Sunday, January 30, 2011

What about Gun Control?

Last month’s tragedy in Tucson has spurred considerable discussion about gun control, an issue that always sparks lots of lively debate—which may be why the President refrained from talking about that in his State of the Union address last week. But I, for one, firmly believe that there is a need for greater gun control in this country.
I have recently become a supporter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and last week made a contribution to that organization in memory of Christina Green, the nine-year-old girl who was shot to death in Tucson on January 8.
Jim Brady (b. 1940), as many of you will likely remember, is a former Assistant to the President and White House Press Secretary under President Reagan. After being shot and nearly killed and becoming permanently disabled as a result of an assassination attempt on Reagan in 1981, Brady and his wife became ardent supporters of gun control.
In November 1993 during a White House ceremony attended by the Bradys, President Bill Clinton signed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act into law. Paul Helmke, a former president of the United States Conference of Mayors, has been the president of the Brady Campaign since 2006. He expressed public regret that the President did not mention gun control in his speech last week.
In a January 26 posting on Brady Blogs (, Helmke wrote, “It wasn’t the lack of innovation, education, or investment, too many regulations or too much debt that ended Christina’s life and her dreams—it was a clearly dangerous man who had way too easy access to a gun with a high-capacity ammunition magazine— good only for killing many people quickly.”
Earlier this month, Helmke spoke publicly in support of H.R.308, the bill Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives on January 18. That bill is called The Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act, and it would ban magazines that carry more than ten rounds of ammunition. Rep. McCarthy knows about gun violence: her husband was killed and her son injured in a 1993 shooting.
No one is saying that all guns ought to be banned. The use of guns for hunting and even the possessions of handguns for protection by responsible citizens can surely be considered legitimate. But there must be some limitations on who can purchase guns and some restriction on the type of guns, and magazines, that can be bought.
According to the Brady Campaign, thirty-four people a day are murdered by firearms in the U.S. That means that every three months more people are killed by guns in this country than were killed by the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01, Christina Green’s birthday!
We citizens of the U.S. remain outraged at the deaths caused by the 9/11 terrorists—as well we should. But why are we not more concerned about the far more than 100,000 people in this country since then who have been killed by gun violence, including a child full of promise named Christina?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rebuffing Repulsive Right-wing Rhetoric

Last time I wrote about the need for greater civility in what we say and more respect for those with whom we disagree. I believe that those attitudes are needed especially by those in the public media and by politicians. Regrettably, some definitely seem to lack those characteristics.
That people will disagree on various matters is certain. And that is OK. What is not OK is using false, misleading, or inflammatory rhetoric. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of the latter going out over the airwaves every day. And most of it is coming from the political right-wing.
Every day (M-F) two radio stations in Kansas City broadcast hours and hours of right-wing talk. On KCMO one can listen to Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, and Rusty Humphries eleven hours a day, and KMBZ airs Rush Limbaugh for six hours, Glen Beck for four hours, and Mark Levin for two hours daily!
There are some left-wing talk shows accessible on the Internet and MSNBC on cable TV, but I have tried in vain to find any liberal talk-radio stations in the Kansas City area. It is quite certain that “talk radio” around here is overwhelmingly conservative (right-wing).
I often listen to the Mark Levin Show on the way home from the class I teach at Rockhurst University. Much of my negativity toward repulsive right-wing rhetoric comes from him. His criticism of the President is extreme: he has linked the President to Hitler and Stalin, accused the President of leading the government toward tyranny, and yelled into his radio microphone, “Obama is a bald-faced liar!” as well as “Nancy Pelosi is an idiot!” and other such disrespectful and uncivil ranting.
As for the politicians, I do not in the least think that Sarah Palin has intentionally encouraged physical violence against political opponents. But it is a fact that her website had crosshairs on districts with politicians she opposed, such as Rep. Giffords. It is also true that she posted these words on her Facebook page: “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!”
It is also true that Sharon Angle, who sought unsuccessfully to unseat Representative Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in last fall’s election, spoke about “Second Amendment remedies” and said that that Amendment, which protects the right of the American people to keep and bear arms, is “for us when our government becomes tyrannical.”
It is also a fact that Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), member of the U.S. House of Representatives and chair of the Tea Party Caucus, said back in 2009 that she wanted residents of her state to be “armed and dangerous” over the President’s plan to reduce global warming “because we need to fight back.” Apparently, she did not mean armed with guns and physically dangerous, although some who heard those words might not have recognized that.
While there are, no doubt, some liberal politicians who have recently made indiscreet statements, I have not been able to find any left-wing officeholders who have made ill-advised statements such as the three examples (all women!?) given above.
So, I rebuff the repulsive right-wing rhetoric that is fouling the airwaves and encourage readers of this blog to join me in calling for more civil, respectful discourse, and less inflammatory public speech on the radio and by our elected officials.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thriving in Tuscon

Tucson, Arizona, is one of my favorite cities. I like it because it is the home of Carl Joseph Seat Daoust (3), my grandson, as well as his mother, my daughter Karen, and her husband Rob.
For quite some time Karen has been a big admirer of Gabrielle Giffords, who is just twenty days older than her and the U.S. Representative for the district where she previously lived. On January 12, Karen stood in line for hours and attended the “Together We Thrive” memorial service held at the McKale Center on the University of Arizona campus where she is a professor.
What a shock it was when I heard about the Tucson tragedy! Thankfully, Rep. Giffords is steadily recovering, but six others were killed in the senseless shooting. And the “talking heads” of the nation have made charges and counter-charges about the political climate lying behind the acts of the killer. But who knows why he did what he did.
It is hard to think his act was not related to politics, though, as his primary target was the Congresswoman. And she was a representative who was severely criticized by some people in Tucson because of her vote for the health care legislation last March. In fact, a few hours after that vote, her Tucson office was vandalized.
A few days later she said on a TV interview, “…we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, the way she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district. And when people do that, they’ve gotta realize there’s consequences to that action.”
The sheriff of Pima County, where Tucson is located, echoed those words after the shooting. He said, “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous.” He went on to declare, “That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.”
In his moving speech at the Jan. 12 memorial service, President Obama rightly said that “we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.” And then he implored, “Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.”
The President went on to say, “I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.” I would like to think that is true. If it is, not only can Tucson thrive, but so can the whole nation.
Let’s use the tragedy of Tucson as a spur toward greater civility in all our speech, toward more respect even for those who strongly disagree with us, and toward enhanced decency and generosity of spirit in all our relationships.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Is MLK, Jr., a “Top Ten” Christian?

Last year I posted (on 9/15) a list of people whom I consider to be the “top ten” Christians. In making that list, I excluded people of New Testament times and those still alive, and I also weighted it toward modern times.

Martin Luther King, Jr., made my list. Some Thinking Friends, however, objected to my inclusion of King. So let’s think more about him today, the eighty-second anniversary of his birth, and again on Monday, the holiday honoring him. In 1983 President Reagan signed a law making the first Monday after Jan. 15 a federal holiday: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. The new holiday was first observed in 1986, but it was not until 2000 that it was officially observed in all fifty states.

There were, of course, some who objected to the naming of the new holiday, and many of those objections reflected racial prejudice. But the national celebration of the birthday of MLK, Jr., is quite appropriate and significant, it seems to me. It is a public recognition of the nation’s overcoming a long, sordid history of slavery and its on-going desire to combat racism in the present. King’s unflagging efforts leading to the passing of civil rights legislation in 1964 was meritorious indeed!

But should he be considered a “top ten” Christian? After posting my list, one of my TFs wrote saying that she has “difficulty with those who preach one thing and practice another, e.g. MLK. That is just as distasteful as the choices of some conservatives whom we criticize today.”

Unfortunately, it seems to be true that King had extra-marital sexual relationships. That was behavior I cannot excuse or condone. Such activity was clearly unchristian. Yet, in spite of knowing about his infidelities I still put him on my top ten list.

Even saints are not perfect. In the Old Testament, David is one of the most important persons, ranking perhaps third after Abraham and Moses. 1 Samuel 13:14 refers to him as a man after God’s own heart. But, as is well known, he was guilty of an illicit liaison with Bathsheba.

And there are some on my list with whom I seriously disagree on some points. Mother Teresa, for example. I put her on the list in spite of her rather outrageous (to me) anti-abortion, anti-sterilization, and anti-contraception statements.

I have long held that for people with public power—primarily politicians, but including people like King—their pubic activity is far more important than their private lives. In fact, I often say, “the private lives of public people is nobody’s business.”

The private indiscretions of MLK, Jr., are regrettable. But the good he did as a public follower of Jesus, the way he emphasized love and peace in a climate of hatred and violence, and the great contribution he made to the betterment of American society—to say nothing of his widespread influence for good around the world—make him deserving of the high ranking I gave him, IMHO.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Trail of Tears

“Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” the second federal holiday of 2011, is one week from today, and I will write more about Dr. King next time. But even before celebrating his birth I had to think about his tragic death.
June and I left on January 5 for a car trip to New Orleans, and we spent the first night in a motel on the outskirts of Memphis. Early the next morning, we drove just a bit out of the way to see the Lorraine Motel, which is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum and which opened twenty years ago in 1991. As you remember, Dr. King was assassinated as he stood on the second floor of that motel on April 4, 1968.
Then in New Orleans we had to reflect on the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. About 80% of the city was flooded due to the effects of that hurricane in 2005. Around 182,000 homes were destroyed, and more than 1,800 people lost their lives. We spent an hour or so Saturday morning driving around the Ninth Ward, the area hit the hardest.
Today we plan to visit the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock and spend the night with friends we knew in Japan (if we can get there from Pine Bluff on the snowy roads). Thinking about Little Rock brings back memories of the unjust treatment of African-Americans in that city in the 1950s.
In 1957, the year June and I were married, nine African-American students were enrolled in Little Rock Central High School. The ensuing Little Rock Crisis, in which the students were initially prevented from entering the racially segregated school by Governor Faubus, and then attended after the intervention of President Eisenhower, is considered one of the most important events in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1998 Congress established Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, and we plan to drive by to see that today, too.
Even though we have been travelling a trail of tears, still there is hope. While there is still much de facto segregation of schools, students of Central High School in Little Rock are now about 43% white and 53% black (and 4% other). An impressive Little Rock Nine monument was erected on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol in 2005. Forced racial segregation is unthinkable in this country now.
Even though the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, partly (or maybe even largely) because of MLK, Jr., there was still considerable discrimination toward African-Americans until the many changes that were made in the aftermath of King’s assassination.
And even New Orleans is making a comeback. In the hotel area and around the huge convention center, as well as in the French Quarter, there is little evidence of flood damage. In the Ninth Ward there are certainly many empty lots and many damaged houses still visible, but there are numerous new houses and fully repaired, redecorated houses all through the area, include the architecturally attractive and ecologically efficient houses constructed by the Make It Right Foundation, the Brad Pitt’s non-profit organization. 
I am impressed with human resilience and the possibility of good emerging even along a trail of tears.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Celebrating the New Year

Happy New Year!
I appreciate those of you who read my blog during the past year, and I look forward to writing for you again this year. Most of you will agree with some things I write and disagree with other things. That is OK. My desire is just that people will read the blog and give some thought to the issues raised and the ideas presented.
Time before last, I wrote about the desirability of Christmas no longer being a federal holiday. Many probably disagreed with what I wrote, and several responded saying they opposed my ideas. But some seemed to have misunderstood what I was proposing, so let me try to clarify a bit.
** I was not suggesting that Christmas should not be celebrated. Certainly Christmas should be enthusiastically celebrated by Christians and others who choose to do so. I just don’t think Christmas should be a federal holiday, as that gives Christianity special consideration by the government in a country where now a sizeable percentage of the population are adherents of other religions, or of no religion.
** I was not suggesting that people should not purchase Christmas presents. Of course, people would still buy presents for their children and exchange gifts with family members and others whether Christmas was a federal holiday or not. It certainly happens that way in Japan, where Christmas is not a holiday but a commercial success.
** I was not suggesting that everyone has to work as usual on Christmas Day. Individual businesses or companies would be free to decide whether to take the day off. I just don’t think the federal government should declare Christmas a holiday.
In place of December 25, I propose that December 31 be made a holiday. That way there would be two consecutive holidays, and when they began or ended on Monday or Friday that would be four days in a row off for most people. And there would be companies or organizations that would take off the days prior to or following the holidays. Thus, there would be a whole week for travel and visiting family and friends.
Perhaps my thinking has been influenced by living in Japan for so long. Our first New Year there was in 1967, and almost everything was closed down for the first four days of the year. Things changed through the years and commercial activity steadily increased, especially on the 3rd and 4th. But still, the beginning of each new year is relatively quiet, giving families time to be together and individuals time to engage in reflection and anticipation.
This year here in the U.S., everything was pretty much back into full swing by January 3. Regardless, I hope you had time to celebrate the arrival of the new year in a meaningful way, and I pray for your health and happiness throughout 2011.