The Corruption of Children

Posted April 22, 2016 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

In one of the closing scenes of the movie version of Inherit the Wind, Spencer Tracy, in the role of Clarence Darrow, quotes from Proverbs 11:29—“He that troubleth his own house…”—just before he puts copies of the Holy Bible and On the Origin of Species into his briefcase. I have watched this on late-night satellite television until it is archived forever in my brain beside To Kill a Mockingbird.

Those of you who arrived late to the South may have missed our regional reluctance to racial understanding and academic honesty within the walls of rural public education and fundamentalist Sunday school. The story of John Scopes and the Dayton, Tennessee trial, jokingly referred to as the Monkey Trial was documented on front pages of newspapers, North and South. Scopes was found guilty and fined a minimal sum for violating a state law that prohibited teaching evolution in public schools.

The trial began as a tourist phenomenon to draw a crowd to the public square and Main Street of Dayton. It became much more. Fundamentalist rural Tennessee and the liberal Eastern media created a comedic but historic spectacle involving William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow.

In recent days, I have been reading again the writings of Plato, including Apology, in which Socrates defends his conduct as a philosopher. Charges within the evidence presented against him include corrupting the youth of Athens, and denial of the gods.

The difference in importance between Scopes and Socrates is obvious. The similarities often go unnoticed. Teachers, or philosophers, who encourage students to think critically, contemplate the complexity of the universe, or question paradigms, are sometimes chastised by public consensus. Great men of science and thinkers of periods of enlightenment have found themselves in conflict with public opinion and religious orthodoxy. From Socrates to Jesus to Copernicus to Galileo to Darwin, those who challenged the existing order were accused of corrupting the youth and denying the iconic deities. Through the history of the Reformation, the Civil Rights Movement, advanced scientific and medical research, and innovation in education, persons often defamed the images of conservatism and Christianity, with their opposition to human liberty and intellectual freedom.

More recently, talk-radio personalities publicly assail classroom assignments in schools, and challenge the academic diversity of public education. Parents, in opposing assigned readings that they find offensive, often could deny access to other students for reasons of ideology. Legislators would ban or disclaim the content of some chapters in our science textbooks.

There is, however, the risk that those of us who are advocates of secular intellectual freedom may at times become intolerant of religious expression. With caution, we avoid sectarian instruction in the classroom. The proper guidelines seem to be: the protection of all religious freedom, and the non-participatory role of government in matters of collective religion. Those of us in elected public office, who hold positions of authority in public education, are prohibited by law and logic from imposing our religious views on our youth or challenging their religious beliefs, writings, symbols, or practices.

Those who find an attraction to philosophy and the Socratic method of reasoning, often derive delight from circuitously challenging the advocates of certainty. We thrive on the gamesmanship of challenging the Sophists in the Greek marketplace who define truth and virtue in their own street-vendor rhetoric. We love confounding the Pharisees in the Temple courtyard in Jerusalem. We applaud Luther as he rattled the ramparts of royal and papal Christendom.

I wish that I could trace their steps, sharing their courage and mischief, into the churches, temples, mosques, courtrooms, classrooms, and halls of government, and identify with those thinkers and reformers who have advanced human thought and liberty. We live in a time and place in which the Sophists and Pharisees have changed their raiment and taken new names, and sit in seats of authority, and we would be at risk if they thought we were corrupting their youth or questioning their gods.

Truth in Labeling in Politics, Religion, and Retailing

Posted April 13, 2016 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

There is something paradoxical about “truth in labeling” in writing or speaking about both religion and politics. We have come to convey the argument that there is an ideal degree of liberalism or ideal level of conservatism that makes a candidate, public figure, or elected official in some way heroic and admired and any deviation from that we label as a flaw of character and add derogatory adjectives to discredit either. We offer some designations of compromise—fiscal conservative, social liberal, Christian humanist, progressive, or constitutional purist. In both religion and politics, we have found denominations within the Christian faith and political parties reaching the point of being “too” conservative or “too liberal” to an extreme that would lead us to change our party affiliation or church membership. When you identify attitudes issues such as bathroom privacy; insure Tennessee; official state book, song, animal, or wild flower; academic curriculum and standards; deviant sexual behavior;  or opening a public meeting with a prayer as being either liberal or conservative you will find both ideological and behavioral contradictions.

I don’t know the answer. I think in our labeling of “right” and “left” we may have neglected our attention to “right” and “wrong.” When we say that Hillary Clinton is too conservative, Donald Trump is too liberal, Bernie Sanders is too secular, or Ted Cruz is too religious we further confuse the ideology, the competence, the qualifications, and the character of each. At the local level of school board elections, state legislators, and friends who engage in a social media thread of likes and commentary, we often wonder “what is he or she drinking or smoking to vote for that candidate, or attend that church?”

We think and act based on our life experiences, our educational background, and our bonding with friends and family. We find comfort among kindred minds, and strength from our ideological adversaries. I appreciate “both of you” who have, with voices support and compassionate tolerance, helped me find some harmony of faith and reason.

On a more mundane level, I still have people who approach me and show me a label inside a suit or sport coat. Most of those were “combination labels” of the corporate integrity of the manufacturer and the local storekeeper, before the trend of “designer labels” and deceptive advertising and pricing.  I think there is an analogy there of a different time in our history and our culture. I learned in my formal schooling in consumer behavior, history, political science, philosophy, and the aesthetic content of the liberal arts there is usually a disparity in perception and reality. A product, candidate, elected official, public servant, or even a friend is limited to the level of the lesser of the two images.

Liberals, Conservatives, Moderates, and Independents

Posted March 28, 2016 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

We are approaching a Presidential election with emotional crowds filling sports arenas and overflowing smaller venues in support of the most unlikely candidates. At the same time both political parties are wishing for an ideal, heroic figure instead of any of the front runners and likely nominees. The moderate, centrist voters look for a pragmatic voice of reason, while each candidate moves farther to the left, or farther to the right to appeal to the primary voter and the caucus participant.

Most of us embrace and cling to traditional values that we designate as conservative. Most of us adapt to change when logic and compassionate reality shine a new light on closely held beliefs. The labels liberal and conservative do not always coincide with traditional definitions of openness or resistance to change.

On most issues, we are somewhere between two extremes. We speak of redistribution of wealth or income, of capitalism and socialism. We fear a government that taxes the rich to finance government assistance to an undeserving underclass. We condemn with equal wrath the corporate giants who find ways to avoid taxation and receive government subsidies. We have a concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, while nearly half of our citizens are on some government program. The middle class, the under employed, the disenfranchised, and the ideological dissident seem disenchanted with both parties.

On the subject of sexuality and religion, the emotional dialogue about reproductive rights and same sex marriage or civil unions seems to be either far-right or far-left, with a superimposing identity of liberal or conservative on social issues.  We speak of abominations to God, and we defend diversity, choice, and civil rights.

On the subject of guns, liberals have not been able to convey their support for the Second Amendment. The fear of guns, or just not liking guns, does not give liberals a right to deny anyone the right “to keep and bear arms.” The right to keep and bear arms does not permit weapons of mass destruction, or guns in places that we have designated as gun free zones, or on the property of someone who objects to the presence of guns. We speak with uncompromising defense of gun rights or more gun control, fearing laws and court decisions that diminish gun rights or are a threat to public safety and innocent children. We live in a gun culture, unlike any other country on Earth, and there is no compromise, no moderate voice of reason.

We speak of open borders and a giant, impenetrable wall. We speak of compassion for refugees, for the need for seasonal workers, for a path to citizenship, of amnesty and we speak of closing borders, and deporting illegal aliens and undocumented immigrants.

We speak of a Christian nation and we fear the thought of a theocracy. We speak of declining morality and secularism, and the imposition of posting religious laws on the walls of public buildings and religious phrases on our coinage and in public school recitations. We include the history of world religions in our school curriculum and we decry any hint of indoctrination. We name our public school holidays in celebration of religious traditions—Good Friday, Easter, Christmas—or by the secular identity of winter or spring.

We have an absolute allegiance to Israel and an advocacy of rights and statehood for the people of Palestine. We pay massive amounts of money to guarantee the survival of Israel, and a similar but slightly lesser amount to Egypt to maintain the peace with Israel. Republicans have adopted Benjamin Netanyahu as one of them, while Democrats appeal to the more liberal among the Israelis who hope for a two-state solution.

There is a political divide between men and women in America. It may be an inherent contrast of our propensity for war or diplomacy, of motherhood and alpha male egos.  Much of the divide is related to reproductive rights and intrauterine legislation, and the rights of women in the workplace and the boardroom. This affects salaries, promotions, and time off for maternity and child care. We are still a patriarchal culture, even though we have had great success through a history of feminist movements. When the votes are counted Democrats have far greater numbers among women voters; Republicans have an equal advantage among men.

We are not all clearly defined Liberals and Conservatives. Nobody seems to speak for the moderate and independent voter. We have learned that third party candidates on the left can redirect enough votes to elect the more conservative Republican, while third party candidates on the right enable the election of the more liberal Democrat. Third party votes may be well intended, but are more often counter-productive. I don’t think it is likely there will be a moderate or centrist third party candidate who could carry enough states to attract a majority of the electoral votes. The solution is a more rational electorate.  As a party member, you and I have an obligation to vote for and nominate the best we have to offer in the primary elections. Then, if our party of preference nominates a candidate not of our choosing, we compare the virtues or vices of the Republican nominee and the Democratic nominee, and decide what is best for the country and best for the people, not what is best for the party. If we find both nominees insufferable and do not vote for either, we have forfeited our voice in the democratic process. If the independent voter or the moderate members of each party do not vote, Liberals and Conservatives will continue the cycles of extremism, obstruction, and disrespect for our elected officials.


Presidential Preference Primary

Posted February 10, 2016 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

A recent poll showed Donald Trump leading the Republican Primary in Tennessee. This email is not an endorsement of any candidate. Our mayor was very cordial in welcoming Dr. Ben Carson and introducing him to Downtown Franklin and Main Street, and I applaud him for that. At least four candidates visited Franklin.

My concern, as Main Street Philosopher and life-long resident is the image of our town and county. We are recognized as one of the most conservative towns in America. We are also one of the poster towns as one of the great Main Streets of America.

As I have watched television coverage of the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, much has been made of the demographics and voting patterns of the two states. Most of us know that Tennessee will be a Red State in November. In the last two election cycles in Williamson County, President Obama received 26.46% of the vote in 2012, and in my run for the 65th District, I received 26.62%.

This is my twofold mission for the March 1 Presidential primary, if you live in Williamson County. Please vote in the primary of your political preference. Please do not cross over to vote for a lesser desirable opponent. Be careful what you wish for. It is not my business whom the Republicans nominate. However, the vote totals are to some degree a window into heart and soul of our county.

If you are a Republican, I would ask that you not vote for a candidate who could, if elected, become the target of international ridicule, or someone whose rhetoric further divides our country. If you are a Democrat, I would ask that you help us send a message of a Democratic presence in Williamson County. Regardless of your candidate of choice, we have an obligation to anyone who might feel intimidated in political events or discussions. This is also important to encourage Democratic candidates to be more involved in future elections.

When the votes are counted at the end of the day, my goal is at least 26% voting in the Democratic Primary.

Also, in local politics, begin thinking about the August 4 election, and the four seats in the State Legislature. The school board election is nonpartisan. Candidates are listed on the ballot as Independent. Seven of the school board seats are up for reelection (Districts 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, and 11). Please become active and support our parents and children in that election.

The Reality of the Graphic Image

Posted December 3, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Those of us who write, for fun or folly, are continually told by our teachers and mentors, “show me; don’t tell me.” We are taught imagery. We are to find nouns, adjectives, and adverbs that provide stimulus for the senses and evoke emotion. We are at a disadvantage when we compete with the visual arts. Words are only what they say to the reader. We are then reminded that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The magic of high definition television brings us the graphic images of human suffering, natural disasters, brutality, physical deformity, and the anomalies of our most vile sensitivity.

I grew up in a world of religious fundamentalism. I was often warned of an eternal inferno of humanity in flames, or cities destroyed by the wrath of God. That was somehow lost in the depiction of demonic figures with pitchforks and satanic features, and the Sunday school narratives of the flood, David and Goliath, a talking snake, Jonah and the big fish, or Daniel in the lion’s den. I felt comfort in the assurance of the unfailing justice of God in the apocalyptic devastation of the forces of a godless social order. I was embraced in the imagery of being reunited with generations of ancestry. I lived in a world which would not allow the finality of death.

My earliest images of graphic horror came from newspaper stories of World War II and the Nazi storm troopers, Dachau, Auschwitz, the bombing of London, and the mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My formative years were shaped by photos of Kent State, the naked Vietnam girl burned by napalm, the burning of Watts, attack dogs and fire hoses to quell demonstrations, flag draped coffins, and body bags.

The graphic images of violence and evil in high definition television depiction may have reached a new intensity. Terrorism, random acts of violence, shootings, bombings, decapitations, and torture are now brought to us live, followed by twenty-four hour reruns, and revisionist editing.

We watched random or targeted mass shooting in two cities in California while we were still trying to understand Colorado Springs. We looked at police photos of the Planned Parenthood shooter, and the series of graphic photos of fetal tissue and “baby parts” that may have provoked him. We saw a three year old Syrian child face down on a beach; Chinese citizens in masks riding bicycles in near-zero visibility; the errant attack on doctors without borders; and the masked Islamic executioner. We watch a candidate for president mocking a physical disability to the cheers of an angry mob. We see dashboard camera images of another black teenager shot, and a photo of a young policeman and pastor killed protecting his community.

We use the phrase “the mind’s eye.” By faith we often come to believe that which we cannot see or know, while we often deny or reject the obvious. We find ourselves in a conflict of knowledge, reason, faith, and human conduct driven by human emotion. Sooner or later we come to what may seem to be contradiction of faith and reason. Either we passively accept the deterministic will of God in praise or worship in a form of subservience, or we accept the challenge to interpret and actualize the evolution an unfinished divine goal of human perfection.

I am concerned that the graphic images of electronic media and the amplification of the pulpit and podium of political doomsday ideology may have diminished the power of the written word in the communication of ethics and logic.

We who write are not innocent. We ask whether the purpose of language is to inspire, to teach, or to confound the certainty of the misinformed. Who among us are the custodians of truth? We lessen or deny suffering with euphemism; we create discontent with anecdotal anomaly; and we exploit the weaker with the advocacy non-substantive meritocracy. We elude the scrutiny of veracity, with the sleight of fallacious reasoning. We add mockery to the syllogistic conclusion, with non-sequential premises. We have the devices of metaphor, simile, hyperbole, personification, and ultimately the option to craft the structure of the sentence to convey falsehood that passes for truth in the mind of the untrained grammarian.

I don’t know at what age I developed a love for the graphic imagery of the written word. I have often wondered at the logic of God’s confounding of language following the arrogance of the architectural fiasco at Babel, and then miraculously enabling an audience of potential disciples to understand their many languages in their own tongue at the inception of Christianity. And now he has numbed the mental acuity of nations, religions, politics, and human interactions with the imposition of graphic images of reality that perpetuate our brutality and the anomalies of our most vile instincts. I don’t pray for divine intervention. This is something we have to fix ourselves. We have to find the nouns, adjectives, and adverbs that stimulate the senses and evoke emotions to compete in our quest for “peace, love, and understanding.”

Confessions of a Main Street Philosopher

Posted November 14, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

I feel some compassion for authors who write books with some ignoble biographical information they wish they had not written. I feel a similar empathy for the essayist or blogger who speaks or writes hurtful thoughts about an adversary or friend, with words they might wish they had not chosen. In writing my sixth book, Main Street Philosopher, I carefully chose sixty chapters that were biographical and some that were philosophical just to give credence to the title. I struggled with the need for humility and appreciation while telling a rare and exemplary, slightly enhanced success story.

Much of what I write and talk about is related to the First Amendment and the freedoms of religion, speech, print, assembly, and complaints about some grievance, real or imagined. I believe in the separation of Church and State, and the Bible and the Constitution. When I write about the rights that I enjoy and defend, I realize I am thinking from a narrow viewpoint. I am an over-sixty-five, southern, white, male, Christian, Liberal, Democrat, and it is difficult to think in terms of universal rights or voter demographics. I don’t spend a lot of time defending the Second Amendment, because I have never had a desire or need for keeping or bearing arms. I spent 6 years in a well-regulated militia, but the government furnished me a rifle and a typewriter for everything they wanted me to do.

As a male, I have never had an unwanted pregnancy or wanted an abortion. After a midlife vasectomy, I haven’t needed contraceptives even though they might be covered in my medical policy. I like Social Security and Medicare, and having supplemental coverage with no co-pays or out of pocket costs except for a few prescriptions. As far as I know, I was born heterosexual and have been blessed with a traditional civil marriage contract, which Brother Ira North said was an institution ordained by God for better or worse. It has survived 50 years of better, with one woman who loves me and our three daughters and seven grandchildren.

Our children attended public schools, and we didn’t worry about them learning something they shouldn’t know, or we couldn’t help them with in subjects we had not learned. As a school board member, I respected and trusted the teachers. We still taught our children about church and religion at home, and answered the questions they asked, as best we could with what we knew and believed. We celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Nobody ever told me I couldn’t vote, or drink from a water fountain. Ever since I was fifteen, I had a job on Main Street. I went to college for fifty-nine years and have no student debt. I don’t mind paying taxes to the government for things I can’t do, or build, or make happen, by myself. I feel safe in Franklin and Williamson. Wherever I go I feel that I am among friends who have no intention of doing me any physical harm. I was in fourteen elections, won eleven and lost three which is better than some Democrats.

It doesn’t bother me that in my years of teaching Sunday school I couldn’t convert everybody in Franklin to the Church of Christ. I get along well now with Unitarians, and a few friends who might not believe in God, and some who might be a little too religious. Even as a Liberal Christian, I don’t feel persecuted. A few of my literate friends buy my books, many of whom are “not from around here” who found and befriended me on Facebook. I don’t feel guilty from the advantages that made my life disproportionally good, just fortunate, being at the right place, with the right people, at the right time in history. Nobody told me that never having known my father and being raised by a single mother was the proverbial and overrated gateway to greatness that people often claim. I wasn’t successful in spite of where I came from, but rather because of where I came from.

I don’t do a lot of praying, but I do a lot of thinking, and feeling about things and people. I do a lot of wishing and giving thanks, not out loud and not in complete sentences, but that seem like praying. I really don’t understand God, and the voices I hear in my head are probably not his. A long time ago in Boston, in school, in church, at home, sitting with my mother and grandmother, I decided that I believed in “Good.” That is not a misspelling. I equate and interchange that with my conversation about God. I don’t find any conflict or disharmony between my faith and reason, between the spiritual and the secular, or between law, logic, and love.

But this morning [November 14, 2015] I am angry, and I am sad, for the people in France, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Syria and throughout the Middle East, in Palestine and Israel, in theocratic Islamic countries, and for people who live in states, in cities, in neighborhoods, on streets and sidewalks, in homes without loving families and the basic needs and the peace and freedoms and education that sustain life.

Discontinue the May Republican Primary

Posted October 18, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Some of you may have read my book The South Side of Boston which includes a chapter called “Boston’s Two Republicans.” It is set in southern Williamson County in 1944. Our polling site at the school had an average of 40 to 60 votes cast in state and national elections. Only two voters were Republicans, the others were Democrats. Local elections did not include primaries and consequently party labels were not on the ballot. We assumed everyone was a Democrat, but it did not matter for local court house and administrative offices.

People ask me, “How and when did we become a Republican county.” We changed labels without having to change southern ideology, our religion, our cultural attitudes, or anything we had ever thought about anything. John Kennedy carried Williamson County with 62.4% of the vote in 1960, my first year to vote for a president. Four years later, Lyndon Johnson beat a more conservative Goldwater with 65.2%. It was President Johnson who said following the Voting Rights Act, “There goes the South.”

In 1968, the conservative Democratic vote went to George Wallace with 50.1% and as they say, “The rest is history.” In 1972, Nixon beat McGovern with 74.3% of the vote. Jimmy Carter held the conservative Democrats with 50.9%.

The most recent trends for Democratic candidates for President in Williamson County are as follows: Carter 51 and 42%, Mondale and Dukakis 27%, Clinton 32 and 33%, Gore 32%, Kerry 27%, and Obama 30 and 26%.

Beginning around the early 1980s the Williamson County Republican party initiated local primaries; local office holders embraced the Republican label to retain their offices, and since then Republican margins in presidential elections have ranged from 54% to 74%.

The Republican Primary for local offices is held in May every four years for the offices of County Commissioners, Sheriff, County Clerk, Judicial positions, and other Administrative offices. In the 2014 Republican Primary only 9% of registered voters voted. The Williamson County Democrats do not hold a May primary knowing they cannot win a local office with the Democratic label. Occasionally, someone runs in the August general as an Independent and is elected. Normally, 23 of the 24 commissioners are elected in the Republican Primary.

In Williamson County we do not register by party. Anyone can vote in the May Republican Primary. This has created a problem for Republicans. Democrats do not like to vote in that primary. The Republican Party is divided with traditional Republicans, including former Democrats, and a right-wing group on the other side. The right-wing is hard to define. We saw them turn out for the 2014 school board race and elect 6 very radical board members and we almost lost our Superintendent of schools. The attacks on the Superintendent were followed by attacks on textbooks and classroom instruction. The far right candidates gained 3 seats on the County Commission. The Republican Party chairman, one County Commissioner, and one Franklin Alderman have endorsed a right-wing candidate for Alderman in the October non-partisan Franklin municipal election.

The next scheduled Republican Primary for local offices would be in 2018. With a low turnout we are at risk of losing more seats on the County Commission. This could put the funding of our school districts at risk. We could lose some of our excellent judges and highly qualified and proficient administrative officials.

The Republican Party with their May primary has eliminated approximately 26% of registered voters with the exclusion of Williamson County Democrats. It would be better if the Party discontinued its May primary. Democrats can legally cast votes in that primary, but most are reluctant to do that, and many new voters do not know who the radical right candidates are. They don’t know the names of the people who show up at our school board meetings and candidate forum events. Potentially, with this schedule, 5 percent of registered voters could elect 23 County Commissioners in 2018.

So, what should we do? Moderate Republicans should begin a movement to discontinue the May Republican Primary. All local offices would be elected in the General Election in August. The voter turnout would be a minimum 20% and a potential 40 or 50% if there are contested State races. This would essentially dilute the power of the right wing—Americans for Prosperity, the 9/12 Project, the religious right, the tea party, Freedomworks, the Family Action Council Tennessee, right-wing talk radio, and the dozen or more key local players in random mischief and disruption in the county. Encourage your elected officials to discontinue this event and cancel the May 2018 local Republican Primary.


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