Archive for category Blogs

How Hostels Have Changed


So much to blog about!   In Berlin the power of the past still moves me.  We had a theme of the history of the Reichstag (above) as a constant connecting Imperial Germany to today – and the diverse episodes of war, fascism, division, etc. – can be linked when viewed through that perspective.   I will blog about that – but not today.  I also have started blog entries about the joy I still feel when I encountered unified, free Berlin!  The changes over the last 25 years – a city in constant transition – excite and amaze me.

I have at least two blog entries to write on that.

Today after a train ride to Munich I gave the students a seminar that started at Odeonplatz, where Hitler’s “Beer hall putsch” of November 9, 1923 met its demise.   I now joke with my students, I’ll be talking about something and I’ll say “give me the date” and they’ll yell “November 9!”  That was the day the Kaiser abdicated and Germany was declared a republic in 1918, Hitler’s “putsch” attempt, Kristallnacht of 1938, and of course when the wall came down in 1989.   Apparently, Germany is a Scorpio.

So we discussed Hitler’s rise, then went down the street not more than a kilometer to the memorial to Sophie Scholl, my personal hero (along with her brother and others in the White Rose).   At Geschwister Scholl Plaza (meaning literally ‘Siblings School Square,’ though it doesn’t sound as awkward in German as in English) we talked about her story and its aftermath.  I also talked at length about the film made, “The Last Days of Sophie Scholl.”   As we finished I walked by a newspaper stand and the headline on Bild Zeitung was that Alexander Held’s wife (Held played the Gestapo interrogator in the film) died from internal bleeding, and he found her dead at home.  Yikes.

I’ve got a big blog entry to write on that, and how cool it was to use place to connect history and emphasize both the evil and good expressed in Germany’s past.   But not tonight.

I can’t blog and be a solo instructor at the same time.  I don’t have time to craft a thoughtful blog about a subject of importance.  So tonight I’m going to end with a short look at how hostels have changed.

My first time in Munich was 30 years ago.   I recall going to the hostel, lining up and waiting over an hour for them to open the doors and assign rooms.  It was first come first serve, the doors didn’t open until 3:00.   We were in a barracks like room, and had a midnight curfew – then the doors closed.   There were lockers for valuables at least.

In the morning one showered in a large shared shower, and then at breakfast I was handed a brotchen, slice of cheese, bad coffee, and that was it.  It felt more like prison.  We had to be out from 10:oo to 3 as they cleaned.   But it was cheap!

An awesome group to travel with!

An awesome group to travel with!

Now at Hotel Wombats the place is open 24 hours.  We’re warmly greeted by staff who tell students to get their bedsheets and make their beds (they don’t allow sleeping bags or your own bedding for sanitary reasons), there is free wifi, a bar on the premises (students each got a free drink voucher), a shower in every room (though rooms can have 8 people), and a fun atmosphere.

Their breakfast is a buffet style with brotchen (rolls), different kinds of bread, toasters, jams, different kinds of cheeses, salami, different kinds of meats, cereal, cukes, milk, juices, coffee, eggs, and more.   Yet it’s still pretty reasonably priced!

I thought of that as I walked through Munich’s train station tonight, realizing that it is nothing like how I experienced it the first time.  I could see how the old station fit generally in the structure, but everything was different.  There’s a blog entry about that coming up too.

But not tonight – and maybe not until after the trip is done.

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On a libertarian-leaning blog, a usually rational and interesting poster made this comment:

It’s all so pointless. We will never convince the majority of people to embrace liberty, instead of looking to government to be Mommy. At least not until government fails so badly that its incompetence is made clearly manifest. And even if that happens, I suspect that the majority of the electorate will look for a man on a white horse, rather than freedom, and the responsibility for their own lives. There’ll always be a cohort that thinks government could do everything for everyone if only the right people were running it. And, it seems, quite a lot of people will listen to them.

Arguing with progressives is pointless, too. It’s like arguing with people in a movie theater who won’t stop texting. It’s a waste of time to say anything to them, because if they had a shred of civility or decency, they wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you’re a Progressive, I just assume at this point that you’re too abysmally stupid to waste time with on reason or debate.

There are some breathtaking assertions there.   Progressives are abysmally stupid, don’t use reason, have no shred of civility or decency…all because they have a progressive political perspective.   That means, according to this blogger, that progressives refuse to embrace liberty, want government to be mommy, and don’t want to take responsibility for their own lives.

Wow.   If people on the right or libertarian side of the isle really believe that about progressives, no wonder they hate us so!   Any one who knows me or reads my blog knows that I am a firm believer of people taking responsibility for their lives and choices – students hear that mantra from me all the time – your future is up to you, you can’t blame anyone else.   I’m also for  liberty – human liberation from all forms of oppression so we can live as freely as possible – as my primary value.

My biggest critique of government programs is that they can create a psychology of dependency which harms those receiving that aid.  I don’t think the answer is to cut people off – often when children are involved that would be cruel.  But rather right and left should create more effective social welfare programs which are built around community action.  Community organizers should be the hub, and those who can should contribute to building community in order to get aid.

I daresay I’m not abysmally stupid either.  Yet I’d describe myself as a progressive.


Why are we at a point in this country where the political sides can believe such caricatured images of the other side?  I have no doubt that the poster, while perhaps recognizing that he is being a bit over the top and venting, truly believes that progressives oppose freedom and want the government to do everything.

And its not just progressives who get caricatured, the right is often portrayed as heartless, emotion driven nationalists who don’t care about the destruction caused by war, who would love to see the poor suffer, don’t care about pollution in our rivers, or the potential damage caused by global warming.  They just want what they can get, selfishly consuming with no regard for others.  I know lots of conservatives, and that caricature doesn’t fit any of them.

But how to get past this kind of rhetoric?   One way is to think of the concept of freedom.  I submit that both right and left generally have freedom as a primary value.    Neither has it as the only value, otherwise they’d oppose all laws.  For each having a stable and effective community is also important.   So perhaps part of the difference is how they draw that line.   Both might agree that a police force is necessary to maintain order, but they might disagree on health care.


From the left:  not having health care denies the poor (nearly 50 million) true freedom because they are more likely to avoid seeking health care and may die or suffer, they are vulnerable to health cost bankruptcies, and their children are less likely to receive quality care, and thus do not have equal opportunity.  Universal health care enhances freedom.

From the right: having guaranteed health care denies the wealthier true freedom by taking their tax dollars, and mandatory insurance does not allow them to opt out.  Universal health care harms freedom.

OK, you know what – there are ways to understand where both sides are coming from.   Yet the two sides usually shout at each other (I think the right shouts and ridicules the left far more than the reverse, but I understand that could be a biased perception) and don’t stop to think that their disagreement is not about core values, but how the system functions.

The left tends to view freedom in two ways: 1) negative freedom or freedom from external; and 2) positive freedom, or the possession of the resources and power to fulfill ones goals.    Poverty, lack of education, lack of health care, structural barriers hindering the capacity to achieve ones goals (racism, etc.) all limit freedom.   Often these limits come from the way society is structured, whereby the wealthy elite achieve more positive freedom at the expense of the poor and disadvantaged.


The right tends to view liberty as simply not being hindered by laws or external restraint.   Maximum freedom is when external constraint is non-existent.   Because people are not angels, you have to have some laws to prevent overt exploitation, but while the left sees structural exploitation as the problem, the right (or libertarians) tend to focus purely on actual physical violence.  The religious right also sees a role for laws to protect basic traditions and customs.

Again, there are solid arguments for each.  The right has an agent-based view of human relations – society is the result of individual choices that each actor is responsible for.  The left has a structure-based view: society is structured in a way that empowers some and disadvantages others.

The fact is that neither extreme view can be correct.   No one can deny that structure matters – it takes a lot more effort to make it out of rural poverty or a ghetto to be successful than it does from a wealthy suburban family.   Even though its possible for both, one is more likely to be successful than the other.   But it is possible for both – structure doesn’t determine everything, one can make choices to rise from poverty to become successful.

So reality is somewhere in the middle – and that means that disagreements on the nature of freedom are legitimate, one doesn’t have to dismiss the other side as opposing liberty.    It’s too bad that as a society we’re more likely to ridicule the other side and caricature them than actually discuss these issues.   Because frankly, the US is facing numerous problems and neither side has the power to simply implement their “solution.”   We either sink or swim together.


Blog vacation

Since the new semester has started things both professional and personal have left me no time to blog.  I plan to be blogging again soon – but as days pass with nothing new, I expect it could be March before I get back to the usual pace.

For now suffice it to say that my life is undergoing a kind of transformation, and overall it is a very good thing.   But it is cutting into my blogging time, probably for the next three weeks.

So I’ll end with two thoughts:

1.  I really loved President Obama’s State of the Union speech last night; and

2.  My new favorite quote, a great way to approach life, from Anthony Hopkins:   “My philosophy is: It’s none of my business what people say of me and think of me. I am what I am and I do what I do. I expect nothing and accept everything. And it makes life so much easier.”    

It does!  I’ll post when inspiration strikes, but it may not be until into March!


Conservative Cultists

Some conservatives are getting rich off impotent rage, according to Maddow

Some conservatives are getting rich off impotent rage, according to Maddow

Rachel Maddow of MSNBC said that many on the far right are getting rich on “impotent rage,” firing up their listeners to be angry about Obama’s re-election but unable to do anything about it.   Well, you might say, that’s Maddow, she always chastises conservatives.   Yet conservatives William Kristol and Joe Scarborough have also decried the way some on the right — talk radio, especially — are getting rich off a style that pushes for an uncompromising and unrealistic stand on absolutist “principles.”

The problem in the GOP is that the reasonable people of the party are having to deal with a large, media savvy group of conservatives who have fostered a cult like thinking.

That is not only un-American, it is also un-Conservative and irrational.

Conservatives such as Joe Scarborough are starting to speak out against the damage being down to the GOP

Conservatives such as Joe Scarborough are starting to speak out against the damage being down to the GOP

It is un-American because our system is based on the idea that no individual or group has an absolute claim on truth. Democracy is a way to get people to debate, learn from each other, and try to figure out the best compromise.    We learn as we go based on what works and what does not.   The idea that we should focus simply on ideology or principle would be foreign to the founders.  Their principles were broad based and open to diverse ideas.

It is un-Conservative because conservatives value tradition, social stability and a sense of community.    Conservatives have adopted a strong free market perspective but have always recognized that markets have limits and that the good of the country trumps any ideological stand point.   And, given that tradition involves compromise and deliberation, the extremism of Neil Boortz and Rush Limbaugh is distinctly anti-conservative.

It is irrational because it focuses on pushing a party line with the vehemence of a religious extremist.   The “true” conservative values are XY and Z.   Those who seek compromise and moderation are “RINOs”  (Republicans in name only).    This desire for conservative purity has cost them the Senate.    Ideology-based thinking leads them to embrace clearly false claims – that there is no human caused climate change, the earth is 9000 years old, women’s vaginas magically shut down the possibility of pregnancy when they are raped and other such non-sense.   Truth is not based on science and evidence, but on what would be true if their ideology was infallible.

Here are some questions.   Answer yes to any of them, and you just might be a conservative cultist:

1.  Do you believe Obama has a secret agenda to push the US towards socialism and away from a market economy?
2.  Do you believe that Obama hates America and wants to give our sovereignty to the UN?
3.  Do you know who Alinsky is, and do you think somehow Obama is following some kind of plot of his making?
4.  Are you convinced that the Democrats simply try to buy votes by giving people stuff?
5.  Do you secretly (or even openly) wish women couldn’t vote because they aren’t truly rational?
6.  Do you think votes should be weighted by wealth, since the poor have ‘no skin’ in the game?
7.  Do you believe that Obama is an incompetent narcissist who has no leadership capacity?
8.  Do you believe there is a nefarious “agenda” out there that gays, internationalists, liberals and other types are following, which would stab America in the back and move us away from our core values?
9.   Do you think the country is on the road to collapse, and figure the GOP should just let Obama have his way so the Republicans aren’t co-responsible – the “let it burn” argument?

If you said yes to more than one of these, you just might be a member of a cult!

Glenn Beck has started his own "news" website to give the conservative view, and before the election expressed certainty that God would make Romney win

Glenn Beck has started his own “news” website to give the conservative view, and before the election expressed certainty that God would make Romney win

I’ve even read blogs where someone seriously posts that people should keep any pledge they have made (meaning the Norquist pledge) no matter what, because you never break a pledge.   However, what if they decide that under current conditions the Norquist pledge would lead them to actions that do harm to the country?   Should our elected representatives really be more concerned about keeping a pledge than doing what’s right?    Or is Peter Parker aka Spiderman right – sometimes the best promises are those we are willing to break?   After all, many German soldiers didn’t turn on Hitler even when they saw what was happening  because they took an oath to Hitler.   I think its simple minded blindness to keep an oath just because you took it, no matter what.

True conservatives won’t play that game.   They recognize that they have something to bring to the table and they can force Obama to compromise (and Obama has shown a willingness to compromise).   They don’t demand strict adherence to “principles.”  An uncompromising devotion to absolute principles is for the narrow minded.   Principles are simplified general ideals, but in the real world those simplification break down.   Blind adherence to principle is the mark of someone unwilling to embrace real world complexity – a cultist, in other words.

You see it on blogs and talk radio especially.   I’ve been in many debates, sometimes heated, with conservatives.   But usually we don’t take it personally, nor do we ridicule each other and say the other person is somehow evil or bad.  In fact in most cases we find we agree on core values — Americans are more united than divided.    Go to a cultist blog and try going against their party line and they respond with ridicule and personal abuse (and yes there are cultists on the left too).   That’s how cultists protect their message, they don’t allow it to be questioned, especially not by people who may have good arguments.

Republicans have tolerated the cultists because they brought energy and a solid voting block to the party.   As long as party leaders (whom cultists deride as the hated “Republican establishment”) could control the real policy actions of the party, the cultists were an asset.   But in 2010 they crossed that line.

The most recent example – rejection of the UN People with Disabilities treaty even as John McCain gave his support and Bob Dole was on hand to persuade skeptics to vote for it.   Senators who recently supported it voted no, fearful that the cultists would put up hard core conservative primary opposition.

"The world is a cage for your impotent rage, but don't let it get to you" - Rush (Neil Peart) , "Neurotica," from Roll the Bones (1991)

“The world is a cage for your impotent rage, but don’t let it get to you” – Rush (Neil Peart) , “Neurotica,” from Roll the Bones (1991)

Republicans need to purge the cultists from their ranks, or at least render them ineffective.  They inspire rage, but a rage that cannot win – you’ll never have a pure Demint style conservative government any more than you’ll ever have a pure Kucinich style liberal government.  Or if we do it’ll only be a gradual change reflecting the whole culture.   Our system is designed to avoid sudden lurches to such extremes.   It’s designed for compromise and loyal opposition.


Remembering Obama vs. McCain

Four years ago McCain was the only Presidential candidate with gray hair

I started this blog “World in Motion” back in May 2008, with my first blog post about comparing cyclone Nargis with hurricane Katrina.   That meant I was blogging through fall election campaign so I decided to look back at how I was describing the last days of that campaign.

Some posts were light.   The world series was going on, and it reminded me that in 1980 I was rooting for the Phillies and put a big “Tug McGraw for President” sign on my door (he was the relief pitching ace for the Phillies, if you never heard of him).   2008 felt a lot like 1980, Americans were ready for a change.

Tug McGraw and the Phillies defeated the Kansas City Royals in 1980

I didn’t keep track of all the polls, but exactly 11 days before the election I wrote about the polls which showed a clear lead by Obama over McCain, usually by 4 to 6 points.  A few polls had a double digit lead, and IBD/TIPP showed Obama up only one.   The state polls had comfortable leads for Obama, though one (Strategic Vision) had McCain up in a couple swing states and in striking distance of others.   That company still exists, but focuses on marketing.   It was one of those partisan polls that tried to make the race seem closer than it was.

On October 27th I wrote about “Democratic Gloom and Angst,” about how Democrats were convinced that negative tactics and dirty tricks in the waning days of the campaign might give the election to McCain, here’s part:

“Moreover, many are convinced that the negativity will be ratcheted up, perhaps with new video from Rev. Wright, or some false but yet believable rumor that will be pushed out at the end of the campaign, without Obama having time to effectively respond.  It doesn’t have to change the whole dynamic, just win enough votes to win the “red” states they need on November 4th.  Indeed, some are convinced that the faked attack on a McCain worker, who claimed a black man attacked her and carved a “B” in her face, was part of some kind of dirty trick.  She’s from Pennsylvania, the state McCain hopes to flip by scaring those in the western part of the state to think Obama is too strange and risky.  Even if they don’t like McCain, perhaps they can be persuaded not to vote for Obama.”

Although Obama cruised to an easy victory in 2008, supporters were nervous up until the end

In hindsight that election looks like it was an easy victory for Obama – a country in economic turmoil with a young candidate promising hope and chance alongside an old out of touch McCain.   At the time, it didn’t feel like a sure thing to most people.    I also had a post about early voting and the ground game, which hit on some of the same themes I wrote about yesterday.

I’d forgotten one post “Desperation Breeds Stupidity,” bemoaning the fact Elizabeth Dole, a woman I’ve always admired, had an ad attacking her opponent Kay Hagan, an elder in the Presbyterian church and a Sunday School teacher:

“In the ad a tough narrator notes that Kay Hagan held a fundraiser that was ‘hosted by the Godless Americans PAC,’ showing clips of people from that group calling for God to be removed from the pledge of allegiance and from money, and in general dissing religion.  ‘What did she promise them’ in exchange for the fundraising, the ad asks.  It ends with a close up of Kay Hagan and a voice saying ‘There is no God!'”

Kay Hagen sworn in as North Carolina’s Junior Senator

It didn’t work, North Carolina’s junior Senator is now Kay Hagan.

On the weekend before the election I had a post “Is McCain Surging?”  The Drudge Report and right leaning media tried to create the sense that the race was tightening and McCain might pull it off:

“To look at the Drudge Report, you’d think McCain has been steadily inching closer to Barack Obama, and is within striking distance of taking the popular vote lead and running the sweep of toss up states necessary to come from behind and win the election.  Last week it was a “shock Gallup poll” which showed the two within two points using the ‘traditional model’ for likely voters.  By Sunday it was a ten point race in that group again.  But no matter, Rasmussen showed it narrow to three points, so that was cited — well within the margin of error!  Alas, it expanded back to five points, and Rasmussen declares the race “remarkably stable” with Obama at about an 85% chance for victory.

Then it was the IBD/TIPP poll which has always showed a tighter race.  And finally on early Saturday morning Drudge screamed out that ‘McCain leads in overnight polling!’  Wow!  He must be zooming back.  For the Obama fans, this is their worst case scenario, another defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, an unexpected comeback.  For the McCain faithful this plus slightly tightening polls in Pennsylvania and Ohio shows that their come back scenario is on track — they can do it!”

Watching the current race, which is much much closer, I’m reminded how hindsight has 2020 vision.   Now it appears as if after September 15th when McCain suspended his campaign and then seemed to flail around helplessly in trying to respond to the economic crisis, Obama was a sure thing.   Nobody is talking about the “Bradley” effect this year.   That was a big deal in 2008, a belief that people tell pollsters they’ll vote for Obama because they don’t want to appear racist.  That led many on the right to discount Obama’s lead, sort of like the  “skewed polls” this year.

This year is much different.   The election is closer, the dynamic is uncertain.   Yet a lot remains the same – polls give information but can be used to mislead.  The Drudge Report often seems to be occupying an alternate universe.   And it’ll be an intense final days with rumors, hopes and fears on all sides causing partisans to experience a full range of emotions.   Get ready for the ride!

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Sunshine Award


I do not do this sort of thing.  I don’t go for blogger awards and lists, I don’t cut and paste things into my facebook status, I don’t even use Facebook to wish people happy birthday.   Yet when Larry Beck of Woodgate’s View honors me with this, I have no choice but to put past practice aside and join in.    As Larry put it:  “As a part of this nomination I am expected to answer 10 questions about myself and then nominate 10 others who I feel have inspired me in kind.”

Here goes:

Favorite Color:  Blue green.  I have my office painted with that color – it’s been my favorite since I could use crayons.

Favorite Animal:   Dolphin.   As a Pisces, I have to stick with sea creatures.

Favorite Number:  2012.  I kid you not.   If I have to go with a single digit it’s been “2” for as long as I can remember.  Yet I had a crush on a girl who lived at ‘2012 Main St.’ at one point in the distant past (I must have been 12) and I remember looking at her house and thinking, ‘wow, 2012 is the perfect number.’

Favorite Drink:  Schneider Hefe-Weizen (a white beer).   Best enjoyed at the Schneider Brewery restaurant in downtown Munich.   They have eight varieties (even the alcohol free one is pretty good), but the original classic is still the best.

Facebook or Twitter:   Tried Twitter but I don’t have time for two forms of social media.   I really enjoy Facebook, and am glad now that my 74 year old mom is finally on board and posting!  It’s also fun to see what students are posting, and to follow former students as they go into the world and have a career.   If you like my blog and want to connect on Facebook, here’s my page:

Passion:   Teaching.   I love my job.  I teach at a four year public liberal arts university, and there is nothing else I would rather do.   It’s a joy to help students learn to think creatively and critically.   I teach courses on international relations and politics in other countries, so I feel like I’m helping young people learn more about the world.   With our large education major, many of them are future teachers too!   I also love an honors course I’m teaching about intellectual history.  Today I’m prepping for tomorrow’s class on Petrarch.   The fact I can keep learning and growing while doing my job is a joy!

Travel is another passion, and I often get to mix my passions and lead travel courses whereby students discover a new culture.  This coming May I’m heading off to Italy along with colleagues Steven Pane (Music History), Sarah Maline (Art History) and Luann Yetter (Literature) and probably with about 40 students (I blogged about the last such trip).

Giving or Receiving Gifts:   I prefer giving, but I’m a bit turned off by the commercialization of Christmas.   So much stress about what to buy, and then others inevitably give things that aren’t really what I like, but I can’t say that since they meant well.    The best gifts are unexpected, not obligatory.  That’s why I prefer Halloween — as do the kids.   We have a huge annual party, decorate the house and the sugary treats flow freely.

Favorite Day:  Monday.  I love my work, and like getting a new week started.   The kids aren’t yet tired from a long week, so they go into school well and are energized when I pick them up.   They go to school very close to the university and I managed to get my schedule such that I can drop them off and pick them up every day.   I like that!

Favorite Flower:   Marigolds.   I don’t know why.  They were my favorite when I was a kid they remain my favorite.

Favorite food:  Pizza.   I’ve worked in various pizzerias, made my own pizza as a cheap staple food all through grad school, and to this day am not tired of it.   There are so many things you can do with pizza.  I love experimental pizzas, though a basic pepperoni and sausage pizza with a good red sauce and not too much mozzarella cheese is the ultimate comfort food.   I do tend to appreciate Italian pizzas more than American ones – they have fewer toppings, are less greasy and don’t go so heavy on the cheese.

Honorable mention: Gelato.  When I lived in Italy I became addicted to it, and when Wicked Gelato opened in Farmington my quality of life index soared!.

Blogs I nominate:

I won’t copy any of Larry’s, though I’m discovering a few going through his list.  Note: do not feel compelled to continue this chain blog.   I will not be upset if you do like I usually do and ignore such awards.  (But, Larry, I do thank you!)

Empathy 2012:  Empathetic guidance/Empathy 2012 is a great blog by a woman who is a self-described empath, with an inspirational outlook on life.   She seems to have shifted attention from blogging to facebook, so like her Facebook page too!

Norbrook’s blog: A political blog by someone who is definitely a progressive, but irritated by the “frustrati” – those on the  left who want ideological purity over compromise and pragmatism.

The Third Eve:  Jungian psychology anybody?  An interesting blog that mixes psychology, academic reflections and religious themes.    A very thoughtful blog by a strong, principled and open minded woman who has experienced a lot in life.

Juan Cole: Informed Comment:  OK, this is a big time blog by a noted academic, but his insights on politics and the Mideast are extremely valuable.  He’s a progressive and is often attacked by the neo-conservatives and foreign policy hardliners.

Families are Built With Love:   The experiences and daily life of a non-traditional family, well told.

Tarheel Red:  I like to think of myself as  a thoughtful progressive, not demonizing the other side and willing to listen and discuss issues without taking it personally.   Pino at Tarheel red exemplifies those traits from the conservative side.  We often disagree, but I like the guy!

Notes along the Path:  I tend to get busy and stop following blogs daily, even though I really like them.  I’ve done that with this one, and I’m the poorer for it.   It’s an interesting blog mixing bits of spirituality, religious faith, experience, politics, and everything from Pam, an insightful and interesting woman with a lot of life experience.

Blue Skies Over New England:  An eclectic, personal blog, it has a very positive vibe to it and is enjoyable to read.

Bucket List Publications:  Everyone wants to read about someone who undertakes adventures and lives boldly.   A cool website, and one with over 8 million hits!

Life as I know it photography:   Yes, it’s a business, but one just started by a UMF grad whose photography is amazing.   Read about her journey building a life and a business just out of college.

List of X:  Some humor in the form of lists – lists of ten items for such topics as “Ten reasons why Mitt Romney choose Paul Ryan as his running mate.”

OK, now I have to go engage in my passion of teaching!


Was Limbaugh High? (Update)

Sandra Fluke, called a "slut" and a "prostitute" by Rush Limbaugh for defending insurance coverage of contraception

The Republican party is doing its best to distract people from high unemployment, high gas prices, and general uncertainty in the country.   They are doing this through a series of bizarre controversies and statements involving women, reproductive rights, and anachronistic attitudes that are sure to turn off independents and moderates.   I feel like I have entered an alternate reality programmed by Democratic operatives to have the GOP destroy its chances in the 2012 election.

It’s only March so they can bounce back, but Limbaugh’s bullying slur of a Georgetown student cannot help but make conservatives look mean, vicious and petulant.   Moreover his refusal to apologize or admit being wrong adds to the notion that people like him have low self-esteem and believe that admitting error somehow makes them look weak.   We’ve all known people like that, people who can’t admit they are wrong even when it’s obvious.   Their bluster is usually a sign of low self-esteem and self-loathing.  Given Limbaugh’s past addiction to pain killers (no doubt trying to escape from his internal conflicts), one can’t help but feel he’s a deeply troubled soul.   But this incident was so bizarre — and he doubled down on the air even after massive criticism — that I have to wonder if he’s not back on pain killers or something else.   It’s not rational.

Ratings down, Limbaugh has become as likable as Jabba the Hut

If it were just Limbaugh, the GOP wouldn’t be in that much trouble.   Scott Brown (R-Mass), in a tough election campaign, has condemned Limbaugh’s remarks and called on him to apologize.   Other Republicans have distanced themselves from them as Limbaugh loses sponsors.   He’s already past the prime of his career, this could be what pushes him over the edge.

Yet it isn’t just Limbaugh.   GOP efforts to exempt Catholic institutions from including birth control coverage in their health care plans feeds into the narrative that Republicans are anti-woman.   After all, many of the same policies cover viagra.   Considering the Santorum quotes I discussed in my last blog entry the GOP appears to be waging a full blown culture war around the issue of birth control and sexuality.  Add to that the numerous state initiatives around birth control, abortion and “personhood,” and Republicans are pleasing their base by driving away independents and moderates.

Some in the Republican party blame the Democrats, but given the scope and intensity of these efforts it’s a self-inflicted wound.  This is the result of a tea party movement that has overtaken the GOP with such zeal at turning back the clock to ‘retake America’ that they forget that they represent about 30-35% of the population.   The tea party activists, like many on the far left of the Democratic party, believe so fervently in their ideals that they ignore the fact that the US is a centrist country.   It’s not even center-right, it’s moderate/centrist.

The Tea Party movement had success in 2010, but seems to have misread it as a mass movement destined to change America

Any political strategy aimed to changing the country has to appeal to independents and moderates.   By driving them away, the GOP risks losing the House, giving up a chance at the Presidency, and blowing a chance to win the Senate.

It’s not that the country believes in the Democratic vision.   The 2010 election, while driven primarily by a bad economy, shows that there is concern that the Democrats spend too freely, don’t want to make needed entitlement reforms, and are too beholden to special interest groups.   Any Democrat wanting to push the country leftward has to address these concerns, either allaying them or finding creative policies to convince the center that they understand the critiques.

Perhaps the most common cognitive bias in political discourse is the belief that more people agree with ones’ point of view than actually do.  Inbred blogs (by that I mean blogs/websites where only like minded people post — and then gang up and personally attack those who dare whisper heresy against the dominant perspective) reinforce that.  That leads them to think “everyone is agreeing, how can the rest of the world not see the obvious truth?!   All we have to do is get the word out and not surrender on principle!”

President Obama suffered criticism from the hard core left early in his term, though even the ideologues who call Obama “Republican lite” seem to be coalescing around the President in response to the over the top policies and rhetoric coming from the right.   All of this has helped the Democrats recruit good candidates for the 2012 Congressional elections, turning what some thought would be another major Republican victory into a potential Democratic comeback.

Even George Will now asserts that the Presidency is likely beyond Republican reach and the focus should be on not losing the House and if possible gaining the Senate.  That certainly would limit the President’s capacity to bring about change.  Yet at this point with the primaries raging and red meat rhetoric dominating, the Republicans risk digging themselves a hole too deep to escape from.   If they moderate to regain the center they’ll dampen the motivation of their base.  Perhaps they need a constructive defeat to purge the party of the shrill negativity and prepare the way for a more positive conservative message.

Grover Norquist's anti-tax crusade has led to an inability of the Republicans to compromise on tax and spending, resulting in more debt and danger to the economy. Norquist has also suggested that the GOP impeach Obama if they take the Senate.

Democrats should be heartened but not confident.  It is still early March; a lot can change.   Romney could sweep super Tuesday and start recovering from the mud fight.   Democrats have to recognize that even if the Republicans push independents away, Democrats still need to lure them back in order to close the deal, especially if they want to win the House back.

The Republicans have squandered an opportunity.  After the 2010 election President Obama was willing to deal and compromise, but due to tea party pressure and a weird “commitment” to Grover Norquist, they decided to hold out and demand things be done their way or no way.   Instead of using the election to force Democrats to accept Republican policies and tweaks of health care as a quid pro quo for Democratic priorities, they hunkered down.   And now, with Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum leading the way with inane, bizarre and even offensive quotes, they may be on the verge of handing power back to the Democrats.

UPDATE:  I was wrong – he did apologize.   He did not do so unequivocally, and many think it still didn’t go far enough.  I think the lose of sponsors at a scale unprecedented for Limbaugh despite numerous controversies convinced him he had to start damage control.


Everything Is About to Change

A 20 year old northern California blogger named Kristen Wolfe had one of her posts noticed by the Huffington Post, which reposted it.  It was entitled “Dear Customer Who Stuck Up for His Little Brother,” and recounted an experience at her place of employment (video game sales) where an athletic elder brother stood up for his younger brother against an aggressive and mean father.   The younger brother wanted to buy a video game with a female character, along with a purple controller.   The father was incensed and tried to get the boy to get a game with guns and violence — something manly.   Anyway, click the link and read the story, it was touching and brought a tear to my eye.

But this blog entry isn’t about that, but how the story spread.   Once reposted on Huffington Post it quickly became one of their most popular stories.  I came about it via Facebook.   A facebook friend named Kristine posted the link.   I read it, was moved by the story and shared it on my facebook page.   Already a number of people have shared my link, and others have shared their links.   Whether its called ‘going viral’ or spreading like wildfire, that’s how a story that 20 years ago would maybe have been told to a few friends becomes a sensation.

This is an example of what is the biggest revolution in human history so far — an information and communications revolution wider in scope and power than even the industrial revolution of Europe or the invention of the printing press.   It is the reason protests arose in Egypt a year ago, why both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street rocked American politics, and why the world is about to change in profound and fundamental ways.   We are living in an era of history that is blessed or perhaps cursed to be one of the most dramatic and profound.    It’s only just beginning;  everything is about to change.

We’ve seen the first inklings of change as protests swept the Mideast and even Russia.   We’ve seen power shift from states and governments first to businesses and financial institutions and likely next to NGOs and citizen movements.   This will someday spawn a fundamental political restructuring whereby the bureaucratic sovereign state will be replaced by a new political order.   Civil society will be global and connected, sharing information and undercutting local corruption.

Developing countries will be able to redefine development away from the unsustainable neo-liberal dream of constant industrial growth and materialism towards a bottom up sustainable future, connected with the world not as a periphery pawn in the global economic structure but as autonomous citizens and communities.     Markets and big money will be forced to democratize and become transparent, and the current economic crisis will demand a rethinking of the idea that consumption should be ones’ primary life goal even in the industrialized West.

States, companies and even intelligence agencies will find it ever harder to keep anything ‘top secret,’ or any operation truly covert.   The cure to global warming and our environmental crises will be a mix of technology and a new way of thinking.   Once economic growth at all costs is rejected as the primary goal in life, a sustainable future can be imagined and built.

Yes, I know.  That all sounds very utopian.   Historians out there  might point out that every major systemic change breeds war and crisis, in part because people don’t know what change is bringing and thus try desperately to hold on to the anachronistic system they’ve inherited.    I have no doubt that will happen to some extent, this is an era of both crisis and transformation – the world is in motion!

Yet a positive trend is that attitudes are changing at a scope and pace that matches technological change.   I bet if you described that scene in Kristen Wolfe’s blog to a large number of people, you’d find many siding with the father and thinking the sons were out of line.   I also bet that almost everyone who would think that is over 45 years old.    The Facebook generation is more tolerant, open minded and willing to share ideas and information.     How often do parents warn kids about posting on Facebook and decry the idea of having 300 friends and sharing life details?   The fetish for privacy of the older generation is giving way to a new openness.

Whereas my generation – the older one – tends to want a stable protected home and life-space, the younger generation is wired, connected and involved.   My generation had yuppies cocooning in the suburbs, the new generation can’t imagine going a full day without their smart phones.   It’s a new attitude which, combined with the new technology is putting us on the precipice of major cultural, global and technological change.   Enjoy the ride!


The World in 2112

Sean at Reflections of a Rational Republican threw down the gauntlet asking people to put their psychic and analytical predictive powers on the line by trying to figure out what technology will be like 100 years from now.   So here are my 12 technology predictions, followed by four essentially soci0-cultural predictions (though I mix those into the technology predictions as well!)

1.  The electric grid as we know it will be a thing of the past.  Most homes will be self-sustaining, generating their own electricity.   Even urban centers that now suck up energy like there’s no tomorrow will only use the electricity they can generate, augmenting with high efficiency batteries when necessary.

2.  Homes will be heated and cooled by systems built into the house.    At various points the wall to the outside will be a heat exchange system that will operate much like a refrigerator, cooling the house in summer, reversing that in winter to heat the house.   These systems will be smart to maximize efficiency.

3.  The array of satellites now circling the globe will be replaced by a smaller number of extremely efficient satellites that bundle their functions so as to the work now done by many diverse satellites.   There will be satellite maintanence crews on orbiting space stations that can work to fix any glitches, as well as maintain efficiency.

4.  The term “wifi” will be as obsolete as “the wireless” is to talk about radio.   Like radio, ‘wifi’ connectivity will be ubiquitous, free (paid for via advertising and subsidies), and taken for granted.    It will also be universal; a penthouse in New York and a village in Guinea Bissau will have the same access.

5.  After evidence about human caused global warming became undeniable even to the skeptics in the early 21st Century, a vast program of planting trees and creating efficient oxygen generation zones first on land and then in oceans will help to turn back the tide of global climate change and create the capacity for continued sustainable development.

6.   The most impressive technological advances will come in the cost and scope of water desalinization and even water creation.   This will be driven by intense water shortages in the mid-21st Century when global climate change becomes extreme and the new oxygen generation programs will not yet have had much of an impact.   The goal will become to have clean, fresh water for everyone by 2100, and will be achieved ahead of time.

7.   A nutrition revolution will occur in the mid 21st Century as it becomes clear that the chemical supplements used in food and food packaging had been causing massive problems, especially children.  This includes an alarming increase in ADHD like symptoms, autism, other mental problems, obesity and the weakening of immune systems.  Calling this the equivalent to how Rome drank leaded water and wine without realizing they were poisoning themselves, chemists, farmers and the food industry will become determined to turn around the “barbaric practices” of the 20th Century (which started in the 1980s).   Aided by a new global regulatory scheme, an array of ‘safe’ foods will take over.  These will range from ‘natural organics,’ grown on farms in ways similar to the early 1900s and “Repli-food,” which literally  will manufacture food out of a mix of natural materials much like the ‘replicators’ on Star Trek.   That food will be much cheaper than the ‘natural organics.’

8.   The same technology that opens the door to Repli-food will also create the capacity to construct complex materials and objects out of basic molecular raw materials.    The most important benefit of this will be the ability to manufacture synthetic minerals (compounds able to serve the same function) and other materials that will run low due to over mining (copper, zinc, etc.)

9.  Global monetary union leads to the obsolescence of cash.   Information on ones’ wealth will be kept on central banking computers and payment made through recognition software (similar to what we have as retinal or fingerprint recognition, but less invasive and more precise).

10.  Throughout the century traditional war will be replaced by what we’d call cyberwar, as a cat and mouse game will rage for decades between those wanting to disrupt the technological systems underlying civilization and those protecting them.   Actual hot war will limited to third world regions and the terror onslaught of 2030.    That wave of terrorism will not be driven by religious fundamentalism but anger about relative deprivation and the impact of global warming on Sub-Saharan Africa.   This will motivate major developments in the ability to scan for potential nuclear, chemical or biological devices.   By 2050 this technology, combined with an economic rebirth of Africa and growing prosperity, will end the great terror wave.

11.   Medical technology will advance to the point that invasive surgery will become obsolete.   A mix of genetic screening and proactive care will make most illnesses and major diseases a thing of the past.   Cancer, heart disease, flu, the common cold, and infections like strep throat will be the stuff of history books.   Back pain, head aches, migraines, and even sore muscles will be easily cured.  The elderly will talk about how painful and difficult existence had been back before medical science came of age.   This will be done almost completely without what we now call pharmaceuticals.   Using powerful drugs to address minor symptoms will be seen as one of the major errors of early medical science.     Life expectancy will rise to well over 100, though efforts to halt aging or implant brains into robotic bodies will fail completely.   Philosophers will say that the technological barrier to overcoming age and death is so immense that it seems humans are not meant to be able to cheat death.

12.   Modern physics will unify all forms of energy into one force, thereby solving the space-time paradox and uniting relativity with quantum mechanics.  This will be done via the holographic principle, meaning that all of what we see and experience is a projection of some sort.  This information will be key to the technologies mentioned above (especially replicating food and minerals, as well as medical science).   The question of what it means to be human and spirituality will rise in importance.   Religions will adapt to these developments, but weaken in the face of a ‘new spirituality’ that defies dogma.

Political Predictions

1.   The sovereign state as we know it will disappear.   Old state borders will still be known, but mostly as historical trivia.   Most of the decision making will be local/regional.   The Global Union (GU) will govern transnational issues such as money, trade, security (assuring local and regional conflicts don’t lead to war) and policies necessitating cooperation across regions.     The GU will have limited powers and full transparency will be demanded — all meetings, documents, and discussions are available in what we would call “on line.”

2.  The new discoveries in physics and the emergence of a holographic principle theory of reality will lead to a growth of non-religious spirituality which many religious people will view as an attempt to use science to create a world religion.  This will bring about a series of protests by various faiths and ultimately an agreement within the GU charter that freedom of and tolerance of diverse religious belief is a core human right.   By 2112 religious conflict will be at an historical low, though practitioners of the “traditional” religions will bemoan the weakness of their faiths.

3.  Neither capitalism nor socialism will survive the 21st Century.  In part this is because technological progress will make work as traditionally defined all but irrelevant.  So much work will be done by machine that humans will not be near as important for  producing stuff (though some will guide the automated factories, develop new software, support the global infrastructure, etc.).  At first this will lead to a large maldistribution of wealth as those who own the machinery amass large profits while human workers become severely underpaid since they will not be in demand.

Over time demands for change will grow, and as power is localized an agreement will be reached to guarantee everyone certain core basics (education, shelter, food, health care, equal protection, access to clean water, etc.)

With the localization of power, people then either work on infrastructure or within the robotic productivity realm, or on tasks within their community to earn Taurins (the global currency unit) for doing things that increase the quality of life.   Communities also reach agreement with industries to share ownership.   The wealthy remain wealthier than the rest (and those working to maintain the infrastructure and robotic industries earn the most), but competition will become less for wealth and things (since things will be abundant) and more for improving the quality of life and learning.

4.   In the US, families and communities will have a comeback with the localization of power and the shift of emphasis away from materialism and consumption.   The 21st Century will be rough, but we’ll make it to a much better 22nd Century!

Happy 2012!


Personality and Experience

In reading a couple other blogs I was struck by how in one, a conservative blog, there were some really disparaging remarks about “liberals.”  One person was glad she was not in particular professions because she couldn’t take all the liberals and their ‘political correctness.’   In a left leaning blog there were comments ripping conservatives as “being driven by ignorance and fear.”    Frankly I’ve never seen a correlation between individual character and whether someone is liberal or conservative, but clearly a lot of people see their side as ‘good and reasonable’ and the other side as somehow faulty.  Some of it on blogs is just for fun (like Packer fans saying Viking fans are scum — deep down they all know they’re just football fans, they’re trash talking), but I think many people take it seriously.

That got me thinking about why people have the perspectives they hold.   It may be less about rational analysis of the world and more about personality and experience.   For instance, my personality is such is that I am not judgmental and do not hold grudges.   On the scale between perceiving and judging on the Myers Briggs personality test I’m way off on the ‘perceiving’ side.    Beyond that I think I am constitutionally incapable of holding a grudge or staying mad for more than a few minutes.  I find it pretty easy to forgive and move on.

I think those traits are part of who I am; my ‘wiring’ if you will.   I suspect those personality traits predispose me to being a social and civil libertarian.  They also make me less likely to be a political activist.   Many colleagues and friends I know are very involved in causes from environmentalism to the peace movement.  Often I agree with them about the issues but don’t have a desire to protest or spend time on some campaign to pass or stop some legislative initiative.    Being a ‘perceiver’ I’m more likely to watch and try to figure out what’s going on than to participate (which is why I’m a political scientist not a politician!)   That’s not necessarily good, it’s just who I am.   All of us have personality traits which probably predispose us to particular views about life, as well as how we’ll act.

Second is experience.   I’ve studied social science, traveled a lot in Europe, learned German and developed a set of experiences that lead me to a particular way of looking at the world.   If I had gone to law school and stayed in South Dakota, I might look at politics very differently.    Part of this is personality as well.   When I decided to go to graduate school rather than law school, my mom was dubious.   She told me that as a lawyer I’d be guaranteed a real good income, while graduate school was uncertain.

I shocked her when I said, “if I really wanted money I’m sure I could spend time learning how business and investments work, and then become a millionaire.  But I don’t want to do that, it would be boring.”    OK, forgive my 22 year old arrogance there, but I meant it at the time — I thought that business and high finance was probably not that hard if one really put their heart in it, studied it, and made it the focus of their life.   But yuck.   No material payoff is worth living what to me would have been a boring, even meaningless life.

To someone else, of course, that kind of life is the essence of our society, producing investments, expanding the market and creating jobs.   My desire to study European politics and teach at a university might seem lazy or unambitious (though at age 22 I had no clue where I was going — I just wanted to go to Johns Hopkins for an MA because I’d  live in Bologna, Italy my first year!).    If I had stayed in DC working in the Senate at age 25 instead of deciding to leave I also would have had a very different set of experiences.

Each person has their own life world, a set of experiences that shapes how they look at things.   Each person’s life world is inherently limited by those experiences.  Just as someone might dismiss academia as “ivory towered out of touch with reality,” another might dismiss military life as structured around hierarchies and orders.   Another might dismiss high finance as a narrow focus on money and investments without regard to culture and how society works.   Nobody can truly claim that their experience is privileged.  Each person’s experience brings a unique perspective to life.   The academic, athlete, journalist, preacher, mechanic, lawyer, doctor, janitor…each has a life perspective shaped by personality and experience.

Here’s where it gets tricky.   When we debate our beliefs (shaped by experience and personality) we tend to make the mistake of thinking that our own belief is self-evidently the right one because to each of us it seems so obvious.   Anyone with that personality and set of experiences would come to the same conclusion, after all!  When others have very different world views, the knee jerk response is “I’m right, they’re wrong!”   And since we fool ourselves into thinking we hold our perspective out of a kind of impartial, unbiased analysis, it’s soon easy to think there must be something wrong with those people who think differently.  Why don’t they see clearly what seems so clearly to me?

But if we recognize that personality and experience trump ‘unbiased reason’ in shaping our world views, then it’s possible to look at it differently.  Rather than one of us being right and the others wrong, we’re really just experiencing reality from different perspectives.   We are like the blind men and the elephant, where one felt the elephant’s trunk, another the leg, another the ear, etc., and each had a very different idea of what the creature was like.   The construction worker, teacher, cop, florist, writer, and waitress all are experiencing life and politics from a different angle.   I study social science, the priest studies philosophy and Christian theology; those experiences lead to different conclusions.   And if that’s the case, it’s not a leap to say that the truth probably can’t be captured by any one person’s perspective, no matter how certain they are that the world clearly is how they interpret it to be.   Only by learning from each other and recognizing other perspectives as legitimate and valuable can we get a more realistic sense of how the world is and address political issues.

This reminds me of Walter Lippmann’s argument that for democracy to function, we must not only tolerate each other’s right to speak, but actually listen to and learn from each other.   While we try to convince and persuade others, we shouldn’t close our minds to their efforts to convince and persuade us.  And maybe we’ll realize that the liberal, the conservative, the libertarian and the socialist all have something important to contribute to the public debate.   If our perspective is shaped mostly by personality and experience, then the best way to approach politics is not to try to eliminate political differences and “win,” but to embrace diverse views as a source of strength.