Thursday, April 29, 2010

Red Light Cameras

The installation of cameras at troubled intersections to catch and fine red light runners has just become approved by state law in Florida.
Prior to the state-wide action, towns across the state were doing this on their own and running into legal challenges supported by the courts.
The new law, of course, bothers many people.  Not only those who habitually run red lights but lovers of freedom as well.  I hold myself in the last category.
I have a better idea, even if it is an old one.  Put a police officer in the middle of the intersection to control and direct traffic.  The officer's presence by itself will eliminate the problem.
This may come as a shock to half the American population, at least those born here, but, once upon a time, a traffic cop at busy intersections was as common an occurence as a teacher in a classroom.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Maintenance Man!

Call him that, or janitor, or custodian, but the people who keep the workplace clean and whole perform a vital service. It is no small thing to maintain man's structures and machines from the assault of Time and Nature.  These are occupations that do not obtain a status equal to their value.
The daily routine of cleaning and sanitation serves to keep us healthy.
The oiling of hinges, tightening of screws, replacement of bulbs and fuses, the sharpening of blades, the testing of alarms, flushing, charging, breakdown & reassembly, cleanup, disposal, collection, refill, restore, replace, alter, modify and renew:  all these activities and more keep the social engine running.
Custodians are a kind of hero forming an aboveground resistance in the war to maintain stability which is the sea our ideas swim in.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Words and Ideas, and how they do change!

Many years ago people spoke of the biblical injunction 'Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men."  We were advised to take this seriously.   It was noble to seek peace and do good works.
Today those injunctions have been transformed into pejoratives.  Today we are supposed to scorn the 'peacenik' and pity the 'do-gooder'.

'Equality' is another word that has become contemptible.  We are lectured regularly by George Will and others like him that 'equality of opportunity' does not mean 'equality of outcome'.  As if those squeezed between these two contradictory forces didn't know that already;  they know what is missing in this equation is what I call the 'equality of the process'.
The power structure has changed the rules, altered conditions, instituted restrictions, and reduced compensation levels for those  who do not benefit from the advantages of inherited wealth or privileged position.
How have the rules changed?
 For one example, out of many, in the space of a century we have gone from a nation that was built and developed largely by high school dropouts (citing Paul Goodman here) to a nation where a college degree is a minimum requirement for most positions.
What 'altered conditions?'  The destruction of a vast and viable public transportation system in favor of the automobile is one example.   Urban renewal was another bad idea. That program took poor but livable housing,  declared it 'substandard' and therefore illegal and so destroyed it.
The proliferation of regulations at the state and municipal level that restricts activities, whether of the kind which allowed people to make money or save it.
Reduced compensation is found in the statistics that real income has not kept pace with inflation, and in the deliberate weakening of labor unions.
There are dozens of examples that make the 'process of equality' more difficult, from the minor (free calendars, road maps, water, air) to major ones (zoning, compulsory insurances, regressive taxes and fees, safety laws).
The United States is not the same country it was 50, even 40 years ago.  Then there was a rawness, a newness, a freedom that gave people a sense of opportunity.  I believe that sense is weaker now.
Today we are over-organized, over-codified, not to mention over taxed and over-regulated.
So when I read the lectures to the poor from Will or Brooks or Krauthammer or Friedman, I am reminded of President Ronald Reagan who told us about "morning in America."  And then I am reminded of that astute observation by a former senator from Minnesota who said of Reagan that he was a man "who could remember the future and predict the past."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Unholy Trinity

I start with three names:  
The Right
The Republican
The Conservative
These names are not synonyms.
There are those who are members of The Right but are not Republicans.
There are Republicans who are not conservative.
There are Conservatives who are neither of the Right nor Republican.  (I put myself in that last category.)
I begin with The Right.   The word can hold meaning which is valid and supportable but the people who have constituted The Right for the last 60 years are not interested in that benign finding. The Right is a mean-spirited, sometimes vicious, movement which harms individuals, weakens the social fabric, and damages the nation.
Since the late 1940's, The Right has provided a never-ending series of charges, accusations, claims, and falsehoods.  Being fearful themselves, they spread fear among the people.  They create distrust because it works to keep them in power.
The Right began with the accusatory bleat "Who lost China?"  Then it was "Who promoted Peress?  Then came an assault on the 1st Amendment in their zeal for finding communists and communist sympathizers.  The House UnAmerican Activities Committee.  Loyalty oaths.  Subpoenas. Citizens persecuted for their beliefs.  The McCarthy committee.  The assault on the loyalty of the United State Army.
President Harry Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson were accused of treasonous actions.  A new word 'pinko' appeared, to stain people with the red color of communism.  Call it communism lite.
(I pause here to affirm there was a serious communist spy network in the US even as we were developing one in the Soviet Union.  But Daniel Patrick Moynihan, another conservative neither of the Right nor a Republican, in his book "Secrecy", describes how the US Government had cracked the Soviet code used to send messages between the Kremlin and agents here.  We knew who the agents were, their code names, and what they were up to.  All the famous names are there:  Hiss, Bentley, White, Fuchs, Rosenberg, etc.  This was called the Venona Project.  When this secret information was released in 1995-96, analysis showed that President Truman was never informed about the code breaking.  The American people were not told about it because no one wanted Russia to find our we had broken their code.  When Kim Philby, the British mole, defected we learned that he had informed the Soviets but still we kept it secret.  Moynihan maintains that if we had made this news public, we may have avoided the witch hunt hysteria that distracted and damaged the nation.  The spy threat was real, but under control and we knew who the spies were.)
(I digress again.  Today Truman and Acheson are praised by The Right  for their staunch defense of the US.  Go figure.)
During the 1950's and 1960's, China was the main fear promoted by The Right.  The John Birch Society was named for an American military man killed in China.  When Adlai Stevenson suggested in the late fifties that it might benefit our security to open up dialogue with Red China, Vice President Nixon criticized him for being soft on communism. 
During the Kennedy-Nixon Debates in 1960, the islands of Quemoy and Matsu were the source of heated argument over which man would be strong enough to defend them IF red China were to invade them.  After the election, we never heard of those two islands again.
When Nixon was President, he opened up dialogue with Red China.  The Right disapproved but kept their mouths shut.  Today China is no longer referred to as 'Red  China'.  Today  China uses free market and entrepreneurial enterprise to improve their economy.  Today China loans us billions of dollars to fund our wars and social programs because we lack the courage to pay for it ourselves or to reduce the number of people we help socially.  Nor do we scale back the number of military wars and operations that we conduct around the world. (All this military activity is called 'protecting the national interest'  or 'meeting our obligations abroad.' )
Then Vietnam.  LBJ knew the war was a mistake, and was unwinnable.  But he kept going because he knew the Right would slam him for any deviation from the decision to fight communists wherever they were.  This was (and is) the kind of fear The Right has instilled in us for too many years.
There is nothing wrong with debate over conflicting ideas and philosophies.  Even name calling is acceptable.  Even hateful speech of a personal character ought to be permitted but admonished.
Where The Right does wrong is their poisonous accusations of TREASON.
Year after year after year Right Wing zealots charge Americans with whom they disagree with slanderous names that smacked of treason or disloyalty.
That divides the country.  That damages the First Amendment.  That is totalitarian in nature and kind.

Friday, April 2, 2010

April is National Poetry Month

I believe poetry should be honored twelve months around.  But if the nation will have its way and pick one month for this purpose,  then April is an excellent choice.
Think of the poems that ponder the mysteries and virtues of April, the first full month of Spring.

The dour T S Eliot begins The Wasteland:

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Then the famous poem by Robert Browning that begins:

O to be in England
now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in england
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brush-wood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England - now!

Edna St Vincent Millay wrote a couple of poems centered on April.  Here is the first stanza of her poem titled Song of a Second April:

April this year, not otherwise
Than April of a year ago,
Is full of whispers, full of sighs,
Of dazzling mud and dingy snow;
Hepaticas that pleased you so
Are here again, and butterflies.

Then we have her wonderful poem titled Spring:

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only underground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Lesson Learned

One of the most delightful feelings possible is when you find yourself hurrying to meet someone.