Here's another George Friedman article that asserts, Great leaders did not make history.  History made them.  He's not talking about revisionist history, but about the impotence of leaders to kick against the goads.  It speaks to my contention that a Trump presidency will be neither as bad as his opponents fear, nor as good as his supporters hope.  Even with as powerful an Executive as we have in the United States, other factors are much more important than who's in the White House. As Shakespeare put it, There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.

In thinking about the presidency – or political leaders anywhere – it is important to distinguish between ambitions and constraints. ... Beyond constitutional limits on a president, reality imposes others. Lincoln did not want a civil war; Roosevelt wanted to end the depression; Reagan wanted to energize the economy; and when he took office, Bush had no intention of invading Afghanistan nine months later. But it really didn’t matter what they wanted. Other forces were at work shaping and undermining their presidencies. Given their circumstances, some could achieve some of their goals, none could achieve all of them, and few could achieve them in the manner they planned.

Leaders aren’t iconic, they are human beings. The idea that they will rebuild society in a manner that is more just to one group vastly overstates their power. Obama is a case in point. He was expected to end all wars, end the rage against the United States in the Islamic world that led to terrorism, create jobs and so on. He likely believed in many of these things, and he may well have expected to accomplish them as president. ... Leaders inevitably disappoint, because they must claim extraordinary powers.... Their election is followed by great excitement and long periods of growing disappointment.

Roosevelt and Reagan were both regarded by opponents as completely unsuited for office. Reagan was called an ignorant and evil actor, and Roosevelt was a rich dilettante with an empty head. Abraham Lincoln was likened to a monkey and regarded as an ignorant and uncouth lout who would shame the country. And these weren’t Southerners talking. ... None were devils and none were miracle workers. 

The whole article is short, and worth reading, whether you're happy, depressed, or merely confused by the current political situation.

I still believe that the American executive branch is too powerful, but Friedman's point is well made.  I like his take on President Reagan and the fall of the Soviet Union (emphasis mine):

We like to speak of Reagan defeating the Soviet Union. The truth is that the Soviet Union was collapsing regardless of any outside effort. Reagan did not impede the process and certainly contributed to it. What he intended happened, but it was minimally influenced by anything he did. The Soviet Union fell because of internal failures built into the system.

May we always be found impeding the evil and contributing to the good, with neither elation nor panic over who holds the highest political office.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, December 12, 2016 at 10:14 pm | Edit
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More surprising than Brexit, more shocking than the election of Donald Trump, is the news from the Gambia:  President Yahya Jammeh has not only been voted out, but has conceded the election and appears ready for a peaceful transition of power. The unexpected winner is Adama Barrow, whose name makes me smile because I know that he probably has a twin sister. I've not seen that confirmed, but I know from our visit to the Gambia this year that male/female twins are not uncommon there, and are usually named Adama and Hawa (Adam and Eve).

You can find quite a bit about the election on the Internet, but here's a bit from an Economist article:

Mr. Barrow staged a big political upset in results announced on December 2nd, winning by 45.5% to Mr. Jammeh’s 36.7%. Even more surprisingly—and to his great credit—Mr Jammeh quickly conceded defeat. By the evening, streets that many had feared could be a battleground were full of partying crowds tearing down posters of their outgoing president.

The election was scary for a while, I'm told, because the borders were sealed and communication with the outside world cut off. But afterwards, my friend who lives there, and who was also living in Germany in 1989, described the scene like this:

Everyone is now running around celebrating. It feels a lot like when the Berlin Wall came down, but without the beer.

Everyone is full of hope, but it's a big transition and the Gambia needs all the prayers it can get. Some fear another coup (that's how Mr. Jammeh came to power in the first place), and the country is desperately poor and lacking in natural resources. Mr. Barrow has a difficult road ahead of him. But hope is a great thing.

Gambians vote using a system of marbles and metal drums. There's a video in this BBC report that shows how it works. What I like best is that it was filmed in Brikama, where we spent most of our time, and everything looks and sounds so pleasantly familiar.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, December 3, 2016 at 8:21 pm | Edit
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What adjectives come to your mind when you think of someone who voted for Donald Trump?

Racist, homophobic, sexist, xenophobic, selfish, idiotic?  Probably.

How about compassionate, loving, open-minded, generous?  I didn't think so.

Ever since the election I have found myself in the incongruous position of defending the supporters of Donald Trump.  Perhaps it's due to my shock at the virulent attacks against them from the mouths and pens of people who have in the past taken pride in their openness, tolerance, and love of diversity.  Maybe it's because of my natural tendency to be contrary. My daughter said, "Mom, if you were a salmon, you'd be swimming downstream."  I had to think about that a bit.

I'm pretty sure, however, that my change of heart came mostly because I took a good look at the only Trump supporters in my circle of friends.  We have friends who are staunch supporters of Bernie Sanders and reluctantly switched to Hillary Clinton when she became the party's nominee; friends who supported Hillary Clinton all along; friends who couldn't stand Donald Trump from the beginning and voted for him only because the alternative was unthinkable; and friends who voted third party or sat this election out because they couldn't bear to cast a vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.  Out of all my friends, only two openly cheered for Trump.

So I took a good look at them.

  • Smart, educated, and well-travelled
  • Raised five children, as a multi-racial, multi-ethnic family
  • Personally settled and supported over a dozen refugees, and assisted hundreds more
  • Took in hundreds of the most difficult-to-place foster children
  • War veteran
  • Cleaned the homes—often on hands and knees—of elderly people in the community who could no longer do the work themselves
  • Support orphans and others in need—financially and in person—on three continents
  • Open their home and hearts to countless visitors from all over the world, of diverse cultures and religions
  • Are unabashedly and enthusiastically Christian, for whom that is always a reason to be more active, inclusive, and loving—not less
  • Have uncompromising moral values which never deter them from loving and helping those who do not share their standards
  • Have a joyous enthusiasm for life, in good times and in bad, that spills over into everyone they meet
  • Are called Mom and Dad by enough people around the world to populate a small city

These are the only Trump supporters I know well enough to judge, and I don't have a fraction of the cred I'd need to cast a stone their way.

Before we write off as immoral subhumans half the people we share this country with, maybe we should get to know them better.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, December 1, 2016 at 10:16 am | Edit
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Fact-checking sensational headlines is more important than ever, and I just discovered how hard that can be.

It started when my daughter posted a link to this petition requesting the government of France to lift its ban on showing this heart-warming video about children with Down Syndrome on French television.

From the petition page:

The State Council in France just affirmed a ruling that bans the video on the grounds that it is “inappropriate.” They argue that allowing people with Down syndrome to smile is “likely to disturb the conscience of women who had lawfully made different personal life choices.”

Essentially, France is telling people with Down syndrome that they do not have a right to show their happiness in the public sphere. This decision is discriminatory, and it violates the rights of individuals with Down syndrome.

That's certainly weird enough to require fact-checking. With the Internet, that should be easy, right?

Snopes made no mention of it whatsoever. Ditto for truthorfiction.com. Google News, however, was replete with articles. The trouble was that most of them were from sources that I knew many of my readers would reject, unread, without a second thought. And then there were the headlines:

France bans video because children with Down syndrome are "inappropriate"

France to ban people with Down syndrome from smiling

French TV Bans Smiling Down Syndrome Children--Might ‘Disturb’ Post-Abortive Women

French court bans TV ad showing happy kids with Down syndrome

Don't they just scream "clickbait" and the kind of story that must be misleading if not actually false? But my daughter had posted the link ... and she almost never does anything like that, certainly not unless she's sure of her sources.

I'm not surprised that the first sources I found were from right-wing publications—plus the Catholic Church, which is often left-wing, but not when it comes to anything that touches abortion. But to find the truth, I felt I needed to consult a source that was, if not neutral, at least biased in the other direction.

Enter the Huffington Post. Not that I trust everything they print, not at all. But I trust their liberal bias, which was exactly what I needed. And here it is, in the words of a mother of three children, two of whom have Down syndrome. Here are some excerpts, but it's worth reading the whole article.

Last week another big step was taken towards the mass persecution of children with Down syndrome. On November 10th, the French ‘State Counsel’ rejected an appeal made by people with Down syndrome, their families and allies to lift the ban on broadcasting the award winning “Dear Future Mom” video on French television. The ban was previously imposed by the French Broadcasting Counsel. Kids who are unjustly described as a ‘risk’ before they are born, are now wrongfully portrayed as a ‘risk’ after birth too.

The video features a number of young people from around the globe telling about their lives. Their stories reflect today’s reality of living with Down syndrome and aims to reassure women who have received a prenatal diagnosis. Their message of hope takes away the fears and questions these women may have, often based on outdated stereotypes.

[O]ur kids, whom studies from the USA and the Netherlands have proven to be much happier than the cranky, sulky bunch who go through life without Down syndrome, are banned from public television because their happy faces make post-abortion women feel uncomfortable. Women must continue to believe in the myth that society and medical professionals portray; that Down syndrome is a life of suffering, a burden to their family and society.

What’s next? Will kids with Down syndrome be banned from school? Will they be segregated from society and placed in institutions like in the old days, because their presence upsets post-abortion parents? See this ban is akin to putting people with Down syndrome away because their presence ‘confronts’ society with the reality of their systematic eradication. Eradication not to ‘prevent suffering’, but because authorities have decided that their differences place a burden on our lives and society. ... Let’s show them the truth that families with Down syndrome have an enormous good quality of life. Let’s show a future of hope, unconditional love and yes, a lot of smiles and happiness.

While Lejeune Foundation takes the matter to the European Court for Human Rights the French press has remained quiet about it. A petition has started to ask the French government to intervene. Please sign, support and share happiness!

I am not much of a petition-signer, and I generally believe that what is shown on French television is none of my business. But I think I'm going to sign this one, because I believe this policy has crossed a line. Will they ban smiling "typical" children from TV because they might disturb anyone who has aborted a healthy child? If not, that is certainly discrimination based solely on handicapped status.

My heart grieves for anyone who has suffered the loss of a child, and I have known those times when the sight of happy children was painful. When our first grandchild died two days after his birth, just before the Christmas season, all those songs about a newborn baby boy were more than a little hard to take. But our own particular griefs are no excuse for taking away another's happiness, and if aborting Down syndrome babies is likely to cause such trauma and regret with regard to what might have been, maybe we should take another look at how we approach that decision.

But that's another issue.  Regardless of one's position on when in the gestation process a life becomes fully human and deserving of our compassion and protection, regarding a handicapped person as subhuman puts us on the same level as the eugenicists of a hundred years ago, or the worst of the Nazis.  I don't think France really wants to go there.

Any of my readers who know more about this story—particularly those of you who live or have lived in France—please chime in with what it looks like from the French point of view.  I know there's almost always another side to a story.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 26, 2016 at 7:32 pm | Edit
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It has been a hard week.  It is hard not to fall into depression at the concentrated and violent hatred I have seen expressed.  It's worse to see the deep divisions among my friends.

However, it has all been through the media, especially social media.  What I have personally seen has been amazing in the other direction.  In person, people are so much more polite than on social media!

For example, we just spent several days in New York City.  New York is like Paris, apparently.  Both have a reputation for being rude and unfriendly.  But when we went to Paris a few years ago, we found that in 99.9% of our encounters people were friendly, patient, and helpful.

So it was with New York.  We stayed in three hotels, and visited several different parts of the city.  We saw strangers helping strangers, people reaching out to one another.  We saw smiles, and heard friendly greetings everywhere.  We overheard politically-charged, random conversations that were measured, reasonable, and willing to give others the benefit of the doubt.  "Please," "thank you," and other forms of polite social interaction abounded, and—in marked contrast to social media—profanity and angry words were almost nil.

There is much more good out there than we think, and it's not limited to our own social circles and to those who agree with us.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 at 7:54 am | Edit
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Below I have quoted 99% of a post I wrote eight years ago, following the election of Barack Obama. It was part of a series; all I've changed is the introduction and the one sentence that makes no sense outside of that context. When I reread it on the day after Election Day, I was struck by how applicable it still is, for ALL sides. (Note: not both sides. One of our greatest mistakes is thinking there is a single dividing line and each of us falls on one side or the other.)  Change the names of the players as you will, the sense remains the same.

Note: This was written specifically for a Christian audience. Anyone else is more than welcome to come along for the ride, but be prepared for a lot of quotations from a source of which you do not recognize the authority. You may still find value in the meaning.

How We Can Sing the Lord's Song in a Strange Land

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
How can we sing the songs of the LORD
       while in a foreign land

Psalm 137:1-4

First of all, we pick ourselves up with as much dignity as we have remaining and give respect and support to our new leaders. "Fear God, honor the king" (I Peter 2:17) applies in a democracy, too. Humor has an important place in discourse, but mean-spirited mockery does not. I'm extremely uncomfortable with the abuse heaped on George W. Bush, just as I was when it was Bill Clinton on the receiving end, and I will accord Barack Obama the respect due the President of the United States, as well as that due a human being created in the image of God.

We pray for Barack Obama, and for all "who bear the authority of government."  If the Apostle Paul could write, per I Timothy 2:1-2, "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made....for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness," while living under the Roman Emperor Nero, we can do the same living under an elected president who is not likely to include among his alternative energy polices the burning of living, human torches.

We attempt to live our lives in the best, most honest, most noble, and most loving way possible. Back to I Peter again (2:15-16): "[I]t is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God."  The Republicans would do well to remember that scandal and wrong-doing among office holders has done more than anything else to bring them down. Granted, it's not fair that the Democrats mostly get a pass for their equal or greater sins—although it's actually a compliment that better behavior is expected of Republicans—but the reality is that Republicans were hurt badly first by misbehavior and even more by not visiting swift and sure justice upon the miscreants. To live purely and act rightly, with justice and love and in quiet confidence, will win more hearts than the most reasoned argument.

Do not repay anyone evil for evilBe careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone...Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-18, 21)

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe. (Philippians 2:14-15)

[L]et your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16).

We attend to the wisdom of the serpent as well as the harmlessness of the dove. Now is not the time to retreat from the political process, but to be all the more involved that we might be alert to dangers that threaten what we hold dear, and to how we might best meet those threats. History has proven that when we are caught unaware we react hastily, badly, and often ineffectively.

We don't flee to the hills, or to another country (as many threatened after losing the 2000 and 2004 elections), or withdraw from the system in sulky silence. It's not time, yet, for "those who are in Judea to flee to the mountains."  If we feel like exiles in our own land, it is time to remember what God said to his people at the time of another exile: "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper" (Jeremiah 29:5-7). We continue to live our lives wisely and without fear. The administration may have changed, but the basic rules of life have not. There's still the Big Ten—don't steal, don't murder, don't mess with someone else's spouse, and all the rest—and the sound-bite version provided by Jesus: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, [and] love your neighbor as yourself."

Many of us are accustomed to feeling alienated from the general American culture; it may even be easier—or at least clearer—when there's no pretense that "our guys" are in charge. Whether it's financial responsibility, ethical behavior, or wise decision-making, in a democracy the citizens get no better from their government than the majority lives out in their lives. True progress, then, requires that we balance a deliberate counter-cultural structuring of our own lives, families, and communities with a creative engagement of the larger culture. That is how we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land.

[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 12, 2016 at 9:31 am | Edit
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A friend of a friend of a friend on Facebook posted an interesting and perceptive analysis of the election based on Maslow's hierarchy of needs.  It's a public post, so you should be able to see it here.  It may be somewhat simplistic for explaining a complex phenomenon, but I believe he has hit upon an important truth, the same truth that Christian missionaries found when they tried to address spiritual issues before basic material needs.

I've made my own, definitely simplistic, summary of the idea into a graphic.

alt

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 11, 2016 at 1:00 pm | Edit
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  • I'll be blunt: The term "President Trump" sticks in my throat. I wouldn't have been any happier if Hillary Clinton had won, but at least "President Clinton" has a familiar ring to it.
  • Porter sure was wrong when he said Trump would be "The Biggest Loser" because he wouldn't win a single electoral vote. But he was also right: Trump is the biggest loser because he won. The Presidency ages people like nothing else, and he doesn't have very far to go.
  • I truly believe the one person most surprised by the outcome of this election is Donald Trump himself. I believe he began the process just to see how far he could go, and never dreamed this would actually happen. In that, if nothing else, the whole country agrees with him.
  • I have disliked Donald Trump ever since I once made the mistake of watching 15 minutes of The Apprentice. I longed that the Republicans, somewhere, anywhere along the way, would stand up and tell him, "You're FIRED!" But he is our President-elect, and as such deserves honor and respect. As a human being, he deserves courtesy, and he certainly needs our prayers. I strove, and I hope I mostly succeeded, in granting this to President Obama, and to President Bush before him, even though both of them disturbed me greatly. I intend to do the same for President Trump. If we cannot be civil to one another, it won't be Trump who brings America down.
  • I've heard several people announce, bitterly, "He's NOT MY president!" Everyone needs grace in difficult moments, so I'm not holding that against them. But it does sound a bit like a teenager shouting in an argument, "You're not my mother!" A frustrated person has the right to feel that way, but it doesn't change the facts. Mr. Trump IS scheduled to be our president in a few months. True, it's possible to leave and renounce your citizenship, but be forewarned: that process is expensive. 
  • I predict the next four years will be neither as bad as some people think, nor as good as some people hope. I would have said the same thing if Hillary Clinton had won the election. Much depends on the people he surrounds himself with, and more importantly, on the American people—all of us.
  • I've said over and over again that Donald Trump is the Democratic Party's best friend. It doesn't seem that way now, but I'm not taking back my words. The Republic Party is in disarray. The next four years could pave the way for a strong Democratic victory in 2020. Or not. We don't know. But in any case, Donald Trump is in the same position Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were in their times: being able to take actions and make compromises that would not be acceptable to "his side" if they were proposed by the "other side." (If a Democrat had tried to normalize relations with China, do you think the Republicans would have stood for it?)
  • Here's another prediction: Some Trump supporters are in for a rude awakening on some of the issues where they think he is in their corner. I don't trust any politician when it comes to political promises; the track record of them all is too abysmal. Besides, political realities are about give and take, gaining less than you hope for, hoping to lose less than you fear. Barack Obama was not the messiah many people thought he was, and Donald Trump is going to disappoint his followers as well.
  • He also may surprise his opponents. As Obama was eight years ago, he stands in a position to be able to surround himself with good people, knowledgeable people who will not be afraid to work with him and challenge him as needed. To recognize and acknowledge that he does not have a "mandate from the American People," but that half the country is bitterly disappointed today. Donald Trump won only because a goodly number of people were so opposed to Hillary Clinton that they either opted out of the two-party system altogether, or voted for him only with great reluctance. That is not a mandate. It is a plea for grace, reconciliation, and healing. Sadly, I believe President Obama failed to recognize this eight years ago. We have another chance. Please, Mr. Trump, don't blow it.
  • Donald Trump may not be a lawyer, he may not have experience in government, but anyone who says he has no experience with politics doesn't understand what it means to run a business.
  • I read somewhere, weeks ago, that Trump had much more minority support than anyone knew, but it would only become known under the secrecy of the ballot box. That may be true. Florida was expected to go for Clinton because of the Hispanic vote, but while Hispanic voters are credited with Marco Rubio's win, they did not deliver for Clinton.
  • One thing this election revealed is that the Democratic Party has once again shifted its population base. I'm old enough to remember when to be from the South was to be a Democrat. Under today's mapping system, the southern states would have been colored solid blue. Within my lifetime that changed radically, to where Democratic appeal is in the West, the Northeast, and big cities almost everywhere. More recently, I remember when the Democrats considered themselves the party of the working class, of the little guy against the rich businessmen. I suspect that many still think they are, which is why they lost this election. Working class people came out in droves yesterday to make it clear that their party has left them.
  • For every major election, people joke about dead people voting. It may be debatable whether or how much that happens these days, though it certainly has happened in the past that votes have been cast in the name of those who have died. What I will say is that Early Voting has made it almost certainly a reality in ways that don't have to involve corruption. With an electorate of our size, the odds are almost certain that people have died between the time they cast an early vote and Election Day itself.
  • I didn't see it coming, but next year we will enter the dreaded House-Senate-Executive one-party control situation. I'm less afraid of that than I thought I would be, because the Republicans are so far from united with each other, much less with Trump. I have no doubt that the Democrats will be able to find Republicans willing to cross party lines as needed, which actually give me more hope for bipartisan cooperation overall.
  • On Election Night, Google popped up a notification on my phone suggesting I follow the election results. That turned out to be great: the results were well presented and easy to follow, and best of all, there was no commentary.
  • I went to bed as usual, on the grounds that depriving myself of sleep was not going to have any effect on the election results. But Porter was following the process with NBC, so the TV was on when I got up at 2 a.m. to use the bathroom. I didn't get back to sleep till four. It was at that point that the commentators were coming to grips with the idea that Hillary Clinton might lose, and that was too interesting to miss. I was surprised and impressed by the discussion. With the exception of one of them, who showed genuine fear and went off on an apocalyptic rant, the commentators exhibited humility, respect, and for the most part a willingness, despite their obvious concerns, to give a possible Trump presidency, and the half of America who elected him, a chance. We were wrongWe didn't see this comingWe messed upMaybe we're too wrapped up in our own, isolated world. They didn't call anyone names, and they seemed genuinely interested in understanding the real issues. I found that genuinely encouraging.
  • Trump's speech, too, was encouraging. Knowing how bombastic he can be, I was nervous. But he did well, and so did Clinton, in both her concession speech and the one she gave to her supporters the next day. This is professional behavior. This is civilized behavior.  If this civility, after so much of the opposite on both sides, can spread to the rest of us, there's hope for America.
  • Finally—and I consider this to be the most important of my ramblings in this post—parents, please reconsider how you share your political feelings with your children. I'm not talking about teenagers, who are not far away from voting age. But by involving your young children in your politics, you are putting burdens on them that they are not ready to handle. I've heard post-election stories of children sobbing uncontrollably when they heard the results, and stories of children wearing Trump hats to school and teasing their classmates cruelly with their gloating. This is what happens when normal childhood behavior meets adult problems. We can, we must do better than that for our children. We do not need to let them see our own anger, griefs, prejudices, and fears. It is enough—it is essential—to teach them to be caring and compassionate, strong and brave, knowledgeable and wise.

alt

Post-Finally, here's a shameless plug. I don't gain anything other than the good will of the author for saying this, but King Ron of the Triceratops, by S. S. Paulson, is a brand-new book that's a story about dinosaurs for children, a cautionary tale for grownups, and a good way to begin discussions about politics and other realities, independent of any particular political leanings. If you think it's about your party—or the other guy's—read the disclaimer. Read the disclaimer anyway. It's funny.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 10, 2016 at 11:51 am | Edit
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  • Someday I suppose I'll give in and sign up for an absentee ballot, just in case I happen to be out of town on Election Day. But "the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November" is right there in the Constitution, and I much prefer to vote on Election Day itself. I took advantage of Early Voting the first year it was available, and it felt so wrong I've never done it since. Besides, I like the camaraderie of voting at our local polling place. I can walk there. I see neighbors there. It makes me feel part of a community.
  • You'll never know who I'm voting for tomorrow. You may guess all you want, but you are as likely to be wrong as right. I've been a Democrat all my voting life, but was always just as likely to vote for some other party. I've voted for people from parties you've never heard of—and parties I don't remember. (Hmm. Isn't it a bad sign if you don't remember the party after it's over?)  I don't understand voting for a party at all; I belong to one so I can vote in the primary. In any case, I'm a huge believer in the secret ballot. It helps keep the powerful from threatening the weak, and friends from disowning each other on Facebook. Besides, at the moment even I don't know how I'm going to vote.
  • Right now I'm almost wishing I'd voted absentee. Back then I felt freer. I was certain the election would be a romp for Clinton. I agreed with Porter, who insisted that Trump would be the Biggest Loser since McGovern. Thus I thought we had the luxury of voting our consciences—making a statement, telling both parties that we're not going to dance to their music if they keep coming up with tunes that make a toddler crashing pans together sound like Mozart. But now it appears that our votes might actually count, which means we have to be more responsible. The trouble is, that which appears to be the responsible decision changes daily, even hourly.
  • To my shame, I realized that what I'd rather do is vote selfishly. That is, I want to be able to say, It's not my fault; I didn't vote for him/her.
  • Here's a fun little quiz to see how the various candidates align with what's important to you.  I'm not sure I believe it entirely, but it is much more nuanced than most such surveys.
  • Porter came up with an interesting thought experiment: Suppose there were only four candidates: Clinton, Trump, Johnson, and Stein. Suppose further that the only vote that counts is yours. Whomever you pick will be the next President of the United States. For whom would you vote?
  • Much to our surprise, we both picked Jill Stein, with whom each of us disagrees on almost every issue—on the grounds that she would be in a position to do the least harm. Not that her ideas aren't dangerous, but she'd be less likely to be able to implement them. Does that mean I'm voting for her?  Your guess is as good as mine.
  • I think what scares me most about Clinton is not so much her ideas, but that she's likely to be able to put them into action. If I knew for certain that after this election the Republicans would have control of both the House and the Senate, I'd probably vote for her. Likewise, if I knew both houses would be Democratic, I'd probably vote for Trump. Unlike many of my friends, I do not mourn when the "obstructionists" make the president work hard to implement his ideas; I believe that's their job. When all the branches of the government agree too easily, mistakes are more likely to be made. One thing going for Trump is that so many people—especially politicians—hate him that even a Republican-controlled Congress would tend to rein him in.
  • This election is déjà vu all over again, only on a much larger scale. In the 2010 gubernatorial race, Florida voters had to choose between (1) a female, career politician with whom many of us had serious problems (and, I kid you not, who cheated during a debate), and (2) a brash, male, businessman who was a surprise candidate, spent vast quantities of his own money in his campaign, was involved in a business scandal, and was pretty much universally disliked by the political establishment. That was another election in which I made up my mind at the last moment.
  • Which is worse, a loose cannon randomly shooting at friend and enemy, which might even explode and sink the ship, or a powerful cannon aimed unerringly at the city in which our children and grandchildren live?
  • For the first time, I'm tempted to do a write-in vote. I've thought of writing in my true choice: Noneofthe Above. More seriously, I've thought of Ben Carson, who at least shows strength of character, integrity, and the ability to think well in highly stressful situations. But that feels like an abdication of my responsibility, since it is barely more significant that not voting at all.
  • Speaking of Ben Carson: When he was running, where were all the people who told me I was racist if I didn't support Barack Obama?
  • I feel as if we're caught in some twisted variation of the Prisoner's Dilemma, in which following the optimal strategy leads to sub-optimal results. 
  • Fortunately, there is very little correlation between a person's moral rectitude and his ability to do a good job as president. That makes no sense to me, but in my own voting life I've seen good people (Carter, Bush #2) do a terrible job as president, and questionable folk (Reagan, Clinton) do a commendable job. For this reason, I don't worry all that much about the outcome of tomorrow's election. I'm much more concerned about the increasing divisions in our society, stoked by the mainstream media, social media, and self-interested fearmongers everywhere. But that's another post.
  • Most of all, as a Christian, I know that bad times will come, and good times will come, and neither our responsibilities nor God's care are dependent on the results of tomorrow's election.
  • My most consistent prayer, with regard to our political situation, has been that we will get our leaders according to what we need, rather than according to what we deserve.
  • Whatever happens tomorrow, how we treat our neighbors will always be much more important than who wins the election.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 7, 2016 at 11:16 pm | Edit
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altThe Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (Random House, 2012)

After reading this book, I have the uneasy feeling that it is sometimes oversimplified and doesn't tell the whole story. It is, however, heavily documented—when I read the last sentence of the text my Kindle told me I was merely 75% through the book—and anyone who wants to take the trouble to dig further can do so. More importantly, anyone who wants to test out Duhigg's theories of the power of our habits can easily experiment in the laboratory of his own life.

There's a lot in The Power of Habit that will be familiar to the circle of my readers who are working hard on personal change and challenge. We already know the importance of habit and routines, of baby steps and small wins. But Duhigg's numerous examples and summaries of scientific research are valuable and inspiring.

Our habits aren't just part of our lives—they are what make the rest of our lives possible. Habits are the infrastructure that takes care of the basics and frees our brains for higher work. As habits become part of our brain's structure, they make the difference between sounding out c-a-t and enjoying a novel, between learning to drive and toolin' down the highway.

So habits are good. Well, good habits are good. But the brain doesn't distinguish between good and bad habits. (I'm not sure that's true. Why else would a good habit take weeks to establish but a bad habit seems to stick after a few days?)

Good or bad, habit formation has a basic structure: 

This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.... Over time, this loop—cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward—becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges. Eventually ... a habit is born.

And it never really goes away. It's always there, in the brain. That's good, because it means that after falling out of a good routine we can get back in less time than it took to establish it. But it also means that the bad habits we thought we had conquered are lurking there, ready to ensnare us again if we aren't wary.

Habits aren’t destiny. ... [H]abits can be ignored, changed, or replaced. But the reason the discovery of the habit loop is so important is that it reveals a basic truth: When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.

The Golden Rule of Habit Change:  You Can’t Extinguish a Bad Habit, You Can Only Change It.

How is this accomplished?  By following the cue, which triggers the bad habit, with a different routine, but the same reward. It's a little more complicated than that, or the book would be a lot shorter. One important factor is identifying what is truly rewarding the action. Do I eat a doughnut every morning because I'm hungry, or because I crave sugar, or because it provides an excuse for socializing with my coworkers?  Only when you know what the reward provides can you determine an appropriate good routine to replace the one you want to eliminate.

[H]abits are so powerful [because] they create neurological cravings.

[C]ountless studies have shown that a cue and a reward, on their own, aren’t enough for a new habit to last. Only when your brain starts expecting the reward—craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment—will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning. The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.

More good news lies in the concept of keystone habits. It turns out that very often changing one habit, conquering one problem leads in a domino effect to victories in other areas.

The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.

Keystone habits offer what is known within academic literature as “small wins.”  They help other habits to flourish by creating new structures, and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious. ... A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves.

Keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.

Once people learned how to believe in something, that skill started spilling over to other parts of their lives, until they started believing they could change. Belief was the ingredient that made a reworked habit loop into a permanent behavior.

Making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget. It’s not that a family meal or a tidy bed causes better grades or less frivolous spending. But somehow those initial shifts start chain reactions that help other good habits take hold.

“If you want to do something that requires willpower—like going for a run after work—you have to conserve your willpower muscle during the day,” Muraven told me. “If you use it up too early on tedious tasks like writing emails or filling out complicated and boring expense forms, all the strength will be gone by the time you get home.” 

For almost all our married life, we have kept track of every penny earned and spent. It's the best way we know of to learn where our spending habits are on track and when they're veering off into trouble. I've always been surprised at how few people do that—even people who have far more cause to be concerned about money matters than we do. I mention it because that exercise turns out to be one of the ones researchers have used for building "willpower muscles."

Participants were asked to keep detailed logs of everything they bought, which was annoying at first, but eventually people worked up the self-discipline to jot down every purchase.

As people strengthened their willpower muscles in one part of their lives—in the gym, or a money management program—that strength spilled over into what they ate or how hard they worked. Once willpower became stronger, it touched everything.

An important concept in strengthening willpower is recognizing inflection points—situations in which one is most vulnerable to temptation—and creating a plan to deal with them. Then rehearsing the desired response to the point where the temptation cue triggers the healthy action.

This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.

A better response to apparent failure (backsliding, falling off the wagon, slipping out of one's organizational routine yet again) is also critical:

Studies suggest that this process of experimentation—and failure—is critical in long-term habit change. Smokers often quit and then start smoking again as many as seven times before giving up cigarettes for good. It’s tempting to see those relapses as failures, but what’s really occurring are experiments.

If you choose pressure-release moments ahead of time—if, in other words, you plan for failure, and then plan for recovery—you’re more likely to snap back faster.

There is much, much more to The Power of Habit than personal change. That is only Part One. Parts Two and Three are about the habits of organizations and societies. That I'm skipping lightly over them in this review does not mean they are uninteresting or unimportant. If you want to know more about the news story that broke a while back, in which Target knew, from her buying patterns alone, that a teenage girl was pregnant (including her approximate due date) before her family did—this is the place.

And it was here that I finally learned the sad, sad story of Febreze. Proctor and Gamble serendipitously discovered a chemical that could actually eliminate odors, removing the cigarette smell from clothing, and pet odor from carpets, instead of simply masking them.

P&G, sensing an opportunity, launched a top-secret project to turn HPBCD into a viable product. They spent millions perfecting the formula, finally producing a colorless, odorless liquid that could wipe out almost any foul odor. The science behind the spray was so advanced that NASA would eventually use it to clean the interiors of shuttles after they returned from space. The best part was that it was cheap to manufacture, didn’t leave stains, and could make any stinky couch, old jacket, or stained car interior smell, well, scentless.

But it didn't sell, because people don't notice the stinks closest to home. The product was almost trashed, until P&G gave it a strong scent.

[A]fter the new ads aired and the redesigned bottles were given away, they found that some housewives in the test market had started expecting—craving—the Febreze scent. ... “If I don’t smell something nice at the end, it doesn’t really seem clean now."

“We were looking at it all wrong. No one craves scentlessness. On the other hand, lots of people crave a nice smell after they’ve spent thirty minutes cleaning.”

And that's why the one bottle of Febreze I bought, many years ago, sat unused after the first spray. I had bought an odor eliminator, or so I had thought, and had ended up with an odor-creater. Yuck. I do crave scentlessness:  in my cleansers, in my paper products, in my greeting cards, in anything that's not supposed to have a smell. In my garden I love odors:  roses, gardenias, orange blossoms. In my kitchen I love odors:  baking bread, bubbling stew, cookies fresh from the oven. But not in my clothing, linens, and carpets!

On a more serious note, consider this response from a major gambling establishment, accused of unethical behavior in the case of a compuslive gambler:

Like most large companies in the service industry, we pay attention to our customers’ purchasing decisions as a way of monitoring customer satisfaction and evaluating the effectiveness of our marketing campaigns. Like most companies, we look for ways to attract customers, and we make efforts to maintain them as loyal customers. And like most companies, when our customers change their established patterns, we try to understand why, and encourage them to return. That’s no different than a hotel chain, an airline, or a dry cleaner. That’s what good customer service is about.…

“But what was really interesting [in an MRI study of gamblers] were the near misses. To pathological gamblers, near misses looked like wins. Their brains reacted almost the same way. But to a nonpathological gambler, a near miss was like a loss. People without a gambling problem were better at recognizing that a near miss means you still lose.”

Gamblers who keep betting after near wins are what make casinos, racetracks, and state lotteries so profitable. “Adding a near miss to a lottery is like pouring jet fuel on a fire,” said a state lottery consultant who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity. “You want to know why sales have exploded? Every other scratch-off ticket is designed to make you feel like you almost won.”

In the late 1990s, one of the largest slot machine manufacturers hired a former video game executive to help them design new slots. That executive’s insight was to program machines to deliver more near wins. Now, almost every slot contains numerous twists—such as free spins and sounds that erupt when icons almost align—as well as small payouts that make players feel like they are winning when, in truth, they are putting in more money than they are getting back. “No other form of gambling manipulates the human mind as beautifully as these machines,” an addictive-disorder researcher at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine told a New York Times reporter in 2004.

If you think all that's scary, try this:

[W]ise executives seek out moments of crisis—or create the perception of crisis—and cultivate the sense that something must change, until everyone is finally ready to overhaul the patterns they live with each day.

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel told a conference of chief executives in the wake of the 2008 global financial meltdown, soon after he was appointed as President Obama’s chief of staff. “This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.” Soon afterward, the Obama administration convinced a once-reluctant Congress to pass the president’s $787 billion stimulus plan. Congress also passed Obama’s health care reform law, reworked consumer protection laws, and approved dozens of other statutes, from expanding children’s health insurance to giving women new opportunities to sue over wage discrimination. It was one of the biggest policy overhauls since the Great Society and the New Deal, and it happened because, in the aftermath of a financial catastrophe, lawmakers saw opportunity.

Once you realize what's happening, you see it everywhere. From the Great Depression and the New Deal, to the 9-11 terrorist attacks and the Patriot Act, to school shootings and the campaign against gun ownership, people are frightened and vulnerable in times of crisis. That's when we are most prone to demagoguery, and our leaders most likely to make serious mistakes.

The author actually presents this vulnerability to change in crisis as something positive, a chance for hide-bound corporations to make much-needed changes. To me, it brings new light to the tendency of politicians, activists, and the media to pour incessant hype on every negative event.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 10, 2016 at 9:22 am | Edit
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I have no degree in economics or finance, and certainly don't have the answers to our complex employment problems. But here are some observations that I think raise important questions.

  • In Switzerland, wages are high and even so-called menial jobs are respected. HOWEVER, there is a high level of automation. The Swiss shake their heads in bemusement that we would pay someone to collect highway tolls or parking lot fees. They can't afford to pay good wages for low-skilled jobs.
  • In Switzerland, college tuition is low and heavily subsidized. HOWEVER, only a small percentage of the population attends college. The educational system also includes an excellent vocational program in cooperation with the business community.
  • It makes no sense to push for imitation of another country's system ("We should make college free and guarantee everyone a living wage!") without considering what makes the good thing possible ("Are we willing to completely restructure our educational system, drastically restrict who can attend college, and eliminate low-skill jobs? If not, how can we, in practice, make it work?").
  • I'm a firm believer in the philosophy that education is valuable in and of itself, irrespective of the economic value it can confer.  But how can we in good conscience encourage young people to take on boatloads of debt to acquire college degrees for which there are few or no jobs that will enable them to pay off that debt? 
  • Unemployment is very high in The Gambia. Since long before the current refugee crisis, young Gambian men have been taking the "back door" into Europe, entering illegally and hoping to establish themselves, undetected, because they see no hope at home. The Gambia doesn't need more direct aid nearly so much as it needs an economy and a culture that support entrepreneurship, ambition, and job-creation.
  • Low-skill, low-wage jobs in the United States, like working at McDonald's, used to be a way for teenagers to get some work experience and earn a little pocket-money. Apparently, they are now increasingly being held by people who are trying to make a living and perhaps even support a family. No wonder they want more money!  But how did we get into this situation—where responsible adults are taking unskilled, part-time, teen-age jobs—and how do we get out of it? Certainly not by flooding the workforce with more unskilled labor, which brings me to...
  • I'm frequently told that we need a large supply of foreign workers to take on jobs "that Americans don't want to do." My immediate reaction is that if Americans don't want to do the jobs, then the wages are too low. Raise the pay, and Americans will find the jobs more attractive. But as long as there continues to be a good supply of people eager to take the low-salaried jobs, the pay will stay at unattractive levels.
  • I'm also told that paying a decent wage to workers, instead of relying on what amounts to a slave-labor force, will drive food prices sky-high, with, say, tomatoes costing $40/pound. First of all, I'm pretty sure that's nonsense:  As mentioned above, the Swiss all enjoy good wages, and yes, the cost of living is high, but nothing like that scale. And second, isn't it better to pay more for our goods than to enjoy a discount based on slave labor? The American South tried the "our economy will fall apart without slaves" argument before the Civil War, and look how well it worked out for them.
  • One reason it is so difficult for the Gambian economy to grow is that there is no culture of saving or investment. If you have money that you don't need immediately, right now, in this moment, you are expected to give it to members of your family. Even distant relatives, from the truly needy to the plainly indolent, have a claim on you. There is little appreciation of the value of accumulating money for the purpose of acquiring the equipment or supplies needed to start a business, or for getting a better price by purchasing in bulk, or of pouring money back into a business to help it grow. If you have money now, you spend it now, or someone else will spend it for you.
  • I worry that this "spend it all now" attitude has infected America, from the poorest welfare recipient to the largest corporations. The poor man who refuses to sacrifice today for the sake of his children and his future cheats himself and his family, but the corporate managers and stockholders who prize short-term gain over long-term stability and growth have the power to cheat millions of families—and maybe destroy a nation.  And those in between cheat on both ends, by depriving their own families and by not investing wisely in economic growth.

As promised: no answers.  But questions worth considering.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 2, 2016 at 8:27 am | Edit
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I like Michael Hyatt's take on our political situation.

If there’s one thing that stands out in the ongoing presidential election, it’s the sheer nastiness. As a leader, I wouldn’t hire any of the present candidates for my business. I wouldn’t want to work for any of them either.

Why not?  Rampant disrespect.

  1. Disrespect among the candidates. Candidates set the tone, and the tone is terrible. Arguments about policy and ideas have taken a backseat to the pettiest of personal attacks. And who am I kidding? Policy debates aren’t in the backseat. They’re being dragged from the bumper.
  2. Disrespect among supporters. Following the tone set by candidates, supporters have joined in. They’ve goaded candidates to further extremes of badmouthing and mudslinging, even verbally and physically mistreated fellow voters.

  3. Disrespect for the American people in general. As far as I am concerned, this is the most important. Leadership is service. You can’t lead people you don’t respect. All you can do is boss and railroad.

None of us is served by these tactics. It encourages the worst and deprives us of statesmanship in a time when we need it most.

We can't change our candidates, not from the top down. But we can change ourselves and our responses. We can show the politicians how it's done. Let's lead from the bottom up, showing grace, civility, and respect to those we disagree with.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 15, 2016 at 12:22 pm | Edit
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My amusement for this week comes from all the folks who are questioning the right of Pope Francis to suggest that Donald Trump is not the Christian he claims to be.  "Who is he to judge?" they wonder.  Well, um ...

  • What part of POPE don't they understand?  He's the supreme head of the Catholic Church, which has been making such judgements for oh, almost two millennia.  Remember the Spanish Inquisition?  Martin Luther?  Henry VIII?  Not to mention anyone who wants to join the Church?
  • Or any church, any religion.  Most Mormons claim to be Christian, while a large number of Christians think otherwise.  Protestants and Catholics have traditionally proclaimed each other "not true Christians."  My friends who think they remain Jewish after having also become Christian tend to find that their community thinks otherwise. Ask Sunni and Shia Muslims what they think of each other's faith.
  • How about any organization with standards and definitions for membership?  Or even just traditions?  I have a friend who claims I'm not a "real" Democrat—despite the fact that I've been a member of the Democratic Party since the day I first registered to vote, and even worked for a Democratic presidential candidate while I was still in high school—because I share several values with Republicans (and others with Libertarians, etc.).

I agree with those who assert that only God knows a person's heart, but in the meantime we mortals have to make what judgements we can with our imperfect knowledge.  Whether or not Donald Trump is a Christian does not make a hill of beans difference to most voters.  It matters to me as a human being, and a Christian myself—though Pope Francis may not agree with that label in my case, either, since I'm not Catholic—but as a voter?  Meh.  In my life the two worst presidents have been the most obviously Christian.  (Present administration excepted; I'm holding back official judgement on that until time has given me some hindsight.)  Faith means a lot, but what it does not mean is that you have the wisdom, knowledge, and courage to be the president of the United States.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 19, 2016 at 4:01 pm | Edit
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I know there are Donald Trump supporters out there.  I don't have the right to say much about them, as I don't know any of them, not even on Facebook.  I do know some Bernie Sanders supporters, and the passion with which they believe in him.  I'm going to go out on a limb, however, angering them all, I'm sure, and say that both camps have much more in common than they will ever believe.

They don't care much about history, economic theory, or diplomacy, and they are each pushing for paths that can take our country down, fast.  What they do know is that things are badly wrong, and they're rightfully upset about it. Never mind that they think it's different things that are wrong.

The "anything is better than what we have" mentality really doesn't know—or doesn't believe—how bad things can be. (See above comment about ignorance of history—and of many other present-day cultures for that matter.)  All the same, it doesn't do well for any political party to ignore the needs and frustrations of the people until so much pressure builds up that all hope of rationality is gone.  This is what gave us the Affordable Care Act instead of a reasonable, workable, affordable approach to health care. (Have I mentioned that the Swiss health care law both works and is only sixty-some pages long? Though even they admit to being dependent on American pharmaceutical innovation that may well be on its way out now.)

Porter found this article that explains Donald Trump's popularity, and importance, better than anything I've seen yet:  "Donald Trump is Shocking, Vulgar, and Right:  And, my dear fellow Republicans, he's all your fault.

Consider the conservative nonprofit establishment, which seems to employ most right-of-center adults in Washington. Over the past 40 years, how much donated money have all those think tanks and foundations consumed? ... Has America become more conservative over that same period? Come on. Most of that cash went to self-perpetuation. ... Pretty embarrassing. And yet they’re not embarrassed.

Conservative voters are being scolded for supporting a candidate they consider conservative because it would be bad for conservatism? And by the way, the people doing the scolding? They’re the ones who’ve been advocating for open borders, and nation-building in countries whose populations hate us, and trade deals that eliminated jobs while enriching their donors, all while implicitly mocking the base for its worries about abortion and gay marriage and the pace of demographic change. Now they’re telling their voters to shut up and obey, and if they don’t, they’re liberal.

On immigration policy, party elders were caught completely by surprise. Even canny operators like Ted Cruz didn’t appreciate the depth of voter anger on the subject. And why would they? If you live in an affluent ZIP code, it’s hard to see a downside to mass low-wage immigration. Your kids don’t go to public school. You don’t take the bus or use the emergency room for health care. No immigrant is competing for your job. (The day Hondurans start getting hired as green energy lobbyists is the day my neighbors become nativists.) Plus, you get cheap servants, and get to feel welcoming and virtuous while paying them less per hour than your kids make at a summer job on Nantucket. It’s all good.

When was the last time you stopped yourself from saying something you believed to be true for fear of being punished or criticized for saying it? If you live in America, it probably hasn’t been long. That’s not just a talking point about political correctness. It’s the central problem with our national conversation, the main reason our debates are so stilted and useless. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t have the words to describe it. You can’t even think about it clearly.

This depressing fact made Trump’s political career. In a country where almost everyone in public life lies reflexively, it’s thrilling to hear someone say what he really thinks, even if you believe he’s wrong. It’s especially exciting when you suspect he’s right.

Now if only someone will do the same thing for the Democrats and Bernie Sanders.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 4, 2016 at 8:52 am | Edit
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I wrote this in response to someone's Facebook discussion, and put too much time into it not to save it here.  The subject was the very survival of America, and one optimist had said, "Doom and gloom speak just because the candidates of your choice aren't winning. People have been saying for over 200 years that the country is doomed if so and so gets elected to office. Well the country is still here and alive and well."  This was my response:

It is true that of the presidents I have experienced, the ones I thought were good people (Carter, Bush II) turned out to be terrible presidents, and the ones I thought were nuts (Reagan, Clinton) turned out much better than I could have imagined. Sometimes good intentions aren't enough, and sometimes people rise to the office. And good and bad luck have more effect than we admit.

Our recent trip to the Gambia convinced me that the best equipment in the world will not survive ignorance, abuse, and lack of regular maintenance. I worry not only for the United States, but for all of Western Civilization. It is under attack from all sides, from the Terrorists Formerly Known as ISIS to American college campuses. We whose mighty heritage this is have not done well in keeping it clean and oiled. Instead of fixing the broken parts, we trash them. Our children have no idea how to keep this great gift of the ages in working order. The beliefs that massive debt (personal and national) is okay; that name-calling is rational discourse; that our own failures are actually someone else's fault; that success implies not hard work but ill-gotten gains; that poor, even immoral, choices should not have consequences; that those who disagree with us are somehow subhuman and deserve whatever we can heap upon them—these attitudes, much more than whoever gains the highest office, are what will bring us down.

Sure, there are still pockets of resistance, but they're getting smaller and weaker. There's still hope—but only, I think, if we realize, as the great Pogo once said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 2, 2016 at 12:02 pm | Edit
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