Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Republican Deadly Sins

Much of what is wrong in America today has been caused by greed. This is not surprising since the three branches of our Federal Government are now controlled by Republicans, and greed is fundamental to the Republican philosophy, though other frame words are usually substituted, like “gain”, “profit”, “enterprise”, “return on investment” and “reward for risk taking”.

Republicans look upon an idle heir who invests some of the inheritance in the stock of a startup in the hopes of doubling the money in one year as a heroic “risk taker”, but they are blind to the heroism of the single mother who struggles to get by on a minimum wage job at Wal-Mart, taking the risk every day that her car might give out, her rent might be increased or her kids might get sick before the minimal Wal-Mart health plan kicks in. Capital and labor are both necessary means for economic production, but Republicans always value capital and discredit labor. It is in their bones.

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins, those failings which are fatal to spiritual progress, and it is the number one failing of Republicans. It is greed which makes the Republican party reactionary, wanting to return to the halcyon days of the robber barons. The party panders to the religious right on hot button issues in order to get people elected who will carry out the real Republican agenda of enhancing the wealth of the rich. In spite of lip service paid to moral values, the Republican party is not seriously interested in spiritual progress.

Gluttony is manifest in Republican party members as their second failing. They are not concerned that the US consumes an obscenely high percentage of the earth’s resources. They are not shocked by the exorbitant compensation paid to corporate CEOs, even when those officers are proven to have been crooks. Republicans drive Hummers and are proud of it. In fact pride, “the sin from which all others arise”, is the third fundamental sin of the Republican party. These are people who act as if everything they have came from their own hard work and enterprise, while downplaying the contribution of grace received from their professed God.

A fourth deadly sin, anger, often comes to the fore when Republicans discuss issues. Political disagreements engender hard feelings from all sides, but Republican wrath is often uniquely devoid of any feelings of genuine love and concern for those who disagree. This is why the term “compassionate conservative” is essentially an oxymoron.

Envy plays a lesser role among Republicans. The greedy man always envies the man who has had more “success” with his greed. Scholarly Republicans envy the vast domain within academia staked out by Democrats, hence their criticism of “liberal college faculties”. Those traditional practitioners of the corporal works of mercy, many of whom embrace the Democratic party platform, must give rise to envy in those few Republicans who are sincerely interested in making progress in those areas of their spiritual lives.

Sloth and lust are not failings of a significant number of Republicans. Some in the heir, investor and CEO categories can afford to be physically lazy. More Republicans are probably spiritually lazy, either wanting to avoid confronting the real applicability of their faith to the issues facing this country, or else blindly accepting whatever view their pastor dictates. Lacking much passion for people, a true Republican lusts more for the thrill of having things rather than the pleasures that can be afforded by another person.

George W. Bush is not a typical Republican. Though greed is among his top three failings, it only ranks third. Pride definitely is tops for him. Vanity is his essence. But what makes him most different from other Republicans is that sloth is number two on his list. George is also different in that gluttony seems only second tier for him, perhaps indicating the influence of Midland and Laura. Anger is not a major failing; the real Bush anger seems reserved only for sycophants who cross him. If Bush does envy those who are smarter and more sincere than he is, he seems to have relegated it to being one of the reasons behind his smirk - “You’re smart and sincere, but I’m President.” Bush has a lust for power, but that is part of his pride. Sexual lust seems non-existent to the point it makes some people wonder about his sexuality.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Sense Presidential Poll

Per Morning Edition on NPR, in a poll commissioned by the Hearst Newspapers released in time for President's Day, two-thirds of respondents said America is ready for a woman president. Nine out of 10 Democrats say they'd vote for a woman. Seven out of 10 Republicans would. And the top two candidates: Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice.

Between the following ten categories, in what order do you think Americans will elect a Presidential candidate who is acknowledged to be a member of the category? If you see the same person being a pioneer in more than one category, as for example a black woman, you can indicate that by assigning the same rank to each category. I’ll post my opinion after a few others do so, or else at the end of the week.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cheney’s Misfire

Who has not been following the story of Dick Cheney mistaking a hunting man for a quail? The story has as many holes in it as the unfortunate victim, Harry Whittington, somewhere between 6 and 200. Most of what we find humorous is at the expense of others, e.g Muhammad and Harry. Both the left and the right, after making the obligatory token expression of primary concern for the health of Mr. Whittington, made light of what happened, until one of the pieces of shot migrated to the wall of Harry's heart and put him back in the intensive care unit. This story has some aspects that were to be expected, one probability that has bubbled up, lots of unanswered questions and some tangents that would be interesting to explore further.

That Cheney has great disdain for the media and avoids news people whenever possible is well known, so it was not surprising that media people were absent from his Texas safari. That Cheney himself was deciding how the matter would be handled, without regard to the “unitary executive”, is also par for the course, since Cheney has made the office of the VP a virtual shadow Presidency. That the mainstream media, which has not always done its job as the “fourth branch of government”, is venting its frustration with Cheney by attacking Scott McClellan,the Bush Press Secretary, was as much to be expected as the attack on the “liberal media” by the “conservative media”. Cheney’s Press Secretary is Lee Ann McBride, a woman so unexposed to the media her name in quotes generates 104 Google hits compared with 1,840,000 for "Scott McClellan".

When I first heard this story, I figured alcohol was probably involved. How else could an experienced hunter on a Texas ranch shoot his hunting partner in the head and chest? Cheney has been known to chug a few, though his DUI offenses were when he was much younger and he has probably been chauffeured for most of his professional career, so is no longer a threat on the highway. He was isolated on a huge ranch among friends with no media around, and spicy barbecue for lunch begs for cooling brew. Like drivers who drink, he has probably mixed alcohol with shotguns many times without causing harm to anyone else, but that excuse is no consolation to the first victim.

The initial word put out was no alcohol was involved. By the time Cheney had to do a damage control interview with Britt Hume, a Fox News critic of the “liberal media” attack on Cheney, he acknowledged that he did have one beer with lunch, but said it did not affect him. It’s almost always “just one”. Of course the accommodating local Sheriff, who knows Cheney’s hosts personally, as would be expected in a Kenedy County of 407 citizens established as a virtual fiefdom of wealthy landowners, congenially agreed to defer any meeting with Cheney until the following day.

I won’t take time here to point out the holes in the story, since lots of people are doing that. Particularly interesting is the input of people who are intent on presenting the esoteric knowledge they possess, with seeming disregard to any political ramifications. For example some quail hunting experts are putting the blame on the shooter rather than on the victim for failing to announce himself [I do wonder how the announcement can be heard by a shooter wearing ear protection], and some Texas locals who have knowledge of the terrain and roads question why Whittington was first taken out of the way to a small, remote hospital rather than to the more accesible and better equipped Corpus Christi facility.

Here are some of the tangents that piqued my interest. What kind of people own 50,000 acre ranches, how did they become wealthy and what are the economics of their spreads [these questions are partially answered at the Kenedy County link above]? Who are all these quail hunters, why do they want to shoot such joyous creatures and what do they do with the dead birds? How many quail hunters are accidentally shot by “friendly fire” and are the victims legally considered to have assumed the risk of being mistaken for a quail? What terrible condition must Cheney be in, to have to drive up to birds in a car and then get out to shoot them, and to have to travel with his own medical team and always have a personal ambulance at the ready. Who pays for the expense of his medical readiness, some of which has been put to the care of Whittington, which may be ongoing? Does executive privilege include the right to ignore local hunting permit requirements? When will the interviews with Whittington and his family be forthcoming? To those questioning the media coverage as intruding into a private matter between consenting adults, cannot they see the comparisons to Monicagate?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Prophet without a Face

The international turmoil surrounding the publication of satirical cartoons of the prophet Muhammad [one of numerous spellings] raises many issues. Where is the line between satire and desecration? How should a democratic government address concern over publication in its country of materials some find offensive? Are there universal standards to apply in judging such publications? What is the right way to protest such a perceived offense?

The word “satire”, coming from the Latin word for full, might be considered as the deflation of someone who is “full of himself”. If traditionally the objects of satire were people acting wickedly or foolishly, the object base has certainly expanded, not necessarily because there are more such people, but certainly in part because of the expansion of the media. Satirists are often enjoyed, sometimes even by the objects of their satire - up to a point- many a headless court jester didn’t know when to end his act.

“Desecration” has a mixture of Latin and Greek roots. It means taking away the sacredness of something that was religiously set aside as special. And therein lies a problem. What is sacred to one person may be seen as secular [Latin for “worldly”], profane [Latin for “common”], wicked [Anglo Saxon, related to wizards and witches] or just plain foolish [Latin for “full of wind”] to another.

Not all speech is free, it has to be weighed against harm it might cause. Falsely shouting “fire” as a joke in a crowded theater could cause a panic with people being trampled, so it is prohibited. Public and private “hate speech” prohibitions trying to protect targeted individuals or groups from intimidation are more constitutionally justified than laws designed to protect people from offensive speech. Between offense and intimidation are areas of demeaning and hostility, and where the line of prohibition should be drawn is debatable. I personally would draw it well toward the intimidation end.

The Pope says the right to free opinion and expression contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 19, “cannot imply the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers”. I disagree. Look at Article 18 on freedom of thought, conscience and religion, which clearly leaves these three rights to the individual. Everybody has their own beliefs and I resent people who subscribe to a canned set of beliefs they call a religion calling the subscribers of such packages “believers” and those who do not accept any particular package “non-believers”. Article 18 got it right when it said “religion or belief” - everyone is a believer, though not everyone is a religious subscriber. The Pope should be corrected.

The Danish government blew it. When Muslims in Denmark asked to meet with the Prime Minister over the cartoons, he snubbed them. He did the same when they enlisted the help of Ambassadors from Muslim nations. When the concern was then taken to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, politicians then got hold of the issue and put it to their own use. By the time the Danish PM got around to apologizing for the offense, but not the cartoons, it was too little too late.

The right way to respond to a satirical offense may actually be to meet satire with satire as an Iranian paper is intending to do, although it would have been more appropriate to satirize Danes rather than Holocaust victims (though Muslims seem somewhat predisposed to harassing Jews). Protesting to the government of the nation where the satirist published can be a way of accomplishing some political gain as compensation for the offense, though the amount of compensation depends on the political power of the protestors. Boycotts can be effective in calling attention to the concerns and getting people to pay attention for economic reasons to something that otherwise was not important to them.

Satire is usually judged subjectively, considering the source of the satire, its object and the point of view of the judge. Objective judging measures how well the satire of the object is done, without regard to the source of the satire or the point of view of the judge. I have not seen the cartoons in question, other than a brief TV shot of one with a man in traditional middle east garb with a lit bomb on his head. Here is a BBC article giving some background and discussing what is shown in the cartoons.

Though I have not seen verification, I also have not heard refutation of the statement that Islam prohibits images of Muhammad. Perhaps it is similar to the Old Testament talk of not looking in the face of God. In Catholic school we had lots of picture books and statues of saints and of Jesus and the Holy Family. The Holy Ghost was always a bird and I cannot remember if we had God the Father pictures, though we must have seen him as in Michelangelo's Creation. Now the Church is discouraging imagery of Saints.

Let me close with a personal memory from my active duty days in the Air Force, working the day shift in a 24 hour duty section. When work was slow, we were allowed to have personal reading material at hand. I enjoyed a satirical anti-military newspaper published by non-career enlisted men like me, which I absent mindedly left in the desk drawer one day at the end of my shift. The night shift supervisor threw it out and complained about me to my day supervisor. This career sergeant was from Virginia and he was highly offended by this attempted intrusion into my First Amendment rights. He professed the importance of free speech so loudly in front of our whole work group that I was truly impressed and wondered if it was because his roots were in the birthplace of Thomas Jefferson. He then asked to read the paper himself. He sat silently reading and holding his cool, until he got to the highly detailed cartoon of a career sergeant of his rank labeled “lifer”, with his nose inserted in the buttocks of an officer. He jumped up and threw the paper in the trash and told me to never bring it into the section again. My question, “What happened to the talk about free speech?” went unanswered.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Super Seattle

The Seattle Seahawks finally made it to the Super Bowl, and now Seattle, the team and the city, are being disrespected. Practically everybody, except in Seattle, picks Pittsburgh to win, despite the fact the Seahawks have the league MVP, the highest scoring offense in the league, the most sacks of any team and many other indicators of excellence to back up their record.

Hearing folks in the Seattle area complain about the Eastern bias of the media might make people think we are a “red State”, but in fact we are the opposite. Seattle is a very liberal town, heavily Democratic. Because we are tucked away in the far northwest, “right next to Alaska” in the ignorance of those who also disregard the vastness of British Columbia, many Americans have never visited our neck of the woods and have adopted some not always consistent and often misguided assumptions about Seattle.

These ignorant ones know it is always cold and rainy in Seattle, which crawls with geeks in parkas [or worse], either sipping lattes while reading books on computer programming, or munching trail mix while hiking through a fern grotto in the Cascades. I think every computer football simulation game I have played as a Seattle team, Seahawks or University of Washington Huskies, always makes it rainy weather for the game, even the preseason games played during our annual summer drought.

This morning I have been thinking of Seattle’s history in general and my history with Seattle in particular. As in the rest of America, the first people in Seattle were the native people, the Indians. The city is named after a local Indian leader. It is such a unique name both in sound and in spelling, that it jumps out of sound bites and off the pages, and in my youth local ears and eyes were always on the alert for its mention in the national media.

White settlers first came to this area about 150 years ago. Logging and then coal and fishing provided the industrial base. The coming of the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads about 30 years later provided a little growth, but it was the Klondike gold rush around 1900 that made the real population spurt, as Seattle became the portal to Alaska. It was around that time that my European immigrant ancestors started coming to the Pacific Northwest. On the paternal side, a Danish great grandfather had drifted from Arkansas across the Southwest to California and then up to Seattle about 1901, and a German grandfather relocated from his 1885 homestead in central Washington, unsuccessfully trying his hand in a later Alaska gold venture before moving here around 1910. The Italians on the maternal side made it to Spokane in eastern Washington just before WWI, and my mom was able to leave the Italian nest and relocate to Seattle for better job prospects a few years before the start of WWII.

Seattle sort of slept through the roaring twenties and the early depression years, but as WWII began, the area [and me] came to life, with shipyards and Boeing providing many defense industry jobs. The wartime shipyards brought ethnic diversity to Seattle, drawing upon experienced workers from Louisiana with African American roots. Sadly, though these workers played a vital part in the war effort, de facto discrimination prevailed in the post war years until the coming of civil rights laws in the mid 60s began to make improvements. Seattle had its ghetto, which expanded in the 40s and early 50s, as “white flight” and “blockbusting” concentrated African Americans in the central area of the city.

Seattle saw lots of Army and Navy people pass through during the War. Some of them stayed and one became my step-father. He and my mom bought a newly constructed two bedroom house right after the war ended. The price was right and the location convenient, in the handy central area. As new neighbors began moving into the neighborhood, they proved to be friendly, especially the childless couple who moved next door, the Lewises. Mrs. Lewis became one of mom’s best friends and Mr. Lewis was a mentor to my brother and me.

As a hardworking, entrepreneurial city on the edge of the map, Seattle was destined to be a little different. We are proud of our big shots like Bill Boeing and Bill Gates, but we also respect the little guys who do the grunt work. We have a history of unionism and liberal attitudes with the Depression solidifying the Democratic Party here, especially in Congress. Senators Magnuson and Jackson were two of the most powerful members of the Senate for many years. “Maggie” was a quietly effective protector of the little guy against the rich and powerful. “Scoop” Jackson was a liberal Hawk, known as “the Senator from Boeing” at a time when that company and the unions worked in unison on many political issues.

Organized religion has never fit comfortably into Seattle’s style of individualism. We are not big church goers - not like we are with coffee, books and boats. Friendly help for a single wartime mother from the nearby nuns at the Immaculate Conception Church, got my brother and me into the Catholic schools which we attended through O’Dea High. I continued the Catholic experience through one year at Seattle U, then transferred to the U of W, where the Huskies, after years with no Rose Bowl participation, were in the process of winning back to back.

All my roots are in the central area of Seattle, where I was born and raised, attended grade and high school and the first year of college. I was first mentored as a lawyer there by Mr. Greenlee, and my four children were born in a hospital about two blocks from the one where I was born. The UW, where I completed my formal education, is just through the Arboretum and across the Ship Canal from the central area.

When lists of standards, even though subjective, are applied to cities, Seattle is almost always ranked among the “best places” . With the notable exception of Mark Twain’s variously quoted remark about having spent a mild winter in Seattle one summer, most people who come here for a visit are enchanted with the natural beauty, the friendliness of the people, the weather as it really is and the overall appeal of the area. This enchantment makes the residents fearful that too many people will learn what we know about Seattle and move here in droves and despoil what we love. In a move appropriate to the uniqueness of the city, Seattle writer Emmett Watson started “Lesser Seattle” to protect us from boosterism.

I admit to ambivalence when Husky football games are on national TV and the announcers have not been here before. Agreeing with Emmett, I want to see terrible weather and hear the announcers quote Twain. But my honest side wants to see the one of those beautifully crisp fall days I experienced at Husky Stadium during my five years as a student, with all the grandeur of the Cascades looming over the lush multi-hued greenery of the foothills, the few white clouds in the wondrous blue sky far outnumbered by the boats of all descriptions floating on the deeply enchanting waters of Lake Washington as flocks of seagulls fly overhead, mercifully sparing the Stadium crowd from bombardment. Often in such circumstances, verbose announcers who are first time visitors are awestruck and made speechless by the realization of what they have been missing through the years.

Today, in Detroit, I want announcers to be awestruck by the Seattle Seahawks they have disrespected. I expect Seattle to win, 24-17, but I would like to see them win by a blowout worthy of the respect the team and the city deserve.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Gallery Standards

Cindy Sheehan was invited as a guest of a California Congress-
woman to sit in the House gallery during the State of the Union Speech. When police noticed her t-shirt said, “2245 Dead. How many more?”, they labeled her a “protestor”, removed her from the gallery before the speech began and arrested her for “unlawful conduct”. Cindy has written her version of the incident.

Police also removed from the gallery the wife of a Republican Congressman from Florida. Her shirt read, "Support the Troops -- Defending Our Freedom." She told the police officer who labeled her shirt a protest that he was “an idiot”. She was not arrested.

What are the rules governing House gallery visitors? I have just spent over an hour trying to find them, without any luck. The House web site includes this “Document describing how to visit the House Floor Gallery”, which is not helpful. The Rules and Regulations for the press galleries include a reference at Regulation 3 to the gallery visitors conforming to the “dress standards” for members of the House, but I have not been able to locate the actual dress standards.

If the standards are intended to encourage House members and guests to focus on the business at hand, without the distractions of “message” clothing and ornamentation, then all writing and symbols should be prohibited, including among others, peace pins, American flag pins, sports and business logos, and military and other uniforms. The rules should be clearly posted and explained to guests before they are allowed to enter the gallery.

House Rule XVII at subsection 7 contains an interesting prohibition, as follows: “During a session of the House, it shall not be in order for a Member ... to introduce to or to bring to the attention of the House an occupant in the galleries of the House. The Speaker may not entertain a request for the suspension of this rule by unanimous consent or otherwise.” Obviously this Rule does not apply to the President, since Bush, like Clinton and probably others before them, like to load the galleries with people to show off. This time Bush even included a dog.

The most horrendous House gallery incident occurred in 1954 when Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire from the gallery and wounded five Congressmen on the House floor. The most popular gallery of the 1950s though was the Peanut Gallery for the Howdy Doody Show.

Glorious Whitewashing

When I was contemplating retiring, I did a lot of reading and thinking about how people spend their time after they stop working for a living. I knew retirement would not put an end to unpaid work, even though it would make more time for play. There are always chore lists to accomplish, retired or not. In fact, one danger in retirement is that one has more time for chores. The need to balance work and play is still present, but with less time spent on paid work after retirement, the balance has to be adjusted.

As a kid I thought I knew that play was anything that you chose to do on your own, rather than something your parents or teachers made you do. This was the sentiment Mark Twain expressed in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, when Tom tricked all the boys into paying him to let them whitewash the fence [after the Negro Jim had cleverly avoided being taken in by the ruse]. Twain wrote, “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” Digging foxholes in the woods was work, but it enabled the army games we played, so I considered it play. Learning at school was work, but the satisfaction of gaining knowledge made it worthwhile, and occasionally a teacher managed to actually make the process seem like play. However, trimming the extensive lawn edges with hand shears in the days before weed whackers was always detested work, and my step-father was no Tom Sawyer.

One book on planning for retirement said the only difference between work and play is that you get paid for work. Another said they are opposites, with play being done for sheer pleasure. Neither is entirely correct. Work and play are not mutually exclusive. The Seahawks are going to be “playing” in the Super Bowl on Sunday, but being a professional football player is extremely hard work. And while a brain surgeon may enjoy operating, we would not say the doctor is “playing” surgery. True, athletes and entertainers play for our enjoyment, while doctors operate out of necessity, but I am looking at this from the point of view of the performer and operator, not the audience and patient.

The line between work and play is subjective. Some people enjoy doing the work for which they are paid, while others hate it. Some people enjoy pursuing hobbies that others consider drudgery. The line can change with time. Addictions start as pleasures but become burdens. Once pleasurable experiences can become ho-hum.

Like most kids, I wanted more time to play. Like most working adults, especially those with children, necessity struck the work/play balance for me. Five years into retirement, I am still adjusting. I try to plan some work and some play for every day. Necessity still brings chores, which to me are tasks which I would rather avoid, and as in childhood, I still want more time for play.

A week ago, I started working on this Sense piece about the difference between work and play. Mindful of some yard chores, I ended up outside taking care of them. Then a work project arose inside and I have been tending to that for the last few days. I would have preferred instead to have finished and posted this piece sooner, for though I call it work, writing for Sense is more like play for me. I write Sense for pleasure, not money or obligation.

Be patient with young children, play is an important element in their learning to be adults. Recognizing that work is an adult necessity, try to find work you enjoy, but don’t seek all your enjoyment at work. Respect retirement as a reward.