Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Hebron Crossroads 7-04-04
By Jeff Gill

John Adams, writing to his beloved Abigail from the Second Continental Congress in 1776, said of the resolution declaring America’s independence from Great Britain, that this day should in future years “be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other. . .”

He was talking, of course, about July the. . .Second. The resolution was signed by most of the delegates on July the. . .Eighth.

But on the Fourth of July, the document was read in public for the first time: good enough! Let the pomps and illuminations freely fly along with our flags!

A few drips of news, then a flood of opinion.

Locally, we’ve had some unexpected and tragic deaths, including a few young adults and children. As a help to Lakewood area parents, teachers, and family members, the school district will hold an evening event this Tuesday, July 6, at 7:00 pm in Lakewood Middle School on “Helping Students Cope With the Loss of a Friend/Classmate.” If you would like to hear more about how to help students deal with the loss of someone they knew, then this panel discussion is for you.

This professionally led program is free and open to the public. Like the Monday morning reading program at Hebron Elementary, this is another reminder that your Lakewood School District staff is working year-round for you, even when school itself is not formally in session.

Good news for Buckeye Lake Village, and they’re due some: Congressman Bob Ney has asked for $350,000 in federal funds to help the village water project move to the next level. Congratulations to Mayor Frank Foster and others who did the leg work and put forward a coherent proposal that made it possible for Mr. Ney to pull the ends together and tie them up in a bow.

Our entire area will benefit from an economically healthier Buckeye Lake, and municipal water is a vital next step to that kind of stability and solid development.

And from the subterranean to the cosmic. . .if you find space at all fascinating, then you want to point your web browsers for the next week at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov for the ongoing updates on the Cassini/Huygens spacecraft and probe.

The unmanned scientific craft will be going “up” through a gap in the rings of Saturn as you receive this, and then will loop ‘round and ‘round the planet making close approaches to the moons of Saturn like Titan and Enceladus. Cassini is already so close to the solar system’s second largest planet that it can no longer take pictures of the entire sphere, but only segments across the viewfinder.

Now, back to earth, and on into the treacherous vast wastes of. . .my opinions.
Columbus, that neighbor of ours to the west you may have heard of, recently made a controversial move through their board of health and city council. Smoking is now banned in all public places, plus within 20 feet of entrances.

To what I suspect will be the amazement of many of my friends and acquaintances, I think this is ridiculous. Really.

A word of background: I am horribly allergic to cigarette smoke, and not only do not smoke, but feel my sinuses slamming shut like a bank vault (a bank vault with a severe drainage problem, that is) and my eyeballs protruding from their sockets just on getting a goodly whiff downwind of a smoker’s exhalation. As a pastor, I’ve spent way too much time praying with families who are watching a beloved family member die by inches and half-drawn breaths. I’ve listened to folk in tears as they admit their shame and disgust in not being able to stop smoking. More recently, I’ve heard nurses tell me as my shattered elbow was inspected post-surgery that smokers usually take twice as long to heal in skin and bones, aside from the illnesses they obviously cause.

Hear where I’m comin’ from?

Nevertheless. To ban smoking from public buildings, yes. To ban or severely limit smoking in public spaces where large numbers of people come and gather, and where folks likely have little choice about coming occasionally or bringing children, OK. (I’m thinking grocery stores, banks, large retail outlets, etc.)

But if a business wants to test the market for ash-befouled goods or blue-hazed atmosphere, whether eating, drinking, bowling, or any other such establishment where you or I could go our whole lives and never enter if we choose not to, I stand concerned if not outright in opposition. Somewhere south of this new ordinance, a line got crossed. I’m not certain where I’d put that line, but. . .

The problem is basically one of zero-tolerance, mandatory, no exceptions thinking, which I believe is actually a phenomenon of not thinking. The ages old complaint “there’s no common sense anymore” isn’t new (Hammurabi, Cicero, and John Adams all complained of it), but there’s also a chicken-and-egg side to the problem. If we start acting and judging and regulating on the assumption that no one can use judgement and common sense, then people will continue living down to that expectation, and past it a bit.

I disagree with mandatory minimum sentencing: not because I think we have a surplus of restrained, reasonable judges (far from it), but because you change the entire courtroom dynamic of trial and sentencing (or plea bargain and probation) when the final phase is simply a checklist for the functionary in black robes to follow.

I disagree with almost every schoolhouse zero tolerance protocol I’ve ever heard of: not because every school superintendent or administrator is a paragon of Solomonic wisdom (ask Licking Valley), but because some kids need the book thrown at them, and others need a book handed to them during a judiciously applied suspension, and we need to back up our administrators when they try creative ways to redirect what is often high spirits and hormonal overload. Will some parents threaten lawsuits if penalties aren’t cookbook identical across the board? Sure, and that’s where we need school boards with common sense and steel vertebrae as well.

And I disagree with mindless universal protocols for medical care overseen by a clerk with an MBA on a phone three states away, versus the wisdom of an MD who has my broken arm and X-rays right in front of their face. Oh, you thought I forgot about HMO’s from last week’s column, did you? Youbetchabuddy I remembered!

A person, with multiple fractures through bone (yes, it was stabilized, and yes, it was a closed fracture, meaning I wasn’t bleeding on the carpeting) confirmed by X-ray and an ER doc, has to go to their PCP before visiting the OS who immediately schedules you for an OR PDQ? You know we’re talking about HMO’s when there are that many acronyms in a couple of paragraphs.

I also vocally disagree with no exceptions to “may I have your phone number” when making a purchase or “please provide your home address” when purchasing tickets for performance events or “enter your household income” registering for access to web sites (I get “why” the zip code question, and will comply with that, but no further!). If there’s no room in the computer system for sales clerk discretion for customers who don’t want to share personal information to see a movie or buy a cable, I owe it to that business to keep my economic activity from overburdening their oddly prioritized time.

For all of these situations, what I welcome are choices that allow the market to shape policy in tandem with the public good, but with the public good defined as starting with individual freedom, not ending with liberty as a luxury we get to keep if it doesn’t conflict with an assortment of other “expert defined” goods.

Personally, if I never have to enter another smoky bowling alley or nicotine stained eating establishment, the better. And if packs o’ smokes were taxed to cover the actual measurable costs of the medical care associated with cigarettes, we’d likely have fewer smokers and less cost-shifting insurance bureaucracy.

But telling Ma’s Diner or Choo-choo’s Pool Hall to ban smoking starts to edge over into territory that in turn is way to close to a land where a friendly government official asks to review my Sunday sermons for their “positive thoughts quotient.”

Let’s use some common sense and know when we’re free to just stay out of each other’s airspace, without any enforcement or officialdom needed. Keep your cancer sticks downwind, I’ll avoid smoke-filled businesses while going about with the Little Guy, and if you don’t want to listen to me preach, you can just turn the p. . . . .

Jeff Gill is pastor of Hebron Christian Church and observer of Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons; if you have an astronomical question for these clear, cool summer nights or news of local interest, call 928-4066 or e-mail disciple@voyager.net.

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