Monday, January 30, 2006

Founding Fathers...Always Right?

In a recent column, I claimed that the democrats have decided to make as their major campaign appeal concerning the November elections the desperate need for voters to return the Senate and the House to democrat control in order for the House to impeach the president and the Senate to vote him out of office. Since Dean and company have yet to establish much of an agenda on the actual issues concerning the problems the country faces, and since the nation is in a violent conflict halfway around the world (instead of in USA streets, thankfully), the democrat hierarchy has decided to play upon the fears connected with war, claimed by them to be the sole responsibility of George Bush notwithstanding any Congressional complicity, especially with respect to the loss of life or wounded bodies, both of which all reasonable people agree are tolerated only in desperate times.

Indeed, in the approximate 4.5 years since 11 September 2001, during most of which time the country has been engaged in fighting terrorists or, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, destroying regimes bent on conquest by any means of any and all nations, about 2,500 Americans have been killed, or about 1.5 per day. In Iraq, the figure since March 2003 is about 2.2 deaths per day. This is unacceptable, of course, in terms of human life; however, during the actual 4.5 years of actual combat in World Wars I and II combined, the average of American deaths per day numbered an incredible 320. Millions of people who were living in the 1940s are still alive and remember that the citizenry was able to cope with a situation virtually incomprehensibly worse in terms of human life – 405,000 killed during 1942-45. So, it probably became apparent to democrat leaders that a worse issue must be found to scare the public.

In that column, I made this statement: The "wiretapping" matter will be the issue grasped by the democrats, who have lost some of their pet projects such as help with medicine for senior citizens, already handled by the administration and Congress, and who perhaps have realized that their refusal to cooperate in any way to manage the Social Security problem has put them in a bad light. This issue fell right into the lap of Screamin’ Howard and the other noise-makers, most notably House Minority Leader Pelosi, the virtual champion of whining, though Senate Minority Leader Reid is a close second. What could be worse, after all, than all those deaths, if not the absolute peril to citizens of having their privacy violated by some arm of government? The notion that “he who has nothing to hide has nothing to fear” does not resonate with these people, or at least its meaning is not acceptable, as logical as it is, simply because it does not serve their political purpose at this time. Not realizing the extent to which 99.999% of Americans use plain, common sense, Dean & Company have tried to make it appear that even a trip to McDonald’s means at least five FBI agents plus two from the CIA, not to mention a guy from the DEA, will follow every citizen and determine just how much mustard one uses on a hamburger.

In the feedback I received there were two predictable quotes by the “founding fathers” that are constantly splattered all over the media landscape with respect to this subject: "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security."- Benjamin Franklin; and, "If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy." - James Madison.

Franklin didn’t to my knowledge differentiate between “essential liberty” or any other kind of liberty, or between what constitutes the timeframe of “temporary security” or any other kind of security. So, who knows what he meant? In any case, liberty is defined as: “the quality or state of being free.” Essential is defined as: “of the utmost importance.” If Franklin meant by “essential liberty” that being free is of the utmost importance, I agree. If not, while he was a genius in many ways, he was out in left field. In the first place, no American is giving up any kind of security vis-à-vis the NSA program of surveillance of terrorist activities. But if he/she were and if Franklin meant giving up a right or privilege short-term for realizing those rights or privileges in perpetuity, such as when habeas corpus was revoked by Lincoln and FDR during the Civil War and WWII, respectively, was not acceptable, he was dead wrong, founding father notwithstanding. Any 9th-grade civics student can understand this by simply looking at the military draft, many of those GIs affected giving up not only their “essential liberty” and “temporary security” but their lives, as well, for the permanence of the nation’s freedom, not just its temporary security at the time of the fighting.

This is what Madison should have said: "If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of UNSUCCESSFULLY fighting a foreign enemy." With the exception of the Civil War, in which the citizens chose up sides and fought each other, this country has fought only foreign enemies, in the first place, and the fighting in the Civil War did away with tyranny and oppression for the slaves, in the second place. Actually, if the Union had split permanently in 1865, a DOMESTIC war would have caused tyranny and oppression by one side or the other, not any foreign enemy. If Madison had been living in 1918 or 1941 or even in the 60s and 1991 or 2001-2006, he might have had a different take, the proof being that in the guise of fighting foreign enemies, the nation still stands. Indeed, he was president during the War of 1812, and had the choice then of either fighting the British (a foreign enemy that drove him from the White House temporarily) again or eating his words. The federalists of that day even called the conflict “Mr. Madison’s War.”

Paying attention to the Founding Fathers is always good. Revering them or their words can sometimes be, not irreverent, just wrong.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Prayer vis-a-vis Political Correctness

Notwithstanding the fact that most of the mainstream media couldn’t care less about anything having to do with religion – indeed just got through with its usual ridicule of CHRISTmas – it nevertheless is obsessing about Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher’s recent prayer breakfast. The breakfast was featured on the front page of the Lexington Herald-Leader, a Knight-Ridder newspaper up for sale, two days in a row. The salient fact triggering all the attention had to do with the event’s being led by – gasp – Christians. Indeed, the editorial gang at the H-L even gave the matter its lead position on 28 January and delivered itself of this wisdom: “This wasn't a Baptist church meeting; it was a state event that attracted state workers, business owners, judges, lobbyists and legislators.”

Well, of course all those folks attended, as is always the case. The effort was also made to contact by e-mail every state worker, regardless of religious orientation or denominational affiliation, if any, and it certainly was not described as a big bad Baptist Church revival. It also was not referenced as anything but a prayer breakfast, and a list of those who would be unwelcome was not furnished because there wasn’t such a list. The media folks have a fixation about “public” events, to wit, that they should be governed in part or in whole by a gaggle of minorities who, in order not to be emotionally offended, have the right to define what is and is not acceptable for the majority. In the case of the prayer breakfast, the event was narrowly described not as some sort of civic observance necessitating the usual genuflection before the oracle/altar of political correctness, but an honest-to-God effort to engage in a spiritual exercise – prayer.

Fletcher is an ordained minister. Besides that, he is a medical doctor, former USAF fighter pilot, former state legislator, and a former U.S. congressman. He was quoted as saying, "I certainly have utmost respect for different faiths. But I think most people knew when they were voting for me they were voting for somebody who held the Christian faith, and I'm not going to be somebody different than who I am." In other words, Fletcher’s concept of prayer is understood within the framework of Christianity as he perceives it to be. In this light, the thought that he would invite a Muslim imam to pray to Allah (not God) is absurd. People are being slaughtered day and night in particularly the Middle East, Sudan, and Indonesia by adherents to the imam’s Islamic tenets as spelled out clearly in the Koran, the holy book of Islam, and in the name of Allah.

Fletcher’s Christian faith is inclusive of the Old Testament, with particularly the Torah but the whole document as written by Jews the foundation of the Christian faith. So, one’s praying in the name of Jesus, a Jew descended through Jewish lineage, should not be anathema to Jews, whether they believe or not in Christ as Messiah. Prayers by Christians are made to God, just as prayers of Jews are made to God…the same God, the Creator. Notwithstanding the exception taken to the event by the ADL, the belief-system of the overwhelming majority of Kentuckians is Christian; consequently, it should be expected that prayers should reflect that circumstance. Those adhering to other faith-systems, including Buddhists, Shintoists, Confucianists, Moslems, etc., are welcome to conduct prayer exercises in their own faiths, regardless of who happens to be in attendance.

Predictably, Kentucky Council of Churches Executive Director Nancy Jo Kemper criticized the Fletcher crowd for excluding non-Christians from leadership roles and for not notifying her office about the event. There’s nothing sacrosanct about her office. This event was for individuals, not for organizations. According to the Herald-Leader, she complained in 2001 during the previous administration for its not inviting her organization and had the gall to accuse that administration of being insensitive to Jews and Muslims because the breakfast menu included pork. Imagine that! Why didn’t she include steak, in case some Hindus, to whom the cow is sacred, might be in attendance? This is the kind of silliness that might cause any group not to invite her office. Nobody forced anyone to eat anything that might be offensive, but the Kemper approach is that a handful will decide for a multitude what they can do at their own exercise. Ironically, kosher items were available at this year’s event. This is political correctness gone amok and has nothing to do with prayer, religion or anything else of worth.

Of course, the ACLU is now on Fletcher’s case, since the event took place rent-free in a state-owned building, notwithstanding the fact that all governors’ events held there are rent-free. The ACLU general counsel for Kentucky, David Friedman, said his organization will be looking closely. According to the H-L, a Fletcher aide said, “This isn’t Berkeley, California. This is hometown America. The ACLU has no credibility in this matter at all.”

No clergy members spoke at this event. The homily was delivered by Pat Day, a recently retired jockey. A passage from the Old Testament was read in addition to words from the New Testament. Hymns were sung. There was nothing all that unusual about the prayer breakfast, led by Christians in an overwhelmingly Christian state, but it had to made into a circus by a handful of people with the usual axes to grind. Usually a quiet, solemn, and serious observance, it fell victim this year to a damnable political correctness that many religionists, apparently placing it above spiritual considerations, even though unintentionally, and…

So it goes.

Jim Clark

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Campaign Shenanigan - Impeachment!

It’s clear now that the major thrust to be used by democrats in the fall elections for Senate and House seats will be that of impeachment. Having been unable to turn the Congress around in the last 10 or so years, except for the Senate during that short time after Senator Jeffords switched parties in 2001, and having watched George Bush take the presidency twice, the democrats are realizing that they have no chance on the issues and so must stake their chances on appealing to the elements of their base – principally women, African Americans and Hispanics – on the basis of getting out the vote in order to impeach the president in the House and then try for a conviction in the Senate. Actually, it wouldn’t matter if conviction didn’t happen in the Senate – 67 votes needed for conviction, not a likely happening – since the only effort will be pointed at regaining the Congress. President Clinton was impeached by the House on two articles in 1998 (only a majority vote needed), but was not convicted in the Senate on either.

The “wiretapping” matter will be the issue grasped by the democrats, who have lost some of their pet projects such as help with medicine for senior citizens, already handled by the administration and Congress, and who perhaps have realized that their refusal to cooperate in any way to manage the Social Security problem has put them in a bad light. The surveillance matter has just fallen in their lap, with the help of such left-wing media propagandists as the New York Times, the credibility of which is about on a par with that of Dan Rather. The attempt will be made to paint the administration as eavesdropping indiscriminately and without the proper warrants on private citizens, industries, organizations, etc.

The word is that Congressman John Conyers, D-Mich., would become chairman of the House Committee that would handle impeachment hearings, and there can certainly be no doubt that Conyers, an African American, would pursue that effort. According to Knight-Ridder writer Jim Puzzanghera, Conyers is already a leading proponent of starting an official impeachment inquiry and has introduced legislation to set up an investigation to that end. In a House controlled by the republicans, as is presently the case, he would just be blowing smoke, but if the House should revert to democrat control, he could and doubtlessly would pursue the impeachment vehicle. On the other side of the aisle, Senator Boxer, D-Cal., is reported by Puzzanghera as getting into the act, as has former Vice President Al Gore, who is seen by many as an actual presidential contender in 2008.

General Michael Hayden is the principal deputy director of national intelligence in the National Security Agency, and probably is the most knowledgeable federal official with respect to the “wiretapping” matter. I watched a good part of his appearance before the National Press Club (C-Span) the other day, especially during the Q&A session. He was, of course, appearing before a hugely hostile group, the mainstream media being about as pro-democrat and anti-Bush as possible. He explained the emergency surveillance procedure in greater detail than one would have thought possible, given the sensitivity and absolutely required secrecy endemic to the National Security Agency’s work. He took extreme care in explaining that the surveillance was strictly a foreign-intelligence matter and that only communications between a U.S. resident and a foreign respondent or other kind of contact was a subject for examination. He gave assurance that domestic interplay is not the business he is in, and that no citizen need be wary of government intrusion into private affairs or communications.

General Hayden also went to some pain to explain that the system in use has been thoroughly vetted by the Justice Department with respect to Constitutional guarantees of privacy, and that the appropriate members of Congress have been thoroughly and consistently briefed and that no exception has been taken by them to the methods employed in maintaining the surveillance. Those members, such as Senator Rockefeller, who claim or will claim that they didn’t know what was going on – that they were fooled, essentially – are either admitting unmitigated ignorance or are simply blowing smoke.

From a pragmatic standpoint, there could be little objection if surveillance of suspected terrorist operatives in this country, i.e., tapping their correspondence within the country, were carried out. The government states flatly that Muslim “sleeper cells” designed to do great harm are in residence. Some of the hijackers of 9/11 lived in this country, took flying lessons in this country, and otherwise were on-scene, but went unnoticed. This was partly – most likely, largely – due to the “wall” that had been set up in the 90s in the Clinton/Reno Justice Department to prevent, for instance, the FBI exchanging information with the CIA. The operative document introducing this “wall” was prepared by Jamie Gorelick, ironically a member of the 9/11 Commission, who worked in the Reno establishment. Her complicity (more accurately, ineptness) in this matter was pointed out by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in his appearance before the committee. I saw this segment of the hearing on TV in 2004 and can without fear of contradiction say that Ashcroft’s demeanor was grim, to say the least.

The attempt will be made to tie the surveillance matter to the worn-out and constantly disproved assertion that the president lied to the nation with respect to invading Iraq. This won’t wash, especially since so many other intelligence-agencies throughout the world agreed on Saddam’s ownership of WMD. The impeachment effort will be front and center this year and will play well in the Northeast and on the West Coast, but in the heartland people still sort of feel that those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The $2 Billion Problem for Lexington

Though not much has been written or aired about it, the recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in its refusal to review the Sixth Circuit decision to overturn a local court decision barring the lawsuits against the city of Lexington in the Ron Berry sexual-abuse, child-molestation case(s), the matter is very serious. The two class-action suits are outstanding in the amount of $1 billion apiece. The city has already anted-up about $3 million, if memory serves, but that might have been covered by the city’s liability insurance.

Even more interesting and disturbing than the potential (most likely, probable) cost in millions of dollars to the city, though certainly not $2 billion, a good figure for beginning out-of-court settlement negotiations, is the quiet but constant hum that through all or at least some of the more than 20 years of Berry’s shenanigans city officials knew what was afoot but did nothing about it. Berry’s agency, Micro-City, supposedly designed to help young African-American men in a number of ways, was at least partly funded by the city of Lexington, making it a prime target for lawsuit juice, smart lawyers realizing how deep the public pockets can be. The potential windfall for the lawyers is substantial.

The tragedy, of course, is that any of the now proven crimes ever happened. Berry was sentenced to three years in prison, a woefully light sentence. Also tragically and with the certain knowledge of their superiors, scores of Roman Catholic priests have made pedophile victims of the young boys in their charge. Most of them have gotten off lightly, though the church has had to cough up tens of millions all over the country to the victims, most of whom came forward many years after the fact. This makes the Lexington matter all the more important, since the precedent set vis-à-vis the statute of limitations is set in concrete.

I wrote a novel based on the Berry case a while back, EDDIE et alia. It also takes up some other matters, such as drunkenness and possible lawsuits against distilleries and involves some pretty rough stuff, even murder and suicide. It’s available at Joseph Beth in Lexington and noted on this site in the right column. Anyone interested is welcome to give it a look.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Mayor and God

As reported by CNN, these are the words of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin in a recent speech on MLK Day: “God is mad at America, in part because he does not approve of us being in Iraq under false pretenses. He is sending hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it is destroying and putting stress on this country.” Does this mean that Nagin has aligned himself with Pat Robertson in pronouncing every terrible weather phenomenon as a sign of God’s disapproval resulting in horrible circumstances accruing to God’s wrath and afflicting the appropriate people? Would Nagin also consider the tsunami of December 2004 a sign of God’s wrath – 200,000 dead in the Indonesia area – and, if so, what would he consider their awful collective sin in deserving that punishment? Or, what about the earthquake in Pakistan?

Nagin is running for reelection in April and so may be excused for trying to energize his base in a city that has become much more white than it was before Katrina. He also said some tough things about blacks, but insisted that New Orleans must remain “chocolate.” Again according to CNN, his words: “This city will be chocolate at the end of the day … This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be.” This is the sort of arrogance, coupled with extreme criticism of the federal government operating under tremendously trying circumstances handling a catastrophe of proportions undreamed of last August, not to mention that it was doing this in a constricted time-frame encompassing two other destructive hurricanes, that speaks poorly of a government official. Nagin’s words: “How do you make chocolate? You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink. That is the chocolate I am talking about.” That definition fits every city in the country, so what’s special about New Orleans?

It’s high time that government officials either watch what they say or say nothing. Nagin is annoyed because a huge segment of the black evacuees from New Orleans have indicated that they do not plan to return. These people are probably not property owners and so have no interest in trying to live in wrecked housing that will remain wrecked for a very long time in a city that could go under the water again, in any case. Many, if not most, are on various types of government welfare and have discovered that they can collect checks no matter where they are. In addition, New Orleans has a record of being unbelievably unsafe with a government steeped in corruption.

The tens of millions of dollars being thrown at New Orleans to benefit a tiny fraction of the nation’s populace and industry seem an unseemly waste, in the first place. Relocation is eminently more sensible for the people and reasonable for the government. Restoring the city to any kind of previous condition, if at all possible, will take years and years. Indeed, one could hope that the city would not be restored to that condition, in the first place.

If Nagin thinks God is mad about Iraq, one wonders what he thinks God feels when viewing the unbelievably gross exercises of Mardi Gras.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Arts or Sciences...or Both?

The interesting Op-Ed piece by Wendell Berry in the Lexington Herald-Leader of 02 January provides the opportunity for remarking the identity of university as determined by the sociologist/conservationist, technocrat, and all-around academic. The plans of UK President Lee Todd, as outlined by Berry, to make UK a top research-institution by 2020 collide with his own, preponderantly featuring social considerations, such as environment, and giving short shrift to research as primary. Todd is the technocrat; Berry is the conservationist; the all-around academic is not in the piece, notwithstanding Berry’s contributions to literature, whether considered topnotch or average in quality, strictly a judgment call.

Berry would have it that Todd is interested primarily in chasing the money for research, with a by-product being preparation of students for success as mere workers. According to Berry: And so higher education becomes a higher job-training program that feels no obligation to educate for responsible citizenship and stewardship, or to pass on to its students their rightful heritage of art and thought, or even to correct the everywhere manifest illiteracies of the supposedly educated. A bit elitist/condescending perhaps?

According to a UK public-relations document, Todd said in a presentation to UK faculty and staff in 2001: However, UK’s greater success will be measured by a “higher purpose list” regarding how it helps Kentucky solve problems in education, health care and economic development. Some social concerns perhaps? According to the Associated Press, Todd said last month: Let there be no doubt: The University of Kentucky intends to become a top-20 public research university by 2020…We will continue to work toward this goal because Kentucky's economic success demands it, and the people of Kentucky deserve it. No social concerns perhaps? And thus, the battle is joined between those who see higher education, especially in a land-grant institution, as being oriented toward either the humanities or the technologies.

This tension has always existed, as graphically emphasized in the objections that students – now joined by many college/university administrations – have always voiced concerning being forced to study subjects they consider outside their areas of interest. Students interested in the arts have objected to mandated studies in the sciences, and vice versa. Should a student in engineering care anything about Shakespeare or how to write an essay, or a student interested in poetry about the Pythagorean Theorem or how to solve a simple equation?

The interesting element in the tension is that both the so-called “art student” and “science student” participate in a program labeled the Arts and Sciences, the two branches of education joined at the hip traditionally and certainly not mutually exclusive with respect to a “complete education.” It may be that neither Todd nor Berry can be acclaimed as the vital “all-around academic” so necessary to both defining the need for the traditional or how to incorporate its elements. Indeed, it may be that one or both of the men don’t see this need.

Berry, according to an article in the current issue of the Kentucky Monthly, still raises sheep and uses a horse-drawn plow to farm organically on his 125-acre farm. This is fine for an individual family, but how does it fly with respect to feeding a population of 300 million, nearly all of whom own, if anything, no more than a house on a small lot? He inveighs against coal-removal (more accurately against strip-mining), and harvesting trees, yet probably lives on land once covered by trees and heats his house and transports himself using some sort of fuel extracted from a natural resource. Gashing the earth is anathema to him, but even in the Kentucky of 1750 this was necessary for human survival.

Todd comes from a background featuring computer-driven technology and became a millionaire relatively early in life because of his technical know-how. He thinks in terms of quantum physics and robotics, and may give but slight attention to how the super-market-purchased tomato was produced (organically or otherwise), with the possible exception of wondering about the mechanics involved. A native of west-Kentucky coal-mining country, he may see nature as something to be both used and preserved, in altered form, admittedly, yet productive as well.

Exceedingly fortunate is the institution that is headed by the “all-around academic,” described as one who can connect the dots that flow back and forth between the pure art and the pure science in real time. Berry seems to be living in the past, viewing education as a social engineering tool, while Todd has a futuristic, mechanically oriented take. Hopefully, Todd will administer UK in real time with a Berry-like concern that will help him connect the dots.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Egomaniac as Athlete

Though the drive to get attention may always have been present in high school and college sports, in other years the athletes have at least kept their mouths shut on the subject in order not to appear to be “hoggish” and, at least in some instances, to sublimate their ambitions into a framework of teamwork in order for their entire team to be successful. In hogging the show, a selfish athlete can engineer defeat for his team, since one guy usually can’t bring off a victory alone. Witness a flashy open-field runner in football – though never deigning to do any blocking himself – amounting to much if the linemen in front of him don’t spring him loose consistently. Or, there’s the hotshot in basketball with a good eye for the basket, but who doesn’t bother playing defense or passing-off to an open teammate who has a much better position for a shot. They may shine but their teams may lose.

Here is a segment in the Lexington Herald-Leader Sports Section of 05 January: While applauding Crawford's breakout game, [Ramel] Bradley acknowledged his desire for recognition. "I want to get more limelight out there," he said. When asked why he wanted more attention, Bradley flashed his infectious smile and asked, "Doesn't everybody? I think everybody wants to shine." Oh really? Limelight? When players make remarks like this – not an infrequent happening – a coach should cringe, take stock of what he’s allowing his players to do, and then make some decisions relative to whether or not he should allow a teenage/immature player to talk to the media. The same holds true for the Evening News sports segments on TV that invariably feature athletes speaking before the cameras, with every possibility of their placing their feet squarely in their mouths, both substantively and with respect to their use (or misuse) of good grammar, thus exhibiting their school’s disdain for actual education. One wonders how Bradley’s teammates feel, after seeing his remarks spread all over the state. Limelight, indeed!

Bradley’s remarks exactly mirror the overall atmosphere of sports on both the amateur and professional levels. Though it may sound discriminatory or even racist to say so (and few sportswriters/sportscasters have the guts to handle the subject), this breast-beating, skip-walking, duck-waddling, chest-banging, helmet-thumping, soft-shoe-shuffling and general hamming it up for the crowd even if after only a very routine play is made (like merely tackling an opponent or catching a pass) comprise an atmosphere brought to the games, for the most part, by African Americans some years ago, with a lot of whites now copycatting in the same “hey, look at me” fashion, “I’m the greatest.” Perhaps Cassius Clay (aka Mohammed Ali) helped to set the tone when he pronounced himself the greatest. These are simply facts, however, with no racist twist in mind. A worse facet is the fact that African Americans are excellent athletes; they should be discouraged from cheapening their accomplishments with this abominable grandstanding. Can one even conceive of Jackie Robinson, a former army officer and one of the greatest second-basemen ever – with great class breaking the color barrier – engaging in such silly and degrading buffoonery?

The villains in this piece are the coaches. There was a time when a football player, after making a touchdown, simply handed the ball to the referee and trotted off the field. This is what the coaches taught him to do, or he may have done it simply as a natural instinct, boastfulness and braggadocio culturally unacceptable in his society, both things considered beneath contempt for a gentleman/sportsman. Coaches can stop this self-promoting egotism and teach their young athletes how to act. They don’t bother, probably because they don’t care…or maybe they’re afraid of seeming to be politically incorrect. Television has helped by its usual corrupting of nearly everything it touches. For example, where cameras were once panned away from the athlete making a fool of himself in his celebrating mode, they now home in on him, making him into a “survivor” icon, just part of the current meat-market in TV entertainment.

By contrast, young men and women the same age as college athletes function in the military on a disciplined life-or-death basis every day (not fun and games) in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, but, when questioned about their duties and whether white, black or any other nationality, simply shrug and insist that they’re just “doing their jobs, Sir,” or “Ma’am.” Unlike the egotistic athlete who jumps up in the stands after making a play so the spectators can tell him how great he is or runs ten yards past a tackle he’s made so everyone can see his hop and skip or his duck-walk and recognize his superiority, these GIs, far from calling attention to themselves, just call facing bullets and bombs all in a day’s work and expect nothing in return.

It’s all up to the coaches. They’ve let the games turn into circuses instead of the serious business of honestly winning – and sometimes losing – humbly and magnanimously. They consider taunting and teasing and making fun of the opponent all in a game’s play…and this, too, is disgusting. The coaches are disgusting. Sport is now disgusting, no matter how fine a face the TV and print “analysts” try to put on it. They, too, are disgusting, not least because they don’t have the guts to tell it like it is…and how it should be.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Tornado in Lincoln County

The tornado earlier this week that swept through Lincoln County and did a lot of damage reminds me of another life, when I was a locomotive engineer on the long freights for the Southern Railways System (now Norfolk Southern). This is an account of a harrowing experience more than 30 years ago in Moreland, also in Lincoln County and only a few miles from McKinney, the site of this week’s turmoil. It happened on 03 April 1974, a day when many tornadoes attacked all over Kentucky.

At the throttle of engine 3003, backed up by fellow EMD-SDs 3122 and 6325 on that beautiful, unseasonably warm day, I had had one of those great runs the dispatchers hand out occasionally, on Train 172 at about a mile-and-a-quarter in length. I’d left Oakdale, Tenn., at something like 2:30 p.m. and was slowing on the steep grade approaching Moreland, Ky. (about 125 miles and three hours later) when things came unglued.

Positioned on the east side of the cab, I didn’t see the funnel cloud my brakeman saw when he looked back through the west-side window. We knew it was windy and the weather was threatening, but on the stable, 185-ton locomotive hadn’t felt anything unusual…until the utility pole at the main Moreland crossing snapped and came crashing down in front of the engine, high-voltage wires and all, at which time fire flew out from under the wheels and, fearing electrocution, I jumped up, wanting to get all of me, including my feet, on the seat cushion, but couldn’t because the brakes would go into emergency if I took my foot off the “dead man’s pedal” (made of metal). Little blue, lead-thin lines crackled around the 600-volt cabinets only a few feet from our seats, and my brakeman yelled at me not to touch anything. When the wires were all severed, the electrical threat was gone. Unknown to us, the 23-ton caboose was shaking violently and the conductor and flagman were simply “hoping for the best,” with nowhere to go. The tornado passed through the center of the train.

We were still moving and it was vital to get the train over the crossing, since blocking it would make it practically impossible to get emergency vehicles from their locations to the south-end of the county. The brakes went into emergency soon after the engines cleared the crossing, however, and we came to a grinding halt, the engine now vibrating as if some gigantic hand were shaking it.

Nine of the ten mobile homes on a ridge on the west side disappeared. Another on the east side imploded, and I radioed the dispatcher in Somerset, Ky., that it looked as if Moreland was blowing away. The black-angus cattle in the field on the west side were rolling end over end down the fence-row or twirling around in the middle of the pasture. I’ll never forget the strange, puzzled look on their faces. The steeple blew off the church over by Highway 127, which paralleled the tracks. Trees were going down and utility poles snapping all over the place. When the wind died down a bit, the brakeman and I decided to get down, see if anyone was in the flattened trailer, and survey the situation. The man from the trailer said his family was safe in the adjacent house but bewailed the fact that his 23 guns had disappeared.

Sitting against the engine’s fuel tank on the west side was a man who was obviously shaken, dazed and hurting. He said he was standing in his yard a few hundred feet down the track, but in an instant simply landed by or against the train. We helped him home, where his wife was plenty scared, and found out later that he had a serious injury. We started walking south along the track down the hill. Between the cars, pieces of the trailers that had blown away were mixed with blown-down trees. Our worst fears were realized when we discovered the crossing completely blocked by two overturned boxcars. An automobile was on its side in the yard adjacent to the crossing.

We continued down the tracks, climbing over trees (I was supposed to stay on the engine), and met the conductor and flagman, who looked as if they had seen ghosts. They told us that cars weighing more than 50 tons empty had been lifted off their trucks intermittently throughout the train and set down off the tracks or stacked on each other. They had had to claw their way over, under and around trees and other debris. The track was hardly damaged, unbelievable since derailments usually cause severe damage as wheels snap rails and chew up ballast and crossties.

After passing through the middle of the train, the twister continued northeast and caused one death, as well as considerable damage. As things calmed down, it became deathly still, as if nothing had ever happened. And then the rains came. We were told to stay there until well after dark, then, finally instructed to proceed the twelve or so miles to Danville, my home terminal. The storm accompanying the tornado had knocked out all power, and there was not one single light in the whole town. There was not one rail-yard employee on duty, and the usually bustling yard was like a ghosttown.

If the eye of the tornado had passed through either end of the train, one can only guess what might have happened. I’ve seen worse storms at sea, but could not have imagined anything on land like that tornado if I hadn’t experienced it.

And so it goes (or went, back in ’74).

Jim Clark