Electoral College Abnegates Responsibility

The Electoral College vote has now come and gone. Many of us held out hope – even a 1% chance, as I gave it – that the EC would hear the call and would be our last bastion of defense before plunging the country and the world into the Age of Unreason.

I guess they didn’t really even consider changing their votes, as it turned out. To those few who did – in the right direction – thanks.

I have to wonder though where we would be if other departments and agencies did their jobs the way the EC does theirs. Their one job, their entire reason for being, is to ensure that “the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” That’s it, that’s their whole function.

What if the fire department were called to a house on fire and decided, “Well, we all have to go sometime, and the house was already on fire anyway. May as well let it go.”

We have to look beyond Baltimore to learn why Baltimore is burning.

IMG_9717

You’ve probably heard the findings of a now oft-quoted study claiming, “Poor teens in Baltimore face worse conditions than those in Nigeria.”

The important thing to take away from this study is that it focused the teens’ own self perceptions of their well-being, not on any quantifiable or external or “objective” evaluation of it.

What drives those perceptions? With such focus in this country on getting good test scores, I have to think that the teens in Baltimore are among the least well-educated, in terms of real-world knowledge of relevant history and ability to form a self-supporting world view, of all the groups polled, including New Delhi, Ibadan (Nigeria), Johannesburg, and Shanghai.

One thing they do learn, however – from their distance of 40 miles from the center of the world’s superpower in Washington DC – is the utter disparity between what they themselves might reasonably expect to achieve in their lives, and what those in power 40 miles away, and their families as well, might expect to achieve. Or not even to achieve, but to be handed, with no effort required. It’s not hard to understand the sense of futility they must feel.

This doesn’t justify the current situation. But I don’t think it’s a simple question of right vs. wrong. The wrongs are not only here, in Baltimore, tonight. The wrongs are far more widespread than that. Until those wrongs are remedied, we’re likely to see other Baltimores and Fergusons cropping up across the country with increasing frequency. At some point, it’s going to sound pretty fishy for the world to say, “We don’t know what would make them behave in this way.”

“Gay Marriage” already practiced by straight people

An article from a couple of years ago crossed my path this morning, which drove me to write this. It was titled, Starbucks CEO to Shareholder: If You Support Biblical Marriage, Sell Your Shares, and I found it really encouraging. As a sort of open letter to the gentleman who spoke against Starbucks’ open and welcoming policy toward patrons and employees of all stripes, particularly its participation in efforts in support of same-sex marriage in Washington State – and to other like-minded individuals across the country – I would say this:

From a NY Times study conducted last year and published in December, the divorce rate, while still considerable at roughly 35%, has been decreasing since its high in the late 70’s and early 80’s. One of the reasons cited for the drop:

The feminist movement of the 1970s played a considerable role in where the divorce rate is now, according to economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfer. As women entered the work force and gained reproductive rights, marriage began to evolve into its “modern-day form, based on love and shared passions, and often two incomes and shared housekeeping duties.”

Get that: “based on love and shared passions, and often two incomes and shared housekeeping duties.” That’s the modern marriage!

Folks who feel that “gay marriage” is a threat to “traditional marriage,” you have to embrace the fact, or at least accept it, that your “traditional marriage” is no longer carrying the day. If you have a marriage in which the man goes off to work, and the woman stays home and cooks and cleans and raises the children; in which the family sits down to dinner together at 6:00, says grace, eats a meal; in which once a year the kids and the dog are gathered up into the station wagon for the annual vacation to the Great Sand Dunes National Park or some such place, dad driving, family singing along with a popular song on the radio… then God bless you. Enjoy that.

But understand that that is not the “traditional family,” and has not been for at least a generation, if not longer. There is nothing in the above description of the modern marriage that requires or defines gender roles or a gender basis. If you have been able to live side by side with straight couples and their families, who have come together based on love and shared passions, and a willingness to share in the family duties, whatever they may be, then it’s not a big leap to be able to live side by side with gay couples doing exactly the same thing.

And that, in the end, is what the point to gay marriage is all about. It’s about letting love be the guide, not rules. What could be more Christian than that?

[The NYT article mentioned is here: Modern Families: The Divorce Surge Is Over, but the Myth Lives On]

Save yourselves! No, really – save yourselves!

Slow sand filtration schematic

Slow sand filtration schematic

Don’t get me wrong – I very much care about health and living conditions in the more remote reaches of the globe. But I’m getting tired of seeing the PSA messages on TV where the teary-eyed children are shown collecting putrid water which, so the story goes, is all they have to drink. Enter well-intentioned white people who, through a charitable organization funded by similarly inclined people, are going to show up and save the day.

Really? There have been bio filtration methods available since the early 1800s* (and primitive forms of sand filtration even existed in ancient times!). You don’t have to be well-educated to look at nasty water and know that it’s nasty. Assuming that a community did not just spring randomly out of the soil, but was established in a particular spot, what reason would there be to establish it there? The presence of water would be a top one. If the water wasn’t very good, would the people of the community really not be able to figure out for themselves that it needed to be purified? Would no one among them be aware of any development anywhere else in the world that might offer a tenable solution to the problem?

There’s a big problem today with missionary zeal. In her book, “Dead Aid,” Dambisa Moyo writes, ‘Aid has been, and continues to be, an unmitigated political, economic, and humanitarian disaster for most parts of the developing world.’ In short, it is (as Karl Kraus said of Freudianism) ‘the disease of which it pretends to be the cure.’

We need to get our New World sensibilities turned around so that, if anything, we’re helping others to figure it out for themselves. We can’t always just be about raising enough money to solve other people’s problems. We keep trying to maintain the illusion that we’ve got it all sorted out and we’re so ahead of the game that we don’t even have problems of our own. We go out and “solve” these remote problems, instilling a bit of the “American Way” out there. Once they derive the benefit, others soon believe they want to be like us, and eventually there’s a McDonald’s in the middle of Vanuatu.

If that’s what we really want the world to be, if that’s really the best idea we can come up with, then yeah, we’re on the right track. On the other hand, if we maintain that diversity is a good and necessary thing on a global-macro scale, then we have to stop rushing to fill the void whenever and wherever one materializes. There are more organic processes that can solve problems, over time, that offer more lasting improvement at less expense to the individuality of the community, and these I think are what we should be striving to promote and maintain.

If a community truly can’t solve its problems on its own, even over a certain period of time, sure, let’s send some help. Sometime however that help may be nothing more than a simple diagram, or a manual, on how to produce a slow sand filtration system, say, rather than raising millions of dollars to go there and create an advanced and energy-consuming system that would dramatically change the focus of the people’s lives.

We don’t always need mega-solutions. We have to get out of that mindset. “Small is Beautiful” is not just a slogan, or a book title. It’s a key to having a future worth having.

[* See Biosandfilter.org for the reference]

The real world is not Us vs. Them

I’m a registered (and practicing!) Democrat, yet (of course) I try to be fiscally conservative. But we (as a country) are NOT like a corporation; our culture is NOT about survival of the fittest. It’s about looking out for and protecting the weaker among us. It’s not Us vs. Them, because “them” is our mothers and fathers and children and persons in any way less fortunate than us. It costs a lot of money and time and effort to look after them, but if not us who are able, then who?

I cannot fathom why the Republicans don’t get that. All I can surmise is their vision is clouded by dollar signs swirling around in their eyes and minds. Perhaps they believe in immortality, or that they CAN take it with them. They’re in for a shock, I’d say.

Long Island College Hospital plan hits a sour note

While eating lunch today at a midtown deli / salad bar, I thought I heard something disturbing on NY1 that I had to confirm by going online to the NY1.com site. It turned out I was right.

SUNY has been trying to close Long Island College Hospital, the area’s only hospital facility, for budget and other reasons. In the current plan, funds on the order of $150 million are being sought from the State, and certain changes would be made in the operation of the hospital to reduce its obligation to provide outpatient and certain other services, becoming a smaller operation focusing on acute care.

Here’s the part that I wasn’t sure I heard correctly: “If the state doesn’t approve SUNY’s plan, it could mean the sudden closure of Downstate’s hospitals and medical school, as well as grave financial consequences for the whole SUNY system.

“‘If none of this works, and we don’t get the money, we have a responsibility to do whatever is necessary to protect the rest of SUNY,’ said Carl McCall, chairman of the SUNY Board of Trustees.”

What he did not say was that the hospital felt any obligation to do whatever is necessary to protect the patients of the hospital or residents of the neighborhood. This, mind you, is a not-for-profit hospital, which claims to be trying to keep profit-based health care out of New York.

I’m sure the patients and residents “feel your pain,” Mr. McCall. It would be nice if you would at least go through the motions of feeling theirs.

China’s Jaiozhou Bay Bridge shows bad politics not just a U.S. feature

The Jiaozhou Bay Bridge – longest water-crossing bridge in the world – was built at a cost of between US$1.5BN and US$8.8BN, depending on who you listen to. Either way, that’s a lot of money.

The bridge was built to shorten the travel time from Qingdao and Huangdao by roughly 19 miles, theoretically shortening travel time by 10-20 minutes.

That’s in theory. In actuality, however, there’s a toll of 50RMB (about US$8.00) each way, making the cost prohibitive for most. Making matters worse, there are only three toll booths on the Huangdao side, adding as much as an hour wait time to the trip.

In terms of its stated purpose, then, the bridge is completely useless to commuters and tourists.

You can’t make this stuff up. Tax dollars at work. It’s nice to know that it’s not just the U.S. that has wrong-headed self-serving politicians in office. I guess.