Thursday, June 30, 2005


An interesting blog comment with quotes from The New York Times and other sources about the possible connection between Iraqi intelligence and Osama bin Laden.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Since the last election, I have been thinking about the incivility that reigns in the public square and the fact that people who strongly hold a position or support a candidate--irrespective of red state-blue state, liberal-conservative, Democrat-Republican, etc.--just don't seem to be able to enjoy good political humor or satire.

Advocates seem totally unable to laugh at themselves or their candidates or issues. I know one can find similar periods in American history [e.g., the Jackson-Adams presidential race] where political rivalries were especially bitter, but they didn't have mass communication in the 19th century. Maybe it is the internet that has caused all of this. For whatever reason, I have "friends" on different sides of the contemporary American political scene and for over a year have received a variety of email political humor. Obviously it reached its zenith in the fall of 2004. The quality of such "humorous" attacks or labelling has obviously varied in quality.

It is probably a result of having angered or alienated "friends" on different sides by forwarding emails that I thought were particularly good, insightful, or maybe especially insulting of particular candidates but that in some way captured or depicted an inconsistency. I thought that somehow this would be an enlightening educational exercise for all involved. Now I wish I had saved all of those emails--I am sure there was a paper waiting to be written.

Monday, June 27, 2005


I just finished reading 1968. The Year that Rocked the World by Mark Kurlansky. 1968 was the year to be alive--there just hasn't been a year like it since. It was the year of "sex, drugs, rock and roll, the assassinations of Marthin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, riots in Chicago at the Democratic Convention, the Prague Spring, the antiwar movement and the Tet offensive, Black Power, the generation gap, avant-garde theater, the feminist movement," etc. So many cataclysmic movements were imploding on our lives at one time.

There is just something about living through 1968. Adam Michnik, the Polish dissident, said: "I can recognize a sixty-eighter in a second. It is not the politics. It is a way of thinking. I met Bill Clinton and I could see he was one." I think Michnik captured the year in the phrase, "a way of thinking"--a new world view was erupting in the midst of all of the social, political, and cultural changes.

For the first time I reflected on the totality of the year I experienced from a more distant, historic perspective. When you are living a year and experiencing events, one has perspective, but it is not seasoned with historic insight. So much was happening in 1968 that it was overwhelming, but at the time everything seemed somehow normal. It was hard to separate the trivial from the consequential. Vietnam was very real. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia was painful to me and I had a sense of its impact. But slogans like "Beautify America, Get a Haircut" represented a deeper values change that many of us just laughed off.

The quote by a French student at the Sorbonne in 1968 probably applies: "Professors, you are as old as your culture."

Friday, June 24, 2005


From the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press:

41%: Americans who have a favorable impression the "Christian conservative movement." [Whatever this phrase means???]

45%: Americans who have a favorable impression of Muslims.

I wonder if "Christian conservatives" even like "Christian conservatives?"

Thursday, June 23, 2005


The New York Times (June 11, 2005) had an op-ed byWilliam Powers, "Poor Little Rich Country." Some Americans have always looked to Latin or South America as examples of nations and cultures who did not have the "race" problem the United States has had. However, over the past few years, I have been hearing more and more about the race issue by those who have lived in the region. Until the Times piece, no one has seemed to focus on this. Native Indians have been protesting for some time in Bolivia, but in the last few months the protests have become more intense.

The reason for the protests includes: But this is not about walling off a Wal-Mart-free utopia; it's more of a struggle over who has power here. An American Indian majority is standing up to the light-skinned, European elite and its corruption-fueled relationships with the world.

You might say that Bolivia has colonized itself. When the Spanish Empire closed shop here in 1825, the Europeans who stayed on didn't seem to notice - and still don't. Even within Latin America, the region with the greatest wealth inequality in the world according to the World Bank, Bolivia is considered one of the most corrupt, per Transparency International's annual index of political dishonesty. It's also divided along a razor-sharp racial edge.

Highland and Amazon peoples compose almost two-thirds of Bolivia's population, the highest proportion of Indians in the hemisphere. (It's as if the United States had 160 million Apaches, Hopis and Iroquois.) And while native people are no longer forcibly sprayed with DDT for bugs and are today allowed into town squares, Bolivian apartheid - a "pigmentocracy of power" - continues.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


The New York Times reported on an interesting study (June 21, 2005) implying that we are born with "political genes."

Among the statements was the following: Political scientists have long held that people's upbringing and experience determine their political views. A child raised on peace protests and Bush-loathing generally tracks left as an adult, unless derailed by some powerful life experience. One reared on tax protests and a hatred of Kennedys usually lists to the right.

But on the basis of a new study, a team of political scientists is arguing that people's gut-level reaction to issues like the death penalty, taxes and abortion is strongly influenced by genetic inheritance. The new research builds on a series of studies that indicate that people's general approach to social issues - more conservative or more progressive - is influenced by genes.

Environmental influences like upbringing, the study suggests, play a more central role in party affiliation as a Democrat or Republican, much as they do in affiliation with a sports team. The report, which appears in the current issue of The American Political Science Review, the profession's premier journal, uses genetics to help answer several open questions in political science.

They include why some people defect from the party in which they were raised and why some political campaigns, like the 2004 presidential election, turn into verbal blood sport, though polls find little disparity in most Americans' views on specific issues like gun control and affirmative action.

I am certainly not a geneticist. It does remind me of the pseudo-study circulating on the internet in 2000 that states that voted for Gore had a higher IQ than states that voted for Bush--I don't know what became of that issue. Obviously there is the gene factor, but so often today we try to explain everything on the basis of heredity and environment. The issue of individual responsibility and accountibility has been minimized. Maybe there is a genetic factor to home-schooling???? Or perhaps there is the Episcopal or Baptist gene???

Sunday, June 19, 2005


According to the San Francisco Chronicle, atheists gathered in San Francisco in May for their first "All Atheist Weekend," which included a club known as the "Godless Geeks" from Silicon Valley. The goal was "to put a friendlier face on godlessness." Evidentally the atheists feel a need to be involved in outreach and win friends. One wonders where this will lead??? Will there be atheist altar calls? Will atheists be going door-to-door handing out tracts? What about television advertising? I guess "godlessness" has been a rather negative sell in the past so now a Madison Avenue makeover is needed.

Friday, June 17, 2005


"One of the pleasures of middle age is to find out that one was right, and that one was much righter than one knew at say 17 or 23. --Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading, 1934

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Christopher Hitchens has been interviewed on Uncommon Knowledge I have been following his columns more closely since 9/11. He is a leftist who has supported British/US efforts in Iraq--obviously this is an extremely rare position for someone on the left to take. Most of his other social, religious, and political positions are still very much to the left so I don't think he can be labeled a neo-con at this time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Another aspect of Abrams' book I found fascinating was his discussion of how Roman Catholics and the two major Protestant sects, the Czechoslovak Church and the Evangelical Church, responded to the 1945-1948 political situation in Czechoslovakia. Only the Roman Catholic theologians and intellectuals realized the many ethical and philosophical weakneses in Marxism. Only the Roman Catholic intellectuals saw a world view clash.

Protestant thinkers, instead of standing for biblical truth and allowing the Bible to speak to a variety of issues, tried to make their message conform to Marxism. Some were worse at this than others. Many actually thought a communist regime would benefit the church. Obviously the opposite happened.


I have just finished reading one of the great books of the last ten or so years, but it will probably not get a lot of publicity because it deals with the history of Czechoslovakia. However, The Stuggle for the Soul of the Nation. Czech Culture and the Rise of Communism by Bradley F. Abrams should be an epic in contemporary intellectual history, especially East European history. Adams has studied the 1945-1948 era and while his book does not focus on the February 1948 communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, he tries to explain why communism was so popular at this time in Czech history. In a free elections in 1946 the Communist Party received almost 40% of the vote. One could argue that the party might have received a majority of the vote in 1948 if the February crisis had not intervened. In the context of cold war history, many have focused on the imperialistic drive of the Soviet Union--it is hard for many in America to believe any people would see it as an option. With hindsight it is hard to understand why a people would appear to be choosing communism.

With the Czechs it becomes particularly difficult because they become disillusioned with communism, a disillusionment which culminates in the 1968 Prague Spring. When I first went to Czechoslovakia, Czechs tended to ask, in a whisper, how they could have been so stupid as to give this kind of support to communist totalitarianism.

Adams focuses on the Czech intellectuals love affair with communism and socialism in the pre-1948 era. Czechs have a glorious heritage of intellectual development, but except for a few Roman Catholic intellectuals, Czech intellectuals saw communism and socialism as the solution to their problems and the first step in the beginning of a glorious future. What is so amazing is that they could not, or maybe did not want to, see the philosophical, ethical, moral, political, etc. failings of Soviet communism. A groupthink seemed to take over. Again, it is so ironic because it is many of these same intellectuals who were caught up in the 1950's purges and later disillusionment of 1968. Even intellectuals can suffer from peer pressure.

Sunday, June 12, 2005


This year has been my year for attending Episcopal weddings, both low church and high church (although I don't know how low some Episcopal weddings might go--I will need to ask Father W.). It seems to me that Baptist, Assembly of God, etc. preachers deserve higher salaries than Episcopal priests: 1) they have to spend more on clothes, and 2) they have to think up their own wedding liturgy (no Book of Common Prayer)--I know priests give a homily, but all the rest is pre-packaged. Having just attended a rather high church wedding, it reminded me of how much movement is expected of the congregation. I speculated whether a high-church Episcopalian is just a Pentecostal on ritalin.

On the other hand, The Book of Common Prayer has a marvelous wedding liturgy. At least one has a sense of the holiness of the matrimonial vows. The prayer book avoids some inane charges and liturgy that sometimes occur when a pastor or couple has failed to think through the biblical role and goal of marriage. I would much rather reflect on the scripture used in the Episcopal liturgy than hear another sermonette on the spiritual significance of why we use round wedding rings. And I actually heard a priest in his homily speak out directly and bluntly about the evil of divorce--I wondered what the congregation thought, because many of them were divorced. I admired him for confronting the culture of the world in the midst of the world.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


Some of you may want to pass this on. . . The LU Social Activities Council needs to consider a weekend crossword puzzle tournament. Ladies embrace "your inner geek."

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


I was walking to lunch yesterday at U. of N. when a fellow I know who teaches at a small Roman Catholic college came up to me and said he got really burned at breakfast by some "feminists." I guess he could be described as a "conservative" Catholic, but I think he would see himself as just a devout, sincere Roman Catholic. I asked him what happened.

He sat down at breakfast with two women who were ragging on Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict XVI as being too conservative, etc. Naturally he jumped in to defend both popes or to give some perspective--I am not sure which. Since he wasn't getting too far in this discussion, he said something to the effect, "Well Christ said. . . .." Immediately they responded, "We don't care what Christ said." At that point he shut up and told me that if they won't accept what Christ said, there is no way he could talk to them. I told him they probably thought he was some crazy fundamentalist who was reading too much Dobson.

Monday, June 06, 2005


I realize this is a very emotional issue to some people, but I had a very interesting discussion with a professor who headed up a group learning experience for high school homeschoolers in Pennsylvania for a number of years. He was hired to expose homeschoolers to advanced readings in history, philosophy, literature, etc. He worked with both students and parents. He has homeschooled one of his children and I think he has a good sense of strengths and weaknesses based on his experiences and the group he was working with.

Among his comments:
1. He experienced several "functionally illiterate" 11th and 12 th graders who had been homeschooled their entire lives.
2. He had mothers calling complaining about the unfair "A-'s" and "B's" he was giving their "bright" sons and daugthers.
3. Most homeschoolers were "overcommitted" in a variety of social activities.
4. The responsibility for homeschooling fell almost entirely on the mothers who were wearing themselves out.
5. Most mothers keep repeating over and over that they were "submissive" wives, but they appeared to have aggressive and domineering personalites.

My impression is that he is no longer an avid supporter of homeschooling.

Friday, June 03, 2005


This morning when I got up and went to get my coffee and my free USA Today, I was greeted by the following headline: "Tyson: My Whole Life Has Been A Waste." I am not fan of boxing and have never appreciated Mike Tyson, but it is so tragic to see what he has become. The article quotes Tyson saying: "I am really a sad, pathetic case." After reading the article one wonders if he ever had a chance given his family background. However, I can't help but think that maybe now that he recognizes his poor stewardship of life, it may be the start of a new beginning. God is the God of new beginnings. We all need new beginnings. I know I am thankful for new beginnings. I pray that he finds a new beginning.

Thursday, June 02, 2005


I was on a very crowded plane from Dallas to Omaha. Three soldiers returning from Iraq were on the plane. About 20 minutes before we landed the stewardess got on the loudspeaker and said some very complimentary things about the soldiers and their service to America. The passengers clapped. At the end of the flight everyone sat while the soldiers got off first. Again everyone clapped. I have never seen anything like this before. It is certainly much different from the Vietnam era.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


"According to the Department of Labor, average gross weekly earnings for private nonagricultural workers rose from $267.26 a week in 1982 to $536.17 a week in February 2005--doubling in 23 years." One would presume that this is great--earnings have doubled. We can enjoy the American dream. But. . ."the same figure, adjusted for the consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers, toherwise known as CPI-W rises from $267.26 to $276.95 That's a purchasing power gain of $9.69 over two decades. . . .the average worker has been going nowhere." [Scott Burns, Dallas Morning News financial columnist]

As Burns points out noone is average, but for many Americans, neither Democratic or Republican administrations seem to have done much for the average worker. I keep wondering how families make it and will continue to make it, because I am not sure there will be a change in these figures. I know there are installment plans, two income families, etc., but any person who is investing his life in just making money, his or her status has not significantly improved and what do they have to show for it?--an extra $9.69.