Reading AUDACITY

As if I don’t read enough already — slush for Baen, science and current affairs articles for my university job, and a little (precious little!) pleasure reading — on the advice of a good friend I started reading Senator Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. (I love libraries.) It’ll be slow going, I think, since I’m using it as my “put me to sleep at night” reading.

I was interested in his characterization of his run for the Senate as “one last race.” Famous last words, as my mom used to say.

And I wasn’t sure how to take his detailed descriptions of the Senate chambers — the doors and damask and all that. On one hand, I was surprised that anyone other than an interior decorator or architecture buff would be so observant, and so was skeptical that he actually wrote that part himself. On the other hand, I was a little jealous that I’m not that observant … and I think my writing probably suffers as a result.

More on this subject at another time. Break’s over; back to the slush.

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Rev. Wright and the Imams

Beneath the kerfuffle over the incendiary statements Rev. Jeremiah Wright made during sermons at Trinity United Church of Christ, the episode illustrates our very human tendency not to confront those in whom we have vested authority. It’s true in most places, of most people, that we rarely confront those whom we have accepted as leaders and especially those who represent to us some legitimate authority.

Where, for instance, are the moderate Muslims who disagree with and disapprove of the fatwas issued by radical clerics? They exist, and remain silent.

Where are the moderate members of Rev. Wright’s parish who disagree with and disapprove of his comments? They exist, and remain silent.

We are far more apt to challenge those whose authority and legitimacy we don’t recognize or to whom we have few ties; thus, in politics in our free country, we have no shortage of critics no matter who is in power. It’s very difficult, however, to stand up against a legitimate authority figure — one whom we have ample reason to respect and follow under normal circumstances — and say, “No, that’s wrong.” It takes courage; and when we are faced with difficult pronouncements from religious leaders that kind of courage is particularly hard to come by.

It would have been nice to hear the story of a courageous Senator Obama calling his spiritual advisor on the carpet for denigrating the United States of America (especially after his swearing-in as a Senator). In the same way, it would be wonderful to hear about courageous Muslims calling their imams and mullahs and clerics on the carpet for the heinous pronouncements they make. The latter requires more courage, however, since the potential penalty could be much more severe than the former; that in itself tells us something about the Islamofascists in authority in radical Islam, and why the civilized world should extirpate them.

I remember hearing Larry Crabb quote Pascal to the effect that when the whole world is moving in the same direction (e.g., toward depravity), it only takes one person who decides to stand still to show the wrong movement for what it is.* But that one person has to “be strong and courageous,” as the Scripture says. Which is why it doesn’t happen quite as often as it should.

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*He used the illustration in his address to the 1994 National Youthworker’s Convention in San Diego.

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Suburban Decline

I sent this article — “On Borrowed Time,” by Michael Gecan (from Boston Review) — to the rest of the folks on the Public Arts Advisory Board, but other civic-minded folks would probably be interested in it as well.

It discusses urban decline, suburban growth, urban renewal, and suburban decline in the Chicago area; specifically, DuPage County. Given the growth issue here in Cary, NC, this passage caught my attention:

By the date of the meeting, however, the developers who had helped double DuPage’s population in just 30 years had run out of land. The income generated by their construction efforts had dwindled to a trickle. Education and public safety costs continued to climb.

His run-down of ways municipalities avoid reality — denial, gimmicks, blaming “others,” and withdrawal — was especially interesting. Good food for thought for anyone involved in city or county government … even those of us on advisory boards.

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This Is Why We Started the Anti-Campaign

Commenting on New Hampshire State Representative Michael DesRoches’s failure to show up and vote in the recent legislative session, and his announcement Monday that he would resign, James Taranto wrote in Best of the Web Today,

Resigning? He should be running for Congress! If there were more guys like Michael DesRoches on Capitol Hill, imagine how little harm they’d do.

Exactly our point when we started the Anti-Campaign. Remember, the Anti-Candidate is not on the ballot for any office, anywhere, but would be happy to collect your vote for the same: any office, anywhere. We promise nothing — not even to show up — because we agree with Thomas Jefferson: “That government governs best which governs least.”

Governing least — we’d be happy to.

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Upcoming ASPJ Article

Sometimes I think I should stick with non-fiction. I received word that my brief article, “The Mission Matters Most” is scheduled to appear in the Fall issue of Air & Space Power Journal (the USAF’s professional journal).

A couple of years ago, ASPJ published my article, “How the Air Force Embraced ‘Partial Quality,'” which generated some discussion and eventually a review/rebuttal in the Fall 2007 issue. This new article is something of a rebuttal to the rebuttal, which is what “The Merge” section of the journal intends:

In air combat, “the merge” occurs when opposing aircraft meet and pass each other. Then they usually “mix it up.” In a similar spirit, Air and Space Power Journal’s “Merge” articles present contending ideas.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt:

I read with interest Randall Schwalbe’s critique …. [which] is well thought out but somewhat misses the point.

… Mr. Schwalbe made the statement [that] the “fundamental flaw” (p. 16) of my article was that I had confused “quality with process improvement.” That my article dealt with the way the USAF implemented quality improvement ideas in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and attempted to show that the ideas themselves were sound but the execution flawed, did not seem to come through: my execution, apparently, was itself flawed.

… more salient to this discussion, the commercial success of Toyota, Ford, or Motorola, etc., is not the best argument for convincing the military that these new tools and techniques are germane to their mission. Obviously I did not make that point clear enough in my original article, so let me reiterate: for the rank-and-file to see Lean or any other improvement effort as vital to their service’s continued success, these efforts must be adapted to the core military mission as much as (if not more than) they are adapted to ancillary functions.

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Underperforming … the Story of My Life

Best of the Web Today pointed us to this article from The Boston Globe, which reported that administrators, principals, and teachers in Massachusetts are agonizing over the impact to morale of labeling schools “underperforming” or “chronically underperforming” that generate poor test results.

We can only hope that those administrators, principals, and teachers agonize half as much over why their schools turn out so many graduates (and non-graduates) who read poorly, figure poorly, and reason poorly compared to the numbers of graduates they turn out who read, figure, and reason well. Inasmuch as (to give them the benefit of the doubt) they presumably are doing their best, they have a point: hanging a label promotes more shame than improvement, because the label itself doesn’t explain how to improve.

Who among us hasn’t experienced the difficulty of doing one’s best without knowing exactly what to do or how to do it? We might label ourselves as “underperforming” or worse, but if we’re serious about what we’re trying to do we will find someone to teach us what to do and how to do it well. If we’re not serious, we should look for something else to do.

My writing career is like that. Some things I do pretty well, others not so well at all. So I seek out people who, hopefully, will help me overcome my weaknesses; which is why, in six weeks, I’ll be in Utah at Dave Wolverton’s writing workshop.

I hope those educators can do the same: admit their weaknesses, and find real experts who can help them overcome those weaknesses. But as long as these things have been going on (far longer than the decade-and-a-half since my book came out), I don’t have a lot of hope.

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Happy Easter

The sun rose this morning while I walked the dog past the Presbyterian church on the corner, where they were having a sunrise service outside. I could hear some of the music, but couldn’t quite make out the song, so I sang “Celebrate Jesus” and had my own personal service as I walked.

Then it was home to breakfast casserole, and soon I’ll be off to church to sing in our Easter cantata.

Whatever you find to do this Easter, I wish you the best: Happy Easter to one and all!

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The Season of My Discontent

Karina Fabian posted an interesting item on her blog about teaching children to appreciate what they have. She wrote, “It seems to me that the more people have, the easier it is to feel dissatisfied.”

I think she’s on to something: it sure seems that the more we have, the more we want. We find it hard to emulate St. Paul’s “I have learned to be content” attitude.

Then again, if everyone were completely content, not much would get done. A lot of ambition and achievement comes from wanting more and being willing to work for it. (It’s that last item that’s the sticking point for most of us; the wanting is easy, the working is not.)

So perhaps, following the 3rd chapter of Ecclesiastes, under the sun there is a time for discontent. It might even be included in the “time to break down, and a time to build up.”

And does anyone besides me hear “Turn, Turn, Turn” in their head when they read that chapter of Ecclesiastes?

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More on Wiretaps, and the War

The House voted, but they didn’t go with the bipartisan Senate version of the intelligence bill. From the Wall Street Journal (emphasis in original), a glimpse of why the House version is almost unbelievably bad:

By requiring prior court approval to gather foreign intelligence from foreign targets on foreign soil, the House measure would also further involve unelected judges in warfighting decisions. By the way, since when do foreign targets have a right to any court review under the U.S. Constitution?

Now the House and Senate get to see if they can come to terms with each other. We can only hope they keep national security in mind while they do so.
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This is a great round-up of Democratic sentiment on the Iraq campaign of the Terror War (some will dismiss it because it was rounded up by President Bush’s former Senior Advisor, Karl Rove):

In September, Mrs. Clinton told Gen. David Petraeus “the reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief.” This week, she said “we’ll be right back at square one” in Iraq by this summer.

In December, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to admit progress, arguing, “The surge hasn’t accomplished its goals.” He said a month earlier there was “no progress being made in Iraq” and “it is not getting better, it is getting worse.”

Asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Feb. 9 if she was worried that the gains of the last year might be lost, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shot back: “There haven’t been gains . . . This is a failure.” Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee told the Associated Press the same month that the surge “has failed.”

It indeed seems as if “Democrats appear to have an ideological investment in things going badly in Iraq.”

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Gotta Love Those Speeches

As a speechwriter, I look at speeches by prominent people from time to time, as well as the reporting about speeches. I probably don’t do it as often as I should. Then again, I don’t do a lot of things as often as I should; and some things I shouldn’t do, I do more often than I should.*

Anyway, some comments on recent speechifying.

1. Why can’t people be bothered to look up Bible quotes?

Tuesday Senator Obama gave a speech in which he attempted to … well, we’re not sure what he was trying to do, but his prepared text seemed to talk a lot about race. Others will dissect the delivered speech in more detail than we will, but this quote in the prepared text stuck out: “Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us.” Notwithstanding that it wasn’t presented as a direct quote, that’s not what Scripture says. (To be extra-inclusive, the text continues: “Let us be our sister’s keeper.” That’s not in Scripture either.) There are Scriptural references to bearing one another’s burdens that might point in that direction, but in the main that reference was just incorrect.

I remember hearing President Clinton give a speech in which he smashed two of the Beatitudes together; i.e., he joined the first half of one verse with the second half of another. It’s hard to tell if these kinds of thing are poetic license, laziness, ignorance, or a mild form of disrespect.

2. Historical ignorance, or ignoring history?

Senator Obama’s speech started with the opening of the Preamble: “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.” The text continued,

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

Notwithstanding that many if not most of the delegates had been born in the colonies rather than having crossed the ocean to become colonists, this passage and the entire speech missed the key historical point that the Constitution did not “launch” our democratic experiment — it re-launched it. The “more perfect union” was specifically intended to be “more perfect” than the previous attempt; i.e., “more perfect” than the Articles of Confederation.

3. Words are important, as are the thoughts and actions behind them.

From an excellent commentary, “The Obama Bargain,” by Shelby Steele in The Wall Street Journal (emphasis in original),

… nothing could be more dangerous to Mr. Obama’s political aspirations than the revelation that he, the son of a white woman, sat Sunday after Sunday — for 20 years — in an Afrocentric, black nationalist church in which his own mother, not to mention other whites, could never feel comfortable. His pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is a challenger who goes far past Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in his anti-American outrage (“God damn America”).

How does one “transcend” race in this church? The fact is that Barack Obama has fellow-traveled with a hate-filled, anti-American black nationalism all his adult life, failing to stand and challenge an ideology that would have no place for his own mother. And what portent of presidential judgment is it to have exposed his two daughters for their entire lives to what is, at the very least, a subtext of anti-white vitriol?

So, what Senator Obama said in his long — very long — speech may have been noteworthy, but it doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility of looking beyond the words.

4. Eyewitnesses to history are just like eyewitnesses to any event: they see things differently.

Yesterday, on the 5th anniversary of the coalition’s invasion of Iraq, President Bush gave a speech at the Pentagon. He said “removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision,” that the success of recent operations marks “a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror,” and that “The costs are necessary when we consider the cost of a strategic victory for our enemies in Iraq.”

The same day, Senator Obama, front-runner for the Democratic nomination, gave a speech in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He said, “Here is the stark reality: there is a security gap in this country — a gap between the rhetoric of those who claim to be tough on national security, and the reality of growing insecurity caused by their decisions.” From those words, and his previous statements on the war, it seems clear why Senator Obama gave his talk near, but not at, Fort Bragg.

Senator Clinton, also in the running for the Democratic nomination, gave remarks to supporters and said, “We cannot win their civil war. There is no military solution.” Her remarks also wouldn’t go over well at a military base — which is probably the point.

In contrast, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain gave a statement that “Americans should be proud that they led the way in removing a vicious, predatory dictator and opening the possibility of a free and stable Iraq.”

It shouldn’t surprise us that folks looking at events from different ends of the political spectrum will see them in different ways. Be that as it may, it’s easy to tell, between the leading contenders for the Presidency, who has victory in mind.

Which leads finally to this: Presidential candidates who have no military experience need to understand a few things about the military.

1. We’re very dedicated to the well-being of the country, so much so that we put it ahead of our own (and often our families’).
2. We believe we’ve been fighting on the side of truth and justice; you’re welcome to believe otherwise, but don’t try to convince us we’ve been wrong and then say you’re the best person to lead us.
3. We don’t like to lose.

In other words, Senator Obama saying “I will end this war” (as quoted in this story) will never be as compelling to a military audience as saying, “We will do whatever it takes to win this war.”

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*For the uncertain, that’s a deliberate paraphrase of St. Paul. More an allusion than a quote, it works with or without attribution.

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