"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Thomas Jefferson
Sept. 23, 1800

Sunday, April 22, 2012

H Is For......Hunger Games

This isn't going to be a literary review. I've only read two of the three books and want to read the whole trilogy a second time, at least, before I try that. It's a lot to wrap your head around. This is not a movie review, either, though I loved the film version and highly recommend it for anyone who has read the first book. The one big failing of the movie, though, may be that it doesn't reach those who have not read the book first. It's an intense story, and that's what I wanted to write about. Is it too intense, too much, for children?

In case you've been living under a rock, the basic premise of the Hunger Games is this. In a far-off future, North America has been devastated by calamities of all sorts. The geography is a bit changed and the politics are radically different. A central Capital holds sway over outlying Districts that supply the Capital with all its needs. Because the Districts once rebelled and were defeated, they now have to offer up two children each every year to go to the Capital and fight to the death in the nationally televised "Hunger Games." Only one of the two dozen children comes out alive; it's a sick progression from Survivor, sort of. The Capital uses the Games to show the Districts that they are all-powerful and rebelling is not a good idea.

Obviously, different children will be ready to read a book about children hunting and killing each other at different ages. We are talking about a horrible premise, and the author, Suzanne Collins, does not sugar coat or pussy foot around with any of the horror. Children in this story die. It's not like Harry Potter. These kids aren't killed in a war started by evil adults. These kids are killing each other very much on purpose. As a parent of a twelve year-old son, I can really see the argument that this is wholly inappropriate material for anyone younger than a late teenager. But I let my son read it and took him to see the movie and I think that in whole, the series is something even kids his age should be encouraged to read. And I'd double down on that opinion if we are talking about a girl. Let me try to explain why I think it's not only ok, but very good for kids to read these very sad and disturbing books.

I love children. I babysat in junior high and high school and as an adult I was the leader of my son's Cub Scout den. I am always wanting to hold a baby and am more than happy on the floor playing Legos or Matchbox cars with the kids while the other adults are sitting around the table talking. I enjoy my friends' kids as much as I enjoy them. I'm lucky to have some very intelligent friends and so am usually around some very intelligent children. My Cub Scout den was full of very bright boys, exceptional maybe. I may have a warped view of children because the ones around me are so bright, but I think often kids are underestimated. That's not to say we should treat children like miniature adults, because they are not, but they are capable of understanding and working through things far beyond what their parents often give them credit for.

In my particular case, I know for sure that my son, at 12, is mature enough to understand what The Hunger Games is trying to show him. He has always been a critical thinker, never taking what he is told at face value. I suppose his questioning of what authority figures tell him is genetic, but the Force runs very strong in this one. One of my proudest moments as a parent came when he was in first or maybe second grade. Of course he has been taught all the environmentalism that is all the rage now, and we are a family of the outdoors and of museums. We visit aquariums and zoos regularly. He has been lucky to have what he has been taught in school balanced with what he has seen. This time he showed us that he really was thinking for himself and using his experience. My wife and I were joking around one evening after I saw her leave something plugged in or turned on after she was done using it. I accused her of killing polar bears. John, our son, heard this and asked what I meant, how was mommy killing polar bears? I told him that some people believed that using too much electricity led to global warming and that the earth warming up would melt the ice caps where the polar bears live and so the polar bears would die. I promise I was not sarcastic in the least, I really wanted to see what he would say. Really, I was hoping for a glimpse into what he had learned in school about global warming, but that's not what I got. John was quiet for a few seconds, then got this really disgusted look on his face and proclaimed, "That's stupid. Polar bears can SWIM." And he wandered back to watch Spongebob. My point here is not that he is an expert in polar bears or global warming, but that he used what he had seen and experienced (we'd been to the zoo a few weeks before and watched the polar bear frolicking in the water for a long time) to critically process what he was being told. And that is where this relates to The Hunger Games.

Many children as young as "tweens" are perfectly able to read a book like Hunger Games without being scarred for life or desensitized to violence. Not all authors could have pulled this off. I give Suzanne Collins huge credit for making the book a lesson in strength and honor and trust and fortitude rather than an exercise in gratuitous violence or sappy love. Hunger Games is a warning, in a couple of ways. It's a warning not to get carried away with the reality TV competitions on one level, but it has a definite political warning as well. The children central to the story know they are being manipulated by a government for political propaganda purposes, and they try to balance their own lives with a fight against that. The kids struggle with the idea that there are things bigger than themselves, things like love and trust and freedom. For a child growing into the narcissistic teen years, this is a good thing. And for children learning in school that the government is the cure for all the world's ills, Hunger Games does a great job of showing how a paternalistic state can manipulate people into docile acceptance of horror. Collins does a great job balancing these two concepts, that there are things much bigger than the individual, but that at the same time, it's individuals acting sometimes very alone that keeps the big concepts like freedom and trust and love alive.

The fact that the book's protagonist is a girl makes this all that much better. Katniss isn't a Superwoman, but neither is she a passive damsel in distress waiting to be saved by some man or institution. She is a victim, yes, she is taken from her family and forced against her will to fight for her life and kill other children, but she rages against her circumstances. Katniss doesn't accept the premise set out for her by the ones in charge; she uses her own experience and her own heart and soul to leave the box and win on her own terms. That's a great lesson for girls especially, but it's a great lesson for all children and all adults. It needed to be couched in horror to have the impact that it does.

The Hunger Games reminded me of all I am most proud of in my son, and it gives me hope that he is not alone.

Katniss wouldn't buy into the drowning polar bears.

Friday, April 20, 2012

G Is For.......Greed

Gordon Gekko rocking his "mobile phone"
I first saw the movie Wall Street on video as an impressionable young college student. I loved it. I reveled in Gordon Gekko. I was a bit upset that by the end it became pretty obvious to me that he was supposed to be the villain. Gordon Gekko was so cool! We are supposed to be rooting for that wimpy-ass Charlie Sheen character over him? Please. As I've gotten older and wiser, it's become clear to me that most movies with a "message" are written by liberals for liberals, and Wall Street was a message movie. When Gordon Gekko uttered the line that made me love him, "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good," liberals all over America dove behind the couch in abject terror like I did when the girl's head turned all the way around in The Exorcist. I wasn't a liberal even then, so it made me love the guy. I missed "the message," that self-interest is bad and capitalism is driven by self-interest and so it also is bad. Gordon Gekko made sense to me. Here's the whole quote from that little speech. Warning to liberals, hold someone's hand before reading this, it's gonna be scary.

Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.

You know, I just love that. Even today, 25 years later and after Enron and the tech bubble and the housing market collapse the too-big-to-fail bail-outs, I still love it. I don't see greed, or using the better word Gordon was lacking, self-interest, as the cause of any of these problems. They were caused by dishonesty, stupidity and too much government interference in the free market. You can be greedy and honest. You can be self-interested and generous. Wanting to achieve all you can, however you define happiness and success, doesn't preclude you from being a good person or doing good things. I would argue that it helps. The rich man can be generous with his own money, the poor slob who majored in Philosophy and as a result works pouring other people's coffee satisfies himself with being "generous" with other people's money. Voting to force your neighbors to fund high speed rail and wind farms when you won't or can't invest your own money in such things doesn't make you a "good person," it makes you a prick. Gordon Gekko was better than that.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

F Is For.....Fair Tax

How about a show of hands of all the people who just love the tax code. Nobody? Ok, how about those who have read and understand the tax code? Still quiet out there, huh? Then why, when the thing is so roundly reviled and no one, not even those who voted for it, can tell me exactly what's in it, is there so much hesitation to throw the damned monstrosity away and start over with something new? The one Republican with an actual plan to totally replace the massive tax code with something more sensible was mocked for his idea. By the REPUBLICANS for God's sake! Herman Cain's 9-9-9 Plan isn't perfect, but it's a whole Hell of a lot better than just monkeying around on the edges of what we have. But 9-9-9 wasn't supposed to be an end in itself, it was meant to be step toward what I believe to the nation's last hope for avoiding total financial meltdown in the not so distant future, the Fair Tax.

Those who haven't yet heard of the Fair Tax can read about it in this book, and I highly recommend they do. I'll explain it briefly, though.  The idea is to replace all taxes on income, including the individual income tax, the corporate income tax, estate tax, gift tax, capital gains tax, Medicare tax and even Social Security tax, with a 23% embedded tax on all goods and services at the retail level. If you paid one dollar for an item, 23 cents would go towards the tax. Only new items would be taxed, not resale. To help protect the needy, a "pre-bate" would be credited to every household each month based on the amount of tax on spending up to the government published poverty level. For example, if the poverty level for a family of three is determined to be $20,000/yr, then 23% percent of that would be credited back to the household each year in 12 monthly installments of just over $440 per month, to cover the tax on the necessities of life. All goods and services would then be taxed, removing the power of politicians to exempt certain things.

The beauty of the Fair Tax is that it wouldn't simply make everything you buy 23% more expensive over night, though that wouldn't be so horrible without any withholding coming out of your check. You see, the trouble with withholding taxes is that cost gets imbedded in everything. When you buy a loaf of bread, the taxes those businesses paid every step of the way are included in the final price. You are paying withholding for the retail clerk, stocker, delivery driver, baker, and farmer, just for starters. Take those taxes away, and the market will drive retail prices lower, or wages higher, or both. It's a win-win because finally everyone in the retail economy is paying taxes. The drug dealers pay taxes on their new rims and the illegal farm workers pay on their groceries. But everybody, you, me, everybody, has total control over how much they pay in taxes by deciding how much they buy over the basics provided for by the pre-bate. Saving your money will be tax-free. Investing your money will be tax-free. With no corporate income tax, the United States will become a tax haven for companies from all over the world wanting to do business here because it's cheaper. The actual Fair Tax Bill sets the rate to achieve revenue neutrality, meaning the government will take in no more or less than it did under the old system assuming constant retail activity. Even the government isn't a loser under this plan.

So why haven't the politicians jumped at this? Why do they make up phony arguments and paint any Fair Tax supporting challengers as crazy or evil? Well, before the Fair Tax gets implemented, it calls for a constitutional amendment repealing the federal government's authority to tax income granted in the 16th Amendment. That scares incumbent politicians and those that hope to hold lots of power someday. The manipulation of the tax code is the main source of power in congress. It's how they reward supporters and punish the supporters of opponents. It's how they "encourage" behavior they like and "discourage" behavior they don't like. It's why the tax code is so ridiculously huge, it has tiny rules written into it for every tiny reason any congress-weasel could think of. Under the Fair Tax, this comes to a screeching halt. You will know what you pay every day. You will know what you will pay tomorrow. A happy meal will be taxed at the same rate as a head of cabbage. A Prius will be taxed at the same rate as a Mustang. If you watch your pennies, you can get away with less taxation. If you spend like a drunken sailor, you will pay a bunch. But it's up to YOU, not your congress how much you pay. That's freedom many in congress will not let you have unless forced to.

There is a good bit of grassroots support for the fair tax today. It's been a pleasant surprise to me to see it backed by friends of all political parties and beliefs. It just makes good sense. But it needs YOUR support to succeed. This can be done, but it won't be easy. The mass media will never give the Fair Tax a fair shake, it's too easy to misunderstand and the liberal wing of the media doesn't want power devolved from Washington any more than the political establishment does. If the Fair Tax is to become a reality, it will take citizens educating citizens about it, then forcing their elected representatives to take action. It won't be easy, but it can be done. And I hope soon.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

E is for......Election Day

We set the signs up really early :-)
I really love election day. I have been taking off the day of the general election for the last few years to stand outside my local polling place and hand out literature, greet voters and generally bask in the vibes of a representative republic in action. I know that's geeky in the extreme, but there you are, it's true. I've even gotten my son into the act. Our schools are used as polling places, so election day is usually a "teacher work day" and John is home. The last few years he has accompanied me to the polls. He gets up early to help me put up signs, and then happily hands out information and or just sits and watches the goings on. I think he was hooked when the first year he did this, he got a fresh, home-made ham biscuit from Bill Rabon's wife. Bill, a local veterinarian, is our state senator now, but was running for the seat then and his wife was running from poll to poll feeding the troops. John is a sucker for a biscuit, and I also think (hope) he sort of caught on to the way I was feeling and took to the day with enthusiasm. I'm proud to think that John, at 12, understands what election day means.
Waiting for the voter

Lately, the move nationally and at our state level has been to expand election day over as much time as possible. Early voting begins weeks before election day and absentee ballots are available to anyone, not just those who plan to be absent on election day. The goal of this is two-fold, first, to make it easier on the poll workers and elections officials on election day, and second, to make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to vote. I understand the first reason, but really disagree with the second. Call me an elitist or what have you, but I don't think more participation necessarily makes for a better or more valid election. The polls are open all day on election day, from before sunrise to after dark. You can come before work or after or on a lunch break. If you know you want to vote and will not be able to make it to the polls, you should get an absentee ballot. If it's too inconvenient for you, or if you see a line and are turned off, I really don't want you choosing our representatives. You just aren't taking it seriously enough, and we will be better off without your participation. I despise our "Motor Voter" law for the same reason. I really think we are better off if the only people who vote are those who care enough to go register to do so.

Besides, with all those people casting votes early, who is going to feed John and I biscuits?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

D Is For.....Debate

Or Discussion, or just talking politics. I love it. That's why I have this blog, I can talk politics to my heart's content without boring people or making them uncomfortable. If you are here reading this, it's your choice and you can stop and go play Angry Birds at any time. Fine with me. That makes it less a debate or a discussion than a diatribe, but beggars can't be choosers, right?

I would much rather have a give and take, though. Either in person or via email, I love talking politics with another person or several people. I really don't mind if the people I'm discussing with agree with me, and I often would rather they don't. I'm not nearly as interested in the "for" or "against" positions held by my friends as I am in the way they came to their conclusions. The only statement that truly offends me is "Well, that's just what I think" as the final and only defense of a position. Unless you're a moron, there are reasons behind your opinions, and those are what I care about. They tell me who you are and what your history is like and what moves your soul. These are things I want to know about my friends and even my acquaintances. The issues change, and  yes or no is often too simple an answer. I'd much rather know that you disagree with me because you have strongly held beliefs than have you agree with me because you just want to get along. I may question your beliefs, but that doesn't mean I disrespect them, much less you. I ask questions to get at the "why" of what you think, not to change your mind but to understand you. It may even change my mind, I wouldn't bother asking if I didn't respect your opinions.

So if you have been reading these little alphabet-inspired pieces, I want to thank you, it means a lot. But it would mean even more to hear back from you, to share our thoughts. Feel free to question me, to disagree with me, to flat out call me a fool. I really don't mind, I am VERY hard to offend. Maybe we won't come upon some galactic, universal truths, but certainly we can have fun trying.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

C Is For......Conspiracy Theories

The American Heritage Dictionary defines the term Conspiracy Theory thus:

A theory seeking to explain a disputed case or matter as a plot by a secret group or alliance rather than an individual or isolated act.

That sounds about right to me as far as it goes, but I don't think it does the idea justice. I personally love conspiracy theories. I find them fascinating, not for what they propose which is often racist, Marxist or just plain stupid, but I am intrigued by the way they grow and form and get passed around. I find the whole idea of conspiracy theories to be hugely useful in looking at how people, both individually and in groups, think in a political sense.  Although the Holocaust was made possible in part by using conspiracy theory-based propaganda, conspiracy theories are not always dangerous. Sometimes they are just funny or interesting or distractions from the real horrors of humanity.
 I was recently reminded of how much conspiracy theories and their adherents fascinate me while watching a debate between three men running for the GOP nomination to fill the US 7th District Congressional seat. One of these guys, a man named Randy Crow, had a website that is almost too perfectly conspiracy theory-based to be real. He used it the last time he ran for congress and has apparently taken it down, but here is a little snippet of it. 
I find it interesting Congress placed sanctions on the Taliban forbidding their members to leave Afghanistan, closed Afghanistan's foreign offices, & stopped all arms sales to Afghanistan in January 2001. These restrictions on the Taliban make it difficult to believe the Taliban could have played a role in Sept.11.
Since elimination of inheritance taxes does so much to eliminate God from our lives and communi$m, and since the fourth generation na$i'$ unconstitutional Executive Orders merging Church and State were also his first order of business after Big George's Omega Agency appointed Little George President, one can go to the bank knowing the elimination of God from our lives and the creation of a Hegelian State religion with Little George a vomit, look what the cat drug in god, is vastly important to Big George's Hegelian Omega Agency/New World Order.
Thirdly, I would like to point out the New York times types are soo greedy and dumb, they have forgotten to realize their game plan guarantees the end of the planet. The planet simply cannot survive environmentally the necessary wars to achieve their goal, theft of all the money.

Oh my God, I LOVE this stuff!  The $ in place of letters is a nice touch, I thought. Well, Randy toned it down for the debate. He was pretty good on a lot of the issues and the craziest thing that he said was letting us all in on the fact that the Federal Reserve had arranged the assassinations of Abe Lincoln and JFK to keep them from taking the country back to the gold standard. But he displayed some of the textbook signs of conspiracy theory silliness.

One of the hallmarks of conspiracy theories is the use of pronouns rather than any proper names. "They" are responsible for raising gas prices, "they make it so" the little guy can't compete, "they" can make the stock market go down as fast as "they" made it go up. "They" took the country to war to profit "their" bottom line. Randy did specify that usually he was talking about "monopolists" when he said "they," but that's really no better. See, a theory can't be dis-proven if it never actually proposes anything.  I can not convince anyone that "they" don't manipulate the commodities market to make gas prices rise and fall by buying "the politicians" if that's all there is to it. Who took how much money from where and gave it to whom in what form when to cause who to propose or vote for what legislation to bring about what policy that resulted in what effect? No one will ever say. You can't, because "they" control all the information. The fact that the theory is completely empty of specifics is used as proof that it must be true. That, in my opinion, is what defines a Conspiracy Theory.

There is no shortage of them, either. I looked at the Wikipedia page offering a list of conspiracy theories and it is huge. I couldn't read them all, they made my brain cells start to drop dead. They deal with nature, war, politics, economics, history, crime, assassination, aliens and medicine. Everyone probably holds onto one or two, all the while thinking they are perfectly logical, not like all that crazy stuff others believe. The person who believes fluoride in the water is killing us and vaccines make our kids autistic laughs at the person who believes in Bigfoot and alien spacecraft hidden below Area 51. The person that finds it ludicrous that the Knights Templar and the Catholic Church have hidden the truth about Jesus' wife from the world for thousands of years think it's perfectly reasonable that a small group of mysterious men control the whole world's economy like a puppet on a string. Some are convinced that the CIA released crack into the black community as a path to genocide but think it's silly to believe that FDR and LBJ crafted the New Deal and Great Society to destroy the black family and provide the Democratic Party with a permanent under-class voting base. There are people convinced the Bush family and the Tri-Lateral Commission hired the Isreali Mossad to blow up the World Trade Center on 9/11 while shunning those who just know for certain that the US government textbooks purposely leave out the fact that ancient Egyptians were black and flew around in airplanes 4000 years ago. There is a conspiracy theory to fit any or all political leanings and interests.

And they are seductive. I know people who are much smarter than I, have much higher IQs than I have, that are full adherents to some of these theories. That really makes me think. Why, if I'm right and these are all bunk, do such brilliant people fall for them? I think the answer lies not so much in intelligence as human nature. Conspiracy theories appeal to the basic laziness in all of us. They provide easy answers that can't be proven wrong. There is no risk of finding out your closely held belief is total crap-ola, because all contrary evidence is part of the conspiracy. I think I've never found conspiracy theories compelling as true beliefs not because I'm any smarter than your average person, but because I'm not. I've been proven wrong so many times that it doesn't bother me at all. I'm not the "gifted" kid that's expected to be right all the time, I'm just the "B" student who feels no pressure from myself or the world to have all the answers. It's liberating, really.

But I'm wondering if I don't sound like a conspiracy theorist myself when I say that maybe all these stories are meant to keep us distracted. It's easy to keep people in line if they are blaming some mysterious "they" for their problems and failures. There is likely to be less competition from those who think that the world is arranged against their success, because such people aren't likely to try very hard. What would be the point, if "they" will never let you become all you can be?

But who would be behind such a plan? "They" doesn't cut it for me, I'm afraid. Nope, our biggest enemy is not "they," it's ourselves. When we fail to think things through logically, when we scapegoat others for our own failings, when we teach our children that they can't make their wildest dreams come true because "they" will keep them down, then we do more damage to our lives and our futures than any "they" could ever dream of doing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

B Is For....Brunswick County

Brunswick County North Carolina is a lot of things, but most important to me she is my home, and I love her.

I never intended to come here, and yet this is the place I was dreaming about as long as I can remember. I always wanted to live somewhere warm (or at least warmer than Pennsylvania) and near the beach and the sea. I told everyone who cared to listen all the way through high school and college that I was moving to the beach as soon as I could. By late high school, the state of North Carolina was looking good to me after a few summer vacations at Atlantic Beach. People mostly smiled and humored me when  I told them this, but I think my parents had an inkling that I was serious and one particular girl believed in me whole-heartedly. This girl ended up going to college with me at Penn State and after we graduated and worked a summer to save up some funds, we picked the city of Wilmington off a map as a likely place to look for jobs and off we went to seek our fortunes together in the sunny south. Let me just say that there is nothing more encouraging than having a person believe in you with all her heart. Lisa shared my crazy dream, shared our adventure and became my wife and best friend and the mother of a wonderful boy. I can't imagine what my life would have been without her.

Anyhow, we crazy kids ended up at the Green Tree Inn on Wilmington's Market Street and used this fine motel as home base while we looked for jobs. As luck would have it, I found one in Brunswick County, as a greens keeper at the Gauntlet Golf Club in St. James Plantation. I loved that it was called "plantation," I mean, how very SOUTHERN! This was 1993, and St. James was a much different place than it is now. It's a bit of a metaphor for the growth in the whole county since then, I guess. At that time, St. James consisted of one golf course with a club house, pool and tennis courts. It had homes only on the front nine and some at the back of the property where it ran along the intracoastal waterway. It was a huge piece of property, but very little of it was being used. Today, St. James is a town in it's own right and includes four golf courses, three pools, lots of tennis courts, a huge marina and a population nearing 2000 people. The county has grown in much the same way.

We lived in Wilmington that first year, before moving to the Town of Long Beach in Brunswick County after our apartment lease was up. Long Beach at that time shared the island called Oak Island with two other small towns. It was heaven, still is if you ask me. But it was a particularly wonderful place for us at that time because it, and the rest of the county, had not been "discovered" yet. After renting a year, we bought a brand new home within walking distance of the beach. Yes, at the ripe old age of 25 I had achieved my dream of a house at the beach. While my friends back home longed to be able to finance a condo, I could sit on my front porch and listen to the ocean. We actually got woken up by a tug boat once. How cool is that? 

After buying that house, working on the golf course was no longer a viable option and I got a new job working for a beer distributor. Eventually I worked my way up to salesman and then supervisor responsible for Brunswick County, and that is when I truly got to know all this place had to offer. Brunswick County is really big, over 1,000 square miles, and it encompasses everything from beaches to swamp to timberland to farms. Much of it is beautiful, but in vastly different ways. In the winter we can watch the sun set into the ocean because our beaches face south rather than east. In the fall there are huge fields of fluffy white cotton in the western areas of the county. There are swamps here that are so dense and mucky that they are seldom seen by human eyes.  On the river sits an old white plantation house that has served as a movie set, while everywhere there are old, disused tobacco sheds that are gorgeous in their dilapidation. We have some of the most beautifully manicured golf courses you'll ever see and some of our beaches are inaccessible except by boat and so are basically left as wild as they ever were. The Cape Fear River meets the Atlantic Ocean a couple miles from my doorstep.

We share this county with all sorts of animals as well. This island alone is home to deer and foxes and the odd coyote. Wild boar live just across the bridge. Alligators peer out of our waters and sometimes end up in our driveways or eat our dogs. Sea turtles lay their eggs on our beaches and we sometimes get to watch the hatchlings making their mad dash for the sea. Bald eagles and ospreys grace the sky over this place and our marshes are full of herons and egrets. Pelicans and sea gulls patrol the coast and sandpipers run up and down the strand. You don't need to be particularly observant to enjoy the wildlife around here, but if you do pay some attention, you will be greatly rewarded.

The best, most interesting part of this county, though, is the people. We are far from the only ones to have come here from afar, in fact it seems the transplants outnumber the locals sometimes. But this county hasn't attracted your normal lot of retirees and carpetbaggers. I share the county with a retired four-star general and a former deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control. An astonishing number of retired FBI and intelligence community agents call this place home. Our local airport is run by a man who once crewed Air Force One. A guy down my street played guitar for Johnny Rivers and has a gold record for Secret Agent Man hanging in his living room. We have retirees living in half million dollar McMansions just a half hour's drive from a town called Crusoe Island that no one who doesn't live there visits because you may not ever leave. Brunswick County is home to several distinct accents, a few of which it took me years to learn how to understand. I've met some of the smartest people I've ever known here and had co-workers convinced that getting married in a Catholic church meant that I'd be wearing a big hooded robe and breaking a wineglass at the end of the ceremony. We have a thriving Hispanic community, a Thai Buddhist Wat and a little Vietnamese lady who cooks up the best burger you've ever eaten in a lunch counter-type restaurant full of velvet paintings and tiny Buddhas. We have a church on every corner and sweepstakes gambling room in every strip mall. We have a thriving local theatre community and a planetarium and people selling live chickens on the side of the road out of the back of a pick-up truck. Our schools struggle to graduate over 70% of the students, but the local high school has an aquaculture program that raises flounders behind the football field.

Brunswick County is a strange, strange place. My wife sometimes says she feels like she is living a William Faulkner novel. But we have found our happy place, somewhere we feel comfortable and happy and are glad to be raising a child here. I jokingly call this the Land of Misfit Toys. Well, half jokingly. I never fit in well growing up but I do here. Misfits need a home, too, and this one fits me just perfect.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A is For........Amendment One

My good friend has accepted a sort of blog challenge, to write as near as possible to a post a day, one for each letter of the alphabet. I am happily joining in as a way to encourage me into the regular writing habit. I figured why not start with a bang, my opinion on the soon to be voted upon North Carolina Marriage Amendment. So, here we go....

A is for Amendment One.

Amendment One is better known as the Marriage Amendment and will appear on primary ballots in a few weeks, May 8th to be exact. The amendment was passed by both chambers of the legislature last session and now goes before the people for a final up or down vote. The purpose of the amendment, if you haven't already heard or figured it out, is to codify into the state constitution what is already NC state law, that marriage is defined as between one man and one woman.  Here is the exact text of the amendment (though NOT what will appear on ballot):

Sec. 6. Marriage.Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.
The ballot will ask voters to give a yes or no on the following:
Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.

It's close, but I have no idea why the actual text of the amendment will not appear on the ballot. I suspect the reason has a lot to do with political maneuvering and gamesmanship that would just disgust me even more, so I've not looked into it, honestly.

I will be voting a big, solid NO on this one. I suppose that makes me a RINO in some people's eyes, but so be it. I've always bent more to the libertarian side anyhow. I am a Republican because I see them as the party with the most realistic chance to protect my freedoms and those of everyone else. I believe the rights of the individual trump the interest of the collective, because individual rights are the basic building block of a free and prosperous society. I believe we are a country ruled by laws and not by men, something I was very happy to find in the Jaycee Creed back when we formed a chapter. And I believe this amendment flies in the face of all these things.

To begin with, and this sounds on the surface to be flippant, but I have a serious point, if this amendment passes it will become a part of Article XIV of the North Carolina Constitution. Any idea what that article is labeled? "Miscellaneous." For real, we have a whole article in our constitution, with five sections perhaps soon to become six, labeled "Miscellaneous." The North Carolina Constitution is a massive document compared to the United States Constitution. I believe a constitution should clearly define the limited things a government is empowered to do, and as such I would prefer it to be short. I believe that anything that finds itself in an article entitled "Miscellaneous" is a bad idea on its face.

It is also my strong belief that constitutions and their amendments should be restrictive of the powers of government, and not restrictive of the freedoms of citizens. The founders got it exactly right in pointing out the the reason men form governments is to make secure their God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Restrictions on freedom are justified only if the exercise of those freedoms by one individual would tend to restrict or trample upon the freedoms of another individual. Hence you do not, and should not, have the freedom to deprive me of my life, liberty or property. Two consenting adults, whatever the gender, do not infringe upon the rights of me or anyone else when they enter into a marriage contract with each other. The only role government should play in marriage is the enforcement of the legal contract and the making certain those entering into it are of age and competent to make the decision. The state is fully justified in restricting who can marry in terms of age and relation to each other, one to protect minors and the other to protect the possible children of a genetically too-similar union. Laws against polygamy are justified because the practice almost always leads to the subjugation of women. Big Love is a fantasy, folks. The marriage of a same-sex couple carries none of these problems, and so the state has no justification forbidding it.

By the same token, I don't believe the state has any right to force any clergy to perform a marriage on a same-sex couple. This is a case of the couple's freedom to marry interfering with the freedom of the clergyman to hold to his beliefs. The state has no role in the affairs of a church or other religious organization anyhow. The state can put the civil law stamp of legitimacy on a marriage that is performed in a church, but can neither forbid nor mandate the performance of the marriage ceremony. I think fears in this regard are unfounded, at least as long as we hold our government to it's proper role in general.

I understand the argument that gay marriage is a degeneration of societal values that have stood for thousands of years. But if we have gotten to the point where we look to secular government to keep the boundaries of our cultural values safe from change or degeneration, we have already given up the fight. That is not what government is for, it's what we as citizens, as humans, as members of a community are charged with doing. I challenge you to try to do it ourselves. Talk with each other. Learn what drives those with whom you disagree. Do not give up your beliefs, but challenge them, question them and then prove them to yourself in the real world. Just please do it yourself without bringing in the state. We have more than enough government already.