Sunday, October 04, 2015

2015 Italy Trip, Day One – Lugano, Switzerland

Upon clearing customs at Milan’s Malpensa airport Evie and I boarded a comfortable 22 passenger bus for a 50 minute ride to Lugano, a town of 63,500 in the Italian speaking area of Switzerland. This is not a town with numerous buildings that are more than 200 years old. It is very modern looking town. 

To maximize our one night stay we paid a little more to have a room with a balcony at the Walter au Lac overlooking the lake and the mountains and small towns on the far side. After having a quick lunch we boarded a boat for a relaxing two hour sightseeing cruise of Lake Lugano. If you visit Lugano, though the extra costs of a dinner cruise of the lake may or may not be worthwhile, a two hour cruise is most worthwhile and relaxing.

We would stay at this hotel again...wonderful view of the lake and mountains, a friendly staff, easy to find and get to from the train station, and it is centrally located.  

The Walter au Lac is not only situated overlooking the lake but it is on the edge of the downtown shopping and restaurant district with its picturesque narrow streets. With a local street festival celebrating the harvest starting that night, rather than eating at in a restaurant we enjoyed wondering around listening to the local music and eating various local food items we bought from various street vendors. One of the things that we enjoy doing as we travel is mingling with locals and seeing/participating in some local life and customs. The street festival was just of that order. The balk of tourists had left, and the locals were out to relax and celebrate life.

Lake Lugano is ringed with small picturesque towns hugging the mountain sides at the water’s edge. The town of Lugano is situated in an area of the flattest land in the north central portion of the lake. You would not identify palm trees with Switzerland but along the lake’s shore in Lugano are palm trees and a a handful of other tropical plants. The town of Lugano has a warm micro-climate…on average they only get three days of snow…that make it possible for tropical plants to be sustained along the lake.

Along the water’s edge just two minutes walk south from our hotel we came across a little monument to George Washington. I don’t know why it is there or its history, but it was a nice little find.

While Lugano is a picturesque town it does not have the “wow” factor as some of the other towns further to the north in the heart of Switzerland. That said, it was a lovely place for us to pause, to engage in some low energy activities and then get to bed early to recover from being awake, other than a handful of 30 to 50 minute naps on the airplane, for 31 hours. Though Lugano would not be on the top of my list to revisit, I suspect that we would likely pass through it again on future travels as we travel north from northern Italy towards the western side of northern Europe.  

Though we were exhausted the night before, we both found ourselves up as the first light shot over the mountains to the east. Spending the first minutes of Saturday morning sitting on the balcony watching the light spread across the lake was a wonderful way to set the stage for the new day. I lost track of time sitting at the table, looking over the quiet lake.

Before heading to breakfast at the Walter au Lac’s restaurant we spend half hour walking along the shore and exploring the town's shopping district in daylight. As we strolled along we quietly observed the architectural styles of the buildings and did some window shopping. After breakfast in the restaurant overlooking the lake, we headed off to catch a train to Milan where we transferred to a train bound for Parma and the first town that we have shortlisted as a potential retirement home base.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Lunchtime Incident

On her way to get lunch a woman followed about twenty feet behind a man who she recognized from the firm below hers. They were both going towards the same fast food restaurant three blocks from her office.  Ten feet from the fast food entrance sat quietly a poorly attired and unshaven man. At the corner of the sheet of cardboard upon which he sat was an old plastic cup with a few coins and a dollar bill in it. The man paused, nodded and spoke briefly to the homeless gentleman.


Entering the restaurant several steps ahead of her, seeing that the line was a little long he positioned himself about four feet immediately behind the lady last in line. He evidently was positioning himself in line without blocking people pass through to the condiments and drinks. She nodded and moved to stand behind him. Seconds later two other people came into line behind her making the second line of four people. While standing in line she looked out the window to see two forty-something men hurrying along the street. One of the men briefly looked down towards the disheveled man sitting on the street and then shakes his head while saying something to his friend.


As they entered the restaurant the two men glanced at one then the other line. At that moment the line moves forward. When the man in front of the second line does not immediately move across the gap to join the other line, one of the two men steps up to the end of the first line.  Then the second steps up behind his friend.


The woman notices the messages on the two T-shirt the men were wearing. The one simply says across the front and back, “Jesus is the answer. Follow Him.” The line moves forward a couple steps and she along with the man in front of her move into the first line. As she does so she hears the man whose message reads “Join me at YYY Church and have your life transformed,” say to his friend how it is a shame the authorities allow the homeless to camp on the street. His friend replies that he agrees and that he hates seeing the homeless hanging around the business district.


When the line moves forward again the businessman and the woman move forward too. In an expressionless tone man with the “Join me” shirt says to the businessman, “I’m sorry we cut in line.”


The gentleman quietly nods, “I’m an atheist who learned long ago not to take offense over such courtesies. I’m willing to give way to Christians who are in a rush.”


While for that response the atheist received glares from both men with the one Christian saying to the other, “You apologized. And what did it get you?  It’s another example of how the world is increasingly becoming hostile to those who are seeking to live and witness for Christ.”


Moments later stepping up to counter the business ordered two meals. As he was filling the two drinks, the woman quietly says, “Thank you for what you said. We’re not all like them.”


Exiting the restaurant with her meal in hand, the woman noticed one of the two fellow Christians placing a religious tract into the homeless man’s cup while saying, “Jesus will saves you. Turn to Jesus and he will meet your need.”


Coming to the man she places a few coins into the cup. The man from her building is just a few strides behind her stops, extends his arm saying, “This drink and meal is for you.”  


What she witnessed at lunch gave her pause so much so that that night the woman said to her husband, “Today I saw the story of the Good Samaritan lived out before me.”


When she finished describing what took place her seminary professor husband took off his glasses, and replied with sadness, “What troubles me the most about your story is that too many of us who claim the Lordship of Christ would say that it was the two men who were harmed and were Christ-like rather than agree that the atheist behaved more like Jesus.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Can Smoking in Your Car Get You Arrested for Assult?

The video of a 28-year old woman involved in a traffic stop in Texas has been released. The video was released because days later Sandra Bland, the woman in the video died in police custody. The trooper in the video was not the direct cause of Ms. Bland’s death in the sense that he did not cause any injury that lead to her death. That said, the stop and the resulting escalating actions of both parties which led to her arrested for “assaulting a police officer” needs to be of concern.  


The State Trooper followed her for about a block or two before. Later in the video she says something to indicate that she changed lanes to allow the trooper to pass, which is something most drivers do for who wants to have a state trooper or other law enforcement cars on their tail. And who of us though going the speed limit wonder with a degree of nervousness if the following officer is watching you for you to make a violation. Evidence of this nervousness is demonstrated by when a police officer is traveling in the traffic flow and how nearly everyone around a police vehicle suddenly goes 3 to 5 mph below the police officer’s pace (on I-66 several weeks ago in a 70 speed limit zone a state trooper was going 62 and everyone followed along without passing. Once one brave soul slowly passed others did the same.)


As Bland did not signal her lane change, the trooper pulled her over. He ran her plates and license, and then issued her a warning. Things should have ended at that point but unfortunately it didn’t. Rather than recognizing that many citizens have some level of nervousness when pulled over, the trooper asked Ms. Bland to explain why she appeared to be nervous. Ms. Bland responded tersely in a tone and verbage that caused the trooper to push further, and to a request that she put out the cigarette she was smoking in her car. The request indicates that the trooper had at that moment intention to make the conversation something much longer, and possibly use her nervousness as the grounds to do a thorough search of her car.


Why Ms. Bland responded in a negative tone is unknown for she is no longer in a position to explain herself. While race is not likely an issue behind the trooper’s action, racial issues may well be at play in Ms. Bland’s response. As an African American she may be wondering if the trooper stopped her because of her race rather than not signaling a lane change, after all from her perspective not signaling lane changes and being stopped is a rarity. Given race is at play in some policing actions I can understand her defensive and terse response. So while the stop likely had nothing to do with race, from Ms. Bland’s perspective race issues is involved for she starts from a position of distrusting the trooper's actions.

Rather than deescalating the encounter, the trooper pushes back. It appears that he feels personally and professionally threatened. His ego and authority has been insulted. So he pushes back. 

When Bland refuses to put out the cigarette, things turn ugly. Both parties have lost control of their emotions. Bland insults the trooper. He becomes more demanding, exercising his authority, makes a demand that virtually calls for her to submit totally to his commands. He demands that she exit the vehicle, she refuses saying he has no right to make such a demand (police officers have such a right). Why does he demand that she exit the car other than to demonstrate his authority over her?  The officer pulls a stun gun threatening to “light her up”, a clear sign that he has lost it. He puts the stun gun away as he likely realized that he was about to go way beyond the pale, and catches his unchecked emotions. He may collect his thoughts, and decides that he no longer can allow her to challenge his authority. He then proceeds to pull her from the vehicle.

All control has been lost by both parties. Reinforcements have long been called. Language continues to become stronger. He proceeds to positioning her to be handcuffed. Force increases until she is handcuffed, taken to the ground and then placed into a second officer’s vehicle.            



This whole video is highly disturbing. In sales the saying goes, the client is always right even when the client is wrong. It is critical that every citizen in the United States must take into account and always remember the equivalent axiom....when dealing with law enforcement in any encounter during a stop or involving any policing action, the police officer is always right even when the officer is wrong or doing something unlawful.


Another alarm for me is that Bland was arrested for both “assault” and “resisting arrest.” Yes, she did assault the trooper and then resisted arrest. But when did the offending assault occur? Later in the video, off camera and after the arrest process had commenced. When did the arrest process commence? If the arrest was for her kicking and pushing back at the officer off camera then the arrest process started prior to the assault.

Arrest processes are to be subsequent to the violation that calls for an arrest. When did the arrest process commence? The arrest starts the moment she is pulled from the vehicle. If the arrest occurs earlier for an action that had yet to occur, that would be most disturbing.

If the assault is her pulling back or trying to move away from his, then that as a definition of assault is also most disturbing. It means that the act of moving away from an officer, a step or leaning away, is taken by law enforcement as an assault. If so what is the difference between "resisting" and "assault"? A citizen flinching and touching an officer as s/he arrests that citizen can be demeaned an assault, and if so the most arrests by their very nature can take place without the officer being assaulted in some manner which is outrageous.

If the assault moment is earlier, and does not involve her leaning away from him or touching him as he pulls her from the car, then the only thing that happens prior to the demand to exit the car is her smoking.

When she refuses to extinguish her cigarette seems to be a critical moment where the encounter escalates out of control. Was her not putting out the cigarette the “assault” that becomes the grounds for her arrest? I would love to see the initial paperwork that describes the assault. 

I’m not a smoker and don’t care to be in a smoking environment. While I’m bothered by smoking I must recognize that it is legal to smoke and one has the right do smoke in their own environment, and Ms. Bland’s car is her environment. She has the right to smoke in her car as much as she wishes to do so. Inside her car is no different than being in her home. No one has the right to demand that a smoker stop smoking within their personal and private property.

Still further smokers have the right to smoke in an exterior public space such as a street. They can smoke walking down the street. Ms. Bland was in the public space of the street. The trooper can request her to put out the cigarette out of courtesy, but as she refuses, she cannot be penalized as she doing so in legally permissible space. The trooper clearly looses it when she refuses to be gracious to him and sees it as her refusal to submit to his authority. His credibility being on the line, he demands her to exit the car. 


Setting aside the assault moment, the trooper’s actions which at the outset are professional turn to the contrary. Law enforcement officers should seek to deescalate situations like this one, not escalate them. He is the one who is in the best position to control the situation. He could have accepted her nervousness as being common and allowed her to move on. He could accept her insults as being angry venting, wished her a good day and calmly returned to his car, thereby controlling the event, keeping it professional and demonstrating his ability to be a "peace officer". At no point is the trooper in the "peace officer" mode. He is the law. He is to be respected and when he is not given the respect he believes he is due, then he pushes back asserts his authority, resulting in an escalation, and an arrest.

It appears to me he felt threatened by her insults, that he felt the need to exercise his authority and position as the upholder of the law, and put her in her place. In the process he only added fuel to the growing bonfire of distrust the public has with law enforcement. He may well of been wanting to be respected, but only ended up bringing disrespect upon himself and thousands of innocent officers who too will be tarred by his feathers. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Surveyed About Republican Presidential Candidates

Last week I was surveyed by the National Republican Party. I found the survey interesting for asking for demographic information and party affiliation (independent) I was asked two questions about Hilary Clinton. No question was asked about other Democrat candidates. Both questions on Clinton related to my views as to her trustworthiness which suggests that they expect her to be the nominee and the the current planned primary focus for their attack ads.  


The survey than asked me to rank various current and anticipated Republican candidates on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being "most definitely would support" and 10 being "most definitely would not support".


The following were all given a 10, most definitely would not support score…Cruz, Christie, Trump, Carson,  Fiorino, Graham, Huckabee, Jindal, Perry, Santorum, Walker.


I also found it interesting that I was then asked why I ranked each of the above so poorly. Below was my response:


Jindal....a ideologue who has governed his own state poorly leaving his state in economic shambles. If he has brought harm to his state how can I trust him with a national office.


Trump....I seem him as a self-promoting egotist who is serving as the comic relief, and who is exposing the depth of the ugly side of the Republican base.


Walker....his ethics are of the level Tricky Dick. A golden tongued divider who says whatever needs to be said to appeal to the crowd of the moment which has resulted in a plethora of statements on different sides of an issue. He has a history of discrepancies between what he says in campaigns to win votes and how he governs. His state which has often outperformed in the region has underperformed in the region. I do not trust him.


Cruz....he is an aggressive divisive candidate who reminds me in many ways of Senator Joe McCathy. Many of his ideas and statements suggests that he is a Christian equivalent of a Khomeini-like character who with enough like-minded people in Congress would turn a secular religiously neutral nation into a evangelical Christian nation.


Christie....he comes across as belligerent, demeaning and dismissive...not characteristics needed for a major leader on the national level. He has a history of signing agreements but soon after breaking them while claiming circumstances have now changed. For me he is not trustworthy.


Carson and Fiorino...neither has experience in governing and working around government. It seems that they are in the race to promote their way into a higher profile position (cabinet or ambassador) or as an entry onto the lucrative conservative speaker circuit.


Huckabee....a talented speaker with well crafted soundbites that lack balanced thoughtful policy content. I disagree with his rewriting/interpretation of history.


Perry....repackaging and years posturing does not cover a deeply flawed and shallow candidate.


Santorum....too far out of the mainstream of the nation. He rightly lost to Romney....he is even in a poorer position 4 yrs later.


Graham...too narrow focused with highly hawkish views regarding gunboat diplomacy.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

US Supreme Court Ruling - Gay Marriage, Part 2

Note...The first was part posted on July 14, 2015.

For various reasons church goers are rip victims for spreading rumors and false stories. One example is a recent thread that emerged immediately after the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriages. The stories revolve around clergy are being sued for refusing to perform gay marriages. Others suggest that hundreds or even thousands of such lawsuits will soon be forthcoming. The “gays” are out to destroy the church so some reactionaries have claimed.

Prior to the United States Supreme Court’s ruling granting gay marriage, any clergy acting as a religious official and place of worship could decline to marry anyone for whatever reason. Since the founding of the nation religious officials have had the right not to conduct a wedding of people who are not of that particular faith. Clergy still have that same right today. They could refuse to marry members who the minister feels one or both parties do not uphold a standard of faith that religious community and minister expect in the lives who that church marries. Clergy have that same right today.

A minister could and still can refuse to marry interfaith marriages. A minister could and still has the right to refuse to marry a couple who have not gone through premarital classes, or who as a result of those classes the minister feels are not compatible, or who in the mind of the minister are getting married for a wrong reason or that they are not “ready” to be married.

A Jewish rabbi has never been required to marry a Christian couple, and still can refuse doing so today. An Amish minister still has the right to refuse to marry the most godly young Methodist couple you know just because they are not Amish. The court ruling has not changed a thing, including a minister refusing to marry a gay couple. No church last year could be forced by law to allow its sanctuary and building a Buddhist wedding. The same holds true today. A church can still only permit weddings in its sanctuary that are conducted, assisted or sanctioned by its clergy conducts.

While rational calm religious leaders recognize the above, conservative political leaders (including church leadership who are highly politically engaged) have proposed “religious exemption” clauses to protect clergy, a protection that already exists. Stories of lawsuits are becoming rampant, and at times promoted by religious and political leaders, does not speak well for the state of the church.  

Some politicians and religious leaders are seeking to apply the argument of “religious liberty” and “freedom of conscience” to include people who are outside church related positions who may have a moral or religious objection to providing in some manner services to any person or couple who is living in a manner to which the service provider has an objection. The various legislations of objection are being drafted to encompass government officials, businesses and private individuals.

I find the “religious liberty” position most perplexing. It seems that these individuals are ultimately arguing against laws that serve to protect the faith community as a whole, including conservative Christians. They are seeking to dismantle safeguards that protect their freedom of worship and belief. The very laws that require a Christian who is to serve all citizens as a county clerk by issuing wedding licenses to all legally eligible applicants is the same law which protects that clerk’s spouse, son or daughter from being refused a position at a business based upon the clerk’s spouse’s or offspring’s religious beliefs.

If the clerk or a retail employee has the “religious right” to decline service to gay couple, or a Muslim, then it stands to reason that a private business owner then has the right to enquire into the religious beliefs of a potential employee during the hiring process (which is not currently permitted by federal and state laws). The employer would want to enquire into the belief system of all applicants so as to ensure that that those who are hired will not withhold services to particular clients.

If a business owner does not want to turn away business from people who are gay or Muslim or Buddhist or atheists will want to ensure that each employee’s views will help ensure that they will provide gracious service to such individuals. Hence, in the years to come a person may well feel uncomfortable in hiring conservative Christians who may well not feel comfortable serving such individuals the business serves.

Would the “religious exemption” create the ground for a school administrator to refuse to hire a Christian teacher whose church is against gay marriage because the teacher will have in the upcoming year a student or two who have two dads or two moms? Is it not possible that under “religious exemption” that the school’s administration could claim that the school could not risk the teacher’s beliefs and feelings about gay marriages and families (or other religions) being reflecting in the teacher’s dealings with the student and the student’s parents.  

The constitutional liberties which allow artists to create nude paintings or sculptures guarantee that Christians can stand on a street corner evangelizing. The same public accommodation laws that ensure service to all without discrimination ensures that I will not be turned away from a place of service because the proprietor’s beliefs conflict with mine.

Over the last three decades surveys continually indicate Christians as a whole, as well as practicing conservative Christians, are a diminishing segment in our society. The protections which that will safeguard a Christian minority from discrimination in public accommodation as well as their worship protects Jews, Muslims, atheists, gays and others who are minorities from undue discrimination. 

Christians need to give pause to making legislative changes which ultimately protects their freedoms.