Friday, July 24, 2015

"He's my son, too."

My neighborhood. Correction, my block, is in the news. There was a somewhat scary but mostly sad incident that took place a few doors down. A young man had a violent, threatening episode that required the police to come with sidearms drawn. Thankfully no one was hurt, no shots were fired.

You can read of it on the Lansdale newspaper page or on the site of the Allentown television news. It's on Philly news, too.

A few thoughts . . .

I get the impression the borough's police force knew the alleged criminal and situation well and were in position to solve this as peacefully as they did.

I'm still not interested in having a firearm at my own home.

There was something very unnerving about walking out my door in order to retrieve the newspaper and seeing officers advance with sidearms drawn. It was so out of place I stayed outside.

It was so out of place I didn't object when my wife left for her daily walk with friends. In fact, she walked by as the apprehension took place.

More importantly . . .

The parents of this young man are good people. Always friendly to me. I cannot imagine the pain of seeing a child act in the way this young man did yesterday morning. I can't help but recall the words from a sermon my friend gave a few months ago, when he said that he the spirit of God reassure him in a moment of anxiety with his newborn son that "He is my son, too." And so I think of the young man who was arrested yesterday, he is God's son, too. His earthly parents did their best to raise a young man. Sadly, that young man made some awful, terrible choices. He might be beyond the point of their help, but he isn't uncared or unloved.

I did, by the way, talk with my own kids about the episode. When we returned from the movies today, and after I read the news story, I shared with them in terms they would likely understand what took place. I don't want them surprised when it comes up (inevitably) at school or with friends. And I don't want them contributing to a gossipy spiral. Ultimately, two good people who've always been friendly to me and my kids are suffering right now, experiencing a pain and disappointment I cannot fathom.

They're His children, too.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Elections have Consequences

An op-ed from yesterday's Washington Post caught my attention. Okay, several caught my attention. But this one in particular struck my historical nerve. The author comes to the defense of the maligned South and criticizes the north (and west) as regions of the country that are as culpable as the south in our history of racial struggles. I agree with his points about 20th-century discrimination in the north. It existed, it has persisted. De facto discrimination is a very stubborn thing to combat. Racist impulses motivate behavior today, yesterday, and will continue to do so in the future in the different regions of the country. In the future, scholars will look back on 2015 and shake their heads at some of the racist acts and trends of this era.

I don't want to lose sight, however, of an important stand that flawed people took in the election of 1860. In that year, we had a four-way race for president. The candidate who carried the north did so on a platform promising to prohibit slavery in the territories of the west, where slavery did not exist. The candidate who carried the south promised to end any restriction on the spread of slavery in the west. The candidate who carried the north won. And the war came.

from The Washington Post 

In a narrow sense, we can see much racism in the decision made by those voters in the north in 1860. They weren't calling for the immediate abolition of slavery. Some might have believed that cutting off its expansion would eventually end the institution, others might not have thought that far ahead. Some might have voted because they thought the ending of slavery was a matter of justice for the black man, but probably more voted because they saw slavery as something getting in the way of the white man's pursuit of happiness. The motives of those voters, however, is fairly inconsequential. The consequential matter is the result of their decision: setting in motion a chain of events that ended the institution of slavery. The ending of that institution is progress in the name of racial justice, however imperfect the process and intentions of its authors may have been.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Context is Everything

Well, this whole Greece-vs.-EU fight is fun to watch from the sidelines, isn't it?

I've encountered some commentary talking about the concept of a referendum called by government in which government so obviously sought a "No!" outcome. In the U.S. leaders normally call for referendums when they are rooting for a "Yes!" But other commentary shows me that "No!" has powerful resonance in Greek popular memory. In 1940, Germany apparently issued a nasty ultimatum demanding Greece's surrender.

And so they were invaded.

And so they were conquered.

But they said "No!" And that is a point of national pride.

(It would seem that my memory is fuzzy or that what I read elided some historical details. Here's what has to say on it. Here's another reading about how they stood up to the Italians.)

It reminds me of a favorite historical yarn, of the American general at Bastogne receiving a German demand that he avoid further bloodshed by surrendering his troops. That general's response: "Nuts!"

I think I can identify the Greek position better when I consider another yarn, that of Jay's Treaty. In the 1790s, President Washington was desperate to avoid war with Britain and he sent John Jay to Britain with orders to avoid war at all cost. So Jay did what he was told, and returned to the U.S. with a demeaning treaty that led to some memorable expressions of outrage and a widening of the partisan splits between some of our founding politicians. Really, that might be the moment in our history where we came closest to capitulating or appeasing a bully.

Now that's graffiti!
And only a leader with the posture of Washington could pull off the maneuver.

Jay was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court when dispatched by the President to negotiate an undesirable treaty. I guess the C.J. of the SCOTUS really had nothing better to do. 

For much of our history Britain was the bully, or seemed to be the bully. We stood up to them on several occasions. And on the one where it provoked war in 1812 we were lucky Britain was too distracted and exhausted from protracted war with France to finish the job against us. Standing up to Britain over a dispute in Venezuela about 120 years ago may just be the crucial event in convincing Britain that they should work harder to cement our friendship.

Whether or not the Greeks are right in their dispute with Europe is up to interpretation. What I find fascinating, though, is that we might not be too different from them when we perceive that we are on the receiving end of some international bullying. We loathe capitulation. And if in their spot, we might just vote No! too.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Narrow Networks

I'm subscribing to a paper edition of the Inquirer again. It's kind of like connecting with an old friend (an old friend to whom either time hasn't been kind or who has gone on a diet: it's a noticeably thinner paper now, and I don't know the appropriate metaphor to use). The nice thing about a 20th-century newspaper is that it makes it more likely you read things you might now have done so on your own. A pretty useful article on the Affordable Care Act and "narrow networks" in today's issue is a good example of this.

The article itself is worth a read. The summary could go like this: as a way of cutting costs of coverage, most health plans offered under the ACA put fairly strict limits on which providers one can go to. Typically, one might not be aware of the effect of these limitations until one gets a diagnosis for something severe, such as a cancer, and finds out the specialist one really desires isn't in one's network. The article discussed this tradeoff (more reasonable costs in exchange for more available care) as one which many participants don't know.

Something I find ironic, though, is that this narrow network phenomenon reminds me of what we've been doing in an unrelated field: consumption of media. In the past few years, Americans have been ditching the purchase of CDs and listening to radio in favor of music streaming services. A drawback to consuming music that way is that we tend to narrow our listening choices, and find ourselves less exposed to new music we may like. But we have made this shift to lower the financial cost of consuming music. And so far, it seems most are fine with the tradeoff, too. Cord-cutters like me also have narrowed our field of television that we consume. I found that the plethora of HD channels and DVR box I received from them didn't justify the high cost of my monthly bill to Verizon. Saving about $40 a month, I've narrowed what I can watch and am just fine with the limitations.

There's a chance we're ready to trade-in the bloated expenses of a buffet approach to healthcare in exchange for a lower-priced menu. The limitations on choice and purgatory of referrals doomed HMOs and Hillarycare 20 years ago. Perhaps we've shifted our priorities. Perhaps our eyes aren't bigger than our stomachs anymore.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

New Bucket List Item - URGENT

Neat column in today's Inquirer spurs me to consider a new list of must-see sites in the U.S.

So, here's a listing of the ones in the National Archives and Records Administration system:

  • Herbert Hoover
  • Franklin Roosevelt (check - Dec. 2012) 
  • Harry Truman 
  • Dwight Eisenhower (it's shameful I haven't been to this one yet . . . in Gettysburg)
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Lyndon B. Johnson*
  • Richard Nixon
  • Jimmy Carter
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Bush 41*
  • Bill Clinton 
  • Bush 43*
  • Barack Obama (not open yet)

*Could be accomplished on one trip!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

July 4th

The fireworks meant a little more to me this year.

A famous James Brady photograph of three Confederate soldiers at Gettysburg after they had surrendered. 
I love my country. In the past few weeks, I've done some trips looking at some natural beauty as well as some history. 

One of Ricketts Glen's numerous waterfalls. 
An F-4U Corsair at World War II Weekend.

Sam outside the Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour.

Inside the Lackawanna Coal Mine
One of the many waterfalls at Delaware Water Gap
So I guess history and natural beauty were on my mind as I watched the fireworks. Without even leaving the eastern portion of my state, I've had the chance to see some spectacular things and witness some of the struggles Americans in years past endured. It's hard not to be humbled by how hard men had to work to earn a living in the late 19th-century Anthracite region, or by the sacrifice made by Americans in World War II, a war in which our Allies were much more at threat than we. 

If I return to the photo at the top of this blog, I must comment on Gettysburg. The battle ended 152 years ago today. It cost more American lives than any other single battle in any war. The men who fought there were motivated by something both simple and abstract: love of country. I say that's abstract in that love for country fuses both land and ideas. Soldiers fighting for the Confederacy were fighting for a way of live centered on slavery though most of those soldiers didn't own slaves. There was a greater concept of liberty at play for them, a concept that would likely differ a lot from liberty as we know it today, but one that is no less powerful. As for the Union soldiers, they fought for the preservation of the Union. How would their lives have been worsened by allowing 11 recalcitrant states to break away? It's hard to tell how they would have been materially worsened. But they fought anyway. 

As Americans today, we still fight (squabble might be a better word) but we do so over issues that seem proportionally smaller than those that motivated those boys in gray and blue. We squabble over issues that are smaller than those at stake for the G.I.'s seventy years ago. Bicker might be an even more fitting word for our scraps over issues that dominate the news. 

So I write this today (enjoying a surprisingly sweet Tasmanian whiskey, by the way) thoughtful more about the great issues with which our forefathers fought and appreciative of the beautiful land we happen to enjoy. Perhaps tomorrow I'll see signs that our political leaders are taking more seriously the things over which they prefer to bicker, and place our struggles today in the proper perspective. I was tempted to end this post with a photo of a preposterous billboard I saw in Benton, PA over the week. But I think I'll leave it there (and vent about that billboard later).  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Rail-Splitter Logic

It would appear my last few posts have been serious. Perhaps a bit too heavy.

I've felt compelled to speak on issues like the Confederate battle flag controversy and recent changes regarding same-sex marriage because these are both issues on which I've found my point of view change over the course of the past decade. Not too long ago I would have described myself as a dyed-in-the-wool Republican and conservative. Now, I have a hard time describing where I am politically. I'm not a Democrat. I'm not an independent. I don't really see myself as consistently liberal or conservative as one goes from issue to issue.

There are times when I wonder if my shifting opinions on great political matters indicate that I'm not firm enough in my convictions. There's a chance that is true of my political convictions. I have, for instance, become someone who shamelessly votes my job. There was nothing ideological about my support for the winner of Pennsylvania's most recent gubernatorial election. Perhaps that becomes somewhat ideological when I vote for school board positions in the district where I reside. I guess over the course of my 30s I've learned that I can't simply wait for someone else to look out for my interests. I need to look out for my own.

But what about issues that don't directly affect me, such as the two third-rail issues with which I started this post?

An author of a Lincoln biography I heard back in 2009 spoke about Lincoln's "Rail-splitter" approach to politics. One doesn't merely swing an axe and watch wood come apart with that one swing: splitting rails involves repeated hits of the axe, or the combination of a sledge and a wedge cutting through the wood. On a stubborn piece of wood, the initial split isn't much. But eventually the momentum, the slant of the axe head, the repeated blows split the wood. By extension, on stubborn political dilemmas, the logic of the superior or victorious point of view won't be evident at first, but eventually it ends up carrying the day.

For proof of this, one can look at Lincoln's evolving position on slavery. In his last speech, he called for suffrage for black veterans and other "intelligent" blacks. If we look past our 21st-century notions which would see the inherent white supremacy in this comment we can see a man whose political viewpoint evolved significantly from the early days of his political career when he supported the re-colonization movement.

And along the way, he talked of how a "house divided cannot stand."

Rail-splitter logic.

There have been times in history when stubbornness has been vindicated. Winston Churchill's pre-war stubbornness about Hitler's intentions comes to mind most readily. Yet we often talk in history of individuals whose stubbornness, or apparent stubbornness led to ruin.

I'm aware of my own tendency toward stubbornness. It may take a few years for the logic of a point of view to work through some layers of opposition for me. As I've said before in posts, the quip from John Maynard Keynes that "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" resonates quite a bit with me. Perhaps blogs like this exist as a place for me to verbalize my opinions, even as those opinions shift. And it can also be a place where I articulate the things on which my beliefs have deepened, such as my faith, my affinity for Lutheran theology in particular, how I feel about the nature of kids and how to work with them, what I value as a parent.