Thursday, January 26, 2006

Icy Yew

Icy Yew
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

Military Stretched Thin?

I don't often post straight news, but it's been a while and I ought to post something. Besides, this is important. From the AP:

By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON - Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has become a "thin green line" that could snap unless relief comes soon, according to a study for the Pentagon.

Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who wrote the report under a Pentagon contract, concluded that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency. He also suggested that the Pentagon's decision, announced in December, to begin reducing the force in Iraq this year was driven in part by a realization that the Army was overextended.

As evidence, Krepinevich points to the Army's 2005 recruiting slump — missing its recruiting goal for the first time since 1999 — and its decision to offer much bigger enlistment bonuses and other incentives.

"You really begin to wonder just how much stress and strain there is on the Army, how much longer it can continue," he said in an interview. He added that the Army is still a highly effective fighting force and is implementing a plan that will expand the number of combat brigades available for rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan.


And yet, I suppose it would be unpatriotic of me and show a lack of support for our troops if I suggested that we really can't afford to wage war as solution for all the "bad guys" out there? Forget the whole morality question: It just isn't feasible.

We can't solve rogue regime problems by warring. If it's stretching us thin to deal with a wiped out nation like Iraq, what would it cost to deal with a North Korea? China? And so, if that is the case, wouldn't it be wise if we looked at other solutions?

[editor's note: I had an unusual page popping up when I linked on the comments, so I deleted this post and added it back in. I didn't know how to "find" my comments that were already there, so they are gone. Sorry.

Do you reckon this was an accident or some deliberate sabatoge? I can't imagine somebody wanting to actually mess up the comments page, so I'm figuring it was just some glitch. Anyway, feel free to post comments and we'll see what happens...

Does anyone know of anyway to edit the comments page? I know about deleting and moderating, but what I'm wondering is if there's a way to actually edit that page like I'm editing this one. Thanks.]

Saturday, January 14, 2006

King Fling!

King Fling!
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

Let's have a Dream...AND a plan

Happy Martin Luther King Weekend!

I’ve just returned from day two of the Baptist Peace Fellowship’s King Fling, which is being held right here in Louisville. I had the great privilege of hearing a concert tonight by Darrell Adams and Paul and Kate, from my church.

Mesmerizing. Uplifting. Wonderful!

I thought I’d share the joy and challenges of what I’ve heard the last two days by posting some King quotes. The man could turn a phrase and penetrate the heart. Enjoy and be challenged!

When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.

The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.
[upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize - 1964]

Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.

Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.


My pastor, Cindy, challenged us last night to be aware of society’s tendency to honor the dead, pointing out that it’s always easier to ignore them and change their message once they’ve been killed off. Can I get a witness?

She also reminded us that King was not merely a protestor: He was an organizer. He didn’t protest for the sake of protesting, he used Direct Action to change corrupt and unjust systems.

Not merely protesting and certainly not just being quiet, but radically challenging the system to get Just results. May we all be so challenged.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Amish Crossing

Amish Crossing
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

Love of Literature

In a recent post, the topic of the first line of the Narnia book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, was mentioned. It is a most excellent first line!

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

MCM, who corrected my slight misquote on the line, hastened to remind me why Scrubb was such an awful boy:

(His parents) were vegetarians, non-smokers and teetotalers and wore a special kind of underclothes.

Great lines!

After spending much time lately on heavier topics (and we're not likely done there), I thought I'd offer a little enjoyable reading today by offering a few of my favorite literary lines. I invite you to post any of yours, as well, along with some explanation if you wish.

I'm thinking fiction primarily (and relatively short – 2-5 lines – preferably), but if you have something non-fiction you'd like to add, feel free. I'm also thinking of excerpts that use sparkling or intriguing language moreso than literature espousing dogma.

It would go without saying, for those of you who've read much of what I've written here, that Wendell Berry would probably top my list on quotable authors, as well as Mark Twain. I'll forgo them here as I already have quoted them a good bit. Suffice to say, go out and read all the Berry and Twain you can get.

How about if we begin instead with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein? While generally thought of as merely a horror novel, at least to those who haven't read it, it is pure poetry:

My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy, and when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred, it did not endure the violence of the change without torture such as you cannot even imagine.

The Creature

Are you mad, my friend?" said he; "or whither does your senseless curiosity lead you? Would you also create for yourself and the world a demoniacal enemy? Peace, peace! learn my miseries, and do not seek to increase your own.

Victor Frankenstein to Captain Walden

Another favorite of mine is A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean, a recent novel that overflows with beautiful phrasing (and has been made in to a movie that does a respectable job of staying true to the language and story). Enjoy:

In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing...

The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters...

My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things–trout as well as eternal salvation–come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy...

Another author that those who haven't read may fail to realize their art is A.A. Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh). Observe:

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.

Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.

Nice, huh?

I could do this all day, but I'll let you all carry it on if you choose. I'll close with one more. How about a little of Melville's Moby-Dick, since most of my quotes have had a watery theme?

God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature he creates.

He pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were married... Thus, then, in our hearts' honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg - a cosy, loving pair. [with apologies to those who find men laying together a touchy topic – dan]

There are some strange summer mornings in the country, when he who is but a sojourner from the city shall early walk forth into the fields, and be wonder-smitten with the trance-like aspect of the green and golden world.

Your turn!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Why I Believe...

This may be a little long and disjointed, hopefully not too much so.

On a recent loooonnng series of responses to a blog entry of mine (Twofer Tuesday, below), the question was raised about the logic of believing in Christianity or the Bible. You can make the case that, since God is not “provable,” that why would you believe something on faith alone. And, some said, answering, “Because the Bible says so,” can just lead to a round of circular thinking.

True on both counts, I’d say.

And yet I do believe. I believe in God and I believe in the teachings of Jesus.

But why?

Well, like most others, I reckon I believe because it makes sense to me.

While I think the idea of ID (intelligent design) as a science is a crock, as a logical notion, it makes sense to me. I look around and see a beautiful and complex world and it seems reasonable to me that it took a creator and some planning to create it.

Can I test that in a lab? No, not really. But neither can scientific folk create something out of nothing in a lab.

As I said, it makes sense to me, poor simple mind that I have. Don’t want to believe? That’s okay with me.

But if you accept the notion that a creation took a creator, then that only gets us as far as a Creator God, not Christianity. So why would I believe Christianity specifically?

And I’d answer again, because it makes sense to me.

Oh sure, at one point in my life when I believed in a fire and brimstone hell and that I had to do something to get saved from it, I believed in Christianity because it had been taught to me and I knew naught else.

But I know more now. I know about the failures of The Church and about other teachers and their failures. And Jesus’ teachings still make sense to me.

Jesus – along with many others – taught us the Golden Rule, to “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you,” and the logic and glory of that astounds me (again, keeping in mind my poor feeble brain and limited logic).

I think I appreciate it because it’s a consistent logic. In other words, if everyone lived that way, it would work just fine (more on the reality that everyone doesn’t live that way in a minute).

Other reasoning suggests that “Might makes Right,” or “Do unto others before they do unto you…” and the problem with that sort of philosophy is that, if everyone lived by it, the world would be a hellish place. To the degree that the world is a hellish place, I’d suggest it’s because many people do live by that sort of logic.

A logic that can’t be consistently applied seems to me to be a faulty logic. “It’s okay for us to bomb their civilians because we must do so to save lives, but it’s terrorism if they bomb our civilians for whatever reason!”

But Jesus, it seems to me, teaches us another way. A consistent way.

Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemies.

It makes a certain elegant sense to me.

But, what of the fact that we don’t live in a world where everyone follows the Golden Rule? Well, it still seems to me that the logic is consistent and to abandon that logic would be to abandon logic.

I’ll love my enemies even if they don’t treat me well. As Paul followed up on Jesus teachings by saying, “By so doing, you will be pouring burning coals upon their heads,” indicating to me not vengeance (“Ha! You’re mean to me, well…take this! I’ll be nice to you and then you’ll suffer!”) but the workable reality of fallen human nature.

“A soft answer turns away wrath,” the book of Proverbs teaches us. It’s hard to be hateful to someone who only treats you with kindness my own life teaches me. Again, there’s a certain elegant logic to the thinking.

So, maybe I’ve turned away the wrath of some mean-spirited people, but what about the really evil people who are determined to hurt you no matter what?

The Bible doesn’t teach us – nor does my reality teach me – that there are two types of people: Really evil people and regular people. There’s just people.

All of our poor fallen selves who sometimes, God help us, do mean stuff and sometimes even commit evil actions. I’m not denying the reality of evil – dropping bombs on children is evil, running an airplane in to a building is evil – I’m saying that there aren’t monsters in the world. Only people.

That’s what I learn from the Jesus of the Bible on at least one topic (albeit The Big One). That, and that it still makes sense to return evil with good nonetheless. Because if not, then what do we have? A dog-eat-dog world, the strongest meanest dude wins? That makes no sense.

At least to me. Maybe I’m wrong. I’m fallible and it’s quite possible.

But we all believe something, don’t we? We have our logic and reasoning and sometimes that logic is consistent and sometimes it isn’t and we just do the best we can with our own poor minds and sometimes mean-as-a-hornet attitudes.

And so, I believe because it makes sense. At least to me.

Trabue House Gate

Trabue House Gate
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

Monday, January 9, 2006

Peacemaking News

I've just received a bit of news that looks interesting. I haven't had a chance to check it out further, but here's at least one study that acknowledges the wisdom of peacemaking.

"It is not surprising that most people believe global violence is increasing. However, most people, including many leading policymakers and scholars, are wrong. The reality is that, since the end of the Cold War, armed conflict and nearly all other forms of political violence have decreased. The world is far more peaceful than it was."
- Andrew Mack, director of the Human Security Center at the University of British Columbia and former UN official, describing how worldwide peacemaking efforts - despite some major failures - have been broadly and quietly successful.

A major study by the Rand Corp. published this year found that U.N. peace-building operations had a two-thirds success rate. They were also surprisingly cost-effective. In fact, the United Nations spends less running 17 peace operations around the world for an entire year than the United States spends in Iraq in a single month. What the United Nations calls "peacemaking" -- using diplomacy to end wars -- has been even more successful. About half of all the peace agreements negotiated between 1946 and 2003 have been signed since the end of the Cold War.

a link to a Washington Post story:

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Twofer Tuesday

As I've had several discussion this last year on Jesus as he relates to US policies - many of these discussions having been with conservative religious folk - the question has crossed my mind:

Are there any policies that the Christian Right advocate for that have a basis in Jesus' actual teachings?

I know that this sounds like a provocative question and it's only partially meant to be. Partially, I'm genuinely interested. With all the effort being spent in opposition to gay marriage, welfare and abortion, and all the advocacy on behalf of this war, on behalf of big businesses, stern interrogation methods, etc...ALL of which I find either absent from Jesus' teachings or actively opposed by Jesus' teachings, I'm genuinely interested if the Religious Right feels that Jesus' words back up any of their positions.

And this is not to say that I think Christian thought ought to be the final arbiter in US politics - I don't (although I do think that Jesus' teachings ought to be Christians' final word).

Nor is it to say that I think I can find backing from Jesus for all my positions - I can't (Jesus, while seeming to love the environment, may not have spoke any on environmental policy, at least that I can think of off the top of my head).

It's just an honest question, if anyone's interested in biting.

Ever the Twain shall we read...

I'm in the process of finishing up a book by Thomas Sowell, “Conflict of Visions,” in which this conservative fella explains the difference between those with Constrained and Unconstrained visions. Sowell claims that this division is roughly the division between Right and Left, respectively.

I'll report on that more later. One comment I have now is that Sowell quotes William Godwin, John Dewey and Justice Earl Warren as speakers for the Unconstrained/Left. One of my initial thoughts was that no one I know on the left lists these folk as role models or advocates of our positions. My question to the gent
(Koby) who suggested I read it was, “Where are the folk that I would identify as speaking for the Left, philosophically?”

"Where were Thoreau, Emerson, Wendell Berry, MLK, Mark Twain?" I asked.

To which Koby asked, “Twain? Thoreau? Emerson? Speakers for the left? How so?”

And so I offer a small sampling of what they didn't teach us in school about Mark Twain. It's a great way to start the year.

Mark Twain on capitalism

Who are the oppressors? The few: the king, the capitalist and a handful of other overseers and superintendents. Who are the oppressed? The many: the nations of the earth; the valuable personages; the workers; they that make the bread that the soft-handed and idle eat.

...on vivisection

I am not interested to know whether vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or doesn't.... The pain which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity toward it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further.

...on revolution

I am said to be a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolute.

...on laborers

When all the bricklayers, and all the machinists, and all the miners, and blacksmiths, and printers, and hod-carriers, and stevedores, and house-painters, and brakemen, and engineers, and conductors, and factory hands, and horse-car drivers, and all the shop-girls, and all the sewing-women, and all the telegraph operators; in a word all the myriads of toilers in whom is slumbering the reality of that thing which you call Power ... when these rise, call the vast spectacle by any deluding name that will please your ear, but the fact remains a Nation has risen.

...on the US

But it was impossible to save the Great Republic. She was rotten to the heart. Lust of conquest had long ago done its work; trampling upon the helpless abroad had taught her, by a natural process, to endure with apathy the like at home; multitudes who had applauded the crushing of other people's liberties, lived to suffer for their mistake in their own persons. The government was irrevocably in the hands of the prodigiously rich and their hangers-on; the suffrage was become a mere machine, which they used as they chose. There was no principle but commercialism, no patriotism but of the pocket.

I could go on and on. Twain is one of our great writers, which everyone knows. But he was also one of our great philosophers, seems to me. A fact that I think has gotten lost (or hidden?).

Trees Against the Sky

Christmas Day Trees
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.