Sisters

1941351_955763927780741_4444622675154134683_oThe Kishman sisters have been painting the Emerald Isle, well, green.  They’ve visited pubs, driven on the wrong side of the road, and done just about everything you’d want to do in a trip to Ireland.  You can follow their exploits on Heidi’s Facebook page.

Today they’re in Belfast, and tomorrow Dublin.  On the trip they’ve had a chance to reconnect, check out the family homesteads from their Mom’s family, and enjoy the hospitality of the Irish people, who have the reputation of being the friendliest in the world.

I’m glad they are having a good time, but it will be nice to have Kish back at home.

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Real Irish

IMG_1531It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and in downtown Columbus there is a parade today.  Virtually every American city has one, and many cities — Savannah, Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York — lay claim to having the biggest, beeriest, blowout celebration next to Boston.

But what about St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland?  It just so happens that Kish and her sister, the Long Beach Recent Retiree, are there on the Emerald Isle as we speak, kicking out the jams with the residents of Galway and celebrating the saint who drove the snakes from Ireland — or whatever he’s supposed to have done.

The photo above is of the Galway parade, and the gray building in the background is the Lynch Castle (now the branch of a bank) which dates from the 1600s.  The bar scene below is from one of the many pubs that the sisters have decided to visit — purely to get a clinical sense of what an Irish St. Patrick’s Day celebration is like.  Pay no attention to those empty glasses of Guinness and apparent tumblers of whiskey!

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Tipping A Glass To Our Unknown Irish Ancestors

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. It’s a day when everyone is Irish, or at least claims to be.

The Webners are no different. Richard recently took one of those mail-in DNA tests, and the results showed a significant percentage of Scotch-Irish DNA. I get the Scottish part; our extended family tree includes Neals, McCollums, and Fergusons. My grandmother, born a Brown, claimed Irish ancestry, and I’ve no doubt that there are other, now-unknown branches that undoubtedly touched the Emerald Isle. It’s enough, at least, to allow us to celebrate March 17 with a heartfelt Erin go Bragh.

I’m proud of whatever Irish ancestry we have. In my view, you have to give the Irish credit — of all of the countries that have contributed to our melting pot nation, the Irish have the best traditional holiday, by far. St. Patrick’s Day blows Columbus Day and Cinco de Mayo out of the water, and most other countries aren’t even in the running. There’s no Deutschland Day, or British Bash. And no other country has the branding of Ireland, either. Whether it’s leprechauns, shillelaghs, four-leaf clovers, or pots of gold at the end of the rainbow, the Irish stand alone at the top of the heap.

It’s also admirable that the Irish made drinking beer an essential part of St. Patrick’s Day. Sure, we know St. Patrick had something to do with chasing snakes off the island, but most people associate the holiday with beer. Beer drinking also is an essential part of the culture of the Germans, the Brits, the Belgians, and even the French, but the Irish have co-opted it completely. Years ago, some savvy Irishman obviously understood that focusing a holiday on beer-drinking is bound to increase the amount of participation.

St. Patrick’s Day is an easy day to celebrate: you wear something green and drink beer. You don’t have to go to church, and there’s no significant physical danger involved, such as you might find in running with the bulls in Pamplona. Instead, there’s just an opportunity to bend an elbow with your friends, quaff a few dozen ales, and pretend you like droning Celtic music. The only risk is being punched in the face by some drunken, red-faced IRA member, getting a wet kiss from a beefy red-headed woman wearing a “kiss me, I’m Irish” pin, or ending up face down in a vomit-filled gutter.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

IMG_3395Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all of our friends who are Irish and Irish wannabes.  Although we have a touch of Irish ancestry on my Mom’s side of the family, I’m not a green beer drinker or a huge celebrant of the holiday.  I decided to mark the occasion, instead, with some cookies shaped like shamrocks and the gold coins found in the leprechauns pot of gold that I’ll be delivering to Mom today.

Why I’m Voting For Mitt Romney And Paul Ryan

On Tuesday, I’ll walk in to the polling booth at the church in New Albany where we vote and touch the screen for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.  I recognize that that decision won’t come as much of a surprise for loyal readers of our family blog.  I think it’s only fair to explain why, if only to add one more person’s perspective to the national conversation about this election.

In my view, the most important issue confronting our country is our federal deficit and national debt — the latter of which has passed the $16 trillion mark.  I care about other issues, of course, but I view our debt as the most fundamental issue of all because it involves basic concepts of national sovereignty.  Our debt is so large, and has existed for so long, that we tend to think of it as a kind of abstraction . . . but every dollar of that debt is a real obligation of our country, reflected in an instrument sold by the U.S. treasury to a willing buyer who will be paid a specified interest rate.  With each additional bit of borrowing, we give those people from whom we are borrowing leverage that may allow them to dictate terms — at first, the terms of the debt instruments, by insisting on higher interest payments, and then eventually the terms of how our government operates, by dictating whether we need to adopt austerity measures in how our country operates if we hope to obtain additional loans.  At that point, our national sovereignty is at stake.

We know this to be the case, because over the past few years we have seen it occur in Iceland and Ireland, and in Greece and Portugal.  Those countries borrowed irresponsibly and saw the interest rates on their debt instruments rise as investors became increasingly concerned that the debts might not be repaid and demanded higher rates as the price for accepting that risk.  And, ultimately, outside forces — the International Monetary Fund, European Union bankers, and others — went to each of those formerly sovereign nations and told them what they needed to do if they hoped to continue to borrow money.  Those governments accepted the conditions and agreed to the austerity measures imposed by outsiders because they had no choice.

I don’t want to see that happen here — yet, over the last four years, we have seen the United States move down that very same path, with annual trillion-dollar deficits that have taken our total debt past the unimaginable sum of $16 trillion.  We also passed a significant milestone on that road to perdition when our national credit rating was downgraded.  I don’t think that downgrade has received the attention it deserves.  Imagine!  Credit rating agencies presuming to raise questions about the credit of the leader of the free world, a country so stable that its currency gave rise to the now-antiquated phrase “sound as a dollar.”  But the ratings agencies are so presumptuous, and we are kidding ourselves if we think our many lenders aren’t also carefully considering our credit-worthiness.

I don’t want to wake up one morning and see that our political leaders are having to dance to the tune called by teams of grey-suited bankers from the IMF, or China, or Germany.  If that happens — and if we continue to rack up trillion-dollar annual deficits, it inevitably will — we shouldn’t kid ourselves about what it would mean.  Does anyone think federal funding of NPR or contraceptives, to identify only two of the issues being discussed during this campaign, would survive under the austerity measures forced upon us by creditors?  Does anyone think the bankers would hesitate to require fundamental changes in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare?  Does anyone think our country could continue to function as a world leader, and a force for good, as a debtor nation struggling to deal with its overwhelming credit problems?

I recognize this is a dire scenario, and some believe it just can’t happen here.  My response is to look at what has happened in Europe, to countries that have just been ahead of us on the irresponsible fiscal policy curve.  Their experience shows, I think, that it can happen here — and it will, if we don’t do something about it.  I’m too proud of this country and what it has accomplished to let that happen without trying to change course.

I don’t think President Obama places a high priority on grappling with our deficit and debt problems.  He’s talked about them, but his actions speak louder than his words.  He continues to propose budgets that would result in trillion-dollar debts for years into the future, and continues to propose the creation of new federal agencies and federal programs as the solution for every problem.  He hasn’t used the bully pulpit of the presidency to encourage Congress to act.  I’ve seen nothing from President Obama to indicate that his performance over the next four years on this crucial issue of national sovereignty would be any different than his performance over the past four years.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, on the other hand, do focus on the issue of our deficit and our debt and have proposed approaches.  I think they understand the fundamental nature of the problem and would make working with Congress to address the issues in a meaningful way their top priority.  I want someone in the White House who will tackle the debt problem, not let us drift into catastrophe.  That’s why I’m voting for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

The Party Nations

Who hasn’t idly wondered which countries hammer down the most alcohol?  Thankfully, the World Health Organization has released a report that answers that crucial, nagging question.

Where does the U.S. stack up?  We’re middle-of-the-pack, actually.  Americans consume, on average, 9.4 liters of alcohol per person, per year — about half the average of the booziest nations.  Of that amount, 31 percent is consumed in spirits, 16 percent in wine, and 53 percent in good old beer.  I feel that I have done my share in the beer category, at least.

Who’s number 1?  The wine-swigging French?  Nope, they barely crack the top 15, finishing at number 14.  What about Ireland?  That would be wrong, too — the Irish barely beat out the French, finishing at number 13.  How about our vodka-guzzling Russian buddies?  Closer, but not quite.  The Russians finish at number 4.  No, the top three are Hungary, the Czech Republic, and overall winner Moldova.  The studly Moldovans pound down 18.22 liters of alcohol per capita and they apparently aren’t picky, either:  they drink about as much spirits (4.42 liters) as beer (4.57 liters) and wine (4.67).  In short, Moldovan partiers will be happy to drink just about anything you put in front of them before they collapse.

Where in the world is Moldova, anyway, you ask?  It’s a former part of the Soviet Union, located between Romania and Ukraine.  It’s also so small — only slightly more than 4 million people — that a few serious tipplers could skew the national average.

 

 

Predicting The Extinction Of Religion

The BBC has an interesting article on the efforts of scientists to predict the extinction of religion in certain countries.  The scientific study considers the number of people who indicate no religious affiliation in census data and then seeks to identify the “social motives” behind being a religious person.  The study predicts that religious faith will die out in Australia, Austria, Canada, The Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Switzerland.  (Ireland?  Really?)

The scientists apply a “nonlinear dynamics” model that seeks to measure and predict the social and utilitarian value of putting yourself in the “non-religious” category.  As one scientist explained, the concept of nonlinear dynamics “posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility.”  Nonlinear dynamics has previously been used by scientists to predict the death of certain spoken languages, where individuals have to decide between a language that is spoken only by a shrinking pool of participants and learning a more popular alternative.

I think the scientists may have missed the boat on this one.  To be sure, religions and languages both have a cultural element, but for many religious people their belief is rooted much more deeply.  Adherents to the world’s various religions, after all, are motivated at least in part by faith.  If joining the larger social group was all there was to it, history would not reveal such a long and bloody list of religious martyrs who were burned at the stake, stoned, and tortured rather than repudiate their beliefs.