When I was younger

I took rejection very hard, but I was surprisingly blithe about rejecting other people (yes, I was a callous youth).

Now that I’m older (almost 30!), I don’t take rejection (by people, institutions, etc) nearly as hard, but I anguish a lot more over rejecting other people.

I like to think that I’ve matured a little bit, but probably I’ve mostly gotten more arrogant and self-assured.

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Memories

On 9/11/2001, I was sitting in my Latin class when someone came by the classroom and said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, and there would be a special assembly after the class was over to discuss it. I don’t remember who said it-if they stuck their head in the classroom, I didn’t see them-but I do remember thinking that was a strange reason to break up the day. Wasn’t it likely just an accident? To be honest, I didn’t know what the World Trade Center was at the time.

At the assembly, we heard that 2 planes had hit the WTC, but the principal still didn’t seem sure if it was an accident or not. Later in the day, when we realized it was terrorism, some kids speculated about nuking Afghanistan in a fit of release. The rest of the day, teachers pretty much let us vent in class.

***

During my sophomore year in college, we did well at one of the early debate tournaments (I was 19 at the time). Most of the team had driven back to Wake Forest at this point, but my partner (also 19), the head coach, and my partner’s girlfriend at the time were staying over at the tournament (my partner and his then-girlfriend, now wife, had just started dating and weren’t out publicly as a couple at the time, but somehow the head coach knew about it). My coach, as a reward for our performance at the tournament, went to his bag in the back of the van and got us a bottle of vodka that was about 2/3s full-he said he had taken a few swigs of it. Of course, for 19 year olds, a whole bottle of vodka to ourselves was a huge treat-we went to the gas station, got orange juice to make screw drivers, and sat happily in the lobby of the hotel drinking the screw drivers out of bottles covered in brown paper bags. Good times.

***

Another time with the same coach, I was riding back from a tournament, and I made a disparaging comment about someone else in the debate community. He asked angrily “Why would you say something like that?!?” and I sat quietly ashamed of my comment for the rest of the trip.

***

That coach passed away three years ago this summer. I miss you, Ross.

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‘And while it has not pleased the Almighty…

to bless us with a return of peace, we can but press on, guided by the best light He gives, trusting that in His own good time, and wise way, all will yet be well.”-Abraham Lincoln, December 1, 1862.

I am truly encouraged by all the people I know who take these words to heart, and press on in advancing God’s kingdom in their own various ways, according to their own calling, according to the best light He has given them. It seems like every week I meet someone else who has found a new way to serve The Lord, and I’m blessed to find out about it.

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Obama’s brilliant Medicaid Strategy

So when passing Obamacare, Obama (really the Democratic Party as a whole, but I am using Obama as short-hand for the Dems) had a bit of a dilemma. A large part of the health insurance coverage expansion for the poorest Americans would have to come through Medicaid, a program jointly funded by the feds and the states, but largely administered by the states (with federal regulations to prevent the states from dropping their poorest citizens, etc.). Because 30 of the 50 governors are Republican, who generally are not fond of government funded health care for the young poor (they’re quite fond of it for the elderly, who are much more likely to vote than the young poor), those 30 governors could just turn down the Medicaid funds that were earmarked for expanding health insurance coverage and thus thwart much of the purpose behind Obamacare. The Supreme Court said that Obama couldn’t threaten those governors with cutting off all Medicaid funding to those states, and so Obama had to find a way to lure in the GOP governors into accepting the Medicaid expansion with incentives.

Obama did this by essentially offering to have the feds pay nearly all of the Medicaid expansion costs for the first three years. Free money! Usually, the feds and the states split medicaid costs roughly 50-50, but not here. Of course, after 3 years, the states will pay a bit more of the Medicaid expansion, but still not nearly as much as they do for the current Medicaid funding. Obama predicted, rightly, that this would be seen as a huge bonanza by the medical industry in many otherwise conservative states, and so even conservative Republican governors would cooperate with him in implementing Obamacare. Even stalwart conservatives like Chris Christie and Rick Scott have agreed to accept these Medicaid funds.

Of course, no money is really free-when the money comes from the feds, what that means is the feds tax state citizens, and then return the money to the states themselves. If all 50 states were willing to hold out and refuse the Medicaid funds, then it would be a good deal at least for the richer states (the poorer states have more citizens eligible for Medicaid and less ability to fund those citizens needs). But the states aren’t willing to negotiate together, and instead are each cutting deals individually with the federal government-a classic collective action problem. Obama’s strategy has worked.

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Tragic Flaw

I think anyone who’s read even a little bit of literature recognizes the character with the tragic flaw-a person who has one overriding characteristic that in the wrong circumstances has a seriously negative effect on their life (of course, we all know people like this in real life, too, to a less dramatic extent, hopefully).

My instinct has always been to yell at that character “can’t you see that [x characteristic], even if it has served you well in life before, is completely inappropriate in these circumstances? Be self aware and change yourself!” (ok, maybe not quite that articulately)

In related news, I have always been cheap (or “frugal”, to put it a nicer way). In college and law school this served me well, relative to my peers-I was able to come out with substantially less student debt, and pay it off relatively quickly (self-call). However, now that I own a house, have to wear nice clothes to work, etc, I’ve found that my habits of being cheap are often counterproductive-it’s more expensive to not spend the money right away, in many instances. Even realizing this, though, it’s hard for me to change the way that comes naturally to me of avoiding any expenses that don’t appear to be absolutely necessary. Moreover, even when I’m willing to spend money, being cheap for so long means that I don’t have enough practice distinguishing between necessary and non-essential spending-previously I’d only spent money on the “absolutely necessary” category. So I distrust my own judgment oftentimes.

In short, it’s not easy to change, even when self-aware.

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Killing US citizens without due process-Once more into the breach

So if you’re not persuaded that killing US citizens without due process of the law is wrong by what I wrote before, then you won’t be persuaded by what I’m going to write in this post. I’m posting more just for selfish reasons-I think the drone policy is wrong, and I want to go on record, as loudly as possible, saying that American citizens should not be killed without due process.

Yes, Obama has admitted that he can kill any US citizen that a senior member of his administration believes is part of al Qaeda or an “associated force.” But anyone who has been following this issue knew that anyway-it’s common knowledge that he’s killed American citizens and a 16 year old son of an American citizen.

Do liberals honestly think that it’s fine for the president to kill US citizens without due process because he believes they’re associated with al Qaeda? You realize the war on terror, and this power, won’t end in our lifetimes, right? It’s not a one-time thing for Obama. The next president will have this power, and the next one after that, and the next one after that. Are you sure you’re willing to trust all presidents of both parties with the power to kill US citizens without due process?

Ideally, liberals would have tried to do away with this power when Obama was still running for re-election and they had political leverage over him. Of course, Romney was just as bad on this issue, and it’s too late for that now anyways. But there’s no more fear that pressuring Obama on this issue could lead to Romney’s election. Obama doesn’t have to worry about re-election, so he’s keeping this policy going because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. Do liberals also think this policy is right? Do they wish Bush had this authority? If not, why not speak out against Obama?

A sad, sick part of me thinks that Obama released this memo because he wants political pressure to force him to do the right thing and reverse our policy of killing US citizens without due process. I know that’s wrong-Obama clearly thinks this policy is in the right. But even if he didn’t, there’s no political backlash forming strong enough to make him feel pressured to change it. And that’s the saddest result of all.

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Book Review-Wolf Hall

So the short version of this review is that you should read Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, and then go read her sequel to it, Bring Up the Bodies.*

One of the reasons why I’m such a history dork (beyond the fact that I find it enjoyable) is that I think it helps add perspective to see how societies have been organized differently in the past, and how humans behaved differently in the past in order to see what’s different today.

Wolf Hall is set in England roughly a generation after a traumatic civil war. The Tudors, who are the current dynasty, took over after the two dynasties who fought the vast majority of the civil war against each other (York and Lancaster) were exhausted from the conflict. Because the overthrow of English kings is still alive in recent memory, Henry the VIII, the current king, is especially eager to ensure that he has a male heir to avoid another civil war over the line of succession. As a result,  Henry wants to keep switching wives in an attempt to find one who will give him an heir (this was much more difficult to do legally and politically before the age of no-fault divorce).

Into this scene steps Thomas Cromwell, who is recognizable as a fairly modern figure. He is the right-hand man of the king-for political power (not ideology), imagine him as some combination of chief of staff-congressional majority leader-treasury secretary and attorney general-he fills all those roles at one time or another. He has a genuinely progressive view of England as a country at peace that modernizes and alleviates poverty. But because of the times that he lives in, the only path he sees to that future is one through keeping the Tudor dynasty stable, and the immediate way to keep the Tudor dynasty stable is be ensuring that Henry has a wife that gives him a son to be his heir. Thus, most of his energy is put into the goal of getting rid of Henry’s various wives. Along the way, Cromwell executes the wives, various political supporters of the wives, and quite a few people who were just morally opposed to the divorce (most notably Thomas More).

Mantel tries hard (and partially succeeds) to make Cromwell an attractive ¬†figure-we can see why he kills the people he does (many of them would kill him if given half the chance). He really doesn’t have any other option-if he stepped down, or refused to kill those he does, Henry would attempt the same goal but in a less politically astute way that may lead to civil war again.

And yet, Cromwell’s career illustrates how much our choices are circumscribed by the times that we live in-even politically powerful leaders like Cromwell. Cromwell’s not perfect-he holds grudges and isn’t particularly disturbed by the death of others. But overall, he’s a very effective political leader who works hard for the good of the people. Given his times, however, most of his energies are dedicated towards removing various queens and executing others.

Perhaps a truly great person-an Abraham Lincoln-would’ve solved Cromwell’s political dilemma without the methods that he employed. Such people are rare.

Today, Cromwell would have of course a very different set of options for his career. In many ways, he would have more constructive outlets for his talents. Of course, with the present as his only means of reference, he might feel equally circumscribed as he did during Tudor England.

For myself, I feel more circumscribed by my past choices. Sometimes I dream of leaving everything behind and starting up anew in a different city where no one knows me or remembers my past mistakes. But I would still bring myself with all my flaws to this new city.

*note-I edited this post about 10 times, and I’m still not super happy with it, but I’m blogging for free, so this will have to do.

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