Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Okay, I'm Part of the Problem

Thinking the other day about political polarization in this country, I realized that it's my fault. And the fault of everyone in my profession. On their behalf, I am sorry. We let you down. According to the Pew Research Center, we're a mess. We are more divided, in the sense that there are greater numbers of people who express rigid beliefs, either liberal or conservative. There is greater antipathy between the adherents of each group. We more regularly inhabit "ideological silos", that is, we are friends with people who share our political views (although this is more common on the right than the left). We separate ourselves geographically. Those who express an admixture of right and left are fewer and fewer, in effect, the center is shrinking. And the most ideological of us are posting most regularly online.

There are likely a number of causes we can blame, including social media. Again, the Pew Research Center took a look at the various habits, and, surprisingly, we tend to cluster with those of similar political viewpoints online, as well. Conservatives express greater suspicion of the media, while liberals are more likely to drop a friend who expresses differing political views.

All this is effect, not cause.

The cause is found in education. Educators (I use this term expressly, to distinguish them from teachers. As a small excursus, I would like to point out the difference. An educator, in my mind, is a person who can't wait to get an M.A. or M.S. in Education, or worst yet, an Ed.D -- notice that Ph.D means Doctor of Philosophy, or love of Wisdom, apparently Ed.Ds don't love wisdom -- in order to get out of the classroom and into administration, or more uselessly, consulting. You'll rarely find an educator in a classroom, and you'll rarely find a teacher out of it.) have sought to make schools "safe places". Now, physical safety is quite right, no student should every be in fear of their well-being. But someone got the damnfool idea that students need to be protected from any threat. Including any threat to their precious world view or self-concept.

In essence, someone thought that we should make schools places where students wouldn't have their feelings hurt, their ideas challenged, or their limits tested. Teachers have been told that we must be on guard to avoid "hate speech", "microaggression", "triggers", and all the other stuff that I stopped listening to during those interminable in services. Now, students aren't to be challenged, but encouraged and congratulated for their effort, because we're all winners in the end. School has become little kid soccer, where we run around for an hour and everyone gets a trophy.

But what this does it keeps our children from every confronting anything outside their own bubble, and when they do confront it, they throw a temper tantrum. They kick and scream and refuse to listen, and this encourages them to hang out with only people they will agree with. If I don't like what you say, instead of challenging your idea, or worst yet, evaluating mine, I will simply unfriend you.

This encourages our little snowflakes to avoid confrontation in a mature fashion, or express anything event remotely resembling tolerance. Tolerance is accepting the fact that someone believes differently than you and still carrying on a conversation. If an idea is one that you disagree with, argue against it, bring your evidence and your logic. But our students now dismiss opposing arguments with ad hominem attacks, or worse yet, they demand your silence.

So, instead of encouraging lively debate in the classroom, where a student's beliefs must be tested in the arena, and through testing, can become better, we are left with delicate little flowers with excellent self-esteem and no ability to face the world as it is. Instead of fearing for their feelings, teachers should be testing (truly testing, not this PARCC excrementum), pushing, challenging every student to stand and defend whatever they state or believe. If a student is wrong, we should tell him or her so, and prove it, and then teach them how to be right. If a student is right, we should applaud them, and push them further.

A student the other day said to me "You're a teacher, shouldn't you encourage us?" My answer, truly believed and stated, was "No. My job is to swing a 2 x 4 at your head. Because at some point, you'll figure out how to duck. Do you know what life is going to do? Life will swing a 2x4 at your head and kick you in the crotch. Life wants to kill you. It's my job to make you safe for the world."

I'm doing my best.

But sorry, nonetheless.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Mary's Third Sorrow: Losing Her Son


[41] And his parents went every year to Jerusalem, at the solemn day of the pasch, [42] And when he was twelve years old, they going up into Jerusalem, according to the custom of the feast, [43] And having fulfilled the days, when they returned, the child Jesus remained in Jerusalem; and his parents knew it not. [44] And thinking that he was in the company, they came a day' s journey, and sought him among their kinsfolks and acquaintance. [45] And not finding him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking him.
[46] And it came to pass, that, after three days, they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions. [47] And all that heard him were astonished at his wisdom and his answers. [48] And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. [49] And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about my father' s business?[50] And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them.
[51] And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart. [52] And Jesus advanced in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men.


 This one is a parent's nightmare. You are out with your children, and when you turn around, you don't see your child. Panic sets in, your heart begins to race, you being to search frantically, in fear that you may have lost your child forever. This grief endured by our Blessed Mother is one that any parent can sympathize with. Our children are so dear to us, and given to us by God to care for, protect and guide, and to lose one's child seems like a betrayal of that trust. We can only imagine the fear and grief that our Blessed Mother endured, knowing who her child was to become.

In one way, this loss presages a later, and more dire loss that the Blessed Mother will face, when her Son goes on the Way of Sorrows to the Place of the Skull. When she loses her Son the first time, what thoughts went through her mind? This child was given to her by God, in a direct way, and now he is gone? In the end, she and St. Joseph are guided to the Temple to find Jesus there, speaking to the Temple elders, impressing them with his wisdom. This reunion brings joy to the Holy Family once again, but there is still the knowledge that this happy time will not last.

I grieve for Thee, O Mary most sorrowful, in those anxieties 
which tried Thy troubled heart at the loss of Thy dear Jesus. Dear 
Mother, by Thy heart so full of anguish, obtain for me the virtue 
of chastity and the Gift of Knowledge.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Mary's Second Sorrow: The Flight into Egypt



"But when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph, saying, 'Arise and take the child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and remain there until I tell thee. For Herod will seek the child to destroy him.' So he arose and took the child and mother by night, and withdrew into Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod..." 
 - Gospel of St. Matthew 2.13 - 15

Within weeks of the birth of her Son, the Blessed Mother receives two messages that foretell agony: she learns of the sword that will pierce her heart, and now she receives the message from the Magi that Herod, the king of Judea, an Idumean, wants her son dead, and now she must flee through the wilderness to a new place that isn't home, in fear for the life of her child. 

The burden on Mary must have been excessive. She is given the grace of being the Mother of God-Made-Flesh, and, as any mother, she must keep him safe. But now, for the first few years of her son's life, she is robbed of the security of hearth and home. Her husband, St. Joseph, must bundle them all up and spirit them away in the dead of night.

What doubts must have plagued the Blessed Mother, who was most likely still a very young woman at this point, probably still a teenager. God, who made her a promise, now seems to take it away. This precious life given to her is being threatened. Everything that she knew and trusted were slipping out from under her. 

But it is in these dark moments that we can see why she was the one chosen for this task. She submits humbly to God's will, the echoes of her first act of obedience still reverberating, even to our century: "Let it be done to me according to His will." We see no record of her complaining, or fighting, or resisting God's will in this matter. She and St. Joseph, given the order, take up their entire lives, pack it onto the back of a donkey, and flee to that country most hateful to the memory of Jews: Egypt. 

How many times, Lord, when given to know Your will, I have chosen to follow my own, because the path You have laid out seems too hard, or dangerous, or not to my liking? Give me the grace to humbly submit to Your will, Lord, knowing that it is part of the grander plan in the movement of the universe.

I grieve for Thee, O Mary most sorrowful, in the anguish of Thy most affectionate heart during the flight into Egypt and Thy sojourn there. Dear Mother obtain for me the virtue of generosity, especially towards the poor, and the Gift of Piety.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Mary's First Sorrow: The Prophecy of St. Simeon

"And behold, there was in Jerusalem a man named Simeon, and this man was just and and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him, and it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. And he came by inspiration of the Spirit into the temple. And when his parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he also received him into his arms and blessed god, saying 
"Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word, in peace; Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: a light of revelation to the Gentiles and a glory for thy people Israel."
And his father and mother were marveling at the things spoken concerning him. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be contradicted. And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts be revealed." (St. Luke 2.25-37).

 The curious thing about this sorrow endured by the Blessed Mother is that it is a part of the 4th Joyful Mystery. Within that same moment in the life of Mary and her son, Jesus, is joy and pain, mixed together in an alchemical dance. The moment when Jesus is presented in the Temple as a fulfillment of the Mosaic law, as Jesus was a fulfillment of that earliest covenant made with Abraham, the prophecy comes that points to the ultimate destiny of this child in his mother's arms: He will die.

Even the canticle sung by Simeon before this rejoices in the glory that will descend upon the nation of Israel, with little hint of what is to come. Only when he turns to Mary does he hint at a darker future, one that will be painful, at least for a time.

The sword that pierces her heart will be that lance that the Roman soldier uses to pierce the side of Jesus as he hangs on the cross, it will be all the pain that Jesus will endure as he is scourged, mocked, endures the road of sorrows to Golgotha. Through it all, there is Mary, his mother, enduring the pain in her own way.

And that is the point, she had to endure it in her own way, not in the way her Son did. Any parent would willingly take on the sorrows that plague her child. The Blessed Mother would have taken up the Cross herself instead of her Son, to keep Him free and alive. That would be the easier course for any parent. But Mary had to endure a greater pain, the pain of watching her Son go through such sorrow. Imagine the heart-rending agony she must have felt, keeping in the screams that struggled within her. Instead, she had to accept the path laid out for her Son, to carry His Cross to Golgotha and to die on it.

And we return to that moment, when she holds that tiny child, bundled up. Did she know what St. Simeon's words meant? Did she feel a chill pass through her, knowing that, for her, her earthly life would be marked by such unremitting anguish? See her standing there, holding her child, filled with the normal doubts and fears of any parent, and now carrying the burden of prophecy.

I grieve for Thee, O Mary most sorrowful, in the affliction of 
Thy tender heart at the prophecy of the holy and aged Simeon. 
Dear Mother, by Thy heart so afflicted, obtain for me the virtue 
of humility and the Gift of the holy Fear of God.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cue up the Harry Chapin...

Not to get maudlin, but a thought hit me the other day. My wife had been in contact with St. Vincent's College in Latrobe, PA. She sent me a text to let me know that all of the preparations had been taken care of for an overnight visit for my oldest son, who has been accepted, and wants to decide if St. Vincent's is for him. The thought that hit me squarely between the eyes was that my son was looking at a college. This is one of those moments that causes a cinematic flashback, as the years scroll forward from the moment he was born through to a vision of his graduation from high school. 

I want to see him still as the little person I held in my arms. Who would walk up to me, holding out his arms and saying "up". That's who I remember. I remember his first word ("light", pointing at a street lamp), I remember the first night he slept through the night and scared the hell out of his mother and I. I remember when he vomited on me, and the shock I had looking at the amount that he spewed out. I still think he brought some in from somewhere, there is no way it all sat in his stomach. 

I remember being told by his pre-school teacher that he had read every book in the classroom, after trying fruitlessly to teach him to read; he just picked it up himself somehow. I remember how he devised animal nicknames: my father was a Lion, my sister was a giraffe, his little sister was a bear, his uncle was a wolf, and his little brother was a little wolf, sister number two was the mouse. There was no rhyme or reason why these names were apportioned, they just fit. 

I remember when we learned that he had been diagnosed as a high-functioning asperger's child, and working through what that would mean. And how much working with him would ill-prepare us for the more comparatively normal adolescence of his younger sister. I remember marveling at his depth of knowledge of Star Wars and Walt Disney, how he had his dinosaur phase like any young boy, and how quickly he picked up fire building in Boy Scouts. 

Looking at him now, he is taller than me, built more like his maternal grandfather than me, with thick dark hair like his mother. He is thoughtful and quiet, but will often say things that catch you by their originality. He makes up jokes. He writes constantly. He has a propensity for puns. He knows his faith. He knows how to do laundry. He can fry an egg and, when pushed, clean up afterwards. He does his best to guide is baby brother, sometimes well, sometimes not. 

I look at him now, and I am amazed that I am his father, and I hope that  I can take some credit for it. Years ago I was struck with another stunning realization: the organic nature of families. Looking at my baby, I realized that, at some point, he would be a man, with a family, and he would teach them the things they needed to know to move out into the world and form families of their own. He would go from being a son to a father to a grandfather, and our family would continue. I will die, my wife will die, my children in their time will die as well, but our family will continue, branching out and reaching places we haven't yet envisioned. 

At this point, he stands on a threshold, ready to make a first big decision: where to go to further his education and prepare himself as an adult in the world. He will make new friends, he will see new things, unfiltered by the input of his parents. He will build up experiences that will shape him as an adult in this brave new world. I debate within myself who will have the hardest time with this, my wife or I. At this point, on a snowy evening in February, thinking of the days to come, I feel nervous at letting go of that little hand that so often sought mine out. When time comes to let go and see him become a man, I fear I won't have the courage. 


Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and Us

We all know it. That iconic opening and soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. It is a cultural touchstone, especially for movie lovers. In the opening scenes we're introduced to the three characters who will form the center of the drama. Tuco, "the Ugly", Angel Eyes, "the Bad", and Blondie, "the Good". The movie follows these three as they hunt down a hidden supply of Confederate gold in the American West during the Civil War.  What makes this movie interesting beyond the action-movie level is the insight it gives into three basic human types: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Watching the movie, we can see how the different types of person respond to the various challenges that come their way, and we can see something at the heart of human nature.

To begin with Tuco, "the Ugly", we see a human being at his basest level. He acts on instinct and appetite, with little consideration for others, and with little dignity. He is clever, but not intelligent. He can act kindly, but he is not kind. In one scene, as he is facing the hangman's noose, Blondie is waiting to shoot the rope to free him and listens to a recitation of Tuco's given name and calls him "The Rat", pointing out that animalistic character.

According St. Thomas Aquinas, when a man behaves as an animal, he is worse than an animal. By surrendering our dignity and reason, and instead living at the level of an animal, we betray those qualities that make us most human. When we look around these days, it is relatively easy to see those of us who have sunk to the level of "the ugly" (an occurance made easier through reality TV).

The second type, "the bad", is personified by the character of Angel Eyes. The name alone is ironic, given the nature of the character. Or perhaps it  is symbolic, as it points to the the nature of the character as a demon, or fallen angel. His character is graced with intelligence, but no compassion. His reason is cold and uncompromising. In a scene early in the movie, Angel Eyes tells a man he is about to shoot that "he always sees the job through", regardless of circumstances. In a later scene, he supervises the torture of Tuco in order to extract the location of the Confederate gold. During the torture scene, Angel Eyes's expression never changes, there is always a look of slight bemusement, as he watches another human being suffering, and suffering needlessly. This delight at the sorrows of another is emblematic of the demonic. For him, it is a tool used to accomplish an end, regardless of the agony of the human being before him. When we look at what makes a truly bad person, it is that lack of human connection, the acceptance of the suffering of the other. In that sense, few of us are truly bad, merely selfish, or stupid, or careless. The truly evil among us are unique.


Our final type is "the good", Blondie. He is never cruel for its own sake, rather he makes an attempt to act in as kind a manner as a situation warrants. Yes, he does take part in a confidence game with Tuco, bringing Tuco in for a reward, then shooting the hangman's noose before Tuco is strangled to death, then "capturing" him again and bringing him in for the now slightly higher reward. But this form of employment for Tuco is different, as no one comes to harm. Even Tuco comes out ahead.

In a later scene, when Tuco has taken Blondie to a monastery for treatment for exposure and heat stroke, Tuco meets his brother, and, far from a touching reunion, the elder brother fights with Tuco and casts him out. On the road out, Tuco attempts to cover his shame and loss by making up a story about how his brother begged him to stay, and offered his welcome whenever he would come, all of it obvious lies. Blondie knows all this is a lie, but lets it be, even offering a cigar to Tuco, as a perfect ending to a meal.

Another scene which shows this quality is when Blondie meets a dying confederate soldier, and offers the dying young man a smoke. There is nothing to be done, he can't save him, but he does offer some comfort to someone in need. And this seems to be the point of a good man. He acts with compassion for those around him, taking pity on suffering, and never seeking to capitalize on those in need.

So which one are you?


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Where will we find the batteries?

The nice thing about snow days is the opportunity to binge watch Netflix. This snow day finished watching a Discovery channel series, Mega-Engineering. They discussed building a dome over Houston, drilling a tunnel from Siberia to Alaska, constructing a floating version of New Orleans, and a personal pod system for rapid transit in DC. Terribly ambitious, but fascinating. One can't help but be impressed at the scope and ambition of the projects.


In one episode, there was a blanket statement about the fact that there is nothing that we can't accomplish with the proper use of technology. Of course it makes me wonder about the "could/should" divide. Just because technology makes it possible, should it be done? All of this tech that the engineers discuss is marvelous, but it also requires huge amounts of power to simply keep the system continuing as it is. Of course, my mind goes to the question, what happens when the grid fails? What happens when the US is balkanized into separate districts, when we suffer an ELE, when the Yellowstone Supervolcano blows? At that point, how regular will our power grid be, and how will these power-reliant systems survive?

Another example of stunning technology is in the development of alternate protein sources. The setup is simple: modern industrial agriculture is a drain on resources and creates an incredible burden on the environment. Simply put, it takes too much water and grain to feed cows, and they fart too much. One possible solution? Find alternate sources of protein that satisfy the need (or desire) for meat in modern industrial society. One alternative is a soy-based formula that passes through an extruder:


 
The result is supposedly a substance that has the same texture as chicken. Haven't tried it, but I honestly have trouble with anything that has been extruded. "Extrusion". Ick. Another idea is to clone meat. Yummy petri-dish meat. That sounds almost worse than extrusion. I will stipulate to the fact that I have no idea how these "meats" taste or if they feel like meat. The concept freaks me out. Along with the general horror at extruded, lab generated meat is the question of what happens after our society has completely bought in to the generated meat idea, and then the power goes out? When we lose our technological abilities and the processes have failed, how will we turn back? Will we know how to raise animals, how to create a sustainable agriculture? I don't buy the Star Trek model that shows the advanced technological society able to pick up on technology from days gone by:



Looking forward to what will be an inevitable collapse (it happened to Rome, it happened to China, it will happen to us), I wonder if the solution doesn't come from increased technology, but a willingness to look back to a time when humans lived sustainably.  In the middle ages, peasants owned their land, and could not be thrown off. They were taxed on the yield, not on the land itself. Along with this were guilds who were committed to preserving the standards of their profession and disciplining their members. Society was conducted at a smaller scale, with more limited desires, rather than seeking the grand (and illusory) ideal of infinite progress and growth. This system was investigated and extolled by such Catholic thinkers as GK Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc. They called it Distributism. The idea is simple: each man owns a parcel of land, which he can rent out, but never sell. He is free to do with his land what he sees fit. If he has no ability to farm, he can rent out his land to a farmer in exchange for rents paid in crops, or cash. In the local community, each person owns their land and sees to its care and proper use. The community is organized around the principle of the good of the community as a whole. It might be cheaper to throw up a factory to carry out piece-work for pennies a day, but it is not the best thing for the community. Each person has a contribution to make and an inherent value. This would require smaller communities than can be found in modern cities, but it could prove to be more sustainable, less reliant on technology, and more humane. 

And it doesn't require batteries...

Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Road Goes Ever On and On...

Looking at the calendar reminds you of a number of things, not the least of which is the time you have before you, and the time that you have spent. And in a sense, the aphorism is true...time is money. Or it is like money, in that it can be invested or wasted, or simply spent. Invested, time yields benefits later on. Wasted, it falls into that yawning chasm of "could have, would have, should have" that plagues most of us in the quiet dark hours. Simply spent, and time serves as the canvas of a series of fleeting experiences that, in all honesty, we won't remember.

I vaguely recall, as a teen-ager, that we promised ourselves that we would "never forget" this or that person, or moment, or experience. Now 25 years in the future, and I find myself forgetting the names of fellow students, experiences I was supposed to have had, places I saw. At this point, the only things that seem clearest to me are those memories formed from the most painful experiences. And as much as I would like to flatter myself with the idea that I learned from these experiences, that they helped me grow into the man I am, I find that I only remember the pain, and the shame and embarrassment that go along with it, and I do my best to quickly stifle any more memories.

Looking at the calendar ahead of me, and aware of the time that remains there for me, I am struck by how little it seems now. My oldest will graduate high school this year. My youngest is walking and talking. My wife and I have grey hair and wrinkles and aches and pains. I have to slide my glasses onto the tip of my nose to read anything anymore. The unexpected upside? It mortifies my oldest daughter when I do it in her presence in public. (That is one thing I am glad to have left behind, that hyper sensitivity to the image that is presented to the world around me.) Now the calendar looks smaller, and the days look shorter.

But what to do? Horace coined the over-used and too little understood phrase carpe diem, "seize the  day" (which, by the way, is part of a poem dedicated to convincing a girl to sleep with him, because we never know if we will see tomorrow. You think Andrew Marvell is the first guy to use poetry to get girls to give it up?). Seizing the day, day in and day out, can be wearying. In Horace's case, he wrote more often about enjoying wine and poetry than he did about scamming girls. He observed daily life and wrote about it, and didn't seem to spend his time set on "carpe diem" mode.


That is if we think that carpe diem is to be understood as going out and doing big things. Enjoying a sunset. Taking a run. Reading a book with a glass of pinot next to you. Deriving pleasure from pleasurable things, can that be what it is to follow the dictum carpe diem?

Of course, if we return to the idea of "investing" time, there does seem to be little profit found in these small moments. While I often had ambitions of greatness when I was younger, reality slapped me in the face pretty quick, to the point that I would like to be up to the task of daily life. But I would like to look at my year and think that I had made judicious use of the time at hand. "I have wasted time, now time doth waste me", says Richard II through William Shakespeare. The idea of investing time is, to me, the idea that I will emerge better, wiser perhaps, with something to show for my efforts.

 So I look at the calendar at the start of the year, and I wonder, where will it all end up, when we come to another December 31st? Will it be a wasted year? Will it be a year "well-spent"? As I make my plans, I look forward to a year where I might emerge more confident and on a firmer footing, where I can believe truly that I did all that I could, and fulfilled God's will for me. I don't think there is much more that we can hope for.

Monday, July 15, 2013

J'Accuse 2013

In 1894, Lt. Col. Alfred Dreyfus, then a Captain, was accused of selling military secrets to a German military attache. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil's Island

The unfortunate thing for Capt. Dreyfus is that he was innocent. Another man, Maj. Ferdinand Welsin-Esterhazy was the traitor and spy. He manufactured evidence against Dreyfus to make sure he was convicted, which wasn't hard to do. 

You see, Alfred Dreyfus was a Jew. Which was reason enough to convict in those days. There was a media campaign, in fact, calling for his conviction and punishment led by Le Libre Parole. So an innocent man was sent to perhaps the worst penal colony in the world at the time, because he had the misfortune of being born to the wrong religion. 

 But he didn't stay there. 

Over time he gained supporters, such as Georges Clemenceau, Anatole France, and Emile Zola. The last of these decided to use his position as a writer and essayist to plead the case of Captain Dreyfus, and in Clemenceau's paper, he published an open letter to the president of the French Republic, "J'Accuse" (I accuse), in which he accuses the army of a cover-up of its botched investigation resulting in the wrongful conviction of Dreyfus. Zola was convicted of libel and fined 3000 francs for his troubles. 

Dreyfus got a new trial, was re-convicted and then pardoned by the president. In 1906 he would eventually be cleared of all charges. This was the once-famous "Dreyfus Affair", which was once taught in history classes.

So why the history lesson? It seems that we have seen a trial that was driven by media pressure to achieve a conviction, and the sole factor that drove that frenzy was race. George Zimmerman caught the attention of the media because he was the wrong color. Had George been African-American, this would have been a local tragedy: black on black crime doesn't make national headlines. It hardly merits local headlines. This past week, 2 people in Southeast DC were killed. Where is the national hysteria? Where are the protests? 


If George had been killed, this would have been another non-news story, a Hispanic man killed by an African-American teen. But this was stirred up by the media into a crisis point requiring a poorly conducted trial on the part of the prosecution because he had a "white" name: Zimmerman. 

What are the basic facts, as determined by forensic evidence? That George Zimmerman saw a young man walking through a gated neighborhood that had been subject to a rash of break-ins late at night. He got out of his car to follow this young man. At this point, there was a confrontation, which ended up with George Zimmerman on the ground, Trayvon Martin on top of him, beating him with his fists, eventually taking Zimmerman's head in his hands and beating him against the pavement. This is confirmed by forensic evidence from the stains on Martin's pant legs and the dirt on the back of Zimmerman's jacket, as well as eyewitness testimony.  At this point, Zimmerman draws a pistol, which was licensed and legal, and shot Martin in the chest, killing him.
This could be Obama's son...
Zimmerman calls the police and turns himself in, and they investigate it, releasing him because it seems to be a case of self-defense. 

Now the media gets involved. Creating a story about a "kid", a "boy", or a "child" who was attacked unjustly by a "white man", a storm of controversy was stirred up. Prominent people voiced their opinions, and finally the Seminole county officials were compelled to bring Zimmerman to trial. The media did all it could to convict Zimmerman, emphasizing the difference in ages.   An endless loop of photos of the 12 year-old Martin were used to illustrate the story, along with the mugshot of Zimmerman. No wonder public outrage was stirred up. 

Now I accuse. I accuse the media of a rush to judgement based on the superficial evidence of Zimmerman's last name. I accuse the media of latching onto what they had hoped would be a case of white on black crime, ignoring the greater tragedy of crime within lower-income communities.  I accuse the community activists such as Al Sharpton and his ilk of fanning the flames to lift his profile. I accuse the voices on the left that so desired to make this the platform for issues that they ignored the simple forensics of the case, so willing to convict a man to fulfill their own prejudices. I accuse every last American who couldn't stand by, hear the evidence, and accept the fair judgement of a jury, seeking instead to jump to easy conclusions so they can get their adrenaline shot of righteous anger to make themselves feel important and able to forget the petty complaints of their own lives. 

Like Dreyfus, George Zimmerman's case has not yet been settled. Now the federal authorities are considering trying Zimmerman for the same crime with a new twist: he shot Martin because he thought bad thoughts; the feds are making the case for prosecution for a hate crime. One would think that this would fall under the prohibitions against re-prosecuting a defendant who has been acquitted, also known as "Double Jeopardy". But wait, there's a difference! He was guilty of a thoughtcrime. He hated Trayvon Martin because he was African-American, and now can be convicted for his feelings. 

So we can be prosecuted for our last names and our thoughts? Frightening. 

At this point, I can only agree with Abraham Lincoln

"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes"When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic]."

Monday, January 28, 2013

Im Westen Nichts Neues...

We closed the door on 2012 a few weeks ago, and are well into 2013. Much like Janus, we look behind and ahead at the same time. I can honestly say that I was glad to bid good-bye to the year that passed. It was ups and downs, mostly downs, too many arguments, and too much doubt. In the end I was left with the image of myself as a failed father and husband, and a middling teacher. As the summer progressed, and we moved into a new school year, I have a greater sense of competence in the classroom, and I am still holding on as a father.

"Im Westen Nichts Neues..."  is the German title which translates as "All Quiet on the Western Front", a novel by Erich Maria Remarque about the experiences of a soldier in World War I. The idea of "all quiet" in this book is a bit deceptive, because there is always the idea that there will be another assault to fight off, another push to make, more blood. In the end, the quiet promised is that of death.


As cheery as that all is, it is somewhat reflective of my outlook on this coming year. Things are quiet now, but where will the next blow-up be? Will it be oldest girl? Or any one of the other children? Middle girl is now hitting the "junior woman" stage, and baby boy is struggling between childhood and adolescence. Lots of opportunities for blow-ups here.

Looking forward, there are opportunities for a good year, a memorable one. Trips far and abroad, chances to see and do new things, times to grow in faith as a family.

This last part is the one thing that gives me hope. Even in the darkest parts of last year, when it seemed like we couldn't stand to be in the room together, we still prayed the Rosary together. Even oldest girl would sit and pray, at first sullenly, but now willingly. And the occasion has become a time for our family to share an experience and a pleasant memory.

This is the tough part, and when I feel my parents' absence most keenly, because I wasn't ready for the trench warfare that is parenting a teen. But it is quiet now. And the last scene, although it doesn't have a happy Disney ending does have something. In the face of the destruction and chaos all around, Paul Baumer sees a bird, small and precious, and he is moved to draw it. For a brief moment, there is a bit of beauty in the face of ugliness, and he delights in it.

Perhaps the small moments are all that we need.