Monthly Archives: July 2012

Thoughts about life while chasing the Sun

So here I am.  Sitting on a 5 hour plane ride to California on a Sunday, for work.  All of this free time gives me a lot, maybe too much time, to think.

I crack open my laptop and start writing.  It’s easy and I enjoy it – these words just flow out of my mind and through my fingertips as fast as I can type them.  Something about writing on this dear old blog of mine I just enjoy.

Thoughts of a Traveler

The one thing that I come back to most often is “What do I want to do with my life?”  For some reason I’m stuck with the feeling that I need to do something “big” with my life.  I think almost everyone has that feeling to some extent, but I’ve always had the sense in my gut I need to do something “more.”  I’m not completely sure what that “more” is either.

What I want to do keeps coming back to the idea that I want to do something that affects people.  I want to share ideas and somehow help a person or two.  I’ve thought about writing, politics, and even missionary work of some kind.  Maybe that’s why I like keeping up with this blog so much – a part of me feels like getting a few ideas down is accomplishing something.

I remember when I was a kid I was sure I was destined to play in the NFL.  I didn’t realize just how obvious it was that was never going to happen, but I think it comes back to that feeling I’ve always had that I need to do something “special”.  I’m not sure if that’s just ego talking, ambition, a desire to help people, or some combination thereof.

Helping People

I do know that ultimately whatever it is that I choose to do I want it to be for the benefit of others. I know I have been thought a lot in my life – stuff that I’m pretty sure is above what the average guy has probably been though.

Somehow I’ve managed to make it through all that.  That has to mean something and give me some insight I can share with some other person out there that might benefit from my experience.  Maybe it’s those very bad experiences in my life that drives me to really want make things better.

That’s kind of what draws me to Politics.  The idea of public service and the ability to influence things for the better seems exciting and almost ideal.  I could seriously see myself holding political office and writing books to influence public opinion – hopefully for the better.  Neither of those things will probably happen, but the idea feels right.

Travel and Writing

I am so passionate about traveling and writing.  I feel like both have helped me grow almost infinitely.  Every time I travel somewhere I learn something new.  I learn something about the people, about the culture, and about myself.  Most importantly my perspective changes – I become more global – and I think that is something a lot of people in America need.

Sometimes when I talk to people and they are stuck in this little bubble they’ve built for themselves it literally makes me angry.  Ignorance is fine, but intentional self-perpetuated ignorance is the fucking bane of my existence.

For me, writing about travel has been critical too.  Following up on your ideas, defending them, doing a little research, and realizing it when you’re wrong.  That has been key.

A Southern Boy from a broken home

By all accounts I should be trailer trash.  I mean this literally.  My parents were married at 17, neither have a high school diploma, both have long standing addictions to drugs, I can’t remember a time when my Dad held down a job or ever being insured, yet somehow I’ve made it.

I’ve made it out without developing dependence.  I’ve made it out without a criminal record.  Most surprisingly and unexplainable to me is that I have made it out with desire.  A desire to be open minded, to learn, to explore, to spread ideas, to push my limits, and to thrive.  I’m not sure where it even came from.

If anything THAT is what makes America great.  If a guy like me can make it anyone can.  When I look back on my life I feel so fortunate, so amazed, and almost baffled that I somehow defied the odds.  I know there is some other kid, just like me, out there that needs guidance.

In my life there were a handful of people that helped me get by.  Coaches, mentors, teachers, and friends that lead the way.  It seems obvious now, after this long rant, why I feel the need to do “more”.  If I don’t do something worthwhile I am wasting this gift that was given to me.

Romney Flip-Flop Montage

I found this montage of Mitt Romney “flip-flopping” on various issues over the years. I thought it was interesting – especially since a lot of my right-wing friends and acquaintances are such avid supporters of Romney’s conservative positions. I personally think Romney should have just been honest with the American people and played the politically moderate card.

5 reasons I’m Pround (and sometimes ashamed) to be an American

1. When I was in Guatemala I noticed these two kids carrying fire wood to their families a few miles up the hill. It made me realize how fortunate I was as a child to go to school during the day. It made me ashamed for not appreciating it enough.

2. In a small village near Lake Atitlan, Guatemala I met two of the happiest women I have ever come across. They made all of their clothing from scratch – including the fabric and dyes. It made me realize just how lucky I am to have a closet full of clothes. I also realized how much I took for granted.

3. A few months ago in Japan I befriended a few of the locals. I was amazed at the number of languages they knew and their knowledge of regional history and religion. I said a few words in Spanish and told a few stories about American history. Then I remembered what a conservative friend said in regards to learning a second language not too long ago: “If you’re in America, you speak English. Why should I learn Spanish for them?” Then I realized most of us can’t even name the capital of Mexico (hint: Mexico City).

4. At a church right outside Antigua, Guatemala I was told this women walks about 5 miles a day to attend Mass. I drive a mile to the gym, to run 5 miles.

5. While I was in New York City I was amazed at the number of people from around the world and their excitement to catch a glimpse at Lady Liberty. America is still the default symbol for freedom and liberty around the world. I’m proud of that.

The President isn’t Stupid – He will not tackle Gun Control

The President has said publicly that he will not use what happened in Colorado as an opportunity to pass more gun control laws. I’m inclined to believe him.

Via Salon.com

White House press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday that Obama will not push any new gun laws. He said Obama is committed to preventing gun violence, but through “existing law” only. The president “believes we need to take steps that protect Second Amendment rights of the American people but that ensure that we are not allowing weapons into the hands of individuals who should not, by existing law, obtain those weapons,” Carney told reporters on Air Force One.

It doesn’t take much to see a fight against the 2nd Amendment is virtual political suicide – something Obama doesn’t want to tackle in an election year.

Via the Pew Research Center:

Despite the most recent shooting in Colorado public opinion remains divided when it comes to Gun control.

“Public opinion about gun control has changed little in recent years. In the latest Pew Research survey on the topic in April, 49% say it is more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns, while 45% say it is more important to control gun ownership. Opinion has been divided since early 2009, shortly after Barack Obama’s election.”

What this means for Gun Control

With the election in sight Obama will not try to tackle another controversial issue. Even with the opportunity at hand Obama will undoubtedly call of his democratic dogs when it comes to Gun control laws. He doesn’t want to be put in a position where he has to support (or not support) a controversial new federal mandate. He doesn’t want to piss off conservatives and give them more incentive to make it to the poles or anger liberals and convince them to stay home. This eleciton cycle – Gun control is a lose, lose topic for Obama.

If Romney is smart maybe he will put Obama in a position to pick a side. Forcing Obama to piss a few people off is the only hope Romney has and is something Obama has done a great job doing to Romney so far.

I think conservatives can breathe easy.

Taxing Amazon.com Purchases: The Good, the Bad, and the Future of Tech

It looks like 12 states governments could be taxing our Amazon.com purchases in the near future.  (I hate you, Government!) That means some of us will be saying saying “goodbye” to tax free purchases on high-end electronics and home goods and cringing at the extra 10% added on to our dreaded subtotal. Cash strapped state Governments are set to collect, but is it worth the cost to the customer and Amazon.com? Methinks not.

How Taxing Amazon Could Hurt Everyone

If Amazon.com is taxed I become poorer and so does every other middle class online shopper.  Taxes like these hit the poor and middle class the hardest too and may actually effect where we shop.

I know I have went to Amazon more than a few times to make large purchases on electronics and other items simply because I knew I could save a few bucks by avoiding the tax (plus Amazon has great prices).  I doubt Mitt Romney considers such things when he’s buying a new laptop or TV.

More taxes also means bad things for Amazon.com.  Many consumers head online instead of their closest retailer to make their purchase just to save a few bucks.  If the Government takes away the cost incentive and we consider other factors such as paying for shipping and waiting for the item to come in the mail (waiting!?) it becomes clear Amazon may take a hit.

How Taxing Amazon Could Help Everyone

On the other hand there is an argument to be made that taxing Amazon.com will do more good than bad.  For one, retailers may see an increase in revenue.  That could mean (maybe) more jobs for the local economy.

Also, since a lot of states are barely making ends meet with their current tax revenues a few million (or billion?) in revenue could mean additional public services.  And while most of us in the middle and upper class may not benefit directly from the tax – some people relying upon State Government services may reap the benefits.  However, it is worth mentioning no State Government has outlined where the extra tax money might go – or who it might go to.

Basically, an income tax on Amazon.com will serve as a transfer payment from the middle class to the poor and to the Government.  It’s hard to say if that’s a good thing or not, but somehow I doubt that anyone (especially the poor) will see much benefit or increased Government service as a result of taxing Amazon.

The biggest loser will undoubtedly be the middle class and Amazon.com.

What this means for Technology and the Internet

Honestly, I think this is bad news for technology and the internet.  Internet companies have long fought problems inherent in online shopping – such as building trust with customers, convincing people to pay shipping costs, and getting past the “I want it now” culture.  Taxes have actually been a safe haven.  The one incentive customers have (not withstanding convenience and choice) to shop on the internet instead of their local department stores.

The internet has long been the new Wild West and taxing Amazon.com is just one more small step to regulate it.  Attempts made by ISPs and the Federal Government to regulate the internet and online communication is just one angle – taxation is another.  I fear that establishing a precedence of taxation on internet sites will only serve, in the long run, as the first step in a long line of techniques to implement further regulation and governance.

Amazon.com has worked for over a decade to be competitive in the marketplace.  It has done so mostly with great customer service and by doing a great job adjusting to market demands.  Only the customer has benefited.  I say leave them alone and let retailers figure out how to compete without the help of the Government.  The rest of us will benefit with lower prices and better service – something more taxes can never promise.

 

Aurora, CO Mass Shootings: Lets talk about Culture and Gun Control

What happened in Auora, Colorado was a tragedy. Everyone can agree with that. The media is taking this as an opportunity to parade it around the television and internet – which I have no problem with – to debate the most obvious topic on hand: what does this mean for gun control.

The same talking points are being regurgitated across the news outlets and the respective conservative or liberal leaning stations are standing their ground without much bend or surprise in their arguments. So the story goes, but gets us nowhere, because frankly guns aren’t the problem in America – it’s the culture.

We are breading a culture of violence and a desensitized populous unphased by the slaughter of human life. We are a modern day Spartan society. Warriors are heroes looked upon as Gods of society.

Worse – the “gangster” or criminal mentality is rewarded by praise from peers and television. Even I find myself rooting for drug dealers and murderers on TV.

Joining the military to kill our enemies is taken lightly it seems and greeted with a “thank you” from society. Killing a few civilians a few thousand miles away with a drone has literally become as easy as a video game. Sometimes I wonder if we take the loss of human life seriously enough or if the constant bombardment of death has made it invisible.

Liberty without Responsibility Fails

I’ve argued before the importance of maintaining our rights to bear arms – it’s essential to our liberty as individuals and as a country. However, we cannot have liberty without responsibility, period. That responsibility includes instilling values of right and wrong in our children and holding our peers in society to the highest possible expectations. Liberty is only successful in combination with morality.

Among developed nations we are the most violent. We aren’t killing each other for food, drug cartels aren’t our overlords, and we aren’t fighting for survival; yet because of some crude sense of enjoyment – the incentive provided by a perceived benefit granted by society as a whole – we embrace violence. Sometimes, if enough people die, we hear about it on the news.

Where do we go from here?

Over the next few years and decades we basically have thee choices. We can either concede to violence until the people finally beg our Government to play the parent and take our 2nd Amendment right way (or at least strictly impede it) or we can change the current prevailing culture. I think most of us, even the most liberal of us, would prefer the latter.

We teach peace and the infinite value of the human life. We demand personal and social responsibility. We instill these facts in our children and our peers.

People not the Government

I am a strong advocate for action and culture change brought upon by the people and not by our Government simply because we have been shown time and time again that no one can force a group of people to behave.

When the Government tried out prohibition it failed, the drug war is failing us now, and I imagine that for America (where the gun culture is so strong) an attempted law prohibiting fire arms would fail too – or at least only keep them out of the hands of law abiding citizens. So, to me, the only logical thing to do is to hold ourselves personally accountable.

Why Taxation is Necessary

If you have been reading this blog for any amount of time you probably know that I am generally against taxation and especially against increased taxation.  That being said SOME taxation is absolutely necessary.  Necessary for the running of a country and certainly necessary to increase the overall standard of living for everyone involved.

Arguments Against Taxation

There are about as many arguments against taxation  as there are opinions.  Since taxation is not voluntary, but mandatory – people claim it is equivalent to stealing, thus immoral.  People claim the Government creates no value and much of the value of taxation is lost in transfer cost as it runs through the Government – so it’s not worth it.  Others simply claim the market and capitalism could do it all better.  Perhaps some or all of that is true, but I still contend (some) taxation is necessary and beneficial.  Here’s why.

Collectivism is sometimes necessary:

I am the secretary of my Home Owners Association.  We have 184 houses in my neighborhood and of those less than 25% pay the voluntary annual fee of $25.  Yep, $25, a year.  This isn’t a poor neighborhood either – I mean we aren’t rich, but everyone there could afford $25 a year!

The worst part is 100% of the fees collected go back into the neighborhood via landscaping, painting, upkeep, etc.  There is no paying government employees – no nothing!   Yet, despite our best efforts, we cannot get the other 75% of home owners to participate.  Instead they pass the buck and people like me end up donating flowers and pine straw every so often to pick up the slack.  The classic free loaders problem.

Similarly, without a mandatory taxation of the population I wonder what the US would really look like?  Would it be a society where a few responsible citizens do a disproportionate amount of work to pick up the slack of the free loaders?  Would it be a society where everyone’s standard of living was lower because working together was just too much work?  I think the answer is most obviously yes.

While I would never implement a mandatory “tax” on my neighborhood – if the consequences were national – I think almost everyone would agree a tax is necessary and even beneficial.

What I learned in the Third World:

When I was in Guatemala I really began to appreciate the idea of “public good” and the services that are generated via tax dollars.  Sure Guatemala and most of the rest of the third world has a lot more problems (corruption) than taxation, but the lack of services really highlighted a few of the things we have here in America.

For example, Guatemala is one smoggy place.  There is no or little Government regulation or enforcement of air quality control.  There are no catalytic converters on cars and from what I could tell – companies could pretty much pollute uninterrupted.  In America we put a tax on pollution.  Some of those tax dollars go to parks and public facilities (some of it goes to war too, unfortunately) which in turn makes living here better for everyone.

Another thing were public spaces.  Except for the touristy parts of town there were basically no parks nor public facilities.  This hurt the homeowners by driving down prices and hurt everyone else because it simply drove down the standard of living.  At one point we stopped at a station headed to lake Atitlan to get a view of the Lake and Volcanoes.  It was one of the most beautiful places on earth yet this little stop remained undeveloped and un-kept.

A free market thinker might argue that if a profit was to be made on an area then it will be developed – well what about publically used spots like this one.  Maybe this is the perfect opportunity for the Government to develop a non-profitable area to be used for public good.  So next time you are in the Mountains of America and you see a nice little well maintained watch tower – just say “thank you”.

Taxation not Socialism:

The dangers of socialism from an economic perspective are many.  Most notably the fact that it is unsustainable over the long run.  That, of course, is NOT what I am advocating.  Rather I am talking about a system in which the poorest of our society are taken care of (inevitably in a capitalist environment there will be those in poverty – everyone can’t be rich) and society as a whole benefits by the fruits of working together.

Today we spend far too much on military, our social programs are not well run, our political officials are no longer public servants, and we are living in a border line oligarchy.  What we should do is not eliminate the Government, but put it in its place.  That, I think, is an idea we can all get behind.

Are the 1% Paying their fair share?

According to Greg Mankiw when you take transfer payments into account the one percent effectively pays the highest percentage of their income when compared to any other income group.

From Greg Mankiw’s Blog:

Because transfer payments are, in effect, the opposite of taxes, it makes sense to look not just at taxes paid, but at taxes paid minus transfers received.  For 2009, the most recent year available, here are taxes less transfers as a percentage of market income (income that households earned from their work and savings):

Bottom quintile: -301 percent
Second quintile: -42 percent
Middle quintile: -5 percent
Fourth quintile: 10 percent
Highest quintile: 22 percent

Top one percent: 28 percent

The negative 301 percent means that a typical family in the bottom quintile receives about $3 in transfer payments for every dollar earned.

This is an interesting view of the tax code. Not just what one pays, but more of an income – expenses view. I personally think this is much more telling than just the effective tax rate an individual may or may not pay into the system. I also found this very interesting:

…the middle class, having long been a net contributor to the funding of government, is now a net recipient of government largess.

I think that statement might become important later. Especially when we start to frame the middle class as beneficiaries of the state rather than a group paying into it.

Income vs. Market Income

Just in case you were thinking that Mankiw was playing with the definition of income by calling it “Market Income” (I suspected fowl play to adust the statistics) here is a definition:

Market Income: Market income is the sum of earnings (from employment and net self-employment), net investment income, (private) retirement income, and the items under “Other income”. It is equivalent to total income minus government transfers. It is also called income before taxes and transfers.

I have to say, upon further research, using the term Market Income seems pretty water tight.

Thoughts on these findings?

My Problem with Calvinism

Our destiny is decided.  What we want doesn’t matter.  Whether we follow the path of righteousness and enter heaven or follow a path of evil and find hell awaiting us after death is all predetermined.  Hell, whether we choose Frosted Flakes or Lucky Charms for breakfast tomorrow morning has already been decided too.  Predestination – one of the illogical pillars of Calvinism that I despise.

Calvinism is even illogical from a religious perspective.  Double predestination assumes not only does God choose a few elite persons  (at random?) to go to heaven, but that the rest of us poor saps are going to hell, forever, and there’s nothing we can do about it.  What kind of loving creator creates something to ultimately be tortured for eternity?  If we go by that logic, assuming there is no such thing as free will, then not only is God himself responsible for sin and evil, but also for our eternal damnation.  Surely this can’t be the case.

I mean seriously.  Does it at all seem logical for an all loving, all just, creator to build something, specifically programmed to behave a certain way – then arbitrarily choose most of them to spend the rest of time in pain and agony.  When you created them to be exactly as they are!  Free will seems infinity more logical and just.

The Dangers of Calvinism

The Calvinist way of thinking is a dangerous one.  It’s essentially a hopeless one.  Why do anything when you are doomed to hell or blessed with heaven by no actions of your own?  (Although I’m sure all people who are actually Calvinist believe they are part of the elect selected by God to go to Heaven.  How convenient.) If you do not feel the call of God, you are going to hell anyways, so why live?  Calvinism essentially leads to an overall environment of moral nihilism.

In fact, it only makes sense that people who believe they are going to heaven are Calvinist.  Is anyone a Calvinist who actually believes they are doomed to Hell?  What a bunch of elitist pricks.

The Undeniable Logic of Free Will

If you are a Christian you MUST believe in free will.  If not, what point was it for Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of all mankind?  The fate of the people have already been decided. By the Calvinist’s logic: God decided in advance who goes to heaven or hell, then sent himself to earth to die on the cross for sinners, sinners who he had already decided were going to heaven or hell anyways. Right?

This is all Bullshit Anyways  

Look folks, if we are going to start cherry picking versus from the Bible to support our way of thinking we may as well consider ourselves screwed anyways.  Calvanist pull versus like “…also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will…” to demonstrate clear references to predestination.

Alright, fine. I’ll pull this one “Yet she increased her prostitution, remembering the days of her youth when she engaged in prostitution in the land of Egypt. 23:20 She lusted after their genitals – as large as those of donkeys, and their seminal emission was as strong as that of stallions. This is how you assessed the obscene conduct of your youth, when the Egyptians fondled your nipples and squeezed your young breasts.” (Ezekiel 23:19-20)  The only thing I’m wondering is – are my genitals supposed to be “as large as those of donkeys” or am I missing something?  Wow.

In the End

If you are religious and believe in God – use a little common sense.  The Bible isn’t literal and once we understand that – Calvinism starts falling apart.  If you aren’t religious – well, you know.

The Fallacy of Marriage

*See Updates section below

Marriage is an interesting institution in my opinion. Interesting in the fact that society places such a value on a ceremony that may not be necessary at all. Outside of the legal implication of marriage – is there really anything marriage provides to a relationship that cannot be had without it? In a modern society is marriage even worth it?

I’ve been happily married for two years now. I wouldn’t change that, but honestly our relationship didn’t change from one day to the next when it comes to marriage. We lived together before marriage, we shared incomes, we supported eachother, and we were monogamous. An expensive ceremony later, a few forms to change her last name, and WALA voilà - marriage.

The worst part about the institution of marriage is the legal implications. The worst of those – ending the marriage. Sometimes I wonder if the parting ways of two individuals should be left to the legal system at all. Shouldn’t it be a personal decision and a family matter? Even when kids are involved I imagine that most times (with the exception of violent relationships, which would require legal action since assault is a crime anyways) the entire situation would be better handled out of court than in it anyways.

You pay a thousands to get married then half of us pay a few more to get un-married. Seems like a brilliant Ponzi scheme played on us by society. Like I heard one guy say “It seems like a relationship based on love and wanting to be with each other is a lot more valuable than one based on staying together because it’s too expensive to separate.”

Legal Issues

Okay – legally speaking marriage is at times advantageous. It is helpful to, legally, be family. There are tax incentives, financial incentives, and the like. However, these are incentives to marriage that are built in to society. Legal incentives are not a natural advantage to the concept of marriage. Society could just as easily catered to a the recognition of the relationship status of each individual – without the complexities and legal ramifications of joining and separating from one another.

Marriage in Society

I can only imagine a few people cringing at this post. Some people probably feel that this is a direct attack on “traditional family values” and the very fabric of society. That’s not what I’m doing here though. I too believe that strong monogamous relationships are valuable.

I think that even the idea of marriage in religion is a far cry from what we have today. In the times of antiquity marriage was very personal. It involved the church, two committed people, and the family. There was no judge involved, often no legal ramifications, yet somehow it worked out.

Take Native American tribes. Couples were monogamous, helped each other live, and for all intensive purposes for all intents and purposes - married. The legal system had nothing to do with their commitment. Yet, somehow the very idea of marriage has become a legal one. Why?

Marriage vs. Marriage

The concept of marriage in it’s bastard form today serves to strengthen the state – not the two individuals engaging in such an act. When is the last time you heard of a couple that was happier BECAUSE they were married. I’m betting their love existed long before the exchange of vows and signing of legal documentation. If anything couples today exist IN SPITE OF marriage.

So for the couples out there who resist the traditional marriage yet live happy committed lives together – I say good for you. Maybe you are doing more for liberty than you even realized.

Updates:(7/18/2012)

After a few great comments/discussions I decided to somewhat reverse my opinion of the institution of marriage.  From a contract perspective it makes sense – especially when it comes to protecting the interest of the non-money earning party.  Here are a couple of comments that made me change my mind.

Via reconcileme:

That’s something I’ve often thought about. Even as a Christian I don’t really see the point in spending tons of money, likely putting people in debt, to make a commitment that can be made between 2 people and God. It really is simply about commitment and not tradition or ceremony. 2 people can decide to support and love each other without the state getting involved.

Now, even with that being said, there are definitely benefits to having a state recognized marriage when it comes to some of the things you mentioned, but also in divorce. There are a great many women who have literally given their life to a marriage. They have sacrificed careers, relationships, and the means to adequately support themselves for the sake of a husband and children. If not for the established legal system quite a few of these would be left with absolutely nothing after a divorce. If a man decides to leave a woman who has given her life to a marriage because he suddenly decides he wants someone else then she has a right to at least half of a family’s finances and continued support. How else is she supposed to achieve this if not for some kind of big binding legal agreement. The same type of scenario exists for men who see their marriage dissolve despite attempts to keep it together. Without some safeguards a woman could just up and move out taking the kids and leave a man with nothing to show for years of hard work and sacrifice.

While I certainly don’t think a legal document makes any 2 people more committed I do think the same legal document protects one party from the other’s bad choices.

Via Holden:

I think marriage provides a certain amount of security to the female in the relationship. Its natural that women be home keepers once they have a child in many cases and once a couple has kids, the woman usually takes primary custody with the kids in a divorce. Its not chauvinistic or sexist, its just a reality of life.

This leads to a limitation in a woman’s ability to earn for themselves and support themselves. Marriage acts as a bit of an assurance that they won’t get fucked over quite as bad if their husband decides to skip town.

Another thing. In my marriage, I “buy” the home. My name is on the loan, I pay for it. But my wife co-owns it with me. And she stays home and raises our children. If there were no legal/state involvement in contract of marriage, I could walk away and kick her ass out on the street. Is this fair?

Sorry, But the state most definitely needs to be involved in the institution of marriage to provide for a level playing field for both parties involved.

Alright, alright. I can admit when I’m wrong and I think both of these commenters made great points.