Saturday, January 2, 2010


Anybody else think that 2010 sounds really strange? The older folks who hang out here will understand; the younger ones will get it soon enough. It's amazing how the years slip by until one finds it impossible to deny reality: dog, you're old. That was driven home forcefully when I returned home from our two-week sojourn in Cambridge, MA, to find this large booklet in the held mail: Welcome to Medicare. Oh, yeah, that's my next great adventure. Can't avoid it: 1945-2010 equals 65 years. Fortunately, with the exception of some minor signs of decrepitude, I'm generally in pretty good shape.

Yeah, I'm related to this woman. And, yeah, that's the kind of weather they've got where she's now hanging out. We spent those two weeks over Christmas helping her move from San Francisco to Cambridge, where she begins a new job as an associate director with a biotech firm located next door to MIT. Her new home is about two blocks from Harvard. I love the area, and we had a great time, but if I've got anything to say about it, future trips will take place in warmer months.

OK, enough on the kid. This post is really about how we spent the transition from 2009 to 2010. I'm going to tell you what we did and then I'm going to invite everybody else to discuss how they spent this New Year's. Maybe you'd even like to share your fondest or perhaps wackiest New Year's memories.

I think most of you know I live in the Hilton Head, SC, area. This is fundamentally a fairly upscale retirement/resort area. In the summer, younger folks come on vacation to go to the beach and play golf. Year-rounders tend to be old farts who've decided to retire to a place where they can wear shorts ten months out of the year, and golf year-round. The reason I mention this is because living in one of the many small communities here is somewhat akin to being in the military back in the old days. We're all transplants with our families and old friends elsewhere, so we tend to band together and socialize a lot. If you don't want to hang out with neighbors, this isn't the place for you.

We spent New Year's Eve doing something we'd never done before. A guy down the road—a retired lawyer—hosted a dinner with five couples, where we all paid for a sit-down deal that cost $130 per couple and included dinner (filets) and unlimited drinks, to include some very high end wines. Why'd we pay so much? Well, we had a cook, a fellow whom we all know well, a guy who's a chef and wine expert who works at a local place, cooking right there for us, serving us, etc. It was kind of the ultimate sybaritic experience; I felt I deserved it after having gotten the Medicare booklet. Three of the guys were military: me, another Army guy, and a Navy captain. The others were the aforementioned lawyer host and an engineer who grew up in Savannah. We drank too much and had a very good time.

Didn't have enough time on New Year's Day to nurse the hangover properly. Didn't see much football, either. At noon we went to a neighbor's open house, where the host and hostess served champagne and mimosas and cooked omelets and waffles to order for about 30 people. We took a break at home for about an hour and then went across the street for another open house. This one involved two huge hams, black-eyed peas, collard greens, corn bread (all traditional Southern fare), as well as tons of appetizers and desserts. Oh, and there was an open bar as well. Meanwhile, the wife had a pork roast cooking in the oven. It didn't get eaten last night, but it was good tonight.

So that's my New Year's. Most memorable? I don't know. There've been a lot. New Year's Eve 1967-68, I won something like $800 playing poker. Couldn't lose: I was leaving Vietnam the next day. That was like two month's pay; that, and the Freedom Bird made for a nice New Year's. The ones overseas—and I've had ten, best as I can recollect—were of course always unique. Not always pleasant, but always unique. Most of them in the States were a little more mundane, especially as I grew older and didn't party so much. I think that's why I appreciated last night so much: didn't doze off watching a million or so people pretending they're having a good time whilst freezing their butts off in Times Square. And yesterday without football other than as background noise, wasn't at all bad.

Please be gentle with me. I'll soon be an official senior citizen.


  1. That sounds like a good New Year's. We danced around the living to the radio and went to bed too early and spent the next day in our pajamas reading, playing videogames (for the Boy) and eating leftovers. Not a bad day when spent with your peeps, IMO.

    New Year's Eve 1980-1981 in Reception Station, Ft. Dix was memorable. One of our squad bay receptees broke out the smoke, which he had some quantity, having been sent to the Army in lieu of a dope-dealing conviction.

    Or the NYE I spent on CQ at HHC, 2/187th Inf at beautiful Ft. Kobbe, Panama in 1985-86, during which time the Air Force SPs brought in one of my medics wearing nothing but a shower shoe, having apprehended the nudist walking back from Venado Beach. His excuse was that he had been surfing the immense storm drains and got sucked into the culvert (unlikely - it was the dry season).

  2. Welcome to Medicare and TFL, Publius. You are now a distinguished gentleman!

    We joined a diverse group of tourists at a friend's small hotel down the road for New Year celebration. Magnificent Greek dinner and lots of English speaking folks mixed in with an equal number of locals. Cheery evening.


  3. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology I was able to spend a "virtual evening" with the wife as we watched ball drop, discussing events over a computer voice chat (just like last year). Next year when I actually expect to be home for NYE, me and the wife will probably have to text new year's greetings to each other, just for old time's sake.

  4. I spent a normal day and went to bed at 10 pm.

    Most memorable would have to be the one that led to the loss of my virginity, but ironically, I don't remember much after the start, having had too much to drink.

  5. publius,
    Happy new decade.
    Hope we cut it up to the next one.
    i didn't realise that you were deployed. I send my best for your safety.

  6. We did a wacky experiment for New Years. The kids had completely used up all holiday goodwill by Dec. 31 so we went up north to visit some friends up north with kids roughly the same age as ours.

    Turned out great even though the high for the day was minus something awful with a strong gusty wind from the north.

    We stayed up until 1:45 AM and everybody had a good a proper start to the new year. The next morning we had a feast fit for multiple starving teenagers. Another day of games, game consoles, and goodwill all the way around and then a long drive back down south to places where the temperature was only -2 degrees, what a heat wave...

  7. Our NYE was pretty lazy - everyone but me fell asleep on the couch long before the ball drop and I went to be right after. It's been unseasonably cold here, so New Year's day was spent indoors with coffee, TV, and general screwing around. The wife has her PhD comp exams coming up in a little over a week, so we didn't even go anywhere for Christmans so she could study. Fine by me.

  8. Publius, please contact me at the email address from earlier, thanks. Happy New Year.

  9. Publius-

    Nice post.

    We had a raclette party - just immediate family - and watched some TV. Did the traditional ten raisins thingie that my wife insists on (local Portuguese tradition).

    Christmas was great with the kids here, or I should say adults, since they are no longer children legally. We enjoyed almost all the family Christmas traditions.

    My New Year's Eves in Berlin were all memorable, since Berlin goes crazy that night with all the fireworks, but if I were to chose one if would have to be 1989-90 - there was so much hope then.

    Have a great 2010 everyone.

    Btw, do ya'll say "two thousand and ten" or "twenty-ten"?

  10. I am bucking the trend, I've been calling it 0'10 for a year now (instead of 09 or 08).

  11. I hit Medicare next month and it's a pain in the grommet for insurance. I'm fortunate to have have my medical plan from where I retired turn into a Medicare supplement, but they're changing carriers and it was complex to figure out how to minimize my expenses.

    BTW, don't forget to get a new ID card the month before.

    We went out NYE with a small gathering at some old friends from my wife's college days. Weather was calling for possibility of freezing rain so everyone was playing it very cautious.

    I went to the zoo at Times Square twice during my youth, back when the drinking age in New York was 18. Much less police presence back then and the crowd unihibited or constrained. Would never think of doing it now, much less staying up that late any more.

  12. Went on the AFRC Garmisch retiree tour of Christkindl Markts early last month. Was definitly worth the effort. The military retirees are a joy to travel with as they aren't high maintenance people and know how to get around overseas.

    For those of you who have been at Garmisch in the past: The Von Steuben, Patton and Eibsee are a thing of the past. Passed by the shuttered Chiemsee and Bad Tolz on the way to Salzburg and it brought back bittwersweet memories. The old resorts were closed because of security concerns, the new hotel is on the post and we had to show both passports and military IDs to get on post.

  13. Hmm, that photograph displays a pretty balmy scene if you ask me.

    No gloves, tiny ear covers.
    Looks like a great day for skiing, if you had more snow.

    Up here it was so cold, you could fling a mug of hot coffee into the air and have it never hit the ground because of the resulting steam/ice explosion.

  14. I was on a 12 day cruise to the Mexican Riveria...I'll have to post some pics...and the thoughts that came with what I saw down there.

  15. Not all of us are as brave (crazy) as you are, AEL. If you were to move south to say, Calgary, you'd experience warmer temperatures. Of course if you went east you'd get even colder temps.

  16. Al or Seydlitz, I have a post request.

    I ran across this article about the Euro-Mediterranean partnership that goes into effect this year.

    I can't tell if the author of this article is a paranoid skitzo or just an alarmist writer, but either way, she has no credibility with me on this topic thanks to her writing style. I am curious to hear your thoughts (or anyone else's) on this new agreement. Thanks.

  17. bg: Short answer - the article is horseshit.

    The author is a) a paranoid schizo, b) an alarmist (if excreble) writer, and c) a racist Caucasiocentric jackhole.

    This "new agreement" dates back to 1995, and is principally concerned with "cultural exchanges", fighting the pollution of the (already filthy) Med and setting up trade agreeements around the Med Basin. The WIKI entry on it declares it "ineffective", and there is nothing to suggest that this is some sort of de-nationalization scheme that will flood Europe with North African muslims.

    Not worth the effort to post on this crap, IMO.

  18. bg-

    I would echo Chief's comments. More right wing use of mischaracterizations of Europe to support the cause. I was quite surprised to hear our son (a life long TX resident) use the term "he will Europize us" as his major objection to Obama. I asked him what "Europize" meant, and he could only offer, "Well, like socialized medicine". This use of Europe to create a boogie man is great stuff, since most Americans have no idea of what the facts are, and Europe is, of course, "foreign" and "Un-American".

    Actually, she mixes the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership with the Lisbon Treaty to come up with a totally inaccurate depiction of both.

    Her article is pure fear mongering. For example, her statement that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted the recent airplane bombing, "was allowed to board the plane without a passport", as if that was a product of the agreement she is attacking. Nothing to do with any EU treaty or regulation provides for allowing passengers to board flights out of the EU without a passport. Even if her allegation is true, which I seriously doubt, it has nothing to do with the EU governance or culture, but rather an airport screw up. But hey, that horrible Islamic, African born killer got on the plane in Amsterdam, and that means that Europe is a direct threat to the US.

    This article is typical right wing wacko crap, laced with vicarious xenophobia. Yes, citizens of the EU can freely move between EU countries with just an identity card. Yes, people with valid work permits in one EU country can travel freely in other EU countries without the restrictions associated with "tourist" travel", just as a "green Card" holder living in Delaware can go to NJ freely. And yes, if Ms Geller were to visit an EU country and need medical attention, she would be entitled to National Health Care (welfare benefits), whether she wanted to be a welfare case or not.

    I find this crap repulsive because it smacks of willful stupidity in the pursuit of political ideology.

  19. Al: But y'know what the REALLY irritating thing about this sort of pure, straight-off-the-barn-floor bullshit is?

    It works.

    Look at the insane overreaction to this one guy setting his nuts on fire. Now if you have committed the crime of TWS (Traveling While Syrian) you get the added attraction of getting some overpaid TSA noob jack your crotch around and ask you if you know Gaddafi's nephew. I can tell you how it pisses me off, and I have one of thos little plastic cards you get for sucking Government titty for twenty years.

    This moron-grade reaction to every failure of the back-to-the-Eleventh-Century crowd is going to help us exhaust our treasury and debase our governance almost as quickly as the malefactors of great wealth buying their way to power and the ratings-sluts of the Fourth Estate pan-frying us Tiger's mistresses and Balloonboy instead of intelligent analysis.

    Sweet baby Jesus. Someone want to remind me why we bothered having the Enlightenment and all that just so a third of the public can read crap like this, Glenn Beck's kookaburra rants and listen to Newt Gingrich explain why he has the solution to all our problems and nod their heads like a bunch of rubber dummies?

  20. Chief-

    Between the time of my post and returning home to yours, my mind has wrestled with the question of how such crap gets traction. Sadly, it all boils down to my conclusion that in the main, Americans are neither sophisticated nor cosmopolitan. And that includes many of us who are "educated" and very often have "traveled". Our nation is basically no different than the isolated world of a "Bubble Boy". We share borders with but two other countries, yet most Americans have visited neither, and have very stereotyped concepts of them. If you can, get your hands on Canadian comedian Rick Mercer's "Talking to Americans" video. Ask your friends and neighbors, "Who is the current King (or Queen) of Canada" and see what they say. Or talk about the "Canadian Revolutionary War" that freed them from English rule and see if anyone knows you are pulling their leg.

    Similar gross ignorance abounds about Europe. While wingnuts such as Ms Geller write, "The people of Europe fought it, but were overwhelmed by their political elites and the lack of American leadership in this age of our rather Marxist, collectivist U.S. president", one would be hard pressed to find any significant changes in the long evolving life of the European Union that have occurred on Obama's watch, no less as a result of his being in office. Further, the EU is simply a treaty based Union of sovereign states, with every aspect of the treaty being ratified by the individual members in the manner that their laws and constitutions prescribe for the ratification of treaties. In fact, some states even allowed for extraordinary referendums to be held in ratifying the various treaties, rather than the basics allowed under their laws.

    But, basic xenophobia is rampant in the US. Just as healthcare "death panels" gained traction, so do the blatantly false representations of people like Ms Geller and those she likes to quote. To accept that there are social and political systems unlike ours that actually "work" and are acceptable to the people of those other cultures undermines American Exceptionalism. A Cambridge prof of ours once spoke about a form of arrogance arising from a severe inferiority complex, and there is a significant measure of that in how the wingnuts view foreign cultures. It's a very pathetic defense mechanism.

    One does not truly begin to see how unsophisticated Americans are until one moves overseas and fields the plethora of really unbelievable questions from family and friends about living permanently outside the US. I'm sure Seydlitz has had similar experience.

  21. All, thanks for the response. That was my impression of the article as well, but it was so far out there and about I topic I never heard of, I was curious to hear your take.

    You both bring up the point of the American public, our overreaction to the recent bombing attempt, Tiger Woods, etc. I go back to my previous posting. The 24 hour media has redefined our country. News shows are all about ratings (aka money). They have a formula with the low ratings, every day, common news programs (perhaps Headline news) where they sample many stories to see what takes traction. And whatever stories peaks people's interest (The underwear bomber, Tiger Wood's affairs, the balloon boy), the networks attack! And the more and more the networks gang up on a story, the more coverage, the more "expert" discussion, the more a nation wide "group think" and mob psychology like effect occurs.

    I am sure I can pull up a few psychological experiments to cite, but really what it comes down to is that the human being is a social creature. When we are bombarded with information, unless we actively resist that information, we eventually find ourselves identifying with the cause and maybe even believing it (sort of a media version of the Helsinki syndrome).

  22. bg-

    I think the media deliver what the people want, and the people of the US want the media to keep it simple and in line with their own expectations. Then there develops a "halo effect". A certain segment of the population like what a given media outlet or pundit delivers, and soon, everything he or she delivers is the Gospel truth. A similar phenomenon with public figures and politicians. Americans want to "believe" rather than intellectually think their way through to a conclusion.

    Back in the 70's, a friend of mine was the senior city hall reporter for the Ft Worth Star Telegram. One morning, at 1:00 AM, he got a call from his editor that there had been a murder at the home of millionaire Cullen Davis, not far from where my friend lived, and my friend was the only seasoned reporter close enough to get there in a timely manner. The paper was holding a major portion of the front page for covering the story. My friend wrote an award winning piece, which he then put into a manila folder on the left inside. On the right inside, he placed, over the following year, subsequent material that either proved or disproved what was in his award winning article, and underlined material in his article in blue for "true" and red for "not true", based on the material on the right side of the folder. Much more red than blue. He called it his "humility file". Obviously he was under pressure to file a relatively long story in a short period of time in a situation that was as confusing as hell, and he did the best he could. But he knew he was not infallible.

    Unfortunately, more and more media information is not reportage, but analysis or editorial opinion cloaked in the name of analysis. Even reportage can be biased in the manner in which it is presented, and not just by selective coverage, but comments made in the delivery of reportage. But the masses see XYZ News network, and begin to think that editorial comment is news. Of course, since editorialized news reduces the amount of thought required in making conclusions, it caters to our basically intellectually incurious population.

  23. Well, looks as if just about everybody made it into 2010 in one piece. Thanks for sharing, everybody. BTW, Ael, you're tempting me to launch a contest involving various bullshit stories and tall tales. Kind of a "Can you top this?" type deal. Can you keep up with old soldiers?

    Big Bird, just out of curiosity, why would there be a hassle involving Medicare? Or caring about a supplement? As Al notes, TFL serves as the supplement. Every retiree and spouse I know has had a painless transition. Am I missing something?

    The Bird's description of Garmisch brought back some fond memories. Had a buddy who was the dentist there, which meant free lodging and damn near free skiing. We spent a lot of time there in all seasons during the time we were in Munich.

    Bg, my advice is to never, ever believe anything in the Washington Times, the old moonie rag that serves along with Fox News as the propaganda wing of the Republican Party. WRT the Times, saw something last month to the effect that they've fired about two-thirds of their staff. I suspect the general malaise affecting the news business along with their terrible reputation means we won't have the Times to kick around much longer.

    I'm going to have to say I share others' low opinion of the great unwashed American public. But, you know, the real mystery about us as a nation is how can we house that enormous number of uneducated buffoons along with all of those Nobel Prize winners and the equally enormous number of smart folks who got us to the moon and accomplished countless other smart guy feats? Not to mention all of those creative financial deals.

    Churchill once termed the Soviet Union an enigma wrapped in a riddle. He was wrong. That's us.

    Bg, check your email. Also, I, too was unaware that you were deployed. I second Jim's wishes.

  24. With the combination of corporate retiree medical and TRICARE, I was getting it all for free - including a poor dental program, and prescription. TRICARE would pick up whatever copays the corporate plan didn't cover. I'm not gloating, but I do have it good.

    Now that I'm going to MEDICARE, the corporate supplement will reimburse me for my MEDICARE parts b & c costs. I chose the low cost corporate plan, so I'll have to have TRICARE pick up the copays and deductables. It's a paperwork hassle, but worth it. TRICARE always has you use another plan first, unless it's a specific supplement.

    Since I retired, my former employer doesn't offer as good a plan to those now retiring; I'm grateful to have it. Al mentioned about his wife's plan not being available overseas so he has only TRICARE. My plan will cover us on some kind of out of network basis when overseas.

  25. Bigbird-

    We are now solely on TFL. The wife's plan ended at age 65. We could buy Greek insurance for about 10% more than we pay for TFL ($98/month Medicare Part B), and have 90% coverage anywhere in the world, as long as our principal residence is here. However, if we ever had to move back to the US, it could take up to 18 months to re-enroll in Part B/TFL, a chance we don't want to take. Really have no complaint with TRICARE. Since the vast majority of our medical needs are provided via National Health Care and are free, we only pay the 25% copay for our meds. I think I've mentioned before that our pharmacist is scandalized that TFL only pays 75%, as are others who inquire about it.

  26. BG sez:

    ".....we eventually find ourselves identifying with the cause and maybe even believing it (sort of a media version of the Helsinki syndrome)."

    Ah yes, indubitably put; except for the "We" part.
    I've oft admired the power, the purity, the reverse polarity, and binary effect of this Helsinkiesque phenomenon.

    Imagine: a group of victims survive/are rescued from a potentially fatal encounter with "wily malfaiteurs." Those silver-tongued evil doers have successfully presented a reasonable front; kinda like Communism with a human face (Dubcek Svoboda, Dubcek, Svoboda), to their hostages/victims.

    The recently liberated victims (resplendent with vacant, Mooniesque smirks on their mugs) feel that their rescuers and family members need some sort of affirmation of their good deeds. They arrange for a picnic on the edge of a snowy meadow. The guests arrive, to find that they must cross the meadow, in order to cleave with the victims. As they reach the center, the authority figures/loving family members hear, or sense KABOOM as they come upon the horrible realization that the meadow was really a frozen over lake, and that they were acting out a skit as Soviet Soldiers of the late thirties......Glub,Blub.

    A small bit of explosives, some det. cord, and a blasting cap can accomplish so much, so much more quickly, than to medicate yourself with these silly downers/anti anxiety meds, washed down with copious measures of Vodka.

    Yep, BG, you hit the nail on the head! The Helsinki syndrome is like the Stockholm syndrome on steroids and Crystal (Kristall for you Euros); in short: a variation on a theme by Charlie Manson. It's the Finnish way of coping...or to proclaim "I'm OK, You're Dead!!!"

  27. Fast,

    "Yep, BG, you hit the nail on the head! The Helsinki syndrome is like the Stockholm syndrome on steroids"

    I wish I could take credit for saying something truly profound, but I always get those two cities confused (it is a line from Die Hard that always pops in my head when I hear this syndrome discussed). Glad you caught my meaning. I am learning another language now and I find myself doubting my own memory of English spellings, phrases, etc. So when the doubt hit me about which city it was, I just kinda rolled with it.

    But, I did mean the "We", because we are all vulnerable to it as human beings. Just like they teach us in POW/detention situations, the key is small acts of resistance.

  28. FDC,

    I think Jurgen Habermas and others question our successful passage through The Enlightenment (though he is hopeful that rational dialectic will get us there ... snicker, snicker.)


    Too funny, your take on bg's Helsinki Syndrome.

    Hello to Publius, and best wishes to bg.

  29. This comment has been removed by the author.

  30. Here is the latest PEGC Update - 2010.01.05:

  31. bg-

    Sorry but haven't been keeping up as much lately. Read the WT link and considered passing it on to my students for a laugh, but then thought better of it. They wouldn't understand the rich ideological element needed to buy in to this particular brand of bad-smelling soap.

    The whole Ayn Rand/"Atlas Shrugs" world view, or rather elitest scam posing as quirky notion, needs all the help it can get after the pasting it has received over the last couple of years. Not that Rand is wholely responsible for what has been done in her name . . . kinda like Karl M.

    I like it how some of Ayn Rand's followers have quickly bought into the world-wide Islmofascist threat to help sell the current GWOT, current war in the US being the continutation of economic interests by other means. How swindle turns to farce and then a poor image of a new swindle followed by an even greater farce followed by . . . Frozen political ideology turned into deterministic death spiral.

    Fasteddiez's Soviet connection is well-placed imo since Rand's philosophy was a reaction to the Bolshevik Revolution, which was of course a rather elaborate swindle ("End the war and land to the peasants!" which resulted in an even greater civil war and collectivization). . . And how much the current American situation feels/smells like the USSR in the 1980s, with Obama playing the role of Gorbi, or is it Andropov?

    Poor Alice Rosenbaum (Rand's actual name) must be spinning in her grave . . .

  32. Well, I guess I will be the contrarian and defend the American people who, like people everywhere, are only human and subject to the same deficiencies as anyone else. Like many of you, I lived in Europe for a time and one of my brothers currently lives in Germany and has been a resident there for over 20 years. My sense is that all people are xenophobic to an extent and such attitudes are rooted in our very DNA. I found that many places in Europe I visited or lived in where quite xenophobic and that Europeans were generally more racist than the average American. You see this played out in national policy in several European countries as well as collectively in the EU, most notably EU expansion beyond Christendom. When I was in Europe I travelled extensively with a good friend who happened to be half black and he could not wait to get transferred back to the US to escape European racism.

    So count me as entirely skeptical of any notion that portrays Europeans (or any other people) as motivated by reason and logic while Americans are xenophobic lemmings under the control of Murdoch's media empire.

  33. Andy,

    I don't think you are being the contrarian, you are right. Saying that Americans as individuals are any dumber, greedier or more xenophobic than any other people is about the same as calling black people lazy. It is overgeneralization as best, racism at worst.

    I am living in my 4th continent in the past 24 months, so I've seen a fair range of people. People are people, and I completely agree with your point. But what I have noticed is the stark difference in cultures that mold who the people become. These differences can shape a people making them more inclined to behave in a certain way (for good and bad). My concern is the issue is the environment in which Americans are subjected to today. Education is piss poor. The news media, which substitutes for education in many homes, does not have anyone's best interest except their own ratings. A mom can beg her doctor for drugs to help her have 8 more kids that she can't afford to feed, just because she wants them. People can borrow all the money they need to live the life they want, and the worst that can happen to them if they don't pay is their credit rating takes a beating (which they don't care about because they already got everything they wanted).

    The culture of our nation is not what it used to be, and that is impacting our national character because it is changing the environment in which we live. IMO, this isn't something that started on 9/11, or at the end of the Cold War, this has been a storm that has been brewing for decades. 24 hour news channels competing for ratings, Dr Spock's "every kid is special, there are no losers", and the lack of immediate consequences for poor decisions is all a part of the environment that is currently shaping and defining who Americans tend to be. That is my concern.

  34. bg,

    Someone up thread mentioned that Americans get a distorted view of Europe because certain things about Europe get reported while other things don't which tends to provide a biased picture. I agree. I think the same is true in reverse and, indeed, it is true when we look in the mirror through our own media. I think the extreme elements are what gets reported and so, over time, a slanted picture is painted. Your second paragraph beginning with "Education is piss poor...." I think is indicative. The question is, are those deficits you describe representative of the population? Is Octo-mom the norm? Do most Americans really think they can borrow all the money they want with no consequences? Somehow I don't think so. I think it's much more likely the great majority of Americans are "normal" hard-working, reasonable and responsible folks which is all pretty uninteresting to a media culture obsessed with celebrity. IOW I think the issue, if there is one, is our media and not the character of the vast majority of Americans.

  35. Andy, bg: As a community college and high school teacher, let me assure you - the "vast majority" of Americans are credulous...let's call them "simple people" to avoid perjorative terms like "fools" or "cretins".

    But so were most Romans. And so are most all of us humans. The portion of the population that is comprised of really well-read, activist, public-spirited people can probably be counted on one hand with fingers left over for summoning the waiter.

    I agree to a point that the overall peace and prosperity of the past 60 years have done a lot to make Americans less inclined to hard manual labor, and the piss-poor performance of the public media has had a bad effect on critical thinking. Our educational system does a hell of a lot worse than it should and that has gone a long way to rationalizing coarseness and anti-intellectualism.

    But...there's always been a hell of a lot of stupidity and laziness since the first Cro-Magnon figured out how to make cave bear noises and steal his buddies' game.

    I'm goingto have to agree with Jim Fallows here (, though, and say that I think the problem is less one of society, culture and people than one of governance. Right now we are badly governed, and this has the effect of encouraging those who profit from this misgovernment - like the author of this reprehensible article - to encourage more bad governance.

    Vicious circle, and I see no painless way out.

  36. Andy-

    IOW I think the issue, if there is one, is our media and not the character of the vast majority of Americans.

    If Rush broadcasted and no one was anxious to hear what he had to say, would the media still be a problem? Most media is a consumer product and caters to consumer demand.

    Now, back to the context in which I was addressing American xenophobia - the ability of EU citizens to readily move across borders within the EU. And it is not just a xenophobia towards foreign people, but towards how things are done outside the US.

    Once upon a time, Americans could travel to and from Canada and Mexico with less documentation than required for EU citizens within the EU. Here, people have had national identity cards for ages. There is no real US equivalent, other than a passport, until the provisions of the "Real ID" program come into effect for driver licenses and the equivalent state issued non-driver IDs next year. However, no US citizen is required to have a passport or "Real ID" unless they want to fly commercially, exit the country, enter a federal building or visit a nuclear power plant. Only "legal aliens" are required to have approved, positive ID.

    So, scare mongers such as Ms. Geller conjure up a totally inaccurate picture of Europe as a place where all kinds on undesirable aliens can enter and move about freely, ultimately overwhelming us good, Christian, white people, and nothing can be done about it. This falls flat on its face, as every living being in the EU must possess a valid national ID, and if that ID is not one of an EU citizen, then proper immigration or tourist status ID is also required. And immigration is controlled by individual national laws. I cannot decide to take up residence in Spain on the basis of my Greek resident visa, for example. Nor can I use my Greek diver license to identify myself.

    What scaremongers like Ms Geller do is paint a picture of Europe as those foreign people creating a haven for other bad people because a liberal elite has opened the borders to unfettered movement. And, any "Europizing" of the US is going to lead to bad people moving freely into the US. And then, we have to worry about alien terrorists who fly into the US from Europe with a bomb on board! Of course, the two most deadly terror attacks on US soil were conducted by 1) a white American citizen, and 2) 19 guys who trained, prepared and boarded from within the US.

    In order for the small minded to celebrate American exceptionalism, nothing can be done as well or better anywhere else. Horsepuckey! To a xenophobe, different isn't just different. It must be established as wrong to establish the xenophobe's way as the ultimate form of right.

  37. Al,

    What is Rush's audience? The most reliable figures seem to indicate it's about 14 million a week. Assuming every one of those listeners is a Rush fanboi (which is not a safe assumption), that's 4.5% of the US population. By contrast, the three evening network news programs, despite very steep declines in viewership, still pull in about 25 million viewers nightly combined.

    So is Rush Limbaugh and his views representative of a substantial number of Americans? Or his he a loud-mouth that gets a lot of media attention because because he is controversial and liberals are stupid enough to take his bait and give him free press?

  38. Al,

    If you're arguing the author is a xenophobe then I agree - if you're arguing that Americans are more xenophobic than Europeans, I disagree.

  39. Andy-

    My point about Rush was simply providing an example of rather extreme consumer oriented media content that brings in big bucks. Severely biased media that sells. Without consumers, the media could not afford to operate. Thus, the crap we are fed is a result of sufficient numbers of people selecting various outlets to financially support their operations. Is the media the problem or the people? I would say there is a strong "chicken or egg" question to be answered. And, you account for only 39 million of our county's roughly 230 million adults. From where do the remaining 190 million adults get their "news" to form their opinions? At to "prime time" viewership, there's about 7 to 10 million more folks who watch the cable news stations. Only 183 million more to account for. There is no "media plot", Andy, and if there were, it would only succeed because the people buy it.

    Now, as to American xenophobia versus that in Europe, if you look closely, you will find that European xenophobia is directed primarily at people as defined by race or national origin. In contrast, American exceptionalism results in ideas being rejected, not just race and notional origin. An obvious and current example is not wanting "European style national health care", yet probably 90% of the US population has no real, first hand experience with health care here or any understanding how it operates. Paint it "foreign" and it's automatically bad. We see it regularly in our interaction with Americans visiting here. When asked, "How can you live here without the benefit of American health care?", I respond, "The same way the Greeks do, and it works just fine", and it does. The assumption is always that we are deprived by living outside the US - until an American needs health care here and finds it to be excellent, even if the curtains and interior decor aren't up to US standards.

    Europe is not "better" than the US, but there are some aspects of life and benefits provided in Europe (as well as elsewhere) that while different from, are equal to or superior to that found in the US, just as other things in the US might be superior. In short, we Americans don't have a corner on every market.

    I am not anti-American, Andy. I just have higher expectations of my fellow countryman, and weep that they are so regularly not met.

  40. Al,

    On the media you make my point for me. As you noted, the picture the media paints represents a very small portion of the American populace. The great majority of America is ignored by the media hence my skepticism that Geller's article or any of the points BG made about our culture (based as they are, on the media) are representative of the vast majority of Americans. I don't think one can extrapolate Geller's article to make any point about the character of the American people - only the character of the author and the people who published the article.

    On the other points, I know you're not anti-American Al and I never meant to suggest you were. I also agree that arguing whether Europe or America is "better" is pointless because "better" is entirely subjective. Finally, I don't think exceptionalism is limited to America - Europeans seem to have plenty of that as well. Take our 2nd Amendment which is something most Europeans cannot understand and think is crazy. Many here in the US cannot understand things Europeans do that would be blatantly unconstitutional here, like the French ban on Islamic headdress and the Swiss referendum on Mosque minarets, or the banning of political parties in some countries. It's only natural that where people stand is based on where they sit and it's also natural that people tend to believe the way they do things are the best way. For American exceptionalism I think a lot of that is cultural inertia from times when the US was demonstrably better than Europe.

  41. Andy

    Actually, I have never heard anyone address the Second Amendment, but definitely the obsession with guns is a topic. Yes, and while you cite a couple of issues that would be unconstitutional in the US, I would be willing to bet 35% of the population wishes they weren't! ;-)