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Category: Activism

This Bill Maher and Ben Affleck Exchange Is Incredibly Important For Liberals and Conservatives

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Let me first just say that I’m not sure if keeping score on something like this is good for anyone… But Bill had a strong point to make, but so did Ben actually.

Wow… I love a good debate, and this really was a huge debate to watch. On one side you have the liberal force of “tolerance” so that we don’t lump groups in a distortion of their true character (represented by Mr. Affleck), and on the other side we have the liberal cornerstone of an activism that has zero tolerance for any social and economic oppression subjugated by any ideology (represented by Mr. Maher). This article sums up a good portion of how I feel, but I think there is more to it. I think that what Bill was saying is incredibly important, and I think that what Ben was saying is crucial to actually solving the problem. Bill was pointing out that renouncing your faith should not be cause for being put to death, which it is perceived to be for many people. He quoted that something like 90% of Egyptians felt that leaving Islam should result in capital punishment, and I thought I’d heard the same about Saudi Arabia. That is astounding to me, and assuming that the polling is correct I am left terrified of how we might bridge the divide in our cultures.

Ben however, was taking a firm stance that you can’t just throw entire regions and cultures out like this – which I find admirable in terms of how we may ever have to address this problem. Where I find myself frustrated on this front is the double standard between the Middle East and the Heartland of America. Liberals like Ben (and maybe not him more specifically) almost predictably take this stance of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater on people and their cultures, until it comes to the Christian coalition (not the necessarily the actual organization with that name) of people across this country who are reamed constantly by the media for having faith. Some groups and individuals who call themselves Christians probably deserve some harsh feedback, but we don’t usually hear this same kind of nuanced approach with Christianity in America.

If someone wants to go after religion they don’t necessarily hurt my feelings – society needs people like that so you don’t end up with a population that thinks we should kill people who don’t believe in what we believe in and can’t prove. BUT, if you are going to do it you should remain consistent, and nuanced in your value judgements of these differing groups and their ideas. I wish Bill wouldn’t be so willing to throw people out like he does, and I wish Ben would clarify his standard, as well as recognize that what Bill was saying is scary. If those poll numbers don’t scare you then you must not be paying attention…

I will actually be taking a trip in November with my good buddy Gavin to Egypt, and I just want to say that I can’t wait to meet these people who are often villainized by the media – and who like me don’t have the world figured out yet. I’m sure we could come up with some astounding polling from the United States over the last century, so to side with Ben for a second I hope that we can work on finding our common ground so that maybe we can work on exchanging our best ideas, and not just harp on our differences.

So, here is the exchange, and below is a very interesting article about the whole thing. Please feel free to give me your feedback:

And due to neither of these men being representatives of Islam I figured we’d throw in this Reza Aslan interview that would most support Ben’s thinking for before you read an article about why Bill is right:

The Daily Beast
 

Bill Maher 1, Ben Affleck 0

The Real Time host’s spat with the Gone Girl star gets to the heart of a major and longtime problem within contemporary Western liberalism

Every once in a great while, something happens on television that you know while you’re watching it: Well, this is unusual. Those old enough to know what I’m talking about when I say “Al Campanis”  will remember that that was one of your more extreme cases. The exchange between Bill Maher and Ben Affleck on last Friday’s Real Time wasn’t a Campanis moment, but I knew instantly—watching it in, well, real time, as it were—that this was going to spark discussion,  as indeed it has.

In case you missed it, the two—both committed and thoughtful liberals—got into it on the question of whether Western liberals can or should criticize Islam. Mentioning freedom of speech and equal rights, Maher said: “These are liberal principles that liberals applaud for, but then when you say in the Muslim world, this is what’s lacking, then they get upset.” Sam Harris, the atheist author, agreed with Maher and said, “The crucial point of confusion is that we have been sold this meme of Islamophobia where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry towards Muslims as people. That is intellectually ridiculous.” Affleck, as if on cue, challenged Harris: “Are you the person who understands the officially codified doctrine of Islam?” And then: “So you’re saying that Islamophobia is not a real thing?” Right after, Affleck said that such criticisms of Islam were “gross” and “racist” and “like saying [to Maher] ‘you’re a shifty Jew.’”

It was cracking good TV, but it was more—it hit home because they were describing one of the most important debates within liberalism of the last…10 years certainly, as pertains to Islam, but 40 or 50 years as relates to arguments between the developed and the developing world, and close to a century when it comes to discussions of how culture should affect our understanding of universal, or as some would have it “universal,” principles. Reluctance to criticize the failures of other cultures has been a problem within contemporary liberalism, with negative consequences I’ll go into below. So this liberal is firmly on Maher’s side, even as I recognize that his rendering is something of a caricature.

Here’s some quick history for you. First, the Enlightenment happened, and humankind developed the idea of universal rights. ’Round about the 1920s, some scholars in the then-newish field of cultural anthropology started to argue that all rights, or at least values, were not universal, and that we (the West) should be careful about imposing our values on societies with traditions and customs so removed from our own.

A big moment here came with the debate over the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which asserted the universalist position without apology and which was pushed mostly by mainstream political liberals (Eleanor Roosevelt most notably). There were many critiques of the declaration from what we would today call “the left,” but those voices had little juice in those days, and when the UN adopted the declaration, it was a great victory for liberalism.

Fade in, fade out. Then came the anti-colonialist uprisings of the 1950s, Frantz Fanon, postmodern political theory, Vietnam, the Israeli occupation, the intifada, et cetera et cetera. All of these and many other kindred events seeped into the liberal bloodstream, still rich in universalist cells but now also coursing with the competing cells of cultural relativism (invariably a pejorative these days, although it wasn’t always).

And so, yes, we have seen in recent years from liberalism, or at least from some liberals (a crucial distinction, in fact), an unwillingness to criticize the reactionary aspects or expressions of other cultures, expressions that these liberals would have no hesitation whatsover in criticizing if they were exhibited by, say, Southern white Christians.

The most obvious example that comes to mind is that of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Muslim-African-Dutch-and-finally-American feminist intellectual. She of course is famous, now mostly for some of her more incendiary comments, but recall how she first became so: She and her collaborator, Theo van Gogh, had made a film critical of the oppression of women in the Muslim world. He was murdered, and she received death threats. She fled to the United States.

Now, here was a key moment: When she came to America in 2006, where was Hirsi Ali going to plant her flag? As she tells the story in her book Nomad, she met with liberal and conservative outfits. She says the liberal ones were “tentative” in their support for her and her ideas, but the conservative American Enterprise Institute embraced her totally, even though on certain issues (like abortion rights) she’s no conservative.

Hirsi Ali, of course, has subsequently gone on to say, quite controversially, that not just radical Islam but “Islam, period” must be “defeated.” But here’s the question: Before she started talking like that, why was she unable to find a home within American liberalism? It should be, and should have been, a core part of the mission of liberalism to support secular humanists and small-d democrats from all over the world, but from the Muslim world in particular. Most of these people are themselves liberals by Western standards, and they are desperate for the United States to do what it can to oppose the theocracies and autocracies under which they’re forced to live.

Maher, and certainly conservative critics, overstate the extent to which liberals fail to make common cause with such folks. Christian evangelicals who do work on, say, genital mutilation (which Hirsi Ali suffered) get a lot more attention in the media, because it’s more “interesting” that white conservatives give a crap about something happening to nonwhite women halfway across the world. But as the writer Michelle Goldberg pointed out in a review of Hirsi Ali’s Nomad for the journal I edit, Democracy, numerous women’s organizations and feminist groups do work to advance women’s rights in the Muslim world.

Goldberg wrote: “A few years ago, I visited Tasaru Ntomonok, which is the kind of place Hirsi Ali would probably love—it’s a Kenyan shelter that houses and educates girls fleeing female genital mutilation and forced marriage. Among its supporters are the high profile feminist Eve Ensler, the feminist NGO Equality Now, and the United Nations Population Fund, a bête noire of many conservatives. There are similar grassroots organizations working toward women’s liberation all over the world.”

Even so, Maher has identified a problem within Western liberalism today. Debates about multiculturalism are appropriate to a later stage of development of the infrastructure of rights and liberties than one finds in some other parts of the world. That infrastructure has existed in Western countries for a century, and it is the very fact that it was so solidly entrenched that opened up the space for us to start having debates about multiculturalism in the 1970s and ’80s.

But in much of the Arab and Muslim world, that infrastructure barely exists. So—and how’s this for a paradox?—to insist that our Western standards that call for multiculturalist values should be applied to countries that haven’t yet fully developed the basic rights infrastructure constitutes its own kind of imposition of our values onto them. A liberated woman or a gay man who lives in a country where being either of those things is at best unaccepted and at worst illegal doesn’t need multiculturalism. They’re desperate for a little universalism, and we Western liberals need to pay more attention to this.

via Bill Maher 1, Ben Affleck 0 – The Daily Beast.

Do You Have Trouble Getting Up In the Morning? Maybe You Should Work Here – Tim’s Place: Where breakfast, lunch and HUGS are served! – YouTube

Are you kind of a Grinch and you know it? Well buckle up – I dare you to not love this! If you can pull that off let me know, I will see to it myself that we get you some help.

Tim’s Place: Where breakfast, lunch and HUGS are served! – YouTube.

 

This Man Was Given 2 Years To Live With ALS In 1963, And He’s Still Alive… And That’s Not Even The Most Interesting Thing About Him.

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Stephen Hawking has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Did I just blow your mind? Discovering this bit of information was actually somewhat exciting for me, as I have always thought of the disease to be an absolute guarantee of death within a few years. I realize that a lot of people that I know do not like Mr. Hawking, and you don’t have to (no one can make you), but it is probably worth at least learning his story, and what makes him significant (other than the fact that he’s survived having ALS for half of a century). It will probably comfort a lot of my friends at least somewhat to know that Mr. Hawking isn’t as militant an atheist as some. He has actually been quoted saying:

“An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when he might have carried out his job!” – Stephen Hawking

 

The recent ALS Ice Bucket Challenge campaign has been unbelievably successful. Much of the success of this campaign is probably correlated with the fact that there seemed to be a very simple, and kind of fun activity that tangibly allows people to at least do something, other than give money. The other side of the campaign that is probably responsible for having raised $94.3 million, in less than a month (as opposed to $2.7 million in the same time period the previous year) is the outpouring of personal stories. I recently read the book “You Are Now Less Dumb”, and in this book David McRaney attempts to establish that the most basic of human instincts is to have a narrative – we must make sense of it all. He tries to explain how we tell ourselves simple lies sometimes just to make sense of our environment. It might seem like I’m bringing this up to say that religion is an opiate, but that is not my intent. I simply want to describe the importance in the human condition of relating to others. This is what Stephen looked like before ALS took over his body:

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SO, here is my challenge to you: I challenge you to watch this and try to address your prejudices against Mr. Hawking, be they ideological or biological – or simply watch it and enjoy it. I believe there is a God, and that in principle is why I would want to hear as much from someone like Hawking as possible. If you don’t have time for the video I at least urge you to read about some of Mr. Hawking’s discoveries and theories, he is a pretty smart fellow. Now I think I’ll go listen to the audiobook for his record breaking best selling book “A Brief History of Time”.

via Hawking 2013 – YouTube.

“Help Me Help You”: The Secrets of Food Marketing – eTalks

Think you aren’t being fooled by advertising tricks? Take a look at this so-called expert revealing food marketing’s secret weapon.No amount of marketing makes factory farming acceptable. You can stop the spin at http://www.ciwf.org.uk/truth

via eTalks – The Secrets of Food Marketing – YouTube.

 

So let’s pretend that we as a society collectively actually do believe that treatment of animals like this is ok (which I’m not confident that we feel that way at all) – shouldn’t we still at least have ways to address the health risks involved with this type of business practice? People are becoming more and more immune to antibiotics, and not just people who take antibiotics. I’m not saying that antibiotics are bad, but science tells us that our food is affecting our evolution/immune systems.

Do you ever wonder what it would take for us to actually make a change? I mean, what news do you think we would have to hear that would cause people to change how they live their lives? Organic food can be more expensive, at least at first. By the way that we subsidize the unhealthy food industry and “poor health” health care we actually end up paying more in many ways – oh and we’re less healthy… If you find this concerning then keep reading, or watching what you can find, that’s what I’m trying to do. Maybe you don’t feel that you can do much, but research where you buy, so you know what you buy.If you have time now or later I recommend watching the movie Food Inc., and I’ll be posting a related video below. You’ll have to find the full movie elsewhere, it may still be on Netflix.

P.S. We don’t need to be jerks to animals do we?… I eat meat, but can’t I still have remorse for their treatment? If you are really curious just look up PETA videos on youtube… Goodluck enjoying any meat for a while after watching those…

P.P.S. If you don’t want the government to step in a do any “social engineering” like limiting the container size in which you can sell soda pop (as NYC tried to do, not ban soda), then you need to vote with your wallet. We have a health crisis, and because we have a system that ties us all together through the “free market” insurance industry and emergency rooms end up being more expensive – while churning out patients who would have been better served with preventative measures…

2013-08-05

Skin In The Game: High Stakes on High Temps

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When there is a big debate I love to hear “the facts” as we know them, but I also love hearing about the passion with which those in close proximity to the item in question conveys their perspective. Does the person speaking have anything to gain or lose in this debate? Like when I hear people talk about the gospel: the most compelling argument (to me anyway) that Jesus was who people say that he says he was is that his disciples, who lived among him, were almost all reportedly tortuously murdered still claiming what they had been sentenced to death for proclaiming. They had “skin in the game”, and it didn’t shake their resolve. This matter of course still requires faith, just as many consequential aspects of life can require faith in planning, but they had first-hand experience with something and they were willing to die horrifically for that thing (or so it is told, and believing in these events does require faith).

This video describes multiple groups with “skin in the game” (whether it be professional, financial, or actual physical skin) in regards to the climate of our planet possibly changing – and they believe that the climate is experiencing change. One thing about “free markets” is that they can indicate much about items unknowable, yet consequential, and how those with skin in the game estimate they should act. Can we guarantee that people in the United States will continue to gain weight, and keep paying for care which allows them to experience less indigestion but maintain too much weight? No, but if you were to bet on it how would you bet? Billions of dollars are bet every year, by people who don’t like losing money, on the idea that people are not going to lose weight, and those people make a lot of money. If you were an insurance company would you haphazardly put billions of dollars at stake for something that is “laughable”? Well, those companies which have the opportunity to bet on whether or not the climate is changing detrimentally to some degree are making the bets that would indicate that they think we have a problem with the health of our little planet’s climate. I guess if the free market can’t inform some conservatives then I’m not sure that it’s going to happen anytime soon.

This speech from Senator Whitehouse is from December of 2013, and it seems to have just recently picked up some more traction in the social media world. He is speaking against Oklahoma Senator (and apparently very nice guy) Senator Inhofe. I have had multiple friends work for Inhofe, and the reports seem to be that he’s sincere, but that doesn’t mean that he’s right.

George Takei: Why I love a country that once betrayed me – YouTube

Having grown up as I have in a very conservative environment, and in many ways I’m very grateful for that, I repeatedly find myself struggling with one a few inconsistencies that I find in the fabric of the culture. As human beings are imperfect creatures I think this would be the case wherever one is to have been from. But seeing as how I was raised as I was where I was I find that I can most easily point out hypocrisies, as well as triumphs, in my home culture.

The moral/cultural hypocrisy that I have repeatedly found myself most frustrated with has been reflected in this question: as Christian theology teaches that we are all imperfect how could it be that our nation and it’s history wouldn’t as well be tainted?

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Stephen Colbert wrote a book in 2012 titled America Again: Re-Becoming The Greatness We Never Weren’t, which I firstly assumed was titled nonsensically just because he is funny, and he was intending to be “ridiculous”. However, after I heard him explain the title in an interview it made perfect sense. It is intended to be a “poke” at the conservative historicity of America for being the best that there ever was, and the best there ever will be – while also perpetually being in the process of going straight down the tubes. I could tell some anecdotal stories about trying to talk with some of my very conservative friends about some of the “wrong doings” of our nation in the past, and even the present, and how those conversations didn’t go very well. Rather however, I think it may be a better idea for me to just say if you don’t think that there is revisionist history about how we have treated human beings (not to mention animals or this marvelously inhabitable planet), I ask you to have a conversation with someone who you know has deep rooted conservative ideals about things like the dropping of the Atom Bomb, or reparations for Native Americans and African Americans. I know it’s a difficult conversation, but look into the history of some of our greatest shortcomings, lest we never forget and repeat them.

And for the record, I am most definitely aware that revisionist history and self-pleasing politics are not unique to Oklahoma, The South, or The United States. I know best about Oklahoma, and so that is the narrative from which my opinion is most founded. There is no question that the North had slave/racism, or any number of hot button items may have a partial or blinded perspective. I just hope that you can forgive me if I’ve hurt your feelings by seeming to bully my home – if I am doing that it’s unintentional.

Here is a story about one of our greatest injustices that seems rarely to be told, and fortunately for us it is being told by a very funny and well-liked American, George Takei.

via George Takei: Why I love a country that once betrayed me – YouTube.

The Trials of Ted Haggard

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Over the last several months I have found myself trying to write, but sometimes I don’t feel that I can fully express what I’m trying to write about, and at other times I find myself discouraged by our scalding discourse. I go through different phases of curiosity, and they are often fueled by logic games and divergent philosophies. Over the last several months I’ve felt myself having a greater desire to hear people’s stories. For the life of me I can’t get passed this recent feeling of sorrow for people who believe in the sincerest of ideals, but they know that they cannot live up to those ideals. There has been one person who I have had trouble getting out of my mind as I think about falling short of great expectations, and that man has been Ted Haggard. I haven’t found that I agree with Mr. Haggard on plenty, but for multiple reasons I just can’t get his “fall from grace” in his community out my mind. I know i haven’t shared much lately, but I felt that this was worth worth sharing.

 

Tired of That “I Want To Go To Church And Not Be Called Dumb Or Bigoted” Feeling? You’re Not Alone.

 

 

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In 2008 I moved to China to live with a group of Americans in China (including my sister) who had pledged to live amongst the Chinese, and teach English in their schools as a form of ministry. We of course couldn’t be overt,  that would have been illegal, but we would live our lives and set examples so that they might find themselves curious why we loved so freely, and shared what we had with such ease – well that was the goal at least. While I was living in China someone introduced me to the teachings of Tim Keller, and at first my pride prevented me from giving it a shot and listening to my friend’s advice (and I think this same know-it-all mentality is a one of the biggest plagues of the human condition).  Ever since I began listening to Mr. Keller I have found great comfort in people having differing opinions, and in the idea that God made me curious and surely wants me to ask as many questions as I genuinely am able!!!

I just ran across this clip recently, while I recommend watching longer talks of his, I know about this “know-it-all” human condition from which all people seem susceptible of falling victim, so I figured I’d post a short and sweet video as an introduction for anyone willing to listen for a hand full of minutes on this beautiful Sunday. If you are interested in hearing more from Tim I recommend watching his talks at Google, which were reported at the time to have been the most crowded lectures by an author at Google (which surprised me). I will post one of them below from when he went to Google to discuss his book “A Reason For God”. I hope you enjoy.

 

Tim Keller at Google

Outliers: The Story of Success – Capitalizing On Your Opportunities (This Might Be My Favorite Thing That I Will Ever Post)

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For the last 6 years my very favorite book has been “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell. This book tells a story of modern man that resonates very deeply with me. He depicts the life stories of some very familiar cultural icons, and as a part of telling those stories he explains that these people had enormously unique opportunities, and then they took advantage of them. It wasn’t just that they were self-made people (he actually thinks that is a silly thing to say) because people need to have an opportunity to capitalize on. I have listened to this audiobook probably about 14 or 15 times at this point, and every time I think about some different, or other things just differently.

I wanted to post this first chapter because it describes something very important. Gladwell talks about the importance of interconnectedness, and the importance of having a civilly inclined community. My family has tried to use this as a model, some of us more than others, but this story of Roseto was very impactful to me. If you are from Oklahoma you might enjoy that the doctor being discussed in this 1950’s study is from the University of Oklahoma, so just a fun little heads up on that 🙂

I hope that you enjoy the article, but I also decided to post the entire audiobook from YouTube, I dare you to listen to is, and please tell me what you think if you do!

Grady’s Twitter

FIRST CHAPTER

‘Outliers’

By MALCOLM GLADWELL
Published: November 28, 2008

Outlier, noun.
out·li·er

1 : something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body

2 : a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample

1. Roseto Valfortore lies one hundred miles southeast of Rome, in the Apennine foothills of the Italian province of Foggia. In the style of medieval villages, the town is organized around a large central square. Facing the square is the Palazzo Marchesale, the palace of the Saggese family, once the great landowner of those parts. An archway to one side leads to a church, the Madonna del Carmine — Our Lady of Mount Carmine. Narrow stone steps run up the hillside, flanked by closely-clustered two-story stone houses with red tile roofs.

For centuries, the paesani of Roseto worked in the marble quarries in the surrounding hills, or cultivated the fields in the terraced valley below, walking four and five miles down the mountain in the morning and then making the long journey back up the hill at night. It was a hard life. The townsfolk were barely literate and desperately poor and without much hope for economic betterment — until word reached Roseto at the end of the nineteenth century of the land of opportunity across the ocean.

In January of 1882, a group of eleven Rosetans — ten men and one boy — set sail for New York. They spent their first night in America sleeping on the floor of a tavern on Mulberry Street, in Manhattan’s Little Italy. Then they ventured west, ending up finding jobs in a slate quarry ninety miles west of the city in Bangor, Pennsylvania. The following year, fifteen Rosetans left Italy for America, and several members of that group ended up in Bangor as well, joining their compatriots in the slate quarry. Those immigrants, in turn, sent word back to Roseto about the promise of the New World, and soon one group of Rosetans after another packed up their bags and headed for Pennsylvania, until the initial stream of immigrants became a flood. In 1894 alone, some twelve hundred Rosetans applied for passports to America, leaving entire streets of their old village abandoned.

The Rosetans began buying land on a rocky hillside, connected to Bangor only by a steep, rutted wagon path. They built closely clustered two story stone houses, with slate roofs, on narrow streets running up and down the hillside. They built a church and called it Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and named the main street on which it stood Garibaldi Avenue, after the great hero of Italian unification. In the beginning, they called their town New Italy. But they soon changed it to something that seemed more appropriate, given that in the previous decade almost all of them had come from the same village in Italy. They called it Roseto.

In 1896, a dynamic young priest — Father Pasquale de Nisco — took over at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. De Nisco set up spiritual societies and organized festivals. He encouraged the townsfolk to clear the land, and plant onions, beans, potatoes, melons and fruit trees in the long backyards behind their houses. He gave out seeds and bulbs. The town came to life. The Rosetans began raising pigs in their backyard, and growing grapes for homemade wine. Schools, a park, a convent and a cemetery were built. Small shops and bakeries and restaurants and bars opened along Garibaldi Avenue. More than a dozen factories sprang up, making blouses for the garment trade. Neighboring Bangor was largely Welsh and English, and the next town over was overwhelmingly German, which meant — given the fractious relationships between the English and Germans and Italians, in those years — that Roseto stayed strictly for Rosetans: if you wandered up and down the streets of Roseto in Pennsylvania, in the first few decades after 1900, you would have heard only Italian spoken, and not just any Italian but the precise southern, Foggian dialect spoken back in the Italian Roseto. Roseto Pennsylvania was its own tiny, self-sufficient world — all but unknown by the society around it — and may well have remained so but for a man named Stewart Wolf.

Wolf was a physician. He studied digestion and the stomach, and taught in the medical school at the University of Oklahoma. He spent summers at a farm he’d bought in Pennsylvania. His house was not far from Roseto — but that, of course, didn’t mean much since Roseto was so much in its own world that you could live one town over and never know much about it. “One of the times when we were up there for the summer — this would have been in the late 1950’s, I was invited to give a talk at the local medical society,” Wolf said, years later, in an interview. “After the talk was over, one of the local doctors invited me to have a beer. And while we were having a drink he said, ‘You know, I’ve been practicing for seventeen years. I get patients from all over, and I rarely find anyone from Roseto under the age of sixty-five with heart disease.'”

Wolf was skeptical. This was the 1950’s, years before the advent of cholesterol lowering drugs, and aggressive prevention of heart disease. Heart attacks were an epidemic in the United States. They were the leading cause of death in men under the age of sixty-five. It was impossible to be a doctor, common sense said, and not see heart disease. But Wolf was also a man of deep curiosity. If somebody said that there were no heart attacks in Roseto, he wanted to find out whether that was true.

Wolf approached the mayor of Roseto and told him that his town represented a medical mystery. He enlisted the support of some of his students and colleagues from Oklahoma. They pored over the death certificates from residents of the town, going back as many years as they could. They analyzed physicians’ records. They took medical histories, and constructed family genealogies. “We got busy,” Wolf said. “We decided to do a preliminary study. We started in 1961. The mayor said — all my sisters are going to help you. He had four sisters. He said, ‘You can have the town council room.’ I said, ‘Where are you going to have council meetings?’ He said, ‘Well, we’ll postpone them for a while.’ The ladies would bring us lunch. We had little booths, where we could take blood, do EKGs. We were there for four weeks. Then I talked with the authorities. They gave us the school for the summer. We invited the entire population of Roseto to be tested.”

The results were astonishing. In Roseto, virtually no one under 55 died of a heart attack, or showed any signs of heart disease. For men over 65, the death rate from heart disease in Roseto was roughly half that of the United States as a whole. The death rate from all causes in Roseto, in fact, was something like thirty or thirty-five percent lower than it should have been.

Wolf brought in a friend of his, a sociologist from Oklahoma named John Bruhn, to help him. “I hired medical students and sociology grad students as interviewers, and in Roseto we went house to house and talked to every person aged twenty one and over,” Bruhn remembers. This had happened more than fifty years ago but Bruhn still had a sense of amazement in his voice as he remembered what they found. “There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn’t have anyone on welfare. Then we looked at peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either. These people were dying of old age. That’s it.”

Wolf’s profession had a name for a place like Roseto — a place that lay outside everyday experience, where the normal rules did not apply. Roseto was an outlier.

2. Wolf’s first thought was that the Rosetans must have held on to some dietary practices from the old world that left them healthier than other Americans. But he quickly realized that wasn’t true. The Rosetans were cooking with lard, instead of the much healthier olive oil they used back in Italy. Pizza in Italy was a thin crust with salt, oil, and perhaps some tomatoes, anchovies or onions. Pizza in Pennsylvania was bread dough plus sausage, pepperoni, salami, ham and sometimes eggs. Sweets like biscotti and taralli used to be reserved for Christmas and Easter; now they were eaten all year round. When Wolf had dieticians analyze the typical Rosetan’s eating habits, he found that a whopping 41 percent of their calories came from fat. Nor was this a town where people got up at dawn to do yoga and run a brisk six miles. The Pennsylvanian Rosetans smoked heavily, and many were struggling with obesity.

If it wasn’t diet and exercise, then, what about genetics? The Rosetans were a close knit group, from the same region of Italy, and Wolf next thought was whether they were of a particularly hardy stock that protected them from disease. So he tracked down relatives of the Rosetans who were living in other parts of the United States, to see if they shared the same remarkable good health as their cousins in Pennsylvania. They didn’t.

He then looked at the region where the Rosetans lived. Was it possible that there was something about living in the foothills of Eastern Pennsylvania that was good for your health? The two closest towns to Roseto were Bangor, which was just down the hill, and Nazareth, a few miles away. These were both about the same size as Roseto, and populated with the same kind of hard-working European immigrants. Wolf combed through both towns’ medical records. For men over 65, the death rates from heart disease in Nazareth and Bangor were something like three times that of Roseto. Another dead end.

What Wolf slowly realized was that the secret of Roseto wasn’t diet or exercise or genes or the region where Roseto was situated. It had to be the Roseto itself. As Bruhn and Wolf walked around the town, they began to realize why. They looked at how the Rosetans visited each other, stopping to chat with each other in Italian on the street, or cooking for each other in their backyards. They learned about the extended family clans that underlay the town’s social structure. They saw how many homes had three generations living under one roof, and how much respect grandparents commanded. They went to Mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church and saw the unifying and calming effect of the church. They counted twenty-two separate civic organizations in a town of just under 2000 people. They picked up on the particular egalitarian ethos of the town, that discouraged the wealthy from flaunting their success and helped the unsuccessful obscure their failures.

In transplanting the paesani culture of southern Italy to the hills of eastern Pennsylvania the Rosetans had created a powerful, protective social structure capable of insulating them from the pressures of the modern world. The Rosetans were healthy because of where they were from, because of the world they had created for themselves in their tiny little town in the hills.

“I remember going to Roseto for the first time, and you’d see three generational family meals, all the bakeries, the people walking up and down the street, sitting on their porches talking to each other, the blouse mills where the women worked during the day, while the men worked in the slate quarries,” Bruhn said. “It was magical.”

When Bruhn and Wolf first presented their findings to the medical community, you can imagine the kind of skepticism they faced. They went to conferences, where their peers were presenting long rows of data, arrayed in complex charts, and referring to this kind of gene or that kind of physiological process, and they talked instead about the mysterious and magical benefits of people stopping to talk to each other on the street and having three generations living under one roof. Living a long life, the conventional wisdom said at the time, depended to a great extent on who we were — that is, our genes. It depended on the decisions people made — on what they chose to eat, and how much they chose to exercise, and how effectively they were treated by the medical system. No one was used to thinking about health in terms of a place.

Wolf and Bruhn had to convince the medical establishment to think about health and heart attacks in an entirely new way: they had to get them to realize that you couldn’t understand why someone was healthy if all you did was think about their individual choices or actions in isolation. You had to look beyond the individual. You had to understand what culture they were a part of, and who their friends and families were, and what town in Italy their family came from. You had to appreciate the idea that community — the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with — has a profound effect on who we are. The value of an outlier was that it forced you to look a little harder and dig little deeper than you normally would to make sense of the world. And if you did, you could learn something from the outlier than could use to help everyone else.

In Outliers, I want to do for our understanding of success what Stewart Wolf did for our understanding of health.

(Continues…)

Excerpted from Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell Copyright © 2008 by Malcolm Gladwell. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

*If you’d like to finish the book you can either listen to the audiobook posted above or buy it. I’m also happy to lend a copy to anyone who enjoyed this.

So What Does Revolution Look Like?

Having grown up an American citizen I’ve heard many enchanting stories about our own revolution. It is often glamorized by heroic acts of humble farmers fighting against elitist Brits with more people, and better weaponry (i.e.: The Patriot with Mel Gibson). Revolution is sometimes very necessary, but it is not pretty… And it is no secret that the world is experiencing some unrest, and has for the last few years. Well, let’s face it, there is always unrest somewhere. The most recent unrest that has the rest of the world’s attention is the uprising in the Ukraine. Below are some videos produced by VICE that might help serve as a refresher if you already know about what is going on, or it might serve as a quick update if you don’t.

This is the VICE correspondence from inside the home of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich… Ooooooh myyy.

Since this was produced much has ensued, but I still felt that these short Vice videos might help some people who were hoping to learn more about the uprising in this historically beaten and tattered nation.

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