Thursday, February 28, 2008

Why is Africa different than the Middle East

I just read a fascinating article about George Bush and his recent trip to Africa. It was written by Bob Geldof who is hardly a supporter of the Bush administration, yet he displays a certain amount of admiration for his work in Africa. This article was revealing because it shows just much his success in Africa is blunted by his overall failings in other areas. President Bush's support for Africa is unrivaled by any standard yet he gets very little credit for bringing hope to a very dim continent. Instead, he will always be measured for using military force in the middle east in response to September 11th. It's too bad because Bush deserves more credit for his bold successes in African policy.

In retrospect, one wonders what would have happened if he had applied the same principles he is using in Africa to the middle east. His main goal in Africa is to reduce suffering and bring hope by funding many health care and development projects. For the most part these have been successful ventures and the African people seem to appreciate our help and support. Would we have more support in the middle east if we had taken that same approach instead of going to war?

Now I write this as one of the last few supporters of going to war in Iraq. I thought it was the right thing back then and I still support finishing our work there. But I am beginning to wonder if there isn't a missing component of compassion for this part of the world. Would our money be better spent investing in humanitarian activities instead of militarily? This approach would seem to help buttress America's image and influence in that region but more importantly it would reveal a broader respect for humanity that Bush has already demonstrated in Africa.

Some improvements are already happening in many parts of Iraq such as rebuilding the health care and education systems. I suspect this is one reason we are making political progress over the last couple months But more can be done and I am hopeful President Bush will apply the lessons he is learning in Africa to the conflict in the middle east.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

it aint fare, I like jim class

I just read a very interesting article about the Albuquerque school system. The school system wants to limit the electives for students who are failing in the major subject areas and instead require them to take remedial classes. As you might imagine, many of these students are upset at this action and so they decided to send letters to the editor in protest. However, it appears their letter writing campaign may have backfired. Apparently, many of the letters were full of spelling and grammatical errors which only highlighted the very real need for remedial classes. If their writing skills and disrespect for the English language weren't so sad the irony would be very amusing.

Unfortunately, this story illustrates a broader problem in many of our schools. We simply have a lot of kids who are failing and ill prepared from lack of smarts, motivation, expectations or some combination thereof. Personally, I applaud the Albuquerque schools for taking a stand and hope they follow through on their requirements. I hope these students appreciate the school's efforts to give them at least one more opportunity to learn the basics. Without that academic baseline, these same kids will be left without a lot of options as they compete for jobs in the real world. A world where nobody cares if they got an A in choir or home economics but instead whether they can read and write.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Givng a Ride

Last summer a friend of mine asked me if I could give her boyfriend Paul a ride to work. He works on Sunday morning and the buses do not start running until later in the morning. When I agreed to do it, I thought it would only be one time but when I realized that he had a need every week I decided to offer him a ride on a weekly basis.

So for the past several months Paul and I spend every Sunday morning together for about 15 minutes as we ride across town to his job. He and I are very different people, he is a huge science fiction fan which I am not. I think I've learned more about alternative universes and supernatural powers than I knew was even possible. Occasionally we even stray into some personal aspect of our lives and those are the times that I enjoy him most. He has a lot of stories to share about himself growing up although I have begun to hear a couple stories being recycled. I get a sense that there are not many other people in his life who will take the time to listen to his stories so I am happy to do it. Underneath our dissimilar interests I have discovered that I enjoy Paul's company and that would have never been possible without spending time with him each week.

I share my experience to highlight how easy it is to invest in other people. In the past, I was always searching for ways to make a difference when opportunities were staring me right in the face. Giving Paul a ride is a simple task despite having to get up early on Sunday morning. Yet it allows him to keep the hours at his job and pay his bills. Lately, I have also been giving rides to other people as they call me. Using my car to help people has really changed my perspective on owning a car. Instead of complaining about how loud it is or what's wrong with it, I now view it as a blessing and responsibility.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

So who is Brian McLaren

I have been reading a book called a Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren. It's the second book I have read by him and I am really enjoying it. I first heard of him a couple years ago and at the time I was skeptical because he likes to challenge the established evangelical church's view of the world. In fact, many consider him the moral prophet of the "emerging church" because of his unorthodox views.

Basically his writing is designed to spur on those Christians who are stuck in their faith by challenging their view of what it means to be a Christian. Instead of rules and teachings defining faith, he focuses on what exactly it means to have a relationship with Jesus. It's refreshing if not dangerous to shed Jesus from the confines of what we think we know and reexamine what a relationship with Jesus really looks like. Do I passionately love Jesus above all other things or is it more a relationship of convenience similar to many of my human relationships? Do I follow his example or do I choose the comfortable, acceptable life that is often embraced by the church? Why do I believe so strongly that my view of Jesus is superior to other peoples views? Am I more interested in church or more interested in Jesus?

While I sometimes find myself disagreeing with him or getting frustrated that I have to answer these questions, he offers a fresh view of faith in Jesus and I like that. After reading him, I began to check out what others thought of him and was surprised just how divisive a figure he was. Some people appreciate him like I do, while others are highly critical of his writings. I find the gap between these impressions fascinating if not a little sad. They reveal a growing division within the church between those who are frustrated with the current church and their current faith and those are fearful that he is watering down traditional Christian teaching.

McLaren's writings are not for the weak of faith. I would encourage reading him but be prepared to be challenged. You may be surprised by just how much you agree with him.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The View From My Window

I took this picture the other day from my window at work. I hate the snow but it sure does make the city prettier.

Lessons Learned from the Romney Campaign

With Romney's recent departure from the race we learned a few key points about political campaigns.

1. Money matters but not if it comes mostly from the candidate. Romney spent a lot of his money on the race and in fact outspent McCain in numerous states but still did not win. Why? Because despite raising a significant amount of cash a large portion came from his own wealth. It may be jealousy but most people don't like rich people trying to "buy the election". Michigan saw the same thing last year with Dick Devos. But more than jealousy I think it hurts the candidate's ability to relate to the middle class voter who doesn't believe the candidate understands their economic anxiety. For example, what does Mitt Romney know about struggling to pay a mortgage? Self funded campaigns also reveal an inability to get everyday citizens to buy into their campaign via writing a check. The amount of money matters less than the number of actual voters who are willing to commit to the candidate. That commitment is what keeps the campaign momentum going when times get tough not the money.

2. You have to be genuine because people can spot a phony. I wrote last summer that Romney should have run as a moderate pragmatic governor instead of a far right diehard. Anybody paying attention could tell he wasn't being genuine during most of the campaign. He may very well be conservative in his private life but his prior campaigns and public experience suggested he wasn't a conservative. What his experience did suggest was that he was smart, competent and accomplished. Unfortunately, these qualities got lost in the nonsense and double speak that plagued his campaign. Whether the issue was abortion or gay rights or even hunting, none of what he said seemed to add up to what he had done before running for President. The irony is that he if he had run as a moderate he would have taken all the winner take all Northeast states on Super Tuesday instead of McCain and would probably have the delegate lead. But by the time those primaries rolled around the people in the Northeast didn't recognize the former Governor from their backyard.

3. If you are going to be a momentum candidate you need to win either Iowa or New Hampshire but not both. Like it or not both these states matter a lot. Just look at the last two standing as they are the winners in these two states. You can't get people excited about coming in second place in both states. However you can tank in one state as long as you win the other one. The results also suggest that smart candidates figure out which state fits best and spend most of their time there. They have incredibly different electorates and a good candidate should be able to appeal to one or the other. For Huckabee it was Iowa and for McCain it was New Hampshire. Romney should have given up Iowa and focused solely on NH. Trying to win both set him up for failure and he never recovered.

4. Religion still plays an important role in Republican politics. One of many reasons Romney lost in Iowa and in the south on super Tuesday was because of his religion. Fundamentalist Christians were never going to support a Mormon candidate no matter how conservative he said he was. And secular voters weren't all that comfortable either. I know firsthand several people whose sole reason for voting against him was his faith. Call it prejudice if you want but to get elected you have to be from a denomination that mainstream Christians feel comfortable with.

5. Talk Radio endorsements are not effective. Rush Limbaugh has a huge audience as does Sean Hannity. Others have smaller but no less committed listenership. Yet when they all endorsed Mitt Romney in a last ditch attempt to derail John McCain, it didn't work. Romney is out of the race less than two weeks after their endorsements. The reason is that the people who listen to talk radio were already voting for Romney without their endorsements. They were essentially preaching to the choir and not attracting new converts. And while the talk radio crowd is big, it is only a small portion of even the conservative Republican electorate. To win the primary Romney needed to expand this narrow base and talk radio endorsements did not help him at all. Unless the person can give you access to a voting segment you can't reach on your own, the endorsement is only as good as the news cycle in which it was announced.