Thursday, November 20, 2008

Delusions of Grandeur

There is always a motivating reason for a person’s behavior. Unless they are psychotic, and then that becomes the reason.

The former Brazos Valley Arts Council director, P. David Romei, is charged and is on trial for felony theft. By all accounts that I have read and heard is that his fingerprints are all over the cookie jar. And yet he pleads innocent. His lawyer, the “legendary Texas attorney” Richard "Racehorse" Haynes, asked him Wednesday whether he ever intended to steal from the Arts Council, its donors or the government.

"Never, never, never, never," Romei answered. "It is beyond me."

And you know what? That is a truthful statement from his perspective. For most of us, we would connect our actions with fault at some point along the way. Romei is apparently unable to make that jump which is why he is adamant about his lack of guilt.

I am speculating here, but I think I have a pretty good guess as to why he can evoke Gods name, swear to tell the truth, and then sit there as if he is being wronged by society. In his mind, everyone that has accused him is wrong and is out to get him, a “witch hunt” he calls it. He would never steal, he only took what he believed was owed him for his services. To us he stole, but not to himself.

His testimony is telling to how his mind works.

Romei said that such financial maneuvering was necessary because many people did not understand the most effective way to run the agency. As an example, Romei said, some people might be upset if the Arts Council purchased an $1,100 pen as a gift for a $10,000 donor. The purchase was necessary, however, because it kept the Arts Council in the donor's good graces and brought in a net gain of $8,900, he said.

"There was no intent to be deceptive," Romei said. "If a board member didn't understand something, they might make a big deal out of it."

He was doing business the way that business had to be done. There was no deceit, just attempts to avoid the hassle of trying to explain to the uniformed how the game was played. I mean after all, look at it from his perspective, there was a net gain not a net loss – stealing results in the taking of something – a loss. $8900 is not a loss. The fact that the board might not see it this way does not negate the truth that he gained money for the program.

His behavior is predicated on the simple fact that he did not take anything more than what is normally offered to others in similar cases, nor did he directly go against the board’s orders. Nor did he leave the Arts Council in bad financial shape – heck he improved it from a $300,000 budget and assets worth about $40,000 to an annual budget and about $1.8 million in assets when he left in 2005. Wow – and look at all the art he brought into the area, and the big beautiful building he got built, I mean really – Romei was the Arts Council – in fact the freaking building is named after him for Pete’s sake.

There was no distinction in his mind from the man and the entity. It was successful because of him so any money destined for the Arts Council really was destined for him too. It was only fair that they both be rewarded. As his lawyer stated:

Romei's work was greatly appreciated by most people involved in the Arts Council and displayed a $900 crystal bowl that was presented to him from the board of directors as he left the organization. “When you compare the amount of work Romei has done for the community to his personal expenses, the personal expenses are "close to zero. It is not a crime."

And that is how the man’s mind works. There was no deceit, no theft, and when you compare the pittance he is accused of taking to all the good he did, it was probably an underpayment anyway. I’m telling you the man is a saint.

"The evidence will show that Dr. Romei was all about work, integrity and accountability," Haynes said. "He is the epitome of patriotism and he lives by the word of God."

Except that one about “thou shalt not steal”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Science and Dogma - Keep them Apart!

Argggg another “debate” in our paper over teaching evolution in public schools.

I would like to end this debate here and now. Evolution is a FACT. All life has descended from a common ancestor. As much as my scientist self cringes at speaking the blasphemy of “fact”, that is apparently how it must be done. In truth, evolution is the hypothesis, and we can only reject it if we find evidence to support another hypothesis. If you believe in God then you must believe in evolution. All life, and I mean all life, is based on DNA. DNA was designed to mutate, mutations lead to good traits and bad traits. That is how it is done, that’s God’s model, to say it does not happen that way is to deny God his creation. Shame on you.

Now lets examine the stupidity of Don MCLeroy’s argument. (Mr. McLeroy is the Chairman of the Texas State Board of Education – lucky us!)

First – evolution is vital to understanding biology. Why are Asians and American Indians so sensitive to alcohol? Because they lack alcohol dehydrogenase. Why? Evolution. What are spines on a cactus? Modified leaves, Why? Evolution. If you want to teach kids to memorize terms, that is not science nor is it education.

Second, there is no other plausible theory for how life got to where it is today. None. The fact that you can’t explain how a flagella was developed does not negate the theory. The fact that you can disagree with the hypothesis posed on a particular aspect does not throw the whole theory out. The evidence points this direction, it supports the hypothesis. But more importantly it does not support any other hypothesis proposed.

Third, identifying the weakness is just a lame attempt at allowing those that will never accept evolution to have their say. This is designed to mask how the scientific process works. Since you will never "fail to reject" the hypothesis your purported weaknesses will always be biased. This is counter to how science works. We never say the hypothesis is true, we only reject or fail to reject. In science you must be willing to do both. You can talk about the weakness in evolution all you want, but if it is done only to discredit it and not support another hypothesis then you are hurting scientific reasoning and hence education.

The evidence on evolution, taken as a whole, leads science to say “fail to reject.” Would you propose also handing out literature in church pointing out the weakness to the idea of God? Would this threaten our children’s faith? Asking for scientific proof of God negates faith the same way that ignoring evolution denies how science and our world works.

Forth - The evolution side is not dogmatic. It is evidence based. If you truly want to let the test of scientific explanation win then put up your intelligent designer hypothesis to the same scrutiny but be prepared to be disappointed. Evolution detractors will never give up on their belief that it happened just like the Bible says. The Bible is the word of God – and you can’t deny that or you would….deny God. That is dogmatic.

I give credit to God for his model; you deny him his creation because of your Bible. So here's the deal. I will give up the theory that all life evolved from a common ancestor if another hypothesis is presented and supported better than the current model for evolution. Will you give up on ID if the evidence is not there?

The Eagle, Sunday, 11-16-08

An Attitude for Conviction

From a societal point of view what is better, conviction or justice? From the prosecutors’ point of view, especially if he or she is elected, what becomes more important to them?

When we are young, we are taught that the police are our friends and that if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear. In reality, though, this can get you into trouble depending on what attitude your detectives and prosecutors take. Although issues with false arrests and convictions are rare, they do happen and their cause appears more to do with attitude then with incompetence or human error.

In the November issue of Texas Monthly there is a lengthy article called “The Exonerated” that showcases a number of Texans that have had their convictions overturned because of DNA evidence. Almost man for man made the same comment about why – someone on the government’s side was lying and they knew they were.

Christopher Ochoa gave what I think is the most profound statement of them all which should be taught to every 16 year kid before they reach adulthood. It deals with the question of why a person would confess to something they didn’t do?

“Everybody’s taught to drive. And when you are taught to drive, they teach you that if you hit ice or your car starts skidding, ease off the brake and turn into the skid. This has been taught to you and taught to you. Well, what is the first thing people do when they hit and ice patch? They slam on the brake. So now, why do people confess to something they didn’t do? You’re taught to stay quiet and all that stuff, right? But you don’t know. You’re in a tiny room, and they’re telling you if you don’t cooperate, you’ll get the death penalty. What do people expect people to do? They can’t sit there and keep saying “I didn’t do it.” I was a twenty-two year old kid. I had never been in trouble. When I was there, I didn’t know which way was right and which was left.”

If they have justice as their motivator, cooperating is not a gamble, but if it is conviction they desire, then you do so at your own peril. What a terrible quandary to put someone in. You say to them “I would like to help you, but I don’t trust you” at the same time they look at you and know that the last twenty folks to occupy that chair you are sitting in lied to them. "You are lying - you know you did it - confess."

It is a vicious circle only stopped by laws that were enacted to prevent this type of injustice or the character of the DA that oversees the case. That’s too much power to place in the hands of one individual that must defend for his job every few years.

When justice equals convictions our system has failed us.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The sin of subjectivity

I have been grappling with news stories lately discussing how some Catholic Bishop's are condemning Catholics who voted for Obama. What bothers me is not their stand on the moral issue of abortion but their lack of outrage over other issues that, in my opinion, are as equally morally repugnant. To say don't vote Democrat because of abortion is to say vote Republican because their moral values are better. "Well at least they don't promote killing unborn babies" goes the argument, so as long as they oppose abortion everything is all right in the eyes of these Bishops. Case in point:

The Bush administration told the CIA in 2002 that its interrogators working abroad would not violate U.S. prohibitions against torture unless they "have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering," according to a previously secret Justice Department memo released Thursday. The interrogator's "good faith" and "honest belief" that the interrogation will not cause such suffering protects the interrogator, the memo adds. "Because specific intent is an element of the offense, the absence of specific intent negates the charge of torture," Jay Bybee, then the assistant attorney general, wrote in the memo.

How this type of logic works:
  • Define “severe” – if it is not legally defined in this context then it becomes subjective.
  • Define “pain” – since pain is relative to the individual, it cannot be quantified.
  • Define “suffering” –how does “x” compare with “y”
All the interrogator needs to show is that he or she did not believe that the pain from the torture was severe and that the suffering was not even close to what has been done in the past or might have been done by another method. (you know, a kinder, gentler, machine gun type of thing)

“My intent, your Honor, was to gain information, not inflict pain or suffering. It was my honest belief that what we were doing did not meet the definition of severe pain or suffering.”

Let’s see if this holds true in other situations:

“My intent, your Honor, was to enjoy time with my friends, not to get drunk. It was my honest belief that I was not legally drunk when I drove home.”

“My intent, your Honor, was to shoot him four to five times, not to kill him. It was my honest belief that he would recover from the bullet wounds I inflicted.”

“My intent, your Honor, was to stop my wife from leaving me, not to beat her up. It was my honest belief that I was only defending myself when she tried to get away.”

“Why yes Jesus, I am going to throw the first stone. I had no intent on sinning when I slept with my neighbor’s wife and it was my honest belief that my doing so technically do not violate any of your ten commandments since I did not feel blameworthy desire for her nor did I wish for her longingly.”


Saturday, November 8, 2008

I don't get it.....

When Obama gave his acceptance speech on Nov. 4th, I noticed a look in his eyes and on his face that I had never seen before. Instead of a shit-eating-grin or a look of gratitude or humbleness, Obama instead looked like a man that just took on the weight of the world. I suppose, in looking at, he did, but this look even transgressed past that.

On Nov. 5th I was watching the Daily Show and John Stewart said to Chris Wallace that he had just watched it come “full circle from slavery and [it] affected [him] on a personal level.” And that is when it hit me, that look, was the look of a man who understood fully what he had just come to represent.

I will be honest, I don’t get it. I have moved past judging someone by the color of their skin. I don’t look at Obama as “black” nor do I look at him as “white.” I don’t understand the mentality that brings forth “black pride,” “strong black woman,” or “FUBU” simply because I don’t look at myself and see “white” which is how I know I am seen to those that see themselves as “black.”

I don’t get it. If MLK is such a revered person in the black community why do so many black Americans see color, judging both themselves and me by the color of our skin and not by the content of our character? I have lived on this earth for over 50 years and although I did not grow up in the South, I came of age when blacks had the same rights as me. I went to high school with blacks, played sports with blacks, worked with blacks, went to college with blacks, and employed blacks in my business. I moved past the color issue, or at least never made it that big of a deal in my life.

I don’t get it. Other than 40 acres and a mule, the US has bent over backward to be inclusive, making laws against discrimination, establishing affirmative action policies, and supporting minority owned business set-asides. I have seen black mayors, and senators, governors, Generals, and cabinet level members throughout my life. Blacks must have had to see this too!

I don’t get it. Professional sports are dominated by black athletes, not just basketball, but all of them. Name a white “pro” that dominates in his field and you need to go back a few years. And look at entertainment. Oprah, Bill Cosby, and Michael Jackson at one time dominated the list of “richest” entertainers. Quick, name five comedians and most likely at least three of them will be black. It is all there, visible in – excuse the pun – black and white. Why can’t they see it and just move on? I don’t get it.

And then, it dawned on me as to why - it never went full circle for American blacks. There has been a stain on the collective soul of black America that has never been completely erased by any of the forward movement that has been made. This stain is apparently so set in that it cannot be removed even by superior athleticism, wealth, jobs, status, education, housing, culture, or power. And this is something that I can’t ever understand. As Token on South Park* told Stan , “you don’t get it.” And just like Stan I can honestly say now that I get it because I don’t get it.

So what I think I saw on Tuesday night was possibly a full circle being completed. Obama had made it to the mountain top. He did not get there because he could run faster, jump higher, hit a golf ball, or entertain us. He wasn’t there because of affirmative action, handouts, gerrymandering, white guilt, or anything else. He got there because 52% of those that voted felt that he – a black man – was good enough to be our leader.

So black America had their Sally Field moment last Tuesday and could finally say “they like us – they really like us”! Did prejudice and bigotry go away that night? Nope, and in fact may rear its head even more ugly than before. But it has been marginalized. Obama must have sensed it that night. He must have realized that he had become the symbol for the mountain top that King had talked about reaching but never did. So I can only speculate that the look in his eyes and on his face was probably from realizing that what had just been placed on his shoulders was being supported by the legs of a mere mortal man.

(*) "With Apologies to Jesse Jackson"

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Eggsactly what was their point?

Over at Texas A&M University the Young Conservatives of Texas had an Anti-Obama carnival last Wednesday to demonstrate Sen. Barack Obama's economic policies. Their choice of message deliverance was to have students throw eggs at a big poster of Obama tacked to a piece of plywood. Needless to say, it did not go over well with those students who support Obama, and things got a little bit heated.

When I went back to College at Humboldt State University in Arcata California Regan had just recently been elected president. HSU is the polar opposite of A&M in terms of political persuasion and the new policies he was initiating were not going over well with a lot of my fellow classmates. One particular issue was his Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, who according to the Audubon Society was "arguably the most anti-environment secretary ever."

So it was only natural that during HSU’s annual Lumberjack Days celebration one student organization, which I can’t recall, decided to have as their booth’s fundraiser event:

“Throw James Watt into the Volcano”

They built a small volcano with a mouth large enough to engulf a Ken doll dressed up to look like James Watt, including glasses and bald head. Not to be sexist, they also had a Barbie dressed up as Anita Bryant that could be thrown in as well. So for 25 cents we could show our frustration with both these individuals while helping the organization earn a few bulks.

The only difference between this event and the one at A&M was ours was actually kind of funny when you think about it without partisanship. They were both exercises in free speech, and for me, actually helped me learn what James Watt was all about. This is the same response the YCTs were trying to accomplish along with a little “in your face” thrown in to spice it up a bit (pun intended).

We have nothing to fear when we hear views that are contrary to our own. The kid that stood in front of the sign attempting to stop the eggs from being thrown probably learned more about himself and his convictions then at any other time in his life.

Was it in bad taste? No more so than throwing Mr. Watt and Ms. Bryant to a fiery doom.

Did the YCT change anyone’s mind on who to vote for? Doubtful.

Did the students who participated, witnessed, or read about it become more enlightened about the world they live in? Yea.

And that’s a beautiful thing my friends, all brought to you courtesy of the First Amendment