Saturday, September 27, 2008

Discourse

I did not watch the presidential debates because 1. I've already made up my mind, 2. I think there have already been plenty of opportunities to find out about these two men, and 3. I had other projects to work on. However, my understanding is that the debates are for the undecided, although the two men's positions, backgrounds, and temperaments are so distinct that I can't imagine why someone would be undecided at this point. Some come to the game late, I suppose, whereas others of us were following it over a year ago. And how it has changed. A student announced to me twelve months ago that Hillary would be the next president, as if it were inevitable. Ha! to quote McCain, nothing is inevitable; that is my new mantra (although everything in the Christian faith is opposed to the concept of a mantra, so I suppose I need a better term.) It has been fun to watch this election, but enough is enough already.

Having been a collegiate debate coach in my pre-motherhood life, I disdain these forums because they aren't really debates, just a chance for Q and A and for the candidates to be on the same platform. It seems from the press reports that it was a tie; no knockouts on either side, really.
But they do a service to the country and they are important. McCain has been criticized for almost backing out to try to save the economy. The left, of course, says that is a political stunt; actually, I appreciate someone drawing attention to the discussion and being willing to look like the bad guy. In one way, a president is like a father; the buck stops at this desk, and if the kids whine, he gets to be the whinee and absorb the blame. McCain, political stunt of not, was trying to do his job as a senator; that is what he gets paid for, not that he needs the money. The bailout was wrong, is wrong, but at least there should be ways to protect us, and I hope the final bill does that. It's all quite complicated, complicated enough to ensure the average joe doesn't understand it.

The debates are also, I think, an opportunity for the discourse to cool down and for there to be some degree of civility in the messages coming out of the campaigns, even if just for ninety minutes, four times. Obama doesn't have to be vitriolic; he lets his toadies do it, and even if Obama says don't touch Palin's family, the wingnuts will do it beyond all that's unholy. Not to be outdone, there are enough extremist groups on the right in that no-man's land of the campaign contribution laws (again, something the average joe doesn't understand, and I'm in that group), to batter back with some pretty nasty stuff on Obama. The question is, which of the nasty stuff is true, on either side? Sure, McCain's wife is rich, from her father's business; Kerry married into wealth, so was he also some sort of kept man? Obama seems to have two lovely daughters and a wife that the media adores, although she keeps a lower profile than, say, Hillary. Obama smokes--not well known, but he does. He is not a Muslim; someone would have caught him at mosque if he was, or praying five times a day. His mother was a disaster and I think he has risen above a pretty shoddy upbringing. Yes, McCain left his first wife. I think that was all pretty sordid, and I can see why an individual voter might have a hard time with it. I do, but we don't know all the circumstances. Three of the four candidates have children in Iraq, an amazing fact.

And, to quote Linda Ellerbee, so it goes. As a student of discourse, I watch this with fascination and (sometimes) an objective eye. Recently we were introducing ourselves to the President of our College, and for some reason the first person said he was a liberal, so the rest of us felt obligated to proclaim our affiliation. I said I was a conflicted conservative. I believe in conservative principles; I do not believe in conservative spokespersons or politicians. Thus, the conflict. Case in point: Ann Coulter. I read her column every week. She absolutely cracks me up with her outrageousness. Sure, there's truth there; there's also some wild exaggerations, to say the least. But she's not my spokesperson, nor is Rush or Sean Hannity (both blowhards, whereas I consider liberal pundits twits.) We conservatives suffer from a lack of spokespersons whom we can trust, who use logic instead of smart remarks, who believe an argument can be made for conservative policies without sarcasm or innuendo or outright lying and insults. Not to say I don't laugh at them, but I'm crying on the inside for the death of something that probably never existed--civil discourse.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Revelation

Three points here.

Dr. Richard Land has been the interim pastor at our church. How that happened I will never understand. He's going to be a tough act to follow when our new pastor gets here (target date, November 2.) Dr. Land has been preaching on Revelation. I have never considered myself a premillenialist, for a trio of reasons. Why did no one discover it until the mid-1800s? Why is it so ever-loving complicated (can't we follow the Occam's razor rule for the second coming?) And Premillenialism seemed so American, a thought I should really expand upon in a later post. However, while I'm not ready to stand up and say "Premillenialism is the only way to interpret eschatology," I can at least say I understand it now, at least, I understand how it is found in the book of Revelation (and Daniel, Isaiah, Matthew, and Ezekiel).

Secondly, my book went from 2,500,000 on the Amazon list to 116,000. How did that happen? Are people actually buying it? Why won't someone write a review if I've sold so many books?

Third, and most important, I had a revelation about American politics and religion in the public square, which I consider my research speciality even though I don't have to have one. (It fits the theme of the novel, for one thing.) I am reading Jon Meacham's The American Gospel, a fine book although not as deeply scholarly as I would like. He argues that the Founding Fathers, at least some of them, clearly believed religious devotion was an aid to the government; therefore, to them, the ongoing success of the republic was the primary value and was facilitated by free exercise of religion. Most evangelicals today, I dare say almost all, see it exactly opposite--the government by protecting our freedom of expression and religion, is an aid to the free exercise of spreading the gospel. They would point to I Timothy 2:1-4: I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone--for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. this is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (NIV)

I think this is significant and explains a lot. It begs the question, who's right?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Inevitability

It is the seventh anniversary of 9/11/2001, and thus inevitable that I should post something. I begin with my memory of that morning.

We were working on the self-study for SACS accreditation at the technical college where I was teaching at the time; I was the chair of the steering committee and for some reason had earned the right to come in a little late. At around 9:00 I was getting in the car and heard Andy Napier, the radio host on WMBW, say that a report had just come in that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Two thoughts came to me, as probably to everyone; I am not that clever. Either a big plane had gotten off course because of drug use or wild incompetence of the pilots, or he actually meant one of those little planes. Either way, the idea of what was about to happen that morning never occurred to me. Fifteen minutes later I was at work, where there were TV monitors in the hallways, of course surrounded by students and faculty. Before long, a second plane had flown into the second tower.

I had a meeting with the Academic Vice President later that morning, a few minutes after the Pentagon had been hit. That was what finally made me realize that soon the White House, or Congress, or bases, or powerplants, could be hit. And perhaps they would have been. I went into his office; we just looked at each other, and I said, "All hell's broke loose." Uncharacteristic language for me. Four planes, four crashes, countless dead (it was thought 20,000 were in the towers at first), and millions mourning.

Not much work got done that morning. Not much for a week. I went to pick my son up from his school at the usual time. I suppose I should have run to get him that morning, but the one advantage of living in a town like Ringgold, GA, is that you have no fear of terrorist attacks there. He'd be safe at school; they were in lockdown. He had watched the news all day like most people. I went home with a urinary tract infection and laid on the couch in my misery and watched the towers smoulder. I listened to the broadcasters try to make sense of it all. Peter Jennings was the only anchor I watched in those pre-cable days (for us). He looked ashen, dazed, like everyone did.

Seven years later, I know one thing--we have not had another terrorist attack. It was common knowledge that we would. Bush has not been a great president, maybe not even a good one, but he is not the worst one we have ever had (what rubbish) and he should get credit for trying to improve public education (Clinton never touched that issue), for addressing AIDS in Africa (while Clinton let the genocide in Rwanda go on for two months), and for fulfilling his primary duty in the constitution, protecting us from enemies foreign and domestic.

9/11 will make me choke with tears for the rest of my life. It should. It will symbolize dozens of things for Americans. A loss of innocence, a birth of resolve, the beginning of the war, the end of assumptions, the heights of heroism, the depths of depravity. Patriotism could be real again, not a corny display or an unprincipled pose. For one fleeting second, I did think that all hell had broken loose, that something apocalyptic had happened. One day it will, but not that day.

In his acceptance speech John McCain had a significant conclusion. He told his story and said that he was no longer his own man, he was his country's man after his harrowing experience in Hanoi. And he said "Nothing is inevitable." What a line. I may have been the only person who heard it, but it has moved me deeply, it has altered my brain chemistry. Nothing has to be a certain way just because we are too lazy to fight it and too apathetic to question it and to scared to change it. It was not inevitable that McCain would die or give in to despair nor was it inevitable that Hillary would be president (as was assumed a year ago) or that Obama will be or that we will be attacked by terrorists again or that . . . Nothing has to be the way it's expected or the way it's been. We have choice. Isn't this what Victor Frankl taught? Isn't this what Christ taught, perhaps at a deeper level, when he showed us that we could choose our spiritual path? I need a daily dose of noninevitability, of what it means that my choices are not constrained and predestined.

So it might be inevitable that hundreds of thousands of bloggers like me will address this day. I'm sure some of the left-wingers have plenty of outrageous accusations and strident theories. What is not inevitable is that 9/11 will happen again.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Good site for the confused

A good source for some truth--http://www.factcheck.org It is sponsored by the Annenberg Foundation. It's independent. Barak Obama is not a Muslim; Sarah Palin is not for teaching only evolution in the public schools.

The partisan lies in this election have been insidious, but part of the problem is that the election has gone on a ridiculously long time and the media wants fresh meat. Palin is fresh meat, mooseburger probably in their eyes.

Because I make it such a priority to know the truth, I am impatient with those who lie, knowingly or unknowingly. It will probably get me in trouble.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

PowerPoint

One of the best, and worst, tools ever invented for a public speaker (I'm returning to the point of this blog) is PowerPoint. I've seen it all--"Death by PowerPoint" videos; the article by Edward Tufte, "PowerPoint is evil," etc. It's easy to mock PowerPoint; it has become a cliche.

Yet I require PowerPoint from my students and want them to know how to best use it. So I offer my top ten list of PowerPoint points of power: (is that cornball or what?)

1. If you are going to use PowerPoint, plan on making it a good one and plan on taking some time with it. It's a wonderful time killer. Plan first, deciding on the layout of each slide beforehand, remembering the 7 x 7 rule in terms of text (no more than 7 lines horizontally, including the heading, and the longest line no longer than 7 words). Look at all the available backgrounds first and make a decision on the one you will use and stick with it, because changing after typing the text in will alter the layout and you'll have to redo it.

2. Generally, dark background with very distinct font is more readable. Stick with Sans serif and no smaller than 24 point font.

3. Learn all the little commands, like b for black screen and w for white screen, ways to get rid of the pointer, (Control H), etc. Like all Microsoft products, there's more functionality than you can ever remember.

4. PowerPoint is lousy in showing hierarchy and relationship of ideas. It's bad form to use Roman numeral points, so hierarchy (main points, subordinate points) must be shown by font and color, a much harder task to maintain than it sounds like.

5. No animation.

6. Do we really need clip art? Isn't photography better?

7. Practice with the slides before actually giving the speech.

8. You are the center of attention, not the slides.

9. You don't have to have a slide for everything.

10. Stay in control of the slides; don't use automatic timing.

This is just a beginning; to really explain PowerPoint, I would need examples of poorly designed slides. An eye for design is necessary.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Thankfulness

I got an email today, one of those pass-along ones, attributed to Jay Leno, about the basic whininess of Americans, 69% of whom allegedly are unhappy. It was actually written by Craig Smith of WorldNetDaily. It's a good piece, and here's a link to it. http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=53028
I had been incredulous about the lack of perspective Americans have about their blessings, so the piece sounded a bell for me.

On the other hand, who says 69% of Americans are unhappy? Is that really a legitimate statistic? Where is the source? It's probably based on the people who listen to network news because if that were someone's sole source of information, he or she would think things are much worse than they are.

Anyway, thanks be to God that the hurricane abated and did not hit the coast with the full force of a Cat 5 storm. I've seen the aftermath of Katrina, and I don't know if those folks could have sustained a Cat 5 again so soon.

Fresh Look at Matthew: Matthew 28:1-8, second pass

The passage is unclear as to whether the two women saw the resurrection here, but I don’t think so.   They would probab...