Kicking Myself in a Dark Gymnasium

Friday, December 12, 2008

Lately I've run into enough former students to remind myself I’ve been teaching for 38 years (counting back to my first volunteer assignments while still at UCLA). I reckon some 2000 students have passed through my classes, some of whom are now well entrenched in middle age. I always enjoy seeing or hearing from them.

I'd already been thinking of a blog series on some of those former students when one showed up today to dance for an assembly. Rene Jaramillo began competitive pow wow dancing several years before he showed up in '77 for some junior high history. Native American dancing is still his passion, one he shares with his wife and daughter. Between getting my current class seated and the beginning of the performance, Rene and I had a moment to renew our acquaintance and ask about mutual friends.

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I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera, when I remembered a function on my cell phone that I haven’t even played with after a year of carrying it around. In the low light, Rene’s fast dancing gets totally lost, but the stills are recognizable, if not quite satisfactory.

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As I begin this occasional series on former students, Rene represents my 7th grade World History class of ’77-’78, and the 8th grade U.S. History class of ’78-’79, my first full time job. We also enjoyed some great recess basketball. Rene currently works at a Sports Chalet and has danced for audiences across the U.S. and Europe. Next time, I’ll try and have a camera that can catch the action.

Two October Weddings (twice father-of-the-groom)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

If I seem to be on a jag about weddings, credit my children. Three have gotten married since last Christmas and a fourth is planning nuptials in April. In October alone, we held two CA weddings, seven thousand miles apart. If raising five children has taught me that no two siblings are alike, this year has taught me the same about weddings. For Timothy and Danielle’s wedding, CA stood for zip codes: 92870, 93907, and 93291, one for the wedding and one each for home town receptions for the bride and groom. Three weeks later, for Lucien and Angie’s wedding, CA stood for flights: Air China 984 and 1509, thirteen hours from Los Angeles to Beijing and another two hours from Beijing to Hangzhou. Then we drove most of two hours to Jinhua.


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For Timothy and Danielle, the wedding rehearsal began about an hour late because the principals were stuck in Angels/Red Sox playoff traffic. (I never did hear who won.) After practicing the ceremony through once (and some parts twice), the party moved a few blocks for an Italian dinner. Rehearsals are not part of modern weddings in China, where ceremony is minimal and planning takes a back seat to spontaneity. But we did gather for lunch with the same participants who would have been invited to an American-style wedding-rehearsal dinner. We ate Chinese. (Well, that’s where we were!)

Invitations to Timothy and Danielle’s wedding suggested that guests (and perhaps especially the father-of-the-groom) not bring cameras, trusting that official photographer Shannon Leith would provide all the pictures anyone could desire. A nice selection of engagement and wedding photos are available at Shannon’s site. Invitations to Lucien and Angie’s wedding circulated via Facebook. There was no official photographer, and most of the pictures were snapped by the father-of-the-groom.

Even though Timothy (a very talented tailor) designed and made Danielle’s dress, they still followed the American tradition in which the groom does not see the bride on the wedding day until she walks down the isle.

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Photo by Shannon Leith

Lucien and Angie broke a Chinese tradition that the wedding couple should be the first to arrive at the location where they would together greet the guests. This wedding couple arrived alongside the early guests and organized the decorating committee. Then they slipped away to dress.

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Later, your photographer and the groom’s mother just happened to be present when Lucien appeared to escort his bride back to their shindig.

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At Timothy and Danielle’s Episcopal wedding, Father David of Blessed Sacrament officiated, while Timothy’s good friend Rabi Kevin canted a call-to-worship and blessings in Hebrew.

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Photo by Shannon Leith

Most Chinese weddings have no officiate, only a master-of-ceremonies. Lucien and Angie went one better. Angie served as her own MC. The languages were Chinese and English.

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For Lucien and Angie, the primary expression of the bride’s ethnicity was the Korean groom’s trousseau, a gift from the bride’s grandparents. For Timothy and Danielle, it was Kransekake.

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Photo by Shannon Leith

This Norwegian wedding cake is made from finely ground almonds, formed into a series of ever-smaller rings. The new couple (and some older couples) take one ring in their mouths, biting from opposite sides in a maneuver that requires proximity and coordination.

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Photos by Shannon Leith

Then there was dancing, elegant and fun to watch.

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Lucien and Angie also had a cake cutting followed by dancing. In this video, see if you can spot any differences. (For elegant dancing, watch for Angie’s 80-year-old grandparents.) Lucien may have started a new wedding tradition for the Chinese, bonfire jumping to his Uncle Forrest’s mandolin picking.

In the end, both weddings provided wonderful parties and great memories. We also come out of October with two delightful new daughters-in-law and . . . (just what is the correct English term for ones children’s’ in-laws? . . . in-laws-once-removed?) . . . friends-with-children-in-common.

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Photo by Shannon Leith

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Photographer yet to be identified

I think I have this straight:
Most expensive single item for Timothy and Danielle’s wedding: The Photographer
Most expensive single item for Lucien and Angie’s wedding: The Fireworks

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A Covenant of Marriage

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I've had weddings on my mind. Not only have three of my own children married within ten months (two just in October . . . more on this when I've gotten my life back together), but I had a long conversation about marriage with a seatmate on my flight from Beijing to Hangzhou, and my own state, California, is litigating a proposition over the very definition of marriage.

Yesterday I attended a beautiful wedding. I have known the bride almost from her birth, and watched her grow until we were colleagues, teaching at the same school.


Photo by David Taylor

Melinda did okay, but the groom choked up, the pastor choked up, the father-of-the-bride choked up, and I choked up as well. Yeah, I admit it: I could do a wedding like this every few weeks, and probably cry at most of them. Few things in life are as monumental as the beginning of a lifetime of marriage.

As part of the ceremony, Bob and Melinda did something I have read about, but never seen done. Publicly, they signed two documents. One was the marriage certificate to satisfy the State of California. At most weddings, the license gets signed in a side office, before or after the ceremony, and often with no more formality than the signing of an automobile lease.

But an automobile lease has a withdrawal clause. For a specified period of time after the signing, the buyer can back out. Increasingly, Americans have become a people looking for ways to back out of inconvenient commitments. My seatmate from Beijing to Hangzhou was a New York based lawyer working for Chinese companies who do business with America. Apparently, until recently, such lawyers were unknown in China, but so many Chinese suppliers have been stiffed by their American buyers (read: all the big chains we Americans buy from) that American-trained lawyers are now de rigueur for Chinese who do business with us. Our reputation precedes us. Our word is no longer good enough. We’ve demonstrated that where a loophole can’t be found, a strong-arm will do.

Unfortunately, our general disregard for contractual obligations has colored our ideas about marriage. No-fault divorce negates any and all vows made on the wedding day. They become, in the words of Daniel Webster, “a rope of sand,” not capable of binding anything. Yet marriage grows best in an environment of mutually-acknowledged permanence. On the one hand, knowing a marriage is forever encourages both parties to give it their best, while on the other, it allows each the freedom to relax and grow.

So Bob and Melinda elevated the signing of the marriage certificate, making it a centerpiece of the ceremony, performed in front of their closest 250 family and friends. That I had seen once before, at my oldest son's wedding in Brazil. But then Bob and Melinda went a step further. They publicly signed a second document, stating that while California may allow no-fault divorce, Bob and Melinda each renounce the right to that option. Each has given up the right to contact a divorce lawyer, or even the kind of pastor who would counsel in favor of a divorce.

My lawyer seatmate was in a quandary about marrying his girlfriend. They have lived together for four years, broken up and returned to each other twice, and now find themselves unexpectedly expecting. At the same time he was excited about the baby, he wasn’t sure that he was ready for the commitment of marriage and parenthood. I’m afraid we are a nation of lawyers, still looking for escape clauses when long ago we should have committed ourselves to making good on our promises. Instead of looking for new ways to define words that have held constant for centuries, we should protect those words and hand them unscathed to our children.

So when Bob and Melinda signed their Covenant of Marriage, I teared up. It was a beautiful moment, a burning of bridges, and the creation of something truly sacred.

And for Bob and Melinda, I pray a long and satisfying life together.

For Shawn and his girl friend, I pray they would have the courage to go for the gold.
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A favorite tree (and a college) are singed but spared: the Westmont fire

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Westmont College website has photographs of damage from the fire that raced through campus last Thursday evening. Few colleges offer the kind of beauty that Westmont does, nestled in the oak-covered hills of Montecito. I first visited Westmont when my daughter Aileen was a high school student trying to settle on a university. She did not submit a backup application to any other institution.

The downside of that beauty is a vulnerability to the windswept flames that almost yearly burn somewhere in Southern California. This fire approached from the woods north of campus and cut through Clark Residence Halls (a collection of 17 separate buildings: Aileen roomed there 1995-97). It took some parts of Clark and spared others. Then it descended through the center of campus by way of the wooded strips that make Westmont so distinctive. Flames destroyed math and physics buildings that had already been marked for demolition, the psychology building, and over a dozen faculty homes, but no one was hurt.

I last visited the Westmont campus in December. Aileen and Eduardo held their wedding in Santa Barbara and we used Westmont as a backdrop for their wedding photographs. We took most of our pictures in the formal gardens that stretch downhill from Kerrwood Hall.

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The gardens mostly survived, though the fire took the woods in the right side of this view. Aileen also wanted pictures outside the small white chapel that is flanked on both sides by oak groves, and then a playful series with Aileen and Eduardo playing peek-a-boo around the trunk of a nearby giant.
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The Westmont website pictures show that while the groves on both sides are cinders, the chapel still stands, and the peek-a-boo tree looks scorched, but alive. In fact, that’s a pretty good summary of the 47 photos in the series: Westmont is scorched but alive.

Benjamin Franklin in China

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Flying into Hangzhou, I was fascinated by the pattern created by apartment buildings lining the streets and canals, separated by wide fields of carefully striped fields of vegetables. I don't think I have seen anything like it in all my travels, though I was being a good boy and didn't power up my camera during landing.

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Once on the ground, I was even more impressed with a style of architecture seen throughout the suburbs. The buildings that form the hedges around these gardens are four or five stories tall with a square footprint, and stairs rather than elevators (there's a reason these people are all slim). Many of these buildings are topped off with ornate metal towers, some a series of techno-looking spheres, others resembling the Eiffel Tower, or the adornments on a Russian Orthodox Church. At first I thought they might be antennas or even merely decorative. But the week before my trip, I had been discussing Benjamin Franklin and his inventions with my 8th grade students.

I happened to be riding with a high-level executive of a building-materials company.
"What is the purpose of those tall towers?" I asked.
The answer: "For protection from lightning."

Franklin has been one of my heroes since I read his biography in third grade. I can testify that his work is still pretty popular in Hangzhou, as well.

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Wolfspider Afloat

Cleaning out the swimming pool just now, I spotted this lady atop an oak twig.

I'm assuming she's a Geolycosa sp., just based on her size (big), but if someone knows better, please correct me. This time of year, I see many of these drowned in the pool, or collected in the filter. I managed to role the twig over once maneuvering for this shot, so she's just come out of the water, ready for a wet t-shirt contest.
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Posted by Brian at 5:42 PM 0 comments  


It is housekeeping day here at Capers, having been out of town for four out of the last five weekends and a full half of the weekends since my last post (Aug. 28). I have not gone ten postless weeks for lack of something to say. These were the ten final weeks of the most interesting (albeit frustrating) election of my lifetime. As theater I give it five stars. The same ten weeks also saw an economic ("collapse?" "adjustment?" Choose one.) that I have been expecting since the late 1970s.

However, in August I began a new and strenuous teaching assignment. There’s something about teaching middle school, having to be constantly up for a straight eight hours, that leads to collapse when the kids go home. It’s hard to get much done in the evenings, even to grade papers. I’m also studying for an upcoming exit exam for my master’s program. Then, in October, I married off two of my sons. One of those weddings took us to China for seven days. (More on the weddings when I can sit here a little longer.)

So today I am tidying up. Wednesday I removed the McCain/Palin and “Vote Pro-Life” posters from my front yard. Vandals had relieved me of some of my task. I understand a local high school teacher gave extra credit points as a bounty for students to bring in the campaign posters of those on the Left’s blacklist. Had I done the same for my side, I would have been suspended without pay. What are we teaching our children?

Today, I am taking down the McCain poster (I never had time to change it to McCain Palin after the convention) that I’ve had in my sidebar since the California primary (where it replaced the Huckabee poster I hung up in January). It’s part of making my transition from McCain Partisan to Obama’s Loyal Opposition. He will be my president, and I want him to be successful. A failure for any president is also a failure for the whole country. I am committed to speak ill only of his policies, and not his person. I am committed to representing him in the best light possible to my middle school students. I am committed to pray that God will grant him wisdom and stamina. However, where he has made unfortunate promises to interest groups, I will pray that he has the fortitude to stand up to them and explain that their desires are not in the best interests of the country.

I must admit, I am only a short way into the grieving process. Obama’s election has been bitter for me to accept. Every vote I have cast since 1980 has been animated by my opposition to legalized abortion. Yet this election moves America’s most extreme pro-abortion voting record from the Senate to the White House. I fear the incremental Pro-life gains accomplished in 28 years and in all 50 states will be entirely lost even before the next mid-term elections. Obama has promised to do just that. I fear the coming Supreme Court will deliver disaster upon disaster throughout the rest of my life. Conditions will require a whole new level of commitment from those of us in the Pro-Life Movement. And yet, our own internal ethic refuses to allow us the kind of reactions displayed now by those who stole my lawn signs and who will seek once again to overturn a clear vote by the people. Somehow, when the same left-leaning voters who gave Obama a 60.9% statewide majority also vote to join the unanimous chorus of all 30 states whose citizens have ever voted on a definition of marriage, those in the streets try to insist that it is the majority which is out step with the mainstream. Go figure.

So I am mowing the lawn, sweeping out the pool, sorting the laundry, and getting ready to cull from among the 700 photographs I took in China.

If you watch carefully, a few of the keepers might even show up here

The Faith of Barack Obama, a review

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Faith of Barack Obama
By Stephen Mansfield
192 pages
Thomas Nelson (August 5, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1595552502
List Price $19.99

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“And you know something is happening
but you don't know what it is
do you, Mr. Jones?” Bob Dylan (1965)

When Bob Dylan first sang “Ballad of a Thin Man,” I was fourteen and attending a Methodist church in California, not unlike the Methodist church sixteen-year-old Hillary Rodham was attending in Chicago. Barack Obama was four, growing up with an atheist single-mother in Hawaii. During the years I spent at UCLA and Hillary divided between Wellesley and Yale, Obama lived in Indonesia, attending the mosque with his folk-Muslim step-father. So, by all odds, which of the three should be the Democratic nominee for president tonight?

Win or lose in November, Barack Obama has already become the most interesting biography of 2008, and (more-so than for the great majority of politicians) it is a faith-centered biography. I will admit, Obama’s faith provides me with a Mr. Jones moment, but though I may not like it, I want very much to understand it. When publisher Thomas Nelson offered free copies to bloggers who would read and review the book, I jumped at the opportunity.

With The Faith of Barack Obama, Stephen Mansfield has given us a quick introduction to the man, his faith, and the religious contexts of American politics in 2008. It is 30 pages shorter than the similar book he wrote about the faith of George W. Bush, but that book came after Bush had already served one term as president. This book made it into print during the short interval between the end of the primary season and this month’s convention. For that reason it sometimes reads like a long magazine article. Mansfield bases his study on Obama’s books and speeches; interviews with Obama staff, associates, and academics who have studied the senator; and published articles about Obama. But apparently Mansfield never had an opportunity to sit down with the candidate. As such, the book complements but does not replace such events as the interview at Saddleback Church, which occurred too late to be included in the book.

A look at Mansfield’s other work suggests he was much more at home writing about Bush than Obama, but he does a remarkable job of setting aside his personal preferences and doing justice to the Democratic candidate. He takes the time to address blogosphere myths and deflate them. The faith of Barack Obama is Christian, not Muslim. Mansfield argues it was never even sufficiently Muslim that any Muslim could now argue that Obama was an apostate. While I accept his argument on that, it is worth noting that in most of the Muslim world, having once been registered as a Muslim, it is illegal to change a registration and become Christian in the eyes of the law. In the unlikely event that Obama returned to take up residence in Indonesia, he would not be able to reregister as a Christian. However, what is more disturbing to an Evangelical like myself (and Mansfield simply lays out the facts, without making any judgment) is that Obama’s faith journey has brought him to universalism, a belief that while he has chosen Christianity for himself, other paths work just as well for other people. What did not come out of the Saddleback interview, where (to a Christian audience) Obama gave an Evangelical explanation of his personal salvation, is that he is just as comfortable with a Muslim or Buddhist explanation for someone else.

Mansfield gives considerable attention to Obama’s relationship to Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., and to the larger currents of Afro-American theology as they’ve developed over the last forty years. Again, Mansfield lays out the facts without judgment, and that theology is no more twisted than an equivalent slice of White God-and-County Evangelicalism, but there is much to make me grimace there, as well. If this is God’s corrective, then my reaction is not unlike the prophet Habakkuk, who when he complained that God was standing idle in the face of egregious Hebrew sin was sent reeling by God’s answer that He was preparing to bring the Babylonians against Israel. The ways of God are not the ways of man.

A shorter section of the book attempts to define the currents in contemporary American Christianity by identifying one each with Obama, Hillary, John McCain, and George Bush (I would have thought to use Mike Huckabee). This section is interesting, but less convincing. For Obama, the salient point it develops is that the Democratic candidate sees government as an agent of God, capable of implementing God’s righteous on earth. For the Democratic Party—which for thirty years has seemed to consider God an enemy—this may be a major innovation. In a previous post, I noted how Obama reminds me of Woodrow Wilson, who likewise saw government as a civil Christianity. I believe much good came out of Wilson’s administration, but also much that we would live to regret. Perhaps that can be said of any administration, short of Christ’s millennial reign.

I sensed Mansfield’s concluding chapter drifting. I suspect I would have done the same. For one thing, we are still so much in the thick of the moment. For another, any Evangelical trying to look at Obama without being judgmental must expend enormous energy sitting on his own hands.

America has made a cottage industry of dissecting the religious faiths of Dead White Presidents. Mansfield is breaking welcome ground with an attempt to describe the living faith of an American who might be our next leader. I will not vote for Obama, but I now understand him better. There is much about him to respect, as well as much to make me think he is the oncoming Babylonian judgment of God. Only a small portion of that feeling comes from reading Mansfield’s book, but it’s a portion I’m glad I have.

Previous Post: Ruminations of Ingrid, Berlin, and Obama

Ruminations on Ingrid, Berlin, and Obama

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

For me, a frantic August is approaching its close (after a thirteen year hiatus I am back to teaching 8th grade U.S. History), but I am still chewing over two sets of images from July.

The first set grew out of the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt and for a glimmer of hope that Colombia’s forty-year civil war might soon come to a peaceful end. By coincidence, at the moment news hit the streets of the Colombian Army’s audacious scam on Betancourt’s FARC captors, my Colombian-born son was back in Bogotá, the first visit there by any member of my family for the same thirteen-years mentioned above. My son had taken his girlfriend to Colombia, and to a mountaintop overlooking Bogotá, to propose marriage. (She accepted!)

On the night my son was born, just as the obstetrician made the decision to deliver the baby by cesarean, an ambulance rushed in with a senator who had lost much of his face to an assassination attempt. While medical personnel turned their attention to the senator*, my wife waited on a gurney somewhere in the inner sanctum of the hospital and I roamed halls full of live TV reporting. An angry crowd filled the parking lot, shouting imprecations against the perpetrators. I spent the wee hours of the morning pondering what the future might hold for my son, for Colombia, and for a world polarized (at that time) into free democracies and Marxist totalitarian regimes. That the wounded senator was also a leader of the Colombian Communist Party did not override the human bond. I wrote a note of sympathy and handed it to the senator’s wife. In my mind, we were all in this together.

The second set of images centers around Barack Obama’s speech in front of Berlin’s Tiergarten Siegessäule, and the 200,000 Berliners who turned out to provide him with rock star adulation.

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The Siegessäule, or “Victory Column,”
surrounded by scaffolding during my
second trip to Berlin, in 1976.

All by themselves, Berlin and the Tiergarten bring back powerful personal memories. In 1972, I made my first trip to Berlin, then a divided city. On a foggy October night, I walked several miles along the western side of the Wall, suddenly coming upon the burnt-out hull of the Reichstag building, still boarded up from the 1933 fire that Adolf Hitler used as an excuse to shut down Germany’s parliament and place the blame on the Communists. The next day I climbed a tower near where, nine years before my visit, John F. Kennedy declared Berlin to be the definitive case study of the differences between Communism and the Free World. Ecstatic crowds showered Kennedy's entourage with flowers, rice and torn paper. Almost like adulation for a rock star.


From the tower, I spent several hours studying No-Man’s Land and pondering the nature of the world in which we lived. Then I snuck into a Tiergarten thicket and rolled out my sleeping bag for the night.

Fifteen years later, Ronald Reagan would come to the same spot to challenge Mikhail Gorbachev to tear the wall down. Of course, on the eve of Reagan’s visit 25,000 Germans rioted in anger.

It seems to me Berliners have a very poor record for recognizing the U.S. presidents who served even Germany's best interests. The Wall had gone up thirty-nine days after the newly inaugurated JFK’s first meeting with Nikita Khrushchev. In Vienna, the Soviet dictator gave JFK a tongue-lashing for which he had no comeback, leading Khrushchev to size-up Kennedy as inexperienced and naïve. Khrushchev decided he could get away with both building the Wall and planting missiles in Cuba. Kennedy performed well in answering those challenges, but a better job in Vienna might have preempted them altogether. Ultimately, the Wall only came down some two years after Reagan gave his challenge, and it fell due to conditions Reagan was one of the few to foresee.

In 2000, I went back to Berlin. I wanted to show my children where the Wall had once stood. I happened to be standing near the Brandenburg Gate at the moment French President Jacques Chirac arrived to visit German Chancelor Gerhard Schröder, to join him in walking under the Brandenburg Gate, and into the Reichstag building, where he addressed Germany's parliament. Symbolically, it not only brought the Cold War to its final punctuation, but it completed a normalization of French-German relations that erased Hitler and all the memories that his name brings to mind.

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Others have pointed out the parallels between Kennedy’s eagerness to meet with Khrushchev and Obama’s offer to meet with leaders like Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It’s true, I don’t see John McCain making the same mistake. However, the parallels I see match Obama more with President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson, a progressive and a university president, leapt to the presidency after two years as governor of New Jersey. As an academic, he’d written the standard college text on the workings of Congress. As war broke out in Europe, he ran for reelection as a peace candidate, even as he understood there would be war. He led us into that war, calling it “The War to End All Wars.” Then, with the war won, he toured Europe to rock-star adulation. He carried with him a remarkable set of progressive ideals, but in the hard bargaining at Versailles, he could not sell them, even to the friends who owed us the most. He won the war and lost the peace. With all that European adulation, he could not draw the European leadership into decisions for their own best interests, and for all his knowledge of Congress, he could not talk them into buying the meager treaty he could bring home. One has to admire his attempt, but his failure guaranteed the outbreak of World War II. At Versailles, he may also have set the stage for my generation’s war in Vietnam by snubbing Ho Chi Minh and that nation’s aspirations for independence.

There is a fascinating moment in Ingrid Betancourt’s interview with Al Jazeera in which she describes the campaign for the Colombian presidency that she was waging at the time she was kidnapped. She believed as president she could negotiate with the FARC. Betancourt stops and asks the Al Jazeera interviewer for the English equivalent of the French word ingénue. “Naïve,” she is told. “Yes, I was naïve,” she answers. In fact, she was glad hard-liner Alvaro Uribe was elected. He had served the country well in standing up to FARC. In a different interview right after her release, she reported that FARC had counted on the Colombian electorate alternating between hard-line and “Peace” presidents. FARC's leadership assumed they could hunker down during the hard-line administrations and recover and thrive while stringing along the presidents who were willing to negotiate. What they had not counted on, and could not recover from, was the constitutional change that allowed Uribe a second term.

This is my worry about Barack Obama: Momentum has shifted in our favor in Iraq, but we have paid too high a price to win the war and then lose the peace. We have also forced Al Qaida to hunker down, but it is naïve to think that like the FARC, they haven’t planned a rebound as soon as the U.S. elects a “Peace” president. On Colombia, Obama and congressional Democrats seem even more eager to let the FARC enjoy enough of a breather to get up from the mat.

I will have more thoughts on Barack Obama in my next post.

*(The Colombian senator was Hernando Hurtado, targeted by a dissident member of FARC. Mrs. Hurtado could not risk a paper trail leading back to a North American serving with an Evangelical mission, but somewhere I still have an oblique and unsigned telegram of appreciation.)

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Lao Papa

Saturday, August 23, 2008

At our grandsons’ ages, six weeks of development equals a full year of coursework at a major university. Sometime since our last visit, Nilo (now three months) learned to return a smile, and Natu (at twenty-three months) had both picked up names for all the other members of the family and begun to group words into phrases. As fast as I offered him new words, he took them, repeated them a dozen times, and made them his own. On a walk together, we studied the web of a Metepiera sp. in a rosemary bush and watched the spider hide under her protective tent. Then we continued on and played with Agelenids, Uloborids, and a Holocnemus in their webs. We saw a line of ants on the sidewalk and he got down on his stomach to watch them closely, repeating, “Ants, ants, ants, ants.” Then on our return trip, he ran to the rosemary bush, calling out, “Spider house! Spider house!”

This visit, for the first time, he called us Grandma and Papa.

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Of course, this means I am now labeled. When Natu was born, my wife asked me what I wanted my grandchildren to call me. I wasn’t sure. It isn’t often in our culture that we get to choose a name for ourselves. I had a Grandpa Lynn and a Grandpa Howard, but somehow Grandpa Brian never seemed right. My mother’s grandfathers were Gramp (yeah, I could be a Gramp) and Grandfather (well, that might be a little too formal). I had second cousins whose grandfathers were Pa’s Pa and Ma’s Pa, which tickled me but didn’t fit me. When I spoke to infant Natu in the third person, I found myself using Papa, the same name my children called my father-in-law (though I’m not sure whether it came from Spanish or Italian, each an influence in my wife’s family). In Natu’s bilingualism, the first vowel has elongated to be a more Portuguese PAA-pa. (In contrast, Natu’s father is Pa-PA-i.). His grandfather in Brazil will have a name altogether different.

However, as my family grows, we are about to leap beyond our European linguistic influences. Early next year I expect to add a Mandarin-speaking daughter-in-law. I am very pleased with that thought. It was an early personal goal that all of my children would grow up as polylinguals and world citizens, and by the grace of God, they have. So at a new stage in life, as I have the opportunity to pick a new name, that aspect of my life could be part of the mix. I asked Middle Son how to say grandfather in Mandarin. The choices seem to be YeYe, or Lao Ye. Lao by itself is an honorific that might be used as a means of address between two longtime friends, such as “Lao Wang” and “Lao Chang,” to be translated as “Old Wang” and “Old Chang.” That kind of appealed to me. I began to think about Lao Papa.

But it may be too late. Natu already has me labeled, and the pattern he sets will be followed by all the grandchildren I hope are yet to come. And you know what? In my grandson’s voice, it sounds pretty good.

1000 Visitor! (& 1001st through 1004th)

Friday, August 01, 2008

Well, we powered it up this morning to find that while we slept, five visitors stopped by to put Capers over the one thousand mark, but none of them left the required comment to make them eligible for the big prize. Fortunately, all those who entered our contest are closely enough related to the author that they are already on the short list for autographed copies of Friday 10:03 when it is finally published.

However, if this may seem a disappointing conclusion to our big contest, our disappointment probably pales compared to that of googlers who come to Capers hoping to find the music video Itsy Bitsy Spider and instead found this. We have managed to frustrate 14 such searchers in the last three weeks alone. So, our next contest: an autographed copy of my novel (when it finally gets into print) to the one thousandth person who visits The Ittsy Bittsy Spider, thinking they'll see EliZe (with thanks to arachnomusicologist Mataikhan for identifying this artist) singing Itsy Bitsy Spider (and leaves a comment).

Blog Trivia, Google Over-Kill, and the One Thousandth Visitor

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Currently, if one queries "ceanosis" from Google Images, one receives four pages of images, fifty of which come from this blog. However, the one ceanosis image I've actually posted is not among them.

I discovered this after observing that several viewers came to my blog as a result of a "ceanosis" search, but they ended up landing at truly random locations on the blog. This is the kind of marvelous trivia that comes my way courtesy of BlogPatrol, which I added to this site December 5, 2007, about the time I started to get serious about this blogging thing.

During that time, I have had 993 visitors, which means that someone in the next day or two will become my One Thousandth Visitor. I suppose I could have one of those flashing pop-ups, congratulating that visitor and promising a prize, except I can't think of any prize that I'm ready to offer. Oh, and I don't know how to create one of those flashing pop-ups.

Someday I hope to have an autographed copy of my novel to give away. So here's what we'll do: to be in the running for a someday-autographed-copy of my novel, leave a comment below this post. Then check back in a day or two to discover who landed as The Capers One Thousandth Visitor!

On Blog Links, the Chattering Class, and Returning CNN’s Favor

Monday, July 21, 2008

I noticed today that I have traffic coming to this blog from a link posted by CNN at the end of their current article on yesterday’s Colombian marches against kidnapping. CNN has a nice feature at the end of their stories, called From the Blogs: Controversy, commentary, and debate, which offers a survey of blogs that mention the topic at hand. Once before (May 16-17), when I commented on the Sichuan earthquake, CNN listed me in its queue, thereby introducing my thoughts to two readers in Hong Kong, one in the UK, and one in the USA. Four readers may not seem like much, but it indicates that someone out there believes that as you, the reader, search for free access to content, and I freely provide it, the go-between can sell advertizing and turn a profit.

I knew that.

And maybe for young people this is so du jour that it’s no cause for rumination, but for a guy like me who took my first journalism class while JFK was president, I can marvel at both the news (like the amazing upturn of events in Colombia) and the way that news is delivered.

Simply as a case in point: Last night, in a few minutes before going to bed, I wrote a quick couple of paragraphs and added links to an AFP newswire story and two You-Tube videos, one a week-old interview of Ingrid Betancourt by Al Jazeera and the other a Colombian TV report from a concert earlier yesterday. Then, while I slept, CNN found my quick paragraphs and made them available to the world. The Internet has both enabled a million people, world wide, to organize themselves into a demonstration—a remarkable feat of mass democracy—and then allowed individuals to sort through the chattering-class reactions of thousands, and for one single comment to be read by anyone who is looking. In part two of the Al Jazeera interview Betancourt talks about how the Internet reduces national boundaries. But she does not speak as if a Rip Van Winkle, returned to see the Internet’s growth over six-and-a-half years. It seems obvious that even as a hostage in the jungle, she was able to look over some guard’s shoulder and see the world.

I’m still processing that, both the good and the bad. I won’t get to the bottom of it tonight, especially with an essay that is trying to run in three different directions. I will see which direction it’s looking for tomorrow, and maybe continue.

Posted by Brian at 10:41 PM 1 comments  

No More Hostages

Sunday, July 20, 2008

During the day that just ended, in a thousand cities and towns across Colombia, citizens celebrated their national day of independence by marching and shouting, "No More Kidnappings!"

Colombians living in major cities throughout Europe and the Americas had similar marches, or attended concerts like the one in Paris, where recently-freed hostage Ingrid Betancourt led the chants. In Leticia, the presidents of Colombia, Brazil, and Peru stood beside Colombian pop star Shakira as she opened a concert with the Colombian national anthem.

Next month will mark thirteen years since I left Colombia, after living there for nine of the most satisfying years of my life. We left largely because of the kidnapping and hostage status of a friend. He was eventually released, after over twenty-six months chained to a succession of trees in the jungle. Yet each of five other hostages I was praying for were killed. In addition, I have been concerned, throughout these thirteen years, for friends whose homes were deep in the territory controlled by the FARC, and who did not have the freedom that I had to leave.

So today, unable to march in Colombia, and far away from any major world city, I can only show my solidarity by praying, "No more hostages!" And then, thinking of those who have been cut down by the FARC, both people I knew and the thousands I did not, I add, "and no more killings."

Oh, Lord, let your peace reign in Colombia.

Posted by Brian at 11:44 PM 0 comments  

Another Gray Fox Summer

Monday, July 14, 2008

Two years ago, a family of foxes made my back yard their home for six weeks (from the end of June to the beginning of August). I read then that foxes often return to the same places to have their litters, so I've been watching. On Mother's Day weekend, I heard baby animals crying from underneith my wood pile, which stoked my interest. Then on the morning of June 20, I got up to find a fox standing guard from the fence while her kits played at the edge of the shrubbery. (Click picture to view an enlargement.)


For a brief moment, I saw three kits, but I could only get two in the picture at once.

Two days later, I saw the kits playing in the same spot, though mother was back somewhere out of sight.
I think she's a single mom. Two years ago, I saw Dad coming and going as he hunted, while Mom rested in the shade and kept an eye on things. The kits didn't come out until they were bigger. This year, I saw less of her, and saw no male at all. Now it has been two weeks since I saw her, and three weeks since I saw the kits. I have been standing ready with a video camera (and a freshly scrubbed dining room window to shoot through), but perhaps the show is over. Maybe I spooked her and she moved them to a new location. But I will be watching again next year.
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