Archive for July, 2010

In Ireland, the past is always present

Michael Collins

DUBLIN, IRELAND, July 29 — “The past is never dead,” the Irish-American novelist William Faulkner wrote. “It is not even past.”

That is especially true in Ireland, which never forgets.

History is alive in Dublin. Visitors are reminded of it every day, everywhere. From graffiti that says “Up the IRA” to pictures of revolutionary leaders in local pubs, the reminders are hard to miss.

On our second night in Dublin, my friend Randy Norris and I were listening to a session by a Celtic group at O’Neill’s when the singer introduced a song about the marriage of Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford at Kilmainham Gaol 10 minutes before he was executed by firing squad for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising. Two days later, on Sunday, we visited the jail chapel where the wedding took place.

Plunkett’s death on his wedding day was a romantic tragedy that helped turn Irish public opinion in favor of the rebels. Before that day, the people of Dublin jeered and spat at the 14 condemned prisoners, our tour guide said.

Another turning point was the later execution of James Connelly, who had been wounded in the Rising. Already near death from an infected leg wound, he was taken from a hospital to the jail’s courtyard, and was so weak he had to be strapped to a chair before he was shot. These shootings “horrified and outraged” the people, our guide said. Eighty-four years later, the guide, a young Irishwoman, was still outraged. You could hear it in her voice and see it in her eyes.

Like the other tour guides we met, she didn’t want to be quoted, she said, because her views were “political.”

Although the Easter Rising was a failure that was crushed by 4,000 British troops, it eventually led to the achievement of its goal of an Irish republic independent of Britain. But not until after a bloody civil war that claimed the life of Michael Collins, the charismatic military leader of the 1916 rebellion who had fought the British Empire to a stalemate and negotiated the treaty that divided Ireland, with the six counties of Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom and the remaining 26 counties becoming the Irish Free State, a self-governing dominion within the British Commonwealth.

Eamon De Valera, the proclaimed republican leader of 1916 and the last prisoner at Kilmainham, led the fight against the Free State, but later became its president, and then president of the republic that was established peacefully in 1949. It is  one of the ironies of history, however, that it is Michael Collins, not De Valera, who lives on in the hearts of the Irish people as a hero.

Collins and his speeches were prominent in Sean O’Casey’s play about the Rising, “The Plough and the Stars,” which we saw at the Abbey Theater on Saturday. It has been performed there since the 1920s. The night we were there, the theater was filled, mostly by Dubliners who wanted to be reminded of their history.

Post Office at Glendalough. Photo by Randy Patrick

Just a short distance from The Brazen Head, a pub with no fewer than three portraits of Michael Collins hanging on its walls, stands St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the see of the Anglican Church for all of Ireland, north and south. From its walls still hang British flags, and there are memorials to the Irish fusiliers and Royal Air Force pilots who fought for England in the two world wars. The cathedral is a unionist, or orange, enclave in a sea of nationalist green.

Even the Victorian-era post boxes, which were once red, have been painted green — another reminder of the country’s former ties to England. But the signs on the post offices, which are painted the same shade of bright green, say Oifig an Poist in Gaelic. The revival of the once dormant Gaelic language is yet another of the many ways that the past is present in Ireland.

Gerson: Republicans riding a risky wave

Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and now a columnist for The Washington Post, has long been one of the leading voices of “compassionate conservatism.”  His 2008 book, “Heroic Conservatism: Why Republicans Need to Embrace America’s Ideals,” was one of those that most influence my political thinking.

In his most recent column for the Post, Gerson argues that if the Republican Party, which is in a position to make huge gains in the 2010 election, embraces the tea party movement and radical libertarianism, it “rides a massive wave toward a rocky shore.”

“A party that is intimidated and silent in the face of its extremes is eventually defined by them,” he warns.

In the July 9 column, Gerson notes that President Barack Obama’s once high approval rating has fallen to below 40 percent, in part, because he “mistook his election as a mandate for the pent-up liberalism of his party.” Now some Republican activists are about to make a similar, but even worse mistake, he says.

He gives the example of Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle, who quotes Thomas Jefferson’s radical views favoring violent, French-style revolution, and advocating “Second Amendment remedies” to deal with a Congress she sees as tyrannical. This is hardly conservative in the usual sense of the word.

Gerson, whose grandfather was a Nazarene preacher in Kentucky, also brings up the candidacy of Rand Paul, whose contact with the media has been minimal since he suggested that property rights should trump basic human rights. His campaign’s fear is not that he will make mistakes, but that he will simply reveal his true political views, he says.

The columnist makes the case that libertarianism is not only not real conservatism, but is “a scandal.” It is, he points out, a “retreat from the most basic social commitments to the weak, the elderly and the disadvantaged, along with a withdrawal from American global commitments.”

This view is similar to one I expressed in one of my columns during the May primary election, “Will the real Republican Party please stand up,” which garnered public anger from some tea party advocates but private gratitude from some true conservatives.

I agree with Gerson that Republicans are positioned  to win a landslide in November. But that could be the worst thing that could happen to the party in the long run, because if they make the same mistake Newt Gingrich did in 1994 and see their victory as a mandate for revolution, there will be a backlash.

The United States is neither a conservative nor a liberal nation. It is a moderate, centrist one, and until our political representatives understand that fact, we will continue to have a bipolar political system with violent lurches from one side to the other, bitter partisanship and gridlock, which only increases the electorate’s anger over their leaders’ inability to compromise in order to solve real problems.

Yard sales should be regulated

My mom and the Sun’s ad staff will want to smack me for this, but I’m going to write it anyway.
Yard sales are out of control and need to be regulated.
There, I said it.
Drive down any residential street in Winchester or anywhere else on a Friday or Saturday, and chances are someone will back her heavily loaded minivan into the path of your oncoming car, causing you to slam on your brakes, then proceed at a crawl down the street before pulling into another driveway.
Every weekend you’ll see bright orange, hot pink and shocking green cardboard signs littering light poles, and colored balloons blowing from mailboxes.
And if you thought you were moving into a quiet, serene neighborhood, guess again. If your next-door neighbor has gotten the yard sale bug, your morning slumber will be interrupted by big, noisy diesel trucks pulling up in front of your house at 6 a.m. or earlier.
When I worked at Transylvania University in 1993-94, I lived on the third floor of an apartment building adjacent to Gratz Park. My neighbors on the first floor didn’t have a garage or a yard, but that didn’t keep them from having a garage/yard sale about every weekend. They would evidently go buy stuff at other yard sales, then cram it into the front room of their tiny efficiency, and some of it would spill out onto the walkway, steps and parking lot, so that other residents couldn’t enjoy their morning coffee outside their front doors or easily get to their cars to escape the madness.
One morning this week, while on the way to work, I noticed a resident was having a downtown sidewalk sale on Main Street. But I doubt that he had a license to set up shop.
A yard sale should be something you have once every few years to get rid of junk you don’t need anymore. It shouldn’t be a business.
That’s what some city officials would like to address with some proposed rules.
I say it’s about time.
According to Mike Wynn’s story in Wednesday’s Sun, the city has gotten complaints from residents about continuous yard sales that have been going on all summer. Some sell packaged merchandise. That isn’t a yard sale, Commissioner Rick Beach noted, it’s a “flea market.”
One resident, Don Spicer, said yard sale advertising in public rights of way have become unsightly.
City Manager Ken Kerns has recommended capping the number of yard sales a resident can have and the number of days they can last. He also suggested a permit and a fee to help pay for the cost of policing the sales.
Those seem to me like reasonable suggestions, as long as the fee is only a small amount. Most people who have yard sales to just get rid of a few things they need shouldn’t have to pay so much that it isn’t worth it to sell the stuff.
However, donating gently used clothes, appliances and other things that are in good condition to Goodwill or Community Services is another a way of getting rid of things you don’t want anymore, and the tax deduction might amount to as much as you would get for selling them to your neighbors or flea market vendors.

Fantastic Fourth

Having Clark County’s Fourth of July celebration on the third has turned out to be a good decision.
Despite concerns about having enough money to pull it off in a year that has been hard for nearly everybody, organizers found willing and generous supporters to contribute the amount needed and the result was a patriotic celebration at Lykins Park honoring our military men and women and emergency service personnel, some great gospel and country music and a spectacular fireworks show.
It was a good reminder that regardless of how bad the economy is, we are a strong community in a strong country, and it’s a good thing to remember our blessings.

Contact Managing Editor Randy Patrick at

Immigrants: The hands that built America

Hands that built America: a Mexican migrant farmworker

From the stony fields

to hanging steel from sky

… These are the hands

that built America

— U2

We Americans love our country, but many are enamored of a myth of an America where people were once mostly alike.

The real America is a land of diversity and opportunity, a nation of immigrants who make up the beautiful kaleidoscope of our culture and the strength of our people.

It is the America made memorable by the stirring words of poet Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty that end with, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

It is the America that the Irish rock band U2 evokes in its images about Irish immigrants to New York in “The Hands That Built America.”

But I’m haunted by the questions in that song: “Of all of the promises, is this one we could keep? Of all of the dreams, is this one still out of reach?”

We should remember that it was the hungry Irish who were “hanging steel from sky” in Manhattan in the 20th century and the Chinese who laid steel for the railroads in the 19th century.

Today it’s Mexicans who build our houses, Guatemalans and Vietnamese who harvest our vegetables and fish, Pakistanis and Ukrainians who staff our hospitals, and a man of Kenyan descent who leads our nation.

We have always been a pluralistic society, and that is the source of our vitality as a nation.

But the descendants of some early immigrants want to close the door behind them. Hostility to foreigners is rampant today, and it is what is fueling the harsh rhetoric about immigration.

There’s no doubt that Arizona has a problem with illegal immigrants, some of whom carry illegal drugs into this country. But that is no excuse for the state to enact a law that makes racial profiling legal.

In Texas, where it’s common to hear derogatory remarks about “wet-backs,” Anglos should remember that at the time of the Battle of the Alamo, it was their ancestors, not the Mexicans, who were the illegal immigrants, and that we seized the American southwest from Mexico.

Some of the Hispanic families who are in what is now California and New Mexico were there before the United States was even a nation.

Let’s have a little perspective.

Before the 2008 election, President George W. Bush supported a moderate immigration bill that would make it easier for the 11 million illegals who were already here to get legal status, while making enforcement more stringent. The proposal had the support of conservatives like John McCain and liberals like the late Ted Kennedy, but it was defeated because some politicians, responding to the prejudices of some of their constituents, wanted a harsher approach.

This week, President Barack Obama also proposed a reasonable approach to comprehensive immigration reform. It lays out a path for citizenship for those “yearning to breathe free.”

How Congress and the American people react to the latest proposal will say much about our nation.

Real immigration reform must be realistic. It must hold businesses accountable for hiring illegal immigrants and exploiting them, but it must also make it easier for migrant farm workers and others to get temporary legal status, and it must face the reality that a country of 300 million people can’t just round up one of every 30 or so people and send them “home.”

We must decide: Will we be a nation led by the modern equivalent of the Know Nothings, or will we be the nation that still lifts its lamp beside the golden door?

Is the American dream a promise we still intend to keep?

July 2010
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