Connor’s Blog

Going Places: Probably Closing Up Shop Soon

Hey Readers,

Well, I’ve had some good times with MNiC, had a couple viral articles, experimented with various ideas, and so on. Made some neat friends, angered scores of random people, and just a had an all around great time. Really, it’s been a blast, but I’ve got some other projects in mind, and I don’t have time to focus on this blog. Something similar will come along, I promise.

In fact, that’s why this blog is going on (probably permanent) hiatus: I have new goals that I need to focus on.

My writing site will still be up, and I’m hoping to make real headway with that in the next couple months, while I gather up a bit of headway on my new site. I’m not just going to fold this site up and go home, mind you. Some of the articles are going to move, and the whole site should stay up for a bit.

Why am I moving on? Well, this place never really found a particular reason for existing. It was my place to try stuff out, and I’ve tried that stuff. I want to try new things.

What sort of new things?

Well, that’s a surprise, but I will give you hint: We’re going places, you and I.

And, just by the way, thanks to everyone who’s made this site worth doing over the past couple years. You’re awesome!


Who We Should Actually Blame for the Baltimore Riots

Everybody’s talking about the riots in Baltimore. When everyone’s talking about something is usually a great time sit down and shut up, but, hell with it. I did sit on this for awhile, because, well, the last time I got annoyed by something on Facebook and wrote a post about it, I had to deal without about ten thousand angry internet people. Fortunately, they were idiots, and soon moved on to other hashtags.

Anyway, I’ve been noticing a lot of folks on social media, mostly young white people from suburban backgrounds, saying some version of this, “I don’t condone or condemn the rioters.”

Now, my first instinct is to say something along the lines of, “Both apathy and stupidity are contemptible, which makes you double contemptible.” But that’s not fair. We must resist these urges. Sure these people are being stupid, and they are wrong to have this non-opinion, but who isn’t stupid now and then? And who hasn’t just been too fed up to care at one time or another?

So, I think you’re wrong, and I’m going to explain, very carefully, why I think that.

The Single Important Thing to Remember

Even if you get mad at me and completely disregard everything else: Nine out of ten people in a crowd are always pretty okay. Remember that whenever you do anything, it will make life easier. It makes keeping the peace easier, it makes finding the justification for not acting like a dick a little bit less difficult on the hard days. Fact is most of the police are doing their jobs just fine, and most of the protesters are there exercising their right and responsibility of citizens to protest injustice.

The other thing you have to remember is that any time you get a group of ten or more people together, one of them is there to kick someone’s teeth in. It doesn’t matter if the group is police, lower class black kids, or nuns. It probably won’t even be the same one in ten from one day to the next. Sometimes it’s you, sometimes it’s me.

The other thing you have to remember is that burning cars make better news and better political fodder than conversations. Which now brings me to the meat of the issue.

CONDEMN. THE. RIOTERS.

Not just the rioters, mind you, and we’re getting to that bit, but absolutely, definitely, condemn the rioters. There’s no reasonable reason to be on the fence about this.

First off, and I’m speaking as a poor person here: If your reaction to your situation sucking is seeking out the property of other people in your situation and destroying it, you are shit. Shit. You deserve to be treated like it; scooped up, dumped in a pile with the rest of the shit, and sent somewhere far away from the nice things where you won’t stink things up. What color shit you are isn’t really something that needs to be considered in the process.

Now, some people are going to point out that change through violence is a very common method for changing things. You’re not wrong. However, change through violence involves the consequences of violence. Take a look at the places employing that on a wide scale. It’s not something we need here. It’s not something we want here. The only time change through violence is needed is when avenues for peaceful resolution do not exist . . . when they clearly do. As evidenced by the massive numbers of peaceful protesters and the small number of rioters.

The looters and rioters are making a shitty neighborhood worse. They are making it that much more likely that the cops in that neighborhood will be trigger-happy. They are undercutting everyone out there trying to show the world that they are people who deserve respect. Now, let’s pause for something everyone can enjoy:

 

The Worst Part

Okay, back to the serious bit. The worst thing these rioters do is rob any momentum for peaceful resolution. Right now, there is a crowd full of people who took a day off work they many probably couldn’t afford to take, to calmly hold signs and make a point. No one is ever going to read those signs, however, because two blocks over, a bunch of people who don’t have jobs (possibly because their reaction to anger is to smash windows and light things on fire) are looting drugstores and burning down peoples’ homes.

Guess where the news cameras are?

Not here.

What about where the responsible members of the community are working to clean up the mess left by the looters?

Nope, no reporters here.

By not treating the rioters like the angry and irrational sideshow they are, you’re condemning the protesters. Condemning them to continuing in the cycle in which they are currently stuck. You’re telling each and every peaceful protester, “I’d love to listen to what you have to say, but I’d rather just watch these people break everything you’ve built.”

Of course, the media has gone out of their way to stoke up racial tensions, lately. It is, of course, their job to bring to light cases of police abuse, but there isn’t even the pretense anymore of sticking to facts. Every effort is made to make everyone angry, get everyone, whatever their viewpoint, riled up. After all, angry people drive up the ratings. No one’s going to tune in to hear about the police and community leaders meeting to resolve tensions–so it’s best to be proactive and make sure that’s not ever an option.

There Are Two Sides to Everything

And they’re not really who you expect, usually. For example, you could say that the sides in this current unrest are black residents of Baltimore and the police, along with the entrenched power structure they represent. I say there are two sides to this, and you need to shake your preconceptions about the composition of those two sides.

Before I go any further, I want you to do something. I want you to divide this picture based on the Maryland flag into halves representing common interest groups. Horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, by quadrant, however you like, ok?

baltimore-flag-riots-maryland

As personality tests go, I think this is a pretty good one.

 

You want to know who to blame, and who to reach out to? Ask yourself this:

Which groups benefit from a state of disorder, distrust, and anger, and which groups benefit from peace and cooperation?

On one side, the residents who want to live in peace, and the police officers who want to do their job protecting people in reasonable safety; the people who tangibly benefit from peace and cooperation. On the other side you have the opportunists profiting from the chaos and misery; the looters, the politicians, and the media.

I think that makes it pretty clear who’s to blame for this current situation. You have the criminals, who benefit from the chaos, and from a community that distrusts law enforcement–criminals, by the way, is a category that includes police officers who fail to uphold the law. You have the media, for whom every dead black man or police officer (as long as they’re not both) is a bankable check, and you have the politicians, who always gain from a polarized electorate.

Don’t get distracted. Don’t get apathetic. And, if you do get angry, be smart about it. Make sure you align yourself with the people trying to make things better, and–if you can’t find any–be the first, and hope someone follows.

Basically, take a lesson from this giant guy in a Punisher T-shirt.

 


6 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Won’t Be President 2

6 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Won’t Be President

Hillary Clinton will never be President. There, I said it. In twenty months we’ll know if I’m right. But I am. Look, I’m not going to be making the case that Hillary isn’t formidable; she is an unusually capable person by most standards. If she weren’t, she wouldn’t be in a position of practically locking a nomination a year in advance. Hillary is a lot of things. Things like smart, driven, ruthless, political, and, yes, courageous, certainly determined. One thing Hillary will never be, though, is President.

There are a lot of very good reasons for this. No one of these would sink her, but any two or three by themselves would do it–and there’s two or three times that many to choose from. I’m not even going to bother adding “baggage” to the list as its own category.

 

1. She Can’t Believably Run as a Populist

money-hillary-clinton-flag

Dolla, dolla Hills ye’all!

It’s pretty clear that’s what she’s aiming for out the gate. It’s ridiculous. Hillary Clinton is not Elizabeth Warren. She’s a former Walmart Board of Directors member, and AIG donated more than a quarter million dollars to her foundation last year. Sure, Hillary Clinton honestly can say she’s not neck deep in big business connections–but only until she needs to come up for air.

Hillary Clinton, in person or through her foundation, has taken more money from big businesses and foreign governments in the past few years than any hundred of us combined will see this year. Listening to someone talking about how she understands the plight of the common man when she gets paid about three hundred grand an hour to talk is a little bit beyond absurd. For some people the fact that she donates the money to her foundation will mitigate the price–but it’s hard to charge that much to give a canned speech then turn around and run on being just folks, ya know?

 

2. She Can’t Believably Run as a Business Friendly Candidate

MNic Clinton BizFriend 2

But wait, she’s clearly in bed with big business and rich folks . . . so she can hit back at the Republicans by taking some their, “Yes, but what if you’re not poor and don’t want to become poor?” thunder. Right?

Maybe, if she hadn’t been part of the last administration. Barack Obama burned this bridge. Not actually, mind you–no candidate in history has accepted more money from large donors that him–but in public perception. He campaigned against Romney by suggesting the closing of tax loopholes for the ultra rich. Then didn’t even try to do so. Strange, that. Still, there’s just not anything a Democrat can do for an election or two that will make them seem like they’re pro-business, pro-job. Personally, I think even a small dip in the market running towards the election would sink Hillary.

She knows this, or she wouldn’t have jumped towards populism out the gate. Her plan may be to squeeze out the populists early so that she pivot towards the moderates as soon as possible–that’s probably smart, since the populists will mostly pick her over a Republican, if those are their only choices–but she’s not going to fool the folks she needs to fool to make that happen, any more than Romney did.

 

3. She Can’t Believably Run on Foreign Policy

Hillary FP 2

One thing that I think most everyone (myself included) expected would be a Hillary strength, as a rather hawkish Democrat and former SoD, was foreign policy. Up until a year ago, it looked like her only foreign policy legacy challenge would be Benghazi, and that was nearly put to rest. Now, her signature overtures are in tatters. China is aggressively building bases and challenging its neighbors. The Russian Reset apparently reset us a little too far back, all the way to when Russia invaded neighboring countries at will. And her Arab Spring and Middle East peace initiatives leave a legacy of genocide, razed global heritage sites, and rampant sexual slavery.

Worse still, for Hillary and the people suffering for her hard work, none of these problems appear likely to resolve themselves before the election. Even Benghazi is getting another look, now that it turns out she used a private email server during her tenure and deleted it all.

 

4. She Can’t Believably Run as a Symbol of Female Empowerment

MNiC Clinton GP

Hillary Clinton is a name everyone in the US, and most folks in Siberia, for that matter, knows. However, in an alternate universe Hillary Rodham is probably a state senator, maybe a Congresswoman, in Arkansas. Sans Bill, Hillary wouldn’t be running for President. What’s more, she knows it: Why else would she stick with him while he banged his way to, through, and out of the White House? Maybe she was fine with it in private, some people work that way, but to stick with him after it all came out is another story entirely.

Susana Martinez, Elizabeth Warren, even, yes, Sarah Palin could all run on the principle of, “A Woman Can Be President!” and they’d be right. Hillary’s theme starts the same way, and continues ” . . . If she marries a man who becomes President, ignores his infidelities, then rides his coattails to an uncontested safe Senate seat, and no one charismatic with a penis runs against her in the primary.”

Not exactly, “I am woman, hear me roar.”

One theme I’ve repeatedly run into, from people all over the political spectrum is that Hillary Clinton doesn’t really deserve to be the first female president. Is that sexist? Absolutely. However, it is only by running on the (also sexist) First Woman platform that Hillary opens herself up to this line of attack. The only thing she can do, really, is not open that door at all.

 

5. She Can’t Believably Claim to Grab The Other Clinton’s Voters

Bill Clinton appealed to white working class voters, minorities, and blue collar across the board. Granted, Obama proved that isn’t necessary to winning the Presidency–provided you can grab most Hispanics, and motivate the hell out the black community. Look at the states Bill won in 1992:

Who here likes Hillary’s chances of taking Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, or Kentucky? Yes, democrats have gained in new areas, but this doesn’t change the hard truth that the coalition that elected her husband is gone, and the coalition that elected Barack Obama is going to be hard to motivate to come and support her, thanks to the aforementioned points.

 

6. Hillary Clinton Can’t Believably Run as Anything

MNiC Clinton human person

I try to follow politics fairly closely. Not religiously, but a fair bit. The fact of the matter is I’m almost thirty, which means a lot of the problems I mistakenly thought my parents’ generation would solve are about to become my problems. I have absolutely no idea which policy opinions of Clinton I agree with. Because I have no freaking clue what she actually thinks about anything.

She changes her opinions on everything to whatever this year’s focus group says is polling well. She’s hardly alone in this among politicians on either side of the aisle, but she’s been in politics for a very long time, and she clearly cares about nothing as much as winning.

She wants to be President, because she wants to be President. If she ever had an actual reason to want to be President, she seems to have forgotten it a dozen or so policy changes ago.

The Upshot

Now, I might bite the bullet on that, if she seemed competent. The Reagan-Bush-Clinton trifecta was twenty years of very good times for the most part, because, while the three men were not entirely of the same political opinions, they were all, particularly the first and last, pretty good at the job of presidenting. On the other hand, the Bush2-Obama duo demonstrates rather forcefully that two nice incompetent guys with entirely different views on everything can screw things up in amazing and exciting ways. I suspect George W. Bush and Barack Obama are probably the nicest guys we’ve had in office in a fair while, but they simply suck at the job.

Will Hillary be competent? She’s tacked her name onto a number of successful initiatives, and shown a willingness to reach across the aisle. Both of these things are important in a leader. She has very few initiatives of her own, however, and her one semi-leadership role in Obama’s administration was, as we’ve already discussed. . . less than impressive.

Moreover, she’s proven that she’s pretty bad at actually running a campaign against a competent opponent. If Ted Cruz or a similar dunce wins the Republican primary, Hillary will almost certainly be President–assuming she makes it that far. Her campaigns tend to be one gaff after another–despite a top notch campaign staff. On the other hand, we all know that’s not happening. Anyone much good at threading the needle and grabbing moderates is going to win the presidency.

So, either Hillary loses primary, and another democrat takes a swing at it, or a republican takes her down in November. Either way, Hillary Clinton will never be President.


Nothing, Arizona, Here, to See

Nothing, Arizona

I’ve written the actual text for the blog post regarding my most recent long drive, but I haven’t had time to edit and resize all the pretty pictures that are going to go in it yet. So for now, there’s Nothing to see here. Literally. I went romping through West/Central AZ last week, and it was really a surprisingly nice drive. Lots of weird stuff, which you’ll find out about in later blogs. For the moment, I’m still visiting family in Las Vegas–hitting up the Bay Area next week–although I’ve been told I shouldn’t refer to Travis AFB as part of the Bay Area by locals.



Nothing-AZ-Arizona

Nothing to see here.

There’s a cell tower.

g nothing az for sale

Nothing for sale.

 

Nothing is technically a ghost town. Though it’s really just a convenience store . . . so it’s a ghost station, is all.

nothing at all

Nothing at all.

There used to be another sign here, that said:

Town of Nothing Arizona. Founded 1977. Elevation 3269ft.
The staunch citizens of Nothing are full of Hope, Faith, and Believe in the work ethic. Thru-the-years-these dedicated people had faith in Nothing, hoped for Nothing, worked at Nothing, for Nothing.

But no sign of it remains.

Nothing, nevermore.

Nothing, nevermore.

This raven watched me walk around, croaking and cawing. Apparently, Nothing is good enough for him.


Red Rocking It

This is going to be a short one. It’s getting late, and it’s almost dinner time. I am hungry and tired. I was going to put something together from either my fun time at Burro Creek on the drive from PHX to LV, or from the drive itself, but I spent all morning working on switching the theme over on my professional blog, and then, this afternoon, instead of writing about adventures, I decided to go on one.

f Siblings

My sister and I did a trip out to Red Rock, west of town. We hiked Calico Tanks. I took a lot of pictures, but you only get the few I’ve had time to cut down to blog page size as of now. It was a fun hike. Aside from the sibling thing, and despite way more people than I like to share a trail with, there was cool weather, and pretty much everything that does bloom was.

Including these trees which had always seemed quite lackluster the rest of the year.

f pretty purple large f pretty purple tree

 

 

The end of the trail has a really nice view of the Las Vegas Valley. On a clear day you can stand on the sheer red cliffs and see clear to Lake Mead.

f las vegas view

And of course one of the perks of having an archaeologist for a sister is that she knows where all the cool hidden stuff is.

f petroglyph

 


Religious Freedom, Business Owner Rights, and Basic Human Decency 2

MNiC Feat RF Right

Religious Freedom, Business Owner Rights, and Basic Human Decency

There’s been a lot of attention paid, lately, to the “religious freedom” bill in Indiana, and a similar one in Arkansas. I’m neither gay, nor religious, so it seems like I don’t have a horse in this race. However, I am a small business owner, so stupid reactions to this do hold a certain danger to me. I have some thoughts.

This is a complicated subject, so I’m trying to give every aspect its due.

Everybody Directly Involved In These Situations Is a Bit Dumb

question man

Maybe that’s being uncharitable, but it’s definitely my gut reaction to this. I’m not looking to step on anyone’s toes, but subjects like this always involve a bit of walking on feet . . . so I’m just going to call it how I see it throughout.

Let’s get one thing straight, right out the gate: If you refuse service to a gay person, you’re stupid. Your job is to provide a service; don’t overcomplicate it. If you’re a gay person and try to force someone to provide a service, you’re also stupid. Smart people take their money to someone who isn’t a dick, tell their friends not to shop there, etc., but, come on here, if you force someone to bake you a cake under penalty of legal response, it’s going to be a crappy cake. And, if you’re really lucky, that last statement will only be metaphorical. Besides, forcing someone to do something they don’t want, regardless of whether or not their reason for not wanting to is unfair and stupid, is always a little bit of a dick move.

More to the point, the law or its lack has little practical weight. If a florist doesn’t want to, uh, florafy(?), a gay couple’s wedding, with the law in place, they can say, “No, sorry, it’s against our beliefs.” If the law is rescinded, or even if it isn’t (if the florist isn’t a few roses short of a dozen in the brain bouquet) they’ll say, “Oh no, I’m so sorry I’m booked/vacationing/restocking/doing my taxes/whatever that weekend, but I can put you in touch with someone else.”

So, practically speaking, this a fairly pointless hullabaloo–the issue’s going to come up only when a hyper-religious, unprofessional, business owner who’s too stupid to lie well meets an extremely pushy gay person who’s very insistent on giving a homophobe his or her money–however, there is the principle of the thing, and principle is important.

Before we go any farther, though, we need to look at one important point of contention.

The Moral and the Legal

business, law, rights

We conflate these things often. We’re encouraged to, by the media, because it drives ratings, and the politicians, because it drives people to vote, but it’s a really bad habit. Legally speaking, the government exists to protect all the people equally. As far as I’ve been able to tell from researching it the Indiana law is neither as insidious as its detractors claim (or anywhere close) or as benign as its supporters claim (or anywhere close). The law cannot always be moral, and legalizing morality is intrinsically terrifying as a concept.

I think discrimination based on race, gender, etc. is morally wrong. And crazy stupid. However, discrimination is an important part of life. Actively discriminating between people is how we get things done. Every job interview is an act of discrimination, every date, and so on. The problem is simply which criteria it is morally okay to use as the basis of discriminating.

Clearly, most of these decisions are based on personal preferences and innate moral codes, making laws regarding discrimination are naturally problematic, practically and ethically. Practically, because discrimination is an act of intent inherently difficult to prove (How do you know if didn’t get the job because you’re a woman, or because the other guy just nailed his interview?), but also often unconscious as we all have biases we fail to adequately examine–it’s entirely possible for a woman not to get a job because her interviewer unintentionally let her gender color his (or her) subjective interpretation of the interview. Ethically, because legislating morality is essentially the majority enforcing their core beliefs on top of those of others; ironically, the exact same process which led to laws against homosexuality.

This isn’t to say the laws are not necessary, at times–life is not kind enough to provide for a every problem a perfect solution–simply these sorts of laws tend towards historical drift and general messiness.

The Business Aspect

squish humans pyramid

The problem, for me as a business owner, is also morally subjective: I don’t think people should be discriminated against, but I also have a hard time warming to the notion that anyone should  be forced to provide a service to anyone they don’t want to, whatever their reason. Really, both those things are pretty bad, aren’t they? There is not act which is not trampling on someone’s ability to live their life the way they want to. Ideally, we’d not need any legal recourse at all, and it would be handled morally. That would be great, if that road didn’t lead to color-coded separate drinking fountains, because people are jerks to each other.

The problem is, you can’t legislate people into not being dicks to each other. There’s always a way around it. Personally, I’m inclined to be nervous of a government opinion either direction. Laws intended to be legally clear-cut can be applied in ways unintended, and sometimes they squish people.

The Flipside Issue

chef, scenario, mirror, dual

Let’s look at two scenarios:

1) A gay man, Gary, asks a religious bigot baker named Bob to bake him a wedding cake, complete with two grooms on the top, and Bob refuses. Does Bob have the right to do so?

2) A bigot, Jeff, asks a gay baker named Bill to bake him a cake for his “Burning a Gay Guy in Effigy” party, complete with burning gay man on top. The baker refuses. Does the Bill have the right to do so?

The truth is there’s ambiguity here. You’ve got an opinion, and the moral choice isn’t difficult–but what about the legal one? The legal answer to both those questions is going to depend on the laws in place. A law that protects Gary in the first example could easily force Bill to bake the cake in the second. Or, alternatively, a law meant to protect Bob and Bill’s rights of free bake choice could leave Gary and Jeff both in the waiting room of the same civil rights lawyer after getting turned down. It’s entirely possible a poorly thought out law could leave all four of the men unhappy.

The point is, a law leaning too far towards protecting the business owner’s freedom of action, or the patron’s right to be served, could easily mess up life for both bakers and/or both patrons.

This does possibly affect me directly. If, say (and this is unlikely) Arizona passed a law that was too harshly geared towards the right of the patron to be served, might I find myself legally forced to write a book for someone? Let’s say someone hires me to write, Cooking With Queers: A Gay Cookbook, and then I find out it’s a book containing recipes for actually cooking gay people–would I find myself under threat of being sued for backing out? Am I stuck with it? As sure as I am that I do not want, and morally should not, write, Learn How to Juggle Babies in Ten Easy Steps, The Idiot’s Guide to a Really Great School Shooting, or Why You Should Definitely Vote Along Party Lines, I am even more sure that there are people out there who would love to see them written.

The Road Ahead

MNiC RF Road

These are, uh, extreme examples, but my point is, I worry about emotional people overreacting and then passing laws which really screw me over. And other people. But, mostly me. I think it’s pretty clear Indiana’s law isn’t going to last the year, one way or another, and also that the underlying problem that caused it isn’t going away for awhile.

When in doubt, though, I place my trust in the third item in the title: Basic Human Decency. Social change is a matter of reaching out to those who haven’t made up their minds, and, let’s face it, outliving those who have. Still, the long-term resolution to all sides of this issue can only rest in the moral world. Legal measures pushing people in either direction are, at best, a temporary band-aid, and, mostly, just an incitement of the louder and less thoughtful voices across the board. Most gay and religious people already coexist in relative peace because they understand the simple fact that people can not like each other and still treat each other with some reasonable facsimile of respect.

The truth is, people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The truth is, people deserve as much right to choose as possible, and sometimes there are conflicts. I’m not sure there’s a one size fits all solution to this. Like I said, life doesn’t always provide the option of perfect solutions. What I am certain of is that if we let anger, hyperbole, and deliberate miscommunication rule the debate, it’s going to screw over a lot of perfectly nice people on behalf of a handful of asshats acting under uncommon circumstances.

So please, regardless of where you fall on the issue, let calm and poise rule the day on this one. And have a little faith in basic human decency . . . and when in doubt, just don’t be a jerk.

 

 

 


Should We Let People Control Their Own Taxes? 7

MNiC Feat Taxes 2What if we had personal control over our taxes? Or, alternatively, we had to pay them, but had nominal control over where they went? I asked this of my friends, and got some really interesting feedback. It’s a good starting point.

First, there are pretty clearly three, or three-and-a-half tiers to consider here.

The Basic Options

Full Voluntary Tax Burden

In this scenario, everyone would choose what they paid in taxes. This is unlikely to be feasible, but one interesting thing I noted was that my liberal friends seemed to think they wouldn’t pay taxes if they didn’t have to, and my conservative friends seemed to feel people would. I have no idea what to make of that, really. In any case, it doesn’t seem especially workable.

Fixed Burden, Control of Funds

In this scenario, you’d still pay your fixed tax burden, but you’d have control over where they went. For example, if you owed ten thousand in taxes, you could send five to the National Parks Service, two to the Department of Education, two to the Military, and one to Medicare. And so on.

There are some really great pros and cons to this. The cons are pretty clear; how much funding do you think the IRS is going to receive? The pros are quite powerful, though; try to imagine a world where American citizens have direct control over how their taxes are spent, but the Veterans Administration can’t afford healthcare for returning soldiers, NASA doesn’t have a space shuttle, and the National Parks Service has to close for a couple weeks. Can you? Because I can’t.

Fixed Burden, Hybrid System

The fact of the matter–and there seems to be a wide agreement on this point–is that some things we need to spend money on just aren’t sexy enough to fare well in a popularity contest. This leads to the third system, which is the hybrid. Herein, a certain amount of tax money is not discretionary. It is down to elected representatives to decide how this money is spent.

The rest of the money is held in the hands of the taxpayer. This is the system we’re going to explore, because it seems like the one that might actually work, and we’re going to do so on several different scales.

The Salient Points

The Prediction Problem

One of the biggest pitfalls of this system is that it will make it very hard to predict budgets . . . at first. How can you accurately project longterm costs and expenditures if they are at the whim of the capricious public?

I think this will be a huge problem . . . at first. After a few years, it will likely be more predictable than the current system, since what gets funding won’t be at the mercy of special interests and political brinkmanship. Public opinion on many subjects is very stable, and it’s unlikely, barring major changes that would necessitate budget changes in any case, that wild swings would occur.

One of the strongest objections to this whole idea was summed up by one of my friends as, “You think balancing the budget is hard now?!” I would counter that we haven’t had a balanced budget in a decade-and-a-half, an official budget from either controlling party since 2009, and we’ve failed to even keep the current budget operating once, nearly three times, in the past two years. The argument that we shouldn’t replace a broken system because the new one might break seems . . . hollow.

The Flexibility Problem

Even if the system does reach stability, there is the possibility that it will be too slow to react to a major crisis, such as a war, health crisis, or financial drop, and this stability may be a real weakness, if it produces a system which cannot easily respond to any incoming emergency. Of course, we might avoid such timely and retrospectively wise decisions as countering the military threat of Iraq in 2003 or giving several trillion dollars to bankers in 2009. All snark aside, there is a certain level rapid response required, and some method of actionable response to crises is critical to any (long term) functioning government. If there were permanent voting centers, the Senate calling an emergency authorization vote would work. I’m sure there are other possible protocols which would circumvent the problem; it simply must be acknowledged so that one of them can be implemented.

The Apathy Problem

People don’t care about the issues. Right? I mean, I don’t care, that’s why I’m writing this, and you don’t care, that’s why you’re reading this, and the nation at large doesn’t care, that’s why there three huge television news channels running 24 hours a day. That’s why, in the last election, only (slightly less than) seven out of ten eligible voters took time out of their day to go vote.

That’s the main reason we still need people who do care to go and do the work: if people cared enough to research the issues and vote, we could just phase out representative democracy entirely in favor of the direct form. Sadly, that will never happen, because no one cares. Our elected representatives don’t agree on much, but they are unanimous in that, at least.

Sure, but I’ve caught a suspicion, or maybe a blind hope, that people will care a little more in a system where caring matters. And if I’m wrong, we can account for this by making the discretionary aspect default to the elected representatives in absence of direction, e.g. if you want to give one thousand to the military, and don’t specify where the other nine goes, it goes into the general use pool.

In other words, the people who don’t care go on as they always have, and the people that do care have a say in the system. Besides, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen evidence that most the people in power of a vested interest in more than staying in power. Even an apathetic idiot has more of a stake in fixing Social Security than your Congressman who’s drawing from his own special system.

Public Control

I think the biggest advantage to this idea is obvious: the increase in control this gives individuals. In our current system, if 51% of the people in your district disagree with you on what tax priorities should be, since their guy holds the purse. For example, there are five million voting conservatives in California, and three million voting liberals in Texas–how much say do you think these people have in how their taxes are spent?

Under this system, the winning side would still have more influence, but individuals would have a say in how things are spent. An environmentalist in a coal mining district could still put money towards alternative energy research or environmental improvements. A conservative man living in a liberal district could still direct money towards paying down the deficit, or military research, and so on. Better yet, a person who isn’t a cardboard cutout of a focus group could put her money towards alternative energy and paying down the deficit.

The problem with greater control by the people is, of course, less accountability, and the potential to be influenced by ad campaigns and PR. I think the last is a moot point in the Citizens United age, but multiple people brought it up in discussions, so it deserves mention. The lack of accountability is the main concern I see.

I’ll go one step further than that, however: Yes, this system involves trusting average people to do research, care, and make smart choices. However, when you trust your elected representative to make a decision, you are, in fact, just trusting the people who elected her or him to have done the research, cared, and made the smart choice. You’re in the same boat either way; only this way, you have a hand on the tiller.

A Step Towards True Democracy

This is a step towards greater democracy of a sort that was impossible at the founding of this country, but technology has rendered feasible.

You need representatives in a world of horse drawn buggies, and two month mail delivery times. That’s a fact. It’s either that or anarchy. Today, though, we could have permanent polling stations, and democratic control of most issues. We would still need representatives, and experts to draft the legislation, but we could–in principle–run this entire country, easily, without them. I don’t mean to open up debate on whether that would be a good idea, just that it’s technically feasible.

A Final Thought

I’ve talked mostly about the practical considerations here. This will help blunt the influence of big money and Citizens United. This will alleviate the practical issue of all-or-nothing districts where nearly half the participants are rendered voiceless each election by the larger group. This will make our massive democracy more sophisticated in reflecting the interest of individuals than two party platform rule could possibly hope to. And so on. In theory, all taxes are voluntary, and our budgets are determined by people representing our interests . . . so this whole change would simply be a streamlining of the system.

There is an ethical component as well. I am not a pacifist, but I think not forcing pacifists to pay for wars is the ethically superior option if possible. I am not against abortion, but I think not forcing people morally opposed to abortions to pay for them is the ethically superior option if possible. We live in the real world. Sometimes, we need people to pay for things they don’t want . . . but I believe the United States should emphasize ethical responsibility in government, something it has been failing miserably at for awhile now.

The simple truth is, money is power, and any time we, as a people, have the chance to give more power to the people of this country, we have an ethical responsibility to consider this. I maintain the burden of proof should not be on the side of those asking for more freedom, but on those who say it doesn’t belong to us–that they are better than ordinary men, and so we must surrender our own right to choose.

What I’m saying is that the question’s not, “Should we let people control their own taxes?” so much as, “What is the overwhelming reason we would deny them that right entirely?”

If the powerful want to keep that right exclusively, let them prove that this system is flawed. Of course, the only way to do that is to allow it to be tested in the real world–but hey, if it’s going to be such a miserable disaster, they won’t have any trouble getting us to give that power back, right?

What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea? Got a way to make it better?

 

 


Silver Linings and Bad Hike News 3

John Muir Trail News

Well, we didn’t get a slot for a hike on the trail, which is a huge bummer. We’ll probably still do some sort of hike, but we won’t have a chance to set any kind of record or hike a major trail. I’m a little bummed out and stuff.

Only a little, though. True to predictions, I did an incline bench press with 500 pounds. Now, to be clear, that’s not exactly hulk territory (the guy who used the machine before me had 540 on there), but here’s the thing; it’s the strongest I have ever been. And it’s a huge jump in just three months. I followed that up by doing 220 calf raises with a 220 barbell on my shoulders, in sets of 30 (one 40), interspersed with sets of 8 squats using the same weight.

Again, that’s mediocre-ish for a guy my size, but if I’d tried that in December, I would have passed out and/or killed myself. I turn 28 this Saturday, and I’m the strongest I have ever been. That’s a hell of a silver lining.

And, of course, there are other trails out there.

We’re still planning on doing some sort of hike, but I’m not sure exactly which one yet. I’ll keep you updated!

No Monday Cities of the Mind

I took a Day Off yesterday. Mostly because my sleep schedule has been bonkers lately–an interesting new sort for me. I’m usually either Awake or Asleep. Which, I know, is normal for humans, but I mean that if I’m having sleep troubles I’m awake for 24-30+ hours then out like the dead for 12, then rinse and repeat. My states of wakefulness have, for lack of a better description, oodles of inertia. I don’t have trouble staying awake, and I once slept through a car crashing through my bedroom wall. The last few nights, I’ve been sleeping in 2-3 hour bursts, and tired the whole time. Even melatonin hasn’t been able to impact this particularly.

Strange stuff, right?

Anyway, that’s all there is for me at the moment, have a great week,

Connor

 


Stairmastery

MNiC Feat Stairmastery2

Stairmastery

2 AM, the gym is almost empty. Everyone in the place is there because they’ve got a good reason, or because they’ve got nowhere else to go. I’m one of the former, I hope. I’m training for the Big Hike. Any time you’re on a Stairmaster the metaphor is there; you know, walking and walking, going nowhere. Working so hard to go nowhere.

Then a thought strikes me, Stairmasters are everywhere, someone became a millionaire by inventing this. 

So, that’s kind of interesting, right? I mean, things don’t pop up everywhere unless there’s a need for them. Even AoL could only pull that off for a few years. So that breeds the question, Why is there an overwhelming need for a way to climb stairs, without going anywhere, in a particularly compact manner?

Why does our society place such an emphasis on stairmastery? The answer, of course, is that the need to prepare for mountains significantly outpaces the occurrence of actual mountains. I’m not working hard to go nowhere, I’m working hard to that, when I get to somewhere, it won’t kick my ass.

The problem with mountains is that when they are there, they are there, and they’re not moving. The only way to be ready to climb the big ones is to climb small ones, or fake ones, whatever you can climb to practice for the push that really matters.

A lot of life is like that. We go through the boring (algebra, comma rules, etc.) so that we are ready for the things that matter. I wish people made that point more often, or earlier, or maybe just louder when I was younger.  Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

The reward is pretty fun. I can climb half again as many stairs a third faster than I could when I started training. I did 40 reps on the inclined leg press with eight 45lb plates on it last week, and it wasn’t especially difficult. My 28th birthday is next week, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to break past 500 pounds before then — and not that thing people do where they bend their knees five degrees, and then call it a rep. The full motion. I’ve never, in my life, been at a place where I can move a quarter ton with my legs before. I still don’t feel like I can do it when I look at the plates all stacked on there. I mean, that’s lifting myself, plus another of me on each shoulder. But the math works out.

On a (thematically) related note, I’m now a member of the team over at First Site Guide. I make actual money blogging as Connor Rickett. There were a lot of blogs I didn’t get paid for leading to this moment. And a lot of blogs I did get paid for, floating around out there with other peoples’ names on them.

So anyway, what I’m getting at is that it’s not about the journey, and it’s not about the destination, it’s about developing the necessary musculature and endurance to decide on whatever journey or destination you want.

 

 


Short Story: A Careful Man’s Death

MNiC Feat Careful Man

My death is coming, but I am not afraid. A careful man prepares for death.

Those were my father’s last words. My father was a careful man.

Yet in the end, a death found him.

The branches of the bleak forest creak and sway. I wonder if they’re strong enough to hold me. I could meet my death falling. Wouldn’t that be ironic? It is a risk, and I do not like risks. Like my father, I am a careful man. The branches creak, but they do not break. I picked this spot to see the distance, with a cliff behind so I need not worry about my back. My eyes see nothing can be seen but the grey-white branches, against a grey-white smudge of winter sky, separate, but never quite distinct. Something between a shimmer and a smudge. Dry old tree bones; waiting to be reborn, they hide now from Cold Death, as they hide me from my own.

So many trees met the Axe Death at my father’s hands, as he cut and cut, building mountains of their bones, to keep that same Cold Death at bay.

“In the coldest night of winter,” he told me, “the trees hold the heat of summer in their hearts.”

It was true of animals, too, and some nights we burned their fat. All living things carry the heat of summer within them.

In the end a death found him. But it was not the Cold Death.

I wait for my death in the tree near the hill’s crest, with a long view of the trail. I listen, but I hear nothing except the creak of the trees, the hiss of the iced over river down the way, the whisper of wind, the soft scuff of my boots on the bark, and the low rumble of my stomach. The branches yet hold me, because what my father told me was true: the heat of summer was in them, waiting to wake in spring.

Every spring we would plow the earth, and plant the seeds, from dawn until dusk, we pulled cold stones from hard earth each year. There were always more stones.

“The Hungry Death will come,” said my father, as he wiped the sweat from his eyes and stretched the aching muscles of his back, “but these seeds will scare them away.” Then he placed another stone upon the pile.

In the end, a death found him. But it was not the Hungry Death.

I remember the scent of the tilled earth. Here, in the forest, there is no smell but distant smoke and the nearness of the damp wool that clothes me. The Cold Death claims the rest. Are scents alive, I wonder?

SNAP!

The branch shatters, pieces dropping away, and me with them.

I fall, and I catch myself, dangling for a moment, above the stones. The branch I hold bends, but it holds me, too. I picked this place because there were branches to grab. Like my father, I am a careful man. I remember, staring down at the cold Stone Death below, that branches die even when trees live. They’re everywhere.

“The Small Deaths are everywhere,” my father told me, as we stacked the stones from that year’s field pile onto the wall, building it up. “And this wall will stop most of them.”

He groaned and massaged his back, then he lifted the next stone.

In the end, a death found him. But it was not a Small Death.

I lift myself back into the tree, choosing a thicker branch to stand on. I had passed it by earlier because it is more exposed, more visible. I am hiding from my death, but only until I can see it coming. I do not know what my death will be, but I feel it coming. I feel it hunting.

“Death hunts all of us,” my father told me, long ago.

“Even me?” I asked.

“Especially you,” said my father, nodding, and tugging at his wiry beard with gnarled hands. “Death loves to hunt children, because they are small, and easy victims; like lambs to wolves. Three of your sisters, and one of your brothers, the Deaths have taken.” He looked far away, then, at brothers and sisters I could not see, who lived only in memory. Then he shook his head and lifted me over a broad shoulder with a grunt, whisking me off towards the well. “Now off we go to wash our hands and faces, to keep the Sickening Death away.”

In the end, a death found him. But it was not the Sickening Death.

I am bored. Boredom is a friend of the Deaths. It robs the mind of sense, exposes weaknesses . . . I resolve to stay alert, and focus on the world. I hear what I have heard; the creaking trees. I see what I have seen; the swaying bone branches against the gray winter sky. I feel what I have felt; the dry wood beneath my hands. I smell what I have smelled; the smoke of burning wood.

The wind shifts.

Then I know my death, I see it because I have seen it all along, I hear it because I have heard it all along, I smell it because I have smelled it all along.

The Burning Death! The hungriest of deaths, who steals the air from your lungs and then meat from your bones. The death that feeds on the heat of summer within you.

I look behind, and there it is, the flicker and glow. Hidden until that moment by the cliff at my back.

I leap. I drop through the branches, they slow me, but do not stop me. I nearly fall—do fall, really, but I fall slowly enough, and land hard on the cold ground.

I run.

The Burning Death is hungry. It does not flow like water; it swallows the trees in leaps, bounding from one to the next, swallowing each whole.     

Water. The river. The river is my salvation. I run across the snow, and it robs me of strength. Each footfall breaks through the crust of ice. The ground is rocky beneath, because there are always more stones in the earth. One twist, one bend, one break, one sprain on hidden stone, and my Death will find me.

I slow down, because I am a careful man. A pace must be kept. Too fast is one death, too slow another.

“Never run faster than your footing!”

My father was angry. It scared me, because my father was never angry. He was kind, and patient.

“I’m fine!” I told him. My tone was not kind, or patient. Partly from annoyance, partly from the pain.

He sighed then, and looked me in the eyes. After a long moment, he said, “You will be, but you could have met a Stupid Death. And that is the worst kind. It is important to run, and to be fast, but you must know when to slow down, when to stop, my son. Do you understand?”

I nodded.

“Good,” he said. “And today, you learn how to set a broken arm, but first I will go get some snow. The ice will help the pain.”

In the end, a death found him. But it was not a Stupid Death.

The ice on the river is thin. Not from lack of cold but from the strength of the current.

I stop.

The Burning Death or the Freezing Death?

I go down on my belly and slide across it. The sheets crack and break, and the water feels like the Burning Death as it soaks through my clothes. I manage to stay on top of the pieces. My hope is to be near enough the far shore to feel the bottom before I plunge through.

Hope is a fool’s friend. Near the middle, where the current is quickest, the ice hangs above the water, and I plunge down through it. Then I am under. I am in the black. I am tumbling against stones and ice, indistinguishable. I feel their strikes but not the pain, for numbness has taken me. Still, I pull myself along. I push against the bottom, I push against the ice above.

There is light ahead, and I scramble desperately towards it. I nearly miss it, but arrive in time, with a thud of impact that I hear through my ears and through my flesh. Even numb, that hurts.

I hear the snap of a bone in my arm. I see the shock impact as a flash of light within me.

I am pinned against a large stone, in center stream, where the motion of the water has created a narrow space of clear water around it. I follow it up, and I find air. The air between the fire and the ice. I pull the knife from my belt and hack at the crust of ice until there is a hole large enough for me to squeeze through. The desperate hacking costs me half the knife’s blade, as it snaps, but it buys me my freedom.

I haul myself out, gasping for air. My heart pounds and I massage my chest.

My father massaged his chest and gasped for air, the day he died. He had felt the death coming, and he had, as he said, prepared. My father worked every day to stop the deaths, from the rise of the sun to the setting, and past.

A death found him in the end. It was the Fear Death.

“That is the way the Deaths,” he told me, once. “They hunt in packs. Like wolves, running from one chases you into the path of another.”

My salvation is short lived. The fire is racing towards me, the air is burning. I had been wrong about the river. The fire leaps across it above me as easily as a cat onto a fence. Burning I submerge myself beneath the cold water, watching the sky flash dancing orange above me.

It burns beneath the water, too. A minute later, my lungs begin to burn, too. I risk surfacing, and the shelter of my cave in the ice gives me clear air enough to breathe. Even here, though, there is the tang of smoke. The Burning Death is swift, and it moves quickly past in search of other things to devour. I am, for the moment, alive.

When I buried my father in the cold dark ground, I piled above him the stones which I had pulled from the earth while digging the grave. It was then that I said my last words to him. I did not say that Death could not be avoided, only, at most, chosen. He knew that, and in learning had taught me. The last thing he had taught me.

I only cleared my throat, and, placing my pack on my shoulders, said, “I am going now.”

I left the stones of the field and the stones of the walls, the fields, and many other things I had loved. Another would find them. And I went searching for my Death. All my Deaths. To find them, and to kill them.

I climb out of the water. My limbs are stiff and clumsy. The Cold Death would take me, but ground is littered with the burning trees of the fire’s passing. So as the Cold Death saves me from the Burning Death, and the Burning Death saves me from the cold.

I splint my arm while it’s still cold.. I don’t know if it lessens the pain; if so, I’m glad to avoid the full of it. I tie a long branch to it, the end wrapped in kindling and leftover cloth, soaked pitch. I build up the fire. Hours pass. The cold fades. The hunger grows.  

I hear then a howling that is not the wind. The light of the fire returns from twin pinpricks in the shadows. 

A Bloody Death is coming for one of us, then, to save the other from the Hungry Death. A growl from the darkness. My stomach growls in answer.

In my good hand, I hold half a knife.

My attacker rushes forward. I plunge the branch tied to my splinted arm into the fire, and it bursts to life even as I swing it forward and rush at my attacker. In a liquid twist of fur and muscle, breaks off to circle around, uncertain. It growls and fangs flash red in the firelight. I grin back. A careful man prepares for death.