Tuesday, November 24, 2015

On this day of gratitude, I will not complain

This Thanksgiving week I'm not going to complain that friends, already retired, are taking a whole week to relax in a mountain cottage. I will be grateful for a couple of days away from the office.

I'm not going to complain about the cold weather that swept in suddenly after the mildest early November in several years. I will be grateful for moments in front of the living room fireplace and for the brisk snap in the dry, chilled air. I'm grateful to be able to run for three miles without being drenched in sweat.

I won't complain about the fallen leaves I must rake (raking on Thanksgiving Day is a family tradition). I will be grateful for the shade those leaves provided and for the mulch they now provide in the expanded natural area where they rest and decay.

I won't complain about the family members who won't be with the rest of the family this year. I will be grateful that they have shared this holiday with us before, and they will have other chances to join us in the future.

I won't complain about the football games on television, no matter who is playing, and I won't disrupt others' enjoyment by fixating on the game or shouting at the teams on TV. I will be grateful for people willing to give up their holidays with family so that they can serve, protect or, yes, entertain others.

I won't complain about the stores that are already decorated for Christmas, as if Thanksgiving, the purest, least commercialized of holidays, didn't exist. I will be grateful for the Thanksgiving in family homes with crowds gathered and kitchens crowded with cooks and helpers, for heartfelt joy at being together, for multiple generations gathered around one table (or two or three).

I won't complain that our gathering will be absent those family members who shaped my memories of Thanksgiving but are now departed. I will be grateful instead for the many Thanksgivings we shared and for the many lessons we learned at their tables and for the nurturing that filled us with more than food and prepared us for this day of gratitude.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

If Islamic State is a sovereign nation ...

The proclaiming of Islamic State as a sovereign nation, a caliphate, gives Western nations an opportunity to address I.S. terrorism as acts of war with all the consequences of that term. The West has reacted in shock and anger to the heinous murders in Paris last Friday, but Islamic State's thumbing its nose at the international community goes back much further.

Leaders of the terrorist group captured vast expanses of Syria and Iraq long ago, defeating government troops in Iraq and other insurgencies in Syria to lay claim to towns and cities. Sketchy reports (Islamic State territories are not safe for news reporters) indicate that ISIS has set up governmental services and is behaving as a legitimate, sovereign nation.

If ISIS is to be a sovereign nation, it must live by the rules of the international community, among which is you don't attack other countries without suffering the consequences. The United States, Russia, Britain and France, however, have not responded in the way that they would to a military threat from a more traditional enemy. All have provided degrees of support for those opposing ISIS, but they have not declared war; they have not deployed their armed forces against the self-declared caliphate; they have not acted to protect themselves and their allies.

After Friday's attacks in Paris, why was the NATO treaty not invoked? NATO was built on the idea that an attack by an outside power on any member nation is an attack on all NATO nations and must be opposed in the same way. The ISIS attacks in Paris were surely an attack on France by an enemy that claims to be a sovereign country. If all of NATO's military assets were deployed against ISIS, the caliphate could be ground into the desert sands in a matter of weeks or days. Russia also has been a target of ISIS terror and appears ready to join with NATO to obliterate this threat against Western Civilization.

ISIS has made it clear that it is not satisfied to control territory in the deserts and villages of Iraq and Syria. It wants to bring down Western culture; it wants to kill all infidels and apostates throughout the world. This ambition will not be abandoned; it must be obliterated and replaced by more moderate countries and organizations willing to live at peace among the community of nations.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

International borders have a purpose

When I was in high school, a teacher assigned a paper on how to prevent war. One student shared with me her paper that proposed the elimination of borders and nationhood. I didn't think her solution viable at the time, and this new century has proven that eliminating borders has consequences.

The European Union tore down the inconvenience and costs of international borders, allowing free movement of goods and people among all EU countries. That had its benefits as tariffs disappeared, passports became unnecessary and tourism expanded. But this removal of international barriers also has its consequences, as Europe is discovering in the hordes of refugees streaming into EU countries. The refugees come to escape wars and poverty in their native countries. They come for the opportunities available in wealthier EU countries, particularly Germany and Great Britain.

And there seems to be no end to the numbers of people who want to escape the horrors and deprivations of life in Syria, Sudan, Iraq and other nations. While some refugees are being welcomed, Europeans are beginning to realize that there are limits to the numbers of foreigners they can safely and economically accommodate. These foreigners are not French, German, Italian or whatever. They do not share the language, the customs, the history, the principles, the religion or the politics of their hosts. Large numbers of such immigrants will forever change the traditional standards of these host countries.

On the topic of U.S. immigration, someone has offered this: "Immigration without assimilation is invasion."

The drawing of international boundaries has sometimes been arbitrary, as it was after World War I and World War II, and immigration and invasion have transformed borders throughout history. But in a world of rapid international travel, international stability is needed. Immigration such as we are seeing across the Mediterranean from Asia and Africa to Europe is destabilizing, particularly when mixed with the sort of religious terrorism that results in the slaughter of innocents in Paris Friday.

Free access across international borders threatens to destabilize Europe and end the idealistic experiment in common borders and economies. We can talk about the "family of man," but in reality people are raised in very different traditions and have different standards and goals. If immigrants are not willing to abandon their old traditions and adopt the traditions and principles of their new country, they are not assimilating and will not be successful. In fact, they will bring with them some of the pathologies that made their native countries untenable.

International borders serve a purpose, as France has painfully discovered, and other countries will inevitably share that realization. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

That other debate Tuesday night

I watched most of the understudy Republican debate last night and was so tired of politics by the end that I skipped the main debate.

A four-person debate is in many ways much better than a 10-person debate. I had no favorite in this pre-debate debate, but I was surprised to see Chris Christie do so well. He was less combative and less annoying than in other debates, and he wisely focused on the likely Democratic nominee, repeatedly reminding the audience that Hillary Clinton is a lot less conservative than any GOP candidate.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was assertive to the point of being repulsive, repeatedly claiming that he alone had cut the size of government in the states. Gov. Christie and former Gov. Mike Huckabee disputed Jindal, claiming they had, too, cut the size of government in their states, but Jindal kept hammering away. Is cutting government the only measure of statesmanship?

Huckabee, who has a very smooth delivery, which you would expect from a former preacher and Fox News commentator, had his moments and won some points.

Rick Santorum, who has had lots of practice in being a presidential candidate, also made sense at times, but he still looked like a dark horse — a very dark one.

My guess that none of these "undercard" participants will break through to be a leading contender for the Republican nomination. That role belongs to Donald Trump or Ben Carson, or perhaps a mid-level candidate should the front-runners stumble.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton looks more inevitable than ever. Her name and her face fire up GOP voters, who will likely turn out if they can settle on a candidate that has some cross-party appeal. But the election is still a year away.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Four decades later, couple shares another booth

After the football game Saturday, my wife and I decided to walk across the campus to a place where we could get a light snack while the traffic thinned out before we went back to our car and headed home. We dodged puddles of water and people half our age and twice as slow at walking, checking in at a popular spot that was so overcrowded that I suggested they call the mob not "standing room only" but "standing on someone else's toes room only." We kept walking, rejecting another spot with a line out the door and settling at an "Ale House" with a 20- to 30-minute wait.

We tried walking around the place, but it was too crowded for movement and chose to sit on a bench in the vestibule and wait for my name to be called. We watched the people coming and going, mostly college-age or a bit older, all appearing carefree and joyful.

When my name was called, the waitress seated us in a booth where the cacophony of the crowd was muted enough that we could carry on a conversation. While we waited for our order, we reached across the table and linked our fingers as we talked. We were happy for a football victory and for being back in Chapel Hill, where we had met almost 45 years before.

Immediately, it occurred to both of us that we had sat this way, on our first lunch date, seated in a booth holding hands across the table, oblivious to all around us. That old booth at the Rathskeller is probably gone forever, the Rat having closed years ago with little hope of revival. But this booth in this new place, a few blocks west of where we had begun, served nicely as a re-creation of that old booth of dark wood and carved initials. And we would contend that we are now what we were then, two young people discovering themselves to be happily in love. Only our lost hair, wrinkles and sagging skin belie our illusion.

Decades ago — it must have been our seventh or eighth wedding anniversary — we drove more than an hour to eat a celebratory meal in the Rathskeller's subterranean maze of tables and booths. As we talked that night, I watched with envy two couples at a nearby booth. They were a few years older than we and were there for a night out together. For them, it was obvious, a trip to the Rat for dinner was a frequent event, no special occasion necessary, while our rare moment had to be carefully planned and arranged around work, babysitting and a tight budget.

Now we find ourselves not in the Rat, which is no more, but in a neater, updated and above-ground place, still holding hands across the table, still thinking about a future together, still overjoyed to be in each other's company.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Pay comparisons should work for teachers, too

Today's News & Observer includes an article about complaints by University of North Carolina faculty over the double-digit pay raises university chancellors received while the faculty received no pay raises. The professors' argument was that they were the ones who were on the front lines, creating the quality of instruction and research that bolstered the system's national reputation.

The Board of Governors cited market comparisons to justify the chancellors' raises. Compared to other state universities' chancellors or presidents, the UNC chancellors were below market rate, the BOG reasoned.

If the BOG compares chancellors' salaries to peers in other states, why can't the BOG compare faculty salaries to other universities'? BOG members seem more interested in settling political scores and deciding when, how and how often faculty will teach.

Better yet, why can't the General Assembly use this comparison tool to determine whether public school teachers should get a pay raise? North Carolina teacher salaries have plummeted from a roughly median of national teacher salaries to dead last in state comparisons. The Board of Governors worried that other universities would steal away UNC's talented leaders by offering higher salaries. Have legislators noticed that teachers are fleeing North Carolina for better-paying jobs in other states? Where do they think that leaves North Carolina?

Instead, legislators are focused on ways to increase the number of charter schools and shift state education appropriations to private schools.