Posts Tagged current-events

Pope watching

Pope Francis IIt’s amazing how the choice of one religion’s leader can still be a worldwide event. As I write this, congratulations and snarky comments are flying on Facebook over the election of Pope Francis I. Why do all of use non-Catholics care?

A few years ago, when Benedict XVI was elected, I was in the midst of the high school crucible known as AP European History, so I was happy to put everything I’d learned about Avignon and Ignatius of Loyola to work as a Pope watcher.

I guess there is an element of glamorous drama involved, the same thing that makes Americans want to watch the Royal wedding. After all, it’s not every day that they elect a new Pope.

This event was also unprecedented in many ways. Benedict XVI was the first Pope to step down with a waiting replacement in over 600 years, and his successor is the first Pope from the Americas and only the third Jesuit Pope.

The Pope is more than a celebrity, though, and maybe that’s why the election of a new Pope is still relevant to non-Catholics. After years of heinous scandals and the obvious hypocrisy of a primarily white European governing body ruling over an increasingly diverse religion, people want change.

These are matters that should be the concern of everyone, regardless of their religion. That’s what makes this more than a media spectacle.

Advertisements

, , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Political perspective

US Capitol“Our political life is becoming so expensive, so mechanized and so dominated by professional politicians and public relations men that the idealist who dreams of independent statesmanship is rudely awakened by the necessities of election and accomplishment.”

I guess it’s good to know that some things never change. Then-Senator John F. Kennedy wrote the above description for his book Profiles in Courage, which was published in 1956. As we wait to experience the fallout of the Sequester, it seemed especially timely.

Kennedy could have easily been describing the political madness of 2013. The “necessities of election and accomplishment” seem to take precedence over government.

As Kennedy says, that kind of political life is indeed expensive and mechanistic. Candidates have to spend millions and billions of dollars on ads in a seemingly never-ending election cycle, inviting special interests and rich backers to gain undue influence. Every appearance and statement is tightly choreographed, making our representatives seem like walking lists of talking points.

Of course, things have changed since 1956. Kennedy goes on to mention the Cold War and how the rigid ideology it spawned was also affecting American political discourse. It’s also hard to compare the party dynamics of the 1950s Congress to today’s without doing some more research. Perhaps another day.

Regardless, the government Kennedy worked in, as both a Congressman and Senator, and later led as President, was able to muddle through several international crises and the Civil Rights Movement. Have our leaders done everything perfectly over the past 57 years? Nope. Yet the government, and the United States itself, is still here.

Political strife may have reached an all-time high, but parties and individuals have been arguing with each other since this country was founded. Just look at the stories of the eight Senators Kennedy profiles, or watch Lincoln.

Past Congresses have had to enact the founding principles of the United States, fight wars, and bring about social change. All this Congress had to do was pass a budget. Its members may not like each other, and they may need to get their priorities in order, but that didn’t stop their predecessors.

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Weather can’t stop the Postal Service, but government cutbacks can?

United_States_Postal_Service_LogoAs I sit here typing while watching snow persistently fall, I can’t help but think about the people that have to work to make mine and everyone else’s lives happen even when it gets inconvenient. You’ve heard the mail carrier’s mantra, right? They may not be out delivering mail in the Northeast today, but if we were expecting slightly less than two-to-five feet of snow, they probably would be.

That’s why I find it so ridiculous that we can’t agree to fund the Postal Service, and that this logistical marvel is cutting Saturday mail delivery because of that. We may be in the midst of a rather heated federal spending debate, but really? Even this is up for debate?

Even postmaster general and stereotypical corrupt political appointee Patrick R. Donohue has pointed out, mail may be cheap, but e-mail is free. However, as long as we live in a physical world, we’ll still need a way to move physical objects from one place to another.

I’m not being sentimental: until someone perfects Star Trek-like transporter technology, there will literally be no way to send a magazine or a college care package anywhere with a computer.

Also, considering that Chinese hackers can seemingly take down the New York Times at will, I’m not too comfortable with online banking.

The Postal Sevice is one of those modern conveniences that people take for granted, and maybe that’s the problem. Perhaps, because they sit in front of their computers, tablets, and smartphones all day, and not their mailboxes, they assume they can do without it.

Which is why a blizzard happening days after the postmaster general announced an end to Saturday letter service is quite fortuitous. Massive power outages are expected, so all of that hyper-efficient 21st century communication technology will soon be useless. The Internet isn’t sounding so superior right now.

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

First world problems

So I’ve encountered a new phrase called “first world problems.” I have a problem with this phrase.

It seems to mean something that really isn’t a big deal, like having to prepare a presentation or being peeved that the barista put cream in your Starbucks concoction instead of milk. You know, things that don’t have to do with subsistence.

I see what people are getting at here. We all get wrapped up in our lives, make mountains out of mole hills and forget how lucky we are to live the way we do. That’s fine.

Checking your whining with a phrase like “first world problems” is a little obnoxious, though. It sounds like the person is saying “I know I shouldn’t be complaining about this trivial thing, but I will,” or “See how conscious I am of other people’s suffering?”

Both are very “first world” things to do. I’m a huge fan of irony, but too much of a good thing is still a problem. Drawing an implied comparison between oneself and a starving African child or a smog-choked Chinese factory worker doesn’t make a person sound smart or sensitive, it just makes them sound like they are trying to license their whining.

The phrase “first world problems” is also etymologically dubious. Do you ever notice why people never talk about the second world? It’s because the terms first world and second world were coined during the Cold War to describe the United States and its NATO allies and the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, respectively. Any countries not within either the U.S. or Soviet sphere were referred to as the third world.

So maybe we should stop using outdated political terms to label our trivial complaints. It’s perfectly fine to complain, even if you know that someone else would be happy to be in your position. It’s not a big deal, and certainly doesn’t merit a snarky term like “first world problems.”

, , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Christmas truce

Santa ClausLike Black Friday and red and green M&Ms, the annual “War on Christmas” has become a holiday tradition. Like fanatical Civil War re-enactors, the two sides array themselves for battle every year because they can’t actually kill each other.

On one side, there are the non-Christian heathens and the lawyers and municipal governments that defend them by removing Nativity scenes and Christmas trees from town squares and shopping malls. On the other side are the defenders of the faith, most of whom work for Fox News.

For anyone of a non-Christian persuasion, it’s difficult to see why pundits like Bill O’Reilly get so riled up every year (even though “Papa Bear” sort of has the word “riled” in his name). It’s not that there’s a problem with Christmas, it’s just hard to sympathize with a group that is in the majority when it claims it is being oppressed.

The PC crowd can get out of control, but the current situation is an accurate reflection of American demographics. The majority of Americans celebrate Christmas, but not everyone does. That means, once in awhile, someone might not want to see Santa Claus, or Jesus.

The other side of the coin shows that, for a country that ostensibly separates church and state, Christianity gets plenty of privileges. Christmas is a federal holiday, and there is a very ostentatious Christmas tree in the White House.

The season also lasts for almost two months: This past Halloween, I saw Santa at the local mall, talking to kids toting trick-or-treat bags.

Knowledge of Christianity also seeps into the non-Christian consciousness very easily. Everyone has Christian friends, or learns about some facet of the religion in school; it’s almost impossible to study history or literature without that knowledge.

On the other hand, many Americans go through their lives without really knowing anyone who doesn’t worship Jesus, and they only learn about alternative beliefs through their own curiosity or through special programs in more enlightened public schools.

With that in mind, it’s hard to see how saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” can really be a threat to Christians’ enjoyment of their holiday. The generals fighting the “War on Christmas” just don’t understand how good they have it.

Jon Stewart put it best when he said that people like Bill O’Reilly “have confused loss of absolute power with oppression.” The simple fact is that some people don’t celebrate Christmas, and that really shouldn’t be the concern of the people who do.

It really isn’t that big of a deal: If someone wants to say “Merry Christmas” or erect an elaborate Nativity scene, they’re entitled to. They just need to remember that they are not the only people in the world, and to not take that reality personally.

, , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment