Summer solstice

Many calendars and almanacs label today, the day of the summer solstice as the “first day of summer.” In the United States, the beginning of summer is observed Memorial Day weekend and the end of summer comes on Labor Day weekend. Even weather forecasters now assign the term “summer” to the dates June 1—August 31, making the seasons match the months on the calendar. Few of us really treat the solstice as summer’s beginning. For William Shakespeare, the solstice marked Midsummer-Night. But the summer solstice has never inspired the celebration and festivity given to the winter solstice at the end of December.

I recently wrote a chapter for an upcoming book to be called “Murphy’s Gremlins.” In this chapter, which talks about time and seasons, I remark that our Creator is not obsessive or compulsive about time. The book of Genesis says that God created the sun and the moon to mark days and years and seasons. After the flood, God also promised a continuing cycle of planting and harvest, day and night, summer and winter. But an OCD Creator would have timed the earth’s journey around the sun for an exact number of days—probably 360 days. Such a Creator would have timed the moon’s journey around the earth and the completion of its cycle of phases for an exact number of days—probably thirty days. We would live with twelve months of thirty days in a year of 360 days and never have days left over. But God did not create that way.

Instead, the earth’s journey around the sun is roughly—not exactly, mind you, but only roughly—365 ¼ days. The moon’s journey around the earth takes between 28 and 29 days, and its passage through its phases requires a day or two more. Many cultures, including the Hebrew, the Chinese, the Arabic, and the Roman (during the Republic) began a new month with each new moon—as soon as the crescent of the moon can be seen in the sky, it is the first day of the month. At the end of the Republic, though, Julius Caesar mandated a calendar that contained twelve months but ignored the moon. Caesar also added a day to the calendar every fourth year to keep seasons from slipping away from solstices and equinoxes. It took centuries for the Julian calendar to slip; Julius Caesar may not have expected his calendar to be used for such a long time. Pope Gregory revised the Julian calendar to accommodate the reality that the earth’s journey around the sun is only roughly 365 ¼ days. It took a long time for other parts of the world to adjust to the new Gregorian calendar.

Some annual observances rely on a lunar calendar that predates the Julian Calendar. Passover, Israel’s memory of its escape from Egypt, is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the first month of spring—the fourteenth day being the night of the full moon. Christian observances of Easter and related holidays also are set according to the first full moon after the spring equinox. Muslim holidays and Chinese holidays are likewise set by the lunar calendar

But other observances follow the Julian-Gregorian calendar. Christians observe Christmas, the birthday of Jesus, on December 25, no matter what the moon is doing. Some people claim that Christians chose that date because of non-Christian celebrations of the winter solstice. They wanted faithful Christians to have a reason to celebrate at the same time. The date may also have been chosen through a faulty reading of Luke’s Gospel. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was burning incense in the Temple in Jerusalem when the angel Gabriel told Zechariah that Zechariah and his wife would have a son. Thinking that Zechariah was high priest and that his burning of incense was part of the Day of Atonement (which happens around the autumn equinox), they calculated that Zechariah’s son (John the Baptist) was born nine months later. Since the announcement of Christ’s coming birth came when Elizabeth (Zechariah’s wife) was in her sixth month of pregnancy, the same scholars marked the announcement by Gabriel to Mary around the spring equinox and the birth nine months later, just after the winter solstice.

On Christian calendars, the birthday of John the Baptist is observed on June 24, just after the summer solstice. But, unlike Christ’s birthday, John’s birthday is not such a big deal. Summer solstice observances have always paled in comparison to winter solstice festivities. Especially in the United States, the summer solstice has disappeared as a holiday. We begin summer at the end of May and conclude it at the start of September. In between, our biggest celebration is Independence Day, the Fourth of July, a mere two weeks after the solstice. Our enthusiasm and energy is saved for that occasion.

Seasons change. Days and months and years run their course. Solstices and equinoxes take place on schedule, as do all our man-made holidays and observances. But for those who care (if there be any out there), a joyous summer solstice to you all. J.

Juneteenth

I am home today, enjoying a paid holiday away from the workplace, but I’m not entirely sure why. I know that Juneteenth is a day long observed by African-Americans in the United States. I know that it marks, for them, the end of slavery and the beginning of freedom. I fully approve of the celebration of Juneteenth in the United States. I am not sure how being paid to stay home and catch up on my writing and other personal plans contributes to the meaning of this day.

Since colonial times, Africans were involuntarily transported into the western hemisphere to work for Europeans. Most of those Africans were sold into slavery by their fellow Africans, entrepreneurs making a profit off the vulnerability of their neighbors. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to exploit this involuntary labor. First on islands off the coast of Africa, then in the western hemisphere, Portuguese investors raised sugar cane, harvesting the sugar and selling it in Europe, where a growing taste for sugar made the spice a valuable commodity. Spanish explorers added African slaves to their conquered lands as the native population of the western hemisphere succumbed to European diseases such as smallpox and measles. The British and other European colonial governments perpetuated the slave trade.

The Industrial Revolution, beginning in Great Britain, made abolition of slavery possible for the first time in history. Even as the United States declared independence from Great Britain, the place of slaves in the new nation was debated. Some national leaders wanted to abolish slavery from the beginning of the country. They took seriously the words of Thomas Jefferson that “all men are created equal” and are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Others resisted freeing the slaves. A compromise was reached, when the Constitution was written, permitting slavery to continue in parts of the country but allowing no new slaves to be brought into the country. As part of that compromise, slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person in the national census. Eventually, a war was fought among the states over the issue of slavery. After the war ended, slavery was abolished by the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution. All people living in the United States were declared to have the rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.

Some white people labored to help the former slaves. They established schools in the south, helped to organize black-owned businesses, accepted black members of the government at the local, state, and national level, and required the state governments in the south to accept these changes. Others raised money to send former slaves and their families back to Africa, creating a country called Liberia. After time, though, people rose to power in both southern states and northern states who were less interested in equal and fair treatment for black citizens. Some former slaves became tenant farmers, working the same land for the same owners for a share of the profit but barred from social advancement. Some former slaves or their children moved north where they found factory jobs but were forced to live in substandard housing in segregated neighborhoods of northern cities. During the course of the twentieth century, a Civil Rights movement developed to challenge laws that perpetuated social, political, and economic differences between black citizens and white citizens. Some efforts toward justice succeeded, while others failed. Some efforts toward justice made life better for black citizens of the United States, while others continued to trap them in a system that diminished their opportunity for success in the United States.

Recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday—and making it a paid holiday for all workers—seems to me an empty gesture of goodwill toward African Americans. By all means, we should celebrate African American culture. African Americans are welcome to preserve their traditions and to share them with their neighbors, and we should be glad to take part in their celebrations. In this way, Juneteenth can be added to ethnic holidays which include Chinese New Year, Saint Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Octoberfest, and any other celebration that focuses attention upon one of the many groups within the United States of America. Schools, libraries, churches, businesses, neighborhood associations, and other gatherings can and should make all these days opportunities to remember and enjoy their heritage of our particular group. They can and should make all these days opportunities to learn about the heritage of other groups of people who share our cities, states, and country.

Celebrating an ethnic heritage is a good thing. Striving for liberty and justice for all people is another good thing. They do not often mix. Doing the first might distract many people from doing the second. Doing the first in a thoughtless and careless way might even create barriers that keep us from doing the second. A better country will not be formed by adding a holiday or two to the calendar. A better country will be formed when we see and hear each other, learn from each other, care about one another, and work together for the good of all. J.

And now, the news….

We forget that the news reports we trust come to us from the entertainment industry. Especially in this post-modern age, when we acknowledge that everyone has a bias and label our news sources as liberal or conservative, we overlook the reality that every news provider cares most about ratings and market share. Facts are facts, no matter who says them. A news outfit caught in a deliberate lie loses audience and therefore loses sponsors and income. What matters most about the news is making it interesting—capturing attention and keeping people hooked on the news. The past is past, and the future has not arrived. Only today brings in money for today’s purveyors of the daily news.

A good political fight is worthy news, no matter which side is right and which is wrong. A closely-contested election, with polls showing a virtual tie between the candidates makes a better story than a one-sided affair. Scandal always sells, and no political persuasion is immune to scandal. Celebrities are always news-worthy, because people always want to hear about the rich and famous. Fear is good: when people are frightened about things that are happening in the world, more people tune in to learn the latest news.

On the other hand, current events are complicated. Most people don’t like complicated events. Therefore, the news reporters try to simply matters for their audiences. Simple stories build audiences, and bigger audiences mean more money from the sponsors. Russia invades Ukraine: many things can be said about this historic event, but the simplest summary of the news keeps the Russians clearly labeled as the bad guys and the Ukrainians clearly labeled as the good guys.

Public demonstrations can be newsworthy, but bigger audiences gather around danger and violence and destruction. If ten thousand people gather in one place for one reason and twelve of them break the law, the actions of those twelve become the top story. Surprise and the unexpected also gather audiences—few people notice when a dog bites a man, but a lot more people pay attention when a man bites a dog.

Like the rest of the entertainment industry, news services will continue to give us what they think we want. They sift through the day’s events, hunting for the biggest stories that will grab the largest audiences. They sift through explanations of recent events, hunting for the focus that pleases the largest number of viewers—not those who want to think about current events for themselves, not those who want to deal with the complexity of the world, but those who are content to be told what to think and what to believe, who to love and who to hate, what to fear and how much to fear it.

At one time, movies tried to maintain standards of decency and appropriate material. When they found that more people bought tickets to controversial movies, movie-makers dropped their standards. At one time, television shows also aimed for decency and appropriate material. Their standards also changed to conform to pressure from the ratings. News reporting works the same way. Reporters may have operated once with a system of fairness, decency, and dignity. All those have gone out the window in the name of “giving people what they really want.” Our news will be more reliable and more helpful only when we stop being entertained by the lurid, the sensational, and the neatly-packaged simplicity. Stay tuned for more on our top story after these messages from our sponsors. J.

War in Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine was not as much as a surprise as many seemingly-informed people have pretended. Russian seizure of the Crimean region several years ago (and the inadequate response by the rest of the world’s governments) signaled what Vladimir Putin intended. Placing Russian troops on the border of Ukraine for so-called “training exercises” this winter was an obvious preparation for invasion. The biggest surprises thus far have been the inadequacy of the Russian army to achieve its goals and the ability of the Ukrainian army and people to resist the Russian forces with any degree of success.

All the same, Russia has far too many resources—soldiers, ammunition, and equipment—for Ukraine to prevail against a long and determined Russian assault. Economic sanctions from the rest of the world can do very little to stop Russia from doing whatever it wants. In both short-term and long-term scenarios, Russia and can will survive economic warfare. Ukrainian forces can be re-equipped by the United States and its NATO allies. Sooner or later, though, the Ukraine will run out of soldiers able to use those supplies. If Putin’s government was going to collapse and drive him from power, that would have happened in the first month of the war. He is too entrenched at the top of the Russian government to be removed by his own people. The current resistance of the Ukrainian people to the Russian invasion is inspiring. In the course of history, though, inspiring defiance does not defeat the tyranny of those who are both powerful and determined.

Henry Kissinger has suggested publicly that Ukraine will have to cede territory to Russia to end the war. This public statement is unfortunate, but it represents the realism of Kissinger’s sense of history. It would be nice for the rest of the world to present a united front against Russian aggression, but global unity against Russia is an illusion. China is content to remain on the sidelines, taking neither side in the conflict. Many nations in Africa and Latin America prefer not to offend the Russian nation and its powerful economy. Unless Russian forces themselves cross borders and go beyond Ukraine, the nations of NATO will remain unwilling to commit their own forces to the defense of Ukraine. A larger war will happen only if Russia—or some part of Russia’s invading army—makes an enormous mistake. Not only is such a mistake unlikely; the United States and its NATO allies do not really want to confront such a mistake and the world war that would be its result.

Vladimir Putin is very clever. Even though he miscalculated the ability of his army to seize control throughout Ukraine, he has timed his invasions skillfully. He recognizes weakness on the stage of world leaders. Knowing when and how to seize the Crimean peninsula, he also knew when the time was wrong to grab for more of Ukraine and when the opportunity was most in his favor.

After all, Ukraine’s history is closely entwined with Russian history. The first capital of the Russian Empire was Kyiv/Kiev. The region historically identified as “the Ukraine” has been part of other empires for most of its existence: it was once part of Poland, once part of Lithuania (yes, really!), and once part of the Mongol Empire. The Ukraine’s existence as a separate Republic in the Soviet Union was more a political convenience than a recognition by the Soviet government that Ukrainians are a distinct culture and people deserving recognition as their own nation.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is, in one sense, no more forgivable than the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Building an alliance to oppose Iraq and free Kuwait, though, was far easier than building an alliance to oppose Russia and free Ukraine. By its invasion, Russia under Putin has risked upsetting the balance of powers in the world. The risk is clever, though, because of its skillful timing, recognizing the limits other governments must place upon themselves to maintain that same balance of powers.

Future generations will recognize Vladimir Putin as a tyrant who consolidated political control in Russia and strove to regain some of the power lost by Moscow in the collapse of the Soviet Union. They will report the invasion of Ukraine as one of Putin’s mistakes, a costly mistake for his nation, in part because his invasion has revealed weaknesses in the Russian military system. But, living in the present, we cannot let history’s verdict cloud our vision of the present reality. Ukraine is in a bad place today, reeling from destruction and unable to cling to its borders and its population. Things will get darker before they improve. For the time being, Putin and his Russian Empire are here to stay. J.

Guns and madness

With every tragic mass shooting in the United States comes continued conversation and debate about how to end such horrors. Some people want to ban all guns, or at least most of them; others are determined to preserve their Second Amendment rights. Armed protectors and schools and other public places are frequently suggested, as well as various procedures to keep people safe without destroying their freedom. Mental health always enters the discussion, since clearly something is not right in the thinking of any person who goes into a school, a store, a church, a movie theater, or some other place where people are gathered and starts shooting to kill those people.

Evil lurks in this world and cannot be eradicated by mere human effort. Violent crimes remind us that sin and evil exist in the minds and hearts of each of us. Evil is random, unpredictable, and unfair. Governments exist to protect us from the sins of others, but governments are fallible; they will never prevent all sins, all crimes, or all tragedies.

When laws are not enforced and proper procedures are not followed, passing more laws solves no problem. “There ought to be a law…” is a natural reaction when things go wrong, but the tragedies being discussed quite often include unlawful behavior on the part of some sinners.

Can we predict which of our neighbors is likely to commit the next horrific crime? The profile of such criminals has already been created by experts who have studied mass shootings from the recent past. Similar characteristics have been identified in the lives and personalities of the guilty parties, and the common elements of these descriptions are well-known. A profile of potential mass shooters could be written and could be distributed this summer to every high school teacher in the country. Those teachers could read the profiles and list current or recent high school students that match those profiles. Those names could be referred to the superintendents of school districts, whose offices would then add further identifying information (such as addresses and Social Security numbers), sending this information to a central data base operated by the federal government. But, once we have that information in a data base, what would we do with that list of potential criminals?

We cannot assign a police officer to follow each of these thousands of potential criminals, hoping to prevent a crime on the part of the few people on that list who will actually break down and turn to violence. Not only do we have no money to support such law enforcement; we would violate the human rights of many citizens by treating them as guilty before they have committed any crime. We also cannot force all those thousands of potential threats to society to receive mental health counseling and treatment. We cannot force any person to receive treatment he or she does not want; and we again do not have the money to support that amount of mental health outreach. We might connect the data base to the resources of people who sell guns and ammunition. Restrictions might be based upon gun buyers based on that government profile. But can we deny the right to buy a gun to everyone whose name appears on a list? What if they were profiled and placed on the list merely because some high school teacher didn’t like them? Can we deny the right to buy and own guns to every citizen who has a family member on the government list? And what can we do about guns already belonging to such family members once the list has been created? The balance of freedom and security in our communities is always clouded by questions like these.

Government leaders must balance security and freedom when they create and enforce laws for the good of all citizens. A database of at-risk citizens would be helpful. Police could be made aware of those people on the list who appear to offer the highest risk, based on past examples. Mental health services could be offered to those same people. Gun sellers could be warned against selling weapons and ammunition to the highest risk customers identified on the government list. Distinctions could be made between hunting rifles, handguns for personal protection, collectible weapons, and the guns most likely to be chosen by violent criminals and by twisted minds set upon murder.

The assault weapons ban enacted by Congress in 1994 expired ten years later. At the time, it represented a good compromise between leaders who were inclined to ban all guns and those most determined to maintain Second Amendment rights. Restoration of that expired ban, adjusted to recognize changes that have happened since 2004, would be a good step. I do not suggest this ban as an immediate response to the latest crimes, but rather as a goal for compromise within the halls of government. This ban should not be the start of a slippery slope toward the ban of all guns, but it should be part of a balanced approach to the current problem. Creating a database of troubled people would be part of that balanced approach. Making mental health care more widely available, but especially available to those troubled people, would be part of that balanced approach. Here the government could provide some funding and encouragement to increase the number of mental health professionals in our nation. If anyone is going to have their student loans reduced or forgiven, those people providing such essential and needed services should be at the head of that line for government assistance.

Rather than talking about defunding our police forces, we need to discuss reapportioning the funding of law enforcement so our police officers are trained and equipped for the tasks we expect of them. This includes proper responses in the case of violent crime; it also includes intervention in the lives of citizens before violence begins. It includes being available to members of the community in their times of need, and making connections within the community so citizens have confidence in their police officers and do not react to the police with fear and suspicion.

We are sinners. We live in a sin-polluted world. We cannot prevent all sins, all crime, and all violence. But governments are established to protect their citizens, including their lives, their freedom, and their property. We can work together to be safer, and we can do so without sacrificing our freedom. J.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day weekend has become the unofficial beginning of summer on the American calendar. Solstices and equinoxes mean nothing to the vast majority of Americans. The hundred days from Memorial Day through Labor Day coincide with summer weather, with students free from school, and with a more relaxed schedule in many of our businesses and our personal lives. With attention focused on family and community gatherings, on picnics and barbecues and trips to the beach or the lake, we sometimes forget the purpose of Memorial Day on our calendars. But social media—including WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok—provides ample opportunities for us to remind one another what Memorial Day means and why we observe it every year.

When the Civil War began in 1861, people on both sides of the conflict expected it to end quickly. Both sides were convinced that they were right, and they believed that a few battles would make their point and that they would be able to return to their normal lives. They did not realize that the war would drag on for four years. They did not realize that hundreds of thousands of soldiers would die on the battlefield during those four years. Only when the war ended did the survivors begin to comprehend the cost of war—the senseless violence, killing, and destruction that happens in every war.

Most citizens of the United States are against war. In the twentieth century, the nation was dragged into two world wars, unwilling to get involved, but resolving to defend liberty and freedom, resolved to oppose tyranny and oppression. The same attitude kept the United States involved in the Cold War with its assorted battlegrounds; after the Cold War ended, a War on Terror also engaged the nations. Americans did not fight to capture new land or enlarge our borders. Americans did not fight to prove that our country is great. Americans fought to preserve our freedom and to defeat the enemies of freedom and justice in the world. It takes two sides to fight a war, but it only takes one side to start a war. Our leaders did not go looking for wars to fight: our leaders reluctantly accepted the duty of opposing enemies that were already threatening us and our way of life.

War is always wrong. War is a picture and a consequence of sin and evil in the world. Just wars are fought to resist sin and evil, but every war begins through sin and evil. Jesus told his followers that wars and rumors of wars would continue in human history until the Day of the Lord, the Day that he reveals his glory and completes the work that he accomplished on Good Friday and Easter. Every war reminds God’s people of the ongoing spiritual war between God and evil. A holy angel rebelled against God and brought evil into God’s perfect creation. Other angels joined in his rebellion, and all humanity took the devil’s side. When we do what we want instead of doing what God wants, we join the devil’s side in his war against God.

God could abandon the world to sin and evil. God could destroy the world and create a new world. Instead, God chooses to reclaim sinners and to rescue the victims of evil. For that reason, God entered the world to fight the enemy alongside his people. Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God but is also fully human. He resisted the devil’s temptations to sin. He refused to break the commandments of his Father or to leave his Father’s plan. Jesus became a victim of evil. Betrayed and abandoned by his followers, Jesus was a victim of unjust government. The Roman authority said that Jesus was innocent, but still signed the order for his execution. Roman soldiers abused and tortured the Son of God. Finally, like many soldiers from many wars, Jesus died and was buried.

For most soldiers, death and burial is the end of the story. But Jesus rose again on the third day. The women who went to His tomb for a memorial day instead found an empty tomb. Angels told the women that Jesus had risen, as he had promised. For forty days, Jesus proved to his followers that he had risen from the dead. Christians do not have a Memorial Day to remember the death and burial of Jesus: Christians have Easter celebrations to remember his resurrection and his victory over sin, over evil, over death and the grave. One day of the year is called Easter Sunday, but every gathering of Christians is an Easter celebration, a joyful reminder that Jesus is risen and that his enemies are defeated.

Those defeated enemies include the devil who rebelled against God. They include the sinful world that joins the devil’s rebellion. They include my sins and your sins, all the times that we break the commands of God and enlist in the devil’s army. They include death itself, the final result of sin and rebellion. Jesus defeated all the enemies. He defeated them alone, without any help from us. But he includes us in his victory. We are “more than conquerors,” because we receive the results of Christ’s victory without having fought alongside Jesus, without having contributed in any way to his victory.

On Memorial Day, we remember the soldiers who died defending our freedom. We rejoice in the liberty and justice we have as citizens of the United States. We also remember the soldier who died and was buried, but who rose again to assure us of his victory. Ascended into heaven, he sits at the right hand of God the Father—not a location somewhere in the sky, but a position of authority. Jesus runs the universe. He is present everywhere. As he promised, he is with his people always, especially when his people gather in his name. He continues to forgive sins. He continues to rescue victims of evil. He continues to share his victory with all who trust his promises.

Jesus will appear in glory to make everything new. Christians wait patiently for that Day. But, as we wait, we already have hope and joy and peace, knowing that our enemies have been defeated. We are confident of our place in God’s new creation. We already are new creations, being transformed into the image of Jesus our Savior. This also we remember on Memorial Day weekend and every day of our lives. J.

War in Ukraine–best case scenario

The best-case scenario to result from this week’s warfare in Ukraine is that the Russian people realize that Vladimir Putin is a failed despot, arrest him, replace him, withdraw their armed forces from Ukraine, and seek to reestablish proper diplomatic relations with the rest of the world. Sadly, we are unlikely to reach that scenario soon, not without more violence and destruction between now and then.

I can picture Putin confined to house arrest in one of his mansions, with falsified battle reports delivered to him hourly while the Russian army withdraws to its bases and leaves its neighbors unharmed. Putin could have long, rambling, pointless conversations with Presidents Biden and Macron and could tape speeches to the Russian nation which would be broadcast only inside his house. Meanwhile, a new Russian government could work diligently to repair all that Putin has broken. But Putin, like any intelligent and skillful tyrant, has removed from the Russian government all competition to his leadership. Anyone who disagreed with him in the past has been cut off from access to power. Anyone capable of running Russia without Putin has been isolated, kept from been heard by the Russian people. An uprising in Russia overthrowing Putin would be welcome news to the rest of the world, but we cannot hope to hear news of that sort in the immediate, foreseeable future.

The worst-case scenario to result from this week’s warfare is World War III and the end of civilization. Putin has been willing to risk that possibility, largely because he is confident that no other leader would allow matters to go that far. But almost as bad a scenario is that Putin and the Russian army capture control of Ukraine and make it another satellite of Russia, as subservient as Belarus and Kazakhstan. Allowing Ukraine to fall without much of a fight merely kicks the can of World War III down the road a bit, until Putin decides that he also wants to control Poland or Romania or some other nation that was once under the thumb of the Czars and of the Soviet government. Diplomacy and economic sanctions might not be enough to preserve the independence of Ukraine. Handing Putin the victory he wants today mortgages the future for the questionable benefit of a slightly longer time of peaceful coexistence in the present.

I wish I could believe that NATO’s leaders have a plan to stop Putin’s Russia in its tracks and to reverse the process of expansion and domination that Putin has been pursuing for years. If economic sanctions are sufficient to end Putin’s reign, to inspire the Russians to form a new government, I will be pleased and surprised. As for diplomacy, it is a necessary skill that has its time and place, but Putin has pushed events beyond the line where diplomacy can function. He already seized the Crimea away from Ukraine while President Obama led the United States; permitting Putin to claim and hold more pieces of Ukraine  as a way to end the current fighting does nothing more than prolong the process. Diplomacy and economic sanctions did not rescue the Crimea, and they will not suffice to rescue Ukraine this year.

A lengthy war in eastern Europe is far from ideal. War should be a last resort, not a first or second choice of methods to deal with other nations. When the other side chooses war, though, our side has scant hope to avoid war. If the battle against Russian imperialism, fought today in Ukraine, can prompt the Russian people to rise up against their tyrant and his plans, the end of ousting Putin may be worth the means of our military involvement today. Vladimir Putin has misled the Russian people long enough. In support of the true Russia and of its neighbors in today’s world, the rest of the world may be obliged to flex military muscles before the opportunity has passed. J.

Giving thanks

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for many things.

I am thankful to have food available—tasty food, healthy and nutritious food, food in great variety, for a family feast and later a light supper and the next day delicious leftovers. I am thankful for clothing and shelter—shelter with flush toilets, with hot and cold running water, with control over the temperature of the air in winter and summer and every day of the year, and with a wide variety of entertainment available at the push of a few buttons. These are not the greatest blessings I enjoy, but they are blessings all the same, and I am thankful.

I am thankful to live in a nation based upon liberty, a nation that protects its citizens from violence, a nation that shows compassion to those in need. I am thankful to live in a nation founded upon ideas and not upon military victories or the power of one ruler. I am thankful for freedom to think as I wish, to speak as I wish, to write as I wish, and to gather with like-minded people. I am thankful for freedom of religion. I am thankful that other people are free to disagree, even to insist that we have too much freedom, and that such opinions can be discussed and debated among ourselves.

With that freedom of religion, I am thankful to know the God who created all things and still upholds them by his power. I am thankful to know the God who tells us why he made us, yet who pays our debt when we fall short of his plans and rescues us from evil, even from the consequences of our own rebellion. I am thankful to know the God who calls us to repent and to believe, then gives us power to do those very things through his call. I am thankful to know the God who gathers his people around his promises, keeps us in the true faith, and promises eternal life in a perfect world to all those who hold to that faith. These blessings outshine all others.

I am thankful that my employer pays me not to come to work Thursday and Friday but allows me to observe the holiday of Thanksgiving with family and with the congregation. I am thankful for a four-day weekend in which I can sleep late some mornings, accomplish some tasks around the house, do some reading and some writing, and maybe even start unpacking decorations for Advent and Christmas. At the same time, I am grateful for those people (including two of my daughters) who will be working during this holiday, caring for those whose medical needs do not take a holiday. I am thankful that professionals will be available if needed should a problem arise. I am thankful for the man who came to our house Thanksgiving evening several years ago because our carbon monoxide detector was sounding an alarm. He checked for gas leaks and other dangers, and he correctly determined that the detector was at fault. I am thankful that we were not in danger that day, and that we did not have to wait for the holiday to end before we knew that we were safe.

I am thankful that family will gather and will celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving together, even if some members will arrive late to the celebration. I am thankful that we will be able to enjoy each other’s company and that we will also be able to contact those who are living elsewhere and share the joy of the holiday with them. I also am thankful that, when the weekend is over, the children will return to their various homes and living spaces and I will once again have a quiet house for reading, writing, and other leisure activities.

I am thankful for my online friends in the WordPress community, those who read my blogs and comment on my posts, those who leave their likes, those whose blogs I read and enjoy, those who share a piece of their lives online and are willing also to let me share my thoughts and experiences with them. May each of us, however we observe and remember this holiday, find joy in giving thanks and have a pleasant and enriching holiday weekend. J.

Revolution in the Wild, Wild West, part one

Several European countries participated in exploration and colonization of the western hemisphere, but eventually control of the land fell into the hands of four governments: the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French, and Great Britain (consisting of England and Scotland). French explorers traveled deep into North America, seeking game, fish, and furs. French explorers tended to be single men; they often took Native American women as brides. The English were more likely to bring their families and attempt to recreate European life; they first settled the eastern coast of North America. The Spanish and Portuguese created plantations (haciendas) which grew crops under a few supervisors who oversaw many workers—including Native American and African slaves and also poorer workers from Europe. Some of the European population came as workers to pay off debt—both debts acquired in Europe and the debt for transportation to the Americas. In some cases, their debt grew as fast or faster than their income, leading to a state of continual debt and virtual enslavement called debt peonage. Children born to French men and Native American women were called Metis; among the Spanish and Portuguese, inhabitants included the Creole—born in the western hemisphere but of European descent; Mestizos—of European and Native American descent; Mulattos—of African and European descent; and Sambos—of Native American and African descent. In some places, such as Louisiana, distinctions were even made to identify quadroons and octoroons, measuring several generations of descent from assorted cultures.

Meanwhile, the same European nations controlling the Americas fought one another in world wars, albeit that these world wars were not assigned Roman numerals. The Seven Years War pitted Great Britain—with its allies Prussia, Hanover, and Portugal—against France—with its allies Saxony. Sweden, Russia, and Spain. In addition to battles in Europe, the war was also fought in the Americas, India, the Philippine Islands, and on the oceans. In North America, some Indian tribes were allied with Great Britain while others were allied with France. As a result, the conflict is known in United States history as the ”French and Indian War.” Part of the aftermath of the war was that France surrendered its North American territory east of the Mississippi River to Great Britain while ceding the land it claimed west of the river to Spain.

This war was very expensive for Great Britain and for France. Both governments attempted to pay their bills by raising taxes upon their citizens. Because the British effort had protected colonists in North America from French and Indian attacks, the British Parliament assumed that the colonists would willingly pay higher taxes in gratitude for their protection. Instead, leaders among the colonists demanded representation in Parliament, saying they would not tolerate “taxation without representation.” Another issue, not often expressed at the time but important in the minds of the colonists, was British industrialization. The British government wanted to purchase raw materials from the colonies, ship them across the ocean, provide jobs to British workers, and sell the finished products back to the colonies. Investors in the colonies wanted factories in North America to provide jobs closer to home. Increasingly, tempers flared, with the colonies eventually in full-scale revolt against Great Britain by 1775. The Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia during the summer of 1776, wrote and signed a document explaining and justifying the revolt and declaring themselves to be a new nation, the United States of America.

Some colonists welcomed the Revolutionary War; others opposed it as illicit rebellion against their government. Thomas Jefferson—the primary author of the Declaration of Independence—drew upon Enlightenment philosophers to defend the revolt. He explained that all people are created equal and are given human rights by their Creator—drawing upon John Locke, Jefferson listed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as basic human rights, protected by human governments. He affirmed that governments are instituted to defend human rights and that they can and should be overthrown when they fail in that duty. This Declaration—drawing not only upon the Enlightenment but also upon medieval statements such as the Magna Carta—became a foundational document for the first new nation formed by European settlers in the western hemisphere. Of course it neglected to mention the rights of Native Americans, of Africans forced into slavery, or even of women. Those would be proposed, discussed, and added to the law of the United States later in history, building upon Jefferson’s foundation.

Great Britain had military power to crush the rebellion, but the British government was not inclined to use crushing power on its colonists. As the war dragged on, the colonists began to receive assistance from France, Spain, and other European cultures that welcomed the British embarrassment. Eventually, the British government decided that the cost of ending the colonial Revolution was greater than it was willing to pay. Independence was granted, and the thirteen American states were free to build a new nation.

The writers and earliest defenders of the Constitution of the United States proceeded to design a nation patterned upon the Enlightenment philosophy Jefferson and others favored. They sought to limit the power of their national government by installing checks and balances in the structure of government. Some functions of government were centralized in the national government, while others were left to the states. Government was divided into three branches: the Executive Branch, or presidency; the Legislative Branch, or Congress; and the Judicial Branch, or the courts. Congress was further divided into a House and a Senate, the first consisting of proportional representation from the states and frequently up for election, the latter consisting of equal representation from every state and with longer terms of office—able to take a longer view of any situation. Laws were difficult to create and enforce, requiring agreement among so many different spheres of interest in the government. The Constitution was approved only after a Bill of Rights was added, affirming specific human rights and mandating that the Congress could not establish a national religion by law or prohibit the free exercise thereof.

For all its faults—because American government was created by imperfect humans and has since been performed by imperfect humans—the genius of the American Constitution is seen by its survival to the present. The government of that Constitution has survived conflict of every kind, both internal and external. It has adapted to changing situations, as the country grew from thirteen states on the eastern coast to fifty states extending into the Pacific Ocean. It has maintained stability in spite of weak leaders and of would-be tyrants. It is imitated by most other governments in the world today. What began as an experiment has become a beacon shining in the world, lighting the way to freedom and justice for all people. J.

The Afghan mess

Some Americans have wanted, in the worst way possible, to end our nation’s involvement in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the Biden administration has done exactly that, getting us out of Afghanistan in the worst way possible. Among other things, I am cynical about the timing of this mess. By the time voters are in a position to respond in any way to the events of the last several days, a lot of water will have flowed under the bridge. At that point, the President and his supporters are likely to respond to any criticism, “What difference, at this point, does it make?” And many Americans will agree with that attitude.

Twenty years ago, the United States suffered a terrorist attack from Al Qaeda, an attack that was planned by Osama bin Laden and his organization from within Afghanistan. President Bush asked the government of Afghanistan to hand over bin Laden for justice, warning that if the Taliban failed to do so, we would include them among our enemies and treat them accordingly. They failed to hand over bin Laden; we attacked and drove the Taliban out of power and into hiding. It took ten years to find bin Laden, but that operation ended successfully. We spent time trying to build a civilization in Afghanistan conforming to (what I will be calling, in my history posts) Enlightenment Values. These include the values that government belongs to the people and must respond to the people’s needs and demands, that all people are equal under the law, that all people have human rights that should be respected and protected by their government, and that education for all people should be provided—or at least respected and protected—by their government. For the most part, the Taliban does not hold those values or agree with them. In my opinion, President Bush hoped to establish governments in Afghanistan and Iraq that would maintain those values, proving that those values can exist in an Islamic culture and state. Many people would say that Bush and the United States failed to achieve those goals; others would suggest that the jury is still out on that question.

Blogger Doug reminds his readers that the United States gained valuable information about our terrorist enemies during our twenty years in Afghanistan, including (but going far beyond) information that made it possible to seize bin Laden in Pakistan. He also points out that we have spent twenty years working with the citizens of Afghanistan, building and supplying schools and other facilities, and encouraging people to respect one another. In spite of the present setback, Doug offers hope that the seeds of Enlightenment Values (as I call them) have been planted in Afghanistan and will sprout and grow, shaping the future of the nation, after the current dust has settled. We shall see.

Meanwhile, life goes on. In the short term, President Biden has lost some grass-roots support that helped him take office a few months ago. Other nations wonder if the United States has lost its willingness to protect all its allies: the Peoples’ Republic of China is eyeing Taiwan and licking its lips. President Trump and his supporters are speculating how he would have handled the reduction of American troops differently—perhaps a feint to pull out troops, followed by a swift and powerful response as the Taliban forces emerged from their holes. Perhaps that scenario would have made it possible to bring more American troops home in a better way. We shall never know.

This week, the United States has been embarrassed in the eyes of the world and of its own people. Such embarrassments have happened before. We the people will remember this week and will keep it in mind when we return to the polls for future elections. Voters are keeping personal lists of reasons not to trust or support the Biden administration and the Democratic Party. Republicans need to do more than keep lists, though—Republicans need a clear agenda of how best to serve the United States of America and its interests around the world. They also need electable leaders who will hold to that agenda during the election campaign and after they take office. This book has many chapters. Not all of them have been written yet. The future can be brighter than the present; in part, the outcome remains in our hands. J.