Sunday, May 27, 2007

The misidentification of the conservative movement

Some time ago, being a conservative meant you favored less taxes and government spending, a smaller government, and a free market. Sometime later, being a conservative came to mean something entirely different. Suddenly being conservative means you place an American flag next to your Bible, hate homosexuals (and most non-Americans), and don't believe in global warming or evolution.

Sorry, but what does that even have to do with fiscal responsibility?

Conservatives are raising the national debt to unheard-of levels, expanding the federal government to its biggest size in history, promoting policies that are placing the economy in the hands of a few multinational corporations (and then complaining when the corporations screw it up), and passing executive orders that violate not only the spirit, but the actual letter of the Constitution (habeas corpus, anyone?). Since when is that conservatism?

Many conservative presidents in the past have favored a foreign policy that favors noninvolvement to the point of isolationism. And yet today's conservatives feel the need to police the world, intervening when there's even the slightest chance we have an interest in the situation, and when there isn't, we make one up. Since when is that conservatism?

For the life of me, I can't understand why our nation's political system has stopped addressing things that actually matter, like tax reform, health care and social security, and started focusing on social and personal issues which, in the past, the government has not addressed. At all. And even when conservatives do address the issues which once defined them, their stances are often the exact opposite of what they once held.

Does that sound like a group that favors tradition over change?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Christian Exodus: Building a Theocracy, One Family at a Time

In the Biblical reference, the word ‘exodus’ refers to the Jewish prophet Moses leading his people out of slavery in Egypt to the “promised land” in present-day Israel. Millions of Jews celebrate Passover, the yearly six-day commemoration of this momentous event. In modern times the term is much less monumental, used to describe anything from a reasonably large emigration of people to a Bob Marley song. The California-based group Christian Exodus is seeking to apply that term to politics. Their goals are controversial at the least, and at worst could reopen old wounds which have been slowly healing for the past 150 years.

Christian Exodus and its founder, financial planner Cory Burnell, aim to move thousands of Christian conservative families to South Carolina county by county, eventually influencing local and state elections as more families emigrate. According to their website, the group’s ultimate goal is to turn South Carolina into an autonomous state with constitutionally limited government founded upon Christian principles by 2018. They hope to accomplish this through the electoral process, but support secession as a viable alternative.

But as you may already know, South Carolina already unsuccessfully tried that option in the 1860’s. However, Burnell doesn’t think another secession would meet the same bloody end as the first. In fact, he believes another Civil War wouldn’t even take place over it. “Should the federal government invade a State whose people have voted for independence, Washington's despotism would be on stage for the entire world to witness,” Burnell said, going on to reference images of Soviet tanks invading dissenting Eastern Bloc countries.

Christian Exodus’ main belief is in the supreme governance of the Constitution. Burnell says current legislators and officials, both Democratic and Republican, are violating the Constitution by denying states individual powers left to them by the 10th Amendment. “No local, state or federal official should ever be allowed to violate the U.S. or SC constitutions, which must be applied exactly as their text reads and in light of the text's original meaning when written,” says Burnell.

The solution, the group says, is to move more and more families with similar beliefs into the state until they are concentrated enough to make a legislative difference. “We have over 1,400 members nationwide,” Burnell says. “We've determined to focus on Spartanburg, Greenville, Pickens, Anderson, Lexington and Dorchester to begin with.” Burnell wouldn’t give the specific order of the counties, but says each emigration would coincide with a particular election cycle.

Christian Exodus advocates many right-wing political policies currently under argument, including giving the death penalty to second-offense child molesters and defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman. Burnell is not a hard-line Republican, however, and will be the first to tell you so. “President Bush holds contempt for the U.S. Constitution, and is himself a dangerous threat to American law and liberty,” he said in January.

For now, Christian Exodus remains largely small-scale. So far only 15 families have actually relocated to South Carolina as a part of the organization, though more are expected. Few state legislators who were questioned had even heard of the group, and the rest did not see it as a threat to South Carolina’s place in the United States. But that may change if South Carolina continues its slide to the right of the political spectrum, as some commentators have predicted.

In the 2006 state elections, Republican candidates won every single office up for grabs in South Carolina except for Secretary of Education. However, Burnell says Christian Exodus played no part in that at all. “Those victories are attributable to gerrymandering and the continued leftward movement of the Democrats,” Burnell said. “Hardly anyone in South Carolina can identify with left-wing communists like Nancy Pelosi.”

Christian Exodus’ lack of influence in 2006 won’t be repeated in 2008 if Burnell has his way. “C.E. will not be a force at the statewide level for some time; however we will significantly impact the elections in our county of choice in 2008.” As to the specific county, though, that’s top secret for now.

Monday, February 26, 2007

An Unlikely Hero Lives On

On May 30 of this year, one of America’s greatest distance runners will have been dead for 32 years. But like any good legend, Steve Prefontaine continues to influence his sport to this day.
If you’ve ever slipped on a pair of Nike running shoes, you may have noticed the face of an old man scowling up at you from the heel inside the shoe. The man is Bill Bowerman, the University of Oregon track coach who created Nike three decades ago by stealing his wife’s waffle iron to make homemade shoes in his garage. Making shoes wasn’t the only thing he was good at, though. In fact, it was only a hobby. Bill Bowerman’s full-time job was making spectacular runners.
Steve Prefontaine was born in 1951 in the small town of Coos Bay, Oregon. He was a short child, with one leg shorter than the other. He was never good at team sports, and in the rare instances when he actually got to play in his baseball and football games, he was easily outmatched by bigger, stronger players. How then, did a kid like that become one of the fastest runners the sport has ever known?
If you had asked that question of Pre, as he was called by friends, fans, and the world alike, the answer would have been straightforward enough. “All my life” he once said, “people have been telling me, ‘You're too small Pre,’ ‘You're not fast enough Pre,’ ‘Give up your foolish dream Steve.’ But they forgot something. I have to win.” Pre ran away from his inability to succeed in contact sports – and kept running. From age 15 to 16, he cut 39 seconds off his mile time to 4:32 (for non-runners, read that as “he got really fast really quickly). During his junior and senior years of high school, Pre won every race in which he ran, and set a national high school record in the two-mile event. He had become an expert musician - the track, his stage; his legs, his instrument.
Then he met Bill Bowerman. And if anyone could have believed it, the best freshman runner in the nation got better. Much better. During his tenure at the University of Oregon, Pre won three straight NCAA Division I Cross Country titles and four straight titles in the 5,000-meter event in Track and Field. During the course of his career, Pre set American records in all seven events from the 2,000-meter to the 10,000-meter, something that was never accomplished before or since.
Interestingly enough, none of those races were events in which Pre had wanted to compete. When he started running for Oregon, he wanted to be a champion miler, like his hero Jim Ryun. However, the legendary coach Bowerman knew Pre’s ability better than Pre did, and told him to concentrate on the 5,000-meter run, also known as the three-mile. When Pre objected, saying no one cared about the three mile, Bowerman told him to give people something to care about. Pre did. During his junior year, Pre ran the 5,000 in another track meet you might be familiar with: the 1972 Munich Olympics. However, he was badly shaken when members of the Israeli team were murdered during the games by Palestinian terrorists shortly before his event. Though he led for much of the race, Pre was caught at the end and finished fourth.
His defeat, however, is part of his legend as one of the most devoted athletes of all time. Because he knew he wouldn’t be able to defeat his rival, Finnish runner Lasse Viren, at the 1976 Montreal Olympics unless he raced him first, Pre organized and promoted a meet between Finnish and American athletes, which would be held at the University of Oregon track. Because the meet was unsanctioned by the Amateur Track Union, the organization threatened to revoke Pre’s amateur status, eliminating his eligibility for the Montreal Olympics (at that time, only amateur athletes were allowed to compete). However, Pre was not deterred. Finally the ATU relented and sanctioned the meet, which is held to this day as the Prefontaine Classic. The meet, which was held May 29, 1975, is probably Pre’s most famous; it was also his last.
That night, while driving home from a post-race celebration, Pre’s car skidded off the road, slammed into a rock wall, and flipped. Pre, who was not wearing his seat belt, was trapped beneath the car, and died on the scene in the early hours of May 30, 1975. Running had lost its favorite son. As commentator Rick Riley put it, “The magic was gone forever.”
Nearly everyone Pre touched during life seemed to go on to success. Mac Wilkins, Pre’s teammate and friend, set a world record for the discus at the Finnish-Oregon meet, and went on to win the gold medal in Montreal. Pat Tyson, Pre’s roommate, said “Pre gave me confidence. I was shy and timid, and he brought me out of my shell.” Pre obviously did a good job, because Tyson is now arguably America’s best high school cross country coach.
And then, there is Nike. Many people don’t even believe the company wouldn’t have made it without Pre. He was the first runner to sign for Nike in 1974 for $5,000 (For comparison to the lengths by which Nike and professional running have grown, Alan Webb signed in 2002 for $250,000 a year). As a close friend of Bill Bowerman, Pre also had a great deal of influence on the original shoe designs. He even sent pairs to runners all over the world to help promote his coach’s creation. Today, the company refers to Pre as “The Soul of Nike,” and celebrates his memory with a large statue of him outside their corporate offices.
However, there is no doubt that Pre’s greatest contribution to the sport was his maverick style of living. “He didn’t take no for an answer, he wasn’t politically correct, and he didn’t kiss peoples’ butts!” says Tyson. Steve Prefontaine was, simply put, running’s first rock star. “We don't have people like that anymore in our sport,” Tyson reflects, “He was a huge reason why distance running flourished in the 1970's. Watching him run, you’d think Pre was instinctively great, but he wasn’t. It was all about hard work and being consistent. Pre dictated the tempo… the pace… life. I miss him.” Tyson isn’t the only one. Thousands of people each year flock to the place where Pre died to pay their respects to the man who inspired them to get up, lace up their shoes, and start running.

As America’s fastest distance runner, Pre had a right to be cocky, but inside he had the same insecurities and dreams as every other college student. Once, during a race, Pre wore his jersey inside-out. Spectators thought he was making a statement about the University of Oregon, but he wasn’t – he had just accidentally put his shirt on wrong. Tyson remembers, “Listening to him on the phone lie to the many girls he was dating, often at the same time, and they realizing he was a con artist was incredibly funny.” Pre was never a superhero, but he became the hero of many. He may have been the best, but that was only because he wanted to be. What makes Pre special is how hard he worked to realize his dreams. Deep down, Steve Prefontaine was just a boy from a small town that happened to make people say, “I’ve never seen anyone run like that, before.”