Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Tale of Two Runs

How to have a bad run:
  1. Wake up to the alarm at 6 AM, still feeling like crap, about 40 hours into a 60-hour week.
  2. Skip breakfast, make it up by drinking black coffee until noon. Get good and dehydrated.
  3. Work through lunch.
  4. After a long and frustrating day, grudgingly set out for practice with team at 4 PM, in 85+ degree weather and high humidity.
  5. Covered in sweat in the first mile. Check the watch at mile 1, nearly 9 minutes. Realize this run is shot already. Fight the urge to give it up and limp home.
  6. At 1.5 miles, turn around. 3 will be a minimally-acceptable day for the log.
  7. Take some small satisfaction that I didn't bail out entirely or walk today.

How to have a good run:

  1. Wake up at 8:30, no alarm, fully rested.
  2. Have a good breakfast, and leisurely read the news for an hour.
  3. Leave the house at 10 AM, 65 degrees, no humidity.
  4. No sweat, no worries. Check the watch at mile 1. An effortless 8:15.
  5. At the end of a 3-mile loop (still at effortless 8:15's), decide to do one more on account of the weather. Tack on at the end to round out 50 minutes. Logging 6 qualifies as a "long" run these days.
  6. Feel great the rest of the day, including the satisfaction of the run plus the vague heavy-leg feeling that almost guarantees a great night's sleep.

Today was day #2. I wish every day could be like this!

Friday, October 16, 2009


This week, I got two tastes of a worship style very different from my norm. This past weekend, I attended an Episcopal church whose rector is one of my dearest friends. We're talking vestments, kneelers, and the full-on liturgy, including an infant baptism that day. (For those who don't know, my church is as "low service" as they come, and our most distinctive mark is an insistence on adult baptism by immersion.) Then later this week, my oldest son was inducted into the student vestry (the serious Christian students' group) at our (Episcopal) school. This ceremony involved the laying on of hands by the Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. (Again, my fellowship has no hierchical structure, and autonomous congregations are governed by a plurality of elders.)

What is interesting to me is that a fight is going on for the very soul of the Episcopal Church (the American branch of the worldwide Anglican communion), and the Diocese of SC, their Bishop, and my friend are at the forefront of it. The newspapers will tell you that the dispute is about the consecration of an openly gay man as a Bishop a few years ago. That is not true. The real issue is whether or not the (national) Episcopal Church does or does not believe in the historical creed of Orthodox Christianity, including not just issues of sexuality, but also the inerrancy of scripture and the belief that Jesus is the only path to eternal life. As my priest buddy says, "the gays don't bother me nearly as much as the Unitarian Universalists" (although, just for clarity's sake, he is also rock-solid in his stand on Biblical sexuality, too.) The Bishop and my friend, as well as our current school chaplains, and most of the serious SC Episcopalians I know, are the heroes in this fight, bravely standing up to their national church, a hostile media, and a permissive culture that sees them as every bit the Bible-thumping fundamentalist as I am.

Of course, there are major theological differences between us. If I thought what the Anglicans were doing was the closest thing to the will of God for His church, I would be one. But at the same time, I can tell the good guys from the bad guys. I believe in one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. So do my Episcopal friends, and we define that faith and that baptism very differently. But I'm adding them to my prayer list on the basis of the "one Lord." Perhaps, in the fullness of time, God has even allowed the current schisms within Christendom for the purpose of pushing His divided disciples into common cause. Either way, I know what side I'm on.


I've been a little worn down lately--not just physically, but spiritually, as well. Vince Lombardi once said that "fatigue makes cowards of us all." When you marry that with the idea (I think by CS Lewis, but I attribute almost any idea I like to Lewis) that courage is the chief virtue, for without it you cannot achieve any of the others, you get a potent combination--fatigue makes us (make that "me") less virtuous. In the past little while I have suffered a diminution not just of my physical strength, but my mental focus, my self-discipline, my resistance to temptation, and my patience. Yesterday, I sought help--I had a dear Christian friend (our school's chaplain) pray with and for me. Last night, I fell into bed before 8 PM, and woke up this morning at least partially rejuvenated (or at least, optimistic about the possibility of rejuvenation). Additionally, we have a long weekend at work. Some would say that the improvement in my condition is a natural result of 10 hours of sleep and a fortunate calendar coincidence. I prefer to see James 5:16 in action (the fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much).

Just as an aside--I sometimes wonder what it feels like to not be a Christian. Sometimes we allow ourselves to think (wrongly, I believe) that our only two options are an abundant life in Christ (John 10:10 is one of my pet verses), or an empty, meaningless life. How many sermons have we heard where some poor soul was rescued by God from the brink of addiction or suicide? But many people I know live quite pleasant lives without faith, or with faith in something different than orthodox Christianity. How would my struggles of this week have been different without the fellowship and prayers of my friend? Would I have still gotten some sleep and felt better? Would encouragement from a secular friend have been equally helpful? I just don't know. For me, trying to imagine a life without God is like trying to envision a square circle. All I can say is, I think that those who don't have a Christ-centered life don't know what they are missing. I can imagine living in some poor 3rd-world village and being perfectly satisfied, but only because I was unaware of such cool things as air conditioning and cell phones. Indeed, all of us in the human race are in that same boat--we cannot conceive of what was lost in the Garden of Eden, and have to be as happy as we can with poor imitations.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama's Nobel Prize

When I read the news this morning that President Obama had been awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, I honestly kept waiting for the punchline. I thought there must be something from Snappleface or The Onion or SNL going on. After all, nominations were due on February 1st, when Obama had been president for less than 2 weeks. But it turns out that the news is true. Although I couldn't resist the opportunity to add that little detail to my piece on Obama's similarities with Jimmy Carter, I'm really of two minds about the whole thing.

First of all, I don't want to criticize Obama. It's not like he asked for this. If there's any embarassment to be felt, it should be by the Nobel committee. And secondly, I always pull for Americans to win, whether wars, sporting events, or the World Series of Poker. To whine about this just because it's Obama strikes me as being a lot like cheering when Chicago didn't get the Olympics. If Bush had won the Nobel for his work fighting AIDS in Africa, I would have been offended had the left complained (which I'm sure they would have).

That said, this still falls into my category of "things about the modern world I hate." The other two sitting US Presidents to win this award brokered big peace treaties that stopped hot wars (Teddy Roosevelt in 1906, Woodrow Wilson in 1919). Other Nobel laureates I respect include Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, and Lech Walesa, just to name a few. But in recent years we've seen the "Peace" prize go to Yasser Arafat, the anti-land-mine lady (who apparently has no clue how South Korea's existence depends upon land mines in the DMZ), Jimmy Carter (who deserved a lifetime achievement award, but, like Obama, was rewarded for being hostile to Bush), and most recently Al Gore. I feel the same way about the Nobel Peace Prize that I do about the Grammys ever since Michael Jackson won more than the Beatles, or the Oscars in the last 10 or so years (come on--American Beauty vs. Gone With The Wind. Please.) While I'm at it, I also think the NBA hasn't been worth a darn since at least 1992, and even comic books aren't as good as they used to be.

So it's not about Obama. It's about us. In a world where every child gets a trophy, every rec league soccer game ends in a tie, PE classes ban dodgeball because it picks on the weak, an Boise State can be a contender for the NCAA National Championship, this is not surprising at all. Congratulations to President Obama for winning his award. Too bad the award lost its meaning long ago.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Great Health Care Article

I just read this article about health care reform. I think it should be required reading for everybody interested in the subject. The author, like me, agrees 100% that we need health care reform. Until recently, she thought that meant the sort of plan currently working its way through congress. But she has just discovered some of the law of unintended consequences. Please read it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Welcome Back, Carter!

I saw that slogan on a tee-shirt recently with Barack Obama's face on it. Sadly, unless you're over 40, you may miss the joke. "Welcome Back, Kotter" was a classic 1970s TV show starring Gabe Kaplan and a very young John Travolta. Kaplan played a high school history teacher who taught the delinquent kids at his old high school (where he himself had once been one of the "sweathogs," as they were called). I've always loved this show, because my own career is so similar.

The 1970s also were the time of our 39th president, Jimmy Carter (which explains the play on words). Recently I got into a "conversation" on Facebook that I thought "blog-worthy" about the historical similarities between Carter and Obama. This is a tricky discussion, though, because Jimmy Carter is widely regarded as a failure. A 2005 survey of historians ranked him as the 34th-best president of the 43 we had experienced at that time. This is made worse by the fact that William Henry Harrison and James Garfield were nor ranked, and that he was two spots below Nixon. Of presidents in the 20th century, only Harding came in lower. So comparing our current president to Carter comes off as a cheap shot. Let me ask you to suspend the value judgements of either one, and just look at some similarities.

For starters, both were elected as the "antidote" to an unpopular Republican who wasn't even on the ticket. In 1976, with the wounds of Watergate still aching, Carter saying "I will never lie to you" was seen as the opposite of the hated Nixon. Jerry Ford, a decent fellow by all accounts, had no connection to Watergate. But Nixon had so damaged the GOP brand that "change" was the watchword of the day. Indeed, the desire to repudiate Washington in general was so strong that Carter's status as an "outsider" was seen not as inexperience, but freshness. Compare this to the 2000 election, and sub in the hated George W. Bush for Nixon, with John McCain playing the role of sacrificial lamb.

Secondly, both men came to office during a bad economy which was not of their own making. the 1970s had been experiencing stagflation and a gas crunch since back when Carter was Governor of Georgia. And it may even be true that no one could have possibly done anything about the conditions that made 1979 so bad. Likewise, Obama has the misfortune of presiding over the highest unemployment since, well, the 1970s. He didn't make it, but he'll get judged for how he handles it.

Third, in terms of leadership style, both were widely hailed as smart--Carter as a nuclear officer in the US Navy, Obama as editor of the Harvard Law Review. But both were relative novices at the game of DC politics, and struggled to get their own party (which controlled both houses of congress) to follow their leadership. Carter tried numerous economic "fixes." But the biggest knock on him was that he didn't have what it took (whether political savvy or intestinal fortitude) to make a plan, stick with it, and ride it out. Hopefully Obama gets better at that.

In terms of foreign policy, both cared deeply for the image of the USA as the "good guys" on the world stage. For Carter, this was a repudiation of Nixon's realpolitik and an embrace of human rights as a guiding principle. For Obama, it's pushing the "reset button" following 8 years of Bush's "cowboy diplomacy." Both have garnered praise for their good intentions. In Carter's case, it is said that he ignored Machiavelli's dictum regarding being loved vs. feared. Those who criticize Obama wonder the same thing aloud. Indeed, it is the same Iranian theocrats who have been a thorn in the side of both men. Both also have seen Afghanistan as a problem (albeit a very different problem).

I'm running long, but I could go on with other examples. That's enough for right now. Carter was ejected from office in a landslide in 1980, ushering in the "Reagan Revolution" and a 12-year (or more, depending upon how you see Clinton's "New Democrat" days) period of conservative ascendancy. I know many conservatives hope for a repeat--that Obama will either overreach or underachieve, and wind up discrediting liberalism for another generation.

In the long run, that might be a desired outcome (I am, after all, conservative). But I do not wish a rerun of the 1970s on my country, whether we're talking economic crisis, foreign policy weakness, polyester, or disco. If I were advising President Obama (and for some reason, he has not yet come to me for advice), I might let him know about the Costanza Principle. One more pop-culture reference: in Seinfeld, George Costanza realizes that he is a loser, and adopts a new life strategy. Whatever is his first instinct, he does the opposite, with great effects. Similarly, if Obama finds himself doing what seems Carter-esque, he needs to run, not walk, in the opposite direction. Otherwise, he runs the risk of being seen as a good fellow who makes an excellent ex-president.

What's On My Nightstand

Its almost time to clean off the nightstand again, as the pile of things I have read or am currently reading is beginning to encroach upon the space required for our cool new CD-radio-alarm clock. In no particular order, here's what I'm plowing through these days:

  1. The One Year Bible. (Only New Testament and Psalms this year.)
  2. Tyndale's Commentary on Ephesians (that's what I'm teaching to my adult Sunday School class.)
  3. The latest issues of Running Times, American Track and Field, and Coaching Management magazines (and the best part is, I get all of these at work).
  4. The Warrior Elite: The Forging of SEAL Class 228. (This is a favorite I re-read every year or so. It's a day-by-day account of the BUDS training of navy SEALs back in the late 1990s. It's inspiring, encouraging, and challenging.)
  5. The 7 Faith Tribes, by George Barna. (This is a really interesting book about the demographics of faith in the USA. I'll almost certainly be blogging some ideas provoked by it.)
  6. A book called Coach which was on the dollar rack at Barnes & Noble. It's a series of anecdotes about the impact of coaches on players' lives. I've only barely looked at it.
  7. Modern Times, by Paul Johnson. This is the one I'm excited about. It's one of those books I've meant to read for a while, but never got around to it. Yesterday the thought crossed my mind, and I ran to the school library and checked it out before I could put it off again.
  8. Hour By Hour, a small book of prayers derived from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, with a personal liturgy to use for morning, noon, evening, and nighttime prayers for each day of the week. I've had it for months and still not prayed all the way through it in a week, but it's been helpful in strengthening my prayer life.

Anyway, besides the clock and my glasses, that's what needs to be dusted around these days. I probably read a lot more pixels than pages right now, but I'm going to make an effort to push away from the keyboard and spend some time with Modern Times for a while.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Faux News

There was something in the news today that mirrors a facebook conversation I had with a friend last week. Yesterday, our local paper ran an editorial by Leonard Pitts that excoriated FOX News for being so biased. Responding to charges (which in this case, happen to be true) that FOX was the only network that covered the controversy around Obama advisor Van Jones until after he resigned, Pitts points out that even a stopped watch is right twice per day. He then goes on a tear about factual errors on FOX, giving examples from such leading names as Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity.

Hey, Leonard--here's a news flash: those guys are running OPINION shows, not news reporting. Yes, FOX is a conservative channel. And their editorial views feature many more conservatives than liberals. I'll even spot you that the token liberal commentators on FOX are not the very best and brightest; whether Juan Williams from NPR, or back in the days where Alan Colmes shared airtime with Hannity, they rarely measure up the Charles Krauthammers of the world (in fairness, few pundits do). But that's true of every channel. MSNBC is at least as rabidly left as FOX is right. But what continues to gall me is that the so-called "mainstream" media, that gets to present themselves as the objective heirs of Walter Cronkite, also lean left.

Case in point: yesterday, CNN, one of the "objective" networks, ran a story doing a "fact-check" of the first-ever anti-Obama skit on Saturday Night Live. I couldn't believe it! Since 1975, SNL has done comedy. They have skewered every president since Gerald Ford. After 200 days, they FINALLY decided it was safe to poke just a little fun at Obama, and CNN has to point out that they are using hyperbole. Does anybody remember CNN doing a piece on how Tina Fey's impersonation of Sarah Palin wasn't a documentary? Did they ever step up to defend George W. Bush from criticism by SNL in the last 8 years? Of course not! So if you wonder why FOX news is the most-watched news network in the USA, here's your answer.

Don't get me wrong. FOX should not be the only news channel anybody watches, any more than National Review or The New Republic should be the only news magazine anyone reads. But the folks who run the New York Times, Newsweek, and CNN seem to think that if you only tune into them, you'll have all the news you need. Bull-hockey! The NYT editorial page leans every bit as far to the left as FOX's editorial panels do to the right. And their token "conservative," David Brooks not only has the mother of all man-crushes on Obama, his version of conservatism is about as robust as Pee Wee Herman. If that sort of editorial position calls into question the biases of FOX, why does it not do the same for "All the News That's Fit to Print?"

One last disclaimer. This is not intended so much to be a defense of FOX as an indictment of the so-called "mainstream" media. And I won't even drink the conspiracy theory kool-aid and claim that folks like CNN do it on purpose. A poll a while back showed that over 80% of journalists self-identify as liberals. (That's OK, the numbers are just as bad for history teachers.) I don't doubt that they try to play it straight, at least most of the time. But a liberal trying to be fair is still not the same as a conservative. The reverse is also true--as a conservative US history teacher, I work very hard to show both sides of the issues, and to be fair to those with whom I disagree. But it's a lot easier for me to teach the successes of the Reagan administration than to sing the praises of LBJ. In some cases, I may even go overboard in the opposite direction in an attempt to mitigate by biases. But obviously, I think my positions (on politics, economics, religion, philosophy, and SEC football) are the correct ones--if I didn't, I'd change them! Journalists are human, too (except for Olbermann).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Blame it on Rio

I suppose the convergence of politics and the Olympics is a topic that I should definitely weigh in on. First of all, let me just say up front that hardly anybody who knows the Olympics ever thought Chicago would win. Rio and Madrid were heavy, heavy favorites. Also, I don't think it was in any way President Obama's fault that we "lost." Moreover, anybody who was pulling against Chicago due to some desire to see Obama fail needs a beating (although there were legitimate reasons to pull against Chicago, and certainly, this isn't nearly as bad as hoping something as serious as a war effort fails).

All that said, however, I think the Obama effort and the ensuing reaction do illustrate a few noteworthy points. First, Obama going was a political/PR mistake. Many pundits said when he left that "the fix must be in," Chicago-style, if the President and First Lady were going to fire up a million-dollar trip on Air Force One and go to Copenhagen. Obviously, they were wrong. But a pro would have/should have known the potential downside. Better to stay home and lose than risk political capital that way. And if we had won, he could have still taken credit. An alternative view is that the decision was not so much amateurish as narcissicistic. Perhaps Obama really believed that his dulcet tones would sway world opinion. Neither scenario is pretty. Equally ugly was the CNN reporter's incredulity at the announcement--as if it was utterly unbelievable that the IOC had dared to snub Obama, the USA, and the Windy City!

But most interesting to me is how popular opinion has reacted. In the grand scheme of things, this episode is nothing compared to trillion-dollar healthcare bills, major strategic changes in Afghanistan strategy, or rising unemployment. Yet this one is what gets people fired up. The next week, Saturday Night Live ran its first skit that was genuinely critical of Obama. The guy was elected almost a YEAR AGO! Perhaps it's because the American people understand sports a lot better than they do economics. But for whatever reason, somehow the Olympics going to Rio illustrates Obama's weaknesses better than anything so far.

On a more personal note, I was thinking that if the games DID come to Chicago, I might try to get a faculty grant to go and see some of the track and field events. After all, it is semi-connected to my job description. I fear that Rio would be a harder sell.

Radio Silence

Well, it's been over 2 months since I've been here. I'm not sure why. I haven't stopped thinking--indeed, I've had many thoughts which I have pronounced (elsewhere) as "blog-worthy." It's not that nothing has happened in the world within my circle of concern. While I was NOT blogging, Joe Wilson yelled "you lie," the health-care debate has provoked numerous brain-droppings, Rio has beaten out Chicago for the 2016 Olympics, Sarah Palin has gone to #1 on with a book that's not even printed yet, the Gamecocks have beaten a top 5 team at home for the first time ever, and my cross-country team has taken over the #1 rank in our league's top 10 poll (full disclosure: I help write the poll... but I don't vote on us). It's not like I've been busier than usual; I'm always busy, but I've spent plenty of time online, and I have left brain-droppings on facebook pages and message boards.

In some ways, getting out of the habit of blogging has been a lot like getting out of shape (something I have lots of experience with). You can miss a few runs, even take off a week or two "on purpose." But at some point, critical mass is reached, and you know that the process of getting back what you've lost is going to take far more effort than it would have taken to just keep up the old habit. And then the task becomes more and more daunting, even dreadful. But, just like I have so many times in the physical world, I'm lacing 'em up and attempting just a short one around the block. If anybody is still out there, perhaps leave me a comment. It will take encouragement to get over the hump.