Thursday, December 15, 2005

Television Culture

We used to be a TV-free family. Several years ago when our first child was born, my wife and I decided to forego the television altogether. No cable, no reception, no videos and no DVD’s were the rules of the house. I believe we gave our set away so we would not even be tempted to pull it out of the closet one night.. Gone was the squawking box pinning down the center of our living room, monopolizing the airwaves, and controlling the rhythm of our daily lives. But gone too was something both my wife and I had grown up with and relied upon. Television had filled the empty spaces in our days when work was not required of us and when we did not have the energy to do anything particularly creative. As we launched ourselves into life without television, our hands itched for a remote that was not there and our minds creaked like shipwrecks. But still we eagerly faced the challenge of life without television, and struggled to come up with the vexing question “What did people do before TV?”

I am happy to say we made a successful adjustment and lived for a couple of years without television. It became habit to reach for a book or a craft or even a board game instead of for the remote whenever we needed downtime. We followed the events of 9/11 and the first phases of the war in Afghanistan by radio and newspaper alone. I can recall evenings listening to books on tape with my wife and later discussing them with her and how that seemed to deepen the ties between us. Our son never knew what he was missing and became an avid reader at an early age. I remember us going on family walks in the evening and passing house after house with the front windows lit up with the blue light of a TV set and being able to hear the faint rumble from the sounds the sets made as we passed by. I remember feeling a little superior to my neighbors who were still locked inside their noisy boxes while I had broken free and discovered a new country of peace and intellectual enrichment.

Then one night we went to the department store. We bought the biggest TV we could afford, rented a couple of movies, made some popcorn, and curled up together in the blue light of the television set. Soon after reintroducing video, we got rabbit ears to pick up network television. When the war in Iraq looked like it was really going to happen, we got cable. I stayed up the whole night when our bombs began falling to see the events unfold on one of the Fox channels. Later, the DVD player became Mom’s baby sitter when she had to get a break and became a sure fire relaxation machine for me on work nights. Now, we have satellite television, are considering buying TI-VO, and give each other as many DVDs as books for Christmas.

What happened to us, you might ask? How could we give up that wonderful life of books and handy crafts and quality family time to return to our mental shackles in front of the TV? What happened was we started using the technology, not the other way around. We broke the old mode of just being mindless consumers of whatever was ‘on’ to being picky connoisseurs of the medium. There are some things that have occurred that have given me pause about this, sure enough. Both of my daughters like books. But neither one is the voracious reader that my eldest son is. But that could be for any number of reasons. And besides, we just finished watching Julius Caesar on the tube. Don’t try to tell me I could have peaked my children’s interest in Shakespeare by having them just read the plays out of a Penguin paper-back. Shakespeare was meant to be heard and seen. And I cannot think of a better way to have seen it than the circa 1953, black-and-white, Marlon Brando version.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Baby got book

This was too good not to post. From my buddy Zack working for "the man" in the federal government.

"Sir-mix-a-lot remix with the bible"


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I am sick of the GOP

I have been cross posting some of my older stuff over at in hopes of generating some more traffic over here. And I am coming to the sobering conclusion that I am far more conservative than most partisan Republicans. I mean, I knew that already, but every time I re-learn it, it shocks me just how similar to Democrats the Republican partisans are. They don't care so much about ideas and values, as they do about their "party" winning. Don't mistake my rant for a criticism of ALL Republicans, just most of the ones I come into contact with on a regular basis. In fact, most of the Republicans I can respect would probably be willing to leave the GOP if they thought there was a decent alternative. So, I have decided to devote today to looking at alternatives. I mean, lets be honest and shoot straight here, how many years of Republican control of both houses of Congress and the White House have we been through, and was has been achieved? Not much, I assert. If you can think of some good conservative things done, or libertarian things done during the reign of W. please share. I am coming up pretty empty. (And don't site the tax cuts, while they benefit me financially, they didn't make any progress toward simplifying the tax code, making the tax code fair, removing the power of the federal government to redistribute wealth. Really, all the Bush tax cuts did was make people like me have more money, which is not a bad thing per se, but I am not going to call that a substitute for liberty, freedom, or real tax reform).

The Republican Party(1)
We all know what it is, what it does, and where it comes from. We know what it stands for, and how it functions.

The Democratic Party(2)
Ditto the Republican party.

Libertarian Party(3)
I have been a registered dues paying member of this party in the past. I am somewhat disappointed by the inability of this party to accept a pro-life position, rather than an essentially neutral position. This is still one of my favorite parties because its consistent on everything but life issues. They have great ideas for reforming the corporatist system in the US. They advocate liberty and freedom pretty universally. There are very few, if any positions this party takes that I do not completely agree with. The Life issue though is a deal breaker for me, so I find myself supporting the Libertarian party when they run pro-life candidates, and not supporting them when they don't. Their website is pretty but not nearly as informative as it used to be. Their positions have been summarized in small blurbs that I don't think do justice to the ideas they propose. A while back they had a very nice in depth platform position spelling out how they would reform the SEC and change corporate oversight in an effort to prevent Enron type scandals. I could not find it recently when I looked for it.

Green Party(4)
The Greens are essentially mainstream socialists. They are super liberal leftist socialists who don't call themselves socialists. They have run candidates like Ralph Nader. Their website is very nice, and easy to navigate, I suggest you look at them. My major issues with them are Life issues, as they support murdering babies, and I disagree with their desire to nationalize things like health care. I also suspect, though they don't state it in their 10 key values, that they support income redistribution. If nothing else, I do respect the Greens for being honest and fighting for what they believe. A respect I have for neither of the two major parties. They have kindly posted a very nice comparison of their positions with those of the two major parties.(5)

The Natural Law Party(6)
After reviewing their platform, I believe they are essentially a feel good moderate Republican-like party. Their platform revolves essentially around educating people. If you believe its the government's job to educate everyone about everything, this might be the party for you. I don't know why, in the past I had considered the Natural Law party to be conservative, they certainly aren't. But they don't come across as crazy communists either. The party was started by "educators, businessmen, and lawyers" and I suspect as a result the party is in the tradition of educators who "teach because they cannot do".

The Reform Party(7)
I was a member of United We Stand America (the precursor to the Reform Party) for a year or two. I like a lot of the Reform Party principles, but they tend not to go far enough. Like the Libertarian party, Reform tries to stay neutral on abortion. Reform also shies away from a lot of social issues. Reform is certainly better than the Republocrats and the Greens, also better than the Natural Law in my view.

The Socialist Party(8)
While it may get the pinko revolutionary in you all fired up, I consider this party to be the poorer, less educated brother of the Greens. The Greens are just higher class socialists. There is not a lot to say about the Socialist party, they are exactly what you would expect.

The Constitution Party(9)
The Constitution Party website is a great source of information on their party. They are on the right side of abortion, they are on the right side of the second amendment. They are on the right side of health care and they are mostly right on the military. I disagree with their position on drugs. This appears to be the party for me, and for any other conservative sick of holding their nose while voting for an imperialist or corporatist masquerading as a conservative.

There are of course a ton more parties, but the above represent the larger of the "third" parties. I welcome anything you wish to say about these parties or about any parties I did not summarize but that you think deserve attention. Email me for the open Wednesday spot and I will happily post your column.

(1) The GOP
(2) The Democrats
(3) The Libertarian Party
(4) The Greens
(5) Green Comparison to Republocrats
(6) The Natural Law Party
(7) The Reform Party
(8) The Socialist Party
(9) The Constitution Party
(10) A great list of American Political Parties

Monday, December 12, 2005

But wait, there's more....

The siren song of "free" money can be hard to ignore. No money down financing; six months (or a year! or more!) same-as-cash, 0% interest rates and other calls can lead people down the slippery slope towards disasterous financial circumstances. If you can't quite afford (or can't really afford it at ALL) that car, or computer, or bedroom set, it can be awfully appealing to know you can get it anyway. Sure, it SOUNDS like a great get your "stuff" when you want it and just pay for it later, sometimes even long after the "stuff" is gone if you carry a credit card balance (How much did you REALLY pay for that steak dinner a year ago? Did you enjoy it enough to still be paying for it?). Being dumb with money can be fun at first...but all too often it comes crashing down around your ears. You thought you could pay for this thing, and that thing, or at least pay the minimum payment, and after all...that's all that's required of you each month, right? Well that's all well and good until even the minimum payments are a stretch....

The average American is thousands of dollars in debt. Does that average American have any idea how long it would take to pay back the balance paying only the minimum payment each month? Does that average American have any idea how much money he would actually spend on that steak dinner, or computer, or bedroom set? Perhaps it would be worth considering requiring a financial course in our high schools? Even one section of a math course?

Have you seen the recent batch of credit card commercials? They're apparently trying to sell us on how cool and fun they are. My husband mocks them when we see them by saing "Credit card debt is FUN!" And that does seem to be the basic great credit cards are and how important they are, and yes even how FUN they are....and let's not forget "priceless." The fact that credit card companies all but beg people (and often people with little to no income...think about how many credit card applications you received in college) to borrow money from them, certainly makes it seem that there's at least a *bit* of a conflict of interest when they then turn around and lobby for stricter bankruptcy laws.

If you'd like to look at something that gives step-by-step plans for getting out of debt, you might want to consider The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey. He has a multi-step plan, beginning with getting current on bills if you're behind, then putting aside an emergency fund (in order to rely on that instead of credit cards, if you need car repairs, or household repairs, etc), then beginning to "snowball" debts (pay off one debt at a time, and with each payoff, add that amount to the next debt). After the debt payoff, there are investment steps.