Thursday, August 28, 2008

An interesting theory

For the second time in a couple of weeks, I’ve seen stories that have linked the war in Georgia (the country, not the state) with attempts to influence the outcome of the Presidential Election.

Now normally, I would not buy into something that Vladimir Putin is pushing. Clearly, he wants to control the news cycle and spin within his sphere of influence. Second, I would like to believe that the US public is smarter than that, too. However, there was an article in The Nation that really started me thinking. While I’m not sure the US Government orchestrated the conflict in Georgia, I do think that members of a US Presidential campaign are involved.

I’ll just take a quick moment to recap events. On August 8th, the Georgian government tries to re-establish authority over South Ossetia using its military. This provided Russia with the excuse it needed to go in and re-establish primacy in South Ossetia. The Georgian Army was simply overmatched.

Why would the President of Georgia do this? The conflict over South Ossetia was hardly new. South Ossetia was an autonomous region of Georgia prior to independence. He had to know that the Russian military would respond, given they had troops in the region as “peacekeepers.” My guess is that President Saakashvili assumed that “the West” would step in and help or it would help change world conditions in such as way to help his cause down the road.

Here are some interesting facts. President Saakashvili is good friends with a guy by the name of Randy Scheunemann, who, until March served as a lobbyist for the Georgian Government for four years. When Scheunemann left the service of the Georgian Government, he went to work as the Sr. Foreign Policy Adviser to the Sen. John McCain campaign. He also served in a similar capacity on John McCain’s 2000 campaign. In 2005, Scheunemann and McCain worked together on legislation pushing for Georgia’s entry into NATO and in 2006, accompanied McCain on a trip to Georgia where McCain re-iterated his support for Georgia’s policies.

It would make sense that by trying to re-establish control in South Ossetia, the Georgian government is doing what it can to act in their longer term interests. Influence the outcome of the US Presidential Election by changing the focus from problems at home to issues of foreign policy. And in making Vladimir Putin the second coming of Josef Stalin, they are creating a new bogeyman which Americans should be afraid.

Here's to hoping that Americans can see past the charade and focus on issues of real importance.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How to fix education

As we get closer and closer to the general election, one of the “hot button issues” is sure to be education. All of the conversation is going to be how will fix education. Most Democrats will tell you that it is all about money. There isn’t enough money. Most Republicans will tell you that while money is important, there is a lot of waste and we need to find a way to incent good teachers.

Unfortunately, they are both avoiding the single largest determining factor in whether or not a child succeeds has little to do with per-pupil funding or there are 50 administrative positions for every teacher. It is parental involvement. The beauty is that parental involvement costs the taxpayers nothing. Zilch. Nada. All it takes in the time of the child’s parent. This is readily apparent in the Clark County School System. A good friend of ours teaches in a school where the parents are very involved. So many parents volunteered to help out in the classroom last year that she had to make a schedule so there weren’t too many in the classroom at once. On the other end of the spectrum, one of my neighbors works in the library at middle school that has, let’s just say, less parental involvement. The students are struggling. They work the system so as to keep progressing, but aren’t getting a solid education. That’s not to say the whole school is failing, but it is difficult to work in that environment.

While additional parental involvement may be of great assistance and is, well, cheap, it’s also something you can’t legislate. As an example, in Roland Martin’s commentary on today, he talks about this very topic. In Chicago, the superintendent of schools was on his radio show. Parent after parent called in, livid that they did not find out until right before graduation that their child was not going to graduate. Turns out, progress reports that highlight this fact were made available to parents. They were sent reminders during every marking period that their child was at risk of not graduating – they just had to come into school and pick up the cards and warnings.

Is it any wonder that with parents abdicating their responsibilities that we are seeing issues in education?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Every four years

I love the Olympics. Something about them just reels me in each time. I was too young to remember the 1976 and 1980 Summer Games. But there is something about the pageantry of the Olympics that gets me every time.

But what gets me about the Olympics is that every time, we focus on sports that we normally don’t give a second look to in non-Olympic events. No, not the itty bitty sports like judo, badminton or rhythmic gymnastics. No, I am talking about the “marquis” events of gymnastics, swimming and diving in the summer and figure skating and ski events for the winter games.

I mean, how many times do you sit down and watch swimming on TV when it occurs during non-Olympic years? Or gymnastics? Or figure skating? You don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, there is something about seeing the world’s best on the most visible stage that makes these sports more entertaining. You throw in that they are competing for their country and for the glory of taking home a medal, and you have something special.

So, you can bet Keds and I will be watching the Olympics this year. Watching the video of the Men 400m relay was something quite special. Can’t wait to see more!

Friday, August 08, 2008

How did I manage to come out unscathed?

One of the consistent themes we are coming across as we religion shop is a dislike or distrust for organized religion. Keds often asks how come I don’t refer to myself as a “recovering Catholic” or seem to have any hang ups about my faith. I also am not pretentiously Catholic and walk around with Confession Schedules in my wallet.

You would think I would be scarred. The right pieces were in place. Crucifixes up around the house, an uncle who is a priest, and my Mom has two cousins that are Nuns. We went to church every weekend, and for a while it was at 8 a.m. on Sundays, in Buffalo, during the winter. The homilies each week became more and more about the evils of abortion. The final pieces of the puzzle – both my sister and I went to Catholic universities.

But a funny thing happened. Faith and religion both ended up being really important in both mine and my sister’s life. I think part of it is that we both went to Catholic universities – she to St. Bonaventure, me to Canisius. There were chapels on campus. Mass times were convenient to a college student’s life. And the Masses were meaningful. The homilies were directed at the issues that effect a college student’s life, and faith’s place within it. The priests were approachable. College is a time of personal growth, and both St. Bonaventure and Canisius encouraged my sister and me to do just that. We got to see Christianity and it’s worldview beyond the structure of Mass and you get to see the message of the Gospel.

My parents played a big part as well. Even though Dad isn’t Catholic, he still went to Mass with us every weekend. It was a part of who we are, an important part of life, but not forced on us – and both parents were supportive. My mother did not engage in the sort of religious blackmail that many of my friends note with their parents. In a way, we learned that faith is flexible and God is forgiving by the examples we received at home.

Two common complaints about organized religion that I just didn’t encounter was their desire for money and a falling out with a priest. I was never chastised or denied access to anything for donations being too small. Even if we had issues with a priest, there were enough churches around that you could just go to another. Heck, Denis told me he was uncomfortable with Uncle Mickey’s sermons because they were too political around the 2004 election. He just went to a different church.

So, that's why I think I'm not scarred or don't refer to myself as a "recovering Catholic." Between the role it was made in my life while growing up, the reinforcement I received at Canisius and the comfort it allows me now, I think I'm a better person for it./