How do those who want more religion in domestic civic life yet oppose the notion that other countries can build their governments around their religious beliefs reconcile this hypocrisy and maintain any sense of integrity with themselves? In fact, why is it that so many people, especially in the United States but elsewhere as well, are so quick to embrace a double standard that permits them to do whatever they want, however they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want while arguing in the same breath that others shouldn't be allowed the same rights and capacities. Today, the President of the United States embraces this doctrine while claiming to be building a movement for democracy around the world with his own country as the model. It only takes 4 picoseconds of consideration to see that this is destined for failure.
This is not just a complaint about human hypocrisy and self-serving shortsightedness. There are serious consequences here. If people around the world embrace democracy and then find that the Godfather wants to clip their wings, they may reject democracy as founded on empty promises.
Double standards work fine if you have no need for legitimacy or desire for respect. But for a nation that seeks to lead and hopes to have its admonishments followed, there is no advantage to such a double standard. Why is this so difficult to accept? Are people so insecure that they can't handle either giving others equal opportunity or ascribing the same limits to themselves? What is there to lose? Continued insistence on preserving the double standard seems to reduce to the maxim of Might Makes Right, which is absolutely true in the physical sense but is unacceptable in a moral one. At least, it should be.
Schroedinger's Cat Trilogy, online. Read, and grow wise.
Express your joy with me here.
According to some, Bush seems to want to make investment income tax free and place the burden of funding the government entirely on labor. Regardless the accuracy of the intent or expected outcomes of Bush's tax reform plans, this issue nicely raises the question of who should fund the government (and the services the government provides)? Shouldn't everyone contribute?
In California, some businesses pay only $800 annual income tax. WHISKY TANGO FOXTROT!! If corporations are considered to be individuals under the law with regard to free speech or whatever, they ought to be considered individuals within the tax code as well. (Don't ask what happens if we hold corporate behavior to the same standards as actual humans. It isn't as though I believe that just because corporations make huge profits that I expect them to shoulder the entire tax burden. But I do expect them to contribute to the fund that keeps our government capable of providing the services that make the nation one to be proud of.
Religious organizations ought not be tax exempt either. Perhaps we can grant tax exemptions to smaller groups, say those with less than 100 donors or who only accept annual donations from a single entity of less than $1000 or that have less than $100,000 income. Everything over $100K needs to send a bit to the government. This country provides a wonderous environment for religions to flourish in and they ought to nut up a bit to help pay for it.
Paying taxes is noble and right. Yeah, I realize that this statement is going to get zoomed in on and ripped to shreds, but it is an essential attitude. No one likes to play taxes but we all need to because we are all better off for it, assuming the money isn't wasted. But taxes provide essential services, be they national defense, science and technology funding, the arts, education, public health, and international aid.
Tax money shouldn't be squandered or wasted though, and just because I support taxation to fund the country doesn't mean that I'm all for all spending and a huge welfare state. But there are critical functions that only the government (not the market, it just doesn't work that well in some cases) can address and it needs money to do that.
Thus we arrive at the idea that got me started on this: How about we have the people who hold power pay for it? How about a presidential tax that is applied to all registered voters of the party in power? Even better, how about we have everyone (corporations and organizational entities included) who donated to the candidate give the same amount to the nation as a whole. A matching system, only you match what you paid before the election after your candidate wins.
I was lead into this by thinking in terms of the large corporate and investment wealth backers of the President and Republican party who aren't paying for the privilege and are benefitting at exorbitantly self-interested ways. Some may argue that this is only natural to reward those in power, but that's short-sighted to an unacceptable degree. Leadership and support of it are not investments that recoup gains after the election. Civic service should be for the civic body and not one's self-interest. Yet those who so willing paid cash (and if the $800 a year deal is anything to compare by, many of them donated large multiples of what they pay in taxes) to get a guy into White House are unwilling to pay taxes to benefit the country. It's bad as a general issue but it borders on the morally corrupt when the president then goes on to continue to reduce revenue from those who are entirely capable of paying taxes but just don't want to in order to pad their already ample personal fortunes while running up vomitously monstrous deficits.
Of course, if we did have a party tax for the party in power, we might see flight from party registration and since this would impact the primary system, we'd see open primaries as opposed to party-restricted ones (a good thing). This in and of itself makes it an idea worth trying. While I'm on a roll, I think that congressmen and the president should be paid the national average for taxed income, so if investment income becomes untaxable, they would earn the average of the labor and service economy workers. They could perhaps boost that average by taxing investment income.
I understand and even agree with arguments that investment income shouldn't be taxed because it provides the fuel for our economic engine. It's a very simple, to me at least, issue to resolve: As long as the money stays in investments, it isn't taxed. Once it comes out of the investments, it isn't providing fuel for the economy anymore and is serving as disposable income for the investor. Thus, tax it.
If I invest $100, I take $100 of my income (that was already taxed once when I made it) and I give it to someone to help them build a widget. The widget becomes successful and my $100 becomes worth $1000. Now, as long as that $100 investment stays as an investment, I shouldn't be taxed on it. But as soon as I cash it out (assuming it isn't reinvested in a different company) and use it to pay bills or buy goods, it becomes taxable. So I can be the richest man in the world on paper with billions in holdings and pay zero taxes, but only as long as I don't have a penny in cash to live on (and thus I'd be homeless and starving).
Undoubtedly I'm oversimplifying it and proving that I haven't the faintest about how investments and income work, but if so, hopefully someone can set me straight.
Now you know. Very cool.
How in the hell do bloggers do it? I'm already cracking under the weight of my challenge to myself. I realize that most blogs are vanity projects, but even those... what aren't people doing when they are updating their blogs all the time? I've got so many irons in the fire that I barely have time to read stuff of interest, much less find time to write it up in a worthwhile format. Maybe I'm setting my bar too high or maybe I'm incapable of concise discussions. I never wanted to let this space just be my public diary, but I may have to resort to guerrilla tactics to get this challenge done right.
But I'm thinking about this blogging phenomenon. Yes, its clear that bloggers have a productive role to play in society, especially one with such a degraded public media system. But in general, what are bloggers doing? They spend a lot of time blogging, if they are any good at it. But unless they are one of the big blogs, are they accomplishing anything or just letting themselves *feel* like they are accomplishing something?
As blogging gets more and more press (although now that it has emerged as a challenger to the existing media structure, the coverage isn't as good as it used to be), more and more people are going to be doing it, or at least trying it. More and more people are going to be indulging in thought (a good thing) but spending way too much time at the computer to write it down ( a bad thing). Blogs are going to turn us into asocial soapboxes!
I dunno why I'm so fascinated by the editorial process of blogging but I can't stop analyzing what I'm doing as I work on this. The anthropologist in me won't stop looking in the mirror and extrapolating to others. Blogging takes up a lot of time for me, both in terms of how much I think about doing and think about posting and how much time I spend writing items up. Most of the blogs worth reading regularly are run by people smarter than me with better analysis to boot: do they spend less time than I do on their blogs? If so, what I am doing wrong?
So are blogs an indicator of the fracturing of society, of people more content to talk to themselves on the internet than get out in the real world and socialize with others? Are we losing our sociality, or is there something even more subversive here as we shift our sociality into the virtual world, essentially submitting ourselves to the next wave of evolutionary development in Earthside intelligence? Will historians millennia hence identify widespread blogging as an indicator of a society with too much time on its hands and too many rents in the social fabric? I blog because I live in a foreign country with no compatriots to commiserate with and few opportunities to discuss my ideas about the world outside of my family. What's everyone else's excuse? Is it because blogs are cool? Vanity? Mass media subversiveness?
Feck, I'm done with this. This introspection is just spinning my wheels and is pure hyperbole considering that only 12% of the world (although 2/3 of North America) are even online and only a small fraction have active blogs. Even if this theory is accurate, we are probably far from the critical mass. Feel free to contribute by starting your own blog or at least commenting on mine. I am interested to know how much time others spend on their blogs though. My friends on the PolySciFi blog seem to put up a fair amount of material between the three of them with a nice balance of links and commentary. I like it.
The Ig Noble prizes for 2004 were awarded last October but I'm just getting around to reading about them. For those unfamiliar with the Ig Nobles, they are tongue-in-cheek Nobel-ish prizes awarded to funny or strange research projects whose intent, outcome, or very existence may cast the value of the research in question. Sometimes it is just stupid and inane stuff that wins the prizes. I think the group that identified the process by which spilt coffee leaves the distinctive stains won one, but I could be wrong.
Other times though, the research actually is pretty interesting albeit not quite what we may expect from the aura of preeminence academic research likes to dress in. Two of the recent winners struck me in this respect because they are funky projects with interesting and important implications.
The first explored the sociological impact of listening to potentially destructive genres of music. Hip hop and rap get a lot of attention from talking heads due to its perception of inciting violence and moral degradation. This time, though, it was the implications of listening to country music with its infamous emphasis on hardship and suffering in forms undeserved that received formal investigation. It turns out, according to the researchers, that the downtone nature of country music actually does have an effect on listener populations and is capable of being a catalyst for suicide. 51% of the variation in urban white suicides was attributed to country music, indicating that it was enough to push people over the edge.
Actually, using the transitive verb "push" is a bit too much here. Music, video, and other media do not have transitive power to cause action in people. At best (or worst, I suppose), the method would be one of influence or inspiration, rather than causation. If you're feeling low and you partake of activities that enhance that feeling, it isn't surprising that some people will find themselves in a mental space where they decide that suicide is appropriate. That goes for any other state of mind as well. If you're a horned up yout (yes, I said yout) and you listen to funky and energetic beats laced with horned up lyrics, we shouldn't be surprised to find people getting busy with each other. If you're angry at the world and you listen to angry aggressive music, watch angry aggressive television and play angry, aggressive video games, why would we not anticipate people who end up ratcheting themselves into an angry, aggressive rage? Drugs work the same way, be they alcohol or LSD.
The point I'm trying to make is that drugs and music don't cause problems as much as feed into problems that we already have. This research into the complicity of country music in higher suicide rates among listeners doesn't mean that country music causes suicide any more than taking a dump does (I bet if you did the research, you'd find that 100% of those who kill themselves, across all demographics, have bowel movements within 72 hours of offing themselves. Bad shit!). I'm still going to avoid country though (except the upbeat stuff, like Friends in Low Places, I Got It Honest, and Take This Job and Shove It). Human behavior is just that, human behavior. We are influenced by many many factors, biological and social, but we are ultimately the only arbiters of our actions (excepting the obvious cases when we are captives to someone). When people do bad things, it is unproductive to search for causes in the media and music, although it may be worthwhile to ask why this individual, out of the millions of similar people exposed to the same media, chose to respond the way they did.
I suspect that in most of these cases, the root of the problem lies more in what they were NOT exposed to rather than solely what they were exposed to. People with healthy social relationships and rich moral environments (by which I mean environments that teach morality (general) as opposed to any specific instantiation of morality) tend to be able to deal with the world without freaking out and killing themselves or others. There are also cases when the mind seems to be overwhelmed with the reality of the modern world and ends up broken, leading to schizophrenia or depression. But most times, I think, the problems we see are due to more how a person responds to media exposure than causation due to it.
As usual, I've blathered on this topic far longer than I expected, so I'll write about the other Ig Noble (which I think is far more interesting and has greater implications) tomorrow or some close proximity thereof. Thanks for reading and toss your comments here.
A lot of changes have developed in my life lately and I'm issuing a challenge to myself as a result, hoping to capitalize on the combined senses of accomplishment and opportunity they provide. I'm also failing miserably at my one New Year's resolution and this is an attempt to wrest control of personal discipline back. My house is built and we've moved in, my daughter is starting to speak, and I'm about to get my driver's license.
So my personal challenge is this: 31 posts in the 31 days of March. I want to stop doing this half-assed blog and start making it a bit more reliable. I've been afraid to commit to it because that implies that I want to build readership which in turn implies that I think I've got readerworthy content. But I've been pussy-footing around, afraid to make that assertion. But enough of that. I'm no Andrew Sullivan, but I'm working hard on this and I think that I have nuggets of goodness worth more attention. So I'm going to be aiming for a daily update this month. A couple friends are launching a blog of their own (which I think they are taking a bit too seriously at first, but whatever) and I was secretly hoping to get invited to work with them, but then they chickened out. It would be easier to maintain a blog if someone else wrote on it, but every single attempt I've made to get someone else to post here has fallen on deaf ears. No one has even acknowledged the notion, much less said no. There is a standing invitation to anyone who reads this, so get in touch with me. I have no standards for content or quality, so you're guaranteed an editorial position.
Hopefully this effort is going to translate into a few more regular readers (I have one, I think, so any improvement is going to be in full factors. SCHWING!!). If any bloggers reading here are willing to help me out with a few comments on any posts I make on their own blogs (I have a forum for comments until I develop an anti-comment spam solution for this blog), I'd be grateful.
I might be introducing a couple new categories, namely photos and Equinox. I've been taking a lot of pictures since I got my digital SLR a few months back and will be posting some of my better or favorite pictures. I also am writing in a fiction role-playing game of sorts that I'll be cross-posting my entries in. In this game, players create a character and then write their character into the storylines provided every mission. As you write, you introduce plot elements and contribute to a serial short story in response to the posts by other people. It's quite a lot of fun and is open to the public, so any interested should check it out.
Lastly, if anyone was interested in my thus-so-far failed NYResolution, it was to eat less pizza. I love pizza and eat way too much of it. It is an expensive treat here in Japan, usually costing between $22 and $30. So there is the monetary incentive. I'm more active now than I used to be, but I still don't have what I would consider to be an active lifestyle, so fueling it with pizza isn't good for the heart attack on my horizon. And I'm trying to work on a less self-indulgent lifestyle and wanted to introduce a bit of self-denial of menial desires into my life, a sort of masochistic self-development (sheesh I feel self-absorbed in this post. I think I'll end before I start referring to the author in the third person.).