Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Your Money for the Poor or Your Life – I’m Still Thinking!

Could You Pull the Trigger for Justice?

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. ~George Washington

…we should be clear that the institutions of democracy – free markets, a free press, a strong civil society – cannot be built overnight, and they cannot be built at the end of a barrel of a gun. And so we must realize that the freedoms FDR once spoke of – especially freedom from want and freedom from fear – do not just come from deposing a tyrant and handing out ballots; they are only realized once the personal and material security of a people is ensured as well. ~Barack Obama, speech, Nov. 20, 2006

In a previous blog post I mentioned an academic couple I visited in Philadelphia. They were typical academics, with the standard obligatory disparagements of the former President and so forth. One conversation that stuck with me was the husband’s view of taxation. He said advocates for low taxation believe they will be rich some day, and that’s why they don’t believe in high taxes for the affluent. It was at this point things “got busy” and I was released to ponder his statement on my own. My reaction was that this was an awfully complex line of thought, and seemingly improbable that the majority of poor or middle class people would have such forethought and hope. Assuming he was right, however, I wonder if that’s a bad thing. Is wanting low taxes because a person thinks their industriousness could lead to a prosperous lifestyle a bad trend? Is it perhaps better than the alternative, believing one will never be rich, so let’s take what they can from those that are?

if you want to take shots at people
target Phil Knight and Bill Gates
how they own the products
and they got the goods
how they act like they care
but they’re just Robbin’ Hoods. ~Steve Coleman, "I Wanna Hear a Poem"

Recently I’ve become a follower of Penn Jillette's vlog. Penn Jillette is the larger, louder half of Penn and Teller’s magic and comedy show in Las Vegas; they are also the stars of a Showtime television debunking show called Bullshit! It took me some time to come around on Mr. Jillette because he struck me as an off-putting atheist (which is true) with intolerance for religious thinking and worldviews that don’t fall in line with his own paradigms (which is not.) He is a blocky, libertarian, free-market capitalist, an opponent of the War on Drugs, scientifically-inclined bull-in-a-china-closet showman that plays the double bass in a jazz band. Basically, he’s an older version of me with big hair. Penn, in a vlog asking his audience to help pen a message to Glenn Beck (pun intended) on libertarianism, he raised an issue I ask myself; I would greatly appreciate feedback on this.

In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery? ~Saint Augustine

In the aforementioned vlog Penn addresses the issue of justice. The magician begins by equating the government to a gun, that is to say the government operates functionally by threat of force. As he puts it, “government is force.” If government is an extension of the will of the people, in theory this must mean that the government ought to use force only when we would as individuals. Penn goes on to say that if he had the fortitude, he would be willing to kill a man to stop -- and I think by extension this would include killing as punishment -- rape, murder, and to protect private property.

Afterwhich is the crux of Penn’s pondering:

I don’t think I would use a gun to take money from somebody to start a library. I don’t think I’d hold a gun to someone and say, “You need to go to school.” I don’t think I’d hold a gun on someone and say, “We have to get some money for art.” I don’t think I’d hold a gun on someone and say, “We gotta put a man on the moon.”

This leads to a central argument of mine that I’ve never heard anyone give a good response to. What I want to make people wrestle with is the notion that the government we endorse will use violence against its citizens to acquire their property. So, I put it to others, and I want to put it in as demanding a light as I can. If you came across a beggar and Bill Gates at the same time, had a gun, and knew there would be no consequences for your actions, would you rob Bill Gates and give that money to the beggar? Would extenuating circumstances change your mind? For instance, what if the man was homeless because he lost his house to pay for his young daughter’s cancer treatment? Could you pull the trigger to rob Bill Gates to give to another person, even in genuine need?

Could you pull the trigger for justice? If not, what does it say about us that we are willing to let the government do our dirty work? If so, what does that say about you? What does that say about us?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

You're Going to Suck Somebody's Blood Out -- When Vampirism Stopped Being Funny

“I like to think we live forever in some form.”

“What, like a zombie? You want to feast on the flesh of men? Because I hear women do that already.”

“Someone’s bitter.”

I came across the blog I Shoulda Been a Stripper by the pseudonymous Chrissy Starr. Her brain candy blog is a boon for typical comic-book reading fare: you know, lonely overweight guys with poor social skills who spend too much time playing video games and blogging – and, um – people who that doesn’t describe at all, like me. In her latest installment, Chrissy recounts a television program about real-world vampires and their habits. I wanted to share my inner monologue as I was reading Miss Starr's self-reflective vampire post.


Here are some of the characteristics of vampires that I think I might possess.

1) They have inverted circadian rhythms; the internal clock that regulates biological processes in a 24 hour period. They're usually known as "night owls".

Chrissy: Check

Me: I have been known to stay up late and fight insomnia (written at 1:27 a.m.).

2) They are unpredictable, moody, temperamental and overwhelming.

Chrissy: Check.
And Check.

Me: So I can get emotional sometimes. Nobody’s perfect.

3) Some real vampires are attracted to blood and find different means for attaining it. Well, I don't like blood, per se, but I'm always up for a Bloody Mary.

Chrissy: Check.

Me: Cheers.

4) They're photosensitive and sunburn easily. Next to Nicole Kidman, I am THE most Caucasian person you will ever meet.

Chrissy: Check.

Me: I am pretty pasty. Sunblock SPF 50 over here, go’vner.

5) Their relationships tend to be disasters because of their self-centered natures. See blog.

Chrissy: CHECK.

Me: If that’s true – and I’m not saying it is – but if that’s true, I think that’s more the fault of being raised an only child.

6) They may go through jobs and lovers like Kleenex.

Chrissy: Check.

Me: Okay, this shit ain’t funny anymore.

7) They have a talent for attracting attention.

Chrissy: Check.

Me: …


So, maybe I need to be a little less critical of Twilight readers in the future.

I’m on a Plane with Bob Costas and We’re All Gonna Die

Every time I fly I have comedian Ron White’s voice in my head, telling the story of a plane flight he was on.

We had engine trouble and lost some oil pressure…. Everybody on the plane was nervous but I’d been drinking since lunch and I was like, “Take us down, I don’t care.” Hit something hard, I don’t wanna limp away from this thing. The guy sitting next to me is losing his mind – apparently, he had a lot to live for. He said, “Hey man, if one of the engines fail, how far will the other one take us?”

“All the way to the scene of the crash. Which is pretty handy ‘cause that’s where we’re headin’. I bet we beat the paramedics by a half-hour. We’re haulin’ ass.”

Which is pretty much my way of looking at it. The only difference between me and Ron White is a couple of decades and points on a sobriety test. On my August 1 trip to New York City from Chicago, I flew on Jet Blue. The most surprising thing was a crowd gathering around what turned out to be a celebrity. A celebrity? On my flight? How quaint. A woman next to me asked who it was, and though this person’s back was turned by his profile I was able to correctly guess that it was sports commentator Bob Costas. If you don't know, Bob Costas has an adorable, Parkinson's-free Michael J. Fox thing going for him. I’ll say this about the man, if anyone could get me to love the Great American Naptime that is professional baseball, it’s Bob Costas: that man can make golf tolerable. Costas also has one of the best lines in cinema.

It was a strange experience seeing Bob there, because even though I get star struck easily, I had already met him. The only sensation stranger than meeting a celebrity is meeting a celebrity and feeling like it is old hat. I can only imagine that the coolest thing about personally knowing celebrities is being able to talk about them prosily. After seeing him, it struck me that if I had died in a plane crash, I would suddenly claim a tiny modicum of fame by proxy; suddenly, I would have died in the flight Bob Costas died on. My family could even refer to it that way. “When did your son die, Mrs. Minnihan?” “It was a couple years ago…well, you know the flight that famous sports announcer died on?”

But to my chagrin the plane landed just fine, as you could probably ascertain by now. If I ever did die in a crash of some sort, I do hope someone writes a famous song about me. On a related note, I just watched the movie Josie and the Pussycats and loved it! It totally exceeded my expectations. A funny clip can be seen here. If the pilot and crew had decided to ditch the plane, it would be great if they had said the line “take the Chevy to the levy” (5:17).

A Midwestern Hillbilly in Harvard Square: Seeing and Being Unheard

Last August I took a trip to the East Coast and I wanted to write what I hope will be a series of blog posts on that experience. I’ve been reminded twice now in the past twelve hours of my time in Boston. The first occurred last night in an experience I delight in. I wanted to do some light reading before bed and began reading Tuesdays With Morrie. I have to admit, I’m probably a quarter the way in and it’s already tugging at my heartstrings. The author, Mitch Albom, gave an account of Harvard Square and I was transported back to that beautiful locale. Probably my favorite part of traveling is knowing what an author is talking about when they speak of exotic (to me) places. At the moment, I’m listening to Penny Lane and, while I’ve never been to England, can’t help but imagine there are plenty who know such supple vicarity. The picture provided is my second favorite place in Boston.

How vastly my loneliness was deepened,

How poignant and amplified the world before me seemed…

Pardon the egg salad stain, but I’m in love. ~Billy Collins

Things Left Unsaid

The latest remembrance occurred as I was going through my morning media breakfast and listening to Penn Jillette's vlog. His latest vlog theme seems to be an introspective examination into the effects of technology; today’s topic is cellphone checking in conversation. This topic shot me back to Cambridge and my time spent as a fish-out -of-water. In the video, he talks about his fear of asking rhetorical questions because people will whip out their phones to fact check.

While in Boston I was lucky enough to be put up by some very nice Bostonians who were friends of a friend. They were incredibly generous people and it made my experience richer and me less poor. Maybe it was the aura of Boston itself, but I also felt I was in the presence of very accomplished people in early middle age. When in that part of the country, I was puzzled by a certain aspect of conversation. While speaking, if there was some kind of interrupting sound or moment, the people I was with would take note of it, and return to the conversation without letting me finish my point. This was probably the most off-putting of my experiences in New England and I wanted to know if others had noticed this as a trend in their own lives?

City of Brotherly and Self Love

A similar experience occurred in Philadelphia. I stayed with an academic couple who were magnanimous in their hospitality, to say nothing of their intellects, with a combined I.Q. of probably close to 300. I was looking forward most to staying with them in many ways, since professors are my rock stars. Food and accommodation were not spared and for that I am utterly grateful. And yet, a similar conversational emerged, but this time, one of them would pontificate a point and then suddenly “become busy” and I was left feeling like the front wall of racquetball room.

My eastern odyssey left me to reflect on the difference between there and here. In the Midwest, we have plenty of food, but not a lot of entertainment; on the East Coast, they have lots of entertainment and culture, but things people typically need, like parking spots and restrooms, are scarce. So, in the Heartland, people have lots of what they need and little in terms of wants; in the East, they have lots of museums and leisure activities but a good hearty meal and a spot to relieve oneself can be a trek to find. This played out in the hospitality of others: they gave me the things I needed (a bed, bathroom, and sometimes food), but extended little in the way of social exchange. This lead to the first several stops of my excursion quite lonely, a bitter experience which made the end of my trip so much the sweeter – which I will discuss later.