Chatting with K yesterday, asked him for a topic for my next article. "Yourself, of course" he said. "Am I not self-indulgent enough?" I replied. "Well, all our political opinions are really facets of our personalities, clues to our anxieties and aspirations." he sagely observed, "Why not cut to the chase?"
Slept uneasily, woke around 0200, hungry and out of sorts. I walked out of the hotel room in old black jeans, a baggy un-ironed shirt and Corona flip-flops. I drove down to the Waffle House, into the familiar Edward Hopper painting "Nighthawks", updated to a handful of friendly black people manning both sides of the counter. A drunken Eastern European girl, impossibly pretty, stumbles out of her boyfriend's Beemer wearing a beaded party dress. She waves and twitters, "Happy New Year!" on her way back to the restroom. Her boyfriend sits impassively in his chariot. Perhaps he's her pimp. He has that pimp vibe: taciturn, overly groomed. If he cares about her, he doesn't show it. Babnik.
The man down the counter, a cheerful, chubby man of color gently scoffs at the waitress. "Ain't you got anything better to do than come in here of nights an' terr'rize me?" she responds, laughing in that odd admonishing way only a waitress can exhibit. He's just started at DeVry, about to get laid off from a local newspaper, trying to become a network administrator. I talk to him about the advantages of Linux. He tells me he didn't study hard enough in his hardware class, but he wants to take his A+ certification. I write "Mandriva Linux" on a napkin, carefully retracing the letters with a balky ballpoint pen. "I like Mandriva because it's beautiful. It will peacefully coexist with your XP boot. Find a Linux user's group: they'll help you along, show where all the HOWTOs are. Learn to use a UNIX command line and you'll never starve" I tell him.
The night can't decide if it wants to go on raining. I get a cup of coffee to go. A Norcross police cruiser idles in front of the hotel office, its dome light on: hotels are nothing if not drama on an ongoing basis. I climb the stairs, into the chilled air of my little suite. Poring over the latest doings out of Pakistan, the Indians and Pakistanis are at it again, hammer and tongs in Kashmir. The US managed to whack another of those Bagram prison escapees: another million dollar weapons system dropped on a thousand dollar terrorist. Haqqani and his brutes seem to be moving in the Swat valley, consolidating power with Mehsud: between the two of them they have assembled perhaps 200,000 fighters. Echoes of the anthrax scare are heard: a researcher commits suicide. Muslims around the world celebrate the Isra, the Night Journey of Muhammad the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam. Our candidates get uglier by the minute: I'm so sick of this perpetual campaigning. A solar eclipse begins in the Arctic. I contemplate the perfect geometry of our moon in the heavens, its apparent circumference such a perfect match to the apparent circumference of the sun. New details about the Antikythera Mechanism emerge: it was also used to predict eclipses and calculate the four year interval of the ancient Olympics. The old month names of Corinth appear in glyphs: the Metonic calendar of Babylon appears. Which un-named genius wrought its gears? Who commissioned its making, and why?
Thus move the gears of my mind.
The unexamined life is not worth living, so said Socrates at his heresy trial. I am a Christian after a long life of agnosticism and rejection of the faith of my parents. Perhaps I have become my parents: some genetic predisposition to faith overcame the cynic I tried so earnestly to become. I am a Liberal, a most unwilling convert to that faith, after a lifetime of unalloyed patriotism, an American by birth and conviction, but ever a foreigner, squatting in the warmth of alien campfires, hesitantly defending the ideals of my country from atop the awkward stilts of another language. It's always been me learning the other guy's language, my wife's language and my clients' languages.
I felt betrayed by my country, by Ronald Reagan, by the military, by my parents and their faith, by my industry. My faith in Conservatism crumbled, my faith in Jesus Christ sprouted through the cracks in the concrete. There was a day when I wouldn't dream of being a Democrat, especially not a Liberal Democrat. Yet here I am, warily orbiting a Blue Planet. I was always the foreigner, a stranger in a strange land, and I was always far from home.
Perhaps I have no true home. C.S, Lewis once said, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." There was once a day when I would mock Christianity, singing the little chorus I'd learned at the mission school: "This world is not my home, I'm just a-passin' through", for in those days I viewed Christianity as a self-serving engine, largely unmoved by the suffering of the world. I'd follow through with "Let's all sing my favorite chorus: 'I'll be a Millionaire for Jeee-zus'". The universe smiled grimly like the genie of the lamp and granted my wishes in ways I could never have expected. This world is not my home. I write this in a hotel, sleepless, my mind sharpened to a brittle edge by too much coffee and a gutful of greasy spoon diner fare. NASA shows the advancing eclipse. CNN burbles at the other side of the suite, endlessly replays the ugly charges and countercharges between Obama and McCain.
Given the Morton's Fork of Liberal Wishful Thinking and Conservative Fear-mongering, I have chosen Liberal Wishful Thinking. May God preserve us all from another LBJ Great Society: there is no sadder hell than the grim blocks of public housing erected in those hopeful times. When first they opened, they were beautiful. People's lives were improved. Human nature appeared to enforce the Law of Unintended Consequences: subsidizing the poor only subsidized a system of poverty where the fatherless children gave birth to another class of fatherless children.
If Conservative ideology has failed, has Liberal ideology been out-of-favor long enough to regain some semblance of credibility? The Independents are worse than useless: standing outside the give-and-take of the two-party system, they serve only as majority busters, backing the likes of Perot and Nader. The political parties transmogrify into the inverse and obverse of the same coin: neither Liberal nor Conservative.
Obama's economic policy is largely unknown, but if his advisors are any guide to the matter, he's no Liberal. The Weekly Standard covers this in some detail.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter who's our next president. Congress abjectly fails us, time after time. A few rays of hope are seen, the silver lining can only be seen from around a dark cloud. The moon advances across the face of the sun. In software, the gears of the Antikythera Mechanism advance. I post this at the moment of total eclipse.