Sunday, August 24, 2008

Art. Reason. Liberty...

I'm now blogging in effectively 3 places... Here, Facebook and my brand new "Tumblr", which was created at the behest of my friend Ronen. The Tumblr is currently the most interesting one to me to be honest, it was designed to throw together some of my thoughts in a more brief format along with pictures, video (if I ever had internet access good enough to upload video clips) and audio (...likewise) files. The multimedia features of the Tumblr are a lot like some of the other sites that have proliferated around the internet recently like Flickr and such, designed to provide a medium to share media with family and friends. However, Tumblr makes short-form blogging incredibly easy - which makes it perfect for my current gig, as well as a myriad of other sorts of little projects.

But what about the other two blogs? Well... first of all, Facebook is a parrot of some of the things I write for this blog that I wish to share more publicly with my friends - and a place where I post links to various interesting news articles and such that I discover and read day-to-day. This blog is, and will remain, a repository of much more in-depth conversations (most often with myself) and more personal issues that are related to my life and interests. Sometimes that comes in the form of bitching (or as Ira always says, "kvetching") about work, about relationships, about friends, about politics. Sometimes, those things might offend people - indeed, it already has...

For example; several months ago I re-posted my comments expressing disgust with the citizens of Nebraska for failing to vote for a legislative spending limit which was tied to tax revenue. I could not believe that even the people of a generally "conservative" state (whatever that means anymore) wouldn't see the value in preventing their own government from engaging in the kind of grotesque deficit spending that has really destroyed states like California. Naturally - a few of my old friends from Nebraska were insulted that I was so harsh in my views and was essentially questioning their foresight & intelligence. Of course they were. So what?

Likewise, sometimes I might bitch about my job... Considering it's literally the only thing in my life right now, it's pretty unreasonable to expect that there won't ever be any complaints. To be honest, if I didn't talk about that from time to time, at the moment, I'd simply have nothing at all to talk about ever. But this does bring up an interesting question... Your employer pays you to do a job. Because your employer is paying you, they are generally in a position to make requests of your time and to ask you to do said job in a specific way. That's fine. But does that mean that one completely gives over all individuality and ability to speak your mind on your own time in your own space? Then again, is the internet a public space? I pay for my own website, which hosts this particular blog... I own this space for all intents and purposes - as much as anyone owns a house (sure, I pay $10.00 a year to keep the domain name... but if you own a house you pay taxes every year to keep that too, right?). Furthermore, this site isn't linked to my websites' main page... which means that the only way you'd know where it is if I told you where to find it. I've told very few people... I'm not seeking out random readers, though I certainly don't mind if I get a few. But what does it mean if I bitch about my friends, or my job, or anything else through this medium?

Honestly... Nothing!

No... really... Nothing. Does it mean I don't love my friends? Does it mean I hate what I do for a living? Does it mean I hate all Nebraskans?


Of course not... what it means is, I am - for this moment in time - feeling or thinking a certain way about a certain thing. Free speech really doesn't mean that much if you are afraid to offend people, afraid that someone might misinterpret it or that you might lose your job. The important thing is to speak the truth, as you see it. And often.

Don't withhold information from people because you want to keep a position of authority or to maintain some false sense of superiority. Don't strategize or posture in order to get people to like you or pretend that you have one feeling or another, or no feelings at all on a particular subject. Just be honest.

As far as I can tell, the vast majority of problems in the world stem largely from people being dishonest, withholding information and being partially trutfhful in the name of preserving some type of status quo. In the end, all that path leads to is a bunch of worthless secrets and a stagnation of progress - which is borne largely through the exchange of ideas, often oppositional ideas. It's also incredibly disrespectful to the people you're speaking to... as if they can't handle your honest opinion?? To do otherwise comes down to nothing more than a petty power-play... an information cold-war.

Interesting to study if you're John Nash I guess, but practically speaking, makes for a crappy world in my opinion. (Uh oh, there I go offending someone again!). So getting back to the point... blogging. What's the point of recording your thoughts if they're not going to be honest? What's the point of contributing to your own on-going memoire if you're going to gloss over the salient moments, the strong feelings, and the big ideas? What's the point of any of it if you're just going to be coy and hide from yourself?

If there is a point to that, I'm sure it's not a one I would want to make... I'm no nihilist. I won't pretend to be. I have thoughts, ideas, concerns, comments, complaints, and compliments about a wide variety of topics - some taken from my own life, and some drawn more broadly from the world at large. And that's what this forum is and always was meant to be for! The Tumblr can be about my travels, the day-to-day side of what I do for a living, where I am, who I've met and what I've just seen... but this one is just about ideas. It's about art, reason and liberty... the the broadest usage of each of those terms. It encompasses my world. It will continue to do so...

And that, as they say, is that.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Some Things I've Learned Traveling

Over the past year, I've been away from home already about 120 days. By the end of the year, I'm looking at around 180. Next year, according to one of the nebulous statements I've heard about our contract, we're apparently supposed to be on ships a minimum of 240 days.

For those of you who are counting, 240 days is 65% of a normal 365 day year. Since that's just "on-ship" time, and doesn't include the travel days, a conservative 20 of those brings my time away from home up to 71.2%... Now. The reality is, a 365 day year isn't an accurate measure of time gone considering that any normal, "full-time" job works a 40-60 hour work week and typically only 5 days out of every 7, and of course, Holidays are also excerpted from that. So with a 5 day work week, we'd be looking at 270 days, minus say 10 days off for holidays and maybe a paid sick day here and there is, based on my arithmetic, 260 days of work per year.

Again... one process of simple math later, I find that now based on a more accurate set of numbers, I find that suddenly I'm gone alternatively 92.3% of the year... or... factoring in travel days...


Let's recap... In my interview in October, I was told that the requisite travel would be 50-60%. By any measure, assuming the number of days we're "required" to be on ships hasn't changed in the contract since they signed it before we got hired, then the majority of my interview was either a misrepresentation or an outright lie.

Never attribute to malice what you can attribute to stupidity or carelessness. a paraphrase of a fine rule of thumb I often observe when making assumptions about people. It's hard to stick to within the entertainment industry, but still... I suppose it is rather likely that what really happened is just that no one higher up than myself bothered to do the math. That seems likely since no one within miles of the entertainment industry seems to like crunching numbers.

Now, the real question is - "Ok, Sean. What are you going to do about it?"

...No clue.

At any rate, the experience hasn't been without benefit.

For starters, I'm away from home for 37 days this round... which is far too much, but on the positive side, I'm visiting 13 countries. A few of which I haven't been to before. I'm on my way to Oslo, Norway at the moment, which is cool. I've already iterated on any number of blog-type forums the places I'm going to this trip, so I really don't need to do that again. But the truth is, the travel has at least been interesting.

It's also managed to solidify my real-world understanding of economic policy. Without succumbing too much to confirmation bias, I think the majority of what I already believed was exactly correct. This is often one of the bonuses of running your beliefs through a very stringent critical review process - even internally, the ability to make counter-arguments to yourself (and have friends who are capable of challenging you as well) until you're satisfied that the logic is sound, the premises make sense and the supporting data is valid. Besides which, let's be honest, most of it is basic common sense.

For example - London, like many of its European counterparts is a city of extremely high taxes in a country of high taxes. As I drove from London to Harwich, a town about 85 miles Northeast, I passed the time chatting with my driver. He was a very nice guy named Dave, who owned the taxi company and liked to go to Florida for motorcycle rallies. He mentioned that Harwich is growing as a bedroom community for London... few people can afford to live in the city-limits anymore. But more importantly, business are leaving London quickly. Higher corporate taxes have pushed businesses to find alternate places to hold offices, as they do everywhere. Far from governments free-loading on the backs of businesses wealth, they only manage to push them away. Add to this the cripplingly bad math of socialist health systems, cronyism, mercantilism, and the impossibility of "good" central planning, the reality of Europe is that it really is a horrible place to live overall.

In spite of the recent downturn in the value of the US Dollar, which has precipitated a subsequent decline in the standard of living in the United States, our purchasing power is still comparable (at least nationally) to England's, which is easily the highest of any part of Europe. This means that as much as we've experienced a decline (and believe me, I think America is in some of it's worst economic times in terms of real-value that it's seen in a long long time), it's still a better place to live than anywhere in Europe.

Social freedoms aren't much better over here. I guess in that instance it just comes down to a "pick your poison" sort of argument. You want to be able to drink at 18? Cool... move to Germany. But then, you can't get a driver's license til you're 18 either, so you won't really be that mobile as a teenager. Sure, that might not matter much to you if you live in Berlin - but try living without a car in Warnemunde or someplace even more rural. If you live in Amsterdam, apparently you can enjoy marijuana (if that's your bag... zing!), but if you are a cartoonist, you might be persecuted or fined if you "offend" someone... muslims perhaps. Personally, I tend to prefer the speech guarantees to the US over being able to smoke pot. I suppose that's not surprising since it's something I've never done nor plan to ever do, but the main point is that with free speech I can (and do) argue for it's legalization, whereas the pot-smoker's in the Netherlands have less power to argue for freedom of speech. Not all freedoms are as fundamental as the ones built into the Bill of Rights.

Even with the extreme hits it's taken over the past 60+ years, it, combined with the remnants of a much more free economic system are still keeping us afloat.

I get so sick of socialists yapping about "market failures" and how government always needs to step in and "fix" things. I have yet to see a failure of the market to provide necessities and amenities for people - certainly not one that was caused directly or indirectly by governmental action, whether that action was "beneficial" to certain businesses thus providing artificial (monopolistic) support destroying the ability for anyone else to compete on a level playing field through subsidies and protections, or through excessive taxation, hindering regulations and political biases, the failures are those of government. There are no clearer examples of that on a day-to-day basis than ambling about in Europe.

...can't wait til I go to St. Petersburg.

On the flip side of my sort of negative comments, my extensive travels have confirmed another one of my deeply held beliefs, in general. People are basically the same, everywhere you go. We all have the same sorts of needs and desires, and by and large, people are just really good. That makes me smile. It also means that whatever stupid governments do, and how poor mobs are at making large-scale decisions... individuals are fantastic. They're interesting, often smart, unique and typically worth meeting, everywhere you go. Makes me feel like the world is probably alright - no matter how bad it might seem from time to time.

That's been a wonderful aspect of my travels. And I have a few more places I need to see. Australia/New Zealand. More of South America. Antarctica... and... Asia, which I'm not going to get to for a bit yet.

But... it's also excedingly tiring, and I can't keep doing this without a raise. Let's see what happens in December and January.

Speaking of work... think it's time to go do some.

Monday, August 18, 2008

"Bill of Write-Ins" ...dear god I hope not!

Today, one of my roommates showed me an email her mother had sent her. It was a chain-letter sort of thing called "Bill of Write-ins" which claimed to be written by Bill Cosby (though from tone and content obviously was not, so I give that 0 credibility). The main point is that it was all stuff that my roommate's mother purportedly agreed with. Having met her a few times, we can be sure that she does. Incidentally, my other roommate's parents are both here staying with us currently - and they both seem to believe that government needs to be involved in athletics, because steroid use constitutes "fraud". That seems like a bit of a stretch to me in a lot of cases as it assumes that pro football teams managers and owners really don't know when someone is on a roid-rage. Personally, I doubt they're that naive, but whatever.

The point is... this stuff is asinine. And it's being passed around by adults as a reflection of what they claim to believe! The Who said it best... "The kids are alright". What I worry about is the "adults".

These are the ideas my future and that of my children are up against. Provincial, stupid, racist, ignorant and economically retarded. And a bleak future it is...


( 1.) Press 1 for English is immediately banned. English is the official language; speak it or wait at the border until you can.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
""Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!"" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

-"The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus

...etched into the Statue of Liberty.

Part of what has made America an amazing place to be is the intellectual and cultural diversity and constantly open to newcomers (more or less). This, generally unique, position has given America an amazing advantage over other nations by allowing the incorporation of multiple approaches to problems whereas other nations often rely only on the limited ability of their own culture and history. This inclusiveness also translates into a myriad of choices available to us as Americans for cuisine, architecture, art, music, interior design, clothing... just about everything that makes us happy as individuals. Collectivist, protectionist and xenophobic approaches to immigration are simply racist and stupid positions that limit our own development economically, culturally and intellectually.

Strangely, a lot of those immigrants haven't had a chance to learn English yet. Coincidentally, by the end of this week, I'll have visited Denmark three times... yet, I still don't know a lick of Danish. Sure swell of those chaps to let me come for a visit though and bumble around speaking "American".

I've got a better idea... just let everyone in.

( 4.) All retired military personnel will be required to man one of our many observation towers on the southern border. (six month tour) They will be under strict orders not to fire on SOUTHBOUND aliens.

Yes... all retired military personnel have a stipulation in their contracts that allow them to be recalled for a certain period after the end of their term of service - at least officers do. So I'm sure the best way to show them respect is to conscript them to go hang out in Southern Texas, New Mexico or California for 6 months and give them guns and tell them to shoot people who are generally trying to come find a new life, economic opportunity and an education to better themselves and their families. Clearly... those are the most dangerous people we all face. I have a feeling that my own father, a retired Colonel in the USAF/ANG wouldn't take too kindly to being involuntarily sent to point a gun at people he's never met who've never meant or done harm to him or anyone he knows... I don't want to put words in his mouth, but from what I gathered from 20 years of living with the man, he joined the military to protect and help people have a safer, better life... not to fire and M16 at impoverished people looking for some work.

The Economy/Trade Relations:

( 2.) We will immediately go into a two year isolationist posture to straighten out the country's attitude. NO imports, no exports. We will use the 'Walmart' policy, 'If we ain't got it, you don't need it.'

First off... "straighten out the country's attitude"??? What exactly does that even mean.

Secondly... the US imports nearly everything. If we stopped importing goods we would VERY quickly find out that we will produce a massive famine and the quality of our lives will revert to 1930s Russia in about a week. We export technology, ideas, a little bit of food, and entertainment. We import manufactured goods, a LOT of food and the results of our ideas.

Thirdly... the "Walmart" policy is, "If we ain't got it - who does!? How do we get it and sell it cheaper than the guys who already have it?? Quick... get that thing!" The idea that Walmart would ever tell a potential customer a phrase like "if we ain't got it, you don't need it" is absurd to say the least - and any government limiting the economic freedoms of it's people to a degree that it would utter such a moronic statement sounds an awful lot like China or Cuba (or Russia) and not much at all like the US. Imagine President Bush saying "Well hey, I'm the president, and I say that you don't need laptop computers... I don't care if you want one, we don't produce them here in Amerika, so you don't get one. Too damn bad."


( 3.) When imports are allowed, there will be a 100% import tax on it.

...thus making the cost of living insanely expensive for all... hooray! That'd be great though... then it would be like living in Europe where a simple hamburger costs €15 (currently US$22.08). Oh man... awesome!! Can't wait...

(I'm Ignoring the blatant contradiction from saying NO imports will be allowed)

( 9.) One export will be allowed...Wheat. The world needs to eat. A bushel of wheat will be the exact price of a barrel of oil.

Because... the price of wheat isn't set by a market, and is instead just arbitrarily assigned a monetary value by the US government and is then accepted by every individual who trades with US producers.

And of course, since no other countries in the whole world are capable of producing wheat themselves (obviously no other countries, Russia, China, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Australia for example, have large enough tracts of viable farmland), the United States has complete control of the food market.

Thus, the US' domination of world food production clearly allows us a firm position to demand 1 barrel of oil per 1 bushel of wheat, because we say so...

...I wish I didn't feel the need to tell you all I'm being sarcastic with that comment, but if someone is economically ignorant enough to take the (9) comment seriously enough to "pass it on".

National Debt “Reduction”:

(10.) All foreign aid using American taxpayer money will immediately cease, and the saved money will pay off the national debt and ultimately lower taxes. When disasters occur around the world, we'll ask the American people if they want to donate to a disaster fund, and each citizen can make the decision whether it's a worthy cause.

I generally do agree that we shouldn't have on-going foreign aid, this should - of course - be done by individuals with their own money per disaster. American's are an incredibly generous and loving people and are always up for helping those in need. We've shown that countless times in countless countries. If people are in need, no matter how we feel about their government, our individualist mindset has always said that ultimately, when push comes to shove, people are people and we do what we can to help. It's one of the best things about us...

That said... Let's be real for a second.

The US National Debt is
$ 9 , 5 9 9 , 3 5 6 , 3 2 8 , 7 2 4 . 1 1 and counting.
The 2008 Budget for Foreign Aid is
$20.3 billion... this rate it would take us the better part of
473 years to pay off the current national debt with foreign aid - assuming NO interest or increase in the national debt (which is currently increasing by $500 Billion a year!! Largely thanks to government spending on things shockingly like parts of this list that are supported - like welfare at $400B a year, military spending at $5-600B a year - and about a trillion a year in discretionary spending and mid-year spending resolutions, and on useless/unnecessary government offices like that of the Federal Baseball Commissioner).

No, but sure... by all means, let's sink that $20B a year into paying off a faction of the interest we're accruing to the countries that now effectively own our entire currency/economy - just don't think that it's even going to scratch the surface on the actual debt.

It'd be really nice if everyone else periodically did the extremely basic math (I used... addition and division... wow!) that it takes to see how stupid these sorts of things are instead of always leaving it up to me.

Entitlement Programs:

( 5.) Social security will immediately return to its original state. If you didn't put nuttin in, you ain't gettin nuttin out. The president nor any other politician will not [sic] be able to touch it.

Ironically... compared to what people expect from Social Security now, virtually no one put anything in anyway, so that whole statement probably doesn't encompass anyone who actually thinks they agree with it.

Here's a better idea... Get rid of it entirely.

This one is going to be really painful, but the only way out of this socialist nightmare at this point is for my generation (and very likely my kids' generation too) to pay for previous ones ... so at this point, we bite the bullet. Here's how we manage:

1. Cut all future SS benefit "promises" from this point forward, set a cut off age for people to still plan on collecting. I would say everyone 40 years old and over should still be covered by the current system (because practically speaking, they probably expect to get some retirement benefit out of it) but that's it.
2. Determine a valid estimate of how much money individuals were likely to have contributed over the course of their working lives - a simple, but generous, calculator can be used for every citizen over 40 at tax time next April.
3. Balance the Social Security budget so that everyone gets something comparable to what they put in, adjusted for inflation.
4. Cut military spending and social programs to (help) make up for the difference in what Social Security should be paying out compared to the amount of money it's actually capable of... We all know that the SS fund is basically empty now, so obviously that money will have to be made up somehow. Do what we can, continue paying insane taxes for the next 100 years and just accept the fact that my parents' generation and their parents' generation basically screwed us all economically by voting themselves free money and making themselves feel like they're "helping" the poor by providing safety nets based on impossible math and bad philosophy.

Part of the problem with Social Security (like any social welfare programs) is that it encourages people to make poor decisions about their future, always expecting government to step in like the poor grasshopper mooching off the generous and wise ants in the dead of winter. To quote our former Comptroller General, David Walker;

"...what's happened is we've gone from 16 workers paying into Social Security for every person drawing benefits in 1950 to 3.3 to one today, and we're going down to two to one by the time the boomers retire in big numbers and that's about where it will stay over the long run."

The incentive to suckle at the tax-payer funded teat of the Federal Government is what brings us to the point we're at now. Far from being a last resort fail-safe for people who maybe lost all their money in a tragic accident, a house fire, a bank collapse or even losing it all on Wall Street, so that they don't have to go hungry in their old age - Social Security has just become a part of everyone's basic retirement plan. Were I alive in the 40s, I'm sure I could have predicted this outcome, but in the heady days of FDR and J.M. Keynes, I'm sure it seemed like a great idea at the time... plus - hell, it's a sure-fire way to win elections when you promise people free stuff and more security!

...never mind if your promises screw up your nation's economic future irreparably - that's Future United States' problem!

( 6.) Welfare - Checks will be handed out on Fridays at the end of the 40 hour school week and the successful completion of urinalysis and a passing grade.

Checks should not be handed out at all. Welfare as a system is morally reprehensible - forcing producers to pay for the lives non-producers at gunpoint on the sole basis of a relative. Worse, it encourages people to not work by providing skewed incentives. The truly poor and those actually incapable of working need to be supported by voluntary, private non-profit/for-profit charities, direct aid by family and friends and help from professional unions and for-profit work placement organizations - and of course mental hospitals and what-have-you. I personally don't believe that anything beyond that would be remotely necessary in a society that promotes production and entrepreneurship over leaching off of "the rich", but if people are really still uncomfortable with trusting that humans actually do care for their fellow men and women (which empirically it's actually pretty easy to prove that private charities would do the job, looking both at history and at modern events like the Warren Buffet $40B give-away), then possibly a publicly capitalized (but not endlessly funded) and run charitable fund supported by the dividends from large-scale for-profit public investment could help as well.


( 7.) Professional Athletes - Steroids - The FIRST time you check positive you're banned for life.

Steroids are legal. Athletics are legal games which need to be 100% sponsored (admittedly now this problem is compounded by massive amounts of public funding that goes into athletics in the US) by private individuals looking to play, sell and enjoy watching the experience of an athletic spectacle. If their rules state that you can't use steroids, then you should be considered to be cheating within the rules of the game and not allowed to make your living that way - even fined for wages collected while cheating. Government has no damn business being involved at all. If you break the rules of the game when you're playing then you deserve to be banned from the game by the organizers of the game - like Pete Rose, then booed by your fans... Right now, say you're a football player who has developed the skill of face-masking your opponents - which is both cheating and dangerous to someone else - while the refs can't see you. When that is discovered, you will be booed... do it enough, you'll be thrown out of the game. Do it some more and maybe thrown out of the league. If you do steroids - which is cheating and dangerous only to you - then you face federal prosecution?? What?? No. Gun-carrying police and jails have no business being involved. This is a game. I don't care how much money people make around it... it's still. just. a. game.

If you claim to be steroid free before you start and you aren't, and you sign a contract saying that you are and that you will be permanently - and you are tested and you are not clean, then yes, that is a type of fraud - and should be punished accordingly by civil or criminal courts and financial damages be recompensed.

IT'S A GAME! Crikey.

Government Infallibility... I mean "Justice":

( 8.) Crime - We will adopt the Turkish method, the first time you steal, you lose your right hand. There is no more life sentences. If convicted, you will be put to death by the same method you chose for your victim; gun, knife, strangulation, etc.

I'm not sure a response to this bit of medieval BS is justified... but... April, 2007 marked the 200th person to be exonerated by DNA evidence for a crime he was convicted for that he did not commit. A NY Times article back in 2004 exposed a study which sampled a few hundred criminal cases and concluded that it was likely that there are literally thousands of innocent people currently in prison in the US.

Sometimes, cops plant evidence on people they don't like... sometimes judges have relationships with prosecutors... Sometimes, publicly elected DA's need to make examples of people and are willing to fudge evidence.... Sometimes state medical examiners are just incompetent and screw up the initial DNA tests... and sometimes... for whatever reason... people just plain get it wrong. So it's safe to say that the legal system isn't exactly flawless...

But sure... why not, let's not ever allow for the (strong) possibility that the legal system is run primarily by humans who can make mistakes, and just go right ahead and start making examples of people in the always-popular style of Fidel Castro, Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco, Che Guevara... and... well... you know.

Like how I avoided Godwin's law there? Yeah... I'm a pro.

Seriously though... wouldn't it be great though if the United States of America sentenced a completely innocent person, convicted by mistake to be raped, tortured and then mutilated?? Yeah... that'd be awesome.

National Unity:

(11.) The Pledge of Allegiance will be said every day at school and every day in Congress.

(12.) The National Anthem will be played at all appropriate ceremonies, sporting events, outings, etc.

Huh? A quick history lesson...

In 1892,
socialist minister Francis Bellamy composed the following pledge:

"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. America"

It was published on the 400th anniversary of Columbus' "discovery" of America in a children's magazine... it was intended to be accompanied by a salute that to a modern observer would look very conspicuously like the Nazi salute later some 40 years later. (Damn it Godwin!)

There is nothing particularly American about the specific pledge. It mentions none of our guaranteed freedoms as enumerated by the Bill of Rights, none of the implied freedoms that we were/are supposed to have which were not found in the Bill of Rights (of which there are many... reference the Federalist Papers to understand this more fully), and worse, it tramples all over the concept of "individual" by it's very nature.

America is built around the idea that all individual people have a right to pursue their own happiness in what ways suit them - and to speak and associate freely as they see fit. A required national pledge of allegiance inherently stifles that individuality and forces all who take part to conform to a group.

Likewise, forcing the National Anthem to be sung at "all appropriate ceremonies, sporting events, outings, etc." similarly destroys the very notion that Americans are a people who are free to speak and associate as to their own values and ideas.

In truth - both of (11) & (12) strike me as supremely Un-American things to do! No, indeed... it smacks of the Fatherland, and the Motherland, and Mao's China... Kim Jong-il, Kim Il-sung, Fidel, and hell... even Hugo Chavez. These governments, socialists... communists... these governments, require unity. Their authority is flimsy and based on fear - and without the constant forced reaffirmation of acquiescence from their nation's citizens reminding people who's in charge and indoctrinating them to incant the words of blind patriotism, their authority diminishes further. Individuals are no good... individuals make waves... individuals start revolutions! Placid groups - cows mooing pledges and oaths and singing patriotic songs - are fearful and weak... making them manageable and controllable.

"If there's one thing a totalitarian government cannot tolerate, it’s ambiguity. They don't care very much what you believe, as long as you're all believing it together."

-Penn Jillette (& Teller) from Flag

No, I think I (and my kids if I should have any) will be abstaining from a pledge and a national anthem unless I am moved to do so voluntarily by awe of our forefather's clairvoyance and the principles that America was built around. Forcing "national unity" is the surest way to trample on their ideas and the country that those ideas built that I can think of.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Tao of Sean

The past year has been a great learning experience for me with respect to relationships. Slowly, all that has evolved into a more solidified system of thought which was sort of catalyzed by recent epiphanies... and now, I honestly believe I'm a much better person for it. Essentially, what I've learned is the secret to my own happiness amidst the chaos that is my love life, are the following four axioms.

1. Be yourself
2. Act without regret
3. Love for your own reasons
4. Be at peace

1. Be Yourself

That pretty much says it all... the first, and most important step in this process is to be exactly who you are at all times. Naturally, this is more complicated than any "just be it" phrase - you must know yourself well enough to understand your values and motivations, you must choose who you want to be, and take action to become who you want to be, and be constantly reassessing... But let's assume you already do have a solid idea of who you are, the point of me saying "Be Yourself", is that much of the time most people aren't - especially when we are worried what someone else thinks of us.

Relationships are tricky like that... if we think we like someone, we're so likely to throw "ourselves" out the window and try to strategize by being who we think that person is going to want. This is a lie. But it's like cheating on a test... you really only screw yourself in the long run.

I once cautioned a friend that she seemed to be going to the bar just a bit too often, and she told me "everyone likes me more when I'm drunk!" Unfortunately, unless she's prepared to be drunk all the time, anyone who begins dating her based on the self she presents at the bar is building a relationship on a misrepresentation... and that will fail.

No... the truth is, as cliched as it is, anyone worth being with is going to love you for exactly who you really are, and you won't have to pretend. It's important not to pretend to be someone else in part for your long term happiness of course, but also because it makes you afraid... and fear so often results in both cowardice and trying to tightly control that which is truly beyond your sphere of influence... it's no good. Being comfortable with who you are frees you up to...

2. Act without regret

So much of my life, I have acted boldly in many areas, but not always with women. I suppose this was due in part to a fear of rejection and possibly due to a fundamental lack of self-confidence. While any lack of confidence really wasn't warranted, my friend Ronen made comments back in May that really illuminated the idea that sometimes we retain these residual rejection fears from our youth - even though now we may be successful, mature adults.

Unfortunately, this has prevented me from boldly going for the metaphorical gusto in many of my interactions with women. But recently, following Ronen's advice, I did exactly that with a woman I had just met... and as a result, that sparked the series of epiphanies that led me to think and then write all this. It also made me feel fantastic!

A person's actions tend to be in line with their core beliefs... So once you have established that you know who you are, and that you are who you mean to be, acting on that should be the easy part. It certainly was for me over the past couple months...

The real beauty of this part, is that you'll never regret something you did. If you don't act boldly, you'll wind up years from now saying something like "I wish I'd kissed her!" or "why didn't I tell her what I thought?"

The worst thing that can ever happen is that she doesn't feel the same way... and that is, in my experience, sometimes only temporary. But honestly, how bad is that really?

(See #3 for why rejection should be no big deal).

Acting in this way does have it's downfalls of course. For one, most people aren't used to being dealt with in a truly straightforward manner... so sometimes it's going to freak them out a bit. But the way I figure it, anyone who is truly worth your time is going to appreciate that in your character and treat you with the same candor. If not, then perhaps that particular woman isn't ready yet... or even, isn't as worthy of your love as you thought. Usually, I think some people just need time to get over the shock of honesty, and they will or they won't but there's really nothing you can do about it either way. Once you've shown a person what they mean to you - it will be up to them to decide what to do with that information... any choice really shouldn't make too much of a difference.

So assuming that you have, in fact, judged correctly. Then...

3. Love for your own reasons

What I mean is this: Far from what is constantly parroted by movies, books, and other mass media, true love is possibly the most conditional relationship you could ever have with another person.

Ayn Rand discussed this at length, and one of my best friends mentioned something nearly identical a few weeks ago to me to this concept, all love - especially romantic love - is in reality a physical manifestation of your personal sense of self-worth. As my friend James put it; you're attracted to people who are kind of on your same level.

Unfortunately - a person's sense of self-worth is in a lot of ways independent to what their "real" worth is. Even the most accomplished men and women can still believe that they're not that great, for whatever reason. This is the kind of mentality that pushes normal women to accept abusive men and never leave... it's a shame, but the thing is, it's really important to have an accurate metaphorical mirror and be accurate about your sense of self-worth not only because it seriously affects your confidence, but also because it affects who you're ultimately attracted to.

But I digress... "Love for your own reasons" means this: Love is conditional - but because it's conditional, it makes absolutely no difference whether or not someone believes they love you back. It doesn't matter if it's one-sided.

Look at it this way - if you love someone because they are an amazing person... does that change just because they don't love you back in the way you want them to? No. Of course not... Until a person shows themselves to be unworthy, then there's no reason to be upset with them for not seeing in you what you see in them... one measure of maturity is the ability to accept that very few people will value you as you deserve to be, no matter how you treat them - and that that doesn't mean they're a terrible person, or that it's worth being upset by.

This is an important part of the Zen if you ask me, because it explicitly means that being rejected is of no consequence. There is nothing more liberating than that!

So... put it all together up to this point - following each these 3 concepts, we wind up with a person who is secure and confident about themselves, willing to act pursuant to their desires in morally respectable ways, who has no fear of rejection and is willing to put their heart and emotional core on the line for anyone who is deemed worthy... even if the feeling goes unrequited.

That's who I want to be... and who I believe, for the first time, I really am...

4. Be at peace

Really, all I mean with this one is that... sometimes your bold actions aren't going to work the way you intend. Don't have intentions. Free yourself from desire. Seek only to be true to yourself and your feelings.

Do things that you want to do because they express who you are and what you want to say to a person - not because you think they're going to get you a girlfriend or even get you laid. If you love someone, or if you think they might be worth loving... act. Show them what they mean to you... it's immaterial what you mean to them. Relationships also change over time... there have been several times in my life where a girl who wasn't interested in me at one point was later on. Just relax...

Be yourself.

That's it...

And don't worry about getting hurt! It may happen, it may not... so long as you are acting in ways you don't regret and loving for the right reasons, that hurt - in my experience - is really minimized. Conversely, if you don't put your heart into your relationships (any type of relationship) then you're just being a coward who's missing out on some of the greatest parts of life.

Finally... in keeping with the spirit of it all... To all the women I've truly loved, and all the ones who are worth loving: No matter how you feel about me. I still love you. You know who you are, I hope.

(PS. this all actually applies to friendships too...)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

WTF Job.

Usually I write these really ridiculous philosophical or political blogs, but tonight... oh yes tonight... I write just about me. I'm sorry if this is a little cryptic, but if I go full on narrative style I'm quite sure this will wind up being unreadable. Instead, it's best if I write a bit more short-hand. So here goes...

1. Fifth ship = 25% more work. 0% pay raise?? Starting the 19th, I fly to London. On ship til the 2nd, fly to Amsterdam. On ship til the 11th in Lisbon. Fly from Lisbon to Seattle, enjoy Alaska for the millionth time. Hotel in Seattle 2 nights. On ship from Seattle to LA... get cab home, crash hard... die to world - 34 DAYS AWAY FROM HOME. Again... 0% pay raise??? Seriously.

2. Cellist failure led me into relationship Zen. Separate blog is required to explain the Zen. Later.

3. Sat in with Ocean Bar band tonight... I wish I played drums more. I'm so out of practice! Some compliments though, always nice.

4. How much does a Mallet-kat cost? If I keep traveling like this, maybe I can get one and play vibraphone wherever I am? That's stupid...

5. Damn I rock my job. 0% pay raise??????

Excerpt from an email I needed to write:
Furthermore, to have a 5th ship added to my schedule is actually a lot more work on my plate, and more responsibility (another $200k worth of gear and another dozen musicians I oversee) and more to keep track of, so while technically salary isn’t about how many ships I have to deal with, it’s pretty ridiculous to suggest that that’s not a factor - when John got the Eurodam, he got a commensurate pay increase, and a new title...I’m up to the challenge, but I don’t feel like my time and talents are being respected appropriately. In all honesty, I’m pretty upset right now that you’re not even considering a pay increase for this. I accepted your decision to wait until January for a formal review… but even that was pretty shocking to me. I’ve never worked for a company – even in high school – that didn’t do a 6 month review and offered a merit increase around that time (and I’m talking about grocery stores and swimming pools – not professional, multi-million dollar entertainment companies).

Yeah.... I think I can sum up this blog with a big ol' wtf? You dig?