On the Syrian Refugees

Comments   0   Date Arrow  November 17, 2015 at 2:15am   User  by joel

I am an American. I am a conservative. I am a Christian.

I grew up in the 80s while Ronald Reagan was president, followed by George H.W. Bush, and I was raised with fairly conservative values — honor God, family, and country, respect and support the military, give an honest day’s hard work for honest pay, keep your pants on, respect your elders, don’t do drugs, love your country. Love your country. Why? Not because of its deep history, for it has none; on the contrary, for what its people, drawn from all colors and creeds and all walks of life from so many other lands, have been able to accomplish by setting aside to some extent the identities of their homelands in order to come together as a new thing, a new People: Americans. As Americans we stood up to the might of the British Empire, not once but twice. As Americans we overcame whatever random obstacles creating a new country in a new land threw our way. Need mail? Let’s use ponies. Need goods transported faster? Let’s build a railway. Mountain in the way? No problem. As Americans we faced our own demons, clung to unity, and put an end to slavery. As Americans we faced down world-scale European Imperialistic aggression, not once but twice. The first time we kept one hand tied behind our backs, the second it was busy dealing with Asian Imperialistic aggression. At the same time. My country has made its share of mistakes and more, but by and large as countries go I’m rather proud of it.

We are a nation of immigrants who came together, made a new home with a lot of very different people, and invited even more to join them. Our history and our DNA speak volumes of open doors. I grew up in New Jersey, roughly an hour from the Statue of Liberty, and visited her more than once growing up. Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. That is our legacy, one we continued to build on in the twentieth century by leading the world in resettling refugees both here and abroad so they can find and make a new home and a new life for themselves. When I was very young in the late 1970s, my family took in a refugee family from Laos. Husband, wife, a young boy my age and his little sister. We helped them learn English, get jobs, learn to drive a car, gain citizenship. Helped them move to the apartment next door when they were ready to support themselves. That boy and I were fast friends for awhile, getting into all kinds of trouble in the woods (and the old neighbor’s garden patch, as I recall…). I had no idea at the time, but that portion of my life was greatly influenced by the American policy of accepting and helping these refugees. Long after that, after my parents divorced and we moved to a new house, my staunchly conservative mother opened our home time and again to folks who needed a safe place to get back on their feet.

My essentially conservative upbringing has largely followed me into adulthood as well; while I endeavor in general to think for myself (I don’t watch Fox News or listen to Rush, for example), I do tend to vote Republican in most elections and my social and economic inclinations usually line up, more or less and with perhaps some nuance, the way you might expect.

My father served in the Marines, my brother in the Air Force. Three uncles in the Army and Navy. I was raised to respect not only the military, but what they proudly stood for and fought for. The flag, our freedom, the American way. I would get choked up as a kid whenever Lee Greenwood’s voice would come over the radio on 92.5, WXTU out of Phildelphia. I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free…I could probably sing the whole thing word for word from memory even now.

I am an American. I’m also a Christian, which contrary to the casual belief of some is not nearly the same thing. I take my faith seriously and continuallly struggle with how best to live it out in the world around me. I do believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, both fully God and fully man, walking on the earth a couple thousand years ago. I believe he died to pay for the sins of the world and yes, actually literally rose again in victory over death itself. I believe the full measure of Scripture is a story that screams out his name, louder and louder the more deeply and more fully I study it, from Genesis through the history and the writing prophets, through his arrival and ministry in Israel, through the writings of his followers afterward, to the final chapter of the final book. My local church is deeply committed to the integrity of the Bible and to teaching it well, in which context I’m surprised to find myself occasionally teaching adults various aspects of its history and theology. Though I have a lifetime of learning ahead of me, you might say I’m somewhat familiar with the writings of Scripture and with what it tells us of the character of the Lord.

He is the one who established in the Mosaic Law a system of sacrificial temple worship. He is the one who established the feasts and assemblies. And yet he is also the one who said, through the prophet Amos:

21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them;
    and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
    I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
    to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Long before that, he made clear through Moses his concern for the foreigner, echoed throughout Scripture:

18"He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows
His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. 19"So 
show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of


My friends, my brothers and sisters, my fellow Americans, tonight I am grieving. I don’t think ever before would I have imagined the extent of fear and hatred fill my people, Americans, brothers and sisters who claim Christ, as I have seen on display tonight. Are Americans a people of fear? In a land that rose up as one to defeat the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese, that stared down the Soviets and won the Cold War, that told Qaddafi and Saddam where they could stick their aggressions, that knocked the Taliban back into the stone age it came from, I do not see fear as one of our strong points. And yet tonight we wrap fear around us like a comforting blanket. Are believers in Christ a people of fear? With a history of speaking truth to power to end slavery in western civilzation, of standing firm to serve needs in the midst of war and disease when all rational people have fled, of returning to spread the gospel to the very people who killed your loved ones, I do not see fear among the saints who have marched in before us. And yet tonight we claim fear instead of compassion, veiled hatred over being our Lord’s hands and feet. We fear what we do not know or understand, and we have allowed louder voices to teach us to hate the Other.

My friends, fellow Americans, brothers and sisters in Christ, if we close our doors now I tell you we reject the America we have long celebrated. We claim fear over strength and hatred over humanity. We declare the American dream finally dead, no longer vibrant, no longer able to grow and thrive. We declare fealty to the Old World ways of separation and seclusion, focused solely on our insular comfort and prosperity and deeply suspicious of anything or anyone that might threaten them. As followers of our Lord the Christ, the one who declared the Mosaic Law fulfilled and who conquered death itself, I tell you if we close our doors now we aspire to be nothing more than the goats of Matthew 25. We no longer have any interest in serving the poor if it inconveniences us. We no longer care to visit anyone in prison, because why would we? They’re criminals, after all. And welcome strangers? No, we can’t do that; they might hurt us, you see, and we’ve paid a lot for our cloaks and our shirts and aren’t interested in giving up either, much less a crust of bread or a blanket.

My friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, my fellow Americans, I love you. You are my people. But if you do this, if you close your doors, if you turn away these huddled masses who no longer have a patch of dirt to call home, who barely escaped with the clothes on their backs from the horror of 4th century barbarism brought back to life…if you do this, you are no longer the people you have claimed to be. You reject the legacy of this land you call home and you reject the character of the one you call Lord. Tear down the damned Statue, build the wall, and tell the world once and for all that the America they thought they knew and looked to has left the building.

But that doesn’t have to be the way, and I say it must not. Are we truly a people of fear? No, we are not, and we should shout that from every mountain. We are not afraid of any nation large or small, and we are certainly not afraid of any 4th century band of idiotic barbarians who have the gall to think they can conquer the modern world with suicide bombs and small arms weaponry.

We have an opportunity before us, folks, and we need to decide not only who we are but who we want to be. We can show the world we really are weak, self-centered, full of fear and unable to help the least of these for fear of getting stung. Or we can show them what it means to be a light, a refuge, an example to the world of compassion and mercy to thousands, to show them what America is made of besides shock and awe. Which path will we choose? Who do we really want to be?


I for one refuse to live in a spirit of fear. I say let them come.



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Comments   0   Date Arrow  February 7, 2014 at 5:08pm   User  by joel



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A Tale of Two Tragedies

Comments   3   Date Arrow  February 3, 2014 at 11:15pm   User  by joel

Yesterday was February 2nd, Super Bowl Sunday, and it began as most typical Sundays do. Got the kids up and moving to get ready for church, ended up running later than we wanted, went to worship, chatted with the Pastor, went to the class I’m helping with, listened to some good teaching on some early chapters in Genesis, talked with the lead teacher on what’s to come and options for which part I might take on next, collected the kids, chatted briefly with my buddy and his family about our clan invading their place to watch the game, went home for lunch.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

The kids got going on lunch bits in the dining room and Andi and I sat with ours on the couch; she worked on the week’s meal plan and I casually checked Facebook on my phone while we chatted. And of course, as many others did, I started to see lots of posts about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death. I mentioned it to Andi, and to be honest neither one of us could place his name. With eight kids still at home, and work and school and church activities, we don’t really “get out” much, particularly for extra things like movies (with the ticket prices these days? gah). I keep somewhat abreast of what’s going on online, but that’s not the same as seeing pop culture news and forced preview commercials on TV. In general I’m okay with this.

And so the name Philip Seymour Hoffman didn’t really ring any bells for me. I’m sure I must have heard his name before, but looking back over his list on IMDB didn’t bring much to mind (“Cold Mountain”? I think we rented that one…). And yet here was this incredible outpouring of public grief over this guy, and the lamenting of the loss of such a tremendous talent in the midst of an openness about discussing his ongoing substance abuse troubles, clearly relevant given the circumstances of his death. And I found myself somewhat troubled, mildly wrestling with this seemingly ongoing story of celebrity and substance abuse and how we choose to regard people who are so great and so messed up at the same time. About how broken our culture is that creates and feeds a supportive environment like that. About how broken the industry makes these people and brings them to the point of “making it” and ruining their lives at the same time. About how broken we all are, when it really comes down to it, and if we’re honest we all know it. Nobody’s perfect, and how that plays out for you looks different than how that plays out for me, but we’re all there. We’ve all got junk we wish we didn’t, like chains we can’t quite keep off our ankles. Sometimes we think we’ve got them off for awhile. Sometimes life shoves them back on us; sometimes we find we’re putting them back on ourselves. But no matter how heavy or light those chains are, or how visible or hidden they are for any of us, they’re there. And so the reality is that we’re all in the same boat with Philip Seymour Hoffman, because, simply put, we’re all human. His gift, though tremendous, did not make him a better person just as his struggle, though serious, did not make him a worse person. Both showed his humanity.

There is a way out of the boat, it must be said, and it’s not death. There is a great deal of misunderstanding in our culture about what the Gospel actually teaches, and who the person of Jesus is, and what he really thinks of us in our junk and chains and mess of a boat. But for now suffice it to say that it’s a lot less like an angry or spiteful prosecutor and a lot more like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son. You should read it sometime.

Anyway, regardless of where that train of thought might lead any one of us, this was clearly a tragedy, though I don’t know about any “epic proportions”. Not because he wasn’t some superstar (which, as I understand it, he had no desire to be in any case), but because the grave is a great equalizer. He was a man with a fantastic talent, but he was after all a man. Still, he was in some sense a public figure, and the deaths of public figures always seem to have almost, dare I say, some non-human sense about them. That is, they don’t quite seem connected with…well, normal people. Normal people, the folks we know and talk to, are everyday people with everyday jobs (or not, these days), and we see their kids at school and church, and we bump into them at Costco. And when they’re sick we visit them, and we hold bridal showers and baby showers to celebrate life with them, and if they pass away we grieve with their families and bring them meals. Everyday life; nobody famous. The people we see on our TVs and movie screens feel like some sort of other, and though of course we know they’re human just like us, nonetheless when we find ourselves mourning their passing it’s…different, somehow. More often than not we’re really just mourning the loss of their gifts and talents; the visible, the public, what they meant to us in whatever way. When it comes right down to it we’re not really mourning the person; in truth, we can’t, because we didn’t really know them. Mourning the loss of a gifted actor we’ve seen in some great movies and would have loved to see more is not the same, cannot be the same, as grieving the loss of someone you just spent Christmas with, for example. It’s not the same; there’s a disconnect.

Well, these thoughts wandered around in my head for a bit that afternoon, but soon enough I was busy with other things. Stacking some firewood, spending some time with my son, watching the clock to be ready to head over to our friends’ house. Then around five o’clock, when I was done with other things and we were soon to be getting ready to leave, I sat down for a bit and skimmed Facebook and saw a sad post from a friend of mine. I met Laura online through the adoption community at least eight or nine years ago, and her post was about another mutual friend and adoptive mom. It turns out she had just heard that this mutual friend had tragically and unexpectedly lost her brother, and Laura (who’s a closer friend than I) seemed almost in shock, standing in the middle of Target and trying to process this news. Comments were starting to come in on her post with condolences, thoughts, prayers for the family, that sort of thing. And though this friend and I are not close, we are friends, and I felt a heaviness for her and her family. I knew at least that she lost a brother and her kids lost their uncle, and I assumed there was likely other extended family that would be grieving.

This news hit me harder and stayed with me longer than that of the actor earlier in the day, and even as we went to watch the game, my friend and her family were often in my thoughts. I wondered if they were geographically close or spread out, if they were able to grieve together, if they had friends sitting with them and holding them in their grief. I didn’t know any more details aside from Laura’s expression of shock, but didn’t want to pry and be nosy about the situation. I figured if details were appropriate to be shared at some point, they would be in due time.

Two tragedies, one public and disconnected, one private and personal. A gift esteemed, a brother loved. It wasn’t until this morning that the realization hit me, like a ton of bricks, that these two tragedies were in fact one and the same. I don’t mean philosophically — Phil was my friend’s brother. She’s got a picture up of the two of them together as happy teenagers. They’ve got other siblings. He’s got kids, three young ones, who just lost their daddy. And the enormity of the family’s loss compounded with the very painful public circumstances was almost overwhelming to ponder. I know grief, and I know losing loved ones. But I can’t imagine what they’re going through with something like this, and I hope and pray they’re finding ways to disconnect from all the public media chatter and simply spend time comforting each other and grieving together.

To my friend, and the Hoffman family, I am so deeply sorry for this painful loss. I pray that God would give you comfort as you grieve and remember Phil.

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Time to be a man

Comments   1   Date Arrow  October 25, 2012 at 2:45pm   User  by joel

Yet another tale today from a friend (this one on FB) of a man in a divorce situation forgetting what it means to be a man. Lacking vision, lacking responsibility, lacking commitment to continue the parenting job you started in any remotely responsible way that puts the kids’ needs before what you want. Too bad you got into something you can’t handle, but you have kids now, and they still need a father. Are you going to man up and take on the consequences or wuss out and run? Or just string everyone else along as long as you can, leaving emotional carnage in your wake, because it’s financially advantageous to you? I’m not sure, but I think that might be the worst option.

I realize I may be ruffling some feathers here, folks, but we live in a broken world. There’s no getting around it. And it’s only going to get worse, but we all have a choice to make whether we’re going to be a part of making it worse for someone else, and ultimately for ourselves. I can’t speak to how women should be and live, but men? It’s long past time to figure out what that label is supposed to mean, because too many of us out there are just plain doing it wrong.

Look, I know you’ve got junk in your life. Maybe your dad wasn’t around and missed out on your life, or maybe he was and might as well not have been for all he seemed to care. Or maybe he was and you wished he wasn’t because he sucked in a thousand different ways. Maybe mom’s put too much emotional stock in you and her apron strings are still tied a little too tight, and she never gave you the room to be a man in your own right (if she asked you for something today, could you tell her no?). So maybe you never had an actual flesh and blood role model to show you what it means to be a man in every day life, and maybe you never did learn how to relate to women in a healthy way that doesn’t mean rolling over and doesn’t mean being the dictator of your little kingdom.

That stuff’s real, man, and made you part of who you are. But you have to realize two things: You’re not the only one BY FAR, and you do NOT have to let your past define who you’re going to be.

So who are you going to be? If any of this resonates with you, or pokes you a bit too hard, maybe it’s time — no, it IS time — to give yourself a long look in the mirror, figure out why you suck, and then Put. It. Down. I don’t need your baggage. Your kids don’t need your baggage. But most importantly, guess what? You don’t need your baggage either. Put it down and walk away from it once and for all, and start getting on with your life. It’s time to be a man.

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Comments   1   Date Arrow  August 18, 2011 at 10:55pm   User  by joel

One of the things about this property that appealed to us, as I mentioned before, was that we had an interest in having goats and it was already set up for that. There was a nice little barn, two pastures with plenty of forage, and a wooden board fence with a few strands of barbed wire and a strand or two of electric fence across the lower half. The herd could be seen grazing peacefully out in the pasture and, for folks who had only a partial clue what they were looking at, things looked to be in reasonably decent shape, at least as far as the goats went.

Now, we had heard and read and were well aware that goats are famous for getting out, and they can climb. So I was pleasantly surprised to see a more moderate approach to fencing that didn’t look like a concentration camp, and seemed to be effective. After all, if the guy had a problem with them getting out he would have put more in place, right? Riiiight.

So near the end of last week I got a call from my mother (who’s living there now to oversee renovations) saying that she saw some of the younger kids outside of the fence. She’d gone back up to the house to find something to perhaps rope them with, but when she came back they weren’t out there anymore. I was headed over that evening anyway to take care of a more pressing matter (the outdoor wood furnace’s water tank was alarmingly low), so while I was there I did a really stupid thing (I now know) and checked the electric fence with my finger. I knew it would hurt if it was on and working, but if it wasn’t I needed to know that, and had no idea how else to check it.

I’ve since learned that that’s just about one of the worst ways to check it. If you absolutely must test one with your body, use the back of your hand. Using the front (palm) of your hand can make your hand muscles contract, causing you to actually grip the wire (d’oh!); using your fingertip puts a much higher concentration of nerve endings right at the point of contact. But really, just don’t touch the thing. They make cheap testers for that.

All of this I learned the next night, when some friends came over to help me figure out why I didn’t feel anything when I touched it. I learned a few other things too, like how smaller electric fence units can’t even have weeds touching the wire. Bigger ones (for lengths of fence in the tens of miles) have a strong enough current that weeds aren’t a problem, but the current from the smaller units gets shorted out much more easily.

Unsurprisingly (given the state of the rest of the property) we had a ton of weeds all around the fence. Not only that, but numerous sections of the wire were twisted up and around the nearest strand of barbed wire (another source of shorting). You know, like what might happen if a small goat kept wriggling through there. Hypothetically speaking, of course. So I spent several hours on the weekend with a machete working on clearing and de-tangling what I could, but wasn’t able to finish to see if that did the trick. Turns out I probably shouldn’t have bothered. Sunday morning we were able to catch up with and finally meet another family from our church who have a goat farm in the next town over, and they said even fully functioning electric fence wasn’t effective for them. The only thing that worked, they said, was actual four-inch-square metal goat fencing, and even that they had to regularly check to make sure it stayed tacked down. We also learned that same morning, from another family in our church who are our new neighbors, that some of the goats get out all the time and eat their trees. They were very cool about it and not blaming us or anything, but wanted to make sure we knew.

Right, okay. Guy’s got goats on the property, got some fencing in place, looks like things are in order. Sure. Except the electric’s not working and probably hasn’t been for who knows how long, it wouldn’t have been effective even when it was, and now they’re our goats, eating our neighbor’s trees. Lovely. So a few nights ago we stopped at Tractor Supply and bought out their stock of goat fencing (five rolls, which won’t be enough) and dropped it off at the farm. Tomorrow (Friday) I get to see how much of it I can get up in one day. And once it’s all in place I might string the electric somewhere near the top of it just for good measure. The fun continues…

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The Adventure Begins

Comments   3   Date Arrow  August 10, 2011 at 2:00am   User  by joel

It all really began sometime around the turn of the year.  My mother has been retired out in Colorado for several years now, and had decided that she wanted to move to our area in northwestern Virginia to be closer to us, so we’d been on the lookout for suitable places in the area for her to live.  She wanted a place that had enough room in the yard for her to do a decent bit of gardening, and the closer to us the better — within walking distance, if it could be managed.

For our part, we’ve been content in a 4 bedroom split level with 3/5ths of an acre on a suburban cul-de-sac.  It’s a little snug with eight kids, but we’ve managed.  We did some focused gardening once or twice with great results, but just haven’t put the time into it in the last year or two.  Instead, we’d decided we wanted to try our hand at chickens, so we now have ten hens that peck around the coop and enclosed run we built for them last summer and give us a bountiful supply of eggs.

Well, sometime in early January, while we were keeping our eyes out for potential places for Mom to move in to, it somehow got stuck in our collective heads that it might be fun to find a much bigger place for all of us to live, with substantially more land, and do the hobby farm thing with an eye toward seeing how far we could go toward being self-sustaining.  Mom’s got the gardening prowess down (and we’d like to learn), though perhaps not on the larger scale we’d be looking at; we’re all squared away with chickens, though we’d want to expand to meat birds as well and learn how to candle, incubate, and hatch the eggs to sustain the flock; and goats in general seem like a good idea.  Some are good for meat, some are good for dairy, and they do well on field forage.  Kind of like mini-cows.  Huge unknown there, because none of us know much about how to raise, manage, and take care of them except what we can read online, but it seems like a worthwhile thing to pursue.

Fast-forward about six months.  It’s June, and after walking away from lots of properties (some of which were clearly wrong, some of which were achingly beautiful) we’ve found the property that looks like a winner.  Sixteen acres, a 4 bedroom house with an unfinished basement ( = space for more rooms), several fruit trees, an outdoor wood furnace (like this), a pond that’s dry now because it needs to be sealed (hey, the potential’s there, right?), and get this — not only is the land suitable for a goat farm, it IS a goat farm.  The owner has a herd of meat goats (one Kiko buck and five Boer does, for those who might be curious), and is willing to sell them (and his utility tractor and various implements) to us as part of the overall deal to sell the house.  It looks like a win-win — he doesn’t have to bother hauling the goats to auction and craigslisting the equipment, and we get an in-process farm ready for use, with a herd already on site.

We make the contract, and the next two months blur past.  A few things become clear to us over this time, mostly that this was a broken family situation and the house and land have been…shall we say, less than tended.  Even more so since it went under contract and therefore wasn’t being kept up for market appearances.

And now?  Settlement was yesterday; the deal is done.  The house, land, goats and equipment are ours now, and boy do we have our work cut out for us.  The land is at best in need of a good mowing and at worst in need of some serious bush hogging; both implements are present with the tractor, but time as always is in short supply.  The goats seem well, but the does have several kids and they’ll be ready for slaughter soon.  In the meantime they need to be separated from the rest so they don’t start trying to mate with the other does.  And one of the does either looks somewhat pregnant or seems to have a significant protein deficiency, we’re not sure which.  And a couple of the goats got out tonight, after which I discovered (too late in the evening to fully investigate) that the electric fence seems to be turned off or malfunctioning.

Meanwhile the work on the house has commenced in earnest.  First up is painting and flooring on the second floor (where the bedrooms are), and then the first floor.  Once those are squared away the build-out in the basement will begin, in which we’re adding two more sleeping rooms (they’re not bedrooms, you see, because that would require us to add capacity to the septic system which already has plenty of capacity as it is), a bathroom, a sewing room, and a family/media room.  Once that’s all done (which will take a month or two at least), we’ll actually move our family in and start to live there.  In the meantime, we’ll be focused on trying to pack up a ten-person household while my wife is eight months pregnant and I’m shuttling back and forth between the house and the farm, trying to keep things moving on both ends while still reasonably holding down a full-time job.  Surely we’re insane, right?

The thing is, we’re an adoptive family with eight, soon to be nine kids.  I’ve learned that, at least for us, life is going to be crazy no matter what we do or leave alone.  But I’ve also learned that if we can accept that as a given, we always have a choice — we can let the crazy bus take us wherever it will, or we can drive it ourselves.  And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather stomp on the pedal, steer as best I can, trust God with everything, and see where we end up.

That engine’s been warming up for a bit now, and yesterday we sat down in the driver’s seat.  The motor’s running and it’s in gear.  And the adventure begins…

I’m planning on logging the progress of our adventure here for the few of you who may be interested in keeping up.  If you’d like to follow along without the noise of anything else I might happen to rant or rave or muse about in the meantime, feel free to bookmark http://joel.fouse.net/category/farm .

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Comments   2   Date Arrow  March 24, 2011 at 12:13am   User  by joel

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7-year-olds and Beyoncé

Comments   0   Date Arrow  May 20, 2010 at 2:29pm   User  by joel

Okay, I know I’m a little late to the party for commenting on this whole 7-year-old dancers video, but I’m actually commenting on the clip of the Early Show discussing it (click on “Launch video player” on this page to see the Early Show clip).  I just find it remarkably ironic that three grown women bemoan these children doing this, but turn around and denigrate the lone man present for suggesting that the original Beyoncé video wasn’t any more tasteful or classy.  “She’s a grown woman and that’s art”, they say.  Are they really that oblivious?  The gentleman was absolutely right — art shapes culture, and when we celebrate that sexualized video as acceptable art we have little room to wonder what’s happening to the innocence of our children.

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Rand Paul and the Civil Rights Act

Comments   0   Date Arrow  May 20, 2010 at 11:57am   User  by joel

I tend to have certain Libertarian leanings in my political views, so I was very interested to see Rand Paul win the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Kentucky.  He’s now on the national stage, and the more liberal side thereof has zeroed in on (and is seeking to amplify) his take on the Civil Rights Act as expressed in this interview with Rachel Maddow.  After watching the interview and understanding both what he was trying to say in terms of philosophy and how he was getting steamrolled for it politically,  I wrote the following note in his website’s “Contact Us” form on the off chance that he might actually read and consider it.  I offer it here for your excoriation.

Dr. Paul,

I just watched your interview with Rachel Maddow, and first of all thought you did an admirable job of trying not to let her pin you down on the political point she was trying to make.  As I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s her show and she was going to make the point she wanted to make regardless, but you did very well, I think, in distinguishing the racial issue from the federal/private one.

In general I found myself agreeing with  you, but I wanted to offer a philosophical twist for your consideration.  I agree that the federal gov’t should not unilaterally decide how someone can run their private business, but at the same time I think that we the people are collectively responsible for deciding what kind of people we are.  For example, most of us agree that cold-blooded, first degree murder is not only abhorrent but morally wrong to the point of tolerating a law that abridges one man’s personal freedom to act in order to protect another man’s right to live.  We as a people and a culture have decided that this is an acceptable and even desirable limitation.  And so I think that overall, it’s not a question of whether laws exist that restrict private freedoms, but rather a question of where we draw that line.  I don’t agree with laws that seek to take a minority moral position and impose it on everyone, but I think there is potentially a place to say that if a significant majority of us collectively agree that a given law protecting something as foundational as the inherent dignity of an individual reflects who we are as a people and a nation, then perhaps that may be acceptable.

Now with that said, I’m inclined to observe that to my knowledge the legal definitions and prosecution of murder occurs at the state and local levels rather than federal and that is perhaps more appropriately where such laws belong.  However, in that view nothing would have changed in the 60’s because the states in question were more than happy to continue business as usual with their Jim Crow laws intact, so I’m not sure how useful such an observation is to the current issue.

In any case, congratulations on your primary victory, and best of luck in shaping the political conversations to come rather than allowing them to be shaped for and against you.

– Joel Fouse

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Tea Party as Open Source Politics

Comments   0   Date Arrow  February 4, 2010 at 1:50am   User  by joel

So I just got done reading this fascinating piece on the upcoming Tea Party convention, and I had a bit of an epiphany.  The author kept talking about waiting to see if the movement could be organized into a “political machine” with “influence” while pointing out the inherent challenges in organizing rather disparate groups, some of whom are characterized precisely by their resistance to being organized (herding cats came to mind more than once as I read).  And the more I thought about what I’ve observed going on and how it’s been playing out, the more it seemed to me that any attempt to push these tea party folks into the conventional idea of a “political party” or framework of some sort is most likely doomed to failure at best and irrelevance at worst.  Rather, the strength of the movement, if it proves out to have any at all over time, will be due to the disconnected but like-minded nature of the various participants and groups.

More specifically, I realized that what’s been happening in the software world for the past 10-20 years may be a useful and perhaps instructive analogy.  You could substitute “Microsoft” for “Democrats”, “IBM and others” for “Republicans”, and “the Free/Open Source Software movement” for “the Tea Party movement”, and write a very, very similar analysis of the world of software maybe 10 years ago.  The open source movement is very disparate, organic, passionate and apathetic by turn, lively, contentious, frequently at odds with itself, and above all wildly successful, with emphasis on “wildly”.  It is not a company like Microsoft or IBM, does not enter into contracts or make business deals, does not have a spokesman or PR department, and does not in any way have a board or any other semblance of centralized control structure.  It is comprised of folks from any and every demographic you can think of, and probably a few you can’t.  Genders, ages, religions, philosophies political and moral, skills, geographies, economies, you name it, all are represented in the open source community.  Its single defining characteristic is the emphasis on freedom — freedom to tinker, freedom to learn, freedom to create, and freedom to give that freedom to others.  Anyone who wants to be involved doesn’t have to apply, doesn’t have to get permission, doesn’t have to go through volunteer training.  You just jump in and do it.  If you want to see how something works, pop open the hood.  If you want to figure out why someone else’s open source program has a bug in it and see if you can fix it, knock yourself out.  If you think you can do a better job than what someone else put out there, by all means roll up your sleeves and go for it.

So what’s the point here?  The point is that open source’s very strength comes from the fact that it’s almost a free-for-all, a community of folks who have similar ideas but are free to put flesh around those ideas in any way they see fit.  Any given project will naturally have its own control structure, with the creators and maintainers accepting or declining input from others and generally running the project as they like.  But that has no bearing on what anyone else does with any other project, and shouldn’t — other projects have other goals, other considerations, other priorities.  Sometimes mutual goals foster collaboration, other times there is direct competition or even confrontation, and that’s okay.  It is a living, vibrant, active community, not a machine.

Which brings me back to the tea party folks.  They may all agree on certain Libertarian-esque ideals, primarily freedom from as much government intervention in their lives as possible, but what that looks like in Florida may be entirely different than what that looks like in Montana or Indiana or New Hampshire, or for that matter Washington, DC.  It certainly looked different between New York and Massachusetts recently.   Tea partiers in this state may want the Republican, while those in that city may want the Democrat given the options available, while some other congressional district may support the Independent against both major parties or even write someone in.  These folks are passionate about what they’re doing and individualistic by nature, and they’ve seen the power of getting involved.

The Obama presidential campaign of 2008 was ground-breaking in a number of ways, but one that has been analyzed and celebrated again and again was how well it gathered and harnessed the collective interests and passions of millions of supporters into a somewhat cohesive whole.  A second and closely related way is how well it controlled its message and presentation.  Everywhere you looked you saw the same images, logos, fonts (for those who notice such things), colors, and talking points.  Everything was efficient, engineered, and expertly driven.

The answer to that is not a Republican copycat campaign, mimicking the methods and control of the original (though they may well try).  The answer is the antithesis of all of that.  It’s people saying what’s on their minds, not what they’ve been told to say.  It’s voters supporting a candidate because they like her ideas, not because her name’s in the right column.  It’s citizens expressing their views in any way, medium, and method they see fit with no concern for approval channels or whose interests they might offend.  The Tea Party movement is open source politics.  It’s we, the people, waking up.

Maybe my impressions are off.  I haven’t met with any tea party groups or talked to an of its leaders or anything.  But from what I see, trying to take what’s happening and stuff it into a well-formed political suit misses the point, and runs the risk of robbing it of the very thing that makes it alive:  freedom.

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