To Be On TV

When you turn the TV off
Perhaps you are aware
Of a presence on the screen
A figure in a chair
Ghost-like in living monochrome
A specter sitting there

Stilled life like a picture
Painted by Vermeer
Painted by Vermeer

You’re haunted by this figure
Yet, you are not afraid
It feels so familiar
Doubt and fear are allayed
A reassuring presence
Thoughtful, rather staid

Expressing a calm kindness
The figment your mind made
This figment your mind made

Is this thing in mourning
Shrouded there in gloom?
Buried in obscurity?
Living in a tomb?
Some sort of a strange sonogram
An image of a womb?

Or simply a reflection
Sitting a room
Sitting a room

At the back a window
Off to one side a bed
Upon the wall a photo
Of a loved one dead
Beside the chair a floor lamp
Shines light around its head

No, it’s not a ghost at all
It’s an angel instead
An angel instead

And when you turn the box back on
Perhaps now you will see
It’s not about survival
Or reality
We’re desperate to be captured
Afraid to be free

Everybody’s dying
To be on TV
To be on TV.

–Loudon Wainwright III

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 35: These Aren’t The Applicants You’re Looking For

“How does that not-the-droid-you’re-looking-for thing work? Some kinda Jedi/Force thing?”
“Yeah. But it only works on the weak-minded. Er, originally.”
“So, Darth Vader’s incompetent at hiring people?”
“I don’t think he’s actually down in HR screening the applicants.”
“Don’t think about it. Down that road lies nerd-dom.”

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 34: Beating a dead War Horse

“OK, so here’s another problem with War Horse.”
“I’m pretending to be interested.”
“The main character?”
“It’s a horse!”
“Well, in a dramatic narrative, you want the main character to go through changes. To be different in the end than in the beginning.”
“And maybe Joey did change from the beginning of the story to the end. But, you know, he’s a horse. It’s not like he can tell us.”
“And, maybe what he decided was that the Germans had the right idea. He went into the war being pro-English but came out primed to support The Fourth Reich.”
“I mean, Germans saved him a couple of times! The English sent him to charge against machine guns! We could be viewing this movie all wrong: It might be a demonstration of how Nazi horses are made! Wait, where are you going? You can’t rule out this exegesis just because it makes you uncomfortable!”
“Stupid Nazi horses.”

The School Idea

When I was younger (ah hah) I fantasized about creating a school. This was in college, and as someone who had been in school since 21-months of age, I had begun to realize that the education I was waiting for was never going to arrive.

The entire premise of The School was that academic studies would be balanced with practical application that supported the institution and, yes, brought in money. Like, if you were teaching the arts, you’d put on shows. I was at UCLA at the time and it amazed me how little cooperation there was not just between the various disciplines, like art and music, but within just the music department itself. For example, if you’re teaching music history, you have people listening to recordings of Gregorian chant and what-not, but those chants are never actually sung by the choir.

I thought this could extend nicely to occupational work, too, and you could end up with a largely self-sufficient school that provided a really broad experience to all the kids while also letting them get deep into their preferred subjects.

The various *-studies-type programs were just taking off back then; I don’t think you could major in them. They were more points-of-interest than vocations. They wouldn’t survive in this model, except through people who had a strong interest in them and were willing to work hard in other areas to support that interest.

The thing that stuck with me back then was the insurance. Inevitably some kind would get hurt and that would be that.

Newt Gingrich’s comments about kids being janitors, cafeteria workers and clerks put me in mind of this.

There is a faction in this society that is dead set against kids working, like working is some horrible thing that adults have to do, and people should be spared it as long as possible. And I think this probably indicates that, you know, they feel that way about their lives and jobs.

But the side-effect of this has been to create adolescence. Wild teens. Juvenile delinquency.

As horrible as it is to communists, our sense of self-worth as human beings utterly depends on exchange. We value ourselves to the extent that we can produce things that other people want. And in a cruel trick of nature, we start out with very little to give and in tremendous need of help.

A lot of what is mistakenly perceived as attention-seeking in children is just their attempt to entertain. The parent who dismisses this shuts off an avenue for the child to pay back.

What’s also difficult is the custodian-ship of the child’s development into a genuinely helpful member of the family (and society). At first, when they “help”, it’s more work (sometimes a LOT more) than if they don’t. (If I helped my mom clean up, she’d tell me how good I’d done, and then do it over. Heh.)

My kids aren’t much like me. The Boy is very money-minded. Last year (at 15) he got a job (programming), and he’s been walking dogs in the neighborhood. He’s almost finished a pen-and-paper RPG he’s going to try to build something around. He’s been in college for a few semesters, primarily business and economics classes.

The Flower’s industriousness is astounding. For money (and we pay her well), she cleans the dog stuff out of the backyard.  For fun, she cleans the bathroom or the bedroom or the living room or the closet. She makes and sells her own wallets. She works for The Boy—he’s programming a game and she’s doing the art.

The Barbarienne, on the other hand? She’s young yet, but I sense a different mind-set in her. (Probably closer to my own, growing up, than either The Boy or The Flower.) She’s definitely more difficult to mentor through things.

They would all have benefited from the school I imagined as a young man, but I was too busy having them to build it.

Plus, you know: Insurance.

Quote of the Day: That’s Not Irony

Meghan Casserly, of something called ForbesWoman, made the following statement in an article about how women won’t marry guys who don’t have jobs. (According to “Red Eye”.)

It is ironic that women place more weight on love than money, yet won’t marry if they or their potential suitor is unemployed.

 Ms. Casserly, that’s not ironic, that’s just wrong. If they placed more weight on love than money then money wouldn’t matter.

On “Red Eye” this was followed up with Kayleigh McEnany saying:

I’m all about finding true love and what-not but…if you don’t have a job, if you’re homeless, I’m probably not going to love you.

So much for “true love”. But note: This is about marriage. The implications for non-marriage, non-loving relationships are left as an exercise for the reader.

The Least Likely and Most Awesome Tax System Ever

Looooooong time readers will remember my “fair tax” proposal, the only one that is truly fair. But with Independence Day coming, I thought I’d try for another (ridiculous) tax idea. It wouldn’t be fair in any sense of the word; it’d be better than fair, though.

As Barbie knows, a government’s authority should derive from consent of the governed. The government never has the entire country’s full consent, of course, but it does things that are more or less popular, like social security, health care “reform” or giving money to gang members.

So, how about this: How about no taxes?

Now, I realize they tried this with the Articles of Confederation, and it was a great weakness. But at the time we were a lot more States and a lot less United.

“But Blake,” you say, “that would be the end of the government!" 

"You have something on your cheek,” I say. “Also, stop texting and driving.”

It wouldn’t be the end of the government if the government had the consent of the governed. I’m pretty radical, I know, but even I wouldn’t want to see the government to go away completely. But when we allow the government to set its own levels of taxation, well, we get the current state, where we all pay about half of everything outright to various agencies with an added bonus suppression of our economic activity worth another half or more.

Run the government on donations. Run all of them on donations.

Also, allow taxpayers to allocate their money. Hate war, love handouts? Allocate your tax money to Welfare. Or, if your preferences are reversed, send it to Defense. Maybe even take it to the micromanagement level: Allow your donation to social security to be used for poor handicapped kids, but not rich old people. Or support the war in Afghanistan but not the one in Iraq.

Now, would this lead to some phenomenally bad decision making? Oh, yes, guaranteed. I don’t know if we could have won the war in Iraq had we not persevered through unpopular times. On the other hand, we probably would have won Vietnam. Also, maybe Iraq wouldn’t have been so unpopular if the administration had known that their success was tied to its popularity, and put some effort into explaining it.

Americans tend to be isolationists, though, so I suspect we’d see a quick drop in overseas military bases. Foreign aid—some of it would drop dramatically, of course, but some might actually go up.

War on drugs? I don’t think there’d be huge support for it. But maybe if funds were limited, they could focus on the really bad stuff, and stuff aimed at kids.

The sort of business-squashing regulation industry that’s bloomed over the past 100 years would be interesting. How many people would pay to support that? The real danger there would be that various industries would put a lot of money into regulation, then use that squash the competition.

Kind of like they do now. So, it’s not a panacea. We’d still have to be paying attention. (Eternal vigilance, eh, what?) But, wow, what a feeling it would be. You’d really feel like you had some control. And various government agencies would bloody well have a good reason to treat you like a customer rather than a subject, wouldn’t they?

I mean, hate the DMV? Don’t fund it. If it has to shut down, the state could make a different plan up to better serve people. The IRS (and various state mini-IRSes) would be completely gone. Absolutely no need for a tax authority. The TSA would be a bad memory.

Tax time would be whenever you felt like it. The government could produce estimates of how much it needed to collect, monthly, quarterly, yearly. There’d be strong motivation to save a little cash in reserve for lean times.

Oh, yeah, the government would absolutely not be able to borrow.

Me? I’d pay $3,000-$4,000 a year for government. Maybe more. It’s a little hard to gauge, since if it were drastically smaller, I’d be drastically better off, and feeling way more benevolent toward it than I currently am.

If you’re thinking, as a lot of people probably would at this suggestion, that there’s just no way that a government can exist without using force to collect money from people, I submit to you that no government really has the consent of the governed or could.

Now, if you want to argue that it’s not fair, I agree. There would be tons of free-riders, just like the 50% or so of the population that pays no Federal income tax, or actually gets money back. I suspect, though, that quite a few of that 50% would donate. A lot of rich people wouldn’t, probably more than the number of rich people who find ways out of paying taxes now.

But it would all be voluntary. A select few carry the burden of national defense for all of us. It’s horribly unfair, but the only times you hear people complain we need a draft are when they want our national defense to be unpopular. (That’s why some agitated so strongly for a draft at the height of the Iraq war’s unpopularity.)

Some people would be exceeding generous while others would simply not donate at all. But there could be few complaints if none were forced into paying for things that they didn’t want. And in this age of high-speed information, it’s eminently do-able.

And if this couldn’t work, the more interesting question become why not?

Conservatives vs. Libertarians

I like AlfonZo Rachel, even if I disapprove of such liberal use of capital letters in the middle of his name, but I wanted to address the fallacy in his latest polemic, embedded herein. It’s a good piece, worth watching for his take on Herman Cain as leader vs. representative. Trouble starts at about the 5 minute mark, though. Let’s watch:

Money quote:

A libertarian is just a liberal who doesn’t have a love/hate relationship complex with capitalism.

Whoa. That’d be like a libertarian saying “a conservative is just a liberal who’s hung up on using the power of the state to control your body instead of just your money.”

Which, come to think of it, a lot of libertarians do say. (These days you have to add an addendum that liberals want to control your body, too, just with regards to fat, salt, smoking, condoms and healthcare.) The irony is that this statement comes after a talk about getting ideas outside the conservative tent and is followed up with a rant on how libertarians want to claim to be conservative.

I’ve never, ever met a libertarian masquerading as a conservative. (OK, I haven’t met Ron Paul, but he might qualify, though he’s more masquerading as a Republican than a conservative.) In fact, what I see more is conservatives masquerading as libertarians, because the conservative cachet is mega-uncool, while you can be libertarian and still get invited to liberals cocktail parties. (I believe this is because liberals rightly perceive libertarians as no threat. But a lot of Tea Partiers are libertarian, and we know how liberals feel about them.)

Now, there’s always been a grain of truth to the argument that libertarians really just want to engage in whatever vice they’re saying the government shouldn’t be meddling in. Some libertarians do just want to smoke their dope in peace, in-between whoring around and playing online poker with their winnings from their stock portfolio.

Whoops. See what I did there? Conservatives get all uptight because libertarians don’t want the awesome power of the state used to shoot someone 71 times while “liberals” get all uptight because libertarians want to let people do what they want with their money. One says “How dare you do what you want with your body!” while the other says “How dare you do what you want with…”, well, actually, anything at this point. Your body, your money, all your property—all of this is fair game to the modern “liberal”. (I keep putting “liberal” in quotes because, remember, our Founding Fathers were all liberals back when the word meant libertarian. Co-opting the word “liberal” was the greatest trick the communists ever pulled.)

But let me get back to Zo, here. His next argument seems to be that you can’t legalize drugs, prostitution and abortion without an entitlement society. There’s no doubt that the two go hand-in-hand in a lot of ways, but it’s the entitlement that makes destructive lifestyles not only possible but not even particularly unpleasant (financially).

This is where his argument really falls apart. What he (and other social conservatives) tells us is “Government is terribly ineffective in the economic arena, but it’s oh-so-important in the social arena.” Both are indefensible positions. One reason that social conservatives need to start (and are, in fact) trending more libertarian is because the government actively undermines their positions.

Government power cannot be used to strengthen the values that so-cons love, because government power is inherently self-serving, and the government hates the competition that socially conservative values rest on. Government is pro-abortion, anti-religion, anti-family, pro-casual-sex, pro-euthanasia, anti-culture, etc., etc., etc.

If conservatives don’t trust the government to handle poverty, education and the economy, why on earth should they trust it to handle their most sacred values? (Conservatives actually did trust the government with education, long ago, and look how well that worked out.)

The exact same powers used to enforce conservative morality are used to justify “liberal” views of morality. Huckabee is much hated by some conservatives because of his fat kid initiatives when he was governor. But there was nothing illogical about what he did. If you start from the premise that the state must pay for children’s health care, the logical conclusion is that the state must also have the power to dictate the activities of those children that impact their health. (That is, all of them.)

 Is Huckabee a conservative? Why is it okay to regulate temperance and lust but not avarice and gluttony?

There are more bad arguments, but see if you can connect the thematic tie between Zo’s arguments and most “liberals’”:

  • We’re going to have to have more government intrusion, he argues, to enforce alimony and child support with all the broken families. Well, no, the Libertarian solution would be “You made a bad choice with whom you chose to have a child with. Deal with it.”
  • “To a libertarian, real freedom means being able to use drugs if you want to. Really?” He goes on to explain how awful drug dependence is (and says that alcohol is bad enough). Well, yeah, Zo: Really! The libertraian argument isn’t that “drugs are good” it’s that “government is bad”. 
  • The black market, he says, won’t go away, it’ll just target minors. Honestly, the true libertarian argument here is: That’s why they have parents. But assuming that’s too extreme, he doesn’t explain why it wouldn’t be easier for drug enforcement wouldn’t be easier if the various agencies involved only concerned themselves with minors. (I did smile at his notion that rich kids are “ripe for the pickin’”. Sorry, dude, I grew up around rich kids and they never had any trouble getting drugs and never, ever, ever got into legal trouble.)
  • Weirder, he then says these drugged out kids are going to want abortions paid for by the state. Well, they wouldn’t go looking for it if it weren’t possible to get them, Zo. (Also, being pro-life is not necessarily incompatible with libertarianism.)

Did you see it? Fiscal conservatives argue that people need the freedom to fail economically. Businesses need to fail. People need poverty as a motivation to improve their lots in life. Propping up bad ideas smothers good ideas.

This is no difference socially. People need to have the freedom to fail with their lives. (This is where social conservatives come in, as I’ll explain at the end.) Trying to protect people from their failures also limits their possibility to succeed—and in the case of social issues, grants the government near omnipotence.

In the end, Zo conflates thinking drug use is good with wanting to decriminalize drug use which is exactly like “liberals” conflating conservatives objection to social programs to conservatives being for the problems those programs are meant to solve. Against Social Security and Medicare? You hate old, sick and disabled people. Against welfare? You want widows (these days “single mothers” as if that were a condition visited on women randomly) and orphans to die.

I know that some libertarians posit that the country would magically become nearly utopian if government got out of all of our lives. They even point to the first century of this country’s existence as proof that you don’t need all these vice-laws and their attendant limitations on freedom.

In reality, the truth is that removing the various vice-laws would cause an uptick in the various bad behaviors they’re meant to restrict. How big, nobody knows (and some data seems to suggest it might eventually go down, even, in some situations).

There can be no doubt, the removal of the various nanny policies—and I’m including the left’s economic programs and the right’s morality programs—would have bad consequences. Poor people would be worse off. Some people would use drugs and ruin their lives. Exploitation. Sorrow. Despair.

But that’s what we have now! With a bonus that we get massive government intrusion into all of our lives. Poor people are trapped by welfare. Drug addicts are not only trapped by drugs, they might get thrown in jail for good measure. Divorce rates are enormous and somehow I’m unconvinced that legalizing prostitution would be a huge factor (free sex has never been easier to get).

Point is, while it would be worse for some, it would be better for most, because we would have the autonomy our Founding Fathers fought for.

It’s not that simple, of course: The Founding Fathers had a common, fairly rigid culture to conform to. A culture that valued honor, diligence, frugality, family, God and community. What we have now is a repressive government combined with a licentious culture—which is not a recipe for survival.

Traditional values are extremely important for our survival, but social cons should note how badly it works out when the government tries to enforce them. Social cons should also note, as Zo does, that the current “anything goes” point-of-view of the culture is highly destructive, and present their alternatives in that arena.

Not the government. The society. Social conservatives need to forge the bonds that tied us together in the past—and you can’t do that with laws, even if you could get the laws passed.

I’ve heard that kids today are having lower divorce rates than their parents. Why? Because they come from broken homes or have seen what broken homes did to their friends. I know people who swore off drugs (or alcohol, for that matter) when they saw what it did to their loved ones.

People can observe. They can learn.

What social conservatives have to realize is that the government is not their friend, and the libertarian point-of-view prevents the government from working against them—and the government will always end up working against them. A lot of groups and individuals think they can master the power of the state, but it can’t be tamed—it must be minimized.

Inadequate Words

My dad died Sunday morning. The call from the hospital came in at about 3:30 and I pounded out a few thousands words, which I never posted because, in all, they seemed inadequate.

I have this problem when anyone dies. Last year Freeman Hunt’s father died and I think I could only manage to choke out a short tweet of condolence, even though (or maybe especially because) I felt the loss deeply. Just as I do when DarcySport mentions her dad and you can feel the love and longing in the words. (One of my dad’s favorite movies was Coppola’s Peggy Sue Got Married, particularly when she goes back in time and sees her grandparents. I remember being singularly unaffected by that at the time and him saying something to the effect that I should wait a few years.)

So if you’ve sent condolences and gotten only a terse reply, understand it’s not that I’m not grateful. I am, and thank you all for your support.