Saturday, July 04, 2015

Let Freedom Ring

Freedom of the press. Freedom of speech. Freedom of assembly. Freedom from reality. Former governor of Arkansas Mike "Slappin' Da Bass" Huckabee would like right thinking Americans to exercise some of those rights. Governor Mike suggests civil disobedience as a response to the Supreme Court's ruling on Gay Marriage. "I don’t think a lot of pastors and Christian schools are going to have a choice. They either are going to follow God, their conscience and what they truly believe is what the scripture teaches them, or they will follow civil law. They will go the path of Dr. Martin Luther King, who in his brilliant essay the letters from a Birmingham jail reminded us, based on what St. Augustine said, that an unjust law is no law at all. And I do think that we’re going to see a lot of pastors who will have to make this tough decision."
Interesting that Governor Mike would invoke the name of Martin Luther King Jr., since Doctor King organized his marches and boycotts and protests to encourage freedom from oppression. Kind of like the way marches and boycotts and protests have been organized over the past forty-five years by gay men and women to bring attention to their struggle. These kind of movements are generally founded in the midst of a group that  is striving to have their voice heard. The Supreme Court's ruling is the culmination of this struggle. Well, at least it's a very nice start. 
What isn't clear is exactly what Governor Mike's group of oppressed clergy and right thinking Americans are being denied. As many wits more clever than I have pointed out, legalizing gay marriage does not mean that we all need to start pairing off with members of our own sex. Hetero marriage is still legal, at least as of this writing. Freedom from that kind of oppression is just a touch on the imaginative side. Sure, we live in very interesting,  turbulent times. Republican presidential candidates are soliciting donations from newly legalized pot growers. Okay. One of them is. Socialized medicine has been approved by a group of "unelected, black robed lawyers." Well, not exactly. What is apparent is just how slippery a slope we seem to be on currently. There is a boatload of fear out there, and  if this were 1776, it would make a whole lot of sense to throw some or all of it overboard. The trouble with that is this: fear floats. It is also great TV. Especially during an election. Or the run up to an election. 
Another point in our country's history that Governor Mike would like us  to consider is the Dred Scott decision. The one from 1857 that African Americans could not be citizens, whether they were free or slaves. What if, Governor Mike wonders, no one had stood up to that Supreme Court decision? Well, it seems as though the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, along with the Civil War, pretty much settled that can of bigoted hash. But I'm no Constitutional Scholar. Not like the guy who currently holds the office Governor Mike wants to have. It's a free country, after all, and if you'd like to start up a protest against the restriction of selfie-sticks at Disneyland or get an early start on this year's War on Christmas, it's your right. We are all Americans. 

Friday, July 03, 2015

Please Wait

Aaron Paul, star of "Breaking Bad" and my son's favorite video game movie, "Need For Speed," would like all of us to ask our personal automated assistant to divide by zero. It sounds like a pretty fun idea. It's a lot like when we were asked to ask our personal automated assistant to "open the pod bay doors." The difference being that there is a set response for lines of dialogue from a movie, and asking artificial intelligence to come up with answers with a known series, it will come up with a pre-programmed set of responses that will make it appear as though you are having a real and true interaction with a machine. That's not the case.
Instead, we like to pretend that we are flirting with Siri. Or confusing Siri. You can't divide by zero. Siri doesn't know this. Siri has been told this. Siri is just a program, carrying out the instructions found in the lines of code written by some very clever engineer-types who know that you can't divide by zero, so they buried that little piece of information deep in the core of what seems to be an organic interaction. If's a trick. A really good trick, but it's no different from the little swirling icon you get with all manner of electronic devices that pleasantly ask you to "please wait." As if you had any choice. You can't rush Siri, or any other machine. You can make it appear as though you are having some effect on things by asking another question or clicking madly on your mouse or enter button. It will take precisely the amount of time that it will take. No more or less. In the meantime, please enjoy the hold music. While you're doing this, you can feel reassured by the pre-recorded messages that break in intermittently to give you the false hope that there really is a human being somewhere in this loop that will eventually make good on the pre-recorded claim that your call is important to them. Whoever they are.
Disembodied voices? An endless series of pre-programmed responses strung together to give the illusion of humanity? Or maybe it's the dawn of a world that has been coming for decades now. Back when we used to stop and ask strangers for directions, before we started trusting the ones we had installed into the dashboard of our cars.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Poor Little Rich Boy

That's how they used to refer to Richie Rich: The Poor Little Rich Boy. I never felt that sorry for the kid. He had a girlfriend, Gloria. He had a dog, Dollar, and an expressly loyal butler, Cadbury. And his parents weren't gunned down by Joe Chill. Sure, maybe they could have been more present and more willing to be active in their son's life instead of simply throwing money at him, but the money they threw. Great big wads of cash, such that poor Richie spent most of his time trying to live up to the money on which most of his relationships were necessarily founded. Who could ignore that dollar shaped gold driveway? He had to work tirelessly to make sure his character was beyond reproach so that no one could say that he got what he had just because he was rich. I'm thinking about his poor little poor friend, Freckles. And I'm also thinking about that nasty little twit, cousin Reggie Van Dough, Jr. It must have been nearly impossible for Richie to gauge his level of intimacy with anyone because of all that moola. 
The same cannot be said for poor Donald Trump. The Donald isn't poor in the way Richie Rich was poor, nor is he poor in the way fourteen and a half percent of Americans are.  Nor is he poor in spirit, as suggested by J. Christ in his "Sermon on the Mount." Come to think of it, there aren't a lot of ways in which Donald Trump could find himself categorized as "poor." Unless we start to apply this adjective to his choice of words. "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." These were some of the words Trump the Candidate chose to toss around as he declared himself ready for the Republican nomination. Those words were the ones that the National Broadcasting Company felt were sufficient to let Mister Trump go. NBC fired the guy who made an avocation out of the phrase "you're fired." 
So guess what happened next? Donald Trump says he is going to sue NBC.  "NBC is weak, and like everybody else is trying to be politically correct. That is why our country is in serious trouble." Yes, Donald. That is why our country is in serious trouble. It's not the attention that we allow poor, misguided souls like yours. Or maybe it is. Poor Donald Trump. Poor, pitiful, deranged, confused, filthy rich Donald Trump. 

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

What Are You Looking For?

For many years, my son and I would take just about any opportunity to wander through a toy store together. Most of the time our point of non-purchase was Toys R Us. Those great big warehouses with aisle after aisle of neatly stacked boxes full of potential fun were a source of hours of fun and giddy anticipation. Sometimes we took these sojourns with others. My wife. Family. Friends. To be honest, I wandered those brightly lit aisles before my son was born. I like toy stores, and once my son came along, I had a more legitimate and readily apparent excuse for being in a toy store.
It reminded me of the stories my mother used to tell me about the Sears and Roebuck catalog. The Wish Book, she and countless others, called it. I got some of that, because my family was lucky enough to have that great big phonebook of fun delivered to us once a year, just before Christmastime. My brothers and I would flip past the men's and women's wear, the automotive and hardware, major and small appliances, until we landed in the toy section. Folding back the pages was my entree into what would eventually become my Amazon Wish List. It was the basis of my letters to Santa, and eventually the none-too-subtle hints that I would give my parents. As amazingly generous and patient as my parents were, there were always pages and pages of unrequited wants. Always something more. Those were the things that dreams were made of.
That's what my son and I were looking for in those trips to Toys R Us: Dreams. In spite of our best efforts, we were never able to drag home enough Hot Wheels or Legos to fill the void. That was why we could walk past all the displays and shelves. We could imagine what it would be like to have all those action figures, trains, cars, and assorted molded bits of plastic. In our minds, the price was right.
A few years back, we switched our parking lots, and started to hang out under the fluorescent lights of Best Buy. Speakers, TVs, computer bits and pieces, they were all priced a notch or two higher than the merchandise at the toy store, in spite of the establishment's name. But we don't go there to buy, most of the time. We go to look. And to dream. And to imagine. Do I miss the days when our dreams were Hot Wheels and Legos? Sure I do. And so does he. That's fine. We still have our dreams.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?

I have, in the past, related a story about my somewhat misguided attraction to the Nazi flag and its army, way back in the fifth grade. This came from a pretty steady diet of World War II movies and Hogan's Heroes. The Luftwaffe and Panzer tanks and the Blitzkrieg. It all sounded so very impressive. Never mind that the vile curse "schweinhund" turned out to be the not-quite-so-exotic "pig-dog" when literally translated. For me, for about six months, Nazis were the bomb. I even went so far, along with a classmate, to make a big construction paper Nazi flag to post on the bulletin board where I would also include my book reports on the weaponry of the Third Reich. To his credit, my teacher held back until I had fully mounted my work and other faculty and parents began to wonder what was going on in his class. He took that opportunity to hand me a copy of "The Diary of Anne Frank." He told me it was about a girl, but it was also about my favorite time period, and I should find it interesting.
I came back the next Monday a changed human being. Good job, Mister Conklin. I took the flag down with the full and complete realization that uniform and weapon design was no basis for having a rooting interest in global conflict. I was embarrassed to the core, and even though my flag-making buddy gave me a little grief for it, I steered clear of the World War II section of the library. I was done with that scene. I had been handed my reality check, and I was all done with Nazis. They were, after all, the bad guys.
I didn't really need that kind of handling when it came to the American Civil War. I was pretty clear that there was a derogatory term that flew around back in those days that never held the same appeal for me that schweinhund did. And while the soldiers of the Confederate Army were pretty snappy dressers, their flag was always linked in my mind with the oppressors. The losers. The guys who wanted slavery. When I went to visit the Gettysburg battlefield, it never occurred to me that I should pick up a "stars and bars" to go along with my "stars and stripes." I wanted to be on the winning side. The side without slaves.
When I was in fifth grade, it was that simple. It seems as though the powers that be down below the Mason-Dixon line had their Mister Conklin Moment. Some will still insist that it's not the flag that makes people think those racist thoughts, and that the "n-word" can be found on CDs for sale in Wal-Mart, even if you can't buy a Confederate flag there. It's an interesting debate if you haven't read the book. The Confederate flag isn't about hate. It's a symbol. It's a reminder. Of the past. Time to turn the page.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Just Say No - Really?

Somewhere in the wilds of the Great White North is a house that must be terribly difficult to heat. What with all those great big windows. It's a glass house, and the mailbox out front says "Palin." This might explain why the estate's matriarch was so very invested in mining her state's oil reserves. And those of the lower forty-eight. But keeping the house warm is probably a big concern for mom these days, since she was recently let go by the one company that seemed intent on keeping her around, Fox News.
And there will soon be some new mouths to feed in that glass house. Sarah's little girl, Bristol is pregnant. Again. You may remember the last time this happened. Back in 2008, while mom was busy trying to get a gig at or near the White House, she went and got herself knocked up, much to the chagrin of a great many people, including John McCain. Getting married to the teen dad, Levi Johnston, didn't make things a whole lot better, and when that was over, Bristol went on to devote herself to teen abstinence. Those who can't do, teach, right?
Sorry. I apologize for making light of any young person's trials and tribulations. We all do and say ridiculous things when we are teenagers. Still, since this has become something of a career choice for the younger Ms. Palin, who makes her living as a speaker and opinionator, it might be worth checking in from time to time on just how that pledge of abstinence is working out. Well, here's how she chose to share the joyous news of her second out of wedlock pregnancy: "I know this has been, and will be, a huge disappointment to my family, to my close friends, and to many of you," the twenty-four-year-old Palin wrote, before asking for privacy for her and her son Tripp. "I do not want any lectures and I do not want any sympathy," she said.
Privacy sounds like a good way to go on this one. Now if we can only convince your mother of the same. In the meantime, I might suggest moving out of that big glass house and into something a little more traditional for the tundra

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dignified Response

Another day, another big Supreme Court decision. This time it was Gay Marriage. Feel free at this point to move about this great country of ours and marry whomever you would like. With access to affordable health care and the right to bear arms. It's all so constitutional, it hardly seems like fun anymore. As mentioned yesterday, none of this comes easily. For every man or woman who is rejoicing at the opportunity to marry a man or woman, there is a man or woman who is profoundly upset at this addition to our civil rights. Change is hard.

"The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away." These words came from Clarence Thomas, in his dissenting opinion on marriage equality. His argument was that there is no dignity clause in the U.S. Constitution. It is not, in Justice Thomas' opinion, our government's job to bestow or take away dignity. You remember dignity, don't you? From the Latin "dignitas" meaning "worthiness." In Enlightenment- era discussions of inherent, inalienable rights would have included this concept. John Locke had three. Life: everyone is entitled to live once they are created. Liberty: everyone is entitled to do anything they want to so long as it doesn't conflict with the first right. Estate: everyone is entitled to own all they create or gain through gift or trade so long as it doesn't conflict with the first two rights. Sound familiar? How about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights"(R)ecognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world." 
Separating dignity from civil rights seems like a very interesting direction to go for Justice Thomas. It is consistent, so I guess we can respect that. But when it comes to dignity, I'm not sure Clarence is the voice I'm going to listen to first.  
And that's what makes America such a great town. We are all free to have our opinions. And marry whomever we choose. With dignity.