Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Garrison Keillor - "Homegrown Democrat"

While I was on my trip I bought Homegrown Democrat, by Garrison Keillor. He is the rambling personality behind A Prairie Home Companion, a weekly radio variety show detailing the times of the fictional town of Lake Woebegone, along with music, and NPR humor. His writing feels like he dictated the entire book after staying up all night downing capuccinos and arguing over politics. The sentances are long and can be cumbersome, but full of passion.

The wonder of the book, even though it rambles in and out anecdotes about growing up, attending the University of Wisconsin and the death of JFK, is that it mirrors many of the reasons why I also am a Democrat. I am a Mormon from Idaho who works with a popcorn seed company in rural Indiana, which means that my peers at church and work, my family, and most of my friends are dyed in the wool Republicans.

To most of which, my choice to abandon the Republican party is approaching apostacy, because the Democratic party is percieved to consist of socialists, abortionists, supporters of gay marriage, and unreasonable vegetarian environmentalists. The Republicans see themselves as supporters of Christian values of temperance, low taxes, traditional marriage, moral values, the American Dream, and the City on a Hill.

When I look at the Republican party I see whited sepulchres that advertise Christian values, the American Dream, the City on a Hill in bright letters on the outside, but behind the boardroom doors are happy to make deals with tobacco companies, the logging industry, the military industrial complex, the oil industry or who ever else holds the purse strings. I see the war in Iraq. I see Iran-contra. I see Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo bay, illegal detentions and nightime raids on Muslim American homes. I see oil wells in the Alaskan wildlife refuge, the loss of wilderness and public lands, high national debts, tax breaks for the rich, Jack Abramoff, and empty words to pacify the religous conservatists about flag burning, school prayer, and constitutional marriage amendments.

Garrison Keillor argues that the Democratic party, the ideal one he believes in, supports a social contract. This social contract argues that the government exists for our good and should do good. The government should support public works, public transportation, public schools, public welfare, public lands. The constitution and the bill of rights are the framework for this contract. Civil rights spring out of this contract, as well as responsibility to support public schools and services.

Unfortunately, these may not be the pillars of the actual Democratic party, but they should be. That is a moral standard I can grab on to and defend. It expands the morals of the party beyond gay marriage and abortion, as it should because the government does so many things besides marriages and abortions.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Back from Argentina

I spent the last two weeks in Argentina and Brazil, visiting the popcorn production there and walking through the research plots. Argentina had a disturbing resemblance to Illinois or Indiana and so I took very few pictures of the countryside. The towns and cities were not though. They had a vibrant feeling that rural United states has lost somehow. We went through the home town of Evita with her picture painted on the walls bearing only a vague resemblance to Madonna.

This is a park in downtown Buenos Aires. I don't know how many millions live there, but downtown and residential areas are indistinguishable. Apartments rise next to office towers and restaurants for rich and tourists sit next to small grocers and choripan (like a bratwurst) venders. The streets were clean and the food great. We saw one slum that reminded me of Nicaragua as we were entering Buenos Aires. It had house after house built of castoff corrugated tin and uneven wood slabs. It zipped by quickly and it is hard to believe that it existed when walking down the parisian shopping district or the well to do downtown.

Brazil felt tropical in comparison with rolling hills, palm trees, monkeys screeching in the distance and flocks of parrots overhead. The gauchos of Argentina have cousins in Brazil that run cattle there between the trees. Both drink mate out of wooden cups and metal straws. Both groups are contending with increasing cultivation of soybeans and corn. But one thing that was the same was the vibrancy of the agricultural economies. Agriculture was important enough that news about corn prices were on the front pages of the newspapers. People were as excited about the new Case tractors as we might be about new cars and the tractor dealerships had glassed in showrooms with the newest combines on turnstiles. Majoring in agronomy at the university was a sought after major and to be a Inginero Agronomo was highly sought after. Here in the heart of the midwest, the small towns feel empty, and agriculture is almost a four letter word. It is something that our grandparents did, but we are happy to leave behind.

While I was gone in the tropics, the temperature here at home plummetted and there was a blizzard. The night time temperatures were well below zero and our pumphouse froze again and left Leila and the girls without power. Matt and Todd from work came and thawed it out for them though and my neighbors came with their snowplows and dug Leila out. We had 17 inches of snow, but the drifts are 4 feet deep in places. The schools were closed all week due to the cold and then to the blizzard. Emily has been in heaven since she has been able to shovel snow and play outside in her snow clothes. She has been making snow tunnels for the cats. They run in and out of them trying to catch each other, jumping on top of each other and rolling in the snow and then begging to come inside once they are wet and cold.

It is good to be home.
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