One of my new year's resolutions was to develop an appreciation for opera. To that end I have listened to (small) doses, usually Met productions.

So far, small success.

But, perhaps I have found a substantive reason to dislike opera.

A few weeks ago I was listening to The Pearl Fishers by Bizet-- Synopsis here. --when I began yelling at the radio.

A very brief summary. Two old friends reunite. Earlier they had "fallen in love" with the same woman seen from a distance. In order to preserve their friendship each promised the other not to pursue her. The woman, a priestess, is pledged to virginity. All three come together at a fisherman's encampment when the priestess hired to protect the fleet through her prayers and rituals turns out to be the object of the friends' earlier infatuation. After much tribulation, one of the men runs off with the priestess.

Promise to his friend--overuled by "true love." Vow to remain celibate--overuled by "true love." Obligation to protect the fishing fleet through religious ritual--overuled by "true love."

The passions of the heart, the least stable part of human make-up, are in this opera made determative for life and its decisions. Promises and vows count for nothing.

And this opera is not unique.

This is not the world-view I subscribe to. So maybe I have a substantive reason to continue a non-lover of opera.

Yes, I know there are other operas. sigh. Perhaps I should check out pre Romantic Movement works.
FROM WIKI: White privilege is a sociological concept that describes advantages purportedly enjoyed by white persons beyond that which is commonly experienced by non-white people in those same social, political, and economic spaces (nation, community, workplace, income, etc.). It differs from racism or prejudice in that a person benefiting from white privilege may not necessarily hold racist beliefs or prejudices themselves. Often, the person benefiting is unaware of his or her supposed privilege.

Today I escorted my sixty-six year-old mother to the Department of Public Safety in Waco. Having recently moved from Southern California to Central Texas, she sought to obtain an in-state driver's license. However, our ostensibly mundane mission proved surprisingly impossible. My mom ran into a bureaucratic buzz saw--and the buzz saw won.

What happened?

Texas DPS requires proof of identification in order to issue a Texas Driver's License, of course. We wouldn't have it any other way. For the three-tiered system of verification, see this link.

How my mom ran afoul of the system:

She has a Texas birth certificate issued in Marlin, Texas, circa 1942. She has a social security card re-issued by the feds circa 1990. She has a current California driver's license issued circa 2004. She has numerous credit cards, insurance cards, medicare cards, prescription drug cards, local utility bills, newly issued car registration from the state of Texas, myriad local homeowner documents, and proof of a relationship with a Waco bank. But her 1942 birth certificate did not anticipate her subsequent name changes (she has been married twice). To further complicate things, she dropped her given "first name" decades ago. These inconsistencies make the state of Texas very suspicious.

Bottom Line: unless she has her name legally changed (birth certificate amended) and/or brings in her two marriage licenses and certificate of divorce, the Lone Star State cannot sanction her as a legal Texas driver.

As I was unexpectedly drawn into this tawdry drama at the counter of the local DPS, a slow realization came over me: we were not in Kansas (or even Texas) anymore. In a very short time, our way of life has changed dramatically. We have crossed over into a brave new world in which regulations trump common sense, community, and, more importantly, consanguinity. As I attempted to explain to Ms. (let's call her) Ramirez and Trooper (let's call him) Gonzales that my mom was "okay," it occurred to me that the old days of sixty-six year-old white grandmothers automatically getting the benefit of the doubt were fading fast.

This is not a new observation. We have seen and heard the jokes about nuns being "frisked" at the airport while Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden look-a-likes stride past security checkpoints undeterred. To be fair, we are told, we have to be random. If we don't frisk the grandmas, we are racial profiling. But in Waco, Texas? Do we have to be this unreasonable and uncompromising in this venue?

Ms. Ramirez and Trooper Gonzales assured us that these procedures existed for our own protection. Although I can tell you that those sentiments did not sooth our pique.

Of course, the ID regulations are a product of the post-September-11th world. I have said this before, but it bears repeating: May the Terrorists Burn in Hell!!!

But there is more to this anecdote than just anti-terrorism. This is zero tolerance. And zero tolerance is the opposite of (perhaps even the antidote to) white privilege. How can you combat white privilege? Make all men (and grandmothers) exactly equal before an entirely heartless bureaucracy. "Come on. You know us. It's okay." What am I really saying? Come on. We're white and upstanding. We're okay. No dice. Not anymore.

Evidently, white privilege does not go very far these days. Is that a good thing? Undoubtedly, many of us are reading this right now and applauding, saying that white privilege needs to go. And, almost certainly, many of us are reading this right now denying that white privilege even exists.

An Aside: white privilege does exist. Believe me. Not just white privilege--but white entitlement. We were very angry. We were hurt. We felt extremely mistreated. We deserved some consideration--but, instead, we received a cold-blooded ruling based on a lifeless code of rules and regulations. And, quite frankly, right or wrong, fair or unfair, we suspected that Trooper Gonzales may have enjoyed exercising his power over us to make our lives less convenient.

In truth, over time, millions of persons of color (and plenty of others of just plain low means) have faced the same frustration and humiliation that we encountered today. Tonight, my heart goes out to them more than ever.

On the other hand, treating us all like a subhuman species of non-verified potential criminals cannot be the only answer. Somewhere between white privilege and zero tolerance there has to be some middle ground. It was abundantly clear to any rational observer that my mom was not Muhammad Atta. Somebody ought to have the courage to look at her ten pieces of ID (even when none of them conform exactly to the prescribed code), and make a humane common sense decision.

What's more, we really did deserve some consideration. Not because we are white, but because my mom has spent sixty-six years following the rules and establishing herself as a model citizen. Her son teaches at the community college. Her daughter-in-law works for the local university. Her brother works for the county. We are good folks and assets to the community. We deserve the benefit of the doubt.

We need to figure out a way to get this right. Discrimination based on race was an abomination. Erasing discrimination based on common sense and merit is a foolish policy that will eventually destroy the fabric of our society.

Good citizenship ought to have its privileges.
NBC Washington Bureau chief, Tim Russert, is dead at 58.

A "Russert" search on this blog yields a lot of hits. We have mentioned him often on the Bosque Boys, usually obliquely (in keeping with his role as a facilitator of the American political conversation) and usually with a grudging fondness.

Here is an extended impression of him after an appearance on Washington Journal with Brian Lamb back in May of 2006:

Tim Russert followed. Maybe I am a fool for his working-class persona, but I cannot see how people can generate hatred for Russert. He tells great unassuming stories about being a kid from Buffalo who made good. He offered a meaningful account of how and why his father recently opted for a Ford Crown Vic over a Mercedes, Lexus, or Caddy. He read a moving letter attacking the New York Times Magazine for their sloppy journalism in re a feature that dealt with his personal memories of his mom.

Later, a passionate caller castigated Russert for being in the tank for the Bush administration. Ironically, the indignant caller provided an almost inverse interpretation of the Condi Rice interview from David Limbaugh. Why weren't you as rough on Rice as you were on Nancy Pelosi last week? She accused him of letting his corporate bias cloud his news judgment (FYI: the corporate news conspiracy: all the news orgs are owned by a few corporations who filter and water down the news).

Tim Russert was at the center of American politics for a long time. I will miss him. May God comfort his family, and may God rest his soul.
Category: Something Personal
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
From the AP:

WASHINGTON (AP)President Bush on Monday presented the nation's highest military award to a 19-year-old soldier who died saving the lives of four comrades in Iraq by jumping on a grenade tossed into their military vehicle. The honored soldier, Army Pfc. Ross McGinnis, "gave all for his country," the president said somberly.

This is the fourth Congressional Medal of Honor awarded to an Iraq War hero. They have all been posthumous.

President Bush:

When Ross McGinnis was in kindergarten, the teacher asked him to draw a picture of what he wanted to be when he grew up. He drew a soldier. Today our nation recognizing -- recognizes him as a soldier, and more than that -- because he did far more than his duty. In the words of one of our commanding generals, "Four men are alive because this soldier embodied our Army values and gave his life."

Last Friday, my six-year-old graduated kindergarten in a blue-striped seersucker suit. When asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, he said, "I want to be in the Navy because I love my country." Later that afternoon, per a prior agreement, he was awarded his prized "buzz cut" for the summer.

For those who know me, it will not surprise you to learn that I listened to the story of Ross McGinnis with a lump in my throat.

President Bush:

The Medal of Honor is the nation's highest military distinction. It's given for valor beyond anything that duty could require, or a superior could command. By long tradition, it's presented by the President. For any President, doing so is a high privilege.

Before he entered our country's history, Ross McGinnis came of age in the town of Knox, Pennsylvania. Back home they remember a slender boy with a big heart and a carefree spirit. He was a regular guy. He loved playing basketball. He loved working on cars. He wasn't too wild about schoolwork. (Laughter.) He had a lot of friends and a great sense of humor. In high school and in the Army, Ross became known for his ability to do impersonations. A buddy from boot camp said that Ross was the only man there who could make the drill sergeant laugh. (Laughter.)

Most of all, those who knew Ross McGinnis recall him as a dependable friend and a really good guy. If Ross was your buddy and you needed help or you got in trouble, he'd stick with you and be the one you could count on. One of his friends told a reporter that Ross was the type "who would do anything for anybody."

That element of his character was to make all the difference when Ross McGinnis became a soldier in the Army. One afternoon 18 months ago, Private McGinnis was part of a humvee patrol in a neighborhood of Baghdad. From his position in the gun turret, he noticed a grenade thrown directly at the vehicle. In an instant, the grenade dropped through the gunner's hatch. He shouted a warning to the four men inside. Confined in that tiny space, the soldiers had no chance of escaping the explosion. Private McGinnis could have easily jumped from the humvee and saved himself. Instead he dropped inside, put himself against the grenade, and absorbed the blast with his own body.

By that split-second decision, Private McGinnis lost his own life, and he saved his comrades. One of them was Platoon Sergeant Cedric Thomas, who said this: "He had time to jump out of the truck. He chose not to. He's a hero. He was just an awesome guy." For his actions, Private McGinnis received the Silver Star, a posthumous promotion in rank, and a swift nomination for the Medal of Honor. But it wasn't acclaim or credit that motivated him. Ross's dad has said, "I know medals never crossed his mind. He was always about friendships and relationships. He just took that to the ultimate this time."

God Bless Ross McGinnis. God Bless an America that produces young men such as Ross McGinnis.

President Bush:

The day will come when the mission he served has been completed and the fighting is over, and freedom and security have prevailed. America will never forget those who came forward to bear the battle. America will always honor the name of this brave soldier who gave all for his country, and was taken to rest at age 19.

Fervently do we pray.
My three all-time favorite novels are Forever and Ever, written by father, Wayne Cruseturner, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, and Mario Puzo's The Godfather. I have read all three of those works numerous times—and all three delivered profound imprints on my inner life. But The Godfather merits special mention, as I have read the story of the Corleones at least twenty times (although only twice since I turned thirty).

I read The Godfather for the first time in fourth grade; it was the first novel I ever completed. From there, I read nearly the complete works of Harold Robbins before I graduated elementary school. During junior high I branched out a bit, reading most of Steinbeck and a generous smattering of fairly good contemporary fiction from the 1970s—but I continued to come back to The Godfather. During my college years I read a generous helping of Hemingway and also discovered Larry McMurtry--but I continued to come back to The Godfather.

A few days ago, while re-reading David M. Potter's Impending Crisis, I realized that this work of history had become The Godfather of my adulthood. The Impending Crisis is the exceedingly well written and immaculately comprehensive story of the coming of the Civil War from 1848 to 1861.

In fact, I know precious little about the life of Potter; histories of historians are uncommon. Potter died in 1971, an era before C-SPAN2's Book-TV began to offer scholars of his stature a modicum of limited celebrity and television face time.

Born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1910, Potter earned a B.A. from Emory, and took his Ph.D. at Yale in 1932 (where he studied under U.B. Phillips). Known as an important historian of the American South during his long career, he died while in the process of finishing the quintessential history monograph, his sublime contribution to the superb "New American Nation Series," The Impending Crisis. His friend and colleague at Stanford, Don Fehrenbacher, a truly marvelous historian in his own right, completed and edited the manuscript upon his death. Potter was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for his magnum opus in 1976.

The Impending Crisis tells the tragic tale of the coming conflict between North and South with honesty, integrity, and patience (it is nearly 600 pages of text). But Potter also exhibits an appropriately professional love for American traditions and sympathetically flawed statesman—and a humanity for his native Southland—without sacrificing objectivity.

Fairly often, Potter offers concise tutorial asides for budding historians and sophisticated consumers of the past. Consider this cautionary methodological vignette:

"Hindsight, the historians chief asset and his main liability, has enabled all historical writers to know that the decade of the [eighteen] fifties terminated in a great civil war. Knowing it, they have consistently treated the decade not as a segment in time with a character of its own, but as a prelude to something else. By the very term 'antebellum" they have diagnosed a whole period in the light of what came after. Even the titles of their books The Coming of the Civil War, The Irrepressible Conflict, Ordeal of the Union, The Eve of Conflict, Prologue to Conflict--are pregnant with the struggle which lay at the end."

"But for the sake of realism, it should be remembered that most human beings during these years went about their daily lives, preoccupied with their personal affairs, with no sense of impending disaster nor any fixation on the issue of slavery."

Ironically, I have always wondered if someone other than the author titled the work, as the naming of The Impending Crisis seems to slip into the tradition he warns against.

I have actually met only one individual in my life who knew Potter personally, Sir Robert Rhodes James, now deceased as well (and deserving of limitless encomiums himself). When Sir Robert learned of my admiration for Potter, he merely sighed and said wistfully: "now that was a true Southern gentleman."

That is how I like to think of him.

For my money, The Impending Crisis is the best history text of all time. If you have never read this work, I recommend it wholeheartedly.
In my previous post, I compared the candidacy of Barack Obama to “rules for success” espoused in the independent film, The Tao of Steve. Let me humbly submit that one of my talents (and I use that term loosely) is an ability to glibly combine American cinema, Early National American history, and contemporary politics into a steaming hot succotash of mildly entertaining pop culture vignettes.

Let me also note, before anyone objects to my proclivity to write about Obama's personality, race, middle name, youth, inexperience, and, now, his lack of prowess at bowling, that the below piece aspired to be primarily tongue in cheek.

For all those who might exhort me to find some consequential issues with which to bludgeon the likely Democratic Party nominee, let me assure you that I intend to clobber Candidate Obama on the issues. This is coming. He has staked out a number of untenable policy positions and espouses an unpalatable political philosophy. And before the first Tuesday in November, you will likely read thousands of words from me on those subjects, teasing out in minute detail my objections to the direction Senator Obama proposes for the United States of America.

The Great Irony: none of that matters much, as I am convinced that Americans are determined to elect this man president--issues be damned.

But until that moment of serious (albeit irrelevant) engagement arrives, I ask your indulgence and respectfully request that you allow me my fun.
Category: Something Personal
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I am back--but what an extraordinary forty-eight hours in the life of a sappy, flag-waving American.

Over the weekend, I visited the nation's capital for the first time.

Scheduled to fly into Reagan National after my last class on Thursday, I made a seemingly inauspicious start, snowed in and stranded at DFW for the evening.

The Upside: I had time to purchase and finally read Jan Crawford Greenburg's marvelous monograph from last year, Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court. The volume came highly recommended by Tocqueville, and he was absolutely right; it is a must read. More on that book in a later post.

I was lucky and fell into the very last stand-by seat on the first DC-bound flight on Friday morning; I finally arrived around noon. A bit inconvenienced but undaunted, I caught up with my wife, and we set out to explore the nation's capital.

Staying in a hotel on 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (and considering my loyalties, interests, and preferred methodology), you might think our first stop would be the White House. But we decided to visit the branches in constitutional order: Article I first.

The Capital Police informed me that it was no longer possible to walk up the Capitol steps and walk into the front door of the People's House.

May the Terrorists burn in Hell.

Following a helpful suggestion from the officer, we contacted our congressman's office, located in the Rayburn Building (Texas Proud!), where we met his director of constituent services, who led us on a spectacular hour-and-one-half tour of the Capitol (more on that later).

After a night of fine dining at the Capital Grille (you only live once), and an in-room movie (since we were in Washington, Charlie Wilson's War seemed appropriate--and it exceeded my expectations), we set out on Saturday to celebrate Article II.

The White House. It is a commentary on my penchant to conflate pop culture with history, but as we approached the Executive Mansion I could not get Paul Simon out of my head: I'm going to Graceland, Graceland...

Seeing the White House is not an easy task. More high security and no tours without reservations.

May the Terrorists burn in Hell.

Although we walked all the way around the residence, it is only at the front, on the closed-to-automobile-traffic Pennsylvania Avenue side (across from Lafayette Square Park), that one feels even somewhat connected to the historic property.

Not surprisingly, this is where we saw a single CODEPINK anti-war protester. No one paid much attention to him (including the Capital Police officers). Although I cannot say with certainty that some unknown agents of the government did not come eventually to secretly cart him off with the intention of denying him habeas corpus, the pink-clad man seemed fairly content and unmolested in his misery.

After the WH we made our way to the Washington Monument, which is easy to find. Fittingly, the Monument to the indispensable man of American history fills the center of every frame of every picture from nearly every angle of the National Mall.

From the Monument, we walked along the reflecting pool to the Lincoln Memorial. At some point en route to the Temple of Lincoln things got quiet. I fought back the emotion as I ascended the marble steps.

Things Lincoln often reduce me to tears.

I once heard a Lincoln scholar say that Lincoln quite consciously wrote for the ear, and to fully appreciate the majesty of his writing one must read him aloud, so I read quietly and deliberately--but nevertheless audibly--the words of the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural.

As a people, we can never be dedicated enough to the great task remaining for which this man gave his last full measure of devotion.

After Lincoln, we crossed the Potomac River and the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway to visit the honored dead at Arlington National Cemetery. From Robert E. Lee's lost front porch, one has an awesome view of the Federal City. On the way up we passed the eternal flame of JFK as well as the simple and isolated RFK resting place. The experience was well worth the hike.

Back down the hill and across the Potomac: the Korean War Memorial, FDR, and Jefferson--all awesome in their own way.

Later on we ate at the Old Ebbitt Grill and rode the Metro to Union Station.

The next morning: a long ride to Dulles and a flight back to Texas during which I read from the print edition of the Washington Post and Newsweek.

My sappy, flag-waving parting thought:

"While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer. "

God Bless America

An UPDATE: Tocqueville notices that I neglected Article III and offers this virtual tour.
FYI: I am scheduled to share briefly my thoughts on tonight's latest election developments and trends on air this evening for KTSA Radio (San Antonio). If you are interesed in listening, I am scheduled from 8:10 to 8:20 p.m. CST. For live streaming click here and then click the icon in the top-right corner.
Category: Something Personal
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
You can pour your soul out singing
A song you believe in
That tomorrow they'll forget you ever sang
Sing it anyway
Yea - sing it anyway

~Martina McBride

Due to health issues, an overloaded teaching schedule, and his regular duties as a minister of the Gospel, the Okie Gardener is currently taking a sabbatical from blogging. This leave of absence comes after several years of exemplary and tireless service to our blogging community. I greatly appreciate his dedication to civil discourse, education, and the American political process. Until his return, I will miss his insightful posts very much.

I have reason to believe that the Gardener subscribes to the view that "the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." Feel free to support him with your prayers and offer him your encouragement.
Category: Something Personal
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Last Tuesday, I sat in with the guys from Political Vindication Radio and Shane from NeoCon News for a blogger's roundtable. Fun stuff. Good guys.

They archive their past shows, so you are welcome to catch up with last week's discussion--if you are a mind.

This week Frank and Shane interview Spree from "Wake Up America."

Listen live here Tuesday nights at 6:00 PM Pacific.

Thanks again for the red-state fellowship. Godspeed.