Big Brother has run amok…

And there doesn’t appear to be much we can do about it, primarily because the government has grown too large to be kept track of. Ilya Somin, assistant professor of law at George Mason University and author of the Cato Institute study “When Ignorance Isn’t Bliss: How Political Ignorance Threatens Democracy,” takes a detailed look at voter apathy (ignorance?) and comes to a couple of interesting conclusions:

“It is tempting to conclude that voters must be lazy or stupid. But even a smart and hardworking person can rationally decide not to pay much attention to political information. No matter how well-informed a citizen is, her vote has only a tiny chance of affecting the outcome of an election; about one chance in 100 million in the case of a presidential race. Since her vote is almost certain not to be decisive, even a citizen who cares greatly about the outcome has almost no incentive to acquire sufficient knowledge to make an informed choice. Acquiring significant amounts of political knowledge so as to be a more informed voter is, in most situations, simply irrational. But the rational decisions of individuals create a dysfunctional collective outcome in which the majority of the electorate is dangerously ill-informed.” [My emphasis]

This was the lynchpin of the paper based on the following statistics. Just prior to the 2004 elections, polls found that:

  • 70 percent of American adults didn’t know that Congress recently passed a prescription drug benefit for seniors, even though the new law — projected to cost $500 billion over the next 10 years — is probably the most significant domestic legislation passed during the Bush administration
  • More than 60 percent do not know that President Bush’s term has seen a massive increase in domestic spending, about 25 percent above previous levels, that has led to a major increase in the national debt
  • Despite the extensive media attention focused on employment numbers, almost two-thirds of the public don’t know that there has been a net increase in jobs in 2004.
  • 75% admit they know little or nothing about the USA Patriot Act
  • 58 percent mistakenly believe that the Bush administration perceives a connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks
  • 64% were unaware that Congress had passed legislation outlawing partial birth abortions

But the point is, Somin feels that it simply doesn’t make much sense for voters to be informed. Since the odds that one vote will account for much are so slim, he argues, it’s irrational to spend any amount of time educating yourself about what is going on. Further, since the government is so stinking large and has it’s hand in so many things, one person couldn’t possibly be well informed on everything, so it might actually be impossible to make an “informed” vote. Yet another argument for smaller government: it may actually be more democratic because it’s very nature leads to more informed voter participants.

I appreciate his point of view, and I probably agree with most of it. But truly, when only 15% of the population can name a candidate for the House of Representatives in the month before an election, I think we should all be a little frightened.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep…

Christmas Day, 1864. The United States is in the last throes of the Civil War, with Lee’s surrender to Grant still a few months away, and winter bearing heavily on Massachusettes. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sat in his study and wrote the words that eventually became a carol known as “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.”

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

But this was not intended as a Christmas carol. In fact, it was a brilliant and telling moment of faith for Longfellow. He sat in his study in some degree of despair: his wife two years gone, his son recently maimed in the war, his spirit all but broken.

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

And then he heard the bells… those sweet, pealing bells that struck a deeper chord that resonated within him. And in that moment, his faith and spirit were renewed.

Tom Stewart describes the scene:

“Tragedy struck both the nation and the Longfellow family in 1861. Confederate Gen. Pierre G. T. Beauregard fired the opening salvos of the American Civil War on April 12th, and Fanny Longfellow was fatally burned in an accident in the library of Craigie House on July 10th.

“The day before the accident, Fanny Longfellow recorded in her journal: “We are all sighing for the good sea breeze instead of this stifling land one filled with dust. Poor Allegra is very droopy with heat, and Edie has to get her hair in a net to free her neck from the weight.”

“After trimming some of seven year old Edith’s beautiful curls, Fanny decided to preserve the clippings in sealing wax. Melting a bar of sealing wax with a candle, a few drops fell unnoticed upon her dress. The longed for sea breeze gusted through the window, igniting the light material of Fanny’s dress– immediately wrapping her in flames. In her attempt to protect Edith and Allegra, she ran to Henry’s study in the next room, where Henry frantically attempted to extinguish the flames with a nearby, but undersized throw rug.

“Failing to stop the fire with the rug, he tried to smother the flames by throwing his arms around Frances– severely burning his face, arms, and hands. Fanny Longfellow died the next morning. Too ill from his burns and grief, Henry did not attend her funeral.

“The first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year after the incident, he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.” Longfellow’s journal entry for December 25th 1862 reads: “‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”

“Almost a year later, Longfellow received word that his oldest son Charles, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had been severely wounded with a bullet passing under his shoulder blades and taking off one of the spinal processes. The Christmas of 1863 was silent in Longfellow’s journal.

“God’s Truth, Power, and Justice are affirmed, when Longfellow wrote: “The wrong shall fail, the right prevail.” The message that the Living God is a God of Peace is proclaimed in the close of the carol: “Of peace on Earth, good will to men.””

Then, Christmas Day, 1864: Longfellow, sitting in his study, hears the bells ringing again. At first, he is struck by the same despair and grief that have been weighing on him for the past few years. “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep…” And, in that moment, Longfellow found the peace he had been seeking; he felt the spirit of God renew him; he felt the hope that the nation would soon be healed.

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Christmas Bells
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Robert Stethem: We have not forgotten

In 1985, a group of Islamic terrorists boarded a German airliner and, brandishing weapons and explosives, hi-jacked the plane and took it to Beruit, Lebanon. On the way, they terrorized passengers, beating those they thought were Jewish. At one point, they happened upon a clean cut American named Robert Stethem. Robert probably stood out to them since he was a U.S. Navy petty officer. So the terrorists savagely beat Robert and then shot him in the head. When the plane landed in Beruit, they opened up the rear door and dumped his body on the tarmac.

In the aftermath of these crimes, the terrorists were captured and tried. The U.S. Government asked Germany to extradite them, but Germany was unwilling to do that, citing our use of the death penalty. They assured us that the men responsible would serve life in prison.

A few days ago, we learned what “life in prison” means in Germany: about 19 years. The German government has recently admitted that it has released Mohammed Ali Hamadi, the man found responsible for killing Petty Officer Stethem. He received credit for time served and good behavior and was released early. Hamadi is now on his way, and has probably already arrived, back home in Beruit. Stethem (just in case you aren’t paying attention) is still dead.

Oh, and here’s a totally unrelated story: On December 18, some terrorists in Iraq released a German hostage named Susan Osthoff, an arabic-speaking archeologist. Osthoff was kidnapped in northern Iraq in November, 2005. A German Foreign Ministry spokesman denied the two cases were linked.

Yeaahhh, riiight.

[Read more about Stethem]

What I want for Christmas

Char has been asking me what I want for Christmas (in fact, since the name draw, so has Marjie) so I’ve been putting some thought into the issue. Unfortunately, I’ve been having trouble coming up with ideas. In fact, I’ve been having trouble getting into the whole Christmas spirit. This is odd, because I love presents. I love Christmas morning and watching people open stuff and the reactions of the kids and even sitting up until 3am putting together bikes and tables and kitchen toys with instructions written in Chinese.

So I’ve been trying to put my finger on what’s going on in my head. This morning, I think I figured it out. I was going through old posts on the blog (cleaning up the occasional ‘promotional comment’) and I came across several posts that set me thinking.

Things like Anna Quindlen’s take on parenting, and about baby Zach and his Angel wings, and Jack’s many unusual questions, and Lily’s wishes.

And then I followed a link to the photo album and found the pictures of Abby and Grace in the hospital and the day we brought them home. And the answer was immediately obvious to me. How could I possibly want anything else? When I look at the photos of these two darlings in their incubators, all those wires trailing out, and remember how impossibly tiny they were… When I think about the other babies that were there with them, some for more than a year, some who will never be healthy… When I think about Zach’s death, how quickly it happened and how little control we have over the things that really matter in life. In short, when I think of all our blessings, I realize that I couldn’t possibly be wanting for anything more.

I’m looking forward to Christmas. I can’t wait to see the kids open their presents and be delighted by the wonders. (You should see them all now, lying on their bellies watching the train go ’round the Christmas tree, clapping and saying “Yay!”) And honestly, having the family there, seeing everyone, will be enough for me.

Well, that maybe and another batch of crybaby cookies.

You just gotta laugh

I’m a huge proponent of laughter. And I also believe that we should all be able to make fun of each other, regardless of your point of view. Hey, if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re on a quick path to heart disease, ulcers, and (quite possibly) a leap from a tall building.

So, in the interest of bringing a little laughter into your life, I offer the following headline from the Onion:

CIA Realizes It’s Been Using Black Highlighters All These Years

That’s an instant classic.

I like the Onion, but honestly, I think their headlines are often funnier than the articles. For instance, one of today’s headlines is:

Voice Of God Revealed To Be Cheney On Intercom

You don’t really need an article to follow that up. It’s funny enough on it’s own. In fact, belaboring a zinger like that with more words will likely lessen the impact. But I’m not in charge over there.

Another recent example:

Rest Of U2 Perfectly Fine With Africans Starving

What else needs to be said? It deftly makes fun of everyone in one sentence. Why go any further?

Now, in the interest of being fair, here’s an example that actually gets better when you read beyond the headline:

Clinton’s Lower Lip ‘Very Concerned’ About Albanian Crisis

Oh, man, that’s good. But the article goes on to say:

“A spokesperson for the president’s lower lip told reporters that it would be ‘protruding outward with care, yet sliding slightly upward in a show of caution and prudence.’

I’m still chuckling…