Friday, April 09, 2010

Our Taxes

Our Taxes
9 April 2010
Malmstrom AFB, Montana

In response to Lori Harfenist’s Happy Tax Freedom Day video.

REALLY. Not one person knows where their taxes go. Wow.
Have you driven on a paved road today?
Did you go to or take your child(ren) to a public school today?
Do you get your water from a non-well source?
Did you flush some bullshit down the toilet today that didn't go into a septic tank?
Did you see a fire truck today? A police car?
Know anyone who has served in the military?
Did you use GPS today (developed and maintained by the U.S. Air Force).
Did you manage not to get sick from eating from one of thousands of providers, whether restaurant or store bought? (food handling and preparation standards)
Go to a park recently?
Blah blah blah blah.

It really does seem the vast majority of people in the U.S. don’t know where their taxes go. Yes, you can’t really know where every penny goes, but it’s not hard to know where it is generally spent.
There are endless examples of where our taxes go. I don't mind paying taxes because I know where they go and what they provide to me. Now I do not like my, and others, money being wasted. I do not mean from a program I don't use or one I think is silly because I understand others may really need it or really benefit from it and that I try not to be a greedy bastard. 

We need to think of taxes as our collective pool of resources to better our national community—particularly since we don’t MAKE SHIT IN THIS COUNTRY ANYMORE!!! They aren't a bad thing. I'm a simple person—for the most part—that grew up in the South in a very conservative, religious, working-class family. I've served close to a decade in the military—well if that doesn't make one feel old now. From living in many different places all over the world, I understand how and why some people feel differently about taxes, government and things they don't have firsthand experience with. I understand why it's hard for a person from a small town in a large state with a small population to get this big picture. Hell, I'm not that social of a person in many regards, but dang it, I believe we all need to look out for each other—and I'm not even a religious person anymore! It kills me when I see all these white, conservative (politically speaking that is), religious people going all teabag crazy. Sounds like someone needs to try not to selectively listen and read at church. If you're going to call yourself a Christian, you best FULLY live it. And from what I remember from the bible, Jesus was quite the socialist (and not the kind some like to group under the Nazi flag, but the more basic tribal type and that are used widely around the developed world). Yeah, think about it before you get all defensive or dismiss me Christians.

As for what to tax, on a federal level I feel to be fair we need to tax everything equally or nothing at all. I really think just an income tax should be all there is on a federal level. Fairest is a flat rate—in thought—but if you make $10,000 in a year, that $1,000 makes a big difference. If you make $1,000,000, that $100,000 is a lot of money, but the remaining $900,000 goes a LOOONG way. With great power—in our society that means money—comes great responsibility (actually, maybe I’m wrong, but I recall the bible saying something along the lines as “to whom much is given, much will be expected”). As for taxing things like goods and services, that can be set by the needs of states and municipalities. With a country of our size and diversity, we need to be flexible to local needs. Plus, this allows people to live in areas that are run in ways they feel meet their ideals. We need to streamline our government and make sure it runs efficiently and with integrity, on ALL levels. I think before people start bitching at the federal government, they best make sure their local and state governments are run well first—then go after D.C. 

I know these thoughts are noble and may be pie in the sky—mmmm, pie—but that doesn’t mean we should give up on them or just ignore the topics that need our attention as citizens of this country. Education first and don’t be an armchair politician.

*A later thought*
Oh, and another way to look at it is like dues for an organization, just with a sliding like many military organizations and events do based on rank (which means pay scale). So you military people should understand it more. Funny how everyone I've ever seen in these circumstances always thought it was a great idea and gladly paid what the could more easily afford.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

It Takes Disaster...

It Takes Disaster
23 January 2010
Missoula, Montana

On the final show of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien

Dear Internet,

First off, I have to say the final episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien was an amazing event and an act of class.  Whether you like the show, Conan or that type of comedy, you should watch it for many reasons.  Tom Hanks, Steve Carrell, Neil Young, Will Ferrell and a few more were there to wish Conan off in style. 
While watching the show I was reminded how it takes disaster and misfortune to rally people behind a good cause or something worthy of our time and support.  They promoted relief support for the damage done in Haiti throughout the show.  This got me thinking.  We in this country know a level of comfort, ease and fortune few know on the whole as we do.  There are things we complain about and throw away in the garbage that people have never known in other parts of the world.  Even those with not as much comfort and fortune in this country, still have it better than billions of other on this planet. 
For the masses, we don’t go out of our way to help others in need on a daily, weekly or even a monthly basis; we don’t take a stand on important issues or support worthy causes.  It usually takes a disaster or something very unpleasant to stir action, and even then, it usual is for the very short-term.  Yes, any action just once or rarely is better than none, but is this really how we as a culture; as a society; as a species want to live?  Is it really OK to accept this as a society and just take a more selfish route for most of the days of our lives?  Do we really need some of the stuff we think we need in our life?
This is easily likened to the debate over capitalism and socialism.  To me, from all my travels all over the world seeing many different ways of life and opinions on how we as humans live our lives, it appears to come down to greed and ignorance of an individual and of a given culture.  It’s important for me to remind us what ignorance is because many people view this word negatively when someone calls them ignorant.  I am ignorant of many things—we all are.  Ignorance is just a lack of knowledge or information.  Greed, well, we all know what that is—although I wonder sometimes.  It’s fine to want things, but when we let it control us, we make poor decisions, not just for ourselves, but also for all of us as a whole—particularly those with more power and control over our lives.  It’s all about striking a balance.  Do I really need a huge SUV or pickup truck or even a fancy new car?  Do I really need a 42 inch (107 cm) flat panel HD TV?  Do I really need a dozen instruments?  Do I really need almost a thousand CDs? (OK, those last two were really questions for myself)
It’s not always such an easy yes or no answer.  For me, the answer to the first two is now an easy no.  The second two takes a bit more thought and will to arrive at a no.  Do I need them to survive—no.  Do I need them to be ultimately happy—no.  Do they add something special to my life—absolutely.  Is it worth the resources taken away from our planet and its inhabitants?  Is it worth it taking away from my ability to able to help other in greater need, i.e. (id est—Latin for that is [to say]) it is worth being less able to donate money or time to a good cause or someone in need?  Like I said, those last two are a bit harder for me.  Since I share what I have with friends often, it’s easier to say a more meaningful yes.  These are things we really should be thinking about anytime we do or buy something.
These are not uncommon thoughts for “simpler” cultures past or present.  From an Anthropological point of view, all small bands and tribes of known time could not afford to be greedy or selfish or it could adversely affect the group as a whole.  The actions of one could affect or kill others than just their self, if at all.  The worst kind is for one to prosper at the cost of others.  As we have grown into much larger states and nations with more infrastructures, we lose the so-called “human element”.  The act of sharing isn’t a daily occurrence. 
I don’t like giving money I earned away to some giant organization and not knowing where it goes.  This is like taxes paid to a government.  Not long ago I finally applied these thoughts to paying taxes.  Taxes really aren’t anything more than the pooling of resources for the good of the whole of a nation or group.  In an ideal situation, people would give what they can for a common cause.  This is much like the group Christmas gift idea I had for some of my closer friends a couple years ago.  Too often people have to settle with giving a gift of less monetary value than they would like to.  By the way, I don’t liked the idea of forced giving because you managed to live another year or because corporate minds invented holidays for us to buy things.  I think gifting giving should be a year round occurrence because it’s something you thought of doing right then.  As it stands now, the receiver is left with stuff generally not as useful or needed, but the thought counts right?  So a group endeavor to pool funds to get something of greater need makes a whole heck of a lot more sense in my book—which is something this rant is turning into.  Now instead of saying I’m going to need $20 for everyone, I say give what you can or feel like giving.  In this setting, we generally all know each other or at least the person being helped out.  With taxes, it really isn’t much different, just on a much larger scales with many more people being helped in many different ways.  We get schools, roads, protection from a multitude of things and generally some sort of help when we need it.  This only works when we voice our needs—which we do through our elected officials to our republic here in the U.S.—and when we put those with the best intensions and know-how into those positions of directing our collective resources. 
Really, this is still on topic!  There are two ways of helping others less fortunate—well, three when you really get down to it.  One, you can pool your resource through one entity; two, pick and choose where your resources go individually—which are generally much more limited; or three, do absolutely nothing and keep all your resources to yourself (but with this choice—in most circumstances—you are taking away some from others that choose one of the first two options). 
Our world is no longer as small and isolated as it once was.  Globalization and technology has connected us in ways is hard to imagine considering where we were as a whole just a couple decades ago.  With more people and less places unoccupied, the reach of so-called “disasters” becomes increasingly obvious.
Now one thing I haven’t touched on directly is the role our emotions play into our thoughts and decisions.  So much can be attributed to them that we’ve done throughout time—good and bad.  Art, invention, racism, discovery, murder, greed and the act of helping are all a result of some sort of emotion.  They cause us to be overly imaginative in circumstances we might normally reason through something.  UFOs, Bigfoot, religion and rumors are all generally a result of emotions and looking to prove something is as you thought you saw it and not trying to prove it otherwise.  The basis of science is not about proving a discovery or idea as being correct, but by trying to prove it incorrect.  It’s about trying to find flaws or incompleteness or anything else that might pop up down the road to unravel it.  As thorough a picture as you can paint.
When you factor in the emotion of what we collectively call disaster, it will spur many to a point to think about these things.  It gets people to help those in need of assistance.  It will bring a person to risk more for others that they might not normally risk.  It can bring people together that might not normally associate with one another.  Uniting efforts for a common goal is at the root of most—if not all—disasters. 
The outcry and support from fans and colleagues of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien showed us we can unite and take a stand for something on a much less than disastrous scale.  In this situation could we as fans have done something in advance to change this outcome—certainly.  Watching the show regularly for one could have helped.  I’m guilty of this.  After watching a clip they put together of some of the stuff they did on the show in the last seven months, I felt like I really missed some good stuff.  This brought about those emotions again and made it seem much more sad the show is ending and important to get angry over.  So what’s the good from this?  It could show the network the error in its way and improve and/or it could lead to a better show down the road from Conan.  One thing for sure is no more Granny Conanny in this setting for the next seven months…
Now to get a little more personal on the topic that set this off for me.  Conan talked about not being cynical, but by definition, this is a great example of how people and organizations can be self-serving and greedy.  Cynical is the exact word to describe what people should be, because these NBC executives are motivated by self-interest and I personally don't trust their integrity.  I sometimes think we forget the real meaning of a word or come to only recognize only one side to it.  Conan is a forgiving christian fellow and probably thinks this is “just business” and should just move on, but it's still bad business ethics either way and I—unlike most people—am willing to hold to principle and make some sacrifice for the good of the whole.  You have to recognize a problem before you can resolve it.  He is making a stand by walking, so there's no good reason fans can make a stand with him and do what he can’t.  He united so many people throughout all this and to the final show.  The ending of the show really displays this and how much this means to him and others.  To look beyond this by anyone is foolish. 
He makes excellent points in his emotional speech to viewers about his situation.  Yes, if one does work really hard at something and is a kind person, they will do well.  The reality is, most people only manage one of those things.  I personally haven’t done this well.  It takes those in combination for long periods of time to get Conan-like results.  It is something we all should strive for. 
I'm still going to standing by my complete boycott of NBC—at least until something major changes—because NBC Universal is powerful corporation and only listens to revenues from advertisers and ratings.  If I only boycotted watching a Tonight Show without Conan or NBC late night in general, it's not enough.  You have to completely remove all NBC from one's life to make any sort of issue you have with them known—of course, it really doesn’t work well unless you inform them you are going to do this in some sort of semi-respectable correspondence.  I wish they would listen to reason and to those it would affect directly first, but not enough fans will take a proper stand, so—like too often—I find myself trying to make up for what others don't do.  So many people are just talk or complain and don't do anything.  There are a lot of things I suck at and drop the ball on, but I try to make a stand at something I believe in that could use a little more support and effort. 
This idea that we deserve this or that is way too off from the reality of things.  I don’t deserve “good things”.  I get by OK with what I have.  “Good things” are all perception and relative anyways.  We—as any living being—don’t deserve anything.  Here’s where religion and science butt heads.  If you believe in what we’ve learned and think about the universe, then this makes more sense.  It looks like we are all here by chance and are a result of MANY processes over LONG periods of time.  This may seem like a cold or emotionless way to view things, but the positive thing about it is that it puts everything on a level playing field—also, life isn’t just rainbows and butterflies.  It gives us more control over what happens to us—although, not much as it stands now.  It charges us to make the best of what we have for the unknown time we have it.  This is hard for many when you have a set culture pushing you to do, believe and achieve certain things that can’t be done in the moment or on a short-term scale.  You see too many people work towards something all their life or a sizeable portion of it, just to discover it’s not what they thought they wanted or isn’t what they needed to be happy.

Don’t let a culture control what you need or what you want.  You have to think for yourself first.  You have to have an opinion—the more “educated” the better.  Then once you’ve exhausted your knowledge and abilities, then look elsewhere for other ideas and opinions.  You also must have the strength to be as objectionable and non-biased as you can when you sail out into the ocean of unrestricted—and restricted—thoughts.  
Here’s something to think about.  One in almost seven billion might not have great odds for bringing about a positive change in something or making a stand for what is the right thing to do, but it has to start with someone and it has to spread beyond the recesses of that one mind.  Look at it this way; that one in seven billion doesn’t have great odds for moving a mountain in their lifetime, but, as the numbers grow, those chances increase with less time needed, and, with increasing technology, it takes fewer people to move that mountain.

This was composed while watching Conan’s final show with The Tonight Show for a second time and also while listening to Hilary Hahn’s newest CD, Bach: Violin and Voice   

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