Archive for November, 2007

War on Christmas

November 30, 2007

It seems that over the course of the last few years, members of the Right have become agitated over some sinister Left-wing “War on Christmas.” Ron Paul laments the decline of Christmas at the hands of the the supposed “anti-religious elites” among the liberals (Paul’s notion that “a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers” shows an astonishing lack of understanding about the writings of the Founders, but I’ll address the Right-wing church-and-state foolishness another time). Dr. Dobson implores his legions to avoid patronizing businesses which market the “holidays” instead of Christmas. Bill O’Reilly insists to a scornful David Letterman that “you can’t say ‘Christmas’ ” because “politically correct people” are trying to “erode our traditions.” The American Family Association mounts a consumer campaign against the Gap because—you guessed it—it lacks the proper number of references to Christmas.

How silly.

I would agree that there are problems with the modern celebration of Christmas. And, as usual, the Right is barking up the wrong tree.

Why in the world do these people think that the Savior cares whether he is referred to in a marketing slogan? Merry Christmas—and don’t forget to check out our specials on aisle seven! Merry Christmas, brought to you by Target! This makes the season more meaningful? You think you’re gonna find Jesus in Wal-Mart?

Somehow, I don’t think so.

Christmas hasn’t been secularized by Jesus-hating Liberals. Christmas has been secularized by commercialism and by a society which has given into the orgy of consumerism. Oh sure, we give gifts in remembrance of the gift of the Savior. Somehow I don’t think that the gift exchanges and gift rotations so common in Christmas today capture the spirit of the Lord’s unselfish gift of His son.

Several decades ago, C.S. Lewis , brilliant wit that he was, penned “Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus,” a wonderful satire about a fantastical land in which two celebrations “Crissmas” and “Exmas” (marked by a tradition Lewis refers to as “The Rush”) were celebrated on the same day.

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O stranger, for us to change the date of Chrissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.” And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket”; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis).

My wife and I have decided to try to avoid the retailers and their holiday Rush altogether. We have noticed, like Lewis, that the atmosphere of commercialism detracts from the beauty of Christmas. There is nothing innately wrong with getting a gift for those you love. I’ve had fun during past Christmases in which I’ve really done some searching to try to find gifts which will wow my wife (and often gone well over budget in the process…). But ultimately, we’ve come to realize that the more involved we are in looking for gifts and spending money, the less we are focused on the meaning of the Savior’s birth. The less focused we are on the Savior at Christmas, the more superficial it ultimately feels. While we are really excited to open our presents, the afterglow rapidly vanishes. And the harried “Rush” of shopping often overwhelmed the joy of the season. So we minimize the gift exchanges we participate in, try to make as many gifts we give as possible, and try to spend our holiday season giving to those in need and spending quality time with friends and family. Nothing could be more pleasant—and the cheer lasts much longer!

I suspect that if the Right-Wing Christmas alarmists worried more about selfless service in the manner of Him for whom the holiday is named, and fretted less about the marketing verbiage of Wal-Mart, Sears, and the Gap, they might have the kind of merry and sacred Christmas they so desire.


Don’t discriminate against Mormons—Save it for the Muslims!

November 28, 2007

Romney apparently doesn’t mind putting the shoe on the other foot.

U.S. Muslims are charging Mitt Romney with hypocrisy for refusing to consider appointing an Islamic believer to his Cabinet if he is elected president.

At a fundraiser earlier this month in Las Vegas, Pakistani financier Mansoor Ijaz asked Romney whether he would “consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his Cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that ‘jihadism’ is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today.”

According to an opinion piece Ijaz wrote in The Christian Science Monitor, Romney replied, “…based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage of] our population, I cannot see that a Cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration.”

Now U.S. Muslim leaders have called for a meeting with Romney, and commentators are pointing out out how often Romney claims religious discrimination against him due to his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Muslims claim up to 7 million members of their faith in the U.S. compared with 5.5 million members claimed by the LDS Church…

…Many Muslims already had a problem with Romney, said Ibrahim Hooper, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C. He cited Romney’s 2005 proposal to wiretap U.S. mosques and his Iowa campaign ad entitled “Jihad,” which seems to “legitimize claims by terrorists that they are fighting on behalf of Islam” (“Romney rules out appointing Muslim to cabinet, draws Islamic ire,” Salt Lake Tribune).

Oh, the irony abounds.

I have to hand it to Romney. To be a member of a faith which never hesitates to recall the prejudice and persecution we’ve historically experienced and still pander to the prejudices of the Right like this takes…something.

An Unjust and Illegal War

November 21, 2007

There are two related charges leveled against the conquest of Iraq. The first regards the essential moral questions about the war—charges that the war is unjust. The second relates to the legal issues regarding the war. While many denounce such charges, sometimes more vehemently than the moral charges, there is a clear body of evidence pointing to the fact that the war is illegal.

The United Nations charter very specifically prohibits the use of force by member states (Chapter I, Article 2, Section 4). It provides exceptions only in the case of self-defence (Chapter VII, Article 51) and in situations in which the Security Council approves the use of force to promote international peace and security (discussed in the various articles of Chapter VII).

The U.S. was under no threat by Iraq, nor was it authorized by the Security Council to use force to enforce the various U.N. resolutions against Iraq which were part of the justification for the invasion. The U.S. did not have the authority to unilaterally make the decision to enforce the U.N. resolutions.

Those who challenge the authority of the U.N. charter or other forms of “international law,” should familiarize themselves with The Constitution.

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land (Article VI; emphasis added)…”

The U.N. charter was presented to the Senate by the presidential administration and was there ratified, as required by the Constitution (Article 2, Section 2). Until such time as the U.S. officially withdraws from the U.N, the charter agreement is law.

It is sad not only that we have to remind U.S. citizens—and the administration—about the laws according to the Constitution, but that we would have to justify our obligation to follow international law. After all, a person’s integrity is in many ways defined by his ability to follow the conditions of contracts and obligations voluntarily entered in to. If we wish to be considered a principled nation, we should observe and abide by our treaties and international agreements, such as the U.N. charter and its rules against force, or the Geneva Conventions and their rules against torture, simply because we signed them, regardless of whether The Constitution requires us to.

Yes, the U.N. is flawed. Yes, the U.N. is in a great many ways rather impotent. Yes, many participating nations have violated the U.N. charter in the past (including the U.S. in many prior instances). So what? “He did it first!” never worked for me on my mother, and I doubt it did for any of you. If we are going to resort to such puerile rationalizations, our moral state is pathetic indeed.

It is interesting to note that noted neo-con hawk and war supporter, Richard Perle admitted that the war was illegal.

The Iraq war is illegal not only because it violates international law, but domestic law as well. It has been claimed that “Bush went through the same channels as you always do when you start a war,” but this is false. Ron Paul proposed a declaration of war on Iraq in 2002 (one which he insists he planned to vote against) precisely because no legal declaration of war had been made. Nor has one been made since. The legality of a war which has not been legally declared is questionable at best.

What about the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002? Congress made explicit in the authorization that the use of force was conditioned on a number of premises:

  1. Iraq was not complying with various U.N. resolutions.
  2. Iraq still had possession of WMDs in defiance of the U.N. resolution banning that possession.
  3. Iraq was connected with 9/11 or terrorist organizations involved in 9/11 or similar activities.
  4. The administration had exhausted all diplomatic avenues in trying to resolve the issue (contained in section 3 of the resolution).

The U.S, as I’ve already discussed, had no authority to act on the first condition. None of the remaining three conditions were met.

A policeman can go through the proper channels to get a search warrant. But if he falsified the conditions upon which the issuance of the warrant were bases, then the search is now an illegal search.

The administration’s assertion that Iraq was involved in 9/11 and that they were actively pursuing WMDs were fraudulent. They made no more than token efforts to resolve their concerns through diplomatic means.

This war can be no more legal than the policeman’s search conducted with a legal warrant obtained by fraudulence.

Those Democrats who allowed themselves to vote in favor of the authorization and who have not taken the steps to hold the administration accountable should be held accountable by their constituents for abetting crimes. But the fact that Congress allowed themselves to be manipulated into issuing the authorization and then did not have the moral courage to hold the administration to the conditions of the authorization does not make it any less illegal.

I’ve heard it said that what separates a Republic from other forms of government is that a Republic is a government of law. A Republic is not governed by the whim of an individual, of a small group of oligarchs, nor even the tyranny of the majority; all governance is confined to and shaped by established code. Whether or not this is strictly true, I think it fair to say that many of those involved in the American Revolution and the founding of the U.S. were most concerned about so constraining government. As they themselves saw, without the constraint of law government all too easily becomes tyranny.

Perhaps the most important area in which the government must be circumscribed to legally established practices and procedures is in the use of military force. For the sake of the Republic, it is imperative that we recognize offenses to that law for what they are. Abuses are far too costly to our nation to do otherwise—not only in gold, but in blood.

Helping the Homeless in Salt Lake County

November 20, 2007

Its sad to see how widespread is the sort of bias which I described a couple weeks ago. Despite the mandate to lift the wretched from their terrible circumstances, so we would rather push them aside. Just yesterday, KCPW reported that many citizens in West Valley were displeased that the county was breaking ground on a housing project for homeless seniors.

Ironically, the Housing First initiative has proven a remarkably effective method by which to help people move past homelessness. Having a home provides an anchor in the lives of the otherwise homeless, a sense of stability. With a more stable emotional state, these people are better able to respond to treatment and deal with the issues that have hindered them (whether that be substance abuse, emotional trauma, or mental illness), and get on the path to becoming contributing members of society (hear more about Housing First from KCPW and this NPR special investigative series). If these citizens of West Valley were to embrace this opportunity to serve the less fortunate among us, they would actually be minimizing any risk which the homeless people might pose. I’m glad that ground was broken, and that the project is going forth.

I know of one employee of the Salt Lake Public Library who was homeless several years ago. He was a regular at the library as he tried to stay warm or find shelter. But instead of being turned out as some reprobate, he was embraced by the library staff. When a custodial position came open, he was offered employment and a library staff mentor. With the encouragement and support of the staff, he developed into an excellent employee, has become full-time, has long term housing, and has become a “normal” member of society.

The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday is one in which we consider the many blessings we enjoy, including the relative material abundance we enjoy. Many in society also spend a little time thinking about those who enjoy less, and help participate in food drives and other worthy causes to help those who want. I wonder if we can do more; if we can think about, participate in, and support long term solutions to the problems of poverty, hunger, and suffering. After all, “love thy neighbor” should be more than a couple cans of food on during a specific holiday season. It is about comforting and supporting our brothers and sisters, even the homeless ones, throughout the year.

Veterans Day and the Troops

November 17, 2007

Veterans Day (which I’m terribly late in acknowledging, I know) is an interesting holiday. In my youth, it was one of those batch of second-tier holidays that I could never keep straight in my mind (Labor Day? Memorial Day? Veterans Day? Which one is it in November?). No special colors to wear, no significant food to prepare, no candy, no presents. Only as I’ve grown older and become a devotee of history has it developed any meaning. As the holiday approached I couldn’t help but wonder about the significance of the holiday in the face of current events. After all, hardly a day passes without mention of veterans in the broadest sense of the word. Virtually every day we hear an update on fatalities or casualties among the troops, their successes and failures, their noble deeds and their tragic crimes, and the expensive price paid by both the veterans themselves and their families for their service in our nation’s current foreign adventures. Over the past several years, I’d venture to guess that in public discourse, we’ve heard more about the troops than any other single topic. The troops are cause for action and outrage from all sides of the political arena. And everybody everywhere claims to “supports the troops.”

What does that even mean?

What, especially on a day of remembrance for those who have taken up arms in the name of our government, should we think of the troops and the debate raging around them?

To some on the Right, the answer is cut and dried. These claim that you cannot support the warrior but oppose the war. Some make this claim in a cynically calculated bid to stifle opposition. Many others do so out of genuine concern for the well-being and honor of their loved ones in the services. Either way, their position lacks merit. Such warriors (past and present) as national figures Wesley Clark, Anthony Zinni, Ann Wright, John Kerry, John Murtha, Max Cleland, and Karen U. Kwiatkowski; bloggers from Ranger Against War, A Silent Cacophony, the Democratic Veteran, Main and Central, Pen and Sword, and One Pissed Off Veteran; locals such as Ed Partidge of Part of the Plan (whose blog, sadly, appears to be down; I hope you’re still around in the blogosphere, Ed) and Jim Warnick of One Utah; and various and sundry others by their words and examples very forcefully and effectively refute that claim.

I’ve heard some with close family serving in war zones insist that public challenges to the war and its execution undermines our policies, demoralizes our troops, and comforts “the enemy.” They declare that we shouldn’t change course, because these people don’t want the sacrifice of their friends and family in the service to end up vain. I can sympathize with the anguish and suffering of these families. But they cannot allow their pain to blind themselves to reality. The service of their children already is in vain. The war is illegal and immoral, born of deception, arrogance, and ignorance. No amount of perseverance can change this fact. No amount of U.S. blood, sweat, and tears will make this war just.

Unjust wars should be undermined. Does this demoralize our troops or embolden our foes? To the latter, I say no. Muslim extremists could have asked no greater gift than the invasion of Iraq; they now have evidence of the “The Great Satan’s” imperialist intentions around which to rally, and a land in chaos in which to grow. To the former, I cannot say. I’ve heard soldiers take both sides of that question. Many of the former soldiers mentioned above well know the impact of dissent on soldiers, and feel opposition is still crucial. Defending truth is first priority. Harsh as it may sound, better demoralized troops than the unchecked pursuit of a disastrous and unprincipled foreign policy agenda.

The manner in which we take that stand is just as important as the stand itself. Ed Partridge was in his blog rightly concerned that we who oppose the war lose credibility and moral high ground if we target the troops for our outrage. We cannot allow the troops to serve as scapegoats for the misbegotten decisions of this administration. No matter how vehemently or vulgarly some individuals in the armed services may support the war, anti-war advocates must remember that these soldiers had no part in the decision to invade. The soldiers are only pawns. Hold the Decider responsible. As much as I respect those soldiers, such as Ehren Watada, who have refused to participate on principle, I am unwilling to blame those who have felt was their duty to serve when their government called.

In challenging some Democrats and liberals for perceived criticism of the military, one blogger insisted that “I believe that there should be nothing but respect, complete and totally (sic) respect and awe, shown toward the men and women in uniform. Period. Anything else is, I believe, unpatriotic.” The attitude reflected in the post is one common in the U.S. and in Utah. But I struggle to reconcile such effusive praise, even adulation , with my experiences relating to and observation of the military. Of the handful of people I knew growing up who joined the services, most (not all) seemed notivated by a desire to see action, to prove their manhood by taking the lives of others. For several months of my mission, I served an area which included Camp Pendelton. While there, I met a number of very humble, very devoted young men. I was also shocked at the number of soldiers who expressed in terms in very explicit, vulgar, and racist language how eager they were to kill Africans in upcoming deployments in Somalia, or in very profane and misogynistic language described their exploits in taking advantage of, even raping, women. I heard many casual or boastful references to infidelity (and many rather pained but fatalistic references to the same stories from wives).

I remember reports of Tailhook, and evidence that the naval bases in the Pacific have over the past several decades keep thousands upon thousands of women employed in prostitution (see Blowback, by Chalmers Johnson).

I hear of the tragic examples of sexual assault within the armed services—over one-fourth of women using Veterans Administration health care report at least one sexual assault during their service. Adding insult to injury, many claim that their superiors pressured them to not report. Bear in mind that the sexual assault is typically far underreported in the best of circumstances; the percentage of women sexually assaulted by their peers in the service is likely much higher.

I see documentary film of soldiers in Iraq ranting about their hatred for and desire to nuke or otherwise eliminate the “ragheads,” (along with other, even less civil terms). I’ve seen members of our armed services involved in torture, gang rape, and the slaughter of civilians.

I would in no way tar everyone serving in the military with the same brush. I’m willing to believe that the majority of those serving in the armed services are indeed trying to serve with honor and dignity. But those engaged in degenerate behavior do not appear to be an insignificant minority. I wonder if they point to a problem with the very culture of the armed services. Military service can both attract those who aspire to a higher service and hone the virtues of sacrifice, dedication, honor, and discipline. Military service can also call to those whose motives are more less noble, and can breed aggression, callousness, brutality. Much like athletics, there appears to be a masculine culture in the military which can lead to incredible ugliness.

Perhaps this sort of desensitization to humanity is the inevitable price of the training necessary to train people to readily take human life. There can be no doubt that the brutality of war can exact a devastating toll on the soul of those who serve in it. I’m not going to try to judge whether these are examples of “bad” people or of good people driven to horrendous crimes by the conditions they are thrust in. In the end, it does not matter. We cannot with integrity claim that an institution which harbors seeds of such iniquity deserves unreserved “respect and “awe.” I am compelled refute any attempt to romanticize those in military service—particularly in pursuit of a particular political agenda.

For that is the peril of idealizing “the troops.” The glorification of the military is a step in the militarization of that society. A nation succumbing to militarism begins to see military solutions as the primary means of dispute resolution between nations, it becomes tempted to use its military might to intrude on the affairs off other nations to promote their own values (or their self-interest), and the leaders of the nation become tempted to use the military power to their own advantage. They will encourage that militarization in pursuit of that advantage. Liberty and democracy becomes increasingly difficult to maintain under those conditions. This is how the Roman Republic fell; the senate and the people of Rome became increasingly enamored with their military power, encouraging ambitious Roman leaders to use the Roman army to expand Roman power-and not coincidentally, their own base of power, until the competing interests of the leaders and their factions led to a series of civil wars and ultimately the replacement of a republic with an autocratic emperor.

(interesting to note that the Roman army evolved during this militarization from a citizen army to a professional army—another fact which does not bode well for our nation and the professional military Friedman favored)

Militarism is not the sign of a principled nation. WP is fond of noting that President Kimball warned that we (the U.S.) are a warlike people. The Prophet saw from his vantage the birth and rise of the Cold War, and saw how eager we were to turn to steel and lead to solve our problems. Andrew Bacevich, Vietnam veteran, points out in his book, The New American Militarism, a renewed rise which he—no dove himself—asserts does not bode well for our future. We cannot allow the U.S. to follow the path of Rome. If we value our nation and our freedom, we must avoid the siren song of militarism. If we exalt “the troops,” we risk the subjugation of more humanitarian and holy values to more harsh, worldly ones. We risk providing the opportunity for ambitious and conniving leaders to pursue their own interests, and those of their factions, at the expense of our republic.

Despite all that, it cannot be denied that there are times when one must indeed take up arms in defense of our homes, families, and liberty. There have been times when they have been morally called to establish our liberty, to protect the union, and defend people in the world from tyranny and genocide—precious few times among the number of times we’ve called up the military, but essential nonetheless.

Given all this, how then do we “support the troops?” If not with paeans of acclamation, how then do we honor the men and women who are put in a position to sacrifice so much in the name of our country?

First and foremost, we honor them by being politically vigilant and doing our utmost to prevent their being called into service except when absolutely necessary to protect the lives and freedoms of the citizens of the U.S. We do everything we can to keep them from being asked to sacrifice so much and to risk delving into the dark side of their souls. We should ensure that those leaders who have abused their power and sacrificed troops for lesser causes are held accountable for their crimes.

Second, we honor them by ensuring that our nation provides just compensation for the costs the troops pay for our nation’s military actions. No veteran, when they return home, should be left alone to pay the toll exacted from them by their service. Even now, far too many of our troops are not getting the long term care they need for their physical and particularly their emotional wounds. Every time one of our troops is left on their own to nurse a broken body, broken family, broken career, broken education, or broken psyche, it is an insult to the honor of our nation. We must, as individuals and as “the people” from which the government is derived, share the burden placed on them by war for more than we are doing now.

I believe such support would prove much more meaningful than facile cliches of appreciation and support, or flags and parades on a handful of national holidays.

There They Go Again

November 15, 2007

With the resounding voucher defeat behind them, Utah Republican legislators have another brilliant idea. Now they are talking about both reducing the power of the State Board of Education and turning their election into a partisan election. Because everyone knows that this is what is wrong with politics in the U.S. today: not enough partisanship.

Payback for the boards refusal to go along when the legislature tried to forcefeed vouchers down the state’s throat? I’ve little doubt retribution is playing a role in the timing. But, as Representative Greg Hughes pointed out, they’ve proposed this idea before vouchers (okay, since Utah Republicans have been trying for vouchers for the last millennium, nothing is before vouchers. But it was before this latest, most narrow brush with vouchers). No, this is part of a deeper pathology of the Utah Republican party.

Looks like part of a pattern to me. The party closed their primaries—you know, because we underhanded liberals had been infiltrating their primaries, rigging their elections, and had turned the legislature into a rats nest of liberalism. Party leaders in the legislature a year or so back talked about restoring an outdated principle requiring the state’s national congressmen report and be more accountable to the state legislature. And despite the fact that the party likes to talk about minimal and local government every time the feds step on the legislature’s toes, the party had no qualms about stepping in on the local county government’s turf when the Salt Lake Real deal was up in the air.

Utah Republican leaders aren’t looking to learn them school boarder’s a lesson. They simply don’t believe in rule by the people, for the people.

The leaders of the Utah Republican party believe that they, the kakoi, should rule; not quite a council of philosopher kings, but perhaps theocrat kings. Closed primaries mean that the party bosses have more control over who runs and therefore who governs. Binding the national congressmen to the legislature makes those congressmen more answerable to the party and less to their constituents. The Salt Lake county interference? Why should such an august body allow their desires be thwarted by some little fiefdom? And the shenanigan with the second, referendum-proof bill on vouchers was for our own good, you know.

Turning the board into a partisan body accomplishes the same thing. The party bosses would have more control of who runs. The expansion sounds like an opportunity to pack the board.

This megalomania isn’t entirely their fault. You can’t blame them for letting their power go to their head with such overwhelming dominance over state politics.

But the citizens of Utah can help. What the Utah Republican party needs is an intervention. Most may be teetotalers, but they are clearly drunk on power. Let your legislators know that we don’t accept by unrighteous dominion. And in upcoming elections, lets provide them with an opposing presence strong enough to keep the Republican egos in check (I’d much prefer multiple parties, but one will do for now).

After all, its for their own good.

Support HR 3835

November 7, 2007

Among the many dirty deeds done (dirt cheap, no less) by our federal government this current century was the passing of the Military Commissions Act (PL 109-366) in 2006. Restricting habeas corpus rights, the law permits the administration to forgo some of our most cherished rights in persecuting—I mean prosecuting those who the administration chooses to regard as “unlawful enemy combatants.”

Many have rightly criticized the act as incompatible with the U.S. Constitution and our proclaimed protection of human rights. Others note with suspicion that the act reduces the accountability of government employees (ie, intelligence and military employees) in their conduct towards those presumed unlawful enemy combatants, and extends the discretion of the executive branch far more than has proved wise with any administration, the current one least of all.

A remedy may fortunately be on the horizon. Ron Paul has proposed HR 3835.

This legislation seeks to restore the checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution by our Founding Fathers to prevent abuse of Americans by their government. This proposed legislation would repeal the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and re-establish the traditional practice that military commissions may be used to try war crimes in places of active hostility where a rapid trial is necessary to preserve evidence or prevent chaos…the legislation would prohibit the use of secret evidence to designate an individual or organization with a United States presence to be a foreign terrorist or foreign terrorist organization (“Statement Introducing the American Freedom Agenda Act of 2007,” Ron Paul, 10/15/2007).

A very worthy goal. We need legislation like this to restore our credibility on the world stage, and to re-establish some ethical standards in our defense policies.

Strange that for all the Democratic criticism of the administration’s foreign and defense policies, it is a Republican who is the sole sponsor of this bill. A sad statement on the supposedly opposing party.

As the bill is being sponsored by a dedicated Republican, surely Rob Bishop, Chris Cannon, and even the largely conservative Jim Matheson would be willing to support HR 3835.

Whoever your Representative, let them know that you want them to stand with Paul in passing this bill.

Public Schools Win!

November 7, 2007

Nice to see that community interest still trumps market ideology in education. Hopefully our conservative legislators will now end their private school crusade and look at ways to actually improve the quality of education in the underperforming—and perhaps not coincidentally, underfunded—schools in our public education system.

Intolerance in Zion

November 6, 2007

When I hired on at the Salt Lake City Public Library, I was hired for the morning schedule. But my department has been short handed lately, and I have been more than willing to help out covering some evenings. It is a different feel at the library at night, a little different crowd which haunts the shelves in the evenings. Its been kind of refreshing becoming familiar with a different batch of regulars.

Last night, as I was wandering the floor and picking up books left on the tables and chairs, I was approached by an unfamiliar face. He politely introduced himself, and with concern pointed over to another patron.

“That man over there,” he insisted, “is making a racket. I can’t concentrate.” I recognized the culprit as one of our eccentric regulars, a plain looking man in perhaps his late fifties. I’d always thought he looked vaguely familiar, but never bothered to determine from where. He frequents the library in the evenings, perpetually mumbling to himself as he pulls seemingly random books from the stacks. Occasionally he gets agitated and becomes a little loud. When that happens, we discreetly calm him down, and he never presents a problem. Last night his ramblings had been within a volume acceptable by our library’s standards.

When I expressed this to the concerned patron, he became indignant. “You aren’t going to do anything about him?” He demanded incredulously. He wasn’t interested in moving to another of the couple hundred seats around the library. He just wanted the offender removed. When I confirmed that I indeed would not take action, he demanded my name so that he could report me. “This is outrageous! I’m leaving and never coming back here again. This is why the taxpayers, whose taxes pay your salary, get upset; the library is becoming a refuge for crazies and the homeless.”

I told him I was sorry he felt that way, and that he was more than welcome to share his concerns with administration.

As I went about my responsibilities, I couldn’t stop thinking about the exchange. The more I thought, the more exasperated I became. This isn’t the first time I’d seen the library criticized for tolerating the “crazies and homeless.” Those crazies and homeless are people too, citizens and fellow brothers and sisters. They may have problems more visible than the “average” person, but that doesn’t mean their problems justify ostracism. They too deserve to be accepted as human beings. Conservatives like to talk about being self-reliant; how are these people supposed to become self-reliant and lift themselves up if they are banned from the very places where they can learn? The arrogance, the gall of this person to insist that simply because this person wasn’t “normal” that he had no right to community resources, such as a library!

When I returned to the reference desk, I related the experience to my coworker. Once again, I got an incredulous response.

“He wanted us to throw Kim out?”

This “disruptive” patron was none other than Kim Peek—the Rain Man.

I wonder What might this man have done had he been told that this was no homeless schmuck, but a brilliant (if challenged) man who has travelled the world? That he might be labeled by some as a “crazie,” but that he was still a functional member of society who posed no threat to anyone—on the contrary, who was seen by not a few as an inspirational figure? Would he still want him tossed, or might he show Kim a little compassion and empathy? Too bad we will probably never find out, that this man will not have his prejudices challenged.

How sad that so many in society are so willing to judge and exclude others. If they act strangely, they must be homeless or crazy. If they are poor, they must be lazy or immoral. If they have an addiction or suffer emotional illness, they are obviously weak-willed and corrupted. We don’t want that around our families or communities. Banish them, so they don’t inconvenience us with their existence.

Somehow, I don’t think this is what the Savior would do. I remember him gladly accepting, even seeking out, the outsiders, the poor and disenfranchised. He did not seek to further disenfranchise others. Perhaps if we sought to empathize with and serve these purported “crazies and homeless, as He did, we could work the same sort of miracles among them as did He. At the very least, we could ease a lot of suffering and pain.

I’m glad to be working for an institution that consciously chooses to pursue a policy of liberal acceptance and inclusiveness. It just makes me love my job that much more.