More Thoughts on Immigration

Earlier this week, I shared some thoughts on how we in the United States approach immigration. My overarching point in that post was that we rely far too heavily on enforcement and punishment, when we would be better served by having an immigration policy that is organized, streamlined, and well thought out, and which emphasizes  respect, and compassion toward those seeking to enter the country. The post generated a few comments both on- and off-line, which prompted me to write this post clarifying some of the myths and misunderstandings regarding immigration.

Alex Nowrasteh is the Vice-President for Economic and Policy Study at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. He is an expert on immigration and has studied United States immigration policy for years. He offers 15 myths about immigration that I think a lot of people will find surprising.

MYTH #1: “Immigrants will take American jobs, lower wages, and especially hurt the poor.”

FACT: Immigrants don’t take American jobs, lower wages, or push the poor out of the labor market.


MYTH #2: “It is easy to immigrate here legally. Why don’t illegal immigrants just get in line?”

FACT: It’s very difficult to immigrate legally to the United States. Immigration law is second only to the income tax code in legal complexity.


MYTH #3: “Immigrants abuse the welfare state.”

FACT: Immigrants use significantly less welfare than native-born Americans.


MYTH #4: “Immigrants increase the budget deficit and government debt.”

FACT: Immigrants in the United States have about a net zero effect on government budgets — they pay about as much in taxes as they consume in benefits.


MYTH #5: “Immigrants increase economic inequality.”

FACT: Maybe. The evidence on how immigration affects economic inequality in the United States is mixed — some research finds relatively small effects, and some finds substantial ones. The standard of living is much more important than is the income distribution.


MYTH #6: “Today’s immigrants don’t assimilate as immigrants from previous eras did.”

FACT: Immigrants to the United States — including Mexicans — are assimilating as well as or better than immigrant groups from Europe over a hundred years ago.


MYTH #7: “Immigrants are a major source of crime.”

FACT: Immigrants, including illegal immigrants, are less likely to be incarcerated in prisons, convicted of crimes, or arrested than native-born Americans.


MYTH #8: “Immigrants pose a unique risk today because of terrorism.”

FACT: The annual chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack committed by a foreign-born person on U.S. soil from 1975 through the end of 2017 was about 1 in 3.8 million per year.


MYTH #9: “The United States has the most open immigration policy in the world.”

FACT: The annual inflow of immigrants to the United States, as a percentage of our population, is below that of most other rich countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.


MYTH #10: “Amnesty or a failure to enforce our immigration laws will destroy the Rule of Law in the United States.”

FACT: America’s current immigration laws violate every principal component of the Rule of Law. Enforcing laws that are inherently capricious and that are contrary to our traditions is inconsistent with a stable Rule of Law.


MYTH #11: “Illegal immigration or expanding legal immigration will destroy American national sovereignty.”

FACT:  Different immigration policies do not reduce the U.S. government’s ability to defend American sovereignty.


MYTH #12: “Immigrants won’t vote for the Republican Party — look at what happened to California.”

FACT: Republican immigration policies pushed immigrants away, not the other way around.


MYTH #13: “Immigrants bring with them bad cultures, ideas, or other factors that will undermine and destroy our economic and political institutions. The resultant weakening in economic growth means that immigrants will destroy more wealth than they will create over the long run.”

FACT: There is no evidence that immigrants weaken or undermine American economic, political, or cultural institutions.


MYTH #14: “The brain drain of smart immigrants to the United States impoverishes other countries.”

FACT: The flow of skilled workers to rich nations increases the incomes of people in the destination country, enriches the immigrants, and helps (or at least does not hurt) those left behind.


MYTH #15: “Immigrants will increase crowding, harm the environment, and [insert misanthropic statement here].”

FACT: People, including immigrants, are an economic and environmental blessing and not a curse.

These 15 myths were taken from Nowrasteh’s report, The Most Common Arguments Against Immigration and Why They’re Wrong. There’s a lot of other interesting information in the report that contradicts most of what you hear from Republicans in Congress, despite the fact that the Cato Institute and Republicans often agree on legislation.

Nowresteh offers a three-prong approach to immigration reform:

  1. Expand guest worker visas beyond agriculture
  2. Welcome all highly skilled immigrants
  3. “Enforcement First” is a cop-out and will never solve the immigration problem

The following video lays out Nowresteh’s recommendations. I not only found his recommendation to make sense, but I was surprised by who agreed with him once upon a time, only to now advocate against those same common sense immigration reforms.

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Rethinking Immigration Policy

My grandfather was just 16 years old when he came to the United States in 1904. He left his home in Romania, boarded a ship in Hungary, and sailed to New York, disembarking on Ellis Island. He didn’t have any money, didn’t speak English, didn’t have a job, and didn’t have family waiting for him in America. After spending a short time in New York, he left for Dearborn, Michigan, and eventually settled in Aurora, Illinois.

In those days, there were no immigration laws, at least not in the way we think of immigration laws today. Until a few years before my grandfather immigrated, each state had its own immigration policy. In the late 1800s, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had authority over immigration, striking down state immigration laws.

Beginning in the 1890s, our border was open, the only laws related to immigration were quotas that were set for each nationality entering the country. The quotas had a preference for northwestern Europeans but didn’t exclude any nationality from entering the country.

Today, its common for people who oppose immigration to claim that immigrants of the early 20th century entered the country legally, unlike today’s immigrants. It’s hard to say that early 20th century immigrants followed the law when they came to the United States since there really weren’t any immigration laws at the time. It’s literally impossible to break a law when no law exists.

Another argument against present day immigration is that immigrants of the past had to show identification to prove their identity, and they had to have a job set up before they could enter the country. Both arguments are incorrect.

First, most immigrants in the early 20th century did not have to provide identification because most countries at that time did not provide any type of identification documents to their citizens. Early 20th century immigrants entered the country and provided their name and country of origin to immigration officials on Ellis Island. Many immigrants had their name changed at Ellis Island, leaving their birth name behind. Even if they had documentation establishing their identity, it would have been meaningless because they left Ellis Island with a different name than they had when they entered the country. For instance, my grandfather entered the country as Vacile Mindgyar and left Ellis Island named Louis Mindar.

Second, very, very few immigrants had jobs set up before they came into the country. One of the reasons my grandfather moved first to Michigan, then to Illinois, was because he was chasing work. In those days, factories and mines needed workers and they welcomed immigrants to become employees. Unlike today, there were no laws requiring employers to prove that their employees were U.S. citizens, and there was no fear that a foreigner was going to steal the job of a citizen.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that Congress implemented comprehensive immigration laws. But even then, the law was quite different than what we think of as immigration law today. For instance, the law implemented in the 1960s emphasized the reunification of families and worked to attract skilled workers. It wasn’t designed to close the border or keep immigrants out of the country.

It wasn’t until 1980 and the Reagan Administration that the United States began to govern the admission of refugees. In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), the first legislation in the country’s history to address the number of undocumented immigrants in the country. But rather than being punitive, the IRCA was designed to grant amnesty to the millions of undocumented immigrants that had been living for years in the United States.

Ronald Reagan is often given credit for (or blame for, depending on your perspective) bringing the issue of illegal immigration to the fore. But even Reagan would likely feel uncomfortable with the stance of Republicans today concerning immigration. Reagan saw immigrants as an asset to the United States, deserving of respect. He was opposed to undocumented immigrants living in the United States, but he wanted to find a way to grant them amnesty, leading to them becoming citizens.

Ever since Reagan put it in the spotlight, Republicans have become increasingly hostile on the issue of immigration, and have demanded harsher and harsher punishment of immigrants, even when they enter the country seeking asylum. So much so that it has become acceptable behavior for some Republican governors to ship illegal immigrants and asylum seekers to far off locations where they have no support, often sending them in the cold of winter without coats or shelter.

More recently, the State of Texas has installed razor wire buoys in the Rio Grande River, resulting in injury and death to several immigrants crossing the river. The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, has defied an order from the Supreme Court to allow immigration officials access to the razor wire buoys so they can remove them from the river. In other words, the governor is breaking the law—even causing death and injury—to prevent immigrants from breaking the law. Yet, while immigrants looking for a better life in America are being injured and dying, Abbott has so far gone unpunished, even as he continues to defy court orders.

It would be easy for opponents of immigration to claim—as they often do—that the immigrants wouldn’t be injured if they just didn’t break the law, but it is our immigration laws themselves that force asylum seekers to enter the country illegally. Let me explain.

In order to apply for asylum, an asylum seeker must be physically present in the United States in order to make application. There is no way to go online to fill out an asylum application. There is no app to complete the process from anywhere in the world. It can only be done at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office within the United States.

Did you follow that? If you want to apply for asylum, you are forced to enter the United States illegally. Then, once an asylum seeker applies, it can take years—often three to five—before their case is ever heard and a decision is reached on whether or not they will be granted asylum and allowed to stay in the United States.

At this point, you’re probably wondering why it takes so long. There are a couple of reasons. First, ICE has to do their due diligence, looking into the circumstances the asylum seeker is running from, and determining the asylum seekers background. ICE does the best job they can to determine whether or not the asylum seeker is the type of person we want in the United States. But that takes time, ICE is understaffed and there are far too few immigration judges deciding the asylum cases.

The most hardline immigration legislation in history recently passed the Senate on a bi-partisan basis, but the bill is said to be DOA in the House, where Republican Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has refused to bring the legislation to a vote. This, despite the fact that there appears to be more than enough votes to pass the historic legislation. As crafted, the legislation would provide much more money to ICE to implement a quicker, more restrictive non-custodial asylum process; changes and alternatives to detention; funds for more ICE agents and immigration judges and court; as well as other changes that have been demanded by Republicans in recent years.

The politics of immigration are maddening, but rather than focus on the particulars, I’d like to offer a completely different approach to immigration. Currently, the approach to immigration is punitive. The main purpose is to punish those foreigners who enter the United States, regardless of the reason they enter. It’s a disrespectful approach that emphasizes pain and inconvenience. It’s an approach that presupposes that immigrants are a blight on our country and we have to do everything in our power to keep them out. As for those that make it in, we try to make it as unpleasant as possible for them in hopes that their pain and suffering will dissuade others from following in their footsteps.

I would submit that our approach is all wrong, and that it guarantees we get the very outcomes we claim we want to avoid. To start with, I think we need to recognize that immigrants, far from being a drain on our society, are a net benefit. Financially, according to the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, immigrants pay about the same in taxes as they receive from state and federal governments in benefits. On top of “money in-money out” considerations, immigrants tend to take jobs that Americans don’t want to do, such as agricultural work like picking fruit and vegetables, and milking cows, which helps keep food prices low for all of us.

Immigrants also tend to open small businesses at a higher rate than native born Americans, creating jobs and sparking local economies. According to a study conducted by economists at the MIT Sloan School of Management, immigrants are a whopping 80% more likely to found a business that native born Americans, and the businesses they found employ 1% more employees than comparable businesses founded by native born Americans.

In a nutshell, we need to begin from the perspective of immigration being good for the United States. It’s something we should encourage, recognizing that we can’t and shouldn’t just open our borders and let anyone in. But rather than fight immigration, we should design an organized process that gets the results we want. And that process should be respectful and fair, not punitive.

Unites States immigration law is incredibly complicated. In fact, it is the second most complicated federal code, surpassed only by the Internal Revenue Code (i.e. tax laws). What if we were to simplify and streamline immigration law in the United States, making it easier to understand and apply? And what if that new immigration code attracted the types of people we need to fuel our economy, not just those running from corrupt, violent situations in their home country. Right now, we are attracting the world’s most desperate people. We can and should help them. But what if we also designed our immigration policy to attract skilled, educated people who could slide right into our economy and help build it?

I don’t mean to say that reform of our immigration policy is easy. It’s not. But neither is it impossible.

My overarching point is that immigration can be a boon to the United States. We should embrace it and design an immigration policy that is respectful, fair, modernized, and which encourages immigrants—particularly asylum seekers—to follow the law without having to break the law. The only thing we’re currently lacking is the political will to get it done.

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A PR Campaign for Jesus Christ?

If you watched the Super Bowl last Sunday, you probably saw the commercial for He Gets Us, a Christian group that is doing PR work for Jesus. If you didn’t see the commercial during the Super Bowl, take a look:

Pretty slick, huh?

He Gets Us has been running these types of commercials for the past three years. Each commercial costs in the neighborhood of $10-$20 million dollars  to make, and the commercials they run during the Super Bowl cost another $7 million per 30-second placement. He Get Us must have some deep pockets.

In fact, the He Gets Us ads are being paid for by the Servant Foundation, a group that does business as The Signatry. They are a “donor-advised” 501 (c) 3 non-profit that distributes millions of dollars every year, primarily to conservative Christian churches and organizations.

The biggest recipient of The Signatry’s largess is the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a right-wing organization that fights against LGBTQ+ rights, opposes women having control over their bodies and reproductive systems, and which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SLPC) has designated as a hate group. Most organizations The Signatry supports hold views similar to the ADF.

To watch the He Gets Us ads, you’d think they are promoting a progressive, even woke, Jesus. The He Gets Us Jesus loves everyone, including gays, immigrants, and the bullied. He opposes cancel culture, and the ads claim Jesus came from a broken home, just like many of the people the ads are targeted toward.

Jason Vanderground, a spokesperson for He Gets Us, says the group behind the ads “believe it’s more important now than ever for the real, authentic Jesus to be represented in the public marketplace as he is in the Bible.” But it isn’t Jesus that needs the PR. It’s the churches that claim to follow his teachings while routinely behaving in ways that are in direct opposition to those teachings.

According to Pastor Kevin M. Young of Christ’s Table Ministry, “Jesus doesn’t have an image problem, but Christians and their churches do. These campaigns end up being PR for the wrong problem. Young people are savvy. One of their primary issues with evangelicalism, and the modern church in America, is the amount of money spent on itself.”

The He Gets Us ads are aimed at a primarily Gen-Z audience, an audience that is digitally native, tech savvy, and culturally aware. And, they are the least religious generation in history. Members of Gen-Z report overwhelmingly that they have avoided the church, not because they have a problem with the teachings of Jesus, but because of the way many churches carry out those teachings. It’s the churches themselves that need PR (if not an entire overhaul), not Jesus.

The He Gets Us ads appear to be conducting a sort of slight-of-hand, using Jesus and his teachings to reel in potential followers, but then dropping the progressive  pretense when they hook a potential convert and send them to a partner church. Jesus is the bait, not the message.

He Gets Us has set up a network of thousands of churches across the nation to send their catch to. Although they claim that all churches are welcome to join their network, if you read the fine print on their website, you’ll learn that only those churches that agree with the Lausanne Covenant will be accepted into the network.

Written by John Stott and agreed to primarily by evangelical church leaders in 1974, the Lausanne Covenant “lays out fifteen specific categories of belief: the purpose of God, the authority and power of the Bible, the uniqueness and universality of Christ, the nature of evangelism, Christian social responsibility, the church and evangelism, cooperation in evangelism, churches in evangelistic partnership, the urgency of the evangelistic task, evangelism and culture, education and leadership, spiritual conflict, freedom and persecution, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the return of Christ.” In practice, the Lausanne Covenant has been used to oppose what the church refers to as “idolatry of disordered sexuality,” which is a fancy way of saying they fight against the rights of LGBTQ+ people.

Vanderground says that He Gets Us is neither left nor right, nor are they affiliated with any particular church or denomination. But isn’t that a bit naïve? Was Jesus apolitical? Were the issue he preached about non-political?

Josiah R. Daniels, writing in Sojourners, had this to say:

“The campaign may want to advocate for apoliticism, but whether they recognize or admit it, it is practically impossible to be apolitical when it comes to the issues referenced on their site. Furthermore, imagining Jesus as apolitical is itself a political decision — and it is a decision that aligns with politically and financially powerful interests…Jesus’ politics, which challenged Rome’s politically and financially powerful interests, guaranteed his death. The message of the Roman Empire should sound familiar to those of us who live in the American Empire: The more resources and power you can attain, the better off you’ll be. Of course, Jesus sought to bring about a kingdom, that is a political domain, where the exact opposite was held to be true: The poor and the powerless will inherit the kingdom, but the powerful will be kicked off their thrones and the wealthy will be sent away empty.”

When those interested in learning more about He Gets Us engage with the tools and chat features they have on their website (HeGetsUs.com), the responses from those working for He Gets Us and their member churches are decidedly evangelical and anti-LGBTQ+.

Writer Chrissy Stroop took advantage of the chat feature on the He Gets Us website and, posing as a young Christian struggling with gender identity, was encouraged to seek guidance from the Bible and a Christian “Biblical” counselor. The He Gets Us employee also shared a Bible verse from the Book of Genesis that evangelicals often use to justify their opposition to trans rights and same-sex marriage.

But it’s not just the message that is a problem for He Gets Us, it’s also the messenger. One of the largest donors to the He Gets Us campaign is David Green of Hobby Lobby fame. The right-wing evangelical is well known for his crusades against LGBTQ+ people, same-sex marriage, and contraception. Gen-Zers view Green and Hobby Lobby in much the same way they view the Koch Brothers and other right-wing zealots who oppose most of the things that are important to, and which Gen-Zers, support. The money being spent by He Gets Us comes in large part from a $3 billion donation from Green designed to improve the image of evangelicals, defend evangelical Christian beliefs both in and out of court, and bring non-believers into the evangelical Christian fold.

I have to admit, at first blush, I kind of liked the He Gets Us ads. They spoke to a Christianity that I find attractive. One that has little judgment but lots of compassion. Alas, the ads are mere parlor tricks, an online bait-and-switch game that is all too easy and far too common. If the people behind the ads actually believed what they said, I might become a fan. Sadly, the words they use are empty and cynical, more appropriate for selling laxatives or nutritional supplements than the Son of God.

ADDENDUM: It’s worth pointing out that left-leaning Christians are not the only ones unhappy with the He Gets Us ads. Hard right evangelicals are also unhappy with the commercials, believing they portray Jesus as a woke deity who accepted and tolerated all sinners, regardless of their sin, and whether or not they had repented.

Music video producer and one-time Congressional candidate Robby Starbuck  wrote on X.com (formerly twitter): “The ‘he gets us’ feet ad about Jesus seems to imply that Jesus was cool with all kinds of sinful behavior. He wasn’t. He didn’t go hangout with prostitutes or any other sinner because he accepted the choices they made, he did it to inspire them to change,”

Pastor Ryan Visconti of Generation Church in Arizona said, “The ‘He Gets Us’ commercial might seem harmless to some, but it’s obviously part of a psyop to trick Christians into thinking Jesus is fine with sin & apostasy. It’s the opposite of what our world needs right now,”

Musician Vinnie James posted this on X:  “SUPER BOWL WARNING! The ‘He gets us’ ad is TOTALLY deceptive. Jesus washed the feet of his DISCIPLES (followers)! Those were people who ALREADY BELIEVED in JESUS. He then told them to wash EACH OTHERS (believers) feet. Christianity shouldn’t be rewritten as political ads!”

In fact, this same sentiment was posted by Brittany Dawn Nelson, a Christian Instagram influencer in this video:

The good folks at He Gets Us responded with a press release concerning the controversy. Reporting on the press release, Newsweek said: “The images [of Jesus washing feet] are meant to symbolize ‘how we should treat one another,’ while the commercial is meant to call themes of ‘love and unity’ and ‘love your neighbor’ ahead of a deeply divided election, according to the organization in a press release, which says its goal is to ‘remind everyone, including ourselves, that Jesus’ teachings are a warm embrace, not a cold shoulder.”

It doesn’t seem that anyone is happy with the ads. Liberal Christians are annoyed that the ads are a cynical attempt to lure in potential converts with nice words, only to drop the progressive  pretense after they get the mark on the line.

Conservative Christians are angry that anyone is portraying Jesus as a kind and tolerant soul who meets people where they live. They want potential converts to repent and live a life free of sin (Like the conservative Christians?) before Jesus metaphorically washes their feet.

And Gen-Zers are turned off by the ads not only because of the ad’s bait-and-switch nature, but because members of Gen-Z are critical of He Gets Us (and other Christian organizations) for spending far too much money to attract new members (like on Super Bowl ads) , and far too little money helping the hungry, the homeless, the downtrodden, and the stranger. You know, the kind of people Jesus helped.

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Three Ways to Save Money on Amazon.com

I am a long-time user of Amazon.com who has far too many boxes showing up at his door. I like the “everything store.” Just about anything you need can be delivered to your door within a couple of days of ordering it.

What I recently learned is that there are three ways to get more for your money at Amazon. The first way is by using Amazon Warehouse. Amazon Warehouse is where Amazon sells returned and slightly used items at discounted prices. If you’re not concerned with the product you’re buying being brand spanking new, Amazon warehouse may be for you.

One example I found on Amazon Warehouse was a slightly used Holy Stone HS440 Foldable FPV Drone with 1080P WiFi camera for just $84.14, regularly $159.99 new. Not too bad.

Next, there’s Amazon Outlet, a little known section of Amazon that offers overstock and discontinued products at discounted prices. For instance, Amazon is currently offering a Hihhy Cordless Stick Vacuum Cleaner for $47.99, a 20% discount off their normal price. Or how about a Pickleball set complete with four paddles, four balls, and a carrying bag for just $29.99, a 50% savings?

Finally, do you like coupons? Amazon Coupon has a dedicated page that lists coupons for many of the items they sell. As an example, look at this OMTech 100W CO2 Laser Engraver for $5,999.99. Kind of expensive, isn’t it? Maybe a coupon for $950 off will help. You can’t find the coupon on the normal Amazon page for the item. It’s only on Amazon’s Coupon page.

I suspect I’ll continue spending too much money on Amazon. But in the future, I’ll be taking advantage of Amazon Warehouse, Amazon Outlet, and Amazon Coupon.

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Understanding Section 3 of the 14th Amendment

The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) will hear the case of Trump v Anderson today. The case was appealed from the Colorado Supreme Court which found that Donald Trump had participated in an insurrection on January 6, 2021, and that under the language of section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, was disqualified from serving as president in the future. As a result of that decision, the Colorado Supreme Court said that Trump was excluded from being on the state’s presidential ballot.

This is not necessarily a complicated case. To decide it, the Court will need to determine:

  1. if Donald Trump participated in an insurrection or gave comfort and aid to those participating in an insurrection,
  2. if the language of section 3 of the 14th Amendment pertaining to “officers of the United States” includes the presidency, and
  3. if the oath taken by Trump and every other president requires them to “support” the Constitution of the United States.

First, let’s look at the language of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment:

Section 3 Disqualification from Holding Office

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Next, let’s consider each question SCOTUS will grapple with today:

1)Every court that has considered the question thus far has found that, not only was the breach of the Capitol on January 6, 2021 an insurrection, but that Trump participated in the planning and execution of the insurrection, and gave comfort and aid to the insurrectionists. It’s unlikely that this will be a close call. There’s far too much evidence available for SCOTUS to decided that Trump did not either participate in an insurrection or give aid or comfort to those participating in an insurrection.

2) Trump’s legal team contends that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment does not apply to the presidency. It is true that Section 3 does not mention the presidency by name. Instead, it says, “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State…” Section 3 includes “elector of President or Vice-President” but it doesn’t specifically include the President and Vice-President.

The Colorado District Court found that the language “officer of the United States” includes the President and Vice-President. However, on appeal in the Colorado Court of Appeals, the decision of the District Court was reversed on the basis that the President was NOT an “officer of the United States.” That case was appealed and the Colorado Supreme Court reversed it again, agreeing with the District Court that the President was an “officer of the United States.”

Looked at from a technical basis, the SCOTUS could conceivably find that Section 3 does not specifically the President and they could also find that there is historical evidence to support the proposition that the President is not an “officer of the United States. It’s an iffy proposition, but the Court could use it to reverse the Colorado Supreme Court decision.

However, as a practical matter, it is hard to argue that the framers of the 14th Amendment, who wanted to make certain that members of the Confederacy did not serve in the newly reunified government, would write and pass an Amendment that did not pertain to the two highest offices in the land. There is evidence from the proceedings of the Congress that crafted the 14th Amendment that the framers most certainly intended to include the President and Vice-President in the catch-all phrase “officers of the United States.”

Even so, this SCOTUS has not been great about using actual history as support for their decision. Instead, they have a track record of making a decision that cobbling together historical fact and fiction to justify those decisions. So, it’s anyone’s guess of they will come down on this question.

3) Trump’s legal team also claims that he (Trump) never took an oath to support the Constitution. In fact, the oath that Trump (and all Presidents) took includes the words “to protect and defend the Constitution.” Unlike Congressmen and Senators, the presidential oath does not include the words “support the Constitution.”

This argument involves a difference without a distinction. It’s easy to see that if one protects and defends the Constitution, they are also supporting the Constitution. Section 3 does not require that the oath taken includes the words “support the Constitution. Instead, it requires that the person being considered for disqualification from office must have previously taken an oath to “support the Constitution.” There can be little question that the oath taken by Trump, which required him to “protect and defend the Constitution” required him to “support the Constitution.”

I wouldn’t expect SCOTUS to side with Trump on this question, but you never know. As we’ve seen in the past, SCOTUS is full of surprises.

Is Section 3 of the 14th Amendment Undemocratic?

Although it won’t be part of the SCOTUS proceedings, many commentators–especially those on the right–have contended that, if Section 3 disqualifies Trump, it will take away a voters right to vote for the candidate they support, essentially robbing them of their right to vote. This is a specious argument that sounds good on the surface, but turns out to be exactly backwards when viewed closely.

Rather than Donald Trump, let’s imagine that Barack Obama was running for president. If he were, he would be disqualified from holding the presidency because he has already served two terms and the Constitution sets a two-term term limit on presidents. Applying the Constitutional language, it’s clear that Obama is disqualified.

“But I want to vote for him,” you might say. “You’re preventing me from voting for my preferred candidate. That’s undemocratic.””

While partially true, it’s the Constitution that prevents Obama from running for and holding the presidency. The same reasoning applies to Donald Trump.

The Constitution requires that, to run for and hold the office of the president, a candidate must be 1) at least 35 years of age, 2) a natural born citizen, 3)  had not held the office of the president for a total of two terms, and 4) had not participated in a insurrection or gave aid or comfort to those committing an insurrection after taking an oath to support the Constitution of the United States.

These are the four requirement a candidate must meet to serve as President. Although they limit the pool of people any voter can vote for, there is nothing undemocratic about the requirements. In fact, requiring that a candidate must not have participated in an insurrection or gave aid or comfort to insurrectionists, rather than be an undemocratic requirement, is just the opposite. It is designed to support and protect our democracy. Allowing any person that took action to overturn an election or giving aid or comfort to those working to overthrow an election would be damaging, perhaps deadly, to our democracy. The framers who wrote the 14th Amendment understood how dangerous it was to allow such a disloyal, undemocratic person into the leadership of our government. With the 14th Amendment, Section 3, they made certain that such a person would never hold such office.

Trump v. Anderson is arguably the most important Constitutional case SCOTUS has ever heard. It goes directly to who can lead our nation, and it will be interesting to see how the Justices decide this extremely important case.

Post Argument Thoughts

Man, was I wrong. In another post, I predicted that SCOTUS would uphold the decision of the Colorado Supreme Court by a vote of 6-3. I also said there was a chance it could be 7-2. Nope. Not even close.

After watching oral arguments this morning, I can tell you that SCOTUS is not going to uphold the Colorado Supreme Court decision. It was obvious from the the Justices’ questions that a majority of them bought into the idea that the 14th Amendment, Section 3 does not apply to the president or vice-president. Even Justice Katanji Brown Jackson bought this argument hook, line, and sinker.

I found KBJ’s position interesting. Her read of the history was that Congress was concerned about former Confederates gaining (re-gaining) power in southern states, and that the focus of Section 3 was on state and lower federal offices rather than on the presidency.

To be certain, there is some truth to what KBJ said. But her reading of history only reveals part of the picture. Congress was worried about what the impact would be on recently freed slaves in the southern states if former confederates ran things in those states. Congress wanted to avoid that potential as much as possible.

However, that doesn’t mean that the framers of the 14th Amendment weren’t concerned about a former Confederate becoming president or vice-president. They were worried about that, and in their discussions before Section 3 was committed to law, they talked about how their “officers of the United States” language covered the two highest offices in the land. I can’t explain why KJB would choose to ignore that part of the historical record.

There was also a great deal of discussion about the impact a decision in favor of Colorado would have on other states. The Justices seemed concerned that such a decision would make for a lack of uniformity, where some states allowed some candidates on their ballot while other states allowed (or disallowed) those same candidates on their ballot.

That’s not new. It has happened for years and is even happening now. I thought the Solicitor General for Colorado answered this concern well when she said that the discrepancies are a feature, not a bug of federalism. She’s right. The Constitution gives states the power to run federal elections. It does not tell them how to do it and it does not require that each state do it in the exact same way. As a result, we have different states conducting federal elections is different ways. And yet, several Justices were quite concerned about this, as if it was something new and something that should be avoided.

I’ve already proven my lack of predictive skills when it comes to SCOTUS, but I’ll take another shot at it. I predict SCOTUS will overturn the Colorado Supreme Court decision 7-2. And don’t be surprised if the vote is 8-1 or even 9-0. Things were really that lopsided.

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Abraham Lincoln Warned Us About Donald Trump

Abraham Lincoln knew Donald Trump. Although he may not have known Trump by name. he most certainly knew the man.

Lincoln, perhaps this nation’s greatest president, knew something back in 1838 that we need to understand today. At the time, the United States was moving toward one of the most dangerous and divisive periods in our country’s history. The politics of the day were polarized, pitting southern slave-holding states against those in the north who supported the abolition of slavery. Tensions were running high, and there was talk of a potential civil war.

In a speech before the Young Men’s Lyceum, Lincoln uttered the now famous lines, “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” To Lincoln’s mind, the threat was internal. And he understood that we could either be a nation committed to laws or a nation committed to a single man or political party. We could not do both.

Even back in 1838, the future president knew that a demagogue like Donald Trump was more likely to destroy our democracy than an invasion by a foreign power. At the time, Lincoln was just 28 years old, but he saw clearly how an un-American agitator like Trump could lead his followers to commit acts of violence and lawlessness. Speaking about those who would break the law (or encourage others to do it for them), Lincoln said, “Having ever regarded Government as their deadliest bane, they make a jubilee of the suspension of its operations; and pray for nothing so much as its total annihilation.”

Lincoln did not believe that all laws were good. In fact, just the opposite. He made a habit of speaking out against laws he felt were wrong. But he believed in the importance of the rule of law to our democracy, and he believed that there was a proper procedure that must be followed to challenge and repeal bad laws. It was the Constitution, Lincoln contended, that must always be followed, because he felt that it was the Constitution that guaranteed our democracy. To abandon it was to abandon the very democratic underpinnings of our society.

Lincoln believed that people who, in another time, might help build the nation, would, in times when no foreign power threatened the United States, turn their energies toward tearing the country apart. As historian Heather Cox Richardson writes, “With no dangerous foreign power to turn people’s passions against, people would turn from the project of ‘establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty’ and would instead turn against each other.”

The time for passion was during the country’s founding. Something new was being created and passionate energy was necessary for its creation. However, once the country and the rule of law were established, the time for passion was over. Instead, what was needed to maintain and strengthen what had been created was “sober reason.” Lincoln encouraged the men of his day to display “general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws.”

Why do I say that Lincoln warned us about Donald Trump? Consider this:

Donald Trump is facing 91 felony charges, has been indicted in four different jurisdictions, his business has been found to have committed fraud, and he was found liable for sexual assault and defamation in a civil suit that has him on the hook for $88.3 million. Yet, Trump’s support remains strong, and he is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party in this year’s upcoming presidential election. Among the policies and programs he has promised to pursue if he is re-elected include:

  • Nationwide abortion ban
  • Prosecution and imprisonment of his political enemies (including Republicans who have been critical of him)
  • Mass deportation of illegal immigrants and naturalized American citizens
  • Ending birthright citizenship (even though it is provided for in the Constitution)
  • Suspension of broadcast licenses for CNN, MSNBC, and any other broadcaster that is critical of him and/or his policies
  • Concentration-style camps for illegal immigrants
  • Stricter voting laws making it harder for people to vote
  • Use of the military to quell protests and unrest over his policies
  • Suspension of the Constitution when it prevents him from carrying out his agenda
  • Replacing career government workers with Trump loyalists

And the list goes on.

These are the types of acts that Lincoln warned against. They are designed to consolidate and exercise power for the good of Trump and his inner circle rather than being true to the Constitution, the rule of law, or our democracy. In other words, Trump’s campaign promises do not honor the Constitution nor the country’s values and traditions. Instead, they are designed to override and replace both the Constitution and our democracy.

Donald Trump and his supporters/enablers are a far more dangerous threat to the rule of law and democracy than any foreign power, including Russia, China, and Iran. No country on planet Earth has the wherewithal to destroy the United States militarily. But Donald Trump and the Republican Party are not only capable of tearing down everything we have built up since our founding, they are poised to do just that if Trump is re-elected in November.

Abraham Lincoln understood this possibility. The sooner we all understand it, the sooner Trump can be stopped.

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Why Online Dating Sucks

I hate olives. It doesn’t matter if they’re green or black, I hate them. I can’t think of any food that tastes worse to me than olives. They’re disgusting.

Having said that, if I was stranded on a desert island and was starving, and olives were the only food available, I’d probably eat them. My desire to survive would win out over my desire to never have to eat olives.

That’s how I view online dating. It’s not much fun, but it’s the best game in town.

I’ve used online dating on and off to find a significant other since I got divorced in 2016. I’ve met a ton of women, had a lot of dates, and those dates have blossomed into two longer-term relationships. While it’s true I never would have met any of these women had I not been on Match.com or a few other dating sites I have used, I’ve hated nearly every second of my online dating experience.

Why would I hate it? First, it’s awkward meeting someone virtually. You really can’t tell much about a person from a few pictures and a self-description. Second, it’s time consuming. At various times while trying to find “the one,” I’ve felt like online dating was a full-time job. Third, online dating involves nearly constant rejection. I can’t tell you the number of times my messages have been ignored or how common it is to be ghosted after meeting someone.

But there’s more to it than that. Aside from my own personal reasons, science points out three big problems with online dating that can’t be ignored.

The “Soulmate” Conundrum

I believe in “true love.” That’s not a controversial statement. In fact, I’m not alone. Ninety-four percent of Americans also believe in “true love.” But some of my other opinions are not so widely accepted.

For instance, I don’t believe in the concept of “soulmates,” the idea that each of us has a specific partner that is a perfect match for us. In contrast, 74% of men and 71% of women believe in soulmates.

A lot of people using online dating sites say they are looking for their soulmate. In fact, I’ve heard many women say that it is like looking for a needle in a haystack (Men may say this too, but since I’m in the market for a woman, I don’t see men’s profiles.). Finding your soulmate is a romantic notion. I just don’t think it’s realistic. 

To me, relationships take a lot of time, hard work, commitment, and good luck. I wish it was as easy as just finding your soulmate and living happily ever after, but I can’t think of any successful relationship I have ever seen that relied exclusively on being soulmates.

Another reason I don’t accept the concept of “soulmates” is that it removes free will from the equation. If you believe in soulmates, you believe that God or the universe or some other omnipotent entity has already made the decision for who you should spend your life with. You have no say in the matter. That doesn’t work for me.

I would much rather choose to be with someone and work to make our relationship a success. I’m uncomfortable with the idea that the most important relationship in my life is largely out of my control.

Popular culture, especially movies, sells the idea of soulmates. It’s romantic to think that the perfect person is out there just waiting for you to find them. Then, through happenstance and coincidence, you find them, fall in love, and live happily ever after. Roll the credits.

Real life isn’t like that. And I would argue, expecting to find a soulmate on an online dating site reduces the chances that you’ll ever find true, lasting love.

In fact, it’s worse than that. Believing that some unseen force has brought two people together can actually lessen the chance that the two people will build a successful relationship. Research has shown that a belief in soulmates correlates with dysfunctional patterns in a relationship and an expectation that destiny–not hard work and open, honest communication–is what leads to a happy relationship.

Adjacent to a belief in soulmates is a belief in “love at first sight.” Can it happen? Sure. Is it a good idea to expect love at first sight to kick off the most important relationship in your life? Probably not.

According to Arthur C. Brooks, host of How to Build A Happy Life podcast and a contributing writer at The Atlantic, “Despite its popularity in stories and movies, love at first sight has little to do with reality. Researchers have found that what people describe as ‘love at first sight’ has no connection to the real hallmarks of true love, including passion, intimacy, and commitment. Rather, ‘love at first sight’ is either a phrase people use about the past to romanticize their meeting (notwithstanding the way it actually happened) or one that they use to describe exceptionally strong physical attraction.”

That “strong physical attraction” that Brooks identifies can be the start to a relationship, but is rarely enough to sustain it long-term. “Maintaining passionate love forever after is not only an unrealistic goal, but one that wouldn’t make you happy even if it were possible,” according to Brooks. “On the contrary, the most joyful, enduring romances are those that are able to evolve from passionate to companionate love—which still has plenty of passion, but is fundamentally based in deep friendship. To increase the odds of success, as your romance progresses, don’t ask yourself, “Is our passion as high as it was?” but rather, “Is our friendship deepening?”

That attitude speaks to me. When I was 25years-old, passion meant everything. Today, at the ripe old age of 64, passion is still important, but I’m mature enough now to understand the importance of friendship in a relationship. And I’ve grown enough to understand that passion with a friend is the best kind of passion.

A League Above

People using online dating can sometimes be unrealistic. They tend to overestimate their “value” as a partner and they reach out to potential dates that are out of their league.

Wait a minute. Do dating “leagues” actually exist? They do.

According to University of Michigan sociology professor Elizabeth Bruch, not only do leagues exist, but most online daters message people out of their league. “Three-quarters, or more, of people are dating aspirationally,” she says.

A recent study indicated that most people using online dating sites message potential partners who are about 25% out of their league. Bruch and her colleagues analyzed the online dating habits of 186,000 men and women, and found that the reply rate to the average message receives a response rate of between zero and ten percent. That’s horrible. But the fact that people routinely message potential mates who are 25% out of their league might explain the low reply rates. Bruch’s advice for online dating success? Note the low reply rates and send out more messages.

Stanford University sociology professor Michael Rosenfeld agrees with Bruch’s findings. “The idea that persistence pays off makes sense to me, as the online-dating world has a wider choice set of potential mates to choose from. The greater choice set pays dividends to people who are willing to be persistent in trying to find a mate.”

There’s also a gender and racial component to online dating leagues.  According to Bruch, race and gender stereotypes often get mixed up. For instance, “Asian is coded as female, so that’s why Asian women get so much market power and Asian men get so little. For black men and women, it’s the opposite.”

White men and Asian women are routinely desired more than other users. However, that’s a bit misleading. An overwhelming 70% of online dating site users are white, which tends to skew the numbers.

It’s Hard Being Old

To me, one of the most interesting aspects of the study involved age. Of course, that makes sense considering I am old. But it was also interesting because the study found a few things I would have never guessed.

For instance, when it comes to men, their desirability peaks around 50-years-old and decreases after that. That’s not good news for a 64-year old wannabe dater like me.

Women have it even worse. Their desirability peaks at 18-years old and goes down every year after that. Ouch!

“I mean, everybody knows—and as a sociologist, it’s been shown—that older women have a harder time in the dating market,” Bruch said. “But I hadn’t expected to see their desirability drop off from the time they’re 18 to the time they’re 65,”

Highly educated men are always more desirable. Men with graduate degrees are considered more desirable than men with bachelor’s degrees, and those with undergraduate degrees outperform those with high school diplomas. This may be true, but you couldn’t prove it using my experience.

Things are different for women when it comes to education level. A woman with a bachelor’s degree is considered more desirable than a woman with either a graduate degree or a high school diploma.

Having Said That…

As I mentioned at the beginning, online dating sucks. It especially sucks for people my age. But for many of us, we’re no longer into the bar scene and we either no longer work or no longer go to an office to do our jobs. Plus, many businesses frown on inter-office relationships. So, what is an older single person to do?

Online dating is like the old Sears Christmas catalog. For a young kid, flipping through the pages of the full-colored catalog could be overwhelming. And just like the catalog, most of what you see is out of your reach. But unlike the catalog, I’m only looking for one new toy, which means I need to keep sending messages to find the right toy for me.  (Okay, I’ve pushed this metaphor as far as I can and I’m afraid I’m starting to sound slightly misogynistic. I’m going to stop now.)

My point is, as bad as it is and as much as I sometime hate it, online dating is the best way to find a date, and perhaps a relationship. So, I’ll stick with it. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

 

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How Old Are You in Your Head?

I’m ushering in 2024 as a 64-year-old. Just typing that makes me catch my breath. As a kid, I remember listening to the Beatles sing “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?” and thinking that 64 must be impossibly old. But now I’m here, and I don’t feel impossibly old. In fact, in my head, I feel somewhere around the age of 40.

There’s a strange disconnect between how old our bodies are and how old we feel in our heads. I walk around feeling nearly 25 years younger than I actually am, but the disconnect doesn’t become obvious unless I’m talking about my age, or I look in the mirror. The mirror doesn’t lie. My head may tell me I’m one age, but the mirror doesn’t pull any punches. No matter how young I feel in my head, the mirror reminds me of my true chronological age.

Last year, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Senior (53 in real life, 36 in her head) wrote about this phenomenon of being a different age in your head than the number of birthdays you’ve celebrated. In her article in the Atlantic, Senior wrote of a study conducted by Dr. David Rubin (75 in real life, 60 in his head), a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. The study found that adults over 40 routinely perceive themselves to be about 20% younger than their actual age. This phenomenon—which is referred to as the Rubin-Berntsen Rule (Dorthe Berntsen co-authored the paper with Rubin)—identified this paradox, but they didn’t delve into why it occurs.

Senior offered some possibilities. She writes:

“I’m 53 in real life but suspended at 36 in my head, and if I stop my brain from doing its usual Tilt-A-Whirl for long enough, I land on the same explanation: At 36, I knew the broad contours of my life, but hadn’t yet filled them in. I was professionally established, but still brimmed with potential. I was paired off with my husband, but not yet lost in the marshes of a long marriage (and, okay, not yet a tiresome fishwife). I was soon to be pregnant, but not yet a mother fretting about eating habits, screen habits, study habits, the brutal folkways of adolescents, the porn merchants of the internet.”

Richard Primus, a constitutional law professor at the University of Michigan, like Senior, is also 53 years old, and feels 35 in his head. “I think it’s because that’s the age I was when my major life questions/statuses reached the resolutions/conditions in which they’ve since remained.” In other words, for Primus, his “head age” was set at a time when he settled into his life. His major relationship and career statuses were set, and while his body continued to age, his “head age” remained the same.

Primus went on to explain: “Medieval Christian theologians asked the intriguing question ‘How old are people in heaven?’ The dominant answer: 33. Partly because (of the) age of Jesus at crucifixion. But I think partly because it feels like a kind of peak for the combined vigor-maturity index.”

I’m not sure if the “vigor-maturity index” is a real thing or if Primus made it up. Either way, I like it. It proports to measure the age at which we feel the most physically capable while also reaching a point where our lives—primarily our relationships and careers—are reasonably set.

If you are good at math, you may have noticed that my “head age” doesn’t correspond with the Rubin-Berntsen Rule. Rather than feeling like I’m 20% younger than my actual age, I feel I’m a whopping 37.5% younger.  As Senior points out: “Internally viewing yourself as substantially younger than you are can make for some serious social weirdness…I’ve had this unsettling experience, seeing little difference between the 30-something before me and my 50-something self, when suddenly the 30-something will make a comment that betrays just how aware she is of the age gap between us, that this gap seems enormous.”

Sometimes, the large gap between actual age and “head age” can be traced to a traumatic event or meaningful life experience. For instance, one person Senior wrote about saw herself as 32, the same age her sister was when she died. Another was stuck at the “head age” of just 12, which is when her father joined a cult. Yet another had a “head age of 19 because that is the age when she became sober.

Although the Rubin-Berntsen Rule doesn’t work so well for me, the vigor-maturity index does. At 40, I was in good physical health, I was having success in my career, and I was married, with one child born and another one on the way. Life was good. Maybe the best it had ever been. It makes sense that I would feel 40 in my head.

Sadly, a few years later, my life seemed to head downhill, and it stayed that way for the next 20 years or so. I gave up a promising corporate career to start my own business (I’m still not sure if that was a smart thing to do), I battled cancer (twice), I got divorced (probably for the best), I ended another relationship (probably a mistake), and was diagnosed with a brain tumor (sounds worse than it actually is). Of course, that’s not all that has happened over the past couple of decades. During that time, I’ve also completed two masters degrees, published seven books, built a house, sold that house (again, probably a mistake), and moved to a log cabin in the woods, where I live like a recluse (both good and bad).

As I look forward to 2024, there’s so much I still want to do with my life. I have many more books to write. In fact, I have 20-25 books in various stages of development, and I’m redoubling my efforts to get them all written.

I’ve considered returning to school to get a PhD or law degree. I’ve had various people tell me I’m nuts for going back to school. They say I’m too old. But am I really? With any luck, I still have a lot of years to live. In fact, if I’m lucky, about a third of my life remains. I want this final third to be the most productive, consequential period of my life.

I’d like to travel more. There are places I’ve always wanted to go but have never made the time. I want to experience places like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park (and several other national parks), Alaska, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Spain, Portugal (Okay, all of Europe), and Cuba. I’d like to return to Romania, the Virgin Islands (American and British), and spend much more time in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.

I know that’s a lot of stuff. It all takes gobs of time and effort. But it shouldn’t be all that difficult. After all, I’m only 40.

Happy New Year!

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Seven Lessons for the New Year

Welcome to 2024. It’s going to be a great year, right? Right?

I ran across a commencement address I’d like to share. The speaker, Tim Minchin, an Australian comedian, shared some ideas that I think might be helpful as we begin a new year.

I have to admit, I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. Trying to change too much too quickly rarely works. But I do like the idea of getting better, even if just a little bit. After listening to Minchin’s address to the graduating class at University of Western Australia, I’m feeling good about the coming year and the changes I’d like to work on.  Keep in mind, Minchin is addressing a group of graduating students, but much of what he has to say applies to all of us, regardless of our age or education level.

Here’s the transcript of Minchin’s “Nine Life Lessons.” Below the transcript is a video of the entire speech.


Nine Life Lessons
by Tim Minchin

Lesson #1 – You don’t have to have a dream

Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine, if you have something that you’ve always wanted to do, or dreamed of, like in your heart, go for it. After all, it’s something to do with your time, chasing a dream. And if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of your life to achieve, so by the time you get to it, and are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead, so it won’t matter.

I never really had one of these dreams, and so I advocate passionate, dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride at whatever is in front of you. You never know where you might end up. Just be aware, the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery, which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far out in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out of the corner of your eye.

Right? Good advice. Metaphor. Look at me go.

Lesson #2 – Don’t Seek Happiness

Happiness is like an orgasm. If you think about it too much, it goes away. Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy, and you might find you get some of the side effect. We didn’t evolve to be constantly content. Contented homo erectus got eaten before passing on their genes.

Lesson #3 – Remember, It’s All Luck

You are lucky to be here. You are incalculably lucky to be born and incredibly lucky to be brought up by a nice family that helped you get educated and encouraged you to go to uni. Or, if you were born into a horrible family, that’s unlucky and you have my sympathy, but you’re still lucky. Lucky that you happen to be made of the sort of DNA that went on to make the sort of brain which, when placed in a horrible childhood environment, would make decisions that meant that you eventually ended up graduating uni.

Well done, you, for dragging yourself up by your shoelaces. But you were lucky. You didn’t create the bit of you that dragged you up. They’re not even your shoelaces.

I suppose I worked hard to achieve whatever dubious achievements I’ve achieved, but I didn’t make the bit of me that works hard, any more than I made the bit of me that ate too many burgers instead of attending lectures when I was here at UWA (University of Western Australia). Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes nor truly blame others for their failures will humble you and make you more compassionate. Empathy is intuitive, but is also something you can work on intellectually.

Lesson #4 – Exercise

I’m sorry you pasty, pale, smoking philosophy grad, arching your eyebrows into a Cartesian curve, as you watch the human movement mob winding their way through them, the miniature traffic cones of their existence. You are wrong and they are right. Well, you’re half-right. You think, therefore you are. But also, you jog, so therefore you sleep. Therefore, you’re not overwhelmed by existential angst. You can’t be Kant, and you don’t want to be.

Play a sport. Do yoga. Pump iron. Run. Whatever. But take care of your body. You’re going to need it. Most of you mob are going to live to nearly a hundred, and even the poorest of you will achieve a level of wealth that most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of. And this long, luxurious life ahead of you is going to make you depressed. But don’t despair. There’s an inverse correlation between depression and exercise. Do it! Run, my beautiful intellectuals! Run!

Lesson #5 – Be Hard on Your Opinions

A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this, but I would add that opinions differ significantly from assholes, and that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.

I used to do exams in here. It’s revenge.

We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the veranda and hit them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privileges. Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies and then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions. Like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.

By the way, while I have science and arts graduates in front of me, please don’t make the mistake of thinking the Arts and Sciences are at odds with one another. That is a recent, stupid, and damaging idea.

You don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art or write beautiful things. If you need proof: Twain, Douglas, Adams, Vonnegut, McEwen, Sagan, Shakespeare, Dickens, for a start. You don’t need to be superstitious to be a poet. You don’t need to hate GM technology to care about the beauty of the planet. You don’t have to claim a soul to promote compassion.

Science is not a body of knowledge or a belief system. It is just a term which describes humankind’s incremental acquisition of understanding through observation. Science is awesome.

The Arts and Sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated. The idea that many Australians, including our new PM and my distant cousin, Nick Minchin, believe that science of anthropogenic global warming is controversial is a powerful indicator of the extent of our failure to communicate. The fact that 30% of the people in this room just bristled is further evidence still. The fact that that bristling has more to do with politics than science is even more despairing.

Lesson #6 – Be a Teacher

Please, please be a teacher. Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world. You don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt of what to do, be an amazing teacher. Just for your 20s, be a teacher. Be a primary school teacher. Especially if you’re a bloke. We need male primary school teachers.

Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn and spray it.

Lesson #7 – Define Yourself by What You Love

I found myself doing this thing a bit recently where if someone asked me what sort of music I like, I say, “Well, I don’t listen to the radio because pop song lyrics annoy me” or someone asks me what food I like, I say “I think truffle oil is overused and slightly obnoxious.” And I see it all the time online. People’s idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the Liberal Party. We have a tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff.

As a comedian, I make my living out of it. But try to also express your passion for things you love. Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire. Send thank-you cards and give standing ovations. Be pro stuff, not just anti-stuff.

Lesson #8 – Respect People with Less Power Than You

I have, in the past, made important decisions about people I work with—agents and producers—big decisions based largely on how they treat the waitstaff in the restaurants we’re having the meeting in. I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room. I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So, there.

Lesson #9 – Don’t Rush

You don’t need to already know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. I’m not saying sit around smoking cones all day, but also, don’t panic. Most people I know who were sure of their career path at 20 are having mid-life crises now.

I said at the beginning of this ramble, which was already three-and-a-half minutes long, that life is meaningless. It was not a flippant assertion. I think it’s absurd, the idea of seeking meaning in the set of circumstances that happen to exist after 13.8 billion years’ worth of unguided events. Leave it to humans to think that the universe has a purpose for them.

However, I’m no nihilist. I’m not even a cynic. I am rather romantic, and here’s my idea of romance: You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough, and God, it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad, and then you’ll be old, and then you’ll be dead.

There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is fill it. Not filet. Fill it. And in my opinion, until I change it, life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, running, being enthusiastic. And then there’s love and travel and wine and sex and art and kids and giving and mountain climbing, but you know all that stuff already.

It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one meaningless life of yours. Good luck and thank you for indulging me.

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Have Yourself a Merry Tuba Christmas!

Back in my younger days, when my hair was long and thick, my waist was thin, and my future was bright, I was a tuba player. That’s right, that big, brass instrument seen mostly in German Oom-Pah-Pah bands.

I sat first chair in my high school band, was chosen to participate in the Fox Valley Festival Orchestra (one of my fondest tuba memories), and I was invited to join a national high school honors orchestra in Washington D.C. ( although I ultimately didn’t participate). Even though it sounds like I was a pretty good tuba player, the truth is, I was a bit of a hack. I rarely practiced and I didn’t take my playing very seriously. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t love it. I loved playing tuba.

Sadly, tubas and tuba players get a bad rap. In the rare movie or TV show that includes a storyline about a tuba, the tuba player is almost always a fat, nerdy kid. It’s as if the show writers are straight out saying, “Well, who else would play that big, dumb instrument?”

But it’s not a “big, dumb instrument.” It is a beautiful, bass-toned  instrument that sadly doesn’t get to take centerstage very often. But in 1974, a man named Harvey Phillips set out to change that.

Phillips, a tuba player himself, wanted to honor his teacher and mentor, the legendary William J. Bell, whose birthday just happened to be December 25. By honoring Bell, Phillips also hoped to pay tribute to all tuba players and teachers who had displayed high performance standards, professional pedagogy, and personal integrity.

According to the TubaChristmas website:

“The first TUBACHRISTMAS was conducted by Paul Lavalle in New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza Ice Rink on Sunday, December 22, 1974. Traditional Christmas music performed at the first TUBACHRISTMAS was arranged by American composer Alec Wilder who ironically died on Christmas Eve, 1980. Wilder composed many solo and ensemble compositions for tuba and euphonium. He was a loyal supporter of every effort to improve the literature and public image of our chosen instruments. Through Alec Wilder we express our respect and gratitude to all composers who continue to embrace our instruments with their compositions and contribute to the ever growing solo and ensemble repertoire for tuba and euphonium.”

Now, after 50 years of celebrating Phillips brainchild, TubaChristmas events are held in nearly every state and around the world. In 2018 in Kansas City, a TubaChristmas event set a Guinness World Record for the most tubas playing in one place at one time. On that day, 836 tubas played the Christmas classic, “Silent Night.”

Here is a video of the record-breaking event in Kansas City:

Here is the nearly hour-long concert held this year (2023) at the Kennedy Center in New York:

From this (former) tuba player to you, Merry Christmas!

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