Sunday, August 30, 2009
The Hallowed Art of Hanging in Effigy is Back
Hanging in effigy is undergoing a resurrection. The lost visual art of hanging in effigy was seemingly lost to modern culture, especially with the unrestrained use of anonymous vicious, caustic blogs.
Bloggers can viciously slander anyone at any time for any reason with a few clicks of the keyboard.
A definition of an “effigy’ is “A crude figure or dummy representing a hated person or group.”
In ancient days, the days of telegraphs, manual typewriters, and still cameras, one of the most effective ways to communicate one’s displeasure with a failing coach or disfavored politician was to hang him in effigy. Sportswriters could skewer a coach or player with the pen. Others used the effigy, bags of straw strung together with the victim’s name on them with the effigy hanging from a rope. Today, lifesize cardboard cutouts are readily available.
On November 7, 2008 LSU fans in Baton Rouge burned an effigy of former coach Nick Saban. A sophisticated variation a few years ago, when the Florida State football team was underperforming, was a for sale sign placed on Coach Bowden’s lawn.
Always in bad taste, but constitutionally protected, the symbolic act of hanging one in effigy sometimes crossed the line into racism, even in the North. For example, the top ranked Michigan State and Notre Dame football teams played to the famous/infamous 10-10 tie in 1966. A pep rally was held on the Notre Dame campus a few days before the game. MSU’s star defensive player was Charles “Bubba” Smith. A popular cry at the time was “Kill Bubba, Kill” so physical strong was Bubba.
Notre Dame fans at the pep rally hung Bubba in effigy next to a sign which said: “Lynch ‘em.” Bubba and 10 other players were black, unusual at that time in college football.
Then the popularity of effigies waned.
Suddenly effigies became contagious in the 2008 election. Whether intended as a harmless prank, a racist or sexist statement, or simply a matter of protest, both Senator Obama and Governor Palin were effigized.
First, a cardboard effigy was found hanging from a tree at George Fox University if Oregon. An effigy of the Senator was then found hanging from a tree at the University of Kentucky. A noose was strung around the effigy’s neck, bringing back memories of the lynching of African Americans.
The effigy was removed with Lexington’s mayor apologizing to Senator Obama.
The two culprits said they did it in retaliation for an effigy of the Governor in California. They were arrested and charged with burglary, disorderly conduct, and theft. A grand jury refused to indict the two.
The Hollywood effigy involved ChadMichael Morrisette, a resident of West Hollywood, who had an effigy of Governor Palin hanging from a noose at the side of his house. For three weeks. He added to the Halloween display a John McCain doll sitting on a chimney surrounded by paper flames.
He resisted all requests to remove the Palin effigy until a counter protestor drove a pickup truck in front of the house with a dummy in the truck with a noose and t-shirt, which read “Chad, how does it feel?”
The West Hollywood Palin effigy was nothing compared to Battle, England where townpeople in Battle stuffed the Governor’s effigy with dynamite and blew it up.
Back home in the states an effigy in Redondo Beach of Senator Obama lasted only a few days. The effigy had a meat cleaver slashing through his neck and blood on the jacket. The effigy was hanging from a post with a sign that said “Nobama.”
The election is over. Senator Obama is now President Obama and in the current health care debates is treated with the respect the office of the President deserves.
That is not always the case with several Democratic Senators and Representatives. One, freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil of Maryland, was hung in effigy.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Am I Immoral for Not Supporting the President's Health Reform Plan
Am I Immoral for Not Supporting President Obama’s Healthcare Plan?
I must be immoral for not supporting President Obama’s non-existent healthcare plan. He has made support of his plan a moral imperative, a religious imperative.
Lawyers often throw out a number of theories and arguments to see what sticks. That has been the case with President Obama’s health care crusade.
Amongst the theories thrown out are:
Health Insurance Reform
It’ll be just like the Post Office and Fedex and UPS
Curbing greedy doctors who can’t make money practicing traditional medicine,
such as treating a diabetic, but $30,000 for amputating the diabetic’s
leg, or a pediatrician who performs a tonsillectomy to earn a few extra dollars.
Win one for the Teddy
None have yet to stick.
A cliché is that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. Perhaps an appeal to religion to carry a political debate should be right up there as well.
The legal, moral, cultural, and economic foundations of America are the Judeo-Christian tradition and the Protestant work ethic. Socialism is not part of our heritage.
President Obama two weeks ago urged Christian and Jewish clergy to sermonize in favor of health care reform. The President told Jewish leaders “We are God’s partners in matters of life and death.” The President appealed in a conference call to 140,000 religious voters to their “moral convictions.”
Health reform, his health reform, is a moral imperative, in his own words, “a core ethical and moral obligation.”
I have mused over his words of guidance for two weeks. The President is an electrifying orator, but where is the inspiration? I cannot abandon my Jesuit education when moral imperatives are raised.
I cannot see the light. No angels of health reform are dancing in the sky. No burning bush is pointing the way. Satan isn’t tugging at me to sin over health reform. No mea culpas, much less mea mas culpas. I don’t see salvation in supporting his plan. The President did a lousy job appealing to either catholic or Jewish guilt.
I reread the Ten Commandments to see is if I was missing something. Nope.
I can’t find it in either the Old or New Testaments. Nothing in the Bible tells us God wants us to have socialized medicine, single payer, government option, government health insurance, portability, pre-existing conditions, end of life option, rationing. Nor is God opposed to them. God is silent on health care, except, of course, for the Lazarus miracle.
But then I remembered, Jesus was something of a rebel, striking out against the entrenched powers of his day.
I also remember from my mandatory 21 hours of (Thomistic) philosophy at USF that God gave use free will – not God’s will, not the state’s will, not the President’s will, certainly not Congress’ will, but our will.
We are free to choose our path. We are free to do the right thing and we are free to do the wrong thing.
Free will goes to the fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals. Conservatives believe in individual choice. Liberals believe that the decisions are best made by the state. Thus, the proposal early in the Obama Administration to tax charitable contributions, which would result in the state choosing the non-profit winners.
We are free to be altruistic or not.
Americans are a generous people. We contribute; we give to all causes, including religious institutions and medical facilities.
But altruism is a personal choice. We decide the causes, beneficiaries and amounts.
We are a religious people, more so than
We respect all religions. We do not worship a state religion. We also respect the non-religious.
Freedom of religion does not obligate us to support state mandated transfer payments, which transfer our earnings to a “more deserving party.” The state clearly has the constitutional power to tax and spend, but not as a moral imperative. That is a political, and not a moral or religious, decision.
The irony of the religion argument is that Democrats normally believe in the separation of church and state, especially when the debate is over abortion and faith based initiatives.
If I am immoral for not supporting the Obama plan, then so too are scores of clergy. Catholic clergy, who might normally be expected to support the plan, have discovered that the plan calls for abortion coverage and are troubled by the end of life coverage.
The media response to the President’s religion call was underwhelming. Both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times buried it on an inside page.
President Obama spent a month highly publicizing his non-existent plan, often on a daily basis. The more he talked, the more it tanked in public opinion. That too is happening with the religion pitch.
Let us pray.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Let Us Celebrate the Life and Meaning of Burl Toler
Burl, originally from Memphis, was a star defensive lineman on the great 1951 University of San Francisco football team. Never heard of the 1951 Dons? They were the “undefeated, untied, and uninvited” Dons of 1951. The average margin of victor for the 9-0 season was 32-8. Sports Illustrated referred to the 1951 Dons as one of the greatest college footfall teams of all time. Nine of the players played in the NFL. Three, Ollie Matson, Gino Marchetti, and Leo St. Clair, are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as players. No other college squad has that many players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The football players viewed Burl at their best, but he blew out his knee in the College All-Star game, ending his pro prospects.
Every once in a while fate smiles on a high school, college or pro team. The stars, players and coaches are lined up perfectly for success. USF in the 1950’s was such an institution. Later that decade, three then unknown African American players, Bill Russell, K. C. Jones, and Hal Perry led the Dons to 60 straight wins and two NCAA basketball titles.
USF’s Sports Information Director in 1951 was a young alumnus, Alvin Ray Rozelle. His classmate was Pierre Salinger.
The 1951 Dons were denied a bowl game because of discrimination. Not because USF was a Catholic school: The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, Rams of Fordham, and Galloping Gaels of St. Mary’s had achieved national fame; not because USF was a western team, because USC had become a national power and Berkeley, Stanford and UCLA had flashes of success.
No, the reason was racial discrimination; the Orange Bowl said it would be happy to invite USF, but only if USF left two players behind in San Francisco. Burl Toler and Ollie Matson were black, and hence anathema to southern bowls at that time. Very few major college teams had black players at that time.
Their teammates unanimously said they wouldn’t go without Burl and Ollie.
USF was thus uninvited, but proud and unbowed.
The cost to the team and school was great. Without the bowl, football lost $70,000 that year, and the Jesuits cancelled football immediately.
The decision was just for a Catholic university. The players, students, faculty, Jesuits and alumni never second guessed the decision to stand by the black players. That decision is a proud moment in USF history. As alums of both, the undefeated 1951 Dons football team means as much to me as the undefeated Wolverines 1997 football team.
After the injury sidelined his football career, Burl became a teacher in San Francisco, principal of the Benjamin Franklin Middle School, a police commissioner, trustee of USF, and also officiated high school football games. The Ben Franklin campus has been renamed the Burl A. Toler Campus.
A son, Burl Toler, Jr., and grandson, Burl Toler III, played college football at Berkeley.
In 1960 the former USF SID, better known as Pete Rozelle, was elected Commissioner of the NFL. Rozelle in 1965 appointed Burl an official at NFL games, thus becoming the first black official in major league football, baseball, and basketball – a true pioneer. Burl Toler worked as a NFL official for 25 years. Ironically, he officiated professional football games in some of the arenas that did not want him as a college player.
Pete Rozelle is also in the NFL Hall of Fame. Burl’s turn should come some day.
USF’s basketball and football legacy, Toler, Matson, Russell, Jones, Perry, was to be in the forefront in integrating college sports. They showed the way to Texas Western, Michigan State, USC, and other basketball and football teams who subsequently relied upon black athletes to win national titles.
The War Against Plastic Bags Suffered a Major Defeat in Seattle Last Tuesday
Walter Brooke (Mr. McGuire) to Dustin Hoffman (Benjamin Braddock) in the 1967 classic The Graduate: “Ben, one word, I just want to say one word to you – just one word – plastics.”
Plastics were the wave of the future: plastic furniture, toys, bottles, boxes, car parts, dishes, garbage cans, pipes, screws, polypropylene, polyethylene, polyurethane, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, acrylic, bakelite, celluloid, epoxy, nylon, Dacron, silicone, Tupperware, Formica, Styrofoam, Kevlar and Teflon. And plastic bags, especially those ubiquitous plastic bags, about 90 billion of them a year.
Plastic bags are lightweight and inexpensive. Market forces were driving paper bags the way of the dinosaur.
Plastic bags use less energy to manufacture, transport, and recycle than paper bags. They require 40% less energy to produce than paper bags. Every truckload full of plastic bags would need three trucks to carry the same number of paper bags. The production of plastic bags produces less greenhouse gases than paper bags as well as less air and water pollution.
That sounds like a better environmental deal than paper bags.
Yet plastic bags constitute a major litter problem on land and sea, are hazardous to fish and wildlife, and not biodegradable under ground. Plastic bags are recyclable, but the rates are low, finally rising to 7% (800 million pounds of bags) in recent years. Plastic is based on petrochemicals. Thus, about 17 million barrels of oil are needed to produce the plastic water bottles in America.
Communities, such as Los Angeles and New York, have considered imposing taxes on these bags, thereby affirming their commitment to environmental protection, not to mention raising a large sum of tax revenue. Los Angeles has tentatively banned plastic bags beginning in 2010 unless the state enacts a quarter tax on each bag. San Francisco bans them outright.
New York City imposed a mandatory recycling program; stores must provide collection bins for the bags.
Whole Foods discontinued plastic bags in January 2008, preferring that customers use reusable cloth bags. These recyclable bags have risks of their own. If not kept clean, infection is a foreseeable consequence.
The 7% recycling rate amounted to 800 million pounds of plastic bags. At $.50/bag the potential revenue stream would be a godsend to strapped public budgets.
Seattle is one of the nation’s most beautiful, most progressive cities.
Remember the classic checkout question: plastic or paper?
The Seattle City Council said a pox and tax on both sides. It imposed in June 2008 a tax of $.20 on each plastic and paper bag dispensed by grocery, drug, and convenience stores, effective January 1, 2009. The estimated tax revenues were $3-15 million annually. The actual amount raised was an astonishing 0.
Opponents immediately put the tax to a referendum, staying its application.
Seattle voters, the progressive Seattle voters, tossed out the tax last Tuesday. The vote wasn’t even close. The tally was 58% for repeal and 42% for the tax. This margin is a landslide by political standards. The incumbent Mayor was also apparently defeated for reelection.
A quarter century ago a few states thought of banning disposable diapers; health risks and their gross volume in disposal sites led the drive for reusable diapers. Mothers of all stripes, from rich to poor, politically involved Yuppies and disengaged young parents said no in no uncertain words.
One of the practical realities is that personal comfort and convenience often trump our desire to save Planet Earth. Science and health risks fall to convenience in the political world.
Voters also don’t like taxes, whatever their purpose.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Walt Staton is a Litter Bug Par Excellence
Walt is a noble young American who seeks more out of life than wealth or beer. He is now enrolling in the Claremont School of Theology.
He is also a federal misdemeanant.
His crime: littering the border area with plastic bottles.
His act: He dropped off 8 jugs, 8 jugs of manna containing water along the well beaten path into America, actually 8 of your standard one gallon bottles.
His goal: No more deaths through dehydration.
His accusers: Not the INS or ICE, but United States Fish and Wildlife Service officers, who claim that these plastic jugs endanger wildlife in this desolate desert.
The real crime: The question is not what to do with undocumented immigrants, but do we want human beings to die a miserable death in the desert? Are we placing Gila Monsters, Roadrunners, mule deer, the furtive Mexican wolf, and perhaps jaguars and pumas above humans?
Litter is ubiquitous in America – in the cities and towns, along the highways and byways, beaches and trails, and in the national parks and forests. Plastic litter is particularly pernicious with a long life. Any doubts can easily be resolved by joining a beach cleanup on Earth Day.
However, unopened water containers intended for human consumption to save lives are not “litter.”
They are not being thrown away, discarded, or surreptitiously dumped. Toxics aren’t being released from a petcock valve by a midnight dumper in a truck. Rotting garbage and carrion are not tossed out for scavengers to devour, although the scavengers of the desert would feast on human remains. These jugs are not the detritus of civilization.
The U.S Attorneys Office is rumored to have spent $50,000 prosecuting Staton and sought a $5,000 fine from the soup kitchen volunteer and 5 years probation. The prosecutors argued that the activist Walt was fighting US immigration policy and helping drug smugglers and/or dangerous felons, who presumably are packing water in their pickup trucks. The judge sentenced Walt to one year unsupervised probation, 300 hours of community service picking up trash (how juicy and ironic) but not at the border, and banned him from the 7 mile wide refuge which bestrides the border. The Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge is obviously not a refuge for humans.
If only Walt could sing! We could have a modern version of Alice’s Restaurant where Arlo Guthrie was arrested, yes arrested, for dumping ½ tons of trash from a red VW Microbus down a gully already containing trash because the town dump was closed on Thanksgiving. We all learnt who Officer Obie of the Stockbridge, Massachusetts Police was.
Walt is becoming a martyr to the dismay of federal officials. More and more members of No More Deaths are taking his place on the water line, waiting to receive their federal citations. Even if Walt Staton and his colleagues at No More Deaths were seeking a confrontation with the U.S. government, the officials should have looked the other way.
Walt stated: “I wanted to make a point that humanitarianism is not a crime, and water’s not littering.”
The government will not win this war of words.
Not receiving citations are the undocumented immigrants, who each contribute about 5-8 pounds of trash to the border area.
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant, but not in the Sonoran Desert.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
I know it was weeks ago, and hence constitutes ancient history in the news and blog cycles, but I’ve been out of it for a few weeks.
President Obama dropped the mask twice at his July 22 news conference when he stated “the Cambridge Police acted stupidly,” after saying he didn’t have all the facts.
The first mask he dropped was that of a post-racial President. We are not a post-racial society; no ethnically diverse society is, but he ran as a post racial candidate, recognizing that America would not elect a flame throwing black radical, Reverend Jackson, or Reverend Sharpton to the White House.
By dropping the mask, white America now knows why he listened to the racial fulminations of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright for 20 years; he shares them.
America sided with the police officer, Sgt. Crowley, in the dispute. Americans usually side with police officers, which is why obtaining convictions for police misconduct, even when caught on video, is so difficult.
President Obama’s statement from his heart may be electorally fatal in 2012.
The second mask he dropped was that of always been cool and composed under the circumstances; he let his black rage out.
Having said that, African Americans have every historical right to be paranoid about police and police brutality; the history of white police/black citizen interaction has often been accompanied by egregious police misconduct.
The history of race relations in Boston over the past 50 years is one of racism, but Cambridge is not Boston (Cambridge has a female, African American Mayor, E. Denise Simmon).
Not every white police officer/black citizen confrontation is racially based.
President Obama sought a mulligan in the form of a “teachable moment” as his way out of the political maelstrom he created.
What is “teachable” about the beer blast on July 30? Are we telling our high school and college students it’s OK to drink beer to solve our problems?
What is “teachable” about a transparently staged event in which Sgt. Crowley had
the deer in the headlights look of the unwilling groom at a shotgun wedding?
Sgt. Crowley had requested the White House meeting and afterwards called it
“cordial and productive,” but he just didn’t seem with the program.
What’s “teachable” about a beer blast when it is crashed by a non-drinker, Vice
Am I the only one to notice that Professor Gates drank the only purely American
beer, appropriately Sam Adams, at the beer blast?
Wouldn’t it have been a blast instead to see Barry Obama wearing an Occidental
sweatshirt quaffing a Coors at a college kegger?
Will Professor Gates and Sgt. Crowley follow up with a beer at John Harvard’s
Brew House, Grendel’s Den, or even the Bull and Fitch Pub in Boston? Show
some cheer at Cheers.
Neither Professor Gates nor Sgt. Crowley have reputations as racists.
We don’t know exactly what happened in the house, but Professor Gates clearly
had a bad day, coming off a 14 hour flight, suffering from a bronchial infection,
finding the door to his house jammed, and then a white police officer in his house.
He too, not being a flamethrower, let his mask of civility drop, understandable
under the circumstances.
Police officers are trained to take verbal abuse, and are expected to do so, but Sgt. Crowley obviously thought the line was crossed, and exercised his discretionary authority to arrest.
Here’s what didn’t happen on July 16:
No physical loss of control by the officer;
No burning cross;
No white robes;
No racial epithets;
No “N” word;
No video; no Rodney King, Philadelphia Police, Inglewood Police videos of white officers
beating black suspects.
President Obama should not speak off the cuff without TOTUS.
President Obama runs the risk of losing the effectiveness of the bully pulpit.
Friday, August 14, 2009
The Great Community Organizer has been Out-Organized on Health Care
They complain that these protests are “organized” – not that they ever complain about the organized busing of union members and public employees to their rallies. They complain of “Nazi—like” protests, but never complained about the violent disruption of conservative speakers by Code Pink and other groups.
Democratic Congressmen and Senators are confused, frustrated and irate. These town hall responses are not part of the script of a public love fest. Only conservatives should be subject to public disrespect – not the liberal representatives of the people. Democrats understand the bussing in of supporters; spontaneous turnouts are a troublesome phenomenon.
One Democratic Congressman, Brian Baird, of Washington has cancelled his town halls and is hiding out behind a desk and phone at an undisclosed location. You dial in, respond to prompts, and then ask a question, which he may or may not answer.
The Democrats face two problems. First, they are trying to educate and inform the public on the President’s health reform plan, but they don’t know what’s in it. Even the President hasn’t read it. In a sense, to paraphrase President Clinton: “They are selling a pig in a poke,” or are they peddling snake oil? President Obama frequently misspeaks in arguing for his plan, which does not exist. He claims the AARP supports it, in an attempt to assuage the concerns of seniors that their health care will be cut off when they contract a terminal illness, the end of life issue.
The public was interested in answers to specific questions and not bromides or platitudes. The Democrats' ignorance showed through. The attendees sensed ignorance and fear in their Representatives and Senators. Indeed, the public is better informed that the elected representatives.
Technically, the Senate has not passed a bill, so the only proposal out there is the House Bill, which actually contains the provisions that are concerning the public.
The public is confused about the message. First, the proposal was for universal health insurance, then came health reform, followed by the need for economic security, and now it’s demagoging insurance companies. What is the proposal? The message seems to change with the response of focus groups.
Second, most Americans are happy with their health insurance plans. They may not like the raising premiums, co-pays, or gatekeepers, but they certainly don’t expect the federal government to improve their lot. They fear the proposed changes. No rational person, even if dissatisfied with their existing insurance plans, will trust the government, the government of Medicare, VA and military hospitals, the Post Office to provide a better system than competitive insurance companies.
I remember about 18 years ago at my previous institution that the President of the University decided to save a few dollars by scraping the university’s various health plans and going to a PPO that was known to be cheap, so cheap that many doctors refused to join its network. The faculty rebelled, even voting a motion of no confidence in the President. The Vice-President Finance had actually lied to me about the University’s plans.
Just like Congress, the administrators were not affected by the change because they had their own gold plated health plan. The public understands that if the plan isn’t good enough for Congress, then why should the public be stuck with it.
People don’t want their existing health insurance plans, in which they are comfortable, threatened.
What they’ve been told by the President doesn’t mesh with what persons who have actually studied the legislation have read. They hear of tax increases and deficits – from Democrats.
Health reform, like social security, is rapidly becoming the third rail of American politics. President Bush, with all the goodwill entering his second term, got nowhere with social security reform, eventhough the clock is rapidly running out on its fiscal solvency.
President Obama is speaking out almost every day on his/Congress’s health reform plan. Yet, the more he speaks, the greater the unpopularity. That is not a good sign for Democrats.
The turn out of opponents is spontaneous; conservatives normally do not publicly protest or rally. Instead, the silent majority normally expresses its views at the ballot box. The Democrats should worry. Thousands of Joe’s the Plumbers have sprung from the American heartland.
Fear is in the air. The voters may not only feel threatened, but also betrayed.
The House of Representatives is the “People’s House.” The response of the people’s representatives is to cancel future town halls, showing great disrespect to the people.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has referred to the protestors (that’s a strange word to call Republicans) of “carrying swastikas and symbols like that.” She called them astroturfed, not knowing the difference between Astroturf and grass roots, or a noun and verb.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused the protestors of engaging in “destructive efforts to interrupt a debate that we should have and are having.” The Senator never spoke up for the conservatives whose speech had been disrupted in the past.
The Senate bills itself as “The world’s greatest deliberative body,” but little deliberation is going on in the halls of Congress.
The Democratic National Committee referred to the protestors as a “mob.” Robert Gibbs, the President’s always articulate Press Secretary, referred to the protestors as a “Brooks Brothers Brigade.” I’ve seen a lot in 63 years, including living in San Francisco in the 60’s, but I have never seen a Brooks Brothers Brigade, much less one of protestors. The risk with using class envy in this battle is that the class being attacked is the middle class, the bulwark of the independents who voted Democratic in 2006 and 2008.
Violence occurred at a town hall meeting by Congressman Russ Carnahan in St. Louis last Thursday. Three burly SEIU members were arrested for beating up a young African American entrepreneur, who was selling political buttons outside the meeting. Among his buttons was the classic: “Don’t thread on me.”
Voters are in a foul mood. They tossed the Republicans out in the past two election cycles, and are equally willing to turn on the current incumbents, that is, Democrats. 15 months is an eternity in politics, but incumbents should be running scared. Running from voters is not a panacea for their fears.
Perhaps 2008 was no more of a revolutionary change than 1994, but simply a frustrated public’s desire to toss the bums out.