Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Legalism vs. Spirit of the Law

In recent days in Harrisonburg Virginia, Steven Blatt, a lawyer, served a writ of mandamus on a local school board member, Dany Fleming, seeking Mr. Fleming’s removal from the school board as Mr. Fleming’s house is on the wrong side of town. While the writ and the controversy will not have earth shaking or ongoing effects on either national or even local policies or politics, it does reflect how Americans tend to think politically, the boxes we construct and to which we hold even when the box does not fit the situation.  

The Harrisonburg School Board has six elected officials and all members are elected by the whole city. Two seats are aside for the west side the city with the remaining four designated for the more populous east side. Presumably the division in this manner was established to help ensure that families on both sides of the city have a voice in Board decisions. It is a reasonable division to ensure that the more populous east side does control the whole Board.


Rather than defining the dividing line between west and east by the elementary school to which your address and neighbor’s is associated, it is defined by which side of a particular street your house is situated…in this case Main Street. As we know, to achieve population balance as well as to make maximum use of physical resources, which families/streets are assigned to which school change over the years. And that is the rub of the situation as Mr. Fleming’s house is on the wrong side of the street by several blocks.

When he registered to run, the registrar told him to register to run for one of the west side seats as that is where his children and neighborhood went to school. So he ran in good faith, and has been serving in good faith until Blatt for whatever reason takes issue. 


Mr. Fleming should be lauded for wanting to serve on the Board, to be invested in what is happening in the school which his children attend, to participate on the Board and wrestle with issues which impact his family, those who live in his immediate neighborhood and the families that attend the east side school which his children attend. Mr. Blatt’s position is that due to his address Mr. Fleming should not represent those views even though he is invested in the east side schools. Mr. Blatt’s position is that Mr. Fleming should have run for a west side position, thereby represent parents who are not his neighbors and who are not the parents of the students with whom his children associate every school day.


I cannot speak to Mr. Blatt’s motivation, whether he or a friend of his wants to fill the vacancy, or if he did not like a vote Mr. Fleming took, or Mr. Blatt simply wants the letter, not the spirit, of the divide upheld. I hope that it is not the former, and really hope it is not the second option which is very petty. And if it is the last noted, then the legalist position undermines the intention and spirit of why the divide was likely created in the code in the first place. Blatt’s position upholds the letter of the law while diminishing the intent and purpose of the divide. Blatt's view means that citizens whose children go to a school on the other side of the dividing line have less of an opportunity to participate in civic life than other parents whose children don’t go to a school across the divide.

In some respects Blatt’s position represents in a microcosm on one issue the dynamics of what is making the American political system increasingly dysfunctional.  


Unfortunately, the School Board’s response was to pass a motion to solve the issue by asking the City Council to do away with the east-west divide in the next election. The Board’s response is wrong headed as it means that one day the east side residents may well have all six positions on the School Board.


I support the rationale for the divide. What is wrong is not that there is a dividing line but how the dividing line is defined. The definition should be determined by which elementary school is associated with one's address. Why the elementary school…because there is only one high school for the whole city. Using the elementary school is a simple solution which allows a person to represent one’s immediate neighborhood and the parents of the children who attend the school your children attend.

The political leaders of Harrisonburg, as well as at the State and Federal levels, need to seek for reasoned and sensible solutions. Firm adherence to ideology destroys more than it builds, has brought about far more religious, civil wars and national conflicts than such dogmatism has brought about civility and peace.  We live in a dynamic society that evolves and changes. The laws, regulations and codes are not infallible…unfortunately our lower nature pulls us to become legalistic and act as if our views and dogma were flawless or divine writ.

We, our fellow citizens and our leaders must beyond legalism to recognize that sometimes a law, regulation and code can get out of keeping with its initial rationale. And when such awareness dawns, thoughtful reasonable changes need to occur, or reasonable exceptions granted. In  the Fleming matter, the legalistic position is wrongheaded. The Board’s response is equally wrongheaded and doesn’t support the rationale for the divide. I hope the City Council responds more wisely than both Blatt's supporters and the School Board. I hope that they will cease using a street as the divide and move to using what elementary school is associated with one's address.

I suspect many people will swiftly jump on the legalist position. I suspect that a number will support the Board's recommendation too. Both would be unfortunate. I also suspect that within the week Fleming will resign, a resignation that the legalists would interpret as justifying the righteousness of their cause when such righteousness doesn't exist. I also fear three things will occur after Fleming's resignation, a) the true political issue driving the writ will become evidenced by his replacement, b) that the City Council will drop the matter and not correct a flawed dividing line, and c) that Fleming will not again become involved in civic life. All three would be a tragedy, particularly the last two.


Monday, February 23, 2015

The Tail That Wags the Dog

Last week Washington’s NFL team announced that its starting quarterback for the 2015 season will be Robert Griffin III. The announcement is not only curious but downright puzzling. There is no question as to the starter if we were talking about long proven quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Payton Manning or Drew Breeze. Or if the quarterback and the team had a good season it would be assumed Griffin would be the starter unless beaten out during training camp by an understudy, a drafted quarterback or a signed free agent. While Griffin entered the league with great promise with high expectations upon his shoulder, after a solid rookie year, Griffin is nowhere close to being a proven NFL quarterback.

During his rookie year he relied upon his scrambling abilities to get himself out of trouble again and again, and help generate wins. Once teams analyzed and adjusted to Griffin he started to struggle. Then when he got injured, the plan was to have him become a drop-back pocket quarterback like Brady, Manning and Breeze, and with some of Breeze’s ability to run out of trouble when necessary.

 I’m not a football expert but even I know that a quarterback is doomed in the NFL when that quarterback relies upon his own running abilities. In the NFL successful pocket quarterbacks not only need a good accurate passing arm, they must have the ability to in a split second read defenses and adjust to take advance of a different set of opportunities. While Griffin has great arm strength with above average accuracy, even I can see that his ability to read defenses, swiftly adjust and audible well into a new play is well underdeveloped.  He seems to have difficulty adjusting the NFL’s pace and the complexity of their defenses.


Some absolve Griffin by pointing to the offensive line or a poor receiver corps as the source of Washington’s struggles. In his second and third year, that was my perception too. I thought, “if only he had a stronger O-line and two strong receivers, he will become a solid quarterback” as expected coming out of college. Yes the O-line was and is not in the top half of the league but I’ve come to realize that that is not the heart of Griffin’s issues for a skilled quarterback who can make reads, adjust and quickly find receivers helps his O-line and receivers look stronger. With the same O-line and receivers playing, they seemed to look stronger when McCoy was the QB for a few games this past season.

At the end of the season seeing that no quarterback was performing much stronger than the other Gruden rightly noted that the starting quarterback position would be determined during training camp. And this is the way it should be when no quarterback has clearly outperformed.


Yet suddenly, without a snap and with training camp nearly six months away, Washington suddenly announces that underperforming Griffin is the starter. What gives? What gives is that the owner, Dan Snyder is again undercutting his coaching staff. Since arriving in Washington Griffin has had and continues to have access to the owner unlike any other player on the team. It has been reported on numerous occasions that Griffin has gone to Snyder, put forth his complaints and how he things should run which has resulted in Griffin’s plan superseding the coaching staff’s plans. No player should have such access and voice in running of the team, but Snyder has given Griffin such power…and that is part of Washington’s problems.

Griffin has chafed under both Shanahan and Gruden’s coaching. Griffin has disagreed again and again with his coaches. He feels he knows better than the coaching staff what is best for him and the team. During Shanahan’s tenure as coach, with Snyder’s knowledge and support, Griffin called for a meeting with the head coach and offensive coaching staff during which he stood at a white board listing off a long list of plays Griffin refused to run, calling them “unacceptable.” With Snyder accepting Griffin’s plan and feeling no support from the owner, no wonder Shanahan was looking forward to getting out of Washington, being fired, and taking Snyder’s money for the next several years.

When Gruden stated that the starting quarterback would be decided in training camp, Griffin was upset, which he openly expressed on ESPN and to Snyder that the lack of “organizational support” was the real issue. He noted that support is what makes a QB successful, not QB mechanics, not judgment, not intelligence, nor hours upon hours of film study and self-sacrificial leadership. According to Griffin, his failure was due to lack of commitment and support from the owner and coaches. His frail ego could not accept that he had to compete and win the position.

With millions being paid out annually, and to keep his “star” happy, Snyder had the team make the announcement; Griffin was going to be the QB. There will be no competition for the position. Griffin got his unconditional commitment from the owner. No matter what McCoy, Cousins, or some other QB in camp, may do, they cannot become the starter unless Griffin becomes injured. And what did Washington’s fans get?

An owner who by the consequences of his actions that is giving the fans team that will continue to fight hard to remain near 500. Snyder reminds me of what happened when George Steinbrenner took over ownership of the New York Yankees. The Yankees were a strong team, but ten years later they were struggling mainly because of how Steinbrenner kept medaling with the team.

Steinbrenner as a practical businessman came to the conclusion that he should not get involved in the day to day management and personnel issues of the team. When he let the team to the managers and coaches run their plans, the Yankees moved back towards being contenders year after year. Will Snyder change like Steinbrenner? Maybe, but it will not be soon.

Besides an interfering owner and mediocrity, what else did the Washington fans get? They got a real life ongoing soup opera playing out before them, albeit a costly one. The team will still have an untrained quarterback who is not teachable, overconfident and believes he knows more than the coaching staff. With coaches undermined the cycle the fans will have the firing of Gruden in a year or two. Regretfully with some of priciest tickets in the NFL fans will continue to fill the stadium as they dream that the glory days of yesteryear may soon return all the while filling the owner’s pockets with their money.

In short, the fans have a tail that is wagging the dog.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Vaccination Dust-up

Following an outbreak of measles traced back to visits to Disneyland and then comments made by President Obama encouraging parents to vaccinate their children a flash controversy erupted. Over the last decade a growing number of parents are refusing to vaccinate their children against long conquered diseases.


The controversy increased further following by comments made pending GOP presidential contenders Senator Rand Paul and Governor Chris Christy a flash controversy has erupted over vaccinations of children. While neither gentleman said parents should not vaccinate their children, libertarian Paul said such vaccinations should not be mandatory. His view should not be a surprise for his consistent libertarian position is that government, particularly the federal government should not mandate personal conduct. As Christy more or less stated that the government should stay out of such affairs, that childhood vaccinations should be a matter left to parents. He implied that such vaccinations are not important, and that there is ground for concern and no vaccinations should not be required by government agencies, including schools. It appears to me that Christy’s comments were more off the cuff and a poor effort to pander to what he thought the Republican base wanted to hear. As a result Christy’s aid had to clarify what their boss really meant and to walk back some of what seemed to be implied in his position.


Christy was wrong about what the republican base believes on the matter. Polls indicate (http://onpolitics.usatoday.com/2015/02/03/vaccines-measles-poll-politics/) that one’s views is not linked to one’s political views as they are to one’s age. The older the person, the more likely they will see both the value in vaccinations and feel that vaccinations should be a requirement. Why is it more linked to age than one’s political tendencies? Two reasons, the first being the younger generation is more linked into the internet and the various “experts” and “stories” claiming that vaccinations are not safe and if parents vaccinate their child they are increasing the risk that their child will develop autism and other emotional maladies. While Rand Paul was unable to cite a credible incident his comments indicate that such is the case.


The second reason is that the younger generation have not experience with the a range of diseases. Those who are now 55 and older were the first generations to receive the vaccinations that eliminated diseases the quarantine families from the rest of the community. My parents’ generation well recall polio hospitals and how polio crippled people they knew. I still recall parental concerns and fear over how damaging rubella, typhoid, measles, the mumps, etc. could be upon their children. My children don’t fear those long conquered diseases. For then diseases are just names, not experiences encountered first hand or by observation.


My wife and I vaccinated our boys. Why? Because it is safe and we had some experiences with some of these diseases and had heard stories from our parents and grandparents about the diseases. Given their lack of experience, my children are susceptible to arguments against vaccinations that Evie and I view as both fallacious. I support the mandatory requirement as one's personal freedom has limits and required vaccinations to keep these dreaded diseases conquered is a reasonable expectation. Given the lack of experience, the number of unvaccinated children may well grow, and at some distant point, possibly 30-45 years from now, there will be sudden decline in unvaccinated children following a rash of wider spread and more frequent outbreaks of these ancient diseases.   


As an aside, I’m was really disturbed by a handful of politicians who have blamed the recent outbreak upon illegal aliens and their children saying they brought the disease into the country. What I find most interesting is that vaccination rate in the countries from which are pointing have a higher vaccination rate than the United States. The thought provoking and insightful Richard Cohen wrote, “Anti-Semitism does not need a reason. It only needs an excuse.” Racism only needs an excuse for it to pour forth in comment and deeds.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Does A Poetic Phrase Negate the Work of Jesus on the Cross?

This evening I heard a Christian minister proclaim on the radio that in the Garden of Eden, Satan’s attacked on Eve went “to her need for security, significance and strength.” Evidently it is part of the basis for his book and the phrase rolls off the tongue and who doesn’t have a need for security, significance and strength.


Do you resonate with the statement and agree with him?


In that statement in question the speaker claims that Eve was felt insecure, insignificant and threatened in some manner by the created order around her. When she yielded to the temptation Eve was seeking to satisfy those needs, those deficiencies in her nature that were designed into her by God.


The implication of the speaker’s theology is that the crux of Eve’s decision was much more than a moment of decision, to obey or disobey God. At that moment Satan is attacking those deficiencies, those flaws God designed into her, or could not remove from the design. In other words, Eve had designed into her some elements of a poor self-esteem.  The speaker by saying that humanity and the created order was not perfect, but flawed. He thereby stands against how the church has understood Eve, Adam and the initial basis of disobedience.


This position has implication for how the Garden of Gethsemane is then to be understood and salvation of humanity.


It means that in Gethsemane what transpired there was more than Jesus, a perfect human being, wrestling with a decision to obey or not obey God the Father. The church has held for two millennia that just like Eve and Adam Jesus too was truly human and perfect. The church has maintained that Jesus as the perfect man was faced with the temptation and a decision to obey or disobey, but that unlike Adam and Eve who disobeyed, Jesus obeyed knowing full well what was ahead. The church argues that Jesus as the perfect obedient human going to the cross therefore saved humanity, from the consequences of the Fall. But if Adam and Eve were not perfect humans, the basis of salvation and message of hope is unraveled.


Therefore the speaker’s statement about Eve means:

  • That both Eve and Adam were defective by design, and as they were defective, the created order was not perfect.
  • That Adam and Eve fell because they were not perfect. They were bound to sin because they were not perfect.
  • That Jesus was perfect, unlike Adam and Eve.
  • That Jesus did not sin because unlike Eve and Adam he was perfect.
  • That Jesus was not like Adam and Eve, he was “human plus” and that this extra element helped Jesus not to sin. An argument then could be made that Jesus could not have truly yielded and if that were true he was not truly tempted.
  • That if a “human plus” Jesus saved humanity, then the church’s theological argument of the last two millennium that only a perfect obedient human, the man Jesus could truly redeemed humanity for like Adam and Eve, Jesus was perfect human in every way. Like them Jesus was truly tempted and could have disobeyed, but he did not sin for he obeyed God. The church has maintained since its founding that if Jesus was not like Adam and Eve, that if he was a human plus and if Jesus did not face the same temptation and could not have truly disobeyed then humanity was not saved.   


Clergy, regardless of the denomination, must be cautious in crafting nice sounding statements for a book or a sermon so that poetic beauty doesn't undermine church dogma. This is particularly true regarding Adam and Eve, for how they are handled could readily result in impacting the work and nature of Jesus and even negating the basis of salvation through Jesus.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ebola, AIDS and False Prophets

On the evening of November 14th I heard a radio personality, state the following,


“I just read that another medical doctor is being flown to Nebraska to be treated for Ebola. Why are all these medical personnel coming down with this thing if it is so hard to contract as the government tells us. You have to be intimate to contract this thing, so we’re being told. Why don’t doctors and nurses come down from AIDS? When did you last hear of medical personnel coming down with AIDS while treating a person with AIDS? Don’t you think that doctors and nurses know how to protect themselves? So if they are catching Ebola, what does that say about the decease and what we are being told? I don’t know. Just asking, that’s all!”


Before I left the show, while he did not explicitly say it, he implied that Ebola is a highly contagious airborne virus that being in the proximity of someone with Ebola was sufficient to infect those around the person with Ebola. I was stunned. Had he really read up on the decease and transmission issues from knowledgeable experts? If he were to claim that he has read about the decease then the readings he has accepted as being informed and valid are those produced by either the uniformed speculators or by those who twist reality for political reason. As many “social and political” commentators are more entertainers than anything else, I wondered that night, if he had shut down his critical thinking capacity for provocative tabloid like entertainment?


Since, what happens if I accept at face value his claim to be a critical thinker searching for truth regardless of where that truth rests. If I did that I find myself concluding that regardless of his posturing and pontificating that he is willing to set aside facts for pandering and ratings purposes, thereby pushing hot button issues while playing upon the ignorance and fears of his listeners. Masking his language in seeking truth and informing his listeners, would he not be the modern version of the traveling tonic salesman of yesteryear? Just asking and wondering!


I’m enraged by his implication that we are being told Ebola is primarily a sexually transmitted decease and that the government is lying to the public when it is an airborne virus that is easily caught by being in the proximity of a person with Ebola. I’ve never heard or read from an informed source that like HIV Ebola is a decease primarily caught through sexual activity. Yes, Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids, and during sexual activity bodily fluids are involved, but that does not equate to Ebola being a decease that is primarily transmitted by sexual activity.  Can a severe flu be caught during sexually activity? Yet is can, but when was the last time you were driven to sexual activity when you had a high fever, experiencing chills and sweats, experiencing diarrhea, body aches and severely vomiting?  If you have, then you must have one of the strongest libidos in your community. Add into the mixture that  Ebola it zaps them of energy. While theoretically a person with Ebola could have sex, functionally it is highly unlikely.


This radio entertainer is about my age, and as such he was in his early adult years when AIDS emerged as a disease that entered our collected consciousness. Back then there was much misinformation and fear about those infected with the HIV virus. There were people who feared that being in the same room with a person with HIV let alone touching the person put them at high risk of becoming infected with the virus. Unfortunately rather than helping to inform the public, some political, religious and media leaders in the 1980s who had a megaphone used their megaphone to play upon the fears of the public and advance their personal and/or political agenda. Today it is evident that the pandering, prejudices and misinformation of these alarmist false prophets of yesteryear made it difficult for both medical community and informed civic leaders to educate the general public about AIDS and HIV how it was and was not transmitted. Today most of us are exposed several times a year to people who are HIV positive without any of us becoming infected. Since the 1980s we have become more balanced in our views and any shrill of a comment brings more discuss than a following.

Today we have a fresh crop of false prophets and uniformed alarmists. Included in that group I would include civic leaders who during an election cycle used Ebola to score points and enflame fears to help secure more votes for themselves. Do you wonder like me why so many of our elected leaders who spoke frequently about do this and than to shield America from Ebola, and who spoke of it as something that is going to devastate America have said nothing in the last two weeks. The election and their silence speaks volumes. And if they do such things on this issue, then how can I ever trust them on other issues?  


The gentleman I heard the other night with his megaphone into several hundreds of thousands of ears is not helping. Is he not akin to the false prophets of the prior years who make matters worse?


Medical personnel are the greatest at risk because they are the ones who are exposed to the sweat, vomit, diarrhea and the other bodily fluids flowing out of the Ebola infected patient. It is those fluids that transmit Ebola. It is those fluids that are covering their protective garments, garments which have to be carefully put on, removed and disposed least the skin of the medical worker becomes exposed to bodily fluid of an Ebola patient and thereby infect the caregiver.


Why are so many in the three African nations in question coming down with Ebola? Simply put, there issues there are cultural and economic issues at work against them, issues that the average westerner has difficulty grasping … a extremely poorly staffed and equipped health care system, a rudimentary sanitary system and absolute squalor, and a cultural that puts high importance upon the family caring for a person who is ill and when the family member passes away, prepare body for burial.  Many of those who are becoming infected with Ebola are family members and neighbors who without even the most basic protection have cared day after day for the infected person and prepared the body for burial.    


The radio personality in question is either clearly ignorant regarding medical personnel coming down with infectious illnesses, including illnesses such as hepatitis and HIV, or he is informed and ignoring that information. While rare medical personnel do contract such deceases from treating those with infectious deceases. Fortunately over decades protocols have been developed and followed that greatly minimize their risk. Why do think doctors and nurses in your local office always wear disposable gloves when their predecessors of forty years ago rare did so? Still each year medical personnel do become infected, we just hear about it on the nightly news. A stray needle accidently pricking a medical staff does occur, or some error in protocol does lead to a medical person being effect. The son of one of my former professors who is a medical doctor contracted hepatitis when he nicked his finger while doing surgery on a person with hepatitis.  Fortunately when these exposures occur they are caught early.


When my baser and ungodly fears seek to take hold and drive me, I need to remind myself to take a deep breath, recall what I know and educate myself further from reliable sources, and resist chasing ghosts and bogymen.  Further, I need to reject politicians, commentators, religious and other leaders who play upon our ignorance and fears, and express that rejection to them.