Saturday, February 26, 2011

Common Threads

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee
-John Donne

In the midst of this hyper-technologically advanced age in the history of humankind, I often feel that Americans take for granted the value of being in community with other people.

Growing up in a small town, everyone knew everyone. The turnover rate was low; most of us that graduated from the local high school had known each other since elementary school. We had shared experiences, common memories, a shared existence. My family was an oddity because we had only just moved into town when I was in third-grade.

Here in the city, they have different ways. Amidst the masses, there is an anonymity that causes one to feel overwhelmed, disconnected. Instead of knowing everyone in town, one can only possibly know a small handful.

I dislike people, but rarely do I dislike a person. When each person becomes more of a nameless face in an amorphous crowd, it is harder to empathize, sympathize, and harmonize. How can I feel my neighbor's pain if I do not know who he is, what his life is like, from whence he comes and whither he goes?

So here is to all of the friends, past, present, and future. To the people who share our lives, who enter them and do not leave. The ones who are able to silently remind us that even when we feel like islands, we are at least part of a vast archipelago.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

101 Ironic Politician Deaths

Ralph Nader: strangled to death by a seatbelt

Bill Clinton: choking on a cigar/ lack of blood to the brain

Jan Brewer: struck by a bus full of illegal aliens fleeing Arizona

Jennifer Granholm: smothered by a falling stack of unemployment applications

George W Bush: beaten to death by anti-war pacifists

Al Gore: hypothermia

Dick Cheney: lead poisoning

any TEA partier: in a government hospital

any Congressman: trichinosis

Larry Craig: loses his balance on account of his wide stance, falls, hits hit head on the toilet

Ted Kennedy: dehydration

Jimmy Carter: choking on a falafel

Silvio Berlusconi: impaled upon a stiletto heel

Kim Jong Il: hairspray explosion

Charlie Rangel: gets paper cut while filing taxes, gets infected and goes septic

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Teachers on Strike

There is something appallingly cynical about teachers going on strike.

Unions and collective bargaining in general serves two basic functions: protecting labor from abusive actions on the part of employers and enabling workers to share in the profits that a company makes.

As we saw with the American auto-makers, corporations that make collective bargaining agreements that are detached from the profitability of the company will eventually have to pay the piper. The problem was further exacerbated by the fiscally imprudent concession of defined-output pensions in lieu of defined-input retirement accounts.

The public sector unions have four problems, the first two are related to the problems that GM exemplified: they are fighting to keep defined-output pensions at a time when most people recognize the impracticality of funding those pensions and they do not contribute to profitability because governments are not profit-making enterprises.

The third reason is related to the second: governments are bureaucracies that are unrelated to profit-making. In bureaucracies of that nature, experience indicates that status quo is a stronger imperative than efficiency or effectiveness. That is to say, public employees protected by unions are virtually irreplaceable, not because of their talents but because their is no need to protect a profitability bottom-line and therefore little incentive to rock the boat by cutting deadweight.

Finally, there is the not insignificant matter of morals. Being a paid public servant is implicitly a conflict-of-interest. By definition, public servants exist to provide services to the public. Many of these services, such as teaching, are essential. Public servants, then, have a great deal of clout simply by the fact that the public needs them to keep doing what they are doing. If an autoworker goes on strike, not many private citizens will feel any impact and if they do it would probably not be immediate; if teachers go on strike, almost everyone feels it and immediately.

Public employees have every right to air grievances. But if a public servant gets to the point in which he is willing to go on strike, then he has placed in own best interests over those of the public and has ceased to be a public servant. When a teacher ceases to be a public servant, it is time to get rid of him.