Another Iowa caucus is over

February 2, 2016

There is a possibility that when I get home this evening, there will be no messages on my phone. I have been looking forward to that. This past weekend I must have deleted at least two dozen messages urging me to support one candidate or another. I briefly thought how nice it might feel to support whichever campaign had called the fewest times, but I really do try to vote primarily based on issues.

As a resident of Iowa, I get a firsthand view of a process that the rest of the country just reads about in the newspapers. Hmm, do many people still read newspapers? OK, that the rest of the country hears about on TV … or on facebook, or wherever it is people get their information these days.

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Books: Vanishing Grace

December 24, 2014

Almost twenty years ago I read a new book by Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace? It was one of the best Christian books I had ever read, and I wrote a review on the website of an internet bookseller I had recently discovered (but most people had probably not heard of), Since then I have enthusiastically recommended the book to others.

So when I saw recently that Yancey had written a follow-up, Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?, I was eager to read it. I chose to request it from the library, however, rather than order my own copy, as few books have turned out to live up to their glowing reviews as well as What’s So Amazing about Grace?

And while I wanted Yancey’s new book to be as good as the other, I just didn’t find it nearly as compelling. It asks some good questions, and could start some good discussions. But if I wanted to help someone understand grace I’d still recommend the first book. And if I wanted to lead a discussion I’d recommend the first book, and then ask some of the questions raised in this book, without necessarily spending a lot of time on Yancey’s answers.

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Books: While the World Watched

August 9, 2014

When I saw While the World Watched on the Tyndale Summer Reading list, I decided this would be a good opportunity to learn a piece of history that had never been covered in any classes in school. When I was growing up, the Civil Rights Movement was too recent to be in our history books, but by the time I was in middle school (and had actual history classes instead of just an occasional social studies lesson), it was no longer part of current events. I remember seeing a picture of Governor George Wallace in a wheelchair, when I was in seventh grade (the year after he was shot), but I had no idea of the history behind that.

At church I occasionally heard references to the importance of race relations, but I had no context for understanding what they were talking about. My parents were friends with a black family, as well as with the black janitor at church, but that was about the extent of my experiences with people of other races. I was only a baby when the church bombing in Birmingham took place, and in first grade when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. I knew vaguely that there were places where whites and blacks didn’t get along but gave it little if any thought.

Reading the firsthand account of Carolyn Maull’s experiences growing up in Birmingham gave me a new perspective on the whole subject. I had, over the years, picked up some general knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement, but seeing it through the eyes of a child who lived through it gave it a vividness and emotional immediacy that whatever I had read previously lacked. It’s one thing to read about the fact of atrocities committed decades ago. It’s another to feel her anxieties as she tries to cope with the violent death of her friends.

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A different perspective

November 18, 2012

I have read a few articles and blog posts analyzing the recent election results, though not many.These analyses, whether written from the viewpoint of the liberals or conservatives, tend to identify one or two deciding factors, and to that extent are probably oversimplifying things. People voted the way they did for a lot of different reasons, from ideological convictions to emotional responses to campaign messages to outright ignorance about the people they were voting for (or against).

Much of it has to do with whether Republicans – some prominent ones anyway – put too much emphasis on social issues as opposed to economic issues. Both before and after the election, one of the most common arguments I heard (admittedly in contexts where most people were both social and economic conservatives) was that there is a much higher urgency to dealing with economic issues than social issues. This blog post is a good example of this viewpoint.

This blog post (from several years ago), written from the point of view of the Left, sees economic conservatism as not only distinct from but actually in opposition to social conservatism. I think this blogger is mistaken in believing that the goal of social conservatives “is to expand, enhance, and reinforce the private power of white Christian men over everyone else in whatever relationships they have, social or economic.” But the tension between economic and social conservatism does show up in some areas, such as whether or to what extent to regulate pornography, as argued by this blog post.

A lengthy article I read today at First Things, however, offers a much different perspective. According to Robert George, economic and social conservatism are both rooted in the same principles. A healthy society, he says, rests on respect for the human person, the institution of the family, and a fair and effective system of law and government. Typically discussions of economic issues focus only on the last one, but George argues that a healthy economy needs people of good moral character, which depends on the first two characteristics.

I’ll have to think more about the implications of his argument in terms of public policy, but it’s worth thinking about.

Articles worth reading

October 20, 2012

I hadn’t visited First Thoughts recently, between Internet problems, being busy with work and church, and not feeling well lately. But I stopped by this morning and found links to two excellent articles.

Putting Health in Perspective” addresses the issue of healthcare from the perspective of what priority we put on health compared to other aspects of life. All the debates about healthcare (so prominent in the current political climate), Yuval Levin points out, focus on how to make the system more efficient, but share the assumption that health is an overriding priority.

Our society – not just in the U.S. but modern Western society in general – values freedom from pain very highly. I remember, when I was young, reading about people who did not take aspirin for a headache unless it was very severe, and being astonished that anyone would put up with pain if there were an easy way to avoid it.

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Books: The Righteous Mind

August 28, 2012

As I often do at the library, I was browsing titles without having anything in particular I was looking for. I had looked over the shelves of new fiction, and moved on to the non-fiction – usually not a source of a lot of exciting reading, but you never know…

Nothing interesting under computer programming (my younger son wants to learn programming so we’re making it a joint project) – all the books dealt with platforms that don’t interest me (such as programming for smart phones). Nothing interesting under health or cooking (topics that interest me but new books rarely present any really new ideas).

Then I saw The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. In a presidential election year, with the country apparently so strongly divided over what candidates or courses of action will best address the moral and economic issues facing us, what could be more compelling reading?

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Reading the newspaper – on paper

January 4, 2012

For the last several years, I have gotten my news – and analysis of the news – largely by means of the internet. I read articles and columns at the websites of newspapers and magazines, I visit blogs, and I scan the headlines of news stories listed by my ISP. But the past several days, I have been unable to do this due to technical difficulties.

This time the problem isn’t with my ISP, it’s with my home computer. After a few years of it getting increasingly slow and unreliable, it finally became unusable. (I will find out the diagnosis tomorrow; my guess is that it’s not worth fixing.) So today after work I nabbed the day’s copy of the Wall Street Journal from the lobby on my way out the door. (Unless someone claims it, it will just end up in the trash.)

I often read WSJ articles online, but as many are for subscribers only, my selection of articles to read is quite limited. Having participated in the Iowa caucus yesterday evening, I was particularly interested in reading news and analysis about it. I found a good deal of worthwhile reading, and started wondering how much I have missed out on by limiting myself to those articles I can read online.

The first one I read was “Iowa Voters Split On Electability, Core GOP Values.” It’s all about choosing between principles and pragmatism – something that I have struggled with a lot as I considered who to vote for in the caucus yesterday. Do I select the candidate whose views I share most closely, or the one with the best chance of actually getting the nomination, and possibly winning the election?

I used to opt for pragmatism, then decided in 2008 that pragmatism resulted in electing politicians who either shared few of the principles I considered important, or gave them lip service but disregarded them in practice. I might opt for pragmatism again in the 2012 election, but it depends who the eventual Republican candidate turns out to be.

After last night a lot of people are assuming it will be Mitt Romney. And a lot of people are hoping it will be – including the people I shared a table with at the caucus yesterday evening, and the employee in the computer store where I took my PC for troubleshooting. One reason given by many who favor Romney is that he has experience running a business, not just as a politician.

That has always made a lot of sense to me, but “The GOP’s Not-So-Great Communicators” challenges that assumption. “Running the federal government is nothing at all like running a business,” Peter Robinson says. “Presidents must instead govern by getting the rest of us to see things they way they see them.” Unfortunately, none of the current batch of Republican candidates is doing too great a job at that.

There was quite a bit more good reading, about the various candidates and their prospects after Iowa, about the election in general, and about other current issues that I hadn’t been thinking about all that much. As my internet session at the library is about to expire, I don’t have time to find links to each article or write about it. (I sure hope my computer can be fixed or they can sell me an inexpensive but good used computer!)

I don’t know whether I will consider getting my own subscription. But I just might want to nab that paper on my way out the door more often.