Thoughts On America’s Declaration of Independence

I’ve been ruminating and thinking about this post since the 4th of July (our annual celebration of alcohol and pyrotechnics). We celebrate this day, and we should, but in some circles it comes with a certain amount of anger and division.

Some groups think we should feel gratitude for our freedom and any criticism equates to a lack of patriotism. Others steadfastly insist that our nation continues to fall short and celebrating our freedom is premature as it’s not complete.

Let me, once again, take the middle ground and hopefully shed some light instead of heat. By the way, if you’ve never read the Declaration of Independence it’s worth a read. You can find the text here.

The document makes two declarations: we are no longer a colony of Great Britain, but instead we are an independent nation; and we are all created equal, given our rights by God and not a King.

The first was easy: we are no longer British subjects. Of course the British didn’t agree to this until 1783 when they signed the Treaty of Paris and acknowledged our independence. That was the easy part.

When Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) agreed to write this document he was only 33 years old, but was well read in philosophers of the time. His most famous phrase, our entitlement to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” actually came from John Locke (1632-1704).

Mr. Jefferson also declared that “all men are created equal” even though he would continue to own slaves for the rest of his life. He and the rest of the signers recognized that the survival of this new nation depended on the continuation of the institution of slavery.

I believed Mr. Jefferson struggled with these two aspects of his life. I believe he wished this new nation didn’t depend on slavery but he was aware that it did and was aware that there was no way he could have run his plantation without slaves. I’ve formed this opinion after reading Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves by Henry Wiencek. It’s less than 300 pages and it’s worth a read.

I believe we can equate equality with the ability to vote; if you can’t vote you can’t fully participate in how our nation is run and are always subservient to those who can vote.

But in the late 1700s only a few Americans could vote, basically white, male landowners. Children couldn’t vote (and still can’t). Women weren’t able to vote in all elections until 1920. Residents of Washington D.C. couldn’t vote for President until 1964 and still don’t have representatives in Congress.

And, of course, adult, male, newly freed slaves were guaranteed the right to vote by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution in 1870 but their actually ability to vote was spotty at best (and nonexistent at worst) until civil rights legislation passed in the 1960s.

In short, a look over our history in the last 245 shows that the those eligible to vote has gradually increased. I say this with some irony as I am a white, male, landowner myself.

Several states are passing legislation that I believe intends to discourage voting among certain groups, and I believe that we need to fight against this. And sadly there is reason for discouragement in the short run.

But the phrase “all men (sic) are created equal” has always been inspirational. I believe that if Mr. Jefferson came back to life he would be pleased that the institution of slavery was gone and I hope he’d be embarrassed that his long term relationship with Sally Hemmings, one of his slaves, was known.

In the end I believe we should celebrate the 4th of July while at the same time recognizing that the phrase “all men are created equal” continues to challenge us.

Happy Juneteenth

On this day in 1865 the last of those enslaved in the former Confederate States of America learned they were free. It happened in Galveston, Texas when Major General Gordon Granger proclaimed General Order Number 3.

Interestingly enough, those enslaved Americans had been technically been free since January 1, 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

President Lincoln never believed the Confederacy was a valid nation but were instead states in rebellion against the country. Because of that he insisted that they were subject to our laws and the Emancipation Proclaimation decreed that anyone enslaved in those rebellious states were automatically freed from bondage.

Obviously slaveholders in the South disagreed and declined to tell their slaves of their freedom. At the time they still expected to win the war. But on April 9, 1865 General Robert E. Lee surrendered and ended the Civil War.

But still, slaveholders in Texas refused to free their slaves. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that word got out to everyone.

Juneteenth reminds us not only that freedom can never be taken for granted. Juneteenth ended legal slavery but it didn’t end racial discrimination. Today we find many of these same states passing laws that make voting more difficult (disproportionately affecting people of color) and demanding school history curricula that downplays slavery.

So while we celebrate let us continue to remain vigilant.

Thoughts on Turning 61

Earlier this week I celebrated by 61st birthday. I confess I keep hearing about people who hit the birthday that makes them feel old and launches a midlife crisis (to say nothing of hair plugs and convertible sports cars) but I’ve never experienced that.

And yet for some reason this birthday has caused me to reflect on what it means to be living in my 7th decade and it’s been an interesting exercise. Let me share a few observations:

  • I’m far beyond a midlife crisis. If my life is only halfway over I’ll live to be 122 and I don’t want that. I enjoy life as much as the next guy but if God wants to call me home when I’m 70 or 80 I’m down with that. I’ll miss everyone and I hope I have enough time to make sure I don’t leave any complications for my loved ones. I’m also aware that the older I get, the more people I will miss.
  • My body is definitely on the decline. When I was 15 I participated in a 25 mile walkathon to raise money for charity and I did it without any preparation. The next year I roller skated for 12 hours (11PM to 11AM) and when I was 23 I rode 100 miles in one day on my bicycle (it’s called a “century”). For many years I contented myself with the belief that if I spent time training I could do any of these things again. I now know those days are gone forever. No matter how long or hard I train I won’t be able to replicate these events. And that’s OK. Those are good memories and I have no desire to do them again. I’m happy with my ability to walk the hills at the San Diego Zoo and enjoy what I experience.
  • Even as a teenager peer pressure wasn’t much of a problem for me (and spared me the horror of wearing a leisure suit) but it’s less so now. I’ve learned that doing something stupid for a short term gain ends up costing much more in the long run. I don’t remember standing up for a principle or another person and regretting it. And I do regret all those times I didn’t.
  • I no longer feel a need to have an opinion on everything. We live in a society of pollsters and customer service surveys that seek our opinion on everything from Presidential approval to flavors of dental floss. I’m certainly not without opinions but a few years ago I realized that it was OK to not have an opinion on everything. At the time I saw a news report on chocolate milk being served in school lunches. Some thought this would lead to an increase in milk consumption and that was good. Others felt children shouldn’t be given chocolate at school. Me? I have no opinion.
  • Related to this, I’m fine with people disagreeing with me. After an animated discussion I told a friend this: “I know how you feel and you know how I feel. You won’t change my mind and I have no desire to change yours so let’s stop talking about it.” I think he’s still baffled by this but I’m fine with that too. I guess I find less power in my opinion than I used to.
  • I don’t have to do something because someone tells me so. I don’t have to see the new movie that changed your life and I don’t have to taste your recipe for liver because “you’ll like my liver.” If it changes your life for the better, good for you. But leave me out of it.
  • On a related note, if I don’t share you anxiety or panic over something you’re going to need to live with that. And while I’m aware that we need to do more to reverse climate change and rising extremism I don’t think the world is going to end. When my parents were children they feared Hitler and Mussolini; my childhood lived under the shadow of the Soviet Union’s nuclear capability. These threats were valid, but in the end good won over evil and I’m convinced we will do so again.

I recognize that some of these things come back to bite me, but that concern ran too much of my life when I was younger. My future has always been finite and every day “the rest of my life” gets one day shorter.

As a friend of mine says: “Don’t piss of an old person. The threat of a life sentence doesn’t mean as much as it used to.

Not Yosemite, But Still A Wonderful Few Days

It’s been a tradition that Nancy and I travel to Yosemite National Park in late January. Over twenty years ago we learned about Chef’s Holidays where gourmet chefs from around the country gather to provide cooking demonstrations and meals. We spend several days hiking, eating, and drinking a disproportionate share of the the world’s resources. We pray our gratitude balances enough karma for us.

But it’s no surprise that COVID-19 has once again made our plans moot. Chef’s Holidays were cancelled as were the accommodations in Yosemite Valley. By early fall we recognized that Yosemite 2021 wasn’t going to happen. In our search for an alternative we stumbled on the fact that Nancy’s cousin Annie and her family own a cabin in Lake Arrowhead. When we approached them they couldn’t have been more gracious and generous and we were able to spend a few days enjoying their hospitality.

If you’ve never been to Lake Arrowhead, which is North and East of Los Angeles, you need to check this off your bucket list. It’s beautiful, and in January it’s a nice winter break from Southern California. At 5000 feet elevation it does get snow from time to time.

We didn’t have snow but the hiking was spectacular and a fully functional kitchen allowed us to enjoy S’Mores.

We hope to return to Yosemite in 2012 but will always hold Lake Arrowhead (and our hosts) dear in our hearts.

Looking Back on 2020, Forward on 2021

I’m writing this at 8:30 on New Year’s Eve (Pacific Time). We have a few hours left in 2020 and almost everyone I know is celebrating the end of the horrible year.

But I’m struck by the fact that New Year’s is an artificial marker but so many events are. I wasn’t eligible to drive a car alone when I was 15 years and 364 days but the next day I was. At 17 years and 364 days I wasn’t able to vote, etc.

The change of one day doesn’t in itself make a huge difference, but we commemorate it all the same.

Tomorrow morning we will still battle COVID-19 and Donald Trump will still be President. Our planet will continue to warm because of human activity and we will continue to have complicated relationships with other nations in the world.

But we still look forward to 2021 because we (at least I) hope that some things will turn around and begin to get better rather than continue to get worse.

There’s no way I can talk about the pain of 2020 without talking about President Trump. Last year at this time we started hearing about a new and dangerous virus coming out of China. In February I spoke with a respiratory therapist who told me that this virus was really, really bad.

At the time President Trump told Americans it wasn’t our problem and was being controlled by China. This was before be began blaming China and referring to it as Kung Flu.

From Day 1 our scientists have spoken about the importance of wearing a mask and keeping at least six feet apart. But time and again our President has refused to wear a mask and has ridiculed those who did. Time and again he hosted gatherings of unmasked people in close proximity to each other. And time and again those who gathered got sick (including the President).

Tomorrow morning little will be different. But it’s a new year and 2021 could be a good year. I pray 2021 will be the year we eradicate COVID. I pray it’s the year we begin to take seriously the challenges of climate change and partner with other nations. I pray 2021 is a year when we rebuild relationships with our allies and stop craving the approval of the dictators of our enemies. I pray that in 2021 we inaugurate a President who respects his office and doesn’t believe his power is absolute. I pray that in 2021 that our President doesn’t see journalists as Enemies of the People.

I hope to still be blogging on December 31, 2021. And I hope I’ll have more to celebrate.

Happy Birthday America

On this day 244 years ago something amazing happened. A 33 year old farmer and scholar, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), wrote an essay that declared that the 13 colonies were independent from England. King George III (1738-1820) looked on this as nothing more than a rebellion that his troops would crush.

But Mr. Jefferson and others like him put their lives on the line. They argued that human rights were not given at the pleasure of the king, but instead human rights are given by God to everyone.

It hasn’t been an easy 244 years. For our first 89 years our country claimed that we are all equal while we held displaced Africans as slaves. Even when they were freed from their chains their lives were far from equal and it’s a fight that continues to this day.

Our 244th birthday recognizes the fact that we are led by a racist President who enjoys the support of many Americans who justify their racism by claiming victimhood.

But the good news is that our core values as Americans remain the same. We work hard, we innovate, we welcome, and we celebrate.

It wasn’t easy to celebrate our birthday during the Civil War but we did because we knew that Mr. Jefferson’s vision would win out. We can do it today.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 37: Hail To the Redskins? Time for a Change

I grew up in Woodbridge Virginia, 25 miles south of Washington D.C. I inherited from my father a love of football and especially the Washington Redskins. As a teenager my bedroom was filled with Redskins posters, bedsheets, and clothes. I knew that the term referred to American Indians but I didn’t understand the racism.

To be fair Washington D.C. has a long history of racism. Until 1850 slaves were bought and sold on the National Mall.

The Redskins began in 1932 in Boston as the Boston Braves. The next year their owner George Preston Marshall changed the names to Redskins and moved the team to Washington D.C. in 1937.

Mr. Marshall envisioned his team as wholly white and refused to sign a player who was African American. By 1962 the Redskins were the only NFL team with no black players. Only when he was threatened did he sign Bobby Mitchell (1935-2020).

But integrating the team didn’t entirely eliminate racism. Native Americans have always found “Redskins” to be racist. George Preston Marshall and successive owners can be given a bye as most of us didn’t recognize the racism in the word Redskins. But in 1999 Dan Snyder purchased the Redskins. Soon after that he began to hear about how offensive Native Americans felt about the word Redskins. He responded by refusing to change the name.

It’s changed in the last week. FEDEX owns the rights to the Redskins stadium and they are pushing to change the name. Other sponsors have done the same.

I have to confess that I’ve had a hard time watching football because of chronic traumatic encephalopathy but I still support changing the name of the Washington Redskins.

Happy Juneteenth!

June is a good month for equal rights. On June 12th I celebrated the day when it was ruled that states can’t prevent people of different races from marrying. In 2013 the Supreme Court struck down prohibitions against gay marriage in Windsor v. Obergefell that I wrote about here. A few days ago later in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County the court ruled that you can’t be fired because of your orientation.

And today we celebrate Junteenth. I have to confess that I didn’t learn about this day until I was adult but I’m glad I know about it now. On January 1, 1863 President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It stated that the slaves in all states in rebellion against the United States (ie, the Confederate States) were now free. To nobody’s surprise, slave owners in those states declined to inform their slaves. When the South surrendered on April 9, 1865 word did not get out right away.

Union troops then began to travel the South to liberate slaves. On June 19, 1965 word was proclaimed in Galveston, Texas. From that day forward, June 19th has been known as “Juneteenth.” since 1980.

Happy Loving Day!

Long time readers of my blog know how much I love June 12th. It was on this day in 1967 that the Supreme Court ruled that states could not criminalize marriages between people of different races. Richard Loving (1933-1975) wished to marry Mildred Jeter (1939-2008).

But they lived in the Commonwealth of Virginia where I grew up. Oh yes, Richard was white and Mildred was black. In 1958 they drove to Washington D.C. to get married. When the returned home they broke Virginia’s law and were arrested.

They soon got the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union who representative their appeals. Eventually their case made its way to the Supreme Court in the case (and I’m not kidding) of Loving v. Virginia.

On June 12, 1967 they ruled that Richard and Mildred could marry.

I know it’s been 53 years and it’s easy to see that people of different races should be able to marry but it wasn’t true then. But it wasn’t at the time. Most Americans opposed this because they felt that God didn’t want people of different races to marry.

Fast forward a few decades when most Americans thought God didn’t want people of the same sex should marry. The Supreme Court case of Obergenfell v. Hodges ruled that in the same way that states can’t prevent marriages between whites and blacks, they can’t prevent marriages between people of the same sex.

I admire Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter because they fired the opening salvo in the quest for marriage equality.

Two Years Out and I Still Love My Car

Two years ago I made the hard decision to donate my 2006 Toyota Prius. It served me well for 270,000 miles but a repair bill drastically outpriced the value of the car and we donated it to the San Diego Zoo.

Knowing that I would still need a car with good gas mileage I bought a Honda Clarity. Two years later the odometer tells me I’ve driven 35,966 miles. It’s essentially a Honda Accord with a plug in battery and I found a learning curve in driving a car that big.

But I drove my last car for 12 years and I hope this is my last car. If it lasts 12 years I’ll donate it in 2030 when I’m 70. But I hope to retire in the next few years and drop my annual mileage dramatically. I’m not sure when I’ll decide that I’m not safe to drive but I hope I’ll donate my Clarity.