Reflections on a Visit to Mount Vernon

George Washington was a great man. He became one despite his humble roots because he sought distinction his entire life. He was also every man. He strove to prominence, but he made compromises that, when he came to realize the evil of them, he couldn’t imagine a way out.

He enslaved other humans.

Washington looked around and saw other prominent men enslaved people, and he probably thought he treated his better than they did. And he intended to free them upon his death. (I suspect all of them had some such fiction to calm their screaming consciences.)

Other contemporary wealthy Virginians, notably Robert Carter III, freed their enslaved people and provided for their entry into life free. More, like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, willed to free their enslaved people but never did.

Washington shouldn’t have judged himself by the standard of his neighbors but of his Lord. And of course he—all of us—fell way short of that standard.

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.’” Matthew 19:23

Slow Going

Currently reading two works which, though as different as could be, require slow, thoughtful study.

They are Tolkien’s Art: A Mythology for England by Jane Chance and Andrew Murray’s With Christ in The School of Prayer.

Therefore I will again fail to meet my habitual two to three reviews a week pace.

I’m making better progress on Small Acts of Defiance: A Novel of WWII and Paris by Michelle Wright, but as I’m reading it on my personal computer (and I dislike reading on a computer) I’m not moving fast.

Good reading.


Our wants and needs exceed our resources. Always have, always will. The problem is in our limitless desires rather than the limited assets. At various times in history, we effectively increased our resources through innovation. Theories of what happened when and who gets credit came later. Most of those theories, even those which influenced history, were short-sighted, wrong, or selling a doctrine.

To review, people throughout history understood that land and materials (tools, seed, water, etc.) were necessary to life. Their effective management led to trade, civilization, nations, empires, and wars. Not all of those were beneficial even though all were sold as necessary.

Starting in the eighteenth century, people theorized about how economies worked and how to improve them. Adam Smith defined the role of capital and the assembly line manufacturing. Karl Marx posited that labor was the critical component of wealth and preached revolution. Some modern economists declare that government regulation, if not control, is essential to prosperity. Efficiency, utility, divine right, necessity, social justice were all advanced as the prime driver of economics.

Some were partly right, but the essential ingredient to progress is innovation. The improvements in fire, the wheel, metallurgy, seed selection, crop rotation, the assembly line, electric power, integrated circuits, media, and communication, whether breakthroughs or incremental, all resulted from people seeing a better way to do things. If necessity was the mother of invention, laziness was the father.

Just because we don’t know their names does not negate those whose spark of genius recognized a new material, a new use, a approach which revolutionized their world.  Not just Archimedes, Newton, Einstein, but Whitney, Ford, Gates, and Musk. Many whose name we don’t know but whose innovation changed how we live.

That spark—that “ahha” moment occurs to many people in many circumstances. Unfortunately, most don’t have the means to capitalize on their insight. One feature of modern society is widespread access to ideas, resources, capital, and talented workers. The critical role is not the venture capitalist, the skilled craftsman, the software writer, but the innovator. It’s no accident that the last century has seen an acceleration of innovation, knowledge, and standards of living. For most people. It’s not equally distributed, it never was.

Creativity cannot be dictated. China is demonstrating this principle. In recent decades, the party loosened their grip on money, ideas, and people. The result was a great leap in the creation of wealth. Now the party is reasserting the iron fist of totalitarianism. Want to bet on the outcome? Totalitarian cultures steal from free enterprise, and quotas and price control lead to stagnation. And cheating.

So how do we motivate creativity? We don’t. It’s there. The question is, how do we encourage and benefit from it?

Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Building

Sorry for no book review.

I’ve been off my normal reading pace this month as we prepared and started packing shoe boxes for Samaritan Purse‘s Operation Christmas Child. We have been building boxes for over a decade–usually a few more each year.

Sunday October 30, my wife Treva hosted friends and neighbors to a packing party. The ladies in the photograph are members of her prayer circle.

Over a hundred packed so far.

What We Have Here is a Failure to Lead

Amid the current chatter about warmongers, the public may miss the bigger story: the United States of America is not ready to fight large-scale regional conflicts in Europe and Asia simultaneously.

With the Department of Defense focused on acquiring new weapon systems by retiring older ones, failing to recruit replacements, supplying Ukraine, and turning their culture upside down, the gap in our current capability is large and growing.

Several issues are to blame (which I’ll address in the future), but the biggest problem is the lack of leadership. Both the civilian and uniformed management of DoD are unfit to serve, much less lead. Most should not be entrusted with almost three million people and a $700 billion budget, not to mention hundreds of ships, aircraft, installations, and weapons capable of ending civilization.

They are not leaders. They are bureaucrats, bean counters, and politicians. Both parties, all services, all industries are to blame. And finally and foremost the voters. We let it happen because we were complacent, distracted, and stupid.

They embody the worst of Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex. Government collusion is required to maintain our bloated, ineffective Defense establishment. Not only because they always want bigger budgets and more weapons, but because they have betrayed the defense of the nation since the end of the Cold War.

The fall of the Iron Curtain, if not the end of World War Two, was the highpoint of American defense. Not even the tragedy of September 11, 2001, roused DoD and the nation from the delusion of their status as the world’s sole “hyperpower.” They believed that  history had ended.

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” We haven’t been vigilant. Our liberty is at risk.

Learning from History

In his mind, Vladimir Putin is Russia and Russia is Putin. A threat to Russia is a threat to him. He promotes the same cult of personality as his hero and model Joseph Stalin. Putin rules by force, deceit, and brinksmanship. His modus operandi is cheat to win.

‘Former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev told CNN Tuesday that “terror is the only thing left” for Russian President Vladimir Putin, “like for any miserable terrorist in the world.” Putin has launched missiles attacks at Ukraine on Monday and Tuesday because he “is desperate, because he made miscalculations.”

“He’s desperate and he returns to what he’s doing: intimidation, that is, threatening nuclear weapons — which he will not use — and terror actions in Ukraine and in Russia,” Kozyrev said. He doesn’t think Putin will use nuclear weapons. “He is human being, so he does not want to commit suicide with strategic nuclear weapons.”’ (Alex Hardle, CNN)

To Putin, Ukraine, Belorussia, and the former Soviet Republics are still part of Russia. Therefore his invasion of Ukraine was an internal police action.

Putin thinks he understands Biden as he thought he understood Trump, Obama, and Bush. He respected none of them.

Not the way Nikita Khrushchev respected Dwight Eisenhower. Khrushchev didn’t respect John Kennedy; therefore thought he could place intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. He guessed wrong. JFK went to the brink of nuclear war. Khrushchev backed down.

End of story to Americans, but Putin’s takeaway from the Cuban Missile Crisis was that Khrushchev backed down and lost power. To Putin, staying in power justifies any action.

“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Winston Churchill

Lost and Found: A Minor Miracle

Last night our older son called with a prayer request. He was looking for a flash-drive containing his job history with the enterprise for whom he has worked over twenty years to update his resume for a possible promotion. It was on that flash drive, but he couldn’t find it. We agreed to pray. My wife specifically suggested praying for revelation in a dream. We prayed and shared the prayer request with a few friends.

This morning he sent the following text:

“I found it! I prayed and went to bed. I had a dream of searching and finding it in Kazad-Dum amongst fiery red stone. When I woke up, I searched again. But I couldn’t see how any of those drawers and so I sat down and asked again, for guidance. Where did I have anything of Kazad-Dum?? Well, I have The Lord of the Rings box set of movies (Kazad-Dum is one of the Dwarven kingdoms of LOTR) So, I went to the box housing the movies, and there was the flash-drive. PLT!”

Note that God answered this specific request in a way that was specific to our son. It reveals the depth of God’s love and knowledge. God knew where the flash-drive was. He knew that our son would recognize the reference to Khazad-Dûm as a specific location. When he didn’t immediately understand the reference this morning, our son prayed again. And it was revealed.

Happy dance!

Gods knows and loves you better than you know and love yourself. 

My Reading List for 2019

1226 to read pile
Click here to see the 204 books I read in 2019. Every year I list my challenge goal on as 111 books because I’m too lazy to determine a more meaningful goal. I usually make it. In 2019 I almost doubled it.

Not all were books. Some short stories (as short as a single page) which I read in order to vote intelligently for the 2019 Hugo Awards. Well, I read what I voted on. I also read at least two works not listed, one of them over 300 pages long. The shorter was “‘No Pagan ever loved his god’: Tolkien, Thompson, and the beautification of the Gods,” by Megan Fontenot, available here. The longer was the unpublisher (yet) The Girl in the Wall by Dr. Helen Foster, which she honored me by requesting to beta read. A great, based-on-real-events story about World War Two spies and … if I tell you more I’ll spoil it. Hopefully, you’ll have the opportunity to read it someday.

This year’s list was swelled by my straight-through reading of Ellis Peter‘s twenty Chronicles of Brother Cadfael. I read history, biography, science fiction and fantasy. I found several good works analyzing the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, each reviewed separately.

I am grateful to live at a time and place where I can read pretty much whatever I want. It wasn’t always so; it may not always be so.

Happy 50th Anniversary

2019 50 anni sm Fifty years ago today–May 30, 1969–Treva L. Parsons and I exchanged wedding vows at Grace United Methodist Church in Winfield, Kansas.

Since then we have raised two sons and lived in seven states and four foreign countries, plus my overseas service during the Vietnam and Gulf Wars.

Tomorrow, family and friends will gather at the Cultural Arts Center of Glen Allen, Virginia to celebrate with us.

Thank you, Lord.