In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Princess Caroline and Her "Qualifications"

As if we New Yorkers weren't tired enough of political controversy after the Elliot Spitzer farce and the recent Presidential primary/election season (can a "season" last for years?)! The impending elevation of our junior Sen. Hillary R. Clinton to the office of Secretary of State now leaves an open seat for Gov. David Paterson to fill, and the vultures are already circling the tasty carrion. Apparently he has to wait until Sen. Clinton is confirmed after Congress reconvenes, sometime later in January. We sure wish he could just pick someone now and be done with it--or go ahead and sell the rights to the highest bidder, as seems to be the custom in Illinois (hey, now there's a revenue idea!). But that would put a damper on the latest circus of media speculation, and leave Caroline Kennedy with little else to do but, well, host the Kennedy Center Honors show.

Ms. Kennedy is unique, among those mentioned as possible Clinton successors, for her public--some would say shameless--lobbying for the post. Is it not unseemly for a member of our Royal Family to pander for a title which should be hers by Divine Right? ;-) But what really rankles so many New Yorkers--particularly those "upstate"--is that she can boast of few qualifications for such a high and demanding office, other than her last name (leaving aside the question whether the same might be said of Uncle Ted).

Actually, given the fact that she has lived and "worked" within the borders of New York State for almost all her life, Ms. Kennedy is more "qualified," at least by the measure of connections to that legal entity, than was Ms. Clinton when she took office. But Ms. Clinton is deeply admired by New York Democrats, even those north of NYC, for her grit (i.e., staying married to Bill) and knowledge about state and national issues, as well as the many weeks she has spent with upstate citizens listening and discussing their concerns. On the other hand, Ms. Kennedy seems only lately to have discovered that there is a land mass north of Manhattan populated by odd creatures who, rather surprisingly, have a carbon structure similar to her own. I'm being facetious and somewhat unfair, of course (it spices up the writing, though!), but until the looming vacancy in New York's junior Senator seat, Ms. Kennedy showed little interest in anything that might be happening Up There, and not very much more that might be happening anywhere outside the liberal worlds of Academia, Entertainment, and the Mainstream Media (peruse her resume here). She has never before held or even sought a public office, at any level of government (and often didn't bother to cast a vote in elections for local and state offices, including at least one for the office she now seeks--now much to her "dismay"); she has never presided over an important business, charity, or foundation; she has never been a regular or influential contributor to public debate. And this despite her esteemed family, her immense wealth, and her innumerable connections in Washington and other centers of power. In short, she's done less with more than almost any public figure one can think of. Given this history, how hardworking, independent-minded, and productive would you expect her to be in the challenging office of U.S. Senator?

Contrast Ms. Kennedy to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, another woman who recently aspired to high national office. Liberals and other critics scoffed at the supposed thinness of her resume for the office-in-waiting of Vice President. Her knowledge concerning foreign affairs, and of some domestic issues less pressing for the people of Alaska, may have been limited. But she was a self-made individual who achieved distinction through diligent work and public service at multiple levels of government; who earned the respect of both foes and supporters by her readiness to challenge the status quo, take risks, and fight hard; and who still kept firmly in touch with the values and concerns of the ordinary, middle class people from whom she sprang. And she accomplished what she did without benefit of wealth, family distinction, or extensive connections in business or politics. In contrast to Ms. Kennedy, she's done more with less than almost any public figure you can think of. Which type of person would you expect to serve you better in Washington?

This is not to suggest that Ms. Kennedy is altogether disqualified from the Senate seat by her relative inexperience or limited familiarity with the issues. I have no reason to doubt that she is a thoughtful, reasonably intelligent person who cares about America, as we all do. Nor should we automatically exclude from public office, even higher ones, all who lack "elite" credentials--years of experience, Ivy-League education (OK, she has that), highly developed expertise--that are not required by law. To do so would be to turn our backs on democracy and surrender our government to a self-defining corps of "professionals." But one would hope that a candidate lacking a hefty resume would at least be able to bring to the office personal qualities and a list of accomplishments suggesting that he or she would probably do something with that office of substantial benefit to the people. Sarah Palin would be exactly that kind of person (if only she were a New Yorker!); it doesn't look to me like Caroline Kennedy would be. I'd better not hear anyone who dissed Gov. Palin for her lack of "qualifications" suggest that Caroline Kennedy has what it takes to be a good United States Senator!

See my dear sister’s blog for an equally insightful, and undoubtedly more entertaining, commentary on the Quest of Princess Caroline!

UPDATE January 2, 2008: Despite rumors that Gov. Paterson was considering the appointment of a high-profile "caretaker"--perhaps even Bill Clinton!--to fill Hillary Clinton's vacated Senate seat until an open field could compete for it in the 2010 general election, he seems to be backing away from this option. Indeed, it's now being reported here and here that he is leaning toward the appointment of Caroline Kennedy--notwithstanding the uneven quality of her "campaign" for the office and its cool reception in the media and among most citizens in New York State. If this is true, one must wonder what the Governor is smoking, or what it would take to get him committed for mental treatment. Does he honestly think she's a better fit than the many talented and experienced (if ideologically misguided) Democrats who've expressed an interest in the position? Is he utterly indifferent to the wishes of almost all his fellow New Yorkers, including those in his own party? Has Ms. Kennedy or her family promised him something? Has President-Elect Obama, to whom she's reportedly close and for whom she threw Hillary Clinton under the bus in the Democratic primaries, promised him something? Is he feathering his own nest for a future run at higher office, with Kennedy family support? Or is he just caving in to terrific pressure from Ms. Kennedy's well-heeled, well-connected allies, including NYC's "Republican" Mayor Michael Bloomberg? Are the common people--i.e., you and I--utterly helpless to stop this shameless nepotism/cronyism/corruption of the democratic process? If anyone out there has some ideas, speak up! Or, as my lovely sister Patti suggests (see first comment to this post), let's all move to Alaska, where the Governor is principled, competent, and mighty good-lookin' to boot!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bloggus Interruptus--Thanks, Again, to the Weather

Five days and no posts! Quality over quantity is the rule on this blog, but faithful followers will fall away if they check in and repeatedly find no activity. Busy holidays make it hard to post regularly, and our wonderful Western New York weather can sometimes make it impossible.

Last weekend it was the near-incessant shoveling of snow out of my driveway; yesterday it was 60+ m.p.h. winds which knocked out our power for over five hours, thereby disabling a sump pump that, even with power, had been just barely keeping up with an inflow of water into our basement from a 2-foot snow pack that melted in less than two days, thanks to near-60-degree temperatures on Friday and Saturday. That's right: Arctic to mid-spring (or so it felt) in less than a week! Then, back to near-Arctic in a matter of minutes Sunday morning, as a cold front blasted through with hurricane force winds and took down a power line a few blocks away. My son Rob and his wife Sheila, together with my wife Melany and me, ran a bucket brigade up and down the basement stairs for over three hours to keep the place from flooding completely. By 12:30 p.m. muscles and patience were exhausted, and Rob was frantically--and futilely--trying to fix our old generator, which hadn't worked in years, out in the hurricane. When all hope seemed lost, a kindly neighbor let us know that they had a generator up and running and that we could hook up to it with several extra extension cords that they had (I had sliced in two our only long cord this past summer, while trimming hedges, and never got around to getting it fixed or replaced). So, Rob and I plunged into the woods between the two houses, snaking cords back to our sump pump, while all around us tall trees were bending half-over in the gale, ready to snap and obliterate us (feel free to stop me when you think I'm getting too dramatic). The sound of a running sump pump was the sweetest music we could imagine at that moment, and we dragged ourselves upstairs in delirious exhaustion, there to play cards in the dismal house as we contemplated a coming night without power (save the sump pump), and, therefore, heat. Rob and Sheila went to get a propane tank filled so that we could at least cook some food on the grill out in the garage. And at the moment they arrived back, about 2:15 p.m., the power came back in a seeming miracle of coincidence! You can imagine the cheer that went up! I wanted to post something about this harrowing experience, but after snaking back to our neighbors' through the woods with the extension cords, trees still threatening to drop on my head, I was too exhausted to even think about it.

And after all that, the gang STILL insisted that I grill turkey out amidst the howling winds! As I stood over the grill (at least it was somewhat sheltered, radiating some heat, and I had Rob there for company), I wondered what Western New York had ever done to God to deserve the curse of such "interesting" weather. But if it weren't for that, what would we have to talk about around here--the Bills?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Whether you were a soldier in the field or lucky enough to have gotten a furlough to spend the holiday with your family, Christmas seems to have been celebrated much the same during the Civil War as it is today. May your Christmas Day be so joyful!

This illustration appeared in Harper's Weekly on January 4, 1862.

This illustration appeared in Harper's Weekly on December 31, 1864.

The Soldier's Christmas Eve

In a southern forest gloomy and old,
So lately the scene of a terrible fight,
A soldier, alone in the dark and cold,
Is keeping the watch tonight.
As he paces his round he sees the light
Of his comrades' campfire, gleaming far,
Through the dusky wood, and one bright star
Looks down with a twinkle of light and love
From the frosty sky that bends above.
Large, clear and bright in the far off skies
It twinkles and glimmers there alone
Like the blessed Bethlehem star that shone
On the sheperd's wondering eyes.

As he watches it slowly, sweetly rise
His heart is touched by its gentle ray.
And away, away,
His thoughts on the wings of fancy stray,
He forgets the night with its frosty air,
And cheerless blast, that every where
Moans loud through the branches black and bare,
He is thinking now of the little band
In his boyhood home, whose faces bright
Are beaming with happiness as they stand
Round the Christmas tree tonight,
And he seems to join with the happy throng
In each innocent game and mirthful song.

Ah! vision as bright as fairy land!
Like a broken dream, it will not stay,
He raises his weather-beaten hand
And dashes a tear away,
And he feels anew, all his terrible lot -
Exposed to the pestilence, snow and rain,
Enduring fatigue, and fever and pain.
And standing each day to be shot -
And all for what?
For what does he give his strength and life
in the deadly strife?

To defend the home where the loved ones are
From the fire and sword and the ravage of war,
To defend his home and the land of his birth,
To pride of the earth,
And solemnly sworn
To avenge her flag, by the traitors torn,
Of its ancient glory shamefully shorn.
Such thoughts through the soldiers mind have passed.
He feels no longer the chilling blast,
The driving sleet or the frozen ground.
For his blood is beating fiercly and fast
As he quickens his round.
He pines no longer for home and rest --
A patriot's spirit has warmed his breast.
This poem was written on Christmas Eve 1862 and appeared in The Poughkeepsie Telegraph on December 27, 1862.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Prayer: That Their Sacrifice Will Not Be in Vain

Last night my wonderful sister Patti added a comment to my recent post about Thomas Nast's "Christmas Eve" 1862 illustration that is so moving, and so beautifully expressed, that I wanted to make sure everyone saw it. No more apt words will be uttered by anyone, anywhere this Christmas season:
I was listening to Oliver North on the radio yesterday, and was brought to tears by a caller who had lost his son five years ago to war. Hearing the quivering in the father's voice, as he fought to hold back his grief and tears, pierced my mother's heart and led me to pray for our heroic young men and women fighting for our freedoms and democracy. I was reminded that there are families who miss their soldiers, whether they be on the battlefields or joyfully in the bosom of our Lord, who lovingly gave His life for us. My prayer this Christmas is that this great nation, established by God himself, recognize and applaud the efforts of our courageous young men and women, along with their families, who have held the evils of terrorism at bay. That this great nation not squander these young peoples' sacrifices, by seeking to gain favor with rogue dictators and corrupt governments in an effort to become more "popular" in the eyes of the world. After all, do we not teach our children that character, integrity and the willingness to help others is what matters; to be a shining beacon facing adversities on this earth is the battle that we ought to seek daily.

God bless our military & their families, as we await the joyful birth of a sweet baby who will sacrifice himself to save generations upon generations of nations from evil, offering all the rewards of eternal life.
Amen. Thank you, Patti!

Monday, December 22, 2008

"Please, God, Bring Him Home!"

Even with all the sorrow that hangs, and will forever hang, over so many households; even while war still rages; even while there are serious questions yet to be settled - ought it not to be, and is it not, a merry Christmas?
~ Harper's Weekly, December 26, 1863
This question can only be fully understood and answered by those who, at this time of year, have suffered war's privations personally--soldiers and their families. Thanks be to God, I and my family have not (yet, at least) been called upon to endure those privations: separation, fear, longing, grief, and despair, as well as physical suffering. But we who have been blessed with comfort and the company of our loved ones at Christmas must remember and say a prayer for those who have no choice but to wait and hope for those blessings another year--many of them, our own friends and neighbors.

In my experience, nothing captures their agony more poignantly than Thomas Nast's illustration "Christmas Eve," which appeared in the January 1863 edition of Harper's Weekly. Be sure to click on the image for a lager version that will show all its beautiful detail.

The image depicts a family split apart by the American Civil War. The woman on the left is on her knees in prayer with her children sleeping behind her, begging God to protect and bring home her husband. On the right, the husband can be seen sitting with his rifle while on picket duty, beside a lonely campfire, gazing upon a small album with pictures of his wife and children. To the upper left and right are happy images of Santa and reindeer, but below the images of the parted spouses are depictions of soldiers marching through the snow, ships being tossed at sea, and most powerfully of all, the graves of soldiers who will never, in this life, have another Christmas with their families. The feelings that these images stir are beyond words.

So, this coming Christmas Eve, let us all pray to see they day when the prophecy of Isaiah comes true at last: "[T]hey shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (Isa. 2:4)

How I'm Spending My Christmas Vacation

Between 11 a.m. Friday, December 19--the first day of my Christmas vacation this year--and 1:30 p.m. on December 22 (today), I shoveled out my 100-foot driveway from one end to the other SEVEN times! It's taken me more than nine hours total. In almost 23 years of continuous residency in this area, I've never had to shovel out my driveway that often in a month, let alone half a week. And it wasn't the quick, whisk-the-dust-off kind of "shoveling" one typically does here in November and most of December (as opposed to the Southern Tier of counties in Western New York, where it starts snowing heavily the day after July 4th). Over the last three and a half days, it probably totalled 2 feet of well-packed powder, wind-driven into drifts twice that high and more, that I ought to be charging folks to ski on.
In fact, the twin peaks at the end of my driveway are tall enough, at almost 6 feet each, to make pretty good beginner's hills. Hey, I could convert my house into a ski lodge and really clean up! Except "cleaning up" is about all I've been doing this weekend.
No more "snow" posts the rest of this week--I promise!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Once in Royal David's City

This is the title of a Christmas hymn that is not as often heard in the United States as some others, such as Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful, Joy to the World, etc. The hymn is quite popular in the United Kingdom, and probably in Canada and other Commonwealth countries. It was published in 1848 in Miss Cecil Humphreys' hymnbook Hymns for Little Children. Since 1919, the King's College Chapel at Cambridge University has begun its Christmas Eve service, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, with Once in Royal David's City as the processional. The first verse is sung by a boy chorister as a solo; the second verse is sung by the choir; and the congregation joins in the third verse. Go here for a beautiful rendition of these parts of the hymn at St.Paul's Cathedral in London, England.
I have come to love Once in Royal David's City--not even so much for the music, which is lovely, but is sometimes performed a bit too bombastically. What I most admire about it are lyrics that are simple and in a child's language, yet are poignant and full of meaning (there are slightly different versions here and there, but this is the one I like best):
Once in royal Davids city,
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby,
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ, her little Child.

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall:
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

And, through all His wondrous childhood,
He would honor and obey,
Love and watch the lowly maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

For He is our childhood's pattern;
Day by day, like us, He grew;
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles, like us He knew;
And He cares when we are sad,
And he shares when we are glad.

And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle,
Is our Lord in heaven above:
And He leads His children on,
To the place where He is gone.
Is there anywhere a more beautiful expression of how the Lord shares our humanity, and how we must become like little children in order to return to Him?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Remembering "Snow Days"

Ironically, today in the Brockport school district wasn't one of them (much to the dismay of my wife Melany, who drives a Brockport school bus), but it was in most other districts in Western New York. I had the good sense to stay home from work and avoid being stranded in downtown Rochester this evening, when today's storm (predicted at 8 to 12 inches of snow, and we've gotten almost all of that foot) was forecast to peak. Unfortunately, this accomplished little more than an exchange of mental for physical labor, as I was outside for a good 3 hours today, in a couple of different sessions, shoveling from the driveway all that crazy white stuff in the picture obscuring a house across the street.
The day started out pleasantly enough, for all that. I listened to the radio, as I do every weekday morning while in the shower, and heard the ceremonial Reading of the School Closings List. This sent me into a reverie of snow days in my youth on Grand Island, New York, when children would wake before the crack of dawn on an unusually blustery, snowy day (as distinguished from the usual blustery, snowy day) and tune the radio dial to AM 930, WBEN in Buffalo to find out if there was going to be school that day (one dressed and otherwise prepared as if there would be, but in a pokey way so as not to waste effort in case the Blessed Event actually occurred). Back in the mid-1960s there were no web sites on which to post the School Closings List (deplorably lacking in drama for today's children, I think), and I don't think it was even done on TV, which in any case didn't go on in our house on a weekday morning until Captain Kangaroo (8 a.m.) at the earliest, by which time we (my two brothers and sister) would already know if school was closed. But I digress. We'd listen intently to hear the prescribed lead-in theme to the Great Reading, and if it was played, with hearts thumping and bated breath, press our ears to the radio to hear Clint Buehlman (see picture) intone the alphabetical List: ". . . [whatever] Central, [whatever] Central . . ." We'd be on the verge of passing out as he hit the "Fs" and then the climactic "Gs" (I think Gowanda was the last item before the Deliverance we were all awaiting). If we finally heard Clint utter the magic words "Grand Island Central," we would, as one being, explode in a shout of joy rivalling anything ever heard in Paradise (on the other hand, if for some infernal non-reason he skipped over our place in the alphabet, we would unleash a collective groan of consternation and heartbreak that, I have no doubt, echoed in the depths of Perdition). We would then happily doff whatever school clothes we had on in exchange for play clothes, and if breakfast were done, perhaps catch The Captain (or whatever else might be playing on a weekday morning, which I can't recall any more) and have Mom bundle us all up in snowsuits bloated enough to make Apollo astronauts jealous, and go outside to play in the wondrous mountains of white (you know the drill: snow men, snow forts, snow balls, etc.). When we couldn't stand the cold anymore--at least 15 minutes, probably--we came back in and, through mouths too frozen for intelligible speech, ask Mom to dis-assemble our suits this time, so we could go read, play, watch TV, fight with each other, or do whatever else indoors that we might find amusing. Being blessed with a loving and very patient mother, we'd pause in our Day of Triumph for a nice lunch of warm tomato soup, a bologna sandwich, and milk. Oddly, as the afternoon wore on, boredom would set in and we (well, I--I can't speak authoritatively for my siblings) would start thinking with some fondness about the next day in school. That is, unless the next day was also unusually blustery and snowy, in which case the hallowed ritual would begin again . . .
If any of these recollections are faulty, they can be corrected by my siblings or our Mother, who, I'm sure, has nothing but the warmest memories of those delightful Snow Days!

Is it Really Wise for the Republican Party to Jettison "Social Conservatism"?

As I observed in my last post, the existence of an effective (yet loyal) opposition to the Democrat party over the next four years depends heavily on what direction the Republican Party takes going forward. Of course, the country's best interests are more important than any one party's, and at least theoretically, these could be served even if the Republican Party dissolved or split into two or more new parties--IF some other entity or coalition, or even enlightened Democrats, were able to restrain implementation of the most radical and revolutionary initiatives being advanced by the Democrats' "progressive" wing. But history shows that the prevailing party, whether Democrat or Republican, usually overreaches when its opposition is weak. Given the agenda advanced by the Democrat left, such a scenario could be disastrous for American society and the Western world. Hence, more than ever, we need a Republican Party with a clear and compelling vision of the way America ought to be, a coherent program for achieving it, a message that speaks persuasively of that vision and program for all good Americans, and principled, appealing leaders who can deliver that message effectively. Almost everyone of Republican bent agrees on that, but there is currently sharp disagreement among them as to what the party's vision and message should be.

The division seems to be between those who want a Republican platform committed to the protection of traditional values and institutions (e.g., heterosexual marriage and the nuclear family; opposition to gay marriage; a pro-life stance in the abortion controversy; no federal funding of embryonic stem cell research; opposition to euthanasia; freedom of religious expression in public forums)--a concise and persuasive definition of this approach can be read here--and those who believe that this "social conservative" agenda alienates a majority of Americans and cost the Republican party the 2008 Presidential election. The latter group, which has been variously labeled "fiscal conservatives," "libertarians," or (self-servingly) "moderates," favors a Republican agenda without an emphasis on social values, focusing on smaller government, lower taxation, and less public spending (Republicans generally seem to agree on the need for a strong military and law enforcement, though differences about illegal immigration may cut across even "social" and "fiscal" conservative groupings). Among the prominent exponents of this view are California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, creatures of Hollywood and Washington, D.C., respectively. What strikes me about these and other supporters of a "values-free" Republican platform is their contempt toward small-town morality and its defenders, especially Gov. Sarah Palin, and their revulsion at the idea that religious faith should have any role in public life.

The depth of their disdain suggests that these watered-down Republicans have more in common with the liberal/radical elites currently driving the Democratic Party than they do with the Republican rank and file, most of whom have never seen Beverly Hills or Georgetown and have no stake in the culture that dominates those places. As a prominent radio commentator has observed, the driving force in the lives of high-profile "moderate" Republicans like Schwarzenegger and Powell is the need for continued recognition and influence, which they stand to lose if the media/academic/political establishments of which they're a part were displaced by a movement driven by common people and based on a value system dramatically different from their own. Moreover, while "moderates" say that the Republican Party should abandon its "polarizing" and "divisive" ideology and reach out to blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities, this appeal is not based on any principle or real understanding of such people, but rather on stereotyped ideas about what is and isn't important to them. The implication is that traditional values and institutions are not important to them at all.

Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the most important results of the November 2008 elections nationwide was repudiation of the drive to legitimize same-sex marriage in several states, including California, Florida, and Arizona, all of which were electoral victories for the Democratic Party. According to a poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, 57 percent of nonwhite voters and 61 percent of Latinos cast a "yes" vote for that state's Proposition 8 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. It has been suggested that such results reflect moral values derived from the deeply-rooted religious culture of these communities, and a greater interest in good jobs and good schools than in overturning society's most fundamental institutions. It would seem that, far from alienating minorities, the Republican Party's long-standing defense of traditional values shows great potential appeal within communities that, in November 2008, otherwise voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic presidential nominee. This seems a far more fertile ground for the party to cultivate than a thin slice of values-neutral "moderates" who are more apt to be swayed by unpredictable, short-term developments in any particular election. Appealing to the moral foundation in minority communities would also go much further to broaden the party's base than trying to target a haphazard, shifting collection of people defined primarily by their lack of firm principles or commitments.

As the recent presidential primaries and election demonstrate, people are moved by a compelling vision and a strong message--about things at the core of their way of life--far more than they are by appeals to cold pragmatism or the details of particular policies and programs. Sarah Palin's tremendous appeal to the conservative grassroots was her (and her family's) embodiment of such a vision--moral values, strong families, hard work, personal responsibility, resilience, optimism, and a passionate love of this country and all its blessings. That's a message that resonates in the hearts and minds of all true Americans, of all backgrounds and races. Only the narrowness and ineptitude of the "moderate" McCain campaign (playing into the hands of a shamelessly hostile mass media) prevented the full flowering of a vision and message that could have drawn voters everywhere to the Republican Party like a magnet. If the Party is to have a future it must cultivate that vision and hone that message, and carry them to Americans of every hue and station. If it does--and only a values-based platform will enable that to happen--the Party will be ready to stand with the common people of America to defend the things they hold most dear.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Whither Our New President, and Us?

On the surface, at least, it would seem that President-Elect Barack Obama is shaping his new administration in a restrained, even-handed way, and leaving the barricades for others to man (read about it here). That would be politically prudent--as well as good for the country--since the closeness of his victory margin suggests that it was people closer to the "middle," not on the far left fringe, who made the difference in this election.

But it was the far left fringe, together with fawning, left-biased media and academic establishments, that propelled an obscure state legislator to the heights of demi-godhood from which he seized the Democratic Presidential nomination, as if by right. And it was a core of "progressive" billionaires and career social activists who bankrolled, planned, and directed for him the army of grassroots zealots and the political/funding/media machine that overpowered the opposition in the general election (not, perhaps, that that rather feeble opposition didn't deserve to be overpowered).

These aren't the sort of people who are put off easily; they're already getting impatient (read about it here and here), and they mean to collect on the debt Obama owes them. Here is some of what's on their invoice: passage of the Freedom of Choice Act, which would overrule many state-level restrictions on access to abortion; a shift from Bush-supported abstinence-only sex education to comprehensive programs that include teaching about contraception; federal recognition of same-sex partnerships; a hate-crimes bill that would cover offenses motivated by "anti-gay bias;" gays serving openly in the military; and voting rights for more ex-convicts. This in addition to such things as a quick withdrawl from Iraq, aggressive global warming initiatives, amnesty and more services for illegal immigrants, an end to secrecy in union organizing votes, and even moves toward world government. Regardless of what Obama himself may be aiming for, the people pushing this program are clearly intent on using his electoral victory to replace traditional American values and institutions with something far different, and entirely contrary, to what was bequeathed to us by our forefathers.

Obama's moderate cabinet selections may be a genuine attempt to build consensus with the center and right, or it may be a means to co-opt opponents and deflect attention from the pursuit of a more radical agenda (read about it here). Although the election was over a month ago and he won it, dwelling on these questions isn't just idle speculation or sour grapes. The country's (and civilization's) future is just as much at stake today as it was then, and without an effective political opposition, we may be helpless to prevent a radical transformation of our world. This is why the current struggle for the Republican Party's future is so important (a post on this coming soon).

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful . . .

For all you delicate Southern belles and gentlemen out there (including you transplanted Yankees who may have forgotten), this is just a typical December day in Western New York! Actually, it's a little more intense than we usually see in early December; this is more like a mid-January day. These views are from the front and back doors of my house this morning, taken with the briefest positioning so that I wouldn't become a living snowman while snapping them. They call to my mind the words of the Psalmist:
He giveth snow like wool: he scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes. He casteth forth his ice like morsels: who can stand before his cold? ~ Psa 147:16,17
I swear, there is something in the Bible for absolutely every occasion!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Just How Cheap Is Human Life, Anyway?

It seemed a most tragic irony: during the week we Americans give prayerful thanks for bounty and blessings, an unruly crowd of "holiday" shoppers hell-bent on bargains smashed in the front door of a Long Island Wal-Mart store at 5 a.m. and trampled a store employee to death in the mad rush for merchandise (read about it here and here). Meanwhile, hundreds of innocent men, women, and children in India were being indiscriminately slaughtered by their ethnic brethren for the apparent purpose of making a political point (read about it here).
What strikes me as common to these seemingly disparate incidents is the perpetrators' utter indifference to the divine source and infinite value of human life. When one believes to the core that every individual is a unique creation of God Himself (see, e.g., Gen. 1:27; Psalm 139:13-16), it would be unthinkable to waste His other children like this. But without a true faith in God and the pricelessness of His highest creation, it is the Self that rules--other people are just instruments to be used, or obstacles to be run over or eliminated, in the pursuit of My Wants, My Needs, My Goals. Dressing Selfishness up in the trappings of higher justice, religion, nation, or tribe--let alone in those of economic need or "holiday spirit"--is an empty rationalization, and changes nothing. The further we stray from our Heavenly Father (by whatever name we call Him), the deeper we sink into the pit of depravity. It would be easy to despair and withdraw from The Struggle, were it not for our faith that the innocent and pure of heart shall see God (Mat 5:8), and for the incredible example of heroes like Sandra Samuel, the Indian nanny who risked her own life to rescue 2-year-old Moshe Holtzberg from the attack at Mumbai's Chabad Jewish Centre which killed his parents (read about them here), and who is expected to be named by Israel as "Righteous Among the Gentiles," an honor usually reserved for those who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust (read about it here and here). May the world never run out of Holtzbergs and Samuels; we need them so much as reminders of what true humanity is all about. And let us look inside ourselves each day to guard against the pettiness, greed, and arrogance that leads one to treat others like things, instead of like the miracle that each one of us is.