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Henry Louis Gates Jr, a distinguished professor at Harvard University, was arrested at his home after a neighbor saw him forcing open his back door and called the police.  According to news reports, the neighbor thought that someone was breaking into Gates’ house.

If that were the whole story, it would be a funny headline: “College Professor Arrested for Breaking Into Own Home.”  But that isn’t the whole story, because Gates is black.

So the story that’s presented to us now is that in a grave injustice, a “mild-mannered, bespectacled Ivy League professor who walks with a cane,” “one of the most recognizable African-Americans in the country” has been “pulled from his own home and arrested on a minor charge.”

But let’s think this through.

Did the police officers do something wrong by showing up?  How would Gates feel if someone had reported a break-in at his house and the police hadn’t shown up?  The fact is, Gates was breaking into the house.  His story is that upon returning home from a trip overseas he found his door obstructed, and he had to force it open.  So whoever called the police evidently thought that a break-in was in progress.  In an act of neighborly kindness they called the police in to protect Gates’ property.

Was Gates arrested simply for being black in his own home, as has been asserted?  No, he was arrested for and initially charged with disorderly conduct, or “loud and tumultuous behavior.”  The officer’s report of the arrest states that when he asked Gates to show identification, Gates replied “No I will not.”  Then he demanded the officer’s name and badge number three times, and when the officer tried to explain that he was investigating a report of a break-in, Gates “opened the front door and exclaimed, ‘Why, because I’m a black man in America?’”

Should the arresting officer have known who Gates was?  It shouldn’t have mattered.  In this country we still believe that no one is bigger than the law.  Nevertheless, Gates’ supporters ask us to consider his fame.  It has been said that he is “one of the most recognizable African Americans in the country,” (see CNN) but is he really?  Are there not at least 500 professional athletes, former athletes, entertainers, businesspeople, news presenters, and other private citizens who are more recognizable?  There certainly are that many, and probably more.

Finally, we should ask ourselves what Gates could have done differently to create a better outcome.  All indications are that Gates could have defused the entire situation by cooperating with the public servant who showed up at his front door that day, smiling and saying, “Thank you so much for coming out to protect my property, but it’s okay.  I live here.  See, here’s my drivers’ license.”

Unfortunately, as this episode has shown, some Americans aren’t ready for a post-racial society.


I’m going to cast my vote with this guy, even though he’s an Iowan.

He had a string of catchy pop songs that were hits. He was an innovative dancer. He was an extremely talented guy in his prime, which was long ago now.

But that’s it. In no way, shape or form does Michael Jackson deserve the incredibly vast attention he’s gotten the last week-and-a-half after his death, a death that probably was caused by his own foolishness.

The amount of coverage Jackson’s Tuesday funeral service in downtown Los Angeles will receive on national television and other media forms is absurd.

This was not a statesman. This was an entertainer. This was not someone who made important songs, who wrote important lyrics, who said important things, who did important things.

This was a celebrity, and an awfully silly one at that…”

For the full article:

David Letterman quipped on his show this week that Sarah Palin cultivates an image as a “slutty flight attendant” and then joked that when Palin and her daughter visited Yankee Stadium and watched a baseball game, an awkward moment arose when Palin’s daughter was “knocked up” by Yankees infielder Alex Rodriguez in the seventh inning.

Letterman isn’t always funny – in fact he hasn’t really been funny in years – but seldom has he stooped so low.

Sarah Palin is a lovely woman and millions of American women view her as a role model.  She is also an intelligent and accomplished woman, but her religious and political views have made her a favorite target of the left-wingers who dominate the American entertainment industry.  It’s no surprise that Letterman doesn’t like Governor Palin, but we may be forgiven for our surprise at the sliminess Letterman’s attack.  I’ve never heard Letterman link the word slutty to any other female politician, but maybe that’s because they just aren’t attractive enough to arouse him the way Palin does.

But the really disgusting moment, the moment when he really hit rock bottom, was the asinine joke about Governor Palin’s daughter getting impregnated by Alex Rodriguez.  Presumably Letterman and his overpaid writers assumed that Governor Palin was accompanied by her 18-year old daughter Bristol, who is an unwed mother.  At least that’s what he claims.  But the governor was actually accompanied by her 14-year old daughter Willow.  Consequently, Letterman was actually making a deroguatory sex joke about an underage girl.

In a lame attempt to get credit for an apology without actually making one, Letterman spoke about the incident during his monologue yesterday, making a variety of inane jokes that further illustrated his contempt for the entire Palin family.  He also said that he would “never ever” joke about a 14-year old girl being raped or otherwise engaging in any kind of sexual activity, but on the other hand, he did it in front of God and everybody.  And by the way, is it really so different to talk about an 18-year old in the same terms?

Personal note to Dave Letterman: Mr. Letterman, I’m no fan of yours.  You aren’t amusing and like I said before, you haven’t been in years.  So that you don’t think I have no sense of humor, I want you to know that I’m a big fan of your employee Craig Ferguson, who is funny in a way you have never been.  But you are just a huge jerk, a train wreck, and a laughingstock.  Most Americans aren’t laughing at your jokes any more, Dave Letterman.  They’re laughing at you.

“Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

It’s one of the best-known and most popular sayings of Jesus Christ, partly because it sounds so biblical, and partly because it’s such a useful retort for anyone who doesn’t want his behavior evaluated by others.  But what does it really mean?

As any first-year Bible student learns, the first key to understanding a passage is in evaluating the passage in context.  Understanding when and why the speaker said what He said, and reading what He said before and after what He said, can help us to more fully understand what He meant.

Here’s the context: Jesus is on a roll – He’s in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, described by the NIV Study Bible commentary as “the first of five great discourses in [the book of] Matthew.”  He’s just finished one of the most beautiful rhetorical flourishes in all of literature (“…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own”) and he’s beginning a new course of thought.  The statement from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, verses 1-5, as it appears in the NIV (New International Version) is as follows:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

So what does it mean?

First of all, it must be noted that Jesus was no ordinary street preacher.  His rhetorical skills were fantastic, and His philosophical point of view was so at odds with the paradigm that he helped to revolutionize Western thought, not to mention world religion.

Secondly, it’s worth mentioning that Jesus wasn’t (as far as we know) responding to a specific situation, as He so often did.  Instead He was giving a long discourse on lifestyles and attitudes.  He was speaking of the way that we ought to live, and explaining why.

The passage itself contains no admonition against judgement.  That’s obvious when one considers the last sentence (…then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”)  But it is a warning.  It’s an admonition that judging others will result in closer scrutiny of your own faults, and a not-too-veiled warning about the possible consequences.  It’s also clearly a call to the hearer or reader to clean up his own act, because a clear conscience gives him a better platform for evaluating and judging the world around him.

What does this all have to do with Eliot Spitzer?  Eliot Spitzer judged others; he found them to be errant in their behaviors, and he prosecuted them.  And he didn’t stop there, to quote the Wall Street Journal, he “made his career by specializing in not just the prosecution, but the ruin, of other men.”  Ironically, Governor Spitzer prosecuted those associated with prostitution with a particular gusto.  And his destruction of others makes his own fall all the more painful.

It is perhaps a great pity that Spitzer’s humiliation and cleansing will probably leave him better qualified to deal with the similar problems of others, as Jesus suggested.  But by then we will have discarded him.

What is the great principle at stake here?  There are several:

  1. Judgement is not a bad thing, but it can be a very dangerous thing for one who stands in judgement.
  2. Sympathy is in short supply because most people have no use for it until they need it themselves.
  3. Redemption isn’t an easy thing to achieve, partly because of what must precede it (conviction) and partly because of what often prevents it (pride).  But once granted, redemption is a great gift that can facilitate even greater achievements.

Mike Huckabee’s appearance on SNL last night was a complete success for the candidate and for the show.

The bit begins with Weekend Update anchors Seth Myers and Amy Pohler segueing from a previous item into a brief discussion of Huckabee’s unwillingness to leave the race for the presidential nomination.  Myers then introduces Huckabee, and inquires why Huckabee remains an active candidate.

A hilarious exchange ensues, with Myers playing the worldly-wise news anchor explaining the term “mathematical impossibility” to Huckabee while Huckabee feigns surprise and good-naturedly plays along as though he hadn’t understood the primary/caucus/delegate/convention system.  The bit ends with another gag, in which Huckabee announces that whatever happens, when it’s time for him to exit the contest he’ll know, and that he’ll “exit…with class and grace.”  Huckabee then misses several obvious cues that his appearance is over and the players are waiting for him to depart the set.

All in all it was a very clevely written and well-executed bit, and Huckabee pulled it off with great aplomb.  He seemed entirely comfortable and he was very well received by the audience.

The best thing about this appearance, though, was the way it poked fun at the conventional wisdom and showed Huckabee to be a humble and humorous fellow, willing to laugh at himself.  He hammed it up just enough to be funny, but he didn’t go to Jerry Lewis-land.  Hopefully it served notice to the powers that be that Huckabee is staying in the contest for the Republican contest, as he has said, until it’s resolved.

Why do I cover Mike Huckabee’s appearances on late-night TV?  Because it matters.

Huckabee, in a funny striped tie, appeared on the Late Show with Dave Letterman tonight, after Letterman and Tom Hanks chattered for about four hours.

Huckabee and Letterman shoot the breeze

Huckabee claimed not to be nervous, saying that if he won in New Hampshire tomorrow, he would give Letterman the credit, and if he lost he would give Letterman the blame.

He also quipped that aside form a sense of duty and the desire to serve, presidential candidates are drawn to the job by the “really nice house” they’ll get to live in if they win.

Letterman and Huckabee discussed their experiences in local broadcasting, with each sharing humorous stories of on-air glitches.

Asked by Letterman whether there were significant ideological differences between Iowa and New Hampshire, Huckabee replied that “At the end, what I find is that everybody is an American.”  He went on to explain his theory of “Vertical Politics,” which states essentially that Americans will elect someone from the left or the right, as long as they believe that the candidate will lead America upward, not downward.

All in all, this appearance by Huckabee was a good one, if short, but because he was shunted to the end of the program when all but the most diehard fans and a few potheads are watching, Huckabee probably won’t receive much benefit from it.

Huckabee and Leno pal around

Mike Huckabee appeared to hit all his marks during his appearance on The Tonight Show (NBC) on Wednesday, January 2.

Huckabee got laughs and appreciative applause from the audience several times, but perhaps the most enthusiastic response came when the bass guitar playing ex-governor from Arkansas joined Music Director Kevin Eubanks and the Tonight Show band for a bluesy session during a commercial break.  Huckabee’s playing was solid and Eubanks appeared appropriately impressed, high-fiving Huckabee as the show came back from the commercial break.  Huckabee could be heard exclaiming, “That was fun!” as he returned to his seat next to Leno’s desk.

Other moments that stood out:

Leno asked Huckabee how got into politics:

“…the honest-and-serious answer is that…I saw life and a perspective in the church that I think very few people get to see.  You see every single social pathology that’s out there.  Nothing is abstract to you.  You put a name and a face on everything, and I…began to believe that so many people making decision that affect the way we live, the way our future would be governed, didn’t have a clue about how people were really struggling…there were a lot of folks making decisions [who] didn’t understand poverty, hunger, or disease.  They didn’t understand the challenges that people had in their families, and for my own three children, who were small at the time, I decided I don’t want to spend the rest of my life complaining about what ‘they’ are doing.  And I finally thought it’s time to get out of the stands and on the field and get my jersey dirty.”

Leno asked Huckabee about his commitment to positive campaigning, and the affect on his campaign of other candidates’ negative advertising:

“Oh, it’s politics.  I mean, that’s what politics is about.  I tell people that, if you can’t stand the sight of your own blood, don’t run for anything, just buy a ticket and watch it from the stands. (laughter)  Because this is a full-contact sport.  No doubt about it.

Leno asked Huckabee about a negative ad that his campaign created, but which he refused to run:

“We had been hammered.  We had been outspent 20 to 1 in Iowa.  20 to 1…we just kept getting hammered with negative television ads, negative radio ads, and mail pieces.  And finally, decided ‘We had better answer this, or somebody is going to believe all this stuff.’  …then he (rival Mitt Romney) started hammering John McCain over in New Hampshire.  John McCain may be a rival of mine in the presidential race, but I have nothing but respect for him.  He’s a great American hero…so we put together an ad and taped the tape, got it all ready.  We were going to release it at a press conference, and Monday I just didn’t feel right.  We had gotten to where we are by being positive and talking about what this country needs to be rather than what’s wrong with the other guys…”

Leno asked Huckabee about his support for the Fair Tax:

“We would have a consumption tax rather than a tax on productivity.”

Leno: “Value-added?”

Huckabee: “It really wouldn’t be a V.A.T.  It’s a simple like a sales tax at the point of retail sales…You, first of all, eliminate the underground economy.  So everybody is paying — drug dealers, prostitutes, gamblers — all those people pay like the rest of us.” 

Leno: “What about a poor person…how much is this tax?” 

Huckabee: “It’s 23%.  But here’s the thing.  Every person receives a ‘prebate’ of the taxes that they would have on the level of the poverty, which means that what you really do with this Fair Tax, which is what it’s called, is you untax the poor.  They don’t pay taxes, which means it’s really a progressive tax system.  That’s why i love it, because it would take the people least able to afford the taxes, and it virtually untaxes them.  Here’s what it also does.  It frees people up to earn as much as they want.  You don’t get taxed on income, savings, investments, capital gains, or debt.”