Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

The material I post on this blog represents my views and mine alone. The material you post on this blog represents your views and yours alone.

Friday, May 19, 2006

CROSSROADS COMMENT -- “Property has its duties as well as its rights.”

Is smoking in bars and restaurants a property right? Does ownership of the tables and chairs, the bulding and the land on which these establishments sit carry with it the power and the right to set the policy on smoking which all must follow, live or die with?

“Property has its duties as well as its rights.”

This quote is from a 19th century debate in the English parliament. It was used to remind members of that august body that the people of Britain had left the feudal, absolute privileges of property in the past. The Lords of the Land, the Rulers of landless peasants, were no more. Representative democracy stood as a voice and a protector of all, not just the few, the lucky, the well-heeled, the influential, the families and the cronies of the powerful.

In all of this, the United States led the way in the U. S. Constitution. The principles stated in the Preamble to that sacred document should be read by each of us every day of our lives. It should serve as the overarching guide to every democratically elected body in this great nation. It reads:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Significantly, this Preamble, this Remember Always This Is What We Are About statement, does not mention property–its duties or its rights. These would be spelled out in the tangle of court decisions over centuries. But this Preamble, over two centuries later in time, still represents what the work of our republican form of government is about.

And within that Preamble, “promote the general Welfare” should catch and hold every eye.

The “general Welfare” is not about the health and well-being of individual property owners and what they store up behind fences and closed doors. Behind those fences and doors the rights of property owners are supported and protected. However, open those fences and doors, invite the public in, and owners of property take on duties, duties often tied to the health and the safety of those invited in, duties that directly connect with “promoting the general Welfare.”

The above is about the Crossroads community which is in the midst of a battle over an ordinance that would ban smoking in bars and restaurants. The local Restaurant and Tavern Association is firmly opposed. After pleading a case (entirely speculative) that a smoking ban would hurt business, their back-up argument is based on the right of property owners to determine the use of their property. They wave this false flag as if it were Old Glory on Iwo Jima.

Needless to say, "promoting the general Welfare" is never mentioned by the owners or our elected officials. Such are the fruits of two decades of preaching the hollow slogan, "Get the government off of our backs." Such is the way medical science is waved aside and the well being and rights of the majority in this community, the non-smokers, are ignored.
Here is an earlier posting of mine on the subject:

Smoke Free Bars and Hockey Helmets

Sunday, May 14, 2006

CROSSROADS COMMENT -- We're Lost and there are no Survivors or Idols

Ali G interviewing a Marine Colonel recently returned from Iraq:

Ali G: Alo mate. So dose roadside bombs, the so called BLTs, is dey relly dangrous?

The Colonel: You mean the WMDs, yes they have killed many American soldiers and Iraqi citizens.

Ali G: Keep it real,.. but tells me agin, how dem sammitches kills sos many peoples.

Ali G: Respect!

The above was posted on Bill Lama’s always interesting blog--read it at:

Lama describes his blog in this way: palosverdesblog --Observations on conservatism, politics, education, cosmolology, astrobiology, evolution and the environment.

It’s well worth a look. Especially, if like me, your politics lean left. Here’s a thoughtful guy on the “left coast” that will give you a better grasp of how deeply entrenched conservatives in the south of the Golden State are thinking. And that “cosmolology, astrobiology” stuff shows Lama is, in Ali G terms, “keeping it real”-- California real that is.

Now back to Ali G.

Ali G? Never heard of him/it. Bill Lama’s excerpts from the show provides a little of the flavor of what passes for . . . what? Humor?

Sensation based programming that debases the audience is so pervasive on the boob tube that it is hard to be outraged by the junk that we have available for viewing. Our "choices" range from fake reality (“Lost,” “Survivor,” etc.) to the over-blown, blow-off amateur hour, “American Idol.” TV is still, in Newton Minnow’s words (JFK’s FCC chair), a “vast wasteland.” Only now, forty or more years later, that arid desert of a handful of channels has expanded from Mojave size to Sahara+Gobi proportions.

But given the commercial props and hype that hold up and send this stuff into those boxes which dominate so many households, why should we be surprised, outraged or saddened? Here’s what we get from the big buck boys on their HBO web site promo:

“The Emmy®-nominated, BAFTA Award-winning Ali G is back! British comedic genius, Sacha Baron Cohen, slips into the skins of his devilish alter egos, Ali G, Borat and Bruno to create loads of hilarious riffs at the expense of American culture in the second season of the international phenomenon called "riotous", by The Dallas Morning News and "deliciously wicked," by the Boston Globe. Available now at the HBO Store. "...I laughed so much I'm sure I hurt something." - New York Post”

Well, commercialism (that is free enterprise, you know, capitalism) sends us once again into the lowest reaches of the common denominator of materialistic culture. And still we turn down or groan mightily about a minuscule amount of taxes to support a sliver of excellence on public television. Go figure. Talk about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Yo, Ali G, enjoy your stay in America–they love you from Boston to Dallas. You are probably great at what you do. A real talent. But it sounds to me like you're still a part of the picture Neil Postman drew so clearly for us ten years ago in Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Hip satire or straight news, it's all formatted to please and avoid straining the public's attention with hard questions.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

CROSSROADS COMMENT -- Ben Stein Promotes Class Warfare!

Here's Ben Stein, a certifiable conservative if ever there was one, writing in his _New York Times_ column 5/7/06. Yes, despite rumors and lies to the contrary, the NYT does regularly publish conservative views.

"In the same way, even I was startled when I read about the pay of Lee R. Raymond, the former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, who recently retired. His retirement package was in the neighborhood of $400 million — a breathtaking sum, even for those of us who admire the job that Big Oil does and think that the industry gets a bum rap.

"Still, that's between him and his stockholders, not a matter for Congress. And it would not even remotely be addressed by a windfall profits tax — an idea that has been tried and has failed miserably."

This should go down easily with mindless dittoheads and thinking conservatives alike. But here is how Ben "I never met a free market I didn't like" Stein ends his column:

"America is becoming a nation of many rich people. I recently read that there were close to 10 million millionaire households. I read that there were hundreds of thousands who made more than $1 million a year. Good for them.

"But it's unlovely for them to pay as little tax as they now pay. The real problem in this country is only temporarily about oil. That will right itself, or we'll get used to it and adjust.

"The real problem is saving a nation that is beset by terrorism, and we cannot do that unless we feel that we are all in the same boat, pulling at the oars together. That includes the rich.

"Whatever rationale there may have been in 2001 for lowering their taxes is long gone. It's time for them — us, because it includes me — to pay their (our) share.

"It's not about oil. It's about fairness."

Whoops! Do I hear "class warfare" and the "politics of envy and resentment" in this? Ben, how could you?