Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lolcat of the Week

With Thanksgiving behind us, and Christmas only a few weeks ahead, the Lolcat of the Week, accordingly, isn’t so much funny as it is precious.

As a dog owner/lover, animals have a temperament and caring demeanor all their own. My dog Alexas doesn’t exactly bring us fish, but she takes good care of us all the same. Enjoy!

funny pictures Mai hoomin took  gud carez ov me. Den he lost his job. Now I'z work  to taek carez of him.
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Monday, November 29, 2010

When Wikis Leak

JulianAssangeThe Wikileaks release of sensitive American diplomatic cables is old news by now. Yet, the scale and magnitude of the release merits a few comments. Naturally, the United States Government views the action as nothing less than a criminal offense with at least one doomsaying Congressman calling Wikileaks a terrorist organization.

While the release of sensitive cables is surely a tremendous embarrassment, the actual impact of the documents release on American geopolitical relationships will likely be muted. According to the Center for American Progress:
[It] is not likely to lead to any significant geopolitical shifts or fundamental reworkings of US relations with other countries, many foreign-policy analysts say. And that is because foreign partners were assumed to be acting in their own national interest in their dealings with the US before the revelations, and presumably will continue to do so now. “No country is going to suddenly act against its own self interest because of this,” says Lawrence Korb, a foreign-policy expert and former Pentagon official at the Center for American Progress in Washington.
[Link]
The most unfortunate aspect of the release is the rank incompetence of the United States Government. Alas, all it took to defeat the Pentagon’s Siprnet system was a  Lady Gaga cd, and a jump drive.

Americans have good reason to be concerned. Think of the secrets that could be divulged with a Wham! cd and an iPhone.
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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Song of the Week: Dancing in the Minefield

Of late, I have seldom been inclined to publish a ‘Christian’ song of the week. For whatever reason, the embers of faith have not necessarily been burning bright, and to be perfectly honest, I’ve found my time more valuably spent watching my abysmal Dallas Cowboys than sitting through a weekly church service.

But on this Thanksgiving Day, I cannot help but slip into old habits, and reflect a bit upon the things for which I am thankful this past year. Though we spend the holiday here in Indiana, a veritable world away from our place in Tucson and my home on Oklahoma’s plains, the essence of my thankfulness this past year is largely tied to a profound appreciation for my family – both the small one in Tucson with my loving wife Gwyn, our dog Alexas, and our fish Maestro, and our bigger ones here and in Oklahoma. Rather than posting the lone Shaker hymn on ‘thanks’ in the hymnal, I thought the song below by contemporary Christian musician Andrew Peterson was much more on point.

The Pax Plena Song of the Week is called Dancing in the Minefield, and as noted features the superb vocals of Andrew Peterson. I ran across Andrew Peteron’s music several months ago from the blog DonMillerIs.com. While I was already a fan of Donald Miller, over time I have come to appreciate his penchant for picking a good tune. When he recommended Andrew Peterson, I immediately consulted YouTube and was not disappointed. What struck me most by Andrew Peterson’s music was its honesty, and style. Musically, the song is both minimalist and acoustic, à la The Fray circa 2005. But what The Fray lacks in ability, Peterson compensates for in spades.

To wit, Peterson’s voice is as clear as the guitar he strums, and he doesn’t have nearly the same teen angst that artistically limits The Fray’s appeal. In a word, the music is substantive. Peterson’s acoustic guitar deftly unpacks a lifetime of reflection, while the sparse keyboard supplements Peterson’s vocals as well as a back up singer might do in a larger arrangement. Unlike many a sad song, Dancing in the Minefields is mostly upbeat. By my reckoning, the song’s most popular chord is the “C” chord, which keeps the sound optimistic and thankful rather than sullen and brooding. 

And it is exactly this sort of upbeat sound that is necessary to balance the serious themes being discussed in the lyrics. Dancing in Minefields tells the story of a lifetime spent together, breaking down marriage, its joys, and its complications. Unlike much of the cloying glamorization of love coming out of the Christian music industry, Peterson approaches the institution honestly. He analyzes the difficulty of marriage, specifically, rather than romanticizing it to meet a particular, Christian stereo-type of happiness. The singer opens by reflecting upon the mistake of marrying  too early, and contrasting that decision with the magnitude of committing one’s life to another. The poetic, eponymous conclusion is that marriage is like dancing in a minefield – which in many respects it is.

But the singer’s conclusion is far from fatalistic. The point seems to be that faith in the commitment, and faith in the mutual sacrifice of a marriage is what makes it worthwhile. In other words, the song challenges the proverbial us to get out of our own neuroses, and experience life by living for others.

And really this is the point of Thanksgiving: that we have individuals in our lives whom we can serve in quiet ways – perhaps in ways that only we can understand. Such simplicities make dancing in the minefields a joy, and give our otherwise troubled existence meaning. And for this, we can all give thanks.

Please enjoy the Pax Plena song of the week, Andrew Peterson’s Dancing in the Minefields.



Dancing in the Minefields
By Andrew Peterson 

Well I was 19 you were 21
The year we got engaged
Everyone said we were much to young
But we did it anyway
We got the rings for 40 each from a pawnshop down the road
We said our vows and took the leap now 15 years ago

Chorus:
We went dancing in the minefields
We went sailing in the storm
And it was harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for

Well ‘I do’ are the two most famous last words
The beginning of the end
But to lose your life for another I’ve heard is a good place to begin
Cause the only way to find your life is to lay your own life down
And I believe it’s an easy price for the life that we have found

Chorus:
And we’re dancing in the minefields
We’re sailing in the storm
This is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for
That’s what the promise is for

Bridge:
So when I lose my way, find me
When I lose loves chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith
to the end of all my days
when I forget my name, remind me

Cause we bear the light of the son of man
So there’s nothing left to fear
So I’ll walk with you in the shadow lands
Till the shadows disappear
Cause he promised not to leave us
And his promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos baby
I can dance with you

Chorus:
So lets go dancing in the minefields
Lets go sailing in the storms
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And kicking down the doors
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And sailing in the storms
Oh this is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for
That’s what the promise is for
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving at O'Hare

Say what you will about the TSA, the Thanksgiving travel season is in full swing here at the Nation's busiest airport.




- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone
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Blogging from a Plane

In the Summer of 2009, I made a quick post using the wi-fi on a Bolt Bus while on my way to visit a good buddy in New York. To date, that remains, easily, the best experience I have had with any bus service company. Of course, I haven't taken any bus trips since then, so take the endorsement for what you will.

Today, however, I am pleased to post from the comfort of my seat on American Airlines flight 1172 'with service from Phoenix, AZ to Chicago!'

Yes, fair readers, your humble blogger knows no limits when it comes to communicating with all of you. And this particular American Airlines flight makes this commitment even easier. Provided by a company called Inflight GoGo, the wi-fi is amazingly consistent. So far, I have been able to update a few apps on my iPad and peruse my usual online haunts, all while listening to music from iTunes and typing up this post. For those still questioning the functionality of the iPad or tablet computers in general, let this post be a testament to their utility and versatility. The real test will come in a few minutes when I test out the Netflix app - which typically does fine on my iPhone and it's unliited 3G data plan. Always plus to beat AT&T at its own game.

I supposes the coolest part of this whole experience, aside from being able to share it with my wife who is busily working a sudoku puzzle next to me, is looking out at the clouds from 30,000 feet above the earth. I have also exchanged emails with my Dad and updated my status on Facebook. I suppose if one can post from the air, and tend to emails and messages while traveling there really are no tethers in the communication era.

And this is the point of technology really. Over the past twenty years, we have made the world a very small place indeed. Even the trip we are taking to see Gwyn's family would have been unthinkable luxury some thirty years ago. Today, the matter is merely an issue of scheduling, and booking the tickets. And somehow in the same time span technology has not only closed the barriers created by distance, but also those barriers created by the terrestrial plane we call space. One can be, quite literally, any place on planet, and still have the capacity to reach out and touch someone.

Globalization has its detractors. I am the research assistant for one of them. But with technology like this, such protestations strike me as more a protest of the inevitable, than a realistic hope for change.
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Some Thoughts on Airport Security, and the TSA

The wife and yours truly are presently en route to spend Thanksgiving in Indiana. In the days preceding our holiday travels, much ado had been made about the TSA's new, invasive body scanners, and pat downs in U.S. airports.

Expecting anything from a strip search to a prostate exam while waiting in the security line, I was pleasantly surprised at how overblown the matter seems to be.

Here at Phoenix's Sky Harbor airport, we departed from terminal three en route to Indianapolis via Chicago. Naturally, ours was a major terminal, so we had anticipated stringent security measures. Instead, we were briskly ushered through the traditional metal detectors, without incident. No body scanners. No fondling. No problemo.

The one thing that stands out to me in the fiasco is how poorly the TSA handled rollout of the new procedures. Rather than springing the process on citizens, there should have been an educational outreach to brief the public on the new system. From press conferences, to targeted outreach to frequent fliers, and particularly to those traveling over the holidays, the TSA should have done something to inform the public of the new processes.

This, of course, does not address the individual conduct of some TSA agents. Many of the stories being reported are simply inexcusable. But on balance, at least here in Phoenix, the fears raised seem to be a bigger deal than the actual security measures.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
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Lolcat of the Week

Greetings dear readers, this Tuesday morning finds me en route to bucolic Bloomington, Indiana for Thanksgiving with the wife’s family. But let not your heart be troubled. I expect blogging to continue per usual over the next few days.

Yet, during this important holiday, it strikes me that the words of the Lolcat of the Week below could well be the same words uttered by some of your most annoying friends and family. And if you can’t reflect upon the petty annoyances of friends and family at Thanksgiving, when can you? Whether you’re looking down, or looking up this Thanksgiving, here’s hoping you enjoy this Lolcat of the Week!

funny pictures-Don't worry... it's not just you....
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

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Monday, November 22, 2010

The Dems Lessons Learned?

In the wake of the November mid-term elections, Democrats lost a whopping 60 seats in United States Congress and at least 6 seats in the Senate. (While the Alaska race is not yet certified, AK is not a net gain for the GOP since incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski is a Republican).

The loss has been widely interpreted as a repudiation of the Obama Administration’s policies, and those of his allies in Congress. No member of Congress was more instrumental in advancing President Obama’s leftist agenda than former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Given the Republican tidal wave that she helped orchestrate, what lessons might the ex-Speaker have learned about her party’s ouster from power? Perhaps, contrition? Maybe a pie’s worth of humility? Or maybe even the need to actually listen to voters instead of ideologues? According to the New York Times, the answer would be ‘none of the above.’

In Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Speaker Pelosi not only defended her wildly unpopular policies, but she doubled-down on them:
As the speaker of the House of Representatives, where Democrats just lost 60-odd seats as well as their controlling majority, you led your party into the worst electoral defeat in decades. And yet you chose to run for Democratic leader in the next Congress. Why not just step down? 

Well, don’t forget that I led the party into the strong victories of ’06 and ’08. And now we are prepared to win again. 
[…] 
O.K., but you could admit to having deep emotions about your setback in the House.
I have deep emotions about the American people. If I were to cry for anything, I would cry for them and the policies that they’re about to face. 

Are you referring to the repeal of the health reform law, which the Republican leadership is threatening to do? 

That’s why I ran. That’s one of the reasons I ran for leader — to fight any changes. Any undermining of the health care bill, of the Wall Street reform bill, of the consumer protection bill — I’ll fight that.

[Link]
Far be it from me to give political advice to Nancy Pelosi. After all, were she to listen to reason she might fare better in the next Congress. This would, of course, be counter-productive to yours truly as an avowed partisan. But in many respects the ex-Speaker’s conclusions on the matter defy logic.

Somehow, after having ushered in the largest party repudiation in American in history, and after having obliged her party to fall on their political swords, Nancy Pelosi has concluded that her leadership was not the cause of the Dems demise, that the American people are pitiable yokels, and that she needs to save them from themselves.

And apparently, House Democrats agreed. Just last week, the Democrats named Pelosi their new Minority Leader for the next Congress.

For reasons inexplicable, I have the sudden urge to close ranks with all Republicans singing, It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Song of the Week: Kissing a Fool (Redux)

The Pax Plena song of the week has long been a favorite of yours truly. Harkening from the cold nights of my formative years, Michael Bublé’s Kissing a Fool impacted the way I listened to music in a very fundamental way. Perhaps more than any other song, Bublé’s Kissing a Fool taught me the importance of not only hearing music but feeling it. (So much so that I wrote a similar review of the song back in 2007. Though I am not normally one to repeat material, what I wrote then really did not do justice to the music of the song, and the way I perceive it now. Funny how time has a way of providing perspective.)

Like any good song, Kissing a Fool tells a compelling story. The song recounts the plight of a love-struck bard, reeling from the loss of his one and only. The singer’s reflections on the relationship-gone-bad are a mixture of sadness and marvel at what might have been, and the strength required to throw it all away. Naturally, the music melds seamlessly. Written by George Michael in 1988, this should come as little surprise. In addition to his penchant for cannabis, George Michael, in his prime, wielded an uncanny musical range, and still enjoys a legendary music career – one that somehow survived the train-wreck that was Wham!, leading to much more impressive works like Kissing a Fool.

The song’s music has been described as minimalist in nature, which really places the entire burden of the performance on the vocalist. Like its author, the feel of the song is at times brooding and at times soaring, which underscores the impressive vocal range necessary to perform the song well. In the Michael Bublé version, this broad range flows without effort and without interruption. When the song begins, a smooth jazz piano line, and the soft touch of the cymbal usher in the performance. But there is only a moment to enjoy the neo-jazz sound as listeners are immediately carried away into the relationship’s sad demise by Bublé’s voice .

Midway through, the thoughts of the vocalist become more pronounced, and as the song gains strength. A slight brass accompaniment drives home the power of the singer’s thoughts of futility and betrayal. But no sooner does the crooner sound bitter, than the music returns to the sober introspection that first introduced the song to listeners. As in life, the emotions seem mixed. Not long after the song hits an eerie quiet, it erupts with sound as the singer thinks about the couple’s lost future. At its zenith, the entire brass band joins with the percussion and the piano as the singer fathoms the thought of his love with ‘another man.’

Naturally, the singer is not one to deny reality. The remainder of the song is a quiet reflection marked most poignantly by the jazz piano. In a way, this only underscores how truly far away the lost love is. As the keyboard trails off, so too does the singer who is left only to conclude that his love was, indeed, kissing a fool all this time.

What gives the song its staying power – few songs that are twenty-plus years old are as popular – is its ability to tap into the raw emotions performed. Nearly everyone has loved and lost. Kissing a Fool taps into that small pain and sets that feeling to music in such a way that it transcends the particular circumstance of one’s life. Whether one is still searching for love, enjoying Mr. / Ms. Right Now, or enjoying the love to last a lifetime, most people can relate to the thoughts expressed by George Michael’s timeless work.

With that, please enjoy the Pax Plena Song of the Week, Kissing a Fool as performed by Michael Bublé. Lyrics follow after the jump.

Kissing a Fool
By Michael Bublé
Written by George Michael

You are far
When I could have been your star
You listened to people
Who scared you to death
And from my heart
Strange that you were strong enough
To even make a start
You'll never find
Peace of mind
Till you listen to your heart

People
You can never change the way they feel
Better let them do just what they will
For they will
If you let them
Steal your heart from you

People
Will always make a lover feel a fool
But you knew I loved you
We could have shown them all
We should have seen love through

Fooled me with the tears in your eyes
Covered me with kisses and lies
So bye
But please don't take my heart

You are far
I'm never gonna be your star
I'll pick up the pieces
And mend my heart
strange that I was wrong enough
To think you'd love me too
You must have been kissing a fool
I said you must have been kissing a fool

But remember this
Every other kiss
That you'll ever give
Long as we both live
When you need the hand of another man
One you really can surrender with
I will wait for you
like I always do
There's something there
That can't compare with any other

You are far
When I could have been your star
You listened to people
Who scared you to death
And from my heart
Strange that I was wrong enough
To think you'd love me too
You must have been kissing a fool
You must have been kissing a fool
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Dean Martin - John Boehner Connection

The DMJB Connection
Much ink has been spilt about the new Republican Congressional Majority. But perhaps readers are unaware of the comparisons being floated between incoming House Speaker John Boehner and the erstwhile King of Cool himself, Dean Martin.

To wit, no less than three press shops have made the comparison – one as long ago as 2006:
Easygoing and well liked, with a perpetual tan, a low golf handicap and an ever-present Barclay cigarette between his fingers, Mr. Boehner, 56, looks like a throwback to the 1950's — Dean Martin comes to Congress. But he is known around the House as a serious legislator, a pro-business lawmaker who is one of the few senior Republicans who can work with Democrats.
[Link]
Building on the NYT’s motif, AOL’s Politics Daily recently mused, “Who Is John Boehner: Dean Martin? Don Draper? Or the Next Newt Gingrich?” While U.S. News’s Washington Whispers delivered the most glowing comparison of all:
Like a character out of Mad Men, likely incoming House Speaker John Boehner is about to bring old-school cool and political wrangling back into fashion. "He's so cool, every man should hate him," says Tea Party organizer Dick Armey, who calls Boehner the "Dean Martin of politics." 
[Link]
Notwithstanding the fact that I am a Republican and the fact that Speaker Boehner is, indeed, pretty cool, comparing an individual to the standard of cool set by Dean Martin is a serious compliment – certainly not one to be taken lightly. A penchant for slick suits and cigarettes simply is not enough. Like the CIA looking for weapons of mass destruction, we require further proof.

The most instructive analysis on this score comes from the Daily Beast’s post-election article describing the new Speaker’s fondness for hooch. Two quotes are on point:
When President Obama suggested a “Slurpee Summit” with Boehner and his colleagues this week, the likely Speaker came back with a counterproposal. 
“I don’t know about a Slurpee,” he told ABC’s Diane Sawyer. “How about a glass of Merlot?” 
[And here:
"You have a good party and people tend to show up for the next one,” Boehner once told The Hill. “You'd better make sure the first one's a good one.” 
[Link]
While comparisons alone are insufficient to bespeak a ‘coolness connection’, I think that Dino Martin would approve of merlot over Slurpees. And he certainly would approve of a good party. After all, if we can say anything at all about Dean Martin, it’s pretty clear the man loved life.

So, as a final verdict, we’ll let the comparison stand for now– at least until  Speaker Boehner does something to require a rescission. As with Dino, It’s hard to call the man set to put the party back in GOP anything but cool.

Special Thanks!
By the by, special thanks to Dean Martin aficionado “Dino Martin Peters” for calling the US News piece to my attention. DMP has a terrific site discussing all things Dean Martin since 2007. His slice of the web can be accessed at http://ilovedinomartin.blogspot.com/ .

As a special note, last week’s “Song of the Week: On an Evening in Roma” was featured recently on DMP’s site. It’s a great privilege for us here at Pax Plena to connect with the broader community of Dean Martin fans on the web. Thanks a ton!
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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lolcat of the Week

As a recovering, conservative law student, it strikes me that the Lolcat of the Week below is mostly true.

Accidents, whether academic or not, tend to occur with greater frequency when one thinks outside of the box.

funny pictures-Sry for teh askident awn teh flor... I wuz tinklin owtside teh bawx.
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

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Monday, November 15, 2010

How Would You Fix the Budget?

BudgetWashingtonpostAmerica’s fiscal mess is no stranger to anyone who has watched the news in the past seven years. But solutions to the quandary, even in the wake of the recent election, have been few and far between. Now, oddly enough, thanks to the New York Times, Joe Public has the chance to weigh-in on the debate.

The New York Times released its ‘deficit project' this past week. The website features an interactive puzzle allowing users to choose which cuts to make among Federal expenditures.

[Link]

The puzzle is derived from a methodology formulated by two top economists who are experts on the Federal Budget. By most accounts, the puzzle is on the up and up despite its provenance. Naturally, what makes the puzzle such a beast to solve is the sheer size of the projected budget shortfalls. According to the economists projections, the budget shortfall for 2015 is estimated at $418 billion. The budget shortfall for 2030 is a daunting $1.355 trillion.

One caveat to the puzzle is that it assumes the continuation of current policies:
Our baseline was current policy. That is, we assumed that existing policies would continue, even those, like the Bush tax cuts, that are scheduled to expire. But we then allowed readers to choose the reversal of any such policies as part of their deficit solution.
Given the quasi-divided government set to take office in January, this assumption strikes me as a reasonable one. Of course, this also suggests that the budget deficit will remain in place too, since the parties rarely agree on anything – including how to cut the budget deficit.

In all, the puzzle is a useful exercise that provides an interesting snapshot of the fiscal woes facing our Nation. And who knows? Given the volatility in American politics right now perhaps the budget puzzle will produce the next member of Congress in 2012. That member surely cannot be any worse for our fiscal straits than ex-Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Words of Wisdom

The following isn’t necessarily an analogue to my post yesterday. But Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes explains the problem of theodicy in a pithy, funny comic strip. Well done.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thoughts on Turning 28

This past week, I discovered that I share my birthday with St. Augustine of Hippo. And even while I celebrate my 28th year of life with a man 1,656 years my junior, I cannot help but feel an affection and kinship with the man who, by all accounts, was anything but the saint he would become.

Though I do not draft this post from Hippo, only once have I squarely addressed my thoughts on the auspicious occasion of my birthday. My vow that particular year was that I would not marry a bitch - even as a man in India had done to avoid a hex. Mission accomplished.

So today, though I suppose it is a cliche, my mind invariably wanders the path of Augustine, conjuring up thoughts of faith, existence, and purpose. Interestingly, the Huffington Post - certainly no bastion of faith in anything - ran a timely article this morning, outlining the latest 'missing link' for our existential crises - which, in effect, amounts to the conclusion, 'it's all in your head':
Indeed, according to biocentrism, it's us, the observer, who create space and time (which is the reason you're here now). Consider everything you see around you right now. Language and custom say it all lies outside us in the external world. Yet you can't see anything through the vault of bone that surrounds your brain. Your eyes aren't just portals to the world. In fact, everything you experience, including your body, is part of an active process occurring in your mind. Space and time are simply the mind's tools for putting it all together.

[Link]
It is surely correct that our minds are the only tools by which we have the ability to make sense of the chaos we sometimes call life. But this is a rather shallow observation when we apply the concept practically to our existence.

I believe St. Augustine hits much closer to the heart of the matter. The root of the problem is not that we separately create our own existence. For even if this were true, Biocentism does not explain on a basic level how we interact and apprehend other individuals in our lives. (Surely all of the Birthday wishes on my Facebook wall, and the individuals writing them, are not all figments of my imagination).

The problem of our existence, as identified by Augustine in the opening lines of his Confessions, is that we simply to not understand how to interact with God. In the opening strains Augustine immediately acknowledges the difficulty man has in relating to his Creator. And the resultant question Augustine poses is elemental: can we approach God before God knows us? Or is the point of approaching God so that we can get to know God?

If I may be so bold as to co-opt the thoughts of a saint, this has been the essential struggle of my 28 years of life: What exactly does it means to be in relationship with God - particularly when life, and faith do not make sense?

My conclusions of late, are similar to those reached by Augustine several millennia ago: faith is a gift inspired by Christ through his humanity. Or, to put the matter differently, I needn't understand the intricacies of complex theology. I simply need to understand Jesus, and the example he left. (Confessions, Book I, 1.1.1).

This conclusion has brought me much peace on my 28th birthday. The point of my life is not so much to figure out all things, as it is to conform all things about my life to the model for living that Christ left to me.

Not bad conclusions of faith coming from a guy whose mother was a Believer and whose father was a pagan (I am referencing Augustine, of course).

My personal conclusion on this day is merely that I am blessed.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad



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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Song of the Week: On an Evening in Roma

I've never been to Rome. But after listening to Dean Martin's On An Evening in Roma I sometimes feel as if I have. 

When the Pax Plena Song of the Week, On An Evening in Roma, was released in 1959, Fidel Castro had just assumed power in Cuba, the Barbie Doll made its debut, and the Dali Lama made his initial flee from Tibet. Though the world was surely going through trying times, Dean Martin’s easy singing style helped the world forget. By the time On An Evening in Roma was released, Martin had already been on the American music scene for more than ten years. In that span, he released the much heralded That’s Amore, and the eventual No. 1 hit Memories Are Made of This.

By contrast, On An Evening in Roma never even cracked the top 50 songs on the American charts and fared even worse over seas.

But what makes the song a classic is its singer. Martin, perhaps more than any crooner of his era, masterfully uses his voice to tell a story. The music proceeds languidly, as  the faux Italian sound dictates that it should, while listeners detect a hint of mischief as Dino describes the couples of Rome wandering off. But above all, it is Martin’s warbling voice, explaining the mysterious, arbitrary role of the espresso in the grander scheme of love that makes the song ‘perfetto’. 

The song has seen a bit of a resurgence of late, appearing on soundtracks in a number of movies, some related to Rome, and others not. I suspect this is attributable to both Martin and the song’s lyrics. What Dean Martin does that other versions of the song do not is use his low-tenor voice to playfully describe the scene listeners hear – from Rome’s street lamps, to its starry skies. Dino flat makes Rome come alive.  And everyone loves a good love story, right?

In some ways, there is only so much that the written word will do to describe the ability of Dean Martin. Without further delay, please enjoy the Pax Plena song of the week, On An Evening Roma, as performed by the legendary Dean Martin. 

On An Evening In Roma Lyrics

by Dean Martin

Como e' bella ce' la luna brille e' strette
strette como e' tutta bella a passeggiare
Sotto il cielo di Roma

Down each avenue or via, street or strata
You can see 'em disappearing two by two
On an evening in Roma

Do they take 'em for espresso
Yeah, I guess so
On each lover's arm a girl I wish I knew
On an evning in Roma

Though there's grining and mandolining in sunny Italy
The beginning has just begun when the sun goes down

So please meet me in the plaza near your casa
I am only one and one is much too few
On an evening in Roma

Don't know what the country's coming to
But in Rome do as the Romans do
Will you on an evening in Roma

Como e' bella ce' la luna brille e' strette
strette como e' tutta bella a passeggiare
Sotto il cielo di Roma

Don't know what the country's coming to
But in Rome do as the Romans do
Will you on an evening in Roma

Sott'er celo de Roma
On an evening in Roma

3 comments:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When Marriages Love and War

Love&WarFew things frighten me more than riding in the truck with my wife - which is really saying quite a bit since I've lived through 9/11 and the first two years of the Obama Administration. Even so, I cannot even begin to recall the number of times I've seen my life flash before my eyes while turning from Grant on to Mountain Avenue here in Tucson.

Despite the trepidation marriage sometimes creates, I suspect our concerns have been fairly pedestrian if one believes Christians authors John and Stasi Eldredge.

Over the summer I had the opportunity to read and review their latest book "Love & War, Finding the Marriage You've Dreamed Of" courtesy of the Eldredges' Ransomed Heart Ministries. And while the review has been a long time coming, it has not been for lack of interest in the written product or the subject matter.

Designed almost as a workbook, "Love & War" is nothing if not an eminently practical missive on love, marriage and the storms that invariably beset both. And unlike many Christian authors the Eldredges are nothing if not extremely candid. The honesty begins on page one of the text as Stasi Eldredge writes:

Maybe the best place to pick up this story is two years after "I do," when we were talking divorce. (p.9).
What follows is an equally honest snapshot of a couple experiencing the strife and joy of a life spent together. From John Eldredge's alcoholic indulgences (p.147) - which are really so slight as to make yours truly look like quite the boozer, to Stasi Eldredge's struggles with body image and weight gain (p.46), the entire book presents an interesting window into the dynamic life of a couple facing problems both substantial and trivial.

For the secularly inclined, the book presents an unapologetically Christian theme. The Eldredges begin with the presumption that God made marriage difficult intentionally, and second, that God intended its participants to be a 'royal mess' upon entry so that God could transform the couple in a way consistent with God's divine purpose for their lives. (p.40 - 48). Given such a faith rooted perspective, it is only natural that the book does not leave much room for alternate points of view.

But for Christian believers the text offers important points of rumination for couples to explore and discuss together. The book addresses many a sundry topic, ranging from nettlesome, conflicting room lighting preferences, to those much more interesting issues involving sex - the latter of which makes the Eldredges' candor a bit uncomfortable to read at times. 

Unlike many self-help books, "Love & War" does a nice job of balancing hopefulness for marital problems against the reality of life. The first sentence of their final chapter somberly concludes:

Some marriages make it, and some marriages don't: The odds are still running about 50/50. The chances in favor of a happy marriage are even more slim, because as you well know, simply the fact that a marriage has not fallen apart does not necessarily mean its members are thriving. Anybody can fake it for the Christmas photo. (p.192).
This is not so say that the outlook of the book is overly pessimistic. But it is to say that the Eldredges understand that marriages are far from perfect, and that it is far from advisable that a couple remain together no matter what ills or evils may beset them.

While there is much to commend about "Love & War," it is not without some serious flaws. For starters, as alluded to earlier, the title bespeaks a more ecumenical aim of addressing marital problems for couples generally - regardless of faith. Of course, one would only have that assumption if one were not familiar with the body of John Eldredge's works on faith. But still, the title might be a bit deceptive to the casual browser.

A second area of critique is that the text tends to blame quite a bit of what might otherwise be attributed to human error on 'spiritual warfare.' (p.161). Not being the warfaring type, spare the odd game of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, it was and remains difficult for me to apprehend the implications of an active Satan bent on the destruction of my marriage. One would think by now he had bigger fish to fry. Suffice it to say, my own visions of evil rarely extended beyond individuals choosing to do evil things for selfish purposes. Perhaps this indicates a gift of faith that has yet to descend upon my belief structure.

But even while the critiques are valid, on balance, the Eldredges come forward with a book on marriage that has much to offer the Christian community, and the Christian literary community specifically - both of which tend to be about as exciting and interesting as the sermon delivered on Super Bowl Sunday.

The challenge I see for the Eldredges going forward lies in marketing a book that pushes the bounds of Christian literature with honesty and sincerity. The Christian literary genre tends values neither honesty, nor sincerity, and as a result most books off the shelf in the “Christian” section of your local Borders, are the odds on favorites to be the biggest, superficial, overly saccharine wastes of $15 in the entire store. To be clear, the outcome of the Eldredge’s experiment is not a given. Even if honesty and candor appeal to younger couples like me and my wife, it probably would not appeal to some of the older believers in a typical church congregation - many of whom are pastors and church benefactors.

LOVE & WAR
Finding the Marriage You’ve Dreamed Of
By John and Stasi Eldredge
240 pp. Doubleday. $22.99
Even so, I am glad to recommend "Love & War" to the married and newly engaged among us. As any married couple will note, marriage isn't an altogether easy endeavor. Sometimes it is nice to have a guide along the way. And in the event a guide is unnecessary, sometimes it helps to have a book to read, if only to avoid watching your spouse drive.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Two Points on Keith Olbermann's Suspension

Naturally, here at Pax Plena we don't devote all that much time to the likes of Keith Olbermann and his ilk. For good reason. Bile normally rises from the back of my throat whenever I hear his voice.

That said, it would be bad form to not to offer to points of order regarding Keith Olbermann's two day suspension from broadcasting by MSNBC.

The background is that Olbermann was suspended last Friday for making campaign contributions to three Democrat candidates seeking reelection. While making contributions is hardly an abnormal phenomenon, MSNBC policy requires its anchors to at least make platitudes toward impartiality and seek prior approval from the network before making any political contributions. Olbermann, of course, does not seek approval from anyone - just look at his ratings.

Interestingly, Olbermann's charity was bestowed upon two southern Arizona Democrats, including Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords.

[Link]

Two points:

1. Is anyone even remotely surprised that Keith Olbermann made contributions to liberal candidates? Olbermann is notoriously liberal. To wit, no one questions Olbermann's impartiality because it is so abundantly clear that he is not impartial.

2. MSNBC is a joke. Suspending Olbermann for two days makes the network look ridiculous, and does nothing to indicate that MSNBC takes its impartiality policy seriously. Either the network should scrap the policy like most of the other major networks, or it should put some teeth into it by firing insubordinate 'journalists' altogether - à la Helen Thomas. Given that it's Olbermann we're talking about, it's probably obvious I would prefer the latter option.

Enough of that for now. Consider the above yet another reason to watch Fox News.


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Sunday, November 7, 2010

When Politics Meets Sarcasm

Don'tVoteTuesday’s mid-terms elections were met with instant fanfare among the chattering class. Depressed though they were, pundit after pundit grudgingly conceded that a Republican wave was sweeping the country. According to the latest tally, some 80 Republicans will ascend the steps of the Capitol in January as the 2010 class of freshmen Republicans.

By Wednesday afternoon, even while the ink was barely dry on the final returns, politicos of all stripes had left the mid-term election story behind for want of greener pastures – such as Keith Olbermann’s suspension from MSNBC for <gasp> making political contributions to liberal politicians, and President Bush’s memoirs of his eight years in office. Aside from being relatively uninteresting and unsurprising, such a shift in focus could easily leave the uninformed wondering whether there was an election on Tuesday or not.

It is exactly this myopic perception of politics that P.J. O’Rourke takes on in his latest book, “Don’t Vote, It Just Encourages the Bastards.”

DON’T VOTE
It Just Encourages the Bastards
By P.J. O’Rourke
288 pp. Atlantic Monthly Press. $25.00

As if the point needed clarification, O’Rourke’s literary mien is snark. And for some 270 pages of text, O’Rourke cracks wise  on a smorgasbord of policy topics ranging from taxes to terrorism. The table of contents gives the book the appearance of careful organization, neatly divided into three parts (Part I: ‘The Sex, Death, and Boredom Theory of Politics’; Part II: ‘What Is to Be Done’; and Part III: ‘Putting our Big, Fat Political Ass on a Diet’). But in practice “Don’t Vote” actually reads more along the lines of a compendium of essays, loosely tied around O’Rourke’s “Kill, Fuck, Marry” theory of politics – which, by way of disclaimer for the more wholesome of Pax Plena readers,  is actually the title of chapter one.

The early part of the book explores the implications of O’Rourke’s theory. His point, in less provocative language, is that Americans are obliged to endure trade-offs in the amount of power, freedom, and responsibility we enjoy, for each policy that governments and politicians enact. For example, while we might want an ironclad guarantee of our social security entitlements, we are invariably screwed over by agricultural subsidies, and the latest healthcare reform might very well kills us. And so goes, ‘kill, f&ck, marry.’ (p.7).

Fortunately, the gratuitous vulgarities end, mostly, after chapter one. The remainder of the section outlines O’Rourke’s ruminations on his theory. In the chapter on establishing political principles, O’Rourke discusses at length the problem of ‘progressive’ taxation,’ and the quandary of deciding who is affluent enough to have their wealth redistributed:

But who’s rich? You are. To someone who lives in the slums of Karachi you’re rich. I don’t care if you’re driving a 1990 Geo Tracker, haven’t had a job since Cher was a babe, and your trailer home just burned down because your wife’s boyfriend’s meth lab exploded, you’re rich. (p.58).

The points are well-taken. For anyone who has worked a job of any stripe, seeing the pay stub and all the money you could have earned is nothing short of depressing.

Part II is said to explore solutions to the problems identified in Part I, but the section differs only slightly. The solutions offered are uniformly glib, but by now most readers aren’t expecting profundity from America’s most gifted satirist. Naturally, the absence of gravity isn’t to say O’Rourke loses his touch as the book marches on. In the chapter discussing ‘solutions’ to campaign finance reform (as if the Citizens United decision didn’t already resolve the issue), O’Rourke sardonically questions the influence of money on the political process:

Yet the telecommunications industry, comprising some of America’s richest corporations, is constantly pestered by government regulatory agencies while agriculture, making up 2.3 percent of the GDP, is lavishly subsidized. Government is so inefficient that it can’t even get bribe-taking right. (p.175).

I won’t quote them, but O’Rourke also has similarly amusing observations on the trade ‘imbalance’ with China (there’s no such thing, p.159), the concept of the Family of Nations – a family that is at best dysfunctional (p.186), and the state of political conservatism (p.219).

In all, “Don’t Vote” reads as a welcomed deviation from the political-book norm. In a style all his own, O’Rourke’s presents a velvet glove of intelligent commentary ensconcing the iron fist of sarcasm. What it lacks in organization it compensates for in wit. And unlike some, recent volumes, “Don’t Vote” offers no shrill paeans to first principles, or anything even remotely similar to what Glen Beck might publish. It’s shtick is its author. And somehow the arrangement works.

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Happy Guy Fawkes Night!

With the GOP revolution well in hand, it seems only fitting to pay tribute to that original political subversive who tried but failed to overthrow the British Parliament, lo so many years ago.
Remember, remember the Fifth of November.

The Gunpowder Treason and Plot.

I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.

[Link]
Not exactly Election Day, but we'll do our part here in ridiculing the Brits on this festive occasion: God save the Queen.


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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Victory!

It’s a drop past 10:30pm here in Tucson. Republicans have taken control of the U.S. House of Representatives in decisive fashion.

With his ascent to Speaker of the House all but assured, current House Minority Leader John Boehner gave an emotional opening salvo to the newly repudiated Obama Administration:

Regulars may recall that I’m quite the fan of Speaker Boehner. He strikes me as a guy who is more interested in the good of the Country than in scoring political points only. Of course, I will be even more impressed if he presides over the House of Representatives with the same laser focus on the issues that he demonstrated tonight.

In all, it is a good night, indeed, for Republicans. But it is an even better night for the United States of America. Time to get to work.

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Handicapping Election 2010

Obama_NO_WE_CANTIt’s a drop past 5pm here in Tucson, Arizona. By this time tomorrow, polls across the Nation will have been open some eleven hours as voters cast their lot in what promises to be an election with tremendous, national implications.

While the outcome is uncertain, Gallup’s generic Congressional ballot is forecasting ‘unprecedented’ gains for the GOP during tomorrow’s midterm elections (and some quarters have Republicans doing even better):

It should be noted, however, that this year's 15-point gap in favor of the Republican candidates among likely voters is unprecedented in Gallup polling and could result in the largest Republican margin in House voting in several generations. This means that seat projections have moved into uncharted territory, in which past relationships between the national two-party vote and the number of seats won may not be maintained.

[Link]

Unlike Gallup, and Five Thirty Eight, I tend not to do very well when making political projections. In the past few years, I’ve wrongly predicted the outcome of the Super Bowl, the the 2007 Final Four , and the 2008 GOP primary.

If the Texas Rangers are to have the slightest inkling of a prayer in the World Series, yours truly needs to stay far afield of forecasting a win on their behalf.

Whither the Dems?

What I do tend to be better at, is analyzing situations, and diagnosing their causes and effects. Usually, I do this with a heavy dose of sarcasm, and the odd-glass of wine. For this election, however, the answer is so painfully obvious that no wine is needed. The problem, in one word: jobs (and no, this has nothing to do with the Apple, Inc. CEO by the same name).

Assuming there was ever a nail in the coffin for Democrats, and that the coffin isn’t already too full of nails to absorb one more, it came on October 21, 2010 when the latest unemployment numbers were released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to the latest analysis,  the Administration’s policies set any meaningful recovery for a time in the indeterminate future. And even Fed Reserve Chief Ben Bernanke is left in a schizophrenic policy mess, reflexively printing more money while calling the practice ‘unsustainable.’ In general, I find the term ‘unsustainable’ to be an unhelpful buzzword. From our water supply, to our debt, quite literally every facet of our lives can be considered unsustainable in some way– including life itself. But if we assume, here, that the unsustainable printing of money means we print more money every time the numbers for the quarter come back dire, then Mr. Bernanke is absolutely right. Of late, the numbers from the quarter always come back dire. And if we continue to print more money, toilet paper could well have a higher value in the near future. Consider the Ethiopian birr as an example.

Perversely, the entire money-printing charade is almost reminiscent of the scene from The Little Giants, wherein Johnny urges against his team’s decision to pitch the ball to himself. You can't pitch to Johnny! I'm Johnny! The scene works out okay in the movie. But President Obama is far from the father waiting with open arms when you lose your job. And unlike the movie, no matter how many plays like this the Fed attempts to run, it will not cut the deficit in half.

So, to continue the tortured football analogy, saying the economy is hurting the Dems is like saying Wade Phillips is hurting the Dallas Cowboys. It’s a fact. But it doesn’t capture the entirety of the colossal failure.

At this point, it strikes me that voters are pretty much looking for anyone who understands that jobs need to be the priority of the U.S. Government, stat. And when you consider some of the candidates that are picked to win tomorrow (see here, and here), the standard is quite literally anyone.

At the end of the day, Democrats have no one but themselves to blame. AOL’s political blog outlined the top five ‘accomplishments’ of the Obama Presidency late last summer. You’ll notice the distinct absence of ‘jobs’ among the embarrassingly short list. Given that the Administration has lived in its own tin ear the bulk of the past two years, it is little wonder that Americans will vote for virtually anyone who will listen to their complaints.

What Next?

Implicit in the critique of the Obama Administration is the caution now facing the Republican Congressional Majority (rather, the caution soon to be facing the Republican Congressional Majority): ignore the voters at your own peril.

In the months following the burgeoning, political tsunami, Republicans will have a mandate for fixing the economy and little else. I would expect the party to deliver, in relatively short-order, on a jobs plan that aims at spurring small business growth where roughly 65% of all new jobs are created. One might expect tax initiatives in the form of business and some income tax reductions, along with efforts to improve ailing credit conditions to be a part of the mix as well. It is also reasonable for Republicans to insist upon easing the regulatory burden for small businesses as a precursor to negations with the Obama Administration.

One point of caution that I will offer to the new GOP Majority, which I expect will not resonate with the newly minted tea partiers, is to tread lightly on the matter of reducing government spending. And before the comment board swells, let me say from the outset that I am not advocating for Government to spend more money. But I am saying that a massive, immediate reduction in government spending could have unfortunate consequences.

Spending by the United States Government comprises some 24% of our Gross Domestic Product. Scaling back government spending quickly, and on the massive-scale advocated by some tea partiers, would lead to an immediate reduction in American productivity. This would create a ripple effect across global markets, ultimately doing more harm than good.

Consider also that defense spending, Social Security, and Medicare/Medicaid/CHIP account for roughly 20% of American spending apiece. Naturally, making any meaningful cuts to these big ticket items will be wildly, politically unpopular – particularly, as the Nation’s largest voting block, the baby boomers, ascend to the ranks of the socially secured.

But even setting aside the politics of such reductions, cutting these big ticket items will require a level of political cooperation and overhaul not yet seen in American politics. Will the upcoming Congress have the chops necessary to provide the reforms necessary to put our economy back on track?

Given that the Presidential election is a mere two years away, the smart money is on, ‘no.’

Tomorrow

And on that cheery note, America, here’s wishing you a happy and historic Election Day tomorrow. May God continue to bless the United States of America (or 'resume blessing' – depending upon your level of skepticism).

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Lolcat of the Week

Our weekly series (i.e., this and this) here at Pax Plena rarely occur weekly. But then again, rarely do we do anything around here, weekly – including posting. Although, it is notable that we managed to hoist a whopping three posts to the blog rafters last week.

Let it never be said that we are not looking out for you.

Consider also the alternatives. Some of our friends post once a month – if only to cast an adumbration of posting for an otherwise empty month (here’s looking at you, Ex Deserto). 

That said, yours truly is a stubborn bastard, and I am extremely reluctant to give up on both the song of the week and the lolcat of the week concepts. Toward that end, please enjoy the first lolcat of the week since roughly June 11, 2010.

Given my cynical nature, the lolcat of the week below more or less captures my feelings toward this new week. And like the cat, I remain unimpressed.

funny pictures-OK. I'm awake.
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

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