The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘morality’


The other day I was thinking about our law-making process and for some reason Moses popped into my head.  I’m sure that the prophet had no idea how grateful he should have been that God knew what he wanted to convey to mankind and was able to do so quite succinctly.  What would Moses have had to endure had the Creator crafted his commandments to the children of Israel in the same way as our modern legislators promulgate new laws?

There’s Moses, curious to find the source of the bright light on the top of Mount Sinai.  He experiences his encounter with the Lord and obeys God’s order to bring his commandments to his people.  So Moses takes the tablets, “written with the finger of God” and goes down the mountain to deliver them to the Israelites.  And he goes back to retrieve more … and more … and more.

After the forty-third trip his brother Aaron says, “Is that it?”

Moses, wearied from all the trudging and schlepping he’s done, wipes his brow and says, “Well, actually, there are nine more.”

Perhaps the reason that those who pass voluminous laws that no one really understands, themselves included, can be attributed to the way we were taught to do things in High School.  Maybe, like me, you had an English or history teacher who handed out an assignment which included the requirement that the essay we were to compose had to be at least two thousand words long.  What made that number of words sacrosanct was never clear to me.  How in the world did laconic President Calvin Coolidge ever earn a diploma?

But let’s get back to the Ten Commandments.   Take Number Seven, as an example.  That’s that hairy one that says, “Thou shall not commit adultery.”  Notice how simple, straightforward and brief it is.  I had memorized this long before I knew what adultery actually was – but, of course, I asked – a little bit to the embarrassment of my Sunday School teacher.

Now those of us who believe that following that commandment is part of what I refer to as “normative” behavior, there is very little ambiguity – so it’s apparent that God knew precisely what he wanted people to do (or more exactly) to avoid doing.  But what if this commandment had been constructed by Congress?

The commandment comes out of the “Congressional Morality Committee,”  (wouldn’t it be remarkable if there were one – but then who would we be able to find who could with clear conscience become members?) and, like the original that the Divinity established, it’s a simple five word declarative sentence.

But then it moves forward in the process and has a hearing in the Economics Affairs Committee.  They recognize that this proposal could have serious implications and adverse impact on various business operations – specifically, those hotel/motel owners whose rooms rent out on an hourly basis.  And the members of that committee get lobbied by advocates for that industry.  So they amend the original commandment so that it reads, “Thou shall not commit adultery before six o’clock a.m. local time.”    (Since most of the commerce and congress at these hotels/motels occur in the afternoon, this effectively nullifies the original intent of the commandment).

But things don’t stop there.  Business is down at the hairstylists and beauty salons in America.  Because of the Obamacession, fewer customers have the money to spare to color their hair.  So the members of that profession press their association’s lobbyists to get something included in the law which will improve their business.  After considerable pressure, the law now reads, “Thou shall not commit adultery before six o’clock a.m. local time.  However, those whose hair has been dyed by a professional stylist are exempted from any and all provisions of this law.”

It might be well if it had ended there.  But, of course, it doesn’t.  The street prostitutes, straight, gay and transgendered can see that this might impact their business negatively.  An impassioned group of “sex workers” appear before Congress to make their case that this law is discriminatory – they being the recipients of that bias.  Of course, the Congressional committee which hears their testimony is quite respectful of this contingency since some members know those testifying on a first name, professional basis.

And then further testimony is given by several American mullahs who believe that their faith and their followers are “once again” being victimized and persecuted in what is supposed to be the ultimate land of freedom.  There can be no clearer evidence of that then that the law allows adultery to be engaged in on Fridays and during any day of Ramadan.  Furthermore, the law makes no mention of protections for virgins, quite a few of whom are required for those jihadists who die in the “holy war” against the infidel, particularly those in America.

Needless to say, “environmentalists” were outraged at this prospective law.  They commissioned a study that substantiated their belief that many of these adulterous trysts would be engaged in with one or both participants arriving at the site by using gasoline based automotive conveyances, thus contributing to the issue of “climate change”.  They demand that there be a stipulation in the law that only adulterous affairs in which both parties got to the rendezvous via public transportation will be “licit”.

Needless to say since the concept of adultery and its being wrong is based on religious moral concept, it was only reasonable to expect that members of the clergy weigh in on the subject, which they did.  A number of pastors who had fathered out of wedlock kids expressed their belief that we must view “ancient” rules in the context of the times; that times had changed and we must change with them.  Their testimony, offered in a brilliant Hip Hop style and recorded and released on MTV got more than four million hits within an hour of its release.

So in light of all this testimony, our legislators took the bill which had been introduced by Reps. Jack Mehoff and I. Fool Around and they reworked, rewrote and transformed it into The Swoosh Law with the subtitle, “Just Do It”.  This law confirmed that adultery was a highly overrated infraction of “morality” and that it was perfectly reasonable, in fact, healthy for people to engage in it in order to promote a strong, healthy marriage.

And a lot of public officials in America felt vindicated – and breathed a sigh of relief.  The bill, as it was finally presented to the full membership, got overwhelming bipartisan support.


Several generations of Americans have grown up with the idea that the city of Boston, Massachusetts is one of the anchors of “liberalism” in America.  That statement may well be true today, but it was not always so.

During the early part of the 20th century, there was probably no place as conservative as Boston.  And Bostonians, by virtue of their close identification with the early Puritan settlers who had founded the colony, held themselves to be the arbiters of morality for our young country.

If a play or a book, a movie, a painting or a song carried with it the designation, “Banned In Boston,” it meant that it had failed the standards of decency which the Bostonian morality mavens had established and could neither be sold or performed or in the case of art be displayed within the city nor could it be included in the Boston Public Library’s collection.  The practice was commonplace until 1965 when William S. Burroughs challenged and won his case to allow his book, “The Naked Lunch” to be distributed in the city.

Over the years many works which we now consider to be classics fell under the “Ban.”  Among these were Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”; “Desire Under the Elms” by Eugene O’Neill; “The Sun Also Rises” and “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway; “God’s Little Acre” by Erskine Caldwell; “Wake Up Little Susie” by the Everly Brothers and one of Sinclair Lewis’ books, “Elmer Gantry.”

The basis for banning most of these works centered around one of two issues – either the vulgarity of the language employed  in creating the work or that the censors felt there was either too much implied or explicit mention of sex in it.  By far, the second was the greatest reason on which the “morality committees” made their decision.

But Lewis’ work was unique in that he hardly ever employed an expletive stronger than “Damn” in his writing – and then only infrequently.  And while it was true that he described sexual behavior and liaisons in his work, he did not do so in an evocative or lurid way.  It was the subject matter of the book, “Elmer Gantry” itself which riled the censors into taking action.

You see, the protagonist of “Elmer Gantry” was a degenerate, womanizing, alcoholic preacher man of the lowest moral standing – and it was Lewis’ characterization of a “man of the cloth” in such a way that offended the Boston censors.

In the America of 1927 when “Elmer Gantry” was published, most Americans identified themselves with some religious group or other.  Going to shul for our Jewish citizens or church for those of us who were Christians was a regular and normal part of our lives.

The clergy, priests, rabbis and ministers were looked up to as standard bearers of righteousness and morality.  Many Americans felt they could confidentially receive the same kind of loving advice from their spiritual pastor as they could from their best friend or their closest relative.  And the clerics in our society generally held themselves to the highest possible standards not only by preaching their virtue in their sermons but by living it as an example for all of us.

There should be no wonder that movies with religious themes such as “Going My Way” were extraordinarily popular.  The moviegoer could leave the theater and relate to Barry Fitzgerald’s and Bing Crosby’s portrayal of the pastor and the parish priest and say, “Why they seemed just like Pastor McGowan and Fr. Timothy.”

There are many of the clergy who have abrogated the high standards to which they have been called.  Our tabloids are filled with their names and their misdeeds.  But there are some who have received their message and lived it out – giving those of us who still remain in the flock a guiding light to lead us.

The next post will offer a brief summary of  the lives of members of both groups.


I believe it is a fair statement that none of us likes to pay taxes – whatever form they take.  If you’re lucky enough in this economy to have a job, you find that when your paycheck is handed over to you it is significantly lower than the amount that you grossed that pay period.  That’s part of the problem with making money.  In fact there are four problems with money, all of which relate to the imposition of paying taxes.

1) You make it and they tax it (Income Tax, FICA Tax, Medicare Tax, State Income Tax).

2) You spend it and they tax it (Sales & Use Taxes).

3) You save it and they tax it (Income Tax, Dividend Tax {already taxed once to the company in which you hold a few shares of stock}).

4) You die and they tax it (Inheritance Tax).

Now while in the world of Presidential ads the focus is on who is paying income taxes and at what rate, we ignore one very important fact.  That conversation is lost on almost fifty percent of the population who pay nothing in Federal Income Tax.

But there is another form of taxation which affects virtually all of us – whether we are working for a living, retired and spending our savings or are on welfare.  That is the issue of state and local Sales and Use Taxes.

Just for purposes of definition a sales tax is imposed in forty-six states on purchases of goods and in some case services which are purchased within and delivered in that state.  Use tax is a tax that the state looks to collect  for goods, which if they were purchased in the state, would be subject to the sales tax.  But in the case of a use tax, the vendor operates outside the state and delivers its product to a purchaser within the state.

Even though the vendor does not collect a sales tax, a use tax in the equivalent amount is supposed to be paid by the purchaser.  The system of collection depends on the honesty of the purchaser to report his purchases and pay the appropriate tax.  Probably ninety-nine percent of this tax goes uncollected from individual purchasers.

So those of us who have ever purchased anything from Amazon or any other vendor who have not charged our state’s sales tax should examine our conscience before we cast aspersions on those who we feel are not paying their fair share.  Did we comply with the law and report these purchases to our state’s governing tax authorities?

We generally refer to our Federal Income Tax Code as a “progressive” tax system – in that higher income is taxed at a higher rate.  By contrast, the imposition of a sales tax is, by its nature a regressive tax system because it uniformly charges the same rate to all purchasers irrespective of income level or ability to pay.

We know that the proportion of their income that the poor pay in sales tax is significantly higher than the amount the well-to-do pay.  And the worst form of this discriminatory tax is that it is borne by the poor who live in states where food intended to be used at home is taxed.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia either have never imposed a sales tax on food purchased for home consumption or have abandoned it.  Interestingly, two states closely associated with President Obama, Hawaii and Illinois both tax food.  This tax on food is the most regressive and discriminatory tax on the books because it most adversely affects the poor which includes a significant portion of the black and Hispanic communities.

With all the talk about “tax equity” on a Federal level, I cannot help but wonder why the President, during his tenure as an Illinois State Senator never addressed this question, never proposed a repeal of this tax, never did anything that would have benefited his constituents.  Is this the caring, understanding President that former President Clinton is now championing – the “man with a plan,” as the ad states?

I happen to like former President Clinton.  How could you not like a man who during his impeachment trial based his defense on the definition of the word “is”?  I mean that shows chutzpah to the nth degree.

I only wish the current resident of the White House had as much moxie.  He didn’t when he represented my Chicago district while in the Illinois Senate.  We never heard so much as a peep from him when he represented the people of the State of Illinois in the U. S. Senate.  And as President – if what we’ve seen over the last four years is a plan, I would suggest that based on all the economic evidence, it is a plan to fail.


During the Reformation, the concept of monasticism came under serious attack from several of the reformers.  Among those were John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli.  Calvin, in particular assailed the concept of monasticism and it is in large measure due to him that we have the term “cloistered virtue.”

Christians of that time viewed the world and our place in it as a struggle to enable that which was good in us to overcome that which was evil.  That the world offered many temptations then as it does now is undeniable.  But Calvin believed that only those who confronted evil and overcame it had the potential of being one of God’s elect.  Those who sat in monasteries, far away from the world’s allures could never overcome evil because they were secluded from it.

Allow me a simple example to explain his philosophy.

We will assume that consuming alcohol is a “sinful behavior”.  There are two people involved in our discussion.   One lives on a desert island where there is no alcohol.  As a result, he never consumes any.  But he is not virtuous because he never was in a position to consume it.  The second individual never takes a drink either.  But he lives in a home within a few minutes of six alehouses.  He is virtuous because demon rum was available to him yet he rejected its temptation.

Obviously, the world has changed in the last five hundred years.  There are few uninhabited desert islands left – and virtue is something we leave to dull people who really aren’t with it.  That brings me to the subject of this post which is the horrific shooting spree in Aurora, CO.

If you read my earlier post, you realize that I do not want to talk about the young man who was the perpetrator of this tragedy.  I don’t even really want to talk about the tragedy itself.  I want to talk about why this happened – and how we can minimize the likelihood of such events from recurring in the future.

But I am going to break my own rule for a moment and discuss a specific aspect of this event because it provides a good segue into my main discussion.  That is that there was a three month old infant who was among the injured.

What kind of people are these parents to bring a newborn who needs rest and quiet to a movie theater with sonic-level audio effects when their child should be at home sleeping?  How self-absorbed are these two – and what further damage will they inflict on this child as they “rear” him?  What sort of future is in store for this infant, growing up in a home lacking positive and thoughtful parental direction?

Okay, I’ve gotten that out of my system and I apologize for what may be a rant.  But I know that my parents took far greater responsibility with me than the parents of this newborn.  I was very fortunate.  And I admit that I’m more than a little mad that there are so many people roaming planet earth who possess the genitalia but not the common sense to bring children to life and then fail to nurture them.

We should not be surprised at the incident in Colorado.  We live in and extoll a culture of violence.  We are almost inured to it through the daily reports of how people, whether a rogue individual, a cadre of extremists, a gang or a government inflicts death on others.

When I say extoll, I mean that we stand in line to buy the newest and most violent video games.  We enjoy movies in which there is violence – the more gruesome the better.  We spectate at boxing matches which have produced numerous permanent brain injuries and wonder why some of those boxers go home and physically abuse their spouses and children.

Is there an explanation for our increased embrace of violence in our culture?  Some will suggest that we have abandoned our standards of decency – and I think there is much to argue for that viewpoint.  But I think there is something even more insidious – if you can imagine something that is yet worse.

There is an historical corollary between what is happening in America today and what befell the Roman Empire as it went into decline.  As the Empire started on its way to collapse, so did the moral standards that had been its underpinning.  Depravity and orgies replaced philosophy and reason.  And the games in the Coliseum became more and more gruesome.

“Panem et circenses.”  Bread and circuses.  It was described by Juvenal as a way those in authority used to distract the common people from the collapse that was imminently to befall them.  The uneducated can easily be lead down the path that leads to destruction.  And there is no one more willing to initiate a policy of distraction than a politician who is looking to hold on to his own job.

So is there anything we can do to reverse this trend?

We can elect people to represent us who hold to high standards of ethics and actually serve as examples to the rest of us through their conduct. And we can rid ourselves of those who talk the game but prove through their actions that they are unworthy of our support.

We can refuse to buy any violent computer games and demand of those companies that create them that they stop producing them, explaining our reasons for boycotting their products.

We can stay home and read books that have guided mankind for centuries rather than sit and watch worthless drivel in our movie theaters and explain to Hollywood that unless they elevate the quality of their product we will not patronize them.

We can turn off our cable boxes and instead of exposing our children and ourselves to a constant stream of violence and infidelity, we can support each family member in a loving environment.

We can insulate ourselves and our children, at least in small measure, from some of the atrocities of this world that we have begun to think are the norm rather than the exception.  Or we can allow our exposure to continue to all that is most dehumanizing and destructive.

Do we want to raise the next person who will randomly kill tens of people?  Or do we want to sequester our kids from exposure to the sort of behavior which leads to these acts of violence?  Isn’t that what responsible parenting is all about?

I guess it’s a question of whether we believe in the validity of “cloistered virtue.”  I think you know where I stand on this issue.


I admit that there are certain things I simply don’t understand about us humans. I don’t understand how anyone can molest a child; I don’t understand how anyone can take pleasure out of abusing an animal; I don’t understand how people can take advantage of the infirm or the elderly. I sincerely hope that I am never able to understand any of these actions.

Although I support business, I do so with the expectation that companies not only earn a profit for those who have invested in them but do so with a conscience. Not every company does that.

When I read the article this morning on Yahoo about an insurance company that regularly denies claims in order to frustrate its elderly clients I was outraged – and I hope that you are too. What is most disturbing, if you read through the article is that this particular insurance company was established by the State of Pennsylvania. I cannot help but wonder what we have in store with our movement toward granting government more control over the healthcare of all Americans.

Paste this into your browser to read the story:

What do you think?



I love football and I can prove that. I had season tickets for the Chicago Bears for two years when Bobby Douglass was the QB and Abe Gibron coached the team. The Bears’ performance at that time gave new meaning to the hope that we Chicagoans held that the Cubs would win the World Series.

I would brave the winds to make my way to the east stands – a third of the way up –wearing my six layers of clothing, my little flask in my pocket. I figured I could use the alcohol for self-immolation in order to defrost myself from the west wind which blasted my face and through my clothing – if only I could light a match.

A typical half-time score would be Them – 42 – Us – 3. Two years of this abuse and I gave up my tickets. At least at home. where I was able to move my fingers, I could change the channel.

So I did the Bears and myself a favor. I gave up my tickets – two years before they won the Super Bowl. Maybe I was the jinx hanging over their heads.  I guess it’s true – timing is everything.

So having said that I enjoy football, allow me to explain why I haven’t watched a game – pre-season, regular season, playoff or Super Bowl for more than two years. That is because of the way the NFL handled the case of QB Michael Vick.

Mr. Vick was convicted in 2007 for helping organize and participate in an interstate dog fighting ring. He spent twenty-one months in jail for his felony conviction and a subsequent short period in home confinement. I sincerely hope that he truly was rehabilitated during the time of his incarceration.

Most Americans would agree with me that watching two dogs fight each other is an expression of our most base instincts. I have never been to one of these fights and never will go to one. My stomach seizes up at the very thought of it. There is a very simple reason – and that is the animal you see at the top of this post – a German shepherd mix named Dusty.

I found Dusty when he was about an eight-month old puppy. He had been tied with heavy wire by his throat and legs and dumped in an abandoned building. I just happened to be walking by when I heard him crying – got into the building, freed him from the wire and rescued him. At the point I made my way to him, he was trying to chew his left front leg off to get out of the wire. There was a lot of blood.

I brought him to my vet where he was treated for his injuries and held for observation while he was on intravenous solutions. We weren’t sure he would make it. But ten days after I found him my vet called and said that he could go home.

As I waited for one of the attendants to bring Dusty from the kennel I remember thinking, “What kind of mind could think up this sort of abuse – let alone do it?  If this were as far as we had evolved – we had a very long way to go.  A very long way.” 

My vet, Bill explained that Dusty was probably going to be used as a “bait dog” for a dog fight. The way people “trained” these dogs was to commit extreme acts of cruelty on the animals – in order to toughen them up. Bill had seen this before.

The “treatment” included external physical abuse.  In addition, they would starve the animal and deprive it of water. Then, after a few days of food deprivation, they would put a large bowl of food in front of their victim which was loaded with cayenne pepper.

At that point I couldn’t listen to any further description. I wanted to vomit. I paid for the hospital’s services and took Dusty home with me.

It took about two years before Dusty really trusted me. Considering his treatment as a young dog I thought that we had made very fast progress. But when he finally came to believe that I wouldn’t hurt him, he was the most faithful and devoted canine companion with whom I have had the privilege to share my life.

Dusty and I lived together for over sixteen years. He died a month short of what would have been his seventeenth birthday – or at least that was the date we established based on the day I found him and my vet’s estimate of his age. I will never forget this wonderful animal.

I am a strong proponent of business – including the business of football. The NFL, as with all professional sports leagues has, however, a special responsibility to its fans and the public.  Its players are icons and role models for our children.. When one of those players behaves badly it is the league’s responsibility to send a strong message that they will not tolerate that kind of behavior.

If a person working in the much-maligned financial services industry is convicted of a felony, as with Mr. Vick they are sentenced to time in jail.  In addition, they are banished from any further involvement in the industry for life. That would have been the appropriate punishment for Mr. Vick.  The NFL chose to follow a lesser path and re-instate him.

As we have all seen so many times and in so many situations, money usually trumps morality.

So I have been on my boycott of the NFL for two years. I know that it won’t make a difference to their bottom line – and I know that they won’t lose any advertisers because of my absence.

But it’s the least I can do to express my continuing love for my wonderful friend, Dusty.

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