Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Discourse to make you (sea-) sick

Public policy in America has become a tale of two ships.

The first, set on a deliberate ("bipartisan") course, has no idea where it's headed, and is determined to get there.

The other ship is steaming, literally. On board, various strains of airborne illness (talk radio) are shared between passengers, ping-ponged back and forth like viruses in a coed dorm.

Feverish passengers are raving and incoherent. Raving, like the sign in Colorado proclaiming "Government deathcare equals the end of grandparents." Incoherent, like the sign, "Government hands off my Medicare."

Even presumably credentialed folks steering this ship of fools have the very illnesses that should have caused them to wash their hands repeatedly or wear surgical masks. Generally reasonable Sen. Charles Grassley, for one, has echoed the Big Foot tale of "death panels" aimed at ushering Ma and Pa to early demises.

Then there's the onboard entertainment. Beauty queen Sarah Palin, winner of the 2009 Miss-Information Pageant, thrills green-gilled diners with all the hits and her strapless gown.

It's sick.

That's the state of policy making in 2009: two ships passing in the night, one as plodding as C-SPAN, one from the mind of Stephen King.

In their assault on "Obamacare," Republicans are borrowing from the incitement handbook that Bush and Rove used to incite war against Saddam Hussein — issuing not just one or two falsehoods, but a cornucopia of myth and mass-produced hysteria.

"Euthanasia counseling." "More handouts for illegals." Not just lies. Damned lies. The closest claim to truth-bearing kind is about "rationed health care" (any plan truly focused on cost makes decisions about coverage) but ignores the developed world's most grievous health-care rationing: that which exists now with 45 million Americans lacking health coverage.

But the health care debate isn't the only arena where foaming mouths have seized the microphone. An Obama appearance in Phoenix drew out a dozen protesters carrying rifles, including one AR-15. Yes. In the grand tradition of Lee Harvey Oswald.

No matter that Obama clearly has no appetite for "antigun" measures, and showed none in his campaign for president. The hollow-point right has reason to lock and load.

This condition is not new. The whole of reactionary rhetoric owes itself to presumed threats that aren't and issues that are crafted to appeal to those who really don't want to think them through.

Consider late-term abortions, something for which a valiant Wichita physician named George Tiller recently became a martyr. It sounds unconscionable and criminal, until one realizes that it's exactly where the rubber hits the road on the issue of medically directed abortions.

Most often it involves a fetus that will not survive outside of the womb or a pregnancy that could kill the mother or render her infertile. Anti-abortion forces say there's no such thing as a medically necessary late-term abortion. Based on the Supreme Court's reasoning in Roe vs. Wade, that's not their call.

It's a call made by physicians like Omaha's LeRoy Carhart, an abortion provider and abortion rights crusader who vows not to let Tiller's death deprive women of a legal option. In a Newsweek profile, he makes it clear that the late-term abortions he performs, as with Tiller, aren't matters of convenience. They're medical calls. Period. Understand what he does and know that rather than being the slam-dunk of the anti-abortion argument, the late-term abortion actually is the starting point for defending the right of all women to make their own choices, in consultation with a physician.

How is it that in an enlightened age, the information age, myths, hype and charlatans of ignorance can dominate the debate?

I'm thinking that we aren't so much interested in information. We are far more interested in cruise-line entertainment.

John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What I'm already missing; what I won't miss at all

It will be a cross between "Beverly Hillbillies" and "Wagon Train" when we head 'em up and move 'em out.

Greater Waco will recede in the rearview mirror, Speegleville shouting a last "Ya'll come back." Which we will.

We've still got packing and unplugging to do. Some spots on the floor of the too-small house will be squinting at their first rays of sunlight in decades, doing so through veils of dust and cat hair. They say that household dust is mostly human skin flakes. We leave much of ourselves in Waco.

Though I'm not quite down the road, past the aromatic peanut plant in Gorman on Highway 6, past sentimental Abilene on U.S. 20 (where at McMurry College my parents met and conceived the idea of me), I'm missing a lot of things already about Texas and Waco.

Some things, not so much.

I'm already missing fireflies. (As a toddler, my eldest son called them "lightning bees.")

I won't be missing fleas. (I didn't even know what a flea looked like until I moved to Central Texas.)

I'm already missing upside-down peeping-tom geckos on the window screen, with their see-into stomachs.

I won't be missing fire ants.

I would say I'm missing horny toads, but for most of a generation we've had no horny toads to miss, in large part because of fire ants. But mankind gets more credit.

I'm already missing skies filled with hungry grackles.

I'll not be missing grackle droppings.

I'm already missing cricket invasions.

I'll not be missing the crunch of crispy crickets after the invasion.

I'm already missing peanut patties, accessible at any highway stop.

I'll not be missing the Texas drivers on those highways.

I'm already missing bluebonnets which beckon my senses senses of sight and sniff in April.

I won't be missing that roadside treat which in September (ragweed) and January (ragweed?) saps my smelling senses and makes my nose the River of No Return.

I'm already missing March.

I won't be missing August.

I'm already missing give-a-damn people connected to this community for generations — like Mary Duty, Rufus Spain, B. Rapoport, Dave Campbell, Wilton Lanning, Ernesto Fraga, Pat McKee, Mary Nell Sorelle, Robert Gamboa, Alice Pollard and Al Siddiq.

I'll be missing people devoted to telling Waco's history in the multicultural, reality-based sense.

I won't be missing spectacles of Cotton Palace dreams.

I'm already missing town contrarians and little people who carry on.

I won't be missing businessmen who, because they own X, presume that they should control A through Z.

I'm already missing all the free and deep thinkers at Baylor.

I won't be missing Machiavellian administrators, and their enablers, no matter how good their suits may be.

I'm already missing people of faith like Sherry Castello and the good folks at the Gospel Cafe, John and Susan Cowley at Talitha Koum, Jimmy Dorrell and Waco's most Christ-like overpass, Charlie Garrison of the Red Door Project (serving God's creatures with AIDS) and Kenneth Moerbe and whatever good deed he can get his hands on.

I won't be missing people who consider their faith a merit badge, and who spend their time pondering a world of difference as wholly sinister, as it is not made in their image.

I'm already missing all the selfless people at Planned Parenthood. Whatever the signs say, without them Waco would be in a world of hurt.

I'm already missing Austin and all its energy and charm, and its every-other-year, whacked-out Legislature.

I won't be missing a governor who's more interested in how he looks — in the mirror and in the eyes of anti-tax think tanks in Washington — than how his state serves its people.

I'm already missing the chance to vote against him in the March primary. Yes, it'd be worth having "Republican" stamped on my voter card. Better than to have Rick Perry stamped "governor for life." Maybe I'll vote absentee.

I'm already missing Friday night lights.

I won't be missing the tendency to marginalize all else students in our schools do in the extracurricular vein.

I'm already missing great public school educators.

I won't be missing everything having to do with TAKS, which for too many policy makers is everything everythign else students and teachers do in the curricular vein.

I'm already missing Coach Kim, and Coach Briles and that phenomenal kid from Cove.

I won't be missing the inevitable comedown when certain football factories come to town.

I'm already missing the flag on the ALICO building telling me which way the wind blows.

I won't be missing certain pillars of the community telling people which way the wind should blow.

I'm already missing blue northers.

I won't be missing an in-your-face wind from the south on a bone-dry day in September.

I'm already missing Cameron Park, and a zoo which seems to have something new every time you visit.

I won't be missing people who still feel uncomfortable in "that part of town."

I'm already missing seeing what good is happening at Quinn Campus, which also seems to have something new every time you visit.

I won't be missing people who say they wouldn't be caught dead in East Waco. Their loss. East Waco's gain.

I'm already missing the river that defines and divides Waco.

All told, quite a sight in the rearview mirror.

John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A tree grows in Waco

A newcomer experiences several "oh, wow" moments in Waco.

Oh, wow. The lake. Oh, wow. The Waco Suspension Bridge against the ALICO.

One of my first oh-wow moments came looking out from the top floor of the Hillcrest Medical Tower.

"Oh, wow. Look at all the trees."

You may not think of Waco's trees — or their numbers — in superlatives. You may just think that, well, this is Central Texas. It has them.

The place from where I came 25 years ago didn't. The arid San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado has mountains on both sides. It has sage. It has sand dunes. But birds have to fight over what trees it has.

Relative to arboreal challenges, Waco really didn't appear to need our help when my family came here. Fortunately my wife, who was raised in that arid valley, didn't ask. She just did.

Plant trees.

Like a coin in my pocket, since my teen years I've carried with me a not-verbalized credo, something like: You are powerless only if you think you are. You can change the world.

Most of us never realize or appreciate our power. We reserve our awe for the most powerful, the ones who hire public relations arms.

But look at what my wife did. For one, she helped transform a public place. Twenty years ago she was PTA president at Meadowbrook Elementary School, a place whose playground was little more than a blacktop and some chin-up bars.

That was unacceptable to her, with two boys on their grade-school journey. She did something about it. The PTA raised money for a shiny yellow playground set, a slide, a rope climb, and installed it with volunteer labor. That was just a start. The next year the half-globe shape of a sprawling jungle gym arose on a bed of pea gravel. Then a bench went in for teachers or parents to observe the fun.

It needed one more thing: shade for that bench. So under Becky's leadership, the PTA planted a row of saplings, each in honor of a retiring teacher.

They grew. The intended shade reached the bench. By then our children had advanced through school and into college.

Becky kept planting trees — a silver maple in the front yard, a cypress, a crepe myrtle, a pecan that I gave her for Mother's Day.

We inherited a towering Arizona ash that shelters our home. It will be highly valued by the next residents. One day, though, age and gravity will overtake it. When it does, that pecan will be up to the task.

I could exhaust more column inches about how my wife changed the world and Waco, but most of the ways are non-headline stuff — raising two smart kids, treating stray animals like royalty.

Yes, the world is ours for changing. Our power is infinite, at least within the handy equation: A little bit of something is infinitely more than nothing. Let's all commit ourselves to something.

Waco didn't know it needed more trees. It took a newcomer to figure differently.

Former Trib opinion editor John Young and his family are moving to Fort Collins, Colo., where he will teach and write. See his future columns at johnyoungcolumn.com. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.