I subscribe to the New York Times
because while reading it I don't have to worry about my bile ducts
opening and spewing matter into my gastric system. I generally want to know what's going on. As there is no opinion-free source of news I can find, I choose one that causes me the least pain.
Thus I read or scan the Times nearly every day, at the convenient low price of $20 per month, delivered to my iPad, iPhone, and via the web. There are other periodicals available on the iPad. Including Maxim, which I don't yet subscribe to and am almost afraid to as I have daughters the age of the women in that magazine, and well, so there. Though I remember being shown an issue of Maxim once by an active service member (it's apparently a favorite of our male military personnel) and thinking it was pretty funny in places. Though I have to start believing the rationalization that I'm only getting it for the funny articles before I have the guts to download it to my iPad. I remember my father going through the same thing about Playboy. Now I understand. So I am still denying myself the joys of Maxim and probably will until any female member of my immediate family, and those of everyone I associate with are well into their 40s.
But I was feeling pretty good about the fact Mitch McConnell invited Joe Biden over to the senate to hammer out an agreement before the fiscal cliff and thought I should read the National Review. As a younger and upwardly mobile technology executive, I found myself in agreement with William F. Buckley when I had the chance to see him on talk shows. While Buckley was born into vast oil riches and was a child of great privilege, he was drafted and did serve in WWII and also wrote detective novels. He seemed like a guy who had seen all sides of life and came out of it with his pompous New England accent intact but also the learned ability to compute human motive and cough up some definition of what was "correct" that I could mostly adhere to.
What I remember of the National Review was that it seemed clear-minded to me. I'm sure all readers of the National Review feel that way.
With both the NYT and the NR on my iPad desktop, my iPad felt well balanced, almost weightless. I congratulated myself on my intellectual integrity and my ability to develop a humanly superior opinion free of political biases. Surely, somewhere in the depths of Apple iPad operations someone would discover an individual who had a subscription both to the New York Times and the National Review and The Economist, and bells would go off.
I sat smugly in my living room reading my periodicals with one eye while watching with great satisfaction as the Washington Redskins trounced the Dallas Cowboys with the other, awaiting a call from my old High School buddy, Brian Williams, who surely would be contacted by the Apple iTunes Subscription corps and notified that they had found an utterly enlightened individual worthy of note. Brian would then recognize my name and fondly recall our graduation from the same lowly college prep school and ask me for an interview while we traded stories of our old inept gym teachers.
And then I read the National Review and realized Brian was never going to call.
"...Similarly, the very last thing people suffering from addiction, illiteracy, abuse, violence, or poverty need is our empathy--you'd think four years of high unemployment, growing poverty, and soaring dependency rates, all accompanied by great gobs of empathy, would have taught us that. What they need is our sympathy, which sometimes causes our hearts to direct our heads to communicate certain hard truths about the sorts of decisions that can lead one into poverty and misery--or out..."
Kevin D. Williamson "Against Empathy - America's pain, Barack Obama's gain" National Review December 17th 2012
"...the Gallup polling organization finds that a solid majority of Americans oppose cuts to government entitlements of virtually any kind, from Social Security and Medicare to farm subsidies to aid for the poor. Why the antipathy to any cuts in spending? Not to put too fine a point on it: Millions of us have our hand in our neighbor's pocket."
Arthur C. Brooks "The Once and Future Conventional Wisdom - How to restore common sense to political culture" National Review December 17th, 2012
On the lighter side they also said:
"A week after the election Louisiana's Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, had a prescription for his party: 'We've got to make sure that we are not the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes, big anything. We cannot be, we must not be, the party that simply protects the rich so they get to keep their toys,' he told Jonathan Martin of Politico. Republicans, he added, should be 'the party of ideas, details, and intelligent solutions...'...All of this strikes us as right, important--and all too distinctive as other Republicans have had less intelligent things to say about the results. Tell us more, governor."
- The Week National Review December 17th 2012.
I read the National Review and found myself filled with self-righteous indignation. My liberal bias was scraped to a bright red sheen by their positions, and I found my blood pressure rising along with my stomach acid. Irrespective of what they actually said - this is what I heard in my mind's ear:
- We are going to hell in a handbasket with a Democrat as president. Democrats are really communists pretending to be freedom loving Americans and we should have let McCarthy wipe them all out.
- You think we are rich but we still don't have enough for a G4 and anyway we worked for it and I'm not going to undo all the work I put into my life situation by handing out my hard earned cash to a bunch of losers.
- Not handing out my cash means I don't want to be taxed if it means supporting Social Security and Medicare. I get nothing from those, and nobody I know gets anything from those. Who could live on Social Security, anyway? It's hardly enough to cover a month's grocery bills. It's not my fault those systems are out of money, it's not my fault those people bought the lie from the government that those programs would be there to help when they got old, and it's not my problem that those who depend on it are going to be in trouble if they're gone.
- By the way, handing out cash is immoral because it leads to complacency, even FDR realized that which is why he made people work for their handouts. Complacency and entitlements will kill the country. It will kill the country and God will hate us and that's why he sent the Muslim world to kill us.
- By the way, I can't hear you when you say people will suffer and/or die if I take away their Medical care. We need health care reform because it costs me too much and it's not my fault if people die. I'm not killing anyone. I'm saving the country, and people on Medicare are old and going to die anyway. And I didn't cause this problem and I can't take care of all the world's misfortunes. It's good enough I take care of myself and my family. I have a hard enough time with that.
- Education is too expensive and teachers are generally stupid people who couldn't get higher paying jobs in industry. We need to stop paying teachers, and we need to stop educating poor people. They're too hard to educate and they don't want it anyway. Give them jobs. It's easier to assemble Nike sneakers than do algebra, and oh, by the way, they need to work for rates cheaper than we can get in China or we don't want 'um.
- The Democrats are turning us into EUROPE! (I'm not sure what that actually means, frankly I wouldn't mind taking the entire month of August as vacation every year and retiring on 70% of my yearly salary, but conservatives fear it worse than the annihilation of the human race by cometary impact.)
- And don't tell me I have to be a woman and have gone through a pregnancy and borne a child to understand how women feel about reproductive rights. Their pain doesn't make reproductive manipulation acceptable to God.
- By the way, God loves me and knows I'm right. I have the money to show for it. If he didn't love me, I'd be poor.
- Oh and by the way - this doesn't have anything to do with anything else we've been talking about in this magazine, but some guys were out hunting bears with their .22LR lever action guns and got treed by a brown bear after they emptied their tiny 8-round clips into it. Lucky they were able to call a cop from their cell phones and he showed up with a Bushmaster and killed the bear with 30 .223 hollow point rounds from his high capacity magazine. If the hunters had the right weapons this would have never happened. Be careful, though, Obama wants your guns and then he's going to send the National Guard to turn you into Europeans.
But there was also some interesting self-analysis that suggested the conservatives who contribute are more than capable of intelligent introspection. For instance the quote above by Bobby Jindal - who until now I felt was a dolt with a mental capacity of a chewing gum wrapper.
"John Barro, writing in The Bloomberg View asks why Republicans have not solved their middle-class economics problem and then answers his own question:
'The reason, unfortunately, is not simply that Republicans lack the imagination to get ideas to get higher wages, more jobs, and affordable health care to the middle class. It is that there is no set of policies that is both acceptable to conservatives and likely to achieve those goals. ...Any conceivable agenda that is likely to be effective in getting health care, jobs, and higher wages in the hands of the American masses will
be unconservative, at least on the terms by which most American conservatives define conservatism.'"
And therein is perhaps the reason to expect the best of our conservative brothers and sisters. There is conscious recognition of the conflict between their economic positions and what is best for most of American citizens. The next important realization, I think, is an in-print admission that it is actually a good thing to do something that is best for most American citizens, but I can accept this is just the first step in a long road.
The fundamental issue I have with the 2012 version of conservatism is what I feel is an unreasonable accommodation that poverty is acceptable. This is not to say I believe we can solve the problem by simply turning rich people into middle-class people by taxing them to death or handing out $100 bills on inner city street corners. I almost hate to admit it, but I agree at some level with Arthur Brooks and certainly with FDR that wanton monetary hand outs are a great destroyer of motivation. I have seen it in my own community, and I can admit I have seen it in my own family.
About that - my dad made a butt load of money taking a company public on the NASDAQ, and he took me aside after reaping his millions and said, "Kiddo - none of this is yours. Go make your own money," and summarily denied me a trust fund and an inheritance. So I never had the opportunity to lose my internal motivation to succeed while sitting back on a big fat trust fund like the son of, oh, say William F. Buckley or George H.W. Bush or any number of other conservatives. As I have said before in this hallowed web area, St. Jude's Children's Hospital is the primary beneficiary of my father's largesse, and none of his children benefitted from 10s of millions of dollars that came his way via the stock market (but one child did - and that one I think was wrecked by the easy influx of cash).
Meanwhile, conservatives seem perfectly happy to live in a world where half of the citizens lack access to health care, education, and low-interest home loans. To me, that sounds less like a healthy superpower of a nation than a penal colony.
It feels that conservatives are absolutely ok with turning America into a post apocalyptic Mad Max environment, as long as they have all the gas.
One of the fundamental errors I think that conservatives make continuously is the notion that "if I did it - so can anyone." This leads to the article I referenced above about the perceived destructive power of "Empathy", and why "Sympathy" is much more constructive according to the author. I think that deciding that your personal reference of being is relevant to all is the negation of the legitimacy of someone else's life experience, and both conservative and liberals are guilty of doing this.
For instance: No, I have never served in the military, much less been in combat. So NO, I do not think my views on combat are relevant, no I do not believe I understand the fear, pain, and lasting effects of that experience, and NO, I do not think my sympathy for those who have experienced that and suffer as a result is the wholly satisfactory response to caring for our wounded warriors who return home.
I do not believe soldiers returning home need my sympathy. They made life choices that benefited me and all Americans, and we thank them for that, but they do not need to be debased by having us pity them for their conscious choice to serve. Rather, they need our love and respect and gratitude and the help of an entire nation for which they have sacrificed.
Sorry to say - this will cost money. And I do not at all feel the hands of wounded veterans in my pockets. If they are there, they are as light as air itself.
In addition, I don't agree with Mr. Brooks that putting underprivileged "lower quadrille" children through an "expensive educational system" is a waste of taxpayer dollars. And yes, I think the elderly were indeed promised health care and an income after paying into it their entire working lives - even if due to inflation they have to withdraw more than they ever put in. How is that my neighbor's hand in my pocket?
However - and I think this is a fair question asked by the conservative press - where, actually, does my fiscal responsibility end?
I mean this seriously. Some vocal conservatives believe their fiscal responsibility ends with the maximum taxation they are willing to bear - which in the case of Grover Norquist is zero as he can pay people to pump his sewage privately - or perhaps with an amorphous concept that somehow by the virtue of their wealth or religious status they have given jobs to poor people which then allows them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and so by virtue of their new jobs become the worthy who need nothing.
But there does need to be an end to how much help I have to give to my fellow Americans by law, how much I want to give, and what is reasonable to expect I can keep to myself. I do not believe it is necessarily a conservative viewpoint that I, and my family, should benefit from the fruits of my labors even if those fruits are far above what the "average" American makes. This is capitalism, and I am a capitalist. People who score on the American success ladder should get to benefit from that. Plain and simple. And it is not for the government to tell them when they are "too rich". However, it does make sense to expect that as they are Americans, and have benefited from the sum and total of American History, the American infrastructure which enables their everyday life including electric power, water, availability of food and home repair supplies, roads, sleazy TV sitcoms, education, and an endless supply of old books and periodicals - that something is indeed "owed" to the country for one's success. No matter what the conservatives think - no man succeeds in this country without utilizing the work that someone else has done, somewhere, for the public good.
The problem I have - and this is MY problem - is that I absolutely believe that not everyone is born equal, meaning - not everyone is born with the same opportunity and the same measure of hardship and conservatism presumes we are. Conservatives argue as if poor people are just unlucky or unintelligent rich people who would be rich if only they made some choice or other that had worked out. At least, they seem to wish that was true.
There is a fundamental truth that being born poor simply leaves you no options. You can't decide which doctor to go to - this is not a choice open to you. When you are hurt, being human, your pain is equivalent to Jamie Dimond's. However your choice for care is limited to which Emergency Room is closest.
Similarly, your choice of neighborhoods to live in are limited. Your children do not have "primary colleges" to apply to and "safety" schools. You can't even afford the application fee. Your work options are limited. Now the conservative idea of providing more workable options rather than handouts seems like a very good one. Though certainly these work options might not exactly be the ones the wealthy conservatives would choose for their own children, but maybe they would be for the less wealthy conservatives, and as odd as that may sound to me, there are non-wealthy conservatives (who view the Republican party as the only choice for them to adequately express their religious views - see - religion is the hook the Democrats can't have, being the party of many religions...)
A flexible school voucher system, espoused by conservatives who don't want their tax dollars to pay for schools they don't want to send their kids to, does not offer a "choice" to poorer kids unless the voucher pays the kid's tuition in full. Meanwhile, the conservatives have a point in some cases. Tenure in grammar and high schools has at times seated some pretty mediocre people in place. I have argued with some of these mediocre teachers while my own kids were in school and I even sent my kids to private school (where there were more mediocre teachers) at my own expense. I reversed that decision some years later when I saw I wasn't getting any value for my money other than not having my kids socialize with their neighbors in class. I had that choice. Others don't.
You would think that by now we'd be done with our tendency toward monarchy, humans seem to gravitate toward it. With the exception of the family of Archie Manning (whose two sons both won a couple Super Bowls - so, ok - there is a family tendency there toward being superior football QBs) when has being the child of a politician made anyone equally suitable for politics -- or for an education, for that matter??
Did Chelsea Clinton get into Stanford on strength of her high school grades and SAT scores? How many of my wealthy friends got their kids into expensive private schools through endowments and donations - rather than their kid's own academic performance?
Why is it not "immoral" for the "C-" average child of a wealthy individual to be handed a first-class education, while affirmative action placing an underprivileged kid with a similar academic record is unfair? Let me get this straight - if you are born rich, your DNA entitles you to a college education whether you want it or not, but being born poor with minority DNA does not? Is this a new definition of American Freedom with which I am yet unfamiliar?
By the way - when I get the energy I'm going to have to write a similar screed on my review of the magazine The Nation, which I find similarly reprehensible in most places due to it's leftist blinders through which everything and everyone who owns a BMW looks like a Facist conspiring to subjugate and inevitably exterminate the masses.
Which brings me to my ending argument - which is hopefully more advice than a challenge.
My point is this: if you have read this far, listen closely (actually, read, but listen with your mind's ear).
Did you get that? Let me say it again.
Yes, I said it, I meant it. The real problem with the entire country is that the real physics of humanity lies with the people who understand Math, and as time goes on, less and less of us do.
Liberals and conservatives alike abhor math and all it's forms: algebra, calculus, geometry, trigonometry. Math is feared. Math is magic. Math is something that goes on inside computers, and computers control the world.
Think of Nate Silver - the guy who almost got the Oakland A's to the World Series on 1/10th the budget as the Yankees and who now predicts the outcome of elections and public moods and tendencies with a precision that borders on demonic power.
Think, oh please think. If you think that there is only one man in this world with enough background in statistics to figure out how to control the universe, think again.
If the conservatives can somehow conflate being a conservative with Christianity, with ownership of assault rifles (how big of a magazine would Jesus want you to have?), with the tax code, with the unfairness of the wealthy having to educate and see to the health of poor people (even though Jesus said it was indeed the responsibility of the rich to do so), then I can assure you from my point of view the world is being destroyed by people who are afraid of algebra and think it's great if their kids are, too.
And those of us who got A grades in all our math classes see it happening, and know that eventually there's a stock market program that will absorb all your wealth and indebt you to a foreign government (probably China) forever.
Somewhere there's a lower quadrille kid who needs only a modest public education to inspire him or her to become the math genius to save us all. Or maybe cure cancer or something like that. Or maybe nothing will happen and no kid will emerge from the projects who gets more than a D- average in anything, forever. But why would we want to pretend it's not our problem and go as far to create one whole political party to make us feel like the only problem we have is how to make more money, and then another political party to make us feel the only problem we have is that we only think of making money?
Surely there is a more sensible solution.