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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Suffer The Little Children.....

If all responsibility is imposed on you, then you may want to exploit the moment and want to be overwhelmed by the responsibility; yet if you try, you will notice that nothing was imposed on you, but that you are yourself this responsibility.
Franz Kafka (1883–1924), Fourth Notebook, 1918

We once again have a person with more sympathy than sense suggesting a solution designed to promote irresponsibility in the young. Here is a letter from today’s Cape Cod Times in response to their story about the four young people who phoned in a bomb threat to the Hy-Line Ferry office, paralyzing traffic to and from Nantucket:

Involve teen culprits in restitution plan

Though it is disheartening that teen angst, lack of judgment and impulsivity caused so much trouble, inconvenience, fear and expense in Nantucket, I am glad the bomb threat that shut down the island was not from a terrorist nor even a real criminal enterprise (''Threat to ferry seen as prank,'' July 20). A real crime will be committed, however, if full-fledged felony prosecutions go forward for these children. Addressing the responsibility of these offenders for the costs (both financial and emotional) to the affected travelers and the community could be ideally handled in a Restorative Circle process. I propose a community forum at which law enforcement, ferry system officials, community leaders and affected travelers can tell the offenders how their stupid actions harmed these various components of the public.
The offenders would have the opportunity to explain themselves, offer apologies and accept responsibility and, with the help of facilitators, work out a plan for restitution. These children do not need criminal records. They need to face the people they have harmed and the community they disrupted and to figure out how to restore what they have broken. Michael L. Rich, Chairman
Restorative Justice Task Team
Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ, Arlington

We will set aside for the moment that these ‘children’ are of similar ages as the 'real' terrorist ones who carried out the bombing of the London subway system and hundreds of other terrorist bombings. Actually, I'm not certain that they are not real terrorists, in that the aim of the terrorist is to inspire terror, and they certainly suceeded in that - 'innocent' is not just failing to killing somebody. We will instead concentrate on the assertion that “These children do not need criminal record”, but instead should be allowed to sit at a community forum and be gently scolded by those they have inconvenienced in a “Restorative Circle”.

Does anyone need a criminal record? At what age should they be held responsible for their actions, then? After the drunk driving offense at age 20? After they default on student loans at age 28? After the divorce and lack of child support at age 32? Indeed, why should they ever have to shoulder any responsibility at all, when assuring people that they are really very, very sorry will suffice? They may not be very sorry for what they did, but they are certainly very sorry that they got caught.

Porcupine wonders – did they have dogs that they initially begged for brought to animal pounds to be ‘adopted’ (or more probably euthanized) when they stopped caring for them after they got their driver’s licenses, and it just got tooo boring to walk some smelly dog every day? Did their parents call their math teachers and insist that they be given a second chance to take the final exam, because they were really overtired from a recent vacation when they flunked the first one? Have they, in fact, been disciplined by ‘facilitators’ all of their coddled young lives?

They were craven and cunning enough to have the only legal minor in the group actually place the phone call, snickering at these arbitrary age standards as they looked up the phone number together. Of course, the motive for these pampered Connecticut teens was that they wanted to spend another night on the Island, and needed an excuse – inconvenience and danger to others be damned.

I’m sorry, Mr. Rich, but criminal records are exactly what these children need. The stranded New York traveler who missed being at his dying mother’s bedside because of this ‘prank’ will not be coming back for your ‘town meeting’ of reconciliation; in fact, he may never return to Massachusetts at all. Yes, this conviction will indeed prevent them from holding jobs they may want or becoming lawyers – and will set stern example to other wayward children that sometimes, the buck does stop here. They will face the community they harmed – in a courtroom, which is also capable of assessing them for the financial damages they have caused. A mechanism exists in the Trial Court to have a record expunged after ten years with no further arrests or offenses, and this may guarantee the good behavior of these four until they are 28.

Medicine may be harsh, but it cures in a way sugary placebo syrups never will.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Nouveax Creationism?

177. Remember that thou are not more indebted to thy Parents for thy Nature, than for thy Love and Care.

Maxims of William Penn. (1644–1718).

On July 22nd, the Boston Globe reported that Barnstable Town Clerk Linda Hutchenrider made an odd request of Governor Romney – she wants birth certificates changed to read ‘Mother’ and ‘Second Parent’. This is to accommodate same-sex couples who will be having children, she says.

According to the Globe
“In 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, there were 61 children born to married same-sex couples out of about 80,000 children born in the state, according to data from the Department of Public Health. This year, the number stood at 75 by the end of June. "It doesn't matter if there's only one or 500," Hutchenrider said. "They all deserve to have proper birth records."

Ms. Hutchenrider is perfectly correct. They do deserve to have proper birth records. But no amount of fantasy will allow a same-sex couple to ever have a child.

If the couple is a lesbian one, then one could give birth but the other parent will be ‘unknown’ or ‘Sperm Donor 127-05’ as the case may be. Under no circumstances outside of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie will one of the partners in a male same-sex couple give birth, not even if one of them is Nathan Lane!

Ask adoptive children – birth certificates have the names of the people who conceived them, not who raised them, no matter how wanted or nurtured they might be. Why would this be different? Why in heavens name would we want to pollute the stream of factual information about who the actual biological mother and father of a child is in favor of a lace-paper-valentine view that the people who raise a child really gave birth to them? One of the biggest issues in getting the records of so-called confidential adoptions unsealed has been the need for accurate information regarding the medical histories of birth parents. We are standing at the doorway of genetically oriented medecine; withing 20 years, the single most important diagnostic tool doctors will have is an accurate genetic history, not only to cure disease but to prevent it.

If we are sending babies home with birth certificates that read Frank and Ted, instead of giving the names of the biological parents, we are condemning that child to ignorance in favor of the vanity of the parents. Birth certificates are not diplomas to be displayed on a wall, but legal records.

The response of Eric Fehrnstrom on behalf of Gov. Romney that

“…The health department has been advising hospitals to alter the documents since last year and that the governor believes the hand-altered certificates are valid. "As long as they're recorded, they're valid.”
is, well, nonsense. Politically correct nonsense, to be sure, but a lowering of standards for the Romney administration, which usually tries to be sensible.

Of course couples can raise children and be good parents. But they can never give birth to a child. Linda Hutchenrider would be better off remembering what the charge of her office is – the recording and preservation of accurate records, rather than the advancement of a dubious political agenda.

(Kudos to Mat Margolis of Hub Politics for highlighting this – heavens knows, we’ll never read about the Barnstable Town Clerk in the Cape Cod Times!)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

The fame which is based on wealth or beauty is a frail and fleeting thing; but virtue shines for ages with undiminished lustre.

Gaius Sallustius Crispus (c. 86–35/34 B.C.), Roman historian

Today is the 255th birthday of General . Before you say, 'who's he', consider that he is the person the Fort Knox is named after, that repository of incorruptible metal.

They brought a cake to the cemetary and sang patriotic songs, and as a part of the celebration, author autographed copies of his most recent book, '1776', in which Gen. Knox figures greatly, at the General's home, Montpelier, as a benefit for the museum there. Again, why would such a prestigious author autograph books for a 'who's he?' figure in American history.

Gen. Henry Knox was a 25 year old bookseller in Boston at the outbreak of the Revolution. He had read military history avidly, but had never heard a shot fired in earnest in his life. Still, he joined the Continental Army as a Colonel, and became one of the two figures that George Washington could genuinely rely on during the war.

It was his idea to go to Fort Ticonderoga and drag the cannon there to Boston to provide a battery on Dorchester Heights to end Washington's seige of Boston. It is remarkable that a young officer could gain access to the chief commander, and even more remarkable that he was told to go ahead. It took him three months - across Lake George, on sledges through the snow, but he and his small troop walked and dragged sixty cannons, weighing a total of about 120,000 pounds over 300 miles, enabling Washington to shell the British and drive them out of Boston (and it was good of him to choose St. Patrick's day to do so, creating the Evacuation Day holiday for generations of state workers). Later in the war, he was invaluable during the battle of Trenton, getting the men into the boats and cajoling them to fight. Washington said that without his strong lungs, the crossing of the Delaware could never have succeeded.

Later in the day, McCullough gave a speech, decrying the lack of American History eductaion in our schools, warning that a generation of children were in danger of losing their own birthright.

When the Porcupine presented his book to be autographed, Mr. McCullough looked up and said, "So you're Peter Porcupine". "I am, sir", I replied in my most affable manner, clasping the hand he offered. He signed the book with a personal dedication to me, and I have read it and declare it to be a classic of its genre, underlining what the Porcupine wrote on Independence Day, that the War of Revolution was far from a sure thing, and men like Henry Knox, sea-green incorruptible, were the only reason it succeeded.

Fort Knox is well named after the man.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Random Thoughts

(He was) aware that one thought linked strangely on to another in the concatenation of worthy ideas, Like Orient pearls at random strung...
Sir Walter Scott. (1771–1832). Guy Mannering.

It must be the humidity.

Perhaps the moisture interferes with the ectoplasm. At any rate, I find my mind jumping from issue to issue, rather like crossing a river on ice floes – a soothing image, that.

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Has it struck anyone that the first beneficiaries of the new Supreme Court decision regarding eminent domain takings on behalf of private entities may well be cellular phone companies? Everyone has a cell phone, everyone wants better service – and they fight tooth and nail when a carrier tries to build a tower in their community. No longer public utilities, cellular companies are indeed private corporations. It was not long ago that a church on the outer Cape signed a contract to have a cellular tower disguised by their steeple, only to be thwarted by those who are convinced that the rays emanating from the tower are a health hazard (for the benefit of those people, I give you here the web site that gives instruction on how to build tin-foil beanies for protection – and remember, always wear them shiny side out! - http://zapatopi.net/afdb.html). How long will it be before the solons on Beacon Hill realize they can’t get decent cellular reception in Truro and decide such a taking is in the ‘overwhelming public interest’?

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Speaking of the Supreme Court, the selection by President Bush of John Roberts seems like a solid choice. Right of center, but not too far off the edge, Judge Roberts would seem like a good candidate for confirmation. It was remarkable that Bush was able to keep the nomination secret until about 50 minutes before is formal announcement. In a way, after the Associated Press released its breathless report of the name at about 8:10, Porcupine was somewhat hoping that Bush would announce the name of a different qualified jurist just to flummox them. Already, it has been reported that conservatives have raised between $70 and $80 million to run ads urging his confirmation, and a friend of Porcupine’s received a solicitation last week from Mass NARAL, before the nominee was announced that explained that no matter who Bush nominated, the nomination would need to be fought. It is also reported that the left has raised about $50 million for similar reasons. Since about fifty Senators have already made up their minds to vote for whomever Bush might nominate, and about forty have made up their minds to vote against whoever might be nominated, it seems staggering that over $120 million will be spent to change 10 minds. That is the way of politics today.

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On the subject of political financing, Porcupine would like to recommend an excellent book by Peter Bearse, “We, the People – A Conservative Populism”. A large part of Mr. Bearse’s argument is that the current popularity of attack ads, targeted mailings, etc., will continue until the paid political consultant is dispensed with, as much of their salary is accounted for by a percentage of their media ‘buys’, causing them to suggest foregoing such old fashioned techniques as actually meeting the populace and making speeches to them in person, in favor of more and more media buys. Mr. Bearse has encountered much hostility from the paid political and media establishment – I can’t imagine why….

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Speaking of media, Mr. Schectman of the Cape Cod Times has left us one final gaffe before he leaves us for good. On page two of the July 19th Cape Cod Times, waaay below the story with the photo of Karl Rove headlined ‘Bush Raises Bar for Firing Leakers’, in the tiny print of the For The Record corrections, is the note, “A headline on Page A-1 of yesterday’s Cape Cod Times gives an imprecise description of accusations against White House deputy chief of staff [note – not capitalized!] Karl Rove. Reports indicate that Rove did not directly ‘name’ an undercover CIA agent but rather revealed her identity by describing her as the wife of Ambassador [capitalized!] Joseph Wilson IV.” The headline for the preceding day splashed in the boldest of type across the front page, a.k.a Page A-1, of course was Mr. Schectman’s responsibility. Even his grudging retraction is inaccurate – Valerie Plame was not an undercover agent, for instance. Perhaps the Daily KOS will benefit from Mr. Schectman’s headline-writing skills in the future. At least he ends his career on the same inaccurate note as he began it, consistent to the end.

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Any takers that Judith Miller’s source is a Democrat, so she has chosen to languish in jail rather than admit it?

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Another blast of the miasma of heat – I’ll drift away for a bit….

Friday, July 15, 2005

Charity Should Begin at Home - Red Tide Redux

God helps them that help themselves
Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack, 1757

It is always interesting to see how an emergency affects an area or a community. Typically, it brings out the best and worst in each. But the disastrous Red Tide emergencies carried a far different message for Cape Cod – local agencies, charitable or not, are always able to respond to a crisis better than government. Always.

When the shellfish beds were shut down more than a month ago on June 3, at the beginning of the crucial summer season when the shellfishermen made the money that will feed them all winter, their first cries were to their Federal, State and local officials. With sincere hearts, all of them responded – we are looking into it, and will get back to you. This is cold comfort indeed for people about to miss a car payment. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration has giving over $30 million, $12 million to Woods Hole, for monitoring and tracking. This is valuable, and will help solve the problem – but again, cold comfort for those with no income.

This is not really a criticism of government; it is an expression of its reality. There were issues of jurisdiction between Federal and State, protocols that must be followed, and the rather interesting news that the owners of shellfish grants weren’t shellfishermen at all – they were farmers, under the purview of the Department of Agriculture. The Governor must ask for help, after being formally assured by his state agencies that the crisis is real and warrants action, and then the Congressman and the Department of Commerce must decide upon a course of action. It is all rather stately, and not made for an era with a 24 hour news cycle. Romney, Delahunt, even poor Michael Hickey – the state’s heretofore obscure shellfish expert catapulted into instant fame – did a yeoman’s job of cutting red tape and working together quickly, as did the Cape Delegation.

At the end of the day, what government had to offer was – loans. The Small Business Administration held workshops, but the fishermen were sensibly leery of taking out a loan that they had no idea if they could repay. The hoped-for unemployment – not usually available, as most of the shellfishermen do not pay into the Unemployment system – was never available as the federal government decided that the red tide did not present a crisis that would warrant a declaration of emergency. After all, the shellfish aren’t dead or gone – they will just be harvested in an economically disadvantageous time. There is much muttering that this is revenge on a Blue state, but it is worth noting that the last request for a red tide emergency was made in 2001 by Florida. It was denied. If the President’s brother couldn’t swing it, perhaps less blame should be cast on Mitt Romney.

Who DID help? Local agencies. The Lower/Outer Cape Coalition. The Interfaith Council. There was talk of the County helping, but they arrived late and short, like the rest of government. For the person in need on the ground, our local agencies were superb. And we need to support them.

Consider this an object lesson in government, whose singular response to the crisis was to attempt to make the Eastern Oyster an endangered species, and entirely wipe out the fishing of the Wellfleet Oyster. It never has been, and never should be, the many-breasted mother dispensing the milk of human kindness to all in need, no matter what some people try to make it into. With government, there’s always a catch. We’ll continue to ship our odd-27% off Cape in taxes, but we won’t see much of it back when we really need it. So, Cape Codders, dig deep and help those who helped. Because of the nature of red tide, depositing ‘cysts’ on the ocean floor which will bloom when exposed to fresh water (see my essay of June 12, please!) it is likely, almost probable, that this will happen again. While Woods Hole looks for a solution, let’s support our friends and neighbors.

Donations can be sent to:
Lower/Outer Cape Community Coalition
PO Box 797
Eastham, MA 02642

Interfaith Council
P.O. Box 828
Orleans, MA 02653

Monday, July 11, 2005

A Variant of Normal, Elevated to Respectability

To be good, according to the vulgar standard of goodness, is obviously quite easy. It merely requires a certain amount of sordid terror, a certain lack of imaginative thought, and a certain low passion for middle-class respectability.
Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist, 1891

When did the ‘Love That Dare Not Speak It’s Name’ become the Love that cannot shut up about itself?

Is Hillary Clinton a Lesbian? Is Tom Cruise gay? Can these liberal icons even sue for slander, given that being gay is so politically correct it is assumed to be beneficial – ergo, what is the necessary derogation involved in a slander, even if it isn’t true? Is that perhaps why we haven’t seen more court cases over ‘outing’?

I freely admit that I come from a time when gay meant cheerful. Sodomites, as we called them then, certainly existed and many were socially received – but they were expected to be discreet in their relationships, as were heterosexuals, also known as normal men. Only a cad would speak of carnal relations with his wedded wife, but only a beast would speak openly about bedding a person who was not. It made for more discussion of politics and livestock, sharper innuendo in comedies, and genuinely scandalous and wicked conversation in private over a bottle of port when the ladies had left the room. But I reminisce.

Now, from the Vice-President’s daughter to the barkeep at the Provincetown Ferry, everyone is aggressively ‘out’, and mad for their rights. The right not to listen, or be unconcerned with the sexuality of your dentist, has been lost, as have many facets of the Right to Be Let Alone. Resignedly, we may as well accept it as payback for fifty-odd years of lithe young women draped over automobiles as Madison Avenue chanted the zombie mantra of ‘Sex Sells’. By destroying decorum in public conversation, they have made appropriate the once unmentionable.

In 1989, Florence King wrote, “For men who want to flee Family Man America and never come back, there is a guaranteed solution: homosexuality is the new French Foreign Legion.” Yet now this faraway frontier seeks to drape itself in the cloying respectability of the Eisenhower era – is this anything for a new thrill? Whence this passion for middle-class respectability, the strident emphases on being considered just a variant of normal (of course, if you are a variant, you do leave the norm, but this is not a rational discussion, but an emotional one)? As a great victory for Respectability, here in Massachusetts, the first legally recognized homosexual marriages took place over a year ago, and the anniversary parties in Provincetown were touching and infuriating, depending upon how the issue strikes you. Because of this division, the ensuing political battle is still being waged.

How I laugh as I picture the red-faced, spitting, inchoate Sage of Quincy, as John Adams views how the Supreme Judicial court interprets his precious Massachusetts Constitution. He freely bragged that it served as the model for the United States Constitution, and indeed it is a well worn document, the oldest in continual use. The Court said that because there was no express prohibition of homosexual marriage, there was no reason for Town Clerks to fail to issue such marriage licenses. Of course, Adams didn’t write about nuclear defenses or aviation either, but the Court sees no problem with regulating them. But the Court was just – it said that the Legislature was free to act, it simply hadn’t bothered. In this, the decision was entirely fair.

For five years, Senate President Birmingham gaveled a Constitutional Convention to order, with a Massachusetts Defense of Marriage (DOMA) calendar item, similar to those passed on 30 other states and based on a petition signed by 10,000 registered voters, only to adjourn it immediately, smug in the knowledge that he was keeping the cork in the bottle on behalf of the gay rights lobby. The fact that so many citizens – pro and con – wanted to have a vote on this matter was irrelevant from the heights of Beacon Hill, natural habitat of Those Who Know Better and Best. The Court Decision smashed this all to smithereens, created riots in staid hallways, and cannibalized an entire Session of Legislative business important to the 90% of residents who were not gay. It is a testimony to the political wisdom of a single party junta that they could not conceive that, eventually, the will of the people might actually become part of the discussion.

A Hobson’s choice was created for the voters in the last legislative Session. Not content with forestalling the mere electorate for years, the Legislature changed the wording of the DOMA sponsored by Rep. Travis. The question to be put before the people will be (and this is a collaboration to make the blood run cold) the Traviglini-Finneran Amendment – Is marriage between a man and a woman, and shall civil unions be created? Rep. Travis’ original choice, a straight (no pun intended) assertion that marriage is between a man and a woman and no other relationship will be legally recognized, will not be offered. Ironically, gay rights advocates who would have been clicking their heels at accomplishing civil unions five years ago now assert that this is compromise language is not enough, that nothing short of full-fledged marriage is acceptable. Birmingham has a lot to answer for. In response to this, a new group has begun to gather signatures to put the original choice back on the ballot. There is no guidance from the Court as to what would happen if they both pass, and are both ratified by the voters.

As always, the Porcupine has the solution to this and other problems – but I am rarely asked, being dead and all. The solution is not to define marriage, it is to eliminate a state definition of it.

Homosexuals have a valid complaint that they cannot leave property, visit in a hospital and so on. Even the tenuous legal bridges that they build can be broken in court. The only thing that magically changes your partner to your legal next-of-kin is a marriage license. Every marriage has two parts. The one paid attention to is ceremony – rings, flowers, vows, and so on. Yet the second part is the only one which the State has any valid interest in – the signing of the license by the principles and witnesses and the legal registration of the couple. Why must that be called marriage?

Rather than amend the Constitution, amend Mass. General Laws, Chapter 25, and strike the word ‘marriage’ and replace it with ‘registered union’. We don’t have laws about communion or confirmation ceremonies, so why should we have laws about marriages? Authority for marriages would then revert to clerical authorities, where they belong (along with religious divorces). Regardless of sexual persuasion, you would register your union, and celebrate a ceremony called ‘marriage’ – or not - in your own way. You would be invested with legal protection, yet ‘marriage’ – which is a touchstone for so much apprehension – would remain a matter of religion.

Whether you think we are the most moral or immoral state in the nation, we have kept one piece of our Brahmin legacy intact – we are certainly the most Respectable one, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

A Day of Infamy

We [Democratic nations] must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend.
Lady Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of Great Britain, in speech July 15, 1985

Edgware Road. Liverpool Street. King’s Cross. Tavistock Place. My own London.

The British Army patrolling Covent Garden. Londoners walking warily home across the Bridge in the twilight, as the Tube was no longer available.

“Everyone, long story short, thought they were going to die.” Speaking in subdued tones, the archetypal man of the City – blue suit and tie in place, with only hair askew to show how close he had come to meeting his Maker - spoke quietly of how he was trapped, in a burning metal carriage under the ground. Other survivors described bodies on the tracks, pools of blood everywhere, soot and smoke choking off rational action and thought. Timed to coincide with the Thursday morning rush hour, the attacks killed and maimed over 700 – a month of fatalities and casualties in the Iraq war in a single day. The London Tube was built in 1863, about 30 years after my time, but by attacking it the terrorists struck at the true circulatory system of London, usually filled with schoolchildren as well as businessmen and housewives.

Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke, with Presidents Bush and Chirac at his side, about how the group calling itself ‘Al-Quida in Europe’, the 'Emigrants' terrorists were trying to ‘cow us’, to prevent good Britons from ‘going about our business as normal as we are entitled to do’. Mr. Blair cannot help but remember that a similar attack in Spain changed the course of an election, putting an anti-American candidate into office. I do not think, however, that Britons will react in a similar fashion. When Blair calls the attack barbaric, he is speaking the language of his fellow Londoners. While he has returned from the G-8 summit briefly, he intends to return and take his place again to discuss African poverty and global warming. Business as usual, carry on, Jack.

There will be some critics. George Galloway, leader of the protestors at the G-8 summit said that the event was caused by British support for the United States, and that Britain should abandon the Iraq war. But so far, the Briton on the street has been too horrified at this attack, so reminiscent of the bombings in WWII, to think about political ramifications. Suicide bombers on double decker buses will only stiffen resolve, however, not cause us to change course. When asked by reporters about the psychological impact of their ordeal, the Londoners on CNN and MSNBC look blank, as if hearing a foreign language.

America has offered its empathy and condolences. While Rudy Giuliani, in London to address a government group, condemned the attacks, and spoke highly of the caliber of the quality of the emergency response, it is worth noting that New York City subway workers intercepted a member of the Emigrants Group in that city, preventing what had happened in my poor London from happening there. Secretary of State Rice gave her formal condolences at the Embassy, speaking quietly and firmly of the support that America offers.

More will come out as the days and weeks go by. Prime Minister Blair said that this is not an attack on one nation, but an attack on all nations. Londoners will realize that 9/11 was a catastrophe literally ten times larger in a similar geographic area. They will realize that terrorism is a psychological war as much as a corporeal one, and will stiffen their resolve and screw their courage to the sticking place.

All we can offer for now are our prayers.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Last, Best Hope

Faulkner Mural, 'The Declaration of Independence '- National Archive, 1936
Courage, then, my countrymen; our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty.
Samuel Adams (1722–1803) - 1776

I get a little misty this time of year.

Your Independence Day calls to mind the follies and friends of my youth, and even more vividly - my enemies. I knew the composers of the Declaration of Independence, the Committee of Five – John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingstone, and Roger Sherman. Jefferson wrote the first draft; as he put it, the committee “unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake the draught [sic]. I consented; I drew it; but before I reported it to the committee I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections. . . I then wrote a fair copy, reported it to the committee, and from them, unaltered to the Congress." The Congress voted to adopt the Declaration late in the afternoon of July 4th of 1776. This was an Act of War against Great Britain, and a shift in the tectonic plates of history.

The breaking off of the American Colonies was an act with as great a cultural significance as the Norman Invasion, the defeat of Marc Anthony, and the conquest of Byzantium, marking the foundation of the British, Roman and Ottoman Empires, respectively. Gifted with fantastic natural resources, the North American Continent was always destined to become a great nation – the question was what kind it would be. As Dr. Franklin told the anxious crowd outside the Constitutional Convention, “A Republic, if you can keep it”.

But the Fourth of July is about the getting of it rather than the keeping of it. Much attention is always given to the eloquent preamble, less to the laundry list of grievances, and little to the most interesting part – the conclusion. Here is what the Five presented as the desirable end result of their efforts -

We, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare,

That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, Free and Independent States;

That they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connection between them and the State of Great-Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved;

and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power

To levy War,
Conclude Peace,
Contract Alliances,
Establish Commerce,
and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

And for the support of this declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.

If you signed this, you were a marked man. Make no mistake, if the American Revolution had not been a success, and you had signed this document, you would be hung as a traitor. The references to honor and life are not hyperbole, but a statement of fact. The success of the Revolution was far from a foregone conclusion, or a ‘self-evident truth’. To understand the pressures of neighbor against neighbor and to enjoy a great lost classic, consider reading the novel, ‘Oliver Wiswell’ by Kenneth Roberts, the story of an honorable man from the Blue Hills outside of Boston, caught up in revolutionary times, but unable to overcome his scruples regarding loyalty to the Crown, a reluctant and troubled Loyalist. I knew so many like him, who had lost their families and fortunes, swept away in a tide which engulfed a continent.

It seems so easy in hindsight. Yet of the 13 Colonies, only 9 voted to ratify the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Eventually, 56 delegates signed the engrossed copy, most of them on August 2nd. Some like your future Governor Elbridge Gerry, famous for his ‘Gerrymandering’ of Massachusetts for political gain, delayed signing. In fact, Thomas McKean didn’t sign until 1781 – and some like Robert Livingstone of the Committee of Five never signed at all.

So on Independence Day, go to the picnics, listen to the ooom-pah music, wave your flag, ooohhh and aaahhh at the fireworks, and ask yourself – in your heart of hearts - would you have signed the Declaration that could be your death warrant? Please, take the time to thank and revere the men who did sign it, and remember that the kind of men they were in large part determined the kind of nation you became.

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