12 Days To Christmas: A Reading List

Sarah posted about some books she’s been reading- you can check out here post here. I’ve read some of the same ones, but I’ll avoid doubling up. You can read her post here.

The cool thing about just blatantly copying my sister is that I get to borrow her topic and format, which saves me quite a bit of mental energy. I will, however, take a slightly different tact with this post, I’m going to discuss five books that have impacted my way of thinking.

 

Orthodoxy- G.K. Chesterton (Amazon Link

Orthodoxy is one of the great Catholic apologetics of the 20th century, and Chesterton one of the most prolific, if underappreciated writers. He’s named as a primary influence by the likes of Tolkien and Lewis later in the 20th century. When reading Chesterton I have to resist the impulse to underline or highlight every other line, his style is eminently quotable, there is no doubt had he lived to see it, he would have had a very successful twitter account. Even if you are not interested in Christianity, Chesterton is still an incredibly enjoyable read, all of his writing is peppered with thought-provoking ideas and paradoxes.

My acceptance of the universe is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more. All optimistic thoughts about England and all pessimistic thoughts about her are alike reasons for the English patriot. Similarly, optimism and pessimism are alike arguments for the cosmic patriot.

(Bonus Quote from Heretics) (Amazon Link)

It is true enough, of course, that a pungent happiness comes chiefly in certain passing moments; but it is not true that we should think of them as passing, or enjoy them simply “for those moments’ sake.” To do this is to rationalize the happiness, and therefore to destroy it. Happiness is a mystery like religion, and should never be rationalized. Suppose a man experiences a really splendid moment of pleasure. I do not mean something connected with a bit of enamel, I mean something with a violent happiness in it–an almost painful happiness. A man may have, for instance, a moment of ecstasy in first love, or a moment of victory in battle. The lover enjoys the moment, but precisely not for the moment’s sake. He enjoys it for the woman’s sake or his own sake. The warrior enjoys the moment, but not for the sake of the moment; he enjoys it for the sake of the flag. The cause which the flag stands for may be foolish and fleeting; the love may be calf-love, and last a week. But the patriot thinks of the flag as eternal; the lover thinks of his love as something that cannot end. These moments are filled with eternity; these moments are joyful because they do not seem momentary. Once look at them as moments after Pater’s manner, and they become as cold as Pater and his style. Man cannot love mortal things. He can only love immortal things for an instant.

 

Tribe- Sebastian Junger (Amazon Link)

Sebastian Junger is a veteran war correspondent and wrote Tribe, which is I think is one of the most important books of the past couple years. Junger explores how modern society has bred a profound disconnect between members of American society, and how humans were not designed to live in extreme individualism. It’s a short read, less than 200 pages, and very well written, you should pick up a copy and read it today. This is, I think, one of the books that explain Trump. It’s not explicitly political, but then again neither is the Trump phenomenon.

Soldiers experience this tribal way of thinking at war, but when they come home they realize that the tribe they were actually fighting for wasn’t their country, it was their unit. It makes absolutely no sense to make sacrifices for a group that, itself, isn’t willing to make sacrifices for you.

That is the position American soldiers have been in for the past decade and a half. There was a period during the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003 when a bumper sticker that read NO BLOOD FOR OIL started appearing on American cars. Implicit in the slogan was the assumption that the Iraq War was over oil, but the central irony of putting such a message on a machine that runs on oil seemed lost on most people.

The public is often accused of being disconnected from its military, but frankly it’s disconnected from just about everything. Farming, mineral extraction, gas and oil production, bulk cargo transport, logging, fishing, infrastructure construction— all the industries that keep the nation going are mostly unacknowledged by the people who depend on them most.

 

How to Be a Conservative- Roger Scruton (Amazon Link)

Despite the title, this book is not an ideological tract by a Fox News commentator. Roger Scruton is for my money one of the greatest living philosophers. I’m sure philosophy folks will argue with me about that- but that’s my view and I’m sticking to it. Scruton has made perhaps the greatest contribution to conservative political philosophy since Burke. How to Be a Conservative is a blistering defense of classically conservative principles. I think that in modern politics we are to a policy focused as opposed to principle focused. People do a lot of arguing about policies, and very rarely drill down to the principles underlying those policies. Scruton brings us back to the fundamental principles of conservatism. As an added bonus (and rarity in the field of political philosophy) he’s eminently readable, even funny in a dry British sort of way. Scruton and Chesterton are two of the larger influences on my political and religious development as an adult.

Conservatism starts from a sentiment that all mature people can readily share: the sentiment that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created. This is especially true of the good things that come to us as collective assets: peace, freedom, law, civility, public spirit, the security of property and family life, in all of which we depend on the cooperation of others while having no means singlehandedly to obtain it. In respect of such things, the work of destruction is quick, easy and exhilarating; the work of creation slow, laborious and dull. That is one of the lessons of the twentieth century. It is also one reason why conservatives suffer such a disadvantage when it comes to public opinion. Their position is true but boring, that of their opponents exciting but false.

Because of this rhetorical disadvantage, conservatives often present their case in the language of mourning. Lamentations can sweep everything before them, like the Lamentations of Jeremiah, in just the way that the literature of revolution sweeps away the world of our frail achievements. And mourning is sometimes necessary; without ‘the work of mourning’, as Freud described it, the heart cannot move on from the thing that is lost to the thing that will replace it. Nevertheless, the case for conservatism does not have to be presented in elegiac accents. It is not about what we have lost, but about what we have retained, and how to hold on to it. Such is the case that I present in this book. I therefore end on a more personal note, with a valediction forbidding mourning.

 

On Thermonuclear War- Herman Kahn (Amazon Link)

Published in 1959- Reading OTW is like stepping into another world. One of the foundational texts on nuclear strategy, Kahn found himself living during the dawn of a new age- the nuclear age. Mankind had within its reach the power to destroy all life on earth, and nobody was quite sure how to utilize this new power. As Eisenhower said in ’56 “[T]he the United States is piling up armaments which it well knows will never provide for its ultimate safety. We are piling up these armaments because we do not know what else to do to provide for our security.”

OTW was one of the first serious attempts to devise a coherent nuclear strategy. Its 600 pages explore nearly every corner of the nuclear problem and act now as a sobering reminder of how close man was to an enormous cataclysm. Kahn also gives a warning which is still prescient today, against the type of lazy thinking which seems to prevail in many areas of the modern world. One only needs to replace “nuclear” with “terrorism” or “cyber” in some passages of OTW to recognize the same patterns of simultaneously hyperbolic and lackadaisical thinking on the part of politicians and policy makers.

I have a firm belief that unless we have more serious and sober thought on various facets of the strategic program than seems to be typical of most discussion today, both classified and unclassified, we are not going to reach the year 2000- and maybe not even the year 1965- without a cataclysm of some sort, and that this cataclysm will prove a lot more cataclysmic than it needs to be. It is with the hope of decreasing the probability of catastrophe and alleviating the consequences of thermonuclear war if it comes that I offer these pages to all with the interest- and the courage- to read them.

 

War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning- Chris Hedges (Amazon Link)

Chris Hedges is, like Junger, a war correspondent and spent much of his career in the Balkans during the 1990’s. The quote below I one of the most enduring from the book, and has haunted me ever since I read it. “The poison that is war does not free us from the ethics of responsibility.” This book is an enduring reminder that we, as the United States, as the leader of the Western World, bear a heavy burden. We do not have the luxury of withdrawing from the world- because when we do people die. Intervening- with force of arms if necessary- in humanitarian crises is our absolute duty and one we have neglected as of late. This book is especially important now, given the abject failure of the Obama administration in Syria & Libya, and our failure as the American people to demand action from our elected officials. That blood is on our hands because we did nothing. War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning is an enduring reminder of the possibility for the western world be a great power for good, or evil, in the world, and that the choice is ours.

The poison that is war does not free us from the ethics of responsibility. There are times when we must take this poison – just as a person with cancer accepts chemotherapy to live. We can not succumb to despair. Force is and I suspect always will be part of the human condition. There are times when the force wielded by one immoral faction must be countered by a faction that, while never moral, is perhaps less immoral.

We in the industrialized world bear responsibility for the world’s genocides because we had the power to intervene and did not. We stood by and watched the slaughter in Chechnya, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Rwanda where a million people died. The blood for the victims of Srebrenica- a designated UN safe area in Bosnia- is on our hands. The generation before mine watched, with much the same passivity, the genocides of Germany, Poland, Hungary, Greece, and the Ukraine. These slaughters were, as in, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book Chronical of a Death Foretold, often announced in advance

12 Days To Christmas, Losing and Finding Catholicism

Sarah really through down the gauntlet- day two is about religion. You can read her post here.

My upbringing was nearly identical to my sister. My mother was raised Episcopalian, my father Catholic. My father’s side of the family is very Catholic, he attended Catholic schools all the way until his graduate education at Michigan, so we were all raised Catholic. Up to the last couple years of high school after my confirmation, we attended mass every Sunday and I was expected to be wearing slacks, a collared shirt, and nice shoes.

As my sister mentioned, this is not something commonly talked about in our house, unlike my sister, I never really “lost” my faith, but I did drift. The fact my sister wasn’t ever really aware that I effectively stopped practicing for almost four years is a product of the fact that we never really talked about it. I stopped really going to mass my senior year of high school. I attended some Baptist and Protestant services just to see what they were like. Despite attending a Catholic University, I only started attending mass again last spring. I went to confession for the first time in six years before Easter in the spring. Due to some things going on in my personal life, as of writing this, it has been several months since I’ve received communion, as I don’t feel I’m in an appropriate spiritual state.

What I mean when I say I never “lost” my faith is that I never openly denounced it in my words, but I effectively did that in my actions. I for several years took after the vain of the preverbal American “Cultural Catholic” where if someone asked me, I would say I’m Catholic, I knew all the words to say, when to stand and when to kneel, etc. I, however, stopped really believing or practicing my faith in any meaningful way. In short- I was what atheists hate about religious types. I didn’t practice the hard parts of my religion in my personal life, but I still adhered to the wider political tenants of the Church in my voting preferences.

So I guess this brings me around to what brought me back? Well like most things in life, it was a combination of factors. I effectively hit my personal rock bottom last spring. I had become unmoored from any serious purpose in my life. I’d fallen into a set of vices that I realized would never provide for any real happiness. A couple things happened in my personal and family life that had a serious impact on me. Put all this together, and I found myself in my campus’ chapel because I was at my wit’s end and did not know where else to go. I started going to mass every week again. I went to confession for the first time in years. I felt after confession as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Even after getting back home for summer, I continued going to mass on Sundays, which isn’t something I’d done in my hometown for a long time. My renewed faith began to shape my interactions with people in a positive way. I tried, and still try, to live out the difficult parts of my faith every day. It sounds cliché, but I still trip and fall a lot, but I do try, and I’m getting better.

So why didn’t I follow the same path as my sister, why’d I stay in the Church at all? I think, after some reflection, there are two main veins to that, and one is a product of the other. First, I think the Church is right. The execution has been imperfect throughout history as Dawkins fans will be quick to tell you, but the underlying philosophy is right. The more I studied the Church and its teachings (thanks, Catholic School), the more right I thought the Catholic worldview is.

However, religion has to exist on some plane outside of just sober intellectual analysis, and that’s the second part. I’ve done and tried a lot of things in my time on this earth and found them profoundly unfulfilling if not damaging to my psyche. You can only own so much stuff, get drunk on so many weekends, “hook up” so many times, wake up so many mornings feeling empty and alone before you start wondering if you’ll ever be happy. Popular (secular) culture, especially the bit of it targeted towards college students, tells me that these things will make me happy, which they never have. I thought for a while that maybe there was something wrong with me because of that.

Realizing that these things were nothing but cheap, temporary, substitutes, for real relationships with real people, for a relationship with God, was one of the most profound realizations of my college career. I feel, on a very deep level, that the life the Church guides us to is the one I should be living.

Having come back into the fold, one of the larger regrets I have is having failed my siblings. They picked me as their confirmation sponsors, and I abdicated my responsibility to help them develop spiritually, even though until recently I was honestly in no position to. I needed to sort myself out first, and I hope that now, standing on the more solid ground, I’ll be able to be the guide for them that I wasn’t for the last few years.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Chesterton quotes, who had no small part in my intellectual development visa-vis the Church;

Children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.- GK Chesterton

12 Days to Christmas- College Decisions

I am going to take this opportunity to mirror something my sister Sarah is doing, which I’m sure she will hate. But what are sisters for if you can’t drive them nuts even in college?

To give some context my sister has a platform where she occasionally posts some longer form musings on various topics, which you can check out here. She (it seems) is going to do a 12-days-to-Christmas series of blog posts. I’ll see if I can keep up the energy to do the same, most likely blatantly stealing whatever topic she chooses each day and adapting it to my own purposes.

Her first post was on choosing her college major- which luckily is a ripe topic for me since I have the benefit of two extra years of consideration. I picked DeSales for two reasons. Reason (a) was because it has a good TV/Film program (my original major) and one of my most influential high school teachers was an alumnus of that program. Reason (b) was… it was the only acceptance letter I got out of a grand total of two applications.

I didn’t take the college search very seriously. I was quite frankly a terrible high school student, and I didn’t want to go to college. Finally, only because my mother forced me to, I sent out two applications. Out of the two applications; I received one acceptance letter, and that was to DeSales. So in the fall, I found myself moving into a dorm on the DeSales campus.

I entered as a TV/Film major since at the time I thought I wanted to work in the Film Industry. It funnily enough only took me one film appreciation class and one conflict with a professor to disabuse me of that notion. But I would be guilty of a serious omission if I limited the reason I left TV/Film to solely my negative experience in the major. I at the same time had a very positive experience with a professor in another department- Dr. Essig who was the head of the Political Science program.

I had enrolled in Dr. Essig’s American Federal Government class my first semester to fulfill a general education requirement, and I was hooked from the first lecture. I decided to make the switch my second semester freshman year- from TV/Film to Political Science, and I’ve never looked back.

Fast forward to three years and several alterations of my course of study later, and I’ll be graduating next month with a Bachelor’s of Art in Political Science, concentrating on National Security, minoring in Business. Most of my research in my undergrad has focused on various economic issues and the wider issue of state security. My pet topics that I really love writing on are Pharmaceutical Intellectual Property and Nuclear Weapons. If you can find a connection between those two topics, please let me know because as of yet I haven’t been able to figure it out.

The conflagration of events that got me to this place still leaves me in awe at times. I went to a school… because I didn’t have a better option. At the school, I registered for a class with a particular professor, who happened to inspire me and was also the head of the political science program. Through all that I kindled an interest in myself that I didn’t really know I had. I’ve polished writing skills I didn’t know I possessed, and I became a voracious non-fiction reader. DeSales, and the professors and coursework I’ve had here gave me a thirst for knowledge and an ambition that would be unimaginable to my high school self.

Even crazier to me as a graduating senior is that my kid sister and myself ended up in almost the exact same major. She’s National Security Studies, and I’m on the National Security Track of the Political Science Program. I’ll probably never not tease her about the fact that my degree is in one of the true academic disciplines (politics has been studied about as long as there has been formal education). Whereas her degree is just one of those generic studies degrees. I’m sure she’ll fire right back with some conversational Russian I can’t understand (she’ll be in an intensive Russian program this summer which is awesome). But I digress, we’ve been driving each other up the wall since she was born, no reason for that to not continue. I never imagined that the bleeding heart liberal younger sister would end up in the same course of studies as me, the heartless conservative older brother. I am however beyond excited at the prospect. I can’t wait to watch her develop academically (& I have no doubt exceed me) and to hopefully be able to give her some guidance along the way.

Can’t wait to have some spirited debates about the geostrategic implications of Russian aggression and a Trump presidency around the dinner table this winter sis. See you all tomorrow (maybe? If Sarah continues her series).

My Expirence with Privilege and Healthcare

Over the past 18 months, I’ve had my first real foray into the American medical system as an adult. Throughout my life, I’ve been healthy, nothing much outside of yearly checkups, one broken bone, and a sports injury. But over the past year and a half I’ve seen my general practitioner and three specialists. I received two misdiagnoses, a full battery of increasingly obscure tests, culminating in a surgery from which I am almost recovered as of writing this. I handled most of this on my own (you know you’re an adult when you start making your own doctor’s appointments). What I’m going to talk about today is “privilege” in the healthcare system.

The term “privilege” is bandied about quite a bit in modern American discourse. If you’re my age and you haven’t at least seen an argument over “white privilege” you must have been living under a rock. But the “privilege” I’m talking about today has nothing to do with my skin color. Rather my (my parent’s) economic status, but I’ll circle back around to that in a minute.

Some background: Without going into too much detail, I had what turned out to be a rare condition in people my age. It was not life threatening, just something I had lived with for my entire life, but finally asked my doctor about, and got fixed. This started with my general practitioner, who misdiagnosed me and referred me to a specialist. This first specialist who is located in my town, took a step in the right direction towards a correct diagnosis. He told me that my best option was surgery, but that he was “not comfortable operating on me” because he was “unfamiliar with this condition in individuals my age”. He told me he would do some research, make some calls, and find someone in the area more experienced.

This if I’m being honest, scared the living hell out of me. I had grown up looking up at physicians as people who always knew what to do. Now I had a respected specialist sitting in front of me telling me in the same breath that “you need surgery” (which I had never had before) and that “he wasn’t comfortable operating on me”. I am, beyond happy, that he had enough humility to admit to me that he was not experienced enough to give me the best treatment. Never the less, I left that office concerned, since I now needed to track down a specialist’s specialist. I spent the next week doing my own research. I found, the guy on the east coast for what I had. He published many papers on my condition, and sat on advisory board for the patient’s association for this condition. He practiced out of Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City, which is by any measure, one of the best hospitals in the world, and was a department head. I decided, this was my guy, this is the physician I wanted. So I called and made an appointment.

After a series of appointments, it turned out that the first specialist had also misdiagnosed me. He had gotten the symptoms right, but misunderstood the cause. This was in fairness to him understandable given his experience and the symptoms I presented as a patient. Surgery was still my best option. I decided to go ahead with the surgery, which I received at the beginning of January. I took a full week off school, since the surgery required a few days of bed rest. After I returned to school, I was on painkillers and light duty for 4 weeks. After 4 weeks, I went back to NYC for the post-op. I was cleared to return to all normal activities, and told my scar should heal in 3-6 months.

I made the trip from Center Valley PA to New York City (2-3 hours each way), a half dozen times through the course of my treatment. Initial appointment, tests, followup to review test results, consultation with the surgeon, pre-operative tests, the operation itself, post-op followup. I took a full day off classes / work each time. I paid for parking in the city, which in one case was $60 for an hour. Gas, food, lost earnings, opportunity cost. This was all before you even touch the costs of the appointments themselves.

I am covered under my parents insurance, which is generous. Initially, we weren’t sure if this physician at MSK was going to be covered by insurance, but I went anyway. This, in my mind, is the real privilege in the healthcare system. I’d gone to two doctors, wasn’t happy with the care I received. So I in my free time, researched, and found one of the top guys in the US (and extension the world) to operate on me. I decided that that was where I wanted to receive care, and I went. If it wasn’t covered by insurance (which it was), my parents would pay out of pocket, but MSK was going to be where I went. This cut out quite a bit of waiting and delays in me receiving care. I never had to wait to schedule an appointment until the hospital sorted out the billing with the insurance company. I just scheduled the appointment and if it had be paid out of pocket, it’d be paid out of pocket.

A family without the financial resources to pay out of pocket, or without private insurance, would have waited. This was, at the end of the day, an elective procedure, and could have been delayed indefinitely. Patients on public assistance can access this level of care. There were Medicare and Medicaid patients in the MSK waiting room who I spoke too. But would they have been able to google the office number, call, and make an appointment, just like that? Probably not. That’s not the way Medicare works. What I had done, in retrospect, is bought my way to the top. I wanted the best care, and my family had the financial resources to pay for it either way, so I got the best care.

Further, privilege allowed me to be in a situation where I could take off from all my responsibilities for days at a time. I wasn’t working full time, and nobody was relying on my pay. So I could take a week off from school for the surgery and recovery without too much trouble. I was concerned about a lot of things. Surgeries can go wrong, I had been two times misdiagnosed, how much was the recovery going to hurt. But never at any step, was I concerned about money.

I said above that I handled this on my own, which was, to be frank, a lie. I scheduled all my appointments, and made the decisions about my care, but my parents did a lot on the backend. Paid for everything, handled any extraneous paperwork, argued with the insurance company. They figured out how everything was actually getting paid for, they got me to and from the surgery when I was all drugged up. They made sure I ate when I was lying in bed high as a kite after the procedure. I could not imagine having handled that by myself. Healthcare is complicated, both of my parents, and myself are familiar with the system, through both professional and personal experience. We know how it works. We know at least enough to in the case of things like “is the insurance company going to pay for x” or “this bill is incorrect” where to start. I can’t imagine going into this process as someone without experience with the healthcare and insurance industries.

It’s important to note that, despite having every possible advantage, I was still waiting 2-3 months inbetween each appointment, that’s how far ahead they were booked. My condition wasn’t life threatening, so the waiting was annoying, but not terrible, or detrimental to my health. Further, it was a simple procedure. In the category of surgeries, having an outpatient elective procedure requiring very little followup, is a minor deal. It can be easy for cancer patients to rack up bills from a half dozen hospitals and private practice physicians. In the grand scheme of things, my experience as a patient in the healthcare system was minor and simple. Despite that however, and my parents helping, and my insurance company, one bill still slipped through the cracks and got sent to collections. We paid it, but if we lost track of the bills for such a minor procedure, I can’t imagine what it’s like for patients who are in and out of the hospital for months.

I’ve spent two pages, laying out a problem description. I for a variety of economic, social, and institutional factors, received some of the best healthcare available in the modern world. This same care, for a variety of factors, would have likely been inaccessible to someone poorer than me. The reasons this care would have been inaccessible extend beyond just financial means. Mechanisms exist for Medicare and Medicaid patients to receive healthcare like this. However, healthcare extends past the “health”, the care component is also important. The support I received from my family was invaluable from handling paperwork to ensuring I ate while I was recovering. Likewise, not having to have ever stress about money, wait on hold with the insurance company, or confusing paperwork, was important to my overall positive experience. The presence or lack of that kind of stress can have real impacts on health outcomes.

I don’t know what the solution is to this. It’s complicated, and no policy can exist in a vacuum. Medicare was a program designed to alleviate some of the problems relating to financial access. As someone who worked in the healthcare industry, Medicare has had unintended consequences, and introduced an additional level of complexity into certain areas of the system. That’s not saying it’s a bad program, or didn’t result in a net positive, but it did complicate the system in ways that were not foreseen.

My only thoughts on possible policy solutions are that we should be careful to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. As many problems with the health system as this experience opened my eyes to, I still consider this a blistering success for the healthcare system in my life. I say, without fear of contradiction, that I could not have received this level of care anywhere else. Despite all the benefits of universal healthcare, the rich and powerful from other countries travel here, to America, to get care. We shouldn’t throw out the baby of exceptionalism, with the bathwater of unequal access. I see a lot of politicians, calling for complete overhauls of the system, without ever considering “what is it that makes the best American hospitals, and the best American doctors, some of the best in the world?”. We don’t need to tear down our health system and build a new one. We need to find ways to make our health system work for more people. In an ideal world, I would like everyone to have access to the kind of care I received. What I do not want to see is a future where all Americans are equal in receiving mediocre healthcare because of well-intended, but poorly considered policies.

Id like to thank my doctor at MSK, and the rest of his team. The man was a raging Scotsman, and managed to make jokes during discussions of complicated medical topics, and as an added bonus, one hell of a surgeon. 

(Cover Image: Wesley Wilson)

Paris, Brussels, and Ignorance

This week there were a series of major Islamic terrorist attacks in Brussels. Similar to the Paris Attacks earlier this year, there was a near immediate outpouring of support on social media by people across the world. Likewise, just as with the Paris attacks, before the smoke had settled, there was a social media backlash against the social media sympathy.

This backlash after both the Paris and Brussels attacks took the form of memes, cartoons, and self-righteous posts about how “the media only cares about rich white westerners” or something like that. These are usually accompanied by a list of attacks and bombings, which occurred in-between Paris and Brussels. Feigning curiosity about this “lack of media coverage” of other attacks, I decided to do a few searches for “terrorist attack” on some of my regular news sources (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Foreign Policy Magazine), here is what I turned up:

NYT: Kenya is reeling from the shock of the massacre, early on Thursday, of 147 people in an attack by Somali militants on a college.

NYT: The bombing at the Kabul Bank branch here, in which a man wearing an explosive vest targeted a crowd of people waiting to collect their pay, also wounded 125, making it the worst suicide attack this year, 

NYT: Twenty to 50 people were killed in the latest attack on Tuesday. A man disguised as a salesman blew himself up in a slaughterhouse in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State and the biggest city in the region, officials said. 

NYT: In an unusual daytime attack near Egypt’s most visible tourist attraction, gunmen shot and killed two police officers on Wednesday, a few hundred yards from the pyramids of Giza, security officials said. 

NYT: The blast at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait, the first terrorist attack in the country in more than 20 years, killed 25.

NYT: In Tunisia, a gunman drew an assault rifle from a beach umbrella and killed at least 38 people at a seaside resort. 

WSJ: Suicide Bombers Kill at Least 26 People in Two Afghan Attacks 

WSJ: the first attack claimed by Islamic State in Indonesia, leaving the assailants and four other people dead

WSJ: Just last month, the group massacred 86 people, many of them children, in the Nigerian village of Dalori and 32 others in the Cameroonian village of Bodo.

WSJ: The assaults killed at least 10 guards and set on fire at least seven tanks at both facilities

WSJ: The number of dead in the town of Dalori had risen to 65. Another 136 wounded were taken to local hospitals

FP: Across the Middle East, Doctors Are Being Killed Like Never Before

FP: Turkish Authorities: Islamic State Responsible for Istanbul Suicide Attack

FP: The Islamic State Hits Turkey Where It Hurts 

FP: 10 Afghan Policemen Killed in Insider Attack

This is not an exhaustive list; I could go on like this for pages. This was the result of ten minutes of me clicking around three publication’s news stories from the past year. It reconfirms what I knew all along: The media DOES report on terrorist attacks everywhere in the world.

So please, my Facebook friends who had the same reaction to Paris and Brussels (“but what about xyz country #prayfortheworld”) take some responsibility for yourself. It is not “the media” (whatever the media means) who isn’t reporting these stories, it’s YOU who’s not reading them. If you didn’t know about the terror attacks in Turkey, Tunisia, Iraq, Kenya, or anywhere else, that’s on you, because the reporting is out there. I knew about them, because I read those news sources on a regular basis. However if your only sources of what is going on in the world is Facebook, BuzzFeed, The Daily Show, and the HuffPo Opinion Section, I don’t really know what you want me to tell you. I find it particularly incredulous that people would claim “the media ignores xyz country” when I get daily news summaries from the NYT, BBC, and Foreign Policy, and every, single, day, there is at least one item in there about a terror attack / mass killing in a 3rd world country with a link to a longer article.

The fact of the matter is, between the French and Belgian attacks, worldwide terror activity didn’t stop, and the media didn’t stop reporting on it, YOU stopped paying attention. You have no one to blame but yourself for not being informed about the world. So, with all due respect, keep your self-righteous memes to yourself. Either be an informed member of the public, or don’t be, but stop blaming “the media”, racism, and other people for your own ignorance about world events.

(Cover Image: Karolina Grabowska)

Ode to Éire

I suppose before I start, I should disclose the following: I’m not actually that Irish, I’m pretty Irish, but not very, anyone familiar with etymology could tell you “Illis” is not an Irish surname. While I’m not sure exactly how the percentages break down, I know I hail from three main areas, Hungary, Ireland, and Scotland. My maternal family’s presence on this continent predates the United States by a half-century or more. My paternal family was early 20th century immigrants for the most part. Understandably, my exact ancestry is a bit muddled underneath 300+ years of war, immigration, migration, and relocation. My skin tone and freckles alone however should attest the fact that I’ve got a little more than a touch of Irish blood in me. Regardless, today is St. Patrick’s Day, a day in which even full-blooded Italians feel a particular connection to the Emerald Isle, and I am no exception.

The Irish are in fact a quite remarkable people. British writer GK Chesterton says of the Irish,

The Irish are not only practical, but quite painfully successful. The poverty of their country, the minority of their members are simply the conditions under which they were asked to work; but no other group in the British Empire has done so much with such little. [Irish] Nationalists were the only minority that ever succeeded in twisting the whole British Parliament sharply out of its path. The Irish peasants are the only poor men in these islands who have forced their masters to disgorge. These people, whom we call priest-ridden, are the only Britons who will not be squire-ridden.

No other group has done so much with so little”. The Irish took a rocky, damp, island, and created a culture, producing individuals who have in a very real way, dominated world events for the past 200 years. Irish-American’s have played a disproportionate role in the creation of America[1], as we know it today. From military leaders to politicians to writers, the Irish can be found to have at least one finger in anything quintessentially American. The Irish are as American as America is American, the two peoples are quite inseparable. It was said of Irish-American settlers in the American west that: “[The Irish] settlers were described as a fun loving, kindly people, who would give someone the shirt off their backs, but were also known for shooting anyone who meant them harm.“[2]

I have since I was a child, loved Ireland. I love Ireland much as I love my native country, that is, I love it for reasons I cannot articulate. Ireland, more than any other place I have traveled to outside of The States, feels like home. Chesterton says this type of love is the highest form for, “The man who is most likely to ruin the place he loves is exactly the man who loves it with a reason.”, and as he goes on to say,

My acceptance … is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. The world is not a lodging-house …, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more.

I love the Irish like I love my family. Often when I am faced with adversity or a bout of depression, I’ll return to the one place the has always felt like home no matter where I am. There are no higher highs, or lower lows, then can be expressed by the Irish. Folklore, music, literature, this is my security blanket against a world of adversity and uncertainty. As the blessing goes;

I believe in the sun when it’s not shining, I believe in love even when I feel it not, I believe in God even when he is silent.

The Irish practice of melancholy acceptance of the world as it stands is one which I have tried to imitate throughout my life, and a trait I have always much admired. A humorous Irish toast goes “Here’s to a long life and a merry one. A quick death and an easy one. A pretty girl and an honest one. A cold pint– and another one!”. The Irish themselves are a contradiction in terms. At once friendly yet pugnacious, melancholy yet cheery, pious yet fickle. The Irish culture reflects the variety of life, the struggle within all of us, and the tenacious resiliency that makes the Irish Irish.

The great Gaels of Ireland,
are the men that God made mad
For all their wars are merry,
and all their songs are sad.[3]

Australian writer Beau Taplin said of the concept of home, “Home is not where you are from, it is where you belong. Some of us travel the whole world to find it. Others, find it in a person.” Éire is a place that lives in the heart of any man with a drop of Irish blood in his veins. I am forever blessed to carry a piece of home with me, something that no matter how dark my surroundings can never be taken from me. Even if the island itself fell off the face of the earth tomorrow, Ireland would live on. In every Irish Pub, in every glass of whiskey, in every folk song, in every green field, in every Irishman, there lives a piece of that island, and the ideals that sprung from it. I wish everyone, especially those of us with some Irish ancestry, a safe and merry St. Patrick’s Day.

May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be ever at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And the rain fall softly on your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.

[1] For further reading on this I’d recommend The Other Irish and How the Irish Saved Civilization
[2] Quote from The Other Irish
[3] Quote from GK Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse

The copyright for the image in this post is fully owned by the author.

ABC’s of DeSales

Your guide to DeSales, the place everyone loves to hate, as told by a Junior.

A- Avoidance. DeSales is a tiny school. We have one cafeteria, two main academic buildings, one science building, a handful of residence halls, one gym, everyone goes to the same parties, etc. If there is someone on campus you do not want to see, I guarantee you will see them, probably all the time. You can only avoid so many people on a campus this size (hint: that number is zero).

B- Bethlehem, or “B-Hem” is the nearest “city”, its where most of the bars and parties are. Bethlehem can be a very sketchy place, especially late at night, but that’s ok, because most DeSales parties wrap up by 1am anyway, so you’ll rarely find yourself there that late. Those of us who are old enough remember Poop Mountain and the old Lacrosse house, both of which through some serious parties (yes new kids, better than Track House) those were some good times.

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C- CharacterU. The DeSales version of “orientation leaders”, freshmen are assigned CharacterU Mentors during orientation, they will then meet their mentors throughout the year. Mentors have a variety of styles of mentoring their freshmen, from the conventional to the not so conventional.

D- DUC Food*. DUC Food is, on average not great, but the more years you spend eating it, you’ll learn what is good, and what is not.

E- Exercise Walking. Aka, the best P.E. activity. Taught by Coach Crampton, our very Irish soccer coach, you will walk around campus for 20-40 minutes. I took it twice; it’s always a good time. Fair warning however, you do need to keep up with Coach, or he will absolutely leave you behind.

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F- (Saint) Francis DeSales. Otherwise affectionately known as “Frank” by the student body, Frank is the namesake of DeSales. There is a statue of Frank in the center of the mall, which gets dressed up by students for various holidays. The Administration does not like this, but we do it anyway.

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G- Gossip. Remember high school? Well welcome to DSU, high school round two. Everyone is going to be all up in your business. There is no such thing as an “anonymous hookup” at DeSales. Chances are any person you’re with, even if you just met them, you probably know a handful of their friends, one of their exes, and possibly a family member. People will know what you did sometimes before you know what you do. It’s just something you have to accept, there isn’t any real anonymity on campus.

H- Hooking Up. For anyone unaware, at DeSales, “hooking up” means making out, not having sex. This throws some people off when they first get here. Keep in mind, DeSales is a Catholic university, with a lot of practicing Catholics, so, yeah. There is not really a “hookup (sex) culture” the way there is at other universities, so if that’s what you’re looking for here you’re pretty much SOL. Having a series of one-night stands with other DeSales students will get you a reputation so fast your head will spin, because as previously mentioned, everyone knows what happens to everyone.

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I -Inspirational Janitor*. There is a Janitor at DeSales who will give you an inspirational speech especially if you’re in Dooling late at night. I’ve never actually seen this in person, but I understand from tweets from the Nursing and PA Majors that he does indeed exist.

J- Jesus Statue. At some point on the Mall in the center of campus, an enormous Jesus statue is being put up, at an alleged cost of $750,000. This project has been continually delayed since it was started. They broke ground on the landscaping & pedestal May 2015, and as of writing this (March 2016) there is still no statue. Classic DeSales, come up with an iffy idea, execute it poorly, overspending the whole way.

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K- Killing Time and Drinking Beer. This is the campus-wide pastime. DeSales doesn’t really have parties, a lot of weekends there’s not really anywhere to go or anything to do. So a lot of weekends will consist hanging out with 5-10 other people (all of whom are over 21 of course) and some drinks.

L- Linda & Chelsea. Linda and Chelsea work at the Grill at the DUC, they’re homies. Get to know them and they will hook you up with the good stuff at the grill.

M- McShea Café. Aka “Sandella’s”, aka “McShea”, aka where drunk people get food. This is the only place on campus where you can get food at 1am. Two years ago, “Café McShea” underwent a major renovation, being transformed into Sandella’s, which actually serves real food, and is now open during the day as well as at night. While I do like new McShea, the French bread pizza & tornados they used to make at old McShea will always have a place in my heart.

N- No Penetration Policy. Does DeSales have one? Did it used to? This is one of the best pieces of DeSales lore along with the Dooling Deer.

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O- (Fr.) O’Conner. Everyone knows Fr. O’Connor the University President. He enjoys long walks around campus, chatting with students, professors, and parents, and of course, the occasional whiskey.

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P- Printing. Need to print something? Good luck, the McShea printer has been broken for two semesters, and as of the Friday before break, two of the four Gambet printers were broken.

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Q- Quiet Hours*. A time when everyone is expected to be relatively quiet. Due to the layout of some of the dorms, this can be very difficult. The walls in many of the residence halls are famously thin, and you can often hear everything going on in the rooms next to you. Fun Fact: RA’s can write you up for noise violations, but we really don’t want to, so for everyone’s sake, keep it to a dull roar.

R- Resident Advisor. Your RA, is a resource for you if you live in the dorms and is also responsible for enforcing University Policy. Rule of thumb for dealing with your RA: you’re not as clever as you think you are and your RA is not oblivious.

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S- Storms. The rain on campus will come on fast, and hard. You need to commit to either dressing as if you’re making a cameo on the Deadliest Catch, or accept the fact if you walk anywhere you will be wet.

T- Teams. DeSales is a Division 3 school, with all your standard NCAA teams (except football) and a good number of club / intermural teams. Some of our athletes forget that they’re D-3, and some of our club teams forget that they’re club teams, but we love them anyway. You haven’t really lived until you’ve been called a NARP (Non-Athletic Regular Person) by someone who plays a club sport (I mean… come on). DeSales has a few good teams, a bunch of alright teams, and a few bad teams, and our school spirit is terrible. What we as DSU lacks in spirit, the athletes make up for in pride. Talk crap about DSUWS or DSUSB, seriously try, it’s a small school, they will find out, and they may hurt you. Heaven forbid if you’ve sat down at the Soccer Team or Track Team’s tables in the DUC when they get back from practice, they will not be happy. Athletes, even the club sports, take their teams very seriously.

U- University Heights. This is generally, where the “bigger” parties are on campus, because each height has a decent sized common room. Fall Semester upperclassmen like to tell freshmen looking for parties that there’s a party at Height 21 (which doesn’t exist). You know the new semester has officially started when you see a group of freshmen behind the Heights looking for Height 21.

V- Villas. These are the newest housing accommodation on campus. They feature apartment-style living, a kitchen, and walls so thin you can hear anything and everything going on in the villa next to you.

W- WiFi. The WiFi is terrible, not really much else to say here.

X- (E)xtra Long Walks*. DeSales is big, and spread out. Walking from the Heights or Donahue to Gambet or Hurd can take 15+ minutes, and is straight miserable in the rain and snow. Upper Classmen will regularly “commute” from Donahue, Heights, and Villas to McShea to cut 5-ish minutes off their morning walks.

Y- Yuppies. Aka, preppy white kids. The type of people you would expect to find at a small, expensive, catholic, University. In reality, that’s way more Lehigh kids, at DeSales you’ll find mostly hard-core Catholics, kids from alright Philly suburbs, and kids from rural PA.

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Z- Zilch. The amount of patience DeSales students have for other people talking crap about our school. I’ve painted a picture of a school that people love to hate. The DeSales Student’s favorite pastime is complaining about DeSales. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t love our school. The DeSales community is really like a family. Much like a family, we can complain about our own family, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t love em, and it doesn’t mean that someone from outside can talk crap about our family. DeSales is at the end of the day, a great place to be, full of great people.

 

Author’s Note: This was inspired by a post by Steph Spero published on The Odyssey Online. I have borrowed some of her letters, because well how could D not be DUC Food? Any ones that I borrowed are noted by an asterisk. I would recommend checking out her post as well.

This post is meant to be humorous. It should be taken as such. Don’t be that guy who takes something too seriously.

The views expressed above are not that of DeSales University, the Office of Residence Life, DeSales EMS, or any other department, organization, or individual with which I have a relationship.

Nothing above should be taken as condoning behavior in violation of the law or any University Policy.

All images link back to the sites where they were originally hosted. If you own the copyrights to any of the above images and would like them removed, please contact me at brendan@illis.net