May 31, 2012

Wrong place, wrong time.

Heard a fascinating interview on the BBC with a historian studying the Adolf Eichmann trial.  Turns out this is the 50th anniversary of his trial and execution.  The point that caught me was the observation that until this trial, most Israelis saw the Holocaust victims as "ghetto" Jews who were too weak to stand up to the Germans.  The Israelis had just defeated several Arab nations and thought of themselves as strong and self-reliant.  Hearing the testimony of the survivors at Eichmann's trial made them realize there was no difference.  The Holocaust victims were just at the wrong place in the wrong time.

The story before this was about the Sudan and people trying to survive.  Pulling them both together I was struck by the continuity of fortune.  I was fortunate in so many ways.  I was born in a peaceful part of the world, far from pogroms and death squads.  My parents provided more food than we could eat.  I didn't experience oxygen deprivation at an inopportune time.  I survived childhood with my wits intact, and after many childhood diseases had been virtually eradicated.  I had access to education and entertainment.

But in a different country; in a different family; in a different state of health--all the difference in the world.  A difference we take for granted in this country.  And this is not an American Exceptionalism talk.  I am stunned that Republicans have made that a requirement for patriotism.  I understood that as hubris and blind following.  American Exceptionalism is the opposite of humility, and for the life of me, I have no clue why conservatives don't see that.

If I were born south of the border, or in the wrong country in Africa, or a Jew in 1930s Germany--everything would be different.  If I were a minority and poor in this country, everything would be different.  I would be more likely to end up in prison, or on death row.

Our playing field isn't level--either in this country, and certainly in the world.  Conservatives would do well to acknowledge that.

I was born in the right place at the right time.  I was born to parents who love me.

I was blessed.

That wasn't due to my effort.

May 25, 2012

Profiting from the poor

I am a capitalist.  I like the profit margin and believe that competition and greed produce some very good things.  That search for profit has given us home improvements, Ipods, great strides in medical technology, and even safer and more efficient cars.

But there are aspects of capitalism that bother me.  Capitalism, after all, cares not if the worker is 12 or the byproduct poisons the local river.  But there is a new trend in capitalism of profiting from the poor.   This occurs in tax policy, in wages, and especially in lending practices.

I still remember when I first discovered "signature loans."  My mother scowled and said very plainly, "those are nothing more than usury."  Now, the payday loan people probably scoff at the signature loans.

Capitalism makes great cars, but there are some areas that are not made better by the free market's drive for profit.  Prisons, poor people, and I would argue, education are not improved by transforming them into revenue streams.

We can do better.  But since we have decided that the free market is a divinely inspired mechanism, it is doubtful we will.

May 11, 2012

On gay marriage

This has been an interesting week, that is for sure.  Watching the train wreck in North Carolina was painful.  But then, the next day, President Obama became the first sitting President to affirm gay marriage.  The response has been interesting.  Conservatives said that Obama had declared war on traditional marriage, and some on both sides accused the President of acting out of pure political expediency.

That may be true.  I would be naive to suggest that the Obama camp didn't have extensive meetings on this subject.  But I am also willing to give him the benefit of the doubt--that the story he told of his "evolution" is true.  Because that is my journey too.

I don't think I knew any openly gay people until my 30s.  SOF and I have been trying to recount the first time we met someone out of the closet.  Certainly in my high school there were people we suspected as gay, but none were open.  Like Fallows, I wonder how many times I used anti-gay slurs around gay people without knowing?  I hope I didn't.

In that context, gays were always illicit and perverse.  And, of course, it ran right into the complex sexual awakening of teen years, so any challenge to that was always difficult.  But, as Obama notes, times have changed.  I have had several gay colleagues, and we have neighbors who have been together longer than our nearly 24 years.  It becomes increasingly hard to dismiss that kind of relationship.

Obama noted that his daughters had friends with same-sex parents, and it was inconceivable to Sasha and Malia that those parents were somehow less than their own.  That is the generational gap that so many evangelicals and conservatives don't see.  The younger kids are around openly gay people--in their family or circle of friends.  They see them as humans, not as deviants.  And, as Rachel Held Evans notes, that is also true in conservative evangelical circles.  Watching her social media feeds Tuesday evening, she saw the divide.
Christians over 40 were celebrating. Christians under 40 were mourning.  Reading through the comments, the same thought kept returning to my mind as occurred to me when I first saw that Billy Graham ad: You’re losing us
I don't think they can change, however.  The entire conservative movement right now is consumed with trying to stop the country from changing into a world where white and straight privilege don't dominate.

They won't win this war, I don't think.  But the casualties will be many.

May 3, 2012

More on the GOP as the problem

And I know that at least Steve wasn't impressed with this argument, but I certainly find it convincing.  Sully notes some reactions.  One of the key points is that this is not an issue of conservative v. liberal.  I don't think what the Republican party is doing on foreign policy or domestic policy is really conservative.
To give two simple examples: the outrageous use of the filibuster in the Senate and the refusal to give an incoming president in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930s a single vote on a stimulus package that was one third tax cuts.

The Self-Made Myth

As I posted at the beginning of this year, I was interested in studying the role that government plays in our lives.  Obviously, that has fallen by the wayside--even with great assistance and information from people like Smitty--partly because I could not get a handle on the information.

Perhaps it has already been done.  Reading this on the "myth of the self-made man" and think this might be a good start.  I have several relatives who remind me of this story.  They see themselves as self-made, are angered by taxation, and just want others to work harder.  And they have worked hard--no doubt, but they aren't acknowledging the myriad ways that they have received help from others--because if they do, they will have to acknowledge the need to pass it forward.

Turns out this mythology is older than Horatio Algier.  In The Americanization of Ben Franklin, Gordon Wood argues that, in part, being "americanized" was to be a self-made man who had come out of poverty.  That was a new thing--coming from poverty was not a good thing before.  Of course, as he notes, Franklin wasn't actually self-made either.

But that mythology continues.  And it is a destructive mythology, unfortunately.  Not by encouraging hard work and effort, but by removing that group and community assistance that we all need.