« June 2012 | Main | August 2012 »

July 31, 2012

Of Course it's the Culture, Stupid

It's worth quoting in full what Mitt Romney said in Israel that has raised such a fuss on the left:

I was thinking this morning as I prepared to come into this room of a discussion I had across the country in the United States about my perceptions about differences between countries. And as you come here and you see the GDP per capita for instance in Israel which is about 21,000 dollars and you compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority which is more like 10,000 dollars per capita you notice a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States. I noted that part of my interest when I used to be in the world of business is I would travel to different countries was to understand why there were such enormous disparities in the economic success of various countries.
I read a number of books on the topic. One, that is widely acclaimed, is by someone named Jared Diamond called 'Guns, Germs and Steel,' which basically says the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there. There is iron ore on the land and so forth. And you look at Israel and you say you have a hard time suggesting that all of the natural resources on the land could account for all the accomplishment of the people here. And likewise other nations that are next door to each other have very similar, in some cases, geographic elements. But then there was a book written by a former Harvard professor named 'The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.' And in this book Dr. Landes describes differences that have existed--particularly among the great civilizations that grew and why they grew and why they became great and those that declined and why they declined. And after about 500 pages of this lifelong analysis--this had been his study for his entire life--and he's in his early 70s at this point, he says this, he says, if you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it's this: culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference.

And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things. One, I recognize the hand of providence in selecting this place. I'm told in a Sunday school class I attended-- I think my son Tagg was teaching the class. He's not here. I look around to see. Of course he's not here. He was in London. He taught a class in which he was describing the concern on the part of some of the Jews that left Egypt to come to the promised land, that in the promised land was down the River Nile, that would provide the essential water they had enjoyed in Egypt. They came here recognizing that they must be relied upon, themselves and the arm of God to provide rain from the sky. And this therefore represented a sign of faith and a show of faith to come here. That this is a people that has long recognized the purpose in this place and in their lives that is greater than themselves and their own particular interests, but a purpose of accomplishment and caring and building and serving. There's also something very unusual about the people of this place. And Dan Senor-- And Dan, I saw him this morning, I don't know where he is, he's probably out twisting someone's arm--There's Dan Senor, co-author of 'Start-up Nation,' described-- If you haven't read the book, you really should-- Described why it is Israel is the leading nation for start-ups in the world. And why businesses one after the other tend to start up in this place. And he goes through some of the cultural elements that have led Israel to become a nation that has begun so many businesses and so many enterprises and that is becomes so successful.

I think that what Romney said is pretty much on target, but if you want to quibble over his universal statement that "Culture makes all the difference," and say that he should have said something like "Culture makes part of the difference," then I don't really have a quibble with you. Reasonable people should be able to debate whether culture makes "all" the difference or only "part" of the difference.

But to call his remarks racist? Give me a break. But that is exactly one Palestinian leader did:

"It is a racist statement and this man doesn't realise that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation," said Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"It seems to me this man (Romney) lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people," Erekat added. "He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority."

The irony is that if Romney knew more about the Irsraelis and Palestinians he'd have spoken even stronger about the differences between the two cultures.

The further irony is that the Palestinian people really are the victims; just not of the Israelis. They are the victims of corrupt and cynical leaders who use them to keep themselves in total power. They are the victims of terrorist and jihadist organizations who use the situation to further their own ends.

What Romney said in London was accurate but unnecessary. What he said in Israel was both accurate and necessary. As Paul Mirengoff said at Powerline, offending Palestinian leaders is "a step in the right direction." These leaders need to be told the truth and their people need to hear it. Not because we're mean, but because we're compassionate, because we want the Palestinians to improve their lot, and that starts with acknowledging reality. Let's hope Romney gets elected so they can hear more like this.

Wednesday Update

Mitt Romney himself has a post at National Review's The Corner in which he explains his thinking further:

Culture Does Matter
By Mitt Romney
July 31, 2012 8:00 P.M.

During my recent trip to Israel, I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it. In some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy.

But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture? In the case of the United States, it is a particular kind of culture that has made us the greatest economic power in the history of the earth. Many significant features come to mind: our work ethic, our appreciation for education, our willingness to take risks, our commitment to honor and oath, our family orientation, our devotion to a purpose greater than ourselves, our patriotism. But one feature of our culture that propels the American economy stands out above all others: freedom. The American economy is fueled by freedom. Free people and their free enterprises are what drive our economic vitality.

The Founding Fathers wrote that we are endowed by our Creator with the freedom to pursue happiness. In the America they designed, we would have economic freedom, just as we would have political and religious freedom. Here, we would not be limited by the circumstance of birth nor directed by the supposedly informed hand of government. We would be free to pursue happiness as we wish. Economic freedom is the only force that has consistently succeeded in lifting people out of poverty. It is the only principle that has ever created sustained prosperity. It is why our economy rose to rival those of the world's leading powers -- and has long since surpassed them all.

The linkage between freedom and economic development has a universal applicability. One only has to look at the contrast between East and West Germany, and between North and South Korea for the starkest demonstrations of the meaning of freedom and the absence of freedom.

Israel is also a telling example. Like the United States, the state of Israel has a culture that is based upon individual freedom and the rule of law. It is a democracy that has embraced liberty, both political and economic. This embrace has created conditions that have enabled innovators and entrepreneurs to make the desert bloom. In the face of improbable odds, Israel today is a world leader in fields ranging from medicine to information technology.

As the case of Israel makes plain, building a free society is not a simple task. Rather, it is struggle demanding constant courage and sacrifice. Even here in the United States, which from our inception as a nation has been blessed with freedom, we faced monumental challenges in harmonizing our ideals with our institutions. We fought a bloody civil war against slavery and it took a nonviolent civil-rights movement to bring political and social equality to all Americans. In these epic struggles we changed our "culture" and vastly improved it.

I have just returned from a trip abroad. I visited three lands -- Israel, Poland, and Great Britain -- which are defined by their respective struggles for freedom. I met with some of the greatest heroes of those struggles. I am always glad to return to American soil. On this occasion, I am only strengthened in my conviction that the pursuit of happiness is not an American right alone. Israelis, Palestinians, Poles, Russians, Iranians, Americans, all human beings deserve to enjoy the blessings of a culture of freedom and opportunity.

Color me impressed. Romney is a thinker in a way that Obama or Biden could never be.

Those on the left who say that culture doesn't matter, or that people like the Palestinians are in their current situation because of "oppression" or history or whatever are simply wrong. The history of hundreds of peoples over thousands of years has proven that wrong time and again. The liberals will never get it, but Romney does, and that is a very good thing.

Posted by Tom at 8:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 15, 2012

Alaska Vacation 2012

Sapphire Princess

Before this vacation I'd neither been on a cruise ship or to Alaska, and in fact it's been a few years since I've even had a week-long true vacation. My last several trips have been mission or pilgrimage trips with my church. Interesting, exciting, and worthwhile, but not really vacations.

I had little idea as to what to expect from a cruise ship or from the parts of Alaska where we were going. I'm the type who doesn't do a lot of pre-trip research, preferring to experience things without preconceptions. Sure, part of this that I am always busy with other things and lazy with regard to such research, but part of it is also that I do just like to take things as they come without the preconceptions.

Going were the extended family; mom, brother and sister, and their spouses and children. Eleven of us total, which if you were quick to decipher the previous sentence means 6 adults and five kids.

In short, we flew to Vancouver, and caught the Princess Sapphire cruise ship from there. Over the next week we sailed up the Alaskan panhandle, stopping at Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway. We ended up in Whitter, where we caught a bus to Anchorage and flew home from there.

I like maps, and if you do too, here are a few you might find useful



On The Ship

From the glass of champagne they had for everyone upon reaching their stateroom to the off-boarding luggage arrangements, our time on board the ship was absolutely superb. Without exception the crew was unbelievably polite and helpful, they treated you like royalty, and the meals and entertainment top-notch. Various places to eat are open from 6am until 11 or later at night. Whatever you want is available somewhere. There are several bars and lounges around the ship, each catering t a different taste, from lounge music to modern rock n roll. There was a pre-teen and teen center that the kids loved; it was not at all bogus but staffed by people who knew their business. If you're inclined to waste your money you could fritter it away at the casino. If it was shows or lectures you like there was a reasonably large auditorium that was bigger than many movie theaters I've been in. The "center" of all this was the three story Piazza or Atrium, where there was always something going on:

Ship Atrium
Here is the band that played John Philip Sousa music on Independence Day:

Independence Day on Ship

More details at Cruse Critic, but suffice it to say that, lucky us, the ship had undergone a complete renovation in February of this year, improving it considerably.

In addition, the cruise line hired a naturalist who gave lectures, but more importantly, when the ship came close to whale-watching areas or glaciers, came on the ship's PA system and spoke at some length about everything we were seeing. In addition to entertaining and relaxing it was quite educational.

The ship had something for everyone, even the world's largest LED screen, or so they said

Ship LED Screen to Stern

We watched one or two "movies under the stars," but truthfully since it didn't really get dark until about midnight and it got frightfully cold out as we went farther north... this was an attraction best enjoyed when the ship spends it's winters in Hawaii.

Stops and Excursions

As mentioned above, the ship stopped in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway as we made our way up the cost. We got to each city 8ish, and left Ketchikan at 2pm and the others at I believe 8pm. During the day we all went on Princess-sponsored "excursions." These were trips you signed up for ahead of time and were with companies that the tour ship had contracts with. You could of course go out on your own, but ran the risk of not making it back to the ship on time (the company-sponsored trips came with a guarantee) and anyway we figured the shipping line had every incentive to make sure they contracted with reputable companies etc. You could choose from several dozen excursions per stop, and usually had time to take 2 or maybe 3. These excursions cost extra but the pricing varied as did the adventure you signed up for. There was something for everyone.

I can't remember which city this was, but truthfully they all looked about the same. They had a "frontier" look to them, and were a libertarian's dream, and a city-planner's nightmare. The buildings were often horribly ugly, there was no uniformity, and building locations were hopscotch.

Ketchikan, Juneau, or Skagway

About the wildest thing I did was go zip-lining between huge Western Hemlocks a tree that grows 150-200 feet tall:

This is me in the tour photo I payed 20 bucks for:

Zip-lining Tom

And here is one I took so you can get an idea of how far we zipped and how high we were above the ground:

Zip-lining Ketchikan

Other things I did was see the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show in Ketchikan:

Lumberjack Show 2

Go salmon sport fishing in Juneau (this one was a bust; there were five of us tourists on the boat and we caught one fish. Oh well, it was still a sort-of fun day):

Salmon catch Juneau

Whale watching in Juneau:

Whale Watching Juneau

(binoculars made all this a lot better than it looks here. It's hard to really catch much action with a pocket camera)

Whale Broaching Juneau

In Skagway I went on a narrow-gauge railway that went way up in the mountains, and into Canada for a short distance. The mountain scenery was unbelievable, and more than my camera could capture:

Mountains from train Skagway

Iron bridge from Train Skagway

Bridge from train Skagway

And lots and lots of of Glaciers. The ship went into Glacier Bay National Park, which was pretty amazing. It was hard to get a sense of scale even being right there by the glaciers. They didn't have any of the visual ques on them that we use to determine size; a tree, building, or person. The ship got to within... half a mile? The ship was 1,000 feet long so I used it as a measure.

Glacier and Tom

Glacier from Ship 2

Glacier in distance

Glacier w ship

Everyone looks for that "National Geographic moment" whereby some large chunk breaks off into an iceberg. But of course those guys film for days or weeks to catch that one moment. The most we saw were a few car-size chunks fall off

Glacier Calving 1

After that we sailed up the coast some more and on to Whittier, where we caught a bus to Anchorage. On the way though there were many beautiful scenes from the ship. Again, the reality was better than my camera could capture.

Glacier in Distance 2

Glacier in Distance 3

Moundain Scene

More later, as I'll update this post periodically. A great vacation, a great time, and something I'd recommend to everyone.

Posted by Tom at 1:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack