Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Thoughts of Christmas

Thoughts of Christmas 22 December 2015 Christmas is here, and it seems appropriate to consider for a moment, some of the traditions we use to celebrate at this season of the year. We use the colors red and green for Christmas. They both represent life; red, the color of blood, to represent human life, and specifically the life of Christ which he lived here on earth, and which he gave for us; green, the color of plant life, is the color of the tree that we decorate as one of the primary symbols of Christmas. The tree represents life, and because we celebrate Christmas at the winter solstice, it also stands for the renewal of life that will come with the Spring. Not just any tree will do, however – it must be an evergreen tree – so it represents not only life and the renewal of life, but also eternal life, just as the tree is eternally green. In Europe, no building is ever erected without an evergreen tree being fastened at the topmost portion of the building as it is under construction. It is not removed until the building is complete. This tree represents the wishes of the builders for a blessing on the building, for a long and useful life for the building itself. We also use white at Christmas, the color that represents cleanliness and purity. We imagine that angels are dressed in white, for example, and we want the earth to be covered in snow at Christmastime so that the earth is blanketed in white and appears clean and pure. We place either a star or an angel at the top of the tree, recalling the star that guided the wise men to the child, or the angels that visited the shepherds to announce to them the birth. We place lights on the tree to remember the lights that appeared in the heavens at the time of his birth, and we place gifts under the tree to remember the gifts of the wise men, and to celebrate the gift that God gave to us. In recent decades, Christmas has become heavily commercialized and we are bombarded with advertisements to buy, buy, buy – gifts not only for our families and others but also for ourselves at this holiday season, but notwithstanding such efforts, the idea of spending our resources to be able to give to others is still at the heart of this season, and we still remember the gift of His son that God gave to us. We gather our families around us at Christmas time. Schools take a vacation so students can travel home for the holidays. We feel an increased love toward our family members, mirroring the love that God had for us and the whole world in sending his son to live among us, even knowing that he would be persecuted and murdered at the end. We decorate the tree with ornaments, lights, and other decorations. We want the tree to look as beautiful as possible. We do this because in some way, the tree becomes a symbol of Christ himself, and we honor him by doing everything we can to honor and beautify the tree that represents him. We sing hymns to remember the hymns that the angels sang when they came to the shepherds. Those angels sang for joy at the birth of the son, and we also sing for the same joy, in celebration of the happiness we feel because of the gospel that Christ gave us. In Christ the old law was fulfilled, and a new law was given – a higher law designed to raise the quality of life; to bring about a better civilization; and to enable us to become better individuals; and to improve our very manner of thought. Moses said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, for example, but Christ said, in effect, “Don’t even think about it.” Moses focused on actions; Christ focused on attitudes. Even though the secular world holds these symbols in derision, they are still powerful reminders of why we celebrate this season of the year. They are uniquely and intensely Christian in nature, and represent an immensely potent mythology that has vitalized people for a very long time. They still speak to us today. We still use them to remember and celebrate that Christ came to earth and lived a life among us, providing for us a long, continuous, living revelation of what God Himself is like. This is why he said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”, and “The Father and I are one.”

Monday, December 7, 2009

Good Government

I see the citizenry as being divided into two broad groups. One group is comprised of people who were taught to believe that it is the responsibility and duty of every American to support, with a portion of their funds, the government that is needed to guarantee our access to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" -- call them the contributing group. The second group contains those who appear to believe that the government is the very source from which flows funding and access to happiness -- call them the receiving group. The contributing group would like to limit the size and role of government to those items that actually are necessary, because it is their funding that the government is taking and spending, and frankly, they would like to see it wisely spent. The receiving group, by contrast, would like to expand the role of government into as many areas as possible, primarily because other people, namely the contributing group, are largely funding those programs, but they will be the primary beneficiaries. This arrangement seems fair to the receiving group because, after all, the contributing group being taxed have more money, so those taxed can better afford to pay for these programs.

This portrayal is overly simplistic, of course. And, not everyone falls cleanly into one group or the other (although quite a few actually do). But it illustrates that the fundamental emotion behind give-away programs is a negative one masquerading as a positive one: It is greedy and selfish to desire for oneself benefits that can only be obtained by taking money by force from someone else -- it smacks of envy, and also of theft. It masquerades as altruism -- to help and benefit those less well off than ourselves -- but altruism implies that the giver is not coerced. If coerced, it becomes not altruism, but robbery. One can argue that people pay taxes out of altruism, but more often than not, this is simply not true, and it is suspect in all cases because the tax rates are set by the government (heavier on the more wealthy, note) and are rigorously enforced. And when our representatives in Congress spend the money, that is not altruism either, because it is not their money that they are spending! If they want to be altruistic, they can spend their own money -- and I note in passing here that they are much more careful when spending their own money than they are when spending mine.

"Ah", you might say, "but you did agree, when you elected representatives to the Congress that passed the laws setting up such programs." There may be room for this argument when those doing the electing are from the contributing group, or even largely from that group. The argument is less convincing, though, when the receiving group, which has the same voting power as the contributing group (one person, one vote, after all) begins to outnumber the contributing group. Then representatives are elected that seek to solidify their base by constructing programs that benefit the receiving group that elected them at the expense of the contributing group that opposed them. (See former blogs on getting elected as the number one priority of elected representatives.)

Those who give are now at the mercy of those who take.

Worse yet, many of our representatives are willing to spend not only all the tax money there is, but also money that has not yet been collected. It is not their money; but they incur no penalty for spending it, and there is no operative force to act as a restraint. But the contributing group is appalled, because it is their money, and the unfunded expenditures will eventually have to be paid for with their future money. The receiving group sees no problem. It is not their money. They won't have to pay for it.

When my kids were in college, I seethed when my taxes went to fund scholarships for which my own children were not even eligible. I worked hard to pay for my children to go to college, and financially it was a difficult time, but not only did I have to pay college expenses for my own children out of my own pocket, but in addition, the government took even more so I could (altruistically, Congress no doubt thought) also pay for someone else. There was absolutely no benefit whatever to me, because my children were positively disbarred from these scholarships. It was a program that benefited a specific group of people at the expense of a different group of people.

This brings me to the subject of what is the proper role and scope of government. This is a subject that varies all over the map, so I will give only my own views. When the government takes money from taxpayers, it should expend those funds for projects that will benefit taxpayers as a whole, and rigorously restrict itself from projects that take money from one group of people and expend it for the benefit of a different group. Further, it should maintain a high degree of fiscal responsibility for those funds. When funds are expended, it should be, in general, to buy something -- either that the government needs, or that is used for the benefit of the general citizenry.

Examples of proper government funding include such items as roads, bridges, and infrastructure (benefits the expansion and maintenance of commerce, which benefits all people); defense (protects the whole country and ensures continuance of our way of life); law enforcement (protects all citizens -- even those not abiding by the law, most of the time); statecraft between us and other nations; treasury and fiscal policy; other needed government institutions that represent the citizenry as a whole.

Examples of improper government funding include such items as "entitlement" programs or any other "spread the wealth" programs (money taken from one group and given to a different group -- violates the benefit taxpayers as a whole test and violates the "buy something" test); social security (a tax, run as the most monumental Ponzi scheme in history, that is masquerading as a retirement fund -- violates the "buy something" test, and egregiously violates the fiscal responsibility test); lotteries (persecuted as illegal when run by the Mob, but was taken over by the government when it saw how much money could be made and now run as a "stupid tax" -- encourages bad habits, does not "promote the general welfare", preys on the ignorant and poor); schools at the federal level (this a responsibility of the states); bailouts (violates fiscal responsibility test).

There is a tendency for representatives elected by the receiver group to see tax money as a gold mine, limitless in scope, to be mined for the benefit of themselves and their supporters. And they are not alone: Every government agency also sees the tax revenue as a source for their own needs and tries to get as much of it as they can. The President sends a budget to congress each year that is full of items that are (in the view of the contributing group) unwise, unnecessary, unwarranted, and wasteful, and it is up to Congress to eliminated those that do not fall within the definition of good government. But instead, members of Congress hasten to add to the problem rather than the solution. They scheme and maneuver to carve out portions of the budget to favor their own specific groups or organizations. Each member believes that if others insert these "earmarks" into the budget, it should be called "pork", but if they do it, it must be good government -- after all, if it helps get them re-elected what could be better than that? It must be, by definition, good government.

But in my mind it is clear: If a program or law benefits one group at the expense of another, it is almost certainly bad government, and if it does not apply equally -- including to members of Congress -- then it is almost certain to be bad government. Congress should be ashamed.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Intelligent Dogs

At work there is a young woman – and by “younger”, I mean younger than me – who has a seeing eye dog. This is her second dog since I have known her. We held a retirement party for her first dog, “Penny”, and then she was gone for six weeks while she broke in her new one. This one is a yellow Labrador called “Randy”, and he is young and energetic. We all learned with Penny the do’s and don’t’s for seeing eye dogs and so everyone in the office knew how to relate to Randy. We are not to feed it unauthorized snacks. We are not to let it out of the office. If the dog is “working” we are to leave it alone. But there really isn’t much for the dog to do during the day, so often it appears to be bored out of its mind. The dog is free to wander around the office as long as he is within calling range if he is needed. There are a number of toys for the dog to play with in his owner’s office, but Randy keeps his place pretty clean so people don’t trip over his toys while walking by.

I have to walk past Randy’s office to go out to the soda machine, cafeteria, and at the end of the day as I go home, and I say hello to Randy, but I hadn’t actually spent any time with him. But yesterday I was bored, so I walked to one end of the office where there are windows that look out over the parking lot and the city. Then I thought I would go out to the soda machine and get something. I turned around and, looking down the path I would walk, I saw Randy, about 150 feet away, looking at me. He continued to look at me as I approached, and then when I got close to him, he picked up a rubber ring – one of his toys – and offered it to me. I took hold of it, and there ensued a tug of war for awhile. Then I said, “Do you want me to throw it?” and immediately he let go and got prepared to chase it. I tossed it down the way I had come and he bounded after it, catching it on the second bounce. He brought it back to me and wanted another little tug of war. I said, “Ready?” and he immediately let go and tensed for another run. I threw it and he chased it down. We continued for awhile as I threw the ring down the hall over and over. Each time I would say, “Ready?” and he would get set for another run. Finally he came back and did NOT offer the ring to me, but tossed down on the ground and flopped down next to it. I said, “OK, we’re done” and rubbed his ears. I started toward the door again, and his owner murmured in my ear, “Thanks.”

I got to thinking about other dogs I have played with. One of my daughter’s friends had a dog named “Seven”, a young golden retriever or perhaps yellow Labrador, who had more energy than anyone in their family could really deal with. I was visiting one day because we had been invited over for dinner, when Seven decided he wanted to play. I threw toys all over the house for Seven, until he was completely worn out. Later I heard my daughter’s friend mention to my daughter that I was the only person who had ever worn Seven out. She said Seven slept almost the entire next day.

Then there was Barney, a mixed rotweiller/retriever, who belonged to a friend of ours. Barney was a city dog who easily got car sick, but he liked to come out to the cabin, and after a few trips, began to get over his car sickness as soon as he figured out he was headed toward the cabin. Barney had a herding instinct, I guess, because he was very conscious of the whereabouts of everyone in the family. He would make the rounds of the house in the middle of the night to make sure that everyone was in their right place. I would wake up with a cold nose in my face and reach out to pet Barney and assure him that I was all right, and my wife would do the same. One night Barney came in to check on us when my wife had left the bed to go to the bathroom. People say that dogs don’t really have different expressions, but I tell you, Barney did the most astonishing double take when he looked in the bed for Carol and didn’t find her there. It was so human-like that I nearly laughed out loud. Then Barney put his front feet on the bed so he could get up to see better and looked up and then down the length of the bed for Carol. He was clearly just astounded that she wasn’t there. Finally I said, “She’s in the bathroom, Barney.” I believe he understood what I said because he immediately got down and walked over to where he could see the bathroom door and sat down to wait for her. He waited until she came out and escorted her back to bed where she belonged before leaving to check on the rest of the household.

Another time my daughter came out to the cabin with a new baby. Barney was extremely solicitous of both mother and child, and took it upon himself to monitor the health and welfare of the baby. If my daughter took the baby into the house, Barney would escort her to the door and would be at the door when she came out again. He followed the baby everywhere and sat next to whoever was holding the baby. From time to time he would move to where he could see the baby’s face to make sure it was all right. If the baby cried, Barney (his hearing was better than a human’s) would come right to the mother and move toward the house, looking back to see if she was coming yet. You could almost hear him saying, “Come on, come on, the baby needs you.”

Another friend came to the cabin one time and brought two German shepherds. One was quite old but the other was more frisky. She accompanied me out into the woods where I was working, but when I turned to go, she didn’t want to come. I discovered that she had found what looked like a dead limb that was mostly buried in the leaf thatch that covered the forest floor, and had gripped it in her jaws and was trying to pull it loose. She tugged and tugged at it, and each pull loosened it a little more. After a bit, she finally got it loose and triumphantly hauled it into the meadow – her every expression and body language just shouted “gleeful”. Well, it turned out to be a bit more than a “limb”. It was almost 20 feet long, but she waved it back and forth to show everyone what a great hunter she was. I tried to take it away from her, but only got into a tugging match. Between the two of us, we finally managed to break it up enough to have pieces that were small enough to throw and fetch, which we did for the rest of the day. Hmmm, she slept most of the next day too.

These dogs were all astonishingly smart, but unfortunately not all dogs are smart. When I was young, we had a Chihuahua named “Candi”. This dog was smart and I loved her. She slept in my bed with me at night. She had a litter of pups, all but one of which were sold. The one that didn’t sell was what I would call dumb – D. U. M. When food was put down for them, Candi would eat all of hers and then go to the sliding glass doors that looked out over the patio and bark. Chico (the dumb one) would come to see what she was barking at, and would also start barking, which he kept up for awhile. Meanwhile, Candi went back to the food and ate his too.

I think there is nothing so attractive as intelligence. Dogs – people – intelligence makes them come alive, and that is so very attractive.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Still Another Example

For a very apro pro column on politicians and their innate need to look out for their own interests first, see the column by Tony Blankley in the Washington Times of August 25, here. The subject is President Johnson and his turmoil over the Vietnam war, but the unintended point of the column is that politicians protect their own interests first and foremost.

Friday, August 28, 2009

And Still More

This from Newt Gingrich, in the context of how politicians bungled the Cash For Clunkers program:

"They're not concerned with the long-term, just the next election."

From his column:

Three Reasons Why Government Can't Run Health Care
Read his column here: http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=33275

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More on Election Scams

A reader sent me the following:

Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias is apparently shocked that liberal politicians would rather maintain their own power than work for "the public good." George Mason University law professor (and Reason contributor) Ilya Somin patiently explains to Yglesias how the political world actually works:
A politician willing to do anything to take and hold on to power will have a crucial edge over an opponent who imperils his chances of getting elected in order to advance the public interest. The former type is likely to prevail over the latter far more often than not. This is especially true in a political environment where most voters are often ignorant and irrational about government and public policy. Candidates have strong incentives to pander to this ignorance and exploit it in order to win elections. Those unwilling to exploit public ignorance because they place the public interest above political success are likely to be at a serious disadvantage relative to their less scrupulous opponents. Thus, those who value power above other objectives are more likely to succeed politically. As economist Frank Knight wrote back in the 1930s, "[t]he probability of the people in power being individuals who would dislike the possession and exercise of power is on a level with the probability that an extremely tender-hearted person would get the job of whipping master in a slave plantation."

Monday, July 27, 2009

An Actual Election Scam!

With regard to election scams, a real example appeared in the New York Times on 27 July regarding the Iranian "election" of Mr. Ahmadinejad. I quote, "Mr. Ahmadinejad had won support from government pensioners prior to the election by significantly increasing their payments. Those payments have since been reduced ...". Notwithstanding any judgments regarding the honesty or dis-honesty of the Iranian election process itself, this example serves to support my previous contention that THE FIRST PRIORITY OF AN ELECTORAL CANDIDATE IS TO GET ELECTED. In the case of Mr. Ahmadinejad, apparently any scheme that enhances his chances is countenanced.