Monday, July 28, 2008

How I spent my Weekend

Tornados in New Hampshire? It does happen. I remember one tearing through Gilmanton when I was a kid.

Well, it happened again. I wasn't in the middle of it, but some of my neighbors were. I spent the weekend wielding a chain saw, toting logs and hauling brush. Whoo! That's some fun work right there. I intend to post a bit more later on, but check the two links below for local coverage. I was unable to embed the videos. There are two reports from Barnstead. Look those up to see what I was seeing.

The storm was quite intense and struck a path over 40 miles long. It was also very localized. We live about 2 miles from the destruction, as the crow flies. We lost cable/internet/phone service, but kept power and had not wind or tree damage. My friends were right in the middle of the scenes shown in these news reports. I worked with them most of the weekend to get their property cleared of all except the largest and most dangerous trees.

Kudos to the good folks at NH Electric Cooperative. They worked hard and get power back up by Friday night.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What's Wrong with the World

Basically, we just need to stop touching the monkeys....

QUICK...someone tell Barak!

Thanks to The Rebel God blog for pointing me to this.

Hope is not a Strategy

When it comes to voting, or not voting, for Barak Obama, there are two unspoken questions that come to mind. The first question is “How do I feel about Barak Obama?” The Obama campaign has tried mighty hard to answer this question for me. They have been working overtime to pound their answer into my head. I should, according to their wisdom, feel hopeful. I should feel hope. Hope. And I should feel hopeful because Mr. Obama is going to bring change. Hope for change.

And to be honest, sometimes, listening to him, I get that feeling. Just a little bit.

Just as when I listen to Bill Clinton, first I admire his style. This, I confess, is a bit of a professional regard granted from one professional communicator to another. I know quality work when I see it. Content aside, the ease with which Mr. Obama speaks, the clarity and precision of his speech is a joy to watch (especially in comparison with the current occupant of the White House). And when I let myself go beyond mere professional appraisal of his technique, and I allow myself to let the timbre and tone of his voice pass through me, to allow myself to get caught up in the cadence of his speech, and let all his sincerity and conviction and certainty touch me, I feel what Mr. Obama really believes, and I want to believe it too so that I can feel it too.

And yet…and yet…there is this second question that brings me up short, and does not allow me to let the first question go completely unchallenged. That second question is “What do I THINK of Mr. Obama?”

And frankly, at this point, I’m still sizing this one up. But I certainly don’t think of him in quite the positive terms that I feel for him – but not negative terms either. There is a certain mental bracketing taking place. I put him the “Needs More Data” category. There is too much fuzziness, too much cloudiness in my mind about the content of his positions and the direction his policies will take. This is in part due to my own lack of research. I have not been particularly diligent in listening and reading what the candidates say and do, nor in fact have I been particularly diligent in researching even the critical questions themselves. I really don’t know much about economics or law or sociology so that I can make judgments about the effects of this proposal, that policy, or this law. I make the best judgments I can with what I have to work with, but I fear that my actual knowledge of such things really doesn’t amount to much.

I have a general sense that I don’t really buy what he is selling, but I can’t articulate it in terms of concrete proposals that I am concretely refuting. I do know that hope is not a strategy. At least, hope by itself, untied from clear specific action is not a strategy.

The object of that hope is paramount to its realization. If I place my faith in falsehood and smoke, I will get lies and emphysema.

Action changes things. Right action changes things rightly. If the action is the wrong kind, or pointed toward the wrong end, the consequent change is not a solution, but a problem of it’s own. History is chock full of leaders who got people hoping about the wrong thing (or even the right thing), and then acted on it in the wrong way. We remember them as a mix of bozos, losers and opportunists, tyrants, two-bit despots, and dictators, with a generous helping of truly evil sociopaths thrown in for good measure

I’m not lumping Obama in that category, but simply saying that hope alone is too malleable a thing on which to build a regime. It is too easily twisted, too susceptible to corruption.

The fact is, I think Obama is going to win this one. He is too good at making people feel good. McCain can be a right as rain, but he has thus far lacked the ability to spark a flame in people’s hearts. For good or for ill, Obama is doing that. I understand why and how he does it. I’m just not sure whether it will light a beacon or burn down our houses.

What did Jesus Drink?

A few nights ago, I was drinking a beer with my dinner. For those you who care, it was a Sam Adams Hefenweizen, an unusually roasty, fairly hoppy wheat beer.

My oldest remarked that she had a conversation with some friends at her home school co-op regarding the “legality” of drinking alcohol for Christians. It seems that the friends were remarking upon the evils of alcohol, and how the consumption of it is condemned by God. I asked her what she said. She replied that she simply told her friends that her Mom and Dad often drank beer or wine and it seemed OK to her.

When I asked her what she thought the Bible had to say on the subject, she went directly to the heart of the matter. “Well…Jesus drank wine all the time, so it must be ok.” I must confess that at that moment my heart swelled with love and pride for my oldest offspring, for this is exactly the answer I had hoped for. We discussed it further, talking about the wine vs. grape juice controversy, and then moving on to other topics after I ascertained her friends’ reaction to her stance. I wanted to know if they ostracized her for her position. She said no, they just disagreed. I also found this gratifying, knowing how easy it is in certain circles for judgment to be meted out by those unqualified to judge. She was completely unfazed.

Over at Jesus Shaped Spirituality, a commenter dropped this lovely sentiment regarding things that Jesus had to deal with that we also have to deal with. I’ve never heard it put quite this way before, but it seems to be a remarkably pithy and accurate conclusion given the evidence of the story.

Charley states that Jesus actions at the wedding at Cana essentially stated “that booze is ok, and if you run out before the party’s over, get some more.”

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Divine Vaccinium

The sweetest orb, and finest fruit
That ever sprang up from the root;
Wild of branch, on forest floors,
Among the ledges in taller hedges,
Or between rocks, low and clustered flocks.
Untamed by hand, but cultivated by God.

To climb the mount, stretch out the hand
And gather the bounty from the land.
Not just one, but by the handful.
Look around, there's a whole land full
Of them, covering the summit.
Warm from the sun and tight with juice,
Which squirts when pressed between the tooth.

Oh the blueberry! O the Joy!
A whole sky, a whole mountain, the whole earth,
All distilled to one small ball,
One indigo ornament.
Not one. A mouthful. A bucketful.
A belly full, with stained lips
And a tongue dyed with their glory.
Until you have gathered wild blueberries,
And shoveled them into your mouth,
So that they explode into your brain,
On a mountain
in July...

Your life is an empty, dry and flavorless proposition.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Divine Right of Who?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. -- From the Declaration of Independence

We do indeed hold these truths to be self evident. In fact, it is difficult to imagine anyone seriously suggesting that democracy is not the absolute, hands down, very best way to organize a government. It is such a part of our culture and the spirit of our age.

Assistant Village Idiot recently published a thoughtful post on taking scientific method for granted. Science as we know it, and the worldview that comes with it, is a recent construct in the history of the world. We tend to think that it is the only right thinking way to think. And yet, as AVI points out, hundreds of empires have risen and crumbled without the use of the scientific method. Men have not always relied upon the positing and testing of hypotheses to determine how to live their lives, or build a society.

But we have. The implications of this are enormous.

We tend to think the same way about democracy. Of course the people have the right of overthrow despots, and establish a government amendable to our inalienable rights. Of course! But, what it that’s wrong? What if we have no such right. Or what if that right is much more tightly circumscribed than we like to think? Our Declaration of Independence even says we have a duty to do so. Do we?

What if we the people have no inalienable rights? What if kings really do have a divine right?
What would we do then?

And, if we are going to talk about rights, who grants us these rights? Rights are by rights a grant. The originate somewhere, and are grounded in some authority. If we remove, or refuse to acknowledge that authority, can we have any actual rights? Or do we just strut about claiming them even though they don't exist? Or, as I think is more likely, do we just strut about claiming them with no sense of their source, like spoiled children who simply expect to receive their allowance regardless of....well, of anything else.

I guess every idea has it's unforeseen consequences. There is no avoiding it. This idea of democracy has now finally been around long enough for us to begin to see it's real unfolding. It's not over yet. What will the history books say about it 500 years from now?

It's All Academic

For those of you prone to decry the state of contemporary academia, there may be hope. All you have to do is wait a little longer, and the long-haired, sandal wearing, communist doktoratura (I made that word up) will be shuffling off to retirement. Apparently to be replaced by younger and less lefty (presumably more righty) fake-uhl-tee. If not righty, at least more mid-dull.

To my way of thinking, academia is plagued by a vast mediocrity of thought, passing itself off as original and provocative while they are actually merely floating with the subcultural drift. Simply because they wave their arms alot, they think they are swimming against the current.

Meanwhile, those among us with a greater bias toward action have gone into other pursuits where they actually do things rather than merely meditate, write and lecture about them. In this group I include engineers, soldiers, and business people (or if you prefer older labels, craftsmen, warriors and merchants). Ultimately, it's those groups that provide the support that makes academics possible. They will always whip the long hairs into line eventually.

One mistake that academics make is to think that that Craftsmen, Warriors and Merchants don't think. They think, but they harness thinking to a practical purpose, rather than elevate it for it's own sake.

After all, what is thinking for?

Read what the NY Times has to say here.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Feeding the Reading Beast

My hometown library is small. No wonder really. The town is small – about 3800 inhabitants. It is the custom in New Hampshire to fund libraries with local dollars, voted on and raised by the local population, the library is small.

This is not to say it isn’t nice. It is very nice. The librarians do a fine job, the space is open and pleasing and an altogether enjoyable place to pass a few hours. Nevertheless, when it comes to actual reading…that is finding books that one wants to read and then reading them…it has some pretty stiff limitations.

The problem is that the stacks are small. There is neither the budget nor the space to carry a really generously useful collection. It's not like the Brown County Library in Green Bay Wisconsin, where I lived for 7 years. Being funded by the county, and serving some 200,000 or so citizens, it had a wonderful expansive collection. Such a luxury is easy to get used to . But I'm not in Kansas (or Wisconsin) anymore. So now I will commonly go to the catalogue to find that they simply do not have the title I seek. Too bad. So sad.

But wait! What about Inter Library Loan!

ILL is a beautifully conceived program. I go to my local library, ascertain that the book I seek is not in our local collection. I then speak to the librarian at the desk and request the title through ILL. She dutifully takes down my information, and in a few days I get a phone call. It’s Pam. She’s telling me that my book is in. I usually get to keep it for a month or so, and then send it back. In a Netflixian twist, I can only have two books out on ILL at a time, but I can live with that.

I just figured out that if I make a list of books I want to read, and give that list to Pam, she will constantly feed me the next item on the list. I suggested this and she thinks it’s a fine idea. In this way, I figure I can be reading one while the other is on order. I should be able to feed the Reading Beast quite nicely this way and keep my reading focused along some sort of systematic lines. Depending on the type of book and its density, I’ve been putting away 4-5 books a month.
So my next step is to print up my list. I figure going to my Amazon Wishlist is a good place to start. It sounds stranger perhaps, but there is something about this idea of giving the librarian a list to automate my reading plan is very exciting to me. I feel kind of like I am starting a very new and exciting journey.

Ooooh. Kind of give me shivers. I love books.