28 April 2008

Veggie Blog, Part I

Look what I did last weekend:

That is my new 8' x 10' raised vegetable garden bed! I am not a handyman by any means, but I built that all by my self. The instructions were simple, everything lined up, and all the angles were "true" as my beloved dad would say. After a couple failed attempts at growing vegetables in the ground, I concluded that our soil wasn't conducive to vegetable gardening because beneath a thin layer of topsoil, there's a lot of clay. Also, my neighbor informed me that the previous owner mulched the garden area for several years with lawn clippings that had been treated with a broadleaf weed killer -- which explained my stunted and pathetic veggies from years past. I thought that a way around that was a raised bed, similar to one that a friend of mine built for similar reasons.

I built the bed out of weatherproofed redwood, and it holds together thanks to some very long lag screws. I bought 18 bags of organic topsoil to put in the bed. I was surprised to find that buying topsoil in bulk and having it delivered is not significantly less than buying top-line soil off the shelf at the garden store. That surprised me. Anyway, the project came up to $318 all together.

Within the last year, I've read a trio of books on food and eating: The Omnivore's Dilemma, Real Food: What to Eat and Why, and In Defense of Food. These books make the case that we should eat natural, whole foods, and that in general we should take more time and care into preparing and enjoying a meal. Based on this, I initially decided to buy a share into a community-supported agriculture program. But then I thought why not take it one step further by growing some of my own vegetables, since I like to be out in the garden anyway? So that's what I'll be doing this year.

I think I will start out with collard and mustard greens, spinach, lettuce, radishes and carrots. When the greens are done, I will be ready to plant tomatoes. As I phase out some of the tomatoes and radishes, I can plant some squash. Toward the fall, I can plant some broccoli since they apparently like it cold.

Anyway, I'll let you know how it goes.

24 April 2008

License Plate Theology

The Associated Press this morning reports that some in the Florida legislature are considering creating a Christian-themed specialty license plate, the proceeds from which would go to an organization that conducts after-school faith based activities.

To me, this raises a couple questions. Assuming the legislature approves this plate, would they also approve ones that say "I Don't Believe" or "I Believe in Plural Marriage" or "Allahu Akbar"? Probably not, barring court intervention. It's dismaying that the Florida legislature would open this can of worms when there are so many other issues they could attend to.

But beyond that, the proposed plate brings to light something that's been concerning me of late. Why is it that public symbolic expressions of faith and patriotism have become so important. Why does it matter whether or not a politician wears a flag pin? Why is it so vitally important that one's religious affiliation needs to be broadcast on a license plate?

Turning lapel pins and license plates into litmus tests on faith and patriotism only serves to cheapen faith and patriotism. The sponsor of the bill to create the license plate put it best:

Rep. Edward Bullard, the plate's sponsor, said people who "believe in their college or university" or "believe in their football team" already have license plates they can buy. The new design is a chance for others to put a tag on their cars with "something they believe in," he said.

-- Associated Press

Rep. Bullard clearly doesn't intend to suggest that his faith is the moral equivalent of an alumni association or a football fan club, but that is in effect what he is doing in sponsoring a Christian license plate. By backing the measure with the support of the state, it cheapens the state as well as religion. Our efforts as citizens and the faithful are better spent elsewhere.

One's faith and one's patriotism should be self-evident, and to allow such virtues to be reduced to a piece of tin (either on your car or on your lapel) is, well, sacrilege.

23 April 2008

A Man, A Plan, A Spreadsheet -- Obama!

In this campaign, the press has gushed about how cool and unflappable Obama is. Much of this is due to the infatuation many in the press have with the candidate. But some of it is grounded in something more plausible. One of the lesser-known but more interesting moments in the Democratic Primary was in early February, when someone leaked an internal spreadsheet from the Obama campaign forecasting election results through the end of the primary season in early June.

Interestingly enough, the Obama scenario so far has been quite correct, with the exception of Maine. Despite talk in recent weeks that he's not getting the electorate, perhaps the Obama campaign understands the electorate well enough that they can anticipate and brush off the losses.

I don't know, but if he does win, one of the stories behind the story will be how his campaign understood the game they played. Through it all, they managed an improbable campaign without the staff-hemorrhaging and in-fighting that has plagued the Clinton camp. As far as political operations are concerned, the consistency and fortitude of the Obama campaign is quite admirable. These I believe are traits that can carry over into a possible Obama administration.

Clinton, Obama, and the Endless Race

Yesterday, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton contested the Pennsylvania Democratic Primary, the first election in six weeks, and it appears that Obama lost by just under ten points. I’ve been following this election with great interest since last summer. In January, I volunteered for the Obama campaign in Newmarket, New Hampshire. It was an experience I will never forget, and it was an honor and a privilege to be a part of a presidential election in that regard.

Although many democrats hoped for a conclusive result to the Clinton-Obama duel, last night’s results were perfectly inconclusive. The Pennsylvania victory demonstrates only two things: 1) that Clinton and Obama play to particular demographics, which results in one or the other having natural advantages in certain states; and 2) if a candidate keeps throwing dirt at another candidate, some of it will stick. Nonetheless, barring a colossal meltdown of the Obama campaign, it will be virtually impossible for Hillary Clinton to clinch the nomination. She is far enough behind in the delegate total that she would have to win the remaining contests by prohibitive margins. Her campaign is also broke and in debt.

Clinton won clearly in Pennsylvania, but her victory can be spun to favor Clinton or Obama. What is clear is that her Pennsylvania victory was not a clear denunciation of Barack Obama, despite a very rough few weeks for him. To the degree that the election shows a hardening of the coalitions that are already in place in both candidates’ camps, Pennsylvania changes nothing. And for that reason, Obama cannot yet declare victory and Hillary Clinton cannot find a reason to leave the campaign, although a case can be made that she should do so for the good of the Democratic Party.

Photo credit: Reuters

As the race stands, she can expect to do reasonably well in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Puerto Rico but not in North Carolina, South Dakota, or Oregon. Indiana and Montana will probably be competitive, and I have no idea how Guam will vote. I just feel sorry that this increasingly sad and desperate circus will soon land on her sandy shores.

It’s hard to stay objective when you have a horse in the race, but I am one of the Obama voters that has serious misgivings about voting for Hillary Clinton in the general election if she becomes the nominee. Ever since the race heated up in Iowa, her campaign has been ham-handed, patronizing, and shrill. Bill Clinton has demonstrated an arrogance and intemperance that makes him seem absurd. Hillary uttered a bald-faced lie about her experience in Bosnia. That’s enough for me to oppose a candidate in a primary, but there are two issues that may prevent me from supporting her if she’s the Democratic nominee.

The Clinton campaign has cynically exploited latent racial phobias in some Americans. Bill Clinton’s comments in South Carolina and Geraldine Ferraro’s comments before the Ohio primary were shameful examples of how this campaign has occasionally, and subtly, blown a dog-whistle to call attention to the fact that at least a portion of the electorate might be uncomfortable with a young black man as their president. I think this is a deliberate strategy to cleave away the so-called Reagan Democrats. For a democrat to exploit peoples' racial fears in a modern campaign is appalling.

The second issue is the Clinton campaign’s use of fear as a motivator to get people to vote. In Ohio and Texas, she ran the now-famous “3 a.m.” advertisement, in which she challenged Obama’s readiness and ability to respond to a national emergency in the wee hours of the morning. Worse still, she used images of Osama bin Laden and Hurricane Katrina in an attack ad against Obama in Pennsylvania. Certainly the experience argument is a valid question in a presidential primary, but to use images that cut deep into our national psyche to raise the question is inappropriate, especially after the GOP used similar tactics against democrats in the last decade.

Photo credit: AFP/Getty

Hillary Clinton is an immensely qualified and capable individual. You can only ride your spouse’s coat-tails for so long, even if he was the President of the United States. If she were incapable of holding her own, she would have been shown up by now. But I find the Clintons to be arrogant, cynical, and prone to pettiness. They are the products of a particular political environment that I find highly toxic. The highly negative tactics of Lee Atwater, George H.W. Bush’s campaign manager in 1988, gave way to the “permanent campaign” of the Clinton years, where statecraft took a back seat to self preservation, triangulation, and poll testing; which in turn gave way to the machinations of Karl Rove. As a result, campaigns are won and lost by scapegoating, finger-pointing, and wedge issues such as gay marriage. By turns, the last three presidents and their lackeys have done considerable violence to our public discourse. I see nothing in Hillary Clinton that suggests she won’t follow the very same course –for that reason, I fear a Hillary Clinton presidency.

I came to support Barack Obama because he offers a unique perspective and vision to presidential politics and governance. Beyond his high-minded rhetoric, his pedigree, his life story, and his experience as a community organizer presents some interesting possibilities for a nation that has been beset by the cronyism, secrecy, power-mongering, and staggering incompetence of the current administration. I’m under no illusion that an Obama presidency will be sublime and transcendent; the man has considerable weaknesses that have become evident in the past months. Nonetheless, Barack Obama can be an intensely powerful symbol that can have a salutary effect on civic life at home and America’s reputation abroad. He deserves credit for inspiring millions of people in a period of time in our Republic where apathy and cynicism have settled into our public discourse. And for that he deserves a chance.

The Blog is Back

So it's been nearly ten months since I've posted an entry on this blog. The reasons I gave it up are varied -- it boils down to the fact that I've had other priorities. Life has been exciting in the last ten months, but I really enjoyed blogging for all four of my readers, and I really should continue. It's a good experience, and the process helps me clarify my thoughts, which are usually a jumble.

So I'm pleased to announce I have returned. Thanks for putting up with my absence.