Monday, February 22, 2010

Justin Wehr asks philosophical questions

Wehr in the World is asking questions about wisdom.

Here are the questions and the answers that I submitted:

Question 1: What is a good parent?
A good parent realizes that their life was fundamentally altered when their child was conceived. They re-prioritize their life to make the education (in knowledge and wisdom) of their child(ren) their most valuable long-term goal. They are, in fact, influencing the life of their child(ren), their own life (in the event of age or disability), the lives of everyone their child(ren) will come into profound contact with, and very probably a line of succeeding generations. A good parent balances the individual needs of the child(ren) with familial and societal needs, which vary by person, family, and culture. This involves constant discipline and action. In the end, a good parent teaches their child(ren) to be independent thinkers and doers, capable of achievment.

Question 2: How can one tell if one is in love or infatuated?
Infatuation is a gut reaction of desire; not wrong or right, it just is. Love is something altogether more difficult to comprehend. There are many types of love--for self, for parents and siblings, for spouse, for children, for friends, for ideas, for country, etc. The distinguishing characteristic about love is the presence of the spirit of "giving" in addition to "desire."

Question 3: How much love should one have for oneself?
Enough to appreciate one's qualities, but not so much that one becomes prideful. Enough to accept one's faults, but not so much that one never strives to improve.

Question 4: Should one worry what other people think?
Worry? No. Be concerned? Maybe. Any action one takes that affects the well-being of others should involve concern. Otherwise, it is probably not any of their business, and concern on their behalf is a waste of effort.

Question 5: What should one do when anxious?
Pray. Seek counsel from references, either books or people, from memory or otherwise. These things and people are called "references" for a reason, as they provide a reference point for our own feelings, knowledge and experience. Anxiety is tied to impending uncertainty or unpleasantness, neither of which one wants to experience. Mastering the anxiety is the key to continuing on. Mitigating the causes of the anxiety and their effects provides action, which is soothing in and of itself. Just don't give up.

Question 6: How should one deal with death?
Above all, with honesty. If another has died, one must accept what has occurred, regardless of why. One must move on with life or else follow the deceased. If one's own death is pending, one must accept what will occur, regardless of why. One must complete preparations for death if possible, but once that is concluded (or while it is in others' hands), one should embrace the life that remains.

Question 7: What should one do if one is shy?
Find and hold fast a small group of close friends and family. There is no need to be outgoing with everyone, so long as one has at least one other person in life as a good and true friend. Do what must be done in public life, be polite with all, but be not ashamed for being shy.

Question 8: How should one end a relationship?
I have never done this properly, and consider myself unwise in this respect.

Question 9: How can one live happily with other people?
I am still learning how to do this, and consider myself unwise in this respect.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Roger Ebert

This wonderful look at the life of Roger Ebert caught my attention. What I find most amazing is that a man who has endured so much pain can still find so much joy in life.

Because he can no longer speak, he writes notes on scraps of paper or has his computer speak his words. What is interesting is the effect on his anger. He will still become angry, but the moment passes him more quickly because of the effort required to communicate it. Perhaps there is wisdom in counting to ten before releasing our anger, as it may really evaporate more often than not.

Also quite moving is the story of his relationship with Gene Siskel, his first television partner. He has spent considerable time in his online journal remembering Gene. They were opposites in many ways, argued much, but were connected somehow by a shared destiny. They were the best of friends until the day Gene Siskel died. While showing to an interviewer the journal entry containing a video of his first show after Gene's death, the video was unexpectedly reported deleted. This sent Ebert into a towering rage, typing on his computer the equivalent of "standing on the street corner ... arching his back and ... shouting at the top of his lungs." I have no doubt that whoever deleted the content received hell for it soon after.

Roger Ebert does not believe in any afterlife. He knows that he is "dying in increments." But he goes on living and working and enjoying what is left of his life.

I do believe in the afterlife. This will not stop me from drawing a lesson from Roger Ebert's life:

My belief in a paradise after death should not stop me from "sucking the marrow" from the life I have on earth, no matter how good or bad my life becomes. This does not mean, "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die." Rather, I should treat life as a precious gift and not let a moment go to waste in despair and despondency. "To despair is to turn one's back on God." It also wastes the gift of life.

Bonus: Here is a review of the Esquire article linked above. It records some of Ebert's reaction to the article. It seems to have been cathartic.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Law and the Profits: Part 4

Finishing up Chapter 1. This is such a rich chapter that I don't mind having spent four posts getting through it and the preface.

To summarize all that went before, "the public revenue is regarded as limitless[,] and expenditure rises eternally to meet it, and the various devices which are supposed to check expenditure fail to do so, being wrongly conceived and imperfectly motivated."

What to do? "[R]e-motivate the people actually concerned, penalizing the extravagance we now reward and rewarding the economy we now penalize."

The crux of it is this: "Ministers should not begin by ascertaining what the departments need. They should begin by asking what the country can afford to spend." Much like household budgeting.

Without specifying a value for the ideal tax revenue to GDP ratio (more in chapter 6), he identifies this as a critical metric. "What proportion of the national income should the government demand? What proportion of the individual's income can the government safely take? And what happens when that proportion is exceeded?" He asserts that economists have been actively shying away from this problem, which has the unfortunate side effect of letting government believe that "where government expenditure is concerned, the sky is the limit." I have read many news articles recently where the ratio problem is accepted as true and bearing real adverse consequences. Perhaps this is a sign that economists are not shy about this problem any longer.

The natural advantage of this method of tax revenue budgeting is that it necessarily limits expenditure. This makes it easier for the legislature to allocate funds, under ideal circumstances. This is a consistent grain of salt that must be applied while reading this book: Prof. Parkinson sounds a lot like an idealist, and may very well have been. This can undermine his suggestions on grounds of impracticality, although he often anticipates this response (especially from the civil service) and offers advice on how to get round the opposition.

The second advantage is that expenditure can (should?) become flexible within each department and sub-unit. The reason for this is as follows: Ministers are responsible for achieving goals; more goals can be accomplished on a fixed budget if ministers economize; if promotions are based jointly on economy and goal achievement, then ministers (and subordinates) are competitively prodded in the direction of less inefficiency and waste.

To oversee the ministers, the Treasury department, instead of "divided control", can employ the "strong leash of account and audit." (This creates an efficiency in and of itself by eliminating a lot of overhead.) The minister is then "compelled to accept responsibility, free to display initiative[,] and forced to recognize that cost and value are but two aspects of the same idea."

As mentioned in an earlier post, enlisting the public (as the ultimate overseer of government) is vital in the prevention of waste. He suggests an official tribunal, composed of private citizens and at least one government representative, to receive all proposals for saving money. Upon detailed review of each proposal, including hearings with the public and with the affected departments, they can conclude the feasibility. Each favorable decision would lead to a "ministerial order to the department concerned to reduce its future allocation by the amount to be saved." The tribunal would also reward each successful applicant, such as through tax credits proportionally related to the amount of the saving. He also suggests that all savings be used to repay the national debt. It seems clear that the savings that would go through the tribunal are sizeable compared to the savings that each minister might find within their own department as part of the goal achievement competition.

To combat the "formidable opposition"-- "a closed phalanx of civil servants representing one of the strongest vested interests in the world"--there is not yet in the book a suggestion for victory. There is a history of rebuffed reform attempts from 1570 onward, a brief chronicle of the rise of "esoterrorism" (a blend of "esoterics" and "terrorism"). "Let no one imagine that this citadel will yield to the first assault. Let no one doubt, however, that it will yield to the last."

Next time, the types of taxes through history.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Why are liberals so condescending?"

I was startled to come across this article in the Washington Post asking the question, "Why are liberals so condescending?" Within, Gerard Alexander examines statements from the 1950's forward that cast conservatism as "more of a psychiatric disorder than a rival."

Comments were closed, so it is difficult to know how other readers are responding to the article. I don't believe that every liberal is condescending, just as I believe that not every conservative is without guilt in destroying civility in public discourse. It is definitely a problem, however, when liberals appear to be running two out of three branches of the federal government.

I may not be the most intellectual conservative-libertarian, but I do not need liberal pity and condescension for my beliefs. I'd like to see leading liberals (and conservatives and libertarians) roll up their sleeves and talk about more facts and fewer opinions.

Here is a response article from Dan Kennedy in the U.K.