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From Where I Stand

Cost is no mark of quality

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This is, they tell us over and over again, "The most important presidential election in our lifetime." And they may well be right. After all, we are fighting two wars and facing the biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression of 1929. If that weren't enough, we have major social issues -- health, education, job creation, energy -- to deal with on the side. Not to mention an obligation to be a good citizen of the planet, as well.

Tell me again: who's who in this game?

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With the political conventions over for this electoral season, I found myself haunted by the memory of an old child’s game called “Pickup Sticks.” In the game of “Pickup Sticks” somebody throws a bundle of long, thin pieces of balsa wood into the air. What had been an orderly assortment of wire-thin skewers is now a higgledy-piggledy mound of wood with each stick of different value.

The greatest shows on earth?

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In the interest of full disclosure, as they say, I will admit my collusion with showmanship at the very beginning of this article: The fact is that I watched the opening night of the Democratic Convention from 6:00 p.m. to midnight. But I'm not sure what I saw. Was this a solemn civic event or a political variation of "Entertainment Tonight?"

I'm a news freak, however, so I plan to watch the Republican Convention next week, too.


The problem is that I'm not sure why I'm watching either of them.

Now wait just a little minute there

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It was a touching, powerful and embarrassing piece of media. In fact, it was enough to make the average, newspaper-reading U.S. citizen blush. There stood the president of the United States speaking passionate words into a Rose Garden microphone. He was excoriating Russia's "dramatic and brutal escalation" of violence toward Georgia, "a sovereign neighboring state," in retaliation for Georgia's suppression of Ossetia, its breakaway province. The action, George Bush said with properly restrained indignation, has "substantially damaged Russia's standing in the world."

Why them and not us?

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The church world got a really good piece of advice this week. The pope, we're told, warned the Anglicans not to split over their internal controversies about homosexuality and the ordination of women bishops. He warned, quite wisely, about the dangers and the destructiveness of schism. (See Pope rides to Rowan's rescue) As easy as it sounds to simply go away and play in your own ecclesiastical sandbox, the fact is that divisions are never neat -- if for no other reason than that they not only fail to resolve the present problem but they model how not to resolve the next problem, too. After all, if we can fix one issue by simply leaving it, we can do the same with the next one -- and there will be a next one -- until what was intended to be a nice, clean division becomes one fracture after another, more a splintering and a slivering, than a surgically healing separation of unlike tissues.

The message in the sand is a changing one

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This week, in a very real way, I watched the world both come together and fall apart. The interesting thing is that the insight came from where I least expected it. In the middle of Atlanta, Ga., sits Drepung Loseling Monastery, a quiet little Buddhist community intent on reminding us that we may be ignoring one of the basics of life. Here? Us? How could that be? .

What a fine mess you've gotten us in

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This whole thing is a mess. I’m sure there are more elegant words for it. Like “complex,” for instance. Or, “confusing,” for instance. Or, “destabilizing,” for instance. But in the final analysis, the fact is that the Democratic primary is a mess. What anyone will know with certainty when it’s over, is anybody’s guess. But for right now, at least, the system of choosing a candidate does not feel either clear or decisive.

No honk, no hassle

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This week I'm coming back from doing a series of lectures in Hawaii. But I learned more about here than I did about there while I was at it.


I learned that it may be more what we do to ourselves than what is done to us that increases or decreases our quality of life.

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