It has always been a mystery to me how some folks could think character does not matter—or rather, that it doesn’t matter enough to demand particularly high standards of our elected officials. It was the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, who instructed us that character was the defining qualification for a ruling class. A study by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia sheds light on America’s strange ambivalence. “The Politics of Character” survey was based on 1,200 telephone interviews drawn from a national probability sample representative of the adult civilian population, eighteen years and older, living in private households in the United States. The survey has a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percent. Basically, the study found that most people do think character is important (90%), but the same people aren’t exactly sure what constitutes character or how it remotely relates to politics or to public policy. Character is popular, but the concept is bereft of content! The study found our country’s commitment to character is pretty shallow—and probably inertial, a function of our history.
Indeed, character and conviction were once conjoined and esteemed. The Founders were adamant about character’s importance. Christian faith and traditional Western values supplied its content. No one doubted that people should and would choose leaders of character, and that good representatives are indispensable to good government. George Washington said, “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.” Thomas Jefferson said, “A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of [a republic’s] laws and constitution.” Alexis de Tocqueville wondered how America should escape destruction, “if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed.” And James Madison, Father of the Constitution and author of its most famed checks and balances said, if there be no virtue among us, “we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks—no form of Government, can render us secure. To suppose that any form of Government will secure liberty or happiness without any form of virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.”
The architects of this Republic knew the importance of character and the high moral qualities that comprised it. Taken together, this was a basic article of democratic faith. Today’s democratic faith is laced with confusion and contradiction. The majority of Americans believe that “all views of what is good are equally valid” (72% agree) and that “everything is beautiful—it is all a matter of how you look at it” (69% agree). On the other hand, the majority (77%) also believes “we would all be better off if we could live by the same basic moral guidelines.” By wide margins, the majority believes that both “obeying those in positions of authority” (92%) and “following your own conscience” (81%) are important to character. They also believe “sacrificing your own interests for the good of others” (88%) and “protecting your own interests” (88%) to be important to character. Likewise, the majority believes that “sticking to one’s principles no matter what” (95%) and “enjoying yourself” (92%) are essential. Similar contradictions continue, when respondents are asked about specific moral issues. In terms of holding officials accountable, just 46% insist the president (a high symbolic representative of the people) needs the same virtue as the people, in order to govern effectively. Americans have become rather indiscriminate it seems, and that’s not fuzzy math—it’s fuzzy thinking.
Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford. Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he serves asState Director of the Republican Freedom Coalition (RFC). This article is from his newly released book, Horse Sense for the New Millennium available on-line atwww.WesRiddle.net and from fine bookstores everywhere.Email: .
As 2011 draws to a close, I would like to look back at some of the legal system’s less than shining moments during the year.For starters, let’s begin with one of my favorite subjects—the “benchslap.”For the uninitiated, a “benchslap” is when a judge delivers some stinging criticism, usually directed at one of the parties, their lawyers, or a position taken by either of the above.This time, however, the “Tell Us How You Really Feel” award goes to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito for a benchslap directed at some fellow federal appellate judges.In a speech at Rutgers School of Law (Newark), Justice Alito bemoaned the poor quality of judicial opinions from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, saying:
“If Learned Hand’s opinions are like the products of a bespoke tailor, the opinions coming out of the Ninth Circuit are like the products of a factory that is staffed by machines and menial workers who are overseen from afar by a handful of overworked managers.”
The “It Couldn’t Happen To a Nicer Guy” honor goes to the Steven J. Baum law firm, a New York foreclosure “mill” that—according to one legal analyst—filed more foreclosure proceedings against New York homeowners than any other lawyer in state history.Baum’s firm allegedly used such shady tactics as robo-signing to overwhelm already besieged homeowners, and in October 2011 paid a $2 million fine to settle a federal lawsuit’s allegations of filing deceptive paperwork in order to accelerate foreclosures.That same month, Baum and his law firm got more unwelcome attention, when the New York Times published a former employee’s photos from the firm’s 2010 Halloween party.In a remarkable display of callousness and bad taste, a number of Baum’s employees dressed up as homeless people, even holding up cardboard signs referencing the law firm’s efforts at tossing the foreclosed out of their houses.The ensuing firestorm of bad publicity led to mortgage giants like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae dropping Baum’s firm.By late November, Baum announced that his law firm was shutting its doors for good.That’s karma for you.
The “Are You Serious?” award goes to European Union officials who have instituted a law forbidding drink bottlers from claiming that water can prevent dehydration.Defying both science and common sense, the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA)—after a 3 year investigation, no less—concluded that labels on bottled water could not include the claim that drinking water helps avoid dehydration.In 2008, the same EFSA officials were ridiculed for banning “bent” bananas (I foolishly assumed that all bananas are curved, but what do I know?).Bottled water producers who defy the EU’s new regulation can face up to 2 years in jail.Critics of the EU were incredulous.“This is stupidity writ large,” said Conservative MEP Roger Helmer.The United Kingdom’s Department for Health’s spokesman also ridiculed the new law, saying “Of course water hydrates.While we support the EU in preventing false claims about products, we need to exercise common sense as far as possible.”Denying the right to say what is both scientifically correct a matter of common sense?With reasoning like that, it’s no wonder the EU is falling apart.
The “Let’s Go to the Videotape” distinction goes to Aransas County Court-at-Law Judge William Adams.The disturbing 2004 video of Judge Adams beating his then-teenage daughter with a belt and cursing at her went viral last month after the now 23-year old woman uploaded it to YouTube.As a result, Judge Adams was engulfed in controversy, with CNN, the Associated Press, and other national media outlets picking up the story.Judge Adams admits the incident took place but insists that “it’s not as bad as it looks on tape.”Besides the public outcry, multiple official investigations are underway prompted by the footage.Judge Adams went on paid leave in early November, and by late November, the Supreme Court of Texas had temporarily suspended him as well.The suspension, in which Judge Adams makes no admission of “guilt, fault or wrongdoing,” is effective while the State Commission on Judicial Conduct pursues an inquiry into the jurist.I cannot imagine what Thanksgiving was like at the Adams household, but I’ll bet cellphone cameras were not welcome.
Finally, nothing says more about our litigation-obsessed society than the “You Mess With the Bull, You Get the Lawyer” award.If you have ever admired the thrill of running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain after reading Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, but wanted a less dangerous alternative, then consider promoter Phil Immordino’s Running of the Bulls event in Cave Creek, north of Phoenix, Arizona.Ten years ago, Immordino organized several “bull runs” in Nevada and Arizona that were patterned after the famous Spanish tradition during the San Fermín festival, but had to abandon the events due to the high cost of liability insurance.But now, with ample lawyering, he has figured out a way to conduct an American version that reflects our liability-conscious culture.First, the bulls’ horns are duller than those in Spain, and they are a less aggressive breed than their Spanish counterparts.Then there are the paramedics standing by, the rodeo clowns poised to step in and distract the bulls, and the strategically-placed escape routes along the quarter-mile course that allow runners to evade those bulls that get a little too close for comfort.And, of course, since this is America, everybody involved is insured to the hilt.Immordino’s company carries $1 million in coverage, the owner of the land where the course is located has another million, and the owner of the 1,500 lb. rodeo bulls that will be used also has liability insurance.
Then, of course, comes the waiver of liability that each of the bull run participants is required to sign before he can pay his $25 and indulge his inner Hemingway.According to Immordino, “We have a seven-page waiver, and they need to initial every paragraph and every page.It says you, your neighbor, your cousin, and your cousin’s brother can’t sue anybody about any of this.”While no one has ever been gored or made a claim stemming from Immordino’s events, the organizer has learned that legal trouble is never far away; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) threatened a boycott of the Cave Creek bull run.It’s just like Pamplona, only you run more risk of being gored by a lawyer than a bull.
Old times and ‘the good old days’ of one’s youth, etc., is what is meant by the Scottish phrase auld lang syne. It has been a custom, probably as long as the years have changed, to run over in one’s mind the things of the past and to consider one’s hopes for the upcoming year. The custom of auld lang syne involves fond sharing of memories with friends, usually around a table with some convivial drinking—and as the New Year rings in at the stroke of midnight New Year’s Eve, to lift a toast to the future and wish each other well, and the very best part, to share a memorable kiss with the one you love. It’s a good and healthy custom if you have your designated driver and adhere to moderation, or celebrate at home. The purpose isn’t a drunken stupor or blackout after all! Instead, the occasion—as the old year wanes and the new one starts, as Father Time figuratively leaves the scene and a baby takes his place—is all about fellowship, about sharing laughter, about enjoying a little levity. Which is ironic, because memories sometime involve pain and regret, if nothing else because ‘time stands still for no man’ and every succeeding year brings changes—including the change of getting older. But Father Time doesn’t just drop off a cliff. Like an old soldier, so to speak, he doesn’t die—he just fades away. The sound of the song “Auld Lang Syne” is sad, but the customary indulgence of those notes is not a long cry in your beer! Rather, it is to quickly dry your tears if you have any, and to accept the inevitable moving on from the past. The rationale is this, no matter what your situation: life ain’t over til it’s over—and I ain’t given up yet! The American is a boxer by nature and by choice, a scrapper in the field of dreams. Hence, the American custom of auld lang syne is ultimately an accentuation on the positive, an appraisal but an optimistic one: taking stock good and bad, but making every plan for progress and doing better next year. The goal is around the next bend; we’ll have it someday for sure, and we’ll understand every single pothole in the sweet bye and bye.
When I was a youngster, I recall the adults on one occasion shortly after Christmas looking at the coins in their pockets. They would read the date off a penny or nickel or dime and try to recall what that year had meant to them—where they had been, what they had accomplished. “I remember the man whose head is on this dime—FDR led us so well and gave us renewed hope—I always think of him like a man on horseback riding at the front of a column, bringing us out from the desert of despair and Great Depression into the Promised Land!” “Kennedy’s half-dollar is so beautiful—I wish he’d been able to accomplish all he wanted—oh God, I remember where I was November 22nd, 1963 like it were yesterday, don’t you?” “Oh this was the year we attended the World’s Fair in New York City and had so much fun.” On and on, I heard the grown-ups talk about years fifteen and twenty years removed, dates before my birth—times for which I had very little understanding, times for which the backs of pennies and nickels were sometimes different. Their descriptions helped me build my mental impressions of the olden days. But the reality of time before one’s own experience is always a leap of faith. I mean you know it must have been, but you weren’t there. Likewise, the future is a leap of faith. The sun will come up tomorrow, you can bet your bottom dollar. I reckon you could lose that bet, however, and millions of years from now somebody will but what the hey! Auld lang syne is about taking those leaps of faith, backwards and forwards, and reminding ourselves there’s continuity in this universe and in our lives. Continuity implies purpose and design, and there’s a comfort knowing as we look behind and yonder, the pathway lies forever. Possibilities are endless and crooked paths made plain. A line from horizon to horizon curves to form a cosmic smile in the distance, with all the colors of a Rainbow. Happy New Year, and Godspeed.
Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford . Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he serves asState Director of the Republican Freedom Coalition (RFC). His newly released book, Horse Sense for the New Millennium is available on-line atwww.WesRiddle.net and from fine bookstores everywhere.Email: .
’Tis the Season, as they say. For most of us here, we celebrate the birth of Christ. I do. My Christianity, as imperfectly as I may represent it at times, is my core belief. I don’t remember having one of these zapped by lightning or Eureka moments in my travels as a Christian. I just remember a belief in Jesus Christ as my Savior, even as a small boy.
I remember my mother making sure I made it to Sunday school and worship at the old red brick FirstUnitedMethodistChurch in Midlothian before it was torn down. Later I was baptized at the church that still exists on Mountain Peak Road. My father attended sometimes, but he worked weekends and late shifts because he was a Dallas police officer. I remember praying that my father would make it home safely.
I am thankful. I should be.
For some who doubt or do not share the outright belief in the birth of Christ, the themes of the Season can still cause reflection, just as they should for a believer. Are you thankful for what you have? Many of us have challenges or even disabilities in our lives, but are you thankful for your next breath?
At this time of year, do you focus on the relatives or friends whom you may not get along with? I have to admit there are times when that has tempted me. How about you? Really? You never have? Wow, you must be special. Perhaps you should be thankful for you. At this time of the year, some reflection on what is really important is often useful. Maybe you should be thankful that you have people in your life.
Are you thankful if someone bought you a present? I remember receiving a pair of white socks during a Christmas gift exchange in grade school. I am not sure such things are even allowed any more in our public schools. I was about 7, and I remember I wasn’t very happy about the gift.
I thanked the boy who drew my name, but he probably sensed my disappointment.
The ride on the school bus home that day was a real bummer.
After all, I had carefully selected and purchased a toy as my contribution to the exchange. Something was wrong with the Universe! Your great aunt might give you socks for Christmas, but not your classmate! What would Charlie Brown have done? Lucy would have hurt him!
When I got home, Mom and Dad pointed out that they were really good socks. They both talked about how I could use them and that they looked warm and that they were well made. When we came back from our Christmas Break (we called it that back then), I remember thanking the boy for the neat socks. Funny, I still remember that made him happy. It felt right.
Maybe in some ways, the sock story is my own personal Christmas story. It seems it always goes through my mind at this time of year. In a way, it is a redemption story. I don’t mean spiritually, but I bet you get it.
This column was also published in the Waxahachie Daily Light
“Do to Others as You Would Have Them Do to You” — Luke 6:31
A few weeks ago I got a good laugh when I read in my local newspaper a piece titled, Principal retires amid inquiry into comments.” Seems that Arlington (TX) school officials reprimanded a principal, Mr. John Walkinshaw, of Bebensee Elementary, when he made comments that it was unfair to offer bilingual education to Hispanics only. Mr. Walkinshaw stated that he wanted to expand the bilingual program to include: Asians, Muslims and other ethnic groups who have not been offered the same type of bilingual programs Hispanic students have access to.
After I read the article I felt like calling BebenseeElementary School and request Mr. Walkinshaw’s phone number, or his email address. But, I opt not to. Some of you might wonder what I wanted to discuss with Mr. Walkinshaw. Folks, I wanted to convince Mr. Walkinshaw and plead with him not to pursue his quest for expanding bilingual programs to other ethnic students. If anything, I wanted to tell him that his school would better serve and educate minority students with the exception of Hispanic students whose parents want it, if they were never in a bilingual program.
Since its inception, at the apex of the Great Society, bilingual education act of 1968 passed congress without a single dissent. Americans, however, have spent the past 40 years debating what it was meant to accomplish.
As an American Hispanic I, for years have written, debated on radio and TV with educators, politicians and Hispanic groups on the dismal track record of bilingual education. One bilingual program that showed promise here in Fort Worth was Immersion (a method of language teaching that involves teachers and students using the foreign language, in this case, English, at all times). The same method the nuns used on my fellow Hispanic students and me at my Catholic school back in the 50s that worked extremely well for all of us. Sadly, the Immersion Program was discontinued.
According to the New Century Foundation (a nonprofit organization that studies immigration and race relations), Hispanics drop out of high school at three times the white rate and twice the black rate. Even third-generation Hispanics drop out of school at a higher rate than blacks and are less like to be college graduates. From 1992 to 2009, Hispanic illiteracy in English rose from 35 percent to 44 percent. The average Hispanic 12th-grader reads and does math at the level of the average white 8th-grader. Some white, black, Asian, etc. individuals reading these dismal stats of Hispanic poor scholastic achievements might wonder, “Why should I care about this bilingual nonsense?” My fellow Americans of all stripes, these are YOUR hard earned tax dollars being ill spent in our public school systems throughout our country! What a waste of money and minds!
In 2010, a study by the Center for Education Policy Texas Public Policy Foundation educator, Christine Rossell, PhD, revealed that as practiced in Texas, bilingual education is the practice of keeping students with Hispanic surnames, whether they know English or not, in segregated classrooms where they receive no opportunity learn English. The result is a massively high dropout rate, and the complete inability to learn. The study further revealed that bilingual education is more expensive than better bilingual programs such as English immersion and is the least educationally effective.
A few years ago, a dear friend, and Ft. Worth School Board Administrator, Dr. Robert McAbee, my Print Shop instructor when I attended Tech High in the 50s, called me. Dr. McAbee asked me if I would go to MetroSchool in my old neighborhood in North Fort Worth to speak to the students. MetroSchool was a school that tutored and counsel high school students with poor grades from quitting school. I agreed to help Mr. McAbee and arriving at MetroSchool I was shocked at the makeup of the students I was to address. Most of the 30+ students were Hispanic. I began my talk by asking the students where they lived. Most said they lived west of N. Main St. I then asked the boys if they ever went to the Boys Club on the west side of N. Main. Most said they did. I then told them that when I was a young boy, I, along with their parents were not allowed to rent or buy a house where they now live and Hispanic boys were not allowed to join the Boys Club. Also, many restaurants just a few blocks from the school did not serve Hispanics. Their parents nor mine were not allowed to be postmen, police officers, firemen, nor work in city and state government jobs other than as custodians or maids. Thus, they worked at packinghouses, pick cotton or other crops, worked in hotels or cafes washing dishes, cleaning rooms, or cooking.
I went on by telling them that if our parents finished high school or went to college many jobs were not available to them, which is no longer the case today. Hispanics can now work, live, and eat wherever they want. But, if you’re not educated, I assured them that Hispanics will continue doing the low paying jobs our parents and grandparents did no more than 40 years ago. I instructed the boys to spend more time studying math and English instead of working on their worthless low rider cars. I also told the girls that in a few years many would hopefully be married and have kids. I asked them, “Girls, who would you rather marry, a guy with a Lexus or Mercedes or one whose car goes up and down? Would you want your husband to make lots of money to support you and your kids plus buy you and your kids clothes at Macy’s or one who gets minimum wage and buy your kids and your clothes at the flea market or garage sales?” All the girls said they wanted their husbands to be successful and educated much to the disgust of the boys. Leaving Metro School, some, but not all of the students said they were going to study hard, finish school and hopefully attend college.
It is my hope that educators like Mr. Walkinshaw will learn to teach minority students as the wonderful nuns taught us Hispanics in my Catholic school and do unto to them as the nuns did unto us. Which is, to teach them English well to give them a better chance to succeed in the Good Old USA!