The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Sunday, May 20, 2018
Politics ...

The February 2018 Atlantic Monthly mag had a long article on Vice President Mike Pence, going into great detail about his evangelical religious views, and how he squares them with his extreme loyalty to Donald Trump. It seems as though Trump could do most anything, no matter how heinous, and Mike Pence would still be there to defend Trump. So it was interesting to read how Pence responded to the big revelation in October 2016, during the midst of the election campaign against Hillary Clinton, that Trump was on tape, courtesy of the show Access Hollywood, discussing his sexual exploits of women in a very crude and abusive fashion.

McKay Coppins, the editor of the article, reports that Pence clearly was considering jumping ship during the first few days of the firestorm that this revelation (by the Washington Post) had triggered in the Republican Party. For a few days there, it seemed as if Trump’s continued candidacy hung in the balance. According to Coppins, Pence distanced himself from Trump during those days, not returning phone calls. There was serious talk among GOP leaders and funders about dumping Trump and putting Mike Pence in his place (with Condoleezza Rice in the VP spot). And Pence was indeed returning phone calls from such leaders. Coppins reports that then-GOP National Chair Reince Priebus advised Trump that he could either drop out or lose in a landslide, and that Pence and Rice were ready to step in as the new GOP Presidential ticket.

Trump, of course, pulled a Houdini and slipped out of that crisis. Two factors came together to save Trump, and he brilliantly exploited both. First, there was a national debate with Clinton coming up in two day, the second in a series of three debates. Second was the fact that Hillary Clinton was married to former president Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton was of course famous for his own political Houdini moves with regard to the multiple women who accused him of sexual exploitation over the years. He even slipped out  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:48 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Politics ... Public Policy ... Society ...

I’ve read a couple of interesting things lately about college education and the question of whether college should be available to everyone via government tuition subsidies at public colleges. Bernie Sanders introduced federal legislation not long ago to make all public colleges free. In 2014, President Obama proposed making 2-year community college free. The idea behind such government guarantees is that college is necessary today to obtain a good secure job with decent earnings, and that the more people who have college, the better off our society will be, in terms of economic growth, fairness and equality, and a variety of quality-of-life measures. A more educated workforce would theoretically stimulate the economy and allow employers to pay the higher salaries that highly productive college-trained workers demand. And with a higher percentage of our working population making college-level salaries, the expanding income and wealth distribution gap in our country should start to turn around, one would hope. The on-going racial gap in earnings and wealth should also improve as more minority students gain practical financial access to college.

So we get richer and have a more just society as a result of some up-front government tuition subsidy (which gets made up over time, hopefully, by increased tax revenues from higher overall worker earnings and business profits). Also, we should live better and more fulfilling lives. According to certain studies, college grads have longer life expectancy, greater life satisfaction, and better general health e.g. lower incidence of obesity. They are also less likely to commit crime, drink heavily, or smoke. They are also more likely to vote, volunteer, have higher levels of tolerance and educate their children better than non-graduates. College‐educated parents engage in more educational activities with their children, who are better prepared for school than other children.

College helps students to more fully participate in cultural and societal events and activities throughout their lives. Not surprisingly then, the rates of suicide for educated individuals is far lower than their uneducated counterparts. And, so the education idealists tell us, a more educated public is a more united public, experiencing  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:27 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Religion ...

I finally got around to reading the fascinating article in the April 2018 Atlantic Monthly on the strange and seemingly paradoxical alliance that has evolved between Donald Trump (in his role over the past few years as national politician and President), and the evangelical Christian community. The article is by Michael Gerson, a Christian evangelist who worked for President George W. Bush. Gerson knows something about Republican politics, and also about evangelism — he was raised in an evangelical family in St. Louis, and graduated from Wheaton College, a place with a strong evangelical Protestant heritage.

Gerson is not the first person to point out the paradoxes involved with the strong support that evangelical Christians have given to Donald Trump over his recent political career. To put it mildly, Trump has not shown much concern throughout his life for the Bible. And yet, despite divorces and salacious words and alleged misconduct, despite the many who have had unsatisfactory business dealings with him, despite all those who claimed to be the victim of ruthless exploitation on Trump’s part, despite the fact that Donald Trump has lived his life by the mandate of eye-for-an-eye and has seldom turned the other cheek or granted Christ-like forgiveness — despite all of that, evangelicals see Mr. Trump as a champion of what they stand for.

How did modern American evangelism arrive at this? Gerson goes back to the early 1800s and traces how evangelism has responded to the challenges of slavery, the Civil War, Darwin and Evolution, industrialization and growing secularism over the past two centuries. Evangelicals have a strong tradition of political involvement, and in that respect, their latching on to a strong political figure like Trump is not all that surprising. And yet — one wonders with Gerson how current Christian evangelists can support a man who seems so immune to the ultimate message that they are trying to spread. Sure, when Trump entered his new career as GOP candidate back in 2016, he had to spend a lot of time in the heartland, and thus had to quickly learn Holy-speak  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:05 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, March 10, 2018
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Public Policy ...

The tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida which occurred two weeks ago has gotten a lot of people talking about gun policy. It has also inspired the numbers geeks to take another look at the numbers regarding “mass shooting incidents” and regarding “assault rifle weapons”. Both of these phrases are easy to say, but quite difficult to define precisely.

However, given that I consider myself a hobbyist numbers-geek, I thought I would search around and see what kind of stats I could come up with from public internet sources. I wanted to see if there are any apparent correlations between shootings and social trends in public communication, such as the rise of 24 hour cable news, the world wide web, and smartphones and social media. I was wondering if the rising “sensitivity” of our society to sensational events like mass shootings because of instantaneous media sources, widely-available sources of information that did not exist before 1980, had anything to do with the rising number of shootings in our country.

OK, so how to define “mass shootings”? There does not seem to be any one agreed-upon standard; one fairly common definition is taken from a July 2015 Congressional Research Service report. This report defined a mass shooting as “a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms, within one event, and in one or more locations in close proximity.” An even stricter definition starts with this requirement, and further removes gang-related,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:05 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, January 27, 2018
Current Affairs ... History ... Politics ...

The NY Times recently posted a video entitled “Is There Something Wrong With Democracy?“, and its worth a look. Throughout the 20th Century, it seemed as if more and more nations were casting aside their autocratic forms of governance and assuming the path of western enlightenment by adopting the institutions of representative democracy (e.g., free elections open to all adults, written constitutions and codes of laws, independent courts, limited executive powers directed by the will of legislative bodies, etc.). The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the new freedoms granted to its many constituent nations seemed to mark the final chapter of democracy’s victory.

Recall the attention that Francis Fukyama’s 1992 book “The End of History and The Last Man” gained, based on his claim that western democracy was the logical endpoint of humankind’s historical struggle to find the best way to govern nations and peoples. History was now over, the end had been reached (or was clearly in sight); liberal democracy turned out to be what sociocultural evolution had been working towards since the dawn of civilization 10,000 years ago. And yet, today, with populism on the rise throughout the world and right here at home in the USA, and with more and more developing nations affiliating themselves with an unrepentingly autocratic China, we see more and more think-pieces like the Times video and a recent article in Foreign Affairs entitled “How Democracies Fall Apart“.

What makes me scratch my head about all of this is that the usual suspected cause of strong-arm governments, i.e. declining economic and living conditions, isn’t really happening. For example, in 1981, 44% of the world’s population was living in extreme poverty. Today that figure is about 10%. The world economic picture in 2018 is better than it has been for quite some time. Growth is expected in almost every region. So why are so many people in the world today  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:54 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Society ...

I’m glad to hear that the Democrats had a good night last Tuesday (Election Day 2017), when they easily reclaimed the governorship of New Jersey and comfortably won what was expected to be a close governor’s race in Virginia. There were other local State and local elections where the Dems picked up seats in areas where the GOP had held sway for some time now, e.g. picking up legislative seats in Georgia and Virginia (including Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person elected to a state legislature). There were also mayoral race victories in St. Petersburg, Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina (and even Fayetteville, NC, where ever that is!!). Democratic leaders seem jubilant; the Democratic leader in the Senate (Chuck Schumer) “smell[s] a wave coming”.

But this is still the minor leagues of national politics, and a lot of this “new blue wave” might be a short-term frustration response against Trump — I think that a lot of non-ideologue, middle-of-the-road Americans had hoped that Trump, who is quite different than your usual politico, could get a lot more done than the regular party hacks have been able to do in the past 5 or 10 years (which is not much). Trump got a lot of people’s hopes up with his bold rhetoric and unconventional manners, but 10 months into his Presidency, he doesn’t have a whole lot to show. And the more that you promise, the more quickly people notice that you aren’t delivering, and thus start getting antsy and frustrated.

And yet, the Democrats need to temper their celebrations with the realty that frustration can drive an election or two, but it is usually a short-term emotion. The bigger question is whether immediate disappointment with Trump will translate into longer term disillusionment that could tip undecideds into the Democratic column in the 2018 battle for control of the House, and the 2020 fight for the White House. The GOP hopes to regain its mojo through  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:29 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Politics ... Society ...

I see that the Democrats lost the special House election in Georgia’s Sixth District is suburban Atlanta. Jon Ossoff, the rookie Democratic candidate, made a spirited bid against Karen Handel, his GOP opponent, and the polls were very tight right up to the last few days. But in the final day they started breaking for Handel, and she wound up winning by a comfortable 4 point margin (recall that Trump only won this district by 1.5 percentage points). Handel’s victory came despite the fact that a whole lot of money had poured into Ossoff’s campaign coffers from pro-Democrat groups nationwide. The Democrats had hoped that this race was going to foreshadow the end of GOP control of the House of Representatives, and the breaking of Trump’s popularity in the heartlands.

I’m not going to offer a detailed, well-thought out analysis here. I’m just gonna shoot from the hip, like so much of what you see on social media (especially Twitter — what else is on Twitter but a lot of shooting from the hip?). OK, here’s my shot — the Democrats are just NOT LIKED anymore by too many people. For the most part, it’s not a matter of a particular candidate’s qualities. It’s not that a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren might do better with “working class” voters than Hillary Clinton did. And hey, Jon Ossoff himself talked about economic development and financial restraint in a way that conservatives in his district could appreciate. The problem is that a lot of people believe that the Democrats — all Democrats, not just a particular Democrat — are selling a general world view, a general philosophy that just turns these people off.

Do you need a link to a thoughtful analysis that backs up my point? OK then, how about Thomas Edsall’s recent article in the NY Times “The Democratic Part Is In Worse Shape Than You Thought” ? Edsall cites a whole lot of data and expert opinion in this article.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:44 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Politics ... Society ...

If you were to survey Americans today by asking “what is the most unfortunate effect of Donald Trump’s decision to enter politics, run for President, and win the White House?”, I’m sure that you would get a wide variety of answers. People with a liberal political bias would focus on the regressive steps are being taking in terms of protecting and promoting justice for minorities and women, along with the harsh treatment that immigrants (especially Latin and Moslem immigrants or wanna-be immigrants) are now experiencing and the reversal of progress in facing the impending crisis of global climate change.

Others, including many doctrinal conservatives, would regret Trump’s populist political commitments and his general incompetence in the politics of governing. Others still will object to his generally boorish character, his lack of diplomatic finesse, and the bad name that Trump is generally causing for our nation throughout the world. Obviously, his supporters would reject the premise that Trump’s Presidency has ANY unfortunate effects, or would provide a snide remark saying how the most unfortunate thing is that the media, the intellectuals and the “deep state” still cannot appreciate the need for the shake-up and clean-out that Trump is accomplishing.

There are a handful, including myself, who indeed find many unfortunate aspects to Donald Trump’s ascendancy to national leadership. However, our biggest concern would be the deep political divisions that Trump is causing between people who identify as Democrat / liberals and those who feel closer to the Republican / conservative point of view. It seems as though every Trump story develops into a “dueling narrative”.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:16 pm       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, April 23, 2017
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Society ...

Not long ago, I listed to a Teaching Company audio course on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT is an interesting psychotherapy technique, in that it puts emphasis on getting the patient to “pull up their own socks” instead of relying on the therapist to evolve a plan (after long analysis) for the troubled patient’s mental salvation. Of course, CBT is more subtle than that, but it certainly does try to encourage the patient to build up their own social and mental resources. One of the important resources that the CBT therapist attempts to foster is an inner sense of “meaning in life”. CBT includes exercises whereby the patient identifies things that they find very important, and that give meaning to their lives. These exercises might consider family relationships, social belonging, personal achievement, financial success, religious or spiritual beliefs and expressions, learning and discovery, fame and acknowledgement, feeling needed, etc. Those are the kinds of things that would probably occur most frequently to many modern suburban Americans if asked what do their lives mean.

I was reminded of the CBT “meaning in life” exercise recently while I was reading an article in the April, 2017 issue of The Atlantic on ancient Athens (“Making Athens Great Again” by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein). In this article Ms. Goldstein discussed what some of the great thinkers of Athens said about “meaning in life”. She concludes that they clearly rejected spiritual transcendence. “The cosmos is indifferent, and only human terms apply: Perform exceptional deeds so as to earn the praise of others whose existence is as brief as your own”.

However, the ancients recognized that there was big problem with this way of finding meaning in life for most people. According to Ms. Goldstein, “most people are, by definition, perfectly ordinary, the ancient Greeks included.” Most people aren’t going to perform very many exceptional deeds in their lifetimes. Still, the Greeks “found a solution to  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:41 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, March 5, 2017
History ... Politics ... Society ...

It looks as if the Baby Boomers, the rebellious youth of the 1960’s who were going to change the world in favor of peace, pot and microdot, the politicized generation that shut Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War down, have in their old age joined another revolution. But not the one that you might have expected. Once upon a time, “revolution” belonged to John Lennon. Today it’s the opening motif for the Sean Hannity Show.

An NBC News/ WSJ Poll from last week said that 52 percent of Baby Boomers approved of the job President Trump is doing, while 58 percent of Millennials disapproved. Regarding Trump’s temporary travel ban, 54 percent of Boomers said it is a necessary safeguard against terrorism, while 59 percent of Millennials said that it’s not. On the Affordable Care Act, 47 percent of Boomers said that it is a bad idea, while 48 percent of Millennials said that it’s good.

Now, if only Millennials voted in the same proportions as Boomers, Trump might right now be but a footnote to American history. But they don’t. An early estimate says that about 55% of eligible Millennials voted in November, 2016, versus around 70% for Boomers.

Still, Millennials can be a paradoxical lot, just as much  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:21 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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