art.bardwell Every once in a while someone comes along who simultaneously reminds us of how far we’ve come with respect to race relations, and how far we have to go. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Keith Bardwell, the Louisiana Justice of the Peace who refused to marry a white woman and black man out of concern for their future mixed-race children.

As if Bardwell’s initial refusal wasn’t bad enough, he now tells us that he stands by his initial decision: “It’s kind of hard to apologize for something that you really and truly feel down in your heart you haven’t done wrong,” he told CNN affiliate WAFB on Saturday.

Bardwell apparently isn’t aware of the 1967 Supreme Court Decision (Loving vs. Virginia) in which miscegenation laws were ruled unconstitutional, a rather unsung landmark decision that has gone under-appreciated until now.  This begs the question of how educated Louisiana Justices of the Peace must be.  Moreover, JPs, judges and ministers are not empowered to marry only those people that they believe will raise happy, successful children who will be free from discrimination.  Parents are expected to help their children meet life’s challenges and overcome them, whatever their ethnicity.

Those who would like to wring an apology from Bardwell are doomed to disappointment. Bardwell represents the old school racist who is comfortable with his racism even as he denies it exists. While removing him from office is essential, if only to protect his parish from the expense of civil rights lawsuits, it will not have any impact on Bardwell other than economic.  However, one wonders how many other mixed couples he has turned away and why it has taken so long for this practice to come to light.  Already embarrassed, Lousiana now has some ‘splainin’ to do.

NTM I have to admit that when I think of the Texas secession movement I experience emotions ranging from eye-rolling amusement to head-scratching bewilderment.  Now, 144 years after the Civil War, excuse me, “the War of Northern Aggression” we have a wave of enthusiasm from a small group of Texans who believe that Big Gummint is the root of all evil. Is the South rising again or is this a small group of wingnuts who believe that not only is secession possible, it is desirable?  Well, the rationality of these individuals is open to question but according to one Rasmussen poll, 1/3 of Texans believe that the state can legally secede from the U.S.  However, only 20% believe that Texas should leave. That’s 5 million people, most of whom are probably, ummm, not especially sophisticated, although all are apparently constitutional scholars.

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secret-planAnyone who has been watching the news lately has been subjected to video of crowds of people trying to shout down their elected representatives who are trying to forge a health care reform plan.  Events in Tampa, St. Louis, Michigan, and Texas have been disrupted by angry protesters who are pumped full of bravado by such “astroturf” organizations as Freedom Works, chaired by former Republican congressional leader Dick Armey. A speaker from Patients First, associated with the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, told activists. “Adolf Hitler issued six million end of life orders – he called his program the final solution. I kind of wonder what we’re going to call ours.”  Rush Limbaugh, himself closer to fascism than he realizes, also likens the Democratic push for health care reform to the Third Reich.  Sarah Palin refers to the plan, which she clearly hasn’t read, as “evil.”

The strategy behind these protests and the inflammatory (and misleading) rhetoric is to raise the specter of “socialized medicine,” “rationing,” and “death panels” allegedly sitting in judgment on the futures of sick Americans. What escapes these people is that all three are here and have been for some time. Only we call them “Medicare,” “Medicaid,” and “managed care.” Those who don’t realize this haven’t been paying attention for the past 35 years.

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conspiracyThe “Birther movement,” is a collection of folks who are convinced that Barack Obama was born in Africa and therefore is not an American citizen and therefore is not eligible to be president of the United States and therefore is not the legitimate president and,  come to think of it, just how can we be sure that he’s not from another galaxy?

Even professional paranoid G. Gordon Liddy has weighed in on the issue, suggesting on Chris Matthews’ show, “Hardball” that Obama’s mother, wanting her son to be an American citizen, somehow managed to have a birth certificate and birth announcement appear in Hawaii, thousands of miles away from his actual birthplace in Africa. Like his Birther compatriots, he never actually says that Obama was born in Kenya but produces doubtful evidence and challenges Obama to prove his nativity. For Birthers, the possibility, no matter how outlandish, is enough.

Those of us who actually live full time on this planet have considerable difficulty making sense of this issue. I would posit that there are two factors are at work here: a world view that lends itself to paranoid ideation and helpless rage. Racism is likely to be a factor, but that is harder to pin down.

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Creek AnchorageAll of our non-sailing friends ooh and ahh when we talk about owning a sailboat (a 30′ Catalina), imagining an exciting day under sail, battling big swells and taming sails stretched to the limit while the rail is buried under water, me at the helm braced against the heeling boat while the Admiral man’s a jib winch, trimming the big genoa to keep us on track.

They’re always a bit surprised when I say that the best part of sailing is when you’re done.

On a recent weekend we went to the marina, looking forward to an overnight trip to a nearby creek. We ran down our checklist: full water tanks, Jamaican beer, snacks and dinner ingredients.  We crank up the diesel and creep out of our slip and head for the open water. It’s warm but with low humidity if feels more like September than July.  We pass two young ospreys on a daymarker nest and they give us a wary eye as we motor within a few feet of them. Seeing that we have no food for them so they return to scanning the sky for their parents.

As we motor out of the lee of the creek we feel the breeze begin to build and after another mile we point into the wind and raise the main and unfurl the jib. Then there is that delicious moment when we turn off the engine, fall off the wind and the boat takes  off. We are sailing, almost silently.
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A new article in the New York Times outlines the path that Sarah Palin has taken from the 2008 election to her recent resignation. It is clear from their reporting that Palin lost interest in being governor after the 2008 election. Her family drama, the state’s economy and ethical accusations all hastened her decision to bail out of an increasingly unsatisfying job.  She waved off what appears to have been good advice about how to survive the situation and kept edging toward the door.  Having tasted celebrity and tiring of notoriety, she now seeks fame, fortune and respectability. As unimpressed as I am with Sarah Palin’s judgment and intellect, two areas in which she is seriously underpowered, she may be lurching uncontrollably into her best option.

Palin’s resignation is likely to result in a can’t-lose situation for her. First, of course, she’ll have to get past the bad taste that her gubernatorial performance and  resignation have left in many people’s mouth, not to mention the political and economic fallout she’s leaving behind. My prediction is that Alaska, being mostly out of the public eye except when Palin is in it, will be left to its own devices after she leaves office and its economic predicament will gradually fade from view, unless a smoking gun is found. Sarah has left the building.

Palin has made another career change and is now reinventing herself from politician to standard-bearer.   As she builds her constituency and fills her pockets she can become an influential power broker or even a candidate, although if she’s elected she would have to serve and display the kind of perseverance for which she’s not known. Soon it will be lucrative speeches and the release of her book, both of which will keep her firmly in the spotlight.  She will build her image as the maverick outsider who takes on Washington, Big Government, the Mainstream Media, and “politics as usual” without having to worry about her job performance or pointed questions at news conferences.  She will be the spokeperson for “traditional family values,” chatting up her fans on the right, thrilling them with her personal story.  The sound of cash will drown out those back home who are cleaning up her messes.

All of this creates a huge potential headache for the GOP. The moderates and pragmatists who want to build the party and regain its former influence will again find Palin a polarizing force who does little for the party as a whole. She will remain an easy target unless she uncharacteristically develops some intellectual curiousity and actually learns what others have tried to teach her.  She may have some influence on the mid-term elections, but I suspect that her star will begin to fade thereafter.

Those who see Palin as the future of the party seem blinded by her dazzling smile, unable to see her flaws, which in the context of politics outweigh her mostly superficial strengths.  She could be the Democrat’s new Best Friend Forever.

sarah_palin_wtfI had promised myself to take a break from Mme. Palin.  I frankly felt sorry for her kids whose personal lives were being unfairly played out in the media. But Palin’s resignation left me no choice.  I asked the same question thousands of Alaskans and pundits posed: WTF? They said it more diplomatically, but it was essentially the same question.

Whenever I encounter inexplicable decisions I ask but one thing: whose needs are being met?  In Palin’s case the answer appears to be obvious. Her decision, no matter how she couches it, is about her, her career, and her future. While others may benefit from her resignation, her family and the state of Alaska comes to mind, make no mistake, this is all about Sarah.

Having been thoroughly spanked by all but the most conservative voters and media, Palin retreated to her familiar underdog position, which has now devolved into her familiar victimhood position. She fails to see that she has earned much of the enmity that has been heaped upon her. She performed poorly as a vice-presidential candidate, underwhelming all but the right wing of the GOP.  She became an object of fun, the Dan Quayle of the new millenium. She proved to be immune to constructive feedback and is clearly not a scholar. After returning to Alaska she appeared to have lost interest in governing the state. Now she has shed the shackles of gubernatorial responsibility. With weak oil revenues and the bloom being off her personal rose, being governor just ain’t fun anymore.

This is not leadership. Leadership involves persistence, determination, and a willingness to put one’s own needs aside for the greater good, sort of like parenting, but without the diapers. Palin’s willingness to dump her current job so that she can pursue a job with more glamor and money (talk show host) or fame (tell-all book) or ambition (presidency) tells you everything you need to know about her.  Like most politicians she is an opportunist. However, unlike smart politicians she doesn’t understand that the tough options are almost always the right ones. Seeking the presidency is usually a long journey during which the candidate builds coalitions and establishes his/her credentials, sacrificing and sweating well out of the limelight. Quitting one’s highest elected position three-fourths of the way through a lackluster first term accomplishes neither.

I am not a good example of thoughtful career planning. My own has been characterized as much by sheer chance as by hard work.  But if chance favors the prepared mind, one has to ask for what Palin is prepared. And isn’t finishing what you started a “traditional family value?”

conspiracyI love a good conspiracy theory, and fortunately for me, this country generates a boundless supply of them: Obama isn’t an American citizen, NASA faked the moon landings, Elvis is still alive and living in Area 51, and of course, Michael Jackson faked his own death. In fairness, the last one doesn’t really qualify as a true conspiracy theory, because the Weekly World News prudently put a question mark at the end of “Michael Jackson faked his own death?” Asking the rhetorical question introduces just enough doubt to make it a conspiracy hypothesis than a theory. Conspiracy theorists  appreciate the subtle difference. The rest of us don’t.  I’m not being an elitist, here. Conspiracies are great fun. Anything is possible, nothing is too improbable, and there are always people gullible enough to give the most bizarre ideas traction.

Conspiracy theorists share some common beliefs: nothing is as it seems, nothing happens randomly, there are dark forces too clever for us to detect, and the lack of evidence of the conspirators is proof of their evil cunning. Conspiracy theorists are adept at seeing connections between events that escape the rest of us.  Conspiracy theorists feel sorry for us mere mortals who are too blind to see the Truth. Conspiracy theorists know that the simplest, most likely explanations for an event are never true because that’s what they want you to believe.

Conspiracies that end with someone’s death (JFK, Elvis, Michael Jackson) are especially fun because the principal isn’t alive to refute them, so nothing is too incredible. When you have someone like Elvis and Jackson who had “issues,” then the conspiracies take on the extra quality of tragic victimization. Elvis was a victim of his manager, Michael was the victim of money-hungry parents who made their children lie in court, JFK was a victim of the Mafia and Fidel Castro.  Whole media entertainment groups have sprung up around these beliefs.

To the true believer, there’s never enough evidence to disprove a conspiracy and the absence of evidence is compelling proof of the conspiracy’s existence. To those who still have a shred of rationality, conspiracy theories induce eye-rolling laughter and a fervent hope that these crazy people don’t live next door. Well, they do.

And they’re watching you.