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Comrade Bernie’s New Foe

- - Nelson Lewis

I’m never going to vote for Bernie Sanders.  Not only is he pretty old (liberals who made fun of McCain’s age conveniently forget that he was older than Jack was when he ran for President back in ‘08), but also his political views are pretty darn far-removed from mine.  He’s a caricature of the Vermont liberals who helped him propel to political superstardom.  But much as I like to poke fun at “Comrade Bernie” and his supporters, the guy does have heart.  That’s one of the reasons he was able to go so much further in his 2016 Presidential run than he ever should have, helping divide the Democrats, a party he’s not even part of (he’s registered as an “Independent”, and only registered as a Dem for the 2016 Election).  

With Bernie’s 2018 senatorial re-election bid coming up, an opponent has arisen.  Much like the rest of this country (apart, of course, from the limousine liberal teens smoking pot at liberal arts college across the country), Democrat Jon Svitavsky is fed up with what he calls the aging hippie socialist’s “Robin Hood shtick”.  But while he’s bashing Bernie for basking too much in the limelight, I don’t know if he’s a better option: an aging first-time candidate who claims to be even more anti-establishment and “far more liberal”.  So, Vermont is of course going to love him.  He is, however, a strong advocate for the homeless, which I do respect.  While he claims to already have some name recognition in the state, a simple Google search has come up with little info on him from before he announced his plans to oust Bernie.  

jon svitavsky Vermont

Jon Svitavsky

Svitavsky claims, not without good reason, that Bernie divided the Dems enough to give Trump the edge and win the election back in November.  He also states that an FBI investigation into a commercial real estate loan Bernie’s wife orchestrated has left him, who relishes in his image as an “incorruptible” politician, in a pretty tough spot.  Bernie is still very popular in his state (shocker) and beyond, but this scandal could be an issue.  His wife has been accused of overstating financial pledges and grants to get at least $6.7 million in financing for the now-defunct Burlington College back in 2010.  It’s also possible that Bernie used his political influence to get the loan approved.  

Svitavsky has yet to get the Democratic nomination, but he seems to be gaining popularity in a grassroots movement.  I think it’s pretty amusing to watch two guys leaning so far left that they’ve almost fallen over duke it out over whose more liberal, but it’s also pretty scary.  Everybody is going more and more extreme and further away from the center.  It’s almost like moderate candidates are simply getting ignored, and the only way to get people riled up is by being the most firebrand.  But of course that’s dangerous, and is going to do little to unite our country.  

Why Millennials Don’t Go to Church

- - Nelson Lewis

I’m a Christian millennial.  But you know what?  I’m in the minority.  According to one study, just 20% of Americans under 30 believe attending church is important, and 59% of them raised in a church have dropped out.  Most of my peers spend their Sunday mornings nursing their hangovers or going to brunch as opposed to heading off to church, and their attitudes are at best indifferent and at worst openly antagonistic.  Regular churchgoers aren’t getting any younger.  What are churches supposed to do if they want to attract a younger crowd?  

Ulm cathedral sunset

Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, there’s no young people

Despite this increased disinterest in church among my generation, most churches aren’t doing anything new to connect with them and change their minds.  It’s almost like they don’t care that they aren’t reaching younger people.  Take a look at the Catholic Church: Pope Francis’ new “kinder, gentler” Catholicism has been resonating with a lot of younger people, but at the same time those same people aren’t going to church.  Because even if Francis says stuff they like, the local church nearby them is pretty much the same as it always was.  They’re blowing a pretty big opportunity to reach new people.  Many churchgoers want to spread the teachings of Jesus and help make the world better.  But that’s kind of tough with how they’ve been acting.

The traditional church, with a pastor preaching to his flock, accompanied by Bible studies and bingo nights, isn’t appealing to millennials.  My peers like being part of something that values them and treats them as equals.  But plenty of modern churches aren’t doing that.  They aren’t asking younger people for their input, and their social activities aren’t appealing to younger people, which tells millennials that they don’t really care what they think.  And because of that, they’ve been adopting an attitude of “well if you don’t care then neither do I”.  Some churches have been reaching younger people with “pub theology”, where a pastor meets at a bar with parishioners to talk about Christianity.  Drinking alcohol to excess can get tricky, but at the same time, things like that are going to reach a lot more younger people than Friday night bingo.  For example, if millennials aren’t going to church on Sunday because they’d rather be doing Sunday brunch, then why don’t churches simply offer their own Sunday brunch?  Christianity is a wonderful thing, but for Christians to reach more people, they need to change their methods, otherwise they risk becoming irrelevant.

Scandal in Belgium

- - Nelson Lewis

In the past month  or so, Belgian politics have been shook up with a corruption scandal that would make even Nixon turn up his nose.  News last month broke that since 2008, Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur and an ally had each collected over 100,000 euros for meetings that never took place.  Making the scandal even more crazy, these meetings were meant to be for the agency Samusocial, meant to care for the homeless.  So, these guys were diverting funds for homeless people into their own pockets.  Not surprisingly, the mayor had to resign.  That’s pretty bad, no doubt, but it gets worse.  For the past decade, the French-speaking Socialist Party (PS) has been all-powerful in the French-speaking parts of Belgium.  Ironically, or not ironically when you consider all the corruption prevalent in many Socialist and Communist governments, members have been repeatedly caught siphoning off public funds.  

Belgium’s political structure is pretty complex: a small country with just 11 million people, it’s divided between various regional and linguistic communities who speak Dutch, French, and German.  To balance power among these different groups, the country is governed by six parliaments and governments.  In Brussels, where the French and Dutch live alongside each other, it gets even more complex, with political institutions that are harder to navigate than they are to pronounce.  The Brussels region has more ministers, mayors, and city councilors than Berlin and Paris combined, even though their population outnumbers Brussels nearly 6 to one.  

Tintin and his dog

Corruption in Belgium, as reported by Belgium’s most famed journalist: Tintin

These overlapping institutions are a textbook example of the darker side of bureaucracy.  For example, much of the homeless in Brussels sleeps near the North Railway Station.  And which bench they sleep on determines which part of the city is responsible for helping them.  Public services in Brussels are delivered by about 200 agencies with around 1,400 employees.  It’s a tough maze to navigate, and allows political parties in power to distribute all the jobs and favors that they want.  This system of patronage allows certain people to prosper, but also makes solving any sort of problems in a coherent manner nearly impossible.

I recently read an article in the Washington Post that compared this situation to African politics, namely the work of a team of political scientists,  Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz, who wrote a book in the 90s called “Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument”.  In the book, they argued that political leaders in Africa use disorder to their benefit by redistributing resources, patronage, and contracts to their political cronies.  It’s an interesting comparison, and certainly a lot different from the more famous comparison people make between Belgium and Africa (*cough cough* Congo *cough cough*).  Of course, considering how much of a mess many different African countries are, this is hardly a favorable comparison.  I will say, though, it’s at least refreshing to see some bad news about Europe that doesn’t involve a terrorist attack.   

The North Korea Debacle

- - Nelson Lewis

The North Korea Debacle by Nelson LewisSometimes I forget that North Korea is real.  It’s such a ridiculous country, where a totalitarian dictatorship based on a cult of personality has been taken to a level that even Stalin would think is too much.  Did you know, for example, that when the late Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il first picked up a golf club in 1994, he shot a 38-under par round on North Korea’s only golf course?  Or that he wrote 1,500 books and six full-length operas while attending college over a three-year period?  He even invented the hamburger!  Statements like that sound like something a five year-old would make up about themselves, but if North Koreans insinuate that they’re anything other than indisputable fact then they get a one-way trip to a forced labor camp.  

If it wasn’t a bastion of human rights violations that’s currently threatening a giant war, North Korea would be pretty funny.  But alas, they have a pretty substantial track record of violating basic human rights, and Kim Jong Un is getting pretty militant and not so harmless.  North Korea’s missile displays are getting progressively more and more aggressive, and are even testing intercontinental ballistic missiles (take a wild guess which continent they’re thinking of hitting).  Normally we’d be invading them by this point, but in this “kinder, gentler” world, we’ve been dragging our feet.  Obviously the best course of action is to chastise Kim Jong-Un for his stupid antics, but how that’s going to play out, or if it is, remains to be seen.  What is clear is that whatever we’ve been doing isn’t working.

North Koreans have little (if any) contact with the outside world, and the same goes for the country itself.  One of the few countries that even has a diplomatic relationship with North Korea is China.  As a much bigger country that shares a large border with North Korea, the Chinese could put pressure on them to stop their nuclear program, but it seems unlikely that they’ll try that.  The US could invade North Korea, and would definitely win, but it would come at a big cost: the country’s missiles are aimed at their South Korean and Japanese neighbors, so if we did crush Kim Jong-Un, it would be hard to stop him from sending missiles to Tokyo and Seoul, which in turn could be devastating to the world economy.  

A lot of people are arguing that the least awful option is to try and cut a deal with North Korea, but that’s a slippery slope: diplomacy works for reasonable countries, which, if you’ve been paying attention to world news at all in the past 20 years, North Korea is not.  When Neville Chamberlain kept trying to reason with Hitler in the leadup to World War II, it wasn’t because he was weak, it’s because he thought Hitler was reasonable.  But hindsight, as the saying goes, is 20/20, and we all know how Chamberlain’s diplomatic maneuvering turned out.  So who the hell knows what’s going to happen?  

What We Can Learn From Poland

- - Nelson Lewis

I can hardly turn on my Facebook these days without hearing something about a terrorist attack in Europe on my newsfeed.  Paris.  Manchester.  London.  Munich.  It’s awful, because they’re so frequent that it’s easy to become numb to them.  Most of these seem to have one thing in common: they’re being carried out by Muslim extremists, and have skyrocketed since refugees began arriving from Syria.  Almost every country in Europe has been hit by terrorist attacks, with one notable exception: Poland.

Poland has had a history of fending off Muslim invasions since 1683, when

Polish hussars

The armor of the famed “Polish Winged Hussars”, cavalrymen who helped save Europe from the Turks in 1683

their leader, Jan Sobieski, defeated the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Vienna and saved European Christendom from a Muslim invasion.  And it looks like they learned their lesson.  From the start of the refugee crisis, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party has been enforcing border controls and refusing to let in refugees.  Even if they’ve come under attack from the EU, Poland continues this policy, and according to party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, this stance will continue in light of recent terrorist attacks.  

For the past 350 years or so, Poland has had a long and famous history of getting the short end of the stick.  We all know about the German invasion of Poland in World War II, and but it goes a lot deeper.  The joke many people have is that Poland is the “doormat of Europe” but in modern European history, Poland was more like the jock who peaked in high school before falling on hard times, while the kids it stuffed in lockers went on to become powerful and successful.  From the Middle Ages and up to the 17th century, Poland was the major power in northeastern Europe, freely meddling in the affairs of its weaker neighbors, such as Prussia and Russia.  But after nearly 200 years of being the top dogs, in the 1650s a massive war with Sweden took its toll: Poland lost a third of its population, a good chunk of territory, and their status as a great power.  Since then it was downhill, as the countries Poland used to push around spent the next 250 years carving the country up among themselves.  

But after 350 years of being the doormat of Europe, it looks like Poland is getting its second wind.  And the country has been lucky to avoid terrorist attacks, for obvious reasons.  I’m glad to see that the Polish aren’t just doing well, but teaching the rest of the world a valuable lesson.  If only they would pay attention…

Scalise Shooting

- - Nelson Lewis

Steve Scalise Nelson LewisThe weather is getting nicer, and now that the summer is in full swing, it’s time to get down and enjoy a baseball game.  Of course, now that means you run the risk of getting shot at, which is what happened to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise along with four other people yesterday morning when a gunman opened fire during a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia.  He was wounded in the hip by a shot and moved to MedStar Washington Hospital Center in DC, where he’s since been reported in stable condition.  Two of the people wounded, however, are in critical condition.  

The shooter has been identified as James T. Hodgkinson, a 66 year-old from Belleville, Illinois.  Hodgkinson arrived at the ballfield and asked people if the congressmen practicing were Republicans or Democrats.  He then opened fire and started shooting at the players, and was described by one of the players, Michigan Republican Representative Mike Bishop, as “hunting”.  Rand Paul was there as well, and described the baseball diamond as a “killing field”.  Desperate calls for help rang out, and within minutes Capitol Police and local officers arrived.  They subdued Hodgkinson, who has since been reported as dead.  

Since one of the first things Hodgkinson asked when he arrived at the baseball diamond was whether or not the lawmakers were Republican or Democrat, and that he proceeded to open fire once he heard that they were Republicans, chances are that this was politically charged.  Of course, he died before we could find out his motives, but the pieces are certainly there.  Hodgkinson’s Facebook page was riddled with more pro-Bernie Sanders posts than a first-semester college freshman who just finished reading Marx for class.  Even his LinkedIn page had a profile picture with Bernie’s famous mad scientist hair and glasses with the words “The Dawn of a New Democracy”.  Call me old-fashioned, but LinkedIn is typically not the place to get political (unless you’re talking office politics).  Hodgkinson was also fervently anti-Trump; he onced signed an online petition calling for him to be impeached, and was a member of several anti-Republican Facebook groups.  

Hodgkinson I find it unusual that a liberally-charged political shooting was able to be carried out because of the gun laws that liberals themselves want to tighten.  Bernie, however, is known to be a bit lighter on gun control than some of his liberal peers (at least relatively speaking), since he’s a hunting enthusiast.  However, Bernie did speak out against the action, calling it “unacceptable”.

As a teenager, I remember the feelings of shock that came after the Columbine shootings.  Ever since, shootings have become more and more common, from the Virginia Tech shooting, to Sandy Hook, and countless others since.  It’s awful to see that in the current world we live in, these are becoming more and more common.

Did Shakespeare Go Too Far?

- - Nelson Lewis

Over 400 years after he first put pen to paper, people love their Shakespeare.  Even if his language isn’t always easy to understand (shocker, the English language has changed a lot since Shakespeare was writing), he tackles various timeless issues.  That’s why people love to put on “modern” interpretations of Shakespeare.  Also, let’s be honest, if every Shakespeare play still involved people wearing the ruffled frills and jerkins of Shakespeare’s time, that would get pretty damn boring.  Take, for example, the Leonardo DiCaprio/Claire Danes “Romeo and Juliet”, that takes place in 1990s California and uses dialogue from 1590s England.  Even Disney’s classic “The Lion King”, about a lion whose father the king is killed by his scheming uncle, was strongly influenced by Hamlet, about a Danish prince whose father the king is killed by

Julius Caesar John Wilkes Booth

In the 1860s, actor John Wilkes Booth and his brothers starred in “Julius Caesar”. Much like the character Brutus, Booth went on to kill a major world leader in real life.

his scheming uncle.

Every summer in New York City’s Central Park, the New York Public Theater puts on “Shakespeare in The Park”, staging productions of various Shakespearean plays at an open theater.  They’re currently putting on a production of “Julius Caesar”, the story of the famed Roman general-turned-dictator who was assassinated.  Because Shakespeare in the Park wants to stay relevant, this production looks to the modern age for inspiration, but that can of course generate plenty of controversy, which is exactly what’s happening.  

This modern take on a 16th century play portraying 1st century BC characters features some parallels that have been pissing a lot of people off.  Instead of the togas and sandals of ancient Rome, the characters of this production wear modern suits.  The title character, while not a dead-ringer for Trump, does kind of look like him.  Not only that, but the character’s wife, much like ⅔ of Trump’s wives, has a “Slavic accent”.  This Caesar is assassinated by a group of women and minorities.  It’s hard to not notice the parallel that Shakespeare in the Park is trying to make, and it’s also hard to not expect that it’s going to (and it has) piss people off.  

As liberals love to talk about how Trump is pulling funding for public arts programs, it’s hardly surprising that the Public Theater, in an effort to pander to their “progressive” audience, would want to take a jab at the President Elect.  But it went too far, and it looks like a good number of the Public Theater’s bigger sponsors agree.  Delta Airlines, which isn’t nearly as hated as United right now, pulled its sponsorship of the company.  The Bank of America did as well, ending an 11-year relationship.  I suppose the lesson here is to be careful who you piss off, because not everybody has the privilege to be funded by George Soros.

Does Anybody Like Comey?

- - Nelson Lewis

does anybody like Comey by Nelson LewisThe GOP establishment has had a tough and mixed relationship with Trump.  During the Primaries, everybody from Rubio to Romney to Ryan took jabs at him.  Yet despite every way they tried to impede Trump, he was a powerhouse that couldn’t be stopped, so with a few notable exceptions (looking at you, Kasich), the Republican establishment, even some of his more vocal critics, have cast their lot with him.  Still, it felt like it was a temporary thing, and that Trump’s supporters would run for the hills the minute a big scandal reared its head.  But red is one color that doesn’t run.  Just look at the liberal witch hunt going on with Comey now.

It seems like nobody likes the former FBI Director James Comey.  In the leadup to the Election this past November, he reopened the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email scandal.  The left was furious that Comey had “stirred things up”, and were calling in strained screams for his head on a platter.  Fast forward to last month, when Trump fired Comey in the leadup to his investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia.  Suddenly, the Dems who a few months earlier wanted Comey fired were beside themselves that Trump did just that.  I suppose Trump can’t win with those guys, can he?  Because the Internet is where the world goes to overreact, the liberals of my Facebook news feed were speculating that this spelled the end of Trump’s Presidency.  

The GOP establishment has had plenty of opportunities to throw Trump under the bus during this Comey scandal.  But what’s amazing, and speaks volumes to the loyalty of the party, is how they’ve instead rallied in support.  Still, their support does come across as a bit patronizing, with Ryan explaining that Trump is “new at this; he’s new to government”.  One thing they’ve pointed out, and that’s been a “yuge” part of Trump’s appeal, is that Trump’s not a “conventional” politician, who thinks nothing of doing things his own way.  Still, not every Republican is supporting Trump; McCain, still tr that he lost to Obama in 2008, teamed up with Chuck Schumer to ask for a 9/11-style panel for the whole investigation.  

Following Trump through his Presidency has been interesting experience.  But one thing that I can say is that he’s surrounded himself with people who aren’t just capable, but loyal.  So I’ve got a good feeling that together they’ll be able to get through this.

The Dumb Salt Shaker

- - Nelson Lewis

Remember hearing about “smart houses” for the first time, and thinking “wow, a house where you can turn on/off all the light switches from one light board sounds pretty cool”?  You remember when smartphones came out a few years later?  Those were pretty cool too, right?  Remember when people started talking about “smartfridges” that told you when you were out of various supplies and then ordered them for you?  Maybe that was a bit much, but it’s still pretty cool.  

You know what really doesn’t need to be made “smart”?  Salt shakers.  But you know what somebody just made “smart”?  Salt shakers.  The Smalt is a salt shaker with Bluetooth, that wirelessly plays music while you’re shaking the salt out.   

pepper boys

I prefer my salt and pepper shakers to be operated by SNL cast members

The Smalt is marketed as a “centerpiece” that “sets the right ambiance” to meals.  It provides, according to the website, a “fun, interactive way to shake salt”, despite the fact that it’s literally the exact same way to shake salt, except that it simply plays music and glows a blue light.  Why you can’t just blast your smartphone while using your dumb salt-shaker is beyond me, but I guess that’s why I didn’t invent the Smalt. It’s similar to another recent brilliant invention, the $400 WiFi-enabled juicer that squeezes juice from bags you can just as easily squeeze with your hands, but then that wouldn’t be too much fun would it?

While SNL has been generating plenty of controversy, they’ve certainly had some great sketches: John Belushi’s samurai sketches were hysterical, Will Ferrell’s Celebrity Jeopardy can always make me laugh, but this whole thing does remind me of one sketch from the 90s, when Dana Carvey and Adam Sandler played pepper grinders at an Italian restaurant.  The more seasoned (no pun intended) Carvey tries to teach the novice Sandler the tricks of the pepper-grinding trade, but then just as Adam Sandler is getting the hang of it, both of them get fired after the restaurant gets electronic pepper grinders.  Was a pretty funny sketch, but it still doesn’t make me want to buy a smart salt or pepper shaker.  But I can’t wait to see what other “smart” things are made, because I’m sure they’ll be just as funny as this.

Understanding Immigration

- - Nelson Lewis

In the past elections in both Europe and the US, immigration has been a central political issue.  The political right has been courting votes by speaking out against these new arrivals; while this has been going on for some years now, in recent years more and more people have been listening as migrant groups threaten to take jobs and destabilize the places to which they arrive.  Historically speaking, immigrants are nothing new in America; they’ve been steadily coming ever since a group of hunter-gatherers crossed the landbridge connecting Siberia and Alaska 10,000 years ago without visas, and backlash against them is old news.  But across the pond, while the backlash is the same, it’s a very different phenomenon.

Ellis island

While most people associate immigration to the US with Ellis Island, pictured here, its history goes back much, much further

Liberals love to demonize Trump as being so hard-lined against immigrants.  Yeah, he’s more vocal than other people in his party, but if you pick up a book about American history, you’ll realize it’s nothing new.  In the 1750s, none other than Ben Franklin wrote with concern that German immigrants were a political and demographic threat to America.  100 years later, America’s Protestant majority didn’t think that the recent Catholic arrivals from Ireland and Germany could be trusted as American citizens if their primary allegiance was to the Pope in Rome.  Different political parties have a long history of using these immigrants and the sentiments around them in a sort of tug-of-war to get votes.  Since the 1850s, for example, the Democrats have had a history of welcoming foreign immigrants to this country, if only to court them as voters.  

Up until World War II, Europe was supplying the rest of the world with immigrants as opposed to receiving them.  Mass migration to Europe from elsewhere only kicked off in the post-war economic boom; Britain and France started the trend by attracting migrants from their far-flung colonial empires, and the Germans adopted a “Gastarbeiter” program that drew in workers from the Middle East and southern Europe.  But before this, the most recent immigrants to Europe had been the Vikings, and we all know how that turned out.  So it’s hardly surprising that plenty of native-born Europeans have reservations about these immigrants.  Anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe has been going on for a while now, but in recent years, with an economy in the toilet and recent migrants from Syria proving to be a handful to say the least, these reservations are becoming louder.  Indeed, it was one of the main points of Marine Le Pen’s National Front.  And while her party lost this most recent election, her supporters aren’t going anywhere, and the debate is hardly over.

Despite these varying experiences, sentiments about immigrants are starting to sound a lot more similar on opposite sides of the pond.  While immigration, both legal and illegal, had been a topic of political discussion, it’s only becoming more-so, often taking center-stage.  It’s becoming bigger and harder to ignore, and needs to be handled before it turns into something worse.