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“Well Howdy Stranger” – Immigration Reform: don’t worry guys, I’ve figured this whole thing out!

"We were strangers once too."

“We were strangers once too.”

The President recently said in his speech regarding his executive action to delay deportation of several million non-citizen humans who live in the United States (rather than amnesty millions like Reagan) that “We were strangers once too”. He is correct, and that is a good reminder, but does that overly simplify this whole thing? Let’s talk about it 🙂

*Disclaimer: I decided to give you the answer in technical terms upfront of what I think about Obama’s executive action on immigration recently, followed by a slightly longer explanation of how I see those who would want to live here. It is as follows:

SHORTER SYNOPSIS

President Obama said repeatedly for several years that he was not a king, and that he could not change the law in regards to who would and who would not receive citizenship in the United States who didn’t already have it. He announced this week (after several years of waiting for action from Congress) that he would be enacting an “executive order” to delay the deportation of people who are not citizens in the United States who had children who were born here in the United States. There was an enormously popular bill a few years ago that was blocked in Congress called “The Dream Act” which would have made these people citizens, not simply delay their deportations until the end of this president’s term. Delaying their deportation does not make them citizens, and thus he did not change the law as he previously pointed out that he could not. It may seem like a stupid formality to say that this is not amnesty, but if that’s how you feel you are wrong, and I don’t say that intending to hurt your feelings. Saying that Obama broke his word in the law is really not the argument that conservatives should probably be making (I must say their obsession with this President never ceases to amaze me). I think instead, for their own political sake, that they should come to the table and say that they are ready to debate this issue right now in Congress (finally), and they don’t want to delay for anyone (even if they had an anchor baby…). Wouldn’t that be the least they could do as a response?

*Disclaimer: by the way, I feel the need to say this yet again – there is nothing wrong with being conservative, but the American conservative party leadership repeatedly disappoints me, as does the democratic leadership. I just find myself most offended by the doublespeak that churns from their actions and talking points. If you are conservative that is 100% great, we probably agree on a most things, as our nations politics are really just a chess game, and we seem to be the pawns. I repeatedly find that my conservative friends and I want almost the exact same government when you get down to it.

The mudslinging in American politics today is not helpful, or even amusing anymore. It’s like watching the TV show “Mob Wives”. It’s like the real housewives of wherever, except that they threaten to kill each other and seriously hurt those around them… I have mixed feelings about the President’s approach, but I hardly find it nearly as shameful as the behavior of Congress! If we are truly a great nation we have to face our broken immigration system, and the fact that most of the people who sneak in know that they wouldn’t get in otherwise is a big problem for the “go home and reapply” strategy. But a larger reality is that most of the people who are in this country illegally did not sneak in, they came to visit legally and never left. Some of these people might have faced oppression at home, and some just like America. We need to learn to take a compliment, everyone wants to come to our party! We need a better bouncer, who’s not drunk and sprawled out on the floor, but we also don’t want Scarface wielding death to all who may attempt to enter… In the end we probably mostly all agree: we need stronger security at our borders (probably less abroad), and we need a functional immigration system (which means a system that won’t leave out the farmhands who otherwise would be forgotten with the current process).

This has been my short form version of my thoughts on the current immigration debate as of December 2014, but below I will try my best to embellish on my ability to talk about this issue.

LONGER SYNAPSIS:

So, if you clicked on this link my guess is that you heard about the speech that Obama gave in regards to his “executive action” on immigration… We as a nation mostly agree on most things, but we are torn apart by very strategic teamsmanship on most issues, and this is one of them. I think that the idea of better protecting our borders is actually a great idea. That doesn’t mean a “double fence, electrified!” like Mr. Herman Cain proposed. It does however mean that we actually make plans for what to do with people fleeing their homelands for a better life in America in a way that provides dignity, unlike the Joe Arpaio school of thought. That is a big government idea, and even though I don’t endorse most intervention by the government on social behaviors I do think that there are several strong arguments for preserving our ability to actually govern a known population. But that doesn’t mean that we should drop drones on mostly pious folks who simply want to feed their families by crossing our borders. I’m terrified of a police/military state, but we have to have some order, so let’s talk about how we make that happen.

With that said I also find it very difficult to read any of our nation’s founding documents and also justify extreme measures of social engineering that completely disregards the almost surely inexplicable chance that I were fortunate to be born in a better part of the world. How fervently do we as a nation believe that the statement “all men are created equal” is actually true? I believe that we should have more compassion for people who want to come to the United States and participate in our amazing society. I’ve had a few amazing opportunities to travel over the last nine years or so, and I have a hard time looking myself in the mirror and telling myself that I deserve this country more than some of the amazing and educated, as well as the poor and forgotten people I’ve had the chance to meet. I know that it was hard to build this country, and yet I find myself less willing to do so many of the jobs that make this country so comfortable.

To some this may sound overly defensive, but I feel that I must say it anyways – I am aware that it can be a very bad thing for the people and the police/military to clash in the streets, I mean I’m pretty sure that the sick feeling that people have in their stomach from watching the riots in the streets in Ferguson, Missouri isn’t the flu. I’m terrified of the military/surveillance state that seems to be growing around us, but at some point we stopped teaching peaceful protest because it became a dirty word.

Side Note: my high school has actually been at the center of some protesting which has been rather peaceful, but due to the nature of a split in some of the recourse that people are asking for many people who want to show their support don’t show up. There were 3 girls raped by the same boy (you can read about it here), and the school administration being in a tight spot has seen a lot of scrutiny for their reaction. A lot of students and parents have been slow to protest publicly because they don’t want to give the impression that they are against the administration, but they do want to support the victims… See, that’s the problem with protest (old school rally style or digital), is that people are afraid of sending the wrong message.

A video of the Norman High protesters

Ok, let’s get back to what I was saying about us having trouble unifying in protest. I think that our lack of public outcry for better policy is truly the reason why we don’t have better policy. It is hard for me not to agree when charlatans blather about the stupidity of the American people. Look, I’m not a genius, but by watching American approval of policies and then how they vote for leaders who oppose their favorite policies I just find myself perpetually dumbfounded…

The government can’t do everything, but it can do some things. It has midwifed a lot of great ideas (the Internet, space travel, interstate highways). When we find that private industry can take over on projects where the government was the only willing investor it is a beautiful thing! You can see that happening with space travel right now. However, private industry can cause economic instability/unsustainable price increases, and we as a society must create dams and levees to prevent disaster, and this seems to be a never ending back and forth battle that the people have mostly been losing over the last few decades (ie: the repeal of Glass Steagall, as opposed to the implementation of Sarbanes Oxley).

Okay, so I made a silly title just to see if you’d click on it… I don’t have all of the answers, but I do have a few thoughts to share on the idea of peoples who want to live in the United States of America. I’m not the most worldly of people, nor am I the smartest/nicest/strongest/most handsome/coolest (okay me, I get the point!!!!), but I have had some unique opportunities to meet people from other parts of the world, and I can’t help but to emphasize that when I say people I mean they are just like you and me… There are cultural differences between the United States and everywhere else, but the differences in the end are really semantical. I sincerely hope to not come across as preachy, but I’m not sure how else to say all of these things, so I’m about to say a few weird things about places/peoples who I have experiences with…

China: there is no doubt about it that if you are a white person in China they will think that you are probably a celebrity. I mean, in China they totally thought that I was cool! I probably convinced several hundred people that I was either Harry Potter, or his older brother. My Chinese friends loved basketball, and by that I mean they were very proud of Yao Ming. Oh, in China it was apparently not offensive to say that they have yellow skin, just fyi. There are tons of ways that I can make fun of Chinese people (that includes you Figo, I know you’re reading this), and that is ok as long as it’s out of love and you are willing to take a joke yourself.

Egypt: When people talk about the Middle East in the United States they seem to first picture a lot of people running through rubble covered in blood screaming something in Arabic that makes you once again believe that the apocalypse may be upon us… I don’t mean to downplay the fact that this happens in the world, but I have my suspicions about how regularly this happens throughout the entirety of the Middle East… Sure there are places that are unsafe, and there are extremist muslims, but I looked for them and found virtually none – the majority of the people is not a part of the extremist faction of Islam. During my week stay in Egypt recently I found that people thoroughly enjoyed my impression of an Egyptian trying to sell them anything and everything I could find, promising the cheapest of prices because they were my “friend”. They were people, and they had senses of humor, even about themselves… Trust me, most of the people that I met would make great neighbors, but most of them could not get through our immigration process. That is especially true for the small village made up almost entirely of Christians called Zabbaleen, near Mokattam.

*Feel free to read about my experience there by clicking here (I plan to write more about this village soon).

I have found that our nation can often be overly politically correct, and after I made a few jokes about Chinese people to Chinese people, or the same to Egyptian people, they somehow became more humanized in my eyes, and I in theirs. Part of our problem with immigration reform is that we have a lot of people driving the debate who don’t see people who are different from themselves as quality candidates to be their fellow countrymen… I’m not pointing this out because I want it to be true, it is in our nature, and if you look closely at yourself you will almost surely find that your instinctual pregiduouses pop up. The more I recognize my own simple bigotries the more that I feel capable of recognizing other people who I might have otherwise considered an “other”. I’m going to attach this video to this blog, for what must be the 10th time, about measuring bigotry in babies from 60 Minutes.

Last Thought: I just wanted to talk about this idea of “the other” because I think we should keep in mind our own limitations when we try to have a conversation about legislation like this. I’m sorry that this is so long, and if you read the whole thing I am very proud of you. I hope that you have a great rest of your day!

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.

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.

“Why We Did It” – Oh Boy… Whether You Find It To Be Accurate Or Not It Will Probably Upset You…

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You can click on this picture to watch their interview if you would like

Recently Rachel Maddow went on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and now that I have your attention here is some more information…

I considering myself a moderate, which more than anything means that new information can affect what I think. A while back Rachel Maddow produced a TV Documentary called “Hubris” which addressed the ‘so called” false pretenses that allowed our nation to go to war with Iraq – meaning that what was said about why we were going in was not in fact true. That documentary was posted on iTunes via the Rachel Maddow Show’s Podcast, and since she always asks people to post her show, and videos of it online I decided to post that entire documentary on my YouTube channel. It has since gotten about 100,000 views, and has filled my email with some incredibly angry YouTube comments from all kinds of people… I mean, angry stuff…

*By the way, I don’t just watch liberal stuff… I really can’t help but watch anything and everything I can get my hands/eyes on. I watch/listen to: The O’Reilly Factor, Meet the Press, Fox News Sunday, Real Time with Bill Maher, and others when I can. I like things other than politics, this is just part of my rhetorical diet to know what’s out there.

Anyway: I want to note that I am not a “Truther” (I don’t think that the United State Government was behind 9-11, so let’s just get that out of the way…), I do however think that this war was a war of choice, and that it was mismanaged, which I think is rather well voiced by documentaries like “No End In Sight” (posted at the bottom of this).

Hubris” addresses the issue of WMD’s (weapons of mass destruction), and this new documentary goes into some of the reasons why the makers of the film believe our government wanted to go. I don’t can’t speak to it’s legitimacy, and I don’t think that Mrs. Maddow is unbiased. I do however really appreciate that she presents sources, and gives room for actual debate, rather than just pure ad hominem. If you’d like to give some feedback that would be great – but the reason why I decided to post this second video (Why We Did It) was to keep the videos tied together, and because it might help us hold a conversation about reasons why we might not want to be so quick to go to war again anytime soon without more checks and balances (i.e.: Iran, Syria, Ukraine). And if you’d like to check in on the conflict going on in Ukraine feel free to click anywhere on this sentence.

Part 2
“Why We Did It”

Part 1
“Hubris”

“No End In Sight”

The Not So American Dream: Inequality Associated with Immobility – Steve Rattner

If you are reading this you are to some degree or another and consumer. As we live in a capitalistic society, that is fueled by consumers, measuring citizens ability to consume can largely inspire conversation about the true freedom of the citizenry. For decades, particularly the ones in the mid-20th century, consumption (i.e.: driving the car you want, or even just using the cleaning products you might prefer) could be, and has been tied to our nation (and increasingly our world’s) own personal measuring stick of success. Buying power can be conflated with democracy, and people get what it is that they want, regardless of it’s effects on the overall well-being of society – which can be evidenced by things like Cinnabon, and reality television.

Regardless of the consequences of that our wallet shaped ballots can cause us our nation specifically seems to value it’s ability to participate in a “free-market” oriented economy. We refer to this financially stable citizen paradigm as the “American Dream”, which I believe has shifted measurably. I believe that the values of the American public have shifted, which could be measured by observing how our purchasing trends change, but also I believe that the ability to purchase has shifted enormously, which I don’t find to be a simple conspiracy (it’s complicated). Sure, a lot of people in the United States have less money because they don’t work as hard as the maybe used to, but that is an over-simplification. People in the country in general have less money because they also have jobs that have been made more efficient, while the pay rates are not equally increased – but again this is just a part of the picture. Maybe the most impactful factor in regards to a growing wealth gap has been technology, and the replacement of workers by machines and computers. This last one can very clearly be seen in this chart looking at a splitting in correlation of growth from productivity to wages.

Connecting a shift in wages, and productivity is a very important thing to do, but not necessarily just to blame or point fingers at anyone. We just have to be honest with ourselves. Steve Rattner always has wonderful economic charts to help explain what’s going on in this crazy world. These charts below tell a story of how it seems the American dream doesn’t seem quite as American as it used to.

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Iconic Photo of Clinton Meeting JFK Gets Fresh Update

Iconic Photo of Clinton Meeting JFK Gets Fresh Update – Huffington Post

I try not to swoon too much over any politicians or leaders in general, as they are simply people. However, I always enjoy watching worlds and leaders collide like this.

“That had a very profound impact on me,” Clinton told ABC News of his brief meeting with Kennedy. “It was something that I carried with me always.”

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A Free Civics Lesson Everyone Needs to Hear!

I have never really done any physical protesting, but I’m pretty sure this is how it should be done…

John McCain Said What About the Border Surge?

“I mean, this is not only sufficient, it is well over sufficient. We’ll be the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

 

-John McCain on the “border surge” amendment included in the Senate’s immigration bill. Considering that a) the Berlin wall ultimately fell down, and b) comparing a government to that of Josef Stalin is generally not considered a compliment these days, you’d assume McCain was speaking in opposition to the amendment. You would be wrong.

America’s Second Revolutionary War – VICE/InfoWars

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So there are 2 videos that I felt like I should pair together for this post. The first is an interview with InfoWars.Com’s Alex Jones on the BBC about probably the top annual event for conspiracy theorist community, the Bilderberg conference. The second is a video about some of the people who feel as Alex does about government and conspiracies.

Ok, so… Well, when I was a teen I used to look up conspiracy theories all of the time and thouroughly freak myself out on a regular basis. I mean I would really freak myself out… I could found myself believing most anything that had a lengthy explanation. With that said I feel that I’ve grown out of this stage of my life, mostly. However I’m left with a very real sympathy for the informed paranoid citizens of the world, such as Alex Jones.

I think that Alex and his group Info Wars probably knows some things that are very real, and that I would like to know about. However, I also think he is theatrical and doing some of those for the money. I just don’t know what to make of it in full… I listen to these groups and tend to find that I just don’t agree with them on way too much, especially their tone and approach – and ultimately I find them to be too gullible.

It doesn’t offend me that Jones and people like him go after Bilderberg, although I don’t intend to waste too much time researching them (especially if they are actually mischievous and are keeping tabs on this conversation and everything else that I do…), but I must admit that I am curious.

I’m posting these videos because, well it’s complex… I feel that many of my friends aren’t aware of the degree of some of the outrage that exists in the world, in particular on the conservative side of the aisle. Now that doesn’t mean that all conservatives are this outraged, or believe all of the things that Alex believes, but this is who they are being associated with politically.

I try to post about things that are helpful to discuss and learn about, and I really debated posting this, but in the end I think that it’s good to know that this is out there, whether it speaks to you or not. It doesn’t really speak to me, but if it does speak to you that is ok with me. But please try to stay calm so we can talk about these things… And yes, I understand that if you think that The New World Order is ruling us all that it is hard to casually discuss it, but please do try.

The Weapon of “Popular Opinion”, and Why Those of Faith Might Want to Reconsider Marriage Equality (Re-Post)

Somehow I deleted this post, and I was very disappointed because it had gotten lot of traffic and inspired some great conversations for me, but  I decided to do my best to just repost it, as this is still how I feel…

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This message is to my friends who are members of “the/a” church. Today the supreme court is ruling on Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage (as it was legal in California for a short time). Proposition 8 was controversial for multiple reasons, but a big part of why it was controversial was that churches (the mormon church in particular) poured in millions of dollars in a campaign for proposition 8 (to ban gay marriage). As this ruling is happening I would like to challenge my friends of a church, or any religious community, to think about the implications of saying no to same-sex marriage.

Proposition 8 was voted on by the people, hence “Popular Opinion” would allow or deny citizen’s rights, and the “body of Christ” / members of the church communities have been leading the charge in that popular opinion legislating process. Here is the potential problem with that – Christianity, and religion in general is becoming less and less popular, and those who are against it are becoming louder and more strategic… Do you see the connection? If the church is saying that popular opinion should legislate citizen’s rights there is a hazard for the church upon the horizon as they are losing their favor in the public perception battle.

This is not a threat, as I’ve spent much of my life in Christian organizations, and I’m hoping that the church will grow and only become a better version of itself. I’m really just asking the question, will approaching issues like same-sex marriage with the weapon of popular opinion (which since Prop 8 was passed has completely flipped) a very good idea when that weapon will likely soon be used against you/the church? I’m not saying that you have to be ok with people being gay, you don’t (no one can make you), but as far as the law is concerned are you sure that you want to actively restrict the rights of others because of your own opinions/taste? Just something to think about.

I will just leave you with this chart:

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