Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Principled – and Flawed – Smokescreen

“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
John Kenneth Galbraith

Political discourse in these days rarely gets deeper than a yard sign, bumper sticker, or tweet.  One of the ideas contributing to our current divide is that assistance from the government to the people unjustly punishes the “haves” in favor of the “have-nots”, and that public largess (seemingly distinct from private largess) provides a disincentive for people to help themselves.

This “disincentive” view is often combined with the belief that members of our society who have “made it” have done so through their personal perseverance, effort, and strength of character, while those who have not “made it” have failed through not just a lack of these characteristics, but because they possess an abundance of laziness, a lack of integrity, and an absence of morals.

But even a cursory thought uncovers that these two ideas are inconsistent.  First, according to this worldview, people at the bottom are there because they lack the good characteristics needed to succeed and possess the bad characteristics that prevent them from succeeding.  So how can providing help remove the incentive to accomplish what they are definitionally incapable of?

Another, shorter way to express the issue is the argument that equality of opportunity does not assure equality of outcome, nor should it.  As Rush Limbaugh so inartfully expressed this recently  “some people are just born to be slaves.”  It is futile and naïve to deny that some successful people have achieved success solely through their effort and character.  And it is just as futile and naïve to deny that some people through bad decisions and bad actions have squandered everything and are responsible for their desperate position in life.  But it should also be acknowledged by anyone who has been senescent for more than a few years that it is at least equally futile and naïve to believe that where someone fits on the economic spectrum is determined solely by his or her individual effort and character.  Yes, a certain percentage of people have succeeded economically because of their effort and character, and an additional percentage of people have failed because of their lack of effort and character.  But for the vast majority of people between these polar outposts, history, logic, and experience suggest that not only are personal characteristics not the determinative factors in success vs. failure, these characteristics are not even the most influential factors.

Nothing can get a tea baggers cholesterol thickened blood pumping faster than the thought of a “welfare Queen”.  Well, you ought to see me when I encounter someone who was born on third base acting like they hit a triple.

I will return to this topic periodically.

Until the next time – YP


The Only Thing We have to Fear is …

Snakes.  Texting drivers.  Necrotizing fasciitis. (That’s a new one for me, but now I don’t go anywhere unless I’m packing Neosporin and hydrogen peroxide.)  All quite rational fears.  If you’re not afraid of these, you should be.  Then there are the fears that are a little more unique.   Clowns.  Open spaces.  Birds.  If these fit you, fine; but I’ll stay with my paralyzing little acrophobia, thank you very much.

But finally we get to those fears that are just plain weird.  Cherophobia – the fear of “gaiety” (that’s of the “Gay 1890’s” kind, not the gay 1980’s kind) or happiness.  Octophobia – fear of the figure 8 (I can understand this if you’re on the golf course, but otherwise?).  Kolpophobia – the fear of genitals, esp. female genitals.  Enough said about that one.

So my weird phobia when I was young was a fear of large inland bodies of salt water.  Soundophobia?  Saltlakecityophobia?  Deadseaophobia?  Not sure this one has a scientific name.  But every summer since I was 6, my family went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a series of barrier Islands on the the coast WAY too far out from real land.  This required traversing large bodies of – you guessed it – inland salt water.  Pamlico Sound.  Albemarle Sound.  Roanoke Sound.  Croatan Sound.  I might as well have been crossing through the Valley of Death, and I was fearing plenty of evil.  The water was always dark, and seemed much rougher than a non-ocean should be.  I wasn’t sure what to be afraid of from that water, but I damn well knew that if I somehow ended up in that water, I would find out.  And I really, really didn’t want to know.

I’m older now.  That fear has subsided (I avoid Sounds now), only to be replaced by a much more troubling and embarrassing fear – Christian Rock.  Not like the Blarney Stone or anything, but music.  Now, I consider Silent Night the best song ever played between December 22 through the 24th.  I can hang with O Little Town of Bethlehem during the season.  What I am talking about is entirely different.  Here are some sample lyrics (each bullet point from different songs):

  • The white snow falls (I cannot see) On my black heart (In front of me)
  • You hold my hand so tight that it spills your blood.
  • He wraps Himself in light
    And darkness tries to hide
    It trembles at His voice
    Trembles at His voice

The hair on the back of my neck is standing on end.  I know there is plenty of stuff in Testament New and Old that can lead to some long nights with little sleep,but this stuff is just plain eerie.

Until the next time – YP

Dispatches from Young Paul

Saigon… shit; I’m still only in Saigon…

Judging by the title, this is to be the first in a series of musings, observations, rants, and dyspeptic releases from me – “Young Paul” (not my real name, but we’ve just met).  No particular emphasis as to topics, just things I find interesting, informative, perhaps humorous, or simply worthy of my disdain.

The first real post will be about fear.  Not the “I hear a noise”, “it’s a snake”, “You’re WHAT!” fear.  But the irrational, unexplainable type of fears we all have, but want no one to know.  I can’t wait to write it.  Wonder what it will say.

Until the next time – YP