Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What India's Blackouts May Mean to Earth

Unless you're in India today, you've little right to complain about the heat.

And if you're in India, you're likely not able to read this essay today, since half of your country is suffering from its second day of massive power outages.

The numbers are staggering:  yesterday, over 300 million Indians spent more than half the day without any electricity, and no sooner had power been restored, it went down again today, putting over 600 million Indians - about half of the nation's population - in the dark.

I have friends in India, and they tell me brownouts and rotating blackouts are common.  One family lives in a modern apartment complex with generators that kick on automatically throughout the day when the central line goes dead.  Fortunately, they live in Bangalore, a part of the country that doesn't swelter under the oppressive humidity for which India as a whole is known. And Bangalore has not been directly impacted by the country's widespread blackout.  At least, not yet.

But I have another friend in New Delhi, which at one point was 99% powerless yesterday, save for the emergency generators at select hospitals, office buildings, and the homes of affluent families.  Fortunately for her, my friend is currently on vacation in Thailand, undoubtedly hoping power is restored to her home by the date of her return flight.

A Chill in the Air

Stories have been coming out of darkened India today about how the country's aging, insufficient, and mismanaged electric grid has been unable to keep pace with its society's remarkable burst of economic prosperity.  Not only are many Indians coping without lights, subways, traffic signals, and the Internet.  But they're also having to get along without another relatively new commodity there: air conditioning.

Indeed, we Americans can appreciate how the availability of artificially-chilled air during our summers makes the difference between getting a good night's sleep or not, being productive at work or not, and even remaining healthy or not.  Imagine what being without a/c is like in a country where sleep, productivity at work, and basic health get compromised by so many other things.  Even though India has a sizable middle class that enjoys ever-increasing purchasing power, its crushing legions of poverty-stricken citizens remain larger than its large middle class.  Systemic, endemic corruption means efficiencies, orderliness, reliability, sanitation, and planning evade even the best attempts at wide-scale modernization.  Modernization not just of the country's built infrastructure, but its suffocating bureaucracy that inhibits sustainable entrepreneurialism.

Which, speaking of suffocating, brings us back to this air conditioning business.  India's growing dependence on air conditioning isn't just a problem for Indians when their electric grids crash.  How long will it take before environmentalists around the globe realize that it's not just us in the West who they should be targeting as climate destroyers?  For years, we've been blamed for emitting greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and depleting the ozone layer, partly because of our reliance on artificial refrigerants.  Nowadays, we have to use new, more expensive coolants for our air conditioners.  Here in Texas and across the South, scientists are incentivizing real estate developers to incorporate more and more green technology into new buildings, so each new home and office tower reduces its carbon footprint during our sweltering summers.

Meanwhile, India has a dim legacy of allowing centuries of customs and cultural pressure to suppress the kind of vibrant environmental activism we have (for better or worse) in the West.  Since India is such a populous country, what environmental activism it has seen has been relatively small-scale and hardly widespread.  Being an environmental activist can also be dangerous business in India.  None other than Amnesty International was forced to intervene on behalf of two Indian activists kidnapped and tortured by officials of a private coal-burning plant who didn't want them educating residents with facts about coal pollution.

Changing the Climate Change Debate

Back here in the States this past Saturday, Western environmental activists were somewhat heartened to learn that Richard Muller, a climatologist funded in part by the conservative Charles Koch Charitable Foundation, had officially decided that climate change caused by human activity is genuine.  Koch, you'll recall, owns an industrial conglomerate that stands to lose lots of money if forced to change its business practices - if man-made climate change can be proven.

Initial reaction on Muller's ideological switch has been muted, both among conservatives and liberals, since he's always been something of a loose canon in the normally-staid scientific community.  Still, since chemicals such as the kinds used to artificially cool air have been in the crosshairs of environmentalists for years, having somebody like Dr. Muller now say he's convinced mankind is negatively influencing the environment will make life only that much more difficult for people and industries who depend on technologies like air conditioning for their comfort, safety, and profitability.

And yes, environmental activists like to point fingers at those of us in the affluent West because they say we flaunt our creature comforts at the expense of Majority World countries like India.  But instead of accusing us primarily, which is the easy thing to do, where's the acrimony among Western liberals when it comes to, for example, the rampant artificial cooling of developing countries like India?

One of the remarkable things about air conditioning is that the more a person gets used to it, the harder it becomes to deal with heat.  Since most Indians have had air conditioning for a shorter period of history than we have, and since there are twice as many of them as there are Americans, and since it's still only a fraction of Indians who've ever even experienced an air-conditioned environment, why not start combating whatever dangers chemical coolants may pose to the environment from the ground up?  In places like India?

It's at this point where people like me get accused of being heartless, overbearing elitists, since I'm trying to protect lifestyle standards in the West at the expense of India's.  But let's look at this objectively:  for years now, we Westerners, and Americans in particular, have been blamed for virtually all of the world's ills, while many Majority World countries pursue similar - if not worse - pollution-creating practices, towards which environmentalists turn a blind eye.

India Offers Environmentalists Plenty of Opportunities

"To whom much is given, much is required" has become a common phrase on my blog, and even when it comes to protecting the environment, I can understand where developed countries like the United States may have to pay a higher cost for deploying those things that damage our planet.  But why should we be expected to do it alone, or to bear a disproportionate burden?

I don't begrudge India's 1.2 billion people their opportunity to live with air conditioning.  However, I think that since as a whole, their country has much further development ahead of itself than we do, India and its fellow emerging countries provide greater opportunities as laboratories for the sustainable technology environmentalists have been pushing for us 300 million Americans.

After all, can the world afford to let India turn into another America?  Only it wouldn't be just like us - it would be America times four!  I suspect that the reason some environmentalists love making such a ruckus here is that they can still enjoy the luxuries and opportunities the rest of us Americans enjoy on a daily basis in our post-modern society.  Life for them would be much harder - and dangerous - in places like India, wouldn't it?

Not that we Americans should be absolved from our responsibilities to our planet.  I don't see why it's so hard for climate change skeptics to imagine that all of the foreign chemicals we humans have been pumping into the atmosphere for the past 100 years haven't done any significant damage to our natural resources.  Still, I'm not ready to lay the entire blame for whatever climate change may be happening at the feet of mankind.  Remember, our planet once had an ice age, supposedly, and somehow, the Earth warmed up and melted most of that ice.  That was way, way before SUVs, oil refineries, hairspray, and air conditioning, wasn't it?  So who's to say that periodically, our globe doesn't get its own naturally-occurring hot flashes?

But if our new-fangled chemicals are contributing to our current environmental problems, let's not forget that the West - and America in particular - aren't the only global citizens using these chemicals.

As India's blackouts this week may be proving, the growth sector for environmental activism shouldn't be here in the States.

Want to read more?  Check out this article on refrigerant fraud in India and China.

Update:  According to the United Nations' secretive environmental regulatory project, "Agenda 21," India hasn't submitted any current reports charting its progress in implementing sustainable environmental policies.  According to the Indian government's own environmental website, all they seem to be doing is hosting meetings and writing official responses to UN seminars.  And we Americans think our own bureaucracy is inefficient!

Monday, July 30, 2012

NYC's Quinn Picks Chick Fight

Christine Quinn may be the most powerful woman you've never heard of.

Currently, Quinn is the speaker of New York City's raucous city council, and widely considered the frontrunner in next year's race to replace Michael Bloomberg as mayor.

Already, she's considered one of the most powerful openly lesbian politicians in not just New York City, but the entire country.  And the current fracas over Chick-fil-A's endorsement of traditional, heterosexual marriage could extend her influence.

At least, that's her hope.

Born in New York's suburbs 46 years ago, Quinn has parlayed a humble bachelors degree into a celebrated public policy career in a city where Ivy League post-graduate diplomas line walls like wallpaper.  That's no small feat.  A long-time advocate for fair and low-cost housing, as well as a champion for gay rights, she's payed her dues both inside and outside the city's rough-and-tumble council chambers, managing campaigns and chairing task forces in a political environment with stakes higher than those in many statehouses across America.

Last week, in the wake of irrational refusals by the mayors of Boston and Chicago to welcome Chick-fil-A in their cities, New York's far more prominent and influential mayor sounded like a rare voice of municipal reason when he said Chick-fil-A's leadership has a right to their own opinions.  Even though he personally is pro-gay-marriage, Bloomberg considers the fact that Chick-fil-A sponsors pro-hetero-marriage efforts more an exercise in First Amendment rights than a mark against its legitimacy as a business.

Whether out of anger at Bloomberg or simply to burnish her political credentials, Quinn on Saturday announced the creation of an online petition to kick the city's sole Chick-fil-A restaurant out.  Granted, the petition does not explicitly call for Chick-fil-A to high-tail itself out of Gotham.  Instead, it wants the company's CEO, Dan Cathy, to "apologize and change his position."

So much for tolerance, what Quinn and Change.org, the sponsors of her petition, claim to be pursuing.

Picking Battles, Indeed

The city's Chick-fil-A outlet is located in a food court for students at New York University, in the famously liberal neighborhood of Greenwich Village, no less.  And it's run by Aramark, the international foodservice company, which operates food courts in everything from airports to shopping malls.  So, in essence, Quinn is saying that Aramark, not just Chick-fil-A, needs to be run out of town as well.

But Quinn knows she can't say that.  She may be a left-wing liberal, but she still has to win a city-wide election in what, despite all of its problems, is still the business capital of the world.  

Indeed, none other than Quinn's dear friend, the legendary feminist Gloria Steinem, is currently locking horns with Quinn over economics.  Steinem, along with some other famous New York liberals, are pushing for Quinn to allow a council vote forcing companies doing business in the city to pay for sick leave for their employees.  As proposed, Steinem's pet bill would require businesses to give from five to nine sick days per year to each employee, depending on how many employees they have.

Yet Quinn, who up until now has met few anti-business bills she didn't love, is taking a crash-course in what is making the Big Apple increasingly less attractive to corporate America.  Corporate flight from Manhattan has pretty much ground to a halt after their mass exodus of the seventies, eighties, and nineties, but faithful corporate citizens, from behemoth Wall Street banks to silk stocking law firms, are sending thousands of back-office jobs to the suburbs, the south, or overseas.  Remarkably, the city's population continues to grow, but at the painful expense of its working middle class:  mostly poor immigrants and wealthy idealists comprise the bulk of newcomers, as native New York blacks and retiree whites flee southward.

Quinn knows that her adopted city will tolerate many things the rest of America would not, but making the place even more onerous for business will win her little when it comes to campaign contributions from the capitalists who've always tried to give City Hall the benefit of the doubt.  So perhaps her brash stance against Chick-fil-A will help ameliorate her decision on paid sick leave among her left-wing supporters, if she can also convince her corporate benefactors that she's not really sending an anti-capitalist and anti-constitution message with it.

Cluck, Cluck, Cluck

The problem is, Quinn is blatantly doing the very thing many right-wing conservatives have been accusing the homosexual lobby of doing for years:  she's making homosexuality the litmus test for civilization's social agenda.  Quinn has trotted out the increasingly hollow claim that anyone's ethics outside the realm of the gay agenda are evil; she alleges that Chick-fil-A's Cathy engages in "homophobia" when advocating for traditional marriage.

But.  That.  Is.  Not.  True.

Homophobia can be described as a "hatred or fear of homosexuals."  The term "homophobia" does not describe the religious teachings endorsing heterosexuality - common among all major world religions - that many gay advocates want instead to claim as its definition.  In other words, being pro-hetero-marriage is not, in itself, being homophobic.  Think of it this way:  homophobes can be pro-hetero-marriage, but then again, some pro-gay-marriage folks can be downright antagonistic towards those of us who don't share their view. Of course, Quinn isn't the first person to use the word "homophobia" incorrectly, but for somebody as prominent as her to do so simply marginalizes her credibility to a broader audience than New York's.

As a self-professed moderate Republican, I chide my uber-right-leaning conservative brethren that in order for us to work for positive change in the United States, we need to be far less condescending to people with differing viewpoints.  After all, politics is all about compromise, even if many partisan politicos abhor the "C" word.

In her rash position against Chick-fil-A, Quinn is doing the same thing many hawkish right-wingers do.  Her insistence on enshrining gay marriage has about as much credibility to conservatives as expecting liberals to suspect that President Obama isn't an American citizen by birth.  Quinn herself admits that there's little she or anybody else can do to prevent Chick-fil-A from remaining at NYU, or indeed, opening more restaurants in the Big Apple, as long as they don't discriminate.  Which kinda flies in the face of her whole argument, as it does the mayors of Boston and Chicago, especially since even a student review of Chick-fil-A at NYU has already vetted the company's operating policies.

Doesn't this make Quinn's position more malicious than necessary?

Loving Enemies

A couple of years ago, as Quinn's star continued to rise in Manhattan, her only credible opposition for mayor came from a skinny Jewish congressman, an expectant father nobody outside of New York City had ever heard of.  One explosive sexting scandal later, though, and the disgraced Anthony Weiner was out of office.  Recently, he's been making noises about entering the mayor's race, but he's likely going nowhere politically for a while.

Meanwhile, Quinn married her lover this past spring, and the two were featured in a glowing New York Times article as they entertained extended family at their summer home by the Jersey shore.

Obviously, Quinn is banking on voters appreciating the contrast:  an upstanding, spouse-affirming, family-doting civic servant opposite of Weiner's promiscuous double-standards.  Except Quinn is married to another woman.  And apparently, she's desperate for that contrivance to be acceptable in mainstream society.  Like other urban sophisticates, she tries to cloak her advocacy of gay marriage in a panoply of vainglorious cosmopolitan androgyny.

Yet isn't this a battle people like Quinn fight on the basis of exclusion, the very thing they accuse people like Chick-fil-A's Cathy of perpetrating on them?  The difference is that true followers of Christ are called to love people like Quinn, regardless of their sexual orientation, or how blatantly they seek to subvert them and their companies.

All of us evangelicals need to measure our responses to people like Quinn on the basis of Christ's expectations of us, not what gets political rabble-rousers the most attention.  Obviously, loving our enemies doesn't mean we don't have enemies.  However, to the extent that we let love for God's truth - instead of the "homophobia" of which we get accused - dictate our actions and responses to society's struggles, the disdain people like Quinn show for us is actually disdain for God.

Quinn may be posturing for a run at New York's iconic Gracie Mansion,* but if that's the only mansion in her future, you can kinda sympathize with her desperation.

* Gracie Mansion is the official residence for mayors of New York City

Friday, July 27, 2012

Weak Codas from Chick and Penn

Almost as an unwelcome coda to this week's dirge of wearying news, here are a couple of gems gleaned from the Internet today.

Chick-fil-A's PR Head Dies Suddenly

The first one comes from a Chicago Tribune article about the sudden death of Chick-fil-A corporate spokesman Don Perry from an apparent heart attack this morning.  Chick-fil-A, obviously, has been in the news a lot the past few days as gay marriage advocates have been decrying the company's endorsement of traditional marriage.  Perhaps Perry had been working too hard with this unprecedented flurry of attention, and his heart couldn't keep up, but his passing certainly comes at a noteworthy time for not only his family, obviously, but his employer.

Still, the good citizens of Chicago couldn't keep from eliciting the "Chicago values" their mayor said he so proudly protects.  Consider this brief exchange in the feedback section of the Tribune's story, between two women commenters and a man:

Susan Osada:  "How soon will right-wing fanatics start blaming the left for "killing" Mr. Perry?"

Maryellen Shute:  "Right on, Susan!!

Richard J Taylor:  "Not as long as it took two liberals"

Indeed, with constituents like Susan and Maryellen, Rahm Emanuel sure presents a sound moral defense for not wanting any more Chick-fil-A restaurants in the windy city.  Remember, supposedly, it's not called the "windy city" because of the weather, but the pontificating bluster of its politicians.

For the record, a cursory glance of the Boston.com website, home of the Boston Globe, revealed no coverage of the passing of Chick-fil-A's Perry.  But there was a prominent link to Ramadan 2012.

Like that's a religion whose adherents won't kill you for being gay - let alone wanting gay marriage.

Spanier Takes Coverup Skills to New Federal Post

The second bit of news comes from today's Washington Post, and an article about Graham Spanier's new job.

You'll recall Spanier as the disgraced former head of Penn State.  Apparently, since he's (yet) to be officially charged with any crime, he can still apply for and hold just about any job that will have him.  And who wants him working for them?  None other than you and me, apparently.  He's gotten himself a security job with our federal government.

Yes, it's true:  the guy who helped perpetrate a stunning cover-up at one of the country's most famous universities is now working under-cover for either the CIA, the FBI, the military, or Homeland Security.  His job is so important and top-secret that the government can't tell us what he's doing for us.

According to the Post's Emily Heil, "Spanier is working on a part-time consulting basis for a 'top-secret' agency on national security issues. But the gig is so hush-hush, he couldn’t even tell his attorneys the name of the agency. In April... he told the Patriot-News of central Pennsylvania that he was working on a 'special project for the U.S. government relating [to] national security.'"

Well, if the Louis Freeh report is anything to go by, our national security chiefs certainly have hired the right guy.  Secrecy is right up Spanier's alley.  Although, I'm not sure what it says about our federal government being willing to hire - in secret - a guy partly responsible for letting a suspected child predator pursue his crimes for years.

At least Freeh, who used to head the FBI, probably was NOT a reference.

Thank you, God, that it's Friday!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Chick-fil-A Cooks Food for Thought

What if...?

What if, instead of gay marriage, Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy had been talking about polygamy when defending traditional marriage?

Here's the part of his now-famous interview with the Baptist Press with which the mayors of Boston and Chicago have taken such strong - albeit unconstitutional - exception:

"The company invests in Christian growth and ministry through its WinShape Foundation. The name comes from the idea of shaping people to be winners.  It began as a college scholarship and expanded to a foster care program, an international ministry, and a conference and retreat center modeled after the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove.  'That morphed into a marriage program in conjunction with national marriage ministries,' Cathy added.

"Some have opposed the company's support of the traditional family. 'Well, guilty as charged,' said Cathy when asked about the company's position.  We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.  We operate as a family business ... our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that,' Cathy emphasized.

"'We intend to stay the course,' he said. 'We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.'"

Nowhere in his interview does Cathy even mention gay marriage, although we all know that whenever somebody's talking about the "traditional family" these days, it's in regards to the question of whether our society should embrace gay marriage.

But doesn't Cathy's position and quote fit not just our orthodox Christian view of marriage and family, but also the very reasons why any deviation from how the Bible defines a God-honoring, society-benefiting heterosexual marriage spells trouble?

Not that we should expect society to understand why it's not just sinful for same-sex lovers to be married.  It's hard to convince anybody intent on pursuing an unBiblical lifestyle that they're wrong, whether it's alcoholism, or love of money, or homosexuality.  The real argument involves the reality that gay marriage is at best a socially useless contrivance, and at worst, a defeatist population buster.  Why should any government endorse anything that does not perpetuate its basic building block: the biologically pragmatic family unit?

They Say Theirs is the Original Chicken Sandwich

Chick-fil-A's stance comes as no surprise to anybody who knows anything about the company. For one thing, every Sunday, every one of their restaurants are shuttered and dark all day long, in observance of the Lord's Day. Whether it's in a mall food court or along a boulevard lined with restaurants, the Chick-fil-A always stands out on Sundays, with its lights off and an empty parking lot.

Seeing as how Sundays have become a popular day for shopping and entertaining, you'd think a for-profit company would let the "Lord's Day" thing slide, since you know Chick-fil-A is losing money by closing for a full half of every weekend. But that's part of their testimony to the communities they're in: Chick-fil-A knows how to make money, but they also know Whose all that money really is.

For city leaders in Boston and Chicago to suddenly realize that Chick-fil-A is run on Christian ideals speaks as much to their northern geography as it does their politically liberal mindsets. Up until recently, Chick-fil-A has been mostly a southern company. I remember when my family moved down to Arlington, Texas, from Upstate New York, and we saw a weirdly-named take-out stand called "Chic fillet" in a local mall. Out in the parking lot, parked away from all the other cars, was usually a white two-door Lincoln Continental with the company's distinctive logo on the doors. I always thought it was some strange French sandwich shop. (I guess even then, I didn't really much care for the French!).

Little did I know about their decadent peach shakes, creamy cole slaw, cinnamon-tinged waffle fries, and signature chicken sandwiches. For fast food, Chick-fil-A is a bit pricey, but you certainly get a tasty, filling meal. Apparently, Chicago city leaders weren't aware that they already have a Chick-fil-A just off the Magnificent Mile. Otherwise, I'm sure their vociferous discrimination of the company would be laced with heavy disappointment at feeling obligated to condemn it for political appearance's sake.

After all, that's all this brou-ha-ha over Chick-fil-A is about.  Political posturing in our age of political correctness run amok.

What if Cathy had said something like, "well, yes, guilty as charged:  we don't approve of polygamy."

Who'd be so upset then?  Probably only some radical Mormons - not exactly a powerful political lobby.  After all, polygamy is not a socially-acceptable form of marriage.  And why isn't it?  Here's why:  societies have tinkered with it throughout history, and not one has managed to make polygamy benefit civilization in the long-term.

Marriage Benefits Government, Not the Other Way Around

Contrary to the many Biblically-illiterate people who defend gay marriage by saying the Old Testament endorses polygamy, God does not endorse plural marriage.  The Israelites accepted the practice because they were sinful, but just because some heroes of the faith had multiple wives doesn't mean that's God's design.  It just means that God uses sinners for His glory.

Because of the sinful way women were generally treated in Old Testament times, God made allowances for widows to be married by their deceased husbands' kin so that the woman and her children would be looked after.  Fortunately, by the time of Christ, governments had pretty much banned polygamy, mostly because by then, they'd discovered it doesn't really work.  One man cannot ordinarily support the type of large families polygamy produces.  And I imagine plenty of men learned that having multiple wives wasn't exactly as pleasurable in practice as it sounds in theory.

Just as polygamy does not benefit society, neither can gay marriage benefit society.  And the reason is surprisingly simple:  gay marriage is not designed to produce offspring.  Duhh... how many gay marriage advocates flunked biology?  Why should a government endorse something that is not in its best interests?

Yes, it sounds good to say that gays will be happier and better contributors to society if they can get married, but that's not why governments sanction marriage.  Contrary to popular myth - and the Declaration of Independence - marriage has nothing to do with happiness, at least as far as the government is concerned.  For our bureaucrats, it's all about lineage records and tax status.  If gay lovers want to advocate for looser insurance rules, or structure their wills to specify who gets their legacy, then what's stopping them?  The government's lack of need when it comes to authorizing gay marriage isn't discrimination, otherwise plenty of other non-biologically-productive pairings should be filing suit, too.

You Want Fries With That?

Indeed, discrimination is a word that seems to be quickly losing its meaning.  Cathy's critics should take careful note that neither he nor his company discriminates against anybody.  Yes, to our disgrace, evangelical Christianity's theological stance against gay marriage has been marred by various anecdotal evidence of mostly southern, mostly redneck preachers gaybashing from the pulpit.  Considering the unBiblical manner in which these men have celebrated such hateful rhetoric, they'll have a lot of explaining to do, if not someday here on Earth, then before God.

But who knows how many gay people work for Chick-fil-A and its many franchisees? How many gay people, before this recent fracas, openly enjoyed the hospitality at their local Chick-fil-A restaurant? The company does not discriminate based on sexual orientation, mostly because doing so is not Biblical. Homosexuality may be a sin, but it's no worse a sin than gluttony - a sin for which many of the restaurant's customers are probably guilty. Gay employees have known for a lot longer than the mayors of Boston and Chicago about their employer's Bible-based business strategy, and nobody's filed a class-action lawsuit yet.

All this boils down to is a group of increasingly empowered activists pursuing an agenda for inclusion into the social construct of the United States who cannot overcome the indomitable reality of God's created order.

Unlike polygamists, groups of which even today continue to pursue their unsustainable lifestyle, gay marriage advocates will likely, eventually, win in their attempts to legalize their relationships.  Too many people have either forgotten - or don't care - that civil government did not create the institution of marriage.  God did that Himself.  Governments throughout history have simply recognized how effective and efficient heterosexual marriage is in terms of building a society, so much so that we've taken it for granted.  Courts and legislators may assume they have the ability to redefine marriage, but any of their efforts will be as significant as the paper - or hard drives - on which those changes are documented.

Meanwhile, that old Chick-fil-A my family never bothered to try all those years ago is long gone, along with the entire mall it used to be in.  A sprawling warehouse complex sits there now.  And Arlington has three newer Chick-fil-A restaurants, and all of them are bustling, except on Sundays.

So I'm going to keep on enjoying the delicious fast food at all of our Chick-fil-A's!  Fortunately, the blustering mayors of Boston and Chicago, in their egregious pomposity, forgot to complain about how unhealthy this company's food is.

Otherwise, I'd have had to agree with them.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How Our News Media Uses Drug Violence

Tuesday must have been a slow news day here in the Fort Worth - Dallas area.

At least, up until the start of our 6:00pm local newscasts, when a crowd of angry protesters decided to make some noise for the cameras.

A well-known thug from an impoverished neighborhood in south Dallas had been shot to death by Dallas police officers after evading arrest.  He had actually fought hand-to-hand with one officer, and announced that he was either going to die or get away.  He wasn't going to get arrested.

Eventually, fearing for his own life, an officer shot the thug.  Police later discovered a smorgasbord of narcotics and guns in his home.  At this point, it's unclear whether the deceased had legal permits for those guns.

We know he didn't have any permits for the drugs.

Still, the man's mother felt like she knew enough about how officers had used unnecessary force against her son, and she managed to foment a small group of locals into a rowdy gang.  They yelled at police officers investigating the scene, and began to attract a larger crowd of folks with nothing better to do than join in.  Since it was a slow news day, producers at all of our local TV stations - Fox, NBC, ABC, and CBS, at least - were desperately monitoring the police scanners, hoping for some sort of action, and when they heard cops on the scene in south Dallas calling for back-up, that was all these news producers needed to hear.

Their choppers were soon in the sky and swooping over the alleyway where the angry mother and her band of troublemakers were.  Right on time, like clockwork!  All of the local stations were starting their newscasts with live video feed in the early evening hours of a crystal-clear day.  A perfect news story for them.  Great visibility, a line of black-uniformed, white-skinned police officers in helmets, and a churning crowd of a couple dozen black people pointing at the cops.  One news organization sent a cameraman on foot to the yellow crime scene tape separating the police from the crowd, and let an angry black woman - ostensibly the mother - give his station some great theater as she yelled and gestured, waving her arm, shaking her head, and stomping her feet.

Ten minutes into the coverage, as aerial footage of the melee panned back from the police line, we viewers could see that trotting towards the scene were a number of new arrivals, obviously lured by watching their televisions, or contacted by cell phone and invited to join in.  Indeed, several people in the crowd could plainly be seen talking excitedly into their cell phones, gesturing into the air just like the woman who was still yelling at the police.

Oh boy, I thought.  Just like the flash mobs on the East Coast.  This is summertime in Texas, too - way too hot for idle hands and frustrated brains to try and keep out of trouble.

And that's what the news producers were figuring, too.  Because they never cut back to any other news that might have happened during the day.  Even weather updates went by the board as news helicopters jockeyed for position over the scene, hoping to get the best angle in case a bona-fide riot broke out.  The eagerness with which news anchors delivered their repetitive play-by-play was palpable.

I hadn't been watching it this whole time, mind you.  I was mainly reading the newspaper.  But when I realized we weren't going to get a weather forecast, I turned the TV off.  I don't know what time the local news producers decided the cops had been too efficient and had managed to quell the disturbance, but I imagine everything was back to regular programming sooner rather than later, because a check on the Internet after about an hour revealed that no riot had taken place.

Such was not the case in Anaheim, California, last night.  After two Hispanic drug dealers were killed in separate incidents in that Orange County city this past weekend, a large group of Hispanics had convened at city hall Tuesday night for their city council's weekly meeting.  The shootings were on their agenda, and the Hispanic community wanted to know what police were going to do, basically, to prevent more drug dealers from getting killed.

Hey - you can't make this stuff up.

So many people turned up at city hall that the fire marshal was compelled to enforce the building's occupancy limit, which meant a lot of disgruntled Hispanics had to wait outside for the conclusion of the meeting.

Instead of waiting to hear what their city council discussed, however, groups of Hispanics began to scuffle amongst each other and with police that had been called in to help control the crowd.  Pretty soon, garbage cans were on fire, shop windows were broken, and police were chasing protesters who refused to vacate the scene.  Several people sustained minor injuries, at least one store was looted, and twenty people were arrested.

You'll have noticed by now that I'm not bothering to incorporate any journalistic impartiality in my narrative of these two civil disturbances.  Most of the time, I try to see more than one angle to a story, but in these two instances, any factual angles other than what the cops are saying only end up corroborating what the cops are saying.

All three of these "suspects" died running from cops.  If they were innocent, why did they run?  None of these men died trying to provide a rational explanation for their suspicious actions.  None of these men died without first putting police officers in harm's way.  One of the Anaheim thugs actually fired a gun at officers, and the other one in Anaheim and the thug in Dallas both acted like they were concealing a gun in their pants before they were shot.  True, perhaps death doesn't match the crimes of which they were suspected, but that was not a decision the police officers made unilaterally.  The decision to shoot was coerced from the officers by the thugs they were chasing.

These guys were not evading arrest by corrupt law agencies bent on subverting human rights and civil laws.  South Dallas and downtown Anaheim are not Mogadishu or Baghdad.  The fact that these men were killed after police had already been chasing them proves that the cops weren't out to shoot first and ask questions later.

Fortunately, at least here in Dallas, at least two powerful black members of the city council have come out strongly behind the police chief, and calling for restraint and patience as all of the facts are gathered and assessed in this case.  They've been making the rounds of our local TV stations today in a show of calm support for due process.  Some agitators who are not elected officials have tried to make waves in the media today, but many of their assertions and allegations have already been disproved by the small amount of information the city's medical examiner and public safety officials have been releasing every few hours.

To the extent that our local news media continues to foment the ire of south Dallas' residents by picking apart unsubstantiated rumors and innuendo on the air, maybe their quest for ratings will be rewarded as a group of people who always want to play the victim card - regardless of the facts - gets yet another season in the spotlight.

However, both in Anaheim and here in north Texas, the media needs to understand that yes, while its role is to report the news, it should not participate in making the news happen.

Liberals like to chide conservatives for using minorities and the poor as political and economic pawns.  But how often is our media one of the biggest culprits in blowing things out of proportion, exciting such excitable segments of the population under the guise of "reporting?"

Just like freedom in any segment of our society, freedom of the press carries with it a responsibility to the public that seems all too cavalierly tossed aside when it comes to ratings.  Which inevitably leads to a loss of credibility.  Of course, this part is really old news, since media ethicists have been harping on this topic for years.  You'd think the media, along with the drug dealers who want to run from the law, would have learned their lesson by now.

Unfortunately, just like those drug dealers, the media just can't seem to free itself from the very thing that threatens to destroy it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Partisan Laziness Disguised as Politics

You may not always agree with me, dear reader, but at least you know I'll admit when I'm wrong.

After the initial dust-up in conservative circles over President Barak Obama's off-hand remark about "you didn't build that," I kinda came to his defense, assuming he meant that yes, it does take a village.

Conservatives might not like that phrase - or its sentiment - because Hillary Clinton used it for the title of a book she wrote.  But it is a Biblical concept, and even a capitalistic one.

Nobody, particularly in a market-driven economy, acts in a vacuum.  The businesses which have been launched in our country and create remarkable products and employ thousands of Americans may be owned and managed by a select group of people.  These enterprises may have been the brainchild of one person, or a small group of people.  But from the Wright brothers, whose airplane idea benefited from all of the failed ideas which preceded it, to Steve Jobs, who created products nobody knew they wanted but wouldn't have been able to purchase if they hadn't already acquired some measure of wealth, every one of us operates in some grand, interconnected fashion that is a hallmark of free-market capitalism.

Rather than grouse about it, we should celebrate that fact, especially as conservatives, because "it takes a village" demonstrates how both personal responsibility and brilliant initiative can be rewarded.  In a socialistic and communistic system, initiative is mostly the result of punitive force by the state, and personal responsibility is considered irrelevant.

Maybe Americans Like Squabbling Instead of Productivity

But no, in the wacky world that is American politics, conservatives love twisting what liberals say, and vice versa.  A torrent of condemnation from the far right has fallen upon the President's poorly-crafted "you didn't build that" because it's more politically expedient to take what he said as a belittling of all-American individualism and competency.

At first, I didn't think that's what the President meant to say at all.

But I was wrong.

As the controversy over his "you didn't build that" comments continued unabated last week, Obama decided to clarify what he meant last Friday.  In an interview with a Florida television station, he claimed, "what I said was together we build roads and we build bridges."

In other words, Obama was saying that the government builds the infrastructure necessary for interstate commerce to succeed.

But was that really the overall thrust of his comments?  He talked about teachers and the Internet, too, assuming that the minimal amounts of federal funding education and communication technology receive represent part of the civil infrastructure too, I suppose.

Some conservatives have suggested that Obama, even with his "clarification," is implying a more ominous vision of the role government should play in our lives.  They say that "roads and bridges" points to the liberal notion that government should be involved in every part of daily life, managing and perhaps even manipulating how we learn, work, play, and serve.  Uncle Sam becomes more like Big Brother, ostensibly protecting us, but in reality, stripping us of our individuality and freedom.

Which, of course, is a version of utopia many left-wing liberals would love to see for the United States.  Maybe Obama is one of those people.  But it's hard to tell, since his "roads and bridges" is about as bad a clarification as his original "you didn't build that" was sloppy.  Maybe Obama is strategically trying to be crafty and coy, since he knows there are probably many moderate Democrats for whom utopia looks nothing like the far left's.

Is This the Best Use of Our Political Energies?

For Republicans, he simply can't win, since his being a Democrat already taints him in their eyes.  For pure, red-blooded American right-wingers, simply being a Democrat is tantamount to treason.  And frankly, Obama doesn't have a good track record of speaking extemporaneously.  It's part of his political naivete, I suspect, even after three grueling years in the White House, and proof, yes, of his overall ineptitude as a leader.  The various ways he's failed to communicate have plagued his administration in embarrassing ways, much like the foibles recurrent throughout his predecessor's tenure in the White House.  The thing is, each president has played to the desperate angst of his core constituency, who've forgiven their respective leaders more out of partisan cheerleading than factual honesty.

Ahh, yes,  that pesky partisanship.

Obama's weakly-stated correlation between government funding and the Internet set off a scramble among right-wingers to prove that the industry rapidly re-shaping our American economy owes no thanks to Washington bureaucrats and politicians.  The Wall Street Journal's Gordon Crovitz sarcastically stitched together some ad-hoc factoids from the vast history of the Internet's development to try and prove Obama got that part wrong.

Who invented the Internet?  We all know it wasn't Al Gore, but then again, no solitary individual invented the Internet.  Even reading Crovitz's piece, anybody with logic can realize the Internet has resulted from decades of research, investment, trial and error, and ingenuity on the part of individual scientists and teams of college professors.  Private industry, private and public universities, and government agencies participated along the way.  The Internet isn't even an all-American invention; scientists from Britain, Sweden, Holland, and Australia also contributed to its development.  Don't believe me?  Just Google it.  Or check out the many links readers of Crovitz's article have supplied to refute his flimsy assertions.

This is important because just as the President grasps at truth while stumbling through poorly-worded sound bites, his political foes are refuting reality with inaccurate vitriol.  It's almost as if nobody really cares where the solid bedrock of reality lies, as long as they can obfuscate the opposition's claims to have found it.  Meanwhile, dirt is flying as we excavate ourselves into a deeper political hole that may not even need to be dug.

Meanwhile, violence against Christians continues unabated in countries like Egypt and Nigeria.  What is the United States doing about this, except ostensibly supporting the broad assumption that democracy, even if it sweeps popular Muslim Brotherhood candidates into power, will work everything out?  In a sense, Obama's administration is content to play a bickering game over wording and semantics here at home, because spending time and effort arguing political philosophies is a lot easier than making tough decisions about civil rights around the world.

To the extent that conservatives - many of whom profess a religious affiliation - allow themselves to get caught up in these partisan skirmishes which deflect attention from more pressing concerns, we need to shake ourselves free from the shackles of Limbaughsian hyperbole and switch the dialog.  And to the extent that some of these Limbaughsian escapades have some kernel of merit that impacts how we deal with broader extenuating circumstances, then we need to argue our positions on the basis of logic and truth, and resist unproductive dalliances with hollow rhetoric.

Just because arguing about "roads and bridges" and "you didn't build that" is a lot easier, that doesn't make them worthy of our political discourse.

You want to see hard work and the American work ethic in action?  Let's quit talking and start focusing on the problems we're facing.

Monday, July 23, 2012

NCAA's Lesson for Penn State Fans

Worse than a death penalty.

That's how some college sports experts have been characterizing the NCAA's sanctions against Penn State announced this morning.

A death penalty would have decommissioned the university's vaunted football program for a year or so, and was widely assumed to be the likely punishment for Penn State's institutionalized indifference towards repeated allegations of Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse of children.

More than $60 million dollars in fines later, the nullification of several years of prior records, plus the stripping of legendary coach Joe Paterno's "winningest coach" sobriquet, and indeed, Penn State is probably wishing it had only been penalized a couple of years of football.

Cult of Denial

Paterno's family has already announced that they are going to mount a vigorous defense of their patriarch's legacy in light of the Louis Freeh report that Penn State commissioned and served as the basis for the NCAA's ruling.  And frankly, since the Freeh report is not the same as a jury verdict in a court of law, and since Paterno is no longer here to defend himself, it's not surprising nor particularly pig-headed of a close-knit family like his to rise to his defense.  Even if they don't seem to fully appreciate what he didn't do.

It's the same with Penn State's fans and others in the sports world who maintain that penalties punishing anybody other than the university's top officials are unfair.  Their logic comes from the assumption that team leaders bear sole responsibility for what happens both on and off the playing field.  Which, of course, is true, at least in terms of how the mechanics of their sport are executed.  After all, you can't blame a team's fans when a pass is intercepted, can you?

However, within sports in general, and college football in particular, there seems to be a cult of denial regarding the extent to which fans propel and dominate the ethos of their teams.

You'll recall that Penn State's former president Graham Spanier, former vice president Gary Schultz, and athletic director Tim Curley have been implicated in this scandal not because of what Sandusky did, but because they allegedly tried to cover it up.  And were he still alive, Paterno might be facing a criminal trial himself.  Not because of what Sandusky did, but because on the multiple occasions he heard allegations about his prized assistant coach, Paterno allegedly refused to pursue the truth.

Let's face it:  most parents would expect that if their child's youth sports coach was confronted with claims that an assistant coach was molesting children, the head coach would swiftly get to the root of the allegations.  Is that was Paterno did?  The Freeh report, based on hundreds of interviews and reams of data, concludes that he did not.

And why not?  Freeh claims that a "culture of reverence" insulated Paterno and Penn State officials from any perceived culpability in what Sandusky may or may not have been doing.  Paterno and his staff, after all, weren't mere volunteer youth sports coaches.

And what built and perpetuated that "culture of reverence?"  Penn State's fan base.  Fans who pay for game day tickets, who watch games on television, who purchase memorabilia, and donate to the school.  Fans who send their kids to Penn State because of its storied football program.  Fans who send their kids to Penn State to study at a school famous for its football and the lucrative opportunities that very football program provides the campus community.

It's been said that there was no "Penn State" before Joe Paterno.  And now, perhaps, the Penn State that the college sports industry has grown to idolize may be no more.  It certainly won't be the same Penn State when its football team takes to the field later this season.

Indeed, football will still be played this fall in State College, Pennsylvania.  But Paterno's statue won't stand beside Beaver Stadium, and plenty of Penn State fans will be just as livid about that as they are the NCAA's ruling against their team.  But like the Freeh report, the NCAA isn't making a ruling just against Penn State.  The NCAA is saying that college sports can be a great thing, but it's not the only thing.  College sports needs to be enjoyed relative to its purpose in American society.

And that purpose is less grandiose than fans mistakenly laud it to be, and weighted with far more obligation even to children too young to be Penn State students.

If Paterno and his superiors - indeed, if anyone was more powerful at Penn State than JoePa - had reacted with integrity upon the first allegations against Sandusky, things would have been markedly different.  Even if Sandusky had covered his tracks flawlessly, at least Penn State's officials would have proven that they were serious about justice.

But.  They.  Did.  Nothing.

Except ignore it.  Repeatedly.

Can We Handle the Truth?

If they had bothered to vet the allegations way back when, and discovered the truth, Sandusky would have faced criminal charges, and it would have been an unpleasant revelation for the school.  But the NCAA would likely have had little reason to instigate any punishments for Penn State.  Even if the school investigated, and Sandusky managed to hide his tracks, the NCAA wouldn't have much reason to punish Penn State.  After all, it's not a crime to investigate allegations and rumors with due diligence and fail to uncover the truth.

Yet nobody in charge wanted to know the truth, did they?  And why didn't anybody want to know the truth?  Because of how they feared the truth might damage their image.  Their rapport with their fans.  Their ability to be heroes in the the college football industry.

Sadly, it appears that somewhere along the way, these men lost their understanding of what a hero is.  A hero isn't somebody who ignores what's ugly.  A hero is somebody who confronts what's ugly and deals with it honestly.

It's no wonder that Penn State's fans don't like the pain being inflicted on them right now.  It's hard enough to assume responsibility for one's own actions, and even harder when as a member of a much larger group of people, you are forced to realize how your attitude has helped shape the negative behavior of others.

True, Sandusky can't blame Penn State's fans for his crimes against children.

But Paterno, Spanier, Schultz, and Curley effectively blamed Penn State's fans as the reason for ignoring the mounting charges against Sandusky.  And judging by the reaction of fans to the indictment of Sandusky this past winter, and their reaction in the wake of his trial, the NCAA at least agrees on this one point with those men.

Since fans participated - however indirectly - in the deception, they deserve to share in the fallout.

The sooner fans of all sports learn this lesson, the better our society can become.  As an institution of higher learning, Penn State is our living laboratory.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Finding God Amidst Aurora's Carnage

We're all particularly shocked, I suppose, because we all go to the movies.

Well, you probably go more often than I do, but still; we understand it could have been us.  There's little about this morning's massacre in Aurora, Colorado, that makes it geospecific.  We can all relate to sitting in a crowded, darkened theater, engrossed in whatever thrilling scene is splayed before us on a giant screen, our ears being bombarded with noises and special effects to make it seem oh-so-real.

And then we wake up this morning to news that a gunman took advantage of such a vulnerable movie audience to slaughter 12 people and injure dozens more in suburban Denver.  He'd walked through one of those discrete emergency exit doors like those that exist in the front of every modern theater, facing an entire room full of potential targets ensconced in plush reclining seats spaced just close enough together where getting in and out can be tricky, even when all of the lights are on.

And he opened fire.

We can almost put ourselves into the scene just hearing about it - a feat of the imagination movie producers spend millions of dollars to replicate on the silver screen.

Try a Different Perspective

Already, not even 12 hours after the tragedy inside that Colorado multiplex, pundits are coming out of the woodwork, rhapsodizing about what this means for America, how such a thing could happen, calling for further restrictions on guns, and calling for good wishes for the victims and their families.

And at the risk of joining this emotional sociopolitical backlash by people who weren't there and don't know all of the facts relating to how and why 24-year-old James Holmes did what he did, let's focus on what we do know:  at its core, today's shootings are the result of sin, the downfall of mankind.

Amidst all of the chatter over Aurora's tragedy, have you yet realized that, in God's eyes, what Holmes did is no worse than the sins you and I commit regularly?  They're all an offense before our Creator.  Granted, our sins may not result in as many victims as Holmes', and murder is a particularly despicable sin which civilized societies cannot tolerate, but God's Word teaches that every sin except one has equal repugnance in terms of His holiness, and demonstrates our need for redemption through His amazing grace.

I could also go on to add that as a reformed evangelical, I believe every person who died early this morning at the Century 16 would have faced their eternal destiny at that time whether through being murdered by Holmes, or by some other means.  God allows death to happen for a variety of reasons, and He allows even the methods of death for a variety of reasons.  But at their core, whenever and however each of us dies, the methods God allows represent an expression of His sovereignty.

God's Sovereignty and Our Accountability

Of course, it's at this point where even reformed evangelicals like myself have a hard time grappling with how our sovereign God could allow people like Holmes to carry out such evil on His creation.  I suppose the most technical answer is that all of us besmirch or destroy God's creation to varying degrees all the time, yet in the interest of self-preservation, we find something particularly evil about murder.  After all, human life has eternal significance, and is the vehicle through which God Himself chose to have fellowship with His creation.  Christ tells us that since God loves even His aviary creations, how much more will He provide what His human creations need.  That's one reason why evangelicals abhor abortion - life is a gift ordained for and sustained by God, not ours to destroy. 

It gets mind-boggling pretty quickly when you stop to think about the big picture after these sensational catastrophes.  I suspect this is one reason why we find it easier to quibble over lesser reasons, such as how evil today's movies have become, with all of their depictions of rampant killings, destruction, and mayhem.  It's also far more comforting to argue over gun control, because we can feel like we're doing something productive in either blaming machinery or protecting our citizenry's rights to bear arms.

Speaking of which, this shooting having taken place in Colorado, a pretty gun-savvy state, isn't it surprising that nobody in Holmes' theater was packing heat?  And if anybody was, they apparently weren't able to get off a couple of rounds to protect the audience, which is ostensibly the reason gun rights advocates say the Second Amendment needs to be preserved.  Might even the most ardent gun supporter not be able to react quickly enough when bizarre scenes like this spontaneously unfold in everyday life?

I'm not a gun control freak, but when was the last time one of these attacks was thwarted by a pistol-packing Good Samaritan?
Might it be more productive for us Americans to have a serious discussion about how much violence we're going to tolerate in our entertainment?  Not just in movies, but in video games, which can be far more brutal in terms of violent content than the Batman movie premiering during Holmes' rampage this morning.

Are there ways our society should explore to minimize the chances of such an atrocity happening again?  Absolutely.  Recognizing the role sin plays in life does not absolve us of seeking to mitigate it and its effects.  At the end of the day, however, we're each responsible for our own actions and decisions.  Plenty of gun owners and people who've been subjected to the same - or worse - stimuli that Holmes has experienced in our society have been able to lead considerably less-violent lives. 

"Seek peace and pursue it" remains one of God's mandates for believers in Christ.  And many unsaved people also recognize that peace benefits society far more than violence.

In terms of committing acts of murder, sure, virtually all of us are "better" than Holmes because we've never killed anybody, nor do we plan to.  Yet apart from Christ and His salvific work on the Cross of Calvary, we're no better in terms of our standing before God and our own pecking order of sins than this shooter who purportedly is some sort of PhD. candidate in the medical field.

But instead of concentrating on Holmes, or even his victims, shouldn't we concentrate on Christ?  He's the One Who presents all of us - even Holmes, if he ends up at some point professing Christ as his Savior - undefiled before our Righteous Judge.  The Judge Whose righteousness we oftentimes ignore or marginalize as we compare ourselves to our fellow man instead of His Son.

Not that we don't grieve over the continual loss of humanity this morning's tragedy illustrates.  But that we remember God loses nothing to humanity.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Just a Little Bit More Than the Law Will Allow

And then there's this:

Last week, a state trooper in Bradley, Maine, pulled over Rosco P. Coltrane, fabled sheriff of television's Hazzard County.

Okay, so the Maine state trooper is real, but the driver he pulled over was a Maine civilian who collects memorabilia from the classic 1980's TV show, the Dukes of Hazzard.  It wasn't the driver who was committing an offense, but the car he was driving - a white, mint-condition 1978 Dodge Monaco (pictured above), complete with sheriff decals, emergency lights, and a siren.

Oh yeah - and a stuffed animal named "Flash," after Coltrane's languid basset hound, in the back seat.

Once the owner of the replica cruiser explained his vehicle to the mystified trooper, named Michael Johnston, Trooper Johnston let him off with a warning to have its emergency lights and siren disconnected.  Even though everybody else in town already knows it's just a show car.

Now, if like Trooper Johnston, you're too young to recognize the '78 Dodge from its days as a ubiquitous police cruiser, allow me to remind you about the Dukes of HazzardI've commented before on that true period piece - it aired during the same era as the prime time soap opera, Dallas.  Poorly written, horribly directed, and badly acted, Dukes was even worse than the artistically-challenged Dallas, but just as wildly popular.

(What does it say about the 1980's that these were two of its signature TV shows?)

There wasn't much cheatin', back-stabbin', and cutthroat oil dealin' in Dukes, but it had what most any other TV show needs to succeed:  goofy comedy, a flashy car (in the form of an orange Dodge Charger with the Confederate Flag painted on its roof), good guys always comin' out on top, and a gorgeous girl.

Catherine Bach played Daisy Duke, the gorgeous girl, and her impossibly short denim shorts - not exactly a new fashion idea - soon were called "Daisy Dukes" because, well, she embodied them so well.

John Schneider and Tom Wopat played the mischievous Duke brothers, Bo and Luke; two guys who never seemed to have regular work, unless you count always running afoul of the county's white-suited villain, Boss Hog. Boss Hog, played by Sorrell Booke, used his feeble-brained sheriff, Coltrane, to protect all of his various nefarious business schemes.  The Duke brothers' iconic orange Charger, christened the General Lee, was just as famous as any of the show's human actors, and exaggerated car chases between the General Lee and Sheriff Coltrane's cruiser - and sometimes, Boss Hog's old white Cadillac convertible - usually ate up more air time than the show's dialog did.

Backing up that cast was the wizened, grizzled Uncle Jesse; the greasy mechanic, Cooter, who usually ended up having to get Bo and Luke out of trouble; and the docile, bashful Deputy Strate, who for southern law enforcement agencies, made about as cringe-worthy a reincarnation of Mayberry's ineffective Barney Fife as any of the show's other blatant stereotypes.

Oh yes - and Flash, the sad-eyed old hound who'd probably seen so many of his owner's hijinks go awry, nothing could perturb him anymore.

Really, it shouldn't have been as popular as it was, but it was.  And its popularity came from its uncanny ability to portray a simpler place and time in American folklore.  Something not quite turn-of-the-century Old South provincialism, but not quite modern-day suburbs-invading-the-countryside, either.  Good and evil were easier to spot and deal with, with good ol' common sense and family values ruling the day.

Of course, it's rather ironic that a cop in rural Maine would pull over a benign, unofficial cop car outfitted as a replica of southern sheriff Coltrane's veee-hickle, as Coltrane would say.  Geographically speaking, Maine is about as far north from the South as you can get, but in terms of its slower pace of life, both New England and the Deep South have a lot in common.  Switch the accents, and take out all of the wealthy Boomers who've recently retired to Maine, and Dukes could have been filmed in the Pine Tree State.  For something like a state trooper's concern over a replica squad car to make news speaks to the down-home nature of Maine, and probably would have made news down South if it happened there, too.  Here in urban north Texas, this wouldn't be news, because most of our local police departments are too busy fighting real crime.

Indeed, word is beginning to spread here in Arlington, between Fort Worth and Dallas, that a new urban gang may be trying to establish itself in the northern part of town.  Just today, our neighborhood crime watch sent out an e-mail with the link to a video on YouTube showing a group of about twenty gangsta-type wannabies in a local park rapping with vulgarities and sinister swagger about drugs and general mayhem.  This same group is suspected of vandalizing another city park and bullying groups that had legitimately reserved pavilions at local parks.  Arlington never used to have a real crime problem, but it has now for years, and the small-town feel that was still here when my family moved down in the late 1970's is long gone.

It's this kind of stuff that is unsettling and even threatening to people like my neighbors and me, since we live in an established neighborhood, and are surrounded by dilapidated apartments like the ones featured in the video.  People who used to leave their front doors unlocked during the day now have security alarms, motion sensors, and closed-circuit cameras wired all over their properties.  If this new gang proves to be a genuine threat, what's next?

If only we had the crime problems like Trooper Johnston - shucks, and even Sheriff Coltrane - have, then everyday life would be a lot less stressful.

Oh well, at least in Bradley, Maine, traffic is tame enough for this replica cruiser's owner to drive his classics around town without fear damaging them - or having them get stolen.  Here in north Texas, meanwhile, driving is done pretty much the same way Bo and Luke careened their General Lee through those dirt roads and ramps on the studio lot.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

France Loves Hating its Rich

I'll admit it:  I've never been much in love with the French.

When I lived in New York City, a group of friends and I once pondered which nationality made for the worse tourists to the Big Apple, and the French made the head of the list.  We considered them to be rude and obnoxious - and coming from New Yorkers, that's saying something.

The Japanese made #2 on the list, as I recall, mostly because of their frustrating habit of gathering in a wide circle to bow at each other on the sidewalk outside of restaurants when they had finished a meal.  New York City sidewalks are made for transportation, not group calisthenics.

At least the Japanese, however, were trying to be polite to each other.  The French seem to not even care for their own people.  Of course, as generalities and stereotypes go, the French have given the world plenty of ammunition with which to shoot up their fabled, gilded, bureaucracy-bloated culture.  I'm sure individually, people from France can be quite charming and hospitable, but the face they collectively show the world often is anything but.

Take, for example, today's announcement that Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be paid 14 million euros annually to play soccer for the Paris Saint-Germain team.  Good news for him - at least, at first.  But it's better news for the French government.  The country's newly-elected president, Francois Hollande, has proposed a whopping 75% tax rate for anybody earning over 1 million euros a year (roughly $1.23 million).

Seventy. Five. Percent.

For all of my readers who think I'm a socialist or Democrat, hear me when I say that a 75% income tax rate is wholly immoral.  It's obscene, extraordinarily punitive, and, were this the United States, possibly unconstitutional.

True to form, one government official in Paris is already defending the 75% rate, scoffing that paying anybody 14 million euros to play a sport proves that more regulation is needed in France!

How anybody can blame high salaries solely on the lack of government regulations and keep a straight face is beyond me, but leave it to the French to draw such a correlation.  In the real world, shouldn't it be obvious that if anybody is not worth that much money to a soccer team, the team probably wouldn't be paying it?

And particularly when it comes to sports, if the athlete is a genuinely gifted phenom, then why can't they be worth what the market will pay them for their talents?  Salaries for athletes aren't like Wall Street bonuses or CEO stock options, which often seem to be more play money than legitimate, value-based compensation.  It may be that a team charges too much for tickets, or has duped broadcasters into over-paying for coverage of its matches, but on the whole, the sports industry is pretty much based on raw performance.  We Americans grumble all the time about how much our celebrity athletes are paid, but nobody has yet been able to come up with a compelling replacement for market demand.  If fans are stupid enough to support a €14 million salary for a player, why blame the player?

Because that's what Hollande wants to do, not only to Ibrahimovic, but to anybody fortunate enough - or, in this case, unfortunate enough - to earn over €1 million a year.  Good grief, I'm sounding uncomfortably similar to Rush Limbaugh here, but isn't it obvious?  Hollande wants to blame rich people for the money they make.

What's significant about the €1 million benchmark, anyway?  How did he arrive at that figure?  Currently, France's highest income tax bracket sets the threshold at €279,132, with a taxable rate at 41%, which is bad enough.  What if highly-paid French employees asked their employer to pay them €999,999.99 a year, with the rest of their income set aside in some sort of slush fund in the Caribbean?  Why should a person paid €900,000 a year receive preferential treatment over somebody who earns €1,100,000 per year?  Unless Hollande plans on imposing similarly ridiculous tax rates on high-six-figure incomes?

However you slice it, a 75% income tax rate reeks of unbridled greed and envy.  Okay, so maybe in the grand scheme of life, paying an athlete €14 million a year is silly and wasteful.  Maybe this is one of the areas in free market economics where morality doesn't quite keep pace with reality.  But is it any more moral to claim such a significant chunk of somebody's paycheck simply because you think it's too high?

To the extent conservative Americans are claiming that liberal tax policies amount to wealth redistribution, Ibrahimovic's very public scenario posits a clear and compelling proof of such claims.  Does that mean everybody should pay the same income tax rate?  Not necessarily, because as I've written before, it's a Biblical fact that "to whom much is given, much is required."  The French even have a phrase for it:  "noblesse oblige."  But at the same time, Jesus knew that tax collectors cheated workers out of their earnings; otherwise He wouldn't have encouraged Zacchaeus to return what he had earned through fraud.

Besides, logic dictates that particularly in a republic, there must be equity in tax codes, otherwise they'll become a complete joke, and provide a compelling argument for discrimination based on wealth.  I'm not sure a sound argument can be made that income tax rates which fluctuate a few percentage points between pay grades are immoral or illegal.  But demanding somebody hand over three-fourths of their income to the government?

Sacré bleu.

Then again, considering the reputation France already has, perhaps this latest swing at their uber-rich means simply "c'est la vie."

Yet another reason to be content not to be a millionaire... or at least, a French one.

To get a sense of how far France has strayed from the republican ideals for which Theodore Roosevelt praised it in 1910, click here. By the way, in this speech, Roosevelt endorses "to whom much is given, much is required," too!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hard-Boiled Television

A hard-boiled egg.

These days, at least for Rupert Murdoch's Fox Broadcasting network, a hard-boiled egg represents a climactic, quarter-million-dollar gamble.

Last night, prime time foodie fans of Fox's MasterChef were treated to a stunning, white-knuckle, drumrolled, perspiration-inducing, freaking-out climax of epic reality TV sensationalism when, for what seemed like hours, we waited to learn if one of its contestant's hard-boiled eggs really was hard-boiled.

At that very moment, kids and their parents around the world were literally starving to death, yet Fox had the gall to tease its viewers - and MasterChef's contestants - with whether a yolk would run or not.

I had just turned my TV on, was flipping channels, and caught a glimpse of somebody on my local Fox station tapping an egg to a soundtrack comparable to the iconic Jaws theme.

At first, I thought it was a comedy show, so that's why I stopped flipping channels.  I'm not a foodie, but good, slapstick comedy gets me every time.  Only this wasn't comedy, slapstick or otherwise.  Turned out, even the teaser about this egg standing between two contestants and $250,000 wasn't even true.  The guy whose egg I saw the judge tapping lost that round - his egg was hardly cooked at all - but his competitor was booted off the show instead.

And boy, did she wail and weep over that.  Such drama!

Apparently, it's come to this for Fox, its audience, and even America's trendy foodie groupies.  You have to wonder if somewhere, back in some plush conference room in Murdoch's media empire, a bunch of entertainment executives were bending over backwards to come up with the most inane scene for one of their shows.

"Hey - let's have a poorly-animated baby curse like a sailor on national television!  Oh, yeah - we've already done that with Family Guy."

"I know - let's get Paris Hilton to mock everybody who isn't like her!  Oh wait - we've done that already, too."

"Here's one - how many women can we get to fawn over some rich guy so he'll marry one of them?  Um, but we'll need to make it different from Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire."

Not that the rest of our vaunted television industry hasn't made fools of themselves - and their viewers - over the years.  But Fox actually seems to enjoy doing it, and best of all, has figured out how to make tons of money doing it, over and over again.

Is this why conservatives still insist that somehow, Fox News is even better than Murdoch's other entertainment ideas?  He's making money with this stuff, so it must be good?

OK, so maybe all of modern TV isn't worse than the golden age of television.  It may be vapid these days, but in some important aspects, television has thankfully outgrown some bad habits.

This past weekend, for example, a local station here was running a McHale's Navy marathon in memory of recently deceased actor Ernest Borgnine, whose fame came partly from that early 1960's vintage sitcom.  It's set on an island in the South Pacific during the Second World War, and Borgnine's character, Quinton McHale, commands a PT boat and its crew, fighting the Japanese.

Well, the Japanese, along with their commanding officer, the bureaucratic Captain Binghamton.

Trivia buffs will know that McHale's Navy not only made Borgnine a TV star, but also launched the careers of comedian Tim Conway and The Love Boat's Gavin MacLeod.

At any rate, this show having been made back more than 50 years ago, references to the Japanese included descriptions that today we'd consider to be not only politically incorrect, but downright rude.  Characters on McHale's Navy jokingly described Japanese people as having almond-shaped eyes, and called them by various derogatory slurs.  And it wasn't just the Japanese the show made fun of.  In one episode, country folk from Tennessee were roundly caricatured as slovenly hicks and bumpkins, better at square dancing than thinking.

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I watched three of those shows in the TV marathon before realizing that sitcom may actually help explain bigotry's prominence in its day.  I wondered if Borgnine would have considered his show as a fitting a tribute to his legacy now, despite its popularity when it first aired.

To Fox's credit, there were people of both genders and several ethnicities on MasterChef, with no hint at all of any stereotyping, and certainly no racial slurs.  I'm not sure MasterChef could have featured such diversity if it had aired back during the McHale's Navy era, which is saying something.  And true, considering how so many of today's shows have devolved into blatantly promiscuous and pornographic garbage, the only thing suggestive last night was the curvaceous shape of the egg.

But still... despite the ethical advancements television has made in some areas, isn't it just as hard as ever to justify spending the time it takes to watch what Hollywood executives dish out for us?  And no, I'm not getting on a soap box about world hunger and how our foodie culture trivializes global poverty.  Plenty of studies have proven that the world has plenty of food; hunger and famine today are caused by politics, not the lack of food.  Still, an inequitable distribution of food (however solvable) even in the United States seems to be mocked by Fox's apoplexy over food trivialities.

And if a hard-boiled egg represents cutting-edge television these days, what does that say about the way we Americans entertain ourselves?

As I disgustedly flipped away from Fox last night, I felt like the joke - or, as one of McHale's men might say, the "yolk" - was on me.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Does it Take a Village?

"It takes a village."

This slogan acquired a political tinge when Hillary Clinton used it as the title of her 1996 book about rearing children.  Conservatives liked to sneer about subversive left-wing overtones from having the wife of a Democratic president writing that parents aren't autonomous in their authority, capabilities, or responsibilities.

The fact that Clinton countered with claims of her conservative critics being part of some "vast right-wing conspiracy" didn't help prove her basic point, however, that yes: we as a society share varying degrees of responsibility when it comes to the next generation of citizens we produce.

But having it take a village isn't just a political notion.

Think Group

With the tragic Sandusky/Paterno saga continuing to unfold across Happy Valley and the United States, even as pundits call for broad punishments like an NCAA death penalty for Penn State football, some Penn State fans refuse to acknowledge that their own adulation of the system which helped perpetuate Sandusky's abuse of children can't be ignored.  In sports, and particularly college sports programs, being afraid of the fans propels decision-making and empire-building.  But fans like to think they're innocent, and sports programs prefer for fans to assume so, too.  Think about it:  what was the one reason nobody at Penn State wanted to risk making a big deal out of the persistent accusations against Sandusky?  Fear about how their fans would react.

College sports is all about money - the money fans will pay for the idealized glory of youth.

Ahh, yes... money.

Late last week, during a campaign appearance in Virginia, President Barak Obama was talking about business owners and entrepreneurs, and he sloppily made the assertion that "if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen."

Of course, right-wingers have pounced on that sentence and taken it out of context.  Granted, that one sentence is inaccurate and politically damaging, but when taken in the whole of what Obama was trying to stay, doesn't it lose its punch?

The President had been talking about how creating a profitable company in America doesn't happen in a socioeconomic vacuum.  He prefaced his controversial sentence by some far less objectionable reasoning:  "If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges."

How can you argue with that?  To the extent that "it takes a village" for anybody to be successful, Obama is right.  Shucks - capitalism itself is based on this statement.  Otherwise, how can you sell anything if you don't have any customers?

Since liberals usually get blasted for the "village" schtick and conservatives adhere more to a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mantra, does that make "it takes a village" a purely sociopolitical construct?  How should we believers in Christ view the role of community?  Could it even be possible that God agrees with Hillary Clinton on this one?

Church as Village

Salvation, of course, is through Christ alone.  Yet in terms of our process of sanctification, a village model can be seen throughout scripture.  Consider, for example, the many times the nation of Israel won and lost battles.  Didn't they win and lose as a nation?  When they lost because of one person's sin, didn't the whole nation suffer?

When Phinehas killed the Israelite and his Midianite adulteress, God ended a plague He had sent upon the entire nation.

Then there was Achan, who kept for himself some of the plunder from the fall of Jericho, and God allowed 36 of Achan's fellow countrymen to be killed by warriors from Ai.  When Achan's sin was discovered, he and his entire family were stoned to death and burned. 


Of course, then there's this little gem of what sounds like anti-American drivel, only it's from the apostle Paul:

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others."

I belong to you, if you're a follower of Christ?  And you belong to me?

Does that make you feel as uncomfortable as it makes me?

As the kicker, Paul adds in verse 13, "share with God's people who are in need."  This verse serves as one of the main planks of the social gospel platform that some right-wingers like to revile as un-American.  Some Christians debate whether we should bestow such compassion exclusively upon people already in the church, or whether everyone, regardless of faith, should be included, as some similar passages in Proverbs appear to suggest.  Whatever your opinion in that debate, at least as debates go, it appears to have far more merit that arguing against the village model God provides in His Word.

Maybe, however, it's only our village idiots who can't process this reality of community God apparently wants - and expects - among His believers.  Even corporate worship is itself a form of village-think.  In Psalm 116:14, the psalmist says he will pay his vows to the Lord "in the presence of all His people."

It's a concept that's hard to avoid in the Bible.

Don't think I'm preaching to you something that I've already embraced fully myself.  I like fellowship, but within boundaries and for predetermined periods of time.  I don't like paying taxes, particularly with so much waste in our entitlement programs, and I get easily agitated when reminded to look out for the welfare of other people.  Yes, that's a Biblical command, too.

So, it does indeed take a village, even if Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama say so, and Penn State fans don't.  At least the village model is built on two-way streets.  Everybody has responsibilities and obligations, not just a few people in the community.

Unfortunately, it appears the costs to the village only multiply the longer we refuse to admit it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Our Airport's Idea Should Never Fly

It's baaaack.

Plans for a new mixed-use development on the sprawling grounds of Dallas - Fort Worth International Airport.

"So what," you say?

OK, so maybe this doesn't compete for significance with Ralph Lauren's uniforms for the US Olympic team being made in China.  Or with a staffer in Barak Obama's re-election campaign recklessly calling Mitt Romney a felon.

But if you ever fly into or out of what we call the "Big Airport" - DFW - then you might end up paying for this project.

It was 2007, and construction cranes were swinging over brand-new building projects all over north Texas.  People were joking how those tall steel cranes had become the unofficial state bird, they proliferated so throughout the horizon.

Apparently feeling left out of all of the excitement new office buildings, hotels, retail centers, and restaurants can bring, even though they were building a monstrous new international terminal and hotel complex themselves, executives at the Big Airport decided they needed one of those hip new urban lifestyle centers.  An office tower or two, a couple of high-rise hotels, an open-air shopping center, and trendy restaurants sprinkled throughout.  Some extended-stay facilities and even private apartment buildings were probably in the mix, too, although they weren't going to be the big draw.

Airport officials said they needed to provide air travelers with something to do while they waited for flights.  They said they had so much land just sitting idle, they felt like they weren't being good public stewards.  After all, they can only tack on so many revenue-generating fees to airplane tickets and reservations at the hotels and car rental firms already operating on the airport's property.  With this new urban village on the fringes of their mighty runways, they could raise more money to maintain the airport and fund future expansions.

Nothing came of those grand plans then, but now, the airport is dusting them off, and mulling the options for jump-starting things by building a new administration headquarters for themselves.  Southgate Plaza, as their dream development is called, could become reality in as little as two years.

Except that the airport's charter says it's supposed to be an airport, not a real estate developer.  Granted, inside each of their terminals, they already rent space to restaurants, coffee shops, newsstands, and other traveler-oriented businesses.  The airport also operates two high-rise luxury hotels adjacent to two existing terminals.  Very little of what they're proposing to incorporate into their new project will be a new form of business for them.

But should the airport be in business to basically poach business from other local businesses?  Think about it:  the reason restaurants and hotels already exist on the airport's property involves their proximity to travelers.  It's a convenience issue as well as a security issue, especially since only ticketed travelers can access any of the restaurants.  Nobody complains about the amount of retail, restaurant, and hospitality business the airport currently does because it doesn't really take any customers away from other for-profit and taxable businesses outside of the airport.

And the word "taxable" is key here.  All municipalities derive significant operating funds from sales taxes.  With DFW, it gets a little tricky, since the airport is a complex organization controlled to varying degrees by several municipalities, from suburban Grapevine on its western side to Fort Worth, whose city boundaries were intentionally gerry-mandered to reach the airport's grounds when it was being built, and Dallas, which is miles from the airport.  Indeed, federal legislation was necessary to get Fort Worth and Dallas to jointly lead the venture of constructing what was, when it opened in the 1970's, the world's largest airport.  It's still a large airport, both in terms of geographic size, and in terms of the number of passengers, daily departures, and every other airline industry metric.

We sure don't call it the "Big Airport" for nothing!

Indeed, it boasts two main entrances, one at either end of a long, broad parkway which connects all of the various terminals.  A recently-completed people-mover system, which replaced the antiquated and unreliable original, makes getting around the airport a breeze, especially if you don't have a car.  Crime is low at the airport, and practically invisible to most travelers.  It's not as clean as it used to be, but then again, most travelers today aren't as clean as they used to be, either.

It all makes for a fairly engaging package, as big airports go, which is why the airport's executives think a glorified shopping plaza will work on their grounds.  And they've got plenty of room for it.  Acres of natural woodland spread across their property's southern flanks, along a major freeway which runs between both Fort Worth and Dallas, as well as between two other perpendicular freeways.  As the Realtor's mantra goes, "location location location" certainly fits the site upon which airport executives want to build.

But even if travelers need more dining, retail, and hospitality options on the airport's property, and even if people planning on flying out to glamorous destinations like New York or Hawaii or London want to spend an hour or two before their flight browsing some chain stores just inside the airport's perimeter, can't you see the flaws here?

First, although the sales taxes collected would go to the airport, they're already proposing an increase of the fees they tack on every hotel stay and rental car at DFW.  Those new fees will pay for that deluxe new headquarters building of theirs designed to anchor Southgate Plaza.  Does anybody really think the airport board will get rid of those fees when additional revenue from sales taxes start rolling in?

Will it be a cash cow for the airport anyway?  Plenty of restaurants and hotels already line the freeway outside its doorsteps, both to the north and the south.  And plenty of private land is still available for development, which means the retail, restaurant, and hospitality market is not yet saturated around the airport.  Shouldn't the airport, as a public entity, wait for the free-market dynamics available to private property owners to get exhausted before they copy such development on their own land?

And speaking of land, how do we know that at some point in the future, the airport won't need this land for further development of its core competency:  air travel?  Might it need this land for longer runways?  More radar and communications installations?  Maybe even a new mass transit depot?  Or more stringent security measures?

Back in 2007, when I learned of their original plans, I raised a bit of a stink with a couple of local politicos I know, and at least one fairly influential leader came forward as being staunchly opposed to the project.  I know, because he e-mailed me.  Another leader vowed to fight for new rules to try and mitigate the impact such a project could have on other cities around the airport.

Then the economy tanked in 2008, and brand-new shopping plazas were left half-built or half-empty across north Texas.  Even today, retail construction has yet to bounce back, although both Fort Worth and Dallas have built brand-new high-rise luxury hotels for their convention centers.

Which brings up another question:  how much more airport-centric lodging is needed?  Don't travelers prefer staying near their destinations anyway?  Who spends their vacation at the airport?  (By choice, anyway?)

If Southgate Plaza gains any traction, perhaps our region's power brokers will force some concessions that will address the sales tax issue and the poaching of customers from other businesses already located around the airport.  But even the airport's idea of building its own brand-new headquarters to consolidate functions currently scattered throughout multiple buildings reeks more of bureaucratic boondoggle than sound quasi-government policy.

Doesn't blaming inefficiencies on geographic distance in today's era of communication technologies sound more like a leadership problem than an administrative one?

I don't see how adding more fees for the traveling public to pay - so airport bigwigs can play real estate developer - will help solve anything.