Monday, January 31, 2011

Studies in Civility, Page Two

Welcome to our second lesson in civility. After taking advice from Thumper yesterday, today we take in some wisdom from the Deseret News.

Readers wanting to comment at the bottom of Internet news articles are instructed to avoid being "abusive, offensive, off-topic, or misrepresentative."

So, today we study "abusive."

Abusive, my Webster's New World Dictionary tells me, is "course and insulting in language; scurrilous; harshly scolding."

So, if we would be civil, we should consider whether what we say will make someone feel insulted. We should consider whether it will make them feel they are being scolded. More to the point, are we trying to insult them? Are we trying to harshly scold them?

If so, we are not being completely civil.

If we find something wrong with another person, we should try to express it without insulting them and without giving our words a serious scolding effect. Saying something is wrong without insulting and severely scolding will be an art, but in the name of being civil, we will want to make it our aim.

A Preface to Page Two

Somewhere out there, perhaps someone is doing a real study of civility, marking all the inroads, chasing down all the editorials, and noting who is calling for it and who is practicing it.

If so, I would imagine the Deseret News is not going unnoticed. There was the editorial following President Packer's General Conference talk. And, there have been other efforts, notably the paper's refusal to publish just any Internet post, regardless how derogatory. (KSL's website has also responded to negative posts. Last I checked, KSL simply was not running a comment board at all, in order to sidestep ugly posts.)

With the advent of online news, comment boards, offering readers' responses, now follow at the end of news articles. That's a fun thing, but unfortunately, the postings can get nasty and distasteful. Months ago, the Deseret News months ago decided to edit out all that it found to be abusive, offensive, off-topic, and misrepresentative.

Ahh, now, the idea of a policing comments will strike some of you as going against all that free speech is about. Those who would argue this would say: Freedom of speech is not something that should be edited. In fact, the definition of freedom of speech is that what you say is not edited.

Fine, then, but freedom of speech doesn't give you the right to barge into a church service, run up to the pulpit, and start a diatribe. It doesn't give you the right to go on any radio station at will. Nor does it give you the right to have run a front-page editorial in the local newspaper. And, it doesn't even give you the right to have every letter to the editor you submit printed.

So, it follows that it doesn't give you the right to post whatever you like -- regardless how surly -- on the comment boards at the end of articles.

When you step on a soapbox provided by another person, that person's freedom of speech should allow them to to set the parameters for discussion.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

With Egypt, Battle Lines Drawn with Israel

"Hey, hey, what's that sound? Everybody look, what's going down. Battle lines are being drawn."

Reflect on what is happening in Egypt from Israel's perspective. Whether you consider Egypt and Israel "friends,"  Egypt did help orchestrate a peace accord back in, what, 1978, and does have a peace agreement with Israel. Egypt provides 40 percent of Israel's natural gas. Egypt has stood with Israel on the embargo of freight (and therefore military supplies) into the Gaza Strip. It has been said, other Arab nations will not go to war against Israel without Egypt, but should Mubarak be pushed out . . . well, the new government likely will not be pro-Western, nor even half-friendly to Israel. The threat of war escalates. And, should it come, Egpyt would more likely be among the foes.

I do not say let Mubarak remain. His elections have apparently been fraudulent. And, I take it he has not treated his own people well. I only say, this will harm Israel. Now, the U.S. does dole out more than $1.5 billion each year to Egypt. Yes, they are a poverty-ridden country, the average per capita income being about $3,000, but our money also is buying them off, keeping them as an ally. Perhaps, even under a new regime, the lure of our dollars would help keep them aligned with us. Some political watchers are thinking otherwise, however, suggesting a Western-favoring and Israel-tolerant Egypt will no longer be around. Either way, I believe we must quit giving that money. Must. We are looking for places to cut our deficit -- we must cut the deficit -- and this is one place we should cut.

All nations united against Israel, says the Old Testament? Does it mean all nations of the earth, or all nations in that part of the world? Turkey was friendly with Israel until just the last few years, and now with Egypt possibly falling away, they (Israel) will be closer to being alone. I believe Jordan is the only other neighboring nation with good relations. That nation, too, is experiencing unrest, though most observers do not expect the unrest to reach what it has in Egypt.

Battle lines are being drawn.

Note: This was rewritten with corrections 2/4/11.

Thumper's Dad Offered Advice to Utah

Thumper: He doesn’t walk very good, does he?

Mrs. Rabbit: Thumper!

Thumper: Yes, mama?

Mrs. Rabbit: What did your father tell you this morning?

Thumper: (clearing his throat) If you can’t say something nice… don’t say nothing at all.

With that, Thumper, passed along sound advice that cries down through the years to Utah almost 70 years later. ("Bambi," I believe, came out in 1942.)

When a Facebook friend posted yesterday that we should consider applying this advice to our public discourses, I thought it a good general guideline, but one with many exceptions. After all, by nature, discussing public affairs often entails discussing what others are doing wrong.

As I thought more on it, I concluded perhaps the exceptions, indeed, do not need to be anything but rare. And, just maybe, we can take Thumper and his dad's advice altogether, and never say anything that isn't nice.

For there is another phrase that lends itself to this: "You can disagree without being disagreeable."

Well said, whoever said that.

So, I conclude we should try to carry out our conversations without offending each other, pointing out wrongs, and injustices when that is called for, but maintaining our civility in doing so.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Practitioner's Guide to Civility, Page 1

I hardly know all and need to learn. I've become a community activist, a political activist, if you will. As I entered such activity, my state, and perhaps the nation, was embroiled in a call for civility. One group, the Coffee Party, formed not all so long ago with the stated intention of bringing civility to public dialogue.

And, if we are going to practice it, we need to know what it is. So, I'll study it. And, I'll offer you a practitioner's guide to civility.

Our first lesson will come tomorrow, borrowed from a posting today by a Facebook friend, Mark Alvarez. Though tomorrow is Sunday, this is a topic fit for Sunday discussion.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Flag Flies Proudly at Protest

Mind you, these are people not considered American, called illegal, blamed for crime, and sometimes considered as being the ruination of our nation.

So, when I walked into tonight's rally -- protest, if you will -- on the steps of the Capitol, the tone seemed at odds -- was at odds with that common perception.  Signs greeted me saying, "We are all Americans," and, "Immigrant Rights are Human Rights."

Those messages hardly square with those I've heard from those who want the undocumented worker sent packing. "How outrageous, to  call yourselves Americans!" they would have shouted back, if opponents of the undocumented had been there to shout back. "And, as for your rights, you have no rights precisely because of that, because you are not American citizens."

"We can fight for immigrant rights and social justice for all," said a speaker. Shortly later, a singer -- don't think it was Woodie Guthrie, but you never know -- and his guitar broke into, "This land is my land. This land is your land. From California, to the New York Islands. . . . This land was made for you and me."

A person holding an American flag leaned it towards the singer, and towards each of the speakers as they took their turn.

"This land is my land"? "Made for" the undocumented immigrant? Had the voices opposing the undocumented have been there, they would have shouted back, "What do you mean, this is your land? This is not your land at all. You don't walk into another person's country illegally, and call it your own."

Somewhere up the steps of the Capitol, was a banner that would have replied to that. "When Did Your Family Immigrate? 1800? 1920? 1940? Lucky You." The message being, We all are here as a result of immigration. Why is it those who descended from the earlier immigrants want to shut the door on the later immigrants?

"We will not accept ICE raids in the middle of the night that take parents away from their children," said a speaker. And the crowd chanted, "Shame on Sandstrom, Shame on Sandstrom," Stephen Sandstrom being the legislator proposing the bill most opposed by the pro-immigration people.

I, too, am a pro-immigration person, otherwise I wouldn't have been at the rally. But, I don't share in thinking Sandstrom shameful. He is doing but what he thinks best.

"Who would Jesus deport," read a sign. "Fund Education, Not Deportation," read another. And, "Don't Let Utah Become Arizona," yet another.

"What happens in Arizona, stays in Arizona," said a speaker. Then the speaker, Archie Archuletta, referred to the Capitol as he added, "Someone in this building is accusing us of being criminals."

And, the notion that undocumented folks are "aliens"? Archuletta didn't like that either. "Do you think they believe we are all cousins of E.T.?," Archuletta asked. "Illegal aliens? Forget it! We are all human beings!"

I much agree with that sentiment. "Aliens" is not a good way of referring to these people. And, yet, the word "alien" is written right into our laws. American law designates these people as "aliens." Talk show hosts quickly lose their jobs if they use derogatory terms on most minorities. But the undocumented are referred to as "aliens" in the U.S. legal code. They are referred to as "illegals," a term not given to murderers, nor rapists nor others who commit our really serious crimes. When I attended a debate on immigration Friday, some who oppose the undocumented immigrant thought it deceptive "wordsmithing" that other terms should be used other than just calling them "illegals."

Well, the first protest I've ever been at (to my memory), is now over. But more of these rallies will follow. How heated they will be, I do not know. As I walked away, a speaker spoke of fighting against "laws peddling hatred."

I do fear there will be hatred on both sides.

"Utah is ground zero for this battle. We must stop it (stop legislation against the immigrant)," the speaker said.

Utah, indeed, is seeped in the controversy, both sides wanting justice. On one side, is the side I agree with. Here's hoping we each can make our points, which will include valid accusations, without being intolerant of the other, without making invalid accusations.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Letter on Sing Visa Sent to Congressmen

Sent the following letter (email) to my congressmen today:

One complaint about undocumented residents is that they tend to commit crimes. So, how about granting visas to those who help us fight crime? Those living in Mexico are living amongst the drug runners, sometimes learning things about them that could lead to prosecution. But, they dare not sing on them for fear of reprisals. And, if they come to the U.S., they dare not turn over information as that would be turning themselves in to be deported. But, if we gave them a visa (I call it a Sing Visa) they could pass over the information, and we could pass it back to the Mexican authorities to have them prosecuted. Or, if the information implicates them on U.S. laws, we could request extradition and prosecute them here.

Many of those coming illegally across our border are forced to smuggle -- at point of their lives. They, too, should be afforded the Sing Visa. Just as we normally choose not to prosecute some who are involved in crime if they testify against the key perpetrators, so we should do with these who are forced to smuggle. While it is those who are being forced to smuggle we want to help, the law should not require proof that they were forced, as that would often be hard to ascertain. Rather, it should in the hands of the law enforcement officers, allowing them to make the judgment on whether to take the case, or whether to go ahead and prosecute the immigrants, themselves, for the smuggling.

Legislation such as this can benefit both sides of the contentious immigration issue. It will help fight crime entering our country, and it will allow many otherwise unauthorized immigrants a way to be here legally.