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September 26, 2007

A Night to Remember


3:45 IN THE MORNING
"...something tells me I shall miss these late evenings with daughter Julia."

Maybe it was the psychological trauma of baby Julia’s second day in a new day-care center. New faces, new noises, new smells - a new place surrounded by other babies and toddlers -- it was a lot to take in for a baby in a world which already is so large and overwhelming. Maybe after a whole day of this Julia’s brain was overloaded with stimuli. Maybe this resulted in nightmares and uneven, restless sleep.

Or maybe Julia was just teething.

Whatever the reason, Julia woke up around midnight crying. It was not the whiny, soft cry that signals discomfort (“wa--wa--wa”) but the immediate, insistent sort of sharp, loud cry that suggests physical pain (“Ahhhhhh!”). At first cry both parents woke up and rushed to her crib, but no obvious ailment could be found. Julia was changed. She was fed. She was warm.

But she was crying bitterly in her mother’s arms. This was the evening of Friday September 21, 2007.

After this first incident Maria and I stumbled back to the crib two more times -- around midnight, and then again at 1:30 a.m. Maria held and kissed Julia in the darkness of the baby room, only putting her back down in her crib after Julia had fallen asleep in her arms.

Another piercing baby cry woke us up from a dead sleep at 3:30 a.m. Maria was “done,” and she snapped at me that I would take care of this one; she needed to eat something and drink a glass of water. She was nursing and was absolutely exhausted by the earlier crying bouts. Fair enough.

At first I was so tired I actually felt physical pain. But after about fifteen minutes of holding baby Julia, I was fully awake.

I held Julia in the darkness and swayed back and forth, as I always did in such cases. This swaying motion had comforted baby Julia ever since she was a newborn, and it still did. I turned off all the lights except for the nightlight, and then I turned on the video iPod to Bach’s First Cello Suite by Yo Yo Ma. The iPod itself and speakers were located on top of Julia’s armoire, and so while I held her Julia looked almost straight into the video iPod screen from a distance of two to three feet. The strains of the cello played out from the Inspired by Bach video segment “Music Garden,” laden with bird noises and verdant garden imagery. Julia watched the tiny screen intently over my shoulder and soon stopped crying. As I danced slowly back and forth in the darkness, Julia in silence watched Yo Yo Ma on the screen; her eyes did not leave the screen, as her ears absorbed the moaning strains of the cello that filled the dark room. Slowly Julia began to relax and after some fifteen minutes she finally fell back asleep. Her head slumped on my shoulder, her body went completely limp. I continued swaying gently to the music, daughter Julia asleep in my arms.

It was the most beautiful moment in the world.

At an earlier age Julia hardly allowed herself to be held, or she would not even know what was going on around her. When resting on my shoulder Julia sometimes used to turn her head and try to breastfeed from my ear: to a newborn, the whole world is a nipple. By six months, in contrast, Julia had grown to fit almost perfectly on my chest while in my arms; now Julia would grab my shirt and hold on. When she wanted to be picked up, she looked you in the eyes and put her arms out straight. And when she grew sleepy in my arms Julia would turn her cheek, rest it against my chest or shoulder, and then relax and give in to sleep.

How I loved it!

Thus Julia fell asleep on her daddy’s chest on September 21st, 2007, her father rocking her back and forth to Bach’s Cello Suite #1 at 4:30 a.m. in the pre-dawn darkness.

When I finally put Julia down into her crib, she was so deeply asleep that she did not stir. She slept the rest of the night peacefully and without incident.

Yes, parenting an infant is hard work. But something tells me I shall miss these late evenings with daughter Julia.


"Her head slumped on my shoulder, her body went completely limp. I continued swaying gently to the music, daughter Julia asleep in my arms."

September 11, 2007

Civil Liberties and Security: The Precarious Balance

GUANTANAMO BAY DETENTION CENTER

Reasonable measure to secure our country? Or overreaction and judicial "black hole"?

ON TERRORISM AND CIVIL RIGHTS:

Today is the sixth anniversary of the terror attacks on September 11th, 2001. It is time to opine on a topic increasingly on my mind these past several months: civil rights in the context of the age of spectacular terrorist attacks.

For several years I have struggled to make up my mind about the detention centers in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the US Government has held thousands of suspected terrorists swept off the battlefields of Afghanistan and elsewhere. This has been a keystone policy of President Bush’s “War on Terror,” whereupon America is supposedly a safer and more secure place than it was pre-September 11th, 2001.

In the aftermath of those attacks, President Bush and his lieutenants have vigorously – some say imperiously – moved to attack terrorist targets whenever and wherever they could be found. Bush invaded Afghanistan, and then later Iraq. Bush has had the CIA kidnap terrorist suspects (an “extraordinary rendition”) from Europe and have them taken to secret CIA facilities – and many others corralled into Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and declared “enemy combatants” with little legal recourse. The government under Bush’s stewardship has secretly monitored domestic phone conversations by use of the NSA without court warrant. Congress easily passed various versions of a “Patriot Act” to give government more power to investigate possible terrorism.

Much of this, I have to admit, is appropriate under the circumstances. It is the President’s job as chief executive of the government to ensure that the people are safe from mass attack. That office worker on the northern side of the North Tower of the World Trade Center on the 95th floor on September 11th, who watched with horror and a jet airliner headed for his window at 500 mph, could rightly blame the President, the FBI, and the CIA for not foiling the al-Qaeda operation that was to take her life, and well as the lives of several thousand others. The President of the United States has truly awesome power at his or her command, and we really want him or her to have those powers. Too little power in government is as bad, in my opinion, as too much power. There are many countries around the world today that suffer from chaos and disorder without any real authority in the country being able to guarantee the safety of its citizens.

There has always been a sliding scale where freedom in the United States is restricted in the name of collective security, and historians have long argued if what the president did in this era or that was “reasonable” and “appropriate,” under the circumstances. Historians seem to conclude that the Alien and Sedition Acts of the 1790s were a clumsy Federalist overreaction to supposed French radicalism that did not significantly improve United States security and damaged a still nascent American democracy. On the other hand, historians have concluded that the massive civil rights clampdowns orchestrated by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War were appropriate in the context of that crisis. Lincoln imprisoned hundreds without trial and ignored Supreme Court decisions ordering him to produce suspects for trial, declaring to critics the following:

Are all the laws but one [the right to habeas corpus] to go unexecuted, and the government itself...go to pieces, lest that one be violated?

The Constitution, and the protections of our civil rights therein, is not inviolate; the rights we enjoy are to be tempered by reasonable needs of the government to protect American citizens. As the legal dictum claims: “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” I sometimes hear civil libertarians warn of “creeping fascism” by the Bush Administration and have to shake my head. In six years since the September 11th attacks, how many American citizens have been arrested without trial? How many of us have endured an FBI interrogation about our links to terrorism? How many of us have been imprisoned for penning an antagonistic letter on President Bush to the local newspaper? Groups like Human Rights Watch make civil rights seem the most important (or almost the only important!) consideration in society. The American Civil Liberties Union and its ilk speak about civil liberties the way fundamentalist Christians talk about virginity: a precious “all or nothing” proposition of enormous value, once desecrated never again pristine.

Laws are to serve society and citizens, and they can change with the needs and times. Most reasonable persons recognize it is the job of the government to keep its citizens safe in their homes and work places, and when the government claims its needs certain abilities to do this I listen to them. “Freedom for the wolves means death for the sheep,” Isaiah Berlin famously asserted. During the six years since the epochal attacks in New York and Washington D.C., there have been no terror attacks in the United States – and it is not for lack of trying by Islamist terrorists. Nobody in America has had to sit in their office again and watch in terror as the appearance of a jetliner (or other instrument of death) outside their window signaled their fiery, impending demise.

But here is the rub: what is reasonable for the government to be able to do in our name, and what is unreasonable and unproductive? What is the result of overreach and heavy-handedness, so common in so clumsy a tool as government? The internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, for example, is almost universally thought of a giant error born out of hysteria which did not help the war effort or make America more secure. If Lincoln suspending habeas corpus seems appropriate in the context of the Civil War, there are many or more examples of inappropriate government action in wartime. Why in the world, for example, did the Nixon Administration need to tap Coretta King’s or John Lennon’s phones and read their mail?

But let’s move to the point: What about George Bush and his “War Against Terror” in the early 21st century?

The more I think about it, the more I conclude that the Guantanamo camps should be closed down. I am unwilling to give to the President the power to hold suspects indefinitely without any kind of legal hearing for detainees. I am also made very nervous by the NSA listening in on domestic phone calls without a court warrant. It seems President Bush, in the crisis of 9/11, has come to the conclusion that there is a permanent state of extreme emergency that demands that we just trust him to make all these decisions without consulting courts or working within a legal framework outside of the Executive Branch.

For example, there already exists a FISA court where the government can get warrants in complete secrecy. Why does the President not operate in the framework of this court? Congress must have oversight powers with the FBI and warrantless searches, and a judge should be involved – or at the very least notified afterwards, if it be an emergency – when the NSA monitors internal communications. And can the President reasonably assume that he can stick terrorist suspects in detention centers indefinitely without any legal redress whatsoever? Do we have to rely completely on the Executive Branch as to whether a suspected terrorist belongs in Guantanamo? Are we to believe that no innocents were scooped up with the guilty and brought to Cuba by mistake? Is there any system that forces the government to explains its case, and gives suspects an opportunity to give their side of the story?

President Bush paints a picture of himself as a forceful and strong leader who does what he has to in the name of keeping America safe. He claims to be untroubled by his many critics. Bush says he is “the decider” and will do whatever he feels he need to, despite Congress or the Supreme Court. And in crisis times the government has always acceded, if temporarily, to the president. But in reality the people of the United States are the “deciders,” and any policy that the President of the United States enacts in the name of the people will undergo a referendum in the next election. As such, President Bush was, in effect, fired in the 2006 mid-term elections. In 2008, even if he could run, Bush would not be elected dogcatcher. The vast majority of the country disapproves of his administration, especially his disastrous War in Iraq. After 2008, federal policy with regards to civil rights will change, no matter what Bush thinks.

But it will most likely not change much, in the context of the post-9/11 world. Many now think George Bush a bull in a china shop who is to reckless in his use of power at home and overseas. Personally, I believe George Bush does more damage than good to American democracy with his policies. On the other hand, President Clinton in the 1990s was clearly too lax in his use of power to combat al Qaeda, and any American politician who lets terrorists coalesce in peace and plan spectacular attacks against the United States will be even more unpopular than President Bush is now. The Scylla of being too soft and the Charbydis of too harsh on terrorism.

Even as a bitter critic of him, I sometimes cringe at the cheap shots many take at George Bush. You think it is easy being President of the United States? But even under so much pressure with problems so big and complex, Bush has shown little of that most precious and important political commodities: wisdom, good judgment, a sense of the bigger picture, the good of the country. In the 2000 election during peace and prosperity I voted for a president who had managed well a major league baseball team and seemed a good lightweight leader to run the ship of state which needed little guiding. But after the crisis of 9/11 I got an obdurate and shortsighted simpleton who was in over his head in trying to navigate the nation through a crisis. The irony!

President Bush lost me with his war in Iraq. And I am increasingly against his civil rights policies with regards to terrorism. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t worry about “Bush police state” we supposedly now live in or make a fetish over the civil rights of terrorists, as do some. If the man has links to al-Qaeda or Islamism, investigate and/or arrest him. Monitor their communications, and bring the full weight of the police or military against terrorist threats. For the terrorist wolf hunting for civilian sheep in America, bring the full weight and hard edge of government power against him. But bring the courts into it, and let Congress know exactly what is happening. Explain your action to the voters. If the laws are too lax with regards to terrorists, change them or politic for their change. The vast majority of Americans will support this. But do it within the American system of checks and balances. George Bush is President, not King.

Again, do not mistake me for one of those weepy-eyed professional civil rights activists. Take someone like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, for example, who currently resides at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He is a deadly threat, a religious fanatic, and a man with many political murders to his name. I don’t much care about his “human rights.” Take him outside and put a .45 slug in his brain, for all I care. But that is an extreme example. And this water-boarding, sleep-deprivation, and “stress positioning” is so weasely. Convict him, execute him, but don’t just hold and play and pester with him. For the majority of those held at Guantanamo of less renown than Khalid Sheikh Mohammad the situation is less clear cut. “We think he is guilty as sin but we don’t have any real proof, and so let’s just keep him here where he can do no harm.” Warehousing Islamist terror suspects at Guantanamo indefinitely without charging, trying, or executing them is no long-term solution.

But then there is this example: Taliban veteran Abdullah Mehsud was captured by U.S.-allied Afghan forces in northern Afghanistan in December 2001, but then was released from the Guantanamo detention camps in March 2004. Mehsud immediately returned to fetid Southwest Asia and took up arms again, leading local and foreign Islamist militants in Pakistan's lawless South Wazir region. He killed as many as he could and did as much damage as possible until Pakistani police finally corned him on July 24, 2007 whereupon Mehsud blew himself up with a grenade rather than be apprehended. Good riddance! But did the U.S. Government err in letting him out of Guantanamo in the first place?

The question, as I see it, comes down to this: does a terrorist suspect like Abdullah Mehsud or Sheikh Mohammad deserve a “fair trial.” It is custom in the United States to be considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and that five guilty persons might go free so that one innocent person not be found guilty unjustly. That puts a heavy burden on the state. The question is this: Can America afford to give full legal protections to all terror suspects and let several Abdullah Mehsuds go free after trial in the name of protecting one innocent who is unjustly found guilty? With as deadly and opportunistic an enemy as al Quaeda, do we give its members full Constitutional protections?

I find myself deeply conflicted on that question.

This discussion on civil rights has all too often popularly been a “we need the power to protect American citizens” on the one side, and “we need to protect civil rights” on the other. A better question might be: To what extent can we afford to give Islamist terror suspects their full civil rights while still pursuing an effective anti-terrorist policy. To what extent can we follow legal channels in places like Pakistan or Yemen where there is no law? How much can you fight vicious and implacable fanatics without becoming one yourself? And if you don’t become one yourself, can you expect to win?

There are plenty of examples of overeducated peaceniks who are kidnapped and/or victims of rape, and who fail to overwhelm or escape from their attackers when offered that opportunity because of a lack of that “dog eat dog” sense of survival; after having missed their opportunity, these victims often were killed. "Turn-the-other-cheek pacifism," George Orwell observed in 1941, "only flourishes among the more prosperous classes, or among workers who have in some way escaped from their own class. . . . To abjure violence it is necessary to have no experience of it." I would not have us be too “civilized” to survive in a violent, chaotic world. (Leave that danger to the Europeans.)

But where is the line between fighting fire with fire and being strong enough to survive, and descending to a level little different than one’s foes. As Nietzsche claimed, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.” It was always the danger in the Cold War that in rightfully standing up to Joe Stalin and his successors the United States might become little different than an authoritarian regime. But you don’t get down in the mud to fight with a rabid dog who likes it down there without getting muddy yourself. Neither can you afford to ignore the dangerous dog. What to do?

Why is it that so often the difficult questions are those nobody wants to ask? Or answer? I never hear ACLU lawyers wanting to talk about the powers the government should have to keep its citizens safe – the powers we all want the government to have. And we rarely hear law enforcement officials talking about the civil rights the law demands they respect. Fair enough – the system makes these two interest enemies.

But why do so few thoughtful commentators lock in on that immensely complicated gray area of exactly what powers should the NSA, FBI, CIA, and US military have in fighting Islamist terror worldwide, and how much oversight should courts and Congress have in those efforts? How much, really, does the government need? Why? Where? How much is a clumsy overreaction and abuse of power and civil rights?

On these questions I would be most attentive to a complex, candid discussion. I am just an average citizen and possess no special expertise in legal or terrorist affairs; I would welcome expert testimony. So far there is much posturing and speechifying to defend entrenched positions on terrorism and civil rights, it seems to me, and too little honest discussion on a vitally important subject.

Too little of that most rare and blessed virtue, wisdom.

THE WORLD IS RID OF ABDULLAH MEHSUD:

"It appears he [Mehsud] did not want to be captured alive."
Pakistan Interior ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema

September 09, 2007

That Rare Thing, a Worthwhile Newspaper Article


Worth the read every single day?

TO READ OR NOT TO READ?

I read two newspapers everyday.

It is the one ritual I promised to keep after the upheaval of becoming a father, the daily activity I would keep to bridge the gap the life between the “before” and “after” metamorphosis of becoming responsible for a baby. “I am the same person as before; I am still me,” I tell myself, as my day retains a semblance of its earlier pattern. The ritual anchors my life in the vertiginous upheaval which is new parenthood. Some people stop at Starbuck’s on the way to work or do a crossword puzzle over breakfast. I read the newspaper. So much else has changed in my life but this hasn’t.

Years ago in training to become a gang/grief/addiction facilitator at a former school, I was urged to give up something important in my life for a week to gain empathy for what an addict felt in being deprived of their drug of choice. Supposedly we would see what it felt life to go “cold turkey.” I chose to give up the daily newspaper, and I felt unpleasantly and nervously isolated from the wider world. (A gay man in my training cohort swore off sex with men.) I missed my newspaper badly. The world seemed out of balance. Perhaps I missed the daily ritual as much as the actual newspaper.

Nowadays my ritual is to leave work in the early evening and to stop somewhere on the way home and read my newspapers. This is how I decompress from my work day and do something purely for myself. It is an indulgence, and I can hear finally myself think. My wife is home waiting for me and I know she is watching the clock. She wants me home; there is much to do there; and so I read quickly. Only on the rare occasion that a newspaper article is of the highest quality and worthy of it do I read slowly, carefully, and with my full attention. That is relatively rare.

I also subscribe, in the order of my interest, to the following publications: The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic Montlhy, The New Yorker, and The Week. Sadly, I only manage to read some of "New York Review of Books" and totally ignore the others when they arrive in the mail. Yet I cannot bring myself to cancel my subscriptions. Perhaps it is an homage to an earlier time when Richard Geib did indeed read all those publications cover to cover almost all the time.

Yet increasingly over the past five years or so I have called into question the wisdom of devoting so much time to reading the newspaper. Rather more often than not, I look up after forty minutes of reading the newspaper and ask myself if I learned anything of real value. Was I not again just skimming the frothy surface of mankind? Wasting my precious leisure time and attention? Would I be much better off instead read the Bible – or the poetry of Milton, the rants of Thoreau, or the insights of Montaigne? As William Penn advised,

"Have but few Books, but let them be well chosen and well read, whether of Religious or Civil Subjects... reading many Books is but a taking off the Mind too much from Meditation. Reading your selves and Nature, in the Dealings and Conduct of Men, is the truest human wisdom. The Spirit of a Man knows the Things of Man, and more true Knowledge comes by Meditation and just Reflection than by Reading; for much Reading is an Oppression of the Mind, and extinguishes the natural Candle; which is the Reason of so many senseless Scholars in the World."

That seems to me a sage judgment. Do I waste my time on newspapers? Should I instead pick up and read the Autobiography of Benuvenuto Cellini that has sat next to my bed for three months? There are so many books I want to read but for which I lack the time.

But do I really lack the time? I could make time… but instead I have read the newspaper!

As Henry David Thoreau claimed:

"If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter- we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea. Yet not a few are greedy after this gossip."

Is not dwelling on "the latest news" not a form of seeking for excitement and meaning in the external world where it could be more properly found in one's internal emotional life in relation to it? It is, of course, much easier just to read a newspaper and see what is "new." It is much harder, in contrast, to seek renewal and meaning in oneself. Clearly, it is easier to read a newspaper than to write your own book -- it is the "path more taken."

In settling for the newspaper, am I settling for mediocrity? Is this not mundanity? To read thousands of words daily in the newspaper without anything sparking one’s interest? Conventional. Boring. Mediocre. The articles in the newspaper become aged and of zero value even before the paper it was printed on turns yellow. Poet Ben Johnson warned, "What a deale of cold busines doth a man mis-spend the better part of life in! In scattering compliments, tendring visits, gathering and venting newes, following Feastes and Playes, making a little winter-love in a darke corner.” The newspaper seems to be part of the ordinariness of life, and perhaps I should reach for the extraordinary.

In my fifteenth year of teaching, it is this boring conventionality that increasingly irks me about schools and the education system. (I have noticed it irks students far more than teachers!) The system wants everyone to become proficient in certain skills and to conform to certain rules. And certainly for those are far from proficient in reading and writing understanding the rules, the system can serve to knock some sort of that into student’s think skulls. But for students who can read and write understand the reasoning behind the rule, the cookie cutter approach does not serve: it results in sheer mediocrity - that cursed, yellow-bellied mediocrity so often arrived at by strong students in their schoolwork without breaking a sweat. “Teacher! Tell me what you want -- what is on the rubric and on the test, and then I will learn it! But don’t ask me really to think or to invest myself in my work. Tell me what you want so I can do it quickly and painlessly -- and so I can get back to my video gaming! To do what I really want to do, and that ain't homework!!”

Oh, how I hate this sentiment! This is how young people gradually conclude that school is NOT a place where one comes to learn. Rather, it is a place where one learns to OBEY.There is more truth in the below cartoon about the role of the school in American society than I would like to admit:

Just be quiet and listen to those who know more than you do! Sit down. Be quiet. Obey. Conform.

I tell my students, “Shock me! Surprise me! Make me angry! Be sarcastic, witty, elegant, profound! Take risks! Do anything but turn in that musty cheese you think I want – that perfectly mediocre piece of writing done for the grade! Write more for yourself than for your teacher. And by all means do not bore me! I much prefer failed brilliance to perfect mediocrity.” A colleague once decried students breaking the academic rules thusly: “Who do they think they are? F. Scott Fitzgerald?” I thought to myself, With that attitude your student never will have a chance at becoming the next F. Scott Fitzgerald! It is not unconventionality but apathy that is the main enemy of learning – rank apathy. Apathy and boredom.

*sigh*

So it goes in school, so it goes in the “real world.” Look at all the academic essays that nobody will ever read with pleasure – those you have to pay people to read (ie. pay an instructor). Think of all the trees cut down to print out highly specialized PhD dissertations that are boring as warm spit. The “peer-reviewed scholarship” that are read never for pleasure but as a professional duty – and read by about four persons total. All the think tank publications that are predictable, conventional, and perfectly mediocre: I see the writer of an article is associated with The Carnegie Endowment for Peace, and I already know what he or she is going to say from the political Left – the Hoover Institution hack will similarly spout the standard party line of the orthodox Right.

zzzzzzzzz.

But….but…. once a blue moon I read something in the newspaper that almost makes it all worth it. Something fresh! Something unexpected! Something outside of those well-worn ruts so much of the world drowsily slumbers in. You read it and have to marvel at the writer’s insights – the putting into plain, clear prose the thoughts that have been in our heads but have not been able to be put into clear form – and then someone else does it for you! Oh, mirabile dictum!

This morning I read the following essay by Andrew Klavan about self-righteousness in the wake of Republican Idaho Senator Larry Craig’s arrest for allegedly making a sexual pass in a Minnesota men’s bathroom:

“THAT PERILOUS FIRST STONE”
by Andrew Klavan

How rare that article! How special! For me like water in the desert to a man dying of thirst!

Congratuatiuons, Mr. Klavan!


"Believe me, if I could be hanged for my dreams, I'd be a dead man."

September 08, 2007

An Unhappy Morning Surprise


Thieves broke windows in late night school burglary.

CLASSROOM BREAK-IN

I arrived to my school as usual yesterday morning, Friday September 7, 2007.

But as I turned the corner towards my classroom I encountered not the empty twenty steps of sidewalk that leads to my place of work but instead a throng of school district employees and concerned administrators talking into their radios and cell phones. I pulled up in surprise as Principal Joe Bova explained to me there had been a break-in at around 3:30 a.m. The burglars smashed a window, entered the classroom, stole a computer and LCD projector, and then attempted to break into another classroom in the adjacent building. Apparently, in breaking the window the burglar alarm was activated and the thieves fled before stealing much. When police arrived, those responsible had already fled. A nearby middle school was also hit. Police suspect the two crimes might be related (story).

The burglarized classroom was right next to my own. It seems they hit my neighbor’s classroom randomly, and they stole an eight-year old computer projector and middling-quality PC. They can’t be worth much on the black market. I have this vision of some shady character fencing the aging LCD projector out of the back of his truck for $40 cash.

Pathetic.

What kind of person burglarizes a school? I try to envision the low-life who visited my school in the wee hours of yesterday morning. Strung-out tweakers desperately searching for anything to steal to fund their next hit of crystal meth? Or professional thieves who go to work daily stealing the way a plummer goes off to work each morning fixing toilets – as a career, studied over years? Looking at the smash-grab-run strategy and meager yield of last night’s burglary, I suspect the former. So much risk for so little return.

Pathetic.

And shocking. It reminds me of my uncle who is a Catholic priest and worked out in Riverside County. A couple of years ago burglars visited his church in the middle of the night and cleaned it out: took all the computers, anything of value. It was a professional job. But tell me: What kind of a person burglarizes a church?

My last school was located in a remote culvert on Mulholland Dr. in Bel Air. Professional thieves visited our campus in the middle of the night, proceeded to pick the locks, cut very cleanly with bolt cutters the security cables that anchored the school computers to the ground, and then to leave without a trace. When I arrived to school the next morning, all I saw were very neatly cut security cables, no computers, and black police fingerprint dust everywhere. No arrests. Never any sign of the computers again.

“What did you do at work last night, Daddy?” the burglar’s son might ask. Well, Son, I hit a middle school and stole the teacher's computers. Pretty pathetic.

It would be semi-understandable of this were the work of bored teenagers. One almost expects some vandalism or other boneheadedness from young people with more hormones than common sense. But a full-grown adult who makes a cold-blooded, lifelong study of stealing is indeed a sorry spectacle. And your garden-variety drug addict stealing anything not bolted down is just about as contemptible as it is common.

For all the world it reminds me of the following quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools that have not wit enough to be honest.” I imagine stealing can be hard work, and with a bit of planning, foresight, and discipline a person could make more money honestly than dishonestly. But they don’t.

A discouraging, disheartening, and unsettling event this burglary was – leaving a bad taste in my mouth even up unto this afternoon.


Cables that used to connect to LCD projector the morning after the crime.

September 02, 2007

Sports and Alcohol


USC crunches Idaho 38-10 in 2007 season opener

SPORTS AND BOOZE

So last night my father and I walked around Balboa Island in my hometown of Newport Beach, California. The moon beamed down on us as we walked and talked in the darkness, and the air still had a touch of the heat that had baked Southern California during the day. It was around 10:00 p.m. on a balmy late summer evening in late August 2007.

Part of the deal on there is that when walking on the sidewalk which circles the island one can hardly fail to see into the houses bordering the water. Everything is so tight together there that there is little privacy on Balboa Island. On this particular Saturday night of a three day Labor Day weekend I swear in every other house the inhabitants were watching the USC Trojans play football on TV while drinking some form of alcohol. USC banners hung liberally from balconies and rooftops, and I saw margaritas being mixed and wine and beer in seemingly every person’s hand while the glow of the TV sets and athletes reflected on their faces. I was not surprised to see this, but I was surprised to see it happening in almost every living room. Frankly, I was shocked and a bit horrified.

How much of contemporary America revolves around watching sports and drinking alcohol? How much time, energy, attention? How much money?

Is this the best we Americans can do with our precious leisure time?

AMERICA, ALCOHOL, AND SPORTS

How much time and energy? How much money?