Tuesday, December 5, 2017

My 1,000th Post


On May 12, 2008, I wrote my first blog post, here, I am struck by how little has actually changed since that first posting.  About the only thing different is the level of vitriol in the language as the two dominant political parties yell for our attention.

Notably, even then, there were sexual abuse allegations against members of the Congress, that resulted in their getting slapped on the wrist, but little else.  The government was at a stalemate as neither party saw value in a centrist path, and the average citizen was more concerned about what the government would do for them, than the fiscal deficit.  The same could be said for any of the members of Congress or the Executive.

As far as I can tell my writings have not reflected a massive change in the conscience of the nation or even the 68,678 people who’ve stopped by to glance at what I have to say.  That is okay with me.  I write to satisfy a personal need and desire, not to make money and certainly not to suggest I know the right answer.  If people occasionally find some enjoyment, or food for thought, on my blog that is reward enough for me, but even that knowledge remains an open question for most of my posts.

I’ll be busy for the next couple of weeks so I’ll think about post 1,001 when I get a chance.  Enjoy this upcoming Christmas if you don’t stop again by before it arrives.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

A Few Thoughts on the Idea of Banning Books



There is an article in today’s Northwest Florida Daily News discussing one mother’s attempt to have Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 removed from the reading list for 8th grade students.  As the paper points out there is some irony in having a book about book banning banned by people who want to ban books.  The mother came to recognize this book should be banned when her daughter was reading it and had to ask what the word bastard meant.  She also discovered there were other unsavory things in the book like reference to sex, drugs, suicide, murder and abortion, not to mention taking the Lord’s name in vain.

Her point is the school is supposed to be a safe space, and the students sign a pledge not to use profanity in the school, so they should not be allowed or required to read books with those same profanities.  She suggests several suitable alternatives, only a couple of which have been recommended by other parents to banned for their treatment of the language and the themes discussed.

Obviously, the idea of banning books is not a new idea -- if it was Ray Bradbury would have never written about it, but the question is how do we decide what books a school system should allow, and what books they should not.  Clearly not every book written gets to be included in the curriculum so how do we decide what is okay?  The courts have ruled that something called “community standards” is one consideration.  For example, Salem Massachusetts may be a little sensitive to books advocating that we burn witches so they might choose as a group not to use books that advocate for that practice.  That is not quite the same thing as recommending all witch-burning books be destroyed or otherwise made unavailable to the average reader.  But what is one to do if a single family disagrees?  Must we as a community make allowance for all who would question a decision like what books to read?

While I can appreciate a parent’s desire to protect their child from the ugliness of the world, I also believe it is a mistake to stifle a child at the exact time they are trying to formulate their individuality from seeing the world from a variety of discordant views. The role of a good parent is to acknowledge the differences of the world and guide their children into understanding what is of value and what is not.  I think the thing that troubles me most about this issue is the idea that knowledge is viewed as dangerous by so many on both sides of the ideological spectrum.

We hear that idea of “safe-space” thrown around all over the place.  Colleges are becoming infamous for their students demanding ideas, which disagree with what their teachers and peers have said is true be banned from the public forum.  At the same time, these young unthinking minds will condemn those who wish to ban ideas based on things like religion.  It is a curious social quagmire we find ourselves in. 
We have coined the term “hate-speech” to address language that may inflame people, yet we selectively allow certain groups to use those terms because they claim if they use them it isn’t a racial slur.  The problem with this concept is there is no authoritative body to approve or append the hate speech vocabulary.  Maybe we need something like the Académie française?

In this particular case, the school board reviewed the mother’s concerns and decided that Ray’s book was okay, especially in light of the court fiasco an adjacent county went through a few years ago over the same book. I look forward to the Letters to the Editor in the upcoming days, as various opinions are offered.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Flight


The heavens have always called to us.  We have studied the sky seeking answers to questions about this thing we call life.  The vast universe seems to offer us answers to all our questions, but does it?  When all we had were our eyes we would look to the stars and seek answers in their shapes or positions.  We saw in them the forms of the gods, foretelling the future.  Some of us still do.

Others saw a challenge in the sky.  If only we could mimic the flight of the bird, then we could move beyond the pettiness and conflicts we have always had.  If we could fly we would be free to compress time and distance, if we were free then we would be equal if we were equal -- wars would end.  The elusive challenge of flight offered us a utopia if we could but discover its mystery. 

On December 17th, 1903 Orville Wright accomplished what no one had done before, he achieved sustained powered flight for about 12-seconds covering about 120-feet.  Here we are approaching the 114th anniversary of that momentous day at Kill Devil Hill, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and sadly must recognize the achievement of flight did not alter the basic nature of mankind.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Humility


“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.”  Proverbs 11:2
It is an interesting time as those who shape public opinion and the news fall like dominoes -- disgraced by their own transgressions.  It begs the question, will this current sense of outrage continue until we achieve a new equality where all are held accountable for their actions, or will we soon tire of these public beheadings, and the powerful will again possess the weak?
Call me a cynic, but I can’t imagine the celebrities of politics, entertainment, and the news now reaching deep within themselves for introspective and returning to a time when they held themselves to the same standard as the rest of us, or reported the news without a political and moral bias. It seems more likely they are now looking over their shoulders with the fear of what may fall out of their own personal closets. Perhaps, it never was fashionable to accurately report the news, or hold a moderate position, and I was just naive when I thought it was. 
It is almost cliché when we talk about the corrupting nature of power, but the original quote is attributed to John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, (AKA Lord Acton), who wrote in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Great men are almost always bad men.”  
As long as those who report on the politicians enable them to hide their “open secrets,” we value celebrity above honor, and believe entertainers opinions are worth listening to I expect we will soon return to life as normal; or at least something that approximates the previous normal.
Perhaps, and this is just my speculation, if the feminist movement was really about empowering all women and not just furthering the cause of some women, there would be a chance we could achieve a more balanced relationship between the powerful and the powerless.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Due Process


noun.  An established course for judicial proceedings or other governmental activities designed to safeguard the legal rights of the individual.
In these days of instant communication, we now have instant judgment, but at what cost?
We see in the oft times ill-informed statements of individuals a willingness to ruin someone’s life at the first blush of a wrong-doing.  I wonder, would they be so quick to accept the condemnation of society if they themselves were the accused?
The legal system in the United States is a flawed system, it is not always just, it is not always right, and it most certainly is not always equal.  The problem with the system comes not from its design, but from the human beings who are the essential part of it.  We human beings are flawed, and because of those flaws, any system we create and run must account for those flaws.  But, for better or worse, it is our system and it has worked reasonably well for the last 228 years or so and appears to be as good or better than most of the other justice systems of the world.
So here we are in the world of 2017, where the political parties have divided us into two color groups and every news event now carries some sort of political implication.  The shrill public voices on the left and right define everything as good or evil depending not on a stable morality, but on the political gain or loss.
Almost 30 years ago the news outlets started to report public surveys as if they are factual news and we have a generation now who thinks if 60% of the people agree on a poll then it must be true.  If it must be true then we must convict the guilty and send them to wherever the guilty must go.  Of course, we do this without the accused having a right to defend themselves in anything other than edited 15-second soundbites.
To me, it seems like we are willingly surrendering our belief in the design of our legal system and seeking a return to mob-rule or the Roman Circus where all we needed was a good thumb.  

Saturday, November 25, 2017

I Wonder, What Has Changed?


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I am a “Baby Boomer.”  A child of parents who lived through the depression and the second World War.  When I first became aware of a world outside my family, my school, and my friends, I was introduced to a world where America was reaching for the stars.  A world where anything was possible, and we thought we could accomplish anything we set our mind to do.  After all, we had won the world war, we had an industrial base that was the envy of the world, and we dominated the world’s finances.

John F. Kennedy told my generation, “My fellow Americans ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

My generation failed to heed his advice.  When we came to authority we created a society that is self-centered and an America where the first question is what’s in it for me?  We have grown our political parties electing individuals who have no idea how to govern, but know only how to vilify those who disagree with them.

In the Kennedy era, the nation was divided by the racial prejudice and discrimination that had openly existed since the end of the civil war, a war fought to save the union.  Martin Luther King, Jr. showed a hostile and unrepentant America what equality could offer.  Today we see million dollar athletes taking a knee because of the racial prejudice and discrimination that still exists.

We now have a younger generation that sees America not for what it could be, but for the ills that still exist.  Yet none of them seem to have a vision for how to make us better than we really are.

I wonder if 10-years olds have the same sense of wonder and destiny that John Kennedy gave me when he became the President?

Where Does Our Morality Come From (continued 2)


I know I am entering into an area of deep political and emotional and divisive rhetoric with very little real concern with a common morality, but a significant percentage of us have accepted that it is morally justified for one individual to kill another, to end a human being capable of self-sustaining life independent of the mother.  Within the most recent Presidential campaign the whole issue of “woman’s rights” was a significant point of contention between one half of the country and the other half.  The political parties were both willing to make this a core of their political positions, and we have for at least the last 40-years been engaged in an escalating battle of what the government should allow, and now what the government must pay for.  Increasingly it has been the position of the liberal feminist movement, and their political allies, that the right to determine the intentional death of a fetus rests solely with the woman carrying the infant.  Of course they use more sympathetic terms and explain how problematic those lives would be if allowed to continue, but in the end there is one harsh reality.  We, for better or worse, have sanctioned the determination of life as a right of the mother, but only for the period of pregnancy.  If she ends that life one day after birth I think society and the state still consider it murder.  It seems just a bit convoluted to me as we wrestle with the law and moral choices.
The argument for determination of life or death is now moving on.  It is expanding to include the position that an individual with a diagnosed illness who wishes to end their life has that right and the state should approve of individuals who wish to assist in that choice. 
Couple these changes in our society with the development and popularity of violent game playing in computer simulations and alternate reality games and it does not seem to me to be a great leap to ask if we are creating a nation of young men and women driven by alienation, who see ending life as acceptable moral choice, and deciding that their 15 minutes of fame should be in the taking of another’s life.  It seems only a matter of time (and not too much time) before that argument will be made in their defense.
I believe we already see influencers in the media and entertainment industry beginning the virtue signaling that this is acceptable, as long as the targets are those they approve of.  For example, in the past year, we have seen liberal entertainers calling for the assassination of the President, going so far as to hold up a clearly recognizable severed head.  (As an aside, I find the whining of the entertainer who did this to be a fascinating study on denial of personal responsibility and outrage over the consequences of her actions.  Either she is a complete idiot, or she lives in such a sheltered world the reality most of us live in never gets in.)
Along the way should we consider the impact of the social media that has come to dominate the internet?  From our beginnings, the predominant position of this nation was that we must be a nation of law.  Where justice, based on the moral standards of the nation, is applied fairly across the society.  Today does that still remain true, or are we moving ever closer to the concept of mob rule, where those who control the dialogue now control the judgments of the many who become inflamed over the mere accusations of unknown voices?
-- to be continued --
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