10 Things America Does Worse Than Europe

10 Things America Does Worse Than Europe

I have been lucky enough to have traveled to Europe many times.  I felt in reading this article, based on what I have seen, that there is a lot of truth to it.  I have also been a lot of places where suggesting that America doesn’t do everything the best will drive people crazy.  That seems batshit insane to me.  It is like if you were on a really good football team and you saw another winning team in a different division.  Wouldn’t you try to watch them to see how they were winning, so that you could be even better?

The fact is that other parts of the world do some things better than we do.  Instead of being afraid of it we should try to learn from it and make our country better.  Being a self-declared champion is meaningless and delusional.

Hat tip to my friend Liza.  

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Nationalism On the Rise In Europe

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Nationalism On the Rise In Europe

The above link is an interesting article about the rise of nationalism in Europe.  There is no doubt that the murders in France, and other acts of violence by Muslims, have helped give nationalism a footing.  However, it also goes into detail about how certain conservative economic policies, that are hurting the working class and poor, are also helping to bring about this change.

America’s Growing Pains

I mentioned in an earlier post today that I want to read S.C. Gwynne’s new book Rebel Yell:  The Violence, The Passion, and the Redemption of Stonewall Jackson.  I also want to read Edward E. Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told:  Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.  In truth, I’ve been thinking a lot about slavery and the Civil War since the election.

I’ve mentioned several times on this blog how Gwynne’s last book, Empire of the Summer Moon, shed light for me on the culture of Texas.  Because of the Comanche, early Texas was a place where survival was almost Darwinian.  Only the strongest or luckiest survived.  It is not hard to see in Texas, a state full of pride and larger than life characters, how the culture of the state could have come out of that world.

It seems that many of the problems that this country faces right now are due to a kind of super-capitalism, where market forces have overridden logic and reason.  Why is American capitalism so much more destructive than the kind that exists in Europe?  This is especially true if you look at what is going on with the environment.  This is also true if you look at America’s safety net compared with that of the rest of the Western world.  There are many reasons, but I can’t help but feel that culture is lagging behind history.

What kind of culture and economy did we inherit because of slavery and the civil war?  How did those two factors contribute to the making of modern America?

I was talking to a friend a few nights ago and we were debating politics.  We were comparing Europe to America and again asking the question of why, in certain ways, Europe is culturally ahead of America right now.  The truth is that Europe has its own violent and horrible history.  However, they have a much longer history than we do.  They have bled out several times over.  Much of what exists in Europe today is a partial reaction to the World Wars that were fought there.

Although Europe is doing certain things better than America right now, this does not mean that in the long scope of history that they are better.  They have had much longer to get to where they are at.  The problem right now is, in a world so interconnected, especially with problems like overpopulation and climate change on the horizon, can the world wait for us to go through our “growing pains”?

Prop 1 In Austin and Public Transportation

I apologize in advance for those of you outside of Austin, although I do think what I’m about to write pertains to people outside of Austin.  In Austin we are debating public transportation right now.  There is a proposition on the ballot that will fund 9.5 miles of rail and improvements to our roads.  It is called Prop 1 on the ballot.  If you want to support it, vote yes on Prop 1.  Even at a conservative estimate the rail is supposed to take 10,000 cars a day off of the roads.  Why is this a conservative estimate?  Because they want to pass more rail in the future.  In order to do this the first one has to work as promised.  They would prefer it to work better than they said, and not worse, so they are estimating that it will take 10,000 cars off the road each weekday, but in reality the numbers will actually probably be higher.

Here are some things that a lot of people don’t know:

1.  The federal government is matching the City of Austin dollar for dollar.  So those that are worried about price, which seems to be why most people are worried, should know that if we pass it now, we will only have to pay for half of it.

2.  Taxes will not be increased fully until 2020 and then it will be on average of $20 dollars a month per household.

3.  Many people don’t understand why the city is starting with one line.  This is because the last time the city tried to pass rail, they tried a comprehensive plan and it was voted down by a small margin.  This time they are trying to do it a little bit at a time so it has a better chance of passing.  They are addressing I-35, which is the worst road in Austin.  This 9.5 miles of rail also hits a lot of the main parts of Austin including downtown, UT, ACC campus at the Highland Mall, East Riverside, and the med center.

4.  Some people are concerned that it doesn’t go to the airport.  If it went to the airport they would have to deal with Federal Aviation and the price tag would be even higher.  Again, this plan was put into place because they were trying to get something that would pass, based on the defeat of last time, while still addressing a wide number of concerns in the city.

Now those are just a couple answers to people’s concerns that I have heard.  There are things I didn’t bring up, like it will be more environmentally friendly than having all those people drive, It’s the kind of project that Americans need to be doing to get off of fossil fuels, it will provide convenient and affordable transportation for those that owning a car isn’t a reality, and it will make the city more livable.  If you were to ask most people what the worst thing about Austin is, most people would probably say the traffic.

But this proposition is also the moral thing to do.  This is where those of you that are not from Austin should be interested.  Both because of climate change and because of conflicts that arise over oil, we need to be finding ways to diminish our use of gas.  Getting 10,000 people a day, and hopefully more in the future, won’t change the world in and of itself, but it is the start of a lifestyle change that we need to be making.

Those that only think of their own pocketbook are missing the larger picture.  We spend money on all kinds of wasteful stuff in this country.  I’m sure that anyone that complains about taxes probably has some kind of TV or other thing in their house that they could do without if they really needed to.  No one is even asking you to go without such things.  I’m just trying to make the connection that $20 dollars a month towards something that is a public good, that will benefit people at large that don’t even live in Austin, although the citizens of Austin will see the most benefit, isn’t really that much to ask.  This is your chance to do something to make the world slightly better.

I have been all over Europe and Japan and most Americans have no idea how amazing good public transportation is.  It is so much less stressful than driving in bumper to bumper traffic.  You can actually enjoy yourself by reading a book, playing a game, or taking a nap.  When I used to work a day job I worked 12 miles from my home.  It would take me over an hour to get home some days.  I don’t care how good of a day I had, by the time I got home I wanted to dismember people.  Imagine if you could get on a train and read instead of do that drive.  It would make day to day life so much better.  In Japan and Europe public transportation is clean, efficient, and enjoyable.  Sitting in your car for an hour every afternoon inching your way forward is not efficient or enjoyable.  It is also ridiculously bad for our environment.

I criticize the GOP a lot on here.  I am largely criticizing the modern ultra-conservative GOP.  It is totally a fair argument to have to make sure that taxes are not spent on wasteful projects.  Even though I rarely agreed with the more moderate conservatives, I understood where they were coming from and felt that those arguments served a purpose.  The questions that conservatives and liberals should be asking is not should taxes be higher or lower, but are we getting something that makes our lives better through taxes.  If we are not then it is not worth spending money on.  If we are than it is.

The public good is always something worth spending money on.  Public transportation and parks and things of that nature, that make life more enjoyable, are worth committing resources to.  Spending billions of dollars on foreign wars in countries that are of no threat to our security are not.  Can we not see that we often spend money on all the wrong things?

I love this city and I love this country.  But we must admit that as a people we are often wasteful.  Things like Prop 1 are our chance to not only make our lives better, but to be better citizens in the world.  On one hand Prop 1 is about the kind of city we want to live in here in Austin.  But really, it is about so much more.

Never the Tribe

Reading Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem in the van.  No group in Europe comes out clean, although some come across as marginally better.  Obviously the Nazis are at the center of things.  But plenty of other countries, especially Eastern European countries, played a role in the Final Solution.  Even the French, for instance, who quit deporting Jews once they learned what that deportation truly meant, contributed.  The Nazis couldn’t have done what they did without collaboration.  In fact many Jews even collaborated with the Nazis towards achieving their sinister goals. 

The point of this all being that we should treat people as individuals.  Whenever we point the finger at an entire group of people, whether to point out something good or bad, we simplify things and lose our ability to see reality. 

I can’t help but feel that those that identify with a group or a tribe first of all, can’t help but one day be dissapointed.  Unless of course they are willing to blindly accept whatever it is that group may do.  And that is nothing but unthinking stupidity.  We should put people first at times, before ourselves, but never the tribe. 

I don’t feel that this is a particularly hard truth to arrive at.  But in America these days one never knows…

Being Sick in Japan

I was sick in Japan, very sick.  I had strep throat which is bad enough in itself, but it also made my allergy problems that I suffer greatly from ten times worse.   I don’t need to go into disgusting detail, but I was basically in a hellzone.  Not wanting to miss much, I was walking around and site seeing 12 to 14 hours a day while feeling like complete shit.  If I had been at home I would have been flat on my back.

Finally it got too much to bear and I had to see a doctor.  My family, and especially my Mom, helped me locate one and find the help that I needed.  Also, luckily for me the Japanese medical system is amazing.  I was able to go see two different doctors and receive seven different medicines for less than $100.  As a foreigner with no in country medical insurance, I found this to be amazing.  And it should be noted that both trips to the doctors had me in and out in about 40 minutes without an appointment!

This was one of several experiences over there that made me laugh in the face of the term American Exceptionalism.  There are many fools that claim that we do everything better and have it better than anywhere else in the world.  Wrong!  That’s not to say that there aren’t certain benefits of being an American and that there aren’t certain things that we might do better.  However, to make a blanket statement that we are the best at everything is comical at best.  Just the Japanese alone have a better medical system, at least if you have no insurance, and also have much better public transportation than we do.

Being sick is a curse in more ways than one.  There is small chance of enlightenment when you are trapped in the physicality of a body that isn’t working properly.  I am someone that has always struggled with patience and a temper.  I have worked on it tremendously throughout the years, however, in being sick and not being allowed to get rest, most of my hard work went right out the window!  Not only was I miserable physically, but I made life hell for those around me.  I couldn’t see any farther than the extreme pain that I was in.  There might be those that have terminal diseases and long term illnesses that learn to transcend them, but I bet not in the first week.  When you are sick, especially in a way that is not physically apparent, it makes it hard for others to understand what you are going through.  In short I am trying to say that an illness, even a temporary one like strep throat, can make life difficult for yourself and your loved ones. Being sick can lead to misunderstandings in many ways and none of them are fun!

The experience of getting easy to access medical care and of being sick in a hard situation made me realize even more than I already have that there is no reason to let people suffer.  Why should the richest country in the world allow people to not get the medical care that they need?  I realize that Obamacare is a step in the right direction, but we can and should go further.  I’m sorry my Republican friends, but you are dead wrong on this issue.  And if you blindly think that we have better medical care than anywhere else in the world, at least in terms of care for the average person, travel to Japan or Europe and see for yourself.  You will find things that will make you eat your words for breakfast!

The Common Good and Lesser Deities

One of my favorite towns on earth is Bend, Oregon.  I almost don’t want to admit this, because I am greedy and don’t want too many people to discover this place.  The way it is right now is perfect.  Not only is it stunningly beautiful, but it is exactly the right size for a town.  It is big enough that things go on here, but small enough that it is built on a human scale.  You can walk to most places.  I have been here on tour about six times, give or take.  I have spent many hours walking the town and the trails just outside of it.  It never ceases to captivate me.
In Europe there are many cities that seem to be designed for actual people.  Even larger cities have adequate public transportation.  A city as large as Rome or Berlin can be crossed with ease, without even speaking the language.
I have an affinity for the people of Houston, Texas, but I doubt anyone from that town would say it is built on a livable scale.  Often you will see a fururistic skyscraper next to a taco shack.  There are no zoning laws.  There are great neighborhoods and great people, but without a car there, you would be doomed.
I wish we would spend more time in this country contemplating our communities and how they are designed.  I wish we would not be so attached to our cars.  Until you have spent time in a beautiful walkable town, or a city that has great public transportation, you really have no idea what you are missing.  Our quality of life could be so much higher.
When I worked my last day job in Austin I lived 12 miles from work.  It would take me an hour or more somedays to get home in rush hour traffic.  You would begin by taking the Lord’s name in vain.  Slowly but surely you would curse other lesser deities as well.  Eventually you would find swear words for the gods all the way back to antiquity.  No matter how easy your day was, you would get home broken and defeated after a commute like that.  A shell of a man.  As one of my friends stated, “How inefficient is that shit?!!!”
As I have stated before, the free market is great for many things.  It is just not good at doing things that are part of the common good.  Parks and other public spaces, good transportation, these things can make a community and not just a city.  Hopefully at some point we can have a smarter national conversation about these things.  If not, please forgive me in advance, if my middle finger makes itself known next time we are in rush hour.  I might be more animal than man by then.  My patience gone and out of gods to curse.