February 29, 2008
JF: What is it that makes the U.S. and Europe so different from each other? From the outside, the two are often perceived as a monolithic unit: the West. Does this unity really exist, or are we talking about two separate worlds? Do you think the alliance between the U.S. and Europe is made to last, or is it no more than an illusion?
VDH: We have a common legacy, as the elections in France and Germany remind us. And we coalesce when faced by a common illiberal enemy whether against the Soviet empire or radical Islam.
But after the fall of the Soviet Union, you diverged onto a secularized, affluent, leisured, socialist, and pacifist path, where in the pride and arrogance of the Enlightenment you were convinced you could make heaven on earth and would demonize as retrograde anyone who begged to differ.
Now you are living with the results of your arrogance: while you brand the U.S. illiberal, it grows its population, diversifies and assimilates, and offers economic opportunity and jobs; although, for a time youve become wealthy given your lack of defense spending, commercial unity, and protectionism but only up to a point: soon the bill comes due as you age, face a demographic crisis, become imprisoned by secular appetites and ever growing entitlements. Once one insists on an equality of result, not one of mere opportunity, then, as Plato warned, there is no logical end to what the government will think up and the people will demand.
What I thought was quite interesting was that the questions the students did best on were the "I Have a Dream" speech and Uncle Tom's Cabin. So Black History Month is achieving its goals. But I think we need a White History Month to even things out, since only 74% of kids knew which century Columbus sailed to the New World and only 52% knew what the book 1984 was about (apparently 18% thought it was about time travel, backwards!) Kids don't know what JFK said in his speeches, but they know what MLK said.
My kids are going to have to read, at gunpoint if necessary.
February 28, 2008
This is the most hilarious blog ever. It covers all the stuff I freaking hate (note: travelling / study abroad and making you feel bad about not going outside are just better-written versions of my hatred for travel and doing stuff).
Seriously, I can't even say which one is my favorite -- not having a TV, expensive sandwiches, The Daily Show, having two last names -- they're all spot on. This site captures perfectly all the douchy things that people do. I love it.
But how on earth will we ever live without the $900 I made last year? Heh.
First it was Army Blogger Wife, compiling all the creatively bad things her daughter did.
Which reminded me of the time AWTM's kids got into plaster of paris while her washing machine was broken.
Then Pink Ninja took a ride on the garage door.
Then Erin told me on the phone that the honeymoon is over with Tucker and that she's frazzled and exhausted. She said all of this on the phone while she was planting spring flowers, because she didn't have enough time in the day in between Tucker's screaming to both talk to a friend and work in the garden.
Then today AWTM posted some Bill Cosby comedy about the maddening things kids do.
You guys are conspiring to freak me out, right? That's the awful thing about trying for more than a year to get pregnant: there's too much time to think about it! Time to think about whether you really want to sing Barney songs while cleaning an overflowed toilet. Or reprimand your son for playing with himself in public. Or pull your kid out of a grave.
This needs to happen quick before I lose my nerve...
February 26, 2008
Sitting on a bunk in Bravo Company's outpost, Staff Sgt. Corey Hollister noted the irony that, even as the debate in America remained bizarrely unaffected by the reality around him, "It's really military personnel and their families who don't want [the Army] to leave Iraq."
My husband is frustrated that he could've spent six months learning Farsi only to deploy to Iraq (where no one speaks Farsi). He would've rather learned Arabic then. He wants to be able to communicate with the people, wants to read as many books as he can about Sunnis and Shiites and Arab culture, wants to get another chance to participate in this war. Not for the killing but for the cultural cross-pollination.
And indeed, there's cross-pollination:
Officers in the Grand Army of the Tigris, as one of its senior officers calls the American force, dine with local elders at "goat grabs," greet them with "man-kisses," and routinely punctuate their own conversations with the casual "insha'allah." The vernacular has even followed the Army home: In the halls of the Pentagon, where nearly every Army officer has served at least two tours in Iraq, officers ask whether this or that official has "wasta"Iraqi shorthand for "influence" or "pull," though with a slightly more corrupt tinge.
It's the military families that don't want to leave Iraq because they are the ones who've become invested. They're the ones who are getting steeped in this culture and looking for ways to make it compatible with ours. And they're the ones who understand the little picture as well as the big one.
My husband has always said that Iraq has way more than a problem between Sunnis and Shiites, because even in all-Shiite villages, there are still feuds. Between this group and that, this clan and that, this cousin's branch and that, this side of the street and that. Put two Iraqis in a room together, and they'll find something to divide them. So I got a kick out of this:
This much was evident at a gathering of 20 local elders, where a young captain named Palmer Phillips cajoled and corralled sheiks three times his age. "Hey," Phillips admonished the feuding tribal leaders, "There can't be anymore of this Dulaimi versus Assawi action going on."
The soldiers on the ground are working with the nuances and getting physically and emotionally invested in the outcome. Really, really invested. And they don't want to fail. But most of all they don't want to be sent home before they have a chance to succeed.
Read the whole article.
Also read Gordon Alanko's Reconstructing Relationships. "Juggling kittens" indeed.
But no matter how much I'd like to have a boy, now that we've worked so hard to have a baby, any baby, this article -- "Sexual Satisfaction: Abortion and your right to accurate sex selection" -- makes me sick. There are so many people out there who would give anything to have a baby, boy or girl, and others are aborting because some stick they peed on gave them pink instead of blue? Some dubiously accurate stick at that? And then they're suing the company because they had a girl instead of a boy.
People never cease to horrify me.
February 25, 2008
Remind me to never knit stuffed animals for strangers.
Some of the negative reviews on Amazon say that Sarah Vowell's writing is self-absorbed. As a blogger, heh, I live self-absorbed. I assume that people are going to want to listen to my talk of knitted monkey toes and reproductive health. So that didn't bother me at all; I found her voice charming and her style to be engaging. I also loved learning about the Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley assassinations. There were so many great tidbits in this book, and I came away knowing a lot more about the life and death of those three presidents. I also learned touching info like the fact that Ida McKinley sewed a picture of her dead husband into her knitting bag, a bag which is on display in the McKinley museum in Canton, Ohio. Now that I can relate to, that brought Ida McKinley to life for me.
I loved this book, save for the fact that Sarah Vowell has the worst case of Bush Derangement Syndrome I've seen in a long time. She can't talk about any of these assassinations without mentioning Guantanamo Bay, Rumsfeld, Abu Ghraib, etc. These tangential rants were a huge distraction in an otherwise charming book. And I mean a huge distraction. She starts out the book by sympathizing with the assassins themselves because she hates Bush so much, but quickly says that she doesn't want Bush assassinated because that would turn him into a saint. My lord. She also manages to claim that these three assassinated presidents pretty much got what was coming to them because they were Republicans. No word on JFK though.
I mean, seriously, what are you supposed to do when you come across the idea that the author feels sorry for Bill Brady but not for Ronald Reagan? Ouch.
The book could've been the perfect story of one woman's obsession with following in the footsteps of slain presidents, visiting the historical sites and marveling at the relics. Instead she turns a perfectly good book into a dated rant about the Iraq war. She made her own book irrelevant by forever linking it to 2004. It's her right to ruin her book like that, but dang. Does anyone really want to hear her liken Teddy Roosevelt to Paul Wolfowitz? Or compare Dr. Mudd's prison sentence to Gitmo? Sheesh, give it a rest.
So I don't know what I think of this book. I loved the pages where she managed to restrict her thoughts to the 19th century. But when she wandered, boy howdy did she wander. Blech.
February 24, 2008
I knew an Eastern European foreign exchange student who thought he identified with black American culture more than white American culture, so he wanted to hang out with the black students. The first time he tried to go to a black party, they rudely asked him to leave. You have to admire his persistence though; he continued to attend their parties for weeks, being ostracized each time. Finally, a girl who was in one of his classes came up to him at his fifth or sixth party and asked him why in the heck he kept coming back when it was obvious he didn't belong. After many weeks of "proving himself," he finally made some headway, and the black students would say hello on campus and talk to him as if he were a friend.
I know these are just anecdotes, but my experience on a very predominantly white campus was that the black students self-segregated and imagined that they were being oppressed. No one even noticed when my roommate showed up at our "white" party. It was no big deal for me to include her, but she'd be going out on a major limb to bring me into her world. That's not the white students' fault; that's the black students' fault for closing themselves off.
"My experiences at Princeton have made me far more aware of my 'blackness' than ever before," the future Mrs. Obama wrote in her thesis introduction. "I have found that at Princeton, no matter how liberal and open-minded some of my white professors and classmates try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I really don't belong. Regardless of the circumstances underwhich I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second."
I can't speak for Princeton in the 80s, but this was certainly not the case at my school in 1999. And I wonder if my old roommate ever learned to relax around people, all people of all colors, and just be herself. I hope to goodness she doesn't still think she's going to get lynched.
This part of Peggy Noonan's editorial stuck with me too:
Michelle Obama seems keenly aware of her struggles, of what it took to rise so high as a black woman in a white country. Fair enough. But I have wondered if it is hard for young African-Americans of her generation, having been drilled in America's sad racial history, having been told about it every day of their lives, to fully apprehend the struggles of others. I wonder if she knows that some people look at her and think "Man, she got it all." Intelligent, strong, tall, beautiful, Princeton, Harvard, black at a time when America was trying to make up for its sins and be helpful, and from a working-class family with two functioning parents who made sure she got to school.
If Michelle Obama doesn't realize that she made it, that her life is not one "on the periphery," well, that's a damn shame. But it's not white people's fault.
February 23, 2008
I'm still working on the spider monkey I started back in November, a project which has been sitting in pieces on my coffee table, mocking me for months. The hitch? Individually knitted toes. Twenty of 'em. Individually sewn on to individual feet. A nightmare of sewing and weaving in ends.
But now the twenty toes are made, and it's time to buckle down and stuff them (eek) and start sewing them to the feet. And sewing the feet to the legs.
Time to get this monkey off my back. Hardy har.
(And yes, I know that the toes look like, ahem, swimmers all lined up like that. Or feminine products. That wasn't the look I was going for when I took the picture.)
I think the problem is that young men come to the realization that they are not really needed. Boys grow up instinctively wanting to be heroes, but the irony is that successive generations of male heroics have made the world safe enough that women no longer need heroes in their lives; they want "partners." It comes out sounding more like a business proposition, and a rather bland one at that.
My husband is the man of the house. He lifts the heavy things, handles the money, deals with car maintenance, watches baseball, and drinks beer. He also goes to war. He doesn't cry and he doesn't complain about having to work so hard. He is my hero, and I chose him because he is a man's man. I most certainly do need heroes like him in my life.
Sorry, but reading Dr. Helen's columns and comments is a depressing activity. I felt the need to defend my husband after all that reading.
February 22, 2008
Lileks, of course:
But in the great middle expanse of your life, you not only want to spread out, you want to be left alone, and this is taking on the characteristic of an anti-social sentiment. You should be walking around the dense neighborhood window-shopping and eating at small fusion restaurants. You should be engaged. If you want to watch a quality foreign film, good, but you should not watch it home; you should walk down to the corner theater and see it in a room full of other people, and nevermind that the start time is inconvenient and you cant pause it to go pee and the fellow in the row behind you is aerating the atmosphere with tubercular sputum. This is how they do things in New York.
Apparently there's a movie theater in town where you can see a movie over dinner and drinks; you sit at tables and they serve you food while the movie is playing. Or something like that, I've never been. But another hip young couple here is always telling us that we should be Doing Things like going to this innovative movie theater, or schlepping to the big city to go out to dinner, or heading to the beach to surf, or doing yoga, or whatever else they do with all their free time. People look at us like we're freaks when we say we've never been to the big city that's an hour away, that we've never been to the beach, that we don't eat out in restaurants. Apparently we'd have "so much fun, and it'd be romantic too" spending fifty bucks for a dinner I can make at home. And what knitter wants to watch a movie whilst eating food? Movies were invented to help knitters feel less idle; I've gotten good enough that I can watch a movie with subtitles while knitting from a chart, but I still can't do much in the darkness of a movie theater. And certainly not with a plate of food in front of me.
Nevermind that we own French, Swedish, Korean, and Serbian movies and have animated discussions about Obama and deficit spending over our homecooked meals; life is not fulfilling unless you leave the house. The looks I get from people my age indicated that we're simply not cool if we don't Go Do Things.
Call me uncool then.
February 21, 2008
We've also gotten way off the tracks on the "purity" issue. There's this sense that if conservatism gets more pure, if we can just get rid of the RINOS, we can dominate again -- but that's not true. When a political party is losing, they need to find ways to draw more people into the tent, not throw people out.
I've been reading many comments sections these days, so I'm sorry that I can't remember where I read this. But someone was complaining that the Religious Right gets all the focus as the base of the Republican Party. He said (paraphrase), "As a fiscal conservative, when will I finally be accepted as part of 'the base'?" I completely relate to this. I want to know when my worries about spending will matter as much as others' worries about the sanctity of marriage. Pres. Bush (pbuh) has been running around like a teen with his dad's credit card, but all the questions at the YouTube debate were about which parts of the Bible the candidates take literally. I just don't freaking care.
In another comment thread the other day (sorry, don't remember where I saw this either), Democrats kept saying that the reason they need to defeat John McCain is so he won't overturn Roe v Wade. Honestly, that is so far from my mind right now that it made me snicker. I would prefer that abortion be left up to the states, but this issue is not at all a priority for me in voting. I am worried about the war and about spending. Period.
Hawkins is right when he goes on to say:
We should always be asking ourselves, "How can we reach out to more Americans?" How can we apply our principles in different areas to reach larger blocks of voters? What new solutions can we come up with to the problems that the American people are concerned about? In some of these areas, we've done a good job. In others, we haven't.
Solutions. We need real ideas, and realistic ideas, especially on spending. I remember how thrilled I was when Pres. Bush was talking about reforming social security back in 2004. I was beside myself with excitement at the time, but it went nowhere. And I think the Democrats are deluding themselves over health care the same way we did over social security four years ago; it's just not going to happen. Or at least it's not going to happen the way they want it to.
I remember hearing John McCain in one of the first debates getting hammered for the immigration bill, and he got an exasperated look on his face and tried to explain that it wasn't a perfect bill, it wasn't even something that he personally was all that thrilled about, but that you have to make concessions and compromises in order to get anything done in Congress. And I felt for him in that moment. It's so easy for those of us on the outside to point fingers at Congress about what they should and shouldn't be doing, but we don't have to sit in the same room as Nancy Pelosi and try to hammer out solutions. Can we even have any idea how hard that must be?
Most people don't like McCain because he is too willing to work with the other side, but that's how you get more people in the tent. And I quoted Lileks yesterday on compromise; I do believe that it's folly to compromise on your major principles. But if Congress is at a roughly 50/50 split, there's no way a MoveOn.org idea nor a Pon Raul idea is going to pass the vote. The solutions will have to be somewhere in the middle.
Which is why I think that the most important thing is for Republicans to get seriously better at explaining how their positions help people. Read a Thomas Sowell book and you have all the info you need, in layman's terms, to show people how economic ideas that are typically labeled "Republican" are the better choice. So why don't our Republican politicians do this? Steal from Sowell if you must; I bet he wouldn't mind! But make people realize that all these feel-good ideas the Dems come up with -- everything for everyone, free! -- are nonsense. Help people think beyond stage one. Show them that a clean environment is good but Kyoto will cripple us, that more affordable health care is within our reach if we let the free market take its course, or that a higher minimum wage means we get our hours cut. Arm the voters with knowledge and the tides will shift, and when Congress tips in our favor, we have to make less concessions and compromises.
We need to stop letting Democrats get away with "stage one thinking" and start pulling more people into our tent. Why are the same people thrilled that Lieberman moved slightly right of center but appalled over John McCain? There should be plenty of room on our side for both of them, for everyone.
Micklethwait and Wooldridge said that our country is steadily getting more conservative. I'd really like to believe that. But I think we could give it a little push if we got better at explaining our solutions.
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