the way to the present day, with its self-contained mythological power.

And yet, what is it that still makes the sinking of the Titanic one of the most compelling of all disaster stories from history? It is a fascinating and complex question to ask on the day that the Titanic wreck turns one hundred years old.

As Titanic is a true story of a true ship, the first piece to our puzzle lies in the historical peculiarity of the doomed White Star liner. She was built at the innocent and naive beginning of what would become the world's most violent century, encapsulating in her steel plates and wooden decks a weird optimism of the kind that believes that, quite literally, anything is possible. The Victorian era had just ended, as I said, but no new era had really begun. Europe and England looked out into a future ripe with possibility, adventure, and money to be made. Of course, a bare two years after the sinking of the great ship, the world would plunge headlong into the hell of a worldwide war with no clearly defined aim, purpose, or honor, thus shattering the myth of Europe and England's greatness as the light-bearers of civilization. Titanic was the unexpected last gasp of a civilization on the verge of evaporating.

The plot of Titanic's story also contains everything a great Greek tragedy should have: spectacle, drama, romance, despair, death. I say "Greek tragedy" specifically because of the Greek obsession with the inevitability of Fate. It is a recurring theme of such tragedies that has great pertinence to Titanic. Every little detail of Titanic's story moves the doomed ship one step closer to her watery grave, in a relentless crescendo of bad decisions and natural coincidences resulting in her catastrophic crash and loss.

However, these items present an at-best incomplete explanation of why this particular ship has endeared itself to so many for so long. The real reasons I think are far more fundamental, and ironically enough, completely the opposite of the ship builders' intentions. The Titanic was built to make headlines, in cold hard references to her enormous size, high cruising speed, massive horsepower, and unparalleled grace and luxury. She was the pinnacle of high technology of the time, a monument to the might of the Industrial Age. These were all very impressive numbers, to be sure. And yet the newspapers did not wind up reporting on these technical factoids in the end, because Titanic never reached New York. They reported on one of the greatest peacetime human tragedies to occur at sea.

The key to Titanic's enduring appeal is that it is a human story.

In effect, the scene becomes a microcosm for the end times. The ship is going to sink, without question. And some of the people on board know it. But others remain stubbornly entrenched in denial, refusing to leave the comfort and apparent security of the ship's interior. Still others are trapped below decks, locked in by stewards who desire to prevent a panic and end up creating one instead.

There are glimpses of heroism and cowardice, of powerful love and bitter despair. The ship's architect, Thomas Andrews, is regarded as a hero by all who see him because of his assistance. That assistance costs him his life in the end. The ship's owner, J. Bruce Ismay, is labeled a coward for climbing into a lifeboat when there were still other women and children that could have taken the seat. There is growing heartbreak across all decks, as families realize that the separation they are undergoing is permanent.

There are other ships nearby that fail to respond because of human error. Titanic's very design is flawed because of human error. There are not enough lifeboats because of human arrogance and disregard, and the boats leave half-full because of human inexperience. The fingerprints of man lie heavily on every aspect of the disaster, from its beginning to its end. It is a human disaster, caused and exacerbated by humans as well as endured and remembered by humans. And overall, hanging in the air above the whole catastrophe is the shock of realization, that man's intellect, will, and ingenuity do not actually guarantee anything in the end, that technology has been toppled from its seemingly immovable throne and science lies gasping for breath nearby.

It is a testament to this human quality of the disaster that we have such a complete record of the sinking, including the exact timing of the whole affair. Every survivor of the wreck carried with them a unique account of that terrifying night in the North Atlantic, and we know just about everything important that happened in stunning detail. It makes one laugh and cry to peruse these accounts, ranging in content from the officers' crisp measuring of vital stats of the ship, to the lowly housewife who happened to remember seeing a glimpse of John Jacob Astor and his young wife parting at the lifeboats. Titanic becomes a heartrending aggregate of human vignettes, overshadowed the whole time by the inexorable tilting of her deck as one compartment after another floods with water. It is an intrinsically romantic, horrifyingly tragic story.

It is intriguing that the one hundred year anniversary of the sinking coincides with what the Catholic Church dubs "Divine Mercy Sunday." It is a Sunday to recall the vast depth of God's mercy to His children, an emphasis of His overpowering love that compelled Him to die on a cross for us. We would do well to remember the over fifteen hundred souls of those who perished on April 15, 1912, for God only knows what mercy they required. Titanic's last tribute to the humanity of its creators is embodied in its final plunge to the seafloor: the end of humanity is death and death knows no classes or boundaries. Freezing water kills millionaires and peasants alike.

On this, the weekend of the hundredth anniversary of my most favorite of all shipwrecks, may the souls of all those who lost their lives that bitter April night through the mercy of almighty God Rest in Peace.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


It is telling that, according to Scripture, the very first of the Ten Commandments specifically addresses the idea of replacing God with another object of worship and admiration. God apparently knows us pretty well, in presenting us first with a command that should sound like a no-brainer, if you believe in a God. We tend to think of worship as some overt display of homage to someone or something. However, reality can be and usually is quite a bit more subtle. Which is why the commandment should be a no-brainer, but it is not.

I would expect it would be easy for the average Christian to compile a list of things that would qualify as replacements for God, as false gods. Money, power, and sex probably top most of these lists. All three are venerated by our culture as the be-all and end-all of human life and experience. It only takes one viewing of the film The Island by Michael Bay to get a taste of this dynamic in regards to sex. Or look through any men's magazine for a dozen articles on the value and uses of power. And it takes little brain power to notice the monuments to money that rise up around us in various forms (the World Trade Center comes to mind, albeit not currently standing).

What goes unmentioned here, however, are the more subtle things. The one I am interested in here is an old idea which presents itself in new guise every century or so. It began with the Pharoa, a ruler venerated not so subtly as a god, and goes all the way through modern politics, in the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. For both Pharoa and for Marx, the violation of the first commandment was not in their veneration of an outside object or person. No, it was the arrogation of divine power and glory to themselves.

This shows itself quite readily in our own current Congress and president, who both believe implicitly that they have the knowledge and wisdom to fix all things, but have the arrogance to believe that the mere passage of a law actually physically changes the people and things they govern. This was the idea in a nutshell behind the minimum wage requirement in the United States. Whether it costed anybody anything or not, ended up hurting anybody or not, the government one day decided that by legislative fiat it would correct the problem of low income, in effect proclaiming, "Let there be higher wages." And there were higher wages, of a sort, at least on paper. Or another great example is the health care overhaul. It didn't matter that much of the bill was overweight with bad regulation, ridiculous requirements, weird loopholes and severe cost hikes. The government said, "Let there be universal healthcare." And there was a healthcare law. And the government saw that it was good. The rest of the nation was not so sure.

Is the dynamic clear here? This attitude in effect breaks the first of those ten commandments twice over. The first breach is the people in government daring to think that they knows what is best for millions of people in the same way God knows what is best for all mankind. But in a way the more egregious error lies in the implementation of the fix for the problem: waving the magic wand of the god-government in the form of legislation. Never mind if the legislation is ridiculous, unenforceable, or just plain dumb. It is has been deemed the best way and therefore it passes and is implemented.

It is intriguing, that the farther we stray from the natural law of our Creator in our country's legislation, the more laughable our nation's laws become and the less enforceable they grow. The more our legislation tries to govern from the top down, the more it will conflict with the bottom up rules written on our hearts. This in turn leads to the governmental necessity of using unreasonable force to ensure a law is followed, and tyranny quickly follows. I find a quote from the author and talk show host Jason Lewis pertinent here: to paraphrase, he says that anarchy is oftentimes not a lack of the rule of law, but the rule of too many laws.

To presume such power is a grave injustice both to oneself and to the rest of society. Under the guise of compassion and fairness, God's role in any part of societal activity is elminated because government has become the prime mover. Government is not setting up political power as a god to worship; government is setting up itself as a god. It assumes the power to accomplish its agenda exists as a condition of it being God already.

In my humble opinion, that is a terrifying thought.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Channeling Kennedy

I never thought I would actually hear Peggy Noonan praise John F. Kennedy, but she has an intriguing insight into his presidential approach, in contrast to President Obama's approach of divisive verbal bludgeoning.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Little Fun, That's All

I felt the need to vent a little after a long year so far of political and social wrangling. Hopefully it will brighten your day with a little humor at the expense of our elected officials, who dearly need and deserve to be laughed at once in a while. Okay, more than once in a while...
Here is the beginning of my mini humorous dictionary of political terminology. Enjoy.

TOLERANCE – respecting someone else's opinion as important unless their opinion is about something important

RACISM – disagreeing with someone of a minority race

FAIRNESS – sticking it to “the man”

THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA – any news agency that makes conservative politicians look stupid, using either real or imagined evidence

THE 99% - anyone not making enough money to buy a Ferrari

FOREIGN POLICY – revealing comments muttered over an open microphone

BUDGET – paper with a lot of numbers on it that everyone argues about and does nothing with

WHAT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WANT – any item currently topping a politician's agenda

CAMPAIGN – a game in which people pay money for the chance to call each other names

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Look At Atheism

Greta Christina speaking at the Reason Rally.
- Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
This is a brilliant piece written by the founder of the Fixed Point Foundation, concerning the problem of atheism in America. I hope you enjoy the read.