Sunday, August 31, 2008

Once, Shame on You; Twice, Shame on Me

I would like to share a thought or two about John McCain. A couple of weeks ago, McCain impressed me mightily during his interview by Rick Warren, the big time church guy of fundamentalist fame. McCain was asked (as was Obama) about his greatest moral failing and the apparent honesty of his response was to the effect that of the failure of his first marriage. By way of brief review, after he returned to the United States as a war hero he dumped his first wife, the mother of his children, for a younger, thinner and richer woman who was able to fund his start in politics. His first wife had waited stoically and loyally throughout his five years in a North Korean prison only to be shunted aside upon his return for his self-admitted dalliances with any number of women. The word is that his wife had gained a little weight. That tells me something about the character of the man, but given his stated remorse it was impressive to me that he would acknowledge his action for exactly what it was; a failure of morality. The natural sequel of such a human failing, and why I found it so appealing at the time of the Warren presentation, was that it is human to make mistakes and it does take courage to admit them. We are prepared to accept such shortcomings in our potential leaders for several reasons; first, because we tend to makes our own mistakes for which we seek understanding and forgiveness and second, because we expect our leaders to have learned something from their past misdeeds and actions. In so doing, the hope is that history will not repeat itself and both the leader and the nation will be the beneficiaries of the lessons learned.

His selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate is the political equivalent of the failure of his first marriage. She is the proverbial trophy wife who asked the question the other day "what does the vice president do?" Well, honey, I will tell you what the vice president does. He or she stands in the wings ready and available to take over as the president of the United States should it be necessary. She has acknowledged that she knows nothing about the Iraq war. While she has impeccable conservative beliefs in such things as creationism (she believes it should be taught alongside evolution) and abortion (it should never be permitted, even in cases of rape and incest) her isolation from mainstream political thought is manifestly obvious. What McCain has done is opt for the beauty queen at his side in making the most superficial decision ever made in vice-presidential candidate selections. He has repeated his failure of the abandonment of his first wife and his morality. Except this time, his moral failure has much greater import. His obligation in selecting a candidate includes the obligation to select someone who is well-qualified to assume the presidency if the need arises. To be perfectly clear, I am not attacking his choice because Palin is a woman. There are many wonderful and well-qualified women in the Republican party, Senator Oympia Snowe as an example, who would be entirely capable of running this country if it came to that. Nor am I attacking Palin at the personal level. She evidently leads an active and vigorous life as a mother of five children and runs a government awash in oil riches. But, the bottom line of McCain's immoral decision is that he would foist on the people of America a person who is utterly and completely unqualified to be the president of the United States. He is doing this for the same reason he abandoned his first wife for someone young and beautiful; to make him look good.

To paraphrase Barack Obama, John McCain doesn't get it. Once, shame on you; Twice, shame on me.

Friday, August 22, 2008

As a Practical Matter . . .

If you are a pro-life person, as you read this you may be saying to yourself, 'this guy is nuts.' What I refer to is a couple of events appearing in one edition of the local newspaper (Traverse City Record Eagle). The events reported included the arrest of a man for placing his girl friend's one month old baby in a microwave and burning the child to death (or at least attempting to do so). I was so appalled by the first paragraph I couldn't finish the rest of the story. Another story told of how a mother and her boy friend repeatedly beat her three year old child to death in an attempt to discipline the child. There is no one on this planet that could convince me that these children would not have been better off not being born in the first place. It breaks my heart to think about the life these children had here on earth. I understand the arguments of both sides completely in the important and ungoing public debate about who should decide whether to terminate a pregnancy. Could these two tragic children have possibly been the product of wanted and planned pregnancies? I think not. Even in this pro-choice era, there are a lot of pressures brought to bear against women, who for one reason or another, find themselves pregnant when they didn't want to be pregnant. Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of children are born into living situations which are less than optimal in terms of a welcoming committee for the introduction into life. The cost of bearing children, financially and emotionally, is great and I respectfully submit that it should not be a governmental decision that dictates the bearing of that child when, as a practical matter, it is not feasible to do so. The damage to the lives of children do not need to be as extreme as the stories I have presented above to inflict real suffering on the product of unwanted pregnancies. I know that there are many examples of children born in 'delicate' situations who have gone on to fame and fortune, arising from miserable life situations in the doing, but, again, as a practical matter, doesn't it really make sense to allow the woman carrying such a child to assess the circumstances and react to those cirumstances rather than create a blanket rule?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Season's Over

The season's over. What am I talking about? Is this piece about the season being over for John Edwards whose zipper apparently got stuck in the down position a few months ago? No, and parenthetically, I will resist the admitted need to gloat over that latest incident based upon my personal experience with the moral integrity, or lack of same, of Edwards. What I am talking about is the end of the baseball season. While I graciously concede that there is six more weeks of the regular season followed by the post-season, it is over for me because of the Detroit Tigers. The hapless Tigers started this season with what appeared to be the greatest hitting lineup in modern history. The local media hyped the possibilities of the team on which Mike Ilitch, the owner pizza king, lavished big dollars reminiscent of the Steinbrenner approach. Tigers fans were caught up in the nearly orgiastic delight of these possibilities as we followed spring training and anticipated a lip smacking run right through the hearts of Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox fans. We were going to steam roll right through and past the rest of the central division of the American League. At first, the season progressed in a somewhat disappointing fashion. We lost, but there was always a feasible excuse, an explanation, that allowed my psyche whose primary defense mechanism has always been denial to patiently wait for the turnabout that would lead the team to glory. To be sure, these early losses were painful, but for those of us who are lifelong fans of the game, the pain is part of it; akin to the pain of ripping off a bandage affixed to skin. It's going to feel so good after the bandage is removed that it is worth the momentary excruciating discomfort. The problem at the present is that reality has finally set in for me. The bandage has been ripped all the way and the lesion underneath is not looking good. The early losses have led to a pattern of endless game after game lapses resulting in the conclusion that the team stinks and is going nowhere but backwards in the standings. The other central division teams have feasted on the Tigers and it is obvious, although tough to admit, that the season is over. Repeat, the season is over. Maybe it isn't. Let me see. My home in Florida is about 20 miles from the Devil Rays ball park. Does that make me a Tampa Bay fan?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Trust the People

I am not the only person in America who has been in a steady state of haranguing about He Who Would Be King's abuse of the constitution in his so-called war on terror. The public, by and large, has now caught on to the idea that Bush is dead wrong in his approach. The seeds of the pattern of his approach were sown in the eighties (the nineteen eighties) by the Reagan administration when Reagan himself began his assault on lawyers. Who could forget his famous speech when he assailed the poor lady who spilt boiling McDonald's hot coffee in her lap and suffered severe burn injuries? Republicans quickly spotted an issue which could be used to galvanize the forces, so to speak, against do-gooding, greedy lawyers who were responsible for driving up insurance rates and making it impossible for responsible citizens throughout the country to obtain quality medical care, insure small businesses and the like. What, in effect, was going on was an attack on the constitutionally-created wisdom and function of the people. Issues and civil conflicts, big or small, were traditionally and constitutionally decided by a select handful of people. This small group of people is called the 'jury.' The jury is placed in a special position of trust by our society. A jury is entrusted with hearing the spectrum of proofs presented by the parties to a dispute and, sorting out the positions, arriving at a decision. It is granted that some jury decisions over the past two hundred-plus years have been anomalous, but by and large the system has worked beautifully and by itself stands alone to distinguish America from the rest of the world. Fast forward from the Reagan rant to the Guantanomo fiasco; the trial of Osama bin Laden's driver which,for the most part was conducted in secret and the ground rules of which prevented a determination of not guilty. (The latter caused the initial prosecutor to resign to depict the utter unfairness of the rule). What is profound and disturbing is the lack of trust in a system that has stood the test of time for more than two centuries. This lack of trust is fostered by big money interests and big fat cat Republican bastards who want to continue making money off over priced and dangerous drugs, automobiles, medical and hospital care, as examples, without being held accountable to the public. At this point in time in America, medical malpractice, drug product liability, product liability, slip and fall, automobile accidents and other legal disputes often carry as many, or more, restrictions on truth determinations by juries as does the Guantanamo kangaroo court. All of this has occurred via a game plan of selling the public on the high costs of insurance in a manner exactly analagous to selling the public on blaming blameless Irag for the terrorist attack of 9-11. Let me rest my case with one question; when was the last time an insurance company notified you that your rates were being reduced? If you think this is a typical over-reaction from a lawyer who represented people injured by big business interests for 35 years, please think again.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Now We're Talking

The nation now is in a position to evaluate the young candidate, Barack Obama, from an objective standpoint. Forget the inexperience argument. Forget the racism. Set aside all the nasty innuendos about his so-called Muslim background and the lunacy of his church pastor. But there is a legitimate concern about the man himself which can, and should be, evaluated before, by our votes, we should entrust him with the legacy of our country. There is a country song that carries the message (I tend to forget the exact words) "You''ve got to stand for something or you'll stand for nothing at all. From various descriptions, he has taken an ambitious path to his presidential nomination. He has spent time in a number of activities; law school teaching, community organizer, state legislator, and national senator. What shines through his various activities is his ability to think and express himself very intelligently. From an old geezer's perspective, what is lacking in his resume is the sense of commitment in a project or undertaking or job that forms the basis for the strength of character we would all like to see in a presidential candidate. One of the patterns of employment that has emerged over the last twenty years or so is job hopping by younger persons (i.e. younger than me). Well qualified, highly educated men and women today appear to have no qualms about moving from one job to the next. It is difficult to me to understand how such people can ever be fully engaged in what they are doing if they have one eye on their work while the other eye wanders around looking for a higher paying or more prestigious position. What emerges from this pattern is the sense of an "it's all about me" approach, which translates for me that such a person is never fully committed to the task at hand. I have hired a lot of people as the owner of my small law firm over a period of 25 years. A consistent 'red flag' to me in job interviews of prospective employees was this job-hopping pattern. Would I consider hiring a person who, while well qualified, appeared ready to take the next job that came along rather than commit themselves fully to the variety of tasks that my job offer presented? That is, would the tough get going on to some other position when the going got tough? Sorry about the tired cliche, but it says most effectively what I am trying to say.

These are my concerns about Obama. These concerns are not grounded in racism and I truly like the guy and admire what he has done so far in capturing the imagination of so many Americans. From the issues standpoint, he wins hands down because of the multiplicity of failures foisted on us by the current Republican adminstration. McCain, in my judgment, has made a terrible mistake in judgment by latching on to so many of these issues and telling us that we would have a Bush III term.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Beijing and the Olympics

What follows is another weekly report from one of my grandsons who is studying in Beijing:

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Beijing, China

People say that Beijing has been radically transformed in the last 10 years by its rapidly developing economy. To that I cannot attest, but I can tell you that in the last two weeks Beijing has been transformed from a preparing-to-be Olympic city to a full fledged Olympic host town. The metamorphosis has been sudden and drastic; the amount of money spent must be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Every public park has sculptures of the Olympic mascots, giant signs showing the Olympic rings, or other ostentatious displays. Every public monument is decorated with 'Beijing 2008' signs and kiosks filled with smiling Olympic volunteers clad in the official Adidas blue-and-white volunteer garb. It is impossible to go outside without seeing signs of the world stage being set, street sweepers are out, police are stationed at every intersection, and the city workers have had their wardrobe subsidized to all wear matching Olympics clothes. Prices have started to inflate, water that used to cost 2.5 kuai now is 3, other prices are sure to rise soon. All of the news headlines, billboards and fliers are advertising Olympic venues. Companies have started plastering buildings with photos of superstars in hopes to open the Chinese market to foreign goods, and Chinese companies are busy trying to get their name out to foreign markets. Journalists everywhere are toting their cameras and microphones and trying to capture the sights before the city is overrun by the 500,000 expected to show up for the games. The weather is still overcast and a thick haze still hangs over the city, draping Olympic venues with a blanket that prohibits their viewing except in close proximity. Over the last few days we have seen heavy rains, some of which were government created. The government says that construction is mostly stopped, but the consensus is that all of the big construction sights in the city, such as the government pet-project for CCTV (Television service) are still happening. Fewer cars are on the road, but after 20 years of polluting, is two weeks of strict control going to make much of a difference?

I too have been exceedingly busy trying to balance Chinese, sightseeing, and my internship. With only one more week of class, the end is near enough to taste. It won't last though, as soon as my class ends my internship starts. Fortunately it is going to be interesting: I will basically be sightseeing on someone else's dollar. Every day I will be paired up and sent out to one of 26 sections of the city where I have to look for Olympacentric advertisements, take pictures of them and then write a report. My company bought me a ticket to the Women's 30m diving on the 20th, and I also have tickets to the Men's singles and Women's doubles tennis finals on the 17th, both of which I am extremely excited for. Watch for me on TV! (Any suggestions of crazy things to do so you can pick me out from the crowd are appreciated, remember, anything too crazy might get me arrested.)


Since the last time I wrote I have:

-Gone to the silk market (the largest tourist trap on earth, Sarlacci don't count)

-Visited the Temple of Heaven (the parks here are all starting to seem the same: grass you can't walk on, people playing out-of-tune instruments, and impressive temples that all seem to look the same)

-Listened to the Beijing Opera live (impressive even though my eardrums felt as though they had been rubbed with sandpaper).

-Mastered crossing the street and no longer need the crutch of crossing alongside a Chinese person. Still though, at each attempted cross I feel like Pharaoh at the red sea—

Not sure if my time has come. So far I am unscathed, although for those of you that have been close enough to city buses to touch them as they whiz pass know why the Chinese people have such grey hair.

-Have managed to spill an entire takeout tray of noodles with hot-sauce on my lap while traveling in a taxi. I am still not sure which was more awkward, explaining to the cab driver what the saucy smear on his seat was, or explaining to my roommate why my shorts smelled of hot sauce.

-Watched paint in the kitchen fall into my roommate's pot of boiling soup from the peeling ceiling, and him just pull it out and continue. My money is on lead poisoning.

-Have gained confidence in my Chinese. That's why I'm here, right?

The next week promises to be just as eventful. This weekend we have a kungfu play, and a China night where each class has prepared a skit to show off our improvement, I also plan on doing some last minute sight-seeing before I get too busy. Monday we have a formal debate in class, Wednesday our final oral test and Friday the written test. I will have to say goodbye to my friends here, as most of them leave next weekend.

Watching the Olympics will give you a whole different view of China I'm sure, feel free to send me questions and let me know how the States portrayal of the Games is.

Open minded and ended,

Jeff Vredenburg

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Silly Me

Silly me. I grew up thinking that the world is a place where good ideas flourished. Good ideas were a good thing. Example; if the population of the world is using hydrocarbon energy at a rate that threatens the integrity of the planet, it is a good idea to change what we are doing in favor of energy that causes less impact. It is a good idea to wind down the war in Iraq because, most simply put, it is obvious that the Iraqi people don't and didn't want us there in the first place. It is a good idea to hold leaders who lied to us about the need for war against Iraq accountable for their lies. It is a good idea to fight terrorism by bringing together groups of people (countries) of shared values who can agree that a united front against such acts is an affront to civilization and that such acts should be treated as criminal acts and dealt with appropriately. It is a good idea to judge the two candidates for the presidency of the United States by the rationality and viability of the ideas they represent rather than by the color of their skin. It is a good idea for a professed leader of our society to understand and know in detail the differences between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq. It is a good idea to question the claimed superiority of a person on international matters when that person does not know that Iraq and Pakistan do not share a border. It is a good idea to question the reasons why a person would promote a working plan for dealing with the immigration crisis in America, then oppose that very same plan when running for president. It is a good idea to consider experience, or lack of it, when deciding how to vote for the next president. It is a good idea . . . well you get the idea!