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Location: Takoma Park, Maryland, United States

I'm now a 52-year-old American male raised as an Episcopalian, veteran of submarines, Peace Corps, and State Department. I like teaching people about what they can do with computers and have gotten by as an independent Microsoft trainer teaching networking, but I really hope to someday find a way to make a living traveling on my motorcycle, camping, and writing about places and people I meet along the way.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

One of the main points that I've tried to make in my writing is the importance of the court in protecting our civil liberties. Without an enabled court, even people like Thomas Jefferson felt that our government could be as bad as any other tyranny. Recently, I was delighted to hear something on NPR that summed this up very well.

"Morning Edition, March 10, 2006 ยท Newly retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor took on conservative Republican critics of the courts in a speech Thursday. She told an audience at Georgetown University that Republican proposals, and their sometimes uncivil tone, pose a danger to the independence of the judiciary, and the freedoms of all Americans.


Sunday, March 12, 2006


Riding the motorcycle is a bit like meditation, at times. The fact that you have to pay attention to the road, and generally do not have a radio or a companion or a cell phone to distract you, seems to prevent me from mulling over work problems and the general neurosis of daily life.

Yesterday, I met a new house mate on the second floor. I found myself speaking a thought that I've had for some time. If you think that Bush is as bad as his critics say he is, then the really scary thing is that America elected him. The new housemate, a student of political science who has studied Alexis de Tocqueville and wonders whether our democracy is reaching the end of its life-cycle.

It brought up an idea for a bumper sticker that had been knocking around in my mind. It would just say, "We elected him?"

Today on the ride I had another thought, a bumper sticker that just says, "Shame!"

Obviously, somebody who does not like Bush would use them together. I think I could sell a few. If you do so, be sure to send me the royalty check.

That took me to the next step of thinking theologically about it. At first I looked critically at our current administration.

"Do they have no shame?" I asked myself, then continued...

"...and somebody should explain to them that righteousness has nothing to do with what others do with their lives, but what each of us does with our own."

Wasn't that Jesus's message "Do not judge lest ye be judged," and the bit about not worrying about the splinter in someone else's eye when there is a mote in ones own.

Then of course I turned that lens on myself. Here I was criticising them, in my mind. What about myself? The things they would point at that I should be ashamed of, in their minds. The question is whether I would feel ashamed of them. It occurred to me that it might be important for discernment to note whether or not we have the capacity to feel shame. Have we entirely lost our moral compass? Have I? When was the last time I felt shame for something... even a mistake? Okay, I can think back over the last year and realize that I'm not entirely without shame.

But what about us as a nation? Do we pretend that we are perfect? Do we worship a God of truth, before whom it stands to reason some sense of shortcoming would always be appropriate? Or, do we worship our own strength?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Susan's address

Susan's address in Carswell:

Susan Lindauer, RN: 56064-054
FMC Carswell -- Satellite Camp
Box 27137
Fort Worth, TX 76127

More on Susan and our need for prison reform

Her Uncle went to visit her, yesterday, flying from Indiana to Texas. When he arrived at Carswell they told him they required his visit to be monitored and as they had no monitors he would not be able to see Susan. Reportedly, the judge is upset and threatening to send federal marshalls with Mr. Lindauer for the next visit, but talk is cheap. How about returning her to her previous "free on bail" status? Possibly, the Judge has too few powers to do so.

This last week, a few journalists have picked up on the story. One woman cites a young military scientist who became concerned that Mad Cow disease had some links to American biological warfare testing (I'm reading between the lines of what she said) and how the military treated him similarly.

I don't know. Susan is an attractive woman, and can be very charming, but she can also be very obnoxious. She can be easy to dislike if one doesn't have the patience to get to know her. For example, before she went to Carswell, and before Carswell became a part of her story, she conveyed how upset she was with her attorney for pursuing a "twinkie defense" instead of getting busy interviewing her witnesses and preparing a proper rebutal to the evidence of the prosecution. In some ways, I can understand a public defender being limited in the time they can devote to a particular case. Time is needed, also. It seems that when the Justice Department shares evidence, during discovery, they will turn it over along with a lot of "chaff" that is hard to wade through. You'll get the raw data they pull from a computer in a series of CD's with no indication of what among it they find incriminating, for example. This is not exactly in the best spirit of the discovery process.

It was kind of a no-brainer that she needed to visit a private shrink, proactively. If her mental health was in question, then she needed to proactively seek out good advice so that she could present the court with good findings. She could then draw the distinction between medical issues and the issues of her case. But she regards the psychiatric profession as "a bunch of witch doctors," and refused to entertain the idea to the point of becoming quite loud and argumentative whenever I tried to talk through the benefits of that approach. In some ways, she would be in a lot less trouble, now, had she just been willing to talk to someone, privately. How a conversation with anyone could be so violently resisted puzzled me. I suspect that she found such doctors to be abusers of power in earlier years.

Now, put an argumentitive, strong willed person like her into prison without a trial -- give someone who is prone to righteous indignation the sense that state powers are being abused to persecute hers truly--and you have the recipe for some unpleasantness. Add to this the fact that prison workers are accustomed to dealing with convicted criminals, and not exactly being the concierge desk at a high-fllying hotel, and trouble has the potential to create huge problems that you did not have before. I would argue that we have a much needed window into our prison system where employee abuses of power have become a too common thing for too long. The root cause of our disgrace at Abu Graib may stem from the fact that some of the reservists accused were American prison workers in private life. Dig deeper and you may consider whether an un-Christian attitude towards criminals is creating, for us, larger problems. The root cause is our own willingness to throw away people who've offended us and forget them.

Before I turn this into a sermon, let me frame this by saying that Christianity may or may not be the be-all and end-all of spiritual revelation, depending upon ones own belief. Nonetheless, even non-Christians agree that many of the words attributed to Jesus were radical, in that day. Some disagree with them in this day. Jewish friends think that "turning the other cheek" is tantamont to "condoning crime." I suggest that regardless of your spiritual convictions, the tactics of Christianity may be better tactics. Forgiveness, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile... these are ideas that go against what we might think would be the principles of self-interest, but that by many accounts end up serving us better.

Prisons are over crowded. We know that we often end up with career criminals rather than reformed citizens when we sentence individuals to them. In too many ways, they have become a tool for retribution. Judges are subject to criticisms if they do not provide the public with its pound of flesh, and few in the public are wise enough to see that the length of a sentence or the nature of a sentance are secondary to society's interest in the benefits of remediated citizens. Democracy has always run the risk of being institutionalized mob rule of the 51% over the 49%, as Thomas Jefferson warned. Without judges strongly enabled to stand up for human rights, democracy becomes one of the most evil and unjust forms of tyranny: the tyranny of the majority. When you hear public officials decrying "activist judges" be sure that it is your own Bill of Rights (if you're an American reading this) that power hungry politicians are seeking to adulterate so that they and their current majority, and not due process, may dictate the boundaries of your life.

And so it is, also, that we are a nation of people who often seek out the impoverishment of others in order that we may feel better about ourselves--a nations of crabs that won't let one of our member climb out of the bucket. There are people who come to work in prisons in order to bring vocational skills to inmates and to minister to their needs. There are also, no doubt, people who can find employment nowhere else, and who have not learned how to heal the wounds in their own self-esteem while working in a prison system full of the more seriously walking-wounded. Use to being bosses, having power, unchecked by public scrutiny, to inflict themselves on people in weaker positions, and perhaps sensing that this is the only place in life where they do have power; how do they behave when presented with someone who might be unjustly accused who is full of high-moral tone and prone to villifying them?

The analogy of John the Baptist is a good one. He, Jesus's cousin, lost his head because he villified the powerful for their doing villian-like things. But don't forget to contrast his behavior with that of Jesus, who did not criticise the state, although he did not see it as an answer to human needs. The rage of Jesus was expressed only in the cleaning of the temple of those who made a business out of the human need for spiritual help. Through the years, many public officials have heeded advice to keep their prayers in the closet and not be as those who say prayers for public attention. Our country has never lacked for solid public-service-minded leaders who had no need to bring God into their fights, as God is generally powerful enough to work through even the lives of those who do not have faith and has no need of our name dropping. Today, we have powerful people who make a habit of wrapping themselves in things we hold sacred, our flag of patriotism, and words of our faith in providence. Yet they fail in courage. The answer to any calamity is to assauge fears by endowing the state (themselves) with more power. Create another agency. Pass another law. And they fail in faith, ignoring quickly those who have born the brunt of their wars: not only the veterans, widows and children of soldiers, but also those who stood as critics. People who are secure in their faith have no problem with people who argue and believe otherwise. Some who live by faith even seek out critics knowing that the God who works in mysterious ways sometimes hides truth in plain sight, and sends the poor to humble the powerful who fail to honor truth. May we all fear that God.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Anchorage Press Volume 15 Edition 9 - LETTERS

The Anchorage Press Volume 15 Edition 9 - LETTERS