Friday, December 16, 2005

The Advent of Thoughtfulness

At first glance, my tag-line, "Messenger to the Thoughtful" appears to be one more PR ploy or elitist label. In fact, the opposite is true. "Thoughtful" does not mean a Mensa IQ, vast education, or brilliance possessed by a few uber-intellectuals. My aim in using the term is to create a community of inquiry that will pause and reflect rather that pontificate and react about the central issues of our day.

The most difficult virtue for many to master is self-control, especially control of the tongue. The Stoic philosophers considered mastery of words a sign of virtue, a demosntration of inner self-control. St. James commented that the tongue is the human eqivalent of a ship's rudder or the match that sets a dry forest ablaze. Maturity is marked by the words we use.

Today's Information Age opens avenues of commerce and communication that startle the imagination and foster hope. The downside is that anyone (including me) can publish their thoughts and create "knowledge" that may or may not be valid. Add to this the "edutainment" we are subject to on radio and TV, with instant analysis from experts and we have a recipe for domination by demogogues. Reasonable, reflective voices are drowned in a cacophony of egocentric, ideology-driven claptrap.

Advent is a great moment to pause and be thoughtful. For Christians, this is the season of waiting and welcoming Christ the Lord, who is the final and full message of God's love. For Jews, Hanukkah is a moment to remember the Providential preservation of a faith and a people in the midst of oppression and subversion.

From these two traditions, all thoughful people can mine some precepts that will increase integrity and the impact for good. For Christians, the challenge is to let the Good News win out over ideologies and philosophies that subvert the power of the Incarnation. Jesus (to borrow C. S. Lewis' great phrase from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), is "not a tame lion." Dr. Peter Kreeft of Boston College reminds his students that Christ will not fit into the boxes of conservative or liberal, pure capitalist or Marxist, ot any other constructs.

For those who are Jewish or God-fearing, moral monotheists, the miracle of Hanukkah is preceded by spiritual and military courage. There is a time to resist evil, both personally and nationally. A small band of Maccabees routed a larger force led by the sinister Antiochus IV.

Here are some starting points for an "Advent of Thoughtfulness":

  • The Sovereign Lord worshipped by Jews and Christians is the "God in search of man" (Abraham Heschel). Compassionate communication and service is the hallmark of true faith.
  • The great enemy of sound morality and theology is ideology - any terms that end in "ISM" have the potential to subvert the power of real piety. One can be conservative or liberal leaning; however, conservativism and liberalism can take on a life of their own and blind the adherent to deeper insight. Listen to liberal or conservative talk shows and chart how ideas are presented: most often, opponents are presented in the worst possible light and then irrationally trashed. This is not a way forward for civil society.
  • St. John told his readers, "Brothers and sisters, let us not only love in word or tongue, but is deed and truth." Concrete service to those who can not return the favor is the source of true moral authority. The Salvation Army is a church - an evangelical (gasp!) one - yet its record of service to all people is unsurpassed. What an example for all of us.
  • An Advent of Thoughtfulness requires a common commitment to "First Principles", transcendent ideas that are foundational for the freedoms we claim and enjoy. The Founders of the USA knew that liberty rested on a moral citizenry. May I suggest that we no longer wink at extramarital sexuality, runaway consumerism, spirituality-without-sacrifice and parentless children.

Each day gives us the opportunity to choose a better future. My prayer this Advent Season is that we will choose the glory of God and the good of others over our self-centered proclivities.

Right now there are millions of unreported acts of kindness and love taking place. Let's join this band of brothers and sisters and begin a real revolution: exchanging animosity for humility, ideology for theology and talking heads for helpful hands.

Merry Christmas! I will write again as 2006 dawns, unless events compel me to speak out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


One of the challenges social reformers face is keeping the attention of a distracted public. Stimuli come from so many directions that getting folks to focus on anything for longer than a minute or two is a minor miracle!

Maybe we need to start a new movement that declares a weekly Sabbath from all media except classic books and real human conversation.

No, I am not becoming the leader of a new cult!

Why did all the recent California Initiatives lose? Opponents will argue that they won on the merits (and $80,000,000+ in spending). Proponents will re-examine the "messaging" and try again.

The real issue is focus. No one is taking the time to think deeply and examine thoroughly all the ramnifications of various policies. When too much is happening too fast, everything gets lost. To expect voters to reform teacher tenure, correct a century of gerrymandering, understand prescription drug markets, and do anything on abortion rights at the same time is unrealistic.

Just as humans beings can not change more than one or two personal habits at a time, why would we expect the entire public to focus and follow-through on multiple issues?

My advice to political leaders: do not try to fight on a dozen fronts at once and stop treating the public like imbeciles.

But my most important advice is for all of us known as "the public".

We can choose to slow down and focus on the important issues that confront us. We must choose to look beyond our personal circumstances and think of the "commonweal" that binds us all together.

Back to my Sabbath idea. Regardless of religious affiliation, I challenge all of us to find a 24 hour period free of email, web, TV, radio, cell phones and any other media. Use the waking hours to think deeply, converse intelligently, and see what emerges from an uncluttered mind!

We might even discover new solutions to apparently intractable problems.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Almost Wise

In January I will turn 47. My kids have made sure I know that this means that I am in my "late" forties and therefore entering the "middle age" zone.

Why does this matter? I am not in a mid-life crisis of direction, faith or identity. I am enjoying good health, a great marriage and the maturing of my children into outstanding adults.

My wife Kathy pointed out that 47 is a prime number. I am still pondering the meaning of this; however, I will enjoy mild self-delusion and consider myself in the prime of life.

47 matters because it is a moment to reflect upon the wisdom I have gained in the first half of my life and the insights I have yet to discover in the seconf half.

In my present "Almost Wise" state of mind, here are some things I have learned:
  • A happy marriage and healthy kids are the greatest assets of all.
  • Lifelong friendships provide good soil to plant the seeds of new ones; there is always room for another good friend.
  • Regretting past mistakes and dwelling on how others have disappointed us paralyzes our progress. It is vital to get help where needed, work through real issues, and keep moving forward.
  • When we build our lives as a service to God and others, personal fulfillment comes naturally. Conversely, when we dwell too long on our own selves, happiness escapes like the morning mist.
  • Significant social progress only comes when ideology takes a back seat to deeply-held convictions of love and sacrifice.
  • The Left wants to redistribute others' unprotected assets. The Right wants to hold on to as much of their own as possible. Both sides need to ask, "How am I personally improving the lives of others outside my comfort zone?"
  • Misdirected religious zeal yields great sorrow. In contrast, people with no moral or spiritual convictions can be manipulated toward totalitarian self-destruction.
  • Faith and Science are not incompatable. We do not need to live in the dichotomy of two spheres of knowledge. A believer in Genesis needs to synthesize the theological goal of the narratives with good science. Scientists without faith need to welcome colleagues who posit an Intelligent Designer behind the processes they are postulating.
  • There are real moral issues that can not be avoided. It is impossible to propose any law or regulation without considering the deeper values underpinning them. If it is wrong to lower taxes, why is it wrong to let parents know about their children's medical care or sex education?
  • Americans are spoiled. We need to appreciate the hard-won gains of our soldiers on the battlefield and the saints who brought civil rights and equality. We have forgotten that the majority of those we esteem for their sacrifices were people of faith and profound moral convictions - notions considered "out-of-date" by too many today.

This is a sampling of some of what I have collected during my 46+ years on terra firma.

As I write, I realize that this is an early Thansgiving column.

I like what a friend mentioned to me yesterday, "Instead of one day set aside for giving thanks, how about one day set aside for all our complaining? Then we can live thankfully during the other 364 days a year."

My friend is among the Almost Wise!

Saturday, October 15, 2005


Hello again and please forgive my delay in posting a new blog. It has been a busy fall for the Self family.

Our oldest son Michael has a new job, our daughter Charlotte a new University back East and our son Christopher a new schedule with Drivers' Ed at the crack of dawn.

Today I can think of only one word to describe how I fell about the current public debates on the issues of our day: ENOUGH!

Enough blaming about the Katrina responses - how about more energy and thought into how to rebuild without bankrupting our economy?

Enough bluster about "Bush Lied, People Died" - how about some real solutions for a peaceful tranfer to just rule in Iraq?

Enough racial posturing and overheated rhetoric - who is going to call on all Americans, rich and poor, to show some moral responsibility and restraint?

Enough nonsense about security - until we enforce the rule of law and secure our borders.

Enough blathering about waste in government - a mere 11% cut across the board in State spending in California would create a surplus in two years.

Enough foolishness about dialogue with the downtrodden who want to kill the infidel - what is our plan to find and destroy terrorists who threaten every nation's security, not just our own?

Enough hypocrisy about the separation of Church and State - do we want the Salvation Army to go away or keep delivering the goods to those in need?

Enough about both global warming and "environmental wackos" - let's grow past the cliches and realize that good ecology is good economics!

Well, that is enough for now.

OK, one more thing: we need to tell ourselves, "Enough of talking, I am going to DO something to make my world better."

If we all did this, it would be enough.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Principled Future

For half a century, our public square has been a cultural battlefield.

We have seen much progress. Millions of African American and other non-white groups can vote without fear because of the labor of Martin Luther King and thousands of hard-working folks.

Many farm workers now have living wages and reasonable conditions because of the efforts of Caesar Chavez.

Young adults can now vote as well as go to war for their country.

Our environment is cleaner today (in some regions) that 50 years ago thanks to public and private efforts.

We need to pause and be thankful for a land of freedom and opportunity that is always "in the making," always seeking to improve and live up to her highest ideals.

But there are ominous signs as well.

Religious and secular communities are engaged in a titanic struggle to define the values that will govern our future. In the early 60s, many of these folks (or at least their parents) cooperated to see the aforementioned changes. Now they are in a legal and verbal war that threatens to unravel the tapestry woven for 200+ years.

For the sake of this discussion, I am not going to refer to either extreme - theocratic cultists and communist/fascist enemies of all religion are not the focus here.

Most Americans want an environment of mutual respect and tolerance. What we are observing all too often is a kind of weird "McCarthyism" coming from both sides. The secularists lump together all "fundamentalists" and see bigotry and control behind every attempt to say grace in a public forum. The religiously observant are stunned by the callous attacks on their faiths and the militancy of those who want to change the public moral universe of America.

Is there a way forward?

Yes! But it is a "road less traveled", a principled thoroughfare that is not for the faint of heart and mind. We must return to the rich veins of moral gold mined by our Founders, who created the world's first major polis with complete freedom of conscience.

The beauty of our land is that we can be people of many faiths or none because of a common commitment to First Principles of personal virtue and civic responsibility. Not all our Founders were religious. But they all affirmed the necessity of moral rectitude that flows from adherence to Judeo-Christian values.

OK, great nostalgia, Dr. C, but this is the 21st century. We have gone beyond traditionalism and even modernity. No one has the right to impose any standards on anyone...

Here is nexus of our dilemma. Without First Principles, we can not have a cohesive society. Two centuries of civil religion and fifty years of defacto secularism leave us in vacuum.

What is the way forward? A fresh reffirmation of lasting values that move us toward a non-coercive future.

Here is my challenge: What are these principles? Can we build stability without Deity? What will define personal virtue, family cohesion and social responsibility for the next century?

For now, it is enough to know that we must find common ground before the center no longer holds.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Where Do We Go for "Facts"?

One of the challenges of our Instant Information Age is discerning the sources of relatively unbiased information. In my last blog I spoke of the "edutainment" problem and the ideological twist that seem to pervade so many sources. Even traditionally objective sources (New York Times or even National Geographic) can be fraught with bias.

Lest this appear to be another conservative rant against the "mainstream media", I hasten to add that the conservative movement is in a real crisis itself. The crisis is not necessarity one of basic values, but of facing the harsh facts about its icons and views of events and developing a more critical approach to substantiating its bold assertions.

OK, back to sources. Where do we go? My answer is everywhere - with a critical eye! The NYT remains an important source...but watch out for the loaded terms that can permeate any factual article. WorldNet Daily on the Rght and Truth Out on the Left both offer information that can help round out one's perspective. As we peruse sources, Let's ask these questions:

  • Who is doing the polling and what kinds of methods and samples are used?
  • Watch out for "wide-ranging" statistics; i.e., "It is estimated that between 2,000 and 20,000 have experienced..." what does this actually mean?
  • Take note of words like, "alleged' and "unconfirmed" and "off the record". This does not mean the facts are wrong, just tentative.
  • It is possible for two facts to be both right yet incompatible with different ideologies. For example, the 1980s Reaganomics were a boon for some and a total bust for many others, leaving a legacy of debt that has serious consequences. The Left blames the greedy Republicans; the Right the spendthrift Congress. The truth? A plague on both your houses! Until the pork is reigned in, the greed confronted, and social infrastructure honestly examined, we will stay in the wilderness of rhetoric.
  • As we look at sources, we can discover the values behind the citations and assertions. For example, the book Freakonomics assets that Roe v. Wade may have had a salutary effect upon certain rates of crime because of a declining birthrate among the poor. For me, an ardent pro-life advocate, such a fact is not going to change my mind on abortion, but it will challenge me to find better ways to confront poverty and unwanted pregnancies.

These are a few first steps toward real research in todays insight-starved world.

We must be unafraid to face reality even while affirming our enduring values. My sadness with the hypocricy of so many conservative icons does not force me to abandon good ideas - it challenges me toward greater integrity personally.

In my next blog, I will confrom the issue of what the Left and Right mean by "freedom" and how we can move toward a principled, non-coercive future.

Friday, July 29, 2005

How Do We Know Anything?

I have joined the blogger revolution. I have the opportunity to express myself in a way that perhaps thousands (or at least family and friends) will read. I work hard to be clear, succinct and pleasurable to read.

There are some problems with this entire scenario. In an age of instant information, how do we sort out facts from "factoids", considered opinion fron instant spin and solid data from subjective impressions?

Our problem is compounded by the rise of "edutainment" that promotes ideological sparring at the expense of clarity and complete information. Whose statistics do we believe on any subject? Which poll is the least tainted? Here are some examples that cause sparks to fly:
  • Everyone "knows that 10% of the population is gay/lesbian - right?
  • Problem : Some reliable studies place the percentage of exclusively gay/lesbian men and women at 1-2%
  • Fact or Fiction? "The 1980s were an era of unprecedented greed. The rich got richer and the gap between rich and poor increased..."
  • Challenge: The 1980s saw the largest rise in per capita charitable giving, and an explosion of home ownership among African-American and Hispanic groups. So the situation is not so simple, is it?
  • "Global warming is a serious ecological crisis and the Kyoto Protocols are an important step in protecting the planet."
  • Some observations: We may be in the midst of a 500 year cycle that explains the current phenomena. Lest the conservatives gloat, however, recent histroy proves thaqt our actions can transform the environment for good or ill - just look at the cleaner air and water we enjoy in many places since new standards were adopted after 1970. My 'We Are the World" friends, please remember that Kyoto means nothing unless China, India and Russia agree...and the first two are exempt!

So how do we start sifting and sorting? In my next article I will talk about how do find reliable sources. For now, let's consider the following thoughts:

  • We must be ruthlessly honest about our own conscious and unconsious biases that create the "lenses" though which we evaluate data.
  • This does not mean that there are no objective facts and that we can not ever get to the truth of any matter!
  • We must evaluate our sources carefully and NOT instantly dismiss insights from those who have a different ideology.
  • We should strive to find solutions that create the greatest common ground possible.
  • We need to find those "First Principles" that most can agree upon in order to build a sustainable future.

Visceral reactions are what they are - sometimes they reflect our deepest fears and prejudices; other times they are a wake-up call to defend what is enduring and precious. We must allow our affections to be the servant of discerning minds that are informed by our deepest values.

Will we choose the easy road of cliches and ideological caricature or the narrow road of "the pusuit of truth in the company of friends"? I pray we choose the latter.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Life, Liberty and Property

The title of this blog was the original phrase for the "inalienable rights" of humankind that governments must honor and protect. For a variety of reasons, including concern for the poor, Jefferson chose the broader phrase, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Legally secure property ownership is the economic and social foundation of freedom. The freest nations in the world - Cannda, England, the USA and several in Europe - provide protection for their citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. Today over 60% of Americans enjoy home ownership; In Russia the figure has just climbed to 6%!

The June 23, 2005 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Kelo, et. al. v. the City of New London, CT. is a monumental break with Constitutional tradition. Expanding the rights of local governments to claim "eminent domain" and allow the property to go to new private owners without significant public use guarantees is a reckless ruling that will open the door to the exploitation of the poor by the politically-connected.

Until this ruling, eminent domain was reserved for things such as roads, parks, environmental restoration or publc/private partnerships that directly benefitted a large number of citizens. The 5th Amendment calls for proper compensation for those who are displaced, but history tells us that planning commissions and powerful interests will find was to "distress" land they desire.

My fear is that this will open the door to the seizure of more homes and - and I am not being paranoid, just cautious - the condemnation of churches and other non-profits who do not generate the tax revenue of condos or a strip mall.

Hopefully this ruling will stay limited; however, we must be vigilant and prepared to fight city by city and county by county. Ownership is NOT something bestowed by the government. It is a right protected by the government!

If we are not careful, we will end up with a new form of fascism, with powerful private interests in collusion with a corrupt government. Such alliances are not new, but until now we enjoyed reasonable protection for legally-titled land. Now we must battle to protect the foundation of our freedom.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Israel and History

The unhistorical and unwise remarks of President Bush concerning Israel's boundaries with an emerging Palestinian State are devastating for Israel and empowering for Islamic fundamentalists.

The President recently affirmed that the 1949 Armistice lines should guide current negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is working intently to remove Jewisg settlers from Gaza and most of the West Bank.

Israel is willing to displace thousands of her own people for a promise of peace with a neighbor that will not unambiguously acknowledge Israel's right to exist!

President Bush and others who wish to appease the Arabs are ignoring the history of the last 50+ years.

The United Nation has already created two states. In the 1947 partition, Israel and TransJordan (now shortened to Jordan) were formed, with Jordan getting the West Bank and Jerusalem. Egypt controlled Gaza and the Sinai, Syria possessed the Golan Heights and Israel placed her capital in Tel Aviv. The survivors of the pogroms and the Holocaust were not completely happy with the boundaries, but an imperfect homeland was better than none.

By 1949, truce lines were established, but there were no formal peace accords or diplomatic relations with any Arab states (though back- channel negotiations with Jordan and others occured sporadically). These lines affirmed the original mandate and the resolution passed in 1948 recognizing the state of Israel.

In 1967 Israel was attacked and in a week defeated her Arab foes and "conquered" the Sinai, the West Bank, the Gaza and the Golan heights. There are the "occupied territories" in Arab rhetoric. For Israel they have been a buffer and an aid in negotiation.

In 1978 Israel and Egypt made peace and the Sinai was returned and a promise made to create another Palestinian State. The Oslo Accords of 1992 reiterated these commitments and Arafat and the Palestinians were offered 98% of the land they desired.

For the past several years, radical Arab groups have sabotaged all attempts at reasonable solutions. In 2005 we have another opportunity for peace, but if Israel is asked to yield all territory back to 1949 lines and the new Palestinian State is allowed a corridor to connect Gaza and the West Bank, it is Israel that is eviscerated.

The creation of the "barrier" surrounding Israel has reduced terrorist bombings by over 90%. What is lacking in current talks is a failure to consider Israeli security and the ensure a Palestinian regime that will crack down on terrorism and be a real partner with Israel.

The events of the past half-century needs to be paramount in forming US policy. A strong Israel and a moderate Palestine would be a victory for good. The danger is giving in unconditionally to Palestinian demands is that they become merely a stepping stone for destabilizing and eventually devouring Israel. The end of the "Zionist entity" is still the stated purpose of the PLO Charter and the majority of Arab groups.

President Bush needs to read a bit of history, qualify his geopolitical boundaries and insist upon an end to a policy of rioting and terror as a precondition for final negotiations.

Mr. President, will you have the courage to do this, in spite of your coziness with the House of Saud?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Paradox of National Sovereignty

Recent initiatives to offer amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants in the USA strike at the very heart of rational policies to ensure a viable future for the American Experiment in representative government rooted in a virtuous citizenry and the rule of law.

The United States has a checkered history on immigration. The Irish were discriminated against in the mid-19th century as they fled the famines in their land. Half a century later, they were an integral part of the American cultural topography.The halycion days of Ellis Island gave way to the xenophobia and anti-Semitism of the the 1920s to 1940s. On the Pacific coast, anti-Chinese laws reflected racism contrary to the spirit of our Constitution. The internment of Japanese-Americans in 1942 was a tragic moment in national paranoia.

In spite of these awful moments, The USA has been and must continue to be a land of opportunity and safety for those willing to abide by her laws and principles.

The situation with Mexico has a convoluted history. The U.S. deliberately provoked a war in 1847 in order to capture the rest of the continent. This aggression has never been forgotten by our neighbors south of the border. There are radical groups in Mexico and the USA that have a long-term strategy to create a new nation in the Southwest. The more pragmatic leaders envision a borderless economic and political arrangement that favors free access for Mexicans to enjoy the economic and social benefits of the U.S. economy. The second largest source of revenue for the Mexican economy is the flow of dollars from north of the border!

Democratic politicians and Republican business leaders want to ignore the long-term sociopolitical problems with our current chaos and enjoy the cheap labor and potential voting blocs created by the current blindness in Washington, D.C.

Proponents of a rational policy are dubbed racists and xenophobes and genuine concerns for American culture and security are ignored.

National sovereignty has been questioned by elites since the end of WWI and the beginning of the League of Nations. "One-world" thinking is not confined to academics, Marxist protestors or U.N. employees. Powerful economic and politcal forces want to see a borderless world and a decline in U.S. hegemony.

I contend that the preservation of national sovereignty through rational immigration policies is the best guarantee of long-term freedom for Americans and the world. Citizenship and intelligent patriotism are important components for long-term stability. Every nation in the world that wants to enhance her distinct place in the global community needs a sane policy. Diversity is not disunity - global cooperation without co-opting freedom is always a goal.

The sane rule of law (and the ability to improve those laws) is a gift to world freedom. Once participation in a society is reduced to mere economics, local and regional fracturing of common ideals is not far behind.

Pragmatically, the murderous drug gangs and the infiltration of Islamofascist terrorists are reasons enough to enforce our borders, regardless of the strictness of immigration policies.

We need to have a real debate on the nature of neighborliness with all countries, especially with Mexico. There are multiple ways to enjoy mutual prosperity without undermining national sovereignty or reverting to past policies.

I challenge the leaders of both parties to show real courage. My liberal friends, are you ready to pay Social Security taxes to your gardeners and maids? Farmers, are you ready for a regulated labor pool, with protection for the workers? High-tech executives, are you discriminating against native-born American workers because you can import an engineer on the cheap? Republican business leaders, are you ready to pay a living wage? Oh, I almost forgot - U.S. citizens, are you willing to pay a bit more for your fruits and vegetables in order to pay for border regulation and better wages to legal guest workers?

We might learn from Australia. Labor is hard to import down-under; therefore, harvesting technology is much more advanced and products are brought to market efficiently without burdening the social structure.

We have important choices to make.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

A Better Future

I had the honor of addressing a wonderful group of Republican Women in San Francisico last night. They are a vanguard of clarity and sanity in a city known for "interesting" politics.

These women were not right-wing fanatics or narrow-minded bigots. These were professional, successful, and thoughtful leaders who are willing to join hands, roll up their sleeves and get to work solving the real social challenges of our day.

The group includes business owners and executives, nationally-known leaders in the arts and many who know what it is to lead voter registration drives and be insulted for their Republican identity. These are courageous and insightful people and it was a joy to interact together.

I mention this meeting in order to give my readers a window into the best that politics has to offer. In all of the egoistic polemics we see in the media from Left and Right, we forget the moral strength and hard work of so many who deeply care about their communities and our nation.

Take time soon and thank someone who volunteers in the community - whether it is at your local hospital or school or in some other field. These are the real heroes.

I shared four keys to a transformed personal and social future that I want to encapsulate here and expand upon in coming columns:

  • Key # 1: Humility calls us to never lose the wonder of the "starry heavens above and the moral law within." (Immanuel Kant) We are beckoned to remember that we are not the center of the universe and that others really matter.
  • Key # 2: Honesty with ourselves and others is not bluntness or crassness, but clarity and integrity in our words and commitments. Why do we need spin doctors explaining press secretaries' interpretations?
  • Key # 3: Helpfulness reminds us that we find much greater joy seeing others encouraged and help than in selfishly pursuing our own success withoutr regard for those who help us! Who are we helping to move ahead today?
  • Key # 4: Hope is not wishful utopianism, but the belief that our future can be better when today's choices are rooted in lasting values and an enduring vision.

Humility, honesty, helpfulness and hope - whay not demand that every public servant, whether appointed or elected, ascribe to this "foursquare" set of values?

A better future begins today!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The "Kingdom of Heaven" - History Rewritten

Ridley Scott's movie, "the Kingdom of Heaven" was filmed in consultation with Muslim scholars and has received praise from Islamic leaders for its fair portrayal of Islamic beliefs and personalities during the Crusades, especially Saladin the Great.

There has been no mention of any consultation with Catholic scholars - after all, we all "know" how evil the Latin Crusaders were.

There is, however, a problem with this simplistic scenario. From middle school to graduate school, from "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves" to current Hollywood attempts to have terrorists be anyone but a Muslim, we are fed a diet of anti-Christian propoganda that fails to tell the whole story.

I am not going to historically or theologically defend one of the darkest chapters of church history. The Crusading spirit is antithetical to most Christian's understanding of the message of the Bible and the progress made since the 12th-14th centuries is welcome. Using violence to promote faith is contrary to the noble teachings of Jesus and even the early chapters of the Koran.

With this caveat, however, it is helpful to understand the historical forces at work prior to 1099, when the Latin armies conquered Jerusalem.

From 632 to 732 a variety of Islamic armies conquered vast territiories in the Middle East, North Africa and Spain. Were it not for the efforts of Charles Martel at Tours, the crescent might have been the dominant symbol of much of Western Europe rather than the cross.

As Islamic empires consolidated control, Christians and Jews were tolerated as dhimmi, inferiors fit for menial tasks and higher taxes. Treatment of non-Muslims varied from location to location. In some cases, there was considerable cooperation, especially in the fields of philosophical scholarship in Spain.

The Catholic Church and the emerging nation-states of the West were coming out of a long season of civilizational decline as the year 1100 approached. The Byzantine Empire was continuing to shrink under the pressure of the new Ottoman power. In 1054 the Latin and Greek branches of Christendom severed ties over political and theological differences spanning five centuries.

The First Crusade was preached in 1096 as a call to restore the holy sites of Palestine to Church control, or at least allow Christian pilgrims free access. By 1099, it had degenerated into a bloodbath during the conquest of Jerusalem. In the succeeding two centuries God, glory, gold and outlets for an excess of petty nobility would darken the chronicles of world history. The last Latin presence in the Holy Land ended in 1291.

The Crusades were not simply about religion and war. Complex geopolitical and economic interests created shifting alliances, pragmatic partnerships and provided the foundations for the emergence of the modern world. Byzantine intrigues, the national aspriations of western monarchs, Italian trading centers, and competing Islamic forces make these centuries rich with events that defy simplistic analysis. Add to these facts the gradual Reconquista of Spain, the Catholic crusades against heretics and the emergence of proto-Protestant dissent and the years 1100 to 1300 emerge as the dawn of modern history.

For some sane accounts of the Crusades that consider all sides, I recommend Geoffry Hindley's, The Crusades: Islam and Christianity in the Struggle for World Supremacy (Carroll and Graf, 2003). Jonathan Ridley-Scott has written a concise narrative, The Crusades: A Short History, that is worth reading. James Reston's Warriors of God: Richard the Lionhearted and Saladin in the third Crusade (Anchor Books, 2001) is another fine work. Duncan Baird's editing of The Illustrated History of the Crusades (University of Michigan, 2004) is balances and contains amazing maps, plates and original art form the period.

As we face a post-9/11 world we confront radical Islamic movements with long (and selective) memories and a Western culture that has abandoned its Christian principles. The road ahead is not found in a revival of pious militarism, but in moral renewal, military restraint and wisdom and a recognition that freedom requires sacrifice and virtue.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

An Open Letter to the President

Dear President Bush,

As one of the millions who pray for you and share many of your views, I recognize that your job is a near-impossible one at times. You must fend off political factions, deal with domentic issues, stand tall for our nation in foreign affairs and manage to retain some sense of personal integrity. It is a tall order that is never filled perfectly, but occasionally admirably.

Your courage in the face of September 11, 2001 remains an inspiration. Your steadfast stance for life is another cause for celebration. Your deep love for our country and desire to see the seeds of democracy peaceably planted around the world are outstanding.

Yes sir, there are some qualifying ststements to follow. I do not write as an uncritical partisan of the Left or Right, nor do I state these assertions for the public without careful consideration. There are three critical areas that you must correct if our nation is going to be well-served and your Presidency remembered as great rather than fair. These are complex issues, but like your own inner rectitude, there are simple principles, trancendent truths that can guide you to wise conclusions.

The first issue in Immigration Reform. As a historian, I know that America is at her best when she welcomes people from all lands and opens doors of opportunity. There is no room for xenophobia in our hearts or policies. We must, however, establish the rule of law again and recognize the problem with a system that actually discriminates against those who legally pursue a better life here in the USA.

Mr. President, let me be candid. Huge business concerns that support you do not want to rock the boat. Cheap labor and undocumented millions serve well many Republican supporters, even as they open the door to terrorists and garnish billions of taxpayer's dollars. The Democrats want cheap votes, so it is easy for them to side with the "oppressed" and create euphemisms that try to rectify a century and an half of difficulty with Mexico.

The second issue is you and the Party's inability to control government spending. Even with the War on Terror, we have out-of-control COLAS, excessive pork, and a failure - going back to the Reagan administrations - to really reform the federal government. I challenge you to really examine how to streamline structures. Invite innovative and progressive young business minds into a dialogue that could be the key to preserving our democracy for another two centuries. By the way, your gut instinct to abolish the IRS and simplify taxes is great! Now that you are a second term President, will you DO something?

The third area that needs attention is a bit more general. The current Social Security fracas reveals a nation that is unable to cut the umbilical cord established by FDR. Medical Savings Plans, Social Security, and the role of government in our personal financial futures must be confronted. What would happen if we re-empowered the local and state governments to manage much of what is now a federal task? What about new private-public partnerships to rebuild our infrastructure of dams, road and sewers?

We have created three generations of Americans who are addicted to the federal "trough." Reversing this will not be easy, but you have the opportunity in the first two issues I have mentioned to make a start. Federal powers and resources need to be better focused on issues of infrastructure, foreign affairs and national security rather than funding obscure artists or even doling out welfare.

Mr President, I will continue to pray and wish you well, but I urge you to consider the good of our nation and the world and show courage in these matters. Courage is the Golden Mean between fear and foolhardiness. Use your geniality and build consensus. If you do not, we will continue to erode at our foundations and someone quite dangerous and disingenuous may be elected in 2008.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Two Deaths, One Choice

The recent deaths of Mrs. Schiavo and Pope John Paul II challenge us to consider our moment in time very carefully. I commented that these deaths constitute one of the great "hinges of history" in my lifetime. Barring a nuclear blast or the Second Advent, it is my conviction that historians a generation from now will look back on this moment and see the Western world moving in one of two directions.

The first direction - and the one we are currently heading in - is rather ominous. We disregard the ethical distinctions brought out by these two deaths and continue to cultivate a culture of euthanasia, where life becomes more and more disposable. Who decides someone's "quality of life" apart from the individual? Withdrawing a feeding tube is NOT the same as ending certain life-support machinery! The Pope died with a feeding tube; Mrs. Schiavo was slowly starved to death by an adulterous husband. Where does this end? Will the USA go in Holland's direction, with children as young as sixteen allowed to choose assisted suicide? What about families of the future strapped for funds - does it become an aged relative's duty to die?

There is a second direction - one that requires courage and sacrifice. We can once again affirm that life is a gift to be received at conception and released for coronation at the proper end. We must resist all modes of active euthansia and rediscover the lessons we learn from the infirm and vulnerable among us. In recent weeks is has been appalling to hear that Mrs. Schiavo should "be allowed to die in dignity." Dignity had no part in this melodrama. All Michael Schiavo had to do was divorce his wife and move on, but he refused, for no other reason that financial gain; which, ironically, will prove to be quite small (unless he sells the rights to a Hemlock Society sponsored film).

Two deaths, once choice confront us. It is a death or life decision - will we support the transcendent value of human life or continue on a pathway that make some people disposable?

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Marxist Deception

The recent furor over the public display of the Ten Commandments would be comical were it not for the earnestness of the proponents of a secular public square. The notion that displaying these historic foundations of our legal and social tradition is an endorsement of an "establishment of religion" or a "prohibition of the free exercise thereof" is ludicrous.

Our Western legal tradtion contains elements from several streams: Judeo-Christian civil and moral codes in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, Greco-Roman classical philosophy and case law, German Salic Laws, English Common Law and even insights fron the Iroquois Confederation. Shall we ban all references to any sources that contain whiffs of deities or spiritualities that posit authority outside of our modern and post-modern humanistic constructs?

The attempts by the ACLU and other agencies to prohibit any references to religion are not rooted in an appreciation of the letter and spirit of our Constitution and First Amendment. The real agenda is more blatant and insidious: it is Marxism imposed through the judicial organs of our republic.

Marx and Engel's 19th century philosophy is an atheistic substitution for Christianity and Judaism, both of which they heartily despised. Here is a partial list of the parallels:
  • Instead of relgious conversion, there will be the rise of proletarian consciousness and the evolution of a "new man" in the communist mold.
  • Instead of a millennium or heaven, there will be a classless society.
  • Instead of compassionate action freely undertaken by the community, there will be government-imposed leveling.
  • Instead of the "opiate of religion", there will be Party rallies to generate loyalty and solidarity - of course "deviation" from the Party means banishment or worse.
  • Instead of the threat of divine judgment in the future, misconduct means alienation and elimination today - after all, any deviation is stalling the rise of the "new consciousness."

Frustrated Marxists excuse or ignore the historical record of ruthlessness in the 20th century with the lame refrain, "Marxism hasn't been given a real chance." Even more insidious, modern Marxists claim that the forces of capitalism undermined the great revolutions.

Any honest reading of history exposes the paucity of such claims. I am not writing an apologetic of global capitalism when I assert that Marxiswm is an abject failure that deserves to be on the ash-heap of history. In its mild forms - Scandanavian socialsm - it produces generations dependent upon government and families unwilling to raise children with a moral compass. In its intense forms - China, the former USSR, Cuba and North Korea - Marxism is a cover for a small elite to rule with an iron fist and for tyrants to carry our socioeconomic experiements costing the lives of millions.

The failure of Communism to penetrate the USA - even during the Great Depression - is a tribute to the American spirit which celebrates individual liberty, personal initiative and spiritual diversity.

The ACLU began as a left-wing agency devoted to personal liberty. But the Marxism of its founders and generations of law-school grads from Harvard and Columbia have produced an elitist and incestuous mentality that sees religion as the enemy of freedom rather than (as our Founders understood) the gurantor of personal responsibility that underlies any democracy.

The Supreme Court should dismiss any attempts to rewrite history and impose a Marxist agenda. Hopefully, the sincerely deceived devotees of secularism will read some history and choose not to follow the totalitarian pathways of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro and Kim Il Jong II.

Our future depends upon an honest assessment of the past.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Some Observations

It is a February afternoon in California - sunny and warm, with a bit of breeze to kee me awake as I stroll outside. At the moment I am avoiding some less enjoyable tasks such as scheduling new appointments and paying the bills. I am not quite procrastinating, just pondering some observations that have come my way in the new year.

I normally use this space to present ideas that I am passionate about, especially solutions to problems that the Left and Right both get wrong!

Today I want to share my musings, so here goes:

As a nation we spend huge amounts of money on education and social services "for the children." This is good. Have we thought about using the bully pulpits of business, politics, and religious communities and some of our budgeted funds to prepare adults to be the proper parents for their children?

Half a century of serious clinical research has demonstrated that Little Johnny and Young Sally need a Daddy and a Mommy who make their children's needs their first concern. So why do we make it so easy for Mommy and Daddy to divorce?

A generation of progress for Women's Equality is being undermined in the name of freedom of expression. Explicit pornographic material will soon be widely available on TV and is currently one of the the biggest money-making industries online. We claim that we want to give full dignity to women and men, but then we pander to animalistic instincts and depersonalize human intimacy. What message are we sending to our adolescents?

The PETA organization, dedicated to animal rights, calls the slaughter of animals a modern "holocaust", comparing it to the Nazi barbarity of WWII. At the same time, religious citizens are fined and jailed for expressing non-hateful, non-violent opposition to homosexual behavior. Am I crazy, ot is something wrong with our moral compass here?

In 1935 FDR proposed that Social Security have both private and public elements to insure its long-term health. President Clinton stated the same in 1999. Why then is there such a hailstorm of criticism when the issue is addressed today? Are we so bitter and ideological that we can not think strategically for generations ahead?

We try to improve educational quality so that our students can compete in a competitve global economy. We then undermine this improvement with grade inflation, allowing unprepared students into advanced classes, and graduating functional illiterates. Can we do better?

Amidst the hectic pace and high price of modern life, we long for "simplicity" and wish we could get out of the "rat race." Don't we see that we make choices about lifestyle and location that either intensify or ameliorate our stress?

Well, lunch break is over and the afternoon's tasks await. My next blog will mark a return of your "Sage of Sanity" as I deal with the Middle East. Until then, I hope these thoughts will help us all make better personal choices.