Monday, June 27, 2005

Dred Scott Revisited

The rights of man…

Something has just happened that has me very frightened…I have always believed that I lived in the country with the highest regard for individual rights and personal liberty in the world. I have been proud of the documents that define our liberties and “inalienable” rights… of our Constitution. Yesterday, I first heard of a decision by the US Supreme Court that violates our fundamental right to personal property as defined in the Bill of Rights.

A city in Connecticut took a woman’s home to allow a shopping mall developer to use the land. The city used the law of Eminent Domain, which allows for the forfeiture of property for “the public good”. The Supreme Court upheld the decision, and basically forfeited our property rights. The law of Eminent Domain gives a government authority the right to take property that is identified as “blighted” to be used for the “public good”. The woman in CT lived in a well kept home and it stretches the idea of public good to the breaking point to include turning confiscated property over to a private developer. Basically, her home was taken because the shopping mall (or whatever else was being planned) offered a better tax revenue to the city.

From my perspective, the Supreme Court has removed one of our primary rights as defined in the Constitution and has opened up the possibility that the government might be able to take any of our homes or property under the weakest of pretexts.

The following is copied from the Ayn Rand Institute:

What justifies this treatment of Kelo and the other owners, who simply want to be free to live on their own property? The seizures and transfers, the government says, are in "the public interest"--because they will lead to more jobs for New London residents and more tax dollars for the government. This type of justification was given more than 10,000 times between 1998 and 2002, and across 41 states, to use eminent domain (or its threat) to seize private property. The attitude behind these seizures was epitomized by a Lancaster, CA, city attorney explaining why a 99¢ Only store should be condemned to make way for a Costco: "99 Cents produces less than $40,000 [a year] in sales taxes, and Costco was producing more than $400,000. You tell me which was more important?"

To such government officials, the fact that an individual earns a piece of property and wants to use and enjoy it, is of no importance--all that matters is "the public." But as philosopher Ayn Rand observed, "there is no such entity as 'the public,' since the public is merely a number of individuals . . . .the idea that 'the public interest' supersedes private interests and rights can have but one meaning: that the interests and rights of some individuals take precedence over the interests and rights of others." In the context of the Kelo case, the idea that "the public interest" trumps private property rights simply means that the desires of some individuals for property they did not earn and cannot get from others voluntarily trump the rights of those who did earn it and do not want to sell it. Why are their rights trumped? Because some gang with political pull doesn't happen to like how these individuals are using their property.

This is unjust and un-American. America was founded on the principle of individual rights, including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What do these rights mean if an individual is not free to remain in and enjoy the house he chooses to build his life around, simply because others are clamoring for a shopping mall? Just as it would be unjust for the government to shut down the printing presses of a newspaper because its reporting is unpopular, so it is unjust for the government to raze a house that an individual has earned, developed, and loves, no matter how many cry that the land should be put to other use.

If the Supreme Court rules against the property owners in Kelo, then no one's home or business is secure. As Dana Berliner, an attorney for the owners, explains: "If jobs and taxes can be a justification for taking someone's home or business then no property in America is safe. Anyone's home can create more jobs if it is replaced by a business and any small business can generate greater taxes if replaced by a bigger one."

I am not sure what we as Americans can do about this injustice. I am going to write to the members of the Supreme Court, expressing my concern for the decision and for its impact on individual liberty. I hope others will speak out against this tyranny. We must closely guard our freedoms lest they be swept away by the insidious force of political power.

I am reminded of another decision by our Supreme Court that clearly abridged our inalienable rights as defined by Thomas Jefferson. That decision was the one that took the freedom away from the runaway slave Dred Scott. The Dred Scott decision and the utter hopelessness that it left those who were fighting the scourge of slavery in this land was one of the factors that led to our great Civil War. Let us all pray that those in power are held accountable to the people of this land lest the foundations of our peace and freedoms become unsound. It is the society that does not respect the rights and freedoms of its citizens that is subject to violence and instability. We have been free of these threats for over a century. I hope that an alert populace can keep us safe from the strife that seems so common in the rest of the world.


Friday, June 24, 2005

A Quiet Place

Some time alone…

I went for a long hike today. This was one of those times when I had many things to sort out and found myself in the place where I feel most at home and most comfortable. It was a very good day and I come away feeling at peace and ready to make some of the changes that are calling to me. I’ve said before that the deep woods are my church and I spent today very close to God. I’d like to describe my church for you.

In Pennsylvania, the Appalachian Trail runs through a dense growth forest. As you hike along, you find yourself walking through so many shades of green. The feeling is like swimming under water in a cool clear spring; the sun filtered through the trees is the same as if it were reaching you through the water. As I walk along the trail, I come upon a huge stand of Rhododendron. They are past blooming but they cover the path and in places I find myself walking under a tunnel of the plants. It’s all so rich and quiet and I can feel it fill my soul. Off to my right I can hear water running as several creeks and rivulets work their way down the ridge to the valley below…there’s something about the sound of running water in the woods that is about as close to total peacefulness as you’ll ever get.

As I reach the ridge line, the woods begin to thin and the sky opens overhead. The day is clear and the sky looks as blue as a Robin’s egg. The trail leaves the woods briefly and I walk across an isolated meadow atop the ridge. The view that I get of the green wooded valleys and the nearby mountains is awe inspiring. The only sound that comes to me today is from the many birds along the trail. I know that they are just announcing their territory, but their songs are pleasant and add to the overall wonder and joy that I feel in being out here.

I spend so much of my time trapped in a cold and lifeless office. I wonder at the work I’ve done and the things that I’ve built. They are as nothing compared to the beauty and peace of the woods. I have been very successful in our modern world and have been deeply involved in much of the technology and science that we live by. I wonder sometimes if we haven’t lost our way, if we aren’t anesthetizing ourselves from the truth within and around us. I hope that the technology that I have wrought will ultimately fulfill it’s promise of freedom and allow us to get back to where we belong…to where we can find our inner peace and our inner truth.

Today, I will just thank God for the beauty of this path in the woods. I know where to go to escape the things in our world that drain me of my energy and my faith. I thank God for this opportunity to spend time within myself and to once more connect with that part of him that lives within me.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

A Level Playing Field

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about levels…Seems to me that people all work on a number of levels; mental, physical, sexual, spiritual, etc.…some of us work on many levels, while others are practically one-dimensional. People usually show just one or two of their levels until you really get to know them, but good friends can slide back and forth with each other and share things in most all of the levels where they live. I have a few of these friends in my life and it’s amazing to me how much they fill the spaces in me and keep me growing.

I’ve always been a strong believer in free will and determinism, but I’ve had to reassess this belief recently … I’m not so sure of things anymore. I am more receptive to fate and I think the biggest reason is the tendency of special people to walk into my life at the exact moment when I most need them. It all seems too perfect to be coincidence. I guess that I come down on the side of self-determinism within a larger framework of fate. I think we all act independently, but that there exists a larger plan for us and we ultimately find our equilibrium within that plan, in spite of whatever short term decisions that we might make that deviate from it.

But I’m not here to talk about fate…I want to explore levels. I talked in an earlier post about casual acquaintances and how some of these people have a strong impact on me from the first time I meet them. I think some of this might be associated with levels that we don’t readily see or feel, but that help make us who we are. I know that I can always find someone to connect with on the physical or sexual levels (and I don’t mean actual sex, just mutual attraction), but that spiritual and intellectual connection is something that I have with only a handful of people. More importantly, I sense even deeper levels that I can’t name or adequately describe. I feel these levels on the outskirts of my consciousness and I have felt others on these levels.

This is where I seek my salvation. I believe that our shared soul lies in the levels just outside of this material world. I look here for the doorway to truth and total communion. When I feel someone at one of these levels, I find myself in the presence of a shared soul…of another part of myself…of God. I don’t know if I meant for this to be a religious post, but I relate my spirituality more and more with those levels. I am happy to have finally come to this faith and to have it feel so comfortable on me. I have made attempts at religion before and always came away feeling as though I were trying very hard at something that wasn’t there.

I don’t expect faith to be easy for someone like me, but I’m confident now that I’ll get there…that I’m not traveling in circles or going nowhere. I’ve finally gotten comfortable with where this path is leading me. I am looking forward to the rest of this life and all that follows. I hope that some of this makes sense to those who read it, but even if it doesn’t, I find myself having a clearer understanding of where I’m going and what I’m doing by just having put these random thoughts down…Thanks for listening!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Judge Not…

Part of the responsibility for the coaches in my son’s baseball league is to fill in as Umpires during games where your team is not playing. It’s an unpleasant duty and the coaches shy away from it as much as they can. I hate leaving our Manager stranded and have worked a number of games this year to keep him from having to cover all of them. My last game of the season just ended and I thought I’d put down a few thoughts… We hate to Umpire for the same reason we hate so many other things in our lives…we seek the approval of others. There’s really no way to win when you’re behind the plate. No one is going to be happy with every call and you can pretty much depend on both sides being dissatisfied with you by the end of the game. Tonight was a playoff elimination game and the pressure was even higher than normal. The coaches (and parents) at this point in the season are pretty “hell bent for leather” and you can count on catching some anger from one direction or the other. I’ve gotten comfortable with this and don’t have too much anxiety when I have to call a game.

I don’t really care that much for the mass of humanity and consider myself more immune than most to the urge to please. Still, I wonder what makes us need the approval of other people, especially those people we don’t care for or don’t respect. I believe we’re seeking some affirmation of our own self worth, that the good inside of us is not all in our own heads. It’s kind of odd that we would expect or hope for this even from those we dislike, but I see it every day and have been there myself many times. I don’t know if it’s just age, but I have lost most of my desire to give a shit what anyone thinks of me and I don’t carry much baggage with respect to other peoples opinions. However, I know that this matters a lot to most people and I have been trying to work on the other side of the equation within myself.

I have never been as tolerant a person as I would have liked, but I think I’m getting better. I find myself feeling sorry for people where I might have been frustrated in the past…As I see it, we all have a long path ahead of us. For some it is a much more difficult path than it is for others. I have always been lucky and my walk through this life has been an easy one, I need to do what I can to make the load as light as possible for those around me. At the very least, I need not add to their load with my judgment or condescension. I can’t imagine why my approbation would mean anything to anyone, but I’ll try not to be stingy with it. There are some out there who are just malevolent and evil. I’ll avoid these whenever possible and stand against them when I must. I will do every thing I can to give the rest of you a break (and a helping hand when I’m able). You don’t need to worry about my approval…it’s yours. Good Luck and I hope your path is a soft one!

Friday, June 10, 2005

In the Quiet

I am in the quiet.

…listen for me when no sound intrudes

I am out of sight.

… just beyond the corner of your vision

My power is immeasurable

…the power that sustains you when all seems to array against you

I hide in the quiet places

…seek for me inside yourself, for there you will find me

My reflection lies in all things

…see what you love and I am there

Search for me and you will be empty handed

…find your joy and you will have found me.

Do not wait for me

…I am not a promise for I am now

First love yourself

…then you will know how to love me

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Parable of Want

There were two half-brothers who had a common father. The first brother lost his mother when he was born and the father married again a year later. The younger brother was born two years after the first and was the apple of his Mother’s eye. The second wife was by no means an “evil Stepmother” to her husband’s first born son, but she favored her own and never let her son want for anything.

As the boys grew, the first brother did without. He was given nothing and expected nothing. Over the years, he learned that he could get whatever he truly needed by offering to work for neighbors and friends and he remained happy in spite of his situation. He had little, but he grew to need little and was content with his lot.

The second brother seemed on an unending escalation of want. The more he was given, the more he demanded. It was as if there was some great void within him that required ever more valuable tribute. Over the years, he became angry and difficult. He seemed always unhappy and there was seldom any way of placating him.

The elder boy grew to be a kind and helpful man. He lived his life surrounded by friends and left good memories and love in his wake. The second son became more and more isolated. He had a circle of acquaintances that hovered for what he could give them, but he had no true friends. His life lacked any contentment or joy and he left pain and regret behind him.

The Mother/Step-Mother lay on her deathbed and considered her children. Too late did she recognize that the greatest gift she could have given her own son…the single gift that she’d denied him, was the gift of understanding his own heart. Like candy, she had given him food for his desire, but not for his soul. Her gifts and attention had left him without an understanding of himself or others. Without empathy, he was an empty vessel and was lost to himself and his fellow men.

All of us must walk our own path…no one else can walk it for us or remove it from in front of us. We must love and care for each other, but we must let one another find our own way and face our own disappointments. To do too much is to poison the soil in which we grow.