You are currently viewing archive for August 2007
Category: Frivolity
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
In celebration of National College Colors Day, some simple Southern California wisdom:

When some loud braggart tries to put me down
And says his school is great
I tell him right away
Now whats the matter buddy
Aint you heard of my school
Its number one in the state

So be true to your school now
Just like you would to your girl or guy
Be true to your school now
And let your colors fly
Be true to your school
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
The Missouri legislature earlier passed a new law that mandates most abortion clinics must meet the standards for an "ambulatory surgical center." Story here. Link from Layman Online.

This law sounds reasonable to me. Abortion is surgery, therefore abortion clinics should meet the same requirements that other outpatient surgery clinics must meet.

But no. Planned Parenthood is now suing in Federal Court to block enforcement of the law, saying it would impose hardship.

I guess in some quarters you may attack motherhood and perhaps even apple pie, but don't touch abortion or Planned Parenthood.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I have always loved Stu Nahan's line in the first Rocky :

"The challenger seems to be blocking punches with his face."

John McCain has blocked a lot of punches with his face lately--but he continues to keep coming. It is who he is.

Although I counted McCain out several weeks ago--I was just last night thinking that things were so dreadful on the GOP side that McCain might still have a chance to win the nomination the old fashioned way.

Alas, Emmett Tyrrell, of American Spectator fame beats me to the counter punch. His article, "John McCain Battles On" is worth reading here.
One of the finalists for bishop of the Diocese of Chicago is a practicing lesbian. Story here. Link from Religion News.

Third-world bishops of the Anglican communion have reprimanded their Episcopal brethren for abandoning biblican standards on sexuality, and set a Sept 30 deadline for repentance.

But, American Anglicans (Episcopalians) ignore their brethren and vow they will not change course. See earlier post. I guess for the Episcopal hierarchy it is still the White Man's Burden to lead his black, brown, and yellow brothers into enlightenment.
In response to Farmer's post and comment on Bush's legacy being Iraq, MM made the following comment.

I didn't mean to hijack your post, Farmer, but I'll go ahead and answer your question, with another question, of course. Salvageable for whom? For Bush? No. It's not going to happen in time for him to get credit. It falls to Bush to have the legacy of getting us into the mess of Iraq, not for fixing it.

The more important question, when it comes right down to it, is "Is Iraq salvageable for the Iraqis?" I'm torn on this one. Part of me wants to say no, for many reasons. One of these is that the concept of an "Iraqi" is only 60 years old, which may not be enough of a history to draw upon in an effort to reunite, especially in a region united by tribe and religion before political idealogy or "national" sentiments as the West views them. Another reason is that the US screwed up the country beyond repair. I'm not going to get into the initial invasion, but just say that our conduct of the occupation since then has been atrocious. We have spent far too much time, money, political capital, and American and Iraqi lives on first "shock and awe" and then "boots on the ground". We should have had the primary focus of maintaining Iraq as a nation-state, with functioning infrastructure and a viable economy. A third reason would be the exodus of the very Iraqis most likely to salvage Iraq. The number of Iraqi professionals - doctors, engineers, lawyers, diplomats - who have fled the violence of Baghdad for the security of cities from Damascus to Detroit has drained the nation of too many skilled workers. The repair of the country, if it happens, will be done by outsiders, or, maybe, by returned Iraqis. But not soon.

So the side of me that wants to say yes does so very reluctantly. I said that it might be salvageable for the Iraqis, but we could still go about this in a couple of different ways. If the interests of the US are held paramount, than we should stay, investing far more than we are now. We would have to maintain our current troop levels, and double our spending, ensuring that all of the additional spending goes to restructuring Iraq, rather than to security. Encourage the return of Iraqis, promote the rule of law, implement piecemeal market reforms (gently...), repair means of oil production, ensure distribution of wealth. Done by us. It might work. Maybe.

Or, we could leave. This might be the best for individual Iraqi citizens, just not for the nation. It's hard to worry about repairing your country's legal system when you're worried about your neighbor killing you. I'm not saying that if we left, the killing would stop. It would probably continue for quite some time, and Iraq would never look the same. I think it would gradually partition, much like India and Pakistan, along religious lines. Whether they were officially separate countries or not, Shiite would cease to mix with Sunni, and the Kurdish independence movement would continue to slog ahead. The Shiite south might become an Iranian satellite, ruled by JAM. The Sunni Triangle+ might be harshly ruled by AQI. US interests would suffer, to say the least - our enemies would have gained new territory, our oil would be cut off (or left in the ground), and we'd risk losing what few allies we have in the region. But the average Iraqi citizen? He might go back to his plow, shop, or practice, since he could leave his family at home, surrounded by neighbors who think like him, protected by dangerous men who are also connected to him.
Category: Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
Gateway Pundit brings together the latest information on the gathering scandal storm over Hillary's campaign contributions.

Wizbang has more.

The Wall Street Journal broke this story this week on another potential scandal involving money and Hillary. Link from Instapundit.
Instapundit links to this post that should be must reading for any of us trying to understand radical Islam.

The article quoted in the linked post is here in its entirety.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Thinking through the Craig scandal:

1. Judging from the police report, the circumstances, the reaction, and the Senator's murky rumored past, it is reasonable to conclude that Larry Craig was cruising the Minneapolis airport for a homosexual encounter of the fast and anonymous variety.

2. Having said that, the evidence is pretty thin. While I have no doubt that the police officer's sense of what transpired is correct (see #1), the details are pretty sketchy. There is no DNA, no video, no corroborating witnesses, and no confession. In an era of Court TV in which numerous "Dream Teams" have rescued the rich and powerful from the long arm of the law, it is hard to imagine that the actual case against Craig could get very far.

3. Of course, the strength of the evidence was not the point. Craig was right to understand from the very moment he saw that badge appear under his stall that his career was in mortal jeopardy. His decision to keep the incident quiet and hope it went away appears incredibly naive and unrealistic to us now, but it was probably his best hope. No matter how flimsy the evidence in this case--he could not afford to risk public exposure. He must have been desperate and on the verge of panic--but, in retrospect, he probably would not have fared any better with any alternative course of action.

4. What about Barney Frank? Apples & Oranges. It is true that a similar Barney Frank incident would not make much noise or impact. Rush would get some mileage out of it. A few internet jokes would make the rounds. But, for the most part, a similar event for Congressman Frank would be a non-story. Why? Frank makes no secret about his proclivities. Barney Frank soliciting an undercover police officer in a men's restroom would surprise us no more than Lindsey Lohan driving drunk. Having said that, cheerleaders for the Democrats love this story. Moreover, there is an extra zest to much of the mainstream media reporting that I doubt would be there if this was a similarly positioned Democrat.

5. An MSM article of faith in all this has been "hypocrisy" and "self-loathing." The standard line: "Craig has been a consistent opponent of gay rights." By that they mean that Craig has supported the marriage amendment, voted for the DOMA, and championed various other pieces of legislation in support of traditional heterosexual marriage.

Is that really hypocritical?

The accusation of "hypocrisy" is based on the assumption that every honest person and/or politician with same-sex inclinations should embrace the gay lifestyle and support "gay civil rights." More sloppy thinking based on a priori reasoning, which declares same-sex marriage and homosexual culture on a par with heterosexuality in terms of collective good. Certainly, folks who subscribe to this view have every right to argue their case in the public square, but the jury is still out. At the very least, we can say that reasonable people continue to disagree on this issue.

In a nutshell, a person who chooses to resist same-sex urges ought to have the right to advocate public policy positions that promote heterosexuality over homosexuality as a better choice for society.


PS: For your file marked "more analysis I thought I would never read in a serious newspaper," the serially inappropriate Dana Milbank, Washington Post political columnist, has a lot of fun at the expense of Larry Craig and other stuffy, hypocritical Republicans here.
Dr. Kennedy, for years a force in conservative Christianty and conservative politics has retired from the pulpit of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. Story from the South Florida Sun-Sentiniel. In December he suffered heart problems and has been absent from the pulpit. See my previous post for more details on his significance.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
While in Savannah, we stopped and visited with a couple of black men on the sidewalk near the river working with palm leaves and sweet grass. One was making baskets, the other palm-leaf "roses." The older man, making the baskets, talked about the place of sweet-grass baskets in the local culture in the old days-- a skill brought over from Africa and used by the slaves to make storage containers and carriers for food and water. He harvested the sweet-grass himself on the coastal islands. However, getting the grass is becoming harder, he said. Rich people are buying up the islands for their own private use, and developers are putting in resorts and condos. Result, less sweet-grass, and that which remains often legally off-limits. In addition, the government is now trying to protect the remaining sweet-grass and frowns upon harvest. He confessed he did not know what the future held for people like himself. A small basket of his now sits on our coffee table.

This conversation reminded me that economic development, and government regulation, often hits the little guy hard. I've seen it in agriculture. Housing creeps out into the country, and suddenly the hog farmer whose family has been raising hogs for generations finds he has neighbors who object, sometimes in court, to the smells and sounds of hogs. And, government regulations often hurt small producers. Regulations are written to prevent feedlot runoff, or to up the standards for milk production; small producers find it difficult to meet the cost of the regulations, and so must either expand or get out of the business.

The irony is that the local environment might be able to handle a few dispersed small producers, but is strained by a collection of large producers.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
The Washington Monthly has come out with a ranking of the nation's colleges and universities based on "what colleges are doing for the country."

We use three criteria that we believe best measure the impact schools have on the country. The first is social mobility: does the school do a good job recruiting and graduating poorer students? The second is research: is the school supporting the scientific and humanistic study that is key to our national strength, by producing PhDs and winning research grants? And the third is service: how effectively does the school foster an ethic of giving back to the country, either through military or civilian service?

How refreshing: analysis based on contribution to the common good, rather than merely what might be good for individual gain. Also, since good education involves the formation of good character, I think this effort at ranking is needed.

Top ranked National University: Texas A&M
Top Liberal Arts College: Presbyterian College (S.C.)
Top Community College: Atlanta Technical College

The Templeton Foundation also recognizes colleges on the basis of programs for character formation. The Templeton Honor Roll is here.

Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I appeared on local TV this morning to comment on the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Although I grimaced visibly on camera when they introduced me as a political scientist, I recovered enough to throw out a few not-very-original observations and generalities during my four-minute spot. Here is a summary of my analysis, with just a bit of expansion.

1. The resignation comes as a great relief to both sides:

--For the GOP, the White House capitulation buoys the spirits of the Beltway faithful, who were convinced that Gonzales was not up to the job. Republicans are happy to have the AG retreating from the field of battle and hopeful that the President will replace him with a more competent warrior (a la a Robert Gates for Don Rumsfeld switch).

--For the Democrats, the resignation takes away the building pressure to make the case against Gonzales. The rising expectation among the hardcore left was that the AG had committed an illegal act; therefore, the majority party would find a smoking gun, dramatically confront Gonzales and take him off to jail. The hoped-for Perry Mason moment was a promise unlikely to be realized.

With all the investigations and awkward testimony, the Democrats were still millions of miles away from proving a criminal act. In truth the President and the Congress were at an impasse. The Democrats are happy to have the conflict resolved in a way that appears to be a big public victory. I don't take very seriously Harry Reid's declarations to pursue this scandal all the way to the bitter end. Democratic leadership is happy to have this perceived positive conclusion.

2. There was nothing unprecedented about the relationship between Gonzales and the President. The AG is at the heart of any administration--and presidents generally don't pick independent and/or apolitical department heads. Loyalty counts. It was not at all extraordinary for a president to pick a close friend (or even a relative) to head Justice. Perhaps the most egregious example is JFK and RFK--but more in line with Bush and Gonzales, Ronald Reagan picked life-long chum, William French Smith, as his AG, and Jimmy Carter tapped long-time political associate, Griffin Bell, for the post.

3. The Gonzales legacy? None. Gonzales was not AG long enough to carve out a legacy (or permanently injure the institution). Moreover, how many Attorneys General can most people name? It is a tough job and most folks don't do it for long. The longest serving AG was William Wirt (1817-1829). The second longest-serving? Janet Reno (1993-2001).

4. The office of the Attorney General is an inherently political position. Before John Ashcroft was a saint in the eyes of the Gonzales persecutors--the former AG was a sinner guilty of vicious crimes against the peace and tranquility of the republic. Janet Reno was a political lightning rod for Bill Clinton--as was Ed Meese for Ronald Reagan, to name only a few.

5. Who Next?

--Michael Chertoff? He is a famous and esteemed lawyer--but we wonder about his skill sets for running a big agency. Does the Bush administration really want a national conversation about Katrina?

--A sitting senator? Who would want to give up a Senate seat for a short-term gig in this situation in which the WH is unpopular and under siege and the opposition party smells blood. No thanks.

--A former senator? Maybe. I hear Mike DeWine mentioned. He would be a good choice--but a long shot, nevertheless.

--Fred Thompson? Perhaps a face-saving way to avoid running for president.


--Paul Clement for the long haul?

6. What Next? More of the same. There are no initiatives to pursue. There are no more rewarding moments to anticipate in this administration. George Bush and company have one objective: secure Iraq and protect American foreign policy interests one hill at a time. Anybody who joins this outfit at this point can expect a long hard slog until January 20, 2009. Not to say that this is not an important mission. It is vitally important. But it is not going to be glamorous, exhilarating or enjoyable. No matter, some good American is going to have to do it.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
Scientists in Britain are asking permission to create animal-human hybrids for genetic research. Story here from The Guardian.

One of the foundation stones of our culture has been the idea/belief that humans are unique. We hold ourselves to standards we do not apply to animals--a dog may be put down for killing a person, but will not be put on trial. A man may be charged with killing a dog, but it will not be a murder charge. We may protest the construction of a new dam on a river, but will not hold a protest at the site of a beaver dam. If while driving, the only two choices are hitting an animal, and having a head-on with another car, we run over the animal. If we are stranded with another person and a dog, and have only enough food for two persons, we feed the other person and let the dog starve, or eat it. And so on.

Animal-human hybrids raise profoundly disturbing questions. But, science has no mechanism within itself to consider whether or not something that can be done should be done. Science cannot ask or answer "should" questions. We must turn to philosophy and religion.

Reader/Commentator Tocq sent this link that pertains to this issue.
Some newspapers, including the Washington Post, did not run a popular comic strip over the weekend because it might offend Muslims. The same papers have had no qualms about running materials that might offend Christians. I guess bombs and beheadings speak louder than words. Story.

Liberals said there would be more censorship if Bush were elected; there is, but not from Ashcroft, Gonzales, et al.
While in Georgia visiting our son in the Navy, we four (me, wife, son, son's girlfriendnowfiancee) made an overnight trip to Savannah. The old section truly is a beautiful city: Spanish moss, old buildings, streets laid out in squares, a waterfront along the river.

One thing I noticed was advertisements for "Ghost Tours" showing "Haunted Savanannah." We ran into one such tour while walking that night.

Such tours are not unique to Savannah. I've noticed such in other cities, and any bookstore can sell you print versions of regional ghost stories. Why the popularity? Here's a speculation. Modernity is ultimately dissatisfying to a human being. We need mystery, depth, connection to a larger universe than provided by the senses. Most folks, even moderns, have needs that basically are religious. If you don't participate in a religious community, who ya gonna call to have some sort of numinous experience? I'd like to know the background and belief-systems, and religious participation of those who take the tours, especially those who take more than one tour.

Decades ago Chesterton wrote in one of his Father Brown stories that the decline of Christianity was not being accompanied by a rise in strict atheism, but by a rise in superstition.
I missed the anniversary August 14 of the Martyrs of Otranto: 800 men of the Italian city who refused to convert to Islam after its capture by Muslims in 1480 and were beheaded for their choice. Gaypatriot has the story.

The Long War continues. May our courage not falter.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
From the Atlanta Journal Constitution online, a new Hindu temple will open.

Almost all Hindus are Indian, or of Indian descent. And they have made very good additions to America. Welcome folks. Though I will pray for your conversion to Christianity. But, you are welcome to pray for my conversion to Hinduism if you choose. We'll respect each other's beliefs and affirm our own.
As posted before, I consider India to be a natural ally of the United States. We share a common wariness toward China, attacks by Islamic terrorists, and the shared values of democratic government. Evidently officials in Washington think the same way as evidenced by recent increases in military cooperation with India. Story here from The Times of India.
Gateway Pundit has this picture. I had overlooked the cross on Putin's bare chest. (Guess I didn't look closely enough.) Putin had already openly embraced the Russian Orthodox church.

Putin's, and the Russian government's, relationship to the Russian Orthodox Church have been the subject of various speculations. See

Here , here , and this quote from The Atlantic:

Over the years, Atlantic correspondent Paul Starobin has researched Putin's history and background and spoken both with those who know him personally and with political analysts who have studied his behavior. In "The Accidental Autocrat" (March Atlantic), Starobin portrays Russia's leader as a complex mixture of seemingly incongruous parts. There is Putin the fighter—a man who describes himself as having a "pugilistic nature," and who has long held a black belt in judo. There is Putin the canny former KGB operative—rigorously trained to calculate his every move and to dispense information sparingly. And then there is Putin the believer—a man of faith, who as a child absorbed his mother's strong Orthodox Russian beliefs and continues to practice devoutly.

Putin's faith will not necessarily put him on the road to democracy or friendship with the U.S. Like a good Czar he wants Russia to be a Great Power and is most comfortable with centralized authority. Won't it be ironic if Lenin turns out to have been painting over the Russian mosaic with watercolors, and now it's raining.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
Entering Arkansas we noticed a sign urging us to visit the Wineries of Arkansas. Along I-40 in the western part of the state we saw billboards for this or that winery, inviting us to stop in for a tasting. Same thing in Tennessee. And earlier this summer, believe it or not, in Iowa.

I'm guessing that wine-tasting tourism must be the latest boomer thing.

While we passed on the wineries, we did stop almost daily for a mid-afternoon break in a coffeeshop, both Starbucks and independents. Even in the mountains of western North Carolina we found a coffee shop with wi-fi in a small town along the highway; and we were not the only customers.

It seems to me that Americans, as a whole, must be in pretty good shape financially. And must have confidence in their economic future. I'll believe the contrary to be true when I see coffee shops closing and wine sales going down.
This story about an Australian bishop that has closed the doors of the churches under his jurisdiction to liberal American Episcopalian author and speaker, retired Bishop Shelby Spong.

Meanwhile the countdown continues: Anglican bishops from the Global South have demanded repentance from Episcopalians by September 30.
See this site.
From Jihadwatch, this post on life for Christians in Pakistan. Excerpt:

Christians make up only 1.5% of the 167 million Pakistanis. According to Father Asi, they are often treated as second-class citizens, denied basic human rights and victimized by social discrimination and political oppression.
Category: Bush Hagiography
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Another installment in my continuing attempt to explain my sympathy and admiration for the President:

In my American history class, I sometimes ask my students to relate their favorite literary character. The most worrisome answer (and one that is increasingly more common): "I don't have one."

Having said that, the exercise generally provides one of my most enjoyable class days. There are some expected favorites: Harry Potter is very popular. When the Tolkien novels were current movies, I got a lot of Bilbo Bagginses. But there are also some classic figures that come up very often: the Count of Monte Cristo, Elizabeth Bennet, Holden Caulfield, and Gus McCrae to name a few.

Oftentimes it turns out that a favorite literary character is a seemingly ordinary person with whom we can identify--but who falls into a desperate situation that none of us would want to be in. The hero faces the crisis with extraordinary courage, exhibiting unexpected traits we hope that we might call forth in similarly dire straits.

This is essentially the story of George Bush. He is the archetypal everyman who finds himself in a horrific mess (the presidency in the post-9/11 era). He reacts with admirable courage and summons strength from the depths of his soul. To borrow a phrase from a great historian long deceased: he surpasses himself.

Of course, we don't know how the story ends. Right now we are in the third act and things are caving in on our hero. Can he turn the tide of misfortune and snatch victory from the forces of evil? Or will he prove the ultimate tragic figure--defeated and humiliated in the end by his outsized but flawed personality?

Only time will tell--but I cannot put this book down.
In an earlier post, I pointed out that small-government conservatives need to observe the corollary of our beliefs: we need to be involved in one or more of the myriad of voluntary groups that better society and help meet human need. Today, a second corollary.

In the last post I mentioned the flooding we had recently, and the need some people have for shelter after being flooded out of their homes. Now and in the coming months these families will need to show responsible character. What am I talking about?--Will they move back into their houses that flooded, or will they make another choice and move out of a floodplain? Moving back into a house on a floodplain is irresponsible: you are, in effect, counting on society to help you out of your difficulties when you are flooded again. You are acting in a dependent way. Perhaps the closest one can come to living in a flood plain responsibly is by setting up a "flooded-out" savings account, hoping to have enough money in it for food and motel bills for next time. The second corollary for small-government conservatives is family responsibility.

Floods don't endanger property: building in flood plains endangers property.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I caught just a glimpse of C-SPAN's Washington Journal this morning (here). Peter Slen's guest during the second hour was Air America on-air personality, Rachel Maddow, who offered her slant on politics in between viewer calls.

Walking by the TV, I was struck by her snarky throw-away analysis of the rationale for war in Iraq (paraphrasing):

Did we go to war over WMD? Or to depose a ruthless dictator? Or to liberate women from Muslim fundamentalism? Or to shore up a leaky sanctions regime? Or to make the Middle East less unstable? Or to move offending American troops out of Saudi Arabia? Or to provide consequences for a rogue state that flouted international authority?

Her litany of "shifting justifications" implied that the President should pick ONE.

The answer to those "either/or" questions, obviously, is YES. We invaded Iraq for all the reasons enumerated above and more.

It is unfair to single out this one unfortunate person, for she is emblematic of a host of Bush detractors. In fact, I continue to be puzzled by the plethora of well-educated anti-war activists who reject multi-causal reasoning on this particular issue.

Maddow, an authentic "San Francisco liberal," possesses genuine progressive intellectual bona fides.

From her bio (in full here):

"Rachel has a doctorate in political science [from Oxford] (she was a Rhodes Scholar) and a background in HIV/AIDS activism, prison reform, and other lefty rabblerousing."

"Rachel is 33 years old and lives in New York City and rural Western Massachusetts with her partner, artist Susan Mikula."

And from another friendly source, Maddow, a Stanford grad, "became the first openly-gay American to be awarded a Rhodes Scholarship."

If someone asked Dr. Maddow a serious question of great import, my guess is that she would pause, scratch her chin, look deeply into the eyes of the inquirer and say:

"That is a complicated issue for which there are no simple answers."

I am an historian by training. The first day of history school we were all made to write fifty times on the blackboard:

"History is the multi-layered study of change over time. Mono-causal explanations for human events are rarely accurate. Rather, think in terms of multiple motives. History is the product of a complicated web of contingency."

I am confident that Dr. Maddow understands this truism. In fact, my hunch is that she thinks President Bush is a simpleton inclined toward "black and white" thinking. Furthermore, I wager that she consciously favored the candidate in 2004 that she thought understood that "nuance" was an essential element to good leadership.

Ironically, the people who are, in general, most likely to see the world as "complex" and "gray" are the same folks who are most likely to frame this particular issue in the most elementary terms.

My question: are Dr. Maddow and her cohorts purposely demagoguing the issue for partisan reasons? That is, all's fair in love, war, and in aid of a just cause, which includes employing rhetorical leger demain to sway the public debate.

Or, are they so blinded by their opposition to the President that they have temporarily lost their intellectual moorings, forsaking years of training and falling into the logical quick sand of "either/or" reasoning and monocausality?

These are complicated questions for which there are no definitve answers.

Regardless, the public discourse is ill-served by this brand of sloppy thinking.
Saturday night Southwest Oklahoma flooded. People evacuated from low-lying areas, water over the roads, at least a half-dozen people drowned. Here in our area a number of people are now homeless.

Yesterday evening I was working in the yard when I received a phone call from the police asking me to meet with the Red Cross. I went to the police station then was directed to the community center where a shelter would be set up. We had a quick meeting with the Red Cross team, determined what needed to be done to set up the shelter, then got to it. (I don't know why I was the only minister there; though I can imagine that given my parishioners I deal with the police more than most pastors in town, so mine may have been the first name thought of.) The call was put out for the volunteer fire department and we proceeded to sweep floors, unload the Red Cross trailer, and then set up cots, etc. By the time I left the first family was being checked into the shelter.

I am a small-government citizen. That is, I want my governments, federal and state, to be as small and inexpensive as possible. But, there is a corollary to this position. I must, therefore, be an active citizen giving of my time and treasure to ensure that needs are met on the local level. No true conservative can stand around and say, "Why don't they do something?" We want less "they." So we must be willing to pitch in ourselves. See this earlier post.

20/08: The Homerun

I have heard rumblings from members of our small but dedicated reading community in re their expectation that the Okie Gardener might offer some words of wisdom concerning Barry Bonds and his record-breaking 756th career homerun.

Reminder: Last spring, the Gardener penned a very fine mini memoir in re Baseball, which reflected in part on Barry Bonds and 713 (review here).

Roger Angell, in the New Yorker, offers an instructive look at the latest chapter of the story here. Angell points out that the baseball purists who bemoan the steroid-assisted record as violating the sanctity of baseball seem to assume erroneously that baseball existed undefiled. Angell is right to remind us that baseball never really was a "kid's game."

My thoughts: Like the Gardener confessed last year, I cannot care about Bonds or his contemporaries. Although my lack of concern springs from slightly different grievances, my apathy for modern baseball nevertheless overrides any feelings of excitement or disgust.

One personal note: I am glad Bonds did not break the record in Dodger Stadium. There was speculation that Dodger fans were set to "boo" the "surly cheat" from the detestable Giants. I am glad the historic ball field at Elysian Park played no role in this culmination.

Apropos in the most general sense, below are some recycled thoughts on my youth in Southern California and winning (and losing) the Dodger way (originally written in reaction to a piece in defense of rowdy "free speech" at publicly financed stadiums--the original in full here).

Perhaps the game wasn't purer back then--but I certainly was. Thoughts on the game from when I was a kid:

I love West Coast baseball.

I grew up going to Dodger games in Chavez Ravine. I still hear Vin Scully in my dreams.

An aside: different sport, but I continue to mourn the death of Chick Hearn. I came of age during a glorious period of sports broadcasting in the City of Angels.

My dad took me to my first baseball game when I was five or six. Someone told him that one-dollar tickets were available--but upon inspection of the grandstands, we opted for the three-dollar loge seats (FYI: those seats are now $45.00 per customer for walk-ups on game day).

There were no banners back then (or facial hair on the players, for that matter). The O'Malley's didn't allow that sort of thing; it wasn't in keeping with "winning the Dodger way." I can't remember anyone selling beer--but I know it must have been for sale. People must have been imbibing--but I can't remember any drunks.

I rarely sat close enough to see balls and strikes--or near enough for the ballplayers to hear anything I yelled--but I don't remember riding the umps or taunting the opposing players.

Undoubtedly, my memory has filtered out much ugliness; my mind tends to work that way. On the other hand, California was a more laid-back place back then.

For example, living our lives in the world's foremost car culture, hearing a car horn was extremely rare. And it was almost always friendly or essential (employed for the elevated purpose of avoiding an accident). People who drove around honking their horns were looking for trouble. The dominant Southern California subculture back then was "Okie" or Southern. Honking your horn, yelling coarse insults and/or obscene gestures was tantamount to "calling out" another motorist. The recipients of such calumny were honor bound to answer these insults with physical violence. One might reasonably argue that such retaliation was the opposite of civility--but, in effect, the strict code automobuello kept most folks relatively docile and polite. The influx of "New Yorkers" (meaning all East Coasters and Yankees from the "Old Northwest") and later Middle Easterners and other international cultures changed all that. Now there is plenty of honking, yelling and "flipping people off." Forgettaboutit! Of course, the one exception to all this communication involves motorists who look like they may be gang-bangers. For fear of lethal retaliation, most Angelinos mind their manners in confrontations with "dangerous looking" young people.

Having said all that, I can imagine Dodger Stadium is a much rowdier (and probably more dangerous) place than it was when I was growing up. Back then we were the guests of the O'Malley family; if we didn't treat their facility with respect, I think we expected to be asked to leave. We certainly would have never questioned the ownership's right to tell us to go home. Perhaps, such a request might have elicited an "easy, dude, I'm going" sort of huff--but I can guarantee none of us would have reached for our First Amendment lawyers.

We live in interesting times.

Disclosure: I have not actually been back to Dodger Stadium since the O'Malleys sold the club to Newscorp in 1998, which subsequently sold the team to some guy from Boston.
Category: Race in America
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Is the system racist?

From a recent Newsweek exposé:

A Town In Turmoil

"As the new school year approaches, Jena, La., is struggling to move beyond the racial strife that ripped it apart and left the futures of six students in disarray."

Full article here.

The crux of the story: Six black teenagers are charged with beating a white teenager. Authorities have already tried and convicted one of the Jena Six for "aggravated second-degree battery."

The back story: According to Newsweek's reporting, a black student violated the "school's unspoken racial codes" and occupied an "area reserved for white kids."

More Newsweek :

"Some white students didn't look kindly on the encroachment: the next day, three nooses hung from the oak's branches.

"That provocation, which conjured up the ugly history of lynch mobs and the Jim Crow South, unleashed a cycle of interracial strife that has roiled the tiny town of Jena. In the ensuing months, black and white students clashed violently, the school's academic wing was destroyed by arson and six black kids were charged with attempted murder for beating a white peer."

On the web photo gallery, a Newsweek caption reads:

"Justin Barker, 18, a friend of the students who hung the nooses, is the alleged victim of a beating by six black students at Jena High School."

Alleged? Wasn't there a conviction? Are we waiting on the appeal before we presume that the beating victim was actually beaten. Is Newsweek intimating that this might be a hoax?

Provocation? Do inflammatory symbols really excuse violent retribution--even if the target was a friend of the racist noose-hangers?

Another caption:

"Jena was 'entirely bypassed by the civil-rights movement,' says Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. African-Americans continue to be concentrated in an area called 'the country,' a mix of tidy brick homes and rusted trailers. Whites tend to live in 'Snob Hill,' a middle-class neighborhood with tall pines and manicured lawns."

Wow! The de facto segregation rings true, but my experience with small towns in the South is that most whites are not wealthy and living in genteel surroundings. My hunch is that this glaring and likely erroneous generality (undisputed anywhere in the story) is emblematic of similarly slanted reporting and facile conclusions.

What should we make of all this? What is behind all this turmoil in Louisiana?

"The D.A. is a racist. There's just no other way to explain it," charged one of the parents of the accused. Newsweek does not quibble with that assessment.

On the other side of the country in Palmdale, California:

A black teenager, who attacked and killed another young man (who was white) in 2005, won a reduced conviction (from second-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter). As a result of the reduced conviction, an appellate court ordered the black youth resentenced. Last week, a judge sentenced the perpetrator to four to 11 years (reduced from a seven-year minimum) in a California Youth Authority facility.

The background: The black teenager, 13 at the time, attacked and killed Jeremy Rourke, a 15-year-old white youth after losing a PONY League baseball game.

The reaction to the reduced sentence (which, after considering time already served, will make the convicted teen-killer eligible for release in two years)?

From the LA Daily News:

"[T]he parents of defendant Greg Harris Jr. decried the punishment and accused the judge of racism.

"'Something has to be done about this judge. This is ridiculous,' Greg Harris Sr. said after the hearing. 'Eleven years - c'mon. Adults don't even get that. Personally, we feel he's racist.'"

Full story here.

My Conclusion?

I feel for parents who are quick to defend their children and slow to face the enormity of their trespasses. Certainly we still face important questions regarding race and justice in America--and we should take those matters very seriously.

Having said that, racial insults are NEVER justification for physical assault.

Even more importantly, we must resist the temptation to see racism as a default motivation even when there are more compelling reasons to explain the workings of the justice system.

That is, a boy was killed; it was due to the purposeful actions of another boy. This is a tragedy, but, inarguably, the perpetrator deserves punishment. That is not essentially a story about race.

Note: I intend this essay as part one of a longer conversation regarding race and responsibility. My next installment will feature more hopeful signs (the good news) rather than the mournful stories related above.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
The Bourne movie franchise is an astounding money-maker. Well-made and exciting, these movies are entertaining. But, are they good for us?

In these movies the enemy is our own CIA: a plot from far, far too many movies. Hollywood keeps casting the CIA as villains; and I assume that American public perception is thereby influenced.

The CIA helped us win the Cold War. And now, in this age of Islamic Terrorism, we need a smart and efficient CIA in the worst way. We need the CIA to recruit the best and brightest, to be well-funded, so that it can successfully take its place in our first line of defence. Can the CIA recruit successfully, receive adequate funding, and function with purpose and good moral, if the Agency is demonized continually by Hollywood? If the American public is taught not to respect those who labor on our behalf, indeed to assume that they are the enemy?

Don't bother leaving a comment about some past excesses. I am talking now. I would rather my family not be blown up tomorrow by some fanatic shouting the praises of Allah.

I don't plan to buy a movie ticket to see the CIA trashed, again.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
The next morning after our day in the Smokies, we took a sidetrip to Dillsboro, North Carolina, home of the Dogwood Crafters cooperative (website). In a small house in a small mountain town, crafts from many, many high country crafters are for sale: corn shuck dolls, tatted lace, quilts, pottery, baskets, and more. We left with a wood-split basket and a ceramic bowl. Since the items are sold through a cooperative, not a commercial gallery, almost all the purchase price goes to the artisan.

Farmers get less than a dime for each loaf of bread you buy. Factory workers, especially in countries without unions, get a pittance from each item you purchase. For this, and other reasons, I like to buy directly from artisans/coops and farmers/farmers' coops. It seems to me that the producers should enjoy more of the fruits of their labor.

So check out your local farmers' market, roadside vegetable stand, artisan. Check into buying from coops. Viva localism.
Category: Environment
Posted by: an okie gardener
From MSNBC: full story here
Today, however, Chinese companies have a sizable cost advantage over their rivals in the developed world because many of the environmental costs of doing business in the United States, Europe and Japan are still externalities in China. Polluting the air, water and ground at no cost to the company's bottom line makes it easy to undercut the prices charged by companies that don't have a right to pollute for free.

Buy MADE IN CHINA and help support the destruction of the earth.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
The doctor comes into your hospital room. You assume he is there to heal you, or at least to help ease your suffering if healing seems impossible. You view the doctor as an agent of life. But, if euthanasia becomes legal and more common, then when the doctor walks through the door you will not be sure that she is an agent of life. She might be the agent of death. Without your consent? Sure. Your money is running out; the insurance company does not want to continue payments; your children are distressed at your suffering and decide they can't take it anymore . . . The doctor agrees, and assures the family that the end will be painless; and, oh, don't tell the patient what is in the syringe, that would only cause mental anxiety and distress. The doctor enters: is he an agent of life or death? You don't know.

Some related thoughts from Cardinal George Pell.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church stepped to the edge of the cliff recently. From the NYT:

The country’s largest Lutheran denomination officially bars openly gay people from the ministry. But in a move that advocates for gay men and lesbians are hailing as a step toward changing that policy, the denomination is urging its bishops to refrain from disciplining gay members of the clergy who are in committed same-sex relationships.

Full story.
The vote is intended to be an interim measure until a report is made to the church in 2009.

One of the ways denominations have slid down the slope is to keep "studying" an issue until an advocacy group gets what it wants. Votes may be taken, traditional positions enunciated, but the effect blunted by a vote to undertake "further study" or "dialogue." Then, when a convention/synod/assembly finally votes to make a change away from tradition, suddenly there is no need for further study.

God help the Lutherans.
Now baby bibs having lead. Story here. Another week, another dangerous Chinese import. Previous post here.

Odd, in a way. When I was young, "Made in Japan" meant "junk." But, over the last three or so decades the Japanese have turned out such quality that "Made in Japan" means well-made. Korea and Taiwan have had similar quality improvements. Why is China making no progress in quality, perhaps even regressing? The Chinese people are hard working still. Is it corrupt management?

It's not just an expansion problem During American industrial expansion in the late-nineteenth century, we sold the cheapest steel in the world that also was the highest quality in the world. Thank you Andrew Carnegie.

(I hope the Chinese military is having similar quality-control problems.)
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
Leaving Smoky Mountain National Park on the North Carolina side, we traveled US 19 from Cherokee to Bryson City where we stayed the night. Along the way we met few cars, and the motels were older and sometimes showing decay. Bryson City was almost empty of tourists, though obviously set up to cater to people coming and going from the Park. Leaving the next morning we discovered the reason: another highway, four-lanes, had bypassed the town by a couple of miles, US 74.

The economic paths of America have always been changing. Centers become margins and back again. In early Missouri, my home state, the best roads in the state 180 years ago led to the rivers. Commerce flowed along them. Until the railroads. Then the centers changed as new economic pathways flowed with goods and people. Interstates and highway upgrades do the same thing today. Build a nice motel in 1947 and it may not have much traffic by it in 2007. Should the state compensate the owners?

Capitalism has risks as well as rewards. Take away the risks and we have created another system, one that probably will not reward anyone. In the last week some financial institutions have taken a hit in the mortgage industry. Some borrowers are defaulting. There have been a few calls for bailouts. Sad, but these are adults, who should have known the risks. Life does not come with no-risk guarantees.
As asserted and reasserted on this blog, radical Islam is radical ISLAM. Its most fundamental root cause comes from within Islam itself, not from politics or economics. Radical Islam is a religious phenomenon.

Here is a summary and response to the NYPD report on the homegrown terrorist threat. While the report did not go far enough, it did annoy the usual suspects.

Killing terrorists is like slapping mosquitoes. The swamp needs drained. We shall see what comes of the Bush attempt to remake the Middle East, but at least he recognized that radical change is needed. The shortcomings of the plan may be that it does not go far enough. The Administration is attempting to change the political/economic situation in Iraq, while ignoring the religious situation.
Category: Environment
Posted by: an okie gardener
This month's National Geographic has a splendid article on whether or not New Orleans should be rebuilt. Article summary: by geography New Orleans always will be vulnerable to destruction by hurricanes, floods, and is threatened by rising sea levels. Also, the city itself is sinking slowly, the result of the ground drying as water is pumped out of swamps.

Only a small bit of present day New Orleans is above sea level. Until about 1900 that was the city. Then technology progressed to the point that swamps could be drained, levees built, and the city spilled over into areas below sea level. Not a good idea.

I think rebuilding New Orleans to match its pre-Katrina size is an act of hubris. We can control some aspects of nature some of the time. But, keeping New Orleans safe would require big, complex, and perfect systems. No way big, complex human systems will be perfect over a time of centuries.

Let the swamps return and the city shrink.

"You can't always get what you want, . . ."
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
We spent some time in the glorious Smoky Mountains. Staying the night just east of Knoxville, we traveled down US 441 from I-40 the next morning. Mile after mile of tourist traps and outlet stores and real estate offices. Most of the time I despise such places, but that day they struck me differently. I saw the tackiness, but it seemed appealing: American opportunism and ambition at work. We even stopped at two of the outlet stores: the wife needed new sandals and I needed a new wallet--since we don't buy Made in China, we must make an effort to find such things, and that day were successful.

The commercial activity ceased as the terrain grew rougher and the ridges higher. Then into the National Park. No entry fee! A free wonder. Green comes in a lot of shades: ferns in the shadows, maples and hemlocks; water drips and flows and falls. We took a few short hikes: within fifty yards of the road the vegetation silenced the motors of our fellow tourists. Steep slopes, high ridges, shadowy ravines, clouds above, below, and all around with occasional rain. The view from Clingman's Dome was grey. When the sun did break through at lower elevations the distant views were blurred by the "smoke" of moisture from the vegetation.

And, "smoke" from pollution. The highest ridges of the park have trees dead from acid rain, much of it caused by automobiles. We are driving ourselves to death. Including my wife and I. Interstate highways are ribbons of individual freedom--get up and go--but do carry costs. We are no longer a nation tied together by steel rails. We really had no choice if we wanted to visit the Smokies and see our son in Georgia, drive we must. When I was a child my father would take my mother and sister and I to the train station in Brookfield, Missouri. We took an early morning passenger train to Kansas City, about a 120 mile trip. After shopping and seeing a medical specialist we returned in the evening. That passenger line runs no more.

Category: General
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I am visiting the LA Bureau of the Bosque Boys this week. In the midst of on-shore breezes and swaying palm trees, I will do my best to keep my ear to the ground in re politics and such--but I make no guarantees.

Iowa straw poll?

Karl Rove?

LAX Computers?

Merv Griffin?

Perhaps some thoughts for public consumption by and by....
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
Driving from Nashville to Knoxville on I-40 I saw an information sign reading "Appalachian Center for Craft" at the next exit. We made the exit and drove the winding 6 miles to the small campus overlooking the Tennessee River.

The Center, a part of Tennessee Tech, brings together students, resident artists, faculty, and regional artisans, to learn and to produce. Web site. While traditional skills are taught and learned, many of the pieces on display and for sale have moved Appalachian artistry into the 21st century. Lots of wonderful stuff. A ceramic bowl from there now sits on our dining room table.

Schools can do wonderful things for communities, and for the nation. Our Land-Grant universities have had tremendous impact in agriculture and engineering. Law Schools shape future judges and politicians. Our national investment in education--going back to colonial days--has made our country a leader in most fields. There is a reason so many foreign students want to attend college in the United States.

But, education is broader than "book learning;" more than learning skills artistic or mental. Education, at least education that is worth while, is also about character formation. It is not enough to have an artistic eye. A student must learn the discipline of working the clay and shaping it. Rejecting attempt after attempt until a satisfying piece is made. Patience and determination as well as skill must be developed. Education cannot be value-neutral. What sort of boys and girls, men and women do your local schools seek to create?
Category: Immigration
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
For the record, I never suggested that we swallow whole the ill-fated comprehensive immigration reform package of 2007. However, I have consistently advocated engagement and compromise in the pursuit of a workable immigration solution.

No matter, I clearly warned that obstructionism and an unwillingness to take part in the process would lead to de facto amnesty and a continuation of the less-than-desirable status quo.

But, perhaps I had all that figured wrong. Something is happening.

From the President today:

A Press Release from the WH today in re "Improving Border Security and Immigration Within Existing Law."

The Plan?

--improve border security
--improve interior and worksite enforcement
--streamline and improve existing guest worker and immigration policies and procedures
--extra concentration on assimilation

More details from the WH website here.

Recently the three Republican amigos (Jon Kyle, John McCain and Lindsey Graham) offered tougher, non-comprehensive legislation aimed at meeting the immediate demands of cultural conservatives (story via the Washington Post here). Taken together with the President's policy, this new posture seems to indicate that Republican leaders now understand their mandate: secure the border and crack down on illegal immigrants. After that, anti-illegal-immigration conservatives say we can talk about ways to provide low-wage labor for business needs, carving out paths to citizenship, and humanitarian relief to our undocumented neighbors.

Has the President and Republican Party leaders submitted to the voice of the grassroots? Evidently.

A tougher question: will this new strategy succeed?

Attainment seems uncertain. I retain my doubts that hard-line bills without incentives for immigration liberals can ever gain passage. We'll see. Considering the short-term political climate regarding immigration, however, it is possible to imagine stampeding enough moderate Democrats from heartland congressional districts to vote for a tougher immigration regime. Possible--but still not probable in my view. Such a scenario would require a full-blown rebellion against Nancy Pelosi and an unlikely 60-vote consensus in the Senate.

On the other hand, even a failed effort at hardcore legislation forces rank-and-file Democrats to vote against a wall and other hot-button issues, which will be good politics (at least in the near term). However, that political advantage does nothing to solve the festering national problem.

Time will tell.
Category: Campaign 2008.5
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
According to the conventional wisdom, the Iowa straw poll tomorrow for "Republicans only" is set to launch former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, into a higher echelon of the American consciousness.

I have no quibble with that analysis. In addition to his superior Iowa organization, Romney is the only top-tier candidate contesting the vote tomorrow. He will undoubtedly win the canvass handily. Afterwards, for a fleeting moment, all eyes will be trained on Romney. It is up to the candidate to make the most of that opportunity.

However, tomorrow is also an important day for virtually unknown Republican candidate Mike Huckabee.

If Bill Richardson is the best candidate for the Democratic nomination that you've never heard of, Mike Huckabee is his opposite number.

Kris Kristoferson once said of Billy Joe Shaver (before the Texas songwriter became quasi-famous), "if he were a TV show, he would come on at 4:OO AM." Mike Huckabee has taken over the time slot.

The former governor of Arkansas is funny, true-blue conservative, and engaging, but he is currently in the tall weeds of the GOP primary race.

Will Iowa be the place where Mike Huckabee emerges?

Crazier things have happened.

Why might Iowa be kind to the former governor?

Mike Huckabee, an Baptist minister turned politician, ought to play well in Peoria. He is an authentic son of the heartland and a candidate that genuinely embodies the values of evangelical America. Remember Iowa is the place that briefly created an air of viability for Pat Robertson in 1988.

If Huckabee cannot gain traction tomorrow in Ames, he most likely becomes merely an obscure footnote in American presidential election history. However, I would not be shocked if Mike Huckabee did well enough on Saturday to make him worth talking about on Sunday. A GOP electorate in search of an appealing conservative could do worse.

UPDATE: Sorry I missed this excellent profile of Huckabee from Roger Simon of the Politico (worth reading: here).
While traveling through Nashville we stopped to see the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's plantation home. Old Hickory built himself quite a house; a two-story mansion furnished Philadelphia furniture and French wallpaper.

On one level, Jackson's life is a classic American rags-to-riches story. Born poor in the Carolina's, moved West to seek his fortune, practiced law and traded and rose in local society until he became a planter; serving in the militia then the Regular Army, he became a national folk-hero for his courage and success. As a political leader he championed the ordinary man against the elites. Ironic, some might say, given that he had risen into elite status himself. Opportunistic, some more cynical might assert, using common-man rhetoric to further his own ambitions. I think, though, Jackson believed his own words, and truly wanted to keep America the land of opportunity.

When Andrew Jackson championed the rights and liberty of the common man, he meant, of course, the common white man. He owned slaves; their labor made his lifestyle possible. Field hands lived near the fields they tilled, and household slaves lived near the big house, ready to answer the bells from the back-porch summoning them to meet the needs of their masters. Champion of Liberty and Owner of Slaves: was he a hypocrite? Not in the context of his time. His generation, and those before, understood Liberty to mean different kinds of liberty for different kinds of folks, depending on their ability for self-government. White men with full liberty followed by white women then children with blacks below. Does that make Jackson a racist. Sure, by modern standards. Although I would call his racism a "soft" racism: that is, I know of no evidence that he hated blacks and practiced cruelty toward slaves because they were black. Indeed, the slaves at the Hermitage lived better than most slaves in the area, and probably not below the conditions of many poor whites. This is not to condone slavery, but to attempt to understand our past.

Jackson, the Indian fighter, also was the man who adopted an orphaned Indian boy. He and Rachel raised him like a natural-born son. Contradictory? Seemingly so. Jackson believed in American expansion, and forced the powerful southern tribes west of the Mississippi. Yet he himself seemed to believe that he was doing them a favor as well as gaining opportunity for whites; that the only way the tribes could be preserved was to remove them from contact with whites.

The irony that strikes me today is that Jackson, a hero in his home state of Tennessee and admired throughout the South, gave one of the mortal wounds to the idea that America was a nation of states rather than a nation-state. When South Carolina rebelled during his presidency over taxation, Jackson forced her to remain in the Union with believable threats of violence. "Our Federal Union, it must be preserved."
Category: Environment
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
It is August in the South--and it is hot. This week Atlanta is "hot-lanta."

Further evidence of global warming?

Not in itself. I heard Rush Limbaugh say yesterday that the hottest decade of the last century was the 1930s. Is that true? Perhaps. From what I read, it was evidently pretty hot and dry. The "Dust Bowl" and all that.

Bear Bryant's hellish mini-camp at Junction is a legend near-and-dear to the hearts of most Texas football fans (Aggies especially). The ten-day ordeal took place in 1954 in the midst of a horrific six-year heat wave and drought in the Texas Hill County. The temperature reached the century mark on every tortuous day of the football encampment, and, according to legend, several days saw temperatures in the one-hundred-teens.

Is it hotter this summer than ever before? Probably not.

What I hate most about the current global warming debate is the politicization and hysteria. That is, I just don't trust the people who are the most adamant and apocalyptic in their warnings that we face a crisis of epic proportions. They are the same folks who brought us the Great Society, social engineering, political correctness, and unilateral disarmament.

They are also persons who have cried wolf too often.

On the other hand, the basic concept of good stewardship and prudential long-term planning makes good sense. We ought to be concerned about the future. Perceptive thinkers have fretted about limited resources since Malthus and Benjamin Franklin.

The predicament: Finite resources and exponential population growth equals a problem at some point in human history. Thus far, dramatic advances in technology and an amazingly dynamic and productive economic system have outpaced the inherent difficulty --and made the Malthusian predictions of scarcity during the nineteenth century the butt of modern derision.

However, do we really think that this planet will sustain 10 billion people? Twenty billion? Thirty billion? Do we think the United States will sustain a billion? Two billion? Do we think the American Southwest can continue to meet its water needs in perpetuity?

Does it alarm anyone other than me that we have become accustomed to a luxuriously abundant lifestyle that is predicated on an expanding economy, which is dependent on a growing, building, and expanding civilization, which requires the creation and infusion of more and more inhabitants into an environment with finite resources. There are limits. Where those limits actually exist--perhaps no one can say with certainty. However, undoubtedly, there must be a point at which our demand for potable water, breathable air, and fossil fuels to run our modern world exceeds the planet's capacity to offer them up.

A question for another day: what happens when and/or if the lights go out for good?
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The other day, Barry-s Head intimated that I might have a man crush on the President. Today, Barry-s wonders if my "contrarian bent is at work here-- would [the Farmer] support 43 if he had a 95% approval rating? Or is it [Farmer's] inclination to support the President no matter what (as in the earlier post on his theoretical support for H-44)? Or is it because 43 is Republicanish?"

As I have said before, my affinity for the President is admitted and well-documented.

For a one-stop-shopping post that delves deeply into this subject, you might start here.

But, in a few words, Barry-s is on to something in re my natural "contrarianism." While I am a big fan of the combined wisdom of the ages, I am inclined to buck the conventional wisdom of the moment; it is often facile, myopic and hyperbolic.

If you listen to the mob, George Bush is:

--another Hitler
--the worst president in US history
--prosecuting a war in the interest of Halliburton, big oil and revenge for his father
--filling the courts with right-wing jurists intent on taking away all our liberties
--sitting atop an administration intent on taking away all our liberties
--the puppet of corporate America
--unprecedentedly partisan
--unprecedentedly secretive
--presiding over the worst economy of a generation

I can prove empirically that none of those common accusations are valid. Nevertheless, these incendiary and patently false "truisms" define Bush's term as president for many Americans.

Whether on the playground, or on the blogosphere, I have always attempted to resist the "tyranny of the majority" and work toward a degree of objectivity and fairness.

Objective Analysis

The truth is Bush has made some mistakes and made some bad moves. The truth is that all presidents have always had vociferous opponents who believed that the Republic was in danger as a result of his excesses.

The truth is that this President--like the vast majority of his predecessors--loves America, is doing the best job that he can, and deserves our support.

The truth is that the Presidency is a very tough job (perhaps it has even become an impossible job).

The Good News for radical Bush-loathers: We get the chance to change leaders every four years. The Constitution says that this particular president is finished in less than seventeen months, at which time we will install a new head of state.

The Bad News for radical Bush-loathers: The next president is NOT going to be radically different from this one.

Post Script: In answer to Barry-s last query, of course, I possess an extra degree of understanding and sensitivity for members of my own political tribe. This is human nature. That is, I am inclined to give my guy the benefit of the doubt--and feel for him more.

But we can watch me in the years to come to see if I keep to my pledge to support the next president--regardless of her party affiliation.
Recently my wife and I took a trip to Georgia to see the son in the Navy. This post and others to follow will offer random thoughts from our travel.

American radio is too homogenized. FM radio from Oklahoma to Georgia and back was pretty much the same. "Country" stations played the same stuff in Tennessee and South Carolina. "Urban" stations all sounded alike. "Classic Rock" (aka Geezer Rock) played the same rotations. Depressing. Coming into Memphis on the first night I vainly scanned the FM dial for some "Memphis Music;" you know, blues or even Rockabilly. No luck. AM radio has some regional variety: usually I could find one AM station playing music I associated with its locality--"Mountain Music" in the hills, older Country near Nashville, etc.

In only a couple of short stretches could I pick up no Spanish-language radio.

Along the Interstate we had to look for regional cuisine amid the McDonald's and Arby's and Flying J's. We were able to find local, independent places, but had to look for them.

When did we begin the process of eroding regional cultures in America? With the Sears & Roebuck catalog or the A&P Grocery? Later with the radio networds? Earlier as we developed from a nation of states into a nation-state? I am not so foolishly romantic as to wish for regional cultures to come back in all their details, but I think we are losing something.

I did find that regional accents remain. Tennessee has at least three. Viva localism.

09/08: Fred Who?

Category: Campaign 2008.5
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The zeitgeist this week seems to be that Fred Thompson has tarried too long and perhaps missed his window of opportunity, while Mitt Romney is finally catching fire and coming into his own as a candidate.

Frankly, I have the same feeling.

In truth: We are just not going to understand the impact of Fred Thompson's entry into this race until he enters the race (assuming that he, indeed, will throw his hat into the ring, to which I am starting to have my doubts).

More significantly, the malaise hanging over the GOP race is a sense of impending doom in November 2008. This dread is not so much a result of inferior candidates; rather, it is the certainty that our electoral chances are inextricably linked to our success in Iraq. However, the glimmer of hope breaking across the Republican horizon in re Iraq may shine a more attractive light on our current crop of contenders.

A more successful Iraq would bode well for John McCain, if he weren't hopelessly damaged beyond all redemption with GOP primary voters--but McCain seems truly beyond resuscitation.

That leaves Rudy, who remains atop the national surveys among Republicans and continues to run strong in national polls among all voters.

Undoubtedly, Mitt Romney is finding his voice. His success in the upcoming Iowa straw poll will offer him his moment of maximum exposure. From what I can see--he is ready. It is conceivable that Romney might take this moment to emerge as the frontrunner and never look back. I must admit that I am increasingly sympathetic to him.

However, I continue to have serious doubts. Romney is running as an "outsider." I remain skeptical that the Republicans can win a national election as the party of new ideas. Will anyone buy that at this point?

For a lot of reasons, the Republicans remain in a fix.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
But I should correct my statement from earlier this week when I identified myself as part of the twenty-something percent of Americans who approved of George Bush. I now have some more company. According to Gallup, President Bush is in the midst of a "slight uptick."

His current approval rating is 34 percent. Alas, those aren't Clintonian numbers, but they are less Nixonian than they were a few weeks ago.

The Gallup article (here) also identifies the upward creeping numbers of Americans optimistic about the "surge" in Iraq, which Gallup credits to the positive tone of press coverage over the past fortnight.

Of course, before you get too excited, the number of Americans who feel the surge is working is only 31 percent (but 31 percent with a "bullet").

I agree with the analysis. The good news on the surge has lifted the pall over the WH and the President's supporters. I feel a sense of hope reforming among the faithful.

Very funny but also instructive: According to the Gallup piece, NYT pollsters found similar numbers in their own sample. Astounded, they redid the canvass, coming up with an identical finding the second time around.

My Own Analysis: one other reason for the "slight uptick," however, has got to be the return of the temporarily disaffected immigration conservatives who rallied back to the flag as the partisan standoff over Iraq returned to the forefront and potentially comes to a head soon in the near future.

All in all, a little good news today.

The Gallup piece in full here.
Category: Texas 17
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I have given my Congressman, Chet Edwards, plenty of grief for abandoning his stalwart support for the President and the war to vote with Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership on several crucial measures over the past few months (here and here). However, I am pleased to cheer his support for the recent FISA legislation, passed by the Senate last Friday and approved by the Lower Chamber on Sunday.

Explanations from the Congressman’s office concerning many of these critical votes have been spare, obligue, or nonexistent, so I am happy to quote from this press release at length:

“Given that Al Qaida friendly websites have recently threatened more terror attacks on American soil, I agreed with the President’s request to allow information about suspected terrorists to be gathered more quickly, so that we can prevent such attacks,” said Edwards, a member of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

The update to the 1978 FISA law was expedited at the request of the White House and was purposely written to expire in six months to give Congress more time to write permanent legislation while granting the Bush Administration the ability to pursue pressing intelligence matters.

“This bill gives the President the flexibility he asked for in the short term, and with a 180 day sunset provision, it gives Congress and the Administration time to determine the most effective tools to prevent terrorist attacks while safeguarding the civil rights of all Americans,” said Edwards.

President Bush signed the bill into law Monday.

Full press release here.

Important Note: Edwards was one of only 41 Democrats to support the President’s request.

Well done, Congressman.

Roll Call here.

I have speculated previously that the Speaker and Democratic Leadership are likely exerting extreme pressure on Edwards to squeeze out these anti-war votes. I suspect that Congressman Edwards did not willingly reverse himself on these issues. I would like to know the back-story details, as I think this individual political journey likely tells a larger tale in microcosm.

As for this particular confrontation, Paul Kane of the Washington Post indicates Speaker Pelosi felt forced to take off the handcuffs on this vote (his analysis here).

What does all this really mean?

Only time will tell whether this engagement presages a return to a more regular pattern of voting for my Congressman and other center-right Democrats representing traditionally conservative districts. But with the palpable change of momentum in Iraq, even settling in on Capitol Hill, we may see a much less unified front on the part of the Democratic caucus.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
A Texas Folk Tale*

Not many people know this, but George Washington was originally a Texan.

But one day Washington's father called him in to ask whether he had cut down the mesquite tree in the backyard.

"I cannot tell a lie," said George. "I took my hatchet and chopped down the mesquite tree."

At which point George's father told him to pack his bags--they were moving to Virginia.

"But why?" asked the boy. "Because I chopped down the only shade tree within fifty miles?"

"No", his father said, "Because if you cannot tell a lie, you'll never make it in Texas politics."

My President and His Faults

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I like and admire our President. I am a part of the twenty-something percent of Americans who approve of the job he is doing. Having said that, sometimes I wonder if his Attorney General would rather obfuscate and stonewall when the truth would make a better story.

In re the US Attorneys: if the administration had come clean and faced the incident honestly, my hunch is that the President's operatives could have made a compelling case for their actions and come away with their dignity and honor intact.

I am still waiting for the explanation in re Scooter Libby and the entire Valerie Plame imbroglio. What really happened? And why? Like the firing of the US attorneys, my sense is that the administration could have made a convincing case for their actions early on. Or, barring that, they could have told a tale of human passions and errors in judgment, pled for understanding among reasonable people, and moved on.

But that is not the Bush style.

And, of course, I have other more much important objections to this President:

He misunderstood the grotesque magnitude of the task in Iraq. He did not prepare for the worst-case scenario. He has allowed the military to deteriorate to an alarmingly weakened state during a period of great risk. He did not ask the American people to engage and sacrifice. And there's more...

So, I don't approve of the President because I think he is perfect, but I think he is a good American attempting to do his duty (which happens to be the hardest duty on the planet). On the whole, President Bush has done an acceptable job confronting an exceedingly challenging set of circumstances. He is not perfect, but, then again, the "perfect" is the enemy of the good.

In other words, in our futile search for leaders without fault--we sometimes cast aside great statesmen for inconsequential reasons. And, more often, we fix our gaze on the human imperfections in those elected officials whom we are already predisposed to dislike for partisan reasons. To paraphrase George Washington's observations from long ago, "the spirit of inseparable from our nature," but the blindness of factional enmity sets us on the road to the "ruin of public liberty."

MY PLEDGE to the next President:

My faith in the institutions of the United States is still very strong. I am anxious to support the next president, who will likely be a Democrat. Although I will vote for her opponent in the general election, I am actually rooting for Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination--but not because I think she would be the easiest Democrat to beat. I believe that she offers the best alternative from the opposition party. If elected, Mrs. Clinton will have my support. If elected, my sincerest wish will be that she proves to be the wisest president in our history--for we need a great leader at this particular moment in time. Her success will be my success and mean more security for my children. If elected, I will pray that she prospers. She will be my president.

*The Old Texas Folk Tale was famously told over the years by many a Lone Star politician (including John Connally and Ann Richards).
A few days ago Tocqueville pointed me toward this story in which, according to the headline, John "McCain change[d] course on immigration."

From the AP story:

"WASHINGTON - Republican presidential hopeful John McCain on Thursday backed a scaled-down proposal that imposes strict rules to end illegal immigration but doesn't include a path to citizenship.

"The move away from a comprehensive measure is an about-face for the Arizona senator, who had been a leading GOP champion of a bill that included a guest worker program and would have legalized many of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. It failed earlier this year.

'"We can still show the American people that we are serious about securing our nation's border," McCain said in a statement, adding that the new bill would "provide an essential step toward achieving comprehensive reform in the future."'

Alluding to previous conversations on this blog, Tocqueville submitted this development as further evidence that McCain is "a complete and shameless opportunist."

Call me stubborn--but I would say that this alteration indicates McCain's pragmatism much more than it proves his opportunism.

There is no doubt that his position on immigration did enormous damage to him politically, completely killing his already slim chances of winning the GOP nomination (although the Senator, evidently, disagrees). Inarguably, this reformulation is the only option for candidate McCain.

An aside: My opinion, nevertheless, is that it really does not matter at this point, rearranging deck furniture on the Titanic and all that (but, again, the Senator seems to disagree).

Regardless, McCain is merely taking a very practical position. He still wants comprehensive immigration reform--but he is admitting the obvious: cultural conservatives must be placated before any larger reform is possible.

One can argue that McCain continues to advocate the same policy--but he has shown flexibility in his approach to accomplishing his long-term goal.

Of course, the practical question becomes: will anyone who counts for anything buy into that reading of the situation? Not likely.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Excellent analysis from good friend of the Bosque Boys:

Guest Blog: Tocqueville

Quin Hillyer is always interesting and trenchant. In his piece this morning (here) he rather hits the nail on the head:

"In short, the unpopularity of Republicans right now gives Democrats the first time in 12 years a chance to win, say, 70% of what they want on some issues; but, instead, they are holding out for 95 or 100% and instead earning nothing but headlines."

He next notes that Feinstein's vote for Judge Southwick signals a smart political path for the Democrats -- episodic accommodation that raises with the voters a presumption of equanimity in dealing with the opposition. But will the Democrats catch the hint? The confirmation of Southwick offers the Democrats much political cover for 2008, if they are rational enough to seize it. In all probability, a rousing confirmation of Southwick would "cover" a virtual stonewall on confirmations in 2008. But will the Democratic nutroots and moonbat factions sit still for anything less than ideological purity?

Of course, below the surface is Feinstein looking at the attention paid to the rather pedestrian Pelosi, coupled with the obvious floundering and flummoxing of the preposterous (and corrupt) Harry Reid. If Reid's "leadership" continues to yield middling results, Feinstein stands to challenge Reid for the post that he doubtless never deserved (and I prefer Feinstein's solid and womanly voice to the pathetic, wimpish whining of Reid -- and Daschle before him). I wonder if Harry Reid sees Feinstein's vote for Southwick as a challenge? He should. Everyone else will.

Again, Hillyer's article here.
Category: Campaign 2008.4
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Compelling theater on the floor of the United States Senate tonight (Friday PM).

The Good News: Comity, pragmatism, and the national interest reigned within the Upper Chamber this evening, as the Senate passed the President's FISA bill.

An AP account of the proceedings here.

Watching the drama play out on C-SPAN2, one could not help but notice that the production appeared skillfully orchestrated. Even as the Democrats were voting against the Republican-crafted version of the bill, certain members seemed designated to raise the total to the needed sixty votes for passage. Red-state Democrats (Southerners like David Pryor and Mary Landrieu and lower Mid-Westerners like Claire McCaskill) provided the needed margin, while all the Democratic candidates for president voted against the measure.

Another wrinkle: Although the Senate website has not posted the roll call vote yet, I distinctly heard Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Mikulski, and Bill Nelson, all Democratic members of the Intelligence Committee, vote in the affirmative for the bill.

A humorous aside: I think I heard Mary Landrieu change her vote twice, voting in the affirmative initially, re-voting in the negative, and then casting her third and final vote in favor.

All in all, well done. The mission was accomplished, the Democratic leadership saved face, Russ Feingold scolded, and almost everybody seemed to exit the chamber smiling and friendly, happily headed home, and deservedly proud of one another--having done their duty.

Good show.

One last thing: The junior senator from New York waited until near the end of the vote to cast her "thumbs down," and I was holding my breath wondering if she was going to further set herself apart from her nearest rival, the junior senator from Illinois. I really wanted to title this post: "Mrs. Clinton? Aye!" What a fitting end to a week in which candidate Clinton advocated an adult foreign policy, while Barack Obama seemed adrift. But, alas, not tonight.
This headline in the Washington Post today:

"Three Top Democrats Share Lead In Iowa Poll;
Clinton, Obama, Edwards Are Tied"

Jon Cohen and Dan Balz report:

"Less than six months before Iowa voters open the 2008 presidential nomination battles, the Democratic contest in the Hawkeye State is a deadlock, with Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards in a virtual tie for first place, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll."

The full story here.

My Analysis in brief:

1. It is still very early--but this race (especially in Iowa) seems to be taking shape. These polls are starting to count.

2. Bad news for Edwards. This is the state in which he is best-positioned for success. He is well-known, popular, and a proven vote getter in Iowa. More importantly, this is the state on which he has placed all his chips.

I have already recorded my skepticism on this strategy, but Edwards is hoping to win in Iowa, generate a groundswell of momentum, and ride the wave of victory in the caucus to victory in the other state primaries that closely follow.

To review: this is a long shot at best, as the caucus in Iowa will probably have much less positive influence on underdogs as in times past. Why? The primaries are configured in a completely different way this time around. They are frontloaded and compressed, which requires a massive and powerful organization to compete everywhere simultaneously. This is not good for insurgent campaigns.

Having said that, Edwards is now losing momentum in Iowa--where he must emerge as surprisingly strong to have any chance. You may ask if this is the chicken or the egg, but, ironically, this new three-way poll affirms the recently emergent storyline of a two-horse race.

3. Good news for Hillary. A few weeks ago she was squelching rumors that she would not contest Iowa. As the Post story contends, and as the Okie Gardener's onsite reporting asserted, Iowa is not a good fit for the Clinton candidacy. She does not play well in Peoria. That is, Iowans seem unimpressed, suspicious, and unfriendly to her personally.

However, she is grinding this one out: four yards and a cloud of dust. There was much discussion a while back regarding Bill's coming to Iowa. The punditry wondered: Was this too soon? Probably not. Switching sports analogies: start your ace in game one, and you can possibly start him again in four and seven. Bring the heat early and often. All that to say, the Clinton team realizes Iowa is big. Bill Clinton might make the difference in a close race; it would be foolish to leave him on the bench.

The bottom line: Candidate Clinton can overcome a loss in Iowa, because she has the best organization. She is prepared to compete in every state primary over the following three weeks. However, a win in Iowa would be huge for her. She can overcome a loss in Iowa--but a win might clinch the aura of inevitability.

With Certainty: If John Edwards does not win Iowa, he is finished.

Less Certain: Barack Obama. If the Illinois senator, a favorite son from a neighboring state does not win in Iowa, he will be damaged. However, he will have plenty of money with which to dust himself off, get back in the race, and go on to New Hampshire et al with vigor.

One other note of interest: Bill Richardson broke through to double digits in this poll. Insiders see Richardson as a serious person. Perhaps this gives him hope in the VP derby or for a top cabinet slot.

UPDATE: A big Texas welcome to Instapundit readers. Browse around and make yourself at home. For other stories of possible interest, click above on "Campaign 2008" or here and scroll down.

Also, for a view of the FISA vote in the Senate last night, see here.
Category: Campaign 2008.4
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The Washington Post is currently featuring this video clip (view here), in which Michele Griffin, a waitress in a New Hampshire diner, confronts Mitt Romney regarding healthcare.

Although the Post headline frames the exchange broadly, "How 'Bout the USA? Romney Is Asked In Emotional Exchange on Health Care," the confrontation is much more personal. "What are you going to do for me and my family?" Ms. Griffin demands, making clear her core concern is immediate. How is the government going to solve my problem? She also wants to know about Romney's individual plan (co-payments, deductibles, etc.) implying that her care and his care ought to be equal.

The exchange is uncomfortable to watch. I felt bad for Romney, and I felt embarrassed for Ms. Griffin. It is one of the reasons I would never want to run for President.

An aside: Increasingly, I am inclined to ask: who would want this job? Who would be willing to go through this kind of humiliation (and plenty of other kinds) to get this job? God Bless the candidates--each and every one. I cannot help but believe that they all possess out-sized portions of civic responsibility and love of country.

Perhaps even more alarming, the exchange spotlights a culture in which we expect the government to solve our problems. Ms. Griffin is the pony-tail guy of 1992 in a slightly different guise. I am hurting. You need to fix it. We continue to look for a candidate who can feel our pain.

My heart goes out to folks who are struggling. Ms. Griffin appears to be a sympathetic mother in genuine despair. Nevertheless, how did we get to the point in our national culture in which we expect a random candidate for president to come in off the street, wave a magic government wand, and make our lives better? My hunch is that the Lotto offers Ms. Griffin better odds for amelioration than waiting for government to transform her life.

This is not a healthy dynamic. I think I am going to be ill...
Category: Campaign 2008.4
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Appearing presidential may be the most essential element in the art of running for president. The Foreign Policy theater is often the toughest venue for aspiring presidents, and sometimes desperate actors do take desperate measures to demonstrate their capacity for the role.

I have not read Barack Obama's major foreign policy address delivered Wednesday at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. I will read it soon, and I will report on anything I find significant that is not completely obvious and/or already well covered.

Before I do that, however, I will assess the speech as a campaign event, keeping in mind that the vast majority of Americans who will pick the next president did not, nor will they ever, read the statement.

Therefore, much more important than what Obama said yesterday is how it is reported and received in the coming days.

How was it covered?

The conservative blogosphere and talk radio played up the speech, focusing on Obama's promise to invade Pakistan and taking the freshman senator to task for his naive bravado.

The mainstream media initially softened the hard edges of the speech, concentrating on the broader themes of Bush incompetence, missed opportunities, and the current unpleasantness.

However, the Washington Post, holding the same story over night, changed its headline to reflect the tough talk toward Pakistan.

More importantly, the bridge collapse story pushed all things Obama (and Campaign 2008 in general) off the front pages--in fact, as of this morning on their website, the New York Times had not even updated their coverage since Obama actually delivered the speech.

Any likely impact?

1. For Republicans: very little. The speech was merely another act in an entertaining side show. Obama did not sway one Republican yesterday (either way). However, if Obama were to win the nomination, the speech gave the opposition something meaty to chew on, dissect, scrutinize, and further build a case against the candidate.

2. Impact on Move-On Democrats: They can't be all that impressed. Aside from the harsh rhetoric against the war (reminding voters of his early opposition to invading Iraq and his rival's initial support), the candidate cannot hope to help himself with the peace wing of his party by advocating an invasion of Pakistan.

On the other hand: Obama's best shot at wresting this nomination away from the Clinton organization is hammering his commitment to disavow US policy on Iraq. Perhaps this major speech is designed to resonate with the "out of Iraq caucus" more than anyone else. Perhaps he is hoping that the the base will ignore the bellicose language directed at Pakistan, while he reminds them of his consistently anti-war stance.

Perhaps Obama believes that every time he can remind primary voters that Hillary is an adult and part of the vast bipartisan international relations policy-making complex, he wins. Look for him to play that note frequently and with increasing intensity in the days to come.