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Thursday, August 26, 2004

YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW

John Kerry wanted so badly to make this campaign about his herioc service in Vietnam. Instead of looking to the present and the future (and the issues) like most other presidential candidates have throughout history, Kerry looked 30+ years into the past, trying to gain momentum from his four-month tour in Vietnam. "The public can't turn away a war hero", was the Kerry campaign's common thinking, and so they ignored other issues. Kerry had an opportunity to hit the Bush Administration hard on real issues, but he chose to present himself as a good ol' American hero, a soldier who knows war. That line of campaigning has come back to bite him, and he deserves every bit of it for trying to focus on a manufactured image rather than substantive issues.

Is John Kerry really proud of his service in Vietnam? Thirty years ago he wasn't, nor was he praiseworthy of his fellow veterans whom he lumped into a single category of barbaric baby-killers. Many Vietnam veterans haven't forgotten Kerry's betrayal, not to his country, but to them. Now, groups like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are slamming Kerry's record, pointing out fallacies and inaccuracies. John Kerry brought this upon himself. When he stood in front of the Democratic National Convention and presented himself as an old and haggared military commander, he opened himself up fully to the scrutiny of that image. And now he's upset. Stop the Swift Boat Vets! Stop the attack ads! Sorry, John; the First Amendment not only protects their rights to investigate and report on your real record, but you've made no effort to neuter the messages of countless liberal attack organizations like MoveOn.org. Why is it alright for liberal groups to attack the President, but wrong if those who knew John Kerry best reveal the truth of his record?

And what is even better is the way that this entire controversy has played into President Bush's hands. The other day, after President Bush denounced the ads (for all the good that will do), the headlines shifted. They now read, "Bush urges Kerry to denounce attack ads". Now Kerry is the bad guy. He hasn't followed suit and denounced the messages of his liberal attack dogs, because he doesn't want to. Because there is a political and social double-standard. We don't want to hurt a liberal's feelings, but we'll lie and attack the President relentlessly. The double-standard is destroying not the President, but John Kerry. He received no post-convention bounce; Bush leads him 49% to 46% in the latest LA Times poll. That's within the margin of error, to be sure, but Bush still has a convention to put on. Kerry will falter because he allowed his message to falter; he attempted to be someone he wasn't, and it's hurting him, big time.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

MY THOUGHTS ON GAY MARRIAGE

--This posting is quite long, yet informative, showing most aspects of the gay marriage/Constitutional amendment issue. I say most aspects because I view my stance as one of moderation, Constitutional defense, and common sensical separation of religion and politics. Rev. Ben Ray of Derby, Kansas, sent me a letter a few days ago taking issue with my interpretations of Christianity. While his letter doesn't directly deal with a Constitutional amendment, I think what he has written is important nonetheless; as far as I'm concerned, it shows that the conservatives on this issue have a startling inability to divorce their religious feelings from matters of government. Not represented here is a far-left view, one that would likely defend gay rights as far as homosexuals having the right to be happy together through marriage; an opinion that not only is against an amendment defining marriage, but one that is in favor of legalizing same-sex unions. I have no liberal point of view on this issue, but perhaps someone would be willing to write one for me to be included alongside our other views. So without further delay, here's my breakdown of the gay marriage issue.--

Part One: My Editorial in the Ellsworth County Independent-Reporter from August 12, 2004

(I was unable to find the final version of the editorial, but here's my original draft which is largely the same. Jerry Marsh helped me to make some revisions which were evident in the final writing.)

Being a public servant often means making difficult choices. Our state and U.S. senators and representatives are routinely called upon to decide matters of economics, national defense, education, and other contentious issues that all affect the public at large. However, the divisiveness of such issues pales in comparison to the inflamed emotional conflict caused by social issues. These subjects – like abortion, capital punishment, and gun control – tug at our moral heartstrings like no issue of monetary allotment can. A spirited public debate usually takes place to decide the fates of these issues, with our elected representatives entrusted to make the final and correct decisions.

Such issues often put our representatives in difficult positions, and the recent fervor over a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is a particularly litigious matter. Amending our Constitutions at the state or federal level is very serious business; it should not be done on a whim or altered for political purposes. When our modern civil liberties are threatened with such action, I inevitably look to history to help me decide the issue.

History is full of ironies. Consider this: in 66 A.D., the Roman Emperor Nero blamed the new religion of Christianity for the fire that swept Rome. Nearly two millennia later, activist Jerry Falwell blamed homosexuals for the attacks of September 11th. As a Christian myself, such blatant intolerance – an intolerance once suffered by Christianity – gives me pause. Indeed, what would Jesus do? I have a hard time believing that my savior, who preached infinite love and toleration, would persecute others.

The first Christians worked tirelessly to spread their values andtheir message to all people, and it wasn't until 313 A.D. when the religion was finally tolerated by the Roman government. Now, the conservative Christianity of the 21st century has become distorted, advocating intolerance over acceptance and bigotry over love. The Religious Right has taken center stage in the initiative to define marriage for our nation, much as the Roman edicts of the ancient world defined paganism as the only acceptable belief.

As an historian-in-training, I know that Rome did not fall because of the much-touted but ultimately-nonexistent moral decline. It fell because of governmental mismanagement. Our views on homosexuality, then, should not be at the core of this debate. A conservative obsession with changing our Constitution to reflect the moral views ofthe majority should be our major concern. The Constitution is a document that defines and protects our freedoms and our governmental structure, not our moral beliefs. The Constitution should no more define marriage than it should define religion. You cannot legislate morality; prohibition was enacted and subsequently failed. Such a failure of moral definition should be yet another historical reminder for us.

This continuing debate, ignoring the seriousness of Constitutional change, has taken its toll on some of our more thoughtful representatives in Congress. Our own Representative Josh Svaty has taken his share of criticism over the issue. Yet Rep. Svaty has realized what many partisans have not: our emotional and religious views on homosexuality should not dictate policy. Both our state and federal Constitutions are vitally important documents meant to protect our basic and undeniable freedoms, not reflect the mindset of the temporal majority. It should be left to local governments and courts to decide whether or not to accept homosexual unions as legitimate marriages, and as Rep. Svaty stated, Kansas already has laws on the books rejecting same-sex marriages. While it is true that Rep. Svaty changed his mind on the issue of a Constitutional amendment, I find it quite admirable that he struggled with the decision, taking time to thoroughly think about the proposal. He ultimately made the rightdecision, putting the integrity of the documents that guarantee our civil liberties ahead of destructive and misguided partisan beliefs.

Josh Svaty's change of mind concerning an amendment defining marriage is not a sign of indecisiveness; rather, it is indicative of his thoughtfulness and commitment to the legislative process. I applaud his courage in acting as a true trustee for the 108th district, carefully studying the real issues hidden behind a sensitive social curtain. Our thoughts on homosexuality or our definitions of marriage are, like religion, truly our own; not forced upon us by a government of the majority. Rep. Svaty realized that, and for his serious contemplation of difficult issues, he has my utmost respect and full support.

Part Two: "I can't believe that our government is wasting time with this!" and other thoughts

If our state economy is suffering, rural communities faltering, and our education system in need of reform, just why in the hell is our state legislature wasting time worrying about whether a gay couple wants to get married or not!? True, a lot of people are putting this in a religious context; it's the moral thing to do, the right thing to do. Defining marriage to discriminate against a group of people is right? I'm sorry, that's not the government's job. Constitutions have historically been used to expand our rights, and only prohibition was the exception. While I'm sure there are still some zealots out there who think that prohibition was a good idea, the vast majority of Americans laugh at such a silly amendment. I think it's funny when I'm in a bar, and drunk patrons are going on and on about how we need to ban gay marriage.

Let's set a few things straight, as my editorial managed to confuse some people who read it. This is not just about gay marriage. It is about turning the Constitution from a secular to a religious/moral document. That's my beef with the whole issue. No one can see the forest...

The following are some excerpts from an e-mail that I wrote to a friend further explaining my position on the issue.

My opinions on the whole gay marriage amendment probably had some people thinking that I'd switched parties, but that's one of the only things I happen to be liberal on. It just so happens that it's a big issue in our little ol' 108th district. As far as personal preference and religious reasons go, I'm against gay marriage, too; these gays and lesbians probably aren't wanting to get married because they "want to be together and happy for the rest of their lives", but they're trying to make political and social statements. And, legal gay marriages do open up the morality floodgates. If a gay couple can get married, then why not legalize polygamy or bestiality or pedophelia, too? That's why I'm personally against gay marriage.

BUT, the whole issue of a Constitutional amendment is different, as far as I'm concerned. If churches and local governments and states want to accept or deny gay marriage, that's their choice (Kansas already has a couple of laws on the books defining marriage), but I don't want to see constitutions messed with for moral purposes, especially at a federal level. Prohibition was the last time that was tried, and that was an utter failure. If we think that the gay acceptance movement is over-the-top now, just think how loud they would be if the government tried to constitutionally define marriage for everyone. I have to think about the issue in a future context, too. If in 50 years or so there happens to be a government made up of a majority of atheists, I'd hate it if they tried to constitutionally define God or religion for me. One of the main reasons why we took out the Taliban was because their government forced harsh religious standards on the Afghan population, especially women. Those guys in power actually thought they were morally right. Likewise, some in the US government (after taking out one morally oppressive government) think that legislating a more "Christian" morality on the US public would be the right thing to do. As far as I'm concerned, I don't want Muslim, Christian, or any other moral standards defined or enforced through our Constitution, either at a state or federal level. I would guarantee that if a Constitutional amendment that defined marriage were to be passed, it would be repealed within half a century.

Seriously, let's think about this in a future context. What if in 50 years or a century there is a majority of Muslims in power in the US government. Would the Christians cry foul if the government then constitutionally defined Islam as the only true religion? You bet they would! Christians have been through this before; governments throughout history have passed laws against us (as a whole group or denominationally), and we don't like it. But for some reason, a lot of Christians now think it's alright to "stand up for our beliefs" by being lawfully discriminitory against other groups. It's the same old song-and-dance. Puritans left England to find "freedom" of religion, only to turn around and burn witches. Why is it right for Christians to "stand up for our beliefs" but we destroy Islamic governments who are just standing up for theirs? We saw the Taliban as truly discriminitory, forcing women to wear burkhas and making men wear beards, among other things. Likewise, it is discriminitory if a government of a majority of Christians attempts to define ways of thinking for everyone. Most who advocate a Constitutional amendment are too blinded by their single-mindedness and religious fervor to see the hypocricy in what they're saying.

Part Three: A Christian Approach from Rev. Ben Ray

I do thank Rev. Ray for writing to me. I appreciate the thoughts and correspondance regardless of whether the readers agree with me or not. It's just good to know that people are reading. Here's his letter, which approaches the issue far more religiously:

Dear Jesse,

I read your article in the opinion section of the Ellsworth Independent/Reporter from the August 12th issue. As some points that you have made are valid, I feel that you failed on other issues relating to scripture. For those points I feel that it is my duty as a Christian to answer your inaccuracies.

Please be careful how you lump "conservative Christianity" into one frame of mind that you might think that you see. Conservative Christianity, as I see it, is trying to maintain the integrity of God's Word. I feel that you are talking more of the far right fundamentalist, which like the far liberal side, causes more damage than good. Jesse, be careful that you do not fall into a world that is becoming universal in all of its thought. First of all, we as Christians have not defined marriage. God did that in Genesis. God is the Creator of all things and it is not our privilege to redefine marriage. God said in Genesis 2:18-25 what true marriage consisted of. In all cases, God directed marriage to be between a man and a woman. God created the union between a man and a woman and then ordained it as right. In the New Testament in the gospel of Mark (10:5ff), Jesus reaffirms those standards of marriage when he is asked about divorce. Jesus never gives his blessings to divorce, but rather states what has happened because of the hardness of the heart of men and women. Jesus does speak out on what marriage is supposed to be. He quotes what God has ordained.

Secondly, Christianity does not advocate intolerance over acceptance of people. The problem is that we have to separate the people from the sin. We are not to be tolerant of the sin. We are to be loving of the people, but intolerant of the sin. And yes, that can be done!

Jesse, the most blatant falsity that you wrote is when you said, "I have a hard time believing that my savior, who preached infinite love and toleration, would endorse intolerance and persecution of others." Jesse, where did Jesus ever preach toleration of sin? You can believe what you want, but you will never find scriptural background that Jesus preached toleration of sin. For instance, in the gospel of John (8:2-11) Jesus does not accept the sin of adultery by allowing the woman to go free from stoning. The Law of Moses allowed for the woman to be stoned. Jesus did not abolish that law, but fulfilled it by giving her grace to face repentance. The last thing that Jesus told her was to go and sin no more. He did not tolerate the sin, but gave her the chance to repent and be forgiven. There are other times in the Bible when Jesus did tell his followers that if a person does not accept the Word of God that we are to wipe the dust from our feet and move one[sic]. We, as Christians, are not to tolerate everything. This does come from my Savior.

Jesse, I pray that you are spending equal time in God's Word as you do in the word of the world. The one thing about Christianity is that it is nothing without being a personal relationship with Jesus. You will find in the scriptures that Jesus is full of love as you have stated, but it is a love that challenges us to repent and be restored to the wonderful creation that God had intended for us.

Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law and not to abolish it. That means that we wrestle with what the law says, but not to throw it out because it does not seem to go with the way that society does. God does not go with society.

The one thing that we need to always remember is found in Collossians 3:17. "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God the Father through him." As Christians, we are called to check everything that we do against what God's Word has to say for us. We are to please God before we please humankind or even our own logic. That might seem hard to do at times, but that is what we are called to do.

Yes, you do have your right to your opinion. I take issue when you claim partial truths about scripture to the reading public. The power of the pen is great. Use it to glorify God, not fight battles.

In Christ,
Rev. Ben Ray

Part Four: A Brief Rebuttal (because it's my website and I get to dominate the page!)

Rev. Ray makes good points, and though his letter was certainly preachy at times, I have to agree with a lot of what he says on a religious level. Still, amending the Constitution is a secular, state matter; not something for a church to decide for us. I'll admit that my understanding of pure scripture is nowhere near that of Rev. Ray, and why would it be? He spent years in a seminary, and I haven't. However, I can apply what I do know about scripture and relate it to areas that I do know a lot about: history, government, and politics. Our differences in interpretations of scripture come from either misreadings of my original intent or our own religious differences. Rev. Ray is a Presbyterian minister and I'm a Catholic. I do know my Catholicism, and I don't let any protestant try to tell me how Catholicism really is, despite attempts by many.

Perhaps I am a bit harsh when I lump all "conservative Christians" into one group, but it does make people take a step back and think, "what is it that I really stand for?" Mainstream Christians don't want to be in the same league as Fred Phelps. "Hate the sin and love the sinner" is an old epitaph that I've heard throughout my life. Some Christians can make that distinction, but too many of them apply their hatred of a certain sin to the person committing it. For example, I know several Christians (usually conservative protestants, like Baptists) who express a certain, sickening glee at the beating death of Matthew Shepard and other violent crimes against gays.

And yes, God has defined marriage for us. So then why are we messing with the Constitution to define it all over again? It seems to go against that sort of Christian logic, as well. And religiously, I believe that God's definition of marriage is right. But if it has already been defined for us, then why pass laws against those who don't follow God's word? Rev. Ray later states that Jesus once told his disciples that if there are those who do not want to hear God's word, we are to "wipe the dust from our feet" and move on. EXACTLY! Such moral definitions of marriage can stay in churches and can be preached and passed on to the rest of the public, but if they don't except it, we need to move on. Then why are so many candidates, legislators, and religious advocates continuing to push this issue so hard!? They should wipe the dust from their feet and move on.

When I say that Jesus wouldn't be intolerant or persecute, I was referring to people; maybe I should have been more clear on that point, but I assumed it would be clear enough. No, we don't have to tolerate sin. Jesus wouldn't have, but he would have loved the people regardless. The main focus of my "scriptural" references was to say that not only have Christians been treated horribly in the past and had laws passed against them, but also that the first Christians would have realized the fallicy in passing arbitrary and discriminitory laws if they themselves gained control of a major government. It hurts to be discriminated against, no matter what the reason is. Christians have every right to believe a certain way and even preach those beliefs, but if those being preached to don't want to hear it, Christians are taught to move on. Perhaps as a Catholic, I understand that better than some Christians. Catholics in the United States have definitely been a persecuted group, and while we have strong beliefs in the religious arena, we're reluctant to try to force our beliefs on anyone, especially through laws outside of our own Church.

Part Five: Blessing and Dismissal

I don't think that the three wide-ranging beliefs that I described at the beginning of this lengthy post will ever be reconciled. To Rev. Ray and those on the religious right, I will always be wrong for wanting to protect my Constitution from religious interference, because it identifies me with homosexuality and sin. The far left of the issue will certainly never be reconciled in the eyes of the right, but I've got my disagreements with them, as well. The issue is complicated, and when it comes right down to it, moderation is the right path. Legalizing gay marriages could open up the morality floodgates, prompting every activist judge in America to marry anyone to anyone or anything else. However, it's wrong to promote targeted discrimination just because the majority thinks it's right, even if it is for religious purposes. As far as clearing up the social and religous aspects of this issue, we're a long ways off. The heart of the matter (which may be lost in all of the activist and religious quarraling) comes down to Constitutional change. Is it right to define moral decisions with our Constitution? No, it isn't.

Rev. Ray urges me to fight no more battles with my writing, only to glorify God. I wonder whether an essay on the infallibility of the Pope would fit his definition. It certainly would for some Christians, but not for others. If a "moral government" were to ever gain control, which Christianity would we use? Liberal evangelicalism, or conservative Baptist beliefs, or moderate Catholicism? Christianity itself is a badly splintered, factionalized force, where whichever denomination I belong to happens to be the "right" one. That's a perfect example of why no uniform, blanketed moral code should be enforced through our Constitution. Your definition of what's moral may not be mine. Even teachings differ; for instance, my Church leaves open the possibility of evolution; other churches adamantly deny it. One size does not fit all, not in religion nor in societies and cultures.

My battles on any range of issues will continue...

RE-ELECT JOSH SVATY!

Josh's barbeque/fundraiser was on Friday evening, and I had to make the trip back home for it. Josh has worked hard for the 108th district for the past two years, and he deserves our support and our hard work now to help him win re-election. Josh is a Democrat, and I'm of course a Republican, but his leadership and my support for him transcends party lines. He's been thoughtful, thorough, and diligent in researching issues and voting in a way that most benefits his constituents in the 108th and the state of Kansas. His message was right-on at the barbeque, and his speech got several of us fired up and ready to make a strong push towards November 2nd.

Saturday morning Mr. Marsh, Peg, Josh, and I had a sort-of strategy breakfast at Orozco's, and we got a lot of things hashed out and a lot of ideas formulated. Josh's opponent, Tim Null, has turned down the Smoky Hills Public Television debate, which would have been really the only opportunity for the entire district to view the candidates side-by-side, speaking on all issues that concern central Kansas and the rest of our state. I suggested that even though Tim turned down the debate, why couldn't Josh accept it? After all, Tim was offered the equal time and he refused it. Can't Josh still have his say? That only makes sense to me.

We need to avoid letting this race turn in to a single-issue election. The one issue would be gay marriage, and quite frankly, it's a non-issue. How big of a problem is this really in the state of Kansas? We've got rural communities suffering economically as well as other big issues like education, but many candidates and congressmen have chosen to focus on changing our Constitution to define marriage for everyone. What a waste of time and money! Josh will keep positive and promote his own record, with over 600 votes recorded. He's done a great job so far and if more than worthy of re-election. I'm doing all I can to help out, with editorials and letters-to-the-editor, not to mention occasionally making it back home to give some input.

I'll write more on the gay marriage issue tomorrow. My first editorial for the Ellsworth County Independent-Reporter was about amending our Constitution to define marriage; I'll post that article along with some additional explanations that I've sent to readers who want to know more about my thoughts on the issue. I also received a letter today from a Presbyterian pastor in Derby, KS, who took issue with my interpretations of scripture. It's a good letter (and I appreciate the correspondance), and I'll post it as well. Then, of course, I've got a rebuttal ready for that letter as well. There may be miles and miles of postings to read through tomorrow, but I can guarantee that they'll fully explore the gay marriage issue. When all is said and done, at least you - my readers - will be very well informed on the issue!

Thursday, August 19, 2004

SAD NEWS FROM IRAQ

Mike Goins, a friend of mine who I knew through ROTC, was killed on Sunday in Najaf, Iraq as a result of hostile fire. Mike had graduated in 2003 with honors with a degree in History. He was a Second Lieutenant in the second batallion, twelfth cavalry regiment, first cavalry division. I was in the Recondo Company with Mike when he was at KSU, while I was in ROTC. He was a couple of years older than me and helped to run the Recondo Company, and that's where I learned most of what I know about military matters. It was far more informative and advanced than the basic courses.

I remember Mike being a much more patient instructor than the other older cadets leading the company. He didn't have prior service and wasn't in the national guard; he was just an ROTC cadet, just like me. I don't think that he wanted to be career military, though I could be wrong about that. He was a nice guy and will be missed by the current and former members of K-State's ROTC.

JOHN KERRY IS SIMPLY UNBELIEVABLE

...and I mean that in the bad unbelievable way. Ladies and gentlemen, just take some time to listen to what this guy is actually saying, and you'll be shocked at how utterly political his statements are. His beliefs change from state to state, from poll to poll, or whenever the mood strikes him. President Bush's announcement that he's recalling up to 70,000 troops from Europe and Germany provided me with just one more example of how dillusional John Kerry really is: he's willing to say absolutely anything or oppose anything that Bush stands for simply to be a thorn in the side of common sense.

I recently read The Sorrows of Empire by Chalmers Johnson. Johnson is a well-read, knowledgeable, and concerned citizen who also happens to have a liberal slant when it comes to American deployment of troops. His argument throughout Sorrows was that American forces were expanding across the globe and entrenching themselves in areas where they didn't really need to be. Johnson's book advocated a removal of those "imperial" trappings from places like Greenland, Okinawa, Germany, and South Korea; all places that we don't need to hold militarily any more. So, on Monday, President Bush announces that he's withdrawing troops from Germany and South Korea within the decade (a phased scaling-down of forces), and guess what? The old liberal mantra of "withdraw the troops and end American world domination" went right out the window. JOHN KERRY IS AGAINST WITHDRAWING TROOPS! IN FACT, HE WANTS TO ADD 40,000 NEW TROOPS TO IRAQ. That seems to go against his promise to withdraw troops from Iraq within his first year in office.

Kerry is a case of a politician who is trying way too hard to play both sides of the political spectrum. He's for the Iraq War, but not if Bush is leading it. He wants to withdraw troops from across the globe in accordance with liberal feeling, but he doesn't like the idea if Bush is promoting it. And more recently, Kerry is against "issue ads" from independent groups. The Swift Boat Veterans have come out against him, and Kerry is whining that Bush isn't doing anything to stop their attacks on his noble service. Um, ever hear of the First Amendment, John? BUSH CAN'T MAKE THEM STOP!!! The Bush campaign itself has never questioned Kerry's service, and that's the best it can do. The Republicans can condemn the Swift Boat Vets, but why would they want to when hundreds of like organizations are out there bashing the President and supporting Kerry? Anyone heard of MoveOn.org? They're the ones that compared Bush to Hitler. Why didn't Kerry make them stop?

Whether or not you agree with his politics, I think that everyone can agree that at least George Bush has convictions that he sticks to. Kerry has no such convictions. He'll sell whatever line of bull that will get him votes. That means a lot of backtracking, a lot of misstatements, and a lot of lying, lying, lying. John Kerry, flat-out, is a liar. He can't possibly believe some of the things that he's been saying on the campaign trail, because they fly in the face of everything he's said in the past. As you step into the voting booth in November, remember this: this election is not about Vietnam. It's not about three purple hearts or old war wounds. It's not even about a half-witted lieutenant who was so despised by other officers and crew around him that he was made aware of the three purple heart rule by his comrades-in-arms so that he would leave Vietnam and get away from them. It's about the future; our economic future and our foreign policy future. Kerry has flip-flopped so much on our issues of national security that I wouldn't be able to predict what course of action he would take if he were he elected president.

A friend and I were talking the other day about politics. He's from Serbia, so he can't vote, but he said he wouldn't support Bush if he could vote, saying "Why is the US doing all this stuff? It's not like there have been any more terrorist attacks." Exactly. Prevention and preemption and Homeland Security have worked. I'll stick with a candidate who is determined to protect American interests. I'll stick with a president who hasn't allowed any more terrorist attacks to take place on his watch. I'll stick with a country that can intimidate potential rivals or enemies (like Libya) into submission or disarmament. I'll cast my vote for Bush.

A TRUE HERO

I didn't know Kevin Shaw very well, though every time I was around him, he was incredibly friendly. His son Brian and I were good friends in Junior High, and whenever I was at Brian's house, his dad always took time to talk with me. Brian was one of the first people I knew to have the Internet in his house; it was an old 28.8k connection, but top of the line for its time. Brian always credited his dad for being technology-savvy, and that's one thing that I remember about Kevin: he had made sort of a hobby out of computers, catching the first wave of the Internet craze. Kevin was always friendly no matter where I met him, whether it was his job at the Middle School, at his house, or some other public place. His friendliness and genuine care about others are sentiments and memories being shared by a lot of people throughout the Ellsworth area following his passing on Sunday morning.

But Kevin Shaw will surely be remembered most for his final act, one that makes him a true and admirable hero. Coming up on an accident site, Kevin selflessly put himself in danger and pulled a 23-year-old girl from her burning truck. Without his help, she would have been trapped and likely died. After getting her out of harm's way, Kevin collapsed and later died from a heart attack. His death itself was tragic, and he was taken too soon, but in his final act he truly saved the life of another human being; a perfect stranger. It seems like he didn't even think twice; he just acted and put her life and her safety above even his own.

In spite of his death, Kevin Shaw's heroism will live on as a testament to his life and his character and will serve as an example to us all. It makes us stop and think about our own lives and our own concern for others. Would we have put ourselves in danger to help someone we didn't know? Would we have even stopped to help? Would any of us be willing to give our lives to save another? Those are difficult questions that can truly make us think, though Kevin Shaw didn't have to think; he just acted, and his sacrifice has given a young woman a renewed chance at life.

I salute a true hero, a selfless good Samaritan, and his kindness and self-sacrifice will always be in my memory. God bless his family, and may God bless a true, modern-day Saint, Kevin Shaw.

REBOOT

I'd finally had it. My computer, a 3-year-old Dell 8100 that was top-of-the-line when I purchased it in the summer of 2001, was just not working right. I've had problems with it off-and-on, probably caused by how demanding I am on computers. When I first bought it, I played games on it and used a lot of grahics programs and did programming of my own. I know that was hard on it. For the last year or so, though, all I've ever wanted it for is for the Internet and Microsoft Word. My first couple of years with it had damaged it so much, though, that the Internet often froze up and I prefered not to write any research papers on a machine that could freeze up at any time.

We hooked up wireless internet in our apartment, and everyone had gotten their computers up and running. Mine was slower than ever, and after working with it for a couple of hours, I just snapped and erased the entire hard drive and started from scratch. I managed to save all of my important stuff over onto my second hard drive, and by midnight last night, the ol' Dell was doing pretty well as far as meeting my computing needs goes. And the wireless internet is fast and works great. So now that I'm online again, I hope that I can get a few more blogs written than I have in the past couple of weeks...

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

THE SUMMER IS GONE...

I can't say that I'm too upset about the summer being over. Staying in Manhattan was a good thing, since I got a couple more classes out of the way and plenty of hours in at work, but it'll be good to get back on a normal schedule again. Work hours should be standardized within the next couple of weeks, so I'll pretty much know what I'm doing on a week-by-week basis. My class schedule is probably the best I've ever had: class at 11:30am every day, and 2:30pm classes on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. I plan on helping with RCIA at the church this year; I went through the conversion process, and it does help if there are RCIA team leaders that can talk about their conversion experiences, including doubts and major questions that they've had. A volunteer opportunity like that will certainly look good on a resume. I'm continuing to study for the GRE, which I hope to take by mid-September.

I do have the entire weekend off at work. They're training a lot of new people, which is a good thing. With plenty of help at the dairy, no one should have to work more hours than they want to. For me, that may round out at about 15 or 20 per week. I just don't think I can do any more than that and keep up with classes. Even though I've only got 12 hours of class, they're difficult courses and will no doubt take up some time. I do plan on being back in Kanopolis on Friday; I really want to be at Josh's barbeque to support his re-election effort.

"Shooting from the Lip" has expanded; Linda Denning was nice enough to offer me a spot on the editorial page of the Ellsworth County Independent-Reporter whenever I feel inclined to write about something. The column was called, naturally, "Shooting from the Lip". My first column had several people a bit confused about my political affiliation, since I picked one of the only issues that I happen to be liberal on to write about. I discussed a Constitutional amendment defining marriage, which directly relates to Josh's campaign for 108th district rep. Gay marriage will be a big issue, and my argument is that gay marriage alone is not the issue; changing our Constitution to reflect the morality of a few is the issue. Our Constitutions (at a state or federal level) shouldn't be altered for political reasons or for moral purposes. I'll post the article here once I have internet at my apartment, but if you can get a hold of a hard copy of the Independent-Reporter, check it out. I've gotten a lot of compliments on it; some complimented my stance on the issue, and others simply said I could write well. It's no doubt a divisive subject; even my own mother disagrees with me! Thanks to the First Amendment to the Constitution (a fair and equitable law of the land), anyone can disagree with me and tell me what they think. Several people have, and I enjoy hearing from them.

I'm more or less all settled in to the apartment, and I'm for sure ready to start class tomorrow. I'll keep you up to date on how my classes go!

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

ALL YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE...

...or just about anything else concerning US Presidential elections, for that matter, can be found at this site: Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. I've used this site for quite some time as a reference tool. I've been known to be quite an enthusiast of the Electoral College, which I think is the best and most effective way to elect a national leader that any country has ever come up with. It was altered from its original form by the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, which was for the better. Now, it's nearly foolproof. It has failed to work properly on occasion, either sending the vote to the House of Representatives (which has happened twice, in 1800 and 1824) or allowing the popular vote loser to win the election (three times, in 1876, 1888, and 2000), but the Electoral College produces legitimate results in the vast majority of elections. Even if the winning candidate doesn't win a majority of the popular votes (meaning over 50%), a majority is always produced by the Electoral College, where you must have over 50% of the votes to win.

Dave Leip's site is extensive and engrossing. I could literally spend hours on it; looking at old election results and Electoral College maps, making vote predictions, and posting messages for other election enthusiasts. The Electoral Vote calculator is a new addition, where registered users (it's free to register) can mark which states they think will be won by Bush and which ones will be taken by Kerry in November. The final results are tallied up and an Electoral College map is displayed, and other users can see your prediction and comment on it (so if you design a map, be sure to defend your logic!). My map is quite bold in favor of President Bush; I've got my reasons for that, and my predicted electoral outcome is 351 to 187 with Bush winning. You can view my map prediction here.

There are also discussion forums which are new; at least they're new to me. One of the most interesting discussions that I came across in my brief look at the redesigned site was called "The Top 10 Presidents". Users posted who they thought were our greatest US leaders. Some were partisan, others were quite objective. A few people called for lists containing only presidents who served prior to 1945, since modernity inevitably breeds partisanship. (Many posters were too one-sided, giving their top five to Reagan, Bush II, Bush I, Nixon, and Eisenhower. Others fell on the other side of the political line, claiming Clinton, Carter, LBJ, and JFK were among the top presidents.)

Here's my top ten list, just off the top of my head. If I were to really think about my choices, the list could change, but this is a first draft:

1. George Washington (He'll always be first for me.)

2. Abraham Lincoln (The most thoughtful man of his age.)

3. Thomas Jefferson (The most thoughtful man of his age.)

4. Theodore Roosevelt (hmmm, I've got Mt. Rushmore well represented!)

5. Dwight Eisenhower (A grandfatherly figure; his image can still put me at ease.)

6. Woodrow Wilson (An idealist ahead of his time.)

7. Franklin Roosevelt (I admire the later years of his presidency when he was active in foreign policy.)

8. Ronald Reagan (His leadership and personality came at the right time.)

9. Ulysses Grant (Keeping America together was a big job in the post-Civil War nation.)

10. Calvin Coolidge (Silent Cal and I have identical personalities according to the Myers-Briggs personality test.)

Among the worst presidents I'd have to list James Buchanan, Lyndon Johnson, and Jimmy Carter.

No, Bill Clinton didn't make either list. He's not great in my book, since economic forces are largely cyclical; if a president's policies affect the economy at all, the affect is likely several years down the road. Nor did Clinton's personal failings merit him a spot in my worst three. He was a mediocre president who happened to be a fantastic politician (note: president and politician are two entirely different things).

George W. Bush is nowhere to be found on my lists either, mainly because he hasn't been in office long enough to evaluate his presidency. Terms are usually evaluated after the president has left office, and since President Bush could have another four years, his evaluation could change dramatically.

Anyway, Dave Leip's site is worth checking out, if for nothing else but the election history contained within.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

NOT SO HEROIC AFTER ALL?

John Kerry has repeatedly touted his combat experience in Vietnam as more than adequate credentials to lead the nation. His three purple hearts and his bronze star seem to be a testament to a heroic tour of duty, and several veterans who served with Kerry are toted around the nation, singing his praises. I've always been a little suspicious of this, for two reasons. First of all, I don't think that combat experience automatically makes a good president. I didn't like it four years ago when John McCain talked non-stop about his Vietnam War experiences, and I don't like it any better now. Sure, the experience of McCain and Kerry in Vietnam has undoubtedly changed their lives (in different ways, I think), but political campaigns should be about the future, not about rehashing past victories, traumas, or experiences. Secondly, Kerry's record in Vietnam has consistently been under fire since the start of his campaign. The most infamous allegations concern Kerry and Jane Fonda having anti-war pow-wows, and many veterans feel that Kerry betrayed them when he came back to the states and testified against them to the Senate.

Kerry trumped up his military service again at the Democratic National Convention a couple of weeks ago, starting his speech with a salute saying that he was "reporting for duty". But a little research shows that he isn't quite the soldier that his campaign has made him out to be. I'm not qualified to argue with his service, but he comes off as a man who served for years in the combat infested jungles of Vietnam. He only served four months, though, before the three purple heart rule let him leave. There are plenty of his fellow soldiers who are qualified to judge his service, and they are coming out against Kerry in droves. One of the most damning sites against Kerry is Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, where it is revealed that 12 of the 16 fellow soldiers shown in a photo that the Kerry campaign regularly uses feel that John Kerry is unfit to be president and object to the use of their photos to bolster his campaign. Two of the other soldiers have passed away, one remains neutral, and one supports the Kerry campaign.

This site is non-political, it seems to me. The Swift Boat Veterans have no unified political agenda, nor does their website feature any issues besides John Kerry's service in Vietnam. It just seems that Kerry has upset many vets; he wasn't well respected during his tour of duty, many soldiers felt that he betrayed them on his return to the States, and now he's running for president on the strength of being an old and battle-hardened warrior. His first purple heart, contend these soldiers, was not awarded because of Kerry's reported injury by enemy fire. Those who were with him (and the medical officer that treated him) say that the wound was self-inflicted and little more than a metallic sliver. It only required a band-aid to treat.

There's much more on the site, and whether you support Kerry or not, I'd recommend at least looking it over. I'm naturally cautious about sites and information like this. These veterans could possibly be funded by some partisan source, just as the Kerry campaign may be paying other veterans to speak on Kerry's behalf. But it's interesting nonetheless and seems to be factual; at least an honest look for the truth about his record. Because it stands in stark contrast to what Kerry himself has been presenting, I think it's worth a look.

(For a negative analysis of the Swift Boat Veterans' charges, you can visit this site. It repeatedly calls the SBVs liars and calls their allegations "garbage", which makes me believe that it's a bit more partisan of a site. Either way, I've presented links to both viewpoints so you can make up your own minds on the issue.)

Monday, August 09, 2004

INCOMMUNICADO

I've been out of touch for nearly a week now, but with good reason. The cable company hasn't come by to turn on the cable and internet for us yet. That appointment is tomorrow, and I'll miss it; I'm at home right now, packing up a few more things to take back to Manhattan and get a little bit of rest. I'll be here till Thursday morning when I have to go back for work.

Despite my lack of blogging, there's been good news. We're moved into the apartment for the most part. Stephen, LJ, Eric, and I started moving in on August 1st, and just getting settled in has taken some time. Stephen and I have been working on the place pretty much non-stop since then. I was home for three days last week and will be here for another three this week, so I haven't been constantly unpacking, but moving into a bare and unfurnished apartment is more work than simply settling into a dorm room.

The dorms usually took the better part of a day to move in to. Getting the apartment just right has been a much longer, drawn out process. Of course, the dorms were furnished; this time around, we all had to buy desks and bookshelves. I was lucky enough that Dad and Mom are letting me use a bed, a dresser, and a TV stand from home. Mom also had a lot of kitchen items to give away, which is very helpful. I've only stayed in the apartment four days total, but I've already done a bit of cooking; chorizo and eggs for lunch yesterday, and roast with potatoes and carrots for dinner. I organized the kitchen into a little bit more of a coherent system this morning before I left for Kanopolis. Now all I need to do is move some clothes into the dresser and I'll be more or less done with the move-in. And then...the bills will start coming! Cable, electric, water, and rent, all on top of a phone bill and a car payment! All should be well, though; my part-time job at the dairy will keep my head above water.

My class schedule is absolutely great. I have class at 11:30 Monday through Friday, and 2:30 classes on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. That leaves plenty of time in the morning to work and plenty of time in the evenings to study. I've already started studying for the GRE; I'm going to take a practice test tomorrow. It looks like the math section is going to be easier than I thought, provided that I study a little bit. The analogies, sentence completion, and reading comprehension all look a bit difficult, though.

I'm having an early breakfast with Mr. Marsh at Orozco's tomorrow morning. I try to get together with him every time I'm back in town. He's expressed a strong interest in my continuing education, and you can bet that I really appreciate the support. There are a lot of people who may think that four years of education may be enough, but Mr. Marsh has really encouraged me to stick with my plan to go to graduate school. I was originally thinking of getting an MA; he's hoping that I'll go for a PhD. With the GRE being just the tip of the post-graduate iceberg, I'm starting to work hard to make sure I can get into a good graduate school. I'm sure that will be just one topic of conversation over breakfast tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it...

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

A 21 COW PILE-UP

(I'm in the process of moving to my new apartment, and I'm away from a computer and internet access most of the time. If you're a regular reader, please bear with me; the postings for the next week or so may be few and far between, but they'll be back!)

The study that's being carried out in the tie-stall barn keeps us hopping morning and night. In the morning, the feed has to be weighed back to see how the girls are eating. That's a long process by itself, but after we free the cows (all 24 of them) to head to the milking parlor, we've got to clean and bed their stalls and distribute new feed. In the morning, we feed 50 pounds of feed (a mixture of alfalfa, sweet bran, cotton seeds, and corn silage among other things) to each cow. Fifty pounds isn't too bad to carry around, but after throwing around 24 barrels of the stuff, we've definitely broken a sweat. Then, it's still at least a two-man operation to get the girls hooked back into their stalls. Some of them don't know where to go, and some just don't want to go where they need to. Around 4:00pm each day, we feed again, with some of the cows getting as much as 75 pounds for their evening diet. Then, around 8:00pm, they need to be milked again, and the cleaning process is done all over.

Last Thursday, I worked the night shift by myself. No problem, I thought; I'll get the girls unhooked and get to cleaning their stalls. All I had to do was lead them up the system of gates and fences to the milking parlor. I was following the last cow out of the barn when I looked ahead and saw that something wasn't quite right. The lead cows were making an unscheduled left turn. As it occurred to me that there weren't any left turns on the way to the milking parlor, panic set in. I'd forgotten to chain off one of the feed rows, letting the cows walk freely down the alley and off the dairy to freedom. And instead of being good cows, they made a break for their freedom. Of course, the panic set me to running, to try to get ahead of them and block their way. Bad move; my running only set them to running. I had to get around them somehow, so I vaulted a fence and ran through a heifer pen to try to get around them. Again, my running set off the heifers, which in turn set off their older counterparts. I had 21 out of 24 cows on the loose.

And they went wild. The alfalfa bales, the sweet bran pile, and even the sawdust mound were all fair game for these ladies that had been locked up for far too long. About ten of them headed north to greener pastures, or in this case, a field. It felt like I took forever deciding what to do, but in retrospect, I probably acted pretty fast. I let the milker know that I had cows on the run and that I was going to try to round them back up. Then, I jumped on our John Deere Gator, a six-wheeled ATV that can really move through rough terrain, as I proved. I tore off through the fields to the north to head off some of the cows. The others who stayed closer to the dairy would have to wait for later. It actually didn't take long to get them rounded up and headed back towards home. The sight of a growling green vehicle coming at them sent them packing. Not to mention how mad I was; I had lightning coming out of my eyes and thunder from my mouth.

It took a few more minutes of chasing hungry cows out of the commodities barn before I had all of them that I could find rounded up in front of the maternity barn. When the milker came out to help me, it wasn't too hard to get them pushed back down an alleyway and on their way to the milking parlor. But I was afraid that I'd missed some; maybe two or three of them were still out there, too far out in the fields for me to see. But when we got them counted, there were 24 in the holding pen! It turns out the girls stayed together somewhat; about half of them headed for the north, and half stayed around the dairy to munch on some free food.

I hadn't had a workout or a rush of adrenaline like that in quite a while. Panic set in at first, but then I guess I acted fast enough before too many of the girls wandered away. I would have thought that they might have ignored the chains being down and headed for the milking parlor anyway; after all, they do it every night at the same time. The do know where they're going. But taking a detour was ultimately too enticing for them. It was probably the most exciting thing that most of those cows have ever done. And as exciting as it might have been for me, you can bet that now I double-check to put up all the chains and close all the right gates before turning any cows loose...

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