Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Political Tensions in America: 1860 and 2018

Growing political divisions in our country worry me. I used to help students understand what lead Americans to kill each other by the thousands between 1861 and 1865, and now I see tensions building again. Could America be heading for another civil war? I sure hope not, but I can’t ignore what I’m seeing around me.

A left-wing sniper last year fired over 200 rounds at a group of Republican congressmen at a baseball practice just outside Washington DC and nearly killed one, crippling him for life. This year a congresswoman told her constituents to harass Trump cabinet members saying: “They won’t be able to go to a restaurant, they won’t be able to stop at a gas station, they’re not going to be able to shop at a department store. The people are going to turn on them. They’re going to protest. They’re absolutely going to harass them until they decide that they’re going to tell the president, ‘No, I can’t hang with you.’”

Radical, left-wing “Antifa” groups attack whomever they perceive as “fascist” with increasing frequency and define the term to include most Republicans and conservatives. Bloody street brawls are getting commonplace. Other radical left groups advocate assassinations on twitter and other social media. Radical, right-wing activists have shot abortion doctors. The New York Times reports: “At least 11 people have been killed in attacks on abortion clinics in the United States since 1993.” A woman was run over and killed by a “Unite The Right” activist in Charlottesville last year.

With all this in mind, I invited local Civil War historian William Marvel of Conway, NH to appear on my “Left and Right” show and get his opinion. He’s at work on his 18th book about that awful conflict and I opened by asking him if he sees parallels between the political divisions in 2018 and 1860.

“Well, in many ways I do,” he said. “There is certainly the same sort of polarization, fragmentation among the major parties, hostility for opposing viewpoints.” He related a discussion with a friend at the local dump after the 2016 election “about whether we are more divided now than we have been since the Civil War. My conclusion was that we are as divided now. Whether it will lead to the same thing, I doubt.”

“Oh good,” I said.

“But that’s only because divisions are among communities, not between communities. The geographic cohesiveness of the slave issue allowed for a regional contest… but certainly, the seeds of societal and governmental dissolution are there [now], through simple fragmentation and hostility toward government, depending on who’s in charge.”

I remembered sound bites preceding documentaries on the Civil War describing that conflict as father against son and brother against brother. Well, today’s divisions have affected my family,” I said. “We no longer discuss politics at family gatherings. It’s verboten now because it’s become so emotional it threatens relationships.”

Marvel said he’s had similar experiences. Though his immediate family has almost all passed on, “I’ve had… virtually altercations with friends with whom I used to be in political concert.” He said he used to be liberal and twice voted for Obama, but now people perceive him as conservative. He doesn’t see that he’s changed much though. “To me, it’s society. In moving much farther to the left, society has made me look more conservative.”

I then asked him to consider the Bolshevik Revolution/Russian civil war a century ago that didn’t have clear geographical delineations but was ideological with a left and right divide.

“Well, we have certainly a lot of mob violence now,” he said, “almost entirely on the left…” Referring to Congresswoman Maxine Waters incitement he said, “An economic uprising among urban masses is possible, but whether that would lead to bloodshed I don’t know because, well, New York certainly has strict gun laws and I don’t know if a revolution could succeed on six-round magazines.”

He then speculated on the possibility of armed conflict that might spark a civil war. “That might come from outside. Oftentimes, when individual nations are divided between themselves, neighbors or rivals will take advantage of that. That often creates an international conflict that foments an internal rebellion. But the emotional impetus for that certainly is there.”

Mention of emotion led to a discussion of the Justice Kavanaugh hearings in the Senate as a window on America’s ever-deepening political divide. “Although I don’t know… how I would feel about [Kavanaugh] as a Supreme Court Justice, it’s more important now that he be confirmed to discredit and disavow the process that’s been used to try to destroy him. That’s more important, I think, than whatever his rise to the Supreme Court might yield.”

I’ll post a link to the hour-long discussion with Bill Marvel here in the next day or two after it’s uploaded to Youtube.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Two Heroes

Two heroic men are in hiding today because they stood up for what they believe is right. Both are ordained priests of the Roman Catholic Church — one a lowly parish priest and the other an archbishop and Vatican diplomat. I admire them because they did what others are afraid to do while knowing it would bring a world of hurt down upon them. It might even cost them their lives.

Maybe the archbishop’s display of courage inspired the priest, I don’t know, but Archbishop Vigano, former papal nuncio [Vatican ambassador] to the United States, published an eleven-page testimony last July which shook the Catholic Church to its roots. It named names, specified dates, and referred to documents held in the Vatican by the pope’s closest advisors and by Vigano’s successor in Washington, DC. Vigano claims his church, my church, is under the influence of a “homosexual network,” many of whose members are sexual predators or their enablers. Vigano accuses Pope Francis of covering for them and calls on him to resign. 

The Vigano testimony was released to media worldwide while Pope Francis was in Ireland. Reporters swarmed him on the plane back to Rome but he refused to say anything — an unusual reaction from a pope who had never been shy about commenting on controversial issues. Three months later he’s still silent on the matter and has refused requests from other church officials to authorize an investigation.

Vigano further states, “The homosexual networks present in the church must be eradicated,” but there’s no evidence of that happening yet in the Vatican. Here in the United States, however, at least one priest is trying. An article in the Chicago Sun-Times September 18th states: “A North Side priest… burned a gay-friendly flag outside his Avondale church last week — against the wishes of the cardinal he claims is trying to minimize the clergy sex-abuse crisis.” It was a rainbow flag with a superimposed cross which had hung in the sanctuary.

That priest, Father Paul Kalchik has gone into hiding after being removed as pastor of Resurrection Church by Cardinal Archbishop Blaise Cupich who threatened to send the Chicago Police in to arrest him. Cupich was appointed Archbishop of Chicago by Pope Francis after being recommended by the now-disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Archbishop Vigano cited both Cupich and McCarrick as bishops who covered up for predator priests.

Cupich and McCarrick
Father Kalchik had succeeded three former pastors of the gay-friendly Resurrection Catholic Church, one of whom had been found dead in his rectory while hooked up to a “sex machine,” according to conservative Catholic lifesitenews.com. Kalchik had twice been sexually molested himself, the second time by a priest. Cardinal Cupich ordered Kalchik to submit to a psychological evaluation at the notorious St. Luke’s Institute in Maryland, but Kalchik refuses to go.

St Luke Institute
He has good reason to refuse. Several priests have likened the St. Luke’s Institute to a Soviet reprogramming facility, for conservative priests. It was once headed by former Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire Chancellor Edward Arsenault who according to catholicculture.org: “resigned from his post as head of the St. Luke Institute in Maryland in 2013 after he was charged with financial as well as sexual improprieties.” Arsenault’s former boss in Manchester Diocese was Bishop John McCormack — called a “Pedophile Pimp” by the majority leader of the NH House of Representatives. The founder of St. Luke’s Institute, Father Michael Peterson, died of AIDS. In 2009, St. Luke’s Institute granted its highest award to guess who: Cardinal McCarrick, or “Uncle Ted” as he wished to be called by the many seminarians he sexually abused.

As one of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, I take no joy in recounting the sorry state of corruption in my church. As someone who was twice summoned to court to answer completely false charges of “harassment” by homosexual activists, I understand something about what Father Kalchik and Archbishop Vigano are up against. The charges against me were dismissed. I didn’t fear for my life. I didn’t have to go into hiding. It cost me $4000 in attorney’s fees and two entire days in a courtroom listening to people lie about me under oath. Several of my columns were entered as evidence of “homophobia.” but then it was over and I “won.”

Not really though. Even though they lost, homosexual activists put me through the ringer and that was the whole point. Now they’re putting the screws to Kalchik and Vigano, but the powerful homosexual network in the Catholic Church has been outed and its days are numbered. Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas ordered that Vigano’s testimony be distributed in parishes across his diocese. Several other US and European cardinals and bishops have also voiced support. The “Lavender Mafia” won’t be able to smooth this over the way they did in 2002 after the Boston Globe Spotlight report.

Father Kalchik
This time, we have priests and bishops with a spine.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Divided America On Display

Many things divide America today but the biggest is not race, not religion, not sex, nor sexual preference. They’re all in the mix but increasingly subsumed into that primary division — political orientation. There are intelligent people on both left and right and they all watched last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Judge Kavanaugh. However, one side concluded that Kavanaugh is a drunken, sexual predator while the other believes he’s a victim of a savage, Democrat hit machine.

How can intelligent people see the same thing and interpret it so differently? Something the late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote in one of his books keeps coming back to me. In The Road Less Traveled, Peck said we all construct maps to understand what’s happening in the world and navigate through life. They can be effective guides until the world changes. We may be driving along guided by a GPS unit with outdated software and find ourselves going the wrong way on a one-way street.

As evidence piles up indicating that our map is no longer accurate we have two choices: We can ignore the evidence by rationalizing it away, or we can do the work necessary to construct a new map — a new way of understanding the world. According to Scott Peck, most do the former because “the process of making revisions… is painful, often excruciatingly painful… Often this act of ignoring is much more than passive… We may denounce the new information as false, dangerous… We may actually crusade against it… and try to manipulate the world so as to make it conform to our view of reality. Rather than try to change the map, [we] may try to destroy the new reality.”

Politically, Americans tend to align with one party or the other. We trudge along for a while until we realize that neither offers a worldview we trust anymore. We can at that point declare ourselves independent, but we still tend to vote for one party or the other consistently. Almost by default, we find ourselves on the left or on the right. Is Bernie Sanders really independent? Is Angus King?

In my classroom, we discussed current events, often very controversial ones. My best students argued passionately for one side or the other and I came to realize that their views usually reflected those of their parents, which is natural enough. Maybe their parents had, in turn, adopted their parents’ views, or perhaps they labored to construct their own. They were either loyal to their ancestors or they did a lot of work to draw their own political map. Each method brings with it a strong emotional attachment to a particular worldview which becomes the prism through which we view almost everything.

Emotion can cloud the thinking of intelligent people and it flooded the hearing last Thursday. Both sides were drowning in it and rational thought took a back seat. Is one side or the other manipulating the world to make it conform to its view of reality? Are both? The word “abortion” didn’t come up that day but it’s a principal dynamic in Kavanaugh’s nomination process, and both sides are heavily invested. The left sees abortion as liberating women to pursue their careers, their very lives, from the burden of bearing and raising children. The right understands abortion as dismembering innocent human babies in the womb.

Sex is another dynamic closely related to abortion. The left views pregnancy as an accident on the sexual liberation highway. When birth control fails, get to the body shop for an abortion. It’s a “women’s health” issue they claim, which implies that pregnancy is a disease. They claim that men, especially white men like the Republicans on the committee, would force women to have children, like a scene out of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Protesters appeared at the hearing dressed in Handmaid costumes. Then the left brought in Christine Blasey Ford to accuse Kavanaugh of trying to force her to have sex.

Conservative writer Denise McAllister tweeted the following while the watched the hearing:

“At the root of #abortion hysteria is women’s unhinged desire for irresponsible sex. Sex is their god. Abortion is their sacrament. It’s abhorrent as women have flung themselves from the heights of being the world’s civilizing force to the muck and mire of dehumanizing depravity.”

She’s now in hiding after claiming she received multiple threats to rape and strangle her followed her tweet. Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh got similar threats. Although considered a sexual predator by half of America, Kavanaugh claimed in a television interview last week that as a faithful Catholic, he was a virgin until years after going to college — a rather remarkable claim for a man in 21st century America.

The Kavanaugh hearings not only exemplified America’s divide; they deepened it. As emotion continues to boil over the gap between left and right is becoming a gulf.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Left & Right Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Newspaper publisher Mark Guerringue again sits in the left chair.

Mark suggests Republicans don't believe America is great, or why the slogan MAGA or "Make America Great Again."

I say Obama tried to stifle hydro-fracking, but Mark claims he encouraged it. I credit Trump for today's booming economy; Mark credits Obama. We argue.

It's the day before the big Senate hearing on Kavanaugh. We speculate about whether his appointment will be ratified. I think maybe yes, Mark thinks no. We discuss the charges by Christine Ford. I don't believe them. Mark does, but this is before the hearing. Marks asks if I think Ford is lying. I say that's a different question. I ask Mark why Dianne Feinstein held Ford's letter off until the last minute when she had it in July.

Are Republicans trying to get to the truth about whether Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Ford? I suggest they are. Mark thinks that naive. I contend Democrats would destroy Kavanaugh and his family to preserve Roe V Wade.

Most of the rest of the show concerns the Kavanaugh hearings. We know now what happened there. My predictions were pretty much borne out when Kavanaugh went after the Democrats as on a "search and destroy" operation.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Abortion Debate

At the Kavanaugh hearing
“Are you planning to debate abortion in class?” asked our new principal. We were standing in the hallway near my classroom in the early1980s.

“Yes,” I said.

“Don’t,” she said.

“Why not?”

“Because…” She paused, seeming surprised that I would question her. “Because eighth graders are too young to discuss it.”

At the Kavanaugh hearing
“But we’ve debated it several times the past couple of years and they’ve handled it quite well,” I said.

She was new in the job, and the first principal I’d worked with who was a contemporary, both of us were in our early thirties. She was a bit overweight with short hair and she wore pant-suits or long dresses, usually with a brightly colored shawl over one shoulder. She declared herself a feminist and her mode of dress I afterward realized was a uniform for feminists of the time. 

“I invite parents to come in to observe the debates each year,” I said, “and many have accepted. Usually, four or five come to each class.”

“Why did you choose to debate abortion?” she asked.

“Students chose it,” I explained. “I’d announce that we were going to debate a topic from current events. Then we’d brainstorm a list of topics, and students would vote on them. Sometimes they’d vote for a different topic like gun control, but most classes usually chose abortion.”

“Eighth graders aren’t mature enough to debate abortion,” she insisted.

“Hmm,” I said. “But some eighth graders have abortions. Did you know that?”

“Yes,” she said, breaking eye contact and shuffling a bit.

“If they’re old enough to have abortions they’re old enough to discuss them, don’t you think?”

At the Kavanaugh hearing
At that point, her secretary walked up, excused herself, and handed the principal one of those pink message slips. She read it and said, “I’ll have to get back to you on this.”

She never did, and I went ahead with the debates.

First, we defined the terms. I asked each class if someone could define abortion for me and I had a good reason for doing this. Fourteen-year-olds have fully developed brains, but lack nuance. I’d call on a student whose hand was up and he/she would say something like: “Abortion is when a woman is pregnant and she kills the baby inside her.”

That plainly worded definition is typical of 14-year-olds. They’re refreshingly direct. Every year, in every class, the first student I called on would define abortion in almost exactly the same way.

“Does everyone agree with that definition?” I’d ask.

There’d be nods all around, and I’d write it on the blackboard. Then I’d go on to explain that people who supported abortion called themselves “Pro-choice” and people who were against it called themselves “Pro-life.” Pointing to the definition on the board, I’d circle the words “kill” and “baby,” then tell them that a seasoned “pro-choice” person would never utter those words when debating abortion. A pro-life person, however, would nearly always use them. “A definition like that,” I’d say, pointing the board again, “indicates a pro-life bias. I can tell what somebody thinks about abortion by the words they use to define it.” At this point, I’d look toward the student who gave it. “Is that your opinion? Are you pro-life?” Usually, he or she was, but not always.

Then I’d ask how a pro-choice person would define abortion. Students would ponder what I said and offer suggestions like: “It’s when a woman finds out she’s pregnant and doesn’t want to be, so she goes to a doctor and he takes it out.”

At the Kavanaugh hearings
“Not bad,” I’d say. Eventually, I’d get one that sounded just like something out of NARAL literature, such as: “When a woman terminates her pregnancy,” which I’d also write on the board.

Often a student would ask my opinion at this point and I’d say, “I’ll tell you after the debate is over.”

Students chose which side they wanted to argue. If there were too many on one side or the other, I’d try to even them up by challenging some to argue the opposite of what they believed. Some of my best students would usually offer to do so.

After that, I let them sit in their groups to prepare. My instructions were that they start recording their side’s strongest arguments on one list, then record their opponents’ strongest arguments on another.

“Why do you want us to list our opponents’ arguments?” they’d ask.

“So you can prepare counter-arguments to use during the debate when they bring up those points,” I’d answer. “It’s what opposing lawyers would do in a courtroom. You need to research all sides of any issue. As someone said once: ‘You don’t fully understand your own side unless you understand your opponent’s.’”

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Be Yourself

Grandson Alex posing for his grandmother
Never do I ask people to pose for pictures. Sometimes my wife will request that I take certain shots of the grandchildren or other family members and I’ll oblige, but I much prefer candid photos. Some people love posing and others don’t like it any more than I do. Even when I’m looking at them from many yards away with my lens fully extended at 300 millimeters, they sense I’m focusing on them and turn their heads to look right back through the lens at me just as I snap the shutter. Pulling the photo up later on a bigger screen, I’ll see suspicion and a hint of annoyance on their faces.

Alex candid
At extended-family gatherings, they all know me as “the photographer.” While others may take pictures with their cell phones, I’m the one with the giant, full-frame DSLR hanging over my shoulder, and they’re accustomed to that. They’re usually at ease and I can move about shooting images of them, often from across the room.

Candid sunset on Kezar Lake
After a day or two of shooting landscapes and/or people, I look at the images on the camera’s LCD panel and delete the bad ones. Then I’ll download the rest onto my laptop, put it on full-screen view and go through them again. At that point, I’ll delete a few more. The rest will get closer scrutiny. With an editing program, I’ll sometimes adjust lighting, contrast, white balance, exposure, or color levels. Lastly, I’ll crop if necessary, but that’s rare because, with a zoom lens and enough time to frame the image while shooting, cropping isn’t needed — except to occasionally level the horizon if a lake or ocean is in the background.

This whole process offers me a closer study of my loved ones. Not only do I see and interact with them at family functions, I see still photos of them again and again while I go through the above-described process. I see aspects of their personalities that I wouldn’t otherwise notice. Just before Christmas, I go through them all again and save 400-500 shots onto thumb drives which I distribute to family members to whom I’ve previously given motion-activated, digital picture frames. My own frame is set up on a kitchen counter and it activates every time my wife or I walk by. A dozen or more candid shots of loved ones will present themselves — one every five seconds — until I leave the room.

When my twin grandsons were born five years ago, the obstetrician said they were identical. After a few months, however, we could see they were not but they’re still hard to tell apart. While they look very much alike physically, their personalities are as different as any two siblings — and those distinctions emerge in the many photos I’ve taken of them. After my wife allowed each twin to take a large frond from her hosta plants, one waved it around doing a happy dance while the other used it as a sunshade while in deep-thought mode. 

An old television show, very popular in the sixties, illustrated the appeal of candid shots. Appropriately called “Candid Camera,” it was charming because people didn’t know they were being filmed. They were being themselves — and that’s nearly always appealing. It’s true of kids in kindergarten, puppies, kittens, and almost every other organism. Genuine is endearing; disingenuousness isn’t and never was.

Some people, though, are as ease when a camera is pointed their way, especially if they’re genuinely happy about something. Others have a naturally happy disposition and nearly always look their best in photos. Still others are afraid of having their pictures taken for fear that whoever sees the images will be able to see what they’re really like. Then there are camera hogs who love to have their pictures taken. I’ve fallen into both latter categories at different periods of my youth and cringe sometimes while looking at old family photographs which are proof of how I used to be.

There are very few pictures of me from the past few decades though because I’m almost always the one behind the camera. I chronicle family history and what I’ve accumulated is invaluable. My children and grandchildren see pictures of themselves, their siblings, their cousins, their uncles and aunts every day, and it reminds them that they’re all part of an extended family.

Rarely do I take video, but I have taken some when they grandchildren were little. I’ve spliced and edited some of that and distributed results to family, but video requires another whole skill set of which I have only a little. Preserving all this digital imagery is daunting, and I’m glad tech companies are producing portable, affordable hard drives with storage capabilities measured in terabytes.