Thought You'd Never Ask

Just mouthing off -- because I can.

Monday, January 29, 2007

After the dreary hook-ups, the next sexual revolution?

I've been reading a book that offers a researched and well-articulated viewpoint and I can only wish this book had been around when I was a teen back in the days before it was "hip to be square." The book is Wendy Shalit's A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue.

Though I found them fascinating and informative as an ignorant teen, I don't usually read sociological tomes anymore, as they are essentially long exercises in "begging the question," but this one's both substantial and entertaining, well worth the time, and ultimately important. And I'm especially pleased to see this book around at this juncture in my life, echoing a lot of things my mother once said to me and that I'm still saying to my children. I plan to recommend it to every high school senior I know, both boys and girls, who are headed off to college, as I'm pretty sure this book won't be included in any of the "diversity" or "sensitivity" training courses mandated for incoming freshmen on college campuses these days--and if anything should, this book should be. I think Ms. Shalit is on to something, and she's offering an important alternative for the current batch of upcoming Americans to consider.

Here's just one passage [pages 139-140]:

For the past forty years, all talk about sex has coalesced around two basic positions: either men are evil and should become more like women--the position often called "gynocentric"--or women are the bad ones and need to become more like men, the position first taken by the sexual revolutionists and later adopted by many antifeminists. After surveying the landscape of these experiments--from the misogyny of the sexual revolution, to the gynocentric response, and now back to misogyny again--one might be forgiven for wondering if we should stop switching roles and making ourselves miserable. Maybe we're fine the way we are.

The sexual revolution seems to have failed mostly because it ignored the differences between the sexes--specifically, the importance of female modesty. When it failed, when women began to discover that they were uniquely compromised by a sexual free-for-all, there was an attempt to restore order. Women's liberation may have been a valiant attempt to restore that order, but it, too, failed because it was reluctant to consider the importance of natural modesty, and held that all differences we observed were the result of oppression. Hence all their ways to restore order, such as through sexual harassment legislation, have been like trying to put a Band-Aid over an amputated limb.

The current antifeminist consensus recognizes that these feminist legislations have not worked, but never offers any positive vision of how the sexes can relate. And so we are caught up in a vicious circle, because today's antifeminists seem to want to return to the free-love heyday that caused many of these problems in the first place. The only thing standing in their way, it seems, is AIDS, and so we are at an impasse. But why do we have to spend all of world history repeating the same mistakes when we can learn from them?

Modesty is our way out. For women who are tired of being told they must be either men or victims, modesty offers a new choice. Its rich, but often ignored, cultural legacy offers women a positive content to womanhood. This is how a return to modesty could end the war between the sexes. Many young women today don't think their lives should be spoiled by their parents' mistakes, and we would want nothing more than to return, if we could, to the days before all of these experiments. Not only do we think there are differences between the sexes, but we think these differences can have a beautiful meaning--a meaning that isn't some irrelevant fact about us but one that can inform and guide our lives. That's why we're swooning over nineteenth-century dramas and clothing.

We want our dignity back, our "feminine mystique" back, and, along with it, the notion of male honor. Our mothers tell us we shouldn't want to give up all the hard-won "gains" they have bequeathed to us, and we think, what gains? Sexual harassment, date rape, stalking, eating disorders, all these dreary hook-ups? Or perhaps it's the great gain of divorce you had in mind? We look to a different, more romantic, generation for our role models.

Shalit makes her point by piling up the evidence that the ideas of male-female roles put up over the past forty years by feminism and the backlash haven't really worked for either sex, but especially not for women. Other topics explored in her book include a critique of postmodern sexual etiquette and prescribed societal roles for men and women, the nature and history of modesty (is it natural or an acquired characteristic?), male character and how female behavior can affect it, and the current "war on embarrassment" (modern society's determination to both deny and abolish the innocence of childhood and to deny that there can be any virtue or benefit from modesty at all). All worth examination, and incidentally topical in today's climate of debate about the larger significance of hijabs, burkas, and chadors.

I'm also looking forward to the forthcoming Girls Gone Mild by the same author.

UPDATE: This book looks essential for college-bound girls too: Unprotected by MD Anonymous.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

What's more offensive in a chapel, a cross or removing it?

Elizabeth Gibbons' editorial in the Washington Times puts the situation of the Christian cross removal from the College of William & Mary's historic Wren Chapel by the College administration into a vivid perspective:

Are those who shrink like Dracula at the sight of a cross expected to follow in the robust traditions of Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall?

Mr. Nichol's decision and Mr. Powell's seeming complicity are making William and Mary a national laughing-stock -- and a battleground. This is not the sort of achievement the Board of Visitors surely sought. It is wholly unnecessary, unjustified and smacking of bad behavior and bad faith. The two are rewarding, indeed it would appear they are encouraging, intolerance. They are abetting in students who should be the next generation of American leaders the indulgence of extended adolescence -- name a rational adult who storms out of a chapel tour because he espied a cross. Such public posturing is the mark of a spoiled schoolboy, not of a future governor, senator or president. William and Mary has produced presidents. Did any of them exit the Wren Chapel bawling that they were offended by a cross? Of course not, they were too busy creating a nation.

Sweet writing! How long will President Nichol and Chairman of the Board Powell hold out against this kind of stinging truth? The Virginia Gazette says, "Enough already!" If you haven't already signed the petition, here's your chance.

Freedom leads to wealth; lack of freedom destroys it

The following is an excerpt from a speech by Andrei Illarionov, former Chief Economic Advisor to the President of the Russian Federation (among other positions) which appears in the January 2007 issue of Hillsdale College's Imprimis. I'd urge you to read the whole speech, as it's quite enlightening, particularly about current developments in Russia.

Freedom is not a luxury. It is a very powerful instrument, without which no person and no country in the world can have sustained prosperity, security, deveopment or respect. Free countries are certainly more prosperous than non-free countries. The Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom, the Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom of the World, and Freedom House's Freedom in the World all provide overwhelming evidence that economically and politically free countries are much richer than non-free countries--with a GDP per capita, on average, between $28,000 and $30,000, compared to approximately $4,000 per person in non-free or repressed countries.

In addition, the economies of free countries grow faster. During the past 30 years, completely free countries doubled per capital income, and partially free countries increased per capital income 40 percent on average. By contrast, non-free countries reduced per capita income roughly 34 percent. Over the same period, several countries changed their status from political freedom to political non-freedom. The former change leads inevitably to economic degradation, resulting in a negative GDP per capita growth rate. The transition from non-freedom to freedom, on the other hand, speeds up economic growth, resulting in a GDP per capita growth rate higher than the world average.

Freedom also provides security. This is true for external security, because economically and politically free countries are less likely to fight each other than are non-free countries; it is also true for domestic security, as free countries usually have lower mortality rates from violent crime committed by criminal gangs or by the government. Compare the United States, Western Europe, Canada, and Japan on the one hand, and non-free countries like Rwanda, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and North Korea on the other. Which countries are more secure? Where is the life expectancy higher? Where is there a greater risk of robbery, kidnapping or murder?

Related to this, freedom enhances economic, political and military strength. Let's compare countries with similar population sizes but different levels of freedom. Which are economically more powerful? Spain or Sudan? Australia or Syria? Belgium or Cuba? Canada or Myanmar? The Netherlands or Zimbabwe? Taiwan or North Korea? Finland or Libya? Freedom also leads to greater international respect: Which of these countries is considered more attractive and more respected in the world? To which do people immigrate? From which do people emigrate? People vote for freedom with their feet.

The lack of freedom, on the other hand, creates an insurmountable barrier to prosperity and economic growth. For instance, there are no examples in world history of non-free countries that in a sustained way overcame a GDP per capital barrier of $15,000. Countries that have been able to cross this barrier did so only when they became free, politically and economically. Spain, Portugal, Greece, Taiwan, South Korea and Chile are among the best known examples of such a transition. Relatedly, countries that were rich but became non-free, also became poor--even oil-exporting countries in years of high energy prices. In Iran, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, the GDP per capita today is lower than it was three decades ago, by 10, 30, 40 and 80 percent, respectively. The lack of freedom always destroys wealth.

Democrats, leftists, Marxists, and others who seek to increase governmental, bureaucratic, or politically-correct intrusions into our nation's freedoms and free markets--please take note. More and more people are becoming aware that evidence shows your policies are prescriptions for failure.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Why this suburban mom will never vote for Hillary

I like to think that whenever I vote my choice is never based on extraneous matters such as sex, sexual preference, race, skin-color, or religion, but on the quality of the ideas proposed and the character of the person running for office. That's why I don't rejoice that "a woman" has been elected or appointed to any given office, be it dog-catcher or Speaker of the House, just because I am "a woman." I can't think of a more demeaning and stupid reason to vote for someone than his or her gender, unless it's his or her skin color. I have more brains and independence (or so I flatter myself) than to huddle down into the swaddled emotional comfort of group identity politics--as, say, the Shi'ites or the Sunis or other such tribal clans of the Middle East seem to do.

So here's why this ostensible "soccer Mom," denizen of the 'burbs, with a mini-van and 2.0 adorable children, will never vote for Hillary Clinton for anything other than "most likely to scare a village": she's too leftist (perhaps even too socialist or even Marxist) for my taste.

It's not that I "hate" her because I'm a conservative or a libertarian; I don't "hate" her at all, since I can't say I even care personally about her, and "hate" is a personal emotion. Rather, I would never vote for her because, as in the cases of the rest of the Democrats running for President, the policies she would undertake to enact would be seriously detrimental to our nation's interests.

I won't even go into what I think of her character, other than to remind folks of a few--shall we say, uncomfortable--episodes of the past: Rose law firm billing records; Vince Foster/missing documents; cattle futures; the Castle Grande deal; Travelgate; and Whitewater. Anyone who is misty on the details can also revisit Hell To Pay and The Final Days by Barbara Olsen (Washington D.C. writer killed about Flight 77 on 9/11) and The Case Against Hillary Clinton by Peggy Noonan.

I do admit to taking pleasure in the fact that there are such bright conservative gals around these days who are such good writers.

And, I will admit to you that there is one area in which my emotions are aroused about Hillary Clinton. Every time I think back to her comment about the cookies:

HILLARY CLINTON: I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life.

--I experience again that slap in the face delivered by someone off-handedly belitting my own decision to be a stay-at-home mother and wife for my family. What can I say, but that I'm human, and that do I feel resentment about that? Hillary, if only you knew what it is to "stay home and bake cookies and have teas," as you put it, maybe you would, in fact, know a little something about the kind of fulfillment many other women achieve, without putting their "professions" in jeopardy.

But this little emotional rough spot, for me, really has nothing to do with who is worthy to be elected President.

When it comes to that, Hillary, it seems, has absolutely nothing to say to me or for me, least of all in the political realm.

BONUS: Here's another summary of Hillary negatives from "The Progressive Review" to check before hitting the voting booth in 2008, which ends with this:

...There was a time when any sane campaign consultant and party leadership outside of Chicago would have told such a candidate to forget about running. But the assumption today is that all sins can be spun away.

It may seem that way, but it isn't true. The Democratic Party suffered in an unprecedented way at the national and state level because of Bill Clinton's misdoings. These scandals helped defeat two Democratic candidates for president and only in the last election were there signs of recovery.

The best favor the Democrats could do for themselves is to flush the Clinton name and its sorry memories down the toilet.

Ya think?

UPDATE: Nice pithy words in the British Times Online, where Gerard Baker calls the Clinton candidacy "a Grand Deceit, an entirely artificial construct built around a person who, stripped bare of the cynicism, manipulation and calculation, is nothing more than an enormous, overpowering and rather terrifying ego:

As you consider her career this past 15 years or so in the public spotlight, it is impossible not to be struck, and even impressed, by the sheer ruthless, unapologetic, unshameable way in which she has pursued this ambition, and confirmed that there is literally nothing she will not do, say, think or feel to achieve it. Here, finally, is someone who has taken the black arts of the politician’s trade, the dissembling, the trimming, the pandering, all the way to their logical conclusion.

Fifteen years ago there was once a principled, if somewhat rebarbative and unelectable politician called Hillary Rodham Clinton. A woman who aggressively preached abortion on demand and the right of children to sue their own parents, a committed believer in the power of government who tried to create a healthcare system of such bureaucratic complexity it would have made the Soviets blush; a militant feminist who scorned mothers who take time out from work to rear their children as “women who stay home and bake cookies”.

Today we have a different Hillary Rodham Clinton, all soft focus and expensively coiffed, exuding moderation and tolerance.

To grasp the scale of the transfiguration, it is necessary only to consider the very moment it began. The turning point in her political fortunes was the day her husband soiled his office and a certain blue dress. In that Monica Lewinsky moment, all the public outrage and contempt for the sheer tawdriness of it all was brilliantly rerouted and channelled to the direct benefit of Mrs Clinton, who immediately began a campaign for the Senate....

He gets it, and so do a lot of others. I don't give much for Hillary's chances of election.

UPDATE: "Forget the appeals to gender solidarity."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The leftist majority in academia and the media

I've been reading David Horowitz's book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, in my continuing search to get a grip on the fact that in a couple of years my son will be going off to college and entering a milieu that I know (from personal experience and current reading) is in many ways a risky and unhealthy one for young people, especially those unprepared and unforewarned. As a parent, I want to both warn my children of the pitfalls to avoid in college life, and I want to be sure our hard-earned money is going to pay for a quality education of the mind, not four years of fluff, aberrant socialization, political indoctrination, and non-stop propaganda.

Horowitz's book treats on the subject of the leftist bias and the politicization of higher education now evident in US. academia, where in most colleges and universities across the U.S. the ratio of Democrats to Republicans on the faculties (for this is how such things have been objectively approximated) usually falls somewhere between 12:1 and 30:1 (yep, that's Berkeley). For all the fashionable (actually patronizing and prejudiced) talk of "diversity" being a virtue and a goal on campuses, ideological diversity and the free exchange of ideas is clearly not a part of the picture at many institutions.

It is the introduction to the book that I found most interesting. In "Trials of the Intellect in the Post-Modern Academy," Horowitz sums up how the mission of many, if not most colleges and universities in the U.S. has morphed over the last 30 years from an educational one--the pursuit of knowledge and truth--to an activist one--the conscious endeavor to "change" society toward leftist ideals, through political means. This distinction may seem on the surface to perhaps be a subtle one on intellectual planes, but there is nothing subtle about the activism of the radical and distinctly "unprofessional" professors highlighted in this book, who want and work to indoctrinate students instead of educate them to think.

One passage in the introduction offered some history I didn't know [my bold]:

Are these disparities [many more Democrats and leftists than Republicans or conservatives teaching on campuses] the result of political discrimination? There is considerable reason to believe that they are. Certainly the rationale for such an agenda has long been a staple of radical thought. The political activists who flooded university faculties in the early 1970s were encouraged by their own theories to regard the university as an instrument for social change whose levers of power it was important for "progressives" to manipulate and control.

Academic radicals self-consciously drew their social strategies from the writing of the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci around whom an academic cult formed in the 1970s, just as they were ascending the tenure ladder. Gramsci was an innovator in Marxist theory, whose ideas focused on the importance of acquiring cultural "hegemony" as the fulcrum of revolutionary change. Gramsci explicitly urged radicals to gain control of the "means of cultural production" to further their ends. Foremost among these means were the universities and the media. The considerations that led Gramsci to these conclusions would certainly have also encouraged faculty activists to seek institutional power within the university by acquiring control of its hiring and tenure committees.

Herbert Marcuse, a professor at Brandeis and a veteran of the famed "Frankfurt School" of European Marxism, was another figure whose writings flourished with the new radical presence on university faculties. His famous essay on "Repressive Tolerance," written in 1965, is a justification for the suppression of conservative speech and access to cultural platforms on the grounds that the views of right-wing intellectuals reflect the rule of an oppressive and already dominant social class. Marcuse identified "revolutionary tolerance" as "tolerance that enlarged the range and content of freedom." Revolutionary tolerance could not be neutral towards rival viewpoints. It had to be "partisan" on behalf of a radical cause and "intolerant towards the protagonists of the repressive status quo." This was a transparent prescription for not hiring academic candidates with conservative views. In this view, a blacklist was a potentional tool of "liberation."

According to Marcuse, normal tolerance "granted to the Right as well as the Left, to movements of aggression as well as to movements of peace, to the party of hate as well as to that of humanity...actually protects the machinery of discrimination." By this logic, repression of conservative viewpoints was a progressive duty. Evaluating conservative academic candidates on their merits, without regard to their political and social opinions, was to support discrimination and oppression in the society at large. Marcuse's "dialectical argument" exerted a seminal influence in academic circles in the 1970s and provided a powerful justification for blacklisting conservatives in the name of equality and freedom. The same argument would also justify the exclusion of conservative texts from academic reading lists, which is an all too common practice on liberal arts campuses.

Today senior conservative professors (and most conservative professors are now senior) find themselves regularly excluded from search and hiring committees, and a dwindling presence on university faculties....

Why do I keep thinking of George Orwell's Animal Farm (a satirical allegory of Soviet totalitarianism) and the "doublethink" of 1984 (mourning a totalitarian government bent on total manipulation) whenever I read about the ludicrous polemics of these persevering dinosaur Marxists?

Answer: Because Orwell typed these creatures to a T. And it is most startling to realize that Horowitz has put his finger on a process that may be exactly what's happening with the mainstream media as well, where a similar Democrat-to-Republican ratio exists among journalists, editors and publishers, along with a similar self-stated mission among so many journalists to not just inform people of the news, but to "change the world." The injection of Marxist values, goals, and methods throughout academia has had a couple of generations now to trickle down and permeate society. In connection with this "mission," watch out for the majority-Democrat Congress's revival of the Orwellean-named "Fairness Doctrine."

I, for one, see the similarities among all of these movements. Where the left achieves a majority and hence, power, the left seeks to crush dissent and not just tell people what to think, say, or believe, but to actively reduce their fellow citizens' access to alternative views.

It is almost too absurd to believe that the failed philosophy of Marxism still has adherents, let alone that they can succeed in grabbing any "cultural hegemony" in our society, particularly by using such lame rhetoric and crude, aggressive methods. You would think true liberals and real "progressives" (some of those among those majorities of Democrats?) would stand up against blacklists and prejudice of any kind--but I guess you would be disappointed. The chance to wield unquestioned power and push people around, even unfairly, and insularly, must be too sweet an enticement, even for an educated intellectual who should know better.

When "revolutionary tolerance" really means scorning and blacklisting conservatives in hiring, appointments, or acceptance to supposedly "diverse" groups--and a crushing of dissent and free inquiry--matters have grown serious. In the realm of academia, where are the faculty members, trustees, presidents, staff, alumni, and students who still remember and will stand up for the rights of individuals to follow the sacred tradition of free inquiry? Where are those who will stand up for the rights of conservatives to learn, study, and talk about ideas without being bashed, intimidated, excluded, or blacklisted by politically-correct, self-appointed "superiors" who allow only themselves the right to define who is the "party of hate"?

Take note, all you high school students looking toward college. Do your homework well. Choose an institution you can trust will not waste your time or money by giving you only half an education. Parents, don't subsidize institutions that are doing a poor job.

Bonus question: So what universities and colleges in the U.S. actually do take as their proud mission the task of educating their students, not re-socializing or indoctrinating them along politically-correct lines? I'm starting a list, but I'm no expert; please add your comments, hints, or nominations in the comments, not just for me, but for the kids who want to know. Mike S. Adams, remarkable for being one of the few conservatives in academia willing to publicize his views and experiences there, has been running columns on colleges to avoid, and Thomas Sowell offers vital advice on choosing a college. The ISI Guides offer advice for the student on how to evaluate and negotiate a college curriculum to maximize its educational value. But which colleges and universities are doing a good job today? My guesses thus far:

The University of Chicago
Hillsdale College
Pepperdine University
George Mason University

UPDATE: Maybe this book would help parents and students.

UPDATE: A must-read: "Free Inquiry? Not on Campus" by John Leo has more good discussion about the systemic suppression of ideas on our campuses today, including this excerpt:

Confusing speech and action has a long pedigree on the PC campus. At the time of the first wave of speech codes 20 years ago, Kenneth Lasson, a law professor at the University of Baltimore, argued that “racial defamation does not merely ‘preach hate’; it is the practice of hatred by the speaker”—and is thus punishable as a form of assault. Indeed, the Left has evolved a whole new vocabulary to blur the line between acts and speech: “verbal conduct” and “expressive behavior” (speech), “non-traditional violence” (Lani Guinier’s term for strong criticism), and “anti-feminist intellectual harassment” (rolling one’s eyeballs over feminist dogma).

Campus censors frequently emulate the Marcusian double standard by combining effusive praise for free speech with an eagerness to suppress unwelcome views. “I often have to struggle with right and wrong because I am a strong believer in free speech,” said Ronni Santo, a gay student activist at UCLA in the late nineties. “Opinions are protected under the First Amendment, but when negative opinions come out of a person’s fist, mouth, or pen to intentionally hurt others, that’s when their opinions should no longer be protected.”

Fascist. Haven't these people ever studied the U.S. Constitution? Don't they recognize that their beliefs are essentially fascist when they seek to suppress through violence or force any criticism or opposition to their own views? How monstrously egocentric can people in a free society be?

All I can say is, the more we expose this nonsense to the light of day and common sense, the more we can hope for a return to free speech and free inquiry for all, even and especially on the "peoples' republics" of college and university campuses.

UPDATE: Powerline notes that applications to Yale have fallen 10 percent since its last scandal. Maybe parents of prospective students are internet-savvy, aware of the news, and wising up about where they want their children to spend their time and where they want their money to go.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Stop the presses! Democrats misunderstand how the market works!

Or maybe they understand, but pretend not to. Why would that be, I wonder?

Betsy Newmark explains (in "Democrats Against Medical Progress") why Democrat-driven government intrusion into Medicare D pharmaceuticals delivery to seniors will be a bad idea, and sums up:

I beg the Democrats to keep their hands off the pharmaceutical industry. They're working hard to develop the drugs of tomorrow that we're going to depend on to treat diseases that any of us or our loved ones could come down with. They invest billions in this research and it doesn't always pan out. Let them make profits now so they can do the research on those drugs that we may have to take one day. If people are happy with Medicare Part D then leave it alone. It's not worth the partisan attacks to muck around with the drug industry.

National Review Online sums up the many economic arguments against raising the minimum wage. Additionally, Neal Boortz minces no words on the subject:

We are about to reinforce the idea that in a free market economy it is the role of the government to set wages, and that politicians can, if they choose, use the police power of government to force an employer to pay an employee more than that employee is worth. Tell me, how would you like it if the government made you pay more for a product or service you need than that product or service is worth? You might think that just wouldn't be right. Well ... that's exactly what the government is doing to some employers.

But here's what I don't understand. How's come whenever Democrats talk about raising the minimum wage, it's only a dollar or two? They want to raise it to $7.25 or about being cheap! If you can't raise a family on $5.15 an hour, then how are you going to do it on $7.25 an hour? Why not raise the minimum wage to something say, $25 an hour. Obviously the single mom running the drive-thru at the local taco stand deserves that.

Oh...we can't raise it that much? Because it would kill jobs? Then if that is the case, liberals themselves are proving the point of their opponents. And by the way, this idea that somebody is supposed to raise a family on the minimum wage is nonsense. The minimum wage is for high school kids...people just entering the workforce. If that's the best you can do after working several years, then there is only one way to describe a person in that situation: a loser.

Neal McCluskey explains how lowering interest rates on federal student loans brings political accolades for Democrats while raising tuition for students:

Now, don't get me wrong. Making college more affordable is a laudable goal, especially in light of the stratospheric heights to which tuition has soared over the last few decades. But making student loans cheaper will only exacerbate the problem....

And here's your tutorial about tax cuts right from the horse's mouth, Arthur B. Laffer:

Lower tax rates change people's economic behavior and stimulate economic growth, which can create more--not less--tax revenues.
That's right, tax cuts increase federal revenues. They do.

Reduce tax rates and the federal deficit shows a reduction as well (via Instapundit and Tigerhawk).

How do Democrats manage to get away with ignoring the economic evidence, while passing legislation deterimental to our nation's economy and hence, its people?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fifth-grade immigration policy

“I want you to be firm about the paperwork,” said the Statue of Liberty.” We put the fear of doom into them days before this about not having their forms today. If they don’t have their Immigration Checklists with them, and their name cards filled out correctly, deport ’em.”

She gestured with her green rubber torch, stout as a truncheon, toward the painted cardboard “boat” propped up near a circle of chairs in the back of the classroom behind us. The Statue of Liberty was fully costumed and had a large square sign hanging around her neck with the handwritten invitation: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” She was roaming the halls giving advice, encouragement, and direction to adults and children, and was the unofficial master of ceremonies. She had been running this annual exercise for the fifth-graders for several years now, and she was on top of things and tough. The classes had been studying and preparing for this day for weeks.

“But you have to be careful about it,” another teacher told us in a soft voice, as we mom volunteers gathered around her to receive our instructions as “Immigration Officials.” “You don’t want to really hurt anyone’s feelings. It’s supposed to be fun, but educational. You have to watch out for any kid with a real handicap, like a speech problem, or a real physical impairment. We don’t want to make that an issue and we don’t want anyone leaving here today in tears.”

“How do we avoid deporting them if they’ve failed the other check stations, like the health exam or something?”

“Ask them some questions and see if they can talk a good story.”

So, thoroughly muddled about the role-playing, I sat down at a row of three desks alongside two other moms to act my assigned character as a Deportation Official at Ellis Island on Immigration Day at my daughter’s elementary school. Before me was a stack of Immigrant Check List forms, a stack of goldenrod yellow Deportation Forms, and a black felt-tipped pen. I offered my seat to another mom who had done this the year before, saying I didn’t feel qualified to decide who should be deported (in fact, I was alarmed at the prospect of “using my judgment” to arbitrarily role-play the decision of who could pass and who would be banished). But the other moms waved me back down: “Oh, you’ll do fine. You’ll see.”

In no time at all, a little boy dressed vaguely as a Venetian gondolier with a drawn-on mustache dashed in and said he had forgotten and left his Check List form at home. “Here you go,” I said, handing him a blank one, as we’d already done earlier with another student, before we’d been briefed by the teachers. “No, no!” said another mom. “Hold on there! Where’s your paperwork? Why don’t you have it today? What’s your name? Why do you want to enter America?” The kid was an adroit talker, and with a little prompting, soon gave the mom a role-playing sob story about a sick parent and a form washed overboard. Everything else about him was in order, he swore. “Okay, here’s a new form,” said the mom. “But don’t let me see you back here again.”

Several other students wandered in with the same lament, and after hassling them about their stories, we let them all go with new blank forms. We were tenderhearted immigration officials, charmed by the creativity and novelty of the various costumes and the characters assumed by the kids in emulating late-1800’s immigrants: a teacher from Korea, a laborer from Greece, a seamstress from Jamaica, a lace-maker from Ireland. Gosh, they were cute. We sent them off with their all-important Check Lists so they could start their rounds of the other Ellis Island stations and be interviewed as to their characters, backgrounds, health, references, and resources.

Then a softspoken immigrant from France showed up at my table. He had all of his paperwork with him, but the results weren’t good. I added up all of his scores earned from the other checkpoints—and he was one point shy of being acceptable as a U.S. citizen. After talking with him to try to break the news gently, I reluctantly marked him down as having to be deported, and he went over and sat on a chair behind the “boat.” As more students began showing up, rejected by the health or character inspectors, or not having remembered to bring enough play money with them, we became more flexible in interviewing them, listening to their made-up sob stories, and re-evaluating the forms. At that point, whenever a student would show up without a Check List form altogether, we just “deported” him or her right to the boat, for we had more difficult evaluations to deal with by then.

Some of the children had assumed characters just asking for deportation—a woman with a history of husbands one might infer she had killed; an anarchist; a con man. I wondered how these students had gotten these roles to play (volunteered with good humor, or been drafted?). One “Russian composer” with “angina” threatened to have a heart attack at our desks when he failed the health clearance. He tried to bribe the mom next to me, who took his play money, and then deported him anyway! One Korean “immigrant” was so into character he refused to speak a word of English and we weren’t sure if he was acting or not, but we were afraid to deport him in case he was not acting, so we changed his evaluation numbers and passed him on. A little girl with a huge basket filled with three or four baby dolls and a pillow stuck under her dress flunked the health exam for “lacking energy at the point of pregnancy.” We laughed like crazy, and deported her for being a potential drag on American society. She took it philosophically, but then later got a roving “nurse” from the health exam section to re-evaluate her, and she was allowed off the boat since it was deemed that she wouldn’t survive the boat trip.

At one point we were told to start doing the character screenings as well, since the crowds had backed up in the other room. Sometime around then I realized there was a place on the back of the Check List where the doctor could indicate the immigrant was “Disapproved” or “Approved” for immigration, which I hadn’t even seen before. We clearly didn’t know what the heck we were doing, yet we had to make speedy, arbitrary decisions under pressure with little real information. Hey, just like real life?

The totally non-objective and inconsistent nature of the whole exercise—despite the fact that we were attempting to fill out forms and judge fitness according to a numerical point system—irked me. Especially when I looked over at the “boat” and saw my poor little Frenchman, first to be deported when I didn’t know what I was doing, still sitting there, resignedly, while others coming through after him with relatively more egregious problems had talked or shucked or charmed or mumbled their way out of deportation and back into the queue. It was your worse vision of bureaucratic chaos, and I felt a visceral unease at being involved in it. I think my German genes just hate trying to “deal” with such DISORDER. And my mom hormones don’t like seeing kids sitting in extended time-out for paperwork violations, either, I’ll admit that. I was not the best person for the job, even though I did enjoy getting the chance to deliver that classic bureaucratic line to one egregious pleader claiming he loved America: “LOTS of people love America, Mr. -----, but we can’t let them all in, now can we? You’re deported!”

Despite such momentary highs of dictatorial authority, I learned I am not well suited for a job enforcing an arbitrary, imperfect, non-objective, improvisational immigration policy—and what immigration policy isn’t all that?

I wondered if the real Ellis Island had been any better or worse at its job than the poor showing we Deportation Moms were giving it. Were the real Ellis Island procedures any better hewn to, any better constructed and construed? Was the real Ellis Island more fair, or more harsh to the individual immigrant? In fact, didn’t Teddy Roosevelt work on cleaning up immigration policies, eliminating corruption and standardizing and enlightening procedures at Ellis Island? [Yes, but not until after 1901.] Meanwhile, the minutes stretched on, and on, and those kids seated “in the boat” behind me did not get to pass on with their classmates to the “Great Hall” (cafeteria) where a potluck international foods buffet had been laid out and a welcome-to-America party was going on.

Finally when I had just about lost 90% of my good humor, and was ready to jump up, crown myself King and release the “boat children” myself, the deportees were allowed to go, and everyone gathered in the Great Hall to eat, mingle, celebrate, and admire one another’s outfits. The spread of international food was nothing short of grand; the costumes made the children look like an entire cast of extras from “Oliver!” and the Statue of Liberty, summing up on stage, left us with these thought-provoking words:

“Don’t just think Social Studies is a subject—it’s your life!”

Well, okay!

P.S. Yes, as a good German immigrant, my own daughter had all her paperwork ducks in a row and I never saw her sweet face anywhere near the deportation station. She sailed through “Ellis Island” as a well-educated 22-year-old seamstress with her great-great-great-grandmother’s name, dressed in a second-hand blouse and long skirt and a pair of hand-me-down Mudd boots. Enjoy the apfel strüsel and welcome to America, Sweet Youth!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Today's holiday: celebrating freedom for all Americans

Today I found a beautiful tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. at Power Line. This says it all--mostly in King's own words.

So early this morning I took the opportunity to read Dr. King's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" (1963). I had never read it before, but my son is studying it in school this semester as part of his AP Language and Literature course, and I figured I would try to catch up to him in this part of my education that was lacking.

What a superlative, masterful, argumentative document. There is so much in it to reflect upon, so much that resonates for so many reasons, that I will re-read it more than once. Meanwhile, this part, among so many others, stands out to me on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2007:

One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, courageously and with a majestic sense of purpose, facing jeering and hostile mobs and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two year old woman of Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride the segregated buses, and responded to one who inquired about her tiredness with ungrammatical profundity; "my feet is tired, but my soul is rested." They will be the young high school and college students, young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders courageously and nonviolently sitting-in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience's sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, and thusly, carrying our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
He was right, and that day he foretold, I think we can all say, has indeed come to pass. The South does now recognize those heroes, and our nation as a whole now honors their sacrifices and the struggles they chose to undergo. Today we meditate on the thanks we owe to Dr. King and those heroes he led, for being loving, brave, and creative enough to prod and persuade a nationful of individual consciences to step up and live up to our better ideals.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Our offensive and embarrassing symbols of Christianity?

Tell me, does the sight of the Christian cross in a Christian chapel give you the willies?

Mike Adams
has just kicked the can farther down the road in the Wren Chapel peekaboo-I-see-you cross removal story (via Power Line). You can sign the petition to protest the policy if you feel so moved.

I first became aware of this story about the administration removing the Christian cross from historic Wren Chapel on the campus of the College of William and Mary near Williamsburg, Virginia via this blog entry last October by Michelle Malkin ("Let's Play 'Hide the Cross'"):

The College of William and Mary has decided to make its famous campus chapel less "faith specific" and more "welcoming" by getting rid of the cross on its altar.

Administrators huff that they're not tossing the cross aside--just putting it away when necessary to prevent students from being offended...

How about leaving the cross where it stands and telling students to grow up and demonstrate real tolerance?

This article explained the situation in a nutshell: "College Removes Cross--from Chapel!"

At that time I sent a protesting letter to the administration:
I must state to you my distress with this policy decided upon by William and Mary. To remove the Christian cross from this historic chapel is hypocrisy and revisionism at its worst. What exactly is William and Mary trying to hide by doing this? How is being hypocritical about the chapel's nature and history being more "welcoming" to others who are not Christian? What kind of people would visit a Christian chapel and be offended by the sight of a cross--and why would you therefore remove the cross instead of revoke their right to gather in Wren Chapel without respect?

Rather, it seems William and Mary is pandering to those who would not respect its own history or tolerate a diversity of faith. This seems to me to demonstrate William and Mary's own embarrassment about its Christian beginnings, and its unwillingness to associate itself with its Christian community on the present campus. How craven. And why?

One commenter has said:

"This is a shameful repudiation of our religion and history. We should not have to hide what we are. Those who come into our chapel should tolerate our beliefs. I would no more expect a mosque to remove the symbols of their religion than they should expect us to remove ours. The sad thing is that we are denying our own religious symbolism and history at a time when we should be standing proud for who we are."

I agree with this wholeheartedly. There is nothing wrong with displaying the Christian cross in a Christian chapel in America. Exactly what does William and Mary think is wrong with it, and why?

I was not surprised by the fact that I received no response.

On November 20, 2006, William and Mary's president, Gene R. Nichol, issued this statement justifying his actions in maintaining the policy of taking down the cross in Wren Chapel:
It is precisely because the Wren Chapel touches the best in us—the brightened lamp, the extended hand, the opened door, the call of character, the charge of faith, the test of courage—that it is essential it belong to everyone. There is no alternate Wren Chapel, no analogous venue, no substitute space. Nor could there be. The Wren is no mere museum or artifact. It touches every student who enrolls at the College. It defines us. And it must define us all.

I make no pretense that all will agree with these sentiments. The emotions and values touched by this dispute are deeply felt. But difficult issues are the grist of great universities. Amidst the turmoil, the cross continues to be displayed on a frequent basis. I have been pleased to learn that students of disparate religions have reported using the Chapel for worship and contemplation for the first time. In the College’s family there should be no outsiders. All belong.

On that same date an editorial appeared in the Richmond, Virginia Times Dispatch, written by
The Rev. David Hindman, the United Methodist campus minister at The Wesley Foundation at William and Mary, and headlined "Chapel Now Can Truly Be a Place for All People" which totally flabberghasted me. As I wrote to a friend in the wake of these two statements:
I must say I'm not surprised to hear the College president spout such appeasement propaganda (it is a conventional stance for college presidents these days, after all), but as a Methodist, I am appalled to discover a minister of my own faith deliberately misrepresenting the nature and teaching of Jesus when he argues:

"More compelling reasons than historical accuracy support the new policy, including theological ones. Wren is used for worship and personal prayer by a broad range of persons, not all of them Christian. True, a majority of students identify themselves as Christians. But Christ sought out those on the margins of his society, raised up scorned outsiders as models of righteous behavior, (prostitutes, Gentiles, and Samaritans, for example), and welcomed to the table those excluded by others. What would Jesus do if someone truly seeking God finds the chapel's cross an impediment? (Jesus' fellow Jews whose families perished at the hands of Christians come to mind, as do Muslims with ancient memories of Crusader atrocities.) Jesus' spirit of submissive service in God's name suggests he would do all he could to support the quest and not hinder it for anyone."

Although I do not have the training of a minister, it is clear to me Jesus did not generally hide the true nature of who he was, what he was doing, or what his message was just to make his potential audience feel "welcome." He did not "hide his light under a bushel," nor compromise his teachings in order to make his listeners feel good about their own views. Nor do I think he ever disavowed his faith beliefs so as to show "respect" toward those who did not initially agree with him.

I also wonder what more compelling reasons there can ever be than historical accuracy--historical accuracy meaning the truth. How is it being respectful of others to hide the fact that Wren Chapel is (or, historically, at least, was) a Christian chapel? How is it more welcoming to pretend that it is not?

A Christian chapel is by definition welcoming of and respectful of all others, as Jesus was. Those who choose not to feel the welcome of Christianity or of Jesus are free to feel as they do, but that is their decision--they are not being excluded by Christianity, nor by William and Mary College, evidently. They are not being forced to convert to Christianity or to bow down at the door. There is perhaps no more welcoming religion for all people than Christianity, but this does not mean Christianity must hide its very nature in order to be what it is: welcoming and offering respect and even love for each individual, and beyond that, God's grace and salvation to all who would choose it.

Rev. Hindman asks: "What would Jesus do if someone truly seeking God finds the chapel's cross an impediment?" I would say that any such person sincerely seeking God would have to do some soul-searching if the sight of the cross is an "impediment." And why should a minister of the Christian faith respond to such a sincerely seeking person by HIDING the cross? Such a sincerely seeking person needs to learn more, not less--needs to find out more about the cross, not be deprived of the opportunity to confront the cross and the nature of that "hindrance," such as it is, and find out what it truly means.

But unlike Rev. Hindman and the administrators of William and Mary who seem to be focused most strongly on those few "excluded" "outsiders" plunged into emotional turmoil at the sight of the cross, I happen to believe most people of variant faiths would tend to think themselves capable of being tolerant and respectful of Wren Chapel's cross and its Christian nature and history. It is people like Nichols and Hindman who seem to assume that most "outsiders" are so victimized and disrespectful of other faiths that they must have all others denying their own faith in order to make them feel "comfortable and welcome." Rather I say it is these disrespectful and/or emotionally unsettled and/or fragile people who should be challenged and helped to re-examine their own premises--rather than that the Christian character and history of Wren Chapel should be denied.

The Rev. Hindman spouts a lot of multicultural nonsense about white males, privilege, favor, and diversity, so I guess I should not be surprised that his politically-correct, leftist multiculturalist worldview has overtaken his grasp of the imperative of Christianity to take its message to all nations: "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." (Matthew 24:14). Rev. Hindman has admirably remembered to stand up for the poor, the needy, the excluded, the outsiders, but he has forgotten his most important charge as a minister of the Gospel: to stand up for his Lord.

Why doesn't William and Mary College (perhaps with the assistance of Rev. Hindman) just deconsecrate Wren Chapel, turn it into a multipurpose room, and then there would be no further argument? Clearly, if President Nichol is any indication, William and Mary College is no longer interested in being known as a Christian community, not even historically--and its Christian chapel is a "hindrance" to its present-day mission to be the "alma mater to the nation." If this is true, then the College should jettison any ties to Christianity and stop offending Christians who in this instance see their symbol disrespected and their faith maligned and misrepresented.

On the other hand, if President Nichol misrepresents the views and wishes of the William and Mary College community, he should revise his policy or step down.

There is a larger picture here, too. There is indeed (as President Nichol said) a certain population to which the sight of the Christian cross is incendiary (and I am not talking about the Jews). No; this population evidently does not give more than lip-service respect to the cross, if that. I am speaking of Muslims of the sort who are happy to see the Christian cross disappear, as demonstrated in the current attempted Islamification of Europe's cathedrals (via Instapundit):
Spanish Muslims are determined to pray in the Córdoba Cathedral, which was an important mosque during the 500 year Muslim rule of Spain beginning in 711. Luckily for Spain, the Roman Catholic Church isn’t prepared to give in to Muslim demands, as it recently revealed when it rejected a petition to the Pope from Spain’s Islamic Board for the right to share the Cathedral with Catholics....

So-called moderate Muslims are oftentimes more effective than extremists in gaining concessions because of their attempts to portray Western democracies as intolerant if those countries don’t cede to certain demands. This technique has been used repeatedly in the case of the Córdoba Cathedral....

The rejection by Córdoba’s Bishop Juan José Asenjo of the aforementioned plea to the Pope by Spain’s Islamic Council was another example of such cultural fortitude. Asenjo opposes the plans for an “ecumenical temple” because “it would not contribute to the pacific coexistence of the different creeds.” He added that “such shared use can circumstantially have sense in an airport or an Olympic villa, since is not properly about temples but places of oration, but not in the case of a cathedral.”

Some of Belgium's churches, in contrast, have been already given away by their Catholic clergymen:
"Church occupations" by illegal immigrants have been going on for a number of years in Belgium. They are not really "occupations" because the Bishops condone the actions and actively support them. Chris Gillibrand visited a number of Brussels churches to take these pictures.

The squatters live in tents in the churches. The tents are being provided by Catholic relief organisations. They have also been offered radios, television sets and computers.

Maybe President Nichol and Rev. Hindman could start providing tents and television sets to help visitors feel welcome in Wren Chapel, too.

Additional reading: Don't give it away.

And one more P.S.--

The Rev. Hindman contends in his editorial that Muslims have "ancient memories of Crusader atrocities" spurring their distaste for the sight of the cross. I would point out that no living Muslims are old enough to have those memories. Muslims have historical teachings of Crusader atrocities, just as Christians have historical teachings of Muslim atrocities. In fact, Captain John Smith (of "Pocahontas" fame) had been a slave held captive by Muslims in Central Europe before escaping and ending up as one of our nation's forefathers at Jamestown in the Virginia colony, not far from William and Mary College. Not only did some early Americans, but today's living ones do in fact have quite vivid memories of Muslim atrocities, including the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, United 93, the beheadings of Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg, to mention just a few. One wonders what the good Reverend means in not acknowledging any of this "historical accuracy" when talking only of the grievances of "outsiders" as justification for cloaking the cross.

UPDATE: This article discusses how what well-intentioned but uniformed Christian ministers and indeed, probably most average Americans, feel about interfaith sharing might not be what the Muslim participants are feeling, or aiming for:

"Interfaith is perhaps the most disingenuous of all Islamist tactics, relying on non-Muslim's almost complete ignorance of the tenets of the religion. Most basic is that to Muslims 'faith sharing' is a one way proposition, a means of recruiting converts - jihad through da'wa...."

The program outlined above is shockingly typical; motivated primarily by a sense of feel-goodism, Jewish and Christian groups are actually furthering the spread of Islamism because they are not exercising even a modicum of judgment before engaging in such phony interfaith exercises....

At some point the Judeo-Christian community must take personal responsibility for the enabling of its mortal enemies.

Calling Muslims "mortal enemies" is shocking language to your average American. But it is in fact true that most of the Christians involved in "interfaith dialogue" have a muddled or non-existent understanding of the tenets of Islam, and the Muslims involved in such exercises have no incentive to reveal all prior to the hoped-for conversion of their new co-religionists. I would recommend spending half an hour reading Dhimmi Watch and another half an hour reading Jihad Watch as a good introductory crash course for anyone interested in engaging in truly meaningful "interfaith dialogue." And then, go to it!

A good read

One of my favorite writers and historians, Victor Davis Hanson, writes about Iraq, isms and ologies, Civil War strategy, Jimmy Carter's failed post-Presidency, and superior tractors for farming. Some might disparage blogging as being superficial, trivial, and time-wasting, but if you are reading the right blogs, it's certainly a better and more enlightening way to waste time than watching network television.

Friday, January 12, 2007

TGIF - End of the week laugh; pencil art

I apologize to all you hoards who have been hanging on my words and wondering where I've been this week (i.e. not blogging).... I've been working on another writing project with discrete parameters, which called for blinders to be put on and noses to be applied to grindstones until the dern thing was fini, and now it is. Maybe I can think about blogging something in the next day or so...after I catch up on a little neglected housework.

In the meantime, I just read this and got the biggest horselaugh of my entire week (to the point of tears): Mark Steyn's three entries in the Sandy Berger song parody contest (via Power Line). So here's one for my Baby and one more for the rooooooooad....

PLUS: here's a link to some cool pencil art sent to me by a friend. Look, don't touch.

Monday, January 08, 2007

To surge or to surrender

Jules Crittenden weighs two alternatives in our war in Iraq (via Instapundit):

We are sharply divided as a nation. There will be no governing by consensus. Only by hardnosed leadership. This week, we'll find out what it is going to be. Neither of our options is attractive. But that's war.

Option One: Pull out. Achieve short-term gratification for those who believe our absence from Iraq will solve our problems. Watch Iraq descend into further violence. Watch a nuclear-armed Iran come to dominate Iraq and the world's richest oil fields....

...Option Two: Fight now. Fight harder. Expend our precious blood and money now, so we don't have to spend more blood and more money later. Fight now, while we can.

It's a sober evaluation of a troubling crossroads. But as Jules reminds us:

Does that sound at all medieval or apocalyptic? It is. Don't think we can't go back to that.

Does it sound overly melodramatic and alarmist? If so, you're a fool with no understanding of history. I have bad news for you. The fight against evil in this world is business as usual. It never ends.

Read the whole thing. I wonder how many Americans really do think about these matters.

Meanwhile, good news from Iraq: Iraq's Prime Minister Maliki announces the new policy of hunting down all outlaws regardless of affiliation (via Intstapundit again). Could this be the beginning commitment to a rule of law in that country?

Personally, I still can't understand how anyone could declare the war in Iraq "over," "finished," or "lost" yet--besides some (not all) Democrats and leftist peaceniks and some (not all) in the media, whose partisianship is pretty transparent. Especially when you remember we still have troops in Germany, sixty-some years after THAT war. That little bit of altruistic and self-interested nation-building didn't turn out so badly.

UPDATE: Betsy looks at General David Patraeus' recommendations.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Oh, Tannenbaum

Yesterday I "took down" our noble Christmas tree and put away the decorations. It had been a remarkably beautiful tree, probably the tallest we've ever had, ten feet or nearly so, and perfectly shaped to just fit in its place of honor before our family room's front window. As always, I wonder where it came from, how and where it had spent its youth, and how and by what route it got here (having loved the biography and travelogue of The Littlest Christmas Tree by Thornton W. Burgess as a child).

Our tree decorations are a mishmash of beloved old glass balls and aged figures from my childhood, passed on to me by my mother, along with 30 and more years of collected baubles from friends and relatives (each one carrying a redolent, remembered story), and new things made by or for my children, or bought by me with them in mind--funny little Nutcrackers or robots to make them laugh; little angels or dolls or Pikachus or Hello Kittys that my daughter thought were cute.

Each year my husband goes out and chooses a much larger and more expensive fresh tree than I would ever buy, and the rest of us are heartily glad to have him do it. He does the hunting and the dragging home, and the kids and I do the dressing.

We always wait until at least the second week of December to put up Christmas decorations and the tree. I have started the tradition of waiting until at least December 12th, which was my father's birthday (and also Frank Sinatra's). It was my father who used to put up our tree each year when I was a kid, and it was he who would staple with his staple gun the strings of big, old-fashioned colored light bulbs up outside, along the eaves of our house. He would never think of undertaking these tasks until well into December. I can still hear him swearing (like the father in Jean Shepherd's "A Christmas Story") as he grappled with those flimsy, slippery aluminum reflectors while stringing the big colored light bulbs onto our tree. It was a traditional part of our Christmas. Then my more patient mother would take over and decorate the tree, finishing off with a shimmering layer of lead tinsel, applied one strand at a time (and after Christmas, saved to be used the following year).

When my mother was a girl, the Christmas tree wouldn't go up until Christmas Eve, after the children were in bed. My mother's father was well-known for waiting till the very last minute to buy a tree--at a bargain-basement price. But after my mother was married and had small children of her own, she soon realized Christmas after World War II had become more elaborate, and the old German do-it-all-on-Christmas-Eve tradition was just too exhausting.

I like to keep our expressions of Christmas old-fashioned, seasonally timely, conservatively bounded (not unlimited, prolonged and thus dissipated), and thereby emotionally extra-special and extraordinary. This year my husband was out of town on business until December 17th, so we had a really late start, since nothing could begin until Daddy got the tree. This taught us patience and inflamed our anticipation--and we were consequently busting with Christmas spirit ready to be let loose by the time the huge, stately, fragrant tree finally showed up and was taken into our home. Even the cat went crazy and made the tree her own (a real "treehouse" to lurk under, hide behind, and climb). As usual, the advent of the tree signifies and brings forth all the overt gladness and delight of the season.

We were all sick with the stomach flu before and during Christmas, and then this week my son had his four wisdom teeth out, so this year's Christmas break has been one of illness, invalidism, and recovery. Finally we are all well at the same time, and yesterday my children had friends come over to play. It was while they were all off socializing in other parts of the house and outdoors that I found an afternoon stretch of peace and quiet to "take down" the tree and put our decorations back into storage. With enough time, solitude, and patience, this chore becomes an act of meditation--on history, tradition, and life.

How glad we all are to see anew the tree and the decorations each December--how fresh it all is every Christmas. And then how poignant it is to put the old things away for another year when clear-eyed, unadorned January rolls around. How trusting we are to think another year will unfold as expected and that everything next December will be more or less the same again, though we forget about it for most of the year. A few random balls get broken each December and are gone forever; some angels get yellower; the children get taller and wittier; we get older and slower. But we count on Christmas to persevere.

My widowed mother doesn't bother putting up a tree anymore. She spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with us before we sent her packing back to her house on Christmas afternoon, when it was my daughter's turn to suddenly come down with the stomach flu. Fortunately my mother managed to miraculously escape catching the bug we all serially suffered through. But while she was with us, she commented on how Christmas is unavoidably a sad time for one who has reached her late 70s. She knows she shouldn't dwell on it, but she can't help thinking back to all the previous Christmases in her long life, and to all the beloved people, places and merry times that are now utterly gone for good, part of the past and no more. In a long life, what's gone piles up. I feel this too, but being in my 50s and with two children not yet raised, my hands are busy and my thoughts are mercifully immersed in plenty of tasks to work through. With the kids around, there are innumerable distractions and interruptions and still so many joyful and silly and rewarding and unexpected outbursts to keep me very happy in a filled Christmas season--even one with the flu. My present is still a bolster against the sadness of uncontrollable loss. Thank goodness for children, and for my husband's presence. I am blessed, and I hope I can still find a few such blessings when I am 20 years older and it's no longer me in the center of things with the busy hands.

Does Christmas and everything else have to become overwhelmed by sadness and loss as one ages? Do the struggles and the challenges to overcome them grow increasingly hard with every year, inevitably? Is this the human condition?

I think if it is, my Christmases will be marked by more and more prayer every year, in this sense:

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV)

I know I can and will turn to my religious faith to carry me through sadness and loss, if and when the solitude and sadness become more prevalent than the joy and delight. But I hope my family, or some remnants thereof, will still be around to help take up some of the slack.

Today our family room is back to "normal," uncrowded by piney boughs, unlit by colored lights. It's "Christmas tree drop-off" day at the local Home Depot, so I will stuff our tree, with silent thanks, into the back of my Honda wagon and take it over this morning.

Another year has ended and another new year has begun.

Bonus: Some Christmas tree facts from the University of Illinois Extension.

What I read in 2006

Ever wonder what an FBI profiler would make of your public library record? Are there such people doing such profiling? If so, how do they separate the merely curious or the admirably scholarly from the clearly nefarious, anyway? When I was in junior high school back in the days "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." was on TV, I loved to check out library books on spying, espionage, and Russia (remember that cute Ilya Kuryakin?). But I didn't want to be incorrectly typed by my school librarian or anybody else as a junior spy or, God forbid, a nascent traitor. I always figured it was my perfect Constitutional right to read legally-written books obtainable in public libraries about any darn subject I chose, and more power to me for wanting to educate myself about the big wide world. Yet what do our "library cards" and reading lists tell others about ourselves?

Even more troubling these days than the idea that some government officials are secretly snooping into library reading lists is the reality that many in the world want to control what others read and even--as in Afghanistan, for just one example--don't want some people to read at all.

Conscious of and grateful for my freedoms, I thought that, just for the record, I'd post the eclectic list of books this American read for pleasure last year--books I would also recommend to everybody. It's a list heavy with the works of the incomparable Thomas Sowell, punctuated with "parenting" resources and a smattering of good literature, and ending with a study of Islam:

1. A Student’s Guide to Economics (ISI Books) by Paul Heyne

2. Cope With It! by Dr. Laura Schlessinger

3. A Student’s Guide to the Core Curriculum (ISI Books) by Mark C. Henrie

4. Ethnic America: A History by Thomas Sowell

5. Choosing a College by Thomas Sowell

6. A Personal Odyssey by Thomas Sowell

7. A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 by Simon Winchester

8. Turn Up the Music by Jeff Dess

9. Odd Girl Speaks Out: Girls Write About Bullies, Cliques, Popularity, and Jealousy by Rachel Simmons

10. Conquests and Cultures: An International History by Thomas Sowell

11. Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish by Sue Bender

12. A Deficit of Decency by Zell Miller

13. The Myth of Osteoporosis by Gillian Sanson

14. Life on the Edge: A Young Adult’s Guide to a Meaningful Future by Dr. James Dobson

15. Love & Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Start of a New Nation by David A. Price

16. Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent

17. Useful Idiots by Mona Charen

18. Inside American Education by Thomas Sowell

19. Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity by John Stossel

20. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

21. A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon

22. Band of Brothers: E Co., 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normany to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, by Stephen E. Ambrose

23. Why I Am Not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq

24. American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us by Steven Emerson

25. The City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre

26. The Trouble With Islam: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith by Irshad Manji

27. Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy by Carlos Eire

28. The Best School Year Ever by Barbara Robinson

29. Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America by Brigitte Gabriel

30. The Truth About Muhammad Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion by Robert Spencer

31. Child Star: An Autobiography by Shirley Temple Black

32. America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It by Mark Steyn

33. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

What would your 2006 reading list say about you? How about your 2007 list?