Friday

Don't hide your head in the sand

My family sometimes has a sick sense of humor and it often comes out at weird times. This instance took place Wednesday night at Villiage Inn where we ate supper. There were only three of us. The other two were participating in school activities, so it became a rare moment when we parents could spend time with the youngest.

Eventually, after ordering and some light chit chat, the conversation turned to school. I asked Stephen how school was and Mike asked him more specific questions about his classes. Apparently in science that day, the class had talked about weather. In this discussion, the teacher talked about Hurricane Andrew, the third most powerful storm to hit the United States. Stephen, who is really interested in the weather, was full of little tidbits of information, including that some animals from a zoo had died.

“Do you know how the ostrich died?” Mike asked, with that gleam in his eye that meant some type of fabrication was coming.

“How?” Stephen asked, between bites.

“He buried his head in the sand with his butt in the air and the wind sandpapered the feathers right off his butt.”

I snorted. Stephen resumed inhaling his dinner. Apparently, Stephen didn’t get it so Mike asked him how high the winds were.

“About 175 miles per hour,” Stephen said.

“So, if you were an ostrich with your head buried in the sand and your butt in the air, and the wind at 175 mph ... he’d get sandpapered so bad he’d bleed to death.”

Stephen raised his eyebrow and subtly answered, “Or, he could have died because the wind blew him over and snapped his neck.”

All three of us laughed at that. Mike and Stephen exchanged high fives.

See? We have strange senses of humor, but out of that came a thought. If we’re too busy hiding our heads in the sand from fear when a storm is approaching, we will not survive. The storms of life can be just as brutal as Hurricane Andrew and we need some good solid ground on which to stand so that we won’t cave in to the pressure.

Do you remember the parable Jesus told about the wise man who built his house upon the rock? The rains came down and the floods came up, like the Sunday school song says, and the house on the rock stood firm. What happened to the house built on the sand? It went splat! Jesus is likened to that rock and I know that during times in my life when I’ve been afraid, Christ was always there to help me face that fear rather than bury my head in the sand like an ostrich. Jesus will help you face your fears today. Just let him.


Thursday

Frenzy affects Sabbath rest

If God were rewriting the 10 Commandments for the fast-paced, high tech 21st century, he might add: “Thou shalt not run about as if thou were a headless chicken” as a variation of “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” This is something that I’ve been struggling with lately. Remembering the Sabbath, whether you celebrate on Sunday or Saturday, is definitely worthwhile. It brings a day of rest, something everyone needs whether they admit it or not.

However, I’m convinced that in order to achieve a Sabbath rest, we must be careful about our time during the week.

What I am talking about is something I’m going to call the “headless chicken syndrome.” I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. We enter so many activities onto our calendars that there is no white space; we get out of bed in the morning and hit the ground running, without stopping until we fall back into bed late at night. We could also call this the “hamster syndrome.” In this syndrome, we live our lives running endlessly in the same direction without stopping. It seems that we lack purpose, even in our flurry of activity.

Lately, I’ve been trying to slow down. It isn’t easy. I’ve even had to resign from a couple of activities that were worthwhile in order to work toward a more peaceful week. I’m sure as I continue this journey, the Lord will reveal more things that need to be cut from my activities, and I must be willing to do that.

It’s all about priorities. We should determine what is truly important. What we believe God is calling us to do. Although most of our activities are good, some aren’t really necessary. Perhaps someone else could handle the activity just as well or even better. Maybe our energies need to be directed elsewhere. Perhaps our children need more attention. Maybe the job we have needs our undivided attention. God can use us in any capacity, we just have to be open to his will.

As we work to live a more simple life God will shape our attitudes so that the Sabbath will be more restful, whenever we celebrate.


Tuesday

The political scene

It's election time again and if you're anything like me, you can't wait until it's over. The biggest reason for me is because I tire quickly of watching politicians sling mud at one another through endless e-mails and political ads on television. Rarely does anyone address the real issues, and, if they do, it leaves me wondering if they are simply following notes written by their staffs or if they have actually read about the issues.

Today's political scene is especially lacking, especially in the Coloradan Republican camp. In the governor's race, for whom is a Republican supposed to vote? Maes lied about his police service record and all Tancredo has done is split the party while appealing to conspiracy theorists and the rest of the extreme Right. He has all but cinched a Democrat gubernatorial win. So that leaves me wondering if Hickenlooper will follow his predecessor in taxing and feeing Coloradans without doing anything to curb special interest spending in order to balance a budget that is out of control. Unfortunately, taxing and feeing more and more doesn’t control the budget – it just gives “them” more of our money to waste.

And, speaking of taxes, who was the genius behind Amendments 60, 61 and Proposition 101? If these three pass, our cities and towns will be stripped of their services and schools will suffer even deeper budget cuts. These three are supposed to make the average taxpayer happy by cutting taxes; however, the three also limit government's ability to borrow and limits the amount of money the state can use for operating programs and transportation. The thing to remember with all of this is that it will eventually hurt the entity that it was meant to help - the taxpayer. Yes, if these three are passed, we will pay less in taxes, but how will we benefit from potholes that can't be fixed or services being cut, such as city buses, amenities at the library, senior center, sanitation, etc. The solution is not limiting government revenue in this manner; the solution is in electing officials who understand priorities and restraint.

Not only are there financial issues looming on the ballot, but this year Colorado voters get to decide when an unborn fetus really becomes a person. Supporters of Amendment 62 take the position that if you do not support their view, then you support abortion. They are completely black-and-white on this, attempting to ban the most common forms of birth control in use today, and making no exceptions for rape or incest. This vote, in my opinion, really puts people who believe that life begins at conception – a term poorly defined by supporters of Amendment 62 – in a bad position because we are in effect saying that nothing is more important than that developing life even if the mother's life is in danger. If a pregnant woman suffers a miscarriage, tubal pregnancy, cancer or infertility that just may be too bad for her if Amendment 62 passes. Why would we want to limit treatment for these women, who if they die, will also take the developing life along with them? Why should the less developed, who cannot survive outside the womb, have more rights that a person who can? Why not pump the money being used to push this amendment into crisis pregnancy centers, WAIT programs and in taking care of women who suffer a crisis pregnancy? Why don't we use this money into programs to make adoption more accessible? Why are we trying to legalize a moral issue?

I've said enough for this week, but more will follow in the body of our paper as we bring the candidates and the amendments to you. I encourage everyone to think for themselves, rather than vote along party lines. Feel free to write me - e-mail is best. Please keep the word count around 250 words.

Criminal behavior spreads like bacterial infection

During the summer of 1985, southern California was under a dark cloud of terror.

That summer was when Richard Ramirez, known as The Night Stalker, was executing his reign of terror, committing the most heinous murders, mutilating corpses, sodomizing and raping people. In fact, in 1989, after being on trial for four years, Ramirez was “found guilty on 43 counts in Los Angeles County, including 13 murders, and charges including burglary, sodomy and rape,” according to about.com. After being sentenced to death, he shrugged it off saying, “Big deal.”

On the day that police released a composite drawing of Ramirez on the news, Californians memorized the face. Within days the killer was caught after walking into a liquor store. “It’s the Night Stalker,” the clerk yelled. Ramirez took off with a crowd following him. He tried to steal a car and the man who was under it doing repairs started chasing him. The man and the crowd jumped Ramirez right on the street and kept him contained until the police arrived.

The people in that neighborhood were heroes in my eyes. They were an ordinary group of citizens who decided to catch a murderer when the opportunity presented itself. I am sure that if they had been fearful and hung back instead of jumping Ramirez, that The Night Stalker would have disappeared again and more people would have died. No one would have blamed them, though. The man was a walking nightmare.
At the beginning of this week there was a shooting incident. People refused to cooperate with the police in identifying the suspect. I believe that they did so out of fear. Who can blame them? But, there is something larger at stake - the peace and tranquility of our city. I am convinced that if we citizens band together and cooperate with law enforcement when these things happen, then people will think twice before bringing their malice here. That’s a lesson we can learn from those average, everyday people in Los Angeles.

We are lucky to live in the Arkansas Valley where people are generally nice and take care of one another. Unfortunately, however, that can change. All it takes is for people to remain silent when wrong is done. Silence is a petri dish for criminal behavior. Under this “glass” of American neighborhoods, criminals thrive and their activities grow in that “perfect” environment until they dominate their area. Today, we see bacterial infections that do not respond to traditional treatments like antibiotics. It then takes drastic measures to get rid of bacteria.
In the community it’s the same. When criminal activity becomes entrenched, drastic measures must be taken to overcome the “bacteria,” because people who are bent on breaking the law do not respond to traditional disciplines, like discussions about their behavior or community censures. They have to be disciplined by the law. They also need our prayers so that they will change.

Let’s not let behavior like this continue here. Let’s keep the peace and tranquility of our city by being tough on crime. It’s the only way.

The stench of coverup

Secrecy appears to be a scourge nowadays. Seems like if you have money or position, you can get away with anything. This has become clear in two stories that have crossed my desk in the last two weeks.

This past week the Pueblo Chieftain carried an article about La Junta’s former police chief Charles “Chuck” Widup. Widup was reportedly at fault in a traffic accident in which six individuals suffered injury. Widup was charged with DUI, according to the Pueblo Chieftain, with a blood alcohol level of .233. That level was recorded two hours after the accident, and is almost three times the legal limit in this state. Widup was issued a summons and given a ride home, with no requirement to post bond or cool his heels in jail.

Because of this, people in town are angry. People believe that Widup received special treatment because he works for the Department of Corrections, and has “connections” with the leadership of the Pueblo police department.

I did a little research about this and discovered that there is no law that says a drunk driver has to go to jail. Drunk driving is a traffic misdemeanor under Colorado law and is a releasable offense. It really is up to the officer; however, each community may decide what they will do. In La Junta, according to Police Chief Todd Quick, all DUIs go to jail and have to bond out, unless there is an extenuating medical condition. In that case, the person is turned over to a responsible party who agrees to keep them until they are sober.

So, if Widup had been soused in La Junta, he would have gone to jail. But he wasn’t. He was in Pueblo, where apparently the police department is “confused” about policy.

Sure they were.

As editor, I have been asked several times this week whether or not I am going to publish something about Widup’s accident and I fully intended to do so. It has taken so long because none of the involved authorities have been forthcoming with information. On Monday I called the Pueblo Police Department to get the report and I was told that it had already been turned over to the district attorney and they couldn’t discuss the matter. The clerk gave me the D.A.’s phone number so I called them. At the D.A.’s office the nice lady told me that she didn’t have the case and that she would call me back.

As of today, that call has not been returned. I still have questions about the incident. For example, there is a two hour time limit between the time the arrestee last drove and the administration of the breath test. From the Pueblo Chieftain account, Widup’s test may have been outside that two hour window, and therefore inadmissible in the Department of Revenue license revocation hearing. And, without that test, no judge will take action against his license. I can’t confirm that because of the two-stepping ’round the scales of justice by our law enforcement community in Pueblo County. But if that is in fact the case, what do we have? Yet another bit of “confusion” on the part of Pueblo Police Department? Way to go, there, public “safety” officials.

In another matter, Rep. Wes McKinley (D - Walsh) was accused of sexually harassing a young lobbyist. He is also protected by secrecy. A ruling called Joint Rule 38, a rule developed by legislators for legislators, keeps the public from learning what becomes of our mustached, guitar-pickin’ cow-pie kickin’ good ol’ boy politician and any other lawmaker that gets caught. According to Face the State, the news agency that broke the story, all Wes gets is a slap on the wrist. He gets to go to a class.

I’m sure that will keep him from harassing anyone else. It works so well in other cases. Way to go there, elected representatives, who seem to have forgotten who hired them. We are, indeed, the very people who need protection from these types of people.

These coverups are enough to make me sick. Do I like knowing other people’s dirt? I must because I’m a journalist, right? Wrong. I don’t. But when public officials and law enforcement personnel are caught doing wrong, then the public has a right to know. These people are paid by our tax dollars. We should know whether or not the right people have been hired. We should be able to vote with the right information, or in Widup’s case, be able to complain about his behavior to the proper people. We should let law enforcement officials know that we are not pleased when they break the very laws that common people are booked for every day. We should let the legislature know that they should set an example for the rest of us.

What happens if this kind of thing occurs here in La Junta? More of the same? The incompetence and untrustworthiness of the Pueblo Police Department and our elected officials smears all with the same stench.

Rules, common sense, and following the law

On Monday, my boys came home from the first day of the new school year. They reported that their teachers had all spent a great deal of time going over “The Rules.” They seemed a little put off by all the emphasis on those rules, especially since this wasn’t their first year at the school.

This caused me to reconsider the events over the last couple of years. At the height of the presidential campaign, the business world seemed to come apart at the seams. Major corporations, especially those associated with home loans, were self-destructing. The people who ran those corporations had not followed the rules established for them, or else those who made those rules ignored the basic rule of common sense. Because of that, unimaginable debt was forced upon ordinary Americans - who were not to blame for the crisis - by our government in order to bail out those corporations. It was all driven by greed for the almighty dollar.

More recent cases of this have occurred earlier this year. We have seen a British Petroleum oil rig blow up, killing 11 workers. We found that the company ignored basic safety rules, and we found that government inspectors were complicit in this. That too was driven by greed, and now the Louisiana coast is seriously damaged, marine life is suffering, small businesses along the Gulf Coast are in peril, and thousands of families who depend on that interconnecting system face a very uncertain future.

It happened again with salmonella bacteria introduced into the market place that made at least 2,409 people sick and resulted in a national recall of more than 550 million eggs. Conditions at the farms from where the eggs originated were deplorable, investigators found. All of that was from not following the rules, and greed.

What are we to do about this? Should we quit drilling offshore? Should we quit selling eggs? Should we make more regulations? I don’t believe that is the answer. The first two choices are ludicrous. The third would just give us more rules to ignore. Why don’t we begin by enforcing the laws we already have with substantive penalties that will make businesses think twice about succumbing to greed. Why don’t we decide as a people to think about our neighbors rather than falling to the temptation to make more money than we could possibly use in wise way? And why don’t we hold our government accountable? Once our government interjects itself as a regulatory authority, it assumes a moral obligation. Government these days doesn’t seem to understand the concept of “moral obligation” any more than does private business. Where are the penalties for either private business or government, when both are responsible?

On the local level, we could take this advice to heart as well. Here at the paper we’ve received a couple of letters about animal problems. We need a balance here. I agree with the reader who asked for more regulations regarding animal abuse. I also believe that people need to follow basic common sense and think about what’s good for their animal and for their neighbors. Is it really advantageous for the community to let dog dung pile up in the yard? To let dogs bark insanely? To allow pets to run loose destroying private property? Perhaps some should reconsider owning pets if they don’t have time to care for them. Like all of the cases above, it depends on perspective. Are we completely self-focused or do we also think of others?

As my children will see, and do already see, rules are important. Going over them from time to time does not hurt anyone, especially if the rules are followed and enforced, along with good common sense.