Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Finding Some Peace in a Hectic Time

With one week until the election, I've got a lot on my mind -- hopes, concerns and comments about what we may see in the first 100 days of the next administration. But rather than try and sort it all out tonight, I instead want to focus on something peaceful -- something to calm my mind and get me to regain some balance. It's a photo I took a few years ago of a place where I go often to seek peace and solace - Washington National Cathedral.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sharing History

One of MB's favorite activities at her Montessori school is the weekly show-and-tell time on Tuesdays. Typically, there's no set item that she and her classmates must bring, and often she takes along one of her Disney princess dolls or something having to do with ballet class. I've never actually been able to be there on a day where they've done show-and-tell, and it seems that it's often forgettable for the kids -- as evidenced by the fact that when I ask her what the other kids bring, she gives me a shrug and the "I don't know" look.

This week, the teachers asked that each child bring something relating to their family. Based on what A. told me after the fact, most of the kids ignored the request and brought random items. MB, however, went armed with part of her history -- photographs of her family.

Having a father who spent many years as a professional genealogist and has loved preserving our family's history for as long as I can remember, I've been fortunate to be able to see and read things about my family that are absolutely fascinating. For me, the old photographs are the most amazing thing, and my father has taken great care to scan as many of them as possible so that my siblings and I will have them for many years to come. Out of that collection, I printed several for MB that while not holding any special significance for her now will be very important to her and her sister in later years. I think the greatest gift we can pass on to our children (besides our love and support) is our family legacy, and I hope to do that as much possible in the years ahead.

To round out the story, I'd like to share a few of them here:

This first picture (left) is of one of my great-great-great grandmothers, taken not long before her death in 1919. I see someone who has had a difficult life and who is very tired, but who also seems very much at peace.

The picture on the right is of one set of my great-great grandparents, taken on their wedding day in 1906. In contrast to the first picture, I see youth, optimism and life's road that's wide open before them.

And finally, an example of the multi-generational photos that I love so much; the photo below was taken when I was just two or three years old and is of me (the really happy looking chap), my father, my grandfather, and my great-grandmother. She was the only grandparent of that generation who lived long enough to see any of her great-grandchildren; sadly, I only have an extremely vague recollection of her -- and judging from how thrilled I look in this picture, I must be blocking memories of the day.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Further Thoughts on Colin Powell

I suppose that I'm too much of an optimist to hope that in the 24 hours since Colin Powell announced his support of Senator Obama, those who were vehemently opposed to that endorsement (and who were making comments to that effect) would have at least taken the time to listen to the entire interview on "Meet the Press." Again, even though I'm disappointed by the announcement, I thought Powell gave a very eloquent explanation as to why he came to this decision -- and at the end of the day he stills has my respect.

However, the messages coming across on a few political message boards to which I belong told a different story; a few examples (with the names removed to protect their privacy):

  • "I'm sorry, I don't get it, never have. Powell took credit for Schwartzkopf's [sic] achievements in Desert Storm, then used it to push his career as a politician. Norman, on the other hand, retired and quietly lives in Florida. Powell has done nothing to deserve being anyone's hero. He wasn't a soldier. He was a paper pushing bureaucrat and a politician."

  • "Colin Powell got us into the war in Iraq under false pretenses (and fake Anthrax)... Should we trust him now with his latest "flimsy" endorsement of Barack Obama?"

  • "I was heartbroken to hear this. Just heartbroken. He was one of my heros [sic]. I had tremendous respect for him and thought he was a great example to all."

  • "Here, after so many years we learned to treat every person as human without color or religion preferences, and out come in someone who was self proclaimed republican uttering such nonsense, and only reinforce the old bias against the black race. What a shame!"
I think you get the idea; there were certainly a lot more like this. While I can't rebut all of the comments flying around now, I'd like to offer a few thoughts on these comments (in order that I posted them).

1. Powell was and is, first and foremost, a soldier. When he retired from the military, he didn't actively seek any political or bureaucratic job; he was asked by several different presidents to serve, and being the good soldier he did what he felt was his duty. And by declining the opportunity he had to run for president in 1996, he pretty much killed any pretense that he was a politician.

2. Setting aside the argument about Powell's role in the leadup to the war in Iraq, I don't think his argument for Obama was flimsy. As with everything he's done in his life, it was a rational and well thought-out explanation. Good soldiers, especially those who make four-star rank, never do anything flimsily.

3. Was one of your heroes? Every hero I can think of has some sort of flaw; for a lot of folks during the past few days, it is that Powell went across party lines to endorse Obama. But is the fact that you disagree with one decision in a 71-year life enough reason to completely dismiss the high regard in which you held him in previous years?

4. I am so tired of race being an issue in this campaign. Support Obama or McCain, it's a race issue; oppose Obama or McCain, and it's a race issue. For me, the argument has no merit; yes, there are many voters for whom race is a significant issue, but to try and focus so much time on something that to me is a poor excuse for opposing a candidate is ridiculous. During his "Meet the Press" interview, Powell even went so far as to say up front that he wasn't going to support McCain because they were friends, and he wasn't going to support Obama because he was black. It's sad that here we are in the 21st century and a man's word can't be taken anymore. And I can hear the folks now, saying, "Well, if he hadn't lied at the UN, maybe we'd believe him now."

In the long run, I don't think this endorsement is going to sway many voters one way or another, being instead just a feather of support in Obama's cap. People just need to accept it and move on, and focus on issues that ultimately will make a difference in the final 15 days of this race.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Powell Endorses Obama

After months of rumors and speculation, Secretary Powell formally announced his support of Barack Obama this morning. Almost immediately, I started getting emails from folks who were outraged about his decision, who (regretfully) tried to paint it as yet a further example of a black man feeling duty bound to support another black man, and who said he was doing this as a way of getting revenge against the Bush Administration for the failures he witnessed during his four years at the State Department.

I have too much respect for Colin Powell to believe that any of those are true. I've long been an admirer of his life career, and having done extensive reading him over the years (including Karen Deyoung's outstanding biography Soldier) have found that he never makes any decision based on political motivation. Yes, he proclaimed himself a Republican several years ago, but his politics have always been tempered more by a sense of moderation (echoed by his statement on "Meet the Press" this morning that the Republican Party is moving too far to the right). In fact, one of the reasons he chose not to run for president in 1996 was because he was never certain that -- regardless of his popularity with the American public -- he could garner enough support from the conservative base to make it through the primary process.

I also think that he's been a good leader because he's been able to support AND oppose policies of all three presidents under whom he has served (George H. W. Bush, Clinton, and the current President Bush). And because of the approach he has taken to decisions throughout his career, I definitely don't think that his support of Obama came without much careful consideration (and not purely as a "revenge" factor, as some are already proclaiming).

If Obama wins the election on November 4, and if (hypothetically) he were to ask me for my opinion on next steps, my first recommendation would be that he nominate Secretary Powell to return to the State Department. While only a member of the Bush cabinet for four years, his time there and his distinguished military career are among the reasons why he is still held in such high regard overseas. Part of the reason he only served four years at State was because he had a strong difference of opinion with the administration on many foreign policy issues -- and I disagreed then as I do now with the request that he move on because any effective president should have cabinet officers who can disagree and argue the opposite side of an issue. A cabinet full of "yes men/women" is not an effective cabinet, and I strongly suspect that Powell would bring that same level of healthy skepticism to the next administration.

So am I disappointed in Powell's announcement? Perhaps. Am I disappointed in Powell? Absolutely not. If anything, I'm now anxious to see what role this man that I admire so much will play for the next president, be it McCain or Obama.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Autumn Memories

Today, while sitting in our little outdoor office surfing the web and enjoying the autum breeze blowing through the windows, something triggered a memory of some songs I first heard several years ago at right about this time of year. Don't know if it was the wind or the leaves or the sounds of the kids playing next door, but the memories came back hard and fast.

The songs are from the great John Lee Hooker album, "Best of Friends," and feature Carlos Santana. They are among the best I've ever heard, and I've posted the videos for each here for you to enjoy on this beautiful autumn day...

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Campaign Comedy Break

It's nice, even for one evening, to take a break from the grind of increasingly partisan, increasingly bitter, increasingly intense presidential politics. Thank goodness for the annual Al Smith dinner in New York, and for Senators Obama and McCain having the opportunity to poke fun at each other for even just a bit. And with that, here are the clips of the two candidates for you to enjoy.

Friday, October 10, 2008

An Anthem for the End of the Week

A setting of "The Lord Bless You and Keep You," by the English composer John Rutter. After the chaotic week this country and the world has experienced, a peaceful way to bring things to a close.