• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming and home schooling. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 16/Grade 11, 14/Grade 9, and 13/Grade 8.

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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  • Copyright © 2005-2012 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Poetry Friday: The scary season

by Valerie Worth (1933-1994)

After its lid
Is cut, the slick
Seeds and stuck
Wet strings.
Scooped out,
Walls scraped
Dry and white,
Face carved, candle
Fixed and lit,

Light creeps
Into the thick
Rind: giving
That dead orange
Vegetable skull
Warm skin, making
A live head
To hold its
Sharp gold grin.

From Halloween: Stories and Poems, edited by Caroline Feller Bauer and illustrated by Peter Sis (1989), one of my recent treasures from the library’s autumn book sale.

For more poetry fun, and tricks and treats galore, head over to Sylvia Vardell’s Poetry for Children for the Halloween 2008 edition of the Poetry Friday Roundup.

*  *  *

The kids and I are heading for town late this afternoon for trick or treating, and I’m delighted that we’ll still have the last bit of Daylight Savings Time left to wander about the streets in some daylight.  It’s also supposed not supposed to be freezing or snowing, which is unusual for these parts.  So we’re all prepared for a very enjoyable evening, even before the chocolate.

Our home school facilitator meeting went well, again, and the kids were over the moon with the first meeting of junior curling.  They were the last ones off the ice. Not having been raised in Canada, I find watching curling not quite as exciting as watching paint dry, but Tom loves the sport especially for the strategy.  It’s something the kids can do with Tom, whether they are playing together or watching it on TV, and it’s a lifelong sport the kids will be able to participate in when they’re old and gray and creaky.  It’s also inexpensive compared to hockey, and a part of their heritage.  And I’ll be able to catch up on my reading at the rink…

Next week should be fairly quiet around here, which is good because I’m alternately excited and exhausted by the entire election process.  At this point next Wednesday can’t get here soon enough, probably regardless of the outcome.  I just want the circus to leave town. And then we start getting ready for our NYC trip, so my blog writing and reading will continue to be light to nonexistent…

A smarter defense

Nicholas Burns, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 until his retirement in April, in Newsweek on why “We Should Talk to Our Enemies”:

One of the sharpest and most telling differences on foreign policy between Barack Obama and John McCain is whether the United States should talk to difficult and disreputable leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. In each of the three presidential debates, McCain belittled Obama as naive for arguing that America should be willing to negotiate with such adversaries. In the vice presidential debate, Sarah Palin went even further, accusing Obama of “bad judgment … that is dangerous,” an ironic charge given her own very modest foreign-policy credentials.

Are McCain and Palin correct that America should stonewall its foes? I lived this issue for 27 years as a career diplomat, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations. Maybe that’s why I’ve been struggling to find the real wisdom and logic in this Republican assault against Obama. I’ll bet that a poll of senior diplomats who have served presidents from Carter to Bush would reveal an overwhelming majority who agree with the following position: of course we should talk to difficult adversaries—when it is in our interest and at a time of our choosing.

The more challenging and pertinent question, especially for the McCain-Palin ticket, is the reverse: Is it really smart to declare we will never talk to such leaders? Is it really in our long-term national interest to shut ourselves off from one of the most important and powerful states in the Middle East—Iran—or one of our major suppliers of oil, Venezuela? …

The real truth Americans need to embrace is that nearly all of the most urgent global challenges—the quaking financial markets, climate change, terrorism—cannot be resolved by America’s acting alone in the world. Rather than retreat into isolationism, as we have often done in our history, or go it alone as the unilateralists advocated disastrously in the past decade, we need to commit ourselves to a national strategy of smart engagement with the rest of the world. Simply put, we need all the friends we can get. And we need to think more creatively about how to blunt the power of opponents through smart diplomacy, not just the force of arms.

Talking to our adversaries is no one’s idea of fun, and it is not a sure prescription for success in every crisis. But it is crude, simplistic and wrong to charge that negotiations reflect weakness or appeasement. More often than not, they are evidence of a strong and self-confident country. One of America’s greatest but often neglected strengths is, in fact, our diplomatic power. …

America faces a complex and difficult geopolitical landscape. The next president needs to act more creatively and boldly to defend our interests by revalidating diplomacy as a key weapon in our national arsenal and rebuilding our understaffed and underfunded diplomatic corps. Of course he will need to reserve the right to use force against the most vicious and implacable of our foes. More often than not, however, he will find that dialogue and discussion, talking and listening, are the smarter ways to defend our country, end crises and sometimes even sow the seeds of an ultimate peace.

A refreshing, educated, experienced counterpoint to the “Stand up and fight” rhetoric. And of course, without sowing the seeds of an ultimate peace, there’s always work for the belligerent and bellicose. Read Nicholas Burns’ entire piece here.

A political fairytale

Mudflats offers up “The Lyin’, the Witch and the Wardrobe — An Alaskan Tale”

“You want to always strive to define standards up”

I don’t take much comfort from polls and maps and statistics, whether the subject is the World Series or the election. It ain’t over ’til it’s over.  In the meantime, I do take comfort from the following:

* Christopher Hitchens on “Sarah Palin’s War on Science”:

This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just “people of faith” but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity

Read the entire Slate article here.

* Lilibet Hagel‘s husband, Rep. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) is profiled in the new issue of The New Yorker by Connie Bruck,

“I don’t believe she’s qualified to be President of the United States,” Hagel told me. “The first judgment a potential President makes is who their running mate is — and I don’t think John made a very good selection.” He scoffed at McCain’s attempts to portray her as an experienced politician. “To try to make the excuse that she looks out her window and sees Russia — and that she’s commander of the Alaska National Guard.” He added, “There is no question that this candidate is arguably the thinnest-résumé candidate for Vice-President in the history of America.” …

For Hagel, almost as disturbing as Palin’s lack of experience is her willingness — in disparaging remarks about Joe Biden’s long Senate career, for example — to belittle the notion that experience is important. “There’s no question, she knows her market,” Hagel said. “She knows her audience, and she’s going right after them. And I’ll tell you why that’s dangerous. It’s dangerous because you don’t want to define down the standards in any institution, ever, in life. You want to always strive to define standards up. If you start defining standards down — ‘Well, I don’t have a big education, I don’t have experience’ — yes, there’s a point to be made that not all the smartest people come out of Yale or Harvard. But to intentionally define down in some kind of wild populism, that those things don’t count in a complicated, dangerous world — that’s dangerous in itself.

“There was a political party in this country called the Know-Nothings,” he continued. “And we’re getting on the fringe of that, with these one-issue voters — pro-choice or pro-life. Important issue, I know that. But, my goodness. The world is blowing up everywhere, and I just don’t think that is a responsible way to see the world, on that one issue. And, interestingly enough, that is one issue that stopped John McCain from picking one of the people he really wanted, Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge” — the Independent senator from Connecticut and the Republican former governor of Pennsylvania. (Both men are pro-choice.

Read the rest of the essay, including whether Rep. Hagel would accept a post in a McCain Administration, here. Rep. Hagel is a man and a Republican I’d be proud to vote to for.

* In between wrestling with pumpkins, I did hear brief mention that Gov. Palin might, just might release some medical information this week. Then again, she did tell NBC’s Brian Williams,

“So be it, if that will allow some curiousity seekers, perhaps, to have one more thing that they can either check the box off that they can find something to criticize, perhaps, or find something to rest them assured over. Fine. I’m healthy, I’m happy, had five kids. That is going to be in the medical records. Never been seriously ill or hurt. You will see that in the medical records if they’re released.”

Note the “if” in the last sentence, which means I’m not holding my breath. Disappointing too but not surprising is the sloughing off the transparency of democracy, denigrating American citizens concerned about experienced leadership as “curiosity seekers”.

Waylaid by pumpkins

I had every intention to keep blogging through last week but getting ready for our giant pumpkin carving party (the pumpkin was big at 270 pounds, though not as big as last year’s, and the party kept getting bigger as Tom and the kids invited everyone they ran into) derailed my plans, especially when the forecast called for gale-force winds and we realized we had to turn the garage into an auxiliary kitchen/living room because the day-long festivities couldn’t be held outside as planned. And all of that bumped into my big autumn housecleaning and getting ready for our home school facilitator meeting (tomorrow), the beginning of junior curling season, two 4H meetings, and a meeting with the director/writer of the new community theater production.

I made vats of chili, dozens of gingersnaps, we grilled oodles of hot dogs, and the party festivities included carving the giant pumpkin and various smaller ones, pressing cider, a treasure hunt, and games including guess the weight of the big pumpkin. Tom and the kids had decorated with square straw bales, pumpkins and apples everywhere, streamers, and the odd spider.  A good time was had by all.

Tom and junior helpers contemplate the design,

The finished face,

One of the smaller pumpkins, carved by someone who didn’t bother with the gutting first,

The big pumpkin on its straw bale, in front of the house. It was a dark and stormy afternoon,

Illuminated, at night,

Precisely II

Ramesh Ponnuru on “Palin’s Alleged Anti-Intellectualism” in the conservative National Review Online:

Last week I asked what evidence we have that Palin is, as is often said, “anti-intellectual.” …

A friend pointed me to Noam Scheiber’s article on Palin [NB Scheiber's New Republic article well worth reading]. The Palin of Scheiber’s portrayal certainly fits the label: She seethes with class and intellectual resentments. (The article does not attempt to disentangle the two.) But all of the evidence the article presents for this view comes from political enemies of Palin. They don’t really even provide first-hand accounts of her flaws in action so much as they offer characterizations of what was going on inside her head. Scheiber concludes, “Could Sarah Palin despise Anne Kilkenny because Kilkenny once suggested she refrain from chewing gum? I’d like to believe it’s not true. But I’m honestly not so sure.” Okay. But Kilkenny got wide attention for circulating an email trashing Palin after her selection as McCain’s running mate. How much do we want to bank on her impressions?

Yet another reason a Palin press conference is necessary.

And just for fun, some reminders of Palin in her own words:

I’m not one of those who maybe came from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduate college and their parents give them a passport and give them a backpack and say go off and travel the world.No, I’ve worked all my life. In fact, I usually had two jobs all my life until I had kids. I was not a part of, I guess, that culture. The way that I have understood the world is through education, through books, through mediums that have provided me a lot of perspective on the world.

Speaking of those books and mediums/media, from the CBS interview with Katie Couric:

Couric: And when it comes to establishing your worldview, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?

Palin: I’ve read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.

Couric: What, specifically?

Palin: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years.

Couric: Can you name a few?

Palin: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn’t a foreign country, where it’s kind of suggested, “Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking when you live up there in Alaska?” Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.

And don’t forget parsing Palin‘s own words.

Best yet, of course, would be an unscripted press conference.


The latest word from Republican campaign spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt: “With all of the important issues facing the country right now, it’s remarkable that we’re spending time talking about pantsuits and blouses.”

Which is why Gov. Palin should hold her very first press conference now.

Rescue, and a moose

I just received a digital card reader from my father in civilization — thanks, Pop! — so I could salvage the last batch of photographs from my dead or dying Kodak EasyShare; I didn’t even realize such things existed. It’s a little marvel — I put the camera’s card in the reader, the reader in the Mac Mini, and all of a sudden here are my missing photographs. I’ll probably post them in a few installments.

The moose we saw in a farmer’s field on the way to the pumpkin festival at the beginning of this month,

Tom thought we should take a closer look, but the moose thought otherwise,

He finally got away from us by running into a stand of trees.

More wildlife, this time a muskrat on the driveway, on its way to deeper water across the road in which to spend the winter. It’s been dry enough for the past few months that many of the ponds and sloughs have dried up.

Countdown to the Election: 13 days to go

The election is in 13 days with 12 days of campaigning left and Sarah Palin, the Republican candidate for Vice President, has yet to give a press conference and has not released any of her medical records.

Senators John McCain, Barack Obama, and Joseph Biden have yet to release the remainder of their medical records.

Countdown to the Election: 14 days to go

The election is two weeks from today with 13 days of campaigning left and Sarah Palin, the Republican candidate for Vice President, has yet to give a press conference and has not released any of her medical records. According to The Times, “Last week Maria Comella, a spokeswoman for Ms. Palin, said the governor declined to be interviewed or provide any health records.”

Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic and Christopher Hitchens in Slate have each called for the press to stop covering Palin’s speeches until she gives a first press conference. As Hitchens writes,

At numerous rallies where the atmosphere has been, shall we say, a little uncivil, Gov. Palin has accused Sen. Obama of accusing our forces in Afghanistan of simply bombing villages. Only a moment’s work is required to discover that the words complained of were never uttered in that form and that they occurred in a speech that stressed the need for more ground troops as opposed to more airstrikes (a recommendation, by the way, that begins to look more sapient each week, at least in respect of the airstrikes). Again, I have a question: Did Palin know that she was telling a lie? Or did her handlers simply assume that she would read anything that was put in front of her, however mendacious? And which would be worse? And when will she issue the needful retraction? There seems no way of putting her in a forum where these points could be raised. So, continued media coverage of her appearances is no better than lending a megaphone to a demagogue, the better to amplify her propaganda.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., an honorable man with a high place in the McCain campaign, when asked about Palin’s failure to do so much as a Meet the Press appearance, told the Washington Post: “We’re asking the American people to pick the next president and vice president, and we do not expect the American people to do so—’Trust me’—blindly. She will have to do what’s expected of people in this business. … In countries where that does not happen, I do not want to live.” That highly admirable statement was made Sept. 2. Something of McCain’s own reputation for honesty and honor is now involved in keeping Sen. Graham’s implied promise.

Important too since the McCain-Palin campaign is banning some reporters from the campaign plane.

Regarding medical records, although John McCain, Barack Obama, and Joseph Biden have released some, yesterday the medical correspondent of The New York Times, Dr. Lawrence K. Altman, said that “serious gaps remain” in the public’s knowledge about the health of the Democratic and Republican presidential and vice presidential nominees. As Dr. Altman wrote,

In past elections, the decisions of some candidates for the nation’s top elected offices to withhold health information turned out to have a significant impact after the information came to light. This year, the health issue carries extraordinary significance because two of the four nominees have survived potentially fatal medical problems that could recur.

If, as I keep hearing and reading that this is one of the most important elections to come down the pike, does the American voting public not deserve full disclosures about health from all of the candidates, and at least one press conference from the Republican vice presidential candidate?

Still twisting in the wind

Here’s a bit of friendly advice to the Canadian Liberal Party: It’s not about more money. You can’t buy vision with more money. More money will not guarantee that the leader listens to advisers, or has the savvy to make hay out of unforeseen circumstances. Money also won’t buy a party united behind the leader; I could hear Michael Ignatieff grinding his teeth all the way across the Canadian Shield.

Announcing this afternoon that he is stepping down, Stéphane Dion said, “I still think that if we would have been equipped to explain why I’m fighting for my country, what kind of leader I would have been, what kind of prime minister I would have been and what kind of policy we’re proposing, we would have won this election and we would have today a much better government than the one we have,” and “It has been a mistake to go ahead with the Green Shift because we are not equipped to explain what it was”.

By “equipped” M. Dion means more campaign funds. But he had the attention of the Canadian media, and a number of bloggers for five weeks. In our household, we heard news reports just about hourly on CBC radio about each of the parties, including the Liberals. The nightly news, CBC and CTV, covered each of the parties, including the Liberals. All of the news outlets had strong online presences with up-to-the minute updates. Did M. Dion make the most of the free coverage? Honestly, no. Indeed, it was a mistake to go ahead with the Green Shift because the Liberals weren’t able or equipped in any sense to explain what it was.

However, if by “equipped” the Liberals mean instead a vision and a clear message, and the ability to stay on message, as well as flexibility and being able to think on their feet when presented with the virtual gift of an economic crisis and an incumbent Prime Minister who’s not nearly as warm and fuzzy as he thinks he is, then they just might be on to something.

And that advice, my friends, is free.

The view from Europe

Geoffrey Wheatcroft in The Guardian:

Not long ago John McCain was obliged to disown John Hagee, a Texan preacher with a huge following who is not only militantly hostile to Catholicism and Islam but believes that “Hitler was a hunter” who had been sent by God to drive the Jews to Israel. Even assuming that McCain does not become the next president, sceptical Europe might stop and think about where the fulfilment of prophecies could yet lead us all.

CNN’s European Political Editor Robin Oakley:

Things started quite well, with the curiosity factor. To many Europeans there is something exotic about snowy Alaska. Viewers and readers were intrigued by the shots of the outdoorswoman with her eyes squinting fixed along a gun barrel, the thought of a vice president who had once been a beauty queen.

Columnists were approving that here, for once, was a politician in the higher reaches who probably actually knew the price of a loaf and a pint of milk. Women writers in particular responded warmly to her joke about the difference between a pitbull and a hockey mom –“Lipstick.”

But soon the carping began, and it was not confined to what U.S. rightists like to dismiss as the “liberal media elite.”

We were, the Irish Times warned, “just a heartbeat away from the biggest half-baked Alaskan nightmare.” Britain’s Financial Times said his selection of vice president raised serious questions about John McCain’s judgment and added: “The Palin appointment is yet more proof of the way that abortion still dominates American politics.”

Prominence was given to an onslaught on Palin’s environmental and animal rights record by veteran ex-film star Brigitte Bardot. Spain’s left wing El Pais described Palin as “a figure who comes from the America that is farthest removed from and incomprehensible to the European spectator.”

Since then the scorn has been constant, the jokes unrelenting, the YouTube exposure devastating. But let us dispel one bit of nonsense from the start. It is nothing to do with Sarah Palin being of the feminine gender.

Europeans have been astonished that America has never had a woman president. After all we in Britain elected the redoubtable Margaret Thatcher three times as prime minister. Norway did the same with Gro Harlem Brundtland. Germany has a female chancellor, Angela Merkel, even if she does tend to underline the remark I once heard from a British Ambassador: “A German joke is no laughing matter.” …

No, the problem for Sarah Palin in terms of her acceptance in Europe has been the deep wave of Obamamania that had already swept through the European media before her appointment, the self-inflicted wounds of her early media appearances and the apparent box-ticking cynicism of her choice.

That was summed up for some by the appearance of those women at McCain rallies wearing T-shirts emblazoned “Small Town Gun-Totin Christians for McCain.”

For Europeans, who were alienated during George W. Bush’s first four years by a president who showed little interest in their continent and patently cared nothing for the opinions of its leaders, the turning point probably came with the appearance on the Katie Couric show when Palin confessed to not having had a passport until 2006.

Europeans are appalled at the thought that someone who wants to be vice president of the most powerful nation on earth had so little interest in the rest of a world which is so vitally affected by the decisions of the man, or woman, in the White House.

And they are not much impressed by explanations that her parents did not have the money to send her on a fact-finding tour of the world as a student. Anybody with the money to own an SUV, hunt moose and drive a snowmobile has the money to travel.

It was the American Mark Twain who reminded us all that “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” If Sarah Palin wanted to be loved in Europe she should have got about a bit.

One does wonder

where William Kristol has been for the last while. In today’s New York Times he writes,

But is the ignorant crowd really our problem today? Are populism and anti-intellectualism rampant in the land? Does the common man too thoroughly dominate our national life? I don’t think so.

I didn’t think he thought so. But who’s been sitting in the Oval Office for the past eight years, and what’s with all the winking? Worth noting that his column is a reply to Peggy Noonan’s of last week (which I wrote about here), and also that Mr. Kristol is prominently featured as one of the Washington Insiders in Jane Mayer’s new New Yorker essay on Sarah Palin (which I wrote about here). Here’s a bit more from the essay,

By the time the Weekly Standard pundits [including William Kristol] returned to the cruise ship, Paulette Simpson said, “they were very enamored of her.” In July, 2007, Barnes wrote the first major national article spotlighting Palin, titled “The Most Popular Governor,” for The Weekly Standard. Simpson said, “That first article was the result of having lunch.” Bitney agreed: “I don’t think she realized the significance until after it was all over. It got the ball rolling.”

The other journalists who met Palin offered similarly effusive praise: Michael Gerson called her “a mix between Annie Oakley and Joan of Arc.” The most ardent promoter, however, was Kristol, and his enthusiasm became the talk of Alaska’s political circles. According to Simpson, Senator Stevens told her that “Kristol was really pushing Palin” in Washington before McCain picked her. Indeed, as early as June 29th, two months before McCain chose her, Kristol predicted on “Fox News Sunday” that “McCain’s going to put Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, on the ticket.” He described her as “fantastic,” saying that she could go one-on-one against Obama in basketball, and possibly siphon off Hillary Clinton’s supporters. He pointed out that she was a “mother of five” and a reformer. “Go for the gold here with Sarah Palin,” he said. The moderator, Chris Wallace, finally had to ask Kristol, “Can we please get off Sarah Palin?”

The next day, however, Kristol was still talking about Palin on Fox. “She could be both an effective Vice-Presidential candidate and an effective President,” he said. “She’s young, energetic.” On a subsequent “Fox News Sunday,” Kristol again pushed Palin when asked whom McCain should pick: “Sarah Palin, whom I’ve only met once but I was awfully impressed by—a genuine reformer, defeated the establishment up there. It would be pretty wild to pick a young female Alaska governor, and I think, you know, McCain might as well go for it.” On July 22nd, again on Fox, Kristol referred to Palin as “my heartthrob.” He declared, “I don’t know if I can make it through the next three months without her on the ticket.” Reached last week, Kristol pointed out that just before McCain picked Palin he had ratcheted back his campaign a little; though he continued to tout her, he also wrote a Times column promoting Senator Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut.

On October 6th, in another Times column, Kristol cryptically acknowledged having been entertained by the Governor. He mentioned meeting Palin “in far more relaxed circumstances, in Alaska over a year ago.” The column featured one of the few interviews that Palin has granted to the national media since becoming McCain’s running mate. Kristol quoted Palin saying that the debate had been a “liberating” experience, then wrote, “Shouldn’t the public get the benefit of another Biden-Palin debate, or even two? If there’s difficulty finding a moderator, I’ll be glad to volunteer.”

Here’s Mr. Kristol, heart still throbbing, again in his column today,

Why do elites like to proclaim premature closure — not just in elections, but also in wars and in social struggles? Because it makes them the imperial arbiters, or at least the perspicacious announcers, of what history is going to bring. This puts the elite prognosticators ahead of the curve, ahead of the simple-minded people who might entertain the delusion that they still have a choice.

They might have, if certain Washington insiders hadn’t made up the minds of the “simple-minded people” for them after a cruise. Now who’s the imperial arbiter? What’s truly vulgar is foisting one’s private passion on the entire country rather than basing the selection of a vice presidential candidate on reason, and blaming others rather than oneself when the truth of one’s poor choice becomes evident.

Dr. Kristol, who graduated from both the private New York City prep school Collegiate and from Harvard (BA and PhD) and thinks we’ll believe him when he says he sides with Joe the Plumber against Horace, reminds me of what Susan Jacoby wrote in The Age of American Unreason,

One of the true ironies of American public life today is that although politicians have become increasingly determined to downplay any telltale signs of intellectualism or elitism while running for office, intellectuals play an increasingly important role in the conduct of government. …

During the past thirty years, the old liberal intellectual establishment, based primarily in academia, has been joined by, and in certain crucial respects outsmarted by, a conservative intellectual establishment with a permanent base in right-wing think tanks and foundations underwritten by the fortunes of conservative businessmen. The right-wing egghead establishment cut its teeth during the Reagan administration and achieved immeasurably greater influence under George W. Bush, who is even more committed to the right’s foreign policy and economic agenda than Reagan was. The success of conservative strategists in masking their own elite class status, at least for the general public, and defining “the elites” as liberals has been the critical factor in their outsmarting of the intellectual left.

Once a conservative egghead, always an egghead. Or as those pesky
Latin-speaking elites have been known to say, Nemo in amore videt (love is blind).

The value of art, even in troubled times

Carol Vogel at The New York Times writes about lean days ahead for museums, but ends on a hopeful note:

And some directors argue that museums are not simply a great escape, but good value compared with a movie that can cost about $12 and end in two hours. At a museum, many said, visitors can spend an entire day and often take in a movie, too.

Then there’s the more cosmic view. “Art doesn’t lose its emotional or artistic value,” [Michael] Govan [director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art] said. “That doesn’t change no matter what the economy.”

So go to a museum, and shop at Target too, if there’s one near you.  While some corporate sponsors of museums, such as Lehman Bothers, have disappeared, The Times reports that “discount retailer Target, for instance, continues to finance 1,500 free days a year at more than 70 museums across the country even though it reported that its sales are down 3 percent from this time last year.”  At MoMA in New York, for example, admission is free for all visitors during Target Free Friday Nights, every Friday evening, 4-8 p.m.  More Target-sponsored museum programs and schedules here.

Geography lessons

Just when I was feeling fairly confident about the American geography lessons of my three young dual citizens comes word about the other America.  It’s not enough they’ll have to figure out Canada’s celebrated two solitudes, now they have to deal with Palin’s parallel universe.

But I’ve been heartened today to hear the following this weekend from the real America, you know, the um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.

From Salt Lake City:

By necessity, the country’s next commander in chief must also be its mender in chief, capable of inspiring his angry and divided constituents to join together in a recovery project to restore the peace, prosperity and self-confidence we once knew.
We fear that a lesser effort may be insufficient to reverse America’s slide toward economic, political and societal chaos. The times require dramatic and comprehensive change.
The presidential candidates know it, and have made it their mantra.
Most Americans know it, and, in growing numbers, are demanding it.
The countries that have long depended upon the United States for enlightened global leadership long for it.
For the sake of all, and for those who follow us, we must have it.
The editorial board of The Salt Lake Tribune believes that Barack Obama can deliver it. …

John McCain, meanwhile, crushed Mitt Romney to gain his party’s nomination, but then blundered badly by not bringing the business-savvy Romney onto the ticket. Romney would have shored up McCain’s poor grasp of economic policy.
Then, out of nowhere, and without proper vetting, the impetuous McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. She quickly proved grievously underequipped to step into the presidency should McCain, at 72 and with a history of health problems, die in office. More than any single factor, McCain’s bad judgment in choosing the inarticulate, insular and ethically challenged Palin disqualifies him for the presidency.
Still, we have compelling reasons for endorsing Obama on his merits alone. Under the most intense scrutiny and attacks from both parties, Obama has shown the temperament, judgment, intellect and political acumen that are essential in a president that would lead the United States out of the crises created by President Bush, a complicit Congress and our own apathy

From Bryan-College Station, Texas:

In the past 50 years, The Eagle has never recommended a Democrat for president. We made no recommendations in 1960 and 1964 — when Texas’ own Lyndon B. Johnson was on the Democratic ticket — nor did we in 1968 — although we did praise Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey’s position on the Vietnam War. We did not in 1976 and 1980. In 1972, The Eagle recommend Richard Nixon, in 1984, Ronald Reagan. We recommended George H.W. Bush in 1988 and 1992 and his son in 2000. We recommended Bob Dole in 1996.

Four years ago, the Editorial Board couldn’t recommend George W. Bush for a second term, but we also couldn’t recommend Sen. John Kerry either, so we made no choice.

This year is different, in large part because of the very difficult challenges facing this nation after eight years of a failed Bush administration. We are faced with a choice between Sen. John McCain, who claims to be an agent of change but promotes the policies of the past, and Sen. Barack Obama, who also wears the change mantle, but offers a vision for the future, even if he has yet to fully explain how he would carry out that vision if elected president in little more than two weeks.

Every 20 or 30 years or so, a leader comes along who understands that change is necessary if the country is to survive and thrive. Teddy Roosevelt at the turn of the 20th century and his cousin Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan — these leaders have inspired us to rise to our better nature, to reach out to be the country we can be and, more important, must be.

Barack Obama is such a leader. He doesn’t have all the answers, to be sure, but at least he is asking the right questions. While we would like more specificity on his plans as president, we are confident that he can lead us ever forward, casting aside the doubts and fears of recent years.

John McCain is a great American, no question. He served his country with honor in the Navy – enduring five years of hell in a North Vietnamese prison — and he has represented Arizona and, indeed, the country well in the Senate. He has been a maverick at times, but his unbridled support for the Iraq War shows a lack of understanding at the weariness of the military and the country to remain much longer in a country unwilling or unable to govern itself.

Perhaps Obama won’t be able to bring American men and women safely home from Iraq in the promised 16 months, but at least he is willing to make the effort.

Also of great concern is McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. Like Obama, she has little experience in governing, but unlike the Illinois senator, she is a candidate of little intellectual curiosity who appears to be hopelessly unready to be president. The fact that people are confused by the difference between Palin and comedian Tina Fey’s caustic impersonation is clear evidence that Palin should not be, as they say, a heartbeat away from the presidency.

We also are dismayed by the tenor of the McCain-Palin campaign. If their goal is to severely wound an Obama presidency should that come to pass, they are dangerously close to succeeding.

It is time for America to look to its future with hope and optimism. It is time to say we can be better. It is time to redefine who we will be as a leader of nations.

I don’t know that you can be any more pro-America than that.  And I am reassured, for now at least.

Vulgarization and failin’ to grow up

The Jane Mayer New Yorker article about Sarah Palin I wrote about in the previous post includes a quote from Republican Peggy Noonan’s latest Wall Street Journal column. As Ms. Mayer writes,

a surprising number of conservative thinkers have declared [Sarah Palin] unfit for the Vice-Presidency. Peggy Noonan, the Wall Street Journal columnist, recently wrote, “The Palin candidacy is a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It’s no good, not for conservatism and not for the country. And yes, it is a mark against John McCain.”

Here’s more from Ms. Noonan’s October 17 article, entitled “Palin’s Failin'”,

More than ever on the campaign trail, the candidates are dropping their G’s. Hardworkin’ families are strainin’ and tryin’a get ahead. It’s not only Sarah Palin but Mr. McCain, too, occasionally Mr. Obama, and, of course, George W. Bush when he darts out like the bird in a cuckoo clock to tell us we are in crisis. All of the candidates say “mom and dad”: “our moms and dads who are struggling.” This is Mr. Bush’s former communications adviser Karen Hughes’s contribution to our democratic life, that you cannot speak like an adult in politics now, that’s too austere and detached, snobby. No one can say mothers and fathers, it’s all now the faux down-home, patronizing—and infantilizing—moms and dads. Do politicians ever remember that in a nation obsessed with politics, our children—sorry, our kids—look to political figures for a model as to how adults sound? …

Here is a fact of life that is also a fact of politics: You have to hold open the possibility of magic. People can come from nowhere, with modest backgrounds and short résumés, and yet be individuals of real gifts, gifts that had previously been unseen, that had been gleaming quietly under a bushel, and are suddenly revealed. Mrs. Palin came, essentially, from nowhere. But there was a man who came from nowhere, the seeming tool of a political machine, a tidy, narrow, unsophisticated senator appointed to high office and then thrust into power by a careless Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose vanity told him he would live forever. And yet that limited little man was Harry S Truman. Of the Marshall Plan, of containment. Little Harry was big. He had magic. You have to give people time to show what they have. Because maybe they have magic too.

But we have seen Mrs. Palin on the national stage for seven weeks now, and there is little sign that she has the tools, the equipment, the knowledge or the philosophical grounding one hopes for, and expects, in a holder of high office. She is a person of great ambition, but the question remains: What is the purpose of the ambition? She wants to rise, but what for? For seven weeks I’ve listened to her, trying to understand if she is Bushian or Reaganite—a spender, to speak briefly, whose political decisions seem untethered to a political philosophy, and whose foreign policy is shaped by a certain emotionalism, or a conservative whose principles are rooted in philosophy, and whose foreign policy leans more toward what might be called romantic realism, and that is speak truth, know America, be America, move diplomatically, respect public opinion, and move within an awareness and appreciation of reality.

But it’s unclear whether she is Bushian or Reaganite. She doesn’t think aloud. She just . . . says things.

Her supporters accuse her critics of snobbery: Maybe she’s not a big “egghead” but she has brilliant instincts and inner toughness. But what instincts? “I’m Joe Six-Pack”? She does not speak seriously but attempts to excite sensation — “palling around with terrorists.” If the Ayers case is a serious issue, treat it seriously. She is not as thoughtful or persuasive as Joe the Plumber, who in an extended cable interview Thursday made a better case for the Republican ticket than the Republican ticket has made. In the past two weeks she has spent her time throwing out tinny lines to crowds she doesn’t, really, understand. This is not a leader, this is a follower, and she follows what she imagines is the base, which is in fact a vast and broken-hearted thing whose pain she cannot, actually, imagine. She could reinspire and reinspirit; she chooses merely to excite. She doesn’t seem to understand the implications of her own thoughts. …

Read the entire column here.

Kissing the junior varsity goodbye

Jane Mayer in the October 27 issue of The New Yorker has a detailed article on how Sarah Palin has been less than forthcoming on yet another subject, her “Washington outsider” status, and how she and top Republicans engineered her choice as the vice presidential candidate:

Palin’s sudden rise to prominence, however, owes more to members of the Washington élite than her rhetoric has suggested. … John Bitney, a top policy adviser on Palin’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign, said, “Sarah’s very conscientious about crafting the story of Sarah. She’s all about the hockey mom and Mrs. Palin Goes to Washington — the anti-politician politician.” Bitney is from Wasilla, Palin’s home town, and has known her since junior high school, where they both played in the band. He considers Palin a friend, even though after becoming governor, in December, 2006, she dismissed him. He is now the chief of staff to the speaker of the Alaska House.

Upon being elected governor, Palin began developing relationships with Washington insiders, who later championed the idea of putting her on the 2008 ticket. “There’s some political opportunism on her part,” Bitney said. For years, “she’s had D.C. in mind.” He added, “She’s not interested in being on the junior-varsity team.”

During her gubernatorial campaign, Bitney said, he began predicting to Palin that she would make the short list of Republican Vice-Presidential prospects. “She had the biography, I told her, to be a contender,” he recalled. At first, Palin only laughed. But within a few months of being sworn in she and others in her circle noticed that a blogger named Adam Brickley had started a movement to draft her as Vice-President. Palin also learned that a number of prominent conservative pundits would soon be passing through Juneau, on cruises sponsored by right-leaning political magazines. She invited these insiders to the governor’s mansion, and even led some of them on a helicopter tour.

Throughout the campaign, Palin has mocked what she calls “the mainstream media.” Yet her administration made a concerted effort to attract the attention of East Coast publications. In late 2007, the state hired a public-relations firm with strong East Coast connections, which began promoting Palin and a natural-gas pipeline that she was backing in Alaska. The contract was for thirty-seven thousand dollars. The publicist on the project, Marcia Brier, the head of MCB Communications, in Needham, Massachusetts, was asked to approach media outlets in Washington and New York, according to the Washington Post [article here]. “I believe Alaska has a very small press organization,” Brier told me. “They hired an outside consultant in order to get that East Coast press.” Brier crafted a campaign depicting Palin as bravely taking on powerful oil interests by choosing a Canadian firm, TransCanada, rather than an American conglomerate such as ExxonMobil, to build the pipeline. (“Big Oil Under Siege” was the title of a typical press release.) Brier pitched Palin to publications such as the Times, the Washington Post, and Fortune.

From the start of her political career, Palin has positioned herself as an insurgent intent on dislodging entrenched interests. In 1996, a campaign pamphlet for her first mayoral run — recently obtained by The New Republic — strikes the same note of populist resentment that Palin did at the Convention: “I’m tired of ‘business as usual’ in this town, and of the ‘Good Ol’ Boys’ network that runs the show here.” Yet Palin has routinely turned to members of Washington’s Old Guard for help. After she became the mayor of Wasilla, Palin oversaw the hiring of a law firm to represent the town’s interests in Washington, D.C. The Wasilla account was handled by Steven Silver, a Washington-area lobbyist who had been the chief of staff to Alaska’s long-serving Republican senator Ted Stevens, who was indicted in July on charges of accepting illegal gifts and is now standing trial. (Silver declined to discuss his ties to Palin.) As the Washington Post reported, Silver’s efforts in the capital helped Wasilla, a town of sixty-seven hundred residents, secure twenty-seven million dollars in federal earmarks. During this election season, however, Palin has presented herself as more abstemious, saying, “I’ve championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress.”

Ms. Mayer details the arrival in Alaska of an unusual cruise ship contingent:

In a stroke of luck, Palin did not have to go to the capital to meet these members of “the permanent political establishment”; they came to Alaska. Shortly after taking office, Palin received two memos from Paulette Simpson, the Alaska Federation of Republican Women leader, noting that two prominent conservative magazines—The Weekly Standard, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and National Review, founded by William F. Buckley, Jr.—were planning luxury cruises to Alaska in the summer of 2007, which would make stops in Juneau. Writers and editors from these publications had been enlisted to deliver lectures to politically minded vacationers. “The Governor was more than happy to meet these guys,” Joe Balash, a special staff assistant to Palin, recalled.

On June 18, 2007, the first group disembarked in Juneau from the Holland America Line’s M.S. Oosterdam, and went to the governor’s mansion, a white wooden Colonial house with six two-story columns, for lunch. The contingent featured three of The Weekly Standard s top writers: William Kristol, the magazine’s Washington-based editor, who is also an Op-Ed columnist for the Times and a regular commentator on “Fox News Sunday”; Fred Barnes, the magazine’s executive editor and the co-host of “The Beltway Boys,” a political talk show on Fox News; and Michael Gerson, the former chief speechwriter for President Bush and a Washington Post columnist.

Read the rest of Ms. Mayer’s article here.

Overdoing the small picture

Columnist Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays with Morrie, writes today in The Detroit Free Press, “Average Joe can’t fix America’s pipes”,

By the time you read this, Joe [the Plumber] may be a member of the Weathermen. None of this surprises me. It is what you get in a country that seems to think everything is a form of “American Idol.”

Look. There is a reason we call “the average guy” average. Because he’s in the middle. Average. When you aim for the White House, to lead the free world, to hold the fate of the Earth in your hands, you shouldn’t aspire to average. And this election shouldn’t be about average.

Don’t get me wrong. Plumbers, when you need them, are more desirable than presidents. I, personally, would be underwater in my home if not for my plumber.

But in politics, we overdo the small picture because we get bored with the big picture. Our eyes glaze over when candidates talk policy. The devil is in the details, but we’re not interested in the devil. We’d rather watch, be entertained, be told a story.

Read the rest here.

Join the club

CNN reports that “McCain, Palin hint that Obama’s policies are ‘socialist’

Really, we’re all socialists now, aren’t we, after the bailout and bank plan, from George Bush and Sen. McCain who suspended his campaign to fly to Washington to urge passage, to President Sarkozy, PM Brown. Pot, meet kettle.

As The Telegraph reported the other day,

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson acknowledged that many would see the move as a slide towards socialism that was unthinkable six months ago.

“Government owning a stake in any private US company is objectionable to most Americans, me included,” he said. “Yet the alternative of leaving businesses and consumers without access to financing is to tally unacceptable.” …

The Treasury will buy stakes in Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bank of New York, Mellon Corp., State Street Corp, and Merrill Lynch will also receive a capital injection.

But clearly aware of public scepticism, President Bush claimed the drastic steps were “not intended to take over the free market but to preserve it.”

Conservative economist Alan Reynolds, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, was typical of those who disagree: “Public ownership of mortgage-backed bonds is merely an investment. Public ownership of equity is socialism.”

Semi-radical, unacademic, and too much fun

The New York Times covers “Anti-Schoolers”, a piece on the growth of home education in the Big Apple:

Benny’s parents ["with two PhDs and an MD between them"] aren’t home-schooling in the traditional sense, by hewing to a curriculum, nor are they strictly “unschooling,” that is, following the teachings of John Holt, a progressive educator who promoted a child-led learning movement that is a wildly democratic subset of the home-schooling world. Rather, theirs is an ad hoc, day-by-day exploration into what it means to be a stay-at-home parent and child in an accelerated culture like New York. In a city where the race to be on top can start in infancy, the disconnect between these parents’ choices and the New York City norm is vast, as Ms. Rendell [Benny's mother] learned recently.

Read the rest here.

Most interesting to me, aside from an engaging look at home schooling and “out-in-the-world” families in NYC, was the comment from Ms. Rendell’s editor at a “hip online magazine” for which Ms. Rendell wrote about her family’s home educating adventures: ” ‘what got people going,’ was a sense that these readers ‘were being out-hipped or out-cooled,’ as [the editor] put it, that they were ‘feeling jealous on some level that Joanne had the opportunity to stay home with her son’.” Because I’ve found that many of the stronger anti-home schooling sentiments seem to come from those who find that our family’s very personal educational choice makes them feel defensive about their own choices. As Ms. Rendell herself notes in the article, “one’s choices, if different from another’s, can seem like an affront.”


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