Saturday, May 26, 2012

Thirty Days

It's been slightly more than thirty days since my last letter to the editor, which means that they can print one again.  So I sent them this:

It has been quite interesting lately reading various people's thoughts on what the Bible says regarding marriage, same sex and otherwise, and what Jesus did or didn't say about it, but I do have one question: public policy-wise, does it even matter?

As with every other issue, anyone can find something in 'the Bible' that at least apparently supports his or her position. Maybe this is why the founding fathers drafted a Constitution rather than just telling everybody to 'read your Bible.'  And why they make no references to 'God' or Jesus (or the Bible) in that Constitution.

We live in a constitutional democracy folks, and the U.S. and Wisconsin constitutions both state that all citizens are to be treated as equals by their governments.  We don't have different sets of rights for different subsets of the citizenry.  So can we please keep that in mind as we discuss same-sex marriage and how to live up to our lofty ideals?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Power, Faith, and Fantasy

I intend to write more on this book, I finished it Tuesday night; for now I will just say that there is a hidden, central character in this book.  And that character is ... Middle Eastern oil. 


The central theme, as implied by the title, is that America has always had a prevailing fantasy about the Middle East, largely drawn from works of fiction, such as 1,001 Arabian Nights.  Americans then came to believe, based on 'faith', that with a little guidance the Middle East could be modernized and remade in America's image (with a little exoticism thrown in).  They continually were stymied, however, by the 'facts on the ground' and American economic and military power had to be added to make any 'progress' regarding modernizing the region. 

And right from the start there were successes.   But for some reason the Middle Easterners resisted conversion to Christianity or having western culture thrust upon them.  Sometimes violently so.  Which led to conflict, naturally.

Nevertheless, for about 130 years America was widely seen in the Middle East as being the champion of Arab rights, at least when compared to England and France.

Then came the internal combustion engine.  Suddenly (OK, a little bit gradually) American ideals had to be balanced with 'strategic interests.'  Meaning, largely, if there is oil beneath your sand we want you on our side.  No matter your governing philosophy or with (or against) whom you are aligned.  A tricky balancing act began.  Then, along came the State of Israel ...

More to come.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

America and the Middle East

For about a month now I've been reading Michael Oren's Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present.  The first half or so of the book is quite illuminating regarding the first almost 150 years of America and its dealings with the 'Barbary States,' and with the old Ottoman Empire.  Maybe I'll write about some of that, too, but right now I want to share part of what I read last night.

From page 527:  The 1967 war, the reverberations of which continue to convulse the region, was a primary juncture in the making of the modern Middle East.  Arab nationalism, a largely secular ideology, suffered a set-back from which it would never recover and which accelerated the rise of its rival, Islamic extremism.  Zionism was conversely reinforced by Israel's victory and, through the Jewish people's reunion with their spiritual homeland in Jerusalem and the West Bank, galvanized by a new religious zealotry.  The war was also pivotal for America's relations with the region.  For the millions of evangelical Americans who had always valued Israel as the fulfillment of biblical prophecies, the Six-Day War was an act of divine intervention designed to hasten the coming of the messianic age.  But the victory also persuaded American policymakers, many of whom had previously advised against maintaining close relations with the Jewish state, to view Israel as America's small but muscular cohort in the Cold War.

Is he overstating the importance of that war?  Yes and no?  His first conclusion is that it was a death blow to Arab nationalism.  How?  Egypt and Syria got their asses handed to them so radical Islam was born?  Sentiment in other Middle Eastern countries that would have found expression in nationalist movements was turned instead to radical Islam?  The people would rather punish the Jews and/or seek to eradicate the State of Israel than seize the reins of political power in their own countries?  I don't know, eventually all of those countries broke away from colonial rule and some of them have declared the obliteration of Israel to be their number one goal.  Is this really a 'radical Islam' issue or more of an ethnic enmity issue.  "We hate them because they exist!  And besides, they hate us!" 

I think he's onto something with his final conclusion though.  Once Israel kicked some ass and the U.S. could have them as an ally rather than a client state it was "welcome aboard"!     

I'm just up to the part, tonight, where he's about to tear into Carter (I think) over Iran.  I'll be back ...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Going To The Dogs?

There's a popular picture on facebook, I've seen it a few times, of a dog, a Pit Bull maybe, and a caption something like, 'there are no bad dogs, just  bad dog owners.'  People tend to agree with the sentiment and 'like' it. 

What if it was, 'there are no bad boys, just bad parents'?  That one not so much, right? 

Why, exactly?  Because boys can make conscious, willful decisions, right?  And dogs can't?

OK, true.  But still.  Parenting is a crucial element of character-building, right?  And if a boy gets extremely poor parenting, how much more likely is it that he will become well-acquainted with the criminal justice system?

So what am I saying?  Well, two things.  What we do with those boys as they become a problem is critically important, not just for them (cuz it's 'their own fault, right? so too bad), but for society. 

And it is in society's best interest to try to reduce (toward zero) the population of these boys.  First, by reducing/eliminating unwanted pregnancies.  Then by intervening early in these boys' lives, which is a giant can of worms on libertarian grounds so the first part is critical. 

In my opinion we could even waste money at the front end (though let's not) as long as we accomplish our objective of keeping the number of 'bad boys' to near zero.  Compared to if we do nothing at the front end and refuse to commit any resources to the issue until there's a criminal justice problem. 

So, we incorporate into the public school curriculum (state participation to be encouraged with funding), 'adult ed' classes.  Starting about sixth grade.  Keep them age-appropriate, of course.  Though by sixth grade they need to know for sure where babies come from, and how you can get pregnant even if you aren't trying to.  And stuff.  And sixth grade is a good time to be hearing a strong abstinence message.  But we have to be realistic about all possibilities too, so birth control information needs to be available.

Of course there's a lot more to cover in adult ed class than where babies come from.  Various scenarios should be 'gamed,' so kids can start to learn 'first hand' what usually happens to the guy who doesn't finish high school, or guys that smoke and drink at an early age, or guys that figure they shouldn't have to work, or guys that become daddies at a young age, (and girls too, of course).

I would love to see after school programs fully funded so all kids have safe and constructive places to go after school.  In fact, the logical extension of the idea that society should feel ultimately responsible for child development would be to offer 'after school' programs 24/7.  But this would become very expensive, no matter how much we think we'll save not waiting until we're using the d.o.j. to finally deal with it.  So the emphasis on 'adult ed' and reducing/eliminating unwanted pregnancies is paramount.

Once we do find the need to incarcerate, at a greatly reduced rate if we're smart enough, we start on them again, for the first time maybe in some cases.  Adult ed, academic classes, substance abuse counseling, whatever is needed.  Only this time they're locked in.  And we have the key.  And the sentences work for us.  "You can do the whole ten, or you could probably be out in three if you do everything we ask ... "

Will we ever do this?  Doubtful.  Why not?  I think mostly because, even if we could get wide-spread agreement that it would be cost-effective, most Americans would think it's just way too big a role for government to take.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

American History

I finished another lecture series recently, this one on The History of the United States.  84 half hour lectures.  You might think it would be hard to watch/listen to 42 hours of professors lecturing on history but I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.  I've also read three different histories of the United States, from Columbus to the present (Paul Johnson, Howard Zinn and Tindall & Shi).  What can I say?  It's a story I never get tired of.

This series uses three professors.  Allen Guelzo takes us from the age of ocean-going explorers up to the 'great compromise' in the run-up to the Civil War.  Gary Gallagher takes us through the war and the post-war 'reconstruction' period and southern 'redemption.'  Patrick Allitt takes us the rest of the way, beginning with Industrialization and finishing with Clinton's America and the Millennium. 

In the final lecture, Reflections, Allitt lists four basic 'truths' that make the story of America unique.  First is American Exceptionalism; Allitt believes that this 'belief', which goes all the way back to the beginning, plays a role in everything that followed.

Second, "A combination of cultural and environmental circumstances enabled America to become the richest nation in the history of the world." 

Third, "America's political institutions nurtured and protected vital freedoms."

And finally, "America has welcomed and assimilated more varied immigrant groups than any other nation."

I intend to explore some of these themes in the weeks to come.  Tonight I begin with a question.  In his 'reflections' Professor Allitt states that America has consistently fallen short of its ideals but also has consistently performed 'better' than any other country.  Does he have that about right?