.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

What Would People Think?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Strawberry Fields Forever

[Y'know, I never really liked that song. If I want to listen to the genre of "Beatles drug-related songs" I prefer "Penny Lane" or "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."]

So today's Memorial Day, so Christy and I had the day off. Her grandparents were here this weekend (part of a road trip to Washington, D.C.), so we had a lot of fun.

After seeing off the grandparents, Christy and I went strawberry-picking at this place. It was awesome. Not only did we get to pick a ton of God's Favorite Fruit (a title I just made up but will apply to strawberries for the rest of my life because it's obviously true), but we simply got to enjoy time being outdoors. My favorite part was observing the wide variety of people around us. White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian......people speaking all different languages......old folks and kids laughing. It felt like.....well....America. People from all different backgrounds enjoying a beautiful early summer day with friends and family amidst a bountiful harvest.

We observed a moment of silence for the fallen soldiers at 3:00 in remembrance of Memorial Day and said a prayer for the soldiers whose lives are still on the line. As I did, it occurred to me that moments like this are part of what these soldiers fought (and are fighting) for.

I'll leave my political statements for another day. I'll just say that standing in the field made me happy to be here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Politics Has Always Been This Bad (and maybe that's not a bad thing)

One of the reasons I love reading about history is that it puts modern events - especially modern politics - in a new light. When you have a shallow historical understanding which sees the past as some sort of golden age and past leaders as demi-gods, it's easy to despair the modern era of danger, divisiveness, mudslinging, and mediocrity. (That alliteration came to me without me even trying. Can anybody tell I grew up listening to Southern Baptist sermons?)

But when you study history, you learn that folks like the Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln were just as human and flawed as current politicians. You learn that events seemed just as complex, muddy, and morally compromised to them in their era as our problems seem to us. The name-calling of the modern era has nothing on the Election of 1800. (My favorite is the pamphlets referring to Thomas Jefferson as a "howling atheist.")

That's comforting to me. It means we haven't fallen downhill. Things were always this difficult. People were always this messed up. And yet we as a nation have pulled through. (Of course, if you want to keep extrapolating, other superpowers of history - the Roman Empire, the British Empire - eventually fell.) The problems we face today are different....they are challenging and they are legion. But the people trying to solve those problems aren't somehow inferior to the politicians of old. I believe - for better or worse - that they have just as much chance of solving the problems they face as Lincoln and Washington had in facing the problems of their respective eras.

I've been thinking these things for a while. But an interesting thought is raised by David Greenberg in this book review. The book he's reviewing strips away a lot of the mythology of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. The book shows how those debates had just as much political posturing, personal attacks, distortion of the other person's position, and base pandering as modern politics. But - and here's the key - they also still involved thorough and sophisticated debate about all aspects of the major issue of the day (the expansion of slavery). Greenberg's thesis is that "down-and-dirty politics and serious argument about burning issues need not exist in separate realms." That is, Greenberg argues that it's in the context of ugly campaigning and bitter attempts to put down the other guy that actual arguments about the issues happens.

I'm not entirely sure if I buy that. I've observed too much avoidance of real discussion of the issues in favor of name-calling, sound bites, and Swift-Boating. But even in the midst of that, I must admit that some real discussion of issues take place. And certainly it's more realistic to look at the issue-discussion that happens in the context of actual politics than to hope for some Olympian, non-existent, rationalistic discussion of the issues. Human nature is what it is. We aren't going to see an ideal, purely issues-driven campaign in my lifetime. (Although John McCain and Barack Obama are far more likely to approximate it than Bush-Rove or any of the Clintons.) It's good to think that, despite the limitations of how actual democracy works, there's still a possibility of discussion of the issues.

All this doesn't mean I won't stop decrying shallow media coverage and the paucity of actual policy discussion....doesn't mean I won't relish the thoughtful discussion that often takes place among the community of bloggers and friends I know. But I can look with a little more hope at the 2008 campaign.

(Incidentally, I've been doing a little reading into church history as of late. Turns out it's just as useful to grow from the insights of long-dead people - and learn from their failings - in the realm of my personal faith as it is in the realm of politics.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I Cannot Think of A Good "Parrot" Joke To Go With This Post

Think I could get my cat to do this?

By the way, what SHOULD I have chosen as the title of this post? Let your humorous, creative instincts run free. Everything's fair. Nothing's fowl.

[weak rim shot]

Saturday, May 17, 2008

On Talking To Our Enemies

Explain this one to me.

Why is it okay for Ronald Reagan to talk to the leaders of the Soviet Union (a nation he labeled the "Evil Empire" and which had enough nukes pointed at us the wipe us off the face of the earth)....but if Barack Obama suggests talking to the leadership of Iran, he's an "appeaser" right up there with Chamberlain at Munich?

Obama said it perfectly in his recent remarks:

“It’s time to present Iran with a clear choice,” Mr. Obama said. “If it abandons its nuclear program, support for terror and threats to Israel, then Iran can rejoin the community of nations. If not, Iran will face deeper isolation and steeper sanctions.”

Classic carrot and stick. You want someone to change their behavior? Then you make acting the way you want agreeable to that person and you make acting the way you don't want disagreeable. You can't very well do that without talking to them. Yes, you could make public statements, but direct negotiations are how one establishes a procedure for either fixing the problem or determining that it won't be fixed and doing sanctions (or worse).

And he's talking about TALKING. That's all. He's not giving away the Sudetenland. And if Iran fails to negotiate in good faith, then they've further isolated themselves and we've got more international capital which we can use in taking increasingly severe actions.

Furthermore, talking to Iran does not mean endorsing its views.....no more than Reagan talking to Gorbachev meant Reagan suddenly endorsed a Marxist revolution.

McCain has the gall to call Obama's approach naive. Yeah, because the Bush approach of non-engagement, saber-rattling, and invading Iran's neighbor (thereby creating a power vacuum that Iran has been only too happy to fill)......it's all worked so well in stopping Iran
so far.

Oh yeah, unless you want to invade Iran too. Because, y'know, our military isn't stretched enough. And invading Iraq has worked out so well for us. [End sarcasm] Also, there are no good military options in Iran. (Slightly dated documents, but the range of voices making this point is still impressive.)

[Note: Hopefully soon Blogger's spell-check function will recognize the words "Barack" and "Obama."]

Update [5/17/08 2:07 PM]: Moderately conservative NY Times columnist David Brooks has some interesting insights on this issue from this conversation with Obama after Obama said something that admittedly sounded a lot like "appeasement." It must be nice to be the kind of person who - when wondering what a presidential candidate meant by some statement - can simply call him up an ask him.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Much Delayed "Really Good Meme"

A few days ago, Jeff tagged me with the "Really Good Meme." For those of you who don't follow stuff like this, a meme is the blog equivalent of chain mail. The rules for this meme (which I intend to stretch and which I've already seen stretched by others) are as follows:

  1. Open the nearest book to page 123
  2. Post sentences 6, 7, and 8 from that page
  3. Tag five others
I've got two books nearby. First I Am America (And So Can You) by Stephen Colbert:

But my sheepskin announces to all assembled that though I may be a man of the people, I also have the keys to the clubhouse. I can't count the number of times I've heard the phrase, "You went to Dartmouth? I find that hard to believe."

Okay, so I kind of cheated and included two quoted sentences as one sentence.

The other book nearby is Great Christian Thinkers: A Beginner's Guide To Over 70 Leading Theologians Through the Ages by Colin Blakely:

He was born in Northumberland in 1502 (we think) and went from there to study classics at Cambridge. But he continued his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris and at Louvain, and it is likely that he came face-to-face here with all the Reforming ideas that were prevalent on the European continent. This was, after all, at the height of Luther's protests.

And, just for good measure, I'll also answer this meme on Christy's behalf. Her nearby book is Before You Leap: A Frog's-Eye View of Life's Greatest Lessons allegedly by Kermit the Frog. (And why not?). Since page 123 is a page between chapters, she'll do 122. Here goes:

And when I've successfully visualized this perfect frog, I send him out to deal with the problem. And when that doesn't work, at least I have someone to commiserate and share popcorn with during the debacle. When all else fails, give them stuff.

Who to tag? Jeff tagged most of my readership, and Mike tagged much of the rest. Not sure if I can think of 5 people to tag. But here goes: Monica, Kenny, my ever-positive sister Ronda, and (at this point I'm going to have to go with a friend-of-a-friend) Andy (that's, right punk! I'm making you update your blog from your nearly year-long hibernation!), and - since he's already done this once on Jeff's blog - Kenny's friend Dave. Incidentally, Kenny says I remind him of Dave and vice versa. Can't say exactly how, but it's clearly not our politics.

I'm thinking of inventing my own meme. It's called the "Love of Nouns" meme. Remind me and I'll explain later. Unless I don't. If you'll remember, I began this blog with the promise of inconsistency.