Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither, and lose both.
-- Benjamin Franklin

A zenlike quaker story.

This story has been going around in the quaker community on the web, as a message that was given in meeting in England not long ago.

My first reaction was mystification. Slowly, it has begun to speak to me:

A Quaker, a warthog and a palm tree walk into a pub. Looking up from behind the counter, the bartender shouts, “Hey, we don’t serve your kind here!”

The three look at each other.

The Quaker thinks, “What a pity and shame the injustice these two face in the world. I must organize a committee,” and the Quaker immediately leaves the pub.

The warthog snorts, “I have been kicked out of better holes than this one!” and warthog stomps out the door.

The palm tree, which comes from a long line of palm trees that have weathered great storms, bending to withstand mighty winds, settles itself there in the pub. It takes in carbon dioxide and puts out oxygen. It cleanses the dingy air and flourishes.

This I Believe

My wife and I recently saw the play Trying at the Walnut Street Theater. Now, we have season tickets to two theaters in Philadelphia, the Wilma which is avant-garde, thought-provoking, and intellectual. The Walnut, on the other hand, while the productions are often excellent, tends to produce a lot of light-weight chestnuts: Finian’s Rainbow, Beauty and the Beast, Cats, and a plethora of Neil Simon. Given that, I wasn’t expecting the impact of Trying, which deals with the last year of Judge Francis Biddle’s life, seen through the eyes of his young secretary. For those who don’t know (as I didn’t), Francis Biddle was the Chief United States Judge at the Nuremberg trials, after serving on the US Court of Appeals, as Solictor General and then Attorney General of the United States, and as chairman of the National Labor Relations Board. under Roosevelt and Truman. A member of a historic Philadelphia patrician family, he was rich, eloquent, and liberal.

The following quote was from Edward R. Murrow’s “This I believe” radio series.

It speaks to my condition.


I believe in the value of the individual human being – his integrity, his need for diversity, even his chance at happiness. Some men and women have enjoyed creative and satisfactory lives; but they have been few compared to the average lot of the millions who have been the victims of poverty, disease and oppression. I believe that such a disproportion is not necessary. A normally decent way of living for all men is not beyond the range of the possible.

In the thousands of years of our tortured history we have learned many things – but not yet how to live together. It has been said that human nature does not change, that you cannot improve people by passing laws. But surely change runs at the root of all life; and if laws do not alter man, laws can modify some of those conditions which make it hard for men to live peacefully, perhaps even joyfully together.

Laws, after all, are but the expression of the common purpose. They implement and articulate the needs and aspirations of the community, changing as the community changes.

In the beginning of our history we declared to a skeptical world the proposition that all men are created equal, with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Gradually we have come to understand and to insist that these rights mean more than a magnificent declaration; and that our government, instituted among men, must derive its continuing reality by promoting the general welfare and securing the blessings of liberty. Today eternal vigilance demands not only that we prevent our instrument, the State, from trampling on our liberties, but that we insist that it shall protect and secure them.

I too believe that Liberty is an end in itself; and that, as Sophocles once said, “The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom is a brave heart.”

But now our freedom – our chance to live life as we see it, to choose it and to enjoy it – is threatened. I do not believe that the totalitarian menace to what we like to call the American way of life – which is deeply rooted in European culture, European democracy, and European religion – I do not believe that this external brutality and imperialism is the only menace to that kind of living. Our weakness in our fundamental beliefs; and particularly in our faith in the individual human being. This frustrating doubt under the pressure of fear leads us to all the dark and violent absurdities and injustices that have characterized these last few years – the loyalty oaths and loyalty tests; the investigations of the way certain Americans choose to think; the hunting out on the college campuses of teacher who will not accept the orthodox point of view of the multitude; the suspicion, the nervous hysteria.

I still believe in the American traditions that Thomas Jefferson so nobly expressed a hundred and fifty years ago – the traditional American decencies – free speech and free press, due process for all persons before the law, equality of opportunity.

But this is not all of our American Faith. Tolerance, which is at the root of it, is akin to the scientific spirit, rational, not without skepticism, experimental, and above all, open-minded. We must keep open the travel to the heart. But we must never close the approaches to the mind.”

Our Compassionate Senator

Senator Santorum on Katrina:

“I mean, you have people who don’t heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings. There may be a need to look at tougher penalties, candidly, on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving.”

Right. People are too poor to evacuate, so fine them. Typically compassionate and understanding repuglican response, but I guess he’s at least open about it.

Of course, Santorum thinks the National Weather Service was partly responsible for the disaster, for not giving sufficient warning for it’s severity:

Santorum said he didn’t think the weather service had given “sufficient warning” initially about the hurricane’s path or what its impact would be when it hit Florida. He said he was “not going to suggest there were any major errors,” but that the adequacy of the warnings should to be investigated along with other aspects of how government agencies have dealt with Katrina.

“The expectation was that [the hurricane] was not going to hit Florida with much fury, and it ended up being a Category 1 hurricane and did a lot more damage than I think was ever anticipated,” Santorum said in the recorded radio interview.

Here is the warning the NWS issued before Katrina hit New Orleans:

NWS Warning

Looks pretty explicit to me. Too bad Bush and Cheney were out of town on vacation when this was happening, and Chertoff and Brown weren’t clever enough to read the NWS warnings on their own initiative.

For a timeline of how things played out with Katrina, check here.

For a debunking of several Republican talking points trying to shift blame for the disaster response, check here. Note particularly that Governor Blanco’s declaration of a state of emergency, the triggering event for responding to this kind of disaster, occured three days before Katrina actually made landfall.

Emergency management

In light of the horrific destruction and death in the south following Hurricane Katrina, you wonder if there ought to be a national organization coordinating emergency management.

Oh wait, there is one. It’s called FEMA. Too bad the Bush administration is dismantling it. I know the administration is obsessed with terrorist attacks, but shouldn’t we be prepared for the natural disasters we know will come, as well as for hypothetical terrorists?

It comes home

I have just returned from a week at scout camp. In many ways, it was a typical such week (I’ve done 12 of them), with an occasional fight to break up, some homesickness to work through, and a hydrophobic scout that we finally got in the pool. In some ways it was atypical: horribly hot weather, (when it wasn’t raining cats and dogs), and some exceptionally good first year scouts, who came through the week much more smoothly than I’ve ever seen.

One event however made this a unique, and sad, camp experience.

On Thursday word came that three PA National Guardsmen had been killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. One of those was a 19 year old. An eagle scout, he had been active in Bucks County scouting activities, and had served on the staff of the camp we attended for three years. I will never forget the grief I saw on the faces of the young adults who work at that camp. Nor will I forget the bravery with which they hid their grief from the campers, and continued to make that program the best it could be.

One of my sons realized on Friday night that he knew the guardsman in question. The name didn’t ring a bell, but my son had been to a week long junior leader training program with him, and had maintained some contacts playing computer games, as teenagers do. On that Friday night I found myself holding my 16 year-old son as he sobbed in my shoulder, realizing his friend – who two years ago was just another teenager – was gone.

The grief surrounding this one death was overwhelming. I am sure though that what I was exposed to was no more than a tenth of the people who knew this person and mourned his loss. The thought of how much this one loss hurt multiplied by the 1850 or so american dead in this war is staggering. How many hundreds of thousands must be mourning their fallen beloved. That in itself pales before the grief which must surround the tens of thousands of Iraqi dead. No matter how different we may be, I am sure Iraqi’s love their sons, fathers, brothers, sisters and mothers as much as we do.

I am a pacifist. I oppose the use of force not because it is an easy solution, but because it is a hard one. It is what Godand Christ have commanded however. Given that, I have nothing but love and can do nothing but honor those who see the world differently, and are willing to risk their lives for principles they hold dear. Our volunteer soldiers are the best our country has to offer, potentially laying down their lives for the love of their country. This scout was one of these. The country, and the world, is the worse for his loss.

At the same time I can do nothing but despise and hold despicable those who lie to lead this country into an unnecessary war making the world worse, not better, simply for political reasons. There are no greater traitors than those who will sacrifice this country’s finest people unnessarily or for mere political gain.

Among these traitors I count George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove, Condoleeza Rice, and a host of others. When the children of these people are fighting, and dying, in Iraq I will believe their motives are true. None of these people were willing to serve themselves though, let alone risk their sons and daughters. Their machinations to stay out of Viet Nam are well documented.

I also hold as traitors those young republicans who support the president and this war. It is easy to be a chicken-hawk on campus. If you truly feel this cause is just, then enlist. Our services are desperate to meet their recruitment goals. You can help. If you don’t have the courage of your convictions, and feel that the fighting and dying for this war you support is for the little people, not you, then simply shut up. You are as despicable as the government you support.