Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Is Liberty a Zero-Sum Game?

December 10, 2010

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/liberty-positive-negative/

Here is what prompted me to post my zero-sum statement about freedom: I visited the page of a politician/author and noticed the statement (paraphrased) “It is sufficient if I can live to age 120 so that I may restore liberty to all people.” I found that sentiment foolish on a number of counts IF it was said in earnest. First of all what does it mean to say that all do not possess maximum liberty right now and what sort of world would this be if everyone had the liberty which the author envisions? Secondly, the statement strikes me as some kind of messiah complex. I do not honestly believe that any one person can save the world, or a nation or even a state. So my off-the-cuff zero-sum remark was more or less my way of thumbing my nose at the notion of a 120 year old person restoring all people to liberty. I agree with Viktor Frankl in “Man’s Search for Meaning” that the one freedom which can never be taken from us even in a concentration camp is our inner freedom to CHOOSE how we shall regard the circumstances imposed upon us by forces beyond our control. For me that sort of liberty is not zero-sum and yet it is limited by many factors such as illiteracy, cultural conditioning and any number of things which shackle the mind into seeing things only in one particular way.
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Freedom is a zero-sum game. When one gains more others of necessity have less. The only freedom we share in equal measure is within the boundaries of our skulls. Everything said to the contrary is rhetoric and delusion.

If America increases in its freedom to “fight terrorists” then we see a corresponding loss of freedom in Iraq.

If I am free to smoke in the restaurant then you are not free from second hand smoke. If you are free from second hand smoke, then I am not free to smoke in the restaurant.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-sum

In game theory and economic theory, zero-sum describes a situation in which a participant’s gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the other participant(s). If the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero.

Alan: I get your point William. A world of maximum individual liberty would be a Hobbesian state of of Nature. I can do whatever I want. You can do whatever you want. But without mutually agreed upon law of some sort then we both must fear harm from the other–as we both express our unfettered liberty.

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Speeches which start MY FELLOW AMERICANS

December 7, 2010

Baruch writes: “My fellow Americans, these are tough times. We all know it, we all feel it, we are all affected. It is in times like these that we need to pull together, each doing our best to live up to the ideals this country was founded on. To that end I am asking Congress to immediately implement a number of measures in order to raise revenues and lift our country out of the mire of debt and unemployment, and in order to protect the natural environment. I propose a new tax on all incomes over $250,000 a year. This tax will be progressive, so that the more a person made the higher the percentage of that income will be paid in taxes. I know that the idea of new taxes is onerous to many but right now we need to do what’s best for the most. The good of the many outweighs the good of the few. This tax will not impoverish anyone, it will only be levied on those who already have more than they need to get by. Likewise corporations with over 100 employees will also see their taxes raised, and loopholes that have allowed multinational corporations to evade paying taxes must immediately be closed. We estimate that these measures will raise over $1 trillion in the next 10 years. A portion of that money is to be set aside for retooling factories for the manufacture of solar panels, windmills, and other green technologies. This will create jobs, lower our carbon footprint as a nation, and help us get on the right track with regards to global warming. These are just a few parts of the plan I will be presenting to Congress this week. When the new Congress convenes in January I will call upon each and every member to put aside their personal feelings and to work for the good of the nation. I ask you to let your congressional representatives and senators know what you want them to do, whether you want them to focus on their election campaign fund raising or to do the work of governance. I am also asking Congress to support an immediate drawdown in troop deployments abroad. My goal is to start closing US bases around the world, and to recall our forces. This will save over $5 billion per week! Last but not least I have set up a task force whose job it will be to collect ideas from you, the American people. No idea is too small for us to consider. What are your ideas for deficit reduction, for environmental protection, for economic recovery?
Thank you for the opportunity to serve.”

William:
I dont mean to be cruel or disrespectful but every time I hear someone like McCain say “My friends” (hey he is not my friend, I am a total stranger) or “My fellow Americans” (that is outmoded political rhetoric… I could understand fellow human beings but then that is a given which is understood and if someone feels the need to say it then there is no point in saying it) … every time I hear such overused trite phrases I feel discouraged. I yes all of us live in the same country by the fact that we were born on American soil rather than Canadian or Mexican. That we have any sort of “fellowship” I seriously question. I know that our motto E Pluribus Unum means “from the many one” but I don’t see the unity anyplace. Jesus prayed in the garden of Gesthemene “Father all those whom you have given me, MAY THEY BE ONE, even as you and I are one” and I never saw that religious unity take place either. This is my reaction to your initial phrase “My fellow Americans.” I shall now study the rest of your speech which I am certain has much merit. As a matter of fact, whenever I have occasion to speak to someone from certain cultures (e.g. Pakistan) their habit of speech is to say “My friend…” and then proceed to tell me why they disagree with me and everything I stand for. So whenever I hear someone start off saying “my friend” I automatically know not to see them as a friend because friendship is demonstrated by actions and needs no lip service. I shall now study the rest of your speech. Besides which, there are probably some illegal aliens in the audience and the speech is playing to nations around the world, both friend and foe, so “my fellow Americans” seems like a foolish way to start out.

Everything else in the speech looks great. Sorry to be a curmudgeon but if you wore a top hat and did a photo op kissing babies I would say that is somewhat dated. I think “My friends” and “My fellow Americans” is also dated. I do not see the world as a place where friendship and fellowship exist. I hear a lot of lip service paid to those words, but I do not see the capacity present in most people to actualize what those words friendship, fellowship and unity are supposed to represent. I suppose I should also add that I see nationalism as something outmoded and contrary to human wellbeing because what the world and the human species need is internationalism and world law, world government, world trade, world economy and not factionalism and saber rattling jingoism but I cannot see how this will ever be possible given the shortcomings of human nature and selfishness.

I understand and accept your reason for using stock in trade phrases. I just feel it is important now and then to openly state certain things that I see as obvious. Everything else in your speech makes a lot of sense to me. Your ideas sound promising. It is simply that I have lost all faith in and hope for the human race but that is my problem and not yours.

Actually, Baruch, I must praise you highly for actually coming up with the speech you would like to hear from Pres. Obama. So many times people just criticize and I want to say to them “Well, don’t just criticize everything but rather tell me how YOU would approach these problems.” So, more people should be like you Baruch. I respect that kind of positive approach rather than all the negative criticisms.

My entire human experience has been one of betrayal and disappointment. I no longer expect anything from God if there is a God, or society, or my fellow creatures. I certainly do not see anything in the phrase “my fellow Americans” except hypocrisy and self-delusion. I see no fellowship but only division. I am definitely American but I am not certain what that means beyond place of birth and citizenship. I just object to being called “fellow” or “friend.”

I am reminded of http://bible.cc/jeremiah/13-23.htm Jeremiah 13:23 “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” I was born a Caucasian of European ancestry so I cannot change the color of my skin or my ancestry. I was born an American so I cannot change my nationality or my citizenship. I am not proud to be white because I know what my race has done in history and I know what Europeans have done in history. America has done some good things in its history. I wonder if it is too little and too late. I do not particularly like Martin Luther of the Reformation or agree with him, but I can relate to what he said at the cathedral door when he said “Here I stand. I can do no other.” So in the same fashion, at the end of my life, I simply stand here and say only those things that I can feel comfortable saying. I cannot say something different or keep silent simply because it would be more politically correct or because someone is not comfortable hearing how I see things. I realize that America was a superpower for a century. I suspect it is on its way down. Many people in the world dislike America and I think I can understand why. No nation lasts forever. I doubt if any nation even lasts 1000 years.

Large portions of America claim that America is founded as a “Christian Bible based” nation. Christianity sees pride as the original sin, the sin of Satan’s pride which caused him to be cast out of heaven, and the source of all other sins. It is the meek who shall inherit the earth and the peace makers who are blessed.. Yet Americans love to use the word pride. Does anyone sense any irony or conflict in this?

Exceptionalism

November 28, 2010

Ali, my other friend in Peshawar is AkS. I will confide to both of you here something that he wrote to me when we spoke of adding me as a friend but I dont want you to tell him that I said this. I made no comment to him about this but I see it as what they call in the Philippines “the colonial mentality.” Aks said “… and when you see the photos of my friends and family you will see that we are just as white as Americans and the British.” It is true that I am “white as Wonder Bread” well, actually, kind of pink and not as white as Scandanavians. But my whole family that I married into is Filipino. Here in NYC no one talks about complexion. The non-white women are considered more exotic and much to be desired. In the Philippines all the movie stars are “mestisa” which means half Asian and half Caucasian. The formula there is “the lighter the skin, the longer the nose, the rounder the eye, the thinner the lips, … the more beautiful.” I mention all this here, to you, where Ajab will not see it because it is important to admit that the colonial mentality exists and it is important to discuss the reasons why it is wrong and an unhealthy and unproductive way to think. Each of us has our own beauty; the African, European, Asian, and Aboriginal. And we must celebrate what we are. Also, obviously, beauty is only skin deep, and there is an inner human value which has nothing to do with race, ethnicity, gender, orientation or age.

I once searched Youtube for videos made by Europeans which explained WHY they hate Americans. I did this because someone in Myspace had asked me WHY Americans are hated. I believe that E. has a clearer vision that I do which is why I always pester E. to correspond with me. I have maintained a long time friendship of 8 years with a young woman in Tehran Iran. She was in medical school when I met her in Yahoo chat. She has now been practicing for two years. She has a little stuffed animal which she calls Plato. Her English is superb. She hungers for discussions about Plato, Dostoevsky and such. Once I began to explain something obscure in Brothers Karamazov which is perhaps truly appreciated only by old style Greek and Russian Orthodox; namely, the expectation of incorruption of body when Staretz (Elder) Zossima passes away. I had just begun to explain to her but SHE ALREADY KNEW what I wanted to say and finished my sentence. IF there is any sort of equalizer in this sorry world of ours which will empower us with mutual understanding and acceptance/tolerance then surely it is the Internet and the friendships which arise in social networks.

Ha ha, suddenly, what jumps into my mind is Robert Frost’s poem about “The wall” .. from memory… “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall / that send the frozen groundswell under it / And turns the upper boulders in the sun / And makes gaps even TWO can pass abreast.” We know that we are doomed never to totally agree and we suspect that our natural tendency to discord is a survival advantage because if we all saw things the same way and made the same choices then we would not survive as a species. But perhaps the hallmark of the Liberal Arts major is to doggedly force ourselves to look where we would prefer not to look and to find that rare gap in the wall where “two can pass abreast” even two who might normally be adversaries on some field of battle. And that is why someone gifted at the harpsichord forces themselves to study Ptolemy while a gifted mathematician listens to Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. It is too easy to follow the path of least resistance which our natural inclinations and talents suggest but we know that “xalapa ta kala” (good/noble things are difficult)

I once worked with a Russian immigrant (a secular non practicing Jew) who complained about the Orthodox who came to America and got on assistance so that the males of the family could spend all day praying (davening) and studying Torah/Talmud. I hasten to stress that those are a small minority but they do exist and they have there reasons why they think this is a good thing to do. I worked among many Orthodox Hasidic “Frumkeit” (observant of mitzvos) and they were hard working but I was startled to hear the truth about a small minority from a Russian Jewish immigrant. — I met a Korean who came to America with a suite case and $300. He lived on a huge pot of cabbage with a few shreds of meat. He built up a 24 hour sidewalk flower stall and then opened a second and a third.

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@Daniel, I know what you mean and that sort of thing makes me sick too, but I almost collapsed in shock when I received it from two people (one in Bhopal and the other in Peshawar.) Erik is not shocked because he lives in such places. John McCain made me sick. He said during the campaign “I am the only one who LITERALLY defended America” meaning his Vietnam war record. The way I saw things, America had no right to be there and then BEING there, they did not use every means to win, and Vietnam is Communist to this day and something of an ally I imagine. McCain (and others) stand on high moral ground about issues such as pro-Life but he didn’t shed too many tears when he was dropping bombs on pregnant villagers from 30,000 feet. And his first wife was kind of messed up from an injury, so he dumped her sorry @SS and found a sexy beer heiress. Then because of connections he was given a cushy job escorting big-shots around and he said to himself “hey, this politics stuff is easy, I can do this!” Then, when the world’s economy is collapsing he keeps repeating “our system is perfectly sound” (like he ever had the credentials to make that assessment) and he postpones debates so he can run to Washington and slap a few backs and call in a few favors thinking that he can save the world single-handedly John Wayne cowboy style (as a maverick rogue) just like he saved the world bombing those villagers while Joan Baez (that filthy left wing commie) was on the ground watching the blanket bombing and committing the treasonous act of talking to the enemy about peace. Oh, and, by the way, in my mind McCain joined the military because his family was military and he saw it as a path to fame and fortune so I don’t see his career as exactly patriotic and self-sacrificing. AND whenever he does is patriotic saber-rattling “America is the BEST” and “MY FRIENDS, my fellow Americans” all I can think of is “so what is wrong with Canada and Australia and New Zealand and a dozen other fine nations and cultures.” And when the moderator of a debate called him on the carpet because the Palin crowd started to shout violent things about Obama and Palin did nothing to rebuke them, McCain just said “Dont you insult those fine patriotic Americans in that crowd of would-be lynchers and vigilantes” which demonstrated to me just how cowardly and weak-minded McCain is, because he could have simply said “Yes, Palin was wrong and the crowd was wrong” because reasonable educated people realize that sometimes they can be wrong and they admit that.

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For most people who live outside of our borders, American exceptionalism is self-evident. Perhaps some hate us for this. But, most respect us for what we are, whether they like us or not. The idea of Americans being “stupider” than everyone else is only found in expensive American or European universities… where all sorts of impractical things are taught. People who live outside of those universities are forced perforce to deal with reality as it actually is.

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I once searched Youtube for videos made by Europeans which explained WHY they hate Americans. I did this because someone in Myspace had asked me WHY Americans are hated. I believe that Erik has a clearer vision that I do which is why I always pester Erik to correspond with me. I have maintained a long time friendship of 8 years with a young woman in Tehran Iran. She was in medical school when I met her in Yahoo chat. She has now been practicing for two years. She has a little stuffed animal which she calls Plato. Her English is superb. She hungers for discussions about Plato, Dostoevsky and such. Once I began to explain something obscure in Brothers Karamazov which is perhaps truly appreciated only by old style Greek and Russian Orthodox; namely, the expectation of incorruption of body when Staretz (Elder) Zossima passes away. I had just begun to explain to her but SHE ALREADY KNEW what I wanted to say and finished my sentence. IF there is any sort of equalizer in this sorry world of ours which will empower us with mutual understanding and acceptance/tolerance then surely it is the Internet and the friendships which arise in social networks.

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By the way, I agreed with most of what Whittle had to say, except the last bit about “illegal immigration.” That is not an original American idea, and we have been the worse for having adopted the ways of others in this regard. The American way had previously generally been “Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to be free…” WITHOUT EXCEPTION. We ought to go back to that, today. Or, at the latest, tomorrow. We’d be the better for it.

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I wouldn’t give an immigrant a dime of public assistance. If they need it, let them seek charity from their fellow citizens or go elsewhere. That is, we can’t have BOTH unlimited immigration and unlimited public services.

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Ha ha, suddenly, what jumps into my mind is Robert Frost’s poem about “The wall” .. from memory… “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall / that send the frozen groundswell under it / And turns the upper boulders in the sun / And makes gaps even TWO can pass abreast.” We know that we are doomed never to totally agree and we suspect that our natural tendency to discord is a survival advantage because if we all saw things the same way and made the same choices then we would not survive as a species. But perhaps the hallmark of the Liberal Arts major is to doggedly force ourselves to look where we would prefer not to look and to find that rare gap in the wall where “two can pass abreast” even two who might normally be adversaries on some field of battle. And that is why someone gifted at the harpsichord forces themselves to study Ptolemy while a gifted mathematician listens to Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. It is too easy to follow the path of least resistance which our natural inclinations and talents suggest but we know that “xalapa ta kala” (good/noble things are difficult)

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I once worked with a Russian immigrant (a secular non practicing Jew) who complained about the Orthodox who came to America and got on assistance so that the males of the family could spend all day praying (davening) and studying Torah/Talmud. I hasten to stress that those are a small minority but they do exist and they have there reasons why they think this is a good thing to do. I worked among many Orthodox Hasidic “Frumkeit” (observant of mitzvos) and they were hard working but I was startled to hear the truth about a small minority from a Russian Jewish immigrant. — I met a Korean who came to America with a suite case and $300. He lived on a huge pot of cabbage with a few shreds of meat. He built up a 24 hour sidewalk flower stall and then opened a second and a third.

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‎”But perhaps the hallmark of the Liberal Arts major is to doggedly force ourselves to look where we would prefer not to look a […]” My experience is otherwise. Liberal Arts majors tend to be the most closed-minded. Because they have a university degree, they believe that they are smarter than EVERYMAN, which they often are. They believe that they have thought enough about philosophy to have come to reasonably well-thought-out conclusions, which they often have. But, these facts tend to make them LESS tolerant of those who disagree with them not MORE.

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One SJC graduate who became a professor at a college patterned somewhat after the SJC program confided to me: “I doubt many SJC alumni are middle-of-the-road; most are extreme right or extreme left. The extreme right went their because they saw ‘The Program’ as the last bastion of old dead white guys who shaped their values while the extreme left were attracted by something totally new and exotic.”

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I agree that America is exceptional in many good and bad ways, but this guy makes me sick. He is the reason that Glen Beck is a best seller and Fox news gets away with news reporting murder. He uses rather shaky logic to demonstrate that America is unquestionably powerful, intelligent, and virtuous to then draw the conclusion that it is like this because we believe in the basic tenets of the tea party movement, but doesn’t even bother to demonstrate a connection. He’s exceptionally flawed in his use of logic, but I guess that I am just being ‘elitist’.

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I know what you mean and that sort of thing makes me sick too, but I almost collapsed in shock when I received it from two people (one in Bhopal and the other in Peshawar.) Erik is not shocked because he lives in such places. John McCain made me sick. He said during the campaign “I am the only one who LITERALLY defended America” meaning his Vietnam war record. The way I saw things, America had no right to be there and then BEING there, they did not use every means to win, and Vietnam is Communist to this day and something of an ally I imagine. McCain (and others) stand on high moral ground about issues such as pro-Life but he didn’t shed too many tears when he was dropping bombs on pregnant villagers from 30,000 feet. And his first wife was kind of messed up from an injury, so he dumped her sorry @SS and found a sexy beer heiress. Then because of connections he was given a cushy job escorting big-shots around and he said to himself “hey, this politics stuff is easy, I can do this!” Then, when the world’s economy is collapsing he keeps repeating “our system is perfectly sound” (like he ever had the credentials to make that assessment) and he postpones debates so he can run to Washington and slap a few backs and call in a few favors thinking that he can save the world single-handedly John Wayne cowboy style (as a maverick rogue) just like he saved the world bombing those villagers while Joan Baez (that filthy left wing commie) was on the ground watching the blanket bombing and committing the treasonous act of talking to the enemy about peace. Oh, and, by the way, in my mind McCain joined the military because his family was military and he saw it as a path to fame and fortune so I don’t see his career as exactly patriotic and self-sacrificing. AND whenever he does is patriotic saber-rattling “America is the BEST” and “MY FRIENDS, my fellow Americans” all I can think of is “so what is wrong with Canada and Australia and New Zealand and a dozen other fine nations and cultures.” And when the moderator of a debate called him on the carpet because the Palin crowd started to shout violent things about Obama and Palin did nothing to rebuke them, McCain just said “Dont you insult those fine patriotic Americans in that crowd of would-be lynchers and vigilantes” which demonstrated to me just how cowardly and weak-minded McCain is, because he could have simply said “Yes, Palin was wrong and the crowd was wrong” because reasonable educated people realize that sometimes they can be wrong and they admit that.

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You just beat the stuffing out of that straw man, William. I think that it’s out for the count. It was my understanding, though, that we were talking about something else: American exceptionalism.

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we are simply “talking” about what is on our minds. Do you agree or disagree with my assessment of McCain. If you prefer to remain silent then I respect that. From my point of view what I said about McCain has a lot to do with the topic of “American Exceptionalism” and why I have negative feelings and am stunned when two people, one from Bhopal and another from Peshawar send me such a video and concur with its positive views of America. I do hope you are not questioning the pertinence of the McCain remark simply because you do not care to deal with the reality of it. But as I said, I will respect your right to ignore that topic and not “go down that road.”

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‎”Do you agree or disagree with my assessment of McCain”? I did not vote for him, but, no, I don’t think that your assessment was correct. More importantly, I did not think that it was relevant. For one thing, Tea Partiers disagree with McCain almost as much as they disagree with President Obama. There was a strong Tea Party movement against McCain during the primary season. So, since the discussion was veering towards what Tea Partiers think about American Exceptionalism, references to McCain were doubly irrelevant.

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For what it’s worth as a matter of interest – HERE is what the fellow in Peshawar wrote along with the youtube post (and by the way, he writes under an assumed name because it is not SAFE to express his sort of views in Pakistan and when I gave him a friend to add in Peshawar he declined because he fears for his life) – he wrote “”It’s high time someone said this. I am sick of people, living in third world backwaters, saying, “Ah! Those stupid Americans”. They live off American aid money and yet have the gall to say this. Kudos to Bill Whittle for doing justice here.”

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when your friend used the word “people,” he meant “the intelligentsia.” Ordinary people in the Third World are generally completely uneducated about politics, and, even if they did have such an opinion about Americans, they’d likely keep it to themselves, since they would view such a statement as “political,” and thus very dangerous to utter.

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I remember you excellent point about that fellow in Egypt in the Internet cafe who was dragged out by the authorities and beaten severely because he dared to criticize government

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There is an “election” today in Egypt.I predict that the gov’t wins
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Ha ha, very funny, BAKSHEESH…. by the way, my Philippine connections tell me that the government is fighting corruption and making it a more desirable place for foreign investment and there is some economic resurgence

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There is more ‘real’ democracy in the Philippines. It is what it is, but it’s not quite as phony as the democracy in the Middle East. I could, but won’t tell stories about “democracy” Middle East style.

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better not to tell. Ha ha, last week I exchanged Blackberry pin numbers with long time friend in Jakarta Indonesia, and now I can do it with people in Peshawar… here is what my Peshawar friends is telling me in chat right now about cell phones – nokia so common , samsung, motor so commmon here , messenges almost free, mite on my net work , 800 sms for just 8 rupees , and one dollar equal to 86 rupees

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isnt the Internet amazing! If anything brings about world peace and better understanding and dialogue it will be the Internet and the common person in the street

plus, of course the secular seduction of Nike shoes, Jack Daniels, video games and satellite TV (material things

I know one gung-ho progressive Muslim in Bangladesh who graduated from Harvard and returned to his native land. One day I asked him WHY he went to Harvard if his culture is so great and ours sucks… so he said “I have often wanted to address that issue” and then he made some half-@ass comment that said and meant nothing… People in U.A.E. decry western society and then sent their children to Harvard and M.I.T. … and my best friend in Mangalore South India is a devout Hindu woman who teaches high school in a Catholic school run by nuns where most of the students are Muslim girls whose families want them cloistered. I asked her why the Muslims could not get it together to create cloistered schools but she had no ready answer for that one.

Neanderthal and Anarchy

November 17, 2010

Noam Chomsky remarked in passing that Neanderthal were on the earth a total of 400,000 years and as far as we know their form of government was anarchy (which does not mean shear chaos but rather loosely associated tribal groups similar to the town in the opening scene of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” and similar to tribal regions in Pakistan and Afghanistan today.) Our ancestors, the Homo Sapiens have only been around about 200,000. The complete Neanderthal genome has actually been constructed from fossil DNA. No Neanderthal artifact has ever been discovered which could not have come from farther than 50 miles of the camp site. Neanderthal tools never changed. The Neanderthal ate only meat and burned about 5,000 calories a day. A Homo Sapiens has a hard time burning more than 4,000 calories a day (I think.) All male Neanderthal skeletons show multiple healed fractures. Neanderthal used a short heavy spear which could not be thrown and so they had to get quite close to their prey. It has occurred to me that some spirit of charity towards wounded hunters was a survival advantage to the group. Groups who were selfish and refused to nurse an injured hunter back to health probably died off.

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well, think of the times when people negotiate and talk of a “win win” compromise. That Indian may have had some fierce sense of morality which compelled him to purchase the trinkets with the pelts. But, also, he may have had the entrepreneurial insight to realize that if he gave something to the strange new white people, then they might further benefit him. You know how they say “there is no such thing as a free lunch” and “if it’s too good to be true then it probably isn’t true.” I mean, try to think of a purely selfless action done with absolutely no hope or expectation of some “quid pro quo” return. Some people might point to a Socrates or a Buddha or a Jesus but even in those extreme situations it is still possible to see some kind of “quid pro quo” at work. I could be totally wrong and I often am. Just saying. But when Pres. McKinley agonized over the ethics of invading the Philippines it is said that he knelt in prayer and SUDDENLY the Lord answered him with the realization that it was kind of his “white man’s burden” to civilize these distant savages (even though they were and are deeply Roman Catholic and were under Spanish rule for over 300 years.) But when the Lord Almighty shined the light of understanding into the heart of Pres. McKinley he was able to sleep like a baby! —- Also, it has to do with that selfish gene business and the unselfish gene, the more rotten S.O.B’s simply died off because there is some quid pro quo advantage of natural selection to being “a nice guy.”

Supporting the war

November 11, 2010

am I the only one here who doesn’t support our troops?

On the one hand, I know that “war is hell.” Violence is ugly. On the other hand, I grew up in the 1950s around WWII veterans. They had no choice. They were drafted “for the duration” which mean, indefinitely until the war is over. So “support” is a complex question or a two edged sword if you will. If a service person needed a place to sleep in NYC I would pull out the air mattress for the living room floor. I do not think that war with Iraq and Afghanistan was the only possible course of action but then I am not an expert in such questions of foreign affairs and issues of military defense. Each and every war is different. The Civil War seemed to be individual battles in different farmers fields. WWI was trench warfare. WWII had moving “front lines” but a definite distinction between combatants and civilians. Vietnam did not have front lines but rather PERIMETERS. One was encircled and one could not easily distinguish between civilian and combatant so there were “free fire zones.” It is my understanding that the Spanish first developed Guerrilla (little war) tactics which successfully kept Napoleon out. I am doing this off the top of my head so pardon any errors or omissions. Now, as I see it, terrorism is as far beyond guerrilla as guerrilla was beyond American Revolutionary tactics, which in turn was a far cry from the regimented and choreographed wars of Napoleon. Someone once commented that every General is a professional historian. Even in Russian military academies the American Civil War battles are studies, as well as ancient battles.

My wife and I were watching a weekly television crime drama and a physician who was also a police officer was forced to shoot a criminal. The criminal collapsed. The officer/physician placed his finger on the criminals neck to detect a pulse and confirm death. The actors expression was obviously meant to explore the conflict between the physician who swears an Hippocratic (or Maimonidean) oath to preserve life vs. the law enforcement officer’s oath to defend and protect and use lethal force when necessary. I said to her that this is not realistic for me because if you issue a weapon to someone and authorize them to use lethal force under certain circumstances, then they must be comfortable with their duty. People become accustomed to what they must do. If they let each human tragedy eat away at them then it would destroy them. A physician must distance themselves from the unavoidable suffering and death of the terminally ill. A good prison officer cannot afford to have an emotional investment in the circumstances of their prisoners and remain ethical and effective. The worst tragedy is when young men go to combat and become intoxicated with the power of taking human life as we have seen in recent news. There are always emotional casualties among soldiers, police, health care workers. Often someone on a children’s cancer ward will burn out after a few years.

This thread is on a sensitive topic. We should bear in mind several things. 1.) Facebook has certain guidelines regarding groups. Comments which might possibly be regarded as some form of bias or hatred should be avoided as they may violate FB Terms of use and this group might be disabled. 2.) We should avoid temper,anger, flaming. 3.) This is a group for SJC alumni and so we have many “great books” types of observations which we may make on any thread topic, even the most controversial. 4.) This group is moderated and inappropriate comments will be deleted and unduly disruptive members may be remove from the group. I am NOT saying that anything inappropriate has been posted so far, but I do see the potential for a thread like this to go ballistic so FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED. Thank you.

@Lola: I am certain you learned much from your experiences. As Nietzsche said “If this does not kill me it will only make me stronger.” When I was in Junior High in the 1960s we had to read Stephen Crane’s “Red Badge of Courage.” My FATHER had to read that book in the 1930s. My stepson had to read that book in the 1990s, but in addition he had to read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” which will now become a standard in the curriculum. Stephen Crane wrote his book in TEN DAYS FLAT, and had never seen an actual battle. Frankl wrote his book based on his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps. We are all well aware of how war experience influenced Hemingway, Salinger and Vonnegut (who survived the Dresden fire bombings in a meat locker.)

I do not want anyone to assume that what I am about to say is in any sense “preaching or proselytizing” and so I will mention that personally I am a self-identified eclectic Hindu-Buddhist pluralist. The New Testament mentions that “wars will always be with you until the end of time, wars and rumors of war.” Now we are also told that “blessed are the peacemakers.” We may deduce that those peacemakers shall make peace from time to time but that wars will be unavoidable. Moses, when he forbids the gleaning of fields adds almost as an afterthought that “the poor shall always be with you.” Jesus also mentions (almost as an afterthought) that the poor shall always be with you as the woman anoints his feet with precious ointment. Yet we see elsewhere that IF one would be perfect that they should sell all that they have and give it to the poor. The Epistle of James says that pure religion is simply to comfort widows and orphans in their affliction. Some years ago one Papal encyclical addressed the idea of eliminating world poverty. The dissonance of these various verses is self-evident. Even secular humanist social activists take up the goal of eliminating war and poverty quite apart from any dogma or doctrine of sacred scripture. War and poverty are our perennial koans which it is our duty to ever ponder and which are noble in theory but incommensurate with practical reality. So we become ethical Don Quixotes who sing “Dream the Impossible Dream” and then go off charging at windmills.

@Lola: I am an old parrot whose cage has been for years in many and various interesting parlors and I repeat what I have heard many times, but I thank you for your kind sentiments. I am like that phony wizard of Oz and I am what I only appear to be through the use of smoke and mirrors.

In a recent interview of Charlie Rose with Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens is described as someone who can MARSHAL endless facts to support some argument as he delves into the seemingly bottomless search engine of his memory. Noam Chomsky also has that gift to MARSHAL so many facts and historical points. I admire the ability to “marshal evidence” in an impromptu fashion and it makes for a lively and engaging discussion. Ancient Jain philosophy has a notion of “anekantavada” (also called multipointedness) which literally means “no one single view” and means that any attempt to express reality is but one partial aspect of reality seen from one particular vantage point.

There are many intricate dynamics in the causal nexus of world military actions. This little Sufi teaching story is pertinent to our question at hand. “What is fate?” Nasrudin was asked by a scholar. “An endless succession of intertwined events, each influencing the other.”

“That is hardly a satisfactory answer. I believe in cause and effect.”

“Very well,” said the Mulla, “look at that.” He pointed to a procession passing in the street.

“That man is being taken to be hanged. Is that because someone gave him a silver piece and enabled him to buy the knife with which he committed the murder; or because somebody saw him do it; or because nobody stopped him?”

this group was started with NO MODERATION and a number of profane and inappropriate comments were made. Since we are all adults as you point out I am certain that no Admin will have any need to exercise their administrative power to delete comments or ban members, but racial or ethnic slurs will not be tolerated and the very fact that Facebook creates the position of Administrator with moderation powers means that they are necessary at times. So we are both in perfect agreement that 1.) we are all to mature to step beyond the bounds of good discretion, and 2.) administrative powers have been created to deal with instances where someone transgresses those bounds.

Here is the post which caused me concern:

Of course they aren’t ALL dim, but have you been to an army base? The vast majority are lost 18 year olds. But whatever. Brilliant or dumb, it probably wasn’t their decision to go kill whichever brown foreign teenagers we are supposed to hate this week.

Well, Ms R, then I suggest that since R K is the creator of this group you speak to him and explain that I am not doing a good job of being administrator and that he should ban me from the group and appoint someone more to your liking as an administrator. I am sure he will give your request serious consideration and perhaps accommodate you. Until such time I am an administrator and I perform my duty as I see fit in the best interest of the group regardless of whether you like it or not. Just for the record here is the post today which gave me concern – Someone wrote, regarding our recruits —- Of course they aren’t ALL dim, but have you been to an army base? The vast majority are lost 18 year olds. But whatever. Brilliant or dumb, it probably wasn’t their decision to go kill whichever brown foreign teenagers we are supposed to hate this week.(end of quoe) — You will notice that this post mentions the word “hate” and also mentions skin complexion. In my estimation that borders on inappropriate. The worst incident was when Oliver called Erik Grettir Jacobs a “worthless sack of dung.” Anyway, good luck in you efforts to ostracize me. It really all comes down to how Raighne Kirk wants the group moderated or whether anyone even cares if it is moderated. Remember, this group reflects upon SJC. Each of us can create any number of private groups and run them as we see fit so long as Facebook does not deem them as inappropriate. If I am willing to be intimidated by your complaints then I will be incapable of moderating the group and there is no point to my presence here.

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@Everyone: 1.) The thread in question starts with these very words “sorry if this post offends anyone” which means that the author realized that such a topic might easily become offensive and get out of hand. 2.) Facebook IS controlled by bots which tally certain keywords, posting frequency and who knows what other algorithms so if we err then it is better to err on the side of being conservative and circumspect and tactful rather than overly passionate. 3.) We should develop some definitions or a constitution defining what is acceptable and what is not. 4.) I have not as yet deleted anyones post or removed anyone from the list but it is sobering to occasionally remind people that there is moderation. 5.) I did not HIGHLIGHT which post raised a red flag until I was challenged nor did I single out any individual by name to embarrass them. 6.) Ms. R initial post in this thread sounds like a vote to return to the chaos of F bombs and ad hominem. 7.) If it bothers anyone to know that there ARE rules and standards and consequences and they find that very notion of moderation oppressive then I question their maturity. … What Mr. S offers as definitions of trolling and flaming (plus reference to Facebook’s published official policy) is very constructive. I will repost it as a DOC and attempt to add to it.
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Trolling: initiating or inciting an argument on the forum. Like a thread saying “Facebook Groups suck.”

Flaming: an offensive, blatantly insulting and disrespectful response or statement.

For example:

I say : “Facebook Groups is an interesting experiment. I like reading the Johnnies Group more than sifting through my newsfeed.”

Someone responds : “Well, you are an idiot and I hate whoever thought it was a good idea to add me to this group. I will now bug the shit out of all you for the next three days and then leave the group.”

I endorse these kinds of comments being deleted, as well as warning trolls and flamers that they may lose their membership.

Why does it matter? Because a culture of open dialogue is not without its nuisances. Because we have a good thing going, and I think it ought to be protected. Because I believe in editing, refining, and getting to the point.

I don’t have time to read through every thread, so I am glad that there are lots of admins. Do what you will.

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I cannot believe that the color of someone’s skin, or their age, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, creed and any other number of things are pertinent to any discussion. I doubt that anyone can recite the eye color of all the presidents from Washington to Obama. I find the following sentence offensive and unnecessary : “But whatever. Brilliant or dumb, it probably wasn’t their decision to go kill whichever brown foreign teenagers we are supposed to hate this week.” These are my values and I stand by them. I believe in being PROACTIVE and reminding the group of things BEFORE a discussion gets out of hand.

Creating more jobs

November 4, 2010

One should not put the cart BEFORE the horse. In order to employ tomato pickers, first there has to be a field, second there has to be seeds, thirdly the seeds must be planted, fourth there must be water and sunshine…. oh and there must be a market of consumers for the tomatoes … ON A DIFFERENT NOTE … our societies are predicated not simply on productivity and consumption but on WILD SPECULATIVE INCREASE AND GROWTH of the sort that cannot be realistically sustained… at least that is my gut feeling… our notion of prosperity is not simply having some lentils and rice to cook for dinner but rather how on having a 3rd car, a summer home, properties which appreciate in value, a portfolio… I am reminded of Hoover’s speech prior to the crash where he stated that every person in the nation could become wealthy…. I apologize that I am neither an economist nor an historian to back up this post with volumes equivalent to “Wealth of Nations” or “Das Kapital” … but to me some of this seems intuitively obvious

The Emperor Has No Clothes

October 29, 2010

I honestly believe that the American model of government is flawed, failed, outmoded for one very simple reason: a person with no formal training or expertise but a lot of charisma can become president – which makes as much sense as going to a witch doctor for a cure instead of a board certified physician. For all his short-comings Nixon passed the bar exam and could read financial statements.

I just recently learned that the practice of OSTRACISM was introduced into the democratic cities of ancient Greece PRECISELY so that any citizen who is getting too popular and charismatic could be BANNED for 10 years to prevent them from usurping power. Now we have the reverse. The best media whore gets to lead the nation. And they get on all the talk shows.

But the real issue to me is…. no matter how smart someone is or how much they read or care about brain surgery… would you WANT them to perform brain surgery upon you without all the training and certification that goes into becoming a brain surgeon? The idea that someone/ anyone with only a high GPA and some flair for business could charismatically rise up through the ranks of public popularity and become a world leader is to me fundamentally flawed. Someone once commented that each and every military general is a professional historian who has studied every battle from Thucydides through the Civil War to Vietnam. Consider the process which produced histories fine generals. What is even more flawed and broken to me is the idea that any single individual regardless of training or credentials could save or destroy a nation. I don’t KNOW what the answer is because I am a basically stupid person will very little formal training. What I do sense is that “the emperor has no clothes” and I am the only average twit who has become aware of this and made some mention of it. Andy Warhol is said to be famous for transforming art from a lone starving artist in a garret into a Corporate enterprise employing 200 people. Yet the Presidency seems stuck in that 18th century paradigm of the lone artist. Even McCain’s rhetoric about being a “rogue” and a “maverick” bring to mind the image of some wild beast incapable of the cooperative effort necessary to haul logs in a teakwood forest or plow the north 40 field.

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What utterly BLOWS my mind is that large segments of America LOVE to portray themselves as Jesus loving Bible-based Christians and YET a tiny, bizarre cult like Skull and Bones at Yale, where the do God only knows what with the stolen bones of Geronimo (clearly demonic practices) … that such a weird group should produce so many of the nation’s influential leaders. And G.W. Bush willingly did all that sh!t and then sobs about how he gave his life to Jesus one day while strolling along the beach with NO LESS than Rev. Billy Graham himself. How is Skull and Bones any different from the worship of Moloch? Yale finally came out of the dark ages in the 60s when they became co-ed. When are they going to demolish Skull and Bones. Kingman Brewster earned immortal fame from saying no to them on tap day and a total of nine have declined the “honor” I believe.

James:
I think it is a liberal conceit to imagine that Republican Presidents like Eisenhower, Reagan, and George W. Bush, were stupid. You just don’t get to that level in politics being stupid. Nancy Reagan said that ‘Ronnie was always reading, and always thinking about history and politics'[I paraphrase]. George W. had a mediocre GPA at Yale, but it was higher than John Kerry’s. And stupid people don’t make it through Harvard Business School. Eisenhower, of course, was the organizational genius who won the Second World War. It hurts Democrats to describe Republican leaders like these as stupid.

Another gripe I have with the Democratic party is their insistence that ‘we just didn’t explain our policies well’. No, the people didn’t like the policies, and that’s why a Revolution is happening on Tuesday.

I don’t think those who describe the Democratic party as elitist are criticizing them for being educated. They’re criticizing them for a monolithic worldview inculcated at elite institutions of learning such as the Ivy League. About ninety percent of the faculty at such places describe themselves as Democrats. Views that help one get along, whether as student or professor, tend to be Democratic views. Taxing Republicans, who are overrepresented among small business owners, is usually considered a righteous part of Nature’s plan. I might add, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, that the rise of Big Government and the Welfare State since WW2 has been a tremendous jobs program for highly educated white people, and, in recent years, for well educated minorities too.

Two books published in the 1990s explain how things came to this pass. One ‘The Bell Curve’, was written by two Harvard professors who apparently didn’t get the political correctness memo. It was roundly condemned for somehow justifying racism, but in fact the book is mostly about the role of IQ in changing social structures. I suggest reading it, rather than listening to its many critics who haven’t read it. The other is Christopher Lasch’s post-humously published, ‘The Revolt of the Elites’. It is about the rise of symbol manipulating intelligentsia and the threat to Democracy. Lasch described very clearly, twenty years ago, the conflict which we will see played out at the ballot box on Tuesday.

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Barbara:

I’ve been at a lot of institutions. Never seen one dominated by Democrats. That’s a self-serving fiction. So is the belief that big govt. somehow dates from the 20th century, whether WWII (as here) or the more commonly invoked ND. The “small business owner” is far more endangered by the Republican agenda that serves corporate consolidation than he is by taxes, which are fairly small compared to the rest of the world. Witness how many small business owners actually move to Somalia, which is of course a deregulated heaven for capitalism.

Fortune:
What is this “monolithic world view” taught at “Ivy League institutions?” These are all conservative institutions – the administration is largely highly conservative, with only a few loud liberal faculty, usually. And thopse faculty are ignored by everyone but sensationalists. It seems to me that those who talk about the “Ivy League” like this haven’t actually gone there. The days of “God and Man at Yale” or whatever disappeared during the Reagan years. These schools are now solely by the rich, for the rich – complete welfare for the rich. Who tend to be conservative. Just my observation from actually being around these places.

William:
From my sorry, distant vantage point our entire system of governance seems like A CRAP SHOOT. Supreme Court Justices cling to their post for dear life until a President of their liking can get into office and appoint a replacement to their liking. And that appointee reigns until the Almighty Himself deigns to smite them with decrepitude. Does no one else see this as a ludicrous and inane system? What would make MORE sense to me is if a COLLEGE of justices were formed who would serve as a highly trained POOL from which to draw Justices. They would listen to each and every case and write their own opinions prior to the court ruling. One year after each case those opinions would be open to an examination and criticism by judicial peers who would grade and comment. One year after that critiquing the “virtual decisions” of that college of justices would enter into public domain and be perused by students of the law and the general public. THEN, when a justice needs to be replaced there is a highly trained pool of excellent candidates whose predilections are a matter of indelible public record. How would such a system be any WORSE than the non-system presently in place.
I should think such a system would be far more efficient. Oh and by the way PLEASE OUTLAW the absurd practice of filibuster. Have you NO SHAME? If you insist on something like filibuster then I suggest you substitue JUGGLING so at least there will be some skill and amusement to the process and “dropping the ball” will have an entirely new meaning.

Noam Chomsky

October 15, 2010

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ghoXQxdk6s&feature=related

Felicitas:
I don’t like Chomsky. I find his authority to be questionable, since he is a studied linguist. I’m not sure why he started to talk about politics and how people decided he was worth heeding.

William:
It amuses me that whenever we need some kind of medical attention we insist upon a highly trained and licensed medical doctor (preferably board certified) and not just any doctor but one with a specialty that fits our needs (endocrinologist, nephrologist, cardiologist, etc.) AND YET when we choose a leader for our nation we might in theory elect a “Joe the Plumber” or a former actor or any sort of person that has enough charisma and media clout to win the popular vote. IF that candidate should happen to have a degree in law or business or (God forbid) a PhD (Woodrow Wilson was the only one of THOSE) then we elect that candidate IN SPITE of their credentials and not because of their credentials. I am told that the average American abhors the notion that only lawyers should run for office. Yet how odd that people love to mock Jimmy Carter as “that PEANUT farmer” never realizing that Carter was trained as a nuclear engineer.

I rather like Chomsky. Anyone who can convincingly argue how sordid America is has my admiration.

Ibn Warraq – Islam’s Christopher Hitchens

September 13, 2010

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibn_Warraq

http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/246268/real-imam-rauf-ibn-warraq?page=1

Although not a member of any religion, he has a higher opinion of polytheism than of monotheism. He is the founder of the Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society. Despite his criticisms of Islam, he does not take the view that it cannot be reformed; he has a high opinion of Sufism and he works with liberal Muslims in his group. He has described himself as an atheist or an agnostic.

Prior to 2007, Ibn Warraq refused to show his face in public. This was due to fears for his personal safety and also due to his desire to travel to see his family in Pakistan without being denied access to Muslim countries. His face was blacked out on the ISIS website. More recently, he has decided to show his face openly and take part in public debates. However, his presence normally requires extensive policing.

Rauf praises the tyrants in Iran and is apparently ready to accept their money for the Islamic center at Ground Zero, but he fails to explain the term vilayet-i-faqih to American audiences. The term, literally “the guardianship of the jurist,” was developed by Ayatollah Khomeini in a series of lectures in 1969, and became the guiding principle of the government of Iran after he came to power in 1979. The concept is but an extension and slight modification of the Shia idea of walī, in which Ali and the imams succeeding him were considered guardians of the community, acting on behalf of God himself. Under this concept, the people of Iran are the wards of the ayatollahs, and the people of Iran owe the guardians absolute obedience in accordance with Sura IV verse 59 (“O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority from among you . . .”). Secondly, the exclusive right of interpretation of Islamic law belongs to religious scholars. Thus there is nothing democratic about it — its totalitarian character should be evident. Rauf’s endorsement of this principle makes him the unequivocal defender of totalitarian Khomeinism.

Constructive Criticism vs non-Construtive

September 8, 2010

Erik, regarding my MAIN question:

1.) ANYONE at all who criticizes any proposed measures whatsoever (be they legislative, economic, health care, foreign policy) SHOULD be willing not simply to criticize but to offer constructive ALTERNATIVES. (e.g. if everything that Bush does or Obama does sucks… then dont simply say it sucks but say what you think SHOULD be done, or who you think should be in charge and what they should do.)

2.) ANYONE connected with the government (e.g. congress who are said to have all sorts of gravy benefits like health care and even a freaking barber shop) should be able not simply to “talk the talk” but “walk the walk” (in other words, if John Q. Public has to tighten their belt, then John Q. Public Servant had damn well better be willing to tighten their own belts to the same degree.) I do realize that you are somehow connected with an embassy, but I think your own personal situation and benefits is very germane to whatever criticisms you level. And it sounds like you have to pay for your health insurance which means that you are putting your money where your mouth is. So you are not one of those people who soaks up the gravy but says “let them eat cake.”

Erik, you are in good shape because you are willing to give detailed positive answers/suggestions rather than simply complaining and also you candidly describe your health insurance status so you are not a privileged person living on Easy Street.