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  • Old Glory and Free Speech

    • Posted on Jul 03, 2016
    Here's today's (July 3) Courier column.  Watching the salt tide wash away a sand graffiti version of an American flag on a beach got me to thinking:  Should that sand flag-scratcher be prosecuted for desecration? 

    Recently I was moseying along an Atlantic beach at low tide when I came upon an American flag scratched out in the sand with a stick. 

     It had the familiar outline—the box in the upper left with stars, horizontal stripes on the right and bottom, the whole sitting in a rectangle.  Well done, I thought, probably by a patriotic beach-walker with a sharp stick.  

     I knew that graffiti-sand flag wouldn’t last past noon, thanks to the approaching tide. 

     Imagine if someone had placed a Wal-Mart American flag there instead, and tacked it down with sticks.  The saltwater tide would inundate it daily.     

     Trouble. People would complain that a “real” flag was being desecrated by saltwater and carelessness.  No such problem with the sand flag.   

     That flag was a mere scrawl, a graffiti that any smart 10-year-old could have done. 

     So should patriots take “real” flags more seriously than sand flags?  Should anyone be fined or jailed for “desecrating” store-bought versions of Old Glory? 

     No.  They should not. If desecrating a flag depends on the elaborateness and detail with which the flag is created, it’s nonsense. 

     The flag serves as the country’s logo, and worldwide, the Stars and Stripes symbolizes what the country stands for.  Nothing more, nothing less.

     If this seems like common sense, point your browser to “Flag Desecration Amendment” and check out the serious attempts to outlaw flag destruction. 

     In the late 1960s, legislators from practically every state as well as federal legislators were rabidly opposed to flag burnings by Vietnam War protestors. 

    It infuriated them to see their beloved Stars and Stripes trampled and burned. 

     If you think the country’s divided now, a half-century ago we were burning down buildings—not just flags—and police and the National Guard were beating and shooting students for marching and protesting.  Now we merely carp and grouse on the Internet.  

     When the so-called “Flag Burning Amendment” to the constitution went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968, the decision split 5-4 in favor of “desecration” being free speech.  And therefore perfectly legal.  

     And get this—Justice Antonin Scalia voted with the majority, insisting that public
    desecration of the flag was in fact protected the by the First Amendment.    

    Still, the idea didn’t die.  The U.S. Senate brought it up in again as recently as 2006.  It lost by one vote.   Basically, lawmakers wanted to give the courts power to punish anyone who damaged the flag in any way. 

    That piece of colored cloth, in other words, would be treated like a powerful religious relic, with the government behaving like an avenging church.    

     There’s a crucial irony here.  You can’t damage a country’s freedom by hurting its logo.  The only way to inflict real damage is by curtailing freedom of speech.  

     That’s what anti-desecration laws would do, as the Supreme Court wisely declared.    

    Defacing or destroying any representation of the U.S. flag does nothing whatsoever to harm the country for which it stands, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

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    Posted in
    • Politics
    • Holidays
  • Intimacy and Balance Both Needed

    • Posted on Feb 21, 2016

    Here is my Valentine's Day column, published last Sunday in the Courier.  Pondering what makes a relationship last and work--balance and intimacy, both.   

    Now in the middle of winter weariness and political nastiness, we could all use a pause.

    Time to reflect on hearts and flowers, romance and soul-mated-ness  That’s Valentine’s Day.   Who needs politics when you have love?       

    Actually, love and politics overlap.  They both require candidates, they both involve necessary support from family and friends, they both sometimes end in heartbreak.

    There the similarity ends.  Nothing in politics goes as deep or lasts as long or requires as much energy and attention as romantic love.  Presidents are remembered for love partners almost as much as their politics.  Think Mary Todd and Abe, Eleanor and Franklin, Bess and Harry, Mamie and Ike, Jackie and Jack, Rosalyn and Jimmie. Oh yes, Hillary and Bill.  

    Those powerful partnerships were formed well before their political successes and lasted well after.  

    Politics amount to the little leagues of human activity compared to love.  Romantic love, being the source of our deepest happiness and most long-lasting pleasures, deserves the constant attention it gets.

    What to say about love in this era of fear and loathing? 

    Two words:  intimacy and balance.  Lasting love brings both intimacy and balance, which contribute mightily to successful bonding.

    My last marriage—in both senses—is now going on two decades.  We’ve been up and down, out and around, endured losses of parents, siblings, close friends and colleagues. We’ve grieved long and hard together.  

    Through upheavals we’ve depended on our intimacy to regain perspective and return to life as we know it.

    The hardest part? Accepting each other’s obsessions, neuroses, scars, carbuncles, warts—clusters of imperfections that make us who we are. 

    We’ve learned to accept, not fix.

    At first I was annoyed by imperfections, then realized I wasn’t going to change hers, nor she mine.  Now I accept them as inevitable and endearing.  

    Along with intimacy goes balance, of necessity.    

    Without an intimate partner, people start taking their beliefs and themselves far too seriously.  Partners provide a sounding board for foolish notions that throw you off kilter. 

    As Gandhi said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.”  And your destiny, if it’s true to who you are, requires balance all the way.   

    One example out of dozens:  Every time I fly, I convince myself that this time I’m going down.  I visualize the boom, the drop, the terrible fear ending in darkness.  I’m potentially a mess.  I’ve learned to blurt this fear out loud, and she just smiles, rubs my shoulder and says, “It’s real but not true.”  

    That reminder, which doesn’t work when I say it to myself, sets me straight.    

    Multiply that dozens of times for other fears and obsessions, and you have a more balanced, less fearful man. I do the same for her.  

    Without each other to offer trusted advice and support when we slip out of balance, we’d fall all over ourselves.  Close friends do the same, by the way, but they’re rare.  

    So Happy Valentine’s Day to long-term couples who’ve discovered intimacy with balance, and balance with intimacy.  

    It’s worth celebrating today—and every day.










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    Posted in
    • Romance/Love
    • Holidays
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