President-Elect Donald Trump meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on November 10, 2016. White House Photo by Pete Souza.
Dear Friends: The following contains some genuine political opinions, and while it is not meant to be an attack on anyone or anything, if you have simply had enough of political discussion (here I commiserate with you), consider yourself warned. The second half of the article is more important than the first.
On November 8, 2016, I swore that I would pay as little attention to the election returns as possible, that I would watch none of the television coverage, and that I would go to bed early and sleep through it. I accomplished all of those things but the third one. At approximately 2:00 a.m. EST, I awoke and my mind immediately went to that all-important question: “Who is my president going to be?” I looked at my phone, for I knew I would never go back to sleep otherwise, and saw the following two notifications.
The leaders of Britain’s major political parties (including a seventh not pictured) participated in a TV debate last month prior to the 2015 UK general election. Screenshot of ITV’s coverage of the debate taken from YouTube channel of Sky News
As I settle in for a year and a half of non-stop coverage of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I find myself bracing for blistering attack ads, billions of dollars in campaign spending, partisanship capable of offending even the Montagues & Capulets, and the inevitability of a conclusion that is unlikely to satisfy me in any tangible way. It’s enough to make me want to avoid watching the news for the next 18 months, but why should that be?
After all, elections used to be fun, or so I thought. I would take to them much as Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of Sherlock Holmes reacts to news of a gruesome murder with a gleeful, “The game is on!” Political elections are, after all, both the highest and lowest form of competitive sport. If only it were possible to cut down on all the TV commercials, reign in campaign spending, and force leading politicians to debate with many points of view rather than just one other! If only there was a way to enjoy watching all those glorious campaign gaffes and still know that none of my tax dollars would be negatively affected by the incompetence of said politicians!
Ladies and gentlemen, there is a way, but not in America. Instead, we need to go to a far older country – a kingdom, in fact. Yes, I’m talking about the United Kingdom, where the official campaign period is less than two months long, TV advertising is subject to strict regulations, and voters have some legitimate third (or fourth, or fifth) parties to choose from. Politics here plays out like Shakespearean drama about a mile from the location where Shakespearean drama was first performed. Continue reading →
Territory controlled by ISIS as of this week (dark red), as well as the area they claim (light red). Wikipedia image by Spesh531
There are a lot of lessons that we can take from the alarming expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Surely it is a parable, but what is the lesson to be learned? Never end a war without leaving a substantial American footprint behind? Never funnel weapons to a rag-tag coalition of revolutionaries whose motivations may well be dubious? Never trust an Arab government to be able to handle things on its own? Never elect a pussy to be president of the United States?
I can think of nothing more fundamentally human than the desire to cast blame when something goes wrong, to reach for the simple explanation to a complex problem, or to ignore the long view in favor of the emotions of the moment. Beyond that, we prefer to direct our focus inward rather than outward; in other words, we are far more adept at analyzing something according to our understanding of the world than we are at comprehending how another person’s understanding might cause them to act. Because we live our lives at an increasingly rapid pace, we fail to appreciate how deeply rooted humanity remains, both from a historical and cultural standpoint. Continue reading →
If I type the word “Scotland”, what pops into your mind? Kilted men playing bagpipes? “They may take our lives, but they can never take our freedom!”? A blurry image of something claimed to be the Loch Ness monster? Beautiful hills covered in thistles? A Scottie dog? Epic tales of Rob Roy? A style of golf that involves howling winds, bunkers capable of swallowing a man, and grass that can hide a ball from even the eyes of an eagle? Sean Connery or Andy Murray? The lovable accent for which Scots are famous? Shortbread cookies?
All of these things form part of the public image of Scotland, but if you look up the word “Scotland” on Wikipedia, this is the first sentence you will read (as of this writing): “Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom.”
This is actually a good sentence with which to begin the article, as it addresses some of the primary questions I receive regarding Scotland. “Is Scotland a country?” “Is Scotland part of Britain?” “Are Scottish people British?” “What all makes up the United Kingdom?” Continue reading →
Official government photograph of the 111th U.S. Senate
What, if anything, can we learn from examining the colleges attended by the 100 men and women of the U.S. Senate? Quite a lot, actually.
Last week, I decided to start an interesting experiment in which I would research which institutions of higher learning the current members of the U.S. Senate attended, which degrees they earned, and what (if any) difference exists between members of the two major parties. No long introduction is needed here, so I’ll just jump right in to the numbers and analysis. Continue reading →
Iran’s families are getting smaller. Flickr photo by Adam Jones
There are some things in Iran that are not in short supply. You need natural gas? No problem. Looking for some pistachios? They have you covered. Is your floor looking rather unadorned? They can give you a carpet with few rivals. And when it comes to women’s clothing, well, black is the new black.
Unfortunately, there are some items that are less common in Iran, or at least not as plentiful as they would prefer. Airplane parts would be one of them. International trade would be another. Surely some (but likely not all) would prefer that the country had a few more nuclear weapons. However, these deficits may all prove easier to overcome than the one that Iran’s government is currently campaigning against: a lack of babies. Continue reading →
The St. Sophia Cathedral complex in Kiev, Ukraine. Photo by Wikipedia user Elya
Ukraine has been in the news quite a bit lately. What began as a series of protests against President Viktor Yanukovych following his decision not to sign a trade deal with the European Union quickly escalated. Eventually, Yanukovych fled the country (or left orderly, depending on who you ask) and was removed from office by an act of parliament. The parliamentary chairman, Oleksandr Turchynov, became the acting president in charge of an interim government.
Within a few days, we all started hearing the word “Crimea” a lot as this semi-autonomous section of Ukraine became the center of an ever intensifying standoff between the Russian government led by Vladimir Putin, the new Ukrainian government in Kiev, and other foreign countries such as the United States. The rhetoric seems to get more severe by the day, Putin has received permission from his parliament to take military action in Ukraine to protect “Russian interests” (in addition to the apparent Russian military action already taken in Crimea), the Crimean parliament has voted to become part of Russia and put the issue to a public vote, and the Obama administration is struggling to come up with a proper response. Continue reading →
On a related note, I have a bridge for sale on the East River in New York City. Act now while supplies last!
Of all the odd things to come out of Egypt, this has to be one of the oddest. When all the best researchers in the world – with their fancy laboratories, millions of dollars in funding, and network of scandalously expensive universities – failed to find a cure for AIDS after more than three decades of attempts, a hapless military regime in a country that has not led the world in scientific research since the Middle Ages has managed to succeed where all others have failed! Not only that, but they have also cured Hepatitis C at the same time!
In a press conference last Saturday, with Defense Minister (and presidential hopeful) Field Marshal Abdel Fattah El-Sisi (pronounced “see see”, not to be confused with the English word “sissy”) in attendance, the head of Egypt’s Cancer Treatment and Screening Center, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Abdel-Atti, announced to the world the creation of the cleverly named Complete Cure Device (CCD). After all, why bother with fancy medical terminology when you can just call it exactly what it is? Continue reading →
Russian president Vladimir Putin poses with members of the gold medal-winning Russian figure skating team. (He’s the guy in the middle of all those hot ladies.) Official Russian presidency photo
If you have been paying much attention to American commentators lately, you would be tempted to think that the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi has less to do with the athletes than it does with the Russian president. Vladimir Putin, never one to cede the limelight to anyone, has been at the center of these games every step of the way, from the time he helped to convince members of the International Olympic Committee to let Russia’s beach resort town host the Olympics (a questionable decision given that there seem to be more naturally occurring palm trees there than piles of naturally occurring snow), to the visually stunning Opening Ceremony (a perfect propaganda opportunity, some would grumble), to posing for photos with newly minted Russian gold medalists in the team figure skating competition. You might be tempted to think these are Putin’s games rather than Russia’s.
There are few international leaders who are demonized in the United States as much as Putin, rightly or wrongly. From his body language in bilateral meetings with U.S. President Obama, to his championing of an anti-homosexual “propaganda” bill, to his insistence on masculine self-promotion, practically everything that Putin does is viewed by many in the United States as arrogant, power-hungry, or downright evil. Likewise, Americans often assume that the Russian president is a dictator and national elections are marred by fraud. Even if they do believe that Russians like Vladimir Putin, most Americans would be hard-pressed to explain why this is the case. Continue reading →
The oh-so-shiny Imperial Crown of India, part of Queen’s Elizabeth’s Crown Jewels. Flickr photo by Pietro & Silvia.
I woke up this morning to what can only be described as a sign of the apocalypse: The Queen of England is out of money! How can this be?!
Yes, in case you missed it, the British House of Commons’ public accounts committee has just released a report in which it states that the Queen’s reserve fund has dwindled from £35 million in 2001 to a measly £1 million today. While many UK government departments have been making sweeping cuts as part of the coalition government’s austerity drive over the last few years, Her Majesty’s household has only managed to trim its expenses by 5%. Continue reading →