Thursday, September 30, 2010

2010: The Year of the Cheeky Conservatives

Punchy.  Cheeky.  Sassy.  Saucy.  Fearless.  This ain't your grandfather's conservative movement.

If the Tea Party Movement has done one thing right (and I think it has done far more than one right thing), it has been to inject some adrenaline into the dehydrated veins of demoralized conservatives.  Remember how horrible it felt to wake up on Wednesday, November 5, 2008 and look about and wonder if we were heading — with the landslide win for the most liberal brand of Dems — toward that sort of limp-wristed, soft-underbellied slide into Western European-style socialism and whether we would have something as unique as the idea of America by the end of 2012?  Well, I do.  I awoke that morning at 4 AM and wrote a fable — an allegory, really — about our willful abandonment of all things rugged and wild and free called "Whosoever Treasures Freedom."  Well, I thought, that was a nice ride while it lasted.  And I was depressed — or, at least, depressed for me, which is still far too ebullient and gay for my husband's taste most of the time.

Then, 2009 got into full swing and — wonder of wonders! — the party of "Hell No!" arose.  Regular American people were jolted out of their slumber to gather together in defiance of this squishy slide.  The moral core of America fought back — not with rifles or bayonets or violence of any kind, but with feet planted firmly in the ground, arms crossed, eyes steely with resolve, saying, "Not on our watch.  Not to our children and grandchildren.  We don't want it.  We don't need it.  We can't afford it.  Stop it."

Now, with the amazing tools of things like blogs and Twitter and YouTube, conservatives are getting quite creative and ever more amusing.  Things like Tim Hawkins's The Government Can and Steven Crowder's I GotsA Peace Prize were only the beginning.  Now, with this catalyst of an election just around the corner, conservative causes are releasing sharp, focused and hilarious videos almost daily.  I came across this gem today:

(Backstory:  Rep. Alan Grayson (FL8-D) is thoroughly reprehensible.  Scummy, dirty, douchebaggery does not even begin to do justice to his absolute loathsomeness, but it is a good start.   He recently approved of a vile, repulsive concoction of lies and misrepresentations in the shape of a campaign ad about his opponent, Daniel Webster.  Perhaps most appalling and despicable is that he took cuts of Mr. Webster's speaking at a church function about marriage completely out of context — contriving to make Mr. Webster appear like a misogynist neanderthal and one who is completely obsessed by biblical exhortations of wifely submission — and ends the ad with the outrageous labeling of his Republican opponent as "Taliban Dan."  For the ad itself and the unedited video of Mr. Webster's speech, I direct you to Freedom's Lighthouse (my favorite source for all must-see videos and the latest polling information).  Mr. Grayson has been unapologetic when confronted with his malignant malfeasance, saying "in context, out of context, whatever.")

Well, Townhall released today a brilliant, biting, spot-on send-up of this Alan Grayson kerfuffle.  The ending is priceless!  Enjoy!

I think that this new, confident, bold and ballsy, in-your-face face of conservatism is largely due to one former governor of Alaska who was the first one to call out now-President Obama for being, essentially, a very silly person.  Most of the pundits and all the politicians (including, for way too long, his opponent in the general election, Senator McCain) were intimidated by his resounding, pastor-like delivery of frothy, empty sentiment, by his exotic family history and upbringing, by his academic accomplishments and pretensions to intellectualism, and by the seeming aura of destiny that surrounded his campaign.  Add to that the understandable American aversion to anything that could be construed as racism, and Candidate Obama seemed untouchable.  Then, in September 2008, Sarah Palin delivered a barn-burner of a speech that actually dared to poke fun at this pretender, this shyster, this voice in a suit.  For this, she was excoriated by most of the media, and even a great portion of the country.  So much gall packed into one woman!  So much hatred focused on same.  The campaign to destroy her was immediate and unrelenting.  But it failed.  And, up from the ashes of November 5, Gov. Palin has become one of the strongest voices for the resurgent fun factor in conservatism.  The smiler with a knife, she continues on — bold in her message that silliness cannot hold sway in such a sensible country for long, and that Americans are now as they have always been: a people who, paradoxically, are far better and wiser as a whole than the officials they elect.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Least Interesting Man in Washington . . .

. . . will make the best senator in D.C.!

I love Dino!  (And I love Not Dino, too!)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How I Became the World's Greatest PTF President

There was really no campaign at all.  At the last PTF meeting that previous June, I happened to be walking by the auditorium while nominations were in process.  I yelled in, "Justine!" and no one seemed to notice.  So, I went on my way.  But, when the votes were tallied, I guess I came in first, because there was a call waiting on my answering machine at home saying, "Congrats! You're the new prez!"  Aw geez, I thought at the time, that's a lot of work!  Then, I forgot about it and went to the water park.

So, sometime that August, I got a call from someone on the PTF committee — can't recall her name — exhorting me to get working on the first major fundraiser of the year, selling Fosterbrook.  Basically, it's a bunch of wrapping paper and chocolate and other worthless things that the kiddos are socially pressured into foisting upon their sphere of influence (read: grandparents) in return for a paltry percentage of sales for the school.  I tell you, I looked through the proposed fall fundraising catalogue, and I didn't see anything worthwhile.  Seriously, not a Jane Austen or G.K. Chesterton book in the lot.  So, I sat down at my laptop and wrote a letter.

Dear Parents,

We all hate having our kids impose on neighbors, friends, and family with these obnoxious fundraisers.  Besides, Fosterbrook just sells a bunch of crap.  What's say you all cut me a check for $50 per kid, and we call it even?

Love and kisses,
Your PTF President

I sent that home with the kids on the first day of school, instead of the Fosterbrook packet, and the parents were so grateful that the checks just started rolling in.  Some of them even doubled their extorted gifts.  It was great!  Fosterbrook was not too happy, but who cares?  That was a nice little $15,000 padding with which to start the year.

Next up, someone started bugging me about Fall Festival, which, for some reason, is held within the first three weeks of the school year, when everyone has other things they would much rather be doing.  So, I cancelled it to much rejoicing.  Instead, I instituted Friday movie nights once a month in the auditorium.  For $10 per kid, the parents could drop them off to eat popcorn and watch a Roald Dahl movie while the parents got a few hours out and about.  It was a smashing success.  Over the year, that brought us in an additional $12,000.

After these remarkable decisions, I disbanded the rest of PTF and told the parent volunteers that I had it covered.  The only other position I kept was treasurer.  She was kept busy with all the fat receipts coming in from my brilliant ideas.  I doubled the size of the book fair — bringing in vendors other than just Scholastic.  I cancelled the hall rentals for the Christmas and Easter concerts and sent this letter out to the parents, instead:

Dear Parents,

It totally sucks having to sit through OPK's* performances at the concerts, right?  So, this year, we're going to host a series of small, separate concerts on campus, so you needn't be oppressed by the scraggly violins or off-key warblings of any rugrats not in class with your infinitely more talented offspring.  Please consider, in appreciation of my consideration for your time and eardrums, a modest gift to our school.

Hugs and atta-boys,
Your PTF Kommandant

Need I say it?  The money poured in so fast, my treasurer had to come in on the weekend to process it.  Since we were expending so little for these fundraisers, almost all the proceeds went directly into the school's coffers to fund stuff that we really want the kids to have — like awesome field trips.

The tricky one was the spring auction.  Traditionally, each classroom would put together one or two baskets that would then — with other donated items from local businesses — be auctioned off.  The problem, as I saw it, was not simply the expense of hosting such a gala (which, as always, seemed counter-productive), but the fact that parents had to contribute to make these baskets, and then, presumably, buy them back again at auction.  So, I thought maybe I could get some guidance from the other parents.  I sent out the following e-mail:

Hi Parents!

What do you guys think of the auction baskets, huh?  I know it's a major fundraiser for the school, but it seems rather redundant to me.  Did you ever wonder why the school doesn't just raise its tuition to what it needs for the year and then leave us alone?  Yeah, I know, me too.  So anyway, I don't know, this auction thing — let me know what you guys think, OK?

With a firm handshake and a solemn nod of the head,
Your Sovereign PTF Queen

Suffice it to say, I got a lot of good ideas as feedback, and not one of them included a classroom auction basket.  Now, how we raised the money might not be exactly legal, but it was certainly bonzer.  I cannot reveal more at this time, especially with the investigations still ongoing, but we ended up doing quite nicely, thank you, with no baskets.

Well, the year ended and so did my presidency.  All the parents gathered together to implore me to serve another year, but I told them that even such grand schemes as this had to meet their timely ends.  My farewell address brought tears to more than one eye, especially as the parents considered that next year would bring back Fosterbrook, the grand, 3-hour long, aurally abusive concerts, and the like.  They built me a cushioned litter and hoisted me up on the shoulders of the four strongest dads and paraded me around the parking lot while six lithesome moms threw rose petals in my path and a brass band played a triumphant march.  Then came the startling announcement from the principal:  My PTF had done such a miraculous job of raising funds, that PTF was far into the black for the next three years.  A grand "Hurrah!" rang up from the crowd, and I bowed slightly, graciously, and slowly walked to my Honda, waving all the while.  As I drove off, away from the school and my seat of absolute power, I realized that I had truly been the greatest PTF president that the school — and perhaps the world — had ever known.  And that was enough for me.

*Other People's Kids

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


For some reason, this video clip from Billy Madison has been cracking me up lately.  It is such a brilliant smack-down of inanity, and the actor — Josh Mostel? — delivers it with a pitch perfect mixture of solemnity and incredulity.  In this political season, especially, it rings rather relevant.  Pure comedy!

"And may God have mercy on your soul."  ROTFLMAO!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Let Freedom Ring!

Morris.  Kangaroos.  Those fantastic accents.  Happy outdoorsy people living boldly among about 10,000 of the deadliest animals ever discovered.  Michelle TumesVegemite.  Phrases like "hopeless nongs" and  "gutless spivs" thrown about in Parliament.  The reasons to love Australia are almost innumerable.

Now, here is another one:

When I was in Canada this past July, one of the most talented musicians ever created, a man with refined and extensive literary taste, someone who is always interesting to talk with, and an entrenched and determined (though not angry) self-described socialist named Spencer asked me what I thought of this Tea Party Movement in my homeland.  I told him I love it.  I think his reaction was to tsk-tsk me.  Canadians, I have discovered, love to tsk-tsk Americans at any opportunity.  I leave them to their joy.  

I, however, am unapologetic.  I think the Tea (or the acronymic T.E.A. -- Taxed Enough Already) Party Movement is, overwhelmingly, a positive one. As Thomas Jefferson famously wrote to James Madison in 1787: I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing; as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. . . . It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.  Interestingly enough, he was writing this part of the letter in commentary upon the Shays' Rebellion.  So, let's look for a moment, between the ellipses.

Shays' Rebellion was an uprising by poor, debt-ridden, farmers in Massachusetts between 1786 and 1787.  It was sparked by the demand from overseas lenders that the Revolutionary War debts be paid in gold and silver, quantities of which were not yet abundant enough in the new country to afford repayment.  The borrowers on these notes, individual states, were trying to squeeze the money from mostly rural, small-time landowners to pay back the debt.  They used the force of the courts to sue farmers for back taxes, selling off the land to settle those amounts when the farmers could not pay.  It was a cruel cycle: an insolvent state wringing dry poverty-stricken landowners in a way that forced families off of their land and into greater poverty.  The farmers, called Shaysites after fellow farmer and Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays, lobbied for the issuance of paper currency and lower taxes.  Their methods involved disruption of the court system and general rowdy protest, but no bloodshed.  They were eventually put down by General William Shepherd; the rebels were rounded up; and, the rebellion itself became a call for strengthening the Federal government's power and re-thinking the Articles of Confederation.

Now, to look between the ellipses of the famous Jefferson quote: I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. Unsuccessful rebellions, indeed, generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people which have produced them. An observation of this truth should render honest republican governors so mild in their punishment of rebellions as not to discourage them too much. It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government. [Emphasis mine.]

This is an interesting observation.  "Unsuccessful rebellions, indeed, generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people which have produced them."  In other words, if you are going to have a rebellion, you had damn well better be certain that you can win or are prepared to take the consequences; if you fail, all that stuff you're rebelling against will come down like a ton of bricks on your head.  Coming from a man who had authored the Great Rebellion's founding document, these are sobering words.  "Lives, fortunes, and sacred honor" were not lofty sentiments, but tenable, possible casualties in the Revolutionary War.  Then, the next statement is curious, indeed: "An observation of this truth should render honest republican governors so mild in their punishment of rebellions as not to discourage them too much."  Which truth?  The truth that rebellion is "good" and even "necessary"?  Or the truth that failed rebellions lead often to increased governmental authority?  In a way, I think he means both.*

Jefferson's first part of the letter is an almost Benthamian musing about the correct kind of government to produce the maximum amount of happiness and liberty among a population.  He sees three possible types of government; put simply, they are anarchy (without rule), democratic republics or constitutional monarchies (limited rule), or despotism (unlimited rule).  Without much pretense at an argument, he comes to the conclusion that the American-style of limited government was, indeed, the best to secure the greatest freedom and contentment among a diverse, far-flung population.  (Do you think he was at all prejudiced in favor of this conclusion?  Discuss.)  So, he is in France, as ambassador, hearing about this troublesome rebellion in Massachusetts, and he is singularly unruffled. 

He writes to James Madison that, "An observation of this truth should render honest republican governors so mild in their punishment of rebellions as not to discourage them too much."  Let's say he means the truth that such rebellions are good for the state; indeed, that they are "a medicine necessary for the sound health of government."  Does he mean that "honest" governors in a republic ought not to be concerned about such rebellions, because they bring to light weaknesses in the system that can then be addressed to make a better republic?  That such rebellions ought almost to be welcomed, as they pinpoint underlying concerns?  That such rebellions are positive in nature because they remind the people that they own the government, and not the other way around?  Or, is Jefferson encouraging leniency on the part of the state against rebels because, in their failure and suppression, the state can legitimately assert greater authority?  Are these two views incompatible?   I think, perhaps, what Jefferson might be saying here is that, whether they succeed or fail, rebellions in general are the great tool of freedom — constantly pruning and nourishing the great tree of liberty.  If they succeed, it means that the population in general is behind the concerns of the rebels.  And, even if they fail, they clarify a need that can then be addressed in a formal way by government. 

A little rebellion was certainly a good thing in the late 18th century.  The Shays' Rebellion was one of the events in our early national history that led to the Philadelphia Convention in May of 1787.  Now known as the Constitutional Convention, the delegates came out a little less than five months later on September 17 with what Benjamin Franklin prophetically asserted was "a republic, if you can keep it."  Can we keep it?   223 years later, I look at such things as the Tea Party Movement and think, "Yes, I do believe we can."  Because a little rebellion, now and then, is good medicine for our sick, gouty, bloated government.

Happy Constitution Day!  And, welcome liberty-loving Aussie friends!

Sources:  Wikipedia's Shays' Rebellion Page; History 1700's Shays' Rebellion Page; Archiving Early America's A Little Rebellion Now and Then Page
*As Arielle kindly pointed out in the comments, the verb "establish" has another meaning which I was not considering when I wrote this piece.  Definition the sixth in the OED (how I love that book!), lists "to place beyond dispute; to prove."  In this sense, Jefferson's sentence certainly meshes more as a completed thought with the rest of his paragraph.  "Unsuccessful rebellions," in other words (again), "indeed, generally [place beyond dispute] the encroachments on the rights of the people who produced them."  Therefore, as I speculated originally, even unsuccessful rebellions serve to "bring to light weaknesses in the system that can then be addressed to make a better republic."  As I mused to Arielle in the comments, I think that Jefferson was an idealist on this point.  Rebellion really ought to make an "honest" republic re-examine its governance; but, more often in history, including in our own great country, rebellion has brought down more draconian rules and sterner enforcement.  Successful rebellions -- I'm thinking here, specifically, of the Civil Rights Movement -- are the fulfillment of already proven encroachments on rights.

Monday, September 13, 2010

I Love Flicka Spumoni!

Thank you!  You made my day!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


How do you spell "sanity" on school mornings for Justine? 


Why didn't I think of this last year?

Monday, September 06, 2010

Creation is a Spiritual Imperative

I have been doing something unusual (for me) this summer:  I have been writing songs.  I am not a songwright in any meaningful sense; still, I find myself drawn again and again to the piano — plunking out tunes that refuse to exit my brain; scribbling down lyrics on any stray piece of paper.  It's totally weird.  And yet, I'm tickled to death, because I've always wanted to write songs.  And though I have musical taste enough to know that my songs are not very good at all, they are mine — my own little bursts of creativity — and they bring me unspeakable joy.

So, I got an inspiration a few days ago for the final chorus of one of the right-wing protest songs (hey! it's a largely untapped market!*) I've been working on for several months now.  I was so jazzed to share it with Jason when he came home, that I followed him into the bedroom, new lyrics in hand, and sang them to him while he changed out of his work clothes.  At the end, I gazed at him expectantly, hoping for a chortle, but willing to settle for an appreciative grin.  Instead, I got silence, a sideways glance, and then a withering, "What do you want to do with this?"  Ah, when Art marries Economics, moments like these are the offspring.

"What do I want to do with it?" I shot back incredulously.  "I want to write it, finish it, learn to play it well on the piano, maybe figure it out on guitar, and sing it for you, my dad, and Flicka Spumoni.  That's all."  While I was proclaiming my modest ambitions, I confess that an image flitted through my mind of myself — wearing a bandanna kerchief, "Welcome Back, Carter" T-shirt, and my most groovy tattered jeans — sitting cross-legged, guitar in hand, at a Tea Party Rally, leading a few thousand of my fellow conservatives in a rousing rendition of the song's chorus (believe me, it's great for a sing-along).  This vision was quickly discarded.  First of all, I am way too shy for such a display; secondly, I can't play guitar for shit.

"Well, it seems to me that you're expending an awful lot of time and effort for something with which you are not really planning on doing anything," replied he — unnecessarily grumpy, I thought at the time, though the poor fellow does have a lot on his mind right now.

Hmmm . . . he is right, in a way, of course.  The only thing these songs will be good for is maybe to entertain Jason (though I think I'll be excusing Mr. Stinky Attitude from granting me audience for the foreseeable future), my dad (who is honor-bound to be receptive to all my creative effusions and marvel at my genius), and Flicka (whose unreserved — and, perhaps, heedless — approbation of whatever I send her only encourages my further imposition).  But, and here is the key, these songs — no matter how lame, how silly, how incompetent, how banal they are — are for me.  I like them; I get a kick out of them; and, in the end, that's enough.

Carolyn Arends mused on a blog post for Conversant Life almost two years ago about beginning work on her 10th album (the since-released and absolutely breathtaking Love Was Here First) in the face of what has become a particularly inhospitable remunerative climate for creative artists.  On one hand, it has never been easier for an artist to get his work out to the public and find his niche audience; on the other, though, this niche-driven art market makes the bigger labels and publishers skittish about investing in unique or untried talent.  As Carolyn wrote in her post, CDs and Books and Massive Anxiety Attacks, Oh My!, she was having "difficulty in giving a solid business rationale for the undertaking.  Digital distribution models (both of the legal and pirate** variety) have radically changed the income potential for artists, which is a nice way of saying I won't make very much money."  Now, she came to a conclusion a lot more lofty than my own (but, then again, she is a musical and lyrical genius who writes songs that immediately make it onto God's iPod, while I am a dork with a spinet and a laptop), but, ultimately, reflecting the same inner calling of creation as pleasure — pleasure in the challenge to dig deeper, find the right word or phrase and link it to the right melody or mold it seamlessly into a paragraph so that it becomes intuitive; pleasure in giving pleasure and receiving pleasure from artistic reception; pleasure in brushing your fingertips against the hem of the divine robe and sharing a small part of the Father — the Original and Ultimate Creator.

Carolyn's more elegant explanation:  "So what am I doing? Why am I doing it? . . . I want to sing honest songs. I want this CD to be better than the last one--a deeper pocket or a sweeter line. I want to record some bit of something that gives me and maybe someone else goosebumps. I want to be moved, and to move someone else.  Like most artists who are also Christians, I walk a fine line between calling and indulgence; I could not honestly tell you the ratio between flesh and spirit at any given moment. But this is what I know. We must all tell our stories, as truthfully and as beautifully as we can, and God is such a good God He can and will use our efforts. I've seen it more times than I can count. And I don't know if that gives me mojo, but it gives me motivation. And I can't wait for the next recording day." [emphasis mine]

Carolyn is too modest to bring up another point:  she was so obviously created to do what she does, that there are divine implications if she does not fulfill that calling.  In other words, I believe that God has a major stake in whether she creates or not; I'm not convinced that He does in whether I do.  So, though my creative expressions may not have eternal ramifications, I have become certain that there is a spiritual imperative that draws humans of all levels of gifting to create.

Michael Medved has posited an idea about the words in Genesis that we are made after God's image that I love.  Because God is Spirit — and the Word had not yet become Flesh — this line from Genesis has little to do with a giant old man in the sky and everything to do with the substance of our souls.  Our Maker has bestowed upon us the unique gift of creation; He has given us a share in His ability.  No other created being in heaven or earth shares this with the Father.  Do the angels create?  There is no evidence in Scripture that they do.  That famous fallen angel cannot create; he can only destroy.  Do animals?  Well, certain trainers love to astound and awe audiences by showing off painting elephants.  But no elephant will manipulate its natural habitat in order to create art.  Humans always have.  Along side artifacts of survival — perhaps an integral part of our survival instinct — there is art.   

A couple years ago, I took a Creative Writing class on the short story at a local college.  I came away from that class convinced that I have not been gifted in fiction.  God, who has the best sense of humor, immediately inspired me to start writing short stories, one after the other, pretty much against my will.  It was almost as if He were gently reminding me that my calling is not up to me; it is completely about Him and His Spirit flowing through my hands, willing or unwilling.  Between that and the constant encouragement of Flicka, I have since decided just to be open to the blessing of creation — no matter how embarrassing or uncomfortable or disappointing to my own high standards.  He is using it all for His glory, even in ways I may not know until the other side of the veil. 

*Conservatism is counter-culture!
**Please, please, please do not pirate music.  If you love an artist enough to share his work, pay him for it.