Archive for the ‘The Body Politic’ Category

This one’s from Plinky:  “Which holiday would you rather skip?  Why?”

Frankly – all of them.  Holidays are like a disruption in the Force, a rift in the Time/Space Continuum – they rip you out of your ordinary life, force you to “celebrate” something that may or may not have deep meaning for you, then thrust you back into the workaday world, where you have to spend at least half a day trying to get back into the groove of whatever you were doing when you were so rudely interrupted.

Most of us humans are creatures of habit.  We get up at the same time every day, perform various personal-hygiene and beautification tasks, feed ourselves in whatever manner we have established that works, and then get into the swing of whatever it is we do.  This is one reason why retirement is so stressful:  Both the retiree and whoever s/he lives with have to restructure their whole lives around the reality that both of them now share a space that didn’t used to be shared.  Holidays are just one more stress in an already stressful world, and I would like to see them all go away.

That said, I’m not a Scrooge who thinks that people should keep their noses relentlessly to the grindstone, churning out profit for the Good of the Company (and by the way, yes, corporations are people.  The purpose of a corporation is to establish a business as a legal entity, a legal “person,” so that it can continue once its principals have passed on.  In addition, corporations are inevitably made up of flesh-and-blood human beings, so they are “people” in that sense, too.  But I digress).

“Holidays” were established by belief systems as a means of setting aside an important aspect of faith, something that should hit you where you live, and therefore something that you should be able to take time to reflect upon.  The very word is a blend of two words, “holy” and “day,” a holy day, a day set aside.  The Jewish High Holy Days, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, predate anything Christian by centuries, if not millennia, and while I am no anthropologist, I’m sure that other religions around the world, all of them older than Christianity, also have their holy days.

Time set aside to reflect on an important matter, therefore, is a good thing, and far be it from me to deprive anyone of that time.  That said, though:  Take a look at how we actually use holidays.  There are “traditional” Presidents’ Day auto sales, Memorial Day is the “traditional” start of the vacation season (and Labor Day its “traditional” end), some kind of football game has become “traditional” for Thanksgiving, and we won’t even get into the Christmas catastrophe (one of the funniest takes I’ve ever heard on this is available on YouTube.  It’s called “The Christmas CanCan.”  I’d post a link, but apparently you have to sit through ads on YouTube, now, and the one preceding this is particularly offensive to me).

Of all of these, only Labor Day was originally structured around a three-day weekend; Presidents’ Day used to be two days off, Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday.  Memorial Day was always May 30, and involved special ceremonies, which had nothing to do with the start of summer vacation, to remember those fallen in wars.  At one time, they all had an actual purpose; now, they are just an excuse to buy a car, or go skiing, or open or close the summer house.  Where’s the reflection?

And that’s just in my own country.  In Europe, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost are all two-day holidays; but they are the three most important Christian holidays.  What if you don’t think of yourself as a Christian any longer?  Where’s the need to reflect?

What I would like to see is for every country to add up the total number of official holidays on its calendar, both civic and religious, and create a Holiday Pool.  “Here’s a total of fifteen holidays,” for example.  “They are all paid, and you can choose from among them to celebrate your own traditions in your own way, or to squander if you want to.  The office will still be open, but you will not be penalized for the days you take off that are drawn from the Holiday Pool.”  Then, to ensure that the work-work-work culture doesn’t get their hands on the Holiday Pool the way they have on people’s vacations, don’t pay overtime to people who work on holidays.  Done.  That way, people who couldn’t care less about National Occupy Day would have an extra day, or three, to put towards the holidays they really care about.  And people who celebrate holy days at a different time of year – I’m thinking particularly of Russian Christmas, celebrated on January 7, or Orthodox Easter, usually celebrated anywhere from one to six weeks after everybody else’s – could take those days off without dipping into their vacation time.

And that way, maybe holidays will be celebrated as they were meant to be celebrated – as Time outside of Time, as days set apart for reflection, or at the very least, as days to be spent in the bosom of family and friends.

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Given the state of the federal budget, many are the cries for reductions and taxations.  But where to slash?  Push Granny off the cliff?  Where to raise?  Those lucre-loving denizens of Wall Street?  On only one target can both sides comfortably settle:  those blood-sucking federal employees, those lard-butts who sit around Washington all day doing crossword puzzles and pulling in twice what the average American wage-earner earns.  Let’s face it, nobody likes paying taxes; why not dun the tax-takers?

So I thought I’d introduce you to your Friendly Neighborhood Fed so you could get an idea of where at least some of your tax dollars really go.

Well, yes, some of them do go to Washington to support Congressional Representatives and Senators, not to mention whoever currently inhabits 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  (Yes, I know who currently inhabits it, but not even he can live there forever.  At least, not as things stand at the moment, though I wouldn’t put it past him to have himself declared President for Life or something.)  Some tax dollars do go for farm subsidies, transportation subsidies, medical research, defense, education, student loans, etc., etc., etc.  In fact, so much goes out on all of this that I’m wondering why people fixate on federal civil-service employees as the Source of All Our Ills.

Oh, wait, I forgot, they don’t do nuttin’.  Well…almost nuttin’.  They do the medical research.  They process Social-Security claims and income-tax returns, and those nightmarish FAFSA forms so well-known to college-loan applicants.  Not a few of them put their lives on the line for you and me (and earn peanuts doing it, incidentally) – we call them soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.  But there are also the people who guard the president, ensure that smugglers are caught, try their level best (with sometimes outright hostility from Congress and the administration) to keep our borders safe and minimize the effects of illegal drugs.  And there are the people who, since 1971, have been making sure that you get home in one piece at night (OSHA, to be specific).

They don’t all work in Washington.  Most of them, in fact, work ten or twenty miles from where you live.  They pay taxes the same as you do, not only state and local and property taxes, but federal income taxes – which means they pay a portion of their own salaries.  When they drive to work, they buy their gas at the same gas station you do; when they take mass transit, they pay the same fare you do.  The health insurance they get isn’t the same razzle-dazzle cover-everything plan that the Congress gets; it’s the same Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan as yours, with, possibly, one exception:  They pay a portion of their insurance coverage, something I never had to do when working in private industry.  They make co-payments on their medical care, too.

When they go out to eat, they eat at local restaurants.  Their kids go to school with your kids, unless they attend a parochial school – and maybe yours do, too.  The houses on which they pay property taxes look like yours, to a greater or lesser extent; some have larger homes, but some have smaller homes, too.  If they live in one state and work in another, they pay state income taxes to both states, same as you do.  They shop at the same supermarkets you do, and get their hair cut by the same barber or hair stylist that you use.

Strikes me that an awful lot of your tax dollars are being plowed back into your community, via federal civil-service workers.  Naive idealism?  Not really – I’ve been married to one for over forty years.

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‘Tis the summer of a presidential election, and the Sound of the Candidates is heard in the land.  I don’t know what it is about our tiny state, which only has two electoral votes, but every four years, we get slammed with political ads and visits from campaigners, often beginning the year before.  I don’t know about other New Hampshirites, but by this time, I’m heartily sick of it all.  This isn’t why I became a monarchist, but I can’t help reflecting that in a constitutional monarchy, anyway, our choices would be limited to something much more relevant:  local elections.

Of necessity, much of our television programming comes from our neighbor to the south, Massachusetts, and the race for Senate there is on the national radar screen.  Two years ago, when the ubiquitous Teddy Kennedy finally went to his eternal reward, the Senate seat he had occupied for so many decades was up for grabs.  Now, owing largely to the Kennedys, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed some time ago from being a bastion of Republican probity to being a test tube for Democratic social change, so the Democratic candidate for this race, State Attorney General Martha Coakley, was considered a shoo-in for the Senate race; her competitor, Scott Brown, didn’t even receive financial support (and only lip service) from the Republican Party of Massachusetts.  No matter.  Scott Brown drove his blue truck from one end of the state to the other, literally door-to-door.  He’d stop at diners and coffee shops and local fairs, introducing himself, listening to what people wanted out of their Senate representation, explaining what could and would not be possible for him as a junior Senator; but he listened to people.  And in the political upset of a lifetime, he won the Senate seat.

A new six-year term for that seat begins next year, so he’s having to do it all over again.  This time around, his opponent is a Harvard professor by the name of Elizabeth Warren.  The ads for both candidates are thick, so the hubster and I have had plenty of “face time,” as it were, with Professor Warren.  She reminds us both of, big surprise, a teacher:  wire-frame glasses, short, bobbed hair, very earnest in her presentation, much shaking of her head as she makes her points in favor of her platform, which I won’t go into because it’s a standard Democratic platform.  At least once per day, we’ll note to each other that we expect her to start shaking her finger at the voters as she tries to impress upon them how bad they were in electing that nasty man two years ago.  Naughty, naughty.

I guess this campaign garners so much national attention because no one ever expected a Democratic candidate to lose any election in Massachusetts – despite the fact that two of its governors, within living memory, have been Republicans – certainly not a candidate for the “Kennedy Seat in the Senate” (or, as Scott Brown pointed out last time, “the people’s seat in the Senate”).  Also because of the gaffes this woman has made in her campaign, such as the one where it came to light that she had claimed minority status as being “part Cherokee,” and then it turned out she was something like 1/32 Cherokee.  She based her claim on members of her family having “high cheekbones.”  Hey, I have high cheekbones.  They came from my Russian ancestors.  Why doesn’t she claim to be part Russian?

The latest ad, though, is a doozy.  In her oh-so-earnest way, she starts out by describing the “trillions of dollars” college students owe on their student loans, then goes on to excoriate “Washington” for making this happen, and makes the point – somewhat – that if you elect her, she’ll Clean Up the Mess in Washington.  Huh???  It’s her own Party that’s in control of the federal government.  Sooooo…whose mess is in Washington??  What am I missing?

Closer to home – that is, back north of the border – we have yet to hold our State primaries for gubernatorial candidate (governors of New Hampshire serve two-year terms).  Last night there was a news article for one of the candidates running on the Democratic platform.  He’s a retired Marine, he runs a bed-and-breakfast somewhere north of where I live (together with his wife), and he made a point of stressing his respect for life:  “If I see a spider, I’ll pick it up and put it outside.”  Nice.  My husband does the same thing.  But my husband is not a member of the Party that has institutionalized, as a major plank in its platform, the destruction of unborn human life.  Does this candidate even realize the inconsistency?!  If he has so much respect for life, why is he a Democrat?!

Not to mention the Democratic Party’s fallback portrayal of Republicans as the Party of the Rich, robber barons sending jobs overseas (inaccurately described, incidentally, as “outsourcing” – it’s actually “off-shoring”) while accumulating billions in Swiss bank accounts – oh, unless they’re Bible-totin’ Rednecks with gun racks on the back of the pickup truck.  Bible-totin’ “rednecks” aren’t notoriously wealthy, so people, which is it?

I used to work for a man who would regularly exhort us to be “consistent in our inconsistencies.”  Musta been a Democrat.

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Some few years back, I took advantage of my new “involuntarily retired” status to follow a lifelong dream to learn Russian.  I still don’t speak it fluently – it’s a tough language – but at least I can express myself grammatically.

The language courses were augmented by cultural courses that were mandatory for Russian majors, and strongly encouraged for everyone else.  Part of the culture component was watching Russian-language movies, all of them Soviet-era, despite the fact that the Soviet Union has been history for over twenty years at this point.  (I did suggest my favorite post-Soviet film, Ostrov – The Island – but was turned down.)  Most of the films were comedies.  A couple were from World War II, very Workers-Overcoming-the-Imperialists in content.  And then there was The Chekist.

For those who don’t know, the Cheka was the great-grandfather of the KGB, the original post-Revolution Secret Police.  They set the tone for every agency that followed, in terms of terror:  the knock on the door at 3:00 a.m., the mass roundups, mock trials, and executions for “counter-Revolutionary activity,” which could be as simple as being out of work (being out of work was considered “parasitism,” being a parasite on the productive Working Class).

The film opened with a wedding scene, a young couple, very obviously very much in love, being married in a Russian Orthodox ceremony.  Then the camera slowly panned through the crowd to the back, where a man could be seen garroting a woman.  As the wedding concluded, doors were thrown open – and only then did you realize that the wedding had taken place in a prison cell, that everyone there was slated for execution, and that the incongruous garroting had been a mercy killing.  The prisoners were directed to strip off completely naked, then herded to a wall with troughs in front of it, positioned so that they were facing the wall, and then gunned down, in the back.  In the seconds before the opening salvo, the young couple – now separated by the priest who had married them, who stood between – reached behind him to hold hands.

The next scene cut to a group of men around a kitchen table, drawing up lists of people to be executed.   Subsequent scenes made it clear that these lists were actually quite arbitrary.  You would expect to find priests being executed, and they were plentiful, but often someone ended up on the list because a co-worker wanted a promotion, and someone stood in his way; that person’s name would be placed on the list.  Over a ten-year period, more or less, the lists continued to be drawn up by the same people at the same location – until the final scenes, when the protagonist, the Chekist, was missing.  You saw him again in the very last scene, standing stark naked with his face to the wall, alone at the troughs, and laughing at the cruel irony of his fate.  Then  the shots rang out, and the screen went black.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy watching.  There was a stunned silence in the classroom for a couple of minutes, before one of the students asked, in a shaking voice, “How could they let this happen?!”  I wanted to laugh.  What a question!  It was clear, from this young fellow’s attire, that he was a believer in Marxism-Leninism (the slogans on the shirt were a dead giveaway, for one thing), and that he couldn’t imagine such a thing taking place in the enlightened Workers’ Paradise.  And I wanted to laugh because the Hate Speech bill had just been passed, making it a federal crime to speak one’s mind on a whole variety of topics.  Homosexuality was covered, and of course racism.  Over time, hate speech against Islam has made it to the list.  Judaism was implicitly covered.  Not, evidently, Christianity.

I’ve been thinking about this fellow a lot lately, primarily because of stuff like this:  http://michellemalkin.com/2012/03/07/the-war-on-conservative-women/  And this:

indicative of the war on the Catholic Church.  That, of course, has been going on for a very long time.  But the objection of the Catholic Church to those provisions of the Obama health-care bill that deal with contraception, has renewed the attacks, and they have become more and more vitriolic; note the comments to a local story out of the New Hampshire Statehouse.

So, bottom line:  the Left has absolute freedom of speech, but when the rest of us try to exercise the same freedom of speech, it’s hate speech?

That’s how they let it happen.

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Boo. Hiss.

I live in New Hampshire, a state that every four years subjects Presidential candidates to a pretty thoroughgoing grilling concerning their stance on the issues of our times.  I’m not sure how we got this exalted status, but over the years we’ve become pretty savvy at picking front-runners; there’s a statement that sums it up, “As New Hampshire goes, so goes the nation.”  The only time I recall this failing was in 1996 — can’t recall who New Hampshire selected as an opposition candidate, but it wasn’t Bob Dole.

This quadrennial circus is preceded by the Iowa caucus, and they do their own fair job of winnowing candidates.  Dark horses can become front-runners as a result of two pretty “mainstream” states, in the sense that neither Iowans nor New Hampshirites generally have millions stuffed in their mattresses or bank accounts, but live the same lives as millions of other Americans:  some farmers, some factory workers, with everything else thrown in between (except millionaires.  They’re pretty thin on the ground).  And that’s what happened on this last round, when Rick Santorum, who up to now has been running a pretty quiet campaign, surged into second place after the Iowa caucus.

As a result, he’s been getting a lot of attention around the Granite State, showing up as a quiet, fairly conservative, well spoken gentleman.  He isn’t as flamboyant as Newt Gingrich.  He isn’t as well-known as Mitt Romney, son of Senator George Romney (late of Michigan, I think — George Romney was a while ago).  He isn’t a Minority candidate, both of whom have already dropped out of the race.  He is from Pennsylvania, which has its own mainstream population, farms and factories and everything in between, only more so than either Iowa or New Hampshire.

I was startled when he came out flat with the fact that his views are shaped by his religion:  Rick Santorum is a Catholic, and says so up front.  Among the views shaped by his Catholicism, and I’m not sure what else has been influenced by that mildly socialist religion, is his opinion that marriage between homosexuals is wrong.  In Catholicism, the main point of marriage is the ensurance of the human race; there was a time when coitus that didn’t result in a pregnancy was considered a mortal sin, though that time is long past.  But marriage, in the Catholic viewpoint, was never about two people who love each other having mutual “rights,” whatever those are in a marriage.  And this is a part of Mr. Santorum’s makeup.

So he gets up onto a stage at a meet-and-greet that includes college students.  Now, college students generally lack the life experience to be able to make rational decisions about pretty much anything, and over the years, they have become increasingly infantile and incapable of critical thinking.  The “education” they receive amounts to little more than brainwashing (having been in a college setting as recently as 2007, I’ve seen this first-hand).  This is the audience to whom Mr. Santorum tries to explain his views in a rational and reasoned manner.

The reaction is that as he leaves the stage, he is booed.

I’m sorry.  College education is supposed to produce educated people, people with a certain amount of class and polish.  Booing is what people do at baseball games when they don’t like the umpire’s call.  (From what I’ve seen, fisticuffs are reserved for football and hockey.)  You don’t boo somebody because his views are different from yours.  I don’t boo the Community Organizer current incumbent of the White House, and I come from a class of people that does boo the umpire.  But not the President, and not presidential candidates.

I will say this, not that any college students will read it:  If you don’t like what the man says, leave the room.  That’s all.  But before you do, consider this:  The President of the United States should be a man of principle, a man with rock-solid ethics, a man who knows where he stands and is capable of articulating why he stands there.  If elected, his views still will not constitute the will of the people; that’s what Congress is there for.  They have this nifty little counterbalance to the presidential veto:  It’s called a two-thirds override.  If Mr. Santorum becomes the Republican candidate, and if he is elected President, he can only disestablish gay marriage if the two-thirds override fails.  And if it does, then it wasn’t the will of the people to begin with.

That’s how this republic works.  Not with boos and catcalls and other jejune behavior.  You oafs are an embarrassment to the State of New Hampshire.  Go home and stop wasting your parents’ hard-earned money and get a real job.  Selling french fries at McDonald’s may not be your definition of a real job, but it involves hard work, something you’ve never done in your lives.

Meanwhile…I wasn’t actually gong to vote for Rick Santorum.  But in light of his firm stance on his ethics, and his reasoned response to a hatful of unreasonable spoiled children — I may think twice about my vote.

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“Have you ever protested for anything?”

Finally, a topic I can respond to. Most of the last several have been, shall we say, “uninspiring.”

In fact, in my callow youth, I did care enough about something to mount a picket line. Mind you, it didn’t do much good. We did everything by the book: Kept the line moving, kept it on a quiet side street, so we were always drowned out by the more spectacular crowd parading down Fifth Avenue, screaming slogans and obscenities and planting themselves in such a way that it took four or five cops to wrestle one into a paddy wagon. This was the Vietnam War era, and there were thousands who marched the streets of Manhattan in protest – and one quiet little group demonstrating in favor of the War. That was us.

I mean, really. Nobody’s in favor of war, not even the military. People get killed in wars, Us as well as Them, and those lines can get blurred very quickly when you meet one of Them up close and personal; a warrior can be put out of commission for the rest of his life by having to kill someone in hand-to-hand combat. So no, the military isn’t pro-war, either, just pro-deterrence: Rattle a long enough sabre, and the enemy thinks twice before invading. And that’s as it should be.

In our case, we were very clear about the purpose of the Vietnam War. It was the containment of Communism, period. China was big and Communist, and pushing its way into smaller countries, gobbling them up like appetizers, and our small group considered that Americans had an obligation to those countries to keep them free enough to decide their own destinies. There was already plenty of evidence to suggest that Communism wasn’t a remotely benign form of government. There was no real economic incentive for the United States to be in Vietnam, either; it wasn’t like we were exporting Vietnamese teak, or whatever, by the metric ton. No, the goal was very clear: containment of Communism.

Not to mention that in those days, there was an actual draft. You turned 18, and you either went to college or into the service. Most of our group were college kids, but a fair number were 1-A status, and knew that it was only a matter of time before being called up. And still they participated in our little counter-protest. For the other side of the coin was equally plain to us: Regardless of what the media and the mainstream asserted, American boys didn’t run around killing babies, and we owed them our support.

It’s been more than forty years since those adventures, and I’m still glad I did it. I have a clearer idea now of what Vietnam was really about – it was supposed to be a “quick victory” for Kennedy in 1964, to boost his chances of re-election – and that awareness annoys me no end. But there was one other fallout that never once occurred to me in those days: Now, forty years later, I can look a Vietnam vet in the eye and say, “I did my best to support your efforts over there.”

(By the way, I’m currently re-reading “Vatican,” by Malachi Martin. There’s a fascinating chapter in there on the role of the Catholic Church in undermining the American effort in Vietnam. Keep in mind that Malachi Martin was a Jesuit for a number of years, so he had no anti-Catholic agenda. Read the book – it’s an eye-opener!)

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Question: “What % of who and what you are is determined by genetics vs your own choices? Is it 50/50 or more or less of one? Or should there be three numbers: your genetics, how you were raised, and your own choices (33/33/33 or 10/40/50)?”

The old Nature-vs.-Nurture debate. For what it’s worth, I think that the second half of the question raises an interesting point, namely: Without Nature, and without Nurture, how could you make your own unique choices to begin with?

I definitely do not think that there’s an equal input into all factors, based entirely on my own experience. In the European panoply of cultures, there can hardly be two more disparate than Russian and Irish. For one thing, the countries themselves occupy the two extreme ends of Europe. For another, Irish culture is based to a large extent on the proximity of the sea, and the plethora of rocks in the soil, whereas Russian culture is very rooted in the rich earth that makes farming such an important part of its history.

So why, all my life, have I been drawn to the Russian side of my family? I can’t truthfully say that there has been no input from the Russian side; after my mother was widowed young, she married a Polish man the next year, and although Russian and Polish cultures do have their differences, there are enough similarities that I’ve always felt more comfortable around Eastern Europeans generally. This does not explain why the only attraction of Irish culture for me is the music.

Then there’s the question of your own choices. Here I do come down heavily on the side of Nurture. Both my husband and I are classical-music lovers — another of those inborn traits, since neither of our families cares much for it, and we both love it — so that’s pretty much the only music you will hear in our house. At one point in my life, I even worked at a classical-music radio station, and one day, one of the announcers and I were chatting about kids and music. “Even if your kids grow up to prefer rock ‘n’ roll,” he said, “they will only be able to choose good rock ‘n’ roll. The trashy stuff will have no appeal for them.” I was a little surprised at the notion that anybody could actually prefer rock ‘n’ roll, but I had, of course, forgotten the Rebellion factor; kids do tend to make at least some choices opposite their parents’ preferences, purely as a matter of asserting their own selves. And sure enough, both of mine prefer rock ‘n’ roll. But it’s the stuff even I can listen to without cringing.

However, I also think that Nurture helps to shape your own inborn tendencies. I’m thinking specifically of my own lifelong conservatism. Where we grew up, every house in the neighborhood flew the American flag every day of the Vietnam War, and picked up the practice again during the Gulf War (and, presumably, during these current Iraq and Afghanistan Wars — I haven’t been home in too many years, since nobody’s left from the old neighborhood). Yet, the Vietnam era was one of extreme turbulence and rebellion. So why didn’t I break away? Why did so few of us from the neighborhood break away?

I don’t think it was because we would have been shunned by every house on the block. If enough of us had done so, we could have formed our own subculture very easily; after all, in those years, and in that town, kids outnumbered adults on an average of 4:1. Yet nearly all of us either served in the military, or had a family member who was serving, or we loved someone who was serving. Those were our choices, insofar as we actively chose them; certainly the neighborhood culture had a lot to do with our patriotism.

But I’ve noticed something interesting over the years: We all stayed pretty conservative. Most of us were first-generation Republicans, and that had a lot to do with the 1968 Democratic convention, which repudiated the Vietnam War, something that Just Wasn’t Done in our hometown. Democrat or Republican, we all went to church on Sundays in our town, and nearly all of us continue that practice in our old age, even if we let it slip during our fruitful years. I firmly believe that the choices we supposedly made all on our own were implanted in us at birth — patriotism, community, put-up-or-shut-up — and nurtured all throughout our school years and into young adulthood. I’m not sure we could have chosen any differently, no matter how hard we tried.

So, my own ratio? 50% Nature. 45% Nurture. And 5% my own choices. And from what I can see, that’s pretty much how it falls out for everyone else I know.

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