12.31.2008

Conflict Management

I just got back from a long weekend in New York City. It was a great trip, and we saw lots of wonderful things. I am amazed every time I go there, not only with the size and scope and scale of it all, but also with the history, the complexity and the romance. It is a wonderment.

It was sixty something degrees on Sunday afternoon, and we were riding the Miss Ellis Island ferry back from the Liberty and Ellis Island tours. The sun was going down and the skyline was glowing. I was so proud to be a part of the land of the free, the land of opportunity. And I felt so fortunate and grateful for having the chance to share the experience with my family and friends. The trip to New York was our family Christmas gift.

You know that feeling you get on Christmas night or the last day of vacation when you ask yourself if the occasion lived up to the hype? You get that let-down, guilty feeling because you know you've been blessed but you wish there was something more? Here I was, riding on the top deck of a ferry in perfect December weather, surrounded by friends and family, admiring the glow from Lady Liberty's torch and how it seemed to be reflected in the entire, magnificent skyline of Manhattan, yet I could not shake an angry, anxious feeling. I should have been feeling peace or pride or thankfulness, but instead, I was perturbed.

I think the root of my anxiety was that I could not resolve the conflicting messages I had received throughout the whole weekend.

The city was incredibly crowded. At times it was impossible to move on the sidewalk, and stores like Macy's and M&M World in Times Square must have been over the fire marshal's limit. And yet every news cast and every headline crawl on the overhead signs was predicting economic ruin and even blaming America for the global downturn.

"Save the planet" marketing was evident everywhere. The hotel urged re-using towels to conserve water, and signs in every subway car asked passengers to dispose of trash properly. The horses pulling the carriages in Central Park wore diapers, and Ricoh proudly displayed Times Square's only wind and solar powered billboard. But the streets and subways were covered with litter. The majority of taxis were poorly maintained gas guzzling sedans. Our ferry had to negotiate around an enormous trash barge on the way to Liberty Island. This media mecca has apparently adopted the 'do as I say, not as I do' plan for environmental sensitivity.

The cultural diversity, as always, was amazing. The languages, the street vendor food and the wide variety of religions represented let you know that this was truly a global city. Unfortunately, diversity does not always come with respect. The narthex in St. Patrick's cathedral was littered with Starbuck's cups and food wrappers, and inside the cathedral I saw Hindu visitors using the kneeling pads as foot rests while loudly making dinner plans and some Middle Eastern gentlemen(?) pointing and laughing at the Nativity Scene, why I don't know. On the ferry I heard a French(?) couple patiently explaining to a couple from Indiana why Bush was a war criminal and why Europe was excited that we had finally elected a president more palatable to them. Our Texas accents were remarked upon as well. I suppose, as long as you are not a midwestern Christian American, the cultural diversity is quite comforting.

The local news was typical. There were stories about innocent people being shot, about the perils of being homeless in the winter and about the economic challenges of earning a living in NYC. The shooting stories were often followed by police or politicians preaching gun control, as though that keeps criminals from getting guns. Tied to the homeless story was another one about a proposed constitutional amendment to guarantee affordable housing to every U.S. citizen, promoted by Charles Rangel (D), NY. There was, however, no effort to tie the economic difficulties of living in NYC with the tax rate, corruption or expansive government programs.

The most subtle conflict was more of an impression than a direct observation. Here was marvelous Manhattan, with its incomprehensible density and wealth and infrastructure, and yet even if you didn't know about September 11th, you would probably be able to feel the hole in the skyline. At our hotel, they were opening the trunks of every vehicle and checking under them with mirrors. There were two security screenings before being allowed into the Statue of Liberty, and even with that you could only tour the base. One bicyclist, trying to maneuver through the crowds, yelled at the top of his lungs, "Down! Down! Down! Everybody Down!" and though I didn't see anyone hit the deck, everyone who heard him froze in their tracks.

What perturbs me most, what makes me anxious, is not the pollution or the politics or even the hints of insecurity. It is, instead, the startling, though mostly unmentioned, conflict between who we say we are and what we do. We say liberty, but ridicule the religious and censor alternative opinions. We say opportunity but regulate the playing field and remove the penalties for failure. I wonder, as with Christmases and vacations, if I'm simply expecting too much.

I could lower my expectations, but I don't want to limit Christmas to parties, feasts and gifts, and I don't want to confine my country by removing the struggle necessary for achievement. A 'Merry Christmas', with all its required spirituality, is much more satisfying than a generic 'Happy Holidays', just as liberty and opportunity are much more exhilarating than comfort.

12.23.2008

Intellectual Cowardice


A friend of mine tells me he is agnostic, though I'm fairly certain that with his 'hip' friends he claims atheism. He suspects I would forcibly take him to church for the sake of his eternal soul, but he would be wrong. I'm Presbyterian. He doesn't discriminate between denominations; he thinks we are all trying to abscond with his soul and/or his money.

He never passionately argues his beliefs, but he does like to trot out the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Church of Google and Westboro Baptist Church. And in justifying his non-belief he, of course, leans heavily on the Earth being more than 6,000 years old, that the story of the Flood was stolen from the Sumerians and that what Jesus wouldn't do is invade Iraq. But there is no passion in his arguments because it's not personal; a personal argument would require a thorough self inspection, which is difficult to do.

I've often thought that people who subscribe to this sort of "easy answer intellectualism" were just being lazy. They get news and opinion, in a highly digestible format, from Jon Stewart and David Letterman, and stimulating policy discussion from Bill Maher and Oprah Winfrey. Environmentalists get all the science they'll ever need from Ed Begley, Jr. and Al Gore. Religion? The obvious experts would be Madonna or Tom Cruise, but for the more discriminating there is always Bill Moyers . If Jason Bourne can summarize Sarah Palin's entire faith into a question about dinosaurs, I mean, come on, how much analysis do you really need to do?

The laziness excuse, however, seems a bit simplistic. I see people investing enormous amounts of energy every day into evaluating MP3 players or researching the nutritional content of dry dog food. The mental gymnastics required to economically justify the purchase of a hybrid car, or to convince yourself that George W. Bush is a war criminal, may be based on figments, but they are probably not from mental fatigue. Apathetic people don't put forth the intellectual effort to delude themselves, like we saw in the hopey-change of this year's election, but frightened people do.

Frightened people, like my agnostic/atheist friend, don't do a lot of in-depth self analysis. They are looking for someone to save them, like the scientist or the government, because saving yourself is hard and you might have to make choices you don't like. Hopefully their savior has reasonable answers that won't require too much individual effort. In fact, it's best if the answers only require effort from others, like taxing those bad rich people, or legislatively hamstringing those evil, polluting corporations. Advocates of change are almost always wanting someone else to change, because they, obviously, are already enlightened.

My argument here is that easy solutions are cowardly, because they do not require introspection or sacrifice. You can argue against the existence of the soul with rational tools like the scientific method, but are you willing to make those same arguments when you or a loved one is dying? You can argue that mortgaging the economic future is acceptable because the economy is in crisis now, but how shallow will those arguments sound when your children cannot reach their potential?

If you believe in God, don't take some pastor's word for it, own your faith. If you believe in America, don't adopt some celebrity concept of political correctness, be committed to what is fundamental and important to being an American*. If it's not personal, in either faith or politics, it's not true. The hard part is finding the truth within. Don't be an intellectual coward. Don't be frightened, be desperate. Figure it out for yourself.

* Adlai Stevenson said to the American Legion in 1952 ... "Men who have offered their lives for their country know that patriotism is not fear of something; it is the love of something."

Loving Candy

Yes, that's me on iowahawk's blog.

In my defense, it was 1979 (as evidenced by the Playboy cover) and the legal drinking age was 18. I debated about posting a link to it, but then I said, "I can't dance and it's too wet to plow."*

Of course, the fact that my mother doesn't own a computer factored into my decision, too.

* 1979 Texas panhandle lingo that roughly translates to today's "WTF"

12.19.2008

Old Men


One of my nephews has always had an outgoing, easy-to-talk-to way about him. When he was six or so he chased down the garbage truck and said something to the effect of "Hey fellas! I was supposed to take out the trash this morning but I forgot. You've already gone past our house but I was wondering if you couldn't run back by and pick it up before my Mom finds out I forgot." And danged if they didn't do it for him.

My brother-in-law and I were discussing this nephew's gift the other day after nephew had called and told us that a friend of a friend of his knew of a rifle for sale that we might be interested in. He was out in East Texas, deer and hog hunting. He was planning to stop in and visit with an older couple that lived out near Mineola. He knew them because they were friends with my in-laws, his grandparents. How many twenty-three year old men do that? Just stop in and visit or call up an elderly couple to check on them?

I think he's on to something. As I think back there have been an awful lot of old men that have made an impression on me and provided great examples on how to act like an upright, honest man. Not that all the lessons took, but I do remember them. I know I've written a lot about my Dad here, we all learn a lot from our fathers, but I'm talking about just regular old men, guys my nephew might pick up the phone to check on.

When I was in high school I worked at Pampa Hardware Company on Cuyler Street in downtown Pampa. The Lively family owned it. Travis Lively Sr. had started the business with a man named Thompson a long time ago, like maybe the 1920's, and when I worked there, in the late 1970's, his son, Travis Jr., was running it. Travis Sr. was pretty old by then, and pretty scary ... he looked like the classic mean old man who lived down the street ... until you got to know him.

Travis Sr. taught me a lot of things, like the importance of saving something out of every paycheck. Pampa Hardware was my first "real" job with a paycheck. I was also impressed at how dedicated he was to his church, the First Methodist Church in Pampa. He brought his Bible to work and studied it regularly. He was always extremely considerate of his wife and all the other ladies around the store. His attention to detail was pretty amazing, as well as his consistently high standards. He would pause before answering a question, as if to let you know that he put some effort into it. He was an old man, and didn't move very quickly but he always carried himself like a gentlemen.

Of course there are plenty of old men in the family that were great examples. Shorty Barnett, my wife's grandfather, was an old guy with lots of life and a hard working, simple ethic about him that I always admired. My father-in-law, Darvis, has always been a dependable and happy and caring man. My uncle Ivan, who was always kind-hearted to a bunch of heathen kids and loved to joke and horse around with us, showed me it was okay to act like a kid even when you're old. I remember Mom referring to Dad as "the Old Man" a lot, but I never took it to be derogatory.

When I stop to think about it, I could probably fill up this blog with the bits and pieces I've learned from men who some would consider past their prime. There was Fryson, one of our neighbors growing up, who we could always count on for a piece of 2 x 4 for a project or a 25 cent chore if we wanted to get a soda. There was Othel, who was my supervisor when I worked in the oil patch during college summers, who demonstrated that slow and steady can actually win a race. There was the man who was at the nursing home, visiting his wife, every time I was there to visit my Dad. He was there every time because he was there every day. There was Mr. Howard, who worked in a fast food kitchen with me many Friday and Saturday nights during my college years. He was hard-headed and gruff and energetic and dependable and consistent. There was the farmer who pulled my truck out of a ditch with his tractor while patiently explaining the dangers of soft shoulders, both kinds. There was the old cowboy who told me I shouldn't complain about the smell of manure because "for some of us, it smells like grocery money."

Anyway, I think the nephew is on to something. I think we could all get some benefit from visiting with an old man from time to time. I hope, if you're a young man you've got plenty of old men around to learn from. I hope, if you're a middle aged man that you've got a solid grasp of the legacy you need to build and the standards you need to set. And I hope, if you're an old man, that you know we appreciate you.

Hey, wait a minute! Nephew called me for no good reason, just to check up. Surely he doesn't think I'm an old man already!

12.16.2008

God and Democrats


I'm currently reading two books. I do that sometimes. And sometimes I'm amazed at how a sentence or paragraph in one book will complement or clarify a point in the other one, especially if they are two distinctly different topics. I'm currently reading The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes and The Language of God by Francis Collins. Shlaes is writing about the history of the Great Depression, and Collins is a world renown scientist explaining his belief in God. God and Democrats ... I think it's fair to describe those topics as distinctly different.

Sometimes when I'm reading, I'll pause and re-read a sentence or a paragraph either because I'm distracted or because I didn't understand it or because its just clunky. But sometimes I read it again because I need extra time to fully appreciate it and I try to connect the dots between what the author is saying and what experience has taught me. Here's a couple of snippets from each of the books mentioned above that I read more than once for that reason.

Collins, in discussing why God allows suffering in the world, writes:

For many thoughtful seekers, these rational explanations fall short of providing a justification for the pain of human existence. Why is our life more a vale of tears than a garden of delight? Much has been written about this apparent paradox, and the conclusion is not an easy one: if God is loving and wishes the best for us, then perhaps His plan is not the same as our plan. This is a hard concept, especially if we have been too regularly spoon-fed a version of God's benevolence that implies nothing more on His part than a desire for us to be perpetually happy.

I don't think there is anything especially unique there, it's a pretty standard response to the question. But when I read the following from Shlaes' book it tickled my "go back and re-read" response which helped me make a connection between the two.

Shlaes, in discussing a Roosevelt strategy session from November of 1937, writes:

At the end of November, Jackson accompanied the president on a fishing trip. Hopkins and Ickes - who at times feuded bitterly - were also aboard the Potomac, sharing a cabin. The four prepared political strategy: specifically, an assault on the wealthy. Roosevelt caught a large mackerel early on, but it was Jackson who had the biggest catch of the trip, a barracuda of more than twenty-five pounds. If any of them considered the incongruity of planning a class war on a yacht, they did not mention it.

Initially I think I connected the two passages because of the 'vale of tears' vs. 'garden of delight' phrase. The other book is about the Great Depression, which certainly qualifies as a tearful time, though FDR and friends were out enjoying the delightful garden that God provides. The details of who caught what provided by Shlaes is a nice touch since it shows they weren't all business, they had a varied agenda.

I can imagine the yacht scene with leisurely fishing and serious discussions over cocktails while safely distanced from and undistracted by the realities of the economy. This image is where I made another connection. These elite citizens, carefully planning strategy to reach their own lofty goals, and "His plan is not the same as our plan" have the similar root of arrogance.

In reading about the planned assault on the wealthy, I was trying to understand why they would consider that as a strategy, especially since FDR was in that class. I couldn't understand if it was guilt, political expediency or socialist ideology that made 'attack the rich' seem appropriate. Tearing down the wealthy to raise up the poor seemed like it evolved from the concept of 'a spoon-fed benevolent God' and I wondered, was FDR playing God? Was he trying to replace the commonly promoted benevolent God with government programs?

Then there is the suffering. In God's plan, everyone can expect adversity. In FDR's plan one group, the wealthy, will receive intentionally inflicted hardships. At first glance, FDR's plan seems more thoughtful or sensitive or morally correct ... make a few, who have plenty already, suffer for the benefit of the whole. But the idea of a targeted punishment doesn't fit with creating a world of 'perpetual happiness' and it takes us right back to the question of why God, or in this case the government, would actively promote the oppression of any group.

I don't believe that God uses suffering as punishment. I see it as a by-product of experience and self improvement; it's simply the price you pay for the benefits of living in this world. I'm not sure we can ever know FDR's true intentions for targeting the rich. You could make the case that his reasons were emotional, political, ideological or perhaps ( in some universe other than mine ) rational and practical, but I don't think you can make the case that his reasons were moral.

Some may argue that the reasons were moral, because taking from the rich was not a punishment, but necessary to improve society. Maybe Roosevelt believed that the love of money was the root of all evil and therefore the right thing to do would be to take the money away and inhibit the ability to create more. Maybe that would, eventually, change our social ideas about wealth and its accumulation.


The problem is that morals have no point unless people are free to act. If you are coerced into doing the right thing, power, not morality, is the influencing factor. It follows that if you want to enforce ( or is it inflict? ) your morality on others then you must be powerful. You need to create it, pursue it and collect it. I don't think FDR was trying to improve us by removing the temptations of wealth. I think he was simply in love with power because he needed it to remake the country to his personal specifications.

Perhaps I should summarize the connection I see for clarity's sake.

God allows free will. Democrats don't. They should quit playing God.

12.10.2008

Conservative Bargains

I was listening to the radio last week, specifically Mark Davis on WBAP in Ft. Worth, and he had a short rant about Walmart. Basically his contention was that if you were a Walmart hater ... because they put Mom & Pop's out of business or because they are adamantly anti-union or because they are cheapo employers or because they are highly successful capitalists ... then you have to ask yourself if you are really a conservative. Being a long time Walmart hater I thought I should at least review my position and reasoning on how I got there.

There is no doubt that Walmart is a success. They run a tight ship, they know their market, they know the rules and they are focused. In any competitive arena those traits are admired and contribute to an organization's success. I am sure that K-Mart continually compares themselves to Walmart, trying to emulate or undermine them. Whether it's Walmart, the Yankees, the United States or the most popular kid in class, everyone loves a winner ... but might enjoy seeing them brought down a notch or two as well.

I'm not a Walmart hater because they are successful. It's not their success I dislike, it's the way they achieve it. Simply put, I don't like the way they do business. If they were playing by the rules and simply out performing the competition that would be one thing, but that's not how I see it. I think they are unethical bullies and cheats that hide behind the markets desire for "low prices" to justify their behavior.

There are many, many examples of Walmart's less than ethical behavior with vendors and employees ... just google "Walmart" and "time theft", "vlasic", "huffy" or "tax breaks" ... but my dislike of Walmart began, like for many others, when Walmart effectively killed the downtown, family businesses in Pampa. The market determined that Walmart and "low prices" were apparently more important than whatever service or other intangibles the family owned businesses offered. I didn't like it, but apparently the consumers did so who was I to judge?

I assumed that Walmart negotiated for tax breaks, drove hard bargains with vendors and worked to keep employment costs low so that they could deliver on their "low prices" promise and I was okay with that. And then I spent some time at Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, AR and what I saw let me know that it was more than just good, clean competition that created their success, it was a culture of intimidation.

Security procedures for entering the building were very strict and included metal detectors, software scans of personal computers, confiscation of cell phones with cameras, copying of government issued ID and signing a code of conduct and release of liability. Once in the building visitors must have an employee escort them everywhere, including the restroom. Visitors are not allowed to power on any equipment or use any computer connected to their network. There was a mandatory meeting in an auditorium, basically a pep rally led by management, and if employees could not attend in person they were required to watch the video replay during their lunch break. Employees could not accept anything from a vendor, including a 25 cent Sam's Cola purchased from the break room. If an employee went to eat with a vendor they had to turn in a receipt proving they paid for their own lunch.

All of this could be seen as simply tight controls, necessary to keep costs down, and they probably work. But the interaction with employees let you know they felt intimidated, that they knew they were being watched and that zero tolerance was always in place. You might argue that if employees felt intimidated they could always go elsewhere. Really? In Bentonville, AR?

All of this probably makes little difference to Walmart except that it keeps me from shopping there in all but the most dire circumstances. And though my friends and family know my dislike of the company, I'm not sure it's really worthy of a blog entry, except for one thing ... I think it is possible to dislike Walmart and still be a conservative.

My Dad told me once that the things you dislike in others are a good indication of what you don't like about yourself. I'm thinking that's why Walmart and the labor unions are constantly at each other's throats ... they are both supremely self interested and intimidating bullies.

12.04.2008

Congruent


In high school geometry class Mrs. Casey ( who hated me* ) demanded that we pronounce the word "congruent" as KON-grent instead of kon-GROO-ent. She was adamant about it, to the point where she immediately and loudly corrected anyone who used the GROO ...

Gentlemen, the word is KON-grent, there is no GROO in it. You must pronounce the word correctly to learn it and apply it. How can you master the concept if you can't master the pronunciation!

I suppose it was just a chain yanker for her, or perhaps she thought it actually made a difference in the geometry world. Who knows? But it was her class, that's the way she wanted it and that's the way it was. We all said KON-grent.

I thought about Mrs. Casey and congruency as I was pondering the whole auto industry bailout thing. Oh, excuse me, I meant "bridge loan."

The government and the auto execs cannot solve this problem because it's not a money problem, it's a congruency problem. The auto makers exist in a market, but somehow they think the solution to their problems exists outside of the world in which they live. Why would the government, a monopoly that prints money, literally, and whose "customers" are more like "subjects", know anything about markets? It's crazy, that's like going to the post office for medical treatment ... oh, wait, they want us to do that too, don't they?

In a market there is no such thing as "too big to fail."

It's incongruent and inconsistent. That's the problem with many things that are driving me crazy lately. Terrorists and lunatics use violence, but we must use diplomacy? Some say that science negates the need for religion, yet some of the same people use science to justify worshipping Gaia and they shout down scientists who disagree with them! The private sector people investing in and trading bad mortgages must be prosecuted, but Dodd and Frank and all the other creators of the problem should not be? In two weeks we hear more than we want to know about Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber, but we elect a president who is still a mystery?

I don't understand why our actions are not consistent with American principles. Did someone change them and not tell me? Perhaps we need Mrs. Casey to explain 'America' ...

Gentlemen, this is America, not Europe, not Asia or any other place where 'government' is synonymous with 'nanny.' You should learn what being an American means and be congruent with THAT in all your actions.

Great presidents, and great leaders in general, know who they are, what they stand for and can communicate those principles. And countries aren't great because they have an auto industry, they are great because of their principles. Too many people think this is a money problem, and they are either for or against the bailout, er, bridge loan, based upon economics. It's NOT the economy and it never should have been. It's about principles, or is that the change you wanted?



* Mrs. Casey really did hate me, and I blame Curtis Haynes. It was the first day of class and Mrs. Casey said "I don't assign homework" and Curtis said, "Good, because I don't do homework." ... at which point Mrs. Casey spun around and looked directly at me. She thought I said it. With her red, jowly face shaking she said, "And I don't tolerate smart asses." She tried to get me kicked out of National Honor Society. She accused me of cheating and sent me to the principal because I had the same answer as someone else on a test. My defense was, "It's GEOMETRY. We're SUPPOSED to have the same answer!" On the last day of school I tried to make nice and told her I was sorry we did not get along but that I learned a lot. Her last words to me were "You little bastard. Do not darken my door again." I now say kon-GROO-ent.

12.01.2008

Happy Days ARE Here Again

I'm way behind the curve on this. In fact, TIME was apparently way behind, too ... since they stole the image idea from a blogger. But anyway, what's gotten me up to speed on this is Amity Shlaes' book, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression.

I started reading it during the election and had to put it down. It was way too creepy. A master politician with great charisma runs for president and wins, not because he is qualified but because he is different, charismatic and skilled at creating class envy. You get one guess on who the press was in the tank for in 1932.

After Obama won I thought it would be safe to pick it back up. I was wrong. Now it's even creepier.

Once elected FDR surrounded himself with name brand politicians, but put folks with "new" ideas in key advisory roles and he used his position to tinker with the economy, trying to shape it along more collectivist lines. Communism was the way of the future! Of course, at the time, it had not been proven to be a complete failure yet and so this time around we get benevolent socialism as the model. Scary stuff.

But it gets even worse. Under the National Recovery Administration (NRA) pricing and wages were codified. And they prosecuted small businesses, the case Shlaes' detail is Schecter vs. United States, for violating the codes ... not only did they prosecute them, they specifically targeted the Schechter brothers to make an example of them! Very nasty stuff ... and not unimaginable in today's world, either.

So let's be honest here, which is scarier, the big, mean capitalists on Wall St. or government prosecution?

As I read farther it's apparent that FDR didn't really have a plan, other than to get re-elected. He was willing to change positions at any time for political purposes. He wrote the book on creating social divisions and then pandering to the separate groups who could get him elected. He had no qualms about hanging supporters and mentors out to dry. He was attempting a new, bold experiment to make us "better" ... to reform us from evil capitalism.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Happy days ARE here again, unless of course you're the subject of the experiment.

11.25.2008

Double Duty


Dad was in the market for a one ton dooley truck. We drove to Amarillo, to Plains Chevrolet, because they had several without beds and he wanted to put a custom flat bed on it. We looked at several on the lot before a salesman with a polyester tie, that was much too short (or perhaps his belly was too big) came out and asked if we needed some help.

After some discussion out on the windy lot about engines and transmissions and such we repaired to his "office" ... a glass walled closet with a desk, a filing cabinet, a calculator and an overflowing ashtray. We sat in molded plastic chairs while our new friend took down pertinent information.

At one point the salesman made some comment like "It looks like that orange truck is the one that fits what you need. What do you want to give for it?" I had never been part of any sort of price negotiation before and I thought it was quite generous of the man to let us make the first offer. Dad didn't see it that way and replied with a phrase that I have used many times. Dad paused for a second or two, as if he was thinking about throwing out a number and then he stood up slowly and said,

Son ... I can't do the buyin' and the sellin' both.

Then he looked at me, said "Come on, let's get some dinner." and we headed out of the office.

Predictably, the salesman caught up with us and began the 'let me talk to my manager' dance. They got down to an acceptable price, Dad said he'd think about it and we went and got some dinner. We came back and bought the truck after we got done eating.

Fundamentally, the problem with any government program, whether it's a bailout or national health care or social security, is that we, the citizen and the consumer, the source of funds and the recipients of the services, are responsible for both ends of the transaction ... and the government just sits in the middle, collecting its commission.

I understand that the transaction is not always perfectly balanced, that some citizens pay in more than they receive and vice versa, but I'm talking about the collective we, as in 'we the people.' And we are getting screwed in this deal.

I've often said I just don't get it ... why anyone would think that the government has any answers to problems, but I'm beginning to realize that where you ride on the transactional teeter-totter probably determines what you think of the deal in general. If you pay your taxes and take care of your own business then extra taxes are just a burden you don't really need because you likely won't take advantage of all the services. It's a bad deal. If you pay few or no taxes and depend on programs for a job or health care or housing then you might think it's a good deal.

I'm rarely afraid to stretch an analogy too far so let's say that the two people on the teeter-totter represent the opposite ends of this transaction. The person on the ground is the taxpayer. The person in the air is dependent on programs. I can understand why the person on the ground gets tired if it's their job to keep the other person up all the time. And I understand why the person in the air is nervous, they have no control of their situation and they might even be a little envious of the ground person's position.

But what I still don't understand is why either of them tolerate the government, standing off to the side shouting ...


KEEP IT LEVEL!
STOP IT YOU'RE BOUNCING TOO MUCH!
YOU'RE KEEPING THEM TOO HIGH!
NO, YOU CAN'T BE ON THE GROUND!
STOP SWINGING YOUR LEGS! DON'T TRY TO CHANGE THE BALANCE!
JUST SIT STILL!
JUST LET ME TELL YOU WHAT TO DO!
DON'T LET THEIR FEET TOUCH THE GROUND!

When you are a kid you avoid the "bossy" kids on the playground like they had the ultimate uncool cooties. Unfortunately, it appears that the bossy kids have a talent for getting elected to office.


11.18.2008

Overwhelmed


If you think about it, it's overwhelming, the whole everything-is-a-crisis mindset. At least it is for people like me, who have to gather an inordinate amount of data before making any decision. It takes me six months to buy a car.

On the other hand, I do trust my gut when it comes to certain things, so I've decided to take a shot at applying my gut instincts to some big topics to see if I can pare down my personal list of big issue whelms.


Bailouts?
No. You don't give wine to a wino.

Iraq?
Yes. Finish what you start.

Environment?
Yes and no. Clean up after yourself. I'm not your mother.

National Health care?
No. You take care of your personal business and I'll take care of mine. Thanks anyway.

Gun Control?
Yes! Oh wait. I was thinking gun "safety", which should be required training ... for everyone.

Abortion?
No. Okay, maybe if it's the result of a sexual assault. But stop using the phrase "unwanted pregnancy" ... somebody involved wanted something!

Gay Marriage?
No. The sex is different, the building a family is different ... only the economics are similar to traditional marriage, so 'celebrate your differentness' and be 'spiritually contracted' or some such and leave the traditional stuff to people who respect traditions.

The Economy?
Simple ... lower taxes, cut government programs, de-regulate and stand back.

Energy?

Yes. More please, and thank you.

Iran? North Korea? Russia?
Two words ... military preparedness.

Poverty and oppression in third world countries?
Compassion, yes. Naivete, no.

11.16.2008

Remembering Bessie


I was scanning some photos when I came across this faded one of my first car, a 1956 Chevy. No, it wasn't the V8 Bel-Air model, it was a straight 6, 2 door, three on the tree, Model 210. The picture was taken in 1975, at Hobart Street Park in Pampa, Texas shortly after a new paint job. It wasn't a particularly fine paint job, but it was affordable. I called her Bessie.

I thought that I should scan the photo, save it, before it completely faded away.

Bessie had a semi-interesting history. Uncle Lonzo, my Dad's older brother, Marion Lonzo, bought the car for his daughter, my cousin Sue. Sue lived in California and though I'm not completely sure of the history, at some point M.L., which is what the adults called Uncle Lonzo, drove the car from California back to Texas. Through some brotherly dealings, and probably because it had several mechanical problems, Dad ended up with the car and drove it as his 'work car', as opposed to the 'family car' which was usually the newest model sedan in the fleet, though that didn't necessarily mean it was any more mechanically sound than the others. 'Work car' simply meant that it was safe to throw a transmission in the trunk or haul livestock in the back seat when necessary.

The car eventually ended up on blocks (meaning cinder blocks for those of you unfamiliar with the practice) in our back yard, behind the garage. At 15 I had an unquenchable lust for independent transportation so I started bugging my parents for a car, particularly my Dad because I knew he had a weakness for buying automobiles. Dad generously "gave" me the 56 Chevy, and thinking that might be my only shot at having a car of my own, I took it.

Aside from battery, tires, belts, hoses, muffler and assorted fluids, the car also needed a steering column, suspension bits, a shift linkage and U-joints. It probably needed an engine overhaul, too, but that was beyond my expertise and finances. At the time I took ownership I had no idea of the extensive repairs needed because the first order of business was to remove the four foot weeds growing up through the front grill and de-flea the trunk that had served as a dog house and nursery for some recent batch of puppies.

By the time I got my license, and with some mechanical assistance from Dad and friends, Bessie had come to life. Later, with financial assistance from Mom, came the paint job and a new vinyl interior. Bessie had been transformed from a back yard junker to, if not exactly stylish and enviable, at least unique transportation in an eclectic sort of way. I was 16. Eclectic was cool.

When I was a senior, Dad found a deal on a 1971 Chevy Monte Carlo at a used car lot in Booker, TX. It had a 350 V8, air conditioning, an automatic transmission, forest green metallic paint, rally wheels and a black vinyl roof. I was in love. My friend Don White rode up to Booker with me and Dad to pick it up one night in March. Don and I took it for a test drive while Dad negotiated. It had little or no gas in it so we put $5 worth in it at the Allsup's. Dad's comment was if we were going to spend that much on gas we might as well buy it. We drove it back in a dust storm. Bessie was parked again, but at least this time in the relative shelter of a tin garage.

In 1983, not long after I got married, I wrecked a 1974 Monte Carlo that had replaced the '71. I had no insurance and ended up selling the '74 to help pay for the damage on the other people's cars. We were living in Atlanta so I called my brother Bill, probably collect, and asked him to do what was necessary to get Bessie drivable. Cindy and I flew to Amarillo and drove Bessie from Pampa to Atlanta in the middle of summer. Cindy learned the value of a Kool-Cushion before we made it to U.S. 287.

Soon after we moved back to Texas, to Victoria, Bessie was again put into storage. After keeping her in the garage for a couple of years, with all the best intentions of doing a proper restoration*, I finally gave up the dream and sold her for $1200 to a high school kid who was lusting for some transportation.

So now, Bessie's memory, and photo, are preserved and though I may be the only person that cares, it is done.

Previously I mentioned Mr. Nooncaster, my senior English teacher at Pampa High School. One of his standard assignments was the infamous "Thursday Paper." We would show up in class, a topic would be written on the board, and we had the class period to write an essay related to it. When we returned to class on Friday he would have picked out exactly two papers to read to the class as examples of good compositions. The reason I bring this up here is because the only one of my Thursday compositions he ever read was one I wrote about my car, Bessie. I just remembered that fact. And I also remember the topic which was something like "details a casual observer might miss."

A lot of my life has, unintentionally I think, been devoted to preserving memories. I try to teach my son the things I was taught about family and community and country and God. I tell stories, not because they are historically important ... who cares about the old cars I have owned ... but because regardless of the topic, stories are more than preserved facts. We all read between the lines to assess ourselves and to understand the author. I worry about details a casual reader might not get, but I trust a careful reader will. I remember that Mr. Nooncaster chose my essay, and I remember the topic, and I wonder what I have done that will be remembered.

* example of a proper restoration

11.12.2008

The Road to Happiness


I read a comment today that took my thoughts in a totally unexpected direction. The comment was:

It's going to take a cultural re-definition of "enough" to cause any real change. It used to be that building a business and earning a good living, having something to pass along to the kids was "enough." Now it seems that there's no such thing as enough, and our society is paying the price.

The commentator was obviously referring to material possessions, "riches", and later went on to lament that too many people think that "things" will make them happy. The thrust of the argument was that corporations, businesses and people in general need to put the right things first; that until corporations make community contribution as important as profits, things will only get worse.

There's some truth there, and it certainly is a great jumping off point for railing against corporate greed, the evils of capitalism and the moral decay of our society, but what struck me was the admission that our culture needs to change. Greed and self-indulgence may be indicators of a decaying culture, and I assume they would be detrimental to a society, but is that the root of it all? I'm thinking it goes deeper.

There are many people who believe that when left to their own devices, people will behave badly and are irrevocably self interested. So we have programs like Social Security because we cannot trust families to take care of their own, or employers to provide decent retirement plans, or people to plan for their own retirement because they are inherently bad. We must prevent them from being that way; we must protect them from themselves. They believe that the most efficient way to get rid of this "badness" is through the force of law.

To make it simpler, let's call the people who see the world this way "Enlightened." They know best and they want you to behave to the standard they have defined. You can't be trusted to behave properly, unless of course you are Enlightened, in which case you fully understand and endorse the need to impose the proper standard on the non-Enlightened.

There's another group of people, we'll call them the "Enthusiasts", who think that people aren't really that bad. They think that if given an opportunity people will do the right thing. They admit that mistakes will be made, and that egregious mistakes should be punished, but that typical people in normal circumstances, while they may not behave perfectly, will at least behave acceptably. They don't, however, like other people (i.e., the Enlightened) telling them what to do.

The Enlightened believe, and have faith in, their ability to make sense of the world. They believe that with enough knowledge of how the machine works they can pull the right levers and push the right buttons and make the correct changes that will get us all on the road to happiness.

The Enthusiasts, however, believe in something bigger than themselves and that this bigger thing actually powers the machine. It could be a concept like freedom or love, it could be God or it could be their family, community or country. They believe that putting their faith into something bigger, something that exists outside themselves and that they can respond to but not control, is the best way to overcome their own flaws. They have guidance that works on themselves first, before it extends to others.

How is it that the Enlightened ones, who think that people are flawed and basically evil, have come to put so much trust in their own abilities? Could it be that they place themselves above the "common folk"; that they believe only "others" are evil, that they themselves are doing just fine? To put it bluntly, are they trying to take the place of God?

I am a human being. Human beings are flawed and corrupt. Except me, of course. I am so amazingly self aware that I can overcome my own flaws and still have time to fix yours.

Isn't that crazy talk?

The culture needs to change ... "we are the ones we've been waiting for!"..."Yes We Can!"..."Change We Can Believe In!"..."Our Time for Change!." The ironic thing is that this is "More of the Same." It's the same belief that fools us every time, that human solutions can fix a spiritual problem.

The comment was part of an argument that "things" don't bring happiness, that intangibles like family and safety and community are what make us truly happy. It's hard to argue against the truth of that sentiment, but I do have a question. Who built that road to happiness? Where do we get the concepts of love and family and community, the "things" that inspire true happiness? Are they human inventions, or programs provided by the government, or are they a spiritual inheritance that we instinctively know to follow?

Despite my concerns about current affairs, I'm still feeling surprisingly Enthusiastic.

11.08.2008

Hooking Up


When I was a boy our garage was full of crap ... old TV's, old toys stored up in the rafters, miscellaneous hub caps, nuts, bolts, washers, screws, nails, sledge hammers, sewer snakes, broken hair dryers, barbed wire, inner tubes (with repair kits), vacuum tubes, vacuum cleaners, vacuum hoses, insulation, insulators, insecticide, spray guns, nail guns, gunny sacks, 2x4s, 2x6s, 1x2s, wheel weights, valve stems, grease guns, grease zerks, axle grease, bearing grease, motor oil, machine oil, Marvel Mystery Oil ... you get the idea, but don't think I can't go on.

One of my favorite things to do was to head out to the garage and hook things together ... I called it playing 'Mad Inventor'. I'd hook the broken hair dryer to the vacuum cleaner hose, with vacuum tubes punched through the top, and attach that to gunny sacks filled with insulation and insert the sacks into an overinflated inner tube and suspend the whole contraption from the rafters using tape or wire or nails or whatever I could find. I always started with a grand purpose, but soon simply hooking things together became more important than building the automated dog washing machine and making myself rich, famous and respected.

I had plenty of toys and friends and things to do, but 'Mad Inventor' was something all my own, a private game. I secretly hoped that my excursions to the lab would lead me to a great discovery. The process itself was fun, but I never stumbled upon the great inspiration, or, if I did, it quickly became secondary because I likely had an immediate problem such as how to repair the blown fuse before my parents came home.*

I don't remember when I quit playing 'Mad Inventor', but I do remember the same enjoyment of hooking things together, when I got older, from writing. I had outstanding English teachers all through Junior High and High School who encouraged me to write. And then, in college, I started reading things that weren't assigned, and discovered that there was a seemingly unlimited number of ideas out there. I wanted to write. I wanted to write things of substance and be admired for a tight style, unwavering logic and brilliant observation.

My writing, however, seems to borrow too much from the Mad Inventor, stringing thoughts together, oblivious of the original goal, just to see how they turn out. I still have to deal with the occasional blown fuse, and I have yet to perfect the automatic dog washer.

It annoys me that my life has followed the same sort of pattern. At times I wish I would have sat down at 14 or 16 or 21 years old, mapped out a plan and followed it directly and efficiently to the substance and admiration I've always secretly wished for (and even more secretly known that I deserve ;) ). And then, at other times, I just stand back and admire the majesty of the fortuitous connections that got me from there to here.

Looking to the future, it looks like I'm gonna need some duct tape, some WD-40, and a pair of brake shoe spreaders. Perhaps a center punch and a pry bar, too. Some cotton balls, or maybe gauze, upholstery brads, hog rings (with pliers) and some romex. And where in the hell did I leave that soldering gun and the alligator clips? With the magnifying glass, I think!


* Just a quick note here that might come in handy. If you do happen to blow a fuse, and don't have a replacement fuse handy, you can put a penny in the fuse socket and then screw the burned out fuse on top of it so it's not obvious. Be aware, however, that your Dad will eventually open the fuse box and discover the miracle of a burned out fuse that magically still works. Poker faces are useful for more than just card games because pennies in the fuse box are a good way to burn down the house, or so I've been told.

11.06.2008

Long Time Gone

I asked my sister, who lives in White Deer, to send me some panhandle photos to use for the blog. As I was flipping through the photos she sent I kept trying to find a landmark I recognized, or even just a feeling about the general vicinity of the shot. I couldn't definitively place any of them. Maybe I've been gone too long.

I went through them more than once, trying to pick out one or two that might inspire a post. I noticed that I had somehow created a soundtrack in my mind to go along with the images in the slideshow. It took me a minute, but I finally recognized it as "Oklahoma Hills" by Woody and Jack Guthrie, which is, apparently, the state song of Oklahoma. Isn't that odd?

It's not really that odd. My siblings will recognize at least the chorus of the song ...



'Way down yonder in the Indian Nation
Ridin' my pony on the reservation,
In those Oklahoma hills where I was born.
Now, 'way down yonder in the Indian Nation,

A cowboy's life is my occupation,

In those Oklahoma hills where I was born.



... because it was a staple in a list of songs Dad would "beller" out, unannounced, as we bounced around some panhandle highway in some old truck. You'd be nodding off, your neck all twisted trying to find a semi-comfortable and stable spot for your head, when all of a sudden you'd hear Dad at full volume singing:

'WAY DOWN YON-der in the Ind-YUN NAY-shun

It always bothered me a bit because I knew he wasn't born in Oklahoma and who would want to claim that anyway? I'm guessing that the song meant something to Dad. He would've been in California when it was popular, and he was a panhandle cowboy as a young man. The song starts:





Many a month has come and gone

Since I've wandered from my home

I can see him being the homesick type. He must've been because he moved back which is how I wound up being Texas panhandle born and raised.

It's pretty obvious why that song popped into my head. These were photos of home, and even if I couldn't say exactly where they were taken, I still recognized them as home. I'm sure people who grew up in New York City or around California beaches or in Rust Belt factory towns can see a certain type of photo and feel a connection, a familiarity. And I'm also sure those familiar, comfortable scenes shape your world view, like it or not.




Do you recognize the never ending fields? The big blue bowl overhead. Dry air and dust that doesn't just tickle your nose politely, but forces you to adjust to it and not give in to that big head-shaking sneeze. The imaginary horizons existing beyond your ability to see. The fortitude of windmills and fence posts, surviving both drought and blizzard.


If you do, if you can feel those things in these photos, then I suppose it's okay if you were born in Oklahoma. We've probably got a lot in common.

Please Don't Squeeze the Shaman!


One of the sites I occasionally post in has an 'Off Topic' forum where someone posted a message that said:

Congrats to Barack Obama for being voted the 44th President! This is quite a historic occasion.

To which I replied:

yep. sure is. just like October 25, 1917.

I will admit that my reply was a bit snarky, but I also thought it quite clever, if not downright prescient. Anyway the moderator of the forum removed the thread to avoid potential nasty responses and unpleasantness.* I don't necessarily blame the moderator since that's their job (a volunteer one), but having the thread removed did make me think about why I chose snarkiness.

First, I don't want to congratulate Obama ... why should I? If I work real hard to educate myself, start at the bottom of the career ladder, gain valuable experience working my way up and finally, after demonstrating significant competence and ability and dedication to my organization, I get promoted to an executive position, I might expect some, and be entitled to, congratulations.

If, on the other hand, I'm given every break in obtaining an Ivy League education, use political means and a network of connections to advance, use questionable tactics to take out those competing with me for promotion at every level and finally, after recognizing and taking advantage of an organizational weakness, I am chosen as CEO despite my inexperience, should I be congratulated?

If you want to congratulate Obama for being a shrewd politician and knowing how to work the system, that's fine. As long as you know what it says about you for admiring those characteristics. Getting elected President of the United States was a remarkable achievement, but that doesn't mean he earned it, or our congratulations.

One might say he was entitled to win, but then someone would point out that entitlement implies government programs and is therefore a racist comment, which brings me to the next issue.

I find it incredibly disturbing that there is so little tolerance of any criticism of Obama. It's been apparent since the beginning. If you expose the tactics, you're racist. If you question the ideology, you're racist. If you run critical ads, you're threatened. If you report unflattering facts, you're shouted down. If you ask difficult questions, you're banished or investigated. If you don't agree with him, you're marginalized.

Given this track record, I doubt that President Obama will be the same "good sport" that President Bush has been when being ridiculed by Stewart, Colbert, Letterman and Maher. Oh wait. Nevermind. He won't have to be. I'm sure they've already gotten the memo ... "please don't squeeze the Shaman!"

* update: the thread has been re-instated and has been met with a rather large yawn so far ... an update to the update ... the thread actual spawned a long and reasonably well mannered discussion of many political issues, the most recent of which is the discussion of the automaker bailouts. See, it is possible to have polite political discussions ... but, apparently now not only can you not criticize Obama, you can't even ask them to tap the brakes on the praise!


11.04.2008

Headlines



McCain Wins. Olbermann's Head Explodes!

McCain Wins. Matthew's Suffers Leg Paralysis!

McCain Wins. Andrea Mitchell Dumb(founded)!

Obama Wins! Markets Rebound!
On Strength of Battery and Bottled Water Sales

McCain Wins. Dems Vow to Improve Voter Fraud Programs!

Obama Wins! France Vaults to #1 in Military Rankings.

McCain Wins. Americans Remain Arrogant Racists.

A Winner Declared! Urban Centers Riot!

Obama Wins! Fairness Doctrine Re-enacted!
Mark Levin to Co-Host MSNBC's Countdown

Obama Wins! Pelosi & Reid Caught 'Celebrating' in Janitors Closet At Victory Party*
*Photo ID's Required

McCain Wins. Obama Consoled by Wright!
Wright: "God #@$& America!"

Obama Wins! Inauguration Plans Revealed!
Ayers to Read Poetry of Mahmoud Darwish

McCain Wins. Dems Fire MSM!
Rush, Hannity, Levin et al Not for Hire.

McCain Wins. Democrats Sue!
Claiming Racism, Stupidity, & Failure to Submit

McCain Wins. Palin Forgives MSM.
Invites Katie and Charlie to Church

Obama Wins! Angry Poodle Savages Stuffed Animals!

Please submit your suggested headlines in the comments below.


inspirational thanks to aball ;)

11.02.2008

Just Call Me Moses Rose


This particular presidential election has made me feel like Moses Rose's first cousin. Obviously it got me motivated to start this blog, to try to express (or should I say vent) my thoughts, but it goes beyond simply being anxious; Barack Obama scares the hell out of me.

I've never been a huge McCain fan, and frankly, I doubt that I would have been so worked up about it if the Democrats had nominated Hillary or John Edwards. If I'm honest enough to admit that, then it must be Obama that scares me.

There are two primary causes of my concern. The first is, I simply do not understand why his supporters are so enthusiastic. It's not simple admiration or logic or even partisanship, it's like he holds them in thrall and they are incapable of reason or critical objectivity. When I can't understand something or even imagine the perspective it comes from, that scares me.

Secondly, people like Obama who reach beyond duty, service and the operational execution of their responsibilities by invoking spirituality are scary. Typically they want to merge the spiritual with the practical, faith with reason and emotion to duty not because they truly believe it's "the right thing to do" or "God's plan", but because it gives them power. He has said point blank that he wants to "fundamentally change" America, and it's accepted without question as a good thing. He has said he wants to "change the world". By what power? He has said he wants to create a "civilian national security force." Say WHAT? What if Cheney had proposed that? What's amazing is the same people who rail against religion in America and oppressive faith based Muslim regimes are willing to assign him the role of de-facto spiritual leader. That is scary.

Some may say, "you're over reacting" or "it's not as bad as you say it is" and I certainly hope it's not, but the early voting numbers support my concern. I believe that people are either in love with Obama, or they fear Obama, and that is driving the turnout. I hope they fear him.

As I stated earlier, I don't understand the enthusiasm for this man. He has done nothing of consequence, and somehow that is a virtue. The greatest argument he makes for himself is that he is not George W. Bush, but doesn't that apply to nearly everyone, including his opponent? Even if you do not consider his specific ideology he's shown no particular skill in economics, foreign policy, national security or even holding a job! As for character we only know two things about him ... what character he says he has, and what character he has demonstrated ... but unfortunately, the main tool for discovering his demonstrated character, the press, has decided to take him at his word on character issues.

I've talked to a few Obama supporters, to try to help me understand their enthusiasm. Here's a synthesis of some reasons I've been given.

Have you read his books? He's so intelligent. They are beautifully written and if you've read them then you do know him. He's an articulate, spiritual person who really knows and trusts himself. He's not the typical politician. He's different.

Yes, I've read his books, and sorry, I wasn't impressed. He comes across as more confused than convicted. If he's such a gifted writer, why didn't he publish anything for the Harvard Law Review when he was editor? Is he articulate? We don't know because we have not seem him under pressure, and we have not seen him outside of a controlled environment. And spiritual?Oh please, give me a break. You do not attend a church for 20 years, describe its pastor as a spiritual mentor, and then suddenly discard and discount all of that for political purposes. But they are right about the 'not typical' part; he's an extraordinary politician ... dangerously extraordinary ... who has gone from being unknown to being the leading presidential candidate in what, four years? He's either a political savant, or fulfilling destiny.

Look, the time is right. We need change. He knows what's wrong with America. He was against a war that no one wanted, and he's the polar opposite of those in power now, who don't see how bad things are. We must shake up 'politics as usual'. He's our symbol. He's opposed to Republicans and he's legitimately defeated the old guard Democrats. How can that not be destiny?

We need change? No, we need to improve, but we don't need to change for change sake. And the war? He should get zero credit for his stance because HE WAS A STATE SENATOR AT THE TIME WITH NO STAKE IN THE GAME! Hell, we are ALL against war when we've got no responsibility. I can't believe how easily the Democrat party voters were manipulated on that topic. Doesn't it really just prove that we don't like ourselves very much and that we (meaning all the generations before us) have been on the wrong path? Do we really know better than our fore-fathers? Is it really time to tear that down? And he is no symbol. He is an opportunistic politician who has wrested racism from the social conscience and used it to promote himself. Review his political career and tactics and tell me what part of 'politics as usual' he has not exploited for his own political gain?

Electing Obama will prove to ourselves and the world that we are not a racist society, and that we want to become an equal partner in the world community. Obama as president tangibly demonstrates our concern for being part of that community and he will restore our international reputation.

No, it won't. Our friends will remain our friends and the people who want to kill us and see America brought to its knees will still feel the same way. As an added bonus, they may want to exploit our new found sensitivity. Face it, the world needs a strong America. You may not want to live up to the responsibility, but are you willing to abdicate that responsibility to Russia? to China? to a Muslim empire?

He cares about the middle class. His policies all reflect his concern for them. He understands that sometimes people need help. He's for healthcare and jobs and environmental goodness. He's in touch with what the common people need.

The only reason he invokes the middle class so frequently is that he needs their votes. He'd like to see them controlled by labor unions, whether they are labor or management. He'd like to control a big piece of your personal life by taking healthcare choices away. He's not interested in lifting up the middle class, he wants to keep them down by taking away incentives and creating a 'limited good' society. It does not take a scholar to see that the creation of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid has actually taken away our freedom of choice since you cannot even discuss altering those programs without risking political suicide. Obama wants to create more of those programs. We, the generations after FDR, are paying the price for the failure of Social Security. Do you want to saddle your children and grandchildren with the debt that further programs will require? How selfish is that, and how does that help the middle class? I suppose it does help to keep them in their place.

Frankly, I can find no logical reason to support Obama. None of his social, foreign relation or economic policies make much sense, unless of course you want to see America become yet another weak, socialist country with no sense of purpose. And his intangible leadership skills are suspect because the only thing he has excelled at is promoting himself. I've already admitted that reasonable, objective criticism cannot be expected ( and probably won't be tolerated if he's elected ) and so any logical reasons against Obama will have no meaning to his supporters.

I could argue for a long time, and others more effectively than me, about how experience, character, political tactics, radical ideology, judgement, anti-semitism, corruption, culpability in the housing crisis, racism, promoting class envy, the moving definition of "rich", socialism, the importance of past associations, black liberation theology, missing pieces of the biography, fraudulent fundraising and the divine inspiration of memoirs would, for any normal candidate, create the scenario for a monumental defeat. But those have no meaning in this debate. Obama is, apparently, above it all. Every reasonable question is off limits with this guy.

When reason does not apply, only faith can provide an answer.

This morning I attended church. Pastor Harry's sermon was, as usual, well prepared and delivered. The subject was 'risk taking mission', how we should step out from our comfort zone and reach out to those outside of our church family. To look for opportunities to show love and compassion and caring to others that we may not have considered before.

Of course, I had brought my election anxiety with me and it was easy to see the power in the desire to 'change the world', to make it a better place, to promote love and compassion and understanding. Is that what Obama is tapping into? Is he helping us to be better people? Is that his plan to change the world, by having us be better individuals, asking us to give more? Is that the source of his supporters fervent belief? Do they believe he will help them be better people and America a better country?

A beautiful thought, but scary. I don't believe that Obama can make us be better people, and in fact, I would strongly argue that his ideology would do the exact opposite. It would turn us inward and make us think in terms of what we are entitled to instead of what we can strive for. I don't know if he's arrogant enough to believe that he, individually, can make that sort of difference in the world, but I have no doubt that he believes the power of the American economy and the spirit of the American people can change the world.

The problem is, we are already doing that, and "fundamental change" is only required if we agree that we need to change America to meet his vision. God gave us free will, and when we choose to change the world, to make it a better place, from within our own personal, individual desire, that is powerful. When you do those things at the direction, or coercion, of another, instead of from a personal commitment, you have given up control of your spiritual life.

It doesn't get scarier than that.



10.29.2008

Detention?



I've gotta say, I wouldn't have passed Mr. Nooncaster's Senior English class* if I had this many tardies.


* look for the chapter "A Coach for All Seasons" on page 103 if you are unfamiliar with Aubra Nooncaster.

Much of Nothing

I never should have started with the old picture bit. This is another one that haunts me, not necessarily in a bad way though. This is another photo of Dad.

Spring is my favorite panhandle season. It usually happens on a Thursday.

Born in 1918, so I'm guessing early to mid 1930's? It's hard to tell his age, isn't it.

Those clothes don't fit, maybe the boots. Probably the riding heel boots he once said he lived and earned his living in.

Is that tie blowing a little? Maybe a calm spring day in the panhandle. Easter?

That road just disappears. It seems to go nowhere, or maybe it's just too much for the camera to take in.

How often do you think he was seen outside without a hat?

The whole thing seem so posed, so staged, but why this huge, empty stage? And yet, he seems to be staking a claim to this wide open space, just standing there like 'here I am.'

That pasture seems to be pretty green. Spring rains maybe.

Those tracks seem to be from pretty narrow wheels. Wagons maybe.

Those hands. Those black, working hands, so uncomfortable at his side wondering 'where are the damn reins.'

It Figures

Here's a photo of the Sinclair station I mentioned earlier. Dad is on the left. I'm not sure about the origins of the photo, but I do remember seeing it around the house in a black frame. In the photo it looks like Dad's left arm was amputated at the elbow, but it really wasn't.

Up to this point I've mainly talked about things my Dad said and thought. I suppose I've been a bit neglectful of Mom's lessons. That's probably because the one phrase from Mom that is burned in my brain was "I can't get five minutes peace to myself!" To my credit, I only made the mistake of saying, "It's not my fault you had seven kids!" once. She had her own way of teaching, which typically didn't involve a folksy turn of phrase like Dad.

This particular photo was one of her teaching tools, at least for me. I couldn't figure out how or why my Dad didn't have an arm in the photo. I was positive he had one, at least he had one any other time I saw him. I couldn't very well ask him. If he was missing an arm, and I had not noticed, I would feel embarrassed about bringing it up. If he wasn't missing an arm, I'd feel silly for asking. If he was missing an arm, the prosthetic was incredible! It was much more impressive than the hook/pincher thing the old man who lived over on Dwight St. had; it would be a must for show and tell.

And so, naturally, I asked Mom. I didn't get "He was waving when the shutter was open and either the shutter speed or the film speed was too slow to capture the motion." I didn't get "Oh you silly boy, of course your Dad isn't an amputee, it's just a bad photo!" And I didn't get "Here, look closely. See that blur?* That's because your Dad's arm was moving."

No, I got something along the lines of "You're so smart, figure it out yourself." And eventually, I did.

To some people that may sound a bit harsh, but I certainly didn't take it that way. I took it as a challenge. I suppose if I had never figured it out I might have developed some self esteem issues, though I'm not sure those existed for kids in the 1960's.

Instead, I did figure it out and I found there's satisfaction in solving a puzzlement. And I learned that if it seems there should be an obvious answer, there probably is and it's likely just a lack of knowledge that keeps you from seeing it. I learned that a first glance, even a cursory one, can alert you that something is out of place if you truly know what you're looking at, and that the little flag that pops up in your head when you notice the anomaly is a signal that something needs to be studied a little more closely.

Figuring things out for yourself is a good skill to have. I highly recommend it.

* The Sinclair logo on the other guys shirt (Bill's) was the key to me actually recognizing that there was a blur. The blur covered up the logo that should be there and then it was simply a matter of figuring out what causes blurs in photographs.