08/20/13

Two Evils

So my wife and I have been trying to get our own finances in order. You would think that counting $6 would be pretty straight forward. The real obstacle to making additional room in your budget is the “fixed” costs. Those are the costs that can’t be eliminated or easily reduced. Think your mortgage or lease. Medical insurance. Wild skee-ball binges down at Frankie’s Fun Park. Because these costs are “fixed” so to speak, they are not typically a good source of potential savings or cost cutting. You have to look to more discretionary spending like shopping or entertainment or your kids’ underwear. Non-essentials.

Egypt’s President Mohommed Morsi, not-long-ago the benefactor, himself, of a cultural and political revolution, was recently displaced by the Egyptian military, in what they staunchly would reject as anything like an illegitimate coup. Since that time, the military has been at literal war with the Muslim Brotherhood, who support Morsi. Nearly a thousand dead. In the middle of this human tragedy, is the geo-political crisis of our own financial aid to Egypt and the military in particular. Our Congress is divided over whether to choose between two fairly poor options in continuing to give aid to the Egyptian military or substantially reducing, or withdrawing, it, altogether. (There is a third option, but it involves Brendan Fraser and 6 fabric bolts of embalming gauze. Or maybe it’s Nicholas Cage and a precious national heirloom. The alternatives are all running together.)

We are slated to provide, in mostly military, but some economic, aid, for fiscal year 2014, $1.55 BILLION dollars to Egypt. In 2013, we are budgeted to provide, globally, $37 billion, between $23 billion in humanitarian aid and $14 Billion in military aid, like that provided to Egypt. Stunningly, however, this is still less than 1% of our national budget. And .0003% of what it costs to buy, a medium-sized family, popcorn and soda at the movies.

In 2012, we spent 107.6 billion on education. That’s only 3 times more than what we do for other countries (but is still, on a percentage of total budget basis, number one in the world). It is also half as much as we spend on those car window stickers that tell you how many people and of what kind, star wars or zombie, you have in your family.

star wars family car

So is foreign aid, and the $1.55 Billion to Egypt, specifically, a fixed cost? Is it non-negotiable, in other words? For the importance of the Suez Canal and the instability of the entire region, the answer is probably yes. We need to maintain our influence. But, as our own country struggles to pay its debts and create real jobs, it sure would be nice to not have to flush 2 billion dollars down a war-torn sink hole. It’s like when times are tough, you go to a smaller cable package. Or buy Dr. Bob’s instead of Dr. Pepper. Or stop flushing. I mean. Like every other time or so.

But, so it is with public policy. Typically it turns on a lesser of two evils. Either we continue to prop up an Egyptian military, guilty of relatively heinous human rights violations, but who, at least, doesn’t envision a fully dedicated eighth century Muslim state or we pull the plug and allow continued chaos and possibly the emergence of an eighth century Muslim state. (Actually, relatively speaking, an eighth century Muslim state would be a shining beacon of tolerance compared to modern Egypt.)

As usual, I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I can’t seem to keep up with the government’s version of its own foreign “aid” to me, my federal paycheck. The other day, I tried to make a deposit using my smartphone bank application. No luck. But, now I have a startlingly high new personal best on Temple Run 2.

Oh, and as a disclaimer to the song, no offense to little people or female athletes. Sometimes, you just have to obey the rhyme scheme and the comedy.

Written and performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced Haralduz7.

Today’s blong here:

The Lesser Of

11/26/12

Penmanship Wrecked

As I mentioned, we were in Colonial Williamsburg for Thanksgiving. It was a really, really special trip with our extended family.

We saw a LOT of old things.

Quills, wood burning stoves, carriages, hatchets, brick oven fires. Bed pans.

You know what the colonialists might have preferred? I don’t know. Microsoft Word; a 2500 watt, self-cleaning, freestanding GE range top; central heating. Maybe a magic bowl that whisks away your bowel movements.

I’ve barked about this before but old things aren’t better. They’re just old. And, first.

A friend of this site sent this article about how some schools are ensuring that penmanship endures, even in the face of digital technology’s inevitable march. I’m generally in favor of this. At my son’s school the parents could elect whether or not to have our children taught script. We did. I like the arguments that cursive enhances coordination and motor skills and that it might still be valuable for speed in certain testing environs, essay, Advanced Placement, etc.

But, do you know why handwriting exists? Because the Egyptians didn’t have a Dell. And, do you know why script and other decorative calligraphy exists? Because the Saxons didn’t have Snell Roundhand Black typeface in their font library. As soon as Guttenberg found a shortcut, you didn’t see monks still romantically hand scribing books for the fun of it. Well maybe some. But that’s just because they had taken a vow of celibacy. They had some energy to burn, so to speak.

So as to old stuff you should feel free to take it or leave it. If you like old technology and vestige, cool. Read by oil lamp. Wear a neck cravat. Harass a wench. But, if you value things like illumination and automatic drive and remote controls and your news even, let’s say, a day less than a week old when you receive it, then don’t feel bullied by other people’s nostalgia.

I wrestled with my own sentiments walking around this city dedicated to freezing in suspended animation the way things were. In fairness, Colonial Williamsburg, itself, doesn’t advertise as some “better time.” In fact, it tried to be frank about the burden antiquated technology placed on the lives of the people that used it and confessed all that it got wrong with respect to blacks and women and religion.

But, Williamsburg at its finest is not about old things. Rather, it stands as a monument to the value of certain old ideas that we’d be good not to forget. Virtues and principles and philosophies. Hard work and ingenuity and community and the idea that government corrupts true religion. Or maybe the idea that not all power should be invested in one person or body politic but should be separated among diffuse individuals and branches.

The Middle East, and frankly much of the world, has long struggled with this last point where I think America has greatly succeeded. Many governments prefer to consolidate rather than separate power. It’s wildly more efficient.

Just this weekend, Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi issued a series of measures preventing Egypt’s courts from challenging any laws or decrees passed since he assumed office in June. Apparently Morsi is attempting to prevent the courts from dissolving Egypt’s legislative body which is in the process of drafting a new Constitution. The courts in Egypt are traditionally responsible for running the country’s parliamentary and presidential elections.

Considering Egypt’s recent political unrest, such suspension of power might be justified. I’m not informed enough to know. But anytime checks on executive power, like the judicial system, are diminished, the risk of abuse abounds.

So when our government is slow or when the sovereign branches fight or when the state and national governments seem irretrievably at odds, be thankful. It’s for our own good.

We are free to be sentimental about toys or songs or handwriting from a bygone era. Some of us will more relish the advantages of our present progress. Either way, the “stuff” of our past and present will all pass. But, ideas, whether poorly judged or wise, should never be forgotten.

The opening two lines of today’s blong are a tribute to the greatest emcee that ever was.

Written and performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced dj transform. Concepted by Conduct Lionhardt.

Today’s blong here:

Old One

09/14/12

Righteous Indignation

We all do it. It’s not just muslims.

But, it’s the weakest sort of faith practice to take offense at offenses against your faith.

First, don’t be so sure of yourself.

Second, if what you believe is true, then things like critique of, or jokes about or irreverence for, it, won’t make any substantive difference.

It’s called Gamaliel’s Advice. Look it up.

It is my normal practice to try and appreciate the many factors that might contribute to the protestors’ inability to understand this basic point. In fact, it’s not uncommon at all for people of faith to play lawyer for God. Defend the divine honor. Demand the reverence of others. Albeit mostly for the insecurity over our own convictions.

But, this is insane. Region wide protests and the assassination of a diplomat over what, by all accounts, appears to be a half-baked movie that may or may not have even been made by an American, much less endorsed by, or made aware to, more than 5 or 6 people across the country somehow now responsible for it?

It would be like protesting the sun for the invention of tanning salons. The indignation is false. Contrived.

My deepest, deepest condolences to the victims and their families.

I don’t mean to be so hawkish. But we need to declare martial law in Benghazi and greater Libya. Avoid as much collateral damage as is reasonable and run down the assailants. It’s just unacceptable. In the same way this movie doesn’t speak for all Americans, these acts of violence do not speak for all Libyans. But, I don’t have a lot of reservation about them now having to bear the weight of an invasive military action until we find those for whom the attacks most certainly do speak. I know that’s inviting another Black Hawk Down. But, we cannot continue to allow insurgents, without state, to hide behind state. We should have been in Pakistan years ago to find Bin Laden. We don’t raze the country to the ground, we just politely help ourselves. I probably don’t really mean that.

Just remember. The devil might need an advocate. But God doesn’t.

Written and performed by theipoetlaureate.  Music produced by the one Dave Santos.

Today’s song blog here:

Devil's Advocate