Monthly Archives: July 2012

If I Were God

If I were God, I’d create the universe. Maybe I’d make it all at once in its finished state or maybe I’d create a big bang and enjoy the show? I guess it would depend on my mood.

 

If I were God, after making the “normal” animals like lions, and tigers, and bears (oh, my!) The I think I’d make interesting creatures as tree frogs, chameleons, elephants, giraffes and penguins – not to mention ostriches and platypuses – just because.

 

If I were God, I would make a vegetable as delicious as an avocado, but put a big pit in it just to encourage moderation. And I’d put lots of layers on artichokes for the same reason.

 

If I were God, I’d not only divide the day from the night, but I’d separate them by colorful sunrises and sunsets.

 

If I were God, I’d create water for man to drink on a hot day. I’d make it fall from the skies, sometimes with a soothing sound, other times with flashes of lightning and the roll of thunder. I’d let it freeze and flow down the mountains, icy cold and pure. I’d put it in oceans where it would be warm and relaxing for man to enjoy.

 

If I were God, I’d make man different from the other creatures. Instead of having children and raising them in a single season, I’d give him a family to cherish for about twenty years or so.

 

If I were God, I’d create rainbows and place them in the sky right after a storm, when the sun comes out.

 

That’s what I’d do if I were God.

 

Not Merely Pieces of Paper

There are two defining documents for America – the Declaration of Independence and The United States Constitution, and although they share the same ideals, they might be seen as very different yet complementary to one another.

The Declaration of Independence is not tied exclusively to the 4th of July. Naturally, the Continental Congress worked to develop the idea over a long period of time. The idea of independence was not only revolutionary, it was treasonous, and the penalty for treason against the British crown was especially gruesome. In spite of the possible consequences, the Congress actually voted to declare independence on the 2nd of July.

John Adams wrote his wife Abigail, saying “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

The written declaration was ratified on the 4th of July, which is why it bears that date. The document was not signed by all members of the Continental Congress, John Trumbull’s famous painting notwithstanding. It was actually signed over the next few months, although the exact dates are unknown. Some who signed it were not yet members of the Congress when it voted for independence.

The principal author of the Declaration was Thomas Jefferson, who left explicit instructions as to the epitaph on his tombstone;”…on the faces of the Obelisk the following inscription, & not a word more:

Here was buried
Thomas Jefferson
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
Father of the University of Virginia

“because by these,” he explained, “as testimonials that I have lived, I wish most to be remembered.”

Jefferson, a lawyer wrote the Declaration as the legal justification for America to declare itself no longer subject to the British Crown. Most of the document lists the grievances the 13 colonies had with King George III. In fact, most of the paragraphs begin with the words, “He has…” and then describes a particular issue with which the colonies disagreed.

Once free of English rule, something had to be written to establish the new entity, and the first attempt at doing this was through the “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union” created in 1777 but not ratified until 1781. These did not adequately bind the 13 states together nor did the articles provide for an adequate government, so work began on the Constitution we live under today.

James Madison is credited as being the “Father of the Constitution” having played a role similar to Jefferson’s with the Declaration. Congress (of the Articles of Confederation) called a convention for the “sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation” on February 21, 1787. The Constitutional Convention adopted the Constitution on September 17, 1787 and it went into effect on March 4, 1789.

The differences between the Declaration and the Constitution are interesting. The Declaration begins with the words “In Congress” while the Constitution begins with “We the People.” The Declaration was written primarily for the rest of the world, while the Constitution was written for the people of America. The Declaration accomplished its purpose and was generally ignored for a while, but the Constitution impacts on Americans’ daily lives.

While the Declaration primarily justifies America’s separation from its mother country, it contains one sentence that inspires people to this day.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Constitution is more instructional, and does not have a sentence as beautifully quotable. However, the Bill of Rights, approved in 1791 is truly inspiring. We hear many references to the first (freedom of religion, assembly and petition), second (the right to keep and bear arms), fourth (protection from unreasonable search or seizure) and fifth (protection against self-incrimination) amendments. However, perhaps the last two in the Bill of Rights are more inspiring.

 

“ARTICLE [IX.]

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

 

ARTICLE [X.]

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

 

Many governments do not choose to identify the limits of their powers, while these attempt to do just that. They seem to echo the spirit of the Declaration and be a perfect counterpoint to the document that begins with the words, “We the People.”

 

Happy Birthday, America.


 

I Pledge Allegiance

Tomorrow is Independence Day – the 4th of July. We celebrate this date as America’s birthday since it commemorates the Declaration of Independence. I’ll have more to say about that document tomorrow.

So a new nation was born with both blessings and challenges, although it took a few years for the rest of the world to even know it existed, much less accept it. However, a nation is a special entity; America started out as just land and people. What defined it as a nation was when it established a government. This government provided both a means to coordinate the nation’s efforts and an identity.

God knows America’s government is not perfect (just read the news) but when I look at the alternatives, I have to think that our system is just about as good as humans can manage. We don’t have a military junta telling us what to do. We don’t have some self-proclaimed dictator, nor do we have a monarch who rules by accident of birth. We have an idea and a set of values that are enumerated in our Constitution which defines our beliefs and our leadership structure.

One of our traditions, based on our beliefs is the Pledge of Allegiance. This short piece is recited by schoolchildren around the country and by adults before meetings, some sporting and other events. Periodically somebody takes issue with the pledge and there’s a brouhaha followed ad nauseum by the media as the case winds its way through the court system.

But that’s the beauty of our system. Our Constitution safeguards the right of people to speak their mind in the First Amendment to the Constitution – the very first section of the Bill of Rights. It’s easy to protect the speech of someone who agrees with you; it’s much harder and much more important to safeguard those rights for people with whom we disagree. It is essential to protect the rights of those whose statements you find to be repulsive or even repugnant. It’s difficult because it means that each of us as an individual must put something ahead of our own interests.

Likewise, these people are guaranteed the right to have their grievances heard and adjudicated by Article 3 of the Constitution. Their grievances are not pre-judged to be right or wrong, but judged by our judicial system. Again, it’s not perfect, but as humans we’ve done a pretty good job.

But let’s take a minute to examine the pledge. It was written long before it was adopted by Congress during the Second World War, and has been changed several times. I’ll focus on how the pledge stands today. It is short and to the point.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”

Just what does the word “allegiance” mean? The online dictionary says:

al·le·giance /əˈlidʒəns / [uhlee-juhns] noun

1. the loyalty of a citizen to his or her government or of a subject to his or her sovereign.

2. loyalty or devotion to some person, group, cause, or the like.

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/allegiance

Please note that the very word “allegiance” does not speak of loyalty to a symbol, but to our government, or in other words our country. People in times past pledged loyalty to the crown or some other symbol. Americans needed a different symbol, and for us this became the flag.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America – As a citizen, I am agreeing to be loyal to my nation. Personally, if I were not willing to do this, I’d find some place to live where the values were more in keeping with my own. As a citizen, I am a member of this country and it is in my own best interest to be loyal to it.

And to the republic for which it stands – We are a republic- that is our form of government. We have chosen to be a democratic republic whereby the citizens elect representatives to make our laws and lead the way. If we were a democracy everyone would be called upon to vote on every decision – a bit time consuming and inefficient. The flag represents the republic, so our allegiance is to that republic.

One nation
– A curious thing happened in our history; we started out as a confederation of 13 nations, but that didn’t work very well, so we united those individual nation-states into a single nation. During the early years the states were still seen as sovereign, but after the Civil War the importance of unity gained support. So today we define ourselves as a single nation-state.

Under God – This is probably the most controversial part of the pledge as well as greatly cherished. We were founded by men whose roots came from Great Britain. They built religious freedom into the Bill of Rights because they did not want an official church like “The Church of England”, also known as Anglican or here in the States as Episcopal. I believe in God so this phrase is fine with me. Many, if not most, Americans believe in some type of divine power and God may refer to the Judeo Christian deity, but not exclusively. Even though we capitalize the word, “god” is not a proper name – “Yahweh” or “I Am” would be more proper. However, given that our official, legal and national motto is “In God We Trust” (Not “e Pluribus Unum” – “Out of Many, One”) one can see where this would fit.

Indivisible – Again, after the Civil War, we’ve maintained a great emphasis on being as one and never allowing the nation to break apart again.

With liberty and justice for allLiberty is the ability for an individual to have control over his or her own actions. From a theoretical standpoint this extends until it violates someone else’s liberty, or breaks rules that we as a nation have adopted. Justice is a set of values derived from ethics, natural law, common sense and even religion. It is designed to establish guidelines or rules in the way we deal with one another. We use these rules to provide a mechanism for resolving disputes. For all – probably the most important part of the pledge. This means liberty and justice for the person who is just like us. The person who has views that we detest; People who looks different; whose personal values are different from ours. For everybody – even those who go to court to have the pledge ruled unconstitutional.

I like America. For the most part I like Americans. I am thankful for the fact that I was born here and have all the benefits that go with being an American citizen.

And as for me, I am proud to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Déjà Vu

With a fourteen year old and an 11 ½ year old at home, I am reminded of something I learned from my older son when he was still living here.

I asked him, “Are you the type who sees the glass as half-full or half-empty?” He thought for a minute before replying.

“I’m the type who doesn’t notice the glass sitting in the middle of the floor, but I still manage to walk around it. If you then asked me about the glass, I’d honestly answer, ‘What glass?'”

Parents everywhere know exactly what I mean.

And one more thing…

If you have déjà vu about a déjà vu experience, is it deja deja vu? Déjà vu vu? Or merely (déjà vu)2?

Storm and Power Outage

We lost power last night at about 10:45 due to a severe thunderstorm. I got up to get a battery operated fan, since it’s quite toasty without the air conditioning, even on 1 July, in southern Virginia. I have all the accoutrement for loss of power, so the next morning I fired up the generator and ran cables to the refrigerators, coffee pot and other essentials.

The power outage was due to a downed tree, so the actual area was rather small, but no matter how small, when it’s 98 degrees outside and you have no power, it seems huge.

Naturally this also happened to be the weekend I had to go into work for a special project. So as soon as I got off work, the kids and I headed for a(n air conditioned) restaurant. When we got back, the power company was just finishing. Then I realized the sheer magnitude of the situation. It’s one thing to get everything going, but when you have to refuel the generator, wind up the cords, put the emergency lights away, etc. It’s a lot of work. Seems much harder that getting everything out.

Oh, and we might have a rerun tonight.

So, if I don’t write tomorrow, that just could be the reason.