Sunday, September 28, 2008

McCain-Obama Debate: Quite Agreeable

Just got back from watching the first McCain-Obama debate on a friend's huge-screen HDTV. It started about an hour before Shabbat on Friday, so that was all I really heard of the two-hour event. I was in my pre-Shabbos cooking mode, frantically hoping all my oven-items would emerge before candle-lighting time, while listening on radio.

Hearing the debate added to my stress.

I entered our day of rest quite unsettled by the interchange I heard. It sounded to me, amid stove-timer beeps and last-minute phone calls and chopping and pan-rattling that Obama sounded knowledgeable and presidential--more than I'd expected. But I was willing to withhold judgment until I saw the guys onscreen, complete with body language and facial expressions.

Well, tonight I saw them up close in multi-pixel'd intimacy. I was in the company of others--two women, four men, who occasionally commented. But I was by far the most distressed and affected by the debate, sometimes unable to hold back from telling the faces on the screen, "You just said that!" or worse.

Talking points were obvious. Obama again hammered that the troubles of Wall Street must be addressed on Main Street by giving people all sorts of goodies. He knows the hot-buttons: high gas prices, mortgage pinch, envy of the eeeeevil CEOs and especially corporations. And he gets a double whammy by slamming the oil companies.

McCain started by echoing Obama's use of Main Street--a mistake, I thought--but then got to his own agenda, emphasizing his role in creating a bail-out package that both Democrats and Republicans can support. McCain repeated "the point is..." throughout his answers, as if to remind himself to stay on track, but neither guy, in my view, provided more than platitudes in their responses to solving the economic crisis. Obama kept blaming poor Bush for everything, and McCain smartly turned that around to imply Obama's whining and obsession with the past rather than initiative for the future.

Here's an example from Obama's response to how to deal with the financial crisis:

"The question, I think, that we have to ask ourselves is, how did we get into this situation in the first place? Two years ago, I warned that, because of the subprime lending mess, because of the lax regulation, that we were potentially going to have a problem and tried to stop some of the abuses in mortgages that were taking place at the time.
Last year, I wrote to the secretary of the Treasury to make sure that he understood the magnitude of this problem and to call on him to bring all the stakeholders together to try to deal with it."

Obama's implying he was important and involved in these issues for a long time, and a beacon of sanity "warning" people at that. Wow, the Secretary of the Treasury was stupid not to listen to the prophetic instruction of Barack Obama when he wrote last year!

Of course, McCain aces Obama in experience and involvement at every turn. And he didn't hesitate to mention it. Perhaps his best talking point recalled his long-time opposition to earmarks, noting Obama's support for them at the rate of "a million dollars for each day he's been in the Senate." Score.

Or, Spar--because Obama tried to make light of McCain's disdain for special funding. "Now, 18 billion is important, 300 billion is really important. And in his tax plan, you would have CEOs of Fortune 500 companies getting an average of $700,000 in reduced taxes, while leaving 100 million Americans out."

Those eeevil CEOs! Just because they earned that money is no reason they should KEEP it! Why, they should have to FIRE the cook and three gardeners and chauffeur! THAT will help the economy!

Both candidates want to make more jobs for people, and it appears both want to do it the same way. Obama: "What I do is I close corporate loopholes, stop providing tax cuts to corporations that are shipping jobs overseas so that we're giving tax breaks to companies that are investing here in the United States."

McCain: "Now, if you're a business person, and you can locate any place in the world, then, obviously, if you go to the country where it's 11 percent tax versus 35 percent, you're going to be able to create jobs, increase your business, make more investment, et cetera. I want to cut that business tax. I want to cut it so that businesses will remain in -- in the United States of America and create jobs."

In fact, Obama said "You're right," or "I agree with John" about ten times. The two agreed on energy, both wanting alternative fuels and nuclear plants. They agreed, amazingly, that more troops need to be sent to Afghanistan (how are Obama supporters going to whitewash THAT?) They both say they'll look at each budget line, or veto bills to prevent "pork" in the budget. They quibbled interminably but ultimately agreed that a president doesn't sit down with bad guys unconditionally, or without having diplomatic underlings do a lot of "preparation" work first. They both want to tread carefully with Pakistan, and they both wear bracelets they received from tearful mothers of veterans. They both want to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and they both strongly opposed Russian aggression into Georgia.

So, where was the debate? McCain accused Obama of desiring to add billions in spending on new programs; Obama accused McCain of wanting to give CEOs and corporations millions in tax breaks. McCain emphasized his experience; Obama tried to tie his opponent (unsuccessfully, I thought) to Bush, and blame the "last 8 years" for the nation's financial woes and a muck in Iraq.

Bottom line: they both looked rather nervous, neither was spectacularly articulate, and most viewers probably enjoyed a snooze during the second half. But who won? Obama, thankfully, came across as a moderate with a social twist--not the big reformer. He never mentioned either the words "change" or "hope."

McCain kept referring to his meetings with world leaders, his being on the scene for previous wars, his shaping of legislation over decades. He was clearly the better prepared to be president, and so I think he came out ahead.
But neither guy has the warmth of Clinton. I'll be interested to see the Palin-Biden debate Thursday.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Preparing for the Jewish New Year

Next Monday night is the first night of Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the New Year 5769. Some say the dating began when Adam ha Rishon (Adam the first man) was fully created; some say the clock started ticking when Adam spoke. Nobody I know who's Jewish thinks the world began just six days (as we know them) before that--and I've been taking a fascinating class on the classic Jewish scholar known as Ramban or Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman Gerondi, 1194-1270) who describes biblical creation in surprising and complex detail. In fact, one of his points is that when God made the world, on the fourth "day" (whatever its length), He embedded seeds in the world that only sprouted and became plants once there was rain and somebody there to use/eat them. Interesting, eh?

In any case, I'm trying to prepare for the occasion next Monday night when we'll be judged and get our year's prescription by listening to cassettes by Rabbi Akiva Tatz (I have the complete set of his lectures up to three years ago--hundreds and hundreds of tapes) on many aspects of the holiday, but alas, the more I listen, the more I realize I cannot adequately repent and repair and get in the proper frame of mind. In fact, I can't even remember all the people to whom I need to apologize, much less all the infractions and offenses I've racked up that need redressing. I'm doomed to failure, and really need to count on God's attributes of mercy (and my associates' mercy as well as lack of recollection) if I stand any chance at all to make it through the next year unscathed. Awk, life was sure easier before I became serious about Judaism!

In the meantime, it seems even Barack, Biden, McCain and Palin are getting in the spirit of the holiday. You'll love this YouTube! L'Shana Tova (Happy New Year)!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Time of "Substantial Names"

Though I was still struggling to configure this blog as the workweek closed, the coming of Shabbat turned my attention to cooking and baking in preparation. Every Friday night about 45 minutes before sundown, until three stars are visible on Saturday night (okay, here in overcast Seattle we rely on times printed in our calendar), we set aside all creative activities for family, Torah, refined dinners and lunches with friends and even, sometimes, rest.

At our Shabbat table this week, someone mentioned out-of-favor names, and my daughter, with a snicker, brought up my mother's siblings. My mother was the youngest child in a family that proudly traced its roots all the way back to the Mayflower, a distinction that allows my current membership in the Daughers of the American Revolution.

My grandparents, Charles and Mary Irene, sired ten children, though lost one (Benjamin Cecil) in infancy (1897) and another, Elton Leon, (born ca. 1904) later, perhaps to influenza. Eight survived to become my aunts and uncles. Some were born in Vinton, Iowa, a stop made by the family as it moved from the homestead in Linville, VA, (and a structure still standing, that I have visited) to Los Angeles in the early years of the twentieth century. My mother was the third child born in LA.

My mom used to say that her mother believed in giving her offspring "substantial" names. Let me introduce her family to you. The photo above, taken perhaps 1935, includes from left: Nellie Winifred (Aunt Winnie, who married Uncle Norm, a developer); Clyde William (married to Aunt Carrie. They owned a chicken farm); James Wendell (received mysterious injury that left him rather strange; never married); Francis Irving (the eldest, born in 1895. Developer of the San Fernando Valley, married to Aunt Helen); my grandmother, called Irene; my mother, Genevieve Josephine; Virginia Margaret (Aunt Gee Gee, wanted to be an actress; got committed to a mental institution instead); Mary Irene Pauline (Aunt Pauline, married Uncle Walt, also in real estate); and Floyd Chadbourne (married Aunt Peggy. He too was a developer, whose grand stone cabin among the first at Lake Arrowhead was my family's yearly retreat).
Good, solid American names. Not worthy of my daughter's snicker.
My grandfather, in case you're wondering, made his fortune in Texas oil (There's a town named for him there); sale of the wells divided among his children allowed my parents to purchase their first home.
Each generation has its favored names. My name, unfortunately, identifies me with an era whose monikers are now marching into "old lady name"-hood. I pity the Kalyas and Ashleys and Emmas of today; like the Jennifers before them, they will always be linked to their parents' milieu. The good news is that names considered hopelessly ancient in my youth are coming back: Hello, Sophie! But I'm afraid Ethel and Bertha will have to wait quite awhile for their Renaissance.
Jewish parents are said to get a bolt of heavenly assistance when naming their children, as we believe one's name reflects one's essence. Ashkenazic Jews often name their children after deceased relatives whose traits they hope the newborn will emulate. Sephardic Jews also name their children for loved ones, though the honoree may still be alive. You'll find fewer ephemeral choices among traditional Jews, who ground their children in something substantial, much in the same wholesome spirit of Charles William and Mary Irene.
(FYI: Two of my children have biblical names; the snickerer's means "beautiful" in Yiddish; she is named after one of her Jewish grandmothers.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Slogging blogger haunted by HTML

If you're reading this right now, which I'm pretty sure you can see my blog has an interesting format change, one that has consumed me for the past two nights. Ever since creating my blog, I have been frustrated that the format so kindly provided by Blogspot only showed my content in a strip down the center of the screen. I'd admired blogs that lavishly used the entire screen width available, and longed to have the tech savvy to make the look of my blog more individualized and professional.

Finally, I asked a fellow blogger who hosts just such an expansively attractive site to help me. I'd already played with all the menu toys Blogspot offers but no tab said "make blog fatter" or even "fill up the screen width." So my friend took me for a (limited by his knowledge) foray into html.
The html jungle is filled with strange symbols, carets, dollar signs, lots of semi-colons, curly enclosures and a few recognizable words. That have strange meanings. Wrapper is not what your groceries come in. Padding is not what you end up with after a month of gluttony. "Startside" and "endside" are not the before-and-after of a political campaign. Nor are they at the "start" or the "end." They are, however, at the "side."
Now you know why I've had time for little else.

In my quest to get the background box from which my posts bleed to actually encompass the entirety of my posts, I have spent many an hour reading. The help button for Blogspot led me to many time-leaching sites, and the blogosphere is filled with an interesting plethora of pleas. (How someone got away with repeatedly posting a screaming all-caps ad for "BANGLAORE ESCORTS FEMALE ESCORTS IN BANGLAORE CALL GIRLS..." in the Google Blogger Help website is, however, beyond me.) But mostly there were questions like mine, with answers by programming stars who each had their own followings and websites and awards. It's a fascinating world, down in the darkened cellar of computer-dom. I nearly said "windowless cellar," but I suppose a majority of these programming moles do use Microsoft.

Unfortunately, even after scrolling through 300 desperate posts asking for help, I never found exactly my dilemma. Lots of people, however, seem to have the same aim as I do--to expand their blogs to fill the width of the screen. I spent time reading html tutorials, trying to extrapolate how to apply these plumping suggestions to the box behind my posts. I learned that "em" is better to use than "px," and why (just ask me!), and that one must be extremely cautious to insert semi-colons and spaces just so or risk a common complaint seen in the Google Bloggers' queries: "Help! I lost my blog!"

Made me rather grateful that mine's still here, even with the awkward-looking background border ending three-fourths of the way through my text. I'm hoping that maybe by tomorrow, if help comes through, I'll have a broad blog with big box.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Microsofties' Elaborate Game a Substitute for Religion?

Given that the last few days we've had actual warm, sunny weather here in the Northwest, I felt compelled to soak some Vitamin D (touted to prevent cancer, after all) on a lounger in my backyard while leisurely reading the Sunday paper.

I got completely engrossed in an article in our Seattle Times' Pacific Northwest magazine describing an elaborate annual scavenger hunt for techy geniuses that some intense Microsofties staged between 1995 and 2002--which finally concluded in tragedy.

The ultimate version of "The Game," as it was called, cost forty thousand dollars to stage, and brought participants literally to the edge (of precipices), titillating them with dangerous maneuvers in remote locations and puzzling clues requiring mind-numbing calculations and the aid of powerful computers. The teams of players used "vans wired with their own power grids and stocked with laptops, GPS locators, fax/copier combos, code books for semaphores, toolboxes, cases of Red Bull, folding bikes and an occasional chainsaw," explained writer Jonathan Martin.

The premise for the two-day ordeal was an effort to save fictional CIA "renegade spy" Shelby Logan from exploding from a chip implanted in his brain that could only be defused using a device the teams were charged to find. "The Game" compelled its players to "scuba dive, rock climb, sing karaoke with a drag queen and fire automatic weapons. They would decode the Declaration of Independence inside a prison and befriend a white rat namned Templeton, whose shivering little body carried a message." The "invitation" to play came in the form of a kidnapping so realistic one participant called the police, and the locations included the crowded Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas and deserted mine shafts, where The Game's final mistake was made.

When you read the article, you might have thoughts similar to mine: "What kind of guys consider this scary pressure fun?" Or, "It's way too complex for me; trying to figure this out would be frustrating." Or the one I most considered, "What kind of lives do these guys lead to have the time/priority for this?"

First off, the article didn't say how many of the players were women, but I'd guess very few. Competitiveness is hard-wired into guys, a by-product of the testosterone saturating their cells. There's no prize awarded the winners; no charity for which they labor--just "bragging rights." And, the article noted, organizers "attacked Game planning like Microsoft goes after its competition." There's the magic word.

Now, I can see how devising such a project would be fun. But it became an obsession that beside the $40K, required "hundreds of hours, on 10 weekend trips to Vegas and nearly a year of Tuesday-night meetings" that culminated at "Game central" in a Las Vegas hotel. The prep involved over a 275-mile distance was detailed and grandiose. Why such dedication? Why leave your family to indulge this dangerous competitive urge?

Here's the article's most revealing answer: "'Most of our days roll out as anonymously as another Honda Accord at the front of the metered "one car per green" entrance to the highway,' reads a Game manual given to players. 'Not this one...Think, do, run, feel--the devastation of failure, the ecstacy of success, the incredible click of working together as a team. For these 24 hours, you are fully alive.'"

Why, that's what my religion does. Think, do, run, feel. This is what Jewish observance requires, but in the context of a purpose that relates man to God, not just lurching for a temporary heart-thumping high. It could be, however, that we are created with this irresistible desire to think, do, run and feel in order to spur us toward more profound pursuits than a Game.

For Jews, the 613 commandments include high amounts of everything the Game offers. We think--we're commanded to "break our teeth" trying to understand the meaning, basis and connections of the Torah. We "do" in the execution of mitzvot that are demanding and exacting and yet, provide freedom to follow or not, and to discern how, why and when they apply. (e.g. we intensify our connection to times of year by linking them with characteristics exemplified by their holidays).

We run. Okay, we dance. We dance with the Torah on Simchat Torah; we dance fervently at weddings and happy occasions. And as far as running--we're taught to "run to do a mitzvah," ie don't delay in following commandments, whether it is to visit the sick, provide hospitality, give to the needy.

Finally, we feel--with great intensity. We're actually commanded to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your resources" in the seminal Jewish prayer, the "Shma." We are to be happy in the month of Adar and especially the festival of Purim (celebrating events in the book of Esther); we are to cry on Tisha b'Av, and mourn for three weeks before. "The season of our rejoicing" comes as we build and then sit in a succa outside at the beginning of fall; on the opposite side of the calendar, we mourn the deaths of 24,000 Torah scholars in the weeks after Passover.

In fact, the most noticeable impact of Torah observance is just that--observance of everything in one's environment; of everything NOT in one's environment, expanding to the mystical and theoretical. When, half awake, you stumble into the bathroom at 3 am and suddenly must remember whether it's Shabbat or not (and thus cannot tear off toilet paper and must use the pre-torn pieces in a basket nearby), you're forced to be more aware. When you have to say a blessing over your food that relates to what it is you're about to munch, you're forced to consider the source of that morsel (from the ground? From a tree? Made of wheat?).

When you're Jewish, no days "roll out as anonymously as another Honda Accord at the front of the metered 'one car per green' entrance to the highway." In fact, the analogy of "being on the derech," or the Jewish path, is eerily similar to the metered freeway that symbolizes deadness to afficionados of The Game. The difference is that their road leads to excitement with no payoff. Ours leads beyond the face of the earth. The players of The Game have "the devastation of failure, the ecstacy of success, the incredible click of working together as a team." For these 24 hours, their endeavor promises, they are fully alive.

We too have the devastation of failure (Viduy on Yom Kippur), the ecstacy of success (reliving the freedom of Passover), the incredible click of working together as a team (innumerable moments of "ahavat Yisroyal," especially on Shavuot and Yom haAtzmaut). For me, that's a major attraction of Judaism: For the rest of your life, you are fully alive.
BTW, the final "Game" in 1992 left player Bob Lord blind and "a C3 quadriplegic, able to type with just one pinkie, but with no control below his chest," paralyzed when he fell down an abandoned mine shaft. His wife, Jacque, sued five of the Game creators, a two week court trial eventually settled for $10.6 million, which I suppose is but small consolation to the couples' three young children.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

One Response to 9-11

It's obligatory to comment on the seventh anniversary of 9-11, a day that cannot be forgotten by anyone who lived through it, as it changed the world as we knew it.

Like the Kennedy assassination in 1963, becoming aware of the terrorist attack on our own soil was a moment so imbued with emotion and adrenaline that it becomes frozen in consciousness. We each have our own stories, but I want to share one aspect of mine.

Because we live in the Northwest--i.e. on the west coast--we were not yet up, and certainly not tied into the news when the attack occurred, so we were shocked when we received a phone call from a family member living in Jerusalem. We do not have a television, but listening to the events unfold via radio commentators was terrifying--an experience we shared with everyone else in our nation. (I consider myself fortunate to be spared those searing images.)

After I heard the awful descriptions, it was my job to awaken my 9-year-old son for school. I came to his bedside, and in the protective way each mother intuits, gently spoke: "Something terrible has happened to our country." I told him that evil people--terrorists--had attacked New York and Washington DC. My son sensed my controlled distress, hugged me and we cried together.

But then came the issue of how to respond. The Jewish approach is to look inward, to see hugely negative events not only as an expression of evil on the part of the perpetrators, but as an indicator of our own failures. The need then is to come closer to God. "What should I do?" my son asked, as we both felt helpless.

"Take on a new mitzvah," I told him. "Wear tzit-tzit." My son had resisted wearing the traditional four-cornered undershirt that Jewish men wear as commanded in the bible (the fringes hanging at the corners remind them of Torah obligations). Usually little boys start wearing tzit-tzit at age three, and my son certainly had several in his drawer. But he complained, and hadn't worn them regularly--until 9-11.

Without any protest, he wore his tzit-tzit daily under his regular shirt, tucked into his pants as well as an active kid can keep them tucked in, to public school--where he was often teased when they became visible (He had always worn his kipa, the traditional head-covering, or a baseball cap). We both understood that this was a way to address the relationship between us and God; to show Him we're conscious of the cosmic impact of even small personal behaviors.

Of course, prayer was also appropriate--lots of it. And certainly support for those in a position to respond militarily to remove the physical threat. We donated to charities that aided the victims; I put a magnet on the back of my car showing an American flag with the words "God bless America." Funny, that magnet is still displayed proudly on my minivan, but the similar stickers and magnets that proliferated around that time seem to have disappeared from the other vehicles I see on the road. We say "never forget," but we've removed our symbols of solidarity as indeed, the urgency and unity of that emotional time has faded.

But beyond those responses, we could do something personal to acknowledge God's role in shaping every event. And our role in fulfilling what He wants us Jews to do.

I wish I could say that my son considers the mitzvah he undertook that day (and continued faithfully for about 5 years) to be something integral to his soul; something that connects him with that time and place, and the need to be close to God. But now that he's 16, and (since he's post-bar-mitzvah age) required to wear tzit-tzit, it's become a nag-fest to get him to wear them. He goes to a Jewish high school, where it's normal to follow Jewish law, and yet, at this time of life, being "cool"--or, more correctly--"hot" seems to trump his religiosity on that issue.

Even if I fail in motivating him to comply with that Jewish responsibility, I hope that I conveyed to my son that at times of vulnerability and anguish, we should evaluate ourselves, and approach God--as well as kick the tuchus of anyone who dares breach this greatest nation on God's green earth.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

McCain-Palin and the Gender Gap

Well, even as Sarah Palin is accused of being too feminine (high heels, nice clothes, red lipstick) and too masculine (won't stay home with her baby), the New York Times prints yet another article--in its Science section--announcing surprising findings about gender differences.

A subject to which I'm attuned, as I'm writing (admittedly with great procrastination) a book with the message that those differences are the crux of marriage.
The Times reports on a massive cross-cultural study that sought to tease out whether undeniable and often-replicated sex differences will disappear once women are liberated from traditional roles. The results must be giving feminists apoplexy, as it found that the character trait gap widens with greater lifestyle freedom. As NYT writer John Tierney puts it, "The more Venus and Mars have equal rights and similar jobs, the more their personalities seem to diverge."

He goes into a silly attempt to explain these persistent differences with the work of Bradley University psychologist David P. Schmitt, who says that stresses of agrarian societies cause men "to adapt their personalities to rules, hierarchies and gender roles more constraining than those in modern Western countries--or in clans of hunter-gatherers."

I love the next part: Schmitt apparently blames "monotheism, agriculturally based economies and the monopolization of power and resources by a few men" for distorting the "natural" divergent tendencies of the genders, and now, with glorious liberation afoot, each of us can go happily back to our respective planets. Fulfilling John Lennon's fantasy: Imagine no religion. It's a "stressor" that artificially got guys acting more like gals.

Pretty funny. But anyone's allowed to guess at explanations. The important point is that even university scientists are conceding that the "natural" tendencies of each gender are very, very different.

How does this apply to Sarah Palin? From my perspective, it allows her to enter into a "marriage" of sorts with John McCain that can bring the best of both planets together. Surely lots of Democrats agree with that, as one of the benefits of Hillary's candidacy they touted was that as a woman she'd add something new and different to the office.

But if the scientists are to be believed, the "natural" tendencies of the genders are better served with a woman as Vice President rather than POTUS. A man as VP, with his often-proven need to be competitive, might have a tough time being second-fiddle (just imagine Bill Clinton as "first guy"!). Sarah Palin seems to have little problem sharing the spotlight with Todd and her family, or introducing John McCain. It also might be that women's natural nurturing and social bridge-building inclinations helped her make major changes in Alaska's ethical and political structure and remain well-loved--skills she'd likely bring to diplomacy and negotiation across parties and with foreign nations once elected to national office.

There's always the issue that Palin boosters (and Hillary fans) want it both ways--they want a strong woman who can hold her own with men, and yet one who will let her natural feminine proclivities show through. In other words--do we want a leader indistinguishable from a man (in this competitive man's world) or a woman? Hillary, in her pantsuits with her strident demeanor, seemed to cleave to the first model; Sarah Palin, I think, exemplifies the second. Comfortable in her skin; putting herself out there as who she is, pregnant daughter and evangelical faith and all, she seems to soften the GOP ticket in a welcome way. Will I support her in eight years when she runs for POTUS? I hope I get to make that evaluation. But in the interim, just observe how many heads have turned to admire, as an attractive woman walks into view.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

McCain Victory: More than a "Fighting" Chance

As I walked out after viewing John McCain's nomination acceptance speech into the balmy Northwestern evening, with the sun still illuminating the apricot clouds on the horizon, I looked up at the row of houses just across the street, and saw, through each of their front windows, eerily identical TVs showing the same giddy delegates and reporters and pundits at the Republican National Convention.

John McCain's speech was moving, smart and well-delivered for his television aud
ience on streets just like this one across America.

The nominee punctuated his words with many wide smiles, grinning during a pause for disruptive protesters: "My dear friends, please don't be diverted by the ground noise and the static." (Only because I was with a veteran and an airline captain did I learn "ground noise and static" was a fighter pilot term.) His speech danced with highs and lows, allegro and andante, until a crescendo in which he urged listeners, "Fight with me...Fight with me...! Stand up...Stand up for each other, for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America! Stand up! Stand up and fight!..." By then the crowd was wild, jumping and waving placards and screaming, and my little group was whooping and pounding the table and applauding, all with approving laughter mixed with tears.

You felt after hearing his description of his Vietnam captivity that this was a real hero, one who admitted his early immaturity and through adversity became humble and devoted and strong, and committed to one over-riding loyalty, the freedom a
nd goodness of the United States of America. The take-away message was that he did not and will not waver on that fundamental commitment, and by extension, in delivering on his promises. Very few political speeches convey this convincingly. Certainly Barack Obama's acceptance speech did not.

Sen. McCain made some promises with which I disagree. He said, "For workers in industries that have been hard hit, we'll help make up part of the difference in wages between their old job and a temporary, lower-paid one while they receive retraining that will help them find secure new employment at a decent wage." I blanched when I heard him offer this new type of handout, which will, of course require another federal bureaucracy to
verify individuals' old salaries, enrollment in retraining, employment at "temporary, lower paid" jobs--as well as tax dollars to fund all of it. Distributing unemployment benefits is traditionally a state function, not a federal one. Administering this differential pay plan would be even more complicated, and tough to run from afar.

My other objection is to McCain's federally meddling with education down to "shaking up failed school bureaucracies" and "attracting and rewarding good teachers." School districts need to be local, responsive to their particular neighborhoods; what business does the United States government have deciding if a teacher in Kansas is as "good" as one in Maine? George Bush was wrong to insert the feds into classrooms with "No Child Left Behind," which simply imposed more paperwork and test-based curricula on teachers already struggling to tailor lessons to their students.

I understand that McCain had to address education, given the sweeping promises made by Obama--but I'd thought a Republican principle was to minimize government's reach into families' lives, not increase it.

But these are just two objections, small compared with at least fifty-two points I applaud: Thanking President Bush for keeping our nation safe. Acknowledging Obama's "achievement" without specifically mentioning race. Using Obama's "change" theme to highlight his own differences from the status quo, without dissing his opponent. Emphasizing his allegiance to citizens--"I work for you," a slogan suggesting his humility, in contrast to "The One" the Dems revere. Brilliantly reminding that he is a maverick, a reformer, one wh
o stands on principles, and a military veteran--all with the single word, "fight." He's a fighter; he invites everyone to stand up and fight with him. He fought the bad guys, in Vietnam and in Washington: "I fight for Americans. I fight for you."

And finally, I liked John McCain's speech because he was not afraid to mention God and faith. I just re-read Obama's acceptance, and aside from the expected "God bless you and God bless America" closing, there was no reference to a power higher than himself. By contrast, in praising Obama, McCain chooses to quote the Gettysburg Address and Declaration of Independence, saying, "We're dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights." And later: "I don't mind a good fight. For reasons known only to God, I've had quite a few tough ones in my life." Several paragraphs further on, he describes opportunity for all to fulfill their "God-given potential," calling Americans "all God'
s children." He described the aggression of Russia, noting, "The brave people of Georgia need our solidarity and our prayers."

There's more: When Sen. McCain spoke of his dedication to this country, he added, "and I've never lived a day, in good times or bad, that I didn't thank God for the privilege." He referred to being blessed, repeatedly; he urged service through entering the ministry. He pledged loyalty to our nation "as long as I draw breath, so help me God." And he vowed to work so that every American "has every reason to thank God, as I thank Him..." for opportunities that, with "hard work, strong faith, and a little courage" this nation affords.

Between McCain's solid experience and Palin's novelty and appeal, this is one energized, enthusiastic party. I'm eager to see the poll numbers; I think (and pray!) this campaign could be much easier to call than we might have expected. I guess we'll have to stay planted in front of our flat-screens to watch it play out.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Impact of Bristol Palin's Pregnancy

I barely got a few hours' sleep after posting my defense of Sarah Palin as Vice President and mother, when I hear the news that she will add GRANDmother to her resume. Her daughter Bristol, 17, five months pregnant, will have what used to be called a "shotgun wedding." The Palins' announcement said they're "proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents."

I wouldn't have phrased it that way. I looked at the almost 200 comments on CNN's website following the breaking story, and needless to say, they're scathing (and probably from McCain foes, anyway). It doesn't say much for the Palins' parenting that her daughter and boyfriend not only couldn't wait but couldn't effectively use birth control. "Abstinence Only" sex ed looks pretty lame. The power of religious faith as a determinant of behavior also fails. I think the announcement hurts the ticket.

Some people could say it "humanizes" the goody-two-shoes VP nominee. She was already human when she was coping with a Down Syndrome baby and not her daughter's baby, too. There are lots of families where a teen gets pregnant and proceeds through the pregnancy. Not too many where the 17-year-old marries the dad rather than putting the child up for adoption. It's not just the pregnancy that's the problem, it's the forced teenage marriage, even if Bristol IS madly in love with Levi. The Palins aren't just "becoming grandparents," which is indeed a source of pride for most families--they're becoming grandparents of a child born three months or less after their high-school daughter's marriage. They'll have to give their consent for their child to wed.

Ronald Reagan had a similar situation, with Patty born 7 1/2 months arfter he married Nancy, but neither bride nor groom were still in high school. It's true that having babies out of wedlock has lost its stigma, and that in some locales remaining a virgin in high school is considered hopelessly geeky, but we're not talking about just any family here--we're talking about the one John McCain picked to place in the limelight and applaud.

I'm still enthused about Sarah Palin, and I think her daughter's pregnancy is not a deal-breaker and will fade in the public's mind in the next few weeks. The good news is that Bristol won't give birth until after the election, and in the meantime, she'll quietly...grow. Or maybe NOT quietly; she may choose to campaign for her mom with her new husband by her side, and perhaps that's an even better option.

Because the message that "when life hands you lemons you make lemonade" adds to Sarah Palin's "we'll face it and stand up to it" straightforwardness, which is perhaps her most ingratiating feature. She's a hunter, a runner, fearless fighter of corruption and now, a grandmom. All nice adjectives but the key in this campaign will be her ability to stand up to the press's grillings in knowledge and quick-thinking wisdom. That may be a far bigger challenge.

Palin as both Mom and VP: A Conflict?

I was reading the comments to fellow blogger Ruth Anne Adams' post of the photo of Sarah Palin juggling blackberry and baby, Costco wipes nearby(below). Ruth Anne lauded the "Costco Conservative's" multi-tasking expertise. It's a VP pick I heartily endorse--and that, in fact, energizes not only my excitement for the ticket, but the hopes and chances of the entire Republican party.

But the comments expressed severe reservations--objections, in fact--to Gov. Palin's willingness to run for Vice President while the mother of a Down Syndrome infant just four months old, her son Trig. It appeared the moms who wrote in, one with a DS child herself, felt the VP campaign and position conflict
ed too much with Palin's primary responsibility, mothering her baby.

While I honor those women who choose to make motherhood their primary time commitment, I respectfully disagree that Sarah Palin's vice presidency will automatically mean Trig gets short shrift. In fact, the photo that triggered the disparaging comments, from McCain daughter Meghan's blog, didn't show Gov. Palin with cell phone and blackberry and laptop--no, it was moments after the
announcement of her candidacy and there she was--holding Trig snugly close to hear body, near a recognizable pack of Costco wipes. In the exciting moments immediately after addressing the nation, Sarah Palin's first instinct was to reach for her babe. She's no neglectful mom.

I recall with fondness and nostalgia the late puppeteer and educator Shari Lewis, (Hush Puppy, Lamb Chop) who I was honored to call a friend. She took my husband and myself on a tour of her home once, and proudly showed off her photos with her daughter's brownie troop. She was doing her national TV show at the time, as well as speaking and writing books, but she had been the one to organize and lead the troop. "It's always the busiest mom who you can count on to get things done," she commented.

I suspect Sarah Palin is one of those "busiest moms" who gets the most done. She's a physical fitness buff, and keeping in shape alone adds endurance and mental acuity. She raised her four older children successfully while climbing the political ladder in Alaska. And importantly, she has an egalitarian marriage, where her husband is comfortable staying available and nurturing--in his obviously macho way--as a complement to the kids' clearly involved mom. This is a lady who started her leadership through the PTA, through support of her children's educational welfare, not with the plan of a political career. I daresay that the officers of the PTA who I've known spend just as many hours dedicatd to the welfare of others as any Vice President does, only with less national recognition.

What I like about Sarah Palin is that she's direct and natural. She's as comfortable with that blackberry as she is holding Trig close to her heart. She's a lady who embraces opportunities and challenges just as she embraces her children, and that includes her son with Down Syndrome. While I cannot speak
for parents of Down children, I know that each child requires special nurturing in his or her own way. With a dad on the scene and caring auxiliary help, which the Palins surely have--not to mention the devotion of siblings who clearly adore their baby brother--there's no reason why Trig cannot thrive. As Sarah Palin said the moment she gave birth and gazed at her new son four months ago: "He's perfect." And it's that attitude that treasures and expands on God's gifts that makes Sarah Palin so appealing as our next Vice President.