The State of the UnionThere weren't any fisticuffs at the State of the Union address earlier this week. If my last post gave the impression that I was hoping for rowdiness in the House Chamber, I didn't make myself clear. I honestly wasn't hoping for flying fists - but if such had ensued - I wanted a front row seat, perverse human that I am. The news people have been babbling about Obama's speech for three days now, but I can't think of much to say about it. I believe Obama thought that if he told the real honest-to-goodness condition of the country, it would scare us all to death; so he decided to deliver a pie-in-the-sky speech about how he would like things to be without revealing much of a plan for achieving those things. I felt a little like a teenager whose dad says, "Your future is so important to me! I envision a college education and a new car for you;" and the whole time dad is talking I know he's broke and out of a job.
I went to town this morning to run some errands. I noticed something I hadn't noticed before - an official state road department sign on the side of the road - "Drinking Water Protection Area." It seems to me that official signs are usually where they are to influence behavior. All the typical traffic signs tell us what we're supposed to do - stop, yield, slow down, etc. And of course, some signs identify public buildings so that - if we're looking for City Hall - we'll know when we find it. But what are we supposed to make of a sign that says "Drinking Water Protection Area?" There's no reservoir anywhere around so I can't see that the sign is identifying anything, and I can't see how it's supposed to influence behavior. Unless . . . maybe the message is, "If you've got to go, don't do it here - just keep on down the road to McDonald's where there's a restroom."
Are cows supposed to be having babies in January? I thought calves came along in the spring. No matter - as I drove past the pasture down the road this morning, there they were - two of the cutest little black and white calves, running and frolicking in and out among the very serious grown-up cows. I'll swear, I think I could almost tell which one was their mother. She had that look that all mothers get sooner or later. You know, the look that says, "These kids are driving me crazy."
Somebody asked me the other day if I thought our horses like the cold weather. I don't think the cold temperatures bother them. After all, we're in Louisiana, not Montana. What bothers them is not having any good green grass to graze on. They're well supplied with hay, but horses are built for grazing and they get downright bored when the grazing is not good. This morning, when I looked out in the pasture, Fay and Tesoro were laying down - sunning themselves. Rocky was stretched out flat on his side and stayed still so long, I wondered if he had kicked the bucket. I stepped out on the side porch and whistled and shouted and called him by name. He lifted his head and looked at me as if to say, "What? What do you want me to be doing in this God forsaken desert?"
Some of my pen pals must think I'm dead. For two months after my knee surgery, letter writing was out of the question. Pain medication makes you sleepy and even if you're awake, English composition is not your strong suit. As soon as I was off the pain medication it was time to start all the holiday preparations - which explains why there are at least fifteen letters in my "to answer" bin. I answered two yesterday - on the computer. When you're a fountain pen afficionado, it's a bit of a come-down to send computer letters. And thereby hangs a tale. I'm right handed, but a few years ago my right thumb started trembling whenever I grasped something small - like a pen. Needless to say, it's hard to write a decent hand when your thumb is shaking. The doctor assured me that the shaking is due to basal joint arthritis and not any serious disease. I reasoned that - since I have two hands - I'd just write with the other one. It was 2007 when I started writing with my left hand. The script I'm producing now looks much better than it did when I started. I'm comfortable holding a pen with my left hand - the initial awkwardness is gone, thank goodness. But I haven't developed any speed, and sometimes I just don't have the patience to write a long letter with my left hand. Thank goodness I have a love affair with technology and console myself with a wide variety of cool computer fonts and neat clip art.
It's always more fun to watch the State of the Union address when it's your man in the White House. When the president's views oppose your own, it can be a torturous affair. I'm trying to decide whether or not I'm up to being tortured tonight.
I don't hate President Obama although my political views are decidedly conservative. I recognize that some conservatives are so against him that he can't possibly do anything to please them. If he discovered the fountain of youth and gave out bottles of the rejuvenating water to any and all who wanted it, some conservative pundits would find fault with him.
Still, it's hard to forget past Obama speeches. They almost always sound like campaign speeches given by someone who wants to be president and is speaking to his supporters who are dedicated to making him president. I have yet to hear an Obama speech that sounds like it's coming out of the mouth of a man who actually is president and is talking to all American citizens - the people he is sworn to represent.
Then too, as suave as President Obama appears to be, he's not above taking pot shots at his perceived enemies during a State of the Union address, a speech that should be - well, unifying. Who can forget the 2010 State of the Union address that included cutting remarks aimed at the Supreme Court Justices along with a highly partisan interpretation of one of the Court's recent decisions? Who can forget Judge Samuel Alito's mouthing the words "not true" in response to Obama's remarks? I understand that Justice Alito will not be present at tonight's State of the Union, and who can blame him?
Traditionally Democrats and Republicans have been seated on opposite sides of the aisle in the House Chamber during the State of the Union address. There will be no such division in the House Chamber tonight. The recent events in Tucson have inspired a different seating arrangement. Democrats and Republicans will be seated together on both sides of the aisle to show that they are capable of playing nicely. I assume that it is hoped that this gesture will prevent any gun-toting crazies at large in the country from repeating a tragedy like the one that took place in Tucson. Dream on.
I've reminisced about President Obama's partisan rudeness, so it's only fair to recall the ungentlemanly outburst by Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, at the 2010 State of the Union address. As the president assured us that illegal immigrants would be ineligible for federal subsidies to buy health insurance, Rep. Wilson shouted, "You lie!"
In light of this rudeness on both sides, I have to wonder - is this new seating arrangement wise? Although it might promote brotherly love, isn't it just as likely that it will facilitate fisticuffs? Maybe I will watch tonight.
Epiphany 2011The Magi have arrived in Jerusalem. How many are there? The Bible doesn't tell us. It mentions that they brought three gifts - gold, frankincense, and myrrh - so legend has it that there were three.
But it's likely that there was a caravan of many more than three. Travel was dangerous and - then as now - there was safety in numbers. So picture a large caravan of these leader/priests from the East with an entourage of servants and armed guards. There may have been a hundred people or more in this caravan - too large a caravan to arrive unnoticed.Did the Magi arrive on the night of Jesus' birth? No, they didn't - in spite of the fact that our lovely nativity scenes have the Wise Men at the manger with the shepherds. Matthew 2:11 says "On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him." By this time Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were living in a house - they weren't still in the stable. Jesus was probably one or two years old by the time the Magi arrived. These Magi, probably descendands of the ten tribes of Israel, had found the King of the Jews, their long separated kin. Did they know that Jesus was God incarnate? I don't know. Maybe they did or maybe they thought Jesus was simply destined to grow up to be an earthly king - a righteous political ruler.Where exactly were the Magi from? The Bible simply says they came from the East. The Roman Empire was the superpower west of the Euphrates River, but the Parthian Empire was the rival superpower east of the Euphrates. Some have speculated that the Magi came from Babylonia, and that may be true. But at that time Babylonia was within the Parthian Empire. I think it's certainly plausible that the Magi were Parthians.Why was all Jerusalem troubled (Matt 2:3) when this caravan arrived? Caravans were commonplace in those days. But think about the fact that Jerusalem is geographically located in an area that Rome and Parthia had fought over. Although Jerusalem was under Roman rule at the time of Christ's birth, just four decades earlier it had been under Parthian rule for three years - until Rome drove the Parthians back across the Euphrates. Since then an uneasy peace had existed between Rome and Parthia. Of course, all Jerusalem was troubled at the sight of a large caravan of high-ranking Parthians! Herod and all Jerusalem probably wondered if war was about to break out again between Rome and Parthia. And even if some of the Jews might have preferred Parthian rule to Roman rule, they would have been troubled at the prospect of war.Why did Herod have to ask the Magi when the star appeared? Why hadn't he noticed the star himself? Why couldn't he find Jesus by following the star to Bethlehem instead of depending on the Magi to come back and tell him where Jesus was? Of all the explanations I've read and heard about the star, Rick Larson's explanation at http://www.bethlehemstar.net/ is by far the most plausible. Be prepared to devote some time exploring his website. In a nutshell, the star wasn't a huge blazing thing in the sky that everybody would notice. According to Rick Larson's theory, which he demonstrates with meticulous detail, it was an alignment of certain heavenly bodies (stars/planets) and constellations. Only those trained in astronomy would have noticed it - and apparently the Magi had such training.I think we've answered all the questions I originally raised about the Wise Men. Can these answers be proven? No, but I think they're plausible. I think they make sense. And I think they demonstrate that although the Bible is often short on details, it is absolutely reliable.