Wednesday, December 24, 2008

For the family in CT

I told my mother about this Christmas display at the Australian embassy a few years ago, and she asked for a picture. I planned to go to Mass Ave tonight to get a picture myself, but Jes Google-imaged it, saving me the trouble of taking a night picture at a busy intersection. So, here it is.

I love the Aussie embassy. I walked by there just about every day on my way to SAIS. They have eucalyptus growing right along the sidewalk, which I always found amusing and pleasant.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

something I found very moving

I was reading a piece by Ian Frazier in The New Yorker ("Hungry Minds," May 26, 2008) about his experience running a writer's workshop at a soup kitchen in Chelsea. He left New York and his volunteer position for a few years, and when he returned to New Jersey, he took his daughter into the city:

I took my daughter into Manhattan to go to museums and reacquiant her with the city generally. She was in fifth grade and curious about everything. At the end of the day, as we were standing in line at the Port Authority waiting for our bus back to the suburbs, a man who had been in the writers' workshop came walking down the line. At each person he stopped and tried to sell a copy of Street News. He was wearing layers of semi-disintegrating clothes and he had his hair in short, multidirectional corkskrew dreadlocks. Most of the people he went up to did the usual thing of recoiling slightly and looking away. When he got to us, he recognized me, and we began to talk. I asked how he was doing and he said pretty well--he had written a piece for Street News and it had been published recently. He asked if the workshop would be starting again soon, and he said he'd be there. I bought a copy of Street News for myself and another for my daughter and said I'd see him in the spring, and we got on our bus. When we arrived home, my wife asked my daughter how she liked the city. "It was pretty good," she said. "Not much happened. At the bus station, we ran into a friend of Daddy's."

The little girl's description of her trip to New York brought tears to my eyes. How amazing that she spends the day seeing the city's impressive buildings, its collections, and what she finds remarkable is this small, human connection--one that most people around her rebuffed.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Debate over Where G!d Stands in Pr William's

The Washington Post reported on an open letter from 50 religious leaders offering to help mediate the strife over illegal immigration in Prince William's County (VA). I commend these religious leaders for defending the humanity of illegal immigrants when so many in Pr William's County have vilified them. They cite some of the Biblical passages that are most moving to me about the need to treat the stranger like one's self for we were once strangers in the land of Egypt.

Here's what I find remarkable about the board of county supervisors' response. Corey Stewart, an at-large Republican member, said of the religious leaders, "We don't need them as an intermediary . . . They need to do what they do best: serve their congregants and attend to their denominations and not get involved in partisan politics."

His statement pretends that the anti-illegal immigrant movement in Northern Virginia (NoVA) has not relied on faith-based arguments itself. But, in fact, it has. Greg Letiecq, president of Help Save Manassas, can be seen on youtube citing biblical passages about the importance of following law as an argument for why NoVA must crack down on illegal immigration. The utter biblical illiteracy of that argument is striking.

Biblical passages that exhort people to follow the law and the authorities have nothing whatsoever to do with man-made law. Rather, they refer to G!d's law and, I believe, to the theocratic authorities of the time. There is no religious argument to be made for man-made law because no religion that I know of believes that man or his laws are infallible.

I don't wish to see this debate degenerate into a war of feuding Biblical interpretations. Rather, I find this to be a case that highlights how people of faith can disagree , and, contrary to common belief, faith can motivate people to take the left side of an issue, not just the right.

Monday, January 21, 2008

More Hopeful about 2008 elections

No matter who wins the primary race on the Democratic side, Clinton or Obama, I'll be happy. A McCain victory on the Republican side would also please me, and I may even learn to look on the bright side if Romney wins (despite his anti-immigrant race baiting).

I'm a Democrat who's voted Republican precisely once in her life. (My next door neighbor ran for registrar of voters.) Why am I so happy about the prospects of one or two particular Republican candidates?

Because for the first time in my politically conscious life, the American people may get a presidential election worthy of their attention.

What is a presidential election worthy of us? A presidential election in which both candidates are good options for moderate voters. An election in which much of the population feels it could vote either way and must really make a choice. Contrast this to the 2000 and 2004 elections, in which a small portion of the electorate was undecided and candidates instead focused on turning out their supporters.

Right now I'm pretty optimistic about the 2008 election. It might be the rare presidential election that makes me more proud to be an American.

I wasn't so sunny about the election a few weeks ago. Up until McCain's win in South Carolina and New Hampshire, I was pessimistic . In my mind's eye, I could picture the 2008 elections becoming a sorry, exhausting reprisal of the 2000 and 2004 elections: a campaign in which the culture wars feature front and center. In a moment of fatality after the Iowa caucus, I bet my husband one weeks of dish washing that Huckabee would win the Republican primary. (Despite the suds involved in losing this bet, I'm pretty happy that it is increasingly likely that I will lose.)

If you think about presidential elections since I became politically cognizant (1996 on), my prediction made sense. Of the three presidential races I recall, two placed the country's cultural dividing lines front and center: Bush v. Gore, and Bush v. Kerry. The candidates in these races seemed to loathe each other because their concepts of the United States differed so greatly (remember that moment in 2000 when Gore said he didn't hate Bush and Bush looked stunned?).

Here's to a 2008 election that might actually make Americans feel like they have something in common: a tough choice.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I married a huge dork

My sister and I once discussed (when both unattached) how we thought dorky men make ideal mates. Why? It was hard to put one's finger on it, but it has something to do with how dorks are generally substantive people with passionate interests. The fact that we both consider ourselves dorks doubtlessly contributed to this conclusion.

Last night, I discovered that my husband was even more precociously dorky than I previously thought. He let slip that he wrote a paper on the subject of Stalin in the third grade. The conversation unfolded something like this:

Me: What?! You wrote a paper on Stalin in the third grade?! [flabbergasted pause] What was the assignment?

Husband: To write about something that interested you.

Enough said.

The Proper Role of Religion in Politics

As I belatedly update my blog, I want to link to an op-ed Charles Krauthammer wrote a month ago that I found refreshingly nuanced and sensible. To give you just a taste:
This campaign is knee-deep in religion, and it's only going to get worse. I'd thought that the limits of professed public piety had already been achieved during the Republican CNN-YouTube debate when some squirrelly looking guy held up a Bible and asked, "Do you believe every word of this book?" -- and not one candidate dared reply: None of your damn business.
The article reminded me of a speech I read several years ago in Mario Cuomo's collected speeches. (Yes, I know, Krauthammer and Cuomo are an unlikely combination.) In a speech that Coumo gave at Notre Dame while governor of New York, he argued that his Catholicism informs some of his political stances, but that he should only pursue those religiously-inspired policies that are suitable for his diverse constituency. In other words, his Catholicism can inspire his advocacy for a social safety net, but he would not support any policy that imposes the Catholic church's teaching on contraception on his diverse constituency of Sikhs, Protestants, Jews, and non-religious.

I found Cuomo's speech to be a persuasive explanation of how one's public service and private faith coexist--one that speaks to me as a politically literate Jew-- and Krauthammer's op-ed to be a refreshing defense of the separation between church and state.


Ken Burn's Civil War

Just the other day I finished watching the last episode of Ken Burn's Civil War documentary. I have never seen anything so perfect.

I never would have thought that I would enjoy a 12-hour documentary series about the war. I figured that such things were for tobacco-stained gray-hairs who read spend their summers traipsing battlefields, who read schmaltzy novels about the war, and collect anecdotes about Lee. Rather, I found it to be a really moving film that addressed the root causes, strategy, and tactics of the war and its human cost and meaning.

Certain parts in which leaders stood out for moral vision and moderate temper struck me as the best of Americanness.

Take for instance Lincoln's second inaugural speech, with its declaration that
Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.'
Or General Grant's statement to his men after Lee's surrender that the rebels are now their countrymen. He then made a peace offering of rations to the starving Confederate soldiers.

Sherman said of Lincoln, "Of all the men I ever met, he seemed to possess more of the elements of greatness, combined with goodness, than any other."

I should hope we elect a leader in 2008 with even a distant reflection of the humane feeling and vision of these men.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Jes' description of cashmere

In a conversation I had with Jes a few months ago, I told her I was a little unclear on what cashmere is, and she described it this way: "It feels like . . . sunshine and peaches and Christmas and love." I felt that this needs to be captured for the world.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

credit where credit is due

We don't give the Russians (Soviets) enough credit for winning WWII at tremendous cost to their soldiers and citizens.

An except from a poem by Ilya Ehrenburg that Richard Overy uses in his book "Why the Allies Won":

We speak of deep night, deep autumn
when I think back to the year 1943,
I feel like saying 'deep war.'