Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Steve Starting New Blog

Given that a number of you have suggested it, and as I am eager to reclaim my blog, Steve is now starting his own! Go to Unfortunately, the name he gave his blog 'All Things Halal' has already been taken by another website, so you'll have some difficulty finding it via Google. Maybe he'll change it, but for now, add him to your list.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Define the Mandate! -- Reflections by Steve on the U.S. Election

I suspect that the day after the U.S. elected Barack Obama as president, the mood on Oxford University’s campus reflected that across many campuses across the U.S. Several of my classmates stayed up the night before to watch the results and celebrate Obama's win. The Middle Common Room of Pembroke College the morning after had lots of beer bottles strewn about. And I was asked many times if I wasn’t pleased with the results, given my American citizenship.

I didn’t vote for Obama, so no, I wasn’t particularly pleased. But that’s not why I’m writing—what I want to consider here is the ‘mandate’ that Obama now has from the people. When Lisa and I were leaving Virginia in mid-September, I recall that Obama and McCain were running neck-to-neck. The ‘Palin effect’ was the talk of the news, and for a time it seemed that Obama might actually have real competition.

So, what happened? In a word, the ‘economy’. Yes, it didn’t help that Sarah Palin came across as scripted and unable to respond creatively in interviews. But what seemed to tip the balance was the financial crisis, and a feeling that McCain would continue the policies of de-regulation that Bush had followed during his presidency.

It’s good that Obama is focusing on the economy—frankly, he must if he wants to stay in power. His comfortable margin in the polls depends upon it. But Obama is wrong if he thinks that his ‘mandate’ is much wider than that. Yes, Iraq and energy prices are on people’s minds. But actually there are fewer differences here between Democrats and Republicans than one might think. Bush has already begun withdrawing troops from Iraq, and no-one (except the unions perhaps) disagrees that America needs to re-tool its car industry to become more energy efficient. Even American oil companies have a vested interest in change, especially when the governments of nations like Russia and Venezuela nationalize American companies and steal American technology and infrastructure.

What Obama does not have is a mandate for change on social issues. The Los Angeles Times, for example, reported that 70 percent of the black and Hispanic population in California (one of Obama's key constituent voter-blocks) backed a proposal to ban gay marriage. Now someone like Frank Rich at the New York Times might shrug that off as 'retro', but to me this suggests Obama shouldn't assume too much. Yes, it's true Democrats gained some seats in Congress, but it was hardly a wave, and some of the new faces are conservatives like Walt Minnick, a Republican-turned-Democrat in Idaho, and Glenn Nye in Virgina.

I wonder, though, whether Obama (or the New York Times) is paying attention. Obama's track record in the Senate shows that he’s kow-towed many times to the Left, and there’s no reason to think he won’t as president. He's already promised to repeal the ban on the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion (which the Supreme Court ruled illegal). He’ll encourage embryonic stem cell research (which is little more than killing children to use their cells) when adult stem cells are shown to be productive. And he’ll require that any Christian charities who wish to take advantage of federal money must not ‘discriminate’ in their hiring practices against people who aren’t Christians. As Christianity Today put it, they won’t be getting many takers with that kind of policy.

Many Christians now are saying we need to pray for the president, even if we don't agree with his policies and didn't vote for him. Let us pray for Obama, yes. But let us also seek to hold him accountable to do the things he was elected to do ... and no more.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Friend Facing Brain Tumor

I just found out that a friend of mine about my age has a brain tumor. It is already destroying her eyesight, and I have no idea what her life expectancy is. I didn’t want to ask that question when I’d only just found out.

Why does she have a tumor and not I? It’s the kind of thing you never think will happen, right? I’m healthy, my body works fine, life is going to be hunky dory. She’s married with a son; I’m married with three kids. It could just have easily been me.

And the irony is that I’ve felt suicidal many times. God, why do you spare my life?

Day Trip to the Museum

I do miss the mountains of rural Virginia, the scenic farms and gorgeous landscapes. But the kids and I are grateful for some aspects of living in a city. We knew there were free museums in town, but only just yesterday realized that the museum of natural history is relatively close to us! After the kids had walked an hour to the library with me, waited for me to do my internet stuff and find my “grown-up” book, then walked to the farmer’s market, then lugged the heavy groceries another 20 minutes, how nice it was to enjoy a museum of their favorite things: animals!

We saw huge dinosaur skeletons (including T. Rex) as well as skeletons of many other animals. We admired beautiful butterflies and a huge variety of birds (including one called an umbrella bird because it has a tuft of feathers that act as an umbrella for its head!) We got to touch a Shetland pony (so soft!), a cheetah, snakeskin, fox and hare. I told the kids at dinner that they’d surely never get to touch a cheetah again!

We only just scratched the surface today, and the kids are thrilled with the prospect of returning on a regular basis. It definitely helped them appreciate size, as they stood staring straight up at the huge skeleton of an African elephant (which they were sure was a dinosaur at first!) I have vivid memories of going to a similar museum with them in Scotland, but Naomi and Josiah don’t. To them, this was all new stuff. They were in awe and their joy made me smile. =)

Our New Home

For those of you who have been wondering, we're in our new house at last! We moved into our new place on Wednesday October 22, though we weren’t able to get all our stored stuff that same day. Our pillows and comforters were in storage so we slept in our bed that first night fully clothed in sweaters and coats, with no bedding! (The blanket we did have was shared by Naomi and my mom in the other double bed.)

Our home is a row-house, adjacent to three others. Our front door opens onto a hallway, with our enclosed dining room on the right. A small living room follows, and then an enclosed kitchen, a back door, and finally a bathroom at the end of the ground floor. Between the dining room and living room are stairs leading up to the “first floor” where we have two bedrooms.

The kids are in the front room, which has two windows looking onto our road. Just across the narrow street from us is a car repair shop (ironically housed in what used to be the local parish church, with a steeple and all), so the kids have lots to watch: workers, roosting doves, neighbors’ cats, cars, passersby, etc.

Our room is in the back, and looks out onto a horse pasture. We’re grateful for a darker and quieter room, as well as one with a beautiful view. We have a tiny yard (called a “garden” here, whether anything is planted or not) full of gravel, which was the most disappointing aspect of this house. But because of the pasture just beyond, as well as a huge expanse of parks at the end of our road, the yard is bearable.

We are grateful to have found a very adequately furnished place. We have a double bed, a queen bed (called “king” here!), and three sets of desk, wardrobe, dresser and bookcase (because this used to be home to three students). My kitchen has a microwave, electric tea kettle, small oven and stove, and a medium-sized frig and freezer (an improvement over the one I had in Edinburgh). I’m grateful for every kitchen item I brought with me, but even so, I have had to buy multiple things.

Our dead-end street, Ferry Road, connects a semi-major road called Marston Road with a cycle path that cuts through University Parks to get into city center. This means we have a fair amount of pedestrian and bicycle traffic, but little car traffic.

Marston Road has frequent bus service (which we try not to use to cut down costs) and wonderfully wide sidewalks separated from a cycle lane by a grass median. This makes it a nice road to walk with the kids, as I worry less about their falling into traffic. The cycle path through the Parks is a lovely walk, through meadows and over streams. The kids love seeing ducks, swans, and geese, and I appreciate the peace and beauty of nature. Oxford is a real mix that way.

That’s all for now. I’ll include pictures when I get my camera working again (can’t figure out what’s wrong with it, but hopefully not much.) Sorry for the delay!