Saturday, February 7, 2015

On Terrorists, High Horses, and Hoosiers

This past week at the National Prayer Breakfast President Barack Obama caused quite a stir with some of his comments. This one particular statement has caused quite a ruckus:

"Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ."

There has been s large amount of controversy over these words, and here are three brief thoughts for what they are worth. 


Love him or hate him you have to admire the President for once again wading into theological/historical waters despite displaying little knowledge or understanding of the issue at hand.


It would appear that the President’s understanding of the Crusades differs from mine as well as what this article suggests are the majority of historians of the period. Having said that the general point that terrible deeds have been done in the name of Christ is not off-base. What is rather mind blowing is that somehow moral outrage over terrible deeds is somehow being on a high horse. Would the President really expect that since some Americans of the 19th century* tried to cloak the wickedness of slavery in the garb of holiness that today we should not vocally oppose slavery where we see it? If we are to apply his ideas logically it would seem so. Moral outrage at seeing video of a man being burned alive by terrorists is not being on a high horse. Now to be fair accurate information about history is generally concealed in books so I don't really expect politicians of either party, or anyone claiming to be a journalist to know where to find it.


One of the best things about the President’s comments is that it served to remind me of one of my favorite movie quotes. In the classic movie Hoosiers there is a scene where Coach Norman Dale, Gene Hackman’s character, has just taken over coaching the basketball team. A local man who has been helping with the team while they were without a coach does not approve of the changes that coach Dale is wanting to implement. This leads to this rather exasperated bit of wisdom from the man:
"Look mister, there's two kinds of dumb ... the guy that gets naked and runs out in the snow and barks at the moon, and the guy who does the same thing in my living room. The first one don't matter, and the second one you're kinda forced to deal with."

The Crusades and the Inquisition are fascinating topics for historians, theologians, and philosophers to argue and write dissertations about, but practically speaking they are the naked guy, in the snow, barking at the moon. The people that are currently beheading anyone that they disagree with seems to be a problem that the President of the United States should consider “kinda forced to deal with.”

Call me crazy, but maybe we should spend a little more time focusing on twenty-first century foreign policy, and a little less time on the eleventh. 

*One of the most important factors in ending slavery in this country was evangelical zeal for abolition. I defer to eminent Civil War historians, James McPherson, who discusses the matter if detail in his book, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Parenting Makes You Do Strange Things

One of the most unexpected and underrated parts of being a parent is the number of strange things you end up saying and doing. Take my last 24 hours as an example.

  • Last night after a skirmish broke out between two batty little people over a pair of Lightning McQueen shoes that light up I sent both shoes flying into the next room in my own version of the Judgment of Solomon.
  • This morning I allowed a possibly insane three-year-old little person to paint my hands purple all in the name of "Donuts with Dad" at preschool.*
  • After the hand painting episode I went to the chiropractor for an adjustment only to hear this phrase as I lay face down on the table, "You have a sticker that says 'Super' on your butt." I strongly suspect the same possibly insane little person was responsible.
  • This afternoon upon leaving the children's dentist office I spent an inordinate amount of time laying down in a parking lot looking under cars for an orange bouncy ball. I did not find the
    ball, a meltdown ensued.
  • I was unnaturally excited** to discover that Chick-fil-A is giving away Franklin and Friends books with its kids meals.
  • My wife and I deployed a clever marketing strategy in an attempt to convince the boy that the Franklin and Friends book was an upgrade from the recently lost orange bouncy ball. 
  • I uttered the phrase, "Leave your sister's ladybug alone!" MULTIPLE. TIMES.
  • After a trip to the doctor we returned to the children's dentist parking lot to pick up one of our cars. As I entered the parking log I swerved and slammed on the brakes, and began to yell at my wife while pointing to an empty parking spot. She jumped out and recovered the prodigal bouncy ball and all was right with the world for a few precious seconds. 
  • I saw a one-year-old possible crazy little person wearing nothing but a diaper and firefighter galoshes and I took a picture faster than the paparazzi when someone says Kardashian.***  

If you read that list and none of it occurred to you as strange  then the only explanation must be that you too are a parent. I can only assume that you are reading this to take a break from searching high and low for a bouncy ball, or a lovie, or a baby doll, or an Elmo book, or a green (but definitely not red) crayon, or some other futile pursuit which seems to define your existence as a parent. To you I say, keep hope alive, and always ask the dentist for a backup toke for the prize machine.

*Upon further reflection I believe that this was all a big scam perpetuated by the female preschool teachers to make the male gender seem even more ridiculous than it already does. Given that the male gender is responsible for Jerry Jones, the majority of politicians, and allegedly Michael Moore this may not actually be possible.

**Not Mary Magdalene at an empty tomb excited, but definitely Elisha seeing a flaming chariot excited.

***Centuries from now historians will point to the advent of the Kardashians as the moment when Western Civilization had officially overstayed its welcome on the world stage.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Thoughts on Ike: An American Hero by Michael Korda

Giving books a rating on a five-star scale can be a tricky endeavor. At first I rated Ike: An American Hero by Michael Korda as five stars, something that is pretty rare for me to do.* After pondering it for a day I went back and changed the rating to four stars. I really liked this book, but the more I have ruminated on it a couple of things bug me.

I have been wanting to read a book about Dwight Eisenhower for a while and when the Kindle
version went on sale a while back I pounced on it.I generally liked how Korda interacted with Eisenhower as his subject. He seemed pretty even-handed, although given that I am not an Eisenhower scholar I wouldn't really know. Early on in the book the author makes this statement, "We have a natural tendency to nibble away at the great figures of the past; to dig through their lives for flaws, mistakes, and weaknesses; to judge them severely by the standards and beliefs of the present, rather than those that prevailed when they were alive."** This struck me as a vitally important, but severely neglected attitude when dealing with the past.

The book deals primarily with Ike's role in World War Two. One of my annoyances as I reflected on the read was that an 800 page book only spent 140 pages on eight years in the White House. It sort of felt like there was a deadline coming up and Korda needed to finish the book so he had to squeeze it in. Nevertheless I will probably read Stephen Ambrose or someone else to get a more thorough picture of Eisenhower anyway.

In some ways Eisenhower seems to have gotten a raw deal historically. The narrative that he did not push forward civil rights as he should have and that he did not deal with communism properly are just a couple of the concepts that Korda feels are incorrect understandings of Eisenhower. I did find it incredibly fascinating to see how much Ike's thoughts on his world were proven correct, and how many of them we would have done well to heed in the last few years. He wanted no part of a land war
in Asia, quickly ending the Korean conflict, and thought Vietnam was a tremendous mistake. He warned against the United States becoming a major power broker in the Middle East, and he seemed much more intersted in getting things done than in making headlines.

*I looked and I generaly rate about 10% of the books that I read as five stars. This is actually higher than I thought, but I also generally read books I want to read which increases the odds that I am going to read a book I really like.

**Korda, Michael (2009-03-17). Ike (p. 4). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.