Thursday, August 19, 2004

News and Views: Swift Boats, Troops in Europe, Speed Limits…

The headline reads, “Kerry blasts Bush over veterans' ad.” The sub-headline continues, “Says president allows others to do 'dirty work'.” The ad in question is the one featuring many veterans from the “Swift” boats on which Sen. John Kerry served during his time in Viet Nam, from the same unit, who question Sen. Kerry’s accounts of his actions, including some of those for which he received a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart. (You can see the ad here. Copies (in .pdf format) of the actual documents and citations can be found here.)

My point in mentioning all this is not so much to say anything for or against those who support the “Kerry for President” campaign, or those who support the re-election of President Bush. I am not interested in commenting on the veracity of the “SwiftVets for Truth” presentation, or those who challenge them. I’m a bit tweaked at how there are some persons who allege that this is all a “Republican plot” because a principal source of funding has come from a wealthy Texas businessman who happens to support the re-election of President Bush. Apparently, it’s OK for Hollywood stars and rock musicians and rich businessmen to use their access to the media and their money to support Democratic candidates, according to these people; but the reverse is “wrong.” Can you spell, “hypocrisy?”

Meanwhile, I found myself chortling over a paragraph in a report about the proposal made by President Bush to scales down the size of the U.S. military presence in Europe, now that the nature of conflict has changed from the “Cold War” scenario to the “War on Terror.” The paragraph quotes Christoph Zoerb, spokesman for the German city of Giessen, where three of five bases for the 1st Armored Division, with some 1,000 Americans deployed, have been mentioned as slated for being closed as the troop withdrawals begin. Mr. Zoerb said, “We will increase our lobbying efforts and openly call for a re-evaluation of the withdrawal plans.” As government officials on all levels and civic leaders here in the Phoenix area are trying to keep Luke Air Force Base open and operational, including stepping up their lobbying efforts, we know a thing or two about the strategy announced by Mr. Zoerb! Funny: I never thought we’d have to be lobbying against the Germans. A lobbying Olympics, anyone?

The article dances around the central issue without naming it as such: the money that flows into the German economy from the U.S. presence there, which employs several thousands of German people. I find it ironic that the plans for redeployment of many of the “assets” now based in Germany are slated for locations in nations that were formerly members of the “Warsaw Pact”; which our troops were present to engage in the event of another war in Europe. Well, since our dollars made a contribution towards rebuilding Germany after World War II, it only seems fitting that our anticipated relocation to an eastern Europe impoverished in the post-war years will help them to rebuild in a similar way. Who’da thunk it?

Speed limits. If you’ve heard any of my sermons, you know that speed limits are a touchstone; and references to events in traffic a regular illustration of sinful human behavior. Today’s rant was inspired by a trip home in which I’d opted to avoid the freeway, and take surface streets. This particular route runs between a golf course and some apartment complexes, all associated with a major resort property. The road, which was once posted for 30 m.p.h. now has a speed limit of 25 m.p.h. As we made the turn onto this road, there was a good one-eighth mile of space between us and the next car back; so I felt it was “OK” to go the speed limit. It seemed like only seconds later, the gap was gone, and now there was a car so close that I couldn’t see its headlights in my rear-view mirror. Being a curmudgeonly type, I refused to go above “+5”; and I must admit that I sort of “drifted” between lanes as the roadway went from one lane to two approaching the traffic circle there, boxing out the car behind from sliding by until after we had exited the “roundabout.” Seconds later, the car was gone, zipping by in the right-hand lane. I muttered one of my usual complaints about how it must be nice to have received an “invent your own speed limit” card, and then continued on my way.

I think, in part, what gripes me the most about these situations is how I feel forced to violate the principle of obedience to the law, as it is signified in the speed limits. I will admit that I like to drive fast; but I am selective about where and when. Out in a new car, alone on a straight, flat country road, with no driveways or cross streets for miles, and no other cars in view; yes, I’ve said to myself, “OK, let’s see how fast this baby will go.” Driving long distances on the interstate highway in the middle of nowhere – say, between San Francisco and southern Oregon, or SF and Boise, or SF and Phoenix – yes, weather and vision conditions permitting, and other traffic being very slight or non-existent; yes, I’ve violated the “less-than+10” rule, and gone +20, or even +30. But not on city streets; not in traffic; not in bad weather. Oh, and I know darn good and well that, in every situation I’ve described above, going over the speed limit is just plain flat-out wrong.

So, when some bozo tail-gates me, and I’ve already been pushed from the speed limit to the +10 point, there’s a great pressure to accelerate my speed, and I resent that pressure. It makes me angry; and that’s a sin I have to confess, again and again and again… I suppose I should find another way to live with it; but I’m concerned about what seems to me to be a growing sense of lawlessness in our society. Not a breaking of the law by robbing banks, or gas stations, or other types of “major” crimes – although these do happen, and we should, of course, be concerned about this. Rather, it is the “I’m entitled to do what I want to, when I want to” mentality that allows us to ignore the speed limit, or park in a no-parking zone, or run red lights. (The “Red only means ‘stop’ if you want to stop” type of behavior…) As I ponder these things, I keep hearing an echo: “There was no judge in the land, and every man did what was right in his own eyes…”