You are currently viewing archive for August 2009
Category: The Economy
Posted by: an okie gardener
As parents of an alumnus, we receive the Trinity University (San Antonio) magazine. In the recent issue the Economics faculty offered some thoughts I want to share.

The deficit keeps eating up money that otherwise goes into private investment. That means the capital stock is not going to grow. And if capital stock doesn't grow, then productivity doesn't grow, and that in turn means our standard of living is going to be much lower than it would be otherwise. Roger Spencer

A year from now we'll start hearing about the jobless recovery. Employment is always a lagging indicator, and especially so at this time. Once we start growing again, we have some fiscal time bombs: Medicare, the prescription benefit program, and Social Security, pretty much in that order. Jorge Gonzales

Politicians will say they believe that the capitalist system is the best system. But the truth is politicians do not have full faith in free enterprise and in the capitalist system. They believe they need to meddle; they believe that government needs to intervene in all things. Philip Cooley.

I can't find the magazine online to link to the full article. Here is the Trinity website, a school I am happy with as the parent.
A while back I did some posts on Distributism. In a nutshell, Distributism is an economic/social theory that advocates keeping the "means of production", to borrow a phrase, as widely distributed as possible. Such a position is not Socialist, since government does not plan and manage the economy, nor Capitalist, since concentration of means in individual hands is not allowed.

Tocq has provided this link to an interesting essay that challenges the assumption that Distributist economics could not work in the modern world.

I try to live like a Distributist-favoring smaller independent businesses over chains; and have belonged to coops, but still have doubts that a modern economy can operate in this fashion.

Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
I am currently on medical leave from my church. My thyroid punked out and I am trying to get my hormone levels adjusted through medication. Bummer. But, I am feeling better. Today I used this opportunity to visit another church.

I attended a Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Lawton. If I were a "church shopper" I would go back for several reasons.

One is the hospitality. There were the usual greeters at the door, handing out bulletins and introducing themselves. Good hospitality, but not exceptional. I took a seat near the front--three rows back, to lesson the odds of sitting in someone's favorite pew. A woman sat in the pew in front of me, turned around, introduced herself, and chatted briefly. Better hospitality. As the service started a couple with 3 or 4 children sat down in the same pew as I. When the first hymn was announced, I reached into the rack on the back of the seat in front of me. There were two kinds of books--hymnals and psalters. The boy sitting next to me, perhaps 10, pointed to a hymnal and quietly said "This one." Best hospitality.

I am comfortable visiting strange churches, and enjoy the experience. Most people are uncomfortable going into a strange church. For many, the decision to return or not will be made not on the basis of the doctrine preached, or the meangingfulness of the music, but on the hospitality experienced.

For those of you who are church members--be hospitable.
The need for energy independence is illustrated once again.

Lockerbie bomber released as part of deal for oil, according to news reports. Story.

Any country which must import energy, or food, can be subjected to tremendous pressure.
Category: American Lives
Posted by: an okie gardener
Tim James, first-round pick of the Miami Heat in 1999, now on duty with the U.S. Army in Iraq.

"I think of myself as a patriot," James said. "I wanted to give back to a country that gave so much to me."

Story here.
The deal has fallen apart that would have ended a lawsuit by two condo owners on land SMU wants to use to build the George Bush Presidential Library. Story.

G.W. should have gone with Baylor.

26/08: Fritz Lang

Category: Films & Ideas
Posted by: an okie gardener
Christianity Today has a very interesting article on the Austrian film director Fritz Lang as a part of their series on filmakers and faith. Lang made films first in pre-Nazi Germany (e.g. Metropolis, M, Die Niebelungen, the Dr. Mabuse films) and then in the U.S. (e.g. The Big Heat, Scarlet Street)
The recent decision by the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) to allow gays and lesbians in a committed same-sex relationship to serve in the ministry, rests on the theological reasoning found in "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust," a document approved last week at the national meeting. For full text go here, then click on the link to the document. Adobe Reader required.

In the document, Christian duty is defined as loving God and neighbor. Ideal human relationships in all forms are defined by trust. In many ways this document is an excellant example of faithful theological reflection done at a high level. The problem with the document is not so much what it says explicitly, as what it implies, and its tone against "conscience-bound" thinking.

I see three major problems that led to the present ELCA position.

First, in Lutheran understanding, the Law of God (broader than the 10 Commandments and including all of God's commands) has two uses: the Theological in which Law convicts us of sin by making us aware of our shortcomings, and the Civil in which Law guides civil society by helping provide godly structure (e.g. don't murder). In Reformed understanding the Law (again understood as all God's commandments) has three functions: to convict of sin, to guide the Christian in living a life of gratitude to God for salvation, and as a guide for civil society. In the Reformed understanding we Christians are naturally clueless about how to love and trust unless guided by God's Law. It seems to me that the Lutheran document "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" does not allow sufficient Scriptural guidance on the specifics of loving and trusting. Years ago my seminary professor of historical theology noted that if Luther were pushed off-balance, he would fall an antinomian. And that while Luther kept his balance, his disciples have not always done so.

Second, I think the document does not follow traditional Lutheran concepts of authority in understanding the Christian life. Both the Reformed and the Lutheran understandings elevate the Word of God above all other sources of authority, including experience. We are to evaluate our experience on the basis of Scripture. Yes, we bring our experience with us to our reading, but, human experience always must stand under the Word of God, never be equal to it, or superior. "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" seems to me to elevate human experience, including the social sciences, to a determanitive position over clearly worded Scriptures.

Third, I think the document takes a too disembodied view of human life, opening the possibility of a proto-gnostic ethic in which bodily existence is meaningless. "Love" and "Trust" in sexual relationships become divorced from the physical reality of ovaries and testes. While human sexuality is more than the physical spect of our being, it is not less.
Last week the ELCA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the nation's largest Lutheran body, voted to permit practicing gay and lesbian clergy to hold office so long as they were in a committed relationship.

From the ELCA website:

MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) - The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted today to open the ministry of the church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships.
The action came by a vote of 559-451 at the highest legislative body of the 4.6 million member denomination. Earlier the assembly also approved a resolution committing the church to find ways for congregations that choose to do so to "recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships," though the resolution did not use the word "marriage."
The actions here change the church's policy, which previously allowed people who are gay and lesbian into the ordained ministry only if they remained celibate.

The AP has a report including quotes from supporters and opponents of the change. Link via The Layman Online.

The ELCA now joins the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ in officially permitting practicing gay and lesbian clergy. A similar move passed the most recent Presbyterian (PCUSA) national gathering, but was defeated by the local presbyteries. The local structures of the United Methodist Church this summer defeated a policy passed at the national level that would have had the effect of prohibiting congregations from practicing discipline on members practicing same-sex sex.

The Reformed Church in America (RCA) this summer at our national meeting voted to refrain from any actions regarding same-sex practice while a dialuge continues on the issue. (We are a house divided and trying to avoid a split.)
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
A week or so before Election Day 2008, it occurred to me that a John McCain victory could well spell disaster for the American Experiment. Why? Half the nation would NOT accept him as president. Half the nation, so thoroughly appalled by the past eight years, had completely distorted the life and essence of a good man.

Ironically, most of these same tormenters had profusely professed to admire McCain as a man of singular integrity just a few short months before. But the frenzied stakes of a national campaign for ultimate power transformed their erstwhile hero into the personification of Republican evil. This powerful contingent in the American body politic had traveled down the road with Republicans as far as they were prepared to go. Another Republican president—no matter how virtuous—risked civil war.

On the other hand, Barack Obama, an appealing newcomer and something of a blank slate, symbolized a fresh start as well as a dividend on the American promise. Once the votes were counted, many John McCain voters (like me) embraced the sunnier side of what we did not know about this new president. We stood optimistic about the unparalleled American tendency to produce transformational presidents from unlikely soil. We mostly watched the historic elevation of President Obama with moist eyes and high hopes.

Of course, it is worth noting that not all of the vanquished were ready to concede defeat. The Republican Party split to some extent—some of us eager to believe in miracles and another segment hunkered down with Rush and Sean Hannity rooting for abject failure.

Why did we hope? What was our unlikely aspiration? Perhaps our half of the GOP could find common cause with a less militant wing of the Democratic Party led by the President and a new generation of leaders not formed by the cultural turmoil of the 1960s. We understood that we were going to have to leave many of our friends behind--but maybe the "vital center" really was something more than a rhetorical flourish.

Most important in the calculation, we accepted the reality that our party handed off a crisis that posed an existential threat to our survival as a nation. Desperate times call for serious introspection and bold action. Perhaps the acute exigencies in our path might form a new political sensibility. Perhaps this President might actually transcend the partisan trench warfare that had visited such destruction on the political landscape over the past few decades and rally a new coalition in pursuit of our lethal common foes.

What did the President have to gain?

Actually, a radically sweeping political realignment offered distinct advantages. Looking down the road, it was clear to most objective observers that the center-right American citizenry would never fully accept the pungently “liberal” policies of the Nancy Pelosi-wing of the Democratic Party. If President Obama were to be a truly transformative president, he would need to act boldly—and his boldness would need to be forward-looking rather than rooted in the traditional liberal past.

He would need to jettison the rigidly partisan leadership on his side of the aisle and reach out to patriotic and pragmatic realists who would place American survival over party ideologies. While painful to initiate, a genuinely innovative coalition of interests might have guaranteed permanent political success for the President as well as an authentic prescription for national well being.

But, alas, the President decided to eschew the bold move and chose the path of least resistance. Republicans skeptics proved absolutely right. Even as he followed the established course of the Bush administration on Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Banking Crisis, the President cast his lot with the liberal ideologues in terms of his domestic agenda.

He used his power and popularity to “cram down” an extravagant and unprecedented $787 billion stimulus package. Even worse, the White House chose to be conspicuously absent in the legislative process, dashing hopes that the President would insure bipartisan participation and cooperation on Capitol Hill. Instead, he forced his opponents to swallow a bill created under the firm hand of Speaker Pelosi and her uncompromising leadership team.

His budget and “cap and trade” bill were further examples of a high-handed and strong-arm leadership style—and, even more disconcerting, further evidence that Speaker Pelosi was fast becoming the most powerful political player in Washington.

Enter the health care debate in which the President, once again, abdicated his role in crafting the legislation, once again, leaving the details to the House. The President chose to use (or misuse) his gift for rhetoric to oversimplify the discussion, too often employing “false choice” and “straw men” arguments. Too often, the President casts his opponents as shameless advocates for the unsustainable status quo working against the public good for nefarious reasons.

After unsuccessfully trying to blitz the American people into a half-baked bill, the President still seems inclined to berate us into submission on health care, disdainfully importuning us to overcome our ignorance and fear. The President needs to take a deep breath, slow down, and build a consensus to do the right thing. A consensus bill is out there. In truth, there is wide agreement on many of the most important elements of reform.

For the President, this truly is a time for choosing. To succeed, he must take the lead in a meaningful way. He must fulfill his promise to be a unifying president and reach across the aisle to come up with a pragmatic health care plan that addresses our real problems rather than pay off ideological expectations. This will anger his base—but he must place the good of his country above partisan politics.

While I am no longer Pollyannaish about a new era of selfless American political cooperation, there is still reason to hope that this President can work with elements of the loyal opposition to find bipartisan solutions to our most frightening challenges.

Godspeed to those elected officials of good will who are willing to work together for the common good.
Category: General
Posted by: an okie gardener
Brits at Their Best links to, and comments on, the book choices of two writers for readers of various ages. Interesting. I may need to reread The Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
The summer of 1969. Forty years ago. Moon landing and Charles Manson and Woodstock.

Tonight I watched a "documentary" on the Woodstock festival. The overall tone was one of nostalgia: oh what a great time, a wonderful cosmic moment when we did things our way and all was peace and joy and love and wonder.

Some things were indeed amazingly wonderful about Woodstock: such a large crowd under adverse conditions and no violence. Amazing.

But I wish our collective memory were more honest. If it were, the mood would not be totally wistful and mellow.

Janis Joplin. Jimmy Hendrix. et al.

One interviewee termed Woodstock a spiritual experience. Maybe so. But remember, Dionysus brings both pleasure and death. His symbols include not only the vine, but also the leopard.
American Exceptionalism and European Exceptionalism and White Exceptionalism are all alive and kicking.

"American Exceptionalism" refers to the belief that America is unique, chosen above all other nations by God for a special purpose in God's plan, a nation different from other nations. Historically, it is an attitude we inherited from Britain, which believed the same of itself. Allied with American Exceptionalism has been European Exceptionalism and White Exceptionalism.

We are tempted to believe that belief in the uniqueness of America and its special role in history is dead.

Not so.

Many people emphasize American Exceptionalism, European Exceptionalism, and White Exceptionalism. Just not in a postitive sense. Instead, whites seems exceptionally evil, Europeans exceptionally ruthless and imperial, and America exceptionally nasty.

From a Christian, and historical, perspective, both exceptionalisms seem the product of adolescent either/or thinking. Either a nation is wonderfully virtuous, or terrifyingly evil.

Whites do have a history of racism and cruelty: but so do other races. Europeans have been ruthless and imperial: but so were the Aztec, the Han of China, and Genghas Khan to name but a few. And American history has its nasty side, look at slavery, treaty-breaking, and treatment of Chinese, to name a few. But, every nation has its nasty side.

The strength, and historically demonstrable exceptionalism, is that in our system we can and have changed some things over time. And we have offered more people more liberty overall than any other empire I know.

St. Augustine said it best: all nations arise out of violence, but by God's providence can become restrainers of violence and protectors of peace.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
He took me for a chump.

1. Too often the king of the "straw man" and the "false choice," the President misuses his gift for rhetoric to insinuate that the alternatives in re health care reform are "his way" or "no way." If you do NOT accept his plan, you shamelessly advocate maintaining the unsustainable status quo--and for nefarious reasons.

What should he have done? He should have worked as a "uniter" and reached across the aisle to come up with a pragmatic health reform that actually solved a few of our problems--instead of wasting his immense talent on selling a moldy partisan-ideological Utopian non-solution that creates many more problems that it alleviates.

2. In that vein, he does not have the stomach to face up to the real problems: how can you ever get to sustainability without rationing? How can we add coverage for forty-seven million people and pay less money into the system? And aren't all the so-called cost cutting schemes that whack insurance companies only a drop in the bucket? Where is the money coming from?

3. He tried to blitz us into a half-baked bill. Of course, it is easy to see now why the President and his brain trust did not want to be in the unenviable (maybe even untenable) position of trying to explain and defend this monstrosity in the public square. We needed some straight talk--but, instead, we got the White House bulldozer. Slow down and build a consensus to do the right thing.

4. The President will not own up to his own past. We know that he and his partisans are fundamentally committed to a universal one-payer system. He has said this. Many of the leaders of the Democratic Party have admitted this. I have never known a thoughtful liberal who did not sincerely believe that socialized medicine was the smartest and most humane option. Nevertheless, President Obama pretends that none of this well-documented history exists. In fact, he belittles any critics who bring up this inconvenient fact. He needs to acknowledge what we all know to be true--and be forthright about his predispositions. He should have begun this conversation in a more honest place.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Death Panels?

Totally ludicrous. There is no such thing as a "death panel." They are a figment of someone's despicably vile imagination. Any person who traffics in that brand of misleading gutter politics should be drawn and quartered. In fact, it is exactly that sort of imprecise and insidious speech that makes this country such a breeding ground for neo-Nazi, right-wing conservative kooks.

And, aside from that, the Senate has pledged to omit the passage (that doesn't actually exist--in section 1233 of the House bill) from its own plan.

They didn't do it. But if they did, they promise not to do it anymore.

Sarah Palin sure is dumb.
Camille Paglia, my favorite lesbian-feminist-Democrat commenator, absolutely tears the Democrats in power.


Having said that, I must confess my dismay bordering on horror at the amateurism of the White House apparatus for domestic policy. When will heads start to roll? I was glad to see the White House counsel booted, as well as Michelle Obama's chief of staff, and hope it's a harbinger of things to come. Except for that wily fox, David Axelrod, who could charm gold threads out of moonbeams, Obama seems to be surrounded by juvenile tinhorns, bumbling mediocrities and crass bully boys.

Case in point: the administration's grotesque mishandling of healthcare reform, one of the most vital issues facing the nation. Ever since Hillary Clinton's megalomaniacal annihilation of our last best chance at reform in 1993 (all of which was suppressed by the mainstream media when she was running for president), Democrats have been longing for that happy day when this issue would once again be front and center.

But who would have thought that the sober, deliberative Barack Obama would have nothing to propose but vague and slippery promises -- or that he would so easily cede the leadership clout of the executive branch to a chaotic, rapacious, solipsistic Congress? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom I used to admire for her smooth aplomb under pressure, has clearly gone off the deep end with her bizarre rants about legitimate town-hall protests by American citizens. She is doing grievous damage to the party and should immediately step down.

And she's just getting started.

What I don't get is her cognative disconnect: in her last few columns she has lambasted the Dems, including the Administration, but continues to believe Obama himself is the sober, deliberative Barack Obama.

In another sign that the tide may be turning irrevocably against Obamacare: from last night's Conan O'Brian

President Obama says he will not support a healthcare plan where the government gets to decide to “pull the plug on grandma.” Apparently Obama’s plan calls for the much quicker “pillow option.”
Here in Oklahoma we have had the tolls raised on our toll roads. To us it's a big deal because for a state our size we have a lot of toll roads.

The rates are going up because toll revenues are down. People have been driving less on the toll roads. Less overall, or less on the toll roads? I haven't seen that question addressed. As someone who lives on a highway that can be used as an alternative to a nearby toll stretch of I-44, I suspect that some folks are choosing to bypass the pay-for-use roads.

A private business, faced with declining purchases from customers, would try to upgrade service, perhaps even cutting prices. Not so government. Whatever the revenue source, and whatever the justification--think taxes on tobacco--once government develops an income it will not give it up voluntarily.

The outcome, I am guessing, may be more traffic on my highway, because even government cannot escape the laws of economics completely.
In a recent post I noted a new book that I found disturbing and interesting: an inside account of those protected by the Secret Service resulting from interviews with (not so) Secret Service members. Disturbing because it could cause future protectees to separate themselves from their detail, interesting because, well, who doesn't like to read about the lives of celebrities--in my case political figures.

Newsmax has been doing summaries of the book's content as teasers, and today's material mostly is on Reagan. And also some on Gary Hart who was even more of a tomcat than we knew.

According to the Secret Service, Reagan was the same affable, courteous man in private that he was in public. He treated those around him like he appreciated their work. Nancy? Well, let's say the Secret Service members were not her fans.
Muslim fanatics continue to kill Buddhists in southern Thailand, as well as moderate Muslims, in an effort to create a sharia state.

Buddhists are even more vulnerable in Islamic theology because they lack the protection of second-class citizenship given to Christians and Jews in a state run by Islamic law.

Once more, Islam's bloody borders.


Islam has been at war with everyone else since its founding, with occasional cool spells and hot spells. We are in the midst of another hot spell. When might it burn itself out?
Very interesting essay.

Is this the inevitable result of a belief in the individual conscience before God?

That is a disquieting question for Evangelicals—especially for Evangelicals. Evangelicals believe wholeheartedly in the individual conscience before God. We preach individual salvation, believing that each person will have a conversion experience. We encourage people to read and interpret the Bible for themselves regardless of age or education. We make it clear that every Christian is responsible for his or her spiritual life and that each can trust the internal leading of the Holy Spirit. We talk about feeling close to or far from God who, from time to time, “lays” someone or something “on my heart.” In short, we have a faith with a large subjective component.

That is why the Episcopalians’ problem could become our problem. Unless we protect the individual conscience before God from the run-away individualism and subjectivity that are rampant in our culture, we risk following the Episcopal Church to the cul de sac.

There is a book coming out supposedly based on interviews with Secret Service agents that reveals the "behind closed doors" character of the people being guarded.

Disturbing: those being protected, such as presidents, need to be able to trust that they never will be talked about by the Secret Service. Otherwise the trust is lost, and the temptation to ditch the protection increases. I would, however, make an exception to the secrecy for felonies.

Interesting: if the material is to be believed: Nixon and LBJ may have been even weirder than I knew, and I already thought they were odd; Carter was not likable; and the Obamas are OK so far, though Barak is lying about not smoking.

Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
*the selections of tea in the coolers of our local "convenience stores" (today's high in SW Oklahoma 101 F) has been reduced to make more room for "energy drinks." What kind of a culture is it when a significant chunk of the population feels the need (addiction) for massive amounts of caffeine and sugar?

*we are now called a "service economy." But, I now notice good customer service because it does not seem the norm.

*buying simple items that are not "Made in China" turns shopping into some sort of scavenger hunt. This is the nation that suppresses its own people, is exerting increasing power into the "third world," supports nasty dictatorships around the world especially if oil is involved, destroys its own environment and that of anywhere it touches, is our most likely national military enemy in the 21st century, and is able to assert increasing influence over us because it holds a big chunk of our national debt.

*the representatives in our "representative government" acknowledge that they do not have the time to read and digest a massive bit of legislation that supposedly must be passed quickly.

* we spend ever-increasing amounts of money on public education, try new methods of education annually that promise to be The Solution, and anyone who has taught for over 25 years can tell you that today's students cannot handle the academic rigor of the recent past. (my first teaching job began 30 years ago this month)

*the latest entertainment fad is to hook up to an electronic system indoors and pretend to be running, playing tennis, golfing, shooting, instead of going outside and doing those activities.

*people pay to lay in tanning beds when sunshine is free

Yes, I have been off my meds for a few days but should be able to refill them tomorrow.
Muslims riot, killing Christians in Pakistan because of rumors of the burning of a Q'uran. Story.

Paramilitary troops patrolled the streets of a town in eastern Pakistan yesterday after Muslim radicals burned to death eight members of a Christian family, raising fears of violence spreading to other areas.

Hundreds of armed supporters of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an outlawed Islamic militant group, burned dozens of Christian homes in Gojra over the weekend after allegations that a copy of the Koran had been defiled.

The mob opened fire indiscriminately, threw petrol bombs and looted houses as thousands of frightened Christians ran for safety. “They were shouting anti-Christian slogans and attacked our houses,” Rafiq Masih, a resident of the predominantly Christian colony, said. Residents said that police stood aside while the mob went on the rampage. “We kept begging for protection, but police did not take action,” Mr Masih said.

Islam is inherently a supremacist religion. Officially, it tolerates two other faiths--Judaism and Christianity--but only as second-class citizens who must be made to "feel themselves subdued." Islam divides the world into two parts--the realm of submission (that which is Islamic) and the realm of war (that which is not Islamic but must be made so). Islam understands itself as the supreme, culminating revelation which is to displace all other faiths by any means necessary, including violence. No tolerance is given to those who mock the "true faith."
Jihadwatch links to an article from The Telegraph (UK) on efforts by the Obama administration to establish links with dictatorships in central Asia who might be helpful against the Taliban. He here exceeds GWB in "realism."

From The Telegraph:

President Barack Obama is resurrecting relations with some of the world's worst human rights abusers in Central Asia as he attempts to secure new allies in the fight against the Taliban.

Mr Obama has brought a new pragmatism to foreign policy In a repeat of the 19th Century "Great Game", when the Russians and British competed for relations with Muslim leaders on the outposts of their empires, Mr Obama's envoys are scuttling between the palaces of Central Asia's post-Soviet dictators.

In the last three months, Mr Obama has cut deals with Presidents Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan and Kurmanbek Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan. Mr Karimov has been accused by a former British ambassador of ordering two opponents boiled alive. One of Mr Bakiyev's critics was recently stabbed 26 times in the buttocks by unknown assailants.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Yesterday, I bought a new car for the first time in my life: a 2009 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL.

Significantly, I traded in our 2002 Jeep Cherokee with 107,000 miles, a multitude of dings, dents, and scratches, a severely damaged tailgate (the product of an anonymous miscreant at the Target parking lot), an engine and drive train in the twilight of life, and a terminally unreliable right tail light.

As a result of "cash for clunkers," I received $4,500 for my trade-in (which I estimate is at least two grand more than any competent used car manager would have allowed). Add a fifteen-hundred-dollar factory rebate--and a little bit of dickering, and I feel pretty good about my "deal."

A few thoughts on my transaction:

1. "Cash for Clunkers" achieved its desired effect. It was the little program that could. Of all the humiliating disappointments and egregious inefficiencies in the $787 billion dollar stimulus program, the modest one-billion dollar incentive to trade in your jalopy and buy a new car proved singularly exciting and effective. As I say, I am forty-four years-old and this is the first new car I have ever bought in my life.

The Obamanomics brain trust should take note.

2. I bought a Nissan. There is no action in American culture driven more by emotion than buying a new car. Logically, I wanted to think seriously about buying a so-called American car. But, way down in my gut, I opted not to buy a vehicle manufactured by "Obama Motors" (which I am not especially proud to admit). Moreover, while I am rooting for Ford Motor Company to emerge as the great American car company of the 21st century, I could not bring myself to look on the Ford lot either.

In the end, I chose the Nissan Altima, manufactured in Canton, Mississippi, by non-UAW employees. I bought local (in Waco), helped out the Central Texas economy, and met some nice folks along the way. My conscience is relatively clear. Emotionally, I felt more secure with a Japanese-engineered mid size put together by hard-working Southerners far removed from the cancerous grip of latter day unionism.

3. Thus far, the good news for the program has been eclipsed by the incompetence of its administration. Obviously, no one at the White House or the Department of Transportation expected this type of incentive to catch on quite the way it did. After just four days at full speed, the DOT indecorously suspended the program as worries mounted that orders had already exceeded funding. While the President and the House moved quickly on Friday to extend the program, the frustration and schadenfreude over administrative uncertainty and sluggishness in implementing the plan nearly overshadowed the excitement associated with the program's success.

How will this be viewed by a public uncharacteristically engaged? Will the electorate see President Obama as the benevolent dispenser of down payments for new vehicles? Make no mistake, that is the best kind of PR for the White House--we are still looking for presidents who can deliver "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage."

Or, does the President suffer from the stigma of bureaucratic ineptitude? Certainly, the right-wing talkers were peddling that interpretation. With the government websites cratering--and the program on-again and then off-again and then likely on-again, Rush Limbaugh used the incident as the perfect opportunity to ask:

"Is this really the people you want running your health care?"

"Sorry, mam, the computer is down, and I cannot get the okay for your emergency procedure."

"Yesterday we had funding for hip surgeries in your demographic--but we are waiting for the Senate to approve emergency appropriations for today's schedule."

The suddenly famous "Cash for Clunkers" program runs the risk of becoming an allegory for government's ability to ameliorate our health care system. While no one questions that progressives sincerely want to use government to make life better for people, the question has always been whether government can actually solve problems or, rather, create even worse unintended consequences with its ham-handed and shortsighted interventions.

Will "Cash for Clunkers" come to symbolize a progressive-government approach still not ready for prime time?

If the Obama administration, which fervently asks for stewardship of one of the most important segments of our life, cannot be successful in this relatively small and uncomplicated endeavor, we are likely to be much more skeptical of placing them in authority over what promises to be the most arduous and convoluted government undertaking in the history of our nation?

The Obama White House better start working overtime to make Clunkers work and, more importantly, put their best minds on selling the program as a great success. Our propogandists have a huge head start going the opposite direction.

No matter, in the end, I predict that this is likely a case in which the truth will triumph. No matter which way the talking heads spin it, this episode likely provides a telling window into the soul and constitution of the Obama administation.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Not at all surprising, one of the most trenchant analyses of the "Gates imbroglio" comes from Shelby Steele:

Take a moment and consider this incredibly provocative and penetrating paragraph:

"But this is not really the point. Many a Southern belle would have known she was being ogled by an uppity black man. She would have known that a cultural narrative—heated up by the nuclear taboos of sex and race—put the power of life and death at her disposal. But when would she have actually pulled the cultural trigger and set into motion those forces that would surely end in the annihilation of a black man? The great question in the Gates story is why he put himself so quickly into the cultural narrative, why he screamed 'racial profiling' more quickly than a Southern belle might have once screamed 'rape?'”

Read the entire essay here via WSJ Opinion Journal.
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Last month I spent two weeks in Europe with my family. Wonderful times. Although I neglected the Bosque Boys entirely in my absence, my wife did maintain a travel blog to which I contributed a few travel posts.

Here is a version of something I wrote over there (please forgive the self-indulgent length):

22 July 2009

Can anybody direct me to the "British Museum of British History"? Like the English Constitution, a central and systematic telling of British history seems to be everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. I would love to see the UK equivalent of the Smithsonian American history collection. Until then, we skip back and forth across London paying homage to landmarks and statuary, picking up scattered pieces of the story, and continuing to mostly breathe in the past. Today we have all of the things we have not done looming over us (we wake up in the throes of last day panic). We tentatively have four museums on our agenda today.

For the record: the last day was a major triumph visiting the Museum of Natural History, the Apsley House (Wellington's home) located conveniently beside the Wellington Arch, the Winston Churchill Museum, and one last visit to the gates of Buckingham Palace.

Yesterday, however, was different. Yesterday we were in search of an American history. Specifically, we were on the trail of the Charles and Janice Yates family. Colonel Yates served in the USAF for 27 years (most of that time with Mrs. Janice Yates by his side, although she served without rank or remuneration)--and most of that time with the Strategic Air Command. During the early 1960s, the Yates clan (all eight of them) found themselves stationed at Greenham Common AFB outside of Newbury--approximately fifty miles west of London. For as long as I have been a part of the family, I have heard the cherished stories of the Hilliers Farmhouse in which they lived during this assignment. Yesterday, we went in search of place--part myth, perhaps, and part reality?

The trip to Newbury required a rental car, about which I had some anxiety. For a number of reasons (mostly logistics and economy), however, the rental presented itself as the only real option. So, with much trepidation, I crawled into the wrong side of a Euro-fitted Chevrolet compact and headed west out of London on M4. We made it back alive--but one tire did not after I ran us into an inconvenient curb.

Although the property remains fairly isolated, thanks to the amazing benefits of modern technology, the GPS led us to the front door of the legendary farmhouse. Truly Amazing! But there it was behind a stone fence, looking shockingly like the painting on the living room wall of the current Yates home.

"We've got a really crazy question--and even crazier request," I said.

"This really is bizarre," replied the surprised lady of the house--home alone and desperately trying to take the proper measure of a strange man in a rented car dropped from the sky. Fortunately, as my wife and then two sleepy boys emerged from the vehicle, the woman's suspicion gave way to curiosity and human connection as she came to see us as earnest pilgrims and embraced the spirit of our mission.

She happily agreed to our picture taking--offering to take one of the four of us and reluctantly agreeing to pose for one herself. Although we refused her gracious invitation of tea, we did take a quick peak into the house. It was lovely. As it turns out, our kind host is an interior decorator, and she had lovingly and skillfully blended the classic with the modern (see the pics).

Back on the road, my wife and I looked at each other and agreed that our appointed labor really could not have gone any better. We had renewed an old family connection to a specific place and moment attenuated by the passage of time and a changing world. Caleb and Cade had trod the same steps as their grandmother had at almost the same age nearly half a century ago when the planet was a very different place. We had watched our children in the front yard of that same 400-year-old house that Charles and Janice had lovingly watched their brood when they, like us, were in the fullness of life--young and powerful and in command. While there really is no accounting for the joy we take from such errands, our hearts beat happier and more alive for the rest of the afternoon. We had venerated the spirits of our personal past.

Finding the Hilliers Farmhouse seemed close to miraculous. After considerable research, my wife came up with a few vague directions and an odd-sounding partial address. We entered a foreign postal code into the GPS, followed the electronic road map for fifty miles (with almost no confidence that we would end up even remotely close to our objective), and, suddenly, there we were in the middle of nowhere exactly where we had hoped to be.

Even more unlikely was the way in which we stumbled onto Greenham Common (formerly Greenham Common AFB--where Charles led a Strategic Air Command squadron). After searching fruitlessly, we were giving up and looking for a place to safely turn around when we mistakenly pulled into the "Greenham and Crookham Commons" parking area.

How do you miss a former jet bomber air force base? It is easier than you might think. The installation no longer exists--and by that I mean it is GONE! The physical campus of the former base has been almost erased from the landscape, replaced by an intentionally wild meadow public park area.

Why the complete undoing of the once-crucial Cold War bulwark? During the early 1980s, Greenham Common emerged as an acrimonious bone of contention between the peace movement and Cold War hawks. Long after SAC departed, the United States Air Force designated Greenham as a prime installation for short-range nuclear weapons. Inspired and supported by an international nuclear freeze movement, area residents joined the "Peace Women" in demonstrations that vehemently objected to the basic premise of nuclear deterrent in general and the local deployment in particular.

Aided by the collapse of the USSR (which some might argue, ironically, was the product of a hard-line policy toward the Soviets), the peace activists ultimately prevailed in regards to Greenham. The USAF moved out in the 1990s, relinquishing all rights and control of the facility to the Royal Air Force. Soon after, the RAF vacated entirely and ceded all claims to the vast campus back to the community.

Once under local management, a series of community trusts and commissions immediately went about the business of removing all traces of the American occupation. Their efforts have proven amazingly successful. What was once the 12,000-foot-long runway sized to accommodate B-47s and B-52s is now meadow and indigenous brush. Base housing: gone. The hangers and assorted structures to support military aircraft: gone. While the old control tower stands as a reminder that this immense tract of wilderness is the product of un-development, there are few other indications of the myriad sorties flown here or the thousands of USAF personnel stationed here over the years.

The fruits of their labor are truly beautiful (ingeniously funded by a secluded business park on a small portion of the former air station). Walking the breadth of the old base, one cannot help but feel the inherent exhilaration of nature reclaiming a parcel of the earth temporarily despoiled by the grandiosity of man.

Nevertheless, I kept thinking a crazy thought: you know, they tore down a perfectly good thermo-nuclear missile base to put up a meadow. What a shame!

Of course, I say that with a large grain of self-conscious irony. Even a right-wing war monger like me can admit that a peaceful meadow is better than a concrete staging area for nuclear Armageddon. But, in all seriousness, there is an eerie hollowness about the place. Any piece of ground in which its history has been surgically removed engenders some disquiet in my soul.

For us, of course, the redaction is more palpable. In a deeply personal sense, we feel the absence of commemoration for the legions of men like Charles Yates who so diligently and responsibly flew all those missions. Entrusted with the most lethal military weapons ever produced, those Cold War warriors personified professionalism and dedication to a cause they earnestly believed essential to the preservation of Western Civilization. Reasonable people will disagree whether they were naive and/or misguided, but no fair-minded account can cast aspersions on their sincerity and honorable intentions. No one should question their fierce fidelity to the cause of human freedom.

What of those warriors? The only scant and indirect attempt at history at the reformed Greenham Common is the sympathetic telling of the "struggle for peace." On a six-by-six placard, a short narrative triumphantly relates the tale of the community's long struggle to overcome the mighty American war machine. Eventually, rationality transcended madness, and the people wrested local control of the Common away from powerful foreigners bent on bringing the world to the edge of nuclear catastrophe. One prominent quote proclaims that nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented--but the moral framework that allows the existence of such weapons of mass destruction can be unlearned.


At the end of the day, we enjoyed a fine walk through an inviting meadow on a beautiful July afternoon. Life is good. We are the beneficiaries of an uncommonly serene moment in human history. Have we really changed the moral framework of human existence? Is that the true lesson of the restored meadow with the carefully incomplete history?

I have my doubts--but I hope I am wrong.

Last week an American family, in pursuit of its own history, picked their way across the brambles and marshes of the erstwhile jet bomber runway--enjoying the natural beauty and soul-renewing power of the transformation. But, at the same time, we looked up into the sky and fondly remembered trim young men in their leather jackets and aviator shades a long way from home protecting hard-won freedoms.

May we always remember that heroic spirit. We forget the sacrifices of the past at our own peril.
Malls R Us

Ebert's review.

Is a shopping mall a sacred place? Not a question often asked. The provocative documentary "Malls R Us" seriously argues that malls serve similar functions today that cathedrals, temples, parliaments, arenas and town squares did in earlier times. Then the film slowly works its way around to the possibility that they may be a plague upon the Earth.