Thursday, August 26, 2010

More about War

I am fortunate that most of the opinion letters that I send to the Perkasie News Herald are published. While I am not receiving much feedback from those letters, I know some people are reading them. The following is the letter I sent today.

To the editor:

In addition to the Perkasie News Herald, I am an avid reader of the Philadelphia Inquirer. I make a point of reading the opinion page, especially the readers' opinion letters that are published daily. When a letter writer has supplied their e-mail address, I will contact those readers with whom I disagree. I have started a number of correspondences in this manner and have exchanged numerous, civil e-mails in discussion of the topics of the day.

One such letter recently suggested that we should have bombed a city in Afghanistan (after telling them which city) after the 9/11 attacks rather than spending so much money and losing so many American lives. My response to the writer was as follows:

At first glance, the newspaper supplied title to your letter almost made me skip down to the next letter. But, as I have made an effort to read and respect everyone's opinion, I pressed on and read yours.

The jist of your letter seems to be that we should have used the full strength of our missiles and long range offensive weapons against our enemies rather then spending billions of dollars and wasting thousands of our own young American lives. Your premise is based on the reasoning that by demonstrating our willingness to use the sheer destructive power that we possess, our enemies will think twice about future attacks. It seems based on sound logical thinking.

I see a few problems with the idea.

1. By warning Afghanistan ahead of time, the truly guilty for the attack of 9/11 will surely flee, leaving only the poor and innocent to be slaughtered by our weapons.

2. While this may save thousands of American lives, what about the thousands of Afghani lives that would be lost. Are their lives worth any less because they happen to live in Afghanistan?

3. While the terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 attack were Muslim, the vast majority of them were from Saudi Arabia, as is Osama Bin Laden. In fact, many people believe that most of the funding came from the Saudis oil wealth. Shouldn't we then be bombing Saudi Arabia?

4. If we had bombed Afghanistan as you suggest, isn't it possible that this attack against innocent civilians would have galvanized those radical Muslims (and perhaps some moderates as well) in their belief that America is at war with their religion?

Not knowing you, I am assuming that your letter reflects an understanding that we have wasted a huge amount of money, time and American lives in the past nine years in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I also assume that you are angry that all those resources have done little to exact revenge against the monsters who planned the attack. You lament our apparent impotence at gaining justice.

Perhaps it is not the method of how we seek revenge but the need to seek it that we should be questioning. Hatred breeds hatred. Let's not forget that we supported the Taliban in their war against Russia and that we supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. To many people of that region, we are only concerned with our interests, and we will use and/or kill anyone who opposes us. To think that we were brutally attacked on 9/11 for no reason, does a disservice to our intelligence. Revenge is what keeps this conflict alive. Turning our back on revenge, may be the only way to break the cycle.

Many of today's pundits believe that we are at war with Islam. The justification for waging that battle is the belief that Islam is at war with America. But if we continue to kill Muslims (remember, we have probably killed 75-100,000 of them since 9/11) in the name of rooting out terrorism, what other conclusion will some Muslims come to than that we are at war with them, therefore they should kill more Americans. And so it will go on and on.

How about if we show them that Christianity means more than just loving those who think like us, look like us, believe in the same things we believe. How about if we show them that the spirit of Christianity demands that we love our enemies as well. That we try, through examples of love and tolerance, to prove that we really believe in the teachings of Christ.

How about if we save all that money and all those lives by not seeking revenge at all?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Off to College

This past Saturday, I drove my son, JW, to begin the next stage of his life at Allegheny College. My, how college has changed over the years.

As an incoming freshman, he was required to be there a full five days before classes started. Both of us wondered what he would do for those five days but it was clear upon our arrival that Allegheny (and I would imagine, most private colleges) knew what they were doing. Right off the bat, they were organized. At the curb in front of his dorm we were greeted by a team of young adults whose sole purpose was to get his stuff out of my car and into his room. They reduced our 35 minute loading process to about 5 minutes to unload.

The orientation packet he received (one for each of us) clearly spelled out his agenda for arrival day right through to the first day of classes. Not that every minute was scheduled, but there were activities and meetings designed specifically to help him ease into this new life by bringing him together with his future class mates, dorm mates and teachers. There was also a concise but practical list of must-do's which included picking up his meal card, finding his post office box and submitting the paperwork for his work study job. And, of course, another guided campus tour to help him see the campus from the eyes of someone who has lived there for a year. I was impressed with the process and the people. And, to be honest, I was envious of this adventure that JW was about to begin.

After completing all the main tasks of the day, we spent some time with his room mate then had our last meal together, at least for a while. As he had two planned activities that first evening, I said goodbye and confidently left my first born to start his adult life.

So often when we drive a long distance, the trip towards our destination seems much longer than the trip home. In this case the opposite was true; it took forever for me to get home. Perhaps because it had been such a long day, or that I was traveling home alone. But, more likely it is because the son I left last Saturday at college would never be the same again, and I will dearly miss him.

Monday, August 23, 2010

In Memorium: Blackie

About five years ago, a black cat crossed my family's path.

It was a bitterly cold winter night when the cat appeared at our front door. He seemed friendly enough but since he was missing one of his canine teeth we weren't sure if he was just recently lost or had been in the wild for a while. That first night, we put him in our barn with some milk, a box and a blanket. The next night he was in our downstairs bathroom. Within a week, we had taken him to the vet for his shots and he was part of the family.

Since that time, we all grew to love Blackie despite and because of his active nature and frequent vocalizations. He was a wrestler who took on all comers. Whether wrestling with our other cat Sweettart or myself, he attacked with gusto but never malice. He was very affectionate, not necessarily a lap cat, but he always wanted to be with people. On the arm of a chair, walking across your keyboard, on a chair at dinner or just on the floor in whatever room was occupied, Blackie was there.

His need to be with people was reflected in his dislike for closed doors. Whether in the middle of the day or middle of the night, if you were in your room with the door closed he would meow outside of it until it opened. Yes, even the bathroom. At that time, he might or might not stay to visit, but that was his choice, not yours.

He loved going outside, sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for an hour but he almost exclusively stayed in our yards, especially the back yard where he could sniff the large variety of plants, roll in the patch of cat mint or lounge in the sun on the walkway. His love of the outdoors made going in or out a door a challenge as he developed a knack for hanging just far enough away to lull you in and then, boom, out he went.

When we went out as a family, he was at the front door when we returned. None of us were sure if he greeted us because he missed us or wanted to go out, but he was always there, nevertheless.

Unfortunately, as it is with pets, time began to catch up with Blackie. Visits to the vet became more frequent. When we had to put him in the hospital one day, we feared the worst. The first few times we visited, he could barely lift his head and even though he purred the entire time we were there, we were not hopeful. Then, on day five he began to eat. When we visited, he was able to walk around a little, and he even spent a few minutes cleaning himself. But, as sometimes occurs, it was his last good day. His temperature spiked, his kidneys began to fail and we were forced to make the decision to let him go.

Since he loved the back yard so much, we decided to bury him there. We placed him in the ground after an emotional ceremony, each of us tossing in some dirt through our tears and sobs.

Now, less than a week later, our home has changed. When I came home from work today, I didn't have to check if Blackie was lurking to dash out the door. There was no meowing at the bathroom door when I showered this morning. When I dangled my hand over the living room chair earlier tonight, no one pounced. And now, as I am keying this post, there is no distraction.

Blackie will be sorely missed.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Mosque

There has been a lot of talk lately about the proposed building of an Islamic community center two blocks from the 9/11 site. Many people have expressed concern that it is insensitive to the victims' families of this horrible event that anything associated with the religion of the perpetrators of this odious act should be built within such close proximity. While I can understand why many Americans might be hesitant to accept an Islamic center (including a mosque) near the site of one of the most horrific events in our history, it surprises me that the rhetoric and vitriol have reached such levels. There are certainly Islamic fundamentalists who seek the destruction of America. But to condemn the billion (?) of so members of the entire religion seems un-American to me. The letter below was in response, not to someones opinion against the plan, but to thank the Inquirer for publishing an article that attempted to shed light on the hyperbole surrounding the proposal.

My experience so far with letters to the Inquirer have shown me that they need to be relatively short and to the point. I would have liked to expand my thought about fear and its seemingly far-reaching effects on our populace and hence our debates.

What do you think? Are we more fearful than in the past? Or is it my bias that the things we seem to be afraid of are not worthy of our fear? When we were afraid of a possible nuclear war with the Russians that seems more legitimate than being afraid of the Taliban.

Or, to be more conspiratorial, perhaps fear is the tool that our politicians use to distract us from the real problems that we face. Perhaps by demonizing the gay community or illegal aliens or the entire Muslim community, it enables our leaders to avoid the real problems that face our society.

Or maybe we just don't want to face the truth that we are all responsible for our problems so it is easier to blame someone else.



To the editor:

Thanks for publishing Stephen Salisbury's column concerning the proposed Islamic center in New York City. It was nice to gain some information about this issue that was fact-based rather than an ideologue tainted opinion. However, it surprised me that he did not mention Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf whose current Mideast mission was reported on page 3 of Saturday's Inquirer. Perhaps if the general public was aware of Rauf's position (with both the Bush and Obama administrations) "as a symbol of American religious freedom", and his connection with the proposed Islamic center there would be less room for our politicians to fan the flames of hatred and then take advantage of the public's fear of the proposed community center and mosque.

Which makes me wonder; when did Americans become such a fearful populace?

Whether it is in discussions of this mosque, or gay marriage, or national health care, or immigration, or even the deficit, it seems that so much of today's discourse centers around reasons to be afraid. Whether the fear leads to hatred of merely gives that emotion legs, our culture seems to have reached a point where we give into these emotions much more readily thereby enabling politicians and pundits to direct our feelings at their targets du jour.

Despite our faults, we are still the greatest country in the world. Perhaps we would be better served if we acted as an example for the positive through trust and cooperation rather than reacting to today's important challenges through the prism of fear and hatred.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Change

Recently I have become aware of a challenge put forth by Bill Gates (I believe) to motivate the richest people of the world to donate 1/2 of their fortunes to charity. While I applaud this effort, it is not quite the same as the premise in the following story which I wrote unaware of this donation challenge. Again, I think that it is a tremendous idea for those with more to willingly give to those with less. But wouldn't it be more effective if those with such mega-billions had shared those great earnings with the employees of the companies whose hard work helped them make those fortunes? Personally, I would cap salaries at a level that should easily allow most people a standard of living that is sufficient for a comfortable way of life. However, as that would require more government intervention than most Americans are willing to allow, I would prefer that we embark on this path on a volunteer basis. The following story reflects that hope.


The Change

Strangely enough, the change had begun from the actions of an athlete. Not one of those athletes who points to the sky whenever he performs admirably but clearly one whose spirituality matched his athletic prowess. He was twenty-eight years old, just in the midst of his prime, as he was reminded incessantly when he first proposed his idea. In the previous three years, he had led the league or been close to the top in every category that mattered, and it was expected that the negotiations for his next contract would set a new standard for compensation. When he first mentioned the plan to his agent, she immediately appealed to the his wife, mother, and teammates, even going as far as bringing in star athletes from other sports to talk some sense into him. But to no avail. He was adamant that it was time for someone to make a stand and who better but someone who could maximize the effect.

The process, as all significant social and economic changes are, was gradual and not readily noticed by the populace. In fact, at first the trend was a positive one. Starting after the second of two great world wars, there was impressive growth. And for the first 40 years or so, this growth penetrated virtually all levels of society. Within two generations, the ideas and ambitions of the best of the population helped drive the development of a thriving middle class whose labor made those ideas and ambitions come to fruition. This symbiotic relationship, while not completely inclusive of all people, for the first time bridged many of the gaps that had excluded women and minorities.

But the growth was unsustainable. In retrospect, it seemed obvious that a slowdown or a time of flat growth was inevitable after such a meteoric rise. But expectations had risen as well and so rather than taking a breath and revising expectations, the country's leadership continued to stoke the belief in unfettered progress. When natural resources seemed to be straining, new technologies were developed to enhance the processes. When investments could no longer rely on new ideas and hard work to produce the required gains, new financial vehicles were created which traded on expectations, opinions and trickery. When people working together for a common goal no longer resulted in enough profit, influences were popularized that inflamed class warfare and class envy even as jobs were moved to areas and countries where labor was cheaper and profit could be maintained.

Some said it was a purposeful slide, orchestrated by the haves to keep the have-nots in line and confused about their degrading state. But if the truth be told, it was everyone, rich and poor, liberal and conservative, who let it happen. Rather than looking in the mirror in acknowledgement of individual responsibility, they continued to buy when they should have saved, to waste when they should have conserved, and to believe the easy answers rather than demanding that someone tell them the hard truth. And so, a mere four generations after the biggest surge in opportunity and standard of living ever experienced in history, the trend began to reverse.

Where once school age children could by a ticket for a ball game on a sunny summer's day, now only the well-connected or lucky employees of a large corporation could afford to attend. Where once anyone could attend a college, even if just the local community college, now only those with status or money could attend an institute of higher learning. Where once, everyday people visited other parts of their country or even foreign lands, now only the rich even had vacations, let alone the money to spend on one.

“I don’t want the money, at least not just for me”, he began. “I expect you to spend the hundred million dollars you are offering me but I only want fifty of the hundred million. The remainder you must split amongst all the non-players in this organization, all the people who work at the stadium, all the faceless workers who set the stage for this sport”.

It took the organization a few months, but eventually they executed his request through direct bonuses and a trust fund to disperse the money over the course of the next four years as the contract stipulated. The owners and CEO did their best to keep the news a secret, but the secrecy did not last long. Surprisingly however, there was no need for the concern that drove their desire to keep the news from reaching the public. While there was certainly discord from many camps, the fans of the city quickly expressed their support. And the workers who had benefited from this unusual arrangement, displayed a new energy and pride in their jobs.

Later that year, two other athletes in a different city demanded a similar contract but went even further. One of them took the same tact with regards to splitting the money but the contract of athlete number two required the “excess” money to be applied to a lowering of the ticket prices. As a result, a few Sundays after the contracts were signed, a standing room only crowd included thousands of fans who had not seen a game in person in their lifetime.

From there, the trend spread to all of the other major sports. While competition on the field was still as intense as ever, the competition for innovative ways to share the wealth was just as feverish. Days featuring free food for all children in attendance, then games with free attendance for the children and their parents from entire elementary schools, then sporting events with no money changing hands at all. This is not to say that profit was removed from athletics. Business was still conducted, profit and loss still evaluated. But the idea that this was a game, played to entertain the everyday citizens who made the city work, became just as important.

Due to the overlap of friendships among many star athletes and those in the entertainment business, the change next penetrated that industry. The first star to embrace the notion reduced the face value of the tickets for his 20 city tour by 50% over the previous tour. When some scalping was reported by some fans at the third stop of the tour, the entertainer made a 30 second commercial asking those responsible to stop while also asking his fans to stop paying the extra money. For the most part, his plea worked and three other big name acts matched his 50% reduction of tickets.

Of course, at this point the movement was still a minor ripple. But as even the smallest pebble will create a wave that while tiny will still reach as far as the eye can see, news of these actions reached all levels of society. In the next year, a weekly series TV star took a 50% pay “diversion” which was passed along to the innumerable people who toil behind the scenes of every successful TV show. This same decision was quickly copied in short order by three movie stars, a radio talk show host, two television news anchors, and even an author who needed all her creativity to match the generosity of those who came before her.

But the tipping point occurred when the CEO of one of the most profitable and influential companies in the country called for a press conference one beautiful spring afternoon. With press from all over the world in attendance, he calmly walked to the podium and made the following announcement.

“Friends, family, members of the press, and those of you watching me live on the internet. As you know, in the past 2 years there have been some recent decisions by some high salaried individuals to share their compensation. This was accomplished in various ways, sometimes by strictly improving the salaries of the various support staffs, sometimes by passing along the difference to their fans and customers, sometimes a combination of both. Regardless of the method, the intent was the same; to reverse a trend that had led to an ever increasing income inequality in our country”.

“When I first became aware of these individuals and their actions, I was skeptical. I had become so used to gauging everything by profit and loss that these actions seemed ludicrous. But, as you all know from my history, I am nothing if not interested in new ideas, new trends, new ways to improve my company. So, about three months ago, I held a weekend long meeting with the top minds in business today. We started with the premise that this trend might be bad for our companies and business in general. We studied the available numbers for those companies which had been affected by the change and found very little difference in profit. Salaries, which are always a significant percentage of a company’s expenses, had only changed by distribution, not quantity. But the biggest surprise was that in some cases, profits had inched upwards. How could that be? These companies were paying well beyond market value for all but one position yet profits were not affected”.

The CEO stopped, took a short sip of water, then smiled.

“So we went beyond the numbers and talked to the people involved. Those that had given back some salary were proud of their achievements. A few of the individuals told me that they still had plenty of money but were experiencing much more satisfaction from their lives. It wasn’t more money they needed, just more happiness, a feeling that they had made a difference. And on the other side, those everyday employees who had been taken for granted, felt more appreciated. They knew the support nature of their roles but had grown frustrated that no matter how hard they worked, they couldn’t get comfortable. There was always a lagging bill, always something out of reach. But now, they had that extra buck to get to a movie or replace an old appliance or spend a Sunday at the beach”.

“And then we discovered something completely unexpected. The communities where these people lived were also experiencing an upswing in business. All that money that had gone exclusively to the top earners in the past was very rarely spent in the local area of the company. But a huge percentage of that diverted money was now staying in the communities. In short, it seemed to be a win-win situation and it made us reevaluate our original premise that perhaps those companies were not paying salaries beyond the market value of the work but were investing in their employees and the communities in which they worked and lived”.

At this point, about a dozen men and women approached the podium. For those familiar with business, they were witnessing an unprecedented gathering of the movers and shakers of the industry. They exuded confidence and comfort. They seemed relaxed while still possessing an understanding that they were about to expand the change into a country wide movement.

"Behind me you see many faces that you recognize. They are the faces of people who have accomplished a great deal in their lives. By any current standard of success, whether you use wealth, influence, power or possessions, they would be considered some of the most successful people in the country, if not the world. Together however, we have concluded that we may have missed the boat in some respects. We placed too much emphasis on personal wealth and the profitability of our companies, and not enough on the welfare of our employees and the communities in which we operated. We bought into the rationalization that we were providing jobs and forgot that if the jobs did not provide our employees with an acceptable standard of living, then we were not providing enough. In short, our bottom line focus sacrificed people for profit".

"As you know, our influences extend beyond the direct holdings of our organizations; we sit on the boards of dozens of other corporations across a wide spectrum of industries. After hours of meetings with these boards, we are here to publicize a few simple changes to the operations of those businesses. A list of these companies and these alterations is being passed around now so you can see how widespread the change will be and so you can publish the names in hopes that those businesses not on the list will seek to follow our example. As you can see, the change will include a reduction of our personal compensation so everyone will know that we are so confident in this strategy that we are starting with our own salaries".

The CEO stepped to the side of the group and raised his arm in their direction.
"We have accomplished a great deal during our business careers. But too much of it has centered on ourselves at the expense of our fellow man. Today, we chart a new course where our accomplishments are shared more equitably with the people doing the work. A course which values the welfare of all our employees on a more equal footing with that of the corporation, and values the people of the community in which they live as an extension of those employees."

With that, the CEO and the group of individuals with him departed the room. And while there was no instant revolution, the pendulum had been stopped. Over the next twenty years, the income gap between the top and bottom salaries began to diminish. The definition of rich no longer just included material possessions. While wealth still existed, excess wealth was definable, and avoided. Not because of a law but because it did not lead to the advance of the community. Business schools began teaching the concept of equitable compensation not just because it was fashionable but because it created a more motivated employee who produced a better product or service. Those in the entertainment industries accepted less compensation, not because they did not value their work but because they valued it as they valued other public servants; teachers, firefighters, police officers, and social workers. And so it didn't come as a big surprise when just three generations later, the definition of success had evolved from making a million to making a difference.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Special day, special visit to the doctor

Today is a special day in general for all of us, and in particular for me. It was special for us all in that today is 8/9/10. This type of numeric sequence only happens 12 times each century. After today there will only be four more this century, 9/10/11, 10/11/12, 11/12/13 and 12/13/14. Then we will have to wait until January 2, 2103 for the next cycle to start. Chances are, none of us will see that day so I hope your day was as special as the date.

To mark this special day, I did my 50+ year old duty and had my first colonoscopy. While certainly the drink was no pleasure, I did not find the experience to be as horrible as I was lead to believe. I did manage to get some sleep last night, I did not have an accident on the way to the doctor's office and the procedure itself was a non-event. The IV drip was inserted, the anesthesiologist asked me a few questions, in went the knock out cocktail and the next thing I remember was my name being spoken to wake up. So, if you have reached 50 years of age and are avoiding this procedure, I happily recommend you take the plunge. Oh, and in case you are wondering, no polyps!

Of course, the purpose of this post is not to report on the status of my bowels. (Sorry, perhaps one should not use the word bowels in a blog). The bigger picture is the medical care I received as well as my overall impression of health care, health care workers and the health care insurance industry. (Back to bowels again?)

First, my current job as an employee of the state of Penna has afforded me with what has so far been very good medical benefits. While these benefits don't even remotely make up for the drop in salary that I have taken, they certainly provide relief from the constant flow of statements and bills that I received with my former employer. For this particular procedure, no copay was required. As I would consider a colonoscopy a routine screening for mature adults, I like that concept. To me, money should not be an obstacle for anyone to engage in this procedure. Like a mammogram or pap smear or EKG, I would hazard to guess that these kind of preventive tests save big bucks as opposed to a diagnosis of cancer or heart failure after the damage is done. I would ask all of you who have had any of these procedures (regardless of the outcome) to think what it would mean to you and your family if you were unable to afford it and found yourself on the short end of an unfortunate diagnosis. It still boggles me why anyone thinks universal health care for all American citizens is somehow a threat to our democracy or way of life.

As for the care I received today, it was excellent. No, I didn't have my own personal recovery room and they didn't serve me a mimosa after I awoke, but all the people I encountered from the nursing staff to the doctor proved to be health care providers, emphasis on the provider. The before-nurse made me feel comfortable, the nurse who started the IV was pleasant and competent (no resticks), the anesthesiologist answered my questions, the doctor quickly explained the process and asked if I had questions and the after-nurse was compassionate and personable. It was truly a successful team effort.

Of course, as I lay there with my legs up trying to exhaust my excess air, I thought about these people and I couldn't help but wonder if they understood how much their positive, caring attitudes really made a difference. And if their compensation was in the least bit equitable.

Don't get me wrong, I expect the doctor and anesthesiologist to earn a better living. They have advanced degrees, higher education debt, much higher liability insurance and they walk a tightrope where an honest mistake or accident can cause death in their patient. But what is that worth? Ten times more money? Thirty times? A hundred? And what about the nurses? They are the first to arrive at the facility and the last to leave. They are face to face with anxious, nervous people at their most vulnerable and are charged with not only preparing them for the procedure but to chat and distract them while doing it. In my case, I spoke to the doctor and anesthesiologist for about 5 minutes of the 45 conscious minutes I was with the team. That leaves 40 minutes for the support people. What is that interaction worth?

In the end (oops), I am grateful for the experience, and the time I spent with all of the health care providers I encountered today. When done properly as it was for me, their service is priceless.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Gay Marriage

Today's Phila Inquirer had a nice pro and con reaction to the federal judge's ruling which struck down the California law which outlawed gay marriage in that state. In reality, his ruling seemed to indicate that the law contradicted California's constitution that guaranteed equal protection under the law. His ruling basically says that the anti gay marriage law did not present any facts that proved that gay marriage is harmful to society but instead reflected a religious bias against homosexuality.

I sent the following e-mail to the writer in support of the referendum which had been voted upon by the citizens of California and banned gay marriage.

Mr. Donovan,

I read your entire article looking for logical, legal reasons why the gay community should not be entitled to marry just as I did while reading the companion article written by John Nichols in support of the ruling. At this point, I am more inclined to lean towards
Mr. Nichols presentations than towards your own, but perhaps I missed something in your column.

I am sure you are of sufficient intelligence to know that our founding fathers did not create this as a true democracy but as a representative republic. My impression is that they did not trust the everyday person's ability to separate emotion, myth and religious bias (yes, I used that word on purpose) from logic and reason. And, while they had not progressed past the opinions of the time which did not believe that blacks (and woman for that matter) were deserving of the right to vote, they at lease gave us a framework that would provide us with the building blocks to evolve to that point. You must realize that if popular vote was all that mattered, the election of 2000 would have produced a different result. And that so many of the great steps forward that this country has made in the past 200 years towards a true reflection of "all men are created equal" would have taken much longer if we had been dependent on the populace to come around to that way of thinking. Towards the end of your article, you say that this ruling "will be a monument to the ruling elite's arrogant ambition to frustrate the will and the wisdom of the people". Based on the founder's creation of the three branches of government and the concept of checks and balances, should I infer that they shared this arrogance that you imply?

In that vein then, you equate the judge's ruling as "activist" in that it contradicts the popular vote. This theme runs throughout your article as you cite many surveys about gay marriage as well as other popular votes that have taken place throughout the country whereby the people have expressed doubts on legalizing gay marriage. You do touch briefly on the subject of children raised by gay parents and the possible problems that this environment will cause but not with evidence that it is bad but with a backhanded attack on the data that currently, does not support either position, good or bad.

My impression is that marriage, as defined by one man, one woman, does not include a reference to children yet that seems to be an important aspect of continuing to deny same-sex marriage. I would logically lean more towards this position if you denied marriage to heterosexual couples who did not have children, or heterosexual couples who were on their 3rd marriage with 8 variously conceived step children, or heterosexual couples who were alcoholics or drug addicts or heterosexual couples who provided insufficient love and support for their children, or etc, etc.

In the end though, I would ask you if you believe that gay people are born that way? If not, then that view contradicts most evidence in support of gay at birth. My personal experience with gay people, while a very small sample, certainly agrees with this belief. And, while I have never seen this question asked, I would bet that a majority of Americans, if asked to vote on that question, would lean towards gay at birth. Once that is admitted, then one must assume that, as you say, "every human being has a male and a female parent" which means that gay people spring from heterosexual parents. Nature overcomes nurture.

Finally, for me then, the moral aspect of the issue is the most compelling argument to allowing gay marriage. God created them just as he created heterosexuals. They are a minority but so are left handed people, superb athletes, and those with blond hair and blue eyes. Would you deny any of those groups the right to marry?

It is my firm belief that in fifty years, this discrimination will be looked upon by our grandchildren with the same shock and disappointment that we feel when we see the "colored only" signs from images of the 1960's. In the meantime, I hope you remain open to debate and discussion on this issue. Towards that end, I am certainly willing to continue this discourse if you are willing.

Regards,

Joe Pugnetti

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Justifying War

I read an interesting article in the Phila Inquirer yesterday. It discussed the upcoming 65the year anniversary of the use of atomic weapons to hasten the end of WWII. It struck me that the writer of the article was using an ends-justifies-the-means defense of the use of these weapons just as I have used that theory as the basis for The Archives. I sent the following e-mail to the writer in hopes of beginning a personal correspondence with him about mankind's continued use of force and killing to improve the world. Please feel free to add your thoughts as well.


Mr. xxxxxx,

I recently wrote a story (which I have attached) set in a futuristic world where all people and nations are at peace with one another. However, the peace has resulted from an external threat as opposed to a unification based on mutual respect and love. I won't give away the ending twist but you will probably be able to guess it before you read it based on the remainder of this e-mail.

One of the comments I received about my story was that it reflects a classic ends-justifies-the-means scenario.

Which brings me to this e-mail. One could debate that your article also reflects an ends-justifies-the-means defense of the mass killing of tens of thousands of Japanese civilians in order to save thousands of American soldiers.

In my story, literally billions of people are sacrificed to enable the future existence of humanity. The most compelling discussion I had about the story centered on the opinion that there is no way to know the aggregate potential of all those killed, a potential which may have included someone who may have found a cure for a horrible disease, or someone who may have written an inspirational story, or someone who may have been able to unite mankind in a peaceful way without the sacrifice of life.

So, I would ask you the same question. How do you know what potential was killed by the detonation of those bombs? What disease may have been cured or story may have been written or leader who may have developed but was not due to the tremendous amount of loss of life which occurred on those fateful days?

Don't get me wrong, I am not debating your point of view that the bombs were necessary. In my story, I have only fictitiously killed the innocent to evoke a better world. Having to decide to do it in real time, is, as they say, above my pay grade. But perhaps that is the point; how does one get qualified to make such decisions. And from that perspective, perhaps no one has the moral authority to send young men and women to fight and kill the young men and women of other countries. Labeling them Nazis or Japs or terrorists, doesn't change the fact that they are people with the potential for good as well as bad.