Thursday, April 30, 2015

You'll taste the rainbow, and like it

Here follows the only approved manner in which to eat Skittles. 

Tear a corner off of the package so as to be able to control the flow of Skittles. Pour one-third of the package onto the surface of your desk.*

Separate the Skittles by color, then eat in the color order below, according to the following system:

Eat Skittles of the same color two at a time. If there is an odd number of same color Skittles greater than one, then eat same-colored Skittles two at a time until three Skittles remain, then consume the three remaining same-colored Skittles together. If a given pour contains only one Skittle of a given color, eat that Skittle by itself. If a pour contains only three Skittles of a given color, eat them all together.**

Color order: You will consume the green Skittles first. (Alternatively, the green Skittles can be thrown into the trash because they are nasty.***) Eat either the yellow or the orange Skittles second. Eat either the orange or the yellow Skittles third. Eat the purple Skittles fourth. Eat the red Skittles last.

Once you have consumed all the Skittles from the first pour, pour out the second third of the package and repeat. Then complete the same process to consume the remaining third.

Now, I eat Skittles this way because that’s how I like to eat Skittles. But you will eat Skittles this way because it is policy that Skittles will be eaten this way. You cannot be trusted to decide where your children go. You cannot be trusted to decide what your children eat. You cannot be trusted to express your contempt for your local bureaucrats. All this is evident just from today's news. I shudder to contemplate what fits of radical non-conformity tomorrow may bring. So eat your Skittles as you are damn told.

Please know that if you question my Skittles policy I will not engage with you on the genesis of the policy, nor will I discuss its merits. The policy is the policy, as anyone -- particularly groveling left-wing statists -- can tell you, and policies are there to be obeyed.

* This applies to the 2.17 ounce package of Skittles. The 11 ounce family size Skittles is consumed in exactly the same way, but is poured out into 15 sub-portions, rather than three.

** Yes I know. There is an irresolvable contradiction contained in this part of the policy that arises when a given pour contains three and only three Skittles of a given color. Tough. The policy is absolute and you must conform to it perfectly, even where it contradicts itself.

*** Personally I always consume the green Skittles because: 1. Wasting food is a sin; and 2. They enhance my appreciation of the delicious Skittles soon to come. At present, the consumption or discard of the green Skittles is not a matter of policy and Skittle consumers are free to make their own choice in this regard. Yay, liberty!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Say my name

You have been told over and over again – and by some awfully important and powerful folks – that the gruesome outrages committed more or less daily by ISIS and Boko Haram and Al Shabaab – and, most recently, some random Muslim refugees in a boat – are “not about Islam.” Some fairly well-informed and studious people seem to disagree with that. But, I get it. We live in an age where it’s much more comfortable to discuss workplace violence instead of terrorism – even when we’re talking about the same event. (Indeed, some folks, like Ben Affleck, are so disinclined to engage uncomfortable facts that their passionate denial about the roots of the terrorism is exceeded only by their desperation to deny their own personal roots.)

So let’s spare ourselves the whole mess about what is Islam and what isn't. Let’s not talk about whether ISIS, or Boko Haram, or Al Shabaab, or Hezbollah, or Al Qaeda – or some random Muslim refugees in a boat – were motivated by Islam to act as they did. Let’s put the perpetrators’ motives aside and focus merely upon the identity of the victims.

Those random Muslim refugees in the Mediterranean tossed overboard and drowned those who, as terrified as they were, called out to God and prayed with their hands folded. Al Shabaab, at the Westgate Mall and at Garissa University College, employed the simple expediency of asking potential victims if they were Christian or not. Boko Haram saves itself the trouble of even asking by simply attacking Christians at worship. ISIS on the Libyan beach expressly warned that beheading was the fate all Christians will face if they do not convert.

So if we cannot say these scores and scores of brutal, terror-filled, agonizing deaths have got to do with Islam, can we acknowledge  – for pity’s sake can we at least say out loud – that they incontrovertibly have got to do with Christianity?*

And more than say it in this space, can we hear it from the one fellow from whom we most need to hear it? Here is the Administration statement from last night, issued by Bernadette Meehan, the spokesperson for the National Security Council.

The United States condemns in the strongest terms the brutal mass murder purportedly of Ethiopian Christians by ISIL-affiliated terrorists in Libya.  We express our condolences to the families of the victims and our support to the Ethiopian government and people as they grieve for their fellow citizens.  That these terrorists killed these men solely because of their faith lays bare the terrorists’ vicious, senseless brutality.  This atrocity once again underscores the urgent need for a political resolution to the conflict in Libya to empower a unified Libyan rejection of terrorist groups.
Even as terrorists attempt through their unconscionable acts to sow discord among religious communities, we recall that people of various faiths have coexisted as neighbors for centuries in the Middle East and Africa.  With the force of this shared history behind them, people across all faiths will remain united in the face of the terrorists’ barbarity.  The United States stands with them.  While these dehumanizing acts of terror aim to test the world's resolve – as groups throughout history have – none have the power to vanquish the powerful core of moral decency which binds humanity and which will ultimately prove the terrorists' undoing.
That’s not nothing, I suppose.** As best I can tell, by acknowledging even barely that the victims were Christian, and were victims because they were Christian, it's a first of sorts. But it is not enough by miles.

Because I have to wonder. The President, in an act of staggering sophistry, used the occasion of the recent National Prayer Breakfast to state: “Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”*** Now, as the death toll of Christians killed for being Christians mounts around the world, can't he simply say their name?****

* Yes. I know. ISIS and its ilk kill many, many Muslims as well. The killers in those cases would tell you in no uncertain terms that those killings are all about Islam, that as takfiri, they are condemning and justly punishing apostate traitors to Islam. But just for now, just for this space, since so few folks seem to want to, we’re going to talk about Christians.

** I’m sure Bernadette Meehan is a fine and important person.

*** Let’s be clear: He hardly needed to reach back 900 years for some awful behavior by Christians. On the most fundamental level possible, Christianity is about people so sinful, vile and evil that they all are damned to hell – except for the Grace of Jesus. And even those who claim Him and have received that Grace are, necessarily, sinners in the present tense.

That sin is not theoretical. It’s entirely too real, and all too often it’s even associated with the faith itself. That Midwestern gang of homophobic thugs who like to picket soldiers’ funerals and have the words “Baptist” and “church” right there in their name. Pedophile clerics are likely to go after the convenient lambs in their own flocks. No Christian deserves praise or even deference merely for being a Christian. Any Christian who would expect that hasn't really paid attention to his own theology.

**** It is rare -- in fact, I think unprecedented -- for this blog directly to criticize the President, I find the greatest danger is that some reader might imagine I support those who oppose him.

Remember, please Robert's Rule of Binary American Politics: Team R versus Team D is really just an intra-squad scrimmage by players from the same team, staged to distract the cheering fans from noticing that the stadium is on fire and their cars are being stolen from the parking lot.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Battle Road

As the rising sun pierced the billowing gun smoke that April morning 240 years ago this Sunday, I suspect the British regulars were thinking something along the lines of “Well, that’s for them.” The truth is that the “Shot Heard Round the World” echoed over an inauspicious field abandoned by a beaten militia in full flight. The only would-be rebels who remained on the Green did so because they were dead or dying.

So British Colonel Francis Smith might well have thought that, with one lot of traitors shown conclusively who was master, well begun was half done and the day portended well for King George III. It must have been with more than a little confidence that Smith turned his troops down the road toward Concord, where Tories and spies had reported the nascent rebellion had a large cache of weapons.

But neither Smith nor his executive officer, Major John Pitcairn – much less King George – had heard American Captain John Parker addressing his militiamen just before dawn. The rebels had waited through the night to see if the British foray into the countryside was just another reconnoiter in force, or something more sinister. Paul Revere and his fellow riders assured them the regulars were on their way intent on disarming the budding rebellion.  As the British entered the green, the militiamen assembled from Buckman Tavern and elsewhere to face them. Parker reminded them that while their foremost purpose was to merely demonstrate their resolve, more than that might well be demanded of them. 

“Stand your ground and do not fire unless fired upon,” Parker ordered. “But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”*

Faced off across a space no larger than a football field, Parker and Pitcairn each commanded their respective forces not to fire. Pitcairn had every reason to expect to be obeyed; British regulars did as they were ordered and Pitcairn’s force of elite light infantry were some of the best troops of the best professional army in the world. Parker, commanding farmers, merchants – and a slave named Prince Estabrook – likewise expected to be obeyed, if for no other reason than because his men had families close at hand, some watching from just off the field.  Greek governmental theories, philosophical abstractions and offenses such as the Intolerable Acts may have driven rabble-rousers like Sam Adams and his Sons of Liberty. But for the militiamen on Lexington Green, their homes and farms and livelihoods were all too tangible realities, all too close at hand.

So no one was meant to fire a shot, but as it as has time and again throughout the years, the shot nevertheless was fired** and then everyone on the field let loose. It was over in minutes and the outcome, with many rebels killed or wounded, and only one of his own men hurt, couldn't have surprised Pitcairn, who couldn't have had much doubt about how the rest of the day would go.

But it was only dawn. And he hadn't heard Parker.

Pitcairn couldn't have understood at that moment that he hadn't just been a part of a police action or some noisy civil disturbance. Because he hadn't heard Parker, because he didn't know who these Patriots really were, Pitcairn didn't know then that he’d really been a participant in the first skirmish of a remorseless war. But he was soon to learn.

By the end of that very day, after the desperate running fight down the Battle Road, as the blood ran from the North Bridge to stain the Concord River, Pitcairn could not help but to have had a better understanding of what war with real Americans would mean: All told the rebels had lost 88 men killed and wounded. The butcher’s bill for the most feared and powerful military force in the world was nearly twice that, at 147. By the very next morning – without the aid of Facebook or a single cell phone –  15,000 men of what would eventually*** become a victorious Continental Army were outside of Boston.  

This nation was born of blood and smoke and outrage and an abiding sense that "Enough is enough, damn it." It was born when a secure and prosperous people finally decided that their liberties were more dear to them than their comforts. I am convinced that Americans -- or, at the very least, enough Americans -- still fear blood and smoke less, and love liberty more, than they love their comfort. I believe that Americans still know their way to the Battle Road. I believe this, I confess, in part because I must believe it, or else despair.

* Indeed, many of the militiamen may not have heard Parker, either. Her suffered from tuberculosis and had trouble mustering enough breath to speak.

**Theories vary wildly about who fired first. The best evidence, I think, suggests that it was one of the spectators, townsmen arrayed around the green, but not under Parker’s command.

*** "Eventually" in spades. In the eight years, four months and 15 days from that day to the Treaty of Paris, there would be some 150,000 casualties, suffered overwhelmingly by the Americans and their families, fighting on their own doorsteps.