Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Activist Judges

This year, I have been doing my best to stay current with the work of the Supreme Court. I have read more about the individuals and the rulings of the Supreme Court in this year than in my entire lifetime. I am not proud of the fact that I have been so disinterested in this branch of the government, but I think it reflects a similar attitude among most Americans, even those more involved than myself. We focus most of our energy on the executive and legislative branches than the judicial. If anyone would like to offer an opinion of why this is, feel free.

The Supreme Court does not rule on many cases in a given year; sometimes their refusal not to hear a case is as important as actually ruling on a case. Other than the occasional ruling, most decisions are not front page news. I read the Phila Inquirer and generally have to look carefully through the first section of the paper to find information on those decisions. Most of the talk of the Supreme Court, other than during the time of a nomination for a new judge, centers around one side or the other (of the political spectrum) claiming that a recent decision demonstrates an activist judge. In most cases, this is considered a negative description of that decision.

Again, I am no expert but I have done a bit of research lately. What confuses me is that an activist judge is generally defined as someone who rejected past rulings or precedents in support of something not in current law or, in the opinion of the talking heads, against the constitution. But if they always ruled in favor of current law, how would anything change? Was it an activist court that allowed the separate but equal laws of the Jim Crow years or was it the one that struck down those laws as discriminatory?

Clearly, the laws of the land, hence the rulings of the Supreme Court, will be effected by the moral and social standards of the day. To me, this evolving set of standards should also apply to our interpretation of the constitution. Some of our founding fathers bought and sold slaves. Being wrong on that count, does not make their work on the constitution and declaration any less inspirational. But perhaps it does show that as our society changes, so might our laws.

The two recent Supreme Court rulings that disturb me the most are centered on individual rights and the right to bear arms.

My understanding of the Supreme Court's decision on donations by corporations is that corporations are allowed to donate as much money as they want to those running for office because not allowing them to do so violates their rights as individuals to spend their money without constraint from the government. The justices for the ruling were conservative and sighted first amendment rights; those against it were more liberal and expressed concern over the effect special interests are having on our elections. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, how can one defend their position as reflective of the founding fathers? I don't believe the concept of the corporation existed then. So we are left to interpret what we think they might think on the issue. But wouldn't that interpretation reflect not only all the intervening years of the buildup of big business and the changing face of how we elect our officials, but also the individual stances of the judges as well? Is it a coincidence that the judges for the ruling tend to be aligned with a political position that favors big business while those against tend to align themselves with a political position that suggests that the everyday people of this country are losing access to their government? It is one reason why, despite applauding the tea party movement for its energy, I sometimes question their true motivations. I know that the movement is against government bailouts and wall street handouts, so why wouldn't that translate into outrage at a ruling that allows even more money to flow from the recipients of those bailouts?

The most recent ruling concerning the right to bear arms was centered on the gun control laws in Chicago. The ruling, again 5 conservatives to 4 liberals, struck down the current laws by claiming that cities and states do not have the power to restrict gun ownership, only federal laws may do so. The Second Amendment is paramount. I do not own a gun and can't imagine I ever will, but I am not so arrogant to believe that my beliefs should prevent free citizens of this country from their beliefs. However, I would be more sympathetic to gun right activists if they would admit that requiring a background check and compulsory training before ownership would make sense. Also, reporting the loss or theft of your gun might be wise. And possessing semi-automatic weapons anywhere other than a war zone is probably not a good idea. But rather than working to create reasonable gun control laws we have people clinging to a belief that because our founding fathers used guns to fight for their independence and hunt for their food, we should avoid all gun controls. Perhaps it is just our way of coping with a changing world. What we don't understand or agree with, we shoot. But seriously, is that what we want. Everyone toting a gun in the neighborhood, just in case their is a crime? As it is, innocent bystanders are hit by gunfire, even when the shooter is a trained policemen. Do you think collateral injuries and deaths will go up or down if more people are firing away? Guns for self defense? I can understand it, but when faced with the data that shows that many times more people are killed with their own gun (or that of someone they know) as compared to a someone committing a crime, I wonder what it would be like if no one had a gun and I can't blame a city like Chicago who feel that they must try anything to stop the bloodshed? By the way, did the laws work? Did murders decrease? Shouldn't that have been one of the criteria for the decision?

So, in the first of the above two cases, I feel that the Supreme Court acted in an activist way, overruling precedent (and congressional laws) in the process. This activist ruling makes it harder for regular citizens of this country to express their disillusionment with the current election process that includes such huge amounts of money. In the second, they were not activist as they used a strict interpretation of the constitution to strike down the gun laws of Chicago. But to me, this required an interpretation that reflected the reality of today, not that of 250 years ago.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Big Chilling

A few nights ago, I watched the movie, The Big Chill for the first time in quite a while. (As a side note, I believe this was the 2nd movie my wife and I saw when we first started dating, the first being Star Wars, Revenge of the Jedi).

For those who have never seen The Big Chill, or don't remember the premise, in a nutshell, it details the forced reunion of a group of college friends after one of their group commits suicide. The music, of course, is dated if you are younger than 45, classic if of a more mature age. There are a number of interesting topics touched on by the friends as they grapple with their friend's death, their (mostly) disconnected lives since then, their current situations and the effect of their "histories" on their memories and the meaning of those times.

Although I am a college graduate, my Big Chill group includes friends I spent time with in the early to mid 80's. While a few did attend college, the core group only visited those attending higher education and only as an extension of our primary activities; rock concerts, parties, jobs for money, parties. To this day, I think of those friends, stay in touch with a few on an irregular basis and, occasionally, live in the past of my Big Chill group.

But I digress.

The reason for this post was to discuss the scene in the movie when the group reviews their hopes and dreams of those college days and how their current life choices reflect on those idealistic times.

Quick side bar here. Was this movie based on a book? If so, I would love to know if someone has read it as i would imagine the idealism that they only allude to in the movie is fleshed out more considerably in the book.

Anyway, it is idealism that is the point of this blog. In the movie, it is clear that the lawyer and the writer admittedly compromised their ideals for material comforts. The Kevin Kline character is unabashedly rich but I don't sense he was necessarily as idealistic as the other members of the group. The "druggie" seems to have maintained some idealism but uses the excuse of a narcissistic world to justify his continued use of drugs. Finally, the friend who has killed himself is portrayed as the most idealistic (and smartest) of the bunch; there is a scene, I think at the funeral where someone says he was too good for this world. And we know what happened to him.

In retrospect, perhaps I should be insulted by the portrayal of idealism in this movie. Although, as I look around at America today in light of the extreme greed, both individual and corporate that seems to rule the day, perhaps this portrayal is accurate. What happened to the challenge posed by our first "young" president who asked us to think about the country first and ourselves second. While so many took up his challenge and became teachers and social service providers, it is also this generation that has promulgated the obsession for "wealth" that led to our buying things on credit that we couldn't afford and creating financial instruments that were built on debt.

Some see a similar seed in President Obama's vision, but the ground upon which his words are spread seems less fertile. What is good for business, is good for America seems to be the rallying cry even as the gusher in the gulf continues to spew thousands of gallons of oil into our environment.

So, is idealism dead like the character in the movie? If not, what signs point to its existence? Solar panels on your roof or a hybrid car in the driveway? Familiarity and patronage at your local businesses, even if they are a bit more costly than the Wal-Mart SuperCenter? A portfolio that purposely posits social causes and green technology over profit? A job that provides spiritual compensation as well (or instead of) material rewards? Priorities that put the reduction of human suffering over the accumulation of natural resources, or land, or influence?

Perhaps the start is to at least acknowledge that we would like to return to the idealistic roots of our youth. If not, then let's hope that idealism does not go the way of the dead friend in the movie.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Line

I would imagine that if you asked the next 50 people that you encounter, 49 of them, if they answered seriously, would say that, all things being equal, they expected to go to heaven when they died. I have always thought that most people are good. My days of hitchhiking confirmed that belief, and my experiences at work, and in my community have done nothing to change that opinion. But what if we are wrong? What if the creator expects more us?

Less scrambling for wealth and more helping those less fortunate than ourselves. Less trumpeting ways in which we are better than others and more recognition that the birth lottery was good to us, how can we progress the lives of those not so lucky. Less finding reasons to distrust, isolate and kill, more searching for ways to bridge our differences; more love, less hate.

What if, at the end of the day, it is simply a matter of how many we've helped, not how much we've earned?



The Line


The rain pelted the windshield making visibility very limited. There was no place to pull over, so the driver of the car continued on, slowly. At a blind curve, two headlights lit up the night, temporarily turning the darkness into light. The collision occurred almost simultaneously as the driver's eyes recovered from the sudden light allowing him no time to react. The car teetered momentarily at the cliff's edge, then slid down the ravine into the shallow water below. Funny, the man thought, no pain.

The line stretched on in front of me to a point where I could still make out the colors of clothes but not the faces of their wearers. There was little chatter around me but it all sounded forced like the interactions one hears in an elevator. I chose to remain silent, only nodding my head at the woman in front of me when she turned around and smiled the smile one sees in line at the grocery store. Or at a funeral.

Gradually, we shuffled forward. We didn't seem to be moving very quickly yet I didn't sense the impatience one usually feels from a group stuck in a slowly moving, long line. I wondered if they all felt as I did, a feeling that the time would come, soon enough, when I would find myself at the front of the line. I heard a short, suppressed laugh in the distance behind me. It was a laugh that seemed to have been stopped short, not just by its owner but by the group as a whole, as if to remind everyone in line that this was not the place for laughter.

After a while, more than minutes but less than hours, I was surprised to find that I had a folder tucked under my arm. I glanced around me and noticed that everyone else also carried a similar folder. No one had opened their package and I followed suit.

More time passed and I was beginning to hear the words being spoken at the front of the line. Well, not really actual words, but voices. Soon I realized that every other voice seemed to be of the same pitch and eventually I understood that each conversation featured the voice of someone in line, like me, and the response from the person who was waiting for us. All of the conversations were brief.

For the second time since I had found myself in line, I was surprised. This time, my surprise was the result of realizing that there were two additional lines leading away from the front of the line in which I waited. How could I have missed them before? One moved very slowly and was extremely crowded. It disappeared into the distance and I got the sense that it did not end just out of sight. The second line was sparsely populated and the people moving within it were free to stride or trot or walk casually as they felt. I noticed that all those around me were also aware of the two lines. I imagined that they wished as I did, to be allowed to join those in that second line.

When I turned my attention back towards the front of my line, I could now clearly see the people as they approached the man whose voice I first detected. He was tall and lean, clothed in loose garb. There was nothing special about his clothes but he obviously commanded the attention of each person who approached him. As each individual personal drama played out, the tall man nodded, each person opened their folder, glanced at the words inside then handed the folder to the man. I heard each person say something, heard his voice respond, then watched as the majority of them walked off to the first, much longer line.

I was getting close now. I should have been close enough to hear the words but for some reason I could not. Yet I could tell that most of the conversations were not ending in the manner that was anticipated. While there was no anger being expressed, there was clearly disappointment of the kind that comes when an outcome is exactly opposite of expectation.

Then, despite the fact that I felt that I had been in line for quite a while, I was suddenly at the front of the line. It reminded me of the conversations that I had had with my grandparents when I was a young adult and they in the twilight of their lives. Time can seem interminable, they all said, yet the your life can seem so short, and the time of inevitable death can seem so sudden.

I looked up at the man at the front of the line. He was taller than I had calculated while I was standing in line. But it wasn't his height that was his most striking feature. It was his eyes. They were direct, compassionate, and sad. I had seen similar expressions during conversations where tragic news was being relayed. But his sadness went beyond the sadness that comes from just bringing bad news; his sadness seemed to reflect a responsibility in that he had provided the way to avoid this bad news but it had been ignored. He was obviously reading judgements yet these judgements were far from the judicial impartiality that we expect in our courts. He was visibly saddened by the decisions he was rendering.

I opened my folder and found one piece of paper with a sentence in very large print. It said, YOU MAY ASK ONE QUESTION. Below that line were other words in a language that I did not understand but clearly conveyed something to the man.

"How do you earn the right to take the second line?", I asked.

"You made your choice of which line you would walk every day of your life. You earned time on Line Two every time you performed an act of kindness, doubly so when done for someone you didn't know or who was different from yourself. You earned time on Line Two when your life reflected the spirit of your beliefs, when you were nice when it was hard to be nice, and when you defended someone being treated unjustly. You earned time on Line Two when you used the abilities that you were born with to help those less fortunate than yourself."

"You earned time on Line One when you made choices to benefit yourself regardless of its effect on others. You earned time on Line One when you used your religion to define who to love and who to hate. And you earned time on Line One when you did nothing even though you knew what was right but deferred action to someone else. You earned time on Line One when you used the abilities that you were born with to help only yourself."

"I told you how to live, did you not listen? So many men carrying the message of love, did you not heed them? So much suffering to help ease, did you not see it?"

I reflected on my life in an attempt to calculate which line I had earned through my actions and inactions. I glanced up at the man at the front of the line and moved towards the line he indicated.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Vision and Values

The following letter was published in my local paper, The News Herald, last week. The author is what many might describe as a representative of the Christian Right. If you google the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College (in PA, by the way), you will quickly get a taste of their perspective and philosophy.

As you can see below, I sometimes get perturbed at people who use religion to justify isolating groups of people from their net of love. If I haven't mentioned this before (I do not touch on it in this letter), I am especially perplexed at the outright hatred (or is it fear) that groups like this demonstrate for the gay community. To me, denying fellow humans the right to marry the person of their choice seems as far out of whack with the spirit of religion as anything else that goes on in this world.

Anyway, here is the letter, feel free to comment.

Joe


To the Editor:

Another "enlightening" article by a member of the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College. In this one, Dr. Paul Kengor tells us that "I don't think we can say the Bible explicitly prohibits all public welfare. Nor would I argue that government has no role addressing the needy". He then states that he would hesitate to define health care as a "right" and that he believes "a moral society/state has a duty to ensure that people aren't denied health coverage if they show up uninsured in an emergency room". Well thanks so much for that bone! I am sure all the millions of people who are, in fact, denied health care coverage because they are "too sick" and are forced to go to an emergency room whether their emergency is a cold or cancer, are grateful for your definition of a moral society's duty.

Admittedly, I do not hold a doctorate degree as Dr. Kengor does. And perhaps I am naive to think that the vast majority of poor people would prefer to be not poor if they could. But to justify the denial of health coverage to any human being because it drains away the profits of a "health" insurance company, to deny a health claim by someone who has paid their premiums and is now stricken with cancer or diabetes because of some fine print in the health care coverage concerning pre-existing conditions, not only seems amoral but if that conduct is not "explicitly prohibited" by the bible then I must be reading a different book than Dr. Kengor.

The real tragedy of this kind of thinking is that during the Reagan and 2nd Bush Administrations, the national deficit was doubled and few in the Christian right seemed to mind because we were fighting those dreaded communists and horrible terrorists/Islamists. Funny how an expensive and destructive war against an "ism" different from yours is OK but the "social justice" movement that promotes better wages, improved health care, less prejudices based on race, religion and sexual orientation is "too expensive" and self destructive.

So, here is the real question. And I ask this, not to Dr. Kengor but to all the readers of these words, the hard-working people of this community who most probably feel that they have lived a good life and will be admitted into heaven when they pass.

Who is most likely to join you in eternal paradise? Those that spent their lives fighting to help the less fortunate gain access to decent housing, those that fought to get health care for the sick, those who spent time with the downtrodden of society, those who read the New Testament and thought that Jesus demonstrated a new way to treat each other and who then lived his life among those very same people that were considered the lepers of his time, or will it be time spent with the powerful and rich of the world who work feverishly to maintain the status quo which coincidentally works well for them.

Do you think the selfish or selfless will be with you? Those that preach love or those that use the words of religion to define who we should love and who we should hate?

The facts speak for themselves. In the last 30 years in America, the rich have become richer, the poor have become poorer and those in the middle are losing ground. What will it take until we wake up and realize that without "social justice" the strong prey on the weak.

Please, let me know what you think. Am I wrong? Did Jesus spend his time on earth to show us that we should ignore the plights of others who need our help or to love thy neighbor as thyself? I know his is a tough example to follow and I am certainly not saying I have spent my life heeding his words. But lately, I am finding it more difficult to stand by while articles like those written by Dr. Kengor pretend it is OK to be cruel to each other as long as you use religion to justify the cruelty.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Archives

I started this story back in February, let it go a while, then "finished" it about 2 weeks ago. Of course, as anyone who writes knows, finish is a relative term, but for now I am happy with it. Feel free to comment and/or tell me what you would do as the question is posed at the end of the story.



The Archives

I glanced in the hallway mirror one last time. I could hear the limo waiting for me as its engine idled in the street in front of my apartment. I had received many awards in my life, gave speeches in front of the most powerful and influential people in the country. But I was as nervous as a girl preparing for the junior prom. Today, I was to visit the Library of Congress where I was to be the first person to gain access to the historical papers from the Great War.

The Great War. A time of unparalleled death and destruction on earth. Twenty plus years of war resulting in the loss of over a billion people, the injury of another two billion and the displacement of virtually 1 out of every 2 human beings on the planet. It had taken almost 30 years just to compile all the records now housed in the Library of Congress as the disbursement of information and true understanding of the scope of the conflict was so daunting. And then another 20 years of secrecy; not just because the details of the war were so difficult to comprehend but because the task of establishing a viable lifestyle for the remaining population was all encompassing. But now, finally, 3 generations since the beginning of the what was eventually called the Reclamation, someone other than one of the seven Circle of Elders was authorized to read, review and report on the summary of the most darkest and conversely, most unifying time of human existence.

The ride to the Library was not long, only about 15 minutes, but along the route we passed a microcosm of what remained and had become of the earth in the last seventy plus years. All of the monuments of Washington DC that had existed in the early 21st century were gone. Virtually all of the homes, businesses, transportation outlets, literally everything man made that had once stood in and around this city was destroyed. Indeed, even the natural elements of the land, the river paths, rolling hills, groups of trees, and the animals and birds that lived within them, all of it was changed. While the desire to link the old names to these new places had become tired, the reality of this place, this New Washington DC was as true as it was for New Moscow and New London and New Beijing. All of the major population centers were now equal in their age and similar in their architecture and design. One could now travel to most of the large metropolitan areas and feel at home; even the language which had been designated in the early days as a mostly English base continued to be spoken universally.

The Great War had started innocently enough. An unknown object splashed into the Chesapeake Bay one spring afternoon, witnessed by literally thousands of people out enjoying the unseasonable weather. When the aquatic and waterfowl life in the bay started dying, no definitive explanation could be discerned, at first. Then, another object fell into the Mediterranean Sea and when life in that sea began to die within a few days, the connection was made to the original occurrence. Tensions, which were already frayed throughout the world, heightened quickly. But everything changed when the discovery was made by the scientific community that the objects which had landed in both areas were alien in origin.

As we passed the housing units, at first mostly apartment towers like my own, generously spaced with well-maintained recreation areas connected by simple two-lane roads for motorized vehicles, and spacious non-motorized lanes for all other traffic, I felt some of my anxiety start to ease. But as we approached the center of the city with its single family dwellings housing the New Leadership, I again felt my stomach begin to knot with the realization of the responsibility of the task I was about to begin.

Within weeks of the discovery that the objects were extraterrestrial, another half a dozen objects splashed down in the larger fresh water bodies on the planet. Despite the immediate unification of all the astronomical organizations throughout the world, the source of the objects could not be traced. When even larger objects struck the seven oceans over the course of one terrifying weekend, it was clear that our enemy was bent on an attack focused on both our water and food system in one fell swoop. Despite the severity and effectiveness of this strategy, the nations of the world rallied. All the resources that had once been focused on war were now directed towards this crisis of the seas as the popular press named it. And when three months passed without any further water attacks, a global sigh of relief rolled across the planet.

How much of what I knew, of what was taught to the masses, would be confirmed and how much contradicted? While so much time hadn't passed that there wasn't ample, direct evidence of the major events of The Reclamation, there was still the occasional story that would make its way through our communication system that unveiled a bit of information, be it story or artifact, that differed from the mainstream perceptions that we all knew. As a member of the communication industry, I was aware of more than most people, but I generally found little interesting dialog among my friends and colleagues. The reality of what had occurred was so self evident, so widespread, and the effort and resources that had been and were still required to move humanity forward so time consuming that these stories were treated as little more that oddities which served as minor diversions.

Over the course of one's life, there are a few times when everyone can remember where they were when certain events took place. On that fateful day in March, virtually every human on earth remembered their exact location and activity. The attack was ferocious in its intensity and planet wide in its scope. The weapons were not atomic but the barrage was incessant. Within twelve hours, the world's financial and political centers were leveled. Where the crisis of the seas appeared to attempt capitulation by striking at the water and food sources, this stage appeared to be an attempt to remove the leadership and business minds of our societies.

Yet, again we regrouped. Some credited the military leaders who created a chain of command where power wasn't the object, but where decision making, organization and the flow of those decisions through the system became the focus of all. Others praised the religious leaders of the world who put aside their philosophical differences and found one voice to both give comfort to those who had survived and an inspiration that galvanized the human race's determination. Still others felt that it was the simple fact that we now knew who was attempting our extinction; not only were the spaceships now visible daily in the skies above, but one of the attackers had been captured and his visage reproduced in all manner of communications that still functioned.

As the limo began to slow, I saw that a path ahead had been cleared in the normal rush hour traffic. The driver eased the vehicle between the first few law enforcement vehicles that were creating this path, then we steadily sped through the opening towards the Library. Suddenly, we were there, the door was open and I was being escorted past rows of my fellow communication specialists towards the massive doors of the Library. I heard a few familiar voices call out my name but saw no faces in the crowd.

The final stage of the attack came as suddenly as the middle stage had ended. Again, like the interval between the first two stages, enough time had passed so that a tiny sense of hope had begun to grow. The psychology of the process with its carefully choreographed lulls sandwiched between relentless fury, came astonishingly close to breaking the spirit of our race. While some of the biggest population centers had been spared the second attack, the scattered leadership of the world, in anticipation of an attack on those centers, had ordered a disbursement of the remaining population. Even more amazing than the fact that the message to "spread out" got through was the way the people of earth regrouped into bands of population that were totally unique when compared to those before the Great War. These new groups were not constrained by nationality, religion, race or income. People came together for reasons based solely on survival. Diversity in all phases of human achievement featuring a range of skills both mental and physical made up these groupings. Men and women working together without regard to all the xenophobic concepts that had previously ruled the day. It was a horrendous time but an inspirational reaction.

At the top of the steps I could see the Commissioner of Communications, smiling as I approached. It was he who had called me into his office and had asked me if I would consider this historic assignment. Now, he took me by the arm and led me through the Library's doors. When they closed behind me, the cacophony of the street scene was instantly replaced by a penetrating silence and I again felt the nervousness in my stomach. As we crossed the cavernous entryway, I was aware of the clicking of our shoes on the polished floors and their echo off the walls decorated with pictures of the people and events of the past seventy years.

"Shall we go right to the Archives?

Like at our first and only meeting concerning my access to the Archives, the Commissioner moved right to the point. I nodded my assent. We passed through a number of doorways, some which required the Commissioner to type in a security code, some with only silent but watchful guards. I never had much of a sense of direction, so it didn't take long for me to feel disoriented.

The final stage was initially not even recognized by the survivors as a stage of attack at all. It was widely perceived by the remaining population and leadership that the attack had been repulsed. Worldwide groupings that had been born out of necessity were not being reorganized into "countries" although far less than before the invasion. These new countries were more like states within the old united States in that there were differences between these countries but one overriding vein of unity. Just as Patrick Henry had first uttered the unifying phrase, I am not a Virginian but an American, we were no longer French or Chinese or American, we were earthlings. But then people began dying again. So random, so unrelated, that no one noticed or connected the dots. It took fully 2 years before the reality behind the deaths were realized and the announcement was made that the slaughter was the work of the aliens.

"Am I the only one outside the Circle of Elders to know about this?", I asked.
The Commissioner pushed away from his desk and walked over to a small, wooden table tucked into the corner of the room. He removed a folder and brought it back to the desk.

"Open it", he said.

The folder was not very thick, perhaps a half dozen or so papers were inside it. Each had a small 2 inch square picture at the left hand corner and a few paragraphs detailing the biographies of each person pictured. I recognized all the names and was even acquainted with two of them. They were the icons of the communications industry. Each was known throughout the world for a particular accomplishment, all were revered for their ability to keep the people informed during a time when news, particularly news of the early days of the Reclamation was like a salve to humankind as we fought to avoid extinction.

"When the Plan was in its infancy" began the Commissioner, "debate was fierce on both sides of the issue. The greatest minds, most powerful leaders, and deepest thinkers of the world debated for almost two years just to decide to implement its details. The few remaining records of these debates indicate that just as it appeared that the Plan would be scuttled, the War in the Middle East began. Within two months of the start of this conflict, the Plan was approved unanimously. It had become clear that without this drastic step, there would be no returning from the destruction that the warring nations had begun. Yet still, one final amendment was added. At this time, we believe this last detail helped these great men and women sign off on what they knew was a death sentence to so many of their fellow humans. A way to link the future to their decision so they could feel comfortable knowing that it could be stopped if the succeeding generations decided it should end. So it was agreed that every 10 years, someone outside the Circle of Elders, someone trusted unquestionably by the people still alive, would have access to the Archives. As you now know, the Archives were virtually complete within the first few years of the beginning of the Plan. The story you have known all your life, the story all remaining humans then and now have been taught was just that, a story. And, of course, to make sure that the person chosen to receive this honor was truly universally trusted, events were directed by the Circle to help build and maintain the status of these people precisely so they would be in a position to be believed should they decide to reveal the truth."

I closed the folder. The watershed moments of my life flashed through my mind. I was suddenly aware of the connections of these events, as if I had lived my life with blinders.

I looked up at the Commissioner to find a sympathetic smile and a nod.
"It is now your turn to decide. If you choose to, we will announce a world communications conference on the day of your choosing and provide you with whatever documents you wish to make public. We understand it is an incredible decision and not at easy one with which to wrestle. But we can only provide you with seven days to decide. It is the Plan's directive, delineated in that last amendment".

So now, I stand before my reflection in the mirror. Tomorrow is the seventh day. I see the wisdom of the seven day decision cycle as I don't think I could survive a longer time limit. Sleep had become a welcome respite from the enormity of the decision but now, even my sleep has been invaded by visions of what has been and what might become again.

The truth has always been the goal of all great communications men and women. Whether that truth was hand-written on parchment, tapped out on typewriters, mass printed on rolls of newspaper or instantly transmitted electronically through the ether, the truth was always our goal. And now, I knew the truth, the awful truth: that it was through lies and controlled death and destruction that humans had finally achieved the greatest time of peace and prosperity ever known on earth. Great men and women before me had developed the Plan, the idols of my youth and my profession had remained silent when presented with this truth. When mankind feared the worst, that they might destroy each other out of a lust for power and money, they decided to use that very destruction as a tool to unite the men of earth by staging an alien invasion. They condemned billions of individuals to die to save humanity as a whole.

I have always maintained, both in my personal and professional life that people were inherently good and that given the choice they would invariably make right choice. Did I dare take this great risk to prove my beliefs?
I looked up at my reflection. What should I do?

What would you do?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

More on the Big Slick

I sent the following letter to the Phila Inquirer this past week after reading a column on who is to blame for the spill in Monday's paper. The author, Charles Krauthammer, while saying that BP was to blame for the actual spill, spent most of the column blaming democrats and the environmental movement for the spill. I responded with the letter below.

In the meantime, as the week progressed, there was more criticism of President Obama for not being mad enough about this horrible disaster. As you can see by my letter, I also criticized our president, but not because he isn't jumping up and down having a hissy fit or swearing, or demonstrating his anger in some emotional outburst. I don't understand how that would help. We just had 8 years of a president who flew by the seat of his pants and made decisions based on his gut. Look where that got us!

As I said in my letter, I want the president to go on national TV, tell us the state of deep water oil drilling (like how many are there and how much oil we get from them). Maybe name some names, such as who were the government regulators who didn't do their job, who they interacted with and who at BP gave the orders that lead up to the explosion. But then, most importantly, tell us what we have to do to get off the oil addiction. What do we need to do, each one of us, to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. Challenge us. Be presidential...and willing to lose the next election by telling us what we need to hear, and need to do.


To the editor:

Mr. Krauthammer asks an extremely poignant question in this week's column, "Many to blame for oil spill". Why are we drilling in 5,000 feet of water for oil in the first place?

Unfortunately, his answers leave much to be desired.

It is simple, sir. Rather than spending the last 30 years weaning ourselves from fossil fuels in general and oil in particular, we chose to increase our dependence on these finite sources of energy. Starting with President Reagan (does anyone remember him unceremoniously removing the solar panels from the White House after then President Carter practically begged us to kick our oil habit), we ignored our ever growing dependence on energy from unfriendly sources, pretended that the changing climate was unrelated to the release of carbon into the atmosphere, and discounted the thousands of lives and trillions of dollars that we wasted on wars to maintain our habit.

Think about it. Less than 10 years after President Kennedy challenged the scientific community to land a man on the moon, it was done, yet here we are, almost 30 years after the oil embargo of the 70's and we are worse off than before.

I do agree with one point made by Mr. Krauthammer; President Obama does share some of the blame. Like all of the presidents since Reagan, he lacks the political will to tell the American people, enough is enough. Rather than being presidential and challenging us to face our damaging dependency, he has chosen a course of conciliation with the powers that represent the status-quo, and which encourages us, the American people, to continue to live our lives waiting for someone else to step up to the plate instead of the person each of us sees in the mirror everyday.