Friday, February 26, 2010

Mr. President, If I May Say A Few Words...

Nobody should be surprised President Obama's health care summit resulted in him pledging to move on, with or without Republicans. That's the deal when you're in power and you want to get something done: your opposition can get on the bus, get off the bus, or get under the bus, but the bus is still rolling on. If this summit was useful for anything, it was a gut check. The GOP still supports starting over -- which is my position -- and the Democrats want to get something passed.

Despite the president's wish that it not unfold as political theater, that's exactly what we got. That's what we get any time we put cameras in front of a discussion among the president and lawmakers from both parties, especially in an election year. Everybody is in campaign mode. But at least nobody shouted "You lie!"

I didn't get a place at the table. But if I had...

"Mr. President, none of us in this room is against the concept of health care reform. But what bothers me greatly is the urgency some in this room have to push a bill -- any bill -- through, so we can say Washington is getting something done. Our success, I argue, should not be measured in terms of what we do, but the benefits this nation reaps from our actions. I believe we need to slow down, resist the fear of being called a 'do-nothing Congress,' and approach this issue in small, digestible measures we can read, debate, and understand before taking a vote on them. I know that's not the way we usually do things around here, but if we're committed to change, we need to change too. Whatever happened to leading by example? Let's break this bill up into pieces, starting with insurance reform. We can then move on to tort reform, drug exports, and the other parts of the puzzle.

"We cannot talk about using shortcuts and back-door methods to pass this bill. I find 'reconciliation' to be the most ironic term in discussion of this legislation because, in truth, it will reconcile nothing. It will stoke more partisanship, more anger, and more disappointment from the people who voted to put us here. We work for them, not for our parties. I also do not want to hear any more threats of filibusters unless those making the threats are ready to stand on the floor and actually make those endless speeches we've heard so much about but rarely heard. I know this is easy for me to say because I have no allegiance to either Democrats or Republicans, and I don't have to run for re-election.

"Mr. President, I know you made a lot of promises during the campaign to fix health care. I want to help you. But it is my honest fear that the health care debate is becoming the when-are-we-gonna-get-this-darn-thing-passed debate. Moderation is not a sin, even though some people are trying to con you into thinking it is. Do not be fooled. Let's take our time and do this right. Lives are literally on the line."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The General, The Dancer, His Soldiers, And Our Freedom

Observations from Mt. Vernon as General George Washington celebrates his 278th birthday with his favourite diversion celebrated by We Make History.

Photos by Mr. M. Cynecki
Click any picture for a larger view!

It is a time when many of His Excellency's loyal soldiers and officers are away in humble and faithful service, but a few make their way through the cold and the rain of a February day to dance with a small but enthusiastic group of invited guests. Among the crowd is Pvt. Christopher of the Continental Line and his dearest dancing companion, Madame Noire...

“We are in need of more Continentals,” the private thinks, even as he is heartened by the presence of a fellow lieutenant in red, white, and blue.

And then they enter: one of the General's life guards from Maryland, a colonel in a bold and handsome combination of blue and buff. Beside him stands his wife in a gorgeous ball gown of stripes and natural tones, something that would surely appeal to His Excellency's farming instincts. It is, to his knowledge, their first ball.

For the private and his lady companion, they are reminded of their first ball together one year ago, when he greeted her as she sat in a corner to herself. The private soon realized she was the mysterious lady who had written him with of encouragement. That night he bowed to her with great humility, and led her through the opening promenade. He asked for her hand in the first dance of the evening, Sellinger's Round.

Those memories now refresh themselves as the couple reprises the Round. Drilling and marching gives the private stamina for the dance's many hops from side to side. A dancing master would find it more pronounced than what is required, but he does not restrain his joy for one moment.

Neither does His Excellency, in full uniform, and Mrs. Washington, in floral prints, who are as lively and hospitable as their reputation proclaims. Washington learned to dance at a young age as a blooming gentleman, as did all young Virginians. For them it was expected, beloved, and impossible to live without.

The country dance is a different form of drill, the private recognizes, with its formations and patterns flowing into each other, its symmetry and devotion to order. A turn by the hand leads to a circle round in four. Corners of couples consistently change places. A chasse between the rows of dancers reverses itself and leads to waves of partners splitting off from each other and dancing around their neighbors. Some struggle with the differences between past and present. They are not used to progressing up and down a set of dancers or waiting a turn at the end. But this is not war. There are no Redcoats here, merely a room of enthusiastic guests who long to lose themselves in a forgotten time.

The private approaches a lady sitting in a chair to the side. Something tells him she desires to be on the floor but is not confident in her abilities.

“My lady,” he greets with a bow. “Would you honour me with a dance?”

She is uncertain. She does not know what to do. The private reassures her that he shall lead her. “Fret not,” he says.

His promise is soon tested, as they walk through the steps of “Hole In The Wall.” A successful venture into the dance degrades as some couples, unaware of how their roles have changed after progressing to the end of the set and back, turn to dance with the wrong neighbors, leaving the private and his partner alone in the set with little to do but smile and admire each other and look for the next opportunity to rejoin the movement.

The private is not fazed. He leads his lady by the hand, progressing when proper, attempting to straighten things out. As in battle, he is not one to surrender. Much is expected. Much lies in victory. “We progress on,” he says to his partner, hoping he does not show any twitch of worry. His bravery in the midst of confusion bears fruit when he and the lady finally reach two of their dancing neighbors who draw the back into the pattern of turns, casts and circles.

When all is concluded, the private's relief overflows. “Thank you so much for your patience,” he praises to his lady, following a deep bow. “May I escort you somewhere?”

She desires to be taken back to her friends on the side of the great hall. The private leads her there, proclaiming to them the his partner's admirable perseverance with another bow to seal his thoughts.

“Heaven holds a place for you,” the lady says to him in heartfelt admiration.

“GOD is with you,” the private replies in a whisper, his own heart humbled nearly beyond words.

The merry patriot values humility, and once again he can look to his commander for inspiration. He remembers the story he had heard of several soldiers fixing a redoubt as their commander barked orders, not offering a finger of help. A man in civilian clothes rode past them and asked why the officer was not assisting.

“Sir, I am a corporal!” he replied.

The man got of his horse and helped the soldiers. When he was done, he turned to their commander and said, “Mr. Corporal, next time you have a job like this and not enough men to do it, go to your Commander-in-Chief and I will come and help you again.”

At that moment, the corporal realized he was talking to General Washington.

As His Excellency prepares to make an announcement, Mrs. Washington catches him with a surprise in her arms: a red, white, and blue cake. At once the guests sing to him in celebration, the love powerful enough to shed at least two hundred years off his age.

True freedom, as all should know, comes with responsibility, a lesson not lost on the young American Belles selected to represent the finest of the newly-minted thirteen states. Honor, integrity, accountability are all expected of them, and all of them are challenged to maintain those higher standards.

Joining in with the two officers among him, the private escorts a few of them before the gathering with pride and dignity.

The young ladies earn the right to first choice over their partners for the next dance. The private hopes he will not be overlooked as they fan out across the hall, inquiring of the young men. They pass him by. He knows they are simply seeking out their younger friends, but he can't help but feel a bit disappointed.

Yet even in adversity, opportunity arises. He observes a young Belle standing on the edge of the hall in a satiny blue gown, eyes wandering about.

She has no partner, the private gathers. With haste, he marches over to her and bows. She accepts with a demure smile. Her quiet elegance holds fast throughout “Soldier's Joy,” during which the private and a friend engage in a battle of the bows, seeing who can show more honour to the ladies while still partaking of a lively dance.

Minutes dissolve into the night, through several more sets and a spirited pineapple dance before a final waltz finds the private and Madame circling each other in what is becoming their traditional improvised minuet – a stately freestyle dance composed of figures from the country dance, as led by her partner with softly whispered calls and hand gestures, but with the three-quarter grace of the early couple dances.

Many years later, the graceful patterns and respectful gestures would dissolve into the collective memories as archaic.

“Alas, our dancing days are no more,” Washington would later write to the Assembly in Alexandria in 1799, “We wish, however, all those who have a relish for so agreeable and innocent an amusement all the pleasure the season will afford them.”

Nothing could be more agreeable or innocent, the private reflects. Nothing is more joyous for me.

He realizes many will never understand why the dance fulfills him so, how it has liberated him from the person he once was.

It is good to be free.

See more photos and reflections from this evening here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tiger's Talk

Tiger Woods did what he needed to do this morning. He apologized. He took the blame. His language was simple and direct. He didn't use weasel-word mistakes-were-made phrasing. He asked for privacy. He asked paparazzi to stop going after his family. He defended his wife.

But then he said he was going back to Buddhism, and that gave me pause. Tiger didn't take any questions, but I wanted to ask, "Mr. Woods, why are you going back to a religious system that failed you the first time around?" Yes, I know that's similar to what Brit Hume said a few weeks ago. But I'm speaking from my own experience.

My family took me to church nearly every Sunday as a child, when I was old enough and quiet enough to sit through services. I went to Sunday School. I went to "Youth Club" on Wednesday nights. But I still ended up falling away from church as a teenager. I hadn't gone to church regularly for approximately 15 years until I got right with GOD in 2007. When I was looking for a church, the Presbyterian church -- the one I was confirmed in -- was not my first pick. Why go back to a church where I wasn't connecting with GOD? I needed a fresh start and a new perspective, and that meant going to a new, nondenominational church.

Tiger is rebooting his life. That means tossing out everything that didn't work the first time. He talked about straying from the values he learned: "Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy pointless search for security." I know he was talking about addictions, but those things outside himself were done for himself. At least he clarified it in his next sentence: "It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught."

I also have issues with the timing of his speech, coming in the middle of the Accenture World Match Play Championships. Why couldn't Tiger have made this statement on Monday, before the competition got rolling? Even more curious, how did he swing a week off from addiction therapy? We'll just have to live with those questions for now.

I believe Tiger has earned a mulligan, to use the golf terminology. But now he's got to make the shot. He says his wife told him he will be judged by his actions from here on out. No hooks. No slices. Phil Mickelson skipped Match Play to spend time with his family. Maybe Tiger should be asking him for advice.

Let The Girls Be Handy

Yankee Doodles, Proud Patriots, are you ready?

Are you ready to honour the ladies?

Are you ready to show yourselves gentlemen as well as soldiers?

Are you as skilled with your allemande as you are with a flintlock?

The fair ones are proud of your bravery, your sacrifice, your willingness to defend this new nation, to stand for freedom and liberty, for the rights to peaceably assemble at gatherings such as the George Washington Ball.

The least you can do is let your courage extend to the ballroom floor. We know they have been practicing their steps while you took a stand. But in case you need a few refresher lessons, take a few from the ladies and gentlemen of Tryon Palace, in New Bern, North Carolina:

The National Dames Society can show you all the right moves:

You may also learn a few steps from the ladies of Williamsburg:

The above dance, "Haste To The Wedding," was the first country dance your humble servant learned. It remains one of my favourites. You can probably gather where I learned it.

With a bow, I must part. I shall see you at the ball!

(Facebook viewers, you know what to do by now: "View Original Post.")

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Time Marches On

Dearest Dancing Friends, no doubt you know a traditional grand ball like the George Washington Ball starts with a grand march: a stately promenade of couples parading around in pairs, then in a line, then in some other geometrically snaking arrangement. Something like this, as seen during the 2007 Playford to the Present Ball in Pasadena, California:

Many years down the timeline, square dancers picked up on the tradition, as demonstrated at SCVSDA's 49th Jubilee in San Jose, California:

And many a modern-day married couple has decided to continue the tradition at their reception, as wonderfully demonstrated here to the tune of "The Stars And Stripes Forever." If this doesn't put you in both a patriotic and festive mood... I long for you.

Stay in step, my friends!

(Facebookers, please march your mouse over to "View Original Post" to see the embedded videos!)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Children Of The Dance

It is always heartening, Dearest Friends, to see the young ladies and gentlemen follow in the traditions of their colonial ancestors. They may wear sneakers instead of buckled shoes and jeans instead of breeches, but tricorns and bonnets are nearly ubiquitous, and all are in the spirit of the dance during Colonial Days at Madrone School:

And even more impressive are these 3rd Grade ladies and gentlemen, showing their finest ball attire and stately movements:

No doubt they are ready for the George Washington Ball. Are you?

(Facebook friends, please click "View Original Post" to see the fancy footwork of the young!)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bring On The Night

One of my goals is to eventually journey to historic Gadsby's Tavern in Alexandria, Virginia, where historic balls regularly take place. The ambiance is perfect for the dances of George Washington's time, as you see in this short clip from the George Washington's Birthnight Ball:

And for even more ambiance, here's another dance by candlelight to "Hole In The Wall."

One must wonder, did the faint illumination help hide the flaws? Oh, one mustn't worry, for all shall be bright and beautiful for George Washington's Ball!

(Facebook friends, don't be left in the dark! Click "View Original Post" to see the videos.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

...And All Is Well

Continuing our tribute to the dances of George Washington's time in honour of the upcoming ball celebrated in his tribute, let us examine a number that embodies everything I love about English Country Dancing: grace, beautiful movement and simplicity. I am sure His Excellency loved those attributes as well.

The dance is called "Well Hall," set in 3/4 time. Although not a waltz, it gives one plenty of time to move... or pause between figures and gaze longingly into your partner's eyes.

As I examine the above clip, I give a great cheer to the lad in the kilt... and a bewildered glance to the lass in the poodle skirt.

Anyway, let us see this dance performed in a much grander setting: St. George`s Hall in Liverpool, England:

It is amazing to see so many people dancing in period attire, although I doubt the dances of Washington's time would have seen so many on the dance floor! Then again, we know how much Colonial Virginians enjoyed the dance.

(Facebook friends, click "View Original Post" to see the videos!)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

By George, I Think They've Got It!

Dearest friends of the dance, another ball will soon be upon us, one in honour of the Father Of Our Country, George Washington -- victorious general, beloved president, true gentleman, and lively dancer!

So let us pay tribute all this week by taking you on a visual journey through balls celebrated in his honour and the dances popular during his time.

We begin with a tribute to the brave Patriot soldiers under Washington's command: "Away To The Camp!"

Although you do not see it here, note that my dancing companions enjoy tousling each other's hair as they skip around the opposite lines. My ponytail has been yanked more than once by a playful lass.

Just as we pay tribute to the Father of our Country, those who danced in Wasington's time paid tribute to their forefathers in dance. Thus we have a number thought to have been dedicated to Pocahontas, "The Indian Queen."

Here it is again, from another angle:

Keep your shoe buckles polished, friends. More is to come!

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lost Loves

Last week, I was with a few members of the 1st Virginia and 1st Minnesota as we had fun with some families. We lined up a few dozen young children and taught them to march. But the real fun came when we formed up to fire. They didn't have stick guns, but they did have stick swords, water pistols, and plastic ray guns. They fired several volleys at their parents and charged them -- three times.

After the kids calmed down from multiple assaults on their betters, we gathered everyone around for some hymn singing and testimony time. Our colonel recognized many of those kids had never seen a hymnal. But we sang several selections from the books passed around, including “Amazing Grace.”

We heard from a few children who told us what they thanked GOD for. One remembered a time he prayed, when he immediately felt a rush of wind.

Another disclosed a hardship: “I am thankful because we didn't have a home, and now we have a home.”

Then a child named Will (which has been changed to protect his identity) spoke up and told us he had lost his grandmother about a year ago. He didn't think GOD was answering his prayers.

Listening to him broke my heart. When our afternoon of fun ended, I walked over to Will's parents and told them I would be praying for them.

“He and his grandmother had a special bond,” his mother told us. “It's a day to day thing.”

Will was bouncing around and hugging his folks like nothing was wrong. You would never know the hurt by looking at him. But his mother confirmed it was there, and she was thankful for my prayers.

As I thought about Will and offered what ministrations I could, my eyes watered. When the family left, and I returned to my comrades in arms, a fellow private could see I was shaken. I could barely talk to him without crying, recounting what I had learned and how it kicked up a memory.

“All my grandparents are gone,” I recalled. But I still couldn't believe I was crying for a child I didn't even know.

My fellow soldier suggested I wept because I deeply wanted GOD to use me to help this family. I thought about it. Could it be a cry for help on somebody else's behalf?

A similar thing happened four years ago, when I volunteered to interview a mother who had just lost her daughter in a car wreck. A bombardment of memories and a house full of mourning relatives brought the water to my eyes. That was when GOD was starting to soften and rebuild my heart, although I didn't know it at the time.

When I lost my Grandma Lawson in 2002 (pictured at left in my favorite photo of her from the 1960's), I recall weeping for only about 10 minutes on the plane back to Kansas City for the funeral. But I'd been expecting it -- I'd last seen her one year earlier and realized that I might not get to see her again.

A few days before her last breaths, I called her hospital room. A nurse answered the phone and told me Grandma was too weak to speak.

“Tell her I love her,” I instructed.

She did. Then I heard a labored whisper in the background.

“I love you too.”

Those were her last words to me. To this day, after losing three other grandparents suddenly, I am still thankful I could see my beloved Grandma Lawson ride off into the sunset and be there to wave goodbye.

People will mourn death in a thousand different ways. They may wash the pain out of their system like a good shower. Or the shock takes over, and a weird empty feeling stands in for any grief. Some grieve for awhile and move on, but then they tow the loss behind them like luggage. However they do it, you can't always tell.

Thousands of people can't get rid of the baggage, but they don't think they need counseling, or they don't want to be seen as mentally ill if they get help. It's especially hard for men because of the boys-don't-cry mentality parents drill into their heads. This ignores the fact GOD gave both genders emotions and not so we could repress them.

Valentine's Day is a horrible time for those like Will who have lost their most cherished loves. While everybody else is taking part in the flowers and chocolate and diamond jubilee, they are left out of the party. But we'll never see it.

This year, this mostly media-hyped holiday falls on a Sunday, and I hope it will give you pause. In your Sabbath prayers, please remember those who are still grieving, silently or otherwise, for those who have lost their Valentines. They need GOD's love. They could use your love, too, measurable beyond the red hearts and doilies and sugar-coated confections.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

No Booze, No Smokes, No HBO, No Problem

State Representative Frank Antenori is floating a bill making anybody who gets welfare in Arizona to sign an affidavit limiting what they can do with the money they don't get from the state. Namely, he doesn't want to see people buying liquor, cigarettes, premium cable service, or a ritzy car.

Granted, enforcement will be pretty hard unless you happen to be standing in front of Rep. Antenori at the Sav-Mart, or a tattler, as he explains to the Arizona Daily Star:
"People put $100 of food up on the register, run the EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer card) through, and then throw two big jugs of booze and two cartons of cigarettes (onto the conveyor belt) and pull $100 out of their pocket. If you see that, you call a 1-800 number and notify somebody," Antenori said.

"If you've got 80 bucks to buy a gallon of booze and two cartons of cigarettes, then why the heck are we paying for your food?" he asked.

That would mean a single bottle of beer could cost a family its food stamps, free health care and any other welfare benefits. Antenori said he has no problem with that.

"If you don't have enough money to buy your own food to exist for your own sustenance, and you need some other hardworking taxpayer that's out there and working and paying taxes to subsidize your food, then you shouldn't have the luxury, at the expense of some other taxpayer, to go out and enjoy the niceties in life," he said.
The knee-jerk reaction to Rep. Antenori's proposal is to accuse him of conjuring up the old welfare-bum stereotype. Ted over at Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion questions the actual number of welfare recipients who have a benefits card in one hand and a wad of cash in the other.

Let's think about this from another angle: The Obama Administration put limits on executive pay for companies getting government bailout money. I maintain that when you get government aid, it's reasonable to let the government set boundaries on your spending habits so that the money -- our tax dollars -- is spent wisely and not frittered into expensive bonuses or perks. A lot of you would agree.

So let's think of public assistance as simply a personal bailout. If you need government assistance, the government has the right to dictate your spending habits -- even with money you didn't get from the state. Why? Because how you spend is critical to getting you off the dole. As the government sacrifices some money for your sake, you should sacrifice by cutting out the extras. There's precedent: as it is, welfare money can't be spent on booze or smokes.

This does not mean living on bread and water and a beat-up Yugo. But when you're trying to put your financial life back together, a key lesson is distinguishing between a want and a need.

It's temping to write off Rep. Antenori's proposal as war on the poor because he presents it with a touch of mean-spiritedness. He cites a hypothetical case, jazzed up to play to our emotions. Putting a virtual "How's my spending? Call 1-800..." bumper sticker on welfare recipients leaves me with a creepy feeling. How many of you would call this number and not feel some tinge of guilt?

Get rid of the emotional baggage and the bill isn't unreasonable. But it won't sell unless there's an urgency attached to it. Come back to me with some solid examples of welfare waste and we'll go from there.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Civics Lesson From Rep. Stevens

Attention Arizonans: Rep. David Stevens of Sierra Vista wants to take away one of your Constitutional rights by changing the way our U.S. Senators are elected. Hyperbole? Nope. He wants a system where state lawmakers pick the candidates and the voters select them.

According to the Arizona Daily Star and Capitol Media Services' Howard Fischer
He said his measure would be a partial return to the way things were before the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted.

Until then, each state legislature selected its U.S. senators. Voters selected only the folks going to the House of Representatives. The 1913 amendment requires direct election of all members of Congress.

Stevens said that amendment was a mistake. He said the old system ensured that senators were responsive to the desires of state lawmakers.
I gather responsiveness to the citizens is just a formality.
"The state is supreme over the federal government," he said. "And when they weren't doing what we thought they should be doing, we could recall them at any time."
Ponder with me the thought of our gridlocked, ideologically tainted, debt-ridden legislature appointing the slate of senators we voted for... and later recalling them because the state pols didn't like what the federal pols were doing. Okay, maybe that last part won't happen.

But at least ponder one of our state lawmakers saying that our state is supreme over the federal government. I'm hoping Rep. Stevens is speaking only in the context of the 17th Amendment and U.S. Senators.

You gotta worry a little.