6 months ago

We’ll ruffle feathers here – and kick some a-, uh, Mules

 

Alabama’s governing systems are a collective mess.

Many of my columns here at Yellowhammer will detail that mess – or those messes – and unflinchingly will advocate reforms, no matter whose toes get stomped or whose power bases get challenged.

I write as a lifelong, committed Madisonian conservative. Put the stress on “Madisonian,” which means I promote a philosophy, not an ideology. (For the difference, please read Eric Hoffer, Richard Weaver, and C.S. Lewis, among others, and also please review the actual practices of Ronald Reagan.) This means that while principles endure, mere opinions must be based in facts – and those opinions ought to be modifiable, at least at the edges, by empirical evidence.

As I wrote in an essay for a college publication more than 30 years ago, “such a conservatism is open both to question and to questing, to discussion without repercussion, not because it feels it is wrong but because it always strives to be more right.”

Within those parameters, though, opinions can still be both strong and strongly expressed. After nearly two decades of covering Alabama stories, I enter this new forum with the following opinions that, while open to further review, are currently quite strong.

First, Alabama’s state Constitution may be the worst such document in American history. Convoluted, complicated, counterproductive, and absurdly long, it desperately needs major revision and simplification. Indeed, if it were practical, Alabamans should trash the whole thing and start over, but as a practical man I accept that is an unlikely undertaking.

Second, Alabama’s government is far too centralized rather than open to local innovations, which makes it both ossified and much more easily corruptible. It also allows a small number of groups – often known as the “Big Mules” – to wield inordinate power. Now, sometimes they happen to wield it for good purposes. But if they don’t, they should be taken down a peg or two hundred.

Third, even hard-line conservatives should recognize that many solemn obligations of state government are seriously underfunded here. Among them are prisons/jails, the mental health system, some sheriffs and law enforcement agencies, and (due to federal mandates) Medicaid. One way or another, whether via savings elsewhere or new revenue sources, those functions should be fully supported. (Any conservative who is allergic to the very word “tax,” by the way, isn’t a real conservative.)

Fourth, while Alabama state government is comparatively lean, the first (but not only) focus for those wanting to meet the solemn obligations above should indeed be savings elsewhere, not new taxes. As a former staffer on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee when in just two years it was saving what was then a huge $50 billion in domestic discretionary spending (actual dollars, not merely from some projected “rate of increase”), I have no patience with government waste.

Fifth, to better apply savings from some areas to needs in other areas, state government absolutely must be allowed to modify its system of constitutionally earmarking an absurdly high percentage of its revenues. The entire idea of representative government is that the general public must entrust at least some significant discretion – must indeed delegate real authority – to those it elects to office.

Sixth, Alabama’s tax system is badly unbalanced and horribly regressive. Both state government and local governments rely far too heavily on sales taxes, and a bit too lightly on property taxes. Alabama could cut the former a bit and hike the latter just a smidgen and still be near the very bottom of states in property-tax burden while still among the highest in sales-tax burden. That last sentence isn’t mere opinion; it’s empirical fact.

Seventh, Alabama’s educational system vastly under-performs; its central bureaucracy is badly bloated; and its state school board and community of administrators are horribly incestuous (figuratively speaking). Indeed, the current state board is an embarrassment. Meanwhile, the state’s adoption of Common Core, and abandonment of full funding for the Alabama Math Initiative and Alabama Reading Initiative, reversed real progress in educational attainments, so that Alabama is again one of the worst performing states in the union.

Eighth, the truth(s) of race relations and racism in Alabama is/are far more complicated than almost anybody admits. Bigotry here is far less prevalent than most of the rest of the country believes, but still definitely more prevalent than most Alabamans readily acknowledge. (It also befouls us, at least somewhat, from more than one direction or ethnic subgroup.) Meanwhile, race relations also are more nuanced than either the national critics or the state deniers would concede.

Ninth, on the plus side, and amidst a general paucity of truly excellent elected officials, Alabama also has boasted (in just the 20 years I’ve been here) a few of the finest public servants I’ve come across in my entire life. (I was born into a very political family, 53 years ago.) I won’t name those still active in politics today, because I’ll be covering them and there’s always the chance they’ll screw up. But as I write these columns I’ll surely be dropping the names of those who are retired or passed away – the late state Sen. Hap Myers of Mobile comes to mind – because, even though Alabama’s government needs improvement, that doesn’t negate the many things and people of which it should be proud. And as with some public figures, so with its culture: For all my current criticisms, Alabama is a magnificent state with wonderful people, and I intend to trumpet our great strengths to a national audience.

Tenth and finally, and even writing as a huge, lifelong fan of football, I must insist that Alabamans in general are far too obsessed with football, to the absolute detriment of education and the broader culture. (And Nick Saban is overpaid)….

Okay, now I’ll show myself through the door, before I’m tarred, feathered, blitzed, and body-slammed. But please do watch this space. There’s lot of ground to cover.

Yellowhammer Contributing Editor Quin Hillyer, of Mobile, also is a Contributing Editor for National Review Online, and is the author of Mad Jones, Heretic, a satirical literary novel published in the fall of 2017, available via Amazon.

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Alabama figure skater-turned-coach back home after Olympic, World Championships run

John Zimmerman IV says he wears his emotions on his sleeve. They were never more apparent than they were recently as he spoke at the  Homewood Grown fundraiser for Homewood schools.

“There are certain trigger points that just overwhelm me,” the Homewood native said. “I hold dear to what people do, how they support you. I think about it as they do it and I appreciate it.

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“Being in this environment, seeing all the great work teachers are doing, you are impacted by watching them touch lives.”

The figure skater-turned-coach was most moved as he talked about former Homewood High School Principal Jack Farr, who adjusted Zimmerman’s curriculum to allow him to pursue his dream. He followed that dream, with skating partner Kyoko Ina, to a fifth-place finish in the 2002 Olympics in pairs figure skating and a third-place showing that year in the World Championships.

“I found a few old stories but the main impact was the vision the principal, Jack Farr, had for me in the mid-‘80s,” he said. “It wasn’t the norm, especially in the pre-Internet age, to have that vision.”

These days, Zimmerman lives in Wesley Chapel, Florida, which is part of the Tampa Bay metro area. He and his wife, Italian-American skater Silvia Fontana, have two daughters, Sofia and Eva, and a son, John Luther, who’s known to most as Jack.

The couple teach and coach figure skating in Wesley Chapel but Zimmerman’s coaching has taken him to the same heights he reached as a skater.
He coached the French team of Morgan Ciprès and Vanessa James to a fifth-place showing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Shortly thereafter, the coach and his skaters were getting set for the World Championships in Milan, Italy. Their preparation for that event was complicated by a commitment to skate in an exhibition in Grenoble, France, for the French Federation.

Their dream of earning a medal at the World Championships took a hit when Ciprès hurt his neck, which kept him from performing any of the lifts in their routine.

“(They did) just enough to get through the obligation they had to do in France,” Zimmerman said. “When they got back, there were 2½ weeks before we had to leave (for the World Championships). He couldn’t move at all. My sister’s a massage therapist and we had the Tampa Bay Lightning chiropractor working on him for about a week. They finally got enough movement going so he could do a few lifts right before we left.”

The pair wound up placing third at the World Championships, coincidentally matching what Zimmerman and Ina had done in their competitive days.

“Now they plan to stay for another year or two, as opposed to retiring as they thought they were going to do,” Zimmerman said. “They are finally feeling their groove and they’re going to stick with it for a while. Maybe we can get the world title.”

The coach is pleased to continue his work in Wesley Chapel. But there was talk of him coming home to Homewood.

“The to-be-continued thing would be if we could get an ice rink built in Homewood,” he said. “We joke about it in conversations on nights like this, but I think that would be interesting to talk about in the future.

“They joke about trying to get me back,” he continued. “They need to build an ice rink to get me back. I’d help them plan that out.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 hours ago

VIDEO: GOP candidates debate without Ivey — Birmingham claims the legislature is racially discriminating — Donald Trump has a great week … and more on Guerrilla Politics!

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Dr. Waymon Burke take you through this week’s biggest political stories including:

— Did any of Gov. Kay Ivey’s challengers damage her in the latest GOP Gubernatorial debate?

— Can Birmingham actually block legislation from the state legislature over perceived racial issues?

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— Is this the week they FINALLY nail Donald Trump? (SPOILER: No)

State Representative Will Ainsworth joins Jackson and Burke to discuss the his candidacy for Lieutenant Governor and his controversial bill that would allow trained teachers to carry in Alabama schools.

Jackson closes the show with a “Parting Shot” directed at Democrats who keep talking about Roy Moore after GOP voters rejected him.

3 hours ago

How Christians can deal with the challenges of technology

The longer I’ve wrestled with the challenges of digital technology in my life and in the lives of others, the more convinced I’ve become that the ultimate answer is not “no technology” or “more technology,” but “more theology.”

If we want a deep, lasting, and spiritual solution, we need to learn and teach deep, lasting, and spiritual truths. Digital theology is the answer to digital technology; the oldest truths are the best rebuttal to the newest challenges.

Here are a few ways that understanding more of who God is can change our digital habits.

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God is Three-in-One

More Trinity is more effective than more technology. “Seriously?” you might say, “You think the Trinity is the solution to technology?” Partly, yes. The three persons of the Godhead enjoy perfect relationship with one another and seek to share that relationship with us, inviting us into that sacred community.

Digital theology is the answer to digital technology; the oldest truths are the best rebuttal to the newest challenges.

The Father, Son, and Spirit’s relationships with one another are characterized by love, trust, openness, and communication. Isn’t that the model for our relationships, especially with our children, particularly when it comes to technology? Isn’t that what we want to cultivate and emulate? The healthier relationships we have with our children, the healthier relationship they will have with technology. Deeper relationships are more effective than more detailed rules.

Additionally, this Three-in-Oneness is not just a relationship to copy, but a relationship to be enjoyed. We are invited to enter into that communion, to live in that holy family. The more we do that, the more the Trinity will replace technology; or, at least, regulate it so that our relationship to it is more balanced and beneficial.

God is good

Sometimes we can view technology with such terror that we give the impression that it’s all “of the devil.” No, technology is a wonderful gift of God. We are blessed to live in such times and benefit so much from the role of technology in our daily lives. How many lives have been saved by cellphones? How many separated families have been kept together by Skype and FaceTime? How many sermons and lectures have been spread around the world by Christian ministries?

The devil didn’t create and invent this. God did, as the giver of every good and perfect gift. Sure, the devil abuses the gift; sure, we pervert it into sinful uses. But none of that changes the fact that God created the materials, the forces, and the brains that have produced so much beneficial technology. The more we recognize that technology is a gift of God, the more we will abhor taking his gift and using it against him; the more we will take this gift and use it as he intended.

God is all-knowing

Our parents or spouses can’t see everything or be everywhere. Accountability software can be circumvented and our accountability partners duped. But we can’t escape, circumvent, or dupe the all-seeing eye of God. He sees everything: every place, every second, every screen, every click, every tap. He has a daily report of all the sites we visited, all the messages we sent, all the Instagram accounts we follow. Remembering that he knows makes a huge difference.

The more we can remind ourselves of God’s omnipresence and omniscience, the more we will seek to use technology in a way that gives him pleasure and not in a way that provokes his wrath. Yes, our technology use can please God. He delights to see truth instead of falsehood on Facebook, to hear sermons streaming across the world, and to observe our online witness to unbelievers.

God is Judge

God’s knowledge of us is not being filed away in some dusty cabinet or distant server that will one day be lost or wiped. No, as Judge, he will one day call us to account not just for every idle word, but for every idle and idol click, for every second spent in pointless time-wasting. We may silence our internal judge, our conscience; we may outsmart our earthly judges, our parents and accountability partners; but we shall never escape the judgment of God. Let his discerning judgment help you make discerning judgments in your use of technology

God is Savior

Sometimes guilt stops sin; our consciences pain us and warn us to change our ways. More times, guilt multiplies sin; it leaves us hopeless and despairing. We’ve sinned yet again with our cellphone, failed once more on our iPad. We feel so condemned, what’s the point in trying anymore? We’ve sinned so much; what harm will another sin do?

Guilt also multiplies sin by creating distance between ourselves and God. It alienates us and separates us from God, making sin all the easier. That’s why we need to hear about salvation, grace, and forgiveness all over again.

Nothing deters sin like the forgiveness of sin because it not only removes guilt, it also multiples love for the Forgiver. The more we can embrace forgiveness, the more we embrace the Forgiver, the more love to (and from) Christ we will enjoy.

God is powerful

Sometimes we can feel like giving up the battle against the dangers of technology. We look at the forces ranged against us and our children and ask, “What’s the point?” What am I against so much?” We’re right, the forces are too many and too mighty. However, greater is he who is with us than he who is with them.

With God all things are possible, and he loves to demonstrate his possibility, especially in our impossibility. His power is made especially manifest in our weakness. When we feel and confess our helplessness, that’s when he moves in with his almighty power. He can keep us and our children. He is able and mighty to save. He can also give us and all our children the Holy Spirit to resist temptation and to do what is right and good. His Spirit is far more influential than the spirit of the age.

God is wise

Sometimes we might be tempted to think God did not foresee this massive moral and spiritual challenge, that he did not anticipate it, and, therefore, has nothing in his Word to help us. After all, the Bible was written thousands of years ago. What can the papyrus age say to the digital age?

Thankfully God did foresee, he did anticipate, and has put sufficient truth in the Bible to guide us through this minefield. Many New Testament verses on Christian ethics can be applied to technology, but I’ve found the book of Proverbs especially helpful as a source of divine wisdom for the digital age. Why not read through it asking God for light on how to apply these ancient wisdom principles to modern times. God is wiser than the wisest tech moguls and has anticipated every development in technology until the end of time. We will never reach a day when we say, “Well the Bible has run out of truth?”

I’ve only scratched the surface here, but I hope you’re persuaded that the ultimate answer to digital technology is a robust digital theology.

(Courtesy ERLC)

4 hours ago

Pearson Education’s latest AP history textbook says Christians and Conservatives are racists

An AP U.S. History textbook slated for distribution in 2019 reportedly contains anti-Trump bias and says Christians and conservatives are racists and xenophobes.

Radio host Alex Clark of WNOW’s “The Joe and Alex Show” posted photos of the book and its contents on Twitter after publisher Pearson Education sent samples of the book to public schools to encourage school administrations to purchase it, according to Fox News. The textbook features sections on the Black Live Matter movement and the 2016 presidential elections in which author New York University Professor James Fraser portrays Christians, conservatives, and President Donald Trump supporters as bigots who fear non-white ethnicities.

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“There are specific parts where it goes off the rails from a historical textbook toward an op-ed,” Minnesota Rosemount High School student Tarra Snyder told Fox News.

“It was really, really surprising to me. I really believe that learning should be objective and that students can make their own decisions based on what they’re able to learn in a classroom; and if the facts are skewed, then students aren’t able to make well-rounded decisions on what they believe.”

A section of the book, “The Angry Election of 2016,” describes Trump supporters as “mostly older, often rural or suburban, and overwhelmingly white.” It also calls Trump supporters from Hillary Clinton supporters’ perspective “people who were afraid of a rapidly developing ethnic diversity of the country, discomfort with their candidate’s gender, and nostalgia for an earlier time in the nation’s history.”

Clinton supporters meanwhile “worried about the mental stability of the president-elect and the anger that he and his supporters brought to the nation,” according to the book.

White Christians feared the increase of minority populations in the years after 2012, the author also claimed.

“Those who had long thought of the nation as a white and Christian country sometimes found it difficult to adjust,” the book reads.

As for Trump, Fraser ascribes not only anger to him but also “not-very-hidden racism” and “extremism.”

The textbook was “developed by an expert author and underwent rigorous peer review to ensure academic integrity” and it was “designed to convey college-level information to high school students,” Pearson Education spokesperson Scott Overland told Fox News. The textbook “aims to promote debate and critical thinking by presenting multiple sides,” Overland also said.

(Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.)

5 hours ago

GQ condemns the Holy Bible: ‘Repetitive, Self-Contradictory, Sententious, Foolish … Ill-Intentioned’

In an article by “The Editors of GQ,” the men’s magazine blasts the Holy Bible, declares it a book you don’t have to read, and suggests an alternative.

“It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.”

In its April 19 article, “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read” (originally, “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read Before You Die”), Gentlemen’s Quarterly (GQ) trashes 20 books (“Huckleberry Finn” is counted twice, for some reason) it deems undeserving of their literary stature:

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“[N]ot all the Great Books have aged well. Some are racist and some are sexist, but most are just really, really boring. So we—and a group of un-boring writers—give you permission to strike these books from the canon. Here’s what you should read instead.”

GQ’s review of the Holy Bible begins with a snarky slight of Christians:

“The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it. Those who have read it know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced.”

As for the content of the holy book, GQ’s contempt is summed up by this one sentence: “It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.”

Instead, the editors at GQ would have you read a tale of two brothers “who have to get along”:

“If the thing you heard was good about the Bible was the nasty bits, then I propose Agota Kristof’s The Notebook, a marvelous tale of two brothers who have to get along when things get rough. The subtlety and cruelty of this story is like that famous sword stroke (from below the boat) that plunged upward through the bowels, the lungs, and the throat and into the brain of the rower.”

Here is the complete list of famous books panned by GQ, and the magazine’s recommended replacements:

  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – Instead: The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger – Instead: Olivia: A Novel by Dorothy Strachey
  • Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves – Instead: Dispatches by Michael Herr
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – Instead: The Summer Bookby Tove Jansson
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – Instead: Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector
  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway – Instead: The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy – Instead: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
  • John Adams by David McCullough – Instead: Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
  • 9 & 10. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – Instead: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Fredrick Douglass
  • The Ambassadors by Henry James – Instead: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer
  • The Bible – Instead: The Notebook by Agota Kristof
  • Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger – Instead: Death Comes for the Archbishopby Willa Cather
  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien – Instead: Earthsea Series by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker – Instead: Angels by Denis Johnson
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – Instead: The American Granddaughter by Inaam Kachachi
  • Life by Keith Richards – Instead: The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen – Instead: Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal
  • Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon – Instead: Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – Instead: Veronica by Mary Gaitskill
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift – Instead: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne

(Courtesy CNSNews.com)