Airport Security: Where This Is Going

LAWYERS TALK ABOUT THE "SLIPPERY SLOPE" in which a proposed action which seems relatively harmless now will eventually devolve into an unacceptable outcome. (See also the Law of Unintended Consequences.)

The argument as applied to airport security is this: the problem is that there are people who wish to kill Americans and since defeating us in a war is impossible, they use guerilla tactics—most recently suicide bombings which do not require troops or missiles—an explosive concealed on the bomber’s person will suffice. All he or she has to do is get on an airliner and press the button.

After 9/11, I said that threatening air passengers with a weapon would never happen again, because the passengers of Flight 93 “rolled” and stopped the barbarians, proving that a box cutter would no longer be a sufficient weapon to turn a plane into a cruise missile. The TSA never needed to confiscate another penknife for that to happen; people would defend themselves once they knew they were being hijacked.

The terrorists knew this as well and began using hidden explosives designed to be detonated without warning. Shoe bomber Richard Reid was the first example. Last Christmas we had the underwear bomber. These plots were foiled as much by the terrorist’s own incompetence as by the alertness of fellow passengers, but the TSA (which has never caught a single terrorist, by the way) was still fighting the last war, examining my toiletries case for nail clippers and confiscating my Leatherman tool.

So the terrorists refined their method again: bombs were re-designed so that airport metal detectors would not discover them. In response, the TSA then spent billions to purchase X-ray machines that would reveal bombs hidden under a person’s clothing. Unfortunately for the TSA’s public relations department, the new scanners also reveal fatty bulges, colostomy bags, and breast implants. The only alternative is for the recalcitrant passenger to receive a police-style pat down that is designed to find those same tell-tale bulges.

The problem is that the public is pushing back. Phone cameras have captured astonishing video of nuns being frisked and three-year old girls being felt-up. The outrage is growing and, if the Tea Party has taught us anything, it is that people are now capable of organized mass outrage. Thus, today is National Opt-Out Day, in which untold tens of thousands across the country will refuse to fly commercial and be subject to these inarguable indignities.

For a moment, let’s accept the view as fact that these “enhanced” security procedures are necessary. All that means is that the terrorists will refine their methods even further. I imagine the next attempt will involve a bomb hidden in the terrorist’s anal cavity. He will choose the grope over the scanner and will breeze through security and waddle somewhat uncomfortably down the jetway. After the explosion (or his capture), we will all be required to go through the scanner and the pat-down/grope, at which point, Katie bar the door: it’s all out insurrection at airport security.

At this point, the terrorists will be somewhat stymied. With everyone facing prison-style searches at the airport, how can he possibly sneak a weapon or bomb on board an airplane?

But he will not give up. His goal is to bring down the Great Satan and ensure himself seventy-odd virgins in Paradise and he doesn’t need airplanes to do it.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the airline industry nearly went bankrupt. Twenty-six men proposed to cripple the U.S. economy and they did just that. The key to their success was violence in the public/economic square. Thus, a mall, a church, or a stadium serve the same purpose as an airliner. The advantage of these venues is that they have no security. He can just strap on a TNT vest under his overcoat and head to the high school basketball game. The effect will be the same: the American economy will be greatly damaged. In short, if everywhere people gather is a potential terror target, then no public venue is safe and people will stay home.

What is the answer, then? It will likely make you cringe: instead of targeting the weapon, we should target the one holding it, and that means a disproportional response to terror attacks. If someone detonates a bomb in a crowded theater and we find that the perpetrator was from Yemen and is unavailable for retributive justice, we should bomb his town to rubble.

My criminal law professor often said that the punishment should always exceed the crime, otherwise criminality was a mere economic exchange. In his experience as a D.A., the key to crime prevention was to inflict punishment that so far outweighed the gravity of the crime that not even the most zealous (or stupid) criminal would risk it.

In our case, it is hard to find a crime more notorious than murder and since the punishment must exceed even that, the only effective and logical response is to inflict retribution upon the terrorist, his family, friends, and nation to such an exponential degree that even a true-believer longing for his afterlife bacchanal will think twice.

I know of no other solution that has any hope of stopping the kind of public square terrorism we now face. When the terrorist understands that not only will he die in tomorrow night’s high school basketball game bombing, but that everyone he knows back home will die shortly thereafter and will arrive in Paradise plenty pissed at him, even a zealot might reconsider his choices.

Otherwise, America, steel yourself for full body cavity searches, which are up next.

A Public Service Announcement

An animation I've created in which George Washington and Barack Obama discuss leadership, public service, and the president's proper role.

They're Not Here, They're Not Coming

One of my computer animations, this time about the possibility of extraterrestrial visitors to Earth.

Unbelievable Change

An animation I created elicidating my views of Obama's hope and change agenda.

We're All Whigs Now

PROPHECY: IT'S GONNA BE A BLOW-OUT. This November, Republicans will take the House (by historic mid-term numbers) and the Senate (by more than a squeaker). Obamaism will be repudiated, lock, stock, and barrel. Most of this will be due to the insatiable appetite of the ruling class to take our money and not merely spend it, but flush it away on boondoggles that have cost us $1 trillion and resulted in a flat economy.

How is that possible? Because government cannot create long-term job growth. Certainly, it can mobilize people and money to build giant projects like the Hoover Dam or the interstate highway system, but eventually those projects come to a close and the workers are again looking for work. Only private enterprise is on-going, building businesses that will outlive their creators. Taxing one person to pay for another’s job is not job creation; at best it is an even economic exchange. At worst (and most commonly), it results in the impoverishment of both: the taxed worker has less money and thus his standard of living falls; the newly-hired worker has a tenuous job which is dependent upon the quickly-emptying pockets of the taxed worker. When the first loses his job, the second will eventually lose his as well, unless, that is, Congress discovers how to spend the money of those who are not yet born. Which they have.

This economic shell game has birthed the Tea Party, which is nothing more or less than an amalgam of angry people who feel they pay too much in taxes and receive too little benefit. More taxes, less services. More taxes, less security. More taxes, more politicians and bureaucrats, but less money to spend on the kids at Christmas. While most Tea Partiers are white-middle class mortgage payers, the fact is that most mortgage payers in America are white. So the fact that Tea Party conclaves reflect that racial makeup means nothing, only that the brightest anger with the government is focused in groups that pay taxes. But if the USA were France, the welfare class would also be marching. That will come next summer when the Republicans, perhaps properly chastened, begin cutting entitlement programs so our unborn grandchildren will not enter life as serfs.

But will the Republicans actually cut spending and entitlements? The fact that the average civil servant makes double what the private sector worker makes (after factoring in non-cash benefits) is the match that may light the fuse of real change. If a newly-empowered, Tea Party-flavored Republican majority says to America, “We intend to cut everything by X percent,” perhaps this will fly. Equal hardship is easier to bear than the class warfare now being waged by the Left. But if the GOP returns to their spendthrift ways, then this is my prophecy:

It is 1860 and the Whigs are no more.

The Whigs, you remember, were the political descendants of the patriots who formed our nation, and became the strongest opponents of the Democrat party between 1830 and 1950. They elected four presidents: William Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Millard Fillmore. The question of the expansion of slavery into the territories divided the Whigs and by 1856 they had crumbled, to be replaced by the fiercely anti-slavery Republican party. Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, was a Whig who left the party over the slavery issue.

In short, the Whigs fell behind the times and became irrelevant. They did not listen to the electorate.

If the Republicans, energized by the Tea Party activists, who clearly espouse Constitutional governance and a balanced budget, fail to follow these principles, then the Democratic slaughter of 2010 will be a pale precursor for the complete destruction of the Republican party in 2012, which will be replaced by a new party that more accurately reflects the wishes of the vast middle-American electorate: low taxes, low federal spending, less government intervention in our lives, and the reigning in of entitlements.

In November, the leaders of the Republican party, heretofore complicit in the Democrats’ economic crimes, will receive a clear wake-up call. It remains to be seen, however, if they will hear a bell or a death-knell. On that, my prophetic powers are weak, though my gut sadly reminds me that power corrupts. Therefore, what shall we call the new party? Any ideas?

Whatever it is, sign me up.

Ten Films That Changed My Life

NOT LONG AGO A FRIEND said we should not expect profundity from movies; they are, after all, mere entertainment. I deeply disagree. From time immemorial, humans gathered around the campfire to tell and hear stories whose design, then as now, is to teach us how to face our fears, overcome obstacles, pursue love, or have integrity—in short, how to live. I will buttress my argument with ten examples of films that have had a powerful impact on me—all for the good. (We’ll leave the negative lessons for another time).
  1. Defending Your Life. This was the movie that prompted me to say, “Hey! I’m supposed to make this movie!” Hapless advertising exec Daniel Miller (Albert Brooks) fecklessly cuts short his life and finds himself in the Afterlife, where he has to defend his earthly actions. The standard he must meet is to overcome fear, an ability he lacks as seen in several funny and sad flashbacks. But love in the form of Julia (Meryl Streep) finds him and he finally becomes fearless. In the end, he is allowed to move onward, leaving mortality behind. Though I quibble with the notion that we’re here to overcome fear (I believe we’re here to learn to love), it’s a small quibble. And it’s all done with pitch-perfect comedic writing, such as when Julia approaches Daniel and asks innocently, “Do I know you?” and he responds, stunned by her beauty, “I hope so!” Most of all, the movie postulates an ordered and loving universe where nevertheless there are standards we must achieve. Learning to love each other and acting fearlessly on that love is something I think about every day.

  2. It’s a Wonderful Life. Frank Capra’s tour de force in which George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) discovers what the world would have been like had he not been born. There is an indisputable reason why this is the most viewed movie in history (beyond a glitch in copyright which allows unlicensed broadcast): Our lives are important, and thus wonderful, even if they’re painful. As Clarence the angel says, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives.” What Clarence does not say is equally true: each man can choose how he will touch others’ lives. He can do so positively or negatively; it is his choice. Also, he can do so subtly, as George Bailey does, so quietly that he is absolutely stunned to know that so many people love him. This film prompts me to do good, quietly, and know that those who matter are watching. It is a wonderful life and we have the power to make it so.

  3. Groundhog Day. The other side of the coin from It’s a Wonderful Life. Selfish weatherman Phil (Bill Murray) discovers a world diametrically opposed to that of George Bailey, a world where no one changes except him. Small town Punxsutawney is a perfect foil for Phil’s big-city brashness, but the Universe has a lesson for Phil: see what your life could be if you stopped thinking about yourself. At the beginning of his ordeal, Phil reacts in typically narcissistic ways, indulging himself in sex, entertainment, and gluttony. After a time, bored, he turns to a quicker sort of self-destruction, but each morning he wakes up the same man: physically alive but emotionally dead. Finally, he begins to change the world by changing himself. He catches the kid falling from the tree, performs the Heimlich on a choking diner, changes a flat tire, and feeds an aging derelict, kindly calling him “Father.” Through all these acts, he becomes someone who thinks about others and thus becomes someone others think about. And he wins the lovely Rita (Andie McDowell). “Let’s live here!!” he exults as they step out of the hotel into a bright new day of fresh snowfall and blue skies. “We’ll rent at first!” That’s a happy ending.

  4. A Man for All Seasons. The true story of Sir Thomas More, who, alone of all English nobility, did not sanction Henry VIII’s dissolution of the Catholic Church for the sole purpose of effecting his own divorce. This movie is nothing more or less than a study in integrity. At every turn, More (the unforgettable Paul Scofield) is besieged by friends and enemies alike who wish him to conform to the crowd. Indeed, the most memorable exchange is between More and his friend, the Duke of Norfolk, who begs More to join the aristocracy and sign a pledge supporting Henry’s actions “for fellowship’s sake!” More calmly responds, “And when you go to heaven for doing your conscience, and I go to hell for not doing mine, will you join me . . . for fellowship’s sake?” Eventually, Henry can no longer stand More’s silent opposition, and false witnesses secure More’s conviction. As he scales the gallows, More gives the customary coin to the headsman, and says, “Be not afraid of your office: you send me to God.” Archbishop Cranmer leans forward and says, “You’re so sure of that, Sir Thomas?” More replies, “He will not refuse one who is so blithe to go to Him.” This exchange alone completely changed my view of God: There is nothing we can do that will separate us from Him, if being with Him is our desire. God is love; he loves us; we shall one day be with Him. Pretty profound, in my view.

  5. Casablanca. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is the quintessential weary American: tired of doing the right thing, he tries to find anonymity in Casablanca, Morocco, during the height of World War II. But he cannot escape himself, and a welling joy in the heart is felt at every turn as we watch Rick try again and again to do the wrong thing, and utterly fail. He cannot turn down the young couple who desperately need his help to escape Nazi-occupied French territory, even though the young woman offers him an almost irresistible temptation. He cannot mistreat his employees, even when the bar is shut down. And he cannot not love Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) when she comes to him, even after she broke his heart in Paris. In the end, Rick proves that goodness—true goodness—is the marrow in the bones of an integral man. Many men try to do good but fail because it is an affectation, an act. But Rick, whose goodness was burned into his soul through saccrifice for a virtuous cause (resisting tyranny), can no more leave Casablanca with Ilsa than he can resist the love he feels for her. In the end, he loves her more completely by letting her go than he ever could had he left with her. Nobility? Play it again, Sam.

  6. The Mission. Robert DeNiro’s finest performance as Rodrigo Mendoza, a slave hunter in 18th century South America, who murders his own brother and then, finding no forgiveness in his own heart, finally turns to God. But God has more in mind for Rodrigo, and the challenges only escalate. A newly ordained monk in a jungle-bound monastery, he comes to love the natives and eventually dies defending them from a new crop of slave hunters. The most poignant scene in the film, and filmdom’s greatest treatment of spiritual conversion, occurs when Rodrigo, burdened by his own sins (literally, his armor and weaponry) attempts to scale a steep waterfall-drenched slope as penance. The natives in the company watch, at first uncomprehending, then in dismay, and finally, notwithstanding that they know he enslaved and murdered their own brothers, one of them performs the supreme act of forgiveness and he cuts the rope connecting Rodrigo to his burden, and the armor tumbles down the hill, releasing the broken, penitent man, who collapses into their arms, spent, empty, both spiritually and emotionally, ready now to be filled with love and hope. That scene alone encourages me to believe that there is nothing so terrible that we might do that cannot—and will not—be forgiven.

  7. Chariots of Fire. When British film producer David Puttnam came to Hollywood, they said it couldn’t be done. Popular films about uplifting topics? So passé, so Sound of Music. Yet Puttnam did what he promised (for a time) and his finest result is this extraordinary film about two competing runners, one a prickly Jew, the other a placid Christian, who find friendship and honor at the 1924 Olympic Games. Running, a common Biblical metaphor, is also a metaphor here, for life and the differing yet successful approaches each runner takes in his. The entire mood of the film is sacred and fervent religious belief (as well as bitter agnosticism) are both treated with the utmost respect. I particularly enjoyed Eric Liddell’s (Ian Charleson) wonderful line, “When I run . . . I feel His pleasure.” Same for me watching this film about men with human goals achieved through godly virtue.

  8. Star Wars. Don’t laugh; I’m talking about the first three Star Wars (the final three were made by the Body Snatcher’s pod-version of George Lucas). It was the first film I had seen after two years in South America and had a powerful impact on me, determining not only what I would study in college, but also illuminating my understanding of what cinema (our modern campfire) could be. Everyone knows the story, but what influenced me then (and continues to do so today) is the spiritual arc of each character. Everyone in the story is on a spiritual quest, though they do not know it. Some characters like Obi Wan and Yoda are clearly bodhisattvas, descended masters, acting as spiritual guides for others. Some have turned from the Light (Darth Vader), but are eventually redeemed. Most of the others are young souls just beginning their spiritual journey, as evidenced by the fact that everyone in the films says, in a crucial decision-tree moment, “I have a bad feeling about this,” evidence that they’re on the right track and the Force is working within them. As they grow, the Force grows stronger in each person—even Han Solo!—and in the end, it is sufficient even to redeem Darth Vader himself. In this light, Star Wars is a masterful example of redemption. With light swords.

  9. Forrest Gump. At the time it came out, Forrest Gump was ridiculed as a study of Reagan-era stupidity and fecklessness. Gump was the lovable stooge (like our president) who couldn’t help but come out on top, due to a perversion of natural laws. Nothing could be further from the truth. What Forrest Gump is (the movie version, at least; the book is much darker), is a wonderful example of goodness. Though Forrest often quotes his mother as saying, “Stupid is as stupid does,” what he could have easily said instead was, “Goodness is as goodness does.” Forrest overcomes his disability, throwing off his (spiritual) shackles, literally. He loves Jenny and shares her pain (“Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks in the world.”). He saves his fellow soldiers, including the reluctant Lieutenant Dan (twice) and manages to mete out justice even at a Black Panther “party.” In the finale, he redeems (that word again) Jenny, and his expansive love accompanies her into the valley of the shadow of death, then continues on to raise their child with humility and bravery. Most of all, he never thinks of himself. Perhaps he is too simple to comprehend selfishness. We should all be so stupid.

  10. Man of La Mancha. I could do an entire top ten list of memorable musicals, but this tops not only that list, but makes it onto this one as well. Peter O’Toole is compelling as Don Quixote, the manic and utterly mad subject of the play within a play that is this fine film. Quixote’s life-saving decision to live in an fantasy world of honor and integrity results in the salvation of those around him, including the desultory barmaid Dulcinea (Sofia Loren), with one of the most powerful love songs ever written, succeeding in showing her who she really is when she sees herself reflected in his eyes. This tender, non-ironic film showcases the last of the 1960’s crop of astonishing musicals, where love was both virtuous and unashamed. What significant, uplifting musical have we had since this gem?

    Those are my top ten. Which great films did I miss? Tell me why.

Profile Me . . . Please!

THE CURRENT IMMIGRATION CONTROVERSY, where the federal government is suing Arizona for enforcing a state immigration law that is less invasive than its federal counterpart, once again raises cries from the left of racial profiling.

As if that were a bad thing. Not just profiling, but racial profiling. Oh, the horror!

Let’s say I’m driving home late one night and I am stopped by a policeman because my car matches the description of a car leaving the scene of a crime. A quick check of my license and registration resolves the issue and soon I’m on my way. I was just car profiled.

But what if the car was seen leaving a bar after a woman had been mugged by a man? I might be delayed for a substantially longer time because I am a man driving a car fitting the witnesses’ description. I might sit in the back of the police cruiser for some time as my alibi is checked out. When it is, I am let go and the police say, “Sorry, sir, but we had to be sure.” In addition to being car profiled, I was gender profiled.

Now, let’s take it one step further. Say the witnesses of the mugging noted that the assailant drove a car like mine, was male, and was white. As I sit handcuffed in the back of the police cruiser, another man driving a car like mine is allowed to pass. Why don’t they stop him?

Because he’s black. I have just been racially profiled.

Now, tell me truthfully, how is racial profiling any different than car or gender profiling? All these profiles help law enforcement find the guilty party. Eventually, the police will discover that I am not the perpetrator and will let me go. I might spend the night in jail, but I will be let go because I am innocent. Indeed, if I am arrested, I will pray that they profile every white man driving a car like mine within a hundred miles of that bar in order to find the criminal and let me go free.

Someone is going to say that the police are not interested in catching criminals, only in making arrests. I will only say that such police should be exposed and punished. But the other 99% are trying to catch criminals, not arrest innocent people.

In this light, the immigration debate becomes quite simple. Since 99% of the illegal aliens in this country are Hispanic (due to our contiguous borders with Mexico), it makes perfect sense to focus on the Hispanic population when seeking illegals. When I travel in South America, I always carry my passport with me. I stick out like a sore thumb because of my race. Soldiers at provincial border checks single me out and ask me for my identification. I am not surprised or offended. The vast majority of the people around me have dark skin; I do not. I am, therefore, by definition, “alien” and thus accorded scrutiny. That’s why I got the visa and passport in the first place, so I could enter their country legally and, notwithstanding the inconvenience of having to produce my documents, can move freely within the country.

Given the tens of millions of illegal aliens now in my country due to the dysfunction of their countries and our porous southern border, it therefore makes perfect sense to ask all Hispanics for identification. Only those who are not citizens have anything to fear; lawfully-admitted foreigners and naturalized American citizens will suffer only minor inconveniences. I doubt anybody with proper identification will find themselves sitting handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser. You provide ID when you write a check at the grocery store, don’t you?

The core truth behind the immigration debate is the desire of the democratic party to increase its voter base. Since the vast majority of democrats vote that way because they see the government as a provider of goods and services and not as a thief of wealth, democratic votes are obtained by interest group bribery: affirmative action for the black community, government contracts for the unions, and anchor-baby citizenship for illegal Hispanics, who really should be called “undocumented democrats.”

So all this whining about racial profiling is a mere smoke screen. Every day, I am profiled in a dozen different ways. The credit card offers I receive in the mail are economic profiles. The yard maintenance flyer on my front door is a home-ownership profile. Even the ads that pop up on my Facebook page are tailored to the profile I authored there. Most of these profiling measures are minor inconveniences; some, like a mistaken arrest, can be greatly disturbing. But every day we’re profiled in order to maintain a safe and secure society.

Seems a small price to pay. So, profile me . . . please! I have ID and an alibi.

None of Your Business

SERIAL ADULTERER JESSE JAMES has now tearfully confessed on television that he has been unfaithful to his movie-star wife Sandra Bullock. Tiger Woods’ famously wooden apology was truly cringe-inducing. Eliot Spitzer, former New York governor, confessed to numerous infidelities as his humiliated wife stood stone-faced behind him on the dais. Every day, it seems, some famous person ruins their life and then apologizes to me.

“Why?” I ask the TV, shaking my head. “I don’t care. It’s none of my business.”

And yet every time I stand in a supermarket line, I’m assaulted with images of human frailty. The rich and famous at risk of losing all they’ve worked for, sacrificing the innocence of their children, not to mention putting in jeopardy their lucrative endorsement deals. I stare in amazement as I watch my fellow shoppers all but drool over this pile of steaming excrement with goggle-eyed intensity.

Schadenfreude is a German word meaning “pleasure at the misfortune of others.” Its symptoms include the reading of People magazine, poring over The New York Post on your morning subway commute, watching E! television, and chatting with others about these peccadilloes while you cluck your tongue and make the “isn’t-that-tragic?” face. Schadenfreude results in a temporary feeling of superiority, but always ends in self-loathing. The cure? Knock it off!

But people seem unable to hole up in the crash pad with only orange juice and chocolate bars and sweat it out until they shake the schadenfreude monkey, so I recommend another cure, where Tiger Woods looks into the camera and says:

I’m a bad person. I know I’m a bad person. I got caught in a lie and now everyone knows I’m a bad person. My personal life is in a shambles because of what I’ve done. But it’s NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. I do not owe you an apology. I do not owe my fans an apology. The only people to whom I owe an apology have already received it, in private. And what I said to them is none of your business.

To my sponsor, I don’t know why my personal life matters when it comes to the merits of Gatorade, but if you think it does, so be it. I suggest you avoid using celebrities to sell your energy drink. If it’s any good, it will sell itself.

To my fans, I say: Get a life. Not me, nor anyone in the public eye should be a role model for your kids.
You should be their role model. I’m just someone who’s famous. Obviously, you don’t have to be smart or a good person to be famous. I’m neither. I might be good at what I do on the golf course, but beyond that, you have no claim on me. For the duration of the match, you have a right to expect my best. But the rest of my life is mine. You have no right to it; you have not purchased it, and I refuse to give it to you. I would never wish on my worst enemy the kind of scrutiny my family and I have been subjected to since my world-class screw up. Please leave me alone and please, please, please, leave my family alone. It’s none of your business.

If Tiger made a statement like that, I’d probably take up golf.

God Punishes Haiti?

IN THE AFTERMATH of the Haiti earthquake, many are asking themselves, "Why does God let such things happen?"

Pat Robertson had a quick answer: In an effort to eject their French colonial masters many years ago, the Haitians made a pact with Satan and are now suffering God's wrath. So there.

Others have said: Bad things just happen. To everyone.

So which is it?

Believers in the Bible (like Robertson) know there are consequences to disobedience. Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden for disobeying God. The confusion of languages was the result of man's hubris in constructing the Tower of Babel. And of course, God killed almost all life on the planet in the great flood. From these stories, one can easily believe that God punishes bad behavior, sometimes by cataclysmic means.

On the other hand, earthquakes do indeed occur naturally. The deist "clockmaker" thesis says that God created the universe and, like a clock, it operates largely on its own, not requiring His constant oversight. The Big Bang completely destroyed the random universe as it was moments before in favor of order, and our world was the eventual result. Therefore, everything that happens is part of a plan that God has set in motion. It is only our earth-bound viewpoint that tempts us to believe that suffering and death are abnormal events in an otherwise happy and static world. Bad things happen to people, just as good things do. But this answer seems to leave God out of the equation. As Dennis Miller observed, "If we're quick to give God credit for miracles, why are we slow to blame him for disasters?"

Jesus said that God "causes it to rain on the just and the unjust." So is God up there, blithely flinging thunderbolts toward earth, with no concern for who is hurt? I don't think so. The God I believe in either allowed or sent the earthquake, not as punishment but as a test.

Some of our sufferings are undeserved individually. Exploding gas mains. Earthquakes. Tsunamis. Appendicitis. These unexpected and personally unmerited events, random or not, nevertheless have the effect of quite accurately testing personal mettle. We make a mistake when we believe that death is only random or retributive. In fact, facing death may be an opportunity to prove our character. Only God knows the heroism that thousands of Haitians discovered in the final moments of lives that were literally being shaken apart.

Also, some of our sufferings are deserved. Robertson, again? Not exactly. People do not suffer for the evil their ancestors did. This is an old canard that has justified mistreatment of the children of cursed peoples throughout history. God does not punish anyone for anyone else's mistakes. So the Haitians are not suffering because their forefathers might have offended God. But they might be suffering because the clock God made has built-in tests. They are undergoing this test right now, en masse. And I have no doubt that for every Haitian who is looting and killing, there are a hundred that are helping and loving their neighbor. Most are passing the test, in life or in death.

But more to the point, the moment you and I heard about the earthquake in Haiti, an important test began for us as well. What will we do?

Our answer reveals the confidence we will have when we someday stand before God to give an accounting of our life. Will we be able to say we accepted the test and did our best? Or will we try to explain that we did nothing because "they" deserved what happened to them?

You see, it doesn't really matter why things happen. What matters is what we do about them.