Saturday, July 28, 2007

On A Snowman...

There's a minor flap about Republican participation in "the YouTube debate." And at least one Republican candidate has stated that he won't answer questions from a talking snowman. This is rather cute, but it reflects something I detest about American Politics of the last couple decades. You see, I felt George Bush Sr's pain during the 1992 presidential debate: the one where he looked at his watch and some pony-tail guy was asking the US Government to be his parents. That was a complete waste of time to WATCH, much less participate in. And it handed an advantage to the more touchy-feely Slick One.

Message to politicians: you don't win playing the game the other guys try to foist upon you.

Now it's wrong to just sulk and say, "I'm not going to play." Or "This is beneath MY dignity." (particularly when true.) But think back to earlier in the political season. Of how Fred Thompson became the "mirror of desire" to every Conservative. He did two things that are Right Moves:

1) Michael Moore challenged Fred Thompson to a debate. What did Mr. Thompson do? He produced a video and posted it on YouTube wherein he responded to the "humorist," asserting that Mr. Castro is a dictator wont to put people into insane asylums and that Mr. Moore should think about insane asylums.

2) Periodically during this campaign season, Mr. Thompson has written short essays describing the way things ought to be. They sound thoughtful and they clearly define the sorts of general-principles-of-conservatism that have gotten lost. While everyone is trying to claim the mantle of Reaganism, Mr. Thompson has used the non-sound-bite medium of the short essay (delivered on radio, or in blogs) to articulate what exactly he has in mind.

I have a friend who recently confessed to me that he doesn't think he's a conservative any more. I asked if he was wavering in his Conservatism or in his Bushism? Look at what Washington Republicans and even Lansing Republicans have been doing for the last few years. They've failed to express any principles that define why they're Republicans, and in the case of Washington, they've proven just as profligate at growing government and spending money as the Democrats ever were. Mr. DeVos lost the governor's race to a fairly inept Democrat because he uh ...why was he running? If the only difference between a Republican and a Democrat is that they'll cut the same pie differently and hand out goodies to different people, it makes little difference to me.

Republicans hereabouts did some finger-pointing about failing to "go negative" in local races after the Democrats handed us our butts in the last election. Yes, the other guy WAS a convicted criminal, but dammit boys, what were you FOR?

Mr. Reagan won elections by "going positive" on what SPECIFICALLY he believed government should do (or better, NOT DO). Where are the principles of Conservatism articulated by Republican politicians? Don't say that you can't get into the nettles of political philosophy in a "sound bite age." Mr. Thompson demonstrated the power of the short essay in drawing support to himself.

We need something better than the politicians we've been getting. Leadership is about ideas as much as it is about political fundraising. I think Republicans have done well when they've articulated Conservative ideas. And we have the means in hand to articulate our ideas on the Internet.

You can talk to your base in codewords like "preserve the sanctity of life" which denote nothing meaningful. (Doesn't sanctity have something to do with church?) Such talk does nothing to move the uncommitted middle and provides nada in terms of post-election mandate.

Incidentally, Mr. Thompson's recent trouble with pro-abortion agitprop stems from the fact that although he has a good voting record on abortion, his essay response was about the attorney-client relationship and not the state's obligation to secure the rights of the unborn.

Politicians have learned to be vague about the specifics of what they think. When the TV coverage allows only 30 second spots, it's impossible to delve into details or be nuanced. But now a lot of people read the Internet and get their news therefrom. The next generation of politicians will be able to communicate with the electorate in a much more detailed and nuanced way.

Last night I was sitting at my dinner table and I heard a knock on the door. Thinking a friend was visiting I waved for him to come in. He didn't. He was a politician going door-to-door seeking votes. I had his opponent's sign in my yard, but I asked him to make his case for my vote and he did a good job. I asked him some "why" questions and he did a better job of selling himself than his opponent had a few weeks ago.

You can't personally go door to door when you're running for a bigger office. BUT NOW, Fred Thompson has repeatedly come into my family room and given me (and everyone else who's read his essays) a thoughtful exposition of how he thinks. Since I've heard him on Law & Order, I can fill in the accent and tone of voice. That's powerful. If you are a politician, make your case, put it in words and blog those words for all to see.

OR you can task focus groups to devise snarky responses to talking snowmen.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Kudos Google

Google sent a couple of their people to BarCamp2 in Grand Rapids, MI this weekend.


First, they raffled off a tee-shirt on Friday night. I put my name in and lo and behold, I got a cool Google tee-shirt with the coyote howling at the moon. I'm wearing it now. Google also brought other schwag: pens, notpads, blinkies. My wife already snagged the notepad. Should have scarfed up two of them. The blinkie was cool, LEDs in the letters of the google logo. I figure the nieces and nephews will be fighting over it.

Second, they also gave away a iPod, I didn't win it, but the fellow who did looked awful darned happy.

Third, one of the Google people gave a talk on Linux systems administration and handed out Ubuntu live CDs and talked about Ubuntu. I learned it was a Debian distro of Linux and thought, what the hey, and I booted it on my work laptop that runs Windows XP. It came up smoothly, detected all the networks and stuff and everything "just worked." I was impressed.

So, my daughter's laptop has been sorta sick all summer. It runs for a while, then flakes out. (I took it in but the fellow was completely useless in diagnosing the problem. Couldn't find anything. That was $40 very mis-spent.) After BarCamp I went to my favorite hardware store and bought a 60GB hard disk, brought it home, installed it in my daughter's laptop, then booted Ubuntu. It booted fine. I told it to install on her new hard disk and walla. Everything "just worked" and has been rock-solid all evening. I'm terribly impressed with the Ubuntu CD the Google guy handed out.

Thank you, Google. You've got some great people working for you!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Oddball Rites

A couple months ago I read a web page written by someone who was big-O Orthodox and describing what goes on in such a service. It seemed quite strange to me. I thought about how I was raised and thought, no way. But at the same time, I also thought, this is probably as close to whatever it was the apostles did on Sunday as anything I'm ever going to see in this lifetime. It is strange to take the forms and customs of two thousand years ago and look at them through the eyes of a 21st century American.

And I realized that we'd look just as strange with our powerpoint slide shows and our seven-eleven praise songs. But this morning after the first couple songs, they turned down the lights. I knew what was coming. When I was a kid we called them "skits" but in today's worship services they are called "dramas" and there's a drama team and one particular person in our church who is really into that.

My wife is a thespian and I think she sacrifices a lot being married to me. I happen to despise skits in church. I'm not saying they're evil, just that I don't like them. I suspect that if I was merely indifferent about skits in church, she'd really like to be involved. And it's not that there was anything I could pick apart as being unscriptural or untrue about the skits at church. They're just not what I like.

When I look at the "value equation" for church, the repetitive praise songs and the skits don't contribute any lift to the airframe. Same goes for "liturgical dance." What gets my blood pumping are those centuries-old anthems, and content-rich sermons that are sharp enough to cut spirit and soul. I'm OK with the powerpoint slides because they're handy. But it bugs me that the only way I know when the song is done is the copyright notice on the last slide.

This term, "value equation" is one I started using for church when I drank the Rick Warren, "Purpose Driven Church" kool aid. I like it because I am an evangelical. I think I've got the truth and I'd like to make sure everyone else gets a chance to hear it. And if you've got a church service that's chock full of stuff nobody understands, there's not much "worship with understanding" that Luther advocated.

What got me thinking about is that the Pope has decided it's OK to do the "Tridentine Mass" without permission from the local bishop. The first time I heard "tridentine" I thought about chewing gum. I've used the Latin Mass as an example of "what not to do" back when I taught Sunday School. I wasn't ragging on Catholics: I don't think Evangelicals should speak in code that only we understand. We have to translate what we say and do into terms others understand. This is the main reason why I was attracted to a church that does a lot of "dramas" and has "liturgical dance."

Blythefield do a good job of speaking in the language of the people who live nearby and saying things you don't have to be a lifetime Baptist to find important. I think this is more important than whether the church service has the same smells and bells of a 1st century Middle Eastern church service. And I don't think I should stay away because others want to do skits or have dancing girls in church.

I think church liturgy is very important today. Congregations are looking around for ways to use the service to communicate something transcendent to those in attendance. In a more modern era, we saw a greater focus on teaching and the sermon. I'm fine with that. But in these post-modern days, a lot of people are looking for something that communicates transcendence. I think that's why Orthodoxy and the Latin Mass are doing well right now. The trouble with going through motions prescribed a thousand years ago is that it doesn't engage the rational faculties. Yes, there's a feeling of transcendence, but is there any thoughts worthy of it?