Patriotism

Happy Fourth of July!

I remember growing up in a culture of patriotism.  Community events would feature patriotic speeches.  Politicians of all parties would wax eloquent about the greatness of America.  In school we actually had classes on “Americanism” in which we learned about American heroes, studied the principles of democracy, analyzed the virtues of free market capitalism, and lauded the distinct American ideology of liberty, equality, and individualism.  We also learned all about flag etiquette.

I now see that much of that was a reaction to the Cold War and to the ideological conflict with Communism.  (This was in the late 1950s and early 1960s.)  I also see quite a bit of idolatrous civil religion.  Still, there is a virtue in loving one’s country, and I remember the thrill I experienced upon first seeing the monuments and historic buildings of Washington, D.C.

Does any of that kind of patriotism still exist any more?

Of course then came the Viet Nam war.  The nation was split generationally and culturally more than politically, at least at first.  (The president who presided over that war was arguably the most liberal of them all, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and most Democrats, such as those in my hometown–we had never met a Republican–were all for him.)  But, by the time I was in college, my peers mostly opposed the war and grew cynical about America, to the point of out-and-out anti-Americanism.

The other side with its patriotism turned kind of nasty too, with its “America, Love It or Leave It” bumper stickers and its “My Country, Right or Wrong” loyalties.

Then came further disillusionment with Nixon, then Carter’s “malaise.”  But Ronald Reagan made  it possible to “feel good about America again.”  The end of the Cold War with the decisive victory of American ideals over those of Communism made us giddy with patriotism.

Today, though, I don’t see much of that.  The left is still cynical about America, but now that can increasingly be said also of the right.  The anti-government fervor is so strong that it sometimes bleeds over to complaints about our institutions, our history, and our culture.

When some of these folks do praise America, they do so because they say it gives them freedom.  But that’s a love of freedom, rather than a love of country per se, with America treated as an instrumental good, rather than as something good in itself.

Does any of the old-style patriotism still exist?  Should it exist, or is its passing a good thing?  Is nationalism too atavistic, too potentially war-like, to be encouraged too much?  Or is there a love of country that needs to be preserved and possibly even taught in schools?

Trees of Life

When I said that I would be spending last week in a little cabin in the big woods, I meant really big woods.

We helped our daughter and her family move to California, and then we did something that I have always wanted to do.  We went to Sequoia National Park, home of the giant redwoods.  How big are they?  Well, the one named “General Sherman” is the largest living thing in the world.  It’s 35 feet in diameter and is as tall as a football field.  And, even more astounding to me, is that it’s 2,200 years old.  It was a sapling two centuries before Jesus was born.  And it’s still alive, still growing.  It adds the equivalent mass of a regular 60 foot tree every year.

And there are whole groves of these giant trees up in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  I treasure things that are sublime–overwhelming, awe-inspiring, so vast that you can’t take them all in–like the Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls, and these trees.

What intrigues me most about them is that they are virtually immortal.  They can be killed, of course, cut down as many stupidly have been and sometimes they get so tall that they topple, but they don’t die of old age.  I wonder how that can be.   Every other earthly creature, whether plant or animal or human,  lives for awhile but eventually its cells get exhausted, entropy sets in, aging manifests its symptoms, and eventually the organism dies.

Why don’t the giant redwoods?  General Sherman is not even the oldest of these trees.  Some are 3,000 years old, from the time of the Trojan War and King David.  And redwoods are not even the oldest species.  A bristlewood pine in the White Mountains of California–somewhere else I want to go–is 4,700 years old.  A young earth creationist would put that as being right after the Flood!  Perhaps these evergreen trees are somehow not implicated in the Fall.  Perhaps they are some kind of remnant or sign of the Tree of Life.

What are some other sublime sights and experiences?  A tornado, the ocean, the Rocky Mountains–I’ve seen those.  I’ve seen Mt. St. Helens, but I think I need to see an active volcano.  Outer Space.  And God, of course, and the things of God.  The sublimities of nature and of art–Paradise Lost, Bach’s music, Michaelangelo’s paintings and sculptures–give us pleasure, according to Ruskin, because they point to Him.

Coming back to the power outage

When we came into our house after our vacation, we found that our technology fast was continuing.  We had no electricity.   We came back to the great power outage of 2012.

We had heard people talking in the airport before our connecting flight about the big storm–the straight winds of over 80 miles an hour known as a derecho  (Spanish for “straight,” as opposed to a tornado, meaning “turning”) that hit the country, knocking out power for millions in the D.C. area.  When we drove into the small town where we live, the first stop light was out, but then the others seemed to be working, as were the lights in shops and the loudspeaker at the Little League park near our home.  But when we unlocked the door and walked into our house, we stepped into a blast furnace.  No air conditioning, no lights, no kitchen appliances, no internet.  The landline didn’t work either, which usually doesn’t happen when the electricity goes, and our cell batteries were running low.

What to do?  We were weary of hotels, but surely many of them would be without power too, and the ones that were functioning were surely full.  We called our power company to report our problem and see how the repairs were coming, but the animated message could give no estimate of when electricity might be restored.   I got on my smart phone and learned that repairs could take not hours but days.   We resolved to just try to get some sleep in the sauna that was our room.  We sat out on the porch until it got dark.  Finally, we got sleepy and went inside.  To cooler air!  To the humming of the refrigerator!  The lights came on!

Our electricity was out for only about 24 hours, and we missed most of it.  We lost some food, but we had drawn our supplies down anyway for our two weeks of vacation, so that wasn’t so bad.  There are  about 600,000 people in the area–one out of three electricity company customers–who still don’t have power, so I both sympathize and empathize with them.

So now, despite our fun time in the woods, I now hail the electronic era as a great blessing and have learned not to take it for granted.

 

Power outages drag on in D.C. region; officials fuming at utility companies – The Washington Post.

Into the wilderness

Today we head out for a little cabin in the big woods.  We will have no internet connection, no cell phone reception, no cable television, and no newspapers.  If we survive, we will crawl out of the wilderness like Rip Van Winkle, if Rip Van Winkle only slept for five days.   Still, we have been looking forward to this for a long time.  That does mean that I won’t be doing any blogging for the rest of the week.

If we can avoid dying of exposure or getting eaten by wild animals, I’ll be back the first of July.  In the meantime, if something happens in the world that you think I would normally blog about–for example, if the Supremes rule on Obamacare–please make a comment to that effect here and discuss as you think appropriate.

If all goes well, I’ll be posting again on July 2.  By then I’ll probably be grateful again for the blessings of civilization, technology, and the information age.  In the meantime, I’ll enjoy being without them.

[Updated by tODD: Actually, at the risk of presuming on our good host’s hospitality, I’m going to create at least one new post for the discussion of the Supreme Court ruling in Arizona v. United States, as I assume that’s one topic we’ll want to discuss here, and it might keep discussion a bit tidier than having it all in one thread. And, come Thursday, I’ll set up another one specifically for the Supreme Court ruling on the health care law.

Feel free to discuss other matters here, or to propose topics we could discuss in separate posts this week. I’ll do my best to create posts on topics that seem of general interest. I know I’m often wrong about everything you hold dear, but I’ll try to be impartial here — at least, in the creation of discussion posts. I just don’t want us all trying to discuss everything in one thread for four days. I know how whiny you guys can get when you’re not getting your Cranach fix.]

A Heat wave stifles Oklahoma City Thunder

Well, the Oklahoma City Thunder made it to the NBA championship series but got beat 4 games to 1 by the Miami Heat.  But I refuse to take the blame.  I’ve been enjoying watching basketball again, and I think I’ll continue to do so.

The Thunder rolls

As I have confessed in this space, I have pretty much stopped watching basketball, due to the feeling that I always jinx the team I want to win.  Well, the Oklahoma City Thunder–from my home state–are so good that they even overcame me.

When they were down two games to the San Antonio Spurs, a team that had won 20 in a row, I thought I might as well watch them, since they were going to lose anyway.  Well, they didn’t.  They won.  I kept watching.  They won again.  Then won again.   Apparently my curse has been lifted because last night they won game 4–even though they were down 18 at one point in the game–winning the Western Conference and going to the NBA Finals.

The Thunder–Oklahoma’s first professional major-league team– is a good example of how a sports team can be good for a community and a whole state, sparking a sense of unity, confidence, and all kinds of civic virtues.

Thunder finish Spurs, advance to Finals – USATODAY.com.