culture freedom of choice politics

Being proud…

I was reading some of the comments about the election on my facebook page from my contacts, and I saw a few things that I had to say something about.

There were a few people expressing pride in the US. I share that feeling. Not only have we loudly proclaimed that the government of the past 8 years was wrong, a black man was elected. What can be more American than that?

I also read some comments that amounted to being proud of the US for the first time. That’s a whole different thing… For the first time? Really? This election is what made you proud? I hate to say this, but one day someone else that you don’t like will be elected president, what then? Will you be ashamed?

I have been, from an early age, very proud of this country. It wasn’t due to any particular thing my parents taught me. I wonder how much of my father’s outward expressions of patriotism were dampened by his being drafted? I can think of two things that made me quite proud of this country in my youth.

The first thing has to be my family’s history. It’s no different than most of the other families here. My ancestors came here on boats. They had left behind everything and started with nothing here. They really did achieve the American dream and were made much better off than they had been through their hard work and the opportunities they took advantage of here. There wasn’t any other place in the world where that could have happened, nowhere… To this day, I still get choked up seeing pictures of Ellis Island and Lady Liberty, and as a kid I was deeply impressed by my ancestors and this country.

The second thing that I remember being proud of the US was the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The US was instrumental in that collapse. The Soviet Union was the epitome of evil, of power run amok. They killed their own people for having the temerity to want to leave the worker’s paradise. The fall of the wall and the later collapse of the Soviet Union made me feel that my country had indeed triumphed over evil.

More recently, my pride has been reinforced. Many people I knew talked about moving to a different country when Bush was reelected. I actually did move, I have an entire blog dedicated to that experience. I went to a place that had every reason to hate the US. I think that I can safely say that every single person I met in Yemen held the US government in utter contempt. And I have every reason to believe that they felt it more deeply than democrats in the US did. Wherever I went, people asked me about Abu Gharib, the invasion of Iraq, Gitmo, bombings, the support of Israel, etc. Nobody over there liked those things. Despite that, almost every person told me that they wanted to live in the US. Think about that.

Many people here were talking about moving to Canada, Europe, Australia, etc. Over there, I heard the occasional desire to move to Europe, but the vast majority wanted to go to the US. Many people called it “The Land of Dreams.” Nothing will make you more proud of your country than people that hate our president with every fiber of their beings wanting to move here. What could be more American?

christianity culture

Compassion fatigue (crossposted with Yemen Blog)

I caught a bit of an interview on NPR today. Terri Gross was interviewing a former Episcopal minister (also a woman) and the ex-minister was talking about how she noticed “compassion fatigue” when she got out of the ministering business. It was a huge load off of her, and she didn’t even realize that she had it!

I identified with that. Not so much with compassion, but with some other things while I was in Yemen. It occurs to me that while I was there, I was always trying to be the model American and the model Christian. For many of the locals, I was the only one of either that they had ever met, and I might be the only one they ever meet. I was always conscious of having to set an example. I felt that if I did something to upset them or offend them they would most likely generalize that experience to include all Americans and Christians.

After a while, it became routine for me, but it was always there. When I got back, I knew I had to recuperate, but I couldn’t really put my finger on what I was recuperating from. I think a big part of it was getting used to not sticking out anymore. I’m just another guy here, I’m not the Christian, the American, I’m just another person… The anonymity is really nice, all the pressure is gone. I don’t think I realized what kind of strain that put on me until I got used to the idea that I wouldn’t have to be an example any more. It was a huge weight off of me, and I feel much better because of it.


We have met the enemy and he is us…

Along with Doonsbury and Peanuts, Pogo is the definition of comic art. Walt Kelly was a master political satirist and artist. His strip, Pogo, ran for 3 or 4 decades and was perhaps the pinnacle of the comic art form. He is especially famous for his take on the dealings of the House Un-American activities committee. Unfortunately, the strip stopped in the 70’s so many people aren’t as familiar with it as some of the others. If you’ve never seen or read any of the strips, you can go here to get a taste for the humor and art that the strip represented. With any luck, Fantagraphics will get the total collection off the ground so we can appreciate this treasure of American literature that way it should be.

culture economics politics

I’m reading a new book

It’s a little light reading entitled “The Logic of Political Survival.” I had heard of this work before and it intrigued me. In it, De Mesquita et. al. tries to explain how bad policy is often good politics and how good policy is actually bad politics.

He takes a rather cynical view of politics (something that I can identify with) but it works rather well for explaining things. It turns out that if you see governments as essentially collecting taxes and then distributing them, you can make sense of what most governments do most of the time. This applies to the worst autocracies and dictatorships as well as to the highest functioning democracies in the world. It’s nice to see a theory that applies to all types of governments.

I have never really read any political science work before, but I’m diving into the deep end. Bruce De Mesquita is actually a controversial figure in this realm. As far as I can tell, he has gained this notoriety by actually using mathematics to formalize his theories. Game theory is very well known to economists, but it has come very late to the political science realm. Deep down, I wonder if the people that oppose this approach resist because they can’t handle the math. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened…

This is one of two political science books that I have wanted to read for a while. I own the other but have never gotten the chance to read it. “The Calculus of Consent; Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy” by Tullock and Buchanan (Buchanan won the Nobel prize for it) started the entire field of political economy. In short, they had as their premise that politicians are motivated not by altruistic thoughts but by self interest. Their ability to accurately predict how government bodies act pretty much proved that their approach is sound. It turns out that politicians aren’t saviors, who knew?

I think that books like this should be mandatory reading, especially during an election year. I’ll report back with any amazing things I learn as I read…

culture economics

The Drinking age

A recent article in the Baltimore Sun (here) talks about how a bunch of university presidents want to lower the drinking age back down to 18. They have a handful of reasons. Binge drinking is a problem, but so are the activities that students do to avoid being caught on campus. Students go off campus to drink, and that is going to involve driving… One over-riding concern is that since drinking below the age of 21 is illegal, the college’s hands are pretty much tied when it comes to education. They can’t be real aggressive in outreach because it will look like they are encouraging under age drinking.

To me, this is the biggest problem with not only alcohol, but all drugs. Kids do all of them, but to come out and talk to them about it often makes some parents upset. There is an eerie parallel with birth control here… One thing that I did not know is that there is no national drinking age. Congress cleverly attached an “incintive” to the transportation bill. The states don’t “have to” have a drinking age of 21, but if they don’t they lose 10 percent of the money…

Anyway, I’m not sure that lowering the drinking age is a good thing or not. Certainly, there are, like all laws, unintended consequences that come along with this law. It would be a good idea to look into options, including lowering the drinking age. A big problem is that it is political suicide to even bring that up in many places. So we’re not likely to ever know if lowering the drinking age could alleviate the problems or not…


I should have known better

I had been hearing good things about the new Batman movie and I admit, I was intrigued. When dad offered to take me, I said sure. I usually don’t watch movies, I can’t remember the last time I went to the theatre to see a movie. It’s been at least 6 or 7 years. This surprises people, they can’t understand why I don’t go. I have never really understood why people enjoy doing it. Sure, it can be a great experience, but it is usually a total waste of time.

This movie is no exception. I had heard how “dark” the movie is, how action packed it is, and how “powerful” a performance Heath Ledger gave as the Joker. What a load of BS. This movie is no different from any other pile of steaming feces that Hollywood churns out on a regular basis. It was predictable, had ridiculous dialogue, no characterization to speak of, and I was actually bored in the middle of it. I can think of 4 or 5 comic book stories off the top of my head that are head and shoulders above this, including some Batman ones…

Ledger’s supposedly “amazing” performance amounted to him trying to channel a combination of Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” and Freddie Crugar in the first “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie. He’s playing the Joker folks, it is fundamentally impossible to give an amazing performance in that role. The best you can do is make it creepy and I don’t even think he did that.

After the film, my father told me something that I have heard all my life and I have never understood. He said that it was important to see a movie once in a while, even if it’s bad. It’s a common thought, but no one has ever been able to tell me why it’s a good thing to pay for and sit through something when I could have been doing any number of other things that are better. This goes for bad music and bad books too. In my experience, most movies suck and are a waste of my life. I won’t make the mistake of going to the theatre again for quite a while.

More than ever, this movie has me worrying about a country that thinks this is a good film. I’m even more worried about a culture that thinks this is good entertainment. It doesn’t have any redeeming values that I can think of. You don’t learn anything from it, it’s expensive, and it isn’t even interesting to look at. There are about a zillion films that are more exciting if action is your thing. I literally don’t understand why anyone would like this film…

culture free market

Queasiness, breast feeding, and kidney transplants

My stepsister posted an update on how her one year old is doing. He is the picture of health, and as large as the average 2 year old. The doctor mentioned that they might want to think about weaning him soon to which Kelly responded that she plans on breast feeding him up to the age of three.

My initial reaction was, “WHAT?! You can’t breast feed a kid for that long, he’ll be screwed up for the rest of his life!” With a little more thought, I’ve come to a more nuanced view. It’s true that from a 37 year old’s perspective, breast feeding at three years old is a little weird. But I have to keep reminding myself that that 3 year old will not have the thoughts of this 37 year old. It’s also true that there is all sorts of evidence that breast feeding is very good for kids. I’m not aware of any studies that show mental issues with prolonged breast feeding. I don’t know about them because I’ve never looked for them. Of course I’ve never looked for studies on breast feeding in general, but I still have heard of the studies about the benefits of breast feeding. And of course Kelly has probably looked into this… She could be wrong, but she’s got a better chance of weighing the pros and cons than I do, so I say, “Whatever you think is best..”

I still feel queazy about breast feeding a three year old, but at the end of the day, it’s not my call, and it’s really none of my business. It reminds me of the issues surrounding the idea of selling kidneys. Most people (including myself) have an instinctual revulsion to the idea, but should that be enough of a reason to allow people to keep dying? The usual arguments are that people shouldn’t benefit from giving a kidney, people will be killed for their kidneys, that poor people will be “taken advantage of,” and of course, ewww!

Right now, everyone involved in a kidney transplant benefits, except the donor. The recipient gets off dialysis and will probably live a normal life, and the doctors and hospital get paid. The donor gets a warm feeling for doing the right thing. Imagine how many more kidneys would be available if people were paid for them?

You can’t just slap any old kidney into a person that needs one, so killing people would have to be very targeted and involve a lot of research for it to work… I don’t see that happening.

As far as the poor being taken advantage of, that is just PC talk for the poor are too stupid to be trusted. Besides, who is being taken advantage of, the person that agrees to give up a kidney for cash or the person that is motivated by emotion and/or guilt? In the end, it reminds me of Kelly’s decision. It’s none of my (or anyone else’s) business if someone wants to sell a kidney, it would certainly save lives. Maybe we should just suck it up and deal, I think the world would be a lot better place if we did.

christianity culture religion

The Bible

One the things I enjoy when I come back to Gloucester is talking with one of my friends. G. is a super good guy and is the one that turned me onto the advantages of considering oneself a Christian. He’s a very genuine guy and we can stay up to all hours talking religious stuff. I feel a little bad in thinking this, but I also like the fact that he goes a little further into the deep end with the stuff than I do. I don’t feel quite as crazy…

Anyway, he does make me think quite a bit, and that’s a good thing. The only trouble I have is that he’s one of those people that believes that the Bible really is the “Word of God.” I have some issues with that (read about them here if you’re interested) perspective. The Bible was constructed folks, it was put together by men. Men wrote it, men put it together, and it was men that said that it is word of God. The Bible never says that it is the definitive anything, let alone the word. How could it? The Bible didn’t exist until well after all of those books were written. I’m not saying that the Bible isn’t worth reading or that you can’t learn a great deal from it, but I am saying that we don’t know who wrote those books or how “accurate” they are. I’m not even going to get into the various issues with translations…

If you’re really interested in what the Bible means, you should go and talk to the organizations that put it together. The church that put that together already had its beliefs hammered out for the most part, and the Bible they constructed reflects those beliefs. The Orthodox and Catholic churches now argue over which one is more authentic, but either of them will give you a much more fleshed out, more nuanced view of what the Bible means than any protestant church or Bible study ever will.

The difficulty is that the people that believe in sola scriptura (like my friend) are constitutionally unable to go to the churches that could help them the most. There is a totally unreasonable hatred of anything Catholic in protestant circles. The Orthodox is mostly unknown here, especially in the south, but a casual protestant observer would be forgiven for mistaking them for Catholics.

I can understand not liking the Catholic church, but why deny the history? Why try and reinvent the wheel? If you believe the Orthodox churches, they’ve been at this for 2000 years. What are the odds that someone in a mega church is really going to add a lot to what has already been gone over before? Or for that matter, why do people think that they can take on a book like the Bible on their own and understand it better than a church that had a hand in making it?



Nationalism is creepy

Have you seen the footage of the guy heckling Obama for not saying the pledge of allegiance? You can get a link to it and some really good commentary about it here.

One of the more striking things I learned when I was in Yemen actually came from some Germans (thanks Karl). They were more than a little scared when I told them that it is common to start many things, not just official business with the pledge. Baseball games, social organizations, and in many places school days are started by it. My friends told me that there is no chance of that happening in Germany. One of the after-effects of the second world war is the Germans distrust of nationalist displays. Seen in that light, the pledge does seem rather sinister. It looks even more sinister when you read the background of the pledge and it’s original salute, you can see it at the link above.

culture sports

The Best thing about the opening ceremonies

The opening ceremonies were amazing. I don’t usually go in for that kind of thing, but they did it right. Everyone is talking about how much money they spent on it, around $300 million. Think of it this way, if that had been done in the US or in Europe, it would have cost a billion dollars, easy. The dollar still goes a ways in China…

The general thematic organization of the even was China through the ages. I was happy and sad that there wasn’t a single reference to Mao or the “Cultural Revolution.” I was happy because it looks like they may have started to put that terrible part of their history behind them. It is sad though to not even recognize the amount of suffering at the lives lost due to the misguided principles of Mao. The Chinese have broken away from him, and things will continue to get better and better…

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