Free Opinions

I know the blogging has been mighty sparse this week. So, here are three fresh opinions on current topics absolutely free of charge.

1. Scott McClellan–This most recent low pressure system in the gathering perfect storm of bad news for Republicans this year has forced me to face the following fact. President Bush, while a good person and a resolute war leader, may be the worst hirer of talent and character in the history of either talent or character. Or hiring for that matter.

Dear sweet mother of cheese, the last seven years have been filled with some epic poor personnel choices. Beginning with the decision to keep on Clinton leftovers George Tenet (CIA) and Norm Mineta (Transportation) through picking Colin Powell for State and installing Michael Brown at FEMA after the departure of fellow Okie, Joe Allbaugh.

Many hires and appointments were less than competent. Many others were less than conservative. It seems that Scott McClellan fell short on both counts.

2. One of the things I find most alarming about the prospect of an Obama presidency (in addition to the doctrinaire liberalism, the friendly legislature, and the angry, grievance-mongering wife) is the fact that he carries two dangerous qualities in very large measure–naiveté and hubris.

He is like Jimmy Carter was (and is) in this respect, only more so. And at least Carter had some executive experience as Governor of Georgia. Sen. Obama has never run anything or done anything. But his confidence in his charm and good intentions seems boundless.God help us all.

3. Last year it was my apple tree. This year the lemon shrub and pepper plants are going to produce mightily. . . in my opinion. (Pictures to follow.)

Noble Men, Noble Sacrifices

July the 14th, 1861

Washington D.C.

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.
Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.
But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows—when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children—is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?
I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death—and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.
I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear death” have called upon me, and I have obeyed.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.
The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar—that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.
Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.
But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night—amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours—always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.
Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.
As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.
Sullivan

Broken Hearts in Tennessee

maria.jpeg

Inexperienced teenage drivers are known to be prone to distraction and accidents. And five-year old children are known to be careless and clueless when they play near roads and streets.

Those two grim facts of life intersected with awful efficiency on the long gravel driveway to Steven Curtis Chapman’s country home this afternoon.

According to this news report, one of the Chapman’s teenage sons was driving the family’s SUV up the driveway as his little sister Maria–one of three little girls the family has adopted in China in recent years–was playing there. He never saw her. And she is gone.

Here at our house, we stopped and prayed and shook our heads at the immensity of the grief that a fallen world visits upon some of its very best souls. What a horrific blow for a wonderful family to have to absorb. What a cruel weight have laid upon narrow boy-shoulders.

As we prayed, I was reminded of a song Chapman wrote several years ago. He called it “Hold On to Jesus.” The lyric he wrote says:

I have come to this ocean
And the waves of fear are starting to grow
The doubts and questions are rising with the tide
So I’m clinging to the one sure thing I know
I will hold onto the hand of my Savior
And I will hold on with all my might
I will hold loosely to things that are fleeting
And hold on to Jesus
I will hold on to Jesus for life

I’ve tried to hold many treasures
They just keep slipping through my fingers like sand
But there’s one treasure that means more than breath itself
So I’m clinging to it with everything I am
Like a child holding onto a promise
I will cling to His word and believe
As I press on to take hold of that
For which Christ Jesus took hold of me
Hold on for life

Hold on, dear Chapman family. May you find mercy and comfort and solace and hope as you do.

Summer 1966

slides020.jpg

That’s me on the left.

Based on this photo, I could tell you a story of my early years of poverty and deprivation growing up in rural Southeastern Oklahoma. Of cultural backwardness and intellectual malnourishment. I could tell you such a story but, despite what the picture above suggests, it wouldn’t be true.

No, pictures don’t always tell the truth. And this frozen Kodachrome moment tells a whopper.

That’s my little brother and I (4 and 6) having the time of our lives in the Summer of 1966. Both Mom and Dad were college professors. And this Summer, we spent six weeks living in this cabin on Lake Texoma as Dad–a biology teacher–did research for a paper he was writing on some obscure species of sand wasps.

He spent each day sitting in a lawn chair with a legal pad in his lap, logging the comings and goings of little wasps. Meanwhile, my brother and I–perpetually shirtless, shoeless, and careless–lived liked two wild men of Borneo, swimming, fishing, tree climbing and whatever else we jolly well pleased.

As I look at this picture now through the eyes of a husband, I have to wonder how good a time my Mom was having during those six weeks. That cabin didn’t have much more than running water. And a quick check of NOAA’s historical weather data shows that the temps in July of ’66 were way above normal. I suspect most of the cooking was done outside on that little charcoal grill because it was simply too hot to consider cooking anything indoors.

Two years later Mom would get to build her dream home. And over the 10 years that followed my brother and I would do our best to destroy it with the help of two sisters who would come along eventually. There would be piano lessons, drama workshops, science fairs, and reading of all the right books.

But for part of one hot summer, we all lived like depression-era sharecroppers. And that was all right by me.

Here at Summer's Edge

Five place settings at the table tonight.

Yesterday Mrs. Blather and I ran down to Baylor to move Female Offspring Unit #1 out of the dormitory and back home for the Summer.

Throughout my college years (all seven of them), I could pretty much fit everything I owned in the back of my Toyota Corolla. Yesterday I hauled a volume of shoes out of a tiny dorm room that would have crushed that Toyota.

FOI #2 still has a week and a half of school remaining and, because she is a conscientious, high-achiever, has that grim-pressured look on her face most of the time. Papers, projects, and finals weigh heavily. #3 finished today and she has that giddy, relieved look of a defendant who has just been told charges are being dropped due to a technicality.

Of course, for us grownups, Summer doesn’t mean much, does it? Other than higher electric bills, that is. The hamster wheels of work and obligation and duty must continue to spin.

It’s just as well. Everyone in the household is now so. . . scheduled. Between summer jobs, camps, activities and engagements, I’m not sure we could find a commonly-available week for a vacation, even if Lord Hamsterwheel were inclined to permit it. Which he’s not.

Still, there are the memories of sweet summers past and less complicated times. Like when we were still living in Minnesota and flew to Florida. There the girls saw the ocean for the very first time. We parked at Cocoa Beach, got out of the car, and they ran down ahead–stopping as close to the water’s edge as they dared.

You rarely have a camera in your hands when one of life’s fleeting, golden milestone moments composes itself before your wondering, welling eyes.

But occasionally you do.

girls-smaller.jpg

Five place settings at the table tonight. Here at Summer’s edge, things are as they should be.

Mark Steyn on Israel at 60

Good,  sobering stuff. An excerpt…

On a tiny strip of land narrower at its narrowest point than many American townships, Israel has built a modern economy with a GDP per capita just shy of $30,000 — and within striking distance of the European Union average. If you object that that’s because it’s uniquely blessed by Uncle Sam, well, for the past 30 years the second largest recipient of U.S. aid has been Egypt: Their GDP per capita is $5,000, and America has nothing to show for its investment other than one-time pilot Mohammed Atta coming at you through the office window.

Read the whole thing.

Israel is 60

israel-birth.jpg

Sixty years ago a tiny outpost of Western Civilization was established in the vast cultural wasteland of the Middle East. It took two world wars and a collective global recoil from the horror of the holocaust to set the stage for such an improbable event.

Today there are those who actually believe the Middle East would be a giant love-in if Israel didn’t exist. All harmony and understanding. Sympathy and trust abounding. Seriously.

However, some knoweldgeable folks at Foreign Policy magazine imagined “A World Without Israel” and came to a different conclusion:

Imagine that Israel never existed. Would the economic malaise and political repression that drive angry young men to become suicide bombers vanish? Would the Palestinians have an independent state? Would the United States, freed of its burdensome ally, suddenly find itself beloved throughout the Muslim world? Wishful thinking. Far from creating tensions, Israel actually contains more antagonisms than it causes.

There were about 200 people present on May 14, 1948 when David Ben Gurion proclaimed Israel a sovereign nation. Only one of those witnesses to history is alive today. His name is Arieh Handler. And this is his story.

Courtroom Drama (Almost)

I have been a registered voter pretty much continuously for the last thirty years. And somehow I have never been summoned for jury duty. Until today.

A few weeks ago I got a notice to appear at the Tarrant County courthouse on this day. I arrived at 8:30 a.m. as instructed, and found myself in a room with about 150 other prospective jurors. I had heard from others who have been summoned recently that the odds are against even been called out to be a jury prospect pool.

So after some initial instructions they began calling out numbers and names for the first jury pool. Number 1, Jane Doe. . .Number 2, Joe Blogs. . . Number 3, David Holland. . .

Okay then. I was in a jury pool. Me and about 14 of my closest new friends clipped on our “Juror” name tags and headed up to the sixth floor in search county courtroom 15. There we were handed surveys to fill out. The early questions were about profession and level of education. But a little farther down we got questions like:

  • Has someone close to you ever been the subject of a restraining order or protection order?
  • Has someone close to you ever been a victim of spousal abuse?
  • If something is crime when done to a stranger, is it always a crime when done to a spouse?
  • Should someone be prosecuted for a crime against a spouse even when that spouse does not want that person to be prosectued?

After a few of those, I was ready to take a wild guess as to what kind of case we might be hearing. But would I be selected or rejected? I was praying for rejection given the fact that I couldn’t really spare the hours I was already losing.

As it turned out, the judge had 10 cases on her docket today, and every single one of them ended up in a plea bargain or with the charges dropped. As we were dismissed, she explained to us that knowing that a prospective jury is waiting out in the hall tends to concentrate the minds of the attorneys in ways that gets deals done.

So I didn’t get pulled into a multi-day trial and my work life was saved.