Monday, October 27, 2008

Terrorist fist bump [Bryan]

I put this up, not only because it's really cute. It is further proof that Obama is a Marxist! Notice in his hand is a copy of the Wall Street Journal. This, of course, is standard reading material of all Marxists. What better way to overthrow the bourgeois system than to read its most important publication. Plus, Marxists always wrap their copy of Das Kapital under the WSJ in order to look respectable, you see.

It is obvious from this photo, then, that Obama is an atheistic socialist. Or was it that he was a militant religious Islamist? Or was it that he was a white-hating black nationalist? I get so confused.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Wow, the world IS coming to an end! [Bryan]

I never thought I would see the day. Via the Salt Lake Tribune:
For the first time in memory, Brigham Young University is boasting as many College Democrats as College Republicans. About 1,200 students have signed up for each of the activist groups sponsored by the Political Science Department.

In September, the Democrats had 700 students, but within the first few weeks of classes, membership had nearly doubled at the private school owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Barack Obama is inspiring a lot of youth, and a lot [of the growth] has to do with the last eight years and people being vastly disappointed," said Randal Serr, a senior in political science and president of the club. Serr, a senior in political science and president of the club, says Barack Obama's candidacy has boosted membership.

The club also has started getting more politically involved this year. Each weekend, a couple dozen BYU students load into cars and caravan to nearby battleground states such as Colorado and Nevada. They also write opinion articles for local newspapers, staff booths in the student union and participate in service projects.

They've come a long way from just 15 years ago, when the club had seven members, Serr said.

A conversation I just overheard [Bryan]

Ellie: A cat burglar is a burglar who is really good at sneaking into places.

Nora: I'm scared of burglars.

Ellie: There is no reason to be scared. Burglars usually break into places with lots of gold or jewels. They want to steal things that are really valuable and we don't have any of that.

Nora: [Pauses for a moment, then says with a worried look] But we have candy!

Friday, October 24, 2008

It's the end of the world as we know it [Bryan]

Now it's time for some pessimism. Things are looking really bad in the global economy today. Really bad. Trading on the S & P 500 futures on the Chicago Board of Trade was halted due to losses. In Asia, Market losses were about 10%. Last I saw, market losses in Europe were about 9%. Alan Greenspan said recently that his faith in the ability of banks and markets to manage risk was misguided -- quite an admission! The NYSE is promising to remain open today, which by itself is an unnerving thing to have to say.

In other news, global warming is proceeding quite nicely. A recent report noted that the "rate of ice melt this August was 33,000 square miles per day, the fastest that anyone has ever recorded for the month." Things are melting faster than anyone predicted or imagined.

Yikes! Time for some REM:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wow, Just Wow [Bryan]

There is something special in the air.

Barry Obama just raised $150 million in September. That is more than double the biggest month any candidate for president has ever had. Now, it would be one thing if this was all from big money contributors -- it would be certainly less interesting, and perhaps even troubling if it came from only the ranks of the rich and powerful. But, the average donation was just $86 dollars. 3.1 million people have now contributed to the Obama campaign. This really is the people's campaign.

In other news, Colin Powell today endorsed Obama saying:
On the Obama side, I watched Mr. Obama and I watched him during this seven-week period. And he displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge and an approach to looking at problems like this and picking a vice president that, I think, is ready to be president on day one. And also, in not just jumping in and changing every day, but showing intellectual vigor. I think that he has a, a definitive way of doing business that would serve us well.....And I come to the conclusion that because of his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities--and we have to take that into account--as well as his substance--he has both style and substance--he has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president. I think he is a transformational figure. He is a new generation coming into the world--onto the world stage, onto the American stage, and for that reason I'll be voting for Senator Barack Obama.

The Chicago Tribune, a paper that has never endorsed a Democrat, just endorsed Obama, saying:
Many Americans say they're uneasy about Obama. He's pretty new to them.

We can provide some assurance. We have known Obama since he entered politics a dozen years ago. We have watched him, worked with him, argued with him as he rose from an effective state senator to an inspiring U.S. senator to the Democratic Party's nominee for president.
We have tremendous confidence in his intellectual rigor, his moral compass and his ability to make sound, thoughtful, careful decisions. He is ready.
The Houston Chronicle, which hasn't supported a Democrat since LBJ, just endorsed Obama saying:
Obama appears to possess the tools to confront our myriad and daunting problems. He's thoughtful and analytical. He has met his opponents' attacks with calm and reasoned responses. Viewers of the debates saw a poised, well-prepared plausible president with well-articulated positions on the bread-and-butter issues that poll after poll indicate are the true concerns of voters. While Arizona Sen. John McCain and his running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin have struck an increasingly personal and negative tone in their speeches, Obama has continued to talk about issues of substance.
Christopher Buckley, son of William F. Buckley, the father of American conservatism endorsed Obama this week:

As for Senator Obama: He has exhibited throughout a “first-class temperament,” pace Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s famous comment about FDR....I’ve read Obama’s books, and they are first-rate. He is that rara avis, the politician who writes his own books. Imagine. He is also a lefty. I am not. I am a small-government conservative who clings tenaciously and old-fashionedly to the idea that one ought to have balanced budgets....But having a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect, President Obama will (I pray, secularly) surely understand that traditional left-politics aren’t going to get us out of this pit we’ve dug for ourselves.

Obama has in him—I think, despite his sometimes airy-fairy “We are the people we have been waiting for” silly rhetoric—the potential to be a good, perhaps even great leader. He is, it seems clear enough, what the historical moment seems to be calling for.

Obama had 100,000 people at the rally yesterday in St. Louis, pictured above.

Powell's endorsement:

Blogging the Wasteland II [Bryan]


AFTER the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and place and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience

Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mudcracked houses

Bryan Comments: Thus begins my favorite section of the Wasteland, "Section V: What The Thunder Said." Obviously, we have a reference to the Crucifixion here: "the agony in stony places," "prison and palace and reverberation," "the frosty silence in the gardens," and so forth. After the agony, we are presented with travelers on a path. The poem at this point captures the emptiness of their despair by using the image of dryness. The sweat is dry and the path is sandy. There are rocks that cannot "spit" and dry thunder "without rain." There is, we are told, "not even silence in these mountains" (one of my favorite lines). The land itself seems to thirst for refreshment, for life.

If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
And water
A spring
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water

Bryan comments: Here we enter the minds of the travelers, who see the dryness, feels their thirst, and wish for something different. It is as if the travelers start to see a cool pool of water. They can almost hear the water dripping and the birds singing. "But," back to reality they remind themselves that "there is no water."

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
- But who is that on the other side of you?

Bryan comments: Suddenly, there is the realization of a mysterious stranger on the road. The stranger does not appear suddenly, but has been "always walking beside you." The identity of the stranger is kept hidden -- he (or she) is hooded, wrapped in the brown mantle. The presence of the stranger is difficult to verify. When we count, we can only seem to count the two of us. Yet there is always a third, walking with us. Is the stranger an illusion, like the water? Or do we have the promise of the stranger, a friend, who helps us walk the Wasteland? The parallels to the famous Road to Emmaus story in the Bible are fairly clear here: Hopeless travelers walking on a road after a tragedy encounter the disguised Jesus who offers salvation.

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London

Bryan comments: At this point, Eliot resumes his critique of the "unreal city" that he began in the first section. London, as with all other great cities, will fall to the sound of "maternal lamentation" (again, a reference to the Crucifixion). Instead of one hooded stranger walking always beside us, we now have hooded minions mindlessly swarming over the dry, cracked land. Are these hordes a hopeful promise that such friends are everywhere? Not really: the description of these people as "swarming hordes" makes them seem undesirable, like insects. Are these people distractions, then, from the real hooded companion who walks always beside us? Is it an admission that the true "friend" will be difficult to recognize? Is Eliot offering us hope in a hooded stranger, but then admitting that truth (and true friendship) will be difficult to recognize? Yes, I think so. Section V is a picture of hope permeated by doubt; true companionship, and salvation in such friendship, is available, but it is hard to recognize through the smog of the unreal city.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

That one is a comedian [Bryan]

On a much less serious note, here is some very funny stuff:

I hear McCain was also really funny. I'll put that up once I find it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What I Can't Say [Ellie]

Bryan wonders why I don’t blog more. He thinks if I enjoy writing (and I do) I should want to write all the time. Here’s my dilemma: so many things that I think about a lot I can’t write about. A big part of my church job, Relief Society President, is maintaining confidentiality. I can’t tell my husband, and I certainly can’t publish my observations in a forum where anybody could read them.

So Bryan’s challenge to me was to write about what that feels like. What it’s like to be full of things I can’t say.

It feels. . .heavy. Sometimes I come away from a conversation so filled with the burden of another person’s sadness that I can’t think of anything else. I go through the motions of my life—making dinner, caring for my children, chatting with friends, laying in bed at night—worrying over how to help that person or solve that problem. I become distracted and distant without meaning to. I wish I could conjure a quick fix, for both of us.

It feels. . .daunting. I list all the families I know with troubles in my prayers every night and I’m astonished by the sheer number of them. The idea that I have some stewardship over so many people’s well-being, and that they are not all being well, makes me feel overwhelmed and powerless. The idea that many more are suffering and we’re not helping them because we don’t know to help is painful. I look at my to-do list from my meetings and feel paralyzed by all the musts and ought-to’s I see there. I wish all problems could be solved by a casserole.

It feels. . .lonely. I’m learning so much about human nature—my own and others’—that I find fascinating. There’s so little of it I can share without revealing too much. I feel like I have to edit my words. Other times I feel things are expected of me that are beyond what I have to give. I know that I sometimes disappoint people who expect more of someone in my position. I wish I were more than just me.

It feels. . .frustrating. I think of the many different ways I have seen help offered and
refused. I think of people who choose to sink deeper into their own unhappiness, even when others around them are trying hard to pull them out of it. I think of service rendered, time and time again, with no visible effects. I wish I could say: Happiness is very simple. You just have to stop doing what you’re doing to make yourself unhappy and choose happiness instead!

But it also feels. . .encouraging. Seeing the women around me serving each other, usually without fanfare or recognition, helps me know that the burden isn’t mine alone. So many women are so generous with their time, their love, their resources. I’m amazed by women’s abilities to transcend life’s petty concerns and see into each other’s hearts.

And it is. . .fulfilling. I feel a sense of purpose in serving others. I feel myself having to grow to meet new challenges. I feel myself being drawn out of my own petty concerns and into a bigger, more meaningful life.

If I can’t say what exactly I’m doing, at least I can say that it’s worthwhile. And that’s not nothing.

Friday, October 10, 2008

My sunburn and democratic theory [Bryan]

Went to a big Obama rally in Columbus today. Waited in the sun for about five hours for the thing to start. Got a sunburn.

The rally itself was okay. By far, the best part about it was the people watching. In my professional work, I do quite a bit of reading and teaching about democratic theory -- stuff about how we can overcome our differences and manage to work together on common projects. The rally was the most visible instantiation of this democratic ideal that I have witnessed. Seemingly every type of person was there: white and black; blue-collar workers and professionals; young and old; lesbians and church groups; urbanites and Appalachian Ohioans; pacifists and veterans (and pacifist veterans); Orthodox Jews and not a few Utah-born Mormons! It was a veritable cornucopia of people coming together in common purpose. It was a hopeful scene in the face of a very bad national situation.

Here we are, 10,000 strong Obama fans, waiting in line.

I passed the time taking pictures of cute children...

...and police snipers.

Governor Strickland and Senator Brown.

And there he is (drop the teleprompter Barack!)

Some video

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Ohio: Exploring the Old Attic [Bryan]

Living in Ohio is like exploring an old attic. There isn't anything flashy here, but there are all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies. Last month, we headed up to northeast Ohio with my Mom and Dad.

Here we are at Brandywine Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Hiking with Grandma.

Brandywine Falls

Fairport Harbor, OH. An interesting little lake town. Once upon a time, this place was apparently the Ellis Island of the Great Lakes, where many immigrants disembarked.

Playing with Grandpa at Fairport Harbor Beach.

We stopped in Kirtland, of course.

Just outside of Cleveland there is a little town called Chagrin Falls. It is both hip and traditional somehow, and right in the middle of town roars a big waterfall.

Coming clean about my connection to Bill Ayers [Bryan]

There is much talk these days about who was friends with whom, for how long ago, and for what purposes. I guess I should come clean that I, too, have had some friendly encounters with Bill Ayers.

A few years ago (2004 maybe), I was a teaching assistant at the University of Illinois. In our Foundations of Education class, we were using a book by Greg Michie called Holler If You Hear Me, which details the author's experience teaching in inner-city schools. The book advances the thesis that we can learn a lot about education by listening to the kids in our schools. The book had an approving foreword written by Bill Ayers, formerly of the Weather Underground (a group that planted some non-lethal bombs back in the 1960s) and currently an education professor at the UI Chicago campus. Since he was so close, we invited Ayers to come down to Champaign to talk about his ideas about education. He came and gave a fairly boring talk about education -- something about making sure students have an equal shot, treating them with dignity, and so forth. What is interesting is how forgettable it actually was -- standard progressive boilerplate reform rhetoric.

After his talk, we teaching assistants talked with Ayers for about an hour. He was friendly and generous with his time, if at times a bit gloomy. If I remember correctly, he mostly criticized how schools are presented in the media. I think I remember that he hates the movie "Stand and Deliver" because the movie seems to imply that the problem with schools is that teachers aren't willing to work themselves to death. It was an interesting conversation, although none of it would be considered radical. Although I found his lecture a bit boring, I left with a mildly positive impression of the guy, even though I certainly disagree with his choice 40 years ago to oppose the Vietnam War in the way that he did.

It now occurs to me, though, that some people would claim that I "pal around with domestic terrorists." I have never thought that talking to people from various backgrounds and beliefs could be a liability, but I guess that is the way things are in some circles. There go my chances at being elected to anything.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The life and times of Sarah Palin -- updated [Bryan]

Like many people, I've been fascinated by the candidacy of Governor Sarah Palin. Here is what I've found most interesting lately. Go check out the videos of Palin's gubernatorial debates a few years ago (here, for example, and here). Notice that there is hardly any of that "folksy" sort of persona we've seen so much of lately. No winks, no "you betchas," no "doggone its," and so forth. When did Palin decide she had to be Mrs. Diner Waitress? And why did she think this act would appeal to people? Do we really want a VP who winks during debates? Now, granted, President Bush acted folksy, and it seemed to work for him -- but this is a caricature of folksy.

Update: I guess what I'm trying to say is this: People say Palin is "authentic" and "real," but to me the opposite seems to be the case. From the "maverick" talk to the "bridge to nowhere," she seems like a big act. Ironically, the only real moment of authenticity in the Thursday debate for me came from Joe Biden as he spoke about losing his wife and being a single dad.

Friday, October 03, 2008

A corpse to stand on [Bryan]

OCTOBER 28, 1916

In trenches by Les Boeufs. This part of the line is the worst in which I have been. All the land has been churned up by shell explosions, and for many days the weather has been wet. It is not possible to dig more than a foot without coming to water. The soil is more like thick slime than mud. When walking, one sinks several inches, and because of the suction it is difficult to withdraw one's feet. Men who are standing still or sitting down get embedded in the slime and cannot extricate themselves. As the trenches are so shallow, men have to stay where they are all day, and then we have to spend most of the night digging and pulling them out. The only way to do this is to put duck boards on either side of a man and then work at one leg, digging, poking, and pulling until the suction is relieved. Then a strong pull by three or four men will get one leg out, and work can begin on the other. Going to and from Battalion Headquarters, one hears men who got stuck calling out for help that often cannot be sent to them. All the time the [Germans] drop shells promiscuously. He who has a corpse to stand or sit on is lucky.

From the World War I diaries of Captain Alexaruler Stewart (as published in Somme: The Experiences of a Very Unimportant Officer)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Best videos of the 80s [Bryan]

$700 Billion? [Bryan]

So, I've immersed myself in reading about the $700 bailout of our banking system. And I've firmly concluded that...I have no idea what to do. I think I've found, though, that most people I've talked to are not describing the bailout accurately. It is not just giving money to banks, it is buying banks assets of unknown worth. It is not the case that these assets are worthless, so the $700 billion price tag isn't quite what it seems. In fact, from what I've read, there is a good chance the taxpayers will turn a profit on this rather than losing the money. Given that we are buying assets, the question becomes, how can we best manage those assets? This gives me another chance to talk about....Barack Obama. Here is his view of this asset management problem:

The rescue plan now includes those four principles. It also includes a proposal I made yesterday morning to expand federal deposit insurance for families and small businesses across America who have invested their money in our banks. This will boost small businesses, make our banking system more secure, and help restore confidence by reassuring families that their money is safe....

I know many Americans are wondering what happens next. Passing this bill will not be the end of our work to strengthen our economy – it’s just the beginning of a long, hard road ahead. So let me tell you exactly how I’ll move forward as President.

From the moment I take office, my top priority will be to do everything I can to make sure that your tax dollars are protected. I will demand a full review of this financial rescue plan to make sure that it is working for you. If you – the American taxpayer – are not getting your money back, then we will change how this program is being managed. If need be, we will send new legislation to Congress to make sure that taxpayers are protected in line with the principles that I have put forward. You should expect nothing less from Washington.

If we do have losses, I’ve proposed a Financial Stability Fee on the financial services industry so Wall Street foots the bill – not the American taxpayer. And as I modernize the financial system to create new rules of the road to prevent another crisis, we will continue this fee to build up a reserve so that if this happens again, it will be the money contributed by banks that’s put at risk.

This will only work if there is real enforcement and real accountability. And that starts with presidential leadership. So let me be very clear: when I am President, financial institutions will do their part and pay their share, and American taxpayers will never again have to put their money on the line to pay for the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street. That’s a pledge that I’ll make to you today, and it’s one that I’ll keep as President of the United States.

Anybody want to chime in on this? Obama's idea is to pass the bill, carefully manage the assets in various ways to work to taxpayer advantage, and regulate and build up a reserve to prevent future disasters. Vague, yes, but does this seem like a sensible approach?