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Thursday, February 27, 2003

WHO ARE WE TO DO THIS?
the overdue choice of a reluctant warrior

Who are we? We're Ted Bundy, and we're Todd Beamer. We're Charles Lindberg and Charles Manson. Ghandi and Stalin are in there, too, arguing...the one determined to topple the other. When examined down to the brass tacks, is there any meaningful difference between them? Are they seperate but equal philosophers, each right in his own way, according to his point of view? Since they each sprang from the same human gene pool, who among us--sprung from that same muddled puddle--can pass judgement on what is right and what is wrong? On what then should our moral choices be based? Should we even bother to agonize ourselves over "moral" choices at all?

Werner Heisenberg, the great German physicist, had a choice to make. Nazi Germany was taking shape...a twisted shape. With war raging and Hitler expanding his reign and his weaponry and what with concentration camps filling up with people and all, Albert Einstein fled Germany for America. Neils Bohr fled Denmark for America. Nuclear physicists, under cover of some of the darkest of all European nights, were escaping Hitler's realm, lest they be "invited" to work for the Nazi nuclear program.

Heisenberg's main achievement was his "Uncertainty Principle"; the realization that the more we established a particle's velocity, the less we are able to determine it's location, and vice-versa. And not just because of a technically limited ability to measure those properties, but because uncertainty is a basic property of sub-molecular form. Uncertainty at the base level of matter was a new and fascinating notion. Extending the idea from the microscopic to the macroscopic world was philosophically inviting. Nietzsche's "Beyond Good And Evil" was a popular read among the intellectuals of 1930's Europe, and it had two well-placed admirers.
Heisenberg found Nietzsche's thesis intriquing. Hitler found it useful. Finding no certain justification to condemn the morality of Hitler over any other, Heisenberg led Hitler's nuclear project, his quest for the atomic bomb.

In America, Albert Einstein implored President Roosevelt to get to work on an atomic weapon...as Heisenberg would surely be making significant progress. Although having made a late start, the Robert Oppenheimer-led Manhatten Project succeeded where Heisenberg's project had failed. Perhaps it was because the best scientists had fled Europe, or perhaps it was because Heisenberg's heart wasn't wholly in it. Either way, one thing that the Nazi atomic bomb project lacked was moral purpose.

It isn't very "intellectual" to talk about moral purpose. Intellectualism is, by default, academic; thoughtful, unextreme...inconclusive. But one wonders in what way that kind of academic non-definitiveness applies to the real world. Moral relativism may be a kind of denial; an "intellectual selflessness". But since when are we ever not ourselves? That amorality is a kind of unreality poetically seems to be self-evidenced by the fact that when a particular point is moot we call it "academic." Thought experiments that don't interface with life experience are moot. They are academic.

France (at times anyway) doesn't consider morality to be a moot point. When Princess Diana et al were killed in a car crash resulting from a high-speed evasion of paparazzi photographers on motorbikes, French (or, perhaps, merely Parisian) law was to come down hard on the bystanders, including the paparazzi, who offered no assistance to the crash victims. Parisians agree, then, that bystanders to a tragedy are not innocent, they are involved in the moment at hand just as much as are the victims and victimizers. To excuse one's self from the events at hand, especially moments of tragedy and/or atrocity, is to have chosen alienation over empathy; selfishness over selflessness. Amorality then reveals itself to be more than a bit self-serving.

Elie Weisel spent some time in a Nazi concentration camp. He's a Pulitzer Prize winning author whom wrote, in "Man In Search Of Himself", about that experience; and his education as a result of it. I remember clearly he imploring President Clinton (at--if memory serves--the 50th anniversay of D-Day commemorative service on June 6th, 1994) not to look the other way while "ethnic cleaning" scourged within what was left of Yugoslavia. What struck me the most was that I discerned a curious expression on the President's face as Weisel, staring to his right and directly at the President, called for what sounded like international intrusiveness. Clinton's expression seemed thoughtful...yet agitatedly so. Actually, the expression had an almost nervously self-conscious dismissiveness to it. Aw hell; Clinton seemed downright irritated by the appeal, as if he were mulling through his mind "Who are we to do this?"

Bill Clinton did eventually do it. He knew he had to intervene because, morally, it was right. And, instructively, he didn't waste time trying to corral the U.N. He simply chose not to join in the synchronous writhing of the Security Council's endlessly contorted academic self-doubt.

Today, with respect to Iraq, the U.N. is trying to decide if it cares whether or not it enforces it's own resolutions. It seems to me that the time has come to either enforce them, repeal them, or just whistle merrily down the same path to obsolescence first blazed by the League of Nations. Wake up and smell the East River, boys; to lead is to choose.

I've seen coverage of the large anti-war rallies that have recently filled world capitals...heard their arguments...witnessed their vitriol at the very idea that we have a "right" to depose a "sovereign" tyrant. In New York I saw Americans; Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, German-Americans. But we have to ask: where were the Iraqi-Americans? More specifically, where were the Iraqis whom are free to protest?

They were in Jordan, having crossed the border under cover of the darkest nights they've ever had to find the strength to see each other through. They were in American cities, too, pleading for the libertation of their country and their countrymen. We won't find Iraqi-Americans at the anti-war rallies, because they know all too well something every willfully ethically conflicted academician will never know: moral purpose. Iraqis know what evil is because they've seen what it does.

And so have we. Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick, and the others...all the others; the guy with a steak knife ready to take on his first fight since 2nd grade...the flight attendent with the pot of piping hot coffee--ready to splash it over a high-jacker's face and hands...the Air Force pilot who would take the hot seat if the insurgence were to be--fingers crossed--successful.

Each woke up that morning an average Joe, a plain ol' Jane...same as we had. They, too, had grown up with cats and dogs and slingshots and Mr. Rogers... only they suddenly found themselves in a circumstance where they'd make themselves fully locked and loaded and determined to assault their captors with a brutality that they, up to that moment, probably thought could only arise from within a darkened heart. Yet, all they did was refuse to accept that their fates were sealed.
They knew that they were likely to die trying. And if they couldn't take back that plane, they would at least spare the lives of others at the sheep-shaggers' intended target.

Morality is something we can--and should--examine; but not as a maze of semantic vaguery that we'll never be able to exit. Sometimes we don't think we know that as clearly as we do. The passengers of flight 93 weren't constipated with some academic uncertainty when they faced their moment of decision. They made a choice (perhaps--I hope--the only choice that we could have made), and it was correct. We know that because we honor their choice.
And not just because it may have saved others on the ground. We, I think more deeply, honor their choice because of what it showed us about ourselves. We may have Ghandi and Hitler within us, hiding and arguing somewhere in an unexplorable recess of our psyche; but we know now, through vivid example, that we have every reason to expect that we too can rise above isolation, alienation, and fight...yes, fight...for the reclamation of life, liberty and dignity.

I am a very reluctant warrior, and it's taken me a long time to come around to support the mission to liberate Iraq. And it will be a struggle; ground troops will have to go in (you can't occupy a country from 15,000 feet). But I believe that the degree of horror that is Saddam's method--judging from what is known of it and what is feared to be discovered--as it terrorizes a nation, is enough madness to call us to reclaim the human nature of moral clarity from the soft-bellied doubt of a cynical academia.

Do we have to free a nation--or a region--from the terror in the mirror we call Saddam? No. But we know we can do it. And maybe that's all we need to know--because, even more deeply, we know we should do it. Because that's who we are.
FRED ROGERS (1928-2003)

I learned what a platypus was from Mr. Rogers, and have some foggy memories of the puppets' personalities and voices (all done by Fred himself). But I remember the sets the most vividly; the opening pan of model streets and houses, the owl's tree, the trolley that disappeared into the wall and reappeared at King Friday XIII's castle...

But what I still, to this day, want to know is; what was the deal with that house? Who's house was it? I mean, the show opens with the panning shot, following the street en route to the little red house, and then Fred opens the door and walks into the house, but we're already in it. Then at the end he changes from loafers to shoes, sweater to jacket, and walks out the door leaving us inside. Huh? Was it supposed to be our houses he was visiting? No, 'cause Fred's stuff was in the closet, Fred's food was in the kitchen, and it's where Mr. McFeeley delivered Fred's mail. So when Mr. Rogers left at the end of the show, why was he leaving us there, and where was he going? It stymied me as a kid, and doggone it, it still does.

But my most memorable visit to Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood wasn't a childhood visit. In the summer of 1995 several friends and I took a trip up to York, Maine for a week. Norm and I were up early one morning and turned on the TV. "Wow, Mr. Rogers! Haven't seen this in twenty years!"

There was a momentus event in the Land of Make Believe; a dancing horse and Henrietta Pussycat were to be introduced.
Now, my memory of the show I'd seen in the early '70's is hazey, but I remember Henrietta. She would say things like "how meow meow are you Mister meow meow Rogers?" This time the cat was dressed as a witch. Then it started to get weird.
First they were the "World's Smallest Dancing Horse and the Talking Cat-Witch". Eventually they became "the Dancing Horse and the World's Smalling Talking Witch" ("meow meow Cat-Witch" she corrected). I wouldn't doubt that they finally ended up as "the World's Smallest Talking Horse and the Dancing Cat-Witch". Bugs and Elle joined us during the show, and we were just laughing hysterically in a post-all-nighter morning fog as the bizarre storytelling unfolded.

I also remember Fred destroying the illusion. He had model sets of the Land of Make Believe, and would set them up in a line, to show us how they might look as one. And he would occassionally show the actual model of the town that was shown in the opening and closing credits.
So I think the set was not so much a house as it was a home. It was was where we spent our special time together. Fred's sweaters were in the closet and his milk was in the 'fridge just because he was Fred and we were us. It was a special place that wasn't his or yours or mine; it was ours. It was as much a part of the Land of Make-Believe as X the Owl's treehouse.

My friend Stacy, back in high school, met Fred Rogers on the Metroline commuter train that runs from New Haven to New York City. She got his autograph, and gave it to me:

"To Bob, Best wishes from your TV neighbor. Mr. Rogers 1980." I still have it. It's something I keep to remember two friends by.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

WHAT IS LOVE?

I totally owe Dawn Olsen for inspiring this drivel:

Love is like time; I know what it is until you ask me what it is...then I don't know. But much of the the character of love is time.

Patience is, I think, the best clue. We have the most patience with those we love the most.
Love is where we invest ourselves. We live our lives WITH other people, other things, otherness. Eager for connection. Maybe it isn't always pleasant, but it's what we want anyway.
Love is generous and needful, like any event...any relationship "Please make the most of me--I promise I'll make the most of you." Love is the meaning of life. Without the promise of love why would we even bother.

To see the view from the top of the mountain is worth the effort to climb it. Love is worth that struggle, all of it. But some have climbed that mountain and fallen from it--or have been pushed from it--and have decided that's it's better to settle in the valley than to struggle up the mountainside again.
Maybe the view wasn't worth the heartache. Maybe the view wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

Then, sometimes you climb the mountain and not fall off; but rather the mountain sinks and eventually crumbles underneath you.
Or, maybe, you're on the summit, she's brilliant and beautiful, you love each other like crazy...then she guzzles a bottle of uppers and hangs herself with the belt to your bathrobe. The view suddenly looks really really different. So you fold your arms, whistle a happy tune, and amble back down the mountain...with no regrets.

Yeah, sometimes we'll wonder why we even bother. That's normal enough. Then my nephew will wonder aloud how a camera works, coin the phrase "lunch powder", and refuse to smell his cousin's fragrant hair. ("Smell ya later" he said.)
We could spend our lives pondering just what love is, and why we should bother it. Me? I don't waste my time anymore. Say cheese and pass the lunch powder.

Smell ya later...

Monday, February 24, 2003

WHO BY FIRE? revisited

In "Who By Fire" [see below] I intentionally implied that the band, Great White, might be foremost to blame for the tragedy at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island--and they surely share in that blame. But, as I also, by careful caveat, said that we don't have enough information yet to make any solid determination of who is ultimately responsible. But as more and more information becomes available, it's looking more and more like there's plenty of blame to go around.

This item casts doubt on the club owners' complicity, and the fire inspector's incompetence, in an ever more apparent sleepwalk to disaster.
Darn it, my gut feeling told me that that club owner, in that press statement, was maybe...hmmm...over-emoting. Maybe he was protesting to much(?). All concerned seem to have been force-feeding their time into a routine they'd all been through a thousand times before--comforted by the experience that it had all passed before without incident.

Why not gather the band, the club owners and the fire safety inspectors in a grand circle jerk of professional indifference and shower them all with the sparks of a dozen shows-worth of fireworks until they pass out from the pain? Huh? Then maybe wake 'em up and start again?

Yeah, okay; maybe only the material victims of that holocaust can claim a right of vengeance. But they're all dead.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

INDEPENDENCE vs. THE COURTS
Entrenchment of the Incumbant Party

Well, the 2002 election ballots are still warm and the 2004 cycle has begun. Richard Gephardt becomes the 47th Democrat to announce his intention to seek the nomination, John McCain is mulling over a possibility that he might challenge George W. Bush for the Republican nod. Or is he...?

It may seem like old news now, but when all this talk of election campaigns starts raging, my thoughts often turn to that travesty of a New Jersey Supreme Court decision made last October. You remember the one: Robert Torricelli--in a scandal induced freefall in the polls--bowed out of the race in order to be replaced on the ballot by a Democrat who had a chance of winning. The one where State law was tossed aside by the Democrat-packed bench. The one where the so-called "two-party system" was officially codified into law.

In 2000, Sen. McCain threatened court action in the case of the New York state Republican primary--where George W. Bush was the only one of the several contestants listed since, by law, the Republican Party of New York had the right to list only the candidate(s) it wished to list. Steve Forbes, in a televised debate, spoke against the practice as the institution of "a Soviet-style" forced party conformity. Shouldn't Republican primary voters have a choice among willing candidates? While the inner-workings of a political party may seem out of the jurisdiction of a state court; the outer-workings of a general election are clearly subject to existing statute. If McCain decides to seek a "third-party" nomination in '04, he may find his tussle with the New York Republicans to have been inadequate preparation for what lies ahead.

There are many reasons to protest the 2002 NJSC ruling. Sure, they ignored the statutory 51-day deadline for a party to change it's Statewide ballot. Sure, they substituted their definition of a "right to vote" for the Legislatures Constitutional authority to proscribe the voting process. Sure, they invoked their "duty" to divine the legislative intent of a statute that was wholly unambiguous. But those aren't my main concerns with the ruling. (Those are, of course, important concerns. But, for the sake of this post, I'll confine myself to the most unprecedented aspect of the ruling.)

Consider this seemingly high-minded portion:

"...the Court being of the view that -(it) is in the public interest and the general intent of the election laws to preserve the two-party system and to submit to the electorate a ballot bearing the names of candidates of both major political parties as well as all other qualifying parties and groups." "And the Court remaining of the view that the election statutes should be liberally construed --to allow the greatest scope for public participation in the electoral process, to allow candidates to get on the ballot, to allow parties to put their candidates on the ballot, and most importantly, to allow the voters a choice on Election Day."

Since they are claiming that this ruling, on the clear and unambiguous election law, is to "preserve the two-party system", and to make sure that candidates "of the two major parties" get on the ballot, they are stating in no uncertain terms that the Democrat and Republican parties (the Incumbant Party) are to be treated, in a court of law, with priviledge and deference not to be extended to any other party. The "Soviet-style" establishment of political parties has taken root in the New Jersey Judicial branch.

Political parties are not government institutions, they are associations of citizens pooling their resources and working together toward a common cause. The candidate on the New Jersey ballot was Bob Torricelli, not the Democratic Party.
Their defense of voter choice, as they consider that to be "most important", is completely indefensible. The voters had, as allowed by law, a Democrat candidate on the ballot--and his name was Torricelli. There were also six other candidates on the ballot. The fiat that there would have been no choice without both major-party's fronting of a candidate establishes that "third-party" candidates (no matter how many there are, they're always called "third-party" candidates) are henceforth functionally illegitimate; they offer no choice: they are not an option.

One can only conclude that if the New Jersey Legislature were to exercise their constitutional authority and, as was once common practice, appoint their Senators, the NJSC would have to rule that action unconstitutional. Also, that if the justices of NJ were instead in Massachusetts, or Virginia, or any of hundreds of other states, towns and districts, that uncontested elections (such as the uncontested re-election campaigns of John Kerry [D-Ma] and John Warner [R-Va]) would have to be ruled unconstitutional. Shall we mandate that political parties must sponsor a candidate? Should that mandate be restricted only to the "major" parties?. Is that any of the Courts damn business?

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, we've been told. New Jersey may have saved the Democratic Party from defeat last November, but they've paved the way for all "non-major" parties to be lawfully discriminated against in the future. These "third parties" are also associations of citizens pooling their resources and working together for a common cause, and entitled to equal protection under the law. Yet the Court, by virtue of the very stated rationale that formed it's judgement in the Torricelli case, has ruled against them. Shall we all hail the death of dissent?
UNCONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTIONS
The legislation that ate my freedom

Seems US Congressmen actually take notice when they realize that the victims of their well-intentioned incremental erosion of liberty turn out to be themselves.
It just makes me giddy these politicians will pass campaign laws they haven't read. They don't notice it--or care--that much when their willful incompetence governs the rest of us, but when the unintended consequences come back to bite them, well, they're positively horrified.

See Wednesday's New York Times story on the McCain-Feingold seminars. It made my week!

Seeing the number of constitutional issues involved (speech, assembly, due process, equal protection et al), one can't help but be further convinced that legislators are willing to knowingly pass unconstitutional laws, add language about "severability", and wait and see if the courts will bother to clean up the mess. In fear that opposition to a popular measure (though campaign finance reform never really was "popular") in defense of the Constitution and rule of law--as they'd taken an oath to do--may not sit well with their constituency, the alleged protectors of liberty shrug, pass the buck, and become the architects of tyranny.

The precedents for this operative contempt for the Constitution have been mounting. The national speed limit, the national drinking age, the Controlled Substances Act, and many others, all claim Federal authority in areas where none is granted by the Constitution.

In the Controlled Substances Act, title 21 sec 801, the difference between inter-state commerce and intra-state commerce is made irrelevent in Federal Satute when the needs of the Government to enforce the spirit of it's pet policies are literally limited by Art. I sec. 8.
In the speed limit and drinking age laws, the 10th amendment is overrun by Federal extortion and strong-arming. The statutes even go so far as to claim that the States still retain their sovereignty since they are free to make a choice about where their Federal dollars are going to be directed; for roads and highways-as they're designed to be, or for public service projects to educate the unwashed masses about the evils of drinking and driving.

When a State or Individual's "free choice" carries consequences, and retaliation, from the Federal government, that Constitutionally protected Sovereignty no longer exists.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

WHO BY FIRE?

A live performer will do almost anything to excite his audience.
I say this as a live performer and as a member of many audiences. It's hard to give up a dream...especially one that's become a way of life. When a fisherman wakes up to discover that half the world has gone vegetarian he'll work twice as hard to corner as much of the market that remains. It's his livelihood afterall.

Last week I watched JAWS for the umpteenth time. By now you'd think I could quote the script word for word from memory. But I can't. The scenes I have the most trouble remembering by rote--particularly the inflections--are the ones that move me the most; the ones that put a lump in my throat that would choke a snake.
"It's a man-eater...it's a Great White!" Matt Hooper tells the Mayor of Amity Island. At least I think those are the exact words.

I read something somewhere recently where Peter Benchley (author of book-form Jaws) talked about his struggle to settle on a title for his story. "Jaws Of Death." "Within The Jaws." "When Jaws Attack" and other such options. The only word anyone liked was "Jaws", and so it became just that.

"In a suburb of Providence, Rhode Island, the '80's band Great White..." the radio spit out before I could hit the snooze button. "Sharks in New England again..." I thought. "...were playing a concert at a nightclub called The Station when a pyrotechnics display set the club ablaze."
More details followed. 30 patrons have perished. Then 35 were gone. The number was sure to rise, we were told.

I'd heard of the band, I must have. Heck, they were nominated for a Grammy--so we're now informed. I don't know their music. But I know now that they began their show; and moments into the opening number sparks were flying. A magnificent site judging from the video that's been playing on the news--taken inside the club by a film-maker doing a documentary on nightclub safety. Yes, the crowd was shouting, woo-hoo'ing, bottles of beer ritually raised in the air. Then there was fire behind the band. A guitar player, tight, a trooper going through his well-practiced riffs and phrases, was staring at the wall. Something had gone terribly wrong, the band played on. Three minutes later a hundred people were dead or dying. The rest were bottle-necked at the front door, firemen trying to pull them apart, to jostle them free. Three minutes; not even enough time to wonder how on God's green earth this could have happened.

"Stare not for too long a time into the fire, lest fire soon be all ye see," someone had cautioned Ishmael in Moby-Dick. Ishmael was mesmerized by burning whale oil, but his cautioner was talking about something else: obsession.

The assignment of blame has begun. The club owners claim they were never asked for permission for the band to use fireworks. The band claims that they asked, and were granted, permission verbally. The club owners had no permit to have pyrotechnic displays in their venue. At least four club owners who've hosted earlier dates in Great White's tour--the Stone Pony in New Jersey for one--claim that the band used those sparklers without permission. Some others say that the band had asked for permission, were denied, and obliged without protest.

Whatever the truth is--and we don't have enough information yet to know what the truth is--someone has made a grave miscalculation.

Could the club owners have been so obsessed with an inflated patronage that they allowed pyrotechnics in the 60-year-old low-ceiling wooden structure?
Could the band have been so obsessed with exciting their audience that they would use the white hot visual aids without regard to the niceties of written permission?
A live preformer will do almost anything to excite his audience. Being that the patrons weren't expecting any fireworks when they arrived at the door; one of those options seems more likely than the other.

LINK #1

And now; a test of my ability, or inability, to add a link to a post. As a 2nd Amendment guy I choose my first link to be this. I hope that reads "this" and nothing else after I post it. Here goes...
YOU LEAVE ME NO ALTERNATIVE BUT TO ASK YOU NICELY AGAIN!

Apparently the "severe consequences" mentioned in UN res. 1441 that were to befall Saddam should he fail to disarm--or show proof that he has disarmed--did NOT refer to military action in the mind's of the French, German et al UN delegations. The "severe consequences" were to be more debate and, possibly, more resolutions. Judging by the headache all of this is giving me, those are indeed severe consequences. Not for Saddam, of course, but for free people around the globe and those yearning to breathe free in Iraq.

AND SO IT BEGINS
Welcome to Blather Review courtesy of blogger.com!
I hope this will be an interesting read for a long time to come.

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