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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

ODDS AND ENDS

Peg’s last blog entry was titled “This and That”, which enabled her to write about anything that came to mind as she was sitting at the keyboard. A variation on that title seems appropriate for this entry.

We had to pull a calf at the dairy last night. I hadn’t been around for a calving since I’d started, and I’d never seen one before; my first experience with a cow giving birth had to be problematic, though. That’s good: it makes you appreciate all the times that the cow simply drops the calf out without fanfare. I’ve been going back to the dairy after dinner and finishing up some things that I don’t get done during the day. I was loading up a combination of old grain and straw into the manure spreader when a co-worker said she may need some help later on; a cow was trying to calve and seemed to be having some trouble. I was able to get most of my project done before she started having real trouble. We were able to get the front hooves out, but nothing more, so on went the chains and we set to pulling. That calf, however, did not want to come out. We finally resorted to using a jack and were able to get her pulled. I thought at first she was dead, but once we got to poking around on her nose she started moving. Calf #3362 was doing fine as of quitting time tonight. I made sure to check our maternity barn to make sure none of the other cows were having any trouble.

I got a nice e-mail this morning from Chris, a fellow KSU student and friend of mine. He stumbled on Shooting from the Lip via the Possumblog several months ago, and I’m sure glad to have the readership. Chris commented on some posts (favorably, I might add!), recommended some books, and solved the mystery of why I didn’t attend Boys’ State. I was at the Kansas Regents Honors Academy, and so was Chris; that’s where we first met, long ago in the summer of 2000. One of the books that he recommended was The Buying of the President 2004 by Charles Lewis. I think that’ll be next on my reading list after I finish The Sorrows of Empire, which was sidetracked by class readings. It’s rather startling to note that over $500 million will be spent during this presidential election. Whoever ends up being elected will have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to do so. The era of public financing is quickly coming to an end, which further solidifies the dominance of the two-party system and makes the presidential election an insurmountable obstacle to most. People denounce George Bush for being a pampered millionaire, and the Heinz fortune was just estimated at over one billion dollars. That’s right, billion – with a B.

I’m really looking forward to seeing Spider-Man 2 sometime this week. I’m a comic book fan from way back, getting my first Spider-Man comic book (The Spectacular Spider-Man Volume 1, Issue 150) when I was in kindergarten. I’d waited and waited for a Spider-Man movie to come out, but when the first one did in 2002, I was glad they had put it off for so long. Studios finally have the digital imaging technology to make Spider-Man and other superheroes look, well, real. The Superman movies of the late 1970s and 1980s were good, but the look just doesn’t lend that authenticity to them. Special effects don’t make the movie, though, and the critics are assuring that Spider-Man 2 has plenty of story. I’m sure it does. Spider-Man was one of those complicated heroes that young readers could relate to. He himself was a young kid, going through everyday, normal-type problems. Spidey, however, could escape that world with his alter-ego. I’m meeting Bob and Ben in Topeka to watch it on Friday night, but I may not be able to wait that long. It comes out tomorrow, and I may just have to go see it before Friday.

That’s about all of the odds and ends that I can think of, for now. Actually, I’m full of a lot more BS than just this, but I should call it a night. Another cow may need rescuing in the morning…

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

STAMPEDE!

Newsflash: The South has postponed rising again, paralyzed by the fantastic performance put on by The Charlie Daniels Band on Sunday night.

Country Stampede was this weekend, and, as always, it was a loud, muddy, drunk, redneck good time. The Confederate flags were flying high, music was blaring from RVs and campsites, and the country music stars were out in force. I made it out to see Rascal Flatts, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Terri Clark, and Charlie Daniels. Stampede, for a lot of people, isn't about the music - the four-day show costs just $90, which is really a bargain considering some of the big names that roll through Manhattan that weekend. Stampede is a mixture of music and partying, the majority of which is done on the campgrounds at Tuttle Creek.

Now I didn't get too wild; the last thing I wanted to do was get drunk around 100,000 people I didn't know. That type of conservative thinking is thrown out the window by most people, though. I'm content just to enjoy myself, being with friends and running into people around the concert area, but that social scientist in me really likes to look around the campground and see what kind of people show up at Country Stampede. Only a small percentage of the Stampeders are there to see their favorite singers; the crowd consists of a lot of people in the age range of 16 to 24, which naturally equals a fair amount of underage drinking (which, myself being nearly 22, I have the luxury of being firmly against!). People were trading beads for peep shows like it was Mardi Gras, and the park-wide party after the concerts made driving out of there all but impossible. Most of the attendees are there for a good time; far fewer actually like the music.

Like last year, it had to rain and get the concert grounds good and muddy. It rained hard on Thursday night and then again Sunday morning, so by Sunday night, there were muddy craters all over the park. Lawn chairs were staggered around in avoidance of mud, but in a lot of cases, you had no choice but to walk through it. I didn't mind; fresh from working all week at the dairy, I was still in boots. A few smart people who didn't have country duds to protect their feet simply shed off footwear altogether. More than a few people ruined tennis shoes, though. The mud just makes Country Stampede all that much more country; by the end of the weekend, mud wrestling is a common occurrence.

My favorite performance was put on Sunday evening by Charlie Daniels. He’s a good ol’ country boy who looks like a bearded barrel with a colorful shirt and a fiddle. Most everyone is familiar with his most famous song, The Devil Went Down to Georgia: his last performance of the night which kept us all in anticipation. He’s one talented musician and an opinionated political activist to boot. I love old country music (with Ghost Riders in the Sky and Rawhide being a couple of my favorite tunes), and Charlie Daniels scratched an itch that the other performers couldn’t get to.

Butch and Cindy were there, selling their famous Butch’s BBQ. It’s always good to see some locals from back home, not to mention eat some of that excellent barbequed pork. They were nice enough to cut this poor college kid a break, and I certainly appreciate that! On Friday and Saturday, my brother Michael and his radio partner Gabe were here. They stayed with me on Friday night, which was a little bit cramped for them, but they both said they slept really well. By this time next year, I’ll be in an apartment and out of the dorms, so I’ll have plenty of room for them then. We could hardly go 15 steps without one of them being recognized at Stampede. Both of them are really well known around the Hays area, and Michael is out and about all over Western Kansas, so they had a lot of fans coming up to shoot the breeze.

Country Stampede is a lot of fun regardless of what you’re there for: the music or the camping/party/drinking/etc (for lack of a word that encompasses all of these things). I wouldn’t recommend it for small kids; I’d never take Reilly or Mackenzie there. Actually, Mackenzie can’t go until she’s 18; no, make that 21. It’s probably not recommended for people who don’t like the heat or the mud or the noise, either. But if you don’t fall into those categories, Stampede could be a good vacation to help sow some wild oats or cure a midlife crisis…

Friday, June 25, 2004

FAHRENHEIT 9/11

So Michael Moore's new movie is hitting theaters today, and I've heard of newspaper after newspaper and an endless chain of celebrities praising this "documentary". In fact, there are a lot of people eagerly anticipating the film. That's fine: Moore has every right to produce his work, but my beef with him (and with Hollywood) is that this is produced as a major motion picture; signed, sealed, and delivered as a documentary; and taken for gospel truth.

Go ahead and see Michael Moore's new film, but don't tell me it's objective. Don't feed me a line about Moore seeking the truth. He's got a political agenda. He hates George Bush - personally. I think it's one thing to take issue with someone's politics (and it's even ok to personally dislike that person because of it), but Moore is taking things a step higher by ensuring the unfair distribution of his political opinion and his hatred. Equal time, I'm sure, doesn't apply to Hollywood.

Here's my case-in-point that Moore is nothing more than a spiteful, opinionated, close-minded person. An apology ran on his website on January 27th:

I would like to apologize for referring to George W. Bush as a "deserter." What I meant to say is that George W. Bush is a deserter, an election thief, a drunk driver, a WMD liar and a functional illiterate. And he poops his pants.

Sound like an objective, truth-seeking person to you? It sounds like somebody with an axe to grind, to me. For liberals, it's probably funny. Conservatives are offended. No matter which position you come from, though, Moore is childish. But people will believe what he puts forward, just because it's on film. From what I've heard, a lot of Fahrenheit 9/11 deals with one pro-Bush woman who turns staunchly anti-Bush after her son is killed in Iraq. I believe that; it can happen; it does happen. But does he make any effort to interview anyone who maintains a pro-Bush stance? Nope. It's all anti-Bush, anti-Administration bull that some people are going to take to heart. If The Passion of the Christ was Mel Gibson's work of faith, Fahrenheit 9/11 is Michael Moore's work of downright hatred. Ironically enough, some refused to see The Passion (most of which was entirely historically accurate; unless you understand the deeper meanings, very little of the film pushed faith), but are all-too ready to ingest all of Michael Moore's opinions.

I don't fault Moore for what he's doing. He's got every right. I do fault Hollywood somewhat for an incredible bias. Imagine if Rush Limbaugh produced a "documentary" - I have no doubt that no studio would ever pick it up and no theaters would run it. My warning is this: if you see Fahrenheit 9/11, take it with a grain of salt. Remember, it's one man's opinions and interpretations, not stone-cold facts. I'd suggest seeking neutral and/or conservative sources and attempting to balance what you see for yourself. No doubt, many will agree with what Moore presents, but his movie is not a debate: it's a one-sided work of absolute hatred attempting to take down one man for all of the world's ills...

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

TRUDGING ALONG

I'm a little bit disappointed with the class that I'm taking right now. Don't get me wrong: I needed the credits and we're definitely talking about some interesting things, but we're not talking about what I thought we would be. Let's just say that the class was probably mislabled. Instead of "Issues in the 2004 Election" it should have been called "The Presidential Election Process". We're definitely focusing more on the process of electing presidents than anything substantive facing this particular election.

The professor is full of a lot of fascinating stories, and he certainly knows his election history, but I've had him for one other class: "The American Presidency". Although in that one we got more into how the President must work with his own staff, the legislature, and the courts, there are a lot of similarities in the historical background that we discussed in both classes. It's just a little bit more in-depth concerning the primaries, conventions, election, etc. in this class.

There is time every day to discuss certain things, and we've definitely brought up issues that could help or hinder either Bush or Kerry. I've got several more questions on my list before the class winds down, which is scheduled to be next Friday. Today, however, the professor admitted that he was running thin on material. The test will be this Friday and we'll finish up a week early. I think that next week would be ideal for discussing some current issues, but I suppose the professor doesn't want too much contention between students. There are certainly some good ol' Republicans in the class, and there's definitely one liberal; a complete moron, in my opinion, not because of her stance on political issues, but because of her inability to grasp the simplest of concepts.

She has proudly declared in class that she's an "independent liberal, not a Republicrat", whatever that means. I came into class one day to find her trumpeting the merits of a socialist society and bemoaning the fact that she lives in a capitalist republic. Poor girl; she's only about 350 pounds, by the looks of it. In light of that, I don't think that capitalism has afforded her too hard of a life. Up until just a couple of days ago, though, I thought maybe there could be some substance behind her glazed-over eyes, but she asked a question completely off topic, out of synch with everything else, and absolutely ridiculous (considering the circumstances). She seemed to be looking at our list of election results, starting with Washington's unanimous victory in 1789. The rest of the class was looking at 1968 by that point, but she brought us promptly back to the 18th century with her question.

In 1789, the total number of Electoral Votes was 69, with 35 needed to win. However, things were done a bit differently prior to the Twelfth Amendment: Electors actually cast two ballots for president, resulting in 138 total votes. Whoever got the majority of the total (69 votes) became president, and whoever came in second place won the vice-presidency. We'd talked about this - twice - in class the week before. She asked, "this chart says that the total votes in 1789 was 69, but why are there more? Why did other people win votes, too? Where are they coming from?" The professor had to take 10 minutes to re-explain this subject, then another five to explain why in 1792, there were more total Electoral Votes (census taken in 1790; four new states participate in the election). Perhaps she'd missed a day; I could forgive that, but I couldn't forgive this: last year she'd taken a three credit course on the Electoral College!!! That class talked extensively about the pre-1804 Electoral College!!! Nope, I decided; she doesn't have a clue; not about academics and not about political issues. Just an idealist; a dreamer who may be shocked by the real world some day. (I am, however, of the school of thought that if you don't know something, you should ask, BUT, I thought that not knowing was particularly inexcusable in this circumstance.)

Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent, but her idealist/socialist political positions just don't fit with the rest of us, and perhaps it's better that we don't get into too deep of discussions regarding politics. It might just get people angry. I feigned anger once: this same girl expressed some concern about John Kerry being Catholic, and the American electorate's history of not voting for Catholic candidates. Being a Kerry fan, she said, "I don't think many people know he's a Catholic, and I hope we can keep that quiet." I promptly accused her of anti-Catholicism and trying to keep minorities down, charges that liberals really start to sweat when accused of. She promptly put her foot in her mouth. I like being the minority occasionally.

Sometimes, a little reality doesn't hurt these people who have been locked up behind university walls for years. Now I'm not much different; I've been here for three years, and I'll admit that my views are different than they were when I first arrived. But I'm still my same old conservative self, at heart. My beliefs are stronger than all of these influences, and I happen to believe that a lot of my beliefs are realistic. The professor regularly belittles a former K-State basketball coach for being too west coast, wearing khakis and penny-loafers without socks. At the same time, this professor is wearing khakis and sandals. There's a cloth somewhere that both of these guys were cut from.

So what's the point of all this rambling? I suppose I don't really know; maybe just some interesting stories I thought I'd write about, but if I had to look for any lasting moral lesson, perhaps it's to seek reality. Comfort breeds idealism, and our republican government and capitalist economy allow idealism. It's just that idealism doesn't always work. Just last week, a couple of friends of mine (both girls) called me and said that they'd like to see where I worked. They were interested in looking at "baby calves". I was more than happy to take them on a tour of the dairy, but I think that their preconceived notions of soft, fuzzy, cute animals romping through green meadows and ready to eat zoo-pellets from your hand were completely torn down. Instead they were met with calves suffering from crypto, chained to their hutches, snotting and crapping all over themselves. The calves didn't care to put on a show. They were realistic. The girls, however, haven't called me back...

Sunday, June 20, 2004

WHAT'S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE...

I heard on the news last night that fish isn't good for you anymore. Just a few years ago, studies revealed that the more fish you ate, the better. It was good for your brain and good for your heart. Now, it seems that some other set of doctors bent on proving the "fish is good" theory wrong have found that eating too much can give you Mercury poisoning and damage the nervous systems of children. You know what I'm going to do? Keep eating the same amount of fish that I always have and not worry one bit about what the "experts" say.

The experts say a lot of different things that have me confused. Is it good to drink wine or not? What about red meat? I thought at one time that fish was healthy, but now a new study says otherwise. Salt is both good and bad. So is sugar. You don't want too many carbs, but cutting them out can't be healthy, can it? Counting calories, carbs, and fat grams has become this ridiculous national obsession that may or may not pay off in the end; studies are still being conducted on everything, and my bet is that death will still be an incurable ailment that will claim 100% of its victims.

This obsession with carbohydrates is absolute nitwittery. It started out rather obscure: the Atkins diet quietly gained national recognition, and before I knew it, more and more people were eating meat without potatoes. Less bread, more meat: a startling detour from most ordinary diets. Then, restaurants (even fast-food restaurants) nationwide started offering low-carb menus. Do you think this is to accommodate the average dieter? Heck no! It's a grab for money, playing off of these dieters' gullibility. Coke just introduced C2, McDonald's offers salads now (!), many restaurants are cooking burgers and wrapping them in lettuce and not bread, and even Cracker Barrel - where I stopped to eat in Junction City this evening - has a low-carb section on their gluttonous menu. It's not about making people healthier, though: it's about making money, and these corporations are scooping up every penny.

I've heard that Atkins is not a healthy diet. When you cut out carbs, you're depriving your body of something it needs! One Manhattan doctor advised a friend of mine to steer clear of Atkins, and Dad told me about a fellow Union Pacific employee that was on the diet; Atkins had certainly helped him shed the pounds, but his cholesterol was well over 300. Healthy? Hardly.

I haven't ever had a medical emergency in which I would be forced to cut back on certain foods. Fortunately, I'm not overweight and therefore don't need a diet plan of any kind; if nothing else, I need more carbs! If I were to face a health crisis or weight problems, then perhaps my views on this would change somewhat, but for right now, I'm going to eat whatever I damn well please, and I advise everyone to do the same. This is directly related to the title of this entry, "What's good for the goose...". Everyone is different. Does anyone honestly think that a doctor who worked on a study is qualified to give diet directions to the entire 290 million people in the United States? Unless he's telling you not to eat rat poison, he's probably a crackpot looking for a quick buck from the desperate overweight population.

Carbs are good and fat is good because taste is good! The best food I've ever had is laden with fat, fried in lard, or on par with sulfuric acid. Several years ago, an old New York man was interviewed about his secret to living to be over 100. He cited a daily meal including bread fried in fat-back (bacon fat was too lean) and three gallons of wine per week. Based on that guy's experiences, I'm going to continue eating whatever the heck I want. Maybe I'll live to see the 22nd century...

Friday, June 18, 2004

KANOPOLIS ON THE AIR

I heard Monte Hudson on KSAL yesterday, talking about how wheat harvest around the Kanopolis area was progressing. It sounded like there has been some rain in the central part of the state, just like there's been quite a bit here in Manhattan in the last few days. It's been cloudy and cool here all day, which I don't have much of a complaint about. It made work more comfortable.

Even though it's only a job that lasts a couple of weeks, I do miss working harvest at the Kanopolis elevator. It's dirty work and long hours, but the people I worked with managed to make it a lot of fun: Monte, Mike, Julie, and Diane were just part of my summer that I'm missing now! I'm planning on stopping by the elevator for a visit tomorrow when I'm back, and it was great to hear that KSAL made their annual stop to load everybody up with Quiznos subs and lemonade. It's usually something different every year. I think last year it was pizza.

I'll be back briefly this weekend, from Saturday afternoon to Sunday. I would be back tonight, but Pete and Bonnie brought Simon up to Boys' State last week and he'll be checking out on Saturday morning, so instead of them having to make another trip to Manhattan, I'll just give Simon a ride back. I've talked to him several times this week, and he seems to be enjoying himself. He talked about the budget that the House and Senate had to pass and send to the Governor, and just like the actual government, there were disagreements. The House would pass a budget, which would be altered by the Senate. As this was going on, the House was altering the Senate's original budget. If they couldn't compromise, they'd have to meet in a conference committee, and evidently after all of their work, the Governor vetoed their budget anyway, which they promptly overrode with a two-thirds supermajority vote (not to mention passing various laws for the Governor to abide by in hopes that they could secure his impeachment).

Of course, the real House and Senate can't just say "ah, screw it" and vote for whatever budget happens to come their way next. There are deep partisan beliefs and real people on the line, but I think that Boys' State sounded like a real positive experience. Governing isn't easy. Compromise isn't easy. Just think: these are a few hundred high school seniors from around the state of Kansas with more in common than they probably know. Just imagine the horrendous differences of opinion when legislators from all 50 states gather together in Washington, DC. Still, the system keeps on running. I'm sure the attendees of Boys' State will think about their own experiences next time they hear someone pose the question, "why can't those jerks in Washington get anything done!?"

As an aside, I wonder why I didn't attend Boys' State. I think I would have really enjoyed it. Perhaps I turned down the offer, but I don't recall ever being asked, nor do I remember who from my class was selected to go. I'm officially giving my readers from back home a task: find out who went from the class of 2001 and why I didn't go!

Finally, thanks to Lynne Truss and my new affinity for absolute punctuation correctness, I've noticed another error which made me do a double-take and nearly wreck my car (not actually, I'm exaggerating; calm down Mom and Dad). The big sign in front of Goodnow Hall proudly announces that Boy's State is being held on campus. To which boy the state belongs, I'm not exactly sure...

VLADIMIR PUTIN PROVES MY POINT

The War in Iraq definitely suffers from its problems, the most serious of which is mismanagement and misdirection. The complete lack of a grand strategy has left us in a very precarious situation in the Middle East, and indeed, all over the world.

But take a look at this interesting story. Weapons of mass destruction or not, perhaps we did have reason to attack Iraq.

I've long held the belief that those who are against preventative action are likely just Bush-hating hypocrites, looking for another issue with which to tear the President down. BUT, so many people against the Iraq War want to know why 9/11 wasn't prevented. "Why didn't we know about this?" and "Why were there intelligence failures?" have been common questions, and now, post-9/11 commission, "Why weren't the planes shot down before they hit their targets? Why were we so slow to react?"

Does anyone truly remember September 11th? Remember the absolute chaos of that day? I do; can you imagine the confusion that our military was thus going through, with Air Force pilots in the position of possibly shooting down passenger planes? It's like I've said over and over again about 9/11: hindsight is 20/20. Had we known, we would have prevented it. We would have done all we could to stop the random and violent deaths of innocent Americans on our own soil.

So now (again, post-9/11 commission) Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, comes out saying that Russian intelligence warned the United States that Saddam was planning major terrorist attacks inside and outside of the United States. And guess what? It's quite possible that the Bush Administration, because of their insistence that we go to war, prevented another 9/11. But where's the reward for that? Of course, there is none. Liberal hypocrites will simply continue to deride the president for a preventative war that possibly prevented what all the hypocrites wanted prevented in the first place, yet now their against prevention!

Would it take another 9/11 for us to realize that maybe a bit of prevention is a good thing? Hopefully not. I, for one, hope that our government - whichever party it may be under - has the foresight to prevent such disasters.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

IS GEORGE BUSH A BETTER CATHOLIC THAN JOHN KERRY?

I'd rather sit next to President Bush at mass than John Kerry any day, and Bush is a Methodist! Kerry, of course, is a Catholic, though he's one in name only. There's a significant dialog going on this election season, urging Catholics to look at issues like abortion and vote based on the Church's teachings. When John Kennedy, our only Catholic president, ran in 1960, he picked up a lot of support from Catholics simply because he was one. This kind of Catholic support for Democrats can be traced back for quite some time: in 1928, Democrat Al Smith (a Catholic) was defeated by Republican Herbert Hoover (a Quaker). The Republicans made religion a major issue in the campaign, claiming that Smith would make Catholicism a national religion if elected and would answer to the Vatican, not the American people. Ironically, prohibition was a hot topic as well. Smith supported an end to prohibition, which might subtlely reflect the stereotypical image of the drunken Irish Catholic. Hoover routed Smith in the election, winning 58% of the popular vote and winning the Electoral College by a vote of 444 to 87. Smith only managed to win Massachussettes, Rhode Island, and a smattering of southern states: a further irony, yet voting Democrat was more important to the south at this time than was a candidate's religion. Obviously, the US wasn't ready for a Catholic president, having too many misgivings about the loyalties of those incense-huffing, rosary-swinging Vaticanites. For the third irony of this single paragraph: had the Republicans not made an issue of religion, it's possible that Smith could have won the 1928 election; then Democrats could have been "responsible" for the Great Depression, and the Republicans could have entered into an age of massive government domination in 1932 instead of FDR and the Democrats...but I digress. Such a timeline could have been disastrous, anyway: Catholics probably would have been blamed for the Depression instead of Democrats!

The point is, Catholics have been voting Democratic for a long time. With Smith and JFK, the social issues may not have been nearly as contentious as they are today: abortion, gay rights, abstenence vs. contreception - the list goes on and on. The Church has definite positions on all of these issues, and in recent years, it's been the Republicans that reflect most of the views of the Catholic Church, not the Democrats who get their votes. But which party benefits from the Catholic vote is starting to change as well: the Democratic Party, by adopting liberal stances on issues like abortion and gay rights, has somewhat alienated Catholics who are becoming more and more culturally "conservative" when put into perspective with the parties' positions as compared to the Church's. After the civil rights and "Great Society" eras of the Johnson Administration, Catholics began to slowly turn away from the Democrats: a majority voted Republican in 1972, 1980, 1984, and 1988. Only 50% of Catholics supported Gore in 2000, and their numbers were somewhat inflated by the Hispanic vote, which tends to be Catholic as well. Needless to say, more Catholics are voting based on the issues and not solely because a candidate happens to share their religious affiliation.

What prompted this whole rant is this article, which cites John Kerry being upset with George Bush over some of the things the President discussed with Church leaders during his trip to the Vatican last week. Bush apparently had a bit of a pow-wow with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, wanting US priests to be more active in promoting Catholic social values. These shared values and priorities between the Bush Administration and the Vatican were natural topics for discussion during the President's visit, but John Kerry has taken offense. He may claim that his anger is directed at Bush's mixing of international diplomacy with a sovereign nation-state (the Vatican) and religion. I think he's upset over something much simpler than that, however: Kerry's mad because he wants the Catholic vote. After all, he's a Catholic; he should automatically have their votes, right? The changing tides of electoral demographics may not be on poor Kerry's side, though.

Catholic voters are beginning to recognize that Democrats like John Kerry are picking and choosing which issues to publicly side with the Church on: "There are many things that are of concern and taught by the church with respect to war, with respect to the environment, with respect to poor people, our responsibilities to each other, and I am very comfortable with where I am with respect to those," Kerry was quoted as saying. But John has got to come to a decision: does he fully and willingly break with the Church on other issues and risk the Catholic electorate's displeasure? I'm betting that he'll try to waffle his way out of this situation as well.

He attempted to distance himself from Catholicism a bit (and downplay the Church's influence on political issues): "But I am not a spokesperson for the church, and the church is not a spokesperson for the United States of America." Well, I'll certainly thank God that John Kerry isn't the spokesman for my Church; I'd prefer someone who has faith and true convictions to tough issues, like John Paul II.

Kerry also made note that there is "seperation of church and state in the United States", but he's only half-right on that point. While the state can try as hard as it may to shirk religion, our churches, may they be Protestant, Catholic, or non-Christian, are paying close attention to our government. Look at some of our large and powerful voting blocks: the Christian Coalition throughout the United States, the entirety of the religious right, Jews and Muslims in key states, and Catholics across the board making up 28% of the US population and 24% of the voting population. Try as they might, politicians will never get the church off of the state. This has lead to some issues concerning issuing sacraments to hypocritical lawmakers: Bishops Raymond Burke (whom I've written about previously) and Michael Sheridan have both said that Kerry and other lawmakers supporting abortion rights should be denied Communion. Is that right? Can they do that?

You bet they can. The Catholic Church is not a public organization; we're a private affair, somewhat exclusive, and we'll forgive hypocricy if the hypocrite in question makes an honest effort to change his or her ways. Do you see John Kerry switching his stance on abortion? I don't think so. Any priest is fully within his rights to deny John Kerry Communion, and I hope that a few of them do. The Church is not a liberal organization when it comes to morality and cultural/social issues; not just anybody gets a wafer and a shot of wine! John Kerry breaks other Church rules and technically should not be receiving Communion, anyway; according to one of my professors, he regularly attends a non-denominational Church, which (if he misses mass that week) means that he's got to attend Confession before receiving Communion again. Perhaps he is going to Confession often, but he's a busy man, and I think he probably knows how to skirt around issues rather than knowing the basic rules of his Church.

The Catholic electorate is wising up; we won't just vote for a candidate because they happen to be Catholic, like over 80% of Catholics did in 1960 for JFK. Catholics historically were not treated well by Republicans, which has led to their support for Democrats in the past and misconceptions that Catholics are a liberal bunch. However, that's not so, and attention to issues instead of religious affiliation could seriously harm John Kerry in November.

THE ENDORSEMENTS FOR KENNY BERNARD ARE POURING IN

Kenny Bernard, our current chief of police in Kanopolis, is running for Ellsworth County Sheriff. In my opinion, Kenny has been an outstanding chief in Kanopolis, and though we'll miss him as a permanent fixture in our community, he's getting a lot of support in his run for Sheriff. I, for one, am in full support of Kenny Bernard's candidacy, and perhaps in a later post I'll tell you why. But other locals are starting to speak up for Kenny as well, all of them relating his experience with law enforcement and fairness in handling situations.

Marvin Schneider has really articulated his thoughts well in a letter that he sent to Peg, which is posted here on her blog (which you should be reading anyway!). Kenny has much more experience than I was previously aware of, which just deepens my belief that he'll do well as Sheriff of Ellsworth County.

One thing is for certain: this election for Sheriff is getting a lot of notice from Ellsworth County residents. Drive through Kanopolis and you'll see sign after sign urging a vote for Kenny Bernard. Ellsworth looks to be split, with literally dozens of signs all over town for both Kenny and his opponent, incumbent Tracy Ploutz. I think it's good (and a bit exciting to a political scientist like myself) that so many people are getting involved in some way, even if it is a rather non-political election. Just remember: the Republican primary between Kenny and Tracy is on August 3rd. I'll write more on this subject later...

Saturday, June 12, 2004

ABUSES IN THE MILITARY

This is a sensitive subject, to me as well as those who are serving in the military or know of someone who is. I think all of us are naturally let down when we see men and women in our armed services who are disgracing their uniforms and their country, like PFC Lynndie England, dragging on her cigarette and smirking as she poses in front of various Iraqi prisoners. We're let down when the military erupts in scandal and disgrace, and we're right to question the motives and the training of our soldiers and the government that is sending them into action. I know that what went on at Abu Ghraib prison should not be reflected on every American soldier, but it is, regardless of how isolated of an incident it may have been.

There are the defenders of Lynndie England and her fellow soldiers pictured in the photos, humiliating Iraqi soldiers. There are those who say, "what about the abuses that the Iraqis commit against our soldiers and civilians? What about the Geneva convention: doesn't it apply to Iraq, too?" Others blame the chain of command, shifting the responsibility of the prisoner abuse to higher ranking officers, generals, or even the Secretary of Defense and the President. Still others look at the pictures and fail to see the abuse at all, chalking it up to rigid interrogation techniques and liberal media oversensitivity. I, on the other hand, place the blame firmly in the hands of those soldiers in the photos (and possibly their direct superiors), and what they did to their prisoners was blatant and inhumane.

Those of you who haven't yet seen all of the photos of the Iraqi prisoner abuse need to. Click here for the most recent photos, and here for the older photos.

First, I'll address what they did to the prisoners. From the evidence presented by the photos, the Iraqi prisoners were not beaten. They were not seriously hurt in any way. What they were was humiliated and psychologically abused. To be put into positions such as they were is quite offensive to the Muslim faith; not that it would be very pleasant for anyone else, but it was in particular damaging to Muslims. Using dogs and threats of electrocution are further examples of psychological abuse. These sorts of techniques are sometimes used by the CIA for interrogation purposes, but only in controlled environments and by professionals. The difference here is that it was a bunch of young enlisted men and women having a good time; far too much power put into the hands of low ranking soldiers.

Yes, the Iraqis do some terrible things; to American captives and to their own people. The beheading of Nicholas Berg was deplorable, though I believe it to be in direct retaliation for the abuses at Abu Ghraib. I was shocked when four American contractors were recently killed and subsequently hung from a bridge. I was further outraged when the American media spent so little time discussing their deaths and the horrible abuse committed by the Iraqis at that time. Yes, Iraqis themselves can be bloodthirsty and unforgiving, taking out their aggressions on innocents or those who are not responsible for their plights, but the United States, our military, and the soldiers in that military need to set an example. And if the example won't be followed by a stubborn people, then at least we have the moral high ground. Right now, we don't have the moral high ground; as far as most of the world is concerned, Americans have been committing abuses right along with the Iraqis. Ideally, Iraq would be concerned with the Geneva Convention as well, but we live in an unideal world. However, if we want to spread freedom, democracy, and capitalism to Middle Eastern countries like Iraq, we ought to show them what a free society like ours can provide: the due process of law and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.

The blame for the abuses should stop firmly at the feet of the soldiers who committed them. Even if they hadn't been trained properly in the codes of the Geneva Convention, they quite simply should have known better: their actions would reflect on their superiors, their government, and the American mission in Iraq. If soldiers have a moral problem with following an order (which many of the accused now say they did in an attempt to blame higher ranking soldiers and officers for their woes), they do not have to follow that order and can take their complaint up the chain of command. That's one of the reasons why a chain of command exists: to set lower ranking soldiers and officers straight on their mission. If indeed the soldiers in the photos had been ordered to perform the abuses on the Iraqi prisoners, they should have taken their complaints with those orders to a higher level. Eventually, they would find an officer who would put a stop to those kinds of orders.

However, I think that the soldiers in the photos knew full well what they were doing, had made the decisions to abuse the prisoners on their own, and actually enjoyed what they were doing. I've been around young military personnel before: once-upon-a-time I was in ROTC, and I was rather disturbed by many of the cadets' emphasis on their future mission to "kill, kill, kill". That's part of your training, sure. You kill if necessary, but too many of them had this John Wayne-meets-Rambo sort of vision for their futures, as if they would be sent on a solo mission to some Middle Eastern country with the goal of the highest body count possible. I'm currently reading a book by Chalmers Johnson called The Sorrows of Empire, about the United States' expanding militarism. Though I disagree with Johnson on a lot of things in his book, he does address some important issues about the training of American soldiers, who more often than not come out of basic training as racist, overbearing, and insensitive. His book was written before the abuses at Abu Ghraib came to light, but some of his examples bear a striking resemblance to what has recently happened.

Being in Iraq or Afghanistan has to be stressful. I can't question that. I'm extremely grateful for our soldiers availability, and for the most part, they're just following orders and doing their jobs. Hopefully, incidents like Abu Ghraib and the ridiculous American chauvinism found in the video located here are isolated ones. But changes do need to be made, and we are fully justified in asking questions about our military and our government, regardless of charges that we're "unpatriotic" because of our skepticism. The next deployments of our military should be carefully considered, with fully examined and achievable goals, and the government's new "stop-loss" policy (which is more or less a draft of current soldiers nearing the end of their tours) should be eliminated. But we're overextended as it is; Iraq was not a war that was undertaken with a clear end-game in mind and a grand strategy worked out. Unfortunately, the government's mistakes are taking their tolls on our soldiers.

This is a complicated issue. James Madison, in The Federalist Papers #41, says, "[A] standing force, therefore, is a dangerous, at the same time that it may be a necessary, provision." The United States must have a standing army, but its power should be kept in check and its use limited to necessity.

QUIET MANHATTAN

Manhattan sure is a different city without the majority of students from the college here. I haven't been out very much with class and work keeping me busy, but I can tell that the streets are clearer, the houses are emptier, and the rest of the population of Manhattan unafraid to venture into the city. It's kind of nice, in a way, but rather lonely on the other hand.

Work has been interesting, to say the least. In the past week I've learned to operate quite a variety of equipment: I've used a cutting torch, assisted with an arc-welder, used a chop saw, and even learned to drive a Skid-Steer. I don't suppose that's all that impressive, but considering that just one week ago, I had no idea what I was doing at a dairy, I think I've learned a lot. Jobs that seemed quite complicated just a week ago are routine now, like rearranging the cows so that the tractor can clean up the mess they've made. Last Friday, moving them from lane to lane; opening and closing gates behind them; and trying to remember exactly where they go when the scraping is done seemed like quite a chore. Now it's pretty simple. I'm far from learning everything there is to know, though. It's definitely a farm-type job: there are a lot of odd-jobs that only need done periodically. It's been good experience so far, and if nothing else, I've got bronzed forearms and a brown neck from being in the sun.

It just hailed for about five minutes. Ironic, isn't it? I have the Corsica up here for three years and it never (literally never) hailed, and I have the Monte Carlo for three weeks and it has hailed on it twice. No damage the other time, but I haven't checked tonight. I've already got to worry enough about the loan; do I really have to worry about hail damage, too?

My computer is definitely going senile. At three years old, it's no spring chicken, but I was hoping it could hold out another year or so. It's starting to look like it won't make it. On a high speed network (and network meaning a whole bunch of computers on campus linked into one system), I'm particularly vulnerable to viruses, etc. My virus protection seems to be doing its job, but I've been under a horrendous assault from SpyWare and AdWare in just the past week. I'm not quite sure how it got started, but my two watchdog programs - SpyBot and Ad-Aware - can't keep up. These are the kind of programs that we all run into periodically; they change your homepage, they put a few folders in your favorites, and they install unwanted search bars. I've been inundated with this kind of activity since I got back last week, and it's starting to take its toll on my system, which is running slower and slower, subject to more and more freeze-ups. I think tomorrow I'll check out Kim Komando's website to see if she's got any suggestions. Hey, that Kim Komando looks an awful lot like Meredith Baxter Birney who played Elyse Keaton on Family Ties. Could that be where she went?

I should have 30 hours racked up at the dairy before Friday (or at least on Friday), and 30 hours is my limit. K-State won't let me work any more hours for an on-campus or campus-affiliated job since I'm also taking classes. If that's the case, I may go home for the weekend. I do miss all of the people that I see at home (and that's a lot of people, since I see a large number both at Orozco's and the elevator), so it'd be good to be back for a short visit. Besides, I'm sure I'll have plenty of laundry to do...

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: 1911-2004

This is a brief tribute that is a few days late, but still necessary all the same. Ronald Reagan was my favorite US President, not only because I agree with the majority of the things that he did in office and the positions that he took, but also because I believe that he was a man of very great and virtuous character.

Watching the recent news coverage of President Reagan's passing, I was fortunate enough to see many of his most memorable speeches. I was born in 1982 and most of what I know about Ronald Reagan has come from history books, not the experience of following his administration; upon studying our 40th president, I was fascinated by his character, his optimism, his determination, and his strength, not to mention his wit. Several years ago I read book after book about Reagan and his life and presidency. He truly was an inspiration, a model citizen, and a heroic figure.

The historical view of President Reagan will undoubtedly be a mixed bag. He was not an intellectual: he was more of a statesman and a showman than anything, but he held so strongly to his beliefs that he accomplished many great things during his presidency. Not only were his convictions ocean-deep, but he made sure to surround himself with equally determined individuals who were experts in their fields. This method of delegation perhaps proves that Ronald Reagan was smarter than anyone gives him credit for; he knew when to delegate and he knew the right people to do the job.

These qualities remind me of a quote from Cicero: "It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment; in these qualities old age is usually not only not poorer, but is even richer."

As I watched a replay of President Reagan's speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention, I saw his "force of character", and I was reminded of why I admired him so much; why we admire him so much. The power of the message delivered to the convention could have won him a third term in 1992, if it were allowed by law. His optimism is infinite and his simple yet overwhelmingly strong and sensible message will go on.

God bless Nancy and the rest of President Reagan's family, and may we always hold his spirit in high regard as we continue our pursuits of freedom and democracy.

BACK IN BUSINESS

Unsurprisingly, it's been nearly a week since I've written on the ol' blog. Of course, we got back from Western Kansas last Wednesday, but I have been either moving back into the dorms, starting my new job, or getting settled in to my new class since then, and thus have been too busy to write anything. But, as the title of this entry states, I'm back in business.

Western Kansas was good, albeit incredibly dry. Michael's new house is a really nice place. It seems to be the perfect size for his needs; he's got it set up with three bedrooms, and it could potentially be four if he put a bed in his office area downstairs. I'd given him my old mini-fridge that I'd used in the dorms for the last three years, and I was happy to see that it was firmly in place in the office, cooling off beer. He's got a nice two-car garage and a pretty new storage shed in his back yard, which is complete with a picket fence (though not white). It was really a nice place; hopefully he'll let me stay there during the next Oktoberfest.

Paul was in Hays to do some work at the KSU Experiment Station there, and Reilly and Mackenzie stayed with me and Dad for the morning. We went to see Shrek 2 after lunch. I'd seen it before (and found out later that both Reilly and Mackenzie had seen it as well), and it is a really good movie. Kids like it because it's a cartoon; most of the humor is geared towards adults, though, and that's alright. Most of the jokes fly right over the kids' heads. Reilly asked me several times, "what are you laughing at?"

We left after the movie and got to Oakley around 4:30pm. After we stopped to see my grandparents for a bit, we had a look at Oakley's new statue of Buffalo Bill, which is really quite a site to see. If you're around Northwest Kansas, it'd be a worthwhile detour to stop in Oakley to see it. A link to pictures of the statue is posted in the entry below. Paul was going to be working some cattle that evening, and I was elected to help out since Dad was out of action, still recovering from his surgery. I'd been around cattle before, but not nearly to that extent. I think we worked maybe 20 calves and 16 cows, and it was really pretty good experience since I was going to start working at the KSU dairy just a few days after that. Everyone seemed a little surprised that I didn't mind helping out with that kind of work, but it's not that I'm adverse to working cows, doing manual labor, or getting dirty (after all, I think that the wheat dust that I had been saturated in from the elevator for the last three summers is far worse than cow manure), but just that I'd never actually had to do anything like that before. I may have grown up in a rural area, but I didn't grow up on a farm; I've never driven a tractor or a combine, I've never worked with cattle before, and I'd rather break a toe than drive a stick-shift. But my inexperience with that kind of work didn't mean I wasn't willing to do it; I was more than happy to help Paul out, especially since he wasn't in perfect shape after breaking a finger a couple of weeks ago. (Like I said, it was all good experience, too, since I was going to be around a lot of cattle starting on Friday, but more about that later.)

We worked pretty late that night, and everyone slept in the next morning. I rarely expect to be the first one up out on the Ritter's farm; Reilly is usually an early riser and Paul is almost always up early for work, but when I got up at 9:00am, only Dad was awake (and probably bored, too; he'd been up since 6:00am). I got to spend just a little bit of time with the kids before we headed home. It was a short, short visit, but I'm really glad I got a chance to see Paul, Reilly, and Mackenzie.

I had breakfast on Thursday morning with Peg and Mr. Marsh, and we naturally got all of the world's problems solved over eggs and coffee. I try to see both of them when I get back to Kanopolis on breaks. I think that some people think that's a bit odd; a 21-year-old college student enjoying visits with a high school teacher and a retiree, but age isn't the important factor in our get-togethers: it's intellect. We connect on a level that transcends age barriers, and there should probably be more of that between individuals. Although I'm at a university where there are plenty of other people studying politics and history like I am, it's actually difficult to find people my age who are willing to listen to my thoughts about rural economic development, historical interpretations, or international affairs, let alone respond coherently to them. There seems to be no middle ground at KSU; either my fellow students are completely uninterested in what I study or they're completely absorbed in their own studies. It's rare that I find a history major who is as good at listening as they are at talking; talking about their area of interest. Some history majors in particular are quite good at relating anything and everything to the specific time period or historical figure they study. Of course, I could relate everything to ancient Rome, but that'd just bore everybody to tears. Anyway, Peg, Mr. Marsh, and I always have good conversations, and the topics are never limited. Visits with both of them are always high points when I go home.

Dad and I visited UD early in the afternoon and then had coffee with Peg at the Ellsworth Antique Mall. Mark and Josie Roehrman have really done a great job with the Antique Mall, which is expanding and looking better all the time. The Ellsworth Underground, located under the mall (and underneath other Ellsworth businesses, as well) is really an interesting place. In the late-19th and early-20th centuries, Ellsworth played host to a variety of businesses, some of them more than questionable. I'm not completely familiar with the history of the Underground, but I believe there were saloons to be found there, along with various stores, restaurants, and a bowling alley. Peg's website has more (and better) information on the Underground if you're interested.

I left later on Thursday night to get back to Manhattan, packed up in the Monte. Cliff Martin of Martin's Pro Auto balanced and rotated my tires while I was in Oakley, by the way. Cliff always does a really good job, and he's just a nice guy to boot. It's like Dad says: whenever you take something to Cliff, you just have a feeling that something is going to get done - he's always done good work on my vehicles: the BC and the Monte.

I was to be at the KSU Dairy Unit at 6:30am the next morning, although I ended up sitting around for a half-hour before anyone showed up to show me what to do. Mike, my boss, is normally there at 6:30am, and we were probably going to take care of some paperwork at that time, but he'd gone to sell a cow and the other part-time help doesn't get there until 7:00am. The work is pretty simple: we fed calves in the morning, and only a few of them even needed feeding. Only three of the seven smaller calves were drinking milk full-time, and once we got their formula mixed up and distributed and gave them all fresh water, the morning work was done. It's a bit more complicated than that; you do have to record some info on their diets and make sure they're healthy (many are getting Cryptosporidiosis), but overall it was finished up pretty quickly. When the main chores are done, then the odd-jobs start. I painted for a couple of hours that morning. When I came back after lunch, it was back to primary chores.

Cattle produce a lot of crap; A lot of it. Before I started working at the dairy, a lot of people were telling me, "I'll bet you'll be shovelling." Sorry, the KSU Dairy is far too big of an operation for me to be trying to pick up the immense amount of cow crap with a shovel. Instead, the whole process of "waste removal" is quite streamlined. There are three main rows of cow hutches of which are divided into two separate areas. Each area consists of a cement lane around a main cow hutch. You can section off each area and then run a tractor down the open lane, scraping out the excess manure as it goes. This involves a bit of scraping to get everything into the lane so the tractor can pick it up, and we do have to move the cows from lane to lane. But dairy cows are quite docile creatures well-accustomed to this daily ritual. Not a single cow has given me problems, though it did rain on Friday and Saturday, making the manure a sloppy, ankle-deep mess. That's why I've got boots and not tennis shoes, though. There are some other general things that we do, but other than that, it's seemed like a normal farm operation: there are a lot of odd-jobs that need done. Painting seems to be what I've been assigned for now. I don't mind it at all, except for that one time that a fist-sized bumblebee decided to critique my handiwork while I was ten feet up on a ladder. I stayed calm, and just asked him nicely if he'd leave. He didn't, so I decided that I needed a drink of water anyway. When I came back, he was gone.

Pete and Simon Orozco were here on Sunday. Simon had a wrestling tournament in Junction City on Saturday, and they were apparently unaware that it continued on Sunday. They found a place to stay in Junction City, but still needed to go to church sometime. They came to Manhattan and had lunch with me and stayed in my room while I went to work for a couple of hours. Church was at 4:30pm. It was good seeing both of them since I'm actually missing home a little bit. Summer is just meant to be spent at home; that's the way it's always been for me, and it feels so different to be here in Manhattan, especially with most of the other students gone. Monte Hudson called today and told me that I was supposed to be in at work at the elevator - he was (jokingly) wondering whether I planned on showing up or not. That's a place that I'll especially miss (minus the dust). I've met a lot of people through working there, and even though it was only a two-week job, it was a lot of fun while it lasted.

But I can't be home; class started yesterday, and it seems like it'll be a pretty good one, though a little different than I'd expected. It's "Election Issues, 2004", but I think we'll be talking more about the election process than any issues, though they'll undoubtedly crop up from time-to-time...

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