Friday, September 30, 2011

On Capital Punishment

I was struck by a remark made by a regular reader and commenter on my blog, John Myste. I don’t exactly remember where it was located, so I can’t link to it [yet], but John mentioned that after sharing his view that capital punishment should be banned, he found little support for it, even on the left.

To be honest, I’m not too fond of the idea of ending capital punishment mysef, but I am disgusted by the actual practice of capital punishment in America. The poor (who are often ethnic minorities) are more likely to be executed for their crimes, and part of this is linked to their inability to afford adequate legal counsel. But I think I have a solution to the problem.

I think capital punishment should be banned… for poor people. I don’t have a specific way of determining how to define “poor people,” but I think being too poor to be represented by anyone but a public defender is a good start. I think we can even exclude the middle class.

I would like to see the actual number of victims considered, as well. Let’s say you kill 10 people. You can count those ten people as victims, then everyone they’re directly related to, and maybe even throw in their close friends. I imagine those ten people were close with about 10-50 people each, so that means about 100-500 people were affected, and this is just a rough guesstimate. I can easily imagine scenarios where the numbers skyrocket, and there is probably no upper limit to the possible number of victims directly affected.

While this may seem callous, that isn’t very many people. It just isn’t. In a nation of over 300 million, a few hundred people barely registers. And indeed, people are killed in America every day, and unless you’re a white, middle- or upper-class woman, your story probably won’t even end up on the news. Not even most child deaths are reported nationally anymore, just a bunch of missing mothers and female college students. I guess the news only reports on a story that may elicit an image of an attractive Caucasian female being raped in a dingy basement somewhere.

I don’t think we should be executing people for murder, if only because I think that’s what the murderer wants. It seems like these days, most of the murders I hear and read about end in the killer taking their own life. It seems to me that executing a murderer is just finishing what he started (and it is usually a he). Make them live with the guilt. Make them slowly waste away in a cell while the world goes on without them.

This is especially important to me as an atheist, because I don’t think a person goes to hell when they die if they’re a bad person. From my perspective, killing someone is letting them off easy. The punishment ends once you execute someone, but it can drag on for years if you keep them alive. If your intent is retribution, the way to go is life in prison. The prospect of decades alone in a cell is infinitely more terrifying than putting them out of their misery.

But I’m not willing to throw capital punishment out altogether. I would like to change who is subject to execution, and I also take issue with the methods used. I’ll start with who I think we ought to be targeting with the death penalty.

The answer is simple: we should be making a public example of those whose actions affect millions. We should be killing those who pose a serious threat to society itself, not those who hurt a few people here or there. No, I’m not talking about terrorists. I think we should only execute politicians and white-collar, corporate criminals.

I never saw a better candidate for capital punishment than Bernie Madoff. That piece of human waste deserves to die. I feel no sympathy for him, and my deepest wish is that someone in jail castrates him and makes him eat his own genitals. I cannot wish enough horrible things upon him and those like him. When you gamble away the futures of millions of people, you deserve no future, and perhaps even a bloody, horrible demise.

And as for politicians, I think there are a whole host of crimes that warrant the death penalty. Bribery, for one, war crimes being another. If you betray the trust of your constituents by being beholden to wealthy interests, you undermine the very democracy our nation is built on. I can think of few things more truly dangerous than that… except maybe using a nation’s army to settle personal vendettas and to line the pockets of war profiteers, while in the process killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians. That also makes you not worthy of the oxygen you breathe.

Now that I think I have settled who should be subject to capital punishment, and for what sorts of crimes, I have to say: I take issue with the way executions occur now. The methods we use now are so… so… sterile and boring.

Here’s what I’m thinking: once every year or so, we should gather all of the condemned in a stadium, and they should be made to fight to the death for our amusement, and it should be televised on Pay-Per-View. All proceeds from PPV and ticket sales should go towards paying victims and their families.

I’m thinking we can mix it up and take a few cues from the Romans. In the morning, we could have corrupt bankers being fed to lions, tigers and bears (oh my). Around midday, there could be some hand-to-hand combat using medieval weaponry between disgraced elected officials. And for the main event: we’ll flood the arena floor with water, throw in some hungry sharks, and give all remaining contestants jet skis and chainsaws. The last man standing gets to live to fight another battle.

During the “off-season,” as it were, those awaiting their fate could be subjected to medical testing, and the surviving wounded could be used as practice for young surgeons. The general idea here is, we should make good use of these people who tried to take too much from society.

Ultimately, I don’t see capital punishment as a deterrent for murder. Most murderers don’t contemplate their crime far ahead of time; it is often a decision made in the moment, without much thought, and is often based on fleeting emotions.

I would rather see capital punishment reserved for more deliberate crimes, the kind that require criminal decisions to be made over and over again over a period of time. It is these types of crimes that can be deterred, because they require one to make conscious decisions to break the law. Having a corporation buy your vote is not a crime of passion, nor is scamming investors out of billions of dollars. These are crimes against humanity, crimes perpetrated by those who betray the power and privilege we as a society bestow upon a very select few. These are crimes committed by those who know better, by those who abuse their status and public trust. Really, they are the crimes of those who think (and right now, know) they can get away with it.

What better way to send the message that, “No, you will pay for your crimes,” than to promise a bloody and painful death before the roar of a crowd they cheated?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Philosophy of Humor

I think one of the hardest things to know in this world is yourself… hard, but not impossible. Still, I don't understand people who lose their minds trying to find themselves. If you’re trying to find yourself, I recommend trying to remember where you last saw yourself. And remember: put things away where they belong and this won’t happen.

I do know myself. It turns out, I’m me, which is good, because I’ve been paying bills addressed to me for years now. I also know I rely on humor to cope with the world. There is something primal about laughing. Humans are not the only animal on the planet that laughs, which proves you don’t have to be that intelligent to laugh, but I think you have to be stupid not to. If you never laugh, I assume you didn’t get the joke.

At the core of all humor is observation and unusual connections. Sure, I can make a room full of second graders laugh by making farting noises, and slapstick comedy is certainly popular with some people, but even these might be included. The juxtaposition of an adult standing before a group of children and doing something they didn’t expect, or the unusual nature of seeing a fat person falling down for our amusement, are still working on the mechanics of breaking norms and presenting the audience with what is unexpected.

Humor alters the way the mind works. I’m no brainologist or rocket surgeon, but I know that there is some part of our brain we control consciously, and another (probably much larger, more significant) part that we can’t directly affect. However, I think we do indirectly alter the way the deeper recesses of our brains function, and I believe one of these methods is through humor.

In other words, I believe that we are who we are, not because of direct decisions, but because of what we do routinely. We are our habits, and I think one of the best habits you can get into is looking at the world humorously.

I don’t know why, but some people take everything very seriously. I’ll never understand why they make this decision, perhaps because they don’t know they have another option, perhaps because they look down upon humor as being frivolous. Deep down, I would like to believe they just aren’t smart enough, but I suspect it usually relates to something job related (jobs are awfully serious business).

Anyone can look at a situation without seeing the humor in it. It takes intelligence to look at something that you have looked at millions of times before and to see it another way. It takes a little luck for that observation to turn out to be funny enough to elicit a laugh from someone else.

The things I find amusing aren’t the same as for everyone else. I love the things we all do but never talk about, so those usually involve the human body. People are really uncomfortable about their bodies.

You don’t see a lot of comedy about feeling a painful bump under your skin, knowing it’s going to be a pimple. Maybe it’s on your ass and you awkwardly view it in the mirror, maybe it’s on your back and you have to have a spouse (or uncomfortably close friend) monitor it for you, or maybe it’s just on your face, like when you were a teenager. They always say then when you hit your teens, you get acne, but I got the impression it was something you dealt with in adolescence. It turns out it’s just something you have the rest of your life, like body odor and the urge to stay in bed in the morning.

Sure, you shouldn’t mess with that little cyst. You can’t see it yet, so you might as well just leave it be and let it erupt naturally so you have a few more blemish-free days, but no… you press it between your fingernails and try to burst that mother fucker, because sometimes it squirts out and splats on the mirror like your pore just ejaculated. And you know, deep down, that you just prevented a pimple. That is sometimes the most satisfying part of my day.

But of course, this time, it’s not budging. It’s just getting redder, and maybe you left long, thin finger nail marks on either side. I always approach it again perpendicular, so that I have a nice little frame around the developing zit.

Of course, those are better than the ones that just bleed a little or drip a weird, clear or yellowish liquid. I took anatomy, so I know it’s called “interstitial fluid,” but we all know and love it as that gross liquid that portends the coming of a weird crystalline orange scab that you will inevitably pick at a dozen times before you finally wake up one morning days later and peel it back to reveal healthy skin.

I find that humor sort of alters my norms regarding what I am willing to talk about. I feel comfortable criticizing myself, and I don’t even mind criticism. Of course… getting serious criticism usually compels me to give a snarky reply, but even if it seems like I dismiss someone, I did read what they said and I do process it over a great length of time. I don’t know if other people do (or even can), but I don’t ignore anything.

Therein lies the biggest reason I see humor as a philosophy, and a helpful one at that. It provides for me a very distinct outlook, and one which makes it possible to deal with the sometimes heavy issues in life with a smile on my face. I can’t ignore much of anything, so a lot of things bug me. Sure, I have my share of first-world problems, but I have largely grown to ignore them. To me, it’s more depressing when you look outside yourself, at the big picture, at the world as a whole.

If I couldn’t make fun of everything, I wouldn’t be able to cope with it all. I would lose it if I had to seriously confront a world filled with natural disasters, disease, death, ignorance, violence, hatred, starving children, and adults who read Harry Potter.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wednesday Word: Butterfaith

Butterfaith: a girl who is perfect, except for her religion

What is an Atheist?

I hear Christians talk in language ranging from subtly snide to viciously violent when discussing how one group of Christians or another “are not real Christians.” Sure, there are plenty of Christians who view Christianity as inclusive, not looking down on people who practice their faith differently (though it’s still common to see polite opposition to certain fringe views and actions among them). However, I suspect the average Christian views people who practice Christianity in a different way to be “doing it wrong,” and many probably consider some other denominations to be “not real Christians.”

It’s strange to me, because I always got the impression the Bible was not very encouraging of judging others (lest ye be judged…). With most Christians, it seems like they want to make it seem as though there are less Christians in the world. I also often sense a sort of “victimhood” mentality accompanying this, because Christianity depends on the believer feeling like they are in a victimized minority in order for some aspects of the faith to make sense.

With atheism, it’s basically the opposite. Most atheists cling to statistics placing the percentage of “atheists” in America in the high teens. I use the quotation marks, because… well… no one can really nail down what constitutes an atheist.

Imagine that, trying to count how many of something there is when there is no set definition. Oh sure, everyone is confident of their definition, but there is no standardized criteria for how to determine who is an atheist.

For me, an atheist is someone who lacks a belief in any gods and does not adhere to any form of religion. Of course, this then begs the question, “What is a religion?” And I have an ambiguous answer: you and others will know if it’s a religion or not. If you have to write an article about how some ideology is a religion in order to try to convince someone it’s a religion, it’s not a religion. Darwinism, global warming, liberalism, conservatism, socialism, capitalism… none of these are religions.

Now, you may ask, “Why even bother with the religion bit?” I don’t want to include non-theistic religious people, because to me, irreligiosity is a component of atheism. I can easily see that Scientology and many forms of Buddhism are atheistic religions, but I don’t consider them atheists. There are some who do, and since there is no set definition for atheism, it’s a perfectly reasonable stance, and is strictly accurate by the letter of the definition.

My definition includes many agnostics. If you are agnostic and practice a religion, I exclude you from my definition of atheist, but if you are agnostic and do not practice religion, then for all intents and purposes, you are an atheist in my book. Why? Because atheism and agnosticism are only clearly delineated if you use a particular definition for atheism.

Some people define atheism as “the belief that there are no gods.” There is a measure of certainty here that makes it incompatible with “agnostic.” Most people I have met who are agnostic aren’t “on the fence,” they’re clearly not believers in God. They don’t pray or attend religious service. They don’t get their morality from any holy book. Sure, they may celebrate holidays, but so do I. Putting up a Christmas tree does not make you religious, unless you’re doing it for Yuletide to celebrate Thor. A Christmas tree certainly doesn’t make you Christian, and I personally question the Christianity of Christians who put one up and decorate the pagan symbol.

But there is ambiguity, as seen right there. Even within my own view, it’s hard to really nail down who is or is not an atheist. In a way, it’s almost as important to investigate why one is asking, “Who is an atheist?”

Often, the reason is to show that, quite simply, we exist. We’re here and we’re often ignored, so atheists want to be able to point to a number and say, “Look how many of us there are!” The problem is, not many people do self-identify as atheist (usually under 2% of the population, from what I can tell looking around at various sources).

The reasons vary. People have different definitions, as mentioned, but there is also a sort of view that atheists are treated with hostility. Some people are “in the atheist closet,” so to speak. People may be embarrassed or afraid to admit they are atheists in studies or surveys.

This is called “social desirability bias.” It’s quite well understood among church attendance statistics, where the number of Americans who claim to go to church every week is much higher than the number of Americans who actually go to church once a week. In other words, people are often dishonest when discussing what they claim to do or believe in polls and surveys, and their answers often reflect what they think people expect of them, rather than reality.

Oddly enough, this also accounts for some statistics regarding atheism to be skewed the other way. In places like China or North Korea, where religion is banned, the number of people claiming to be religious will inevitably be lower than the actual number of people practicing religion in secret.

Generally, my motives for pointing out how many atheists there are in America tends to be typical of why most atheists might bring it up. I don’t want to assume there are more than there are, but it’s important to point out that there are millions of people who are just not religious, for whatever reason. I tend to want to include all non-practicing, non-theistic people, not because I think I can appropriate them for the purposes of forwarding an atheist agenda, but because the irreligious often share at least this in common: we don’t want religion shoved in our faces.

So, what are your definitions and criteria for “What is an atheist?”

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Interview: Animal

I promised the interview with Andrea, but it is ongoing and over one hundred pages unedited right now, and in the meantime, I had a shorter and easier to manage interview/discussion with someone else. This one is good, but is not the previously mentioned interview with a Christian who speaks to God personally. That one is still in the works.

BRET: I’m here today with Animal from the blog Animal Magnetism. Animal is an atheist, and would I be correct in saying you’re a right-wing atheist?

ANIMAL:Yes, that would be correct in most cases. I’m a right of center conservative on fiscal, defense, and foreign affairs, but pretty libertarian on social issues. I describe myself as a Goldwater Republican; Barry Goldwater was known to lack patience with overtly social conservatives.

BRET: I’m 27, so I only know about Goldwater through history. Am I correct in saying he was a typical Republican before Nixon and the national Republican party instituted the Southern Strategy?

ANIMAL: Well, not really. Barry Goldwater was one of the first Republicans to try to move the party away from domination by the Rockefeller “country-club” wing of the party. He was more of a small-government, low-spending advocate. Ronald Reagan borrowed a lot from Goldwater on what he campaigned on for spending issues. Goldwater was religious personally, but was not happy with the religious wing of the party.

BRET: I was just about to say, I know Goldwater’s supporters migrated over to Reagan’s camp by the late 70s, but that Reagan seemed to more heavily court the religious right. Do you ever feel like the Republican party has been hijacked by religious nuts?

ANIMAL: At times, yes. It’s very frustrating at times; I was trained as a biologist and while I don’t work in the field, I do stay current. I have very little patience with people who can’t understand the difference between skepticism in climate science, where there is still a lot of discussion over how much/when various factors enter in, and denying biological evolution, which is one of the most firmly established theories in modern science. Nothing in biology makes any sense without it, but you have people like Bobby Jindal and my own former Congressman, Tom Tancredo, claiming they “don’t believe in evolution.” That’s as nonsensical as saying you don’t believe in gravity.

BRET: So you have doubts on climate change?

ANIMAL: It’s accurate to call me a climate change agnostic. I know climate change happens and is happening now. I have no doubt that human activity has an influence on climate. Where I have a problem is that everyone, on both sides of the issue, seems to be using climate change (or claiming a lack thereof) to push some other agenda. There’s a lot of chaff to sort through to get to any wheat.

BRET: Well, then in my view, policy aside, you don’t doubt global warming, you just see it as a political football people dive on.

ANIMAL: Yes, that’s accurate. It’s also interesting to note that, over much of the Earth’s history, the climate has been warmer than it is now. There isnt’ really a “normal” climate; there’s just the climate we’re used to now. Most people don’t understand geological time scales.

BRET: Not to mention that each region goes through different climates, like how most deserts were at one time lush forests. That is a reasonable view. Why do you think so many Republicans (I’m guessing mostly the religious) have such a problem just deferring to the experts in a given field? That is what’s happening with evolution also; they refuse to believe biologists as a whole and focus on the few who are paid to deny it.

ANIMAL: I think religion enters into it, more so with evolution than climate change. Biblical literalists believe the Earth was created some few thousand years ago, exactly as is, and that it was created “perfect.” So nothing should be changing.

BRET: The same view is used for climate change, as with those who say that it specifically says in the Bible that man will not bring the world to an end.

ANIMAL: Since many of these people are skeptical of biology, they feel they should doubt all science.

BRET: Though they go to the doctor when they’re sick.

ANIMAL: Of course. You can’t expect logical consistency from such people. And most of them don’t understand the topic very well; they say “scientist” in such a way that you know they have some mental image of someone like the Professor in Gilligan’s Island.

BRET: I find that disturbing, because they’re essentially admitting their own foolishness. Science is good enough for them and their personal health, but not others.

ANIMAL: Yes, that’s true; I might point out that you see the same kind of logical inconsistency on both sides. I know of a few trust fund kiddies that are committed lefties, one is even an actual card-carrying Communist; but he doesnt’ seem to want to redistribute his own wealth.

BRET: I don’t technically have a trust fund, but I drive a Prius my dad bought for me. I think that counts as what you’re talking about.

ANIMAL: No, I just count that as good parenting. I have helped my own grown kids in similar ways. Although I’m a Ford guy myself.

BRET: I wouldn’t know what kind of car I would want, since I have never picked one out and bought one. That’s sort of the problem with not being very independent: general ignorance. Do you think that factors into one’s politics?

ANIMAL: Oh, I think it factors into everything. Listen, everything we do and everyone we know has an influence on us. My strongest influences, in order, are my Dad, a child of the Depression and WW2 veteran; my own Army service, including a trip to Iraq in 1990-91; and having been an independent businessman since 2003, doing business on four contintents. Although business has been a bit slow lately.

BRET: And what do you attribute slow business to? Regulations and socialism?

ANIMAL: To some extent, although my field, medical devices, hasn’t been hit as hard as some. Last year when the health care bill was being debated, the industry panicked. Almost nobody was doing anything, because nobody knew what was in that bill and nobody trusted the way it was being rammed through. It’s still having an influence, new product development is still down. That’s just my personal impression, mind.

BRET: How does millions of new customers cause an industry to panic?

ANIMAL: Well, there’s where we differ. I don’t think there would be millions of new customers. Thousands, maybe. Also, the one thing we did know about was a 2.5% excise tax on all medical devices manufactured in the US. And that’s in an industry that is already moving to China and SE Asia pretty quickly. A lot of small companies, that’s enough of a bite in their margin to hurt them a lot. Lots of durable medical devices like hospital beds are made in small shops.

BRET: Was the excise tax independent of Obamacare?

ANIMAL: No, it was part of the overall bill. Taxes and spending in general are pretty much a hot-button issue for me these days.

BRET: Do you support socialized medicine in general, like as it is practiced in other countries?

ANIMAL: No, not really. I don’t see a system that I think would work here. The UK is partially privatizing their system again, because they couldn’t make it work. Canada’s system works reasonably well, but there are long waits that result in a significant numbers of Canadians coming south to get care more quickly. Also, what works in Canada or Japan won’t necessarily work here. Our population is different - larger, for starters - and we have different issues. Japan’s system works for Japan - that doesn’t mean it will work here. Although I will say I’ve worked in Japan, and I love the place.

BRET: Not to be crass, but that is the argument made by every conservative when confronted with change that their children then fight to the death to defend, once instituted.

ANIMAL: Of course. That doesn’t always make it an invalid one.

BRETL Saying, “It works there, but it won’t work here” almost implies there is something wrong with us, in my view.

ANIMAL: If you’ll allow an analogy; Japan’s rail system is wonderful. It’s efficient, the trains run on time. But a large-scale rail system like that wouldn’t work here, where I live, in the American West. The land is too large, the people too spread out. It would be prohibitively expensive to extend service to every small town.

BRET: But over half the country lives in densely populated urban centers, so building it rail here would benefit millions. I guess you might say this is rural people subsidizing urban dwellers, but city folk have been subsidizing country dwellers with roads built only for a handful of people for decades. I think there should be high speed rail, and it’s an embarrassment to our country that we are so far behind on it.

ANIMAL: Sure. And we have train systems in such areas. We even have one in Denver. And I think there would probably be a market for high-speed rail between urban centers. But I don’t think the Federal government should be spending money on it. We have tried that with Amtrak, and it’s been a failure.

BRET: So that’s the conservative view, if you fail once, give up?

ANIMAL: Not as I see it. Based on my experience, if the government is involved, it’s more likely to fail. Government is inherently inefficient. If there’s a market for intercity rail, it will develop. If not, it won’t.

BRET: If we took that stance with roads, we would be driving on gravel, dirt and mud.

ANIMAL: The first paved highways in the U.S. were privately developed, you know. And besides, I think the analogy fails. Our road system does work for us, with our dispersed population. I think it would exist whether the government built it or not. Which we can’t know, because it does exist, so it’s kind of an academic argument.

BRET: Why aren’t there just spontaneously paved roads in Africa? I think sitting around and waiting for the private sector to do something is like waiting for evolution, while the government stepping in is like selective breeding or even genetic modification.

ANIMAL: Africa is an interesting case. I read an article by a Kenyan economist recently [I can find you a link if you want] about Africa’s troubles stemming from an excess of aid from America and Europe. There is no incentive for African business because there is an excess of aid from the West.

BRET: That’s bullshit. By that logic, Israel should be a helpless and unindustrious nation. Africa lacks strong centralized governments, so they are reduced to tribalism. You can’t pretend America didn’t build up through government action during and after WWII.

ANIMAL: WW2 - oh, certainly. But that was a crisis of national survival. Sometimes we see a transcendent issue, a consideration that precludes almost anything else. We are in another such time now. I wouldn’t say Zimbabwe lacks a strong central government. Would you?

BRET: A government is like a doctor. If you don’t have one, you’ll be unhealthy, but having a bad one doesn’t mean you’re better off shunning medical care. A strong centralized government is at the heart of every great nation in history, that doesn’t mean every strong centralized government is great. We don’t write tales about aimless clans wandering about, we have histories of Genghis Khan, Caesars, kings... small groups of independently working individuals have accomplished nothing in history but as a side note when they are conquered by a larger power.

ANIMAL: Of course. I’m certainly not an anarchist. But I think our Federal government has grown too large and too complex. Just now I mentioned transcendent issues - I think ours is taxation and debt.

BRET: That’s ridiculous, we have the lowest taxes in over 50 years. Especially on income tax, that is baseless propaganda.

ANIMAL: No, I don’t think so. Our tax code is so complex that even the IRS doesn’t understand it. It’s a mess. Millions of pages of exemptions, deductions, special cases, and so on.

BRET: I know it’s complex, and I’m all for simplifying it, but it’s not liberals who complicated things.

ANIMAL: It was both parties that brought us to this. I don’t think anyone denies that.

BRET: That is a result of special interest groups with millions of dollars to spend on both parties to get their view in. Yes, and it was neither liberal ideology, nor conservative ideology that backs such complexity.

ANIMAL: The current tax mess is, I think, the product of a lot of ad hoc wrangling by politicians of both parties. And make no mistake, I lay the blame for the current mess on both parties.

BRET: How can you not? If you blame one party over another, you aren’t paying attention.

ANIMAL: There we agree.

BRET: But I think the solution is to take the money out. Politicians are beholden to their donors, not voters.

ANIMAL: I think we’re starting to see that change. Not fast enough, but there is a very strong “throw the bums out” sentiment right now. Unfortunately the result is frequently just a new set of bums. I’d like to see two things that I think might help: Term limits, and ending lifetime benefits for elected officials.

BRET: I have zero doubt in my mind that the solution is to end private funding of political campaigns. Those two things have nothing to do with who is buying the laws.

ANIMAL: It would end the idea that elected office is a career path. I would like to see elected offices change hands frequently. It is through the entrenched, long-service political class that these things become ingrained.

BRET: New politicians get bought and legislate for their donors just as much as the veterans.

ANIMAL: And campaign funding is too fluid to easily regulate; each new law just generates a new set of work-arounds. I don’t think we can trust elected officials to cut off their own gravy train.

BRET: It’s simple to regulate it. End private campaigns. Make it all publicly funded and give every politicians the same amount to start with at each stage in a campaign. And outlaw any private funding, Super PACs, etc. It’s not that difficult.

ANIMAL: Sounds good, but what about organizations that campaign for issues, not for candidates?

BRET: What about them? Unless they’re a church, what’s wrong with that? As long as they don’t mention candidate names, I don’t care.

ANIMAL: Also, I think you’re treading on the First Amendment there; the Supreme Court has in the past ruled that political contributions are an expression of political speech, and therefore protected by the First Amendment.

BRET: I know they ruled that, but they also ruled slaves need to be returned to their masters.That was the Citizens United case.

ANIMAL: That ruling was overturned. This one hasn’t been. And I think this one has a good basis; the First Amendment was written specifically to protect political expression, and I think we have to be very careful legislating around it. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I am saying it would be difficult.

BRET: No one is saying what can or cannot be said. Bribery isn’t protected speech.

ANIMAL: Again, just as with term limits, we’re depending on politicians to cut off their own gravy train. I just don’t see that happening. I’d love to be wrong here.

BRET: Oh I’m not saying it will happen. I am full of ideas I know will never be.

ANIMAL: Yes, me too. That’s a common human failing, I think, and not really a bad one. And I think that’s the impasse. We’re asking an entrenched political class to cut themselves off.

BRET: Idealism isn’t a failing at all. As long as one half of your brain is still a little realistic.

ANIMAL: Listen, as I’ve said, I’ve worked all over. Japan, China, South Africa, Germany, all over the U.S. - and one thing I have figured out is that folks are pretty much folks, anywhere you go.

BRET: But what works over there won’t work over here.

ANIMAL: Not always. I’d sure like to see the Japanese customs of manners and politeness catch on over here. And no, I agree, idealism isnt’ bad - but it has to be tempered by reality, just as you said.

BRET: Fat chance of manners catching on here. My generation especially sees manners as weakness.

ANIMAL: Unfortunately true. Japan is one place where being a middle-aged guy with gray hair is a point in your favor almost everywhere.

BRET: I want to get back into what I see to be conservative defeatism when it comes to government. Are you familiar with Reagan’s strategy of “starving the beast?”

ANIMAL: Of course.

BRET: So how can you know that is happening and then pretend, “Oh, well, government is just inefficient.” If I was a communist and I went to work for a company solely to embezzle money from them and bring it down from the inside, would that be a failing of capitalism?

ANIMAL: Because I see very little evidence of government efficiency. Can you cite an example?

I can cite many examples if you’re willing to look past post-Reagan era practice of it. The post office is one. Public transit was great until car companies got them privatized and bought them to dismantle them.

ANIMAL: The post office is cutting back services. And if I need to get a package to L.A. overnight, I use FedEx. They’re a lot more reliable.

BRET: Again, saying “the post office today is inefficient” is sort of just proving my point, which is that elected Republicans have gutted the country’s essential services. There wasn’t a problem before Republicans went out of their way to sabotage government programs. Our roads and bridges used to be good, until they were starved off. And every developed nation in the world has better and cheaper healthcare than we do, thanks to their government.

ANIMAL: No, I think the post office is inefficient because they failed to adapt to changing conditions. For example, they cover increasing costs by increasing rates for first-class mail, which is slowly being replaced by email, text messaging and other 21st century tech. Bulk mail rates don’t change much, but that’s most of their business now. Businesses do that all the time, and they fail because of it.

BRET: The reason the government should be doing certain things isn’t just about efficiency, though sometimes it may be (especially with healthcare). Businesses fail, so the government is bound to fail sometimes, too. That just means the government needs to learn to adapt, which may mean expanding rather than contracting, by say having two or more public options instead of one.

ANIMAL: Sure. But remember when I talked about transcendent issues?

BRET: Yeah.

ANIMAL: I think the transcendent issue right now is debt. Debt is inflationary; so is the Fed’s weak-dollar policy. Because of runaway debt taken on by both parties, we don’t have the luxury of doing a lot of things we would do otherwise. Just like a family that is in a debt crisis, we can only afford essentials.

BRET: We lack essentials, though, and the top 1% owns more than the bottom 49%

ANIMAL: And they pay most of the taxes, too.

BRET: Of course they do, they have over half the money! Are you seriously going to boo-hoo over billionaires?

ANIMAL: Listen, I think that’s an inevitable fact of the human condition. It was much the same way in the Soviet Union. Only worse, in a way, because material power and political power were one and the same.

BRET: They are here, too.

ANIMAL: Not in the same way. Bill Gates doesn’t have political power. He can influence it but not exercise it.

BRET: Bill Gates isn’t who we worry about. He’s not spending his money on politicians.

ANIMAL: Sure he does. His Gates Foundation makes donations.

BRET: He’s not paying to have the tax code altered so that Microsoft doesn’t pay any taxes. Well, not anymore. I am sure he did similar things when he did actually run Microsoft.

ANIMAL: Sure. And that’s how the tax code got to be how it is today. But that’s a sidetrack. I think there will always be rich people and there will always be poor people. It’s a fact of the human condition.

It’s not about poor people and rich people. It’s about starving people and rich people. It’s about sick people and rich people. It’s about people who sleep on the street and rich people. There can be poor people, but we don’t have a problem with the poor, we have a problem with utter hopelessness among an entire economic class.

Listen, I think you should be able to file your tax return on a postcard.

BRET: The mentally ill in this country are often thrown on the streets, especially if they’re poor. This is largely due to Reagan’s policy of shutting down mental health wards. Those people used to be cared for.

ANIMAL: Really? Where?
BRET: Walk around New York City for 45 seconds, you’ll see one.

ANIMAL: I have.

BRET: So you know, then. A very high rate of homeless people have mental illness. That’s why they can’t hold a job or “pull themselves up by their boot straps.”

ANIMAL: Of course. But they can’t be institutionalized against their will, at least not easily. That changed, oh, in the 1970s, as I recall. We had an example just down the road from us in those days. He owned his farm, so he wasn’t homeless, but he was dangerously unstable. Used to shoot at people. Fortunately he was a bad shot. Every so often he’d get dropped in the State hospital, but after a couple of weeks, he’d want to go home, and they had to let him.

BRET: I don’t think homeless people should be institutionalized, but there are better options for dealing with them than just leaving them to rot.

ANIMAL: I agree. We have a very successful program called Step 13 here in Denver. They are very good at bringing homeless men off the streets, getting them cleaned up, employed and productive. I donate to them every year. I even donated a truck to them a while ago. Granted it was a pretty old truck.

BRET: You mentioned earlier that trust fund kids don’t give up their wealth to be redistributed.

ANIMAL: I mentioned one specific case.

BRET: Well I think that is an important point.

ANIMAL: Me too. That’s why I emphasized that it was one specific case.

BRET: If I had a lot of money, I wouldn’t “redistribute it.” But I also wouldn’t mind being taxed appropriately.

ANIMAL: Nor do I. But I don’t want my wife, who has an MBA and a Master’s degree in Accounting, to have to spend six weeks every year trying to figure our taxes out. I can’t imagine how people lacking her education do it at all. It’s a terrible resource drain.

BRET: You do realize that a high tax rate is not the same as a complex tax code, right? They can exist independently.

ANIMAL: Of course.

BRET: So why do you bring up complexity when I mention raising taxes?

ANIMAL: For one main reason: I think that if we simplified the code and broadened the base by eliminating the legions of exceptions, exemptions and deductions, we wouldnt’ need a high rate.

BRET: We would have more money, but I still think we would need a higher tax rate in order to pay off our debts. Do you know what Eisenhower set as the tax rate on income in the top tax bracket?

ANIMAL: In the 90s.

BRET: And I assume you know why.

ANIMAL: Of course. WW2 debt. But do you know what happened in the 1980s when the higher rates dropped? Revenues increased. A lot. Unfortunately spending increased even faster. Actually, even before that; JFK lowered rates, with the same result.

BRET: Of course, because we were on the right of the Laffer curve But we have been on the left since Reagan.

ANIMAL: I think we’re closer to the peak than we have been at any time recently. We aren’t nearly as far to the left as we were to the right in 1959.

BRET: Part of the problem I see here is that you see government as a business, or at least that it ought to be run like a business. Businesses need to be efficient, but a government isn’t about efficiency. Parks are not efficient. Building roads that only benefit a few people isn’t efficient. And one of those problems is the idea of maximizing revenue. What if I don’t see high taxes as valuable because they would increase revenue, but because of other effects they have on the private sectors decision making? I don’t see post-WWII America as great for any other reason than it had astronomical tax rates. If you tax income over a certain level at or around 90%, you “discourage people from earning that much.” Or so says the conservative. What actually happens is that companies still earn a lot of money, but owners don’t take a huge cut of it, they distribute it to more people because making more than a certain amount provides diminished returns.

ANIMAL: Well, I’ll differ with your initial premise in one respect; I don’t see government as a business, but I do think it would run better in some aspects if it ran more like one. Government differs from business in one huge way: It has the ability to compel behavior through threat of physical force. If I don’t buy Windows 8.0, Bill Gates can’t send someone out to put me in jail. But if I don’t pay my taxes...

ANIMAL: The other difference is as you said: Government has to fill some gaps that private enterprise can’t. National defense, for example. Local police forces, on another level.

BRET: Right, but the only reason businesses don’t function like that is because the government polices them. Black markets which function outside the bounds of the law do work like that.

ANIMAL: Sure, and those are illegal.

BRET: Right, but that is how all business works outside of the law being there to police them. The government keeps business in check, and the people should be the ones who keep the government in check. To me, the people are on top and business is at the bottom, but right now it’s the other way around.

ANIMAL: No, I don’t like seeing the tax code used to influence behavior. I don’t think, as a matter of principle, that it’s the government’s place to decide how much I should or shouldn’t earn.

BRET: But it is. It’s in the best interest of everyone. This country grew to greatness as an unintended consequence of that mechanism. The middle class is the private redistribution of wealth. And the reason that wealth was distributed privately was because there was no reason to cut yourself million dollar checks. That money would be better invested back into your business.

ANIMAL: No, not really. The middle class exists because of the voluntary exchange of services. An employer offers to pay for skills they need. An employee has skills to sell in an open market.

BRET: That’s bullshit. If that was how things worked, it would have just spontaneously happened all over. It takes intervention to achieve what we achieved. Exploitation is the norm.

ANIMAL: No, it’s economics, and frankly, if that’s how you are going to address the point, I see no reason to continue down this path. I’m being cordial, I’d ask you to do the same. Have you read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations? Or anything by Freidman or von Mises?

If a “free market” didn’t exploit people, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in. I have read Mises. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The man never lived in this world, only his own head, and he was historically ignorant.

You can’t exploit people in a voluntary exchange.

BRET: That’s just it. Without intervention, free markets are not voluntary.

ANIMAL: No, I don’t think so. And you really should read Smith. In 1776 he anticipated economic problems we’re having today.

BRET: They are full of exploitation.

ANIMAL: That’s a contradiction in terms.

BRET: Slavery is a function of the free market. It takes intervention to prevent it.

ANIMAL: Oh please.

BRET: Oh please yourself, every society in human history practiced slavery at some point, because they could. If you can do something, someone will. If you don’t stop them, they will keep doing it. That is the way humanity has and always will work. You can see this sort of exploitation in government.

ANIMAL: Example?

BRET: You can see that officials are “elected,” and yet they don’t listen to voters. Just as we have no choice when it comes to our politics, so can a free market be without choice.

ANIMAL: Why the scare quotes around elected?

BRET: In most elections, the majority doesn’t even vote.

ANIMAL: True. What’s your solution to that?

BRET: If democracy is rule by the majority, then the majority opinion seems to be anarchy. But I’m not an anarchist. So I don’t find that appealing.

ANIMAL: Yes, perhaps - but we aren’t a democracy.

BRET: Well we are and we aren’t. Obviously we don’t have a decent choice. When your choice is forced and limited, it ceases to be choice.

ANIMAL: The U.S. is a constitutional republic, based originally - and very loosely - on the Greek and Roman republics.

BRET: I wish it was... Ugh, we should bring back legislation by random lottery. I forget which, but I believe it was the Greeks who tried that. They would randomly select people to comprise the legislature.

ANIMAL: You might be right, I don’t remember either.

BRET: I think that would yield better results than what we have.

ANIMAL: The ‘first 100 names in the Boston phone book’ method. It might at that.

BRET: I would talk about social issues, but I bet you’d just agree with me. Where’s the fun in that? Most atheist Republicans aren’t very anti-gay or anti-abortion.

ANIMAL: Actually I probably would. I’m pro gay marriage, and pro choice on almost everything. My take on abortion is, I think, a little different - I oppose it mostly because I don’t see any reason the government should be involved in any medical decision between a competent adult and their doctor.

BRET: And those are the wedge issues we’ve been presented with as being the sole difference between the Republican and Democratic parties.

ANIMAL: Well, there are others, but those are the biggest ones right now.

BRET: But they are non-issues. They’re just manufactured debate topics. Abortion is settled law and the opposition to gay marriage is just so silly.

ANIMAL: Well, I don’t see them that way - right now, though, they are fringe issues, and aren’t really having much play.

BRET: I think those kinds of topics, and immigration is another, are just presented as “important” because no one wants to talk about the economic mess we’re in.

ANIMAL: My take on social issues is simple: I don’t really give a damn what people do, as long as they leave me alone.

BRET: What if they bug someone else? Or, not bug, but maybe bloody or bruise.

ANIMAL: I don’t understand why a man would want to sleep with another man, but I don’t have to. I don’t understand why people like to watch football, either.

BRET: People watch football for the same reason they want to sleep with another man. They get excited at the thought of two guys pressing up against each other. So it’s no wonder you don’t get either one.

ANIMAL: OK, that’ pretty good, I’ll remember that.

BRET: Do you like UFC fighting?


BRET: There you go. Now you know why.

ANIMAL: I’m a doer, not a watcher. I hunt, I fish, I hike. I used to shoot competition pistol but my schedule doesn’t allow for it these days.

Oh right guns. I don’t really get them. I see guns as sort of like running down the street with your shirt off yelling “Nigger.” Yeah, the law protects your right to do it... but why?

ANIMAL: Why not?

BRET: Do you live around a lot of dangerous wildlife?

Dangerous wildlife, no, not really. But that’s neither here nor there. I do have teenagers, I don’t know if they qualify.

BRET: Meh, I don’t care if your kids kill themselves. No offense. I doubt they will.

ANIMAL: No, they’re pretty happy and stable.

BRET: I meant while playing with the gun accidentally. I assume if they want to kill themselves on purpose, they’ll probably take a bunch of pills or something less messy.

ANIMAL: No, not worried about that either.

BRET: I figured. I don’t ask “Why not?” when doing something. I ask “Why?” If I asked, “Why not?” I would still be religious.

ANIMAL: Granpa used to say “kids who grow up on a river never drown.” My kids know how to handle firearms safely.

BRET: I knew a kid who lived on a lake and his sister drowned. Not to be a smart alick.

ANIMAL: I keep them secured, but they are in the house, so my rule is, you know the basics.

BRET: Just saying. Accidents happen in swimming and guns... and really everything.

ANIMAL: Sure. Cars, motorcycles - a lot on motorcycles. I went through a motorcycle phase myself and just managed not to break my neck. But Grandpa was making a general point.

BRET: I know, I like the point. I just wonder why own a gun? I did an interview with a blogger called, “His Lordship the Gun-Toting Atheist,” and we never found a reason for me to own a gun unless I lived where there were bears. And don’t get me started on motorcyles... those things are death traps.

ANIMAL: Simple answer: Because I enjoy shooting. That’s my reason. And if you don’t want to own one, you shouldn’t.

BRET: Unless you live in Kennesaw, Georgia...

ANIMAL: I opposed that law on principle. I disagree just as much with government mandating ownership as prohibiting it.

BRET: I tend to not care what local municipalities do. Plus I also see it as a virtue to break the law if you disagree with it. If I moved to Singapore, I would take up spitting. How do you feel about gun control? I mean, besides using both hands.

ANIMAL: Now see, you pre-empted my next line, although I was going to also mention trigger control and a good sight picture.

BRET: Sorry, I talk to so many people on the right that I know their lingo now.

ANIMAL: I like the instant background check. I don’t want convicted felons owning guns.

BRET: How do you feel about this idea: a gun license, like a driver’s license.

ANIMAL: Just like a driver’s license?

BRET: Yeah, y sort of. You can get certified to own different classes of guns, and you can buy them without wait periods in some cases.

ANIMAL: So, I only need it if I’m using the gun on public property, and the license applies evenly in all 50 states?

BRET: No, I would say only need it when buying. I think it would be good for gun shows, where you can’t do background tests easily sometimes.

ANIMAL: OK, that’s a bit facetious. No, I don’t see any real benefit to it.

BRET: It’s my understanding, though, that I can circumvent some or many purchase restrictions if I buy my gun at a gun show.

ANIMAL: Not here in Colorado. We do background checks at gun shows here in Colorado. It’s easy. They have an instant check booth set up at the front of the show. Anyone can get a check for $10.

BRET: Ahhh. Good old electronics. Well then my idea is redundant.

ANIMAL: And I know people have been refused. Happened right in front of me once.

BRET: Well if they’re checking, some will be refused. I just didn’t know what the deal was at a gun show, since you can’t have a wait period or anything if you’re buying right then and there. And I don’t go to them, so I know even less than most gun owners.

ANIMAL: I will say that most of the stuff I like to mess with is pre-WW2 stuff, classed as Curios and Relics - I have a collector’s license for those.

BRET: I would have thought old guns had less restrictions. I know antique guns can be bought and sold without a license, like those made before some date in the 1800s. I’m not a gun expert, obviously.

ANIMAL: That license is issued by BATFE, and with that I can buy guns over 50 years in age without the check, because the BATFE has already done it. Modern guns, I still need the same check. It’s an odd discontinuity in some ways because a lot of gun designs haven’t changed at all in that time.
BRET: Well, you asked “why not,” my reason for “why not” is not that I don’t trust myself or those around me, it’s that guns get stolen all the time. I know people buy guns thinking they’ll prevent them from being robbed, but most robberies happen during the day while people are not home. Unless you bought a motion sensor activated gun turret, it’s not going to do you any good to have an item worth so much stolen.

ANIMAL: I do trust myself and those around me. But there’s a nurture side involved, I think; I grew up on a farm, where guns were as omnipresent as tractors and chainsaws. I buy them because I enjoy shooting, and I enjoy restoring old guns.

BRET: I’m kind of surprised chainsaws don’t require a license yet. I wouldn’t want there to be one, but I still find it surprising considering you need a license to cut hair.

ANIMAL: Be careful, someone will think it’s a good idea.

BRET: Okay, I’ll be sure to bury that idea deep within an interview... no one will find it.

ANIMAL: My Grandpa again, and mind you this is back in the late 60s, used to complain that you needed a permit from the county to take a shit. I remember that distinctly because I was a little kid and Grandma was upset that he said “shit” in front of me.

BRET: Yeah, if you want to build a shitter from scratch, first.

ANIMAL: Well, we did. We went without indoor plumbing for, I think, seven or eight years when I was in my childhood and teens.

BRET: Do you typically vote Republican?

ANIMAL: Typically. Not lockstep. Sometimes they field a candidate I just can’t stomach. I have voted Libertarian a few times, realizing that it was a protest vote.

BRET: How do you feel about the Republican presidential candidates?

ANIMAL: Not a lot to choose from. I leaned towards Mitt Romney, and I like some things about Herman Cain. But I haven’t really fixed on one yet. And it’s awfully early. Now Chris Christie is making noises about getting in.

BRET: Not a lot to choose from... I guess you mean quality, not quantity.

ANIMAL: Yes. The quantity is pretty typical for either party this early in the cycle, I think. At least when there isn’t an incumbent.

BRET: I think what has been remarkable is how many fad-frontrunners there have been. I personally think it will be a Romney/Rubio ticket.

ANIMAL: Yes, it’s interesting, but again, I’ve seen similar cycles. We went through the same kind of thing in 1996, and then they chose the weakest candidate from the field. Romney/Rubio would be interesting.

BRET: I think it’s obvious Romney will win the nomination. He has so much money behind his campaign, and he is the heir apparent after finishing second to McCain in 08.

BRET: I see most of these other candidates as running distractionary cover for Romney.

ANIMAL: It looks that way, true, but remember just four years ago, at this point, everyone was pretty certain Hillary Clinton would walk away with the nomination. But I think you’re most likely right.

BRET: Democrats don’t function the same way as Republicans. Democrats love an underdog.

ANIMAL: That’s true. But Democrats also seem to eat their fallen; they don’t seem to bring candidates back once they’ve lost. The GOP doesn’t much either, but it has happened - Reagan in 1976 and 1980, for example.

BRET: Nixon before him.

ANIMAL: Yes. And Romney, perhaps, this time.

BRET: Republicans like to pick a winner.

ANIMAL: Well, we all like to pick a winner.

BRET: Naw, Democrats would root for a dead fish laying on a shore. They don’t know the first thing about pragmatism.

ANIMAL: Well, roughly 40% of the electorate is lock-step one party or the other. They’ll vote for a stuffed monkey if it’s the nominee.

BRET: I would vote for a stuffed monkey. I wouldn’t mind 4 years of silence. And stuffed monkey is cuddly and soft. Stuffed Monkey is good with kids.

ANIMAL: Was it Will Rogers that said we’re all safer when Congress is not in session?

BRET: Although in some ways it’s not good. Our jobs are going overseas, not because of “regulations,” but because other countries are using their governments to woo them.

BRET: If another country offers to build your factory, and if you don’t have to worry about dumping toxins in the water or paying more than five cents an hour... it’s a good deal.

ANIMAL: Sure. They are looking out for their people’s interests, after all. China wants jobs for their billions of citizens. I’ve been there - it’s an incredible, dirty, busy beehive of activity.

BRET: How do you feel about our government sweetening the pot for businesses that stay in the US?

ANIMAL: I like the idea. We need to make it attractive for businesses to stay here. That’s where jobs come from.

BRET: But that’s government interventionism... not the free market.

ANIMAL: But we also have to realize that we’re competing in a global market. I’ve done business in China. They are hungry, they are competitive, and they are anxious. It doesn’t have to be. I think if we fix the tax structure as I mentioned earlier, that would be a good incentive right there. And I don’t think ALL government intervention is bad. I’m not an anarchist. I’d just like to see a little less schizophrenia.

BRET: How do you feel about this tax plan? Tax only three things: income, imports, and products with external costs.

ANIMAL: I’d have to see numbers. But in general I think we’d do better taxing consumption rather than income.

BRET: Why, so the poor pay disproportionately more?

ANIMAL: No, and there are ways around that.

BRET: We want to encourage consumption. Not tax it.

ANIMAL: We also want to encourage production. That’s what makes jobs. One of my main concerns about our economic picture right now is that we’re becoming a nation that doesn’t make things any more.

BRET: Oy...

ANIMAL: I’d like to see manufacturing encouraged.

BRET: What do you think drives production? Magic rich people?

ANIMAL: Capital.


ANIMAL: And demand, sure.

BRET: Consumption. The only thing that affects production is consumption.

ANIMAL: Not the only thing, no. It’s not that simple. But it’s a major factor, sure.
BRET: It’s really the only factor. Unless you’re making things that just sit around never being used. What is an example of a time when production increases without an increase in consumption? I can only think of examples that are government action, like war or the space race.

ANIMAL: Well, I’m an economic hobbyist; my actual education in the field was a few classes in micro and macro while taking my MBA a few years back. But there’s an analogy from biology that applies; like biology, economics (to my thinking) isn’t really linear. Lots of people refer to food chains, but there really aren’t food chains in nature; they’re more like webs, and nobody’s really at the top. Economics, I think, is something like that; production and consumption are too closely interconnected to divorce one from the other. Both have to thrive to have a healthy system. That may be an imperfect analogy, as I tend to think of lots of things in terms of biology. But biology, like economics, has to model very complicated systems. And you can find light-years of room for disagreement.

BRET: I think economics is a lot like biology, in that each is an inexact science that must be based on observation, unlike physics, which can be derived purely theoretically through math alone and then confirmed through observation.

ANIMAL: Yeah, I’ll buy that. In fact I may steal it and use it - it’s a good way to describe an inexact science.

BRET: I copyright nothing, so feel free. Do you feel the government needs to play a role in encouraging competition and breaking up monopolies and cartels in the market?

ANIMAL: To a point, yes; and I’ll give you an example that you might not remember, because it happened in the late 70s. The phone system used to be a legal monopoly. I remember the first phone I got from Northwestern Bell; it was a huge, clunky black desktop monstrosity, and if I wanted to call my folks 80 miles away I paid an exorbitant long-distance fee. Now there are all kinds of competitors for my phone service. I have vastly better equipment, better service, and I can’t remember the last time I paid for domestic long-distance. So I get to discuss Civil War battles with my Dad a lot more than I did then. Breaking up that monopoly had great results.

BRET: Ignoring the cynical impulse to write it off as impossible (as I am inclined to do), would you agree that the Republican and Democratic parties hold a duopoly on the political market in America?

ANIMAL: Effectively, yes. Our system is different than, say, the parliamentary democracies of most of Europe. They have many parties and form coalitions after elections are held. We form them before elections are held. Our two main parties are somewhat constrained from moving too far to the left/right by the need to appeal to swing voters, who really decide elections. But I’m a bit worried that system is breaking down. The parties are moving farther from the center, and I see a few new parties trying to cash in on that. Would you believe there is a new Whig party trying to gain ground in the middle? But I also know societies, like anything else, have life cycles. I worry that my parent’s generation, the WW2 generation, have seen our best years. I really hope I’m wrong.

BRET: Aright, that about wraps it up. I’ll leave the last words to you, to say whatever you want in closing.

ANIMAL: We’ve spent a lot of time on the nation’s economic problems, and the government’s reactions to them. The main thing I’m worried about is the government’s, and indeed our society in general’s lack of flexibility in responding to changing conditions. We talked briefly about tax rates in the 50s, but in 1961, the year I was born and the year Ike left office, Europe and Japan were still rebuilding from WW2, China and India were still basically agrarian societies focused mostly inward, and the U.S. was the biggest player anywhere. That’s changed now. I’ve been to China and seen how things are there. I’m worried that we’ll get left behind. That’s my primary concern and my primary frustration right now. We have to keep up. I’m afraid we might not be. But I remain optimistic, all the same. One thing I learned from the Army is that most people can do things they never imagined they could, if they have to. I’m hoping America as a whole can do that too. And this was fun. Thanks for the discussion!

Top Ten: What I Say / What I Mean

10. With all due respect / I hope you die in a fire
9. Maybe, but... / You’re wrong, because…
8. I think you’re wrong / …but I know you’re an idiot
7. No offense, but… / … I’m about to insult you
6. I don’t encourage people to do drugs / …unless you have enough to share
5. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree / You ignorant piece of shit
4. Really? / I cannot believe how stupid you
3. I don’t hate anyone / I don’t have a kill list, yet
2. Oh, you voted for Bush? / I had no idea you were retarded
1. I mean principle, not imperative / Shut up, you Kant!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday Rule: Waiting at the Airport Gate

Anyone should be allowed to go through airport security and wait with their loved ones at the gate for their plane to take off. As it is, you need a ticket to go through security, so you just get an awkward hug goodbye in front of a huge line of people, not that classic, romantic goodbye before they walk onto the plane. You can’t even watch them take off knowing which plane is theirs. But worst of all, when you see your loved one off at the airport now, you aren’t even the last person to grope them before they leave the city.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saturday Reflection #48

A service economy is a hellish proposition. Most would rather work producing something while machines sell products to customers. There is far more satisfaction from making something than from having to deal with jackasses all day. I guess what I’m saying is, we gave the wrong jobs to the machines. What’s more, while technology has unburdened us from the drudgery of labor, we are still left with the drudges.

List of Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives

Liberals give people too much credit. Conservatives don’t give people enough credit.

Liberals want to get information through science. Conservatives want to get information through torture.

Liberals prefer to be called “Progressive,” rather than “Liberal.” Conservatives want to be called “Conservative,” instead of “Racist.”

Liberals campaign on fixing our problems, but never get around to it. Conservatives campaign on claiming the government is ineffective and inefficient, and when elected, they prove it.

Conservatives want every guilty person in prison. Liberals want every innocent person to be free.

Each has a serious nervous system deficiency. Conservatives lack a brain, Liberals lack a spine.

There are differences in self which manifest in the extremes. Liberals are selfless. Conservatives are self-obsessed.

Liberal extremists pack the streets for protests. Conservative extremists pack the stage at Republican presidential debates.

Liberals have no balls. Conservatives have such huge balls, they would be diagnosed with elephantiasis if they could afford to go to the doctor.

Conservatives invite disaster. Liberals politely open the door.

Liberals vote for the lesser of two evils. Conservatives vote for a Republican.

A Liberal would support radio for the deaf. A Conservative would support welfare for the rich.

A Conservative disagrees until proven otherwise. A Liberal agrees until a Conservative does.

Liberals want to keep a safety net under you. Conservatives want to light a fire under your ass.

A Conservative sits and thinks, but mostly sits (so says Woodrow Wilson). A Liberal thinks and acts, but mostly thinks.

A Liberal preaches diversity while seeking to make things the same for everyone. A Conservative preaches personal responsibility while never assuming any.

A Liberal risks being on the wrong side of history. A Conservative is consistently on the wrong side of history.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Another Political Compass Test

Again, on inspiration from Matt Foss at Honest to Godless, I took the political compass quiz through Facebook (why not visit my profile?). For comparison, I used the friend cloud, to show where other people I friended on Facebook scored (I am the red dot).

I think the results speak for themselves: I am a self-loathing libertarian.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives

I don’t like doing these type of posts, so I am going to approach this differently than most people might. Before I start, I have to present some basic definitions, because I will be working with words that people will attach meaning to which I do not intend.

First of all, I will be primarily using the term “progressive,” rather than liberal. There’s a few reasons for this, the first is that the post by Heathen Republican which inspired my decision to write this primarily uses the terminology “progressive,” except in its title. I can’t speak for why HR decided upon this change between the title and the bulk of his piece, but the fact that he titles one section “Progressive or Liberal Principles” would indicate to me that he equates them. Also, I think “progressive” carries ever-so-slightly less prejudice from the right and a fair bit less preference from the left. Finally, I just like the terminology, and why I like it will become evident in a moment.

Next, I will also be dropping the use of the term “conservative,” in favor of “traditionalist.” Again, I think “conservative” evokes far too many preconceived notions.

Now, those definitions:

Progressive: (adjective) a quality of seeking change for the sake of progress

Traditionalist: (adjective) a quality of preventing change for the sake of stability

Note: as you will see in a moment, not all change is progressive, nor is opposition to change always traditionalist.

While the post that inspired me to write this uses lists, I don’t think analyzing these two ideologies is best done through lists. I think comparing a list of principles supposedly espoused by each side would present false dichotomies that would only serve to expose my own prejudice for one side or the other. I also think it’s silly to imagine progressive and traditionalist ideology as being based on principles, but more on that later.

This is simply one of those times where the fullness of the issue can only be expressed (even partially) if they are examined in some depth, rather than in superficial bullet points. This is a shame, because I love making lists, but comparison of this kind would not do either side justice.

Which is a good place to start: justice. Each view believes in justice, but each view emphasizes very different aspects. The traditionalist view tends to focus on existing crime, while the progressive view often seeks to alter the idea of what constitutes a crime. As a result, someone supporting tradition often argues in favor of enforcing existing laws, while someone supporting progress seeks to add or eliminate existing laws.

It’s important to point out one unmentioned trait of traditionalism, which is the idea that some wish to “rollback” change. In this way, a supporter of tradition may seek to change what is currently the norm (the current “tradition”) to a previous one (an older or original tradition), and it is progressives who take the defensive and protect what has been established. In this instance, it is not “change” that is the true measure of whether a stance is progressive or traditionalist, but the intent and originality of the policy.

Getting back to justice… there is a component of justice which is quite useful for comparing traditionalist and progressive views: fairness. What a great and horrible word, “fair.” We’ve all been told, “Life isn’t fair,” and yet I suspect every one of us has taken some steps in our lives to make things more fair, not just for ourselves, but also for others.

Indeed, life isn’t fair, but we all dedicate ourselves in some way towards trying to make it more so. And why not? It’s not as though “fair” is aiming too high. Hell, if I had a meal at a restaurant, and I only thought it was “fair,” I probably wouldn’t even go back, so I think “fair” is a fair goal. Plus, rather than creating a dichotomy of whether a view is “fair or unfair,” one can easily see how two views are both fair, even if one is more fair than the other (which often depends upon priorities).

My goal here is not to say, “See, progressive and traditionalist ideologies are really working towards the same aim.” True, both of these sides think that what they do is “fair,” but each defines what is fair differently, then goes about achieving what they see to be fair in different ways. I never liked categorizing people, or really any attempt to encapsulate individuals into convenient little stereotypes (except as it pertains to humor), and yet here I am seemingly emphasizing a dichotomy of only two views.

There is a huge disparity between thought and people. This is why I defined and have only used “progressive” and “traditionalist” as adjectives, not nouns. I cannot point to a progressive or a traditionalist anymore than I can point to God or the Easter Bunny. Well… I can point to all four, but if I do, the finger is only pointing directly at my brain. They exist only in our minds.

It is infinitely important to remember that people are not defined by a label. I would go so far as to say a group of people can be defined, based on their actions, but as soon as you take an individual out of that group, that label will cease to mean as much. Why? Because individuals fail time after time at being neatly organized, categorized, and simplified. They don’t fall into perfect categories, nor do they follow strict, no exceptions principles.

Ultimately, this is why I don’t view principles as all that important for this discussion, because people don’t make decisions based on principles. People’s views are defined by what they found attractive, and to say that our minds are logical machines that are attracted to reason is a laughable proposition. Our politics are based on principles like who we love is based on an empirical analysis of a person.

People are jumbled ideological messes, yet when they are presented with a group of issues, most people will tend to fall squarely on one side of the familiar political spectrum. Even in the rare cases where someone has a semi-equal set of views on either side… the ideas themselves are on one particular side. Even “no action” or apathy will inherently favor the status quo (which may be traditionalist or progressive, as mentioned earlier).

I don’t want to spend more than one paragraph on how superficial and oversimplified the political spectrum is, so I want to point out that most people have no problem at all identifying as more left or right, with left being equivalent to more progressive and right more traditionalist. Every “moderate” or “centrist” I ever met actually leans heavily to one side; I assume they claim to be in the middle in order to appear unbiased, because they are embarrassed by their ideological kin, or simply out of ignorance or apathy.

I can’t be sure, but I assume one of two things to be happening. Either people are being formed by the ideological systems around them, or the ideological systems we have to work with are formed around deep-rooted attitudes within us. I can’t even pretend to guess which is the case, but the outcome in either instance is that while these ideologies are not necessarily cohesive in terms of principled stances, they are linked in that they reflect two different outlooks that exist within our society.

Earlier, I mentioned principles. Principles are highly overrated. By and large, a principle is a lofty truism stated when it is convenient to defend one view, and which is ignored when it contradicts another. Hence, traditionalists who are “pro-life” often have no problem with capital punishment or war, and may even cheer the idea of letting someone without health insurance die in a hospital untreated. On the other hand, progressives are “pro-choice” when it comes to abortion, but they think nothing of putting unnecessary barriers up when purchasing things like guns, cigarettes, or fast food kids’ meals with toys.

I think that people not only base their views on what they find to be attractive (in terms of their measure of fairness), but also that people may adopt a position based on being repulsed by another. This may introduce the situation where a person adopts a stance they are not very attached to, because it is the de facto socially-acceptable view in opposition to another, less desired stance.

With what I think are few exceptions, principles are arguments formulated or understood long after a view has been adopted. A principle may explain why a view is right, but unless you can demonstrate that your “principles” span the entirety of your ideology… it is not a principle, it is a justification for one idea. There no dishonor in that, but there is dishonesty in pretending you base your views on principles when you don’t.

There are many ideas I am tempted to say are “progressive” or “traditionalist,” but I don’t think there is any way of determining a definite difference yet. What is conservative in Norway can be very progressive by US standards, and likewise, there are polices that are quite readily accepted by conservatives in the US which would be radically liberal in the Muslim world. Determining time and place is important when discussing these labels, and for obvious reasons, as I proceed, I will be using the standard of America as it is today.

In this context, one of the primary differences in priorities between these two groups is the view of the individual. The progressive stance often aims for “positive liberty,” while the traditionalist stance often aims for “negative liberty.” Positive liberty is the freedom for every individual to have access to the resources necessary to reach their potential (therefore, requiring action), while negative liberty is the freedom from any external interference (generally requiring no action, except to enforce laws preventing individuals from interfering with others). There are exceptions, however, as when a conservative restriction is in place (like a ban on gay marriage). In such a case, when the tradition is restriction, and the progressive stance is to repeal it, then the progressive view is in support of negative liberty. Again, one can see that principles do not apply universally through the ideologies.

I could complicate matters by inventing “positive progressivism” as those ideas that wish to add to legislation, and “negative progressivism” which seeks to repeal legislation… but, no thanks.

Another useful way of looking at this is to consider breaking each ideology into social and economic spheres. There is inevitable overlap in these two, but it’s easy to see how a person may support the economic policies of one side and the social policies of the other, especially when you consider that much of progressive social policy supports negative liberty, as does traditionalist economic policy, and vice versa for traditionalist social policies and progressive economic policies (although it’s rare to find the latter in America, the first example might be considered a standard Libertarian).

Given the criteria I have provided, I hope it would be easy to see whether an idea was progressive or conservative within the system I presented (though I cannot for the life of me figure out why anyone would want to…).

So, I promised not to do a list… in this post. The list is in the works, and will be posted when I am satisfied that it is thorough. Also, this is a great opportunity to post this as is and to take criticism on any gaping holes I missed.

What I’m Working On

I doubt I’ll have anything to post today, but there are two things in particular that I am working on. So this is basically an update/teaser, and in one case, an appeal for some help.

One is an interview with Andrea York, from the blog “Write Down the Revelation.” This is still ongoing, and I currently have 123 pages (though only just over 37,000 words) to look through and edit (mostly to remove the formatting from Facebook chat, which is what we are conversing on, and of course my spelling errors, though not her’s, because she never makes any… and no, I’m not kidding). Andrea is able to talk to God Himself, so you can imagine my delight. I will have to release the interview in stages, perhaps as many as ten, though it’s not over yet, despite having begun over a week ago. I feel like there just hasn’t been a real conclusion in the conversation, and she just keeps responding back, so it continues…

The second thing I am working on is a piece about the difference between liberals and conservatives. It is on this topic that I urge anyone to share what they see as the fundamental differences between the two ideologies. I aim to focus on the ideas, so I am emphasizing that where this article is concerned, “liberal” and “conservative” are adjectives, not nouns. But honestly, don’t let anything restrict what you want to say; I can translate just about any approach into a form I could use, and I would be happy to credit anyone in my post if they provide an idea I borrow (and I promise to return it without too much damage).

I ask for help, because so far I have about 7 pages, single spaced… and that is too much. I will be scrapping what I have and merely using it as a primer for when I rewrite it tonight or tomorrow, and anything that others may add will help keep me on track, because sometimes when you focus on your own ideas too much, you forget there are other views out there. Basically… I need you guys to keep me honest.

That’s about it for now. Hopefully I’ll have a spark of creativity tonight and maybe make a post about something completely unrelated to the above, but I doubt I will have either of these two finished in time for publishing before tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wednesday Word: Libretardian

Libretardian: a fool who thinks “liberty” means being a whiny ingrate

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Top Ten: Questions I Am Too Embarrassed To Ask

10. To someone in the military: “You ever kill a child?”
9. To anyone: “What is with that foot cramp during or after sex?”
8. To a Mexican: “Does your food give you diarrhea as well?”
7. To certain gay guys: “Why do you talk like that?”
6. To a gay woman: “[When] were you raped?”
5. To a cop: “What is the statute of limitations on drug trafficking?”
4. To everyone I slept with: “How often were you faking it?”
3. To people I run into from high school: “Wow, did you gain weight?”
2. To a blind person: “How do you know when you’re done wiping?”
1. To women with a large belly: “When are you due?”

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Rule: One Word Identifiers

From now on, every group can be called whatever they want, so long as it is only one word. No more “Roman Catholics.” It’s just “Catholics.” No more “African-Americans,” so guilty feeling liberals have to call them “black” like everyone else. The one I am having trouble with is “little people.” I feel like all the one-word options are kind of inaccurate or offensive. I guess since “black” is an adjective and gets added to “black people,” then “little” is one word and should count. And speaking of “black people,” the NAACP is now the NAABP. “Colored” just sounds racist. Besides, everyone knows black isn’t a color.


I crave structure, and with the death of Music Monday, I have been looking for something new to do as a Monday feature that would fit my blog.

At first, I went the cheap and lazy route: Materialism Monday, Moody Monday, Monday Mayhem…

[10 horrible examples later]

… Monday Me, Monday Mammaries… hmm that might work. I dunno, kind of sexist. I could intersperse it with Monday Manboobs…

After some careful market research, I determined that Monday Manboobs would not be enjoyed by anyone, male or female.

But then, I realized… it didn’t have to be an “M” word. It could be anything. So, I thought, what it is I would do if I could do anything… and I realize, I would rule the world with an iron fist. Scratch that, a titanium fist with palladium accents.

And thus was born: The Monday Rule

No, not the fact that everything made on Monday is shit because the workers are hungover. Every Monday, I will come up with a rule that will fix the world in some way, small or large (usually small). Will any of my ideas ever happen? I assure you, they won’t. But they will make you see how strange my priorities are.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saturday Reflection #47

I hated going to weddings when I was single. The old people would always smile at me and ask, “When do you think you’ll get married?” My wife had it worse. She said her elders would wink and say, “You’re next.” It looks worse the other way around, like if me and my wife went to a funeral and I asked the old people there, “So, when do you think you’ll get buried?” and my wife winked at them, saying, “You’re next.”

Friday, September 16, 2011

Vows From My Atheist Wedding

A post by Matt Foss at Honest to Godless reminded me that I have not posted my wedding vows. I keep forgetting to do it, thinking I should wait until my anniversary, but since it has been a slow couple of days, I thought this would be a good time to share them.

Just a little bit of background: my wife and I were married in Pennsylvania, which allows for Quaker weddings that require no officiant, so we married ourselves. We conducted a brief introduction a few paragraphs long, opened the floor to anyone who wanted to share their thoughts (we informed people they could prepare a statement ahead of time) and then exchanged vows and rings in front of guests numbering in the teens (I think there were 19 people there, including the two of us).

So, anyway, the vows:

[Name], I promise to be your trusted friend, loving companion and equal partner. I promise to love and support you, through life’s successes and failures, for rich or for poor, through sickness and good health. I promise to love you not only despite your flaws, but also because of them. I promise to stand by you through the good times and the bad, for you make the good times all the more enjoyable, and the bad times all the more bearable. I promise to honor and respect you as my husband/wife, now and for the rest of our days.

Discussion: Abortion is Murder

It has been a while since I did a discussion, so I thought I would try one, though I want to explain first how I like to conduct them. I will make a claim I believe to be true (but which I know will be questioned or simply balked at as wrong), and I will refrain from making any replies in the comments, unless specifically asked to clarify. My goal is to urge people to consider things they otherwise might not have thought about, while keeping the comments free of my over-bearing presence. Usually nothing gets posted, but I have a good feeling today...

Statement: Abortion is murder, but it is morally acceptable murder.

A Few Biblical Clichés

Psalm 14:1 (KJV)
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.

The fool hath said things with his heart, rather than his brain.

1 Timothy 6:10 (KJV)
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Here’s a case where there is a clear misspelling in the Bible. They wrote “love,” when clearly the correct word was “lack.”

John 3:16 (KJV)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Note to God: we would have rather you fixed Earth than send your son. He didn’t really make things better; some might say things are worse because of him.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

God is impatient, God is jealous. He does not tolerate other gods, He does not humble himself. He does not honor anyone but Himself. He is easily angered, He keeps record of wrongs. God delights in burning evil people and encourages the hiding of truth. God makes His people suffer, and often gives up on them. But… God loves you. He can change, baby, please…

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wednesday Word: Bluewalls

Bluewalls: the female version of blueballs

WTF Moment of the Month

It’s been awhile since I honestly WTF’d. But it happened. I was alone in my home and I actually uttered, “What the fuck?”

I feel like you deserve the same experience I had.

Headline: Drunk Moose Gets Stuck In Apple Tree

The opening line is downright epic: It was a dark, windy and rainy night when Per Johansson returned from work to his home in Saro just south of Gothenburg, Sweden.

(full story here)

Apparently apples ferment in the belly of a Moose, and they get drunk.

What makes the story even better is that the 10-year-old son of the guy who found the moose took pictures of the ordeal and sold them to CNN, because he’s saving up for a video game console.

So, basically a wasted moose was rescued from an apple tree, and because of that, a little kid got a new, expensive toy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Top Ten: Movie Characters I Wish Had Died

10. Dirk Diggler
9. Gordon Gekko
8. One more drummer in “This is Spinal Tap”
7. Private Ryan
6. At least half of the “Breakfast Club”
5. Jar Jar Binks
4. Indiana Jones in “The Last Crusade”
3. Luke Skywalker
2. Heath Ledger’s Joker
1. Harry Potter (who cares about the books...)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Plastic Morality

I don’t like plastic surgery. In plenty of cases, it is necessary, and I obviously appreciate its value in corrective situations. However, the plastic surgery craze has gone well beyond helping burn victims and children with cleft palates.

I frankly don’t understand why anyone would get plastic surgery. It’s better to look old than to look like you got work done. And trust me: even the best plastic surgery looks horrible. Unless your goal is to look more like Michael Jackson, I don’t think there’s really any reason to do it.

I could dedicate an entire post just to how stupid breast augmentation is. There are serious ethical problems with these doctors who make their living off the flat of the land. There is no greater example one can point to where people are making mountains out of molehills. Risking the health of a patient so that she can fill out a blouse is not really in the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath.

I keep hearing from people who advocate for plastic surgery that “We are a beauty obsessed culture.” I couldn’t agree more… but plastic surgery is just perpetuating the myth that superficial appearance matters. What’s more, plastic surgery isn’t beautiful, and it is deeply offending my obsession with only looking at beautiful people. Trust me when I say that hooked noses, flat chests, and face lines are much more pleasing to the eyes than those jack-o-lantern grins on plastic surgery victims.

If you ask me, it is immoral and unethical to get, pay for, or perform extraneous plastic surgery.

And yet, I hope it is never made illegal. This is a perfect opportunity to bring up an important point: there are things in this world you can disagree with, even passionately, which you still believe should be legal. This is how I feel about a great many things, from those which are currently illegal, like drugs, to things which are currently legal, like tattoos. Just because I think it’s a self-defeating decision to partake in either one doesn’t mean I think we should be sending people who do drugs or get tattoos to jail.

Writing this sort of gave me the idea that my morality is essentially plastic. It is entirely artificial. I don’t claim to have lofty justifications for much of what I decide to do or not do, it’s just the way I am. But like plastic, I am willing to bend my morality for others, to be accommodating, rather than rigid and unforgiving.

Christians might call my stance “forgiving,” or “merciful.” I tend to look at it as, “If it’s none of my business, then I have no business telling them what to do.” I think it’s a pretty common thing, actually. In fact, almost everyone I know is pretty much “live and let live.”

This leads me to wonder how we got to a point where so many individual choices which affect no one else are either prosecuted as criminal, or are on the block to be outlawed.

I guess you can kind of see it in the drug war. Drugs are said to be bad, not just for the user, but for those around them. I mean… I agree, drug addicts aren’t much to look at… but have you seen people who have had plastic surgery? There are even people who spend their kid’s college money on plastic surgery, people who are “addicted” to plastic surgery.

But you know what? Even if plastic surgery was illegal, people would still either get illegal (and therefore more dangerous, unregulated) plastic surgery, or they would find some other way to mask their unhappiness. Maybe gambling, if that is legal. Maybe seeing prostitutes, if that is legal. Maybe buying shoes… until that is illegal and we all have to walk around barefoot.

It doesn’t make much sense, really, to try to take away everything that might cause a problem. The end result of that is a society of people in their own personal cage, so no one can get in or out, and no one can make any mistakes… or decisions for themselves.

I will never get plastic surgery, but if you want to get it, go for it. After all, I might be completely wrong. Ultimately, however, I think you would have been happier just eating some make-up. At least then, you might finally be pretty on the inside.
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