Heroes and villains…

Last week a friend of mine asked if I thought the Devil was a hero or a villain. Now having been raised by a good Methodist mother, my response should have been automatic, immediate, and emphatic. Nothing with me is quite that simple, though, so the question became something of a thought exercise – and one that I’ve spent more time pondering over the last few days than I expected.

First, if we accept the Bible as the literal word of God, the answer is obvious. The devil is the bad guy. He’s the super villain’s super villain. However,I’m all too aware that edition of the Bible I grew up with was one commissioned by England’s King James I and completed by his team of translators, all members of the Church of England, between 1604 and 1611. The fact that it is a translation based on previously translated works based on events first described not closer than several centuries after they would have originally take place has always felt to me a bit problematic. For purposes of this particular argument, though, that’s not my point.

When I look at the Old Testament story of Lucifer’s fall, I’m often tempted to give it some of the context it’s lacking. Context that perhaps paints an image at an Almighty who is unelected and wholly unaccountable in His actions. If we apply a bit of literary license, we can see God, certainly the God of the Old Testament, as the purest incarnation of absolute monarchy – quite literally king by divine right. Within that broader context, Lucifer raising a reported one third of the angelic population in open rebellion against the throne could be construed as an act of defiance against a totalitarian regime. I’m thinking here now about the images of Romanians rising against Ceaușescu and East Germans overtopping the Berlin Wall in 1989.

From the seat of an all knowing and all powerful deity, Lucifer’s actions can only appear ungrateful, immoral, and a blatant violation of the established order. If one were to be devil’s advocate it certainly seems possible to argue that as a leading light among the heavenly host, he had a duty and an obligation to rise up and cast off the shackles of oppression and lead his people towards a more democratic future. At least that’s how I’d make the case if I were devil’s advocate, but maybe I’m flavoring it with a little too much of my own ideas about how oppressed peoples are supposed to respond.

Perspective is everything. Especially when it comes time to label the winners and losers of the story. So, is the Devil a hero or a villain? Yes, I suppose he is.

POTUS goes to Cuba…

It’s probably a grave sin in an election year, but when I saw the news tonight that the president found his way to Havana, my only thought was good on him. At the height of the Cold War it made perfect sense to hold an embargo on an otherwise small, relatively insignificant country that represented a Soviet toehold in our hemisphere. In the second decade of the 21st century and thirty plus years after the demise of the USSR, it’s long past time that we treat Cuba like any other sunny tropical island. They get a much needed infusion of tourist and investment dollars and we get a new an interesting place to visit without that added excitement of committing a felony in the process.

Those who were chased out of Cuba by the revolution have a grievance, no question. There should be provisions for making whole those who lost their homes and livelihoods under the Castro regime. Cuba’s human rights record isn’t stellar, but it’s no worse than that of any number of countries we already do business with. I suspect we’ll be far better positioned to influence Cuba’s policies when the trade dollars start flowing than we ever were when we did our best to pretend there was no Cuba outside the fence of Guantanamo Bay.

I’d hoped to get there before the inevitable crush of tourists turn the place into the next Riviera Maya, but the timeline looks like it’s moving way faster than I anticipated… which isn’t surprising in the 8th year of a presidency when the commander-in-chief decides that it’s time to go our legacy shopping. Regardless of whether it’s setting up a legacy or simply an action that’s in the national interest, POTUS got this one right.

So take that anyone who thinks I never have anything nice to say about President Obama.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Rednecks with explosives. There’s something about Independence Day that makes the rednecks in Ceciltucky especially susceptible to doing stupid shit. Maybe it’s just the long day of drinking cheap domestic beer combined with too many hours in the sun, but I have no idea what makes them think setting off mortar-style fireworks in a relatively dense subdivision makes any sense at all. Trust me, your half-acre yard isn’t nearly as big as you think it is. Then again they’re still better than the asshats up the hill who will undoubtedly commemorate the nation’s independence with “celebratory gunfire.”

2. Egypt. Surprise! The revolution that knocked off the long-time president-for-life of Egypt is in the process of imploding. One only needs to look to the history or revolutionary uprisings to find that they have a nasty tendency to devour their own young. Our own revolution of 1776 is perhaps an outlier because we broke ties with the colonial past, but opted to replace the royal government of George III with a republican government that operated with similar institutions and powers rather than attempting something more like a wholesale change of society. I’d go so far as to speculate that for the average citizen, living under as a citizen under President Washington instead of a subject under King George didn’t change their day to day lives all that much at the micro level. How’s that for sacrilege on Independence Day? Now our associates who are trying to completely remake Egypt? Yeah. That’s a whole different ball of wax. I’m only surprised that it took a year to really get sideways.

3. Buttons. I learned something new yesterday. Apparently the buttons, zippers, and other fasteners on men’s and women’s clothing are on opposite sides. I had spent the last 35 years blissfully unaware of this fact… and now that I know about it, it bothers me. It’s not the button location that bothers me so much as the idea that something so simple in daily life has eluded my notice for so long. It’s left me pondering what other little details on everyday life I’ve managed to avoid noticing.

Shame…

Last night, a member of the United States Congress stood in front of a campaign fundraiser in New York City and told the crowd that “The country is ripe for a true revolution.” Worse yet, he had the unmitigated gall to use this call to revolt as nothing more than an applause line. I suggest you study your history, Mr. Paul. Revolutions are brutal affairs. Look to our own Civil War and War for Independence as your examples. Look to France’s Reign of Terror as a guide if the fields of Antietam, Shiloh, Lexington, and Bunker Hill aren’t bloody enough for you.

Words, Congressman Paul, are important. How we use them is important. The meaning we convey, whether intentionally provoking or simply aimed at garnering easy applause, is important. And by God, sir, when you as use your status as a duly elected member of Congress to call for revolution against the government of the United States, you’ve saved us all the trouble of deciding and branded yourself a traitor.

We had our revolution, Congressman, and with it we secured the right to replace our government through legal means. As a twice failed candidate for president, you’ve not garnered the support of enough of your own party to even be the nominee, let alone convince half the electorate at large that your ideas are right. No sir, we don’t need a revolution. What we do need is to get back to the spirit and intent of the revolution we fought to win our independence. I’ve been a capital “R” Republican for most of my adult life, but I’ve been a lowercase “r” republican for much longer. The founders gave us all the tools we need cure what ails this nation. We must fix the foundation, but you want to tear down the whole house and then set the rubble alight. You may couch your rhetoric in populism, but a call to revolution, intentional or otherwise, is a supreme act of cowardice from a man who’s run out of legitimate ideas. Shame! Shame!

Treason…

This Monday Rasmussen released a poll that proclaimed a “pre-revolutionary” sentiment in the United States. Watching the home grown violence gripping our allies in the UK, in Spain, and in Greece, we should take a hard look at what it means to be “pre-revolutionary.” A revolution isn’t just tearing down the machine with no ideas about what the next best thing should look like. Can you imagine George Washington or Ben Franklin simply throwing out the British and then going home to hope for the best… but only after looting all the stores in Philadelphia?

I know there are plenty of people out there agitating and that there are a few of them who have no purpose other than just wanting to see the world burn. Our forefathers granted us a republic and we owe it to ourselves and our own posterity to avail ourselves of every built in electoral and procedural safeguard to maintain it. I swore an oath to defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic. When I took that oath, I never dreamed that it would be the latter that most worried me.

If there is doubt for anyone reading this, let me go on the record in as loud and clear a voice as I can muster: The faceless mob, the rabble, who use the present adversity to feed into this call for insurrection deserve nothing more than a traitor’s death. In a turbulent world, we are still the last great bulwark between civilization and the abyss. Should be stumble or if we shrug, beyond here there be monsters.

Well, there’s your problem…

One of the biggest challenges of being young and ambitious and employed by the federal government all at the same time is that due to it effectively being a closed system, the ranks are filled with crusty old bastards who are blocking your route to plum assignments. They’ve been retired in place for years now and have no intention of leaving. For the generation coming up through the ranks, these are nothing so much as roadblocks, whose skill sets and mentality would be better suited for the government of 1967 than that of 2007. I’m not suggesting here that there should be a mandatory retirement age, just that there reaches a point where it’s no longer in the best interest of the government to keep these people on the payroll. In fact, I don’t know why you would reach 40 years of service and actually still want to hang around. Personally, I’m planning on playing a hell of a lot of golf by that stage of the game.

Of course the reality is that the federal bureaucracy is, at some unspoken level, a make work program whose personnel system has an unfortunate tendency to softly discourage young employees from turning a job into a career. When there is no clear path to advancement or even lateral transfer into a more attractive position, what incentive does a mid-level 20-something employee have to stay the course? Why would they wait, possibly for years, for a position or a promotion that no one can guarantee? Organizational loyalty is a great thing, but it has to work both ways. If you can’t reward the hard work and dedication of the Young Turks who designed and helped build the organization, they have to look to other opportunities and to their own future. Our generation isn’t one to sit around and “pay dues” just because that’s what our parent’s generation did.

The time has come to distribute the spoils of the transition we helped carry out. Historically, though, revolutions have a bad habit of eating their own young – just ask Robespierre or Marat. I’d recommend we all stay out of the tub for a while, just to be on the safe side of things.

Giants…

On this Independence Day, I turn the full attention of my ire towards the self-styled authorities sprawled all over the television casting dispersions on those men who founded the nation 230 years ago. I heard the third so-called expert deride Jefferson at 9:30 this morning and stopped counting. The quote of the day was: Yes, Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, but more importantly, he owned slaves. Really??? He was a Virginia planter. Is his being a slave owner a surprise for anyone? So was Washington. So was Madison. Should we rescind our independence because Continental forces were commanded by a slave owner? Should we take back the Constitution because its primary author was a slave holder, too?

As it is said, the founding fathers were men of singular genius who designed a government that could be run by idiots. Do any of us really think that brain trust of a Congress we have now could hope to devise something so enduring or elegant? They were great men struggling in a glorious cause. Like great men though history, some had equally great flaws. There flaws were part and parcel of what it meant to be the psudo-aristocracy of revolutionary America. Their achievement, however, transcends time and place and defines what it means to be American.

Today, we honor their wisdom and their memory.