President Bush, please listen to your Colin

Eric Umansky at Slate came up with the perfect word for the faction in the Bush Administration that is pushing for this global dominance model of forcibly spreading democracy worldwide — “conservatopians”. Brilliant.

The “Conservatopians” (Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Cheney) don’t like the Powell doctrine of “overwhelming force.” In order to realize their vision, they need to be able to deploy “force quickly and with dramatic positive effect in multiple places at multiple times.”

But it’s looking like the Conservatopian approach was the wrong choice for Iraq. We need “overwhelming force.” The Powel Doctrine still rules.

And if we don’t use the Powell doctrine in any conflict in North Korea (which is up next, IMO) we’ll be very sorry.

So this “operational pause” and the seeming switch in strategy is a good sign to me. Maybe it means that President Bush is going to listen to Powell and the C.I.A. more and the Conservatopians less. I think Bush should listen to Colin Powell. Let the State Department, and not the Pentagon, run our foriegn policy. Ultimately it will mean fewer lives lost. And fewer ill-advised wars.

More immediately, tossing aside Rummy’s ambitions and rediscovering the Powell Doctrine will ultimately save lives. What’s bad for the Conservatopians is good for America.

Open Letter to Science Teachers

Dear Science Teachers,

As a long time science fair judge, I recognize you as a key figure in the success of the kids you send to be judged by me and my associates. Therefore I think we need to clear some things up.

First of all, just because a kid uses a computer in his project does not make it a computer science project. Don’t let your student enter into computer science category just because he uses a computer. We have to judge on the computer science aspects alone and cannot consider the kid’s stellar work in physics or chemistry or microbiology. It is very frustrating to have to discount a very good project because it is in the wrong category.

If computers are the sole subject of study, enter it in computer science. If computers are just a tool used in the study of another subject, don’t enter it in computer science. Simple, huh?

I know there are fewer projects in the computer science category so kids will be tempted to enter it there to “improve their chances.” Don’t let them. They’ll get slaughtered.

Second, there are two kinds of science fair exhibits — experiments and projects. Please don’t try to make all of them seem like experiments. It is a Science *and Engineering* Fair, after all. Some projects don’t fit into the “Problem, Hypothesis, Results, Conclusion” model. Some kids don’t want to do a bona-fide experiment. They just want to build or invent something. Please let them.

And when they do, don’t make them shoe-horn their project into a scientific method format. I know it makes it easier to grade, but it is very wrong from the judges’ viewpoint. I don’t ever want to see another project that goes like this:

Problem: “Can I build XXX?”
Hypothesis: “I can build XXX”
Results: “See, I built XXX.”
Conclusions: “Yes, I can build XXX”

Please just let them build it and talk about how they went about it and what they learned.

Oh, and a tip, if a kid is going to do an actual experiment, encourage her to use the scientific method to answer a question to which she does not already know the answer. That makes for better science. That way it’s a true experiment and not just a demonstration. I know you can’t find such project ideas in one of those science project books, but your brighter students will have no problem coming up with an original idea.

And, lastly, the Bubble-gum chewing “How long will the flavor last?” types of experiments should be banned outright.

Just my opinion.

A Good Day To Be Alive

I went to U.T in Austin, Texas. I’ve stepped over and around my share of “dragworms” — the bums who squat along Guadalupe Blvd right off the west side of campus. Sarah Hepola made friends with one and wrote about it.

Her article made me smile. It also shamed me a bit. I chalk it up to my scatterbrained youth that I never really stopped to relate to a Dragworm as a real human being, but how many of the vagrants I encounter have I regarded with any warmth since I’ve grown up and become “enlightened”? Yeah, I’m not proud. We all have aspects of Jesus’ teachings that we ignore.

For the record. A Rant.

I want to go on record, explicitly and uequivocably, that I am against the current war in Iraq. I believe it was the wrong thing to do for a number of reasons.

I figure this is one of those posts that’ll be so long no one will read it. But it will be out there for me to read. It will keep me honest. If the war goes badly from here on out, I’ll be able to know that my views are not just an opportunistic chiming-in with the opposition. And if it goes exceedingly well, I’ll maybe have to admit I was wrong. Maybe.

Just like those thoughtful people who support the war start their explanations with words like, “Well, nobody likes war, but…”, I want to start with a disclaimer too:

I hope our troops kick ass. I’m rooting for them with every newscast I see. I am resigned to the fact that the only way out of this is to get through it. So I want our troops to achieve their objectives quickly. I want them all to live. I want all the Iraqi citizens to live. I want to see humanitarian aid going to the people of Iraq. And I want each soldier over there to experience the satisfaction of seeing the regular Iraqi citizens reveling in their freedom in a Sadaam-free Baath-free Iraq. When they get through this thing, that’ll be the least they deserve. I still hold out some hope for this scenario. I pray for it.

That said, the end does not justify the means. That the current leaders of our Administration have chosen the wrong means does not mean that I cannot hope for a good end anyway. I am opposed to the war, and to the administration’s vision for America’s role in the world, but I support the troops.

Yeah, that’s not black and white. To insist on black and white is intellectually lazy. To say that if one does not support the war one is “against the troops” is not just intellectually lazy, it’s dishonest and mean-spirited. If you’ve used that argument in the past, shame on you. It reminds me of how the pro-choice side of the abortion issue labels their opponents “anti-choice” instead of pro-life, and how, likewise, the pro-life side labels the pro-choice side as “pro-abortion”. The Orwellian partitioning of the world into “Us” versus “Them” is the root of all evil. If you condone that kind of thinking, you are part of the problem we are supposed to be fighting.

Which is my first beef with the Administration. It’s been “You’re either with us or against us.” since 9/11. I know the president is a devout Christian. Why then are the key teachings of Jesus Christ — you know, the beatitudes, etc. — not evident in his rhetoric? Indeed, Jesus’ words are inconvenient, and probably a little embarrassing, if you are a Christian who supports the war. Fundamentalists who believe the Bible is the literal word of God have to dabble in a little relativism themselves when it comes to justifying war.

Yeah, I know about my Church’s Just War teaching. This war fails that test. The burden of proof is on the side of those who want war. Peace always gets the tie.

Administration has unilaterally set a global agenda without consulting the people it represents in any meaningful way. I’ve written before that I think we’re seeing the start of a global crusade. It’s like we’ve dusted off Manifest Destiny to give it another go, this time on a global scale. Fortunes of nations wane and ebb, but empires *always* fall. I want us to be a country, not an empire. But nobody asked me, did they? Did anyone ask you?

Speaking of asking, whatever happened to the good old Declaration of War? Remember the Constitution? More inconvenient words there too, I guess. Billions of dollars and thousands of lives at risk in a far away land without so much as one representative vote of approval. Well, except afterwards in a tepid show of support for a foregone conclusion.

Since 9/11 we’ve seen an erosion of the personal freedoms guaranteed in our Bill of Rights in an effort to fight terrorism at home. No news there. Well, forget the amendments now, this war goes straight for the body of the constitution by eroding the checks and balances and separation of powers that makes our government work.

The executive branch needs to be put back in its place. It needs to be made to ask permission like the founding fathers intended. The Administration made it very clear that it didn’t need to ask permission. Three branches of government, different but equal power, all keeping each other in check, remember? Now we have a runaway executive branch that claims for itself more power at every turn. With a Congress that gets weaker and more irrelevant in response.

It is ironic that, as we send our young people off to make “Them” more like “Us” we are becoming more like “Them” to accomplish it. As we crusade off to forcibly export Democracy to the rogue dictatorships of the world, it concerns me that there might not be enough left here at home to sustain our country, much less the whole planet.

And so I consider my opposition every bit as patriotic as your support. I am a Constitutional conservative. I want the kind of government they taught us about in fifth grade. Heck, I’ll settle for what we had back in 1998.

And while I don’t want this current war, I want our troops to win it decisively and quickly.

Ultimately, I guess, it’s the next war I am protesting. It’s coming, you know. Study your maps of North Korea…

(If you’ve made it this far you are either really bored, know me in real life, or are from the NSA, FBI, or CIA. All are welcome. Howdy!
Oh, and if you are CIA, I think the White House should listen to you more. I’m just sayin’.)

Bake-in

An email came to me from Micheal Herman via a mail list I am on with some cheerful news. In what seems to me an extraordinary act of faith, this Chicago woman purchased a huge industrial-sized solar oven with the intention of sending it to a small town in Angola. She put all $10,500 of it on her credit card. And now she’s throwing a party in Chicago — a “Bake In” if you will — to demonstrate the oven and raise the money to pay her now large credit card bill.

Once again, just knowing that there are people who do this kind of stuff is a cheerful thing.

She apparently is chairperson of a small Angolan relief organization called Sharecircle . The oven is a capital asset that will provide jobs and prevent further deforestation in that little corner of the world. The long term vision is to obtain a microloan for this village to enable it to manufacture these ovens and sell them across Africa.

Anyway, everyone’s invited to a party on South Boulevard Beach in Chicago April 5 at 3:00 at 550 Sheridan Square.. It’s BYOD — bring your own dough (both kinds. heh.)

If you can’t get to Chicago, you can still contribute. I’ll give some space to Patricia Deer’s own words:

“The background of this project: Six years ago I met Guerra Freitas in Sierra Leon where I was teaching conflict resolution. He was a jewel of a person and wanted desparately to come to the US to study since the infrastructure in his country, Angola, was so destroyed by the decades of war. So I sponsored Guerra as a student. He graduated last year Valedictorian. He has also put enormous energy into a 501-c3 organization called Sharecircle to help Angola. You can check it out at http://www.sharecircle.org.

If you can not come but would like to contribute by sending a fishing pole instead of a fish, you can make your check out to Sharecircle. You will get a receipt for tax deduction. Send to Patricia Deer, 550 Sheridan Square, 3A, Evanston, Il. 60202.

Some of you have already been generous, and this party is one way to thank you.
Thank you for caring, may it come back to you in spades.”

Punks and Monks

This is a very, very cool idea. Makes me wish I had been this cool when I was younger.

The Punx and Monx community is a small household of young creative people attempting to live in community. They all have their various individual activities, jobs, piercings, etc. but come together to share meals, art, activism, and prayer. They meet for vespers and compline, celebrate worship in their home on Sundays, and travel to the nearest cathedral to worship together once a month. It’s an experiment in forging an “urban monastic” lifestlye amongst progressive, artistic, tech-savvy young folks.

This makes me feel, like, 17% better about the world just knowing things like this intentional community exist. I will pray specifically for its success and that the idea spreads. God indeed is working in new ways.

The Crux of the Problem

I found an online collection of the poetry of James Tate. I find his “conversational surrealism” appropos of current events, which are surreal in themselves but becoming mundane by their constant exposure on TV.

And I re-found this poem, which, to me, gets at the heart of what ails us….

Dream On

Some people go their whole lives
without ever writing a single poem.
Extraordinary people who don’t hesitate
to cut somebody’s heart or skull open.
They go to baseball games with the greatest of ease.
and play a few rounds of golf as if it were nothing.
These same people stroll into a church
as if that were a natural part of life.
Investing money is second nature to them.
They contribute to political campaigns
that have absolutely no poetry in them
and promise none for the future.
They sit around the dinner table at night
and pretend as though nothing is missing.
Their children get caught shoplifting at the mall
and no one admits that it is poetry they are missing.
The family dog howls all night,
lonely and starving for more poetry in his life.
Why is it so difficult for them to see
that, without poetry, their lives are effluvial.
Sure, they have their banquets, their celebrations,
croquet, fox hunts, their sea shores and sunsets,
their cocktails on the balcony, dog races,
and all that kissing and hugging, and don’t
forget the good deeds, the charity work,
nursing the baby squirrels all through the night,
filling the birdfeeders all winter,
helping the stranger change her tire.
Still, there’s that disagreeable exhalation
from decaying matter, subtle but everpresent.
They walk around erect like champions.
They are smooth-spoken and witty.
When alone, rare occasion, they stare
into the mirror for hours, bewildered.
There was something they meant to say, but didn’t:
“And if we put the statue of the rhinoceros
next to the tweezers, and walk around the room three times,
learn to yodel, shave our heads, call
our ancestors back from the dead–”
poetrywise it’s still a bust, bankrupt.
You haven’t scribbled a syllable of it.
You’re a nowhere man misfiring
the very essence of your life, flustering
nothing from nothing and back again.
The hereafter may not last all that long.
Radiant childhood sweetheart,
secret code of everlasting joy and sorrow,
fanciful pen strokes beneath the eyelids:
all day, all night meditation, knot of hope,
kernel of desire, pure ordinariness of life
seeking, through poetry, a benediction
or a bed to lie down on, to connect, reveal,
explore, to imbue meaning on the day’s extravagant labor.
And yet it’s cruel to expect too much.
It’s a rare species of bird
that refuses to be categorized.
Its song is barely audible.
It is like a dragonfly in a dream–
here, then there, then here again,
low-flying amber-wing darting upward
then out of sight.
And the dream has a pain in its heart
the wonders of which are manifold,
or so the story is told.

— James Tate

Single Point

“Religions are different roads converging on the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads so long as we reach the same goal? I believe that all religions of the world are true more or less. I say “more or less” because I believe that everything the human hand touches, by reason of the very fact that human beings are imperfect, becomes imperfect.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

Sort of speaks for itself.

Kids Rock

I have some pretty cool kids. I was on my way to drop them off at our babysitter service on my way to the H-Town blogs meetup yesterday when I was compelled to crank up my Bowling For Soup CD.

They loved it. Petunia and Mr. Freshpants danced about as much as they could while strapped into car seats.

We rocked out all the way there. It was fun. Apparently the other drivers thought it was pretty funny.

The meetup was fun. Discovered a new place to get bubble tea and free wireless internet in midtown. Met some new interesting people. Re-met some old but still interesting acquaintances. Realized that, as a blogger and web page person, I am way outclassed (well, duh) but I really enjoyed soaking up the blogging juju and listening to the blog gossip from the well-connected and savvy H-Town Bloggers.