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    Friday, March 31, 2006

    My visit to the Branch Davidian compound in Waco

    I was in Waco to visit with our students at Baylor. But before I headed on to Dallas for the YCT convention, I just couldn't leave Waco without checking out the site that it all went down at in 1993 - the site where the rest of the world outside of Texas learned about a place called Waco. The only association I have ever had of Waco, Texas was when the AFT and FBI stormed the Branch Davidian compound against that nutball, David Koresh. Most people my age and older are very familiar with the scenes that were blasted on the tv every day. There was a 51-day standoff, where controversial religious extremist David Koresh and the 300 other people living there were confronted by our government, mostly based on rumors, but still some very wacky things were probably going on there. The debate still to this day is what role did the government have going in there, and were the plans, executed by our government, under Janet Reno and the Clinton Administration, appropriate?

    The 51-day standoff ended when the ATF and FBI stormed the building, and a fireball explosion forced out the people living there. Over 120 of them were killed, including about 5 government agents who stormed the building.

    So, last night I looked up the directions there. It's about 5-10 miles outside of town, in the rural farmland area. Once you get on this one road, literally called a farm road (for example, it would be like "State Road 7" instead out here it's "Farm Road, etc."), you go about 5 miles. The website I consulted told me where to turn, etc. I then went down this gravel road (I was a bit nervous at this point, all I saw were cows and farmhouses in this area). I then saw what appeared to be the accurate description of this place. There was a gate in the front, about 200 feet or so back was a little house (which I later learned is really a worship center). Theere were also 2 little small real houses on the property. Between the gate and the homes are about 120 planted trees - each one commemorates a victim, some as young as one year old.

    I didn't cross into the property at first because it looked more like private property. Based on my only images of this place, I didn't want to get shot. I had no idea who was living there or keeping up the place. So I just stopped for a moment, and looked on, thinking to myself, "Should I take a picture?" I passed the property by about a 1/2 mile and made a u-turn. I slowed back up again as I came to the front gate and a man walked out of that worship center that looked like a home, and waived at me in a motion that said, "come on in." So, I thought, why not, this is what I drove all the way out here for.

    I pulled up and at first didn't get out of the car. He came up to the passenger side window (which I had rolled down) and introduced himself, "Hi, I'm Ron," he said. He was probably in his late 50s/early 60s... I can never tell age. I explained to him that I wanted to come by the property "because of what happened here." I had no other way to describe it without appearing rude. He understood easily. He told me briefly about what he was up to there and said, "This place is part of our history now... despite the unfortunate events that happened here."

    He told me I could feel free to look around, take some photos, and he humbly asked for a donation of whatever I wanted to give. I later ended up giving him two dollars. There was nothing official about this place... no official guided tour. There were however some stone markers by those trees with the names of the victims. There were also a couple stone markers honoring the victims as a whole with a very brief description about what happened and how the tyranny of our government could do such a thing. There was also a stone marker commemorating the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, which happened about a year later.

    I walked into the worship center that looked like a house from the outside. On the inside, it looked more like a small, non-denominational church. There was a tiny stage, about a foot high, that had instruments on it, and about 30 chairs. I asked Ron how many people worship here. He said, "about 10 or 20 every weekend." The rest of the place had a few desks where he was working on stuff, and it looked like he was framing some kind of art, but I really didn't pay too much attention.

    He told me that all of the original building there had been destroyed - he showed me out back where the gymnasium used to be - the foundation was still there - with a moveable basketball hoop and a toddler's bike. The very neat looking swimming pool (which looked more like a swimming hole) was still there outside. But the worship center house was all new - Ron and a few others had built it there so that they could honor God's name there and pray for the victims of the 1993 incident.

    Ron was never there then. He doesn't care much for David Koresh. In fact, he told me that his reasoning of "why this happened" was he felt it was "God's punishment." "David Koresh represents the bad elements of Western Civilizaton - the girls, the guns, the sex, the violence, the corruption... and God showed his judgment on that.... however," he continued, "God also shows his judgment on our government and what they're doing... the government is held to the same God that David Koresh was held to... " He wasn't advocating vengeance on our government for the Waco incident, such as Timothy McVeigh did with his bombing of the federal government building in Oklahoma City. He was just making the point that we, as Americans, have to be better, from our perspective as individual citizens, to our perspective of government officials. Otherwise, God will cast his judgment and punishment will be handed down. He had a point.

    He also told me that he was from Philadelphia. He was a veteran of the U.S. military (I can't remember, but I would say he's probably a Vietnam Vet). He also said, "Our government has a history of this kind of thing." He told me about an incident in the early to mid 1980s where a similar raid happend on a house of black radicals in a Philadelphia neighborhood. When the Waco incident happened, he had had enough. So, he came down and with some others (I believe they're from the Seventh Adventist Church if I recall his words), they built this worship center.

    On the property there was a bus which was there when everything caught fire, and you can still see the fires that ripped through it. I took a bunch of pictures, but I have no way of downloading them on here now until I get back home. So I promise to do that. It was a moving place, and it was kind of weird being out there - it was just me and Ron. I had felt very nervous at first, I almost didn't want to get out of the car. But, there was something very humbling about this guy that made me feel very comfortable being there. And he was clearly moved by the incident and has devoted his whole life and his whole sense of worship to preserving the memory of what happened there and calling for reform in a peaceful, religious way - and not the so-called "religious" way that David Koresh was advocating.

    I am not saying I agree with him totally on everything, but he made some great points. I do believe Koresh was crazy - if even half the rumors are true, he's a nutball. But I also believe our government acted improperly. For 120 people to die, many of them children, something went wrong.

    In any event, I told Ron briefly about what I do and why I was in town. He said in a few years he'll be speaking on college campuses himself, to encourage students to get involved with faith-based initiatives. I'm sure he has plenty of stories to tell.

    As for me, it was very neat to come out here and see this place in such a tranquil setting that Ron has left it in. My only vision of Waco, Texas before this week was of flames burning up a building where children were in, causing 120 deaths. Now, I have seen the rest of Waco, including beautiful Baylor University, and the serene farmland that surrounds Waco, including this site where the "Brach Davidian compound" was located. As I looked back at the property one last time, I only thought to myself, it's amazing that just 13 years ago, the whole world was watching this place during the 51-day standoff, the whole world was watching U.S. government tanks and agents moving in to end the standoff, and then seeing the place erupt into a fireball of explosions. On this day, no one but myself was watching this place and if I had not known what happened here 13 years ago, I might just have imagined this serene farmland with a quiet humble man living on it, to be just a little slice of heaven on earth.

    Thursday, March 30, 2006

    Intellectually Stimulated at Baylor

    I just got back from a 3 1/2 hour dinner in a private room of a very nice restaurant here in Waco, Texas with the "Self-Selected Aristocratic Order of the Vital Remnants." That's the name of the ISI Group at Baylor. Before I go on and describe what this group does, let me remind you that this group has been around for about 2-3 years and didn't really know anything about ISI at all until about a year ago. And then only recently in the past couple months did they affiliate their group as an official ISI Group.

    When I asked their president, Tyler, a few months ago, "Why did you all start this group in the first place?" His answer was something like, "We weren't getting enough academic discipline and intellectual rigor in the classroom and we were all seeking further intellectual stimulation." So, they came up with this idea all on their own, but it's completely in line with all that ISI hopes our groups might do.

    Our dinner meeting tonight resembles something of what most of their meetings are like, except they usually meet at someone's house and do this. This time, they got the royal ISI treatment over a very nice (and expensive) dinner. The dinner was worth every penny.

    They usually meet once a week, on a Sunday evening, and one or two of the members presents a paper (the members by the way are "selected" by the group - you can't just join this group, you have to be invited, or rather "selected"). They read the paper aloud (it's about 2-3 pages at most). As they are reading it, other members are taking notes. I was wondering what they were up to at first. What are they writing? They were editing the paper right there on the spot, and as soon as the writer was done reading his paper, one other member became a "moderator" and kept the reactions in order so that a chaotic conversation doesn't overtake the purpose of the meeting. Each member that had criticism of the paper would give their thoughts and a discussion would follow that involved virtually everyone present.

    The criticism involved not only the ideas, but also critique of the grammar and the rhetoric. In effect, it was a critique not only of the author's personal ideas and perspectives, but also a literary criticism. They talked about semantics. They critiqued the writing. And, they did this to the writer's benefit: to help them improve putting their ideas together as well as improve their writing style. The ultimate goal for most of these papers is that throughout the course of the semester, the final editing versions of the paper (which often go through several drafts and are scrutinized several times) are put into their publication, of which 3,000 copies are distributed at some point during the semester.

    Yes, these guys do this for fun. And, it was fun. It was a great way to form fellowship, engage in ideas, and improve themselves academically and as true budding intellectuals. I was thoroughly impressed. I have been at ISI for 2 years visiting groups and each one is unique. Tonight was another example - I had heard a lot about this group from my colleague, Brian "Sko" Embry because he was a part of this group (and now I understand Brian so much more after experiencing what they actually do as a group). It's a very cultivating experience. And, after 2 years of working for ISI, this was in fact the most intellectually stimulating group I have seen. What impresses me more is that they came up with this idea without even knowing what ISI was. But this is something ISI would want to see many of our groups doing. I have now placed this group up on an elite pedestal to admire and perhaps use as an example to give other groups ideas of what they might do.

    Intellectually stimulated is an understatment. Impressive, admirable, and remarkable are words that barely describe my impressions about this group. And I'm sure if they read this blog, they'd be scrutinizing every sentence. It would only be to my benefit of course. Then again, this is only a blog.

    Bush Presidential Library

    I made my first ever visit to a Presidential library, and I started it today with a visit to the George Bush Presidential Library on the Texas A&M campus in College Station. How neat. The part I visited was the museum, which took a look at the life and Presidency of the 41st President of the United States. I really liked the way they showed his life, the different stages of his life, and the U.S. and world history that was going on at those stages, so it was like telling a history of the U.S. and the world and showing one man's journey through it. Different themes were: World War 2, the Cold War, the brave men and women in our military, and even taking to the west, being an entrepreneur, and trains! I didn't know the Bush family was so fascinated with trains!

    What was really cool was the temporary exhibit on trains (which I mostly skipped due to lack of time), had a display of "the golden spike" - THE actual golden spike that connected the transcontinental railroad. It was neat.

    But, one thing that really struck me about Bush's presidency was how so much world history happened during it (and of course they're going to hype that up, but it's still the truth). In the orientation video, Bush even said something like: "So much happened during my Presidency, I'm not saying that we made it happen, but we experienced it." The Berlin Wall fell, and so did the Soviet Union, the Cold War ended, the "new world order" began, the Iraq war conflict, apartheid ended in South Africa, and many other key events. I even got to walk through just a small portion of an Air Force one plane.

    I wasn't even expecting to stop at this library today, but I had just an hour or two of time to fit it in and I did. Once I was there, I was fascinated and wish I had more time to read every detail. And now I'm even more anxious to get to the Reagan library. I'll be sure to schedule a good half-day there, minimum.

    ISI at Texas A&M

    This afternoon, I drove from Austin to College Station, Texas. A big difference in campuses. UT-Austin is in the middle of a city, a very urban campus. And the university is a very large part of the city. Texas A&M, on the other hand, is pretty much "in the heart of Texas." In other words, practically in the middle of nowhere. But, don't let me slight the cities of College Station and Bryan, which economically flourish because of the university.

    While UT-Austin was a very urban campus, Texas A&M was a much more planned agricultural "land grant" university. It's large, very laid out nicely, and very well groomed. Also, the football stadium is huge. Then again, the Longhorns' stadium was pretty darn big too.

    I stopped in College Station to have lunch with our ISI Group there, which was great. The four members that came, led by Chris Garrett, a grad student in English, are very much into "big ideas" - very philosophically oriented and you could tell they liked to keep talking about the philosophy and political philosophy. They are a small group, but they are looking for ways to expand and reach the broader Aggie community - to increase the size and effectiveness of their group. Their best idea was to blend their readings with the lectures they bring in. For example, if in the fall they want to bring in Peter Lawler, they might take up reading his book, "Stuck on Virtue," and then prepare themselves to have a discussion with Lawler with the readings preparing them for the lecture. Also, the public aspect of the lecture will allow them to engage a broader audience on campus and perhaps entice others to join their group. In any event, it will be even more entertaining and intellectual for them.

    They described Texas A&M as: "the students are conservative -- the professors aren't." They also wanted ISI to provide them with better reading lists (I offered the student's guides as the first thing they should look at in this respect, but they wanted something more concrete, more like a curriculum or syllabus). They seek and crave intellectual direction. Obviously something is missing inside the classroom. But, they're doing all they can to get that secondary education outside the classroom. The secondary education will probably end up being their primary education.

    Wednesday, March 29, 2006

    Big Tent Conservatism at UT-Austin

    As I said, EVERYTHING is BIGGER in Texas... including the big tent of the conservative movement. Some campuses I go to seem to have conservatives that are social conservatives, while others are more libertarian, still others more faith-based, some community based, and others more College Republican types.

    At UT-Austin, they had it all, and all these elements showed up for the first-ever "Get to Know ISI" Soiree. It was a return to all the good things ISI has done throughout our 53-year history. I felt a little bit of Vic Milione in the room, as I talked to the students about why they should get involved with ISI.

    I have to give complete gratitude to our great ISI Campus Representative, Clark Patterson. He pulled all these students out for the event. About 30 people came, we served pizza and soft drinks (and cookies) and it was held in a large lecture hall, with 2 huge jumbo screens, and the technology was perfect for showing the ISI history video and putting the ISI website up on the screen to go through it. (yes, even the jumbo screens in this large classroom are BIGGER in TEXAS). It was ideal. We even dimmed the lights to play the video. I couldn't have asked for a better venue and a better mix of students.

    There were the libertarian group, which basically does the reading group type thing already and may in fact get more involved with reading ISI Books titles. There were College Republicans, not just from UT-Austin, but also from Texas State (about 20 miles away). There were a few that weren't politically inclined, but are involved in service organizations. And another student that leads a free-market environmentalist group on campus.

    At the end of the night, we held a "conservative trivia contest" which was fun and allowed us to give away about 15 free ISI Books. And, everyone walked away with a free copy of Harvey Mansfield's "Student's Guide to Political Philosophy". We also officially signed up 26 new ISI members. I should add: 26 very excited new members. Hopefully we even inspired some of them to get more involved in Contumacy, the CN paper that is getting back up and running again.

    I had great conversations at the end of the night with Clark and Austin, who are both involved with Contumacy and who are both hoping that this "Get to Know ISI" soiree didn't just get these kids excited about ISI alone, but also about working together more on campus. Clark pulled together all the elements that have made the conservative movement so successful. I think that's ultimately key to making a movement on campus successful. Go Longhorns Go.

    I'm in Austin, Texas!

    This is only my second time ever to the state of Texas, and my first visit ever to anyplace outside of Dallas. You'll see my "itinerary" in my previous post for the next week. But, as for today, my first stop is Austin, Texas. I grabbed some Chipotle this afternoon and drove around only a smart part of the University of Texas-Austin and the downtown Austin area, where I saw yet another state capital building!

    UT-Austin is the largest school in the country, by population of students, with an enrollment of over 50,000 students! THE LARGEST. So the motto holds true: EVERYTHING is BIGGER in Texas.

    Tonight, with one of our ISI Campus Representatives at UT-Austin, I'll be host to the FIRST EVER "Get to Know ISI" Soiree. We'll have pizza, drinks, ISI Books and brochures, some mingling, the playing of the ISI history video, and a conservative trivia contest. And, hopefully, a lot more new ISI members!

    Saturday, March 25, 2006

    Prepping for Texas and Oklahoma

    I am getting ready to depart on another 10-day trip. This time, I'll be in Texas, Oklahoma, then from there to DC for a couple days before I head back home to Delaware.

    My general schedule is as follows:

    March 29: "Get to Know ISI" soiree at UT-Austin
    March 30: Lunch with ISI Group at Texas A&M in College Station, TX
    March 30: Dinner with ISI Group at Baylor University in Waco, TX
    March 31: Drive to Dallas for the Young Conservatives of Texas State Convention
    April 1-2: YCT State convention continues all weekend in Dallas
    April 3: "Get to Know ISI" soiree at the University of Dallas with students from up to 6 schools in the area attending
    April 4: Lunch with new ISI Group at Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City, OK
    April 4: "Get to Know ISI" soiree at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, OK
    April 5: Lunch with new ISI Group at Tulsa University in Tulsa, OK
    April 5: Attending College Republicans meeting at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, OK
    April 6: Flying from Oklahoma City to BWI
    April 6-7: Attending first ever "Students for Academic Freedom" conference in D.C.
    April 8: Returning back to Delaware

    Saturday, March 18, 2006

    South Bend doesn't want me...

    Well, the news came today... I didn't get into Notre Dame. Honestly, I wasn't expecting to. It's a great history department with a lot of applicants and they only accept about 8-10 students each year. I thought their department was a great fit for my research interests, but it wasn't meant to be. This might indeed be a sign that academic life is very competitive, so I will consider my options in the next year or two, but I might also be hanging my hat up on moving forward with a Ph.D.

    I'm certainly not looking at this rejection letter with negativity, however. I am having a great life, I have a great job, I have some of the best experiences someone my age can possibly enjoy, and I live in the best country in the world, at perhaps one of the most exciting (yet volatile) periods of history - and any true historian can certainly appreciate that. And, my current job allows me to see so many parts of this country and meet so many interesting people. It's certainly a time of my life I will always be able to reflect back upon... but why reflect back when things just keep rolling?

    Over the next few weeks, I'll most likely be making big decisions based on this decision. Getting accepted into the University of Notre Dame would have made the next 4-5 years of my life easy: I would have been studying hard at Notre Dame and living in South Bend, Indiana. The good news is I don't have to freeze my ass off in South Bend, Indiana, arguably one of the coldest places in the country! So... being originally from Florida, I am almost relieved about that. But, now the next life decision will be up to some deep reflection about what path I want to take next.

    I was telling someone recently that today, us young people in this country, have so many options open to us. SO MANY! Sometimes all these options make life a bit more confusing or at least perplexing, and sometimes I wonder if so many options is a good thing? Well, when you like your options, it certainly is... and I like my options. The "worst" choice I make still won't be a bad choice at all.

    Thursday, March 16, 2006

    Anxiety building... the wait continues...

    Most people that know me and that know I've applied for Ph.D. work at the University of Notre Dame have been asking... "So, did you get in yet?" My typical response over the last month has been, "I'm supposed to hear by March 15." Well, it's March 16th, and I haven't heard. But, I just called them up...


    Well, they say the letters are in process over at the graduate school office and I should hear either by the weekend or the early part of next week... if I don't hear by early next week they said I should call back... ok, fair enough... but the wait continues... and the anxiety keeps building... I'll keep everyone posted.

    Friday, March 10, 2006

    "Good Fellowship"

    Tonight, I decided to take an extra few hours out of my weekend to venture up to the Princeton campus, again. I have to say, it's probably my favorite campus (or at least in the top 3). I came up here to visit with Andrew Matthews and his ISI Group that publishes the "Journal of Christian perspective," Revisions. It's a fantastic journal and I'm proud to have it associated with ISI. There are a lot of positive things happening for conservatives and Christians here on the Princeton campus and this is certainly an example.

    My evening began with a 2 hour-plus dinner with Andrew and four others (2 students, 2 faculty). They are all involved with Revisions and with Manna, a Christian organization at Princeton. Great people, good company... it's exciting. We talked about a lot of things, from Christian thought to Christianity and the culture, and of course all things ISI. I'm excited to read their next issue.

    After that was over, Andrew and I peeked into ISI's Liberty Fund colloquia, where about 15 students and a couple professors were partaking in the hospitality of an ISI reception. Many great conversations were had, as usual and I was able to acquaint with several students I already know well, and meet plenty of others that I had not yet had the chance to meet. The Liberty Fund colloquias bring together students from a variety of places in this country. They are 3-day weekends where the students truly engage in intellectual thought on a particular theme of the weekend. This colloquia's theme is "Religious Liberty, Toleration and the Reformation." I'm not really allowed into any of it, but I was able to meet up with these students for the reception and then about 6 of us went out for a couple hours afterwards.

    It was a fun time had where conservative intellectuals such as ourselves (if I may include myself into that "intellectual" crowd) could partake in good conversation and go out and have a fun time. Tonight, some of these students reminded me how grateful I should be to ISI to provide me with so many of these great experiences to meet these incredible, gifted people and spend a Friday night on the town with them and not consider it "work." ISI has the networking capability to do this and I think the way ISI brings people together is one of the best assets of our organization for them and for me. As Andrew told me at the end of the night, it was a great night of "good fellowship." I couldn't agree more.

    Monday, March 06, 2006

    Abortion Ban Legislation in South Dakota

    South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds signed legislation Monday that would ban most abortions in South Dakota, a law he acknowledged would be tied up in court for years while the state challenges the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

    The governor issued a written statement saying he expected a lengthy legal battle over the law, which, he said, would not take effect unless the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it.

    "In the history of the world, the true test of a civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society. The sponsors and supporters of this bill believe that abortion is wrong because unborn children are the most vulnerable and most helpless persons in our society. I agree with them," Rounds said in the statement.

    Well said - let the fight continue. Truth and Justice are ultimately on our side.

    Sunday, March 05, 2006

    Reagan's Children Blog

    I was recently invited to join a new blog called Reagan's Children Blog. This blog's motto is "Taking Back the City on the Hill." I'm blogging with some other really great young conservatives, led by Hans Zeiger. I've already posted twice, and I look forward to posting about once a week. Most of my postings will be centered around the issues of higher education. Posted by Picasa

    Wednesday, March 01, 2006

    Working Out with Condoleezza

    I told you she was hot! And now we know why. Check out the full video that features Condy working out, sweating it up, burning some calories, staying in shape, and looking good. We send the world a representative through the Secretary of State position, and this is who we send. Fantastic!

    She's single, just over 50, and perhaps the most powerful woman in the world. Hey, I'm single, 28, and I can travel. And, she's inspired me to keep up the workouts. If she can find time to stay in shape, anyone can! Posted by Picasa