Archive for July, 2013

Politicians trying to stamp out innovation to help monopolies

by David McElroy

Lyft-San Francisco

When governments create problems and shortages, the free market rushes in to try to give people what they need. But in the face of almost every innovation, there are politicians and their corrupt friends in the private sector trying to make sure nobody upsets the status quo.

Do you ever take taxis? I rarely do, but I find the experience unpleasant when I have to. You call a dispatcher — who’s frequently surly and unpleasant — and then wait for a cab driver to show up. You might get a decent driver or you might get a jerk who’s unpleasant to deal with. Then you’re taken to where you want to go, at which point you pay a fee that some government bureaucrat set — very possibly in collusion with the people who own the taxis.

In many cities, there aren’t even cabs to meet the demand. There are set numbers of permits available for taxis and nobody can legally go into business without one of the permits. The people who own the existing permits fight to prevent more permits from being issued, because they don’t want competition. They like a world in which a government agency decides how many people can be in the business. That way, they don’t have to use things such as better services and lower prices to compete for business. (Actually, they’re prohibited from charging lower prices.)

There’s a free market solution to this terrible situation, but politicians and bureaucrats are trying to kill it. There are new smartphone apps — Lyft, Sidecar and Uber — that allow anyone to get a ride from someone who has a car that’s registered with the service. If you need a ride, you tell the app what you need and the app tells you who’s available. You choose your driver (and car) and that person picks you up. At the destination, you’re given a suggested “donation” and you’re allowed to rate the driver.

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Galt’s Gulch? I can live without that, but I need my own ‘Akston’s diner’

by David McElroy

Is there anybody who hasn’t felt the need at some point to get away from the insane world and escape to a place of relative sanity? I feel it a lot, and I’ve been feeling it more strongly again recently. It’s occurred to me that I don’t really need Galt’s Gulch right now. I need to find my own version of Hugh Akston’s diner.

If you’re a fan of “Atlas Shrugged,” you know what the two represent. Galt’s Gulch was a brand new society, cut off from the mainstream world — existing without outsiders’ knowledge. It had been founded to give the world’s productive people a place they could go to escape the “looters” who were taking their money and their ideas.

The diner that Dr. Hugh Akston ran, on the other hand, was a part of the mainstream world, in plain view of everyone. Akston had been a philosophy professor who found the world uninterested in his ideas, so he was forced to retreat from university teaching and run a small, remote diner in Colorado. The two places represented entirely different things. Galt’s Gulch was an entirely new free world. Akston’s diner was all about living honestly within the existing world until you could get to the new world.

I want to live in Galt’s Gulch. I want that new world to exist. I believe it’s possible, and I believe we’re going to build it. In the meantime, though, I have to live in the same old world that everybody else does. And if I’m going to remain sane, that requires finding my own version of Akston’s diner.

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Fetish for privatizing misses point; it’s having a choice that matters

by David McElroy

PrivitizationIf there’s one thing that most conservatives and libertarians agree on, it’s about the gospel of privatization. Both groups agree that everyone is better off when governments contract with private companies to perform services.

If you look at the Reason Foundation’s website, you can find all about the glories of privatization and why it’s better than having government employees perform the work.

You’ll see praise of privatizing public works, garbage collection, lotteries and airport screening, among others. I’m sure the facts of the reports and studies are accurate as far as they go, but they’re missing the most basic point, as far as I’m concerned.

If I am forced by a city or state to fork over the money to pay for paving roads or collecting trash or maintaining public parks, how much does it matter to me whether the employees who do the work are government employees or on the payroll of a company that I’m required to support, whether I like the work or not?

I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve been noticing horribly incompetent companies I deal with lately. That’s made me wonder why I should prefer dealing with one of them — if I didn’t have any choice in the matter — rather than government employees. Why is an incompetent private company with a monopoly any better than an incompetent government?

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News is just trivia, so why do we treat it as though it’s important?

by David McElroy

News-trivia

Nothing points out the banality of news like missing a few days of it. After nearly a week away from news, I wondered if I’d missed anything that mattered to me. After looking around for a few days, I haven’t found anything yet that was worth paying attention to.

From the middle of last week until Monday of this week, I was preoccupied with other things and didn’t read any news. For most of that time, I was taking care of a dying cat. Even when I wasn’t directly dealing with her, I was concerned enough about her that I lost interest in following anything in the news.

Since Tuesday, I haven’t found anything that I missed by ignoring the news for five days or so.

Hundreds and hundreds of websites, TV channels and newspapers are devoted to keeping us up to date on the news. Surely some of what they publish must be vital to me. Right? Or is it just habit to keep paying attention to what they’re saying?

I missed the run-up to the birth of a royal baby. I missed various people in Washington yelling at each other for various things. I missed minute-by-minute coverage of a couple of high-profile political races in New York City. (Both of the races are in the news because of the past sexual escapades of candidates, not because of anything related to the issues in the races.)

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Trust and spontaneous order don’t require heavy hand of the state

by David McElroy

What do you do if you want to buy vegetables? If you’re like most people, you head to the grocery store to buy food grown far away from where you live by people you don’t know under conditions you aren’t sure about. What if you had a choice to buy veggies from somebody around the block instead?

Sadly, I don’t eat vegetables the way I should, so I can’t remember the last time I’ve been in the vegetable section of a grocery store unless I was on my way to the meat counter or the ice cream aisle. But if I did suddenly become a healthy eater, I’d have a choice that a lot of people don’t have. I could walk two blocks to the little old house you see above and buy fresh vegetables grown in their yard — all without any licensing or health permits.

I feel pretty certain that this must be against city vending ordinances to do it in a residential area, but this older couple have been doing this since before I moved to the neighborhood more than 20 years ago. They’ve lived there in their modest little house since long before an affluent suburb grew up around them. The mayor of this little suburb lives within 50 yards of the house where these folks live, so I’m sure the city knows about it. Even though my little suburb likes to see itself as progressive and upscale these days, it leaves these people alone. Why? I assume it’s because they’ve been doing it for so long and because the people who live nearby actually like it.

This older couple aren’t going to win any awards for marketing or merchandising displays, but there’s something reassuring and honest about their little operation. I was thinking last night — not for the first time — that what they do is a perfect example of how commerce works when the state doesn’t give orders.

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Ugly people sue modeling industry alleging unlawful discrimination

by David McElroy

The fashion world and major modeling agencies were shaken today by news that the National Association for Ugly People (NAUP) has sued a wide group of designers, agencies and photographers, alleging that the defendants have engaged in a widespread conspiracy of illegal discrimination against less-attractive people.

“For too long, it’s been acceptable for pretty women and hunky men to be on the front covers of magazines and strutting down fashion runways,” said Fenster Beckworth, the executive director of NAUP. “Our members have been the invisible people of this world, cleaning their toilets, cooking their meals and running their cash registers. It’s time for ugly people to get their day in the limelight.”

Beckworth said because ugliness is a birth defect that many people have no control over, it is covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act and that discriminating on the basis of looks is flatly illegal.

Bertha Dalrymple, 36, of Wimington Heights, Tenn., is the lead plaintiff in the suit. (See photo provided by NAUP.) Beckworth said Dalrymple has tried unsuccessfully for more than 15 years to get modeling jobs, but she’s been turned down despite having high qualifications. Dalrymple took several years of modeling classes as a teen-ager and is a member of multiple professional organizations.

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Odd interest in UK’s royal family suggests remnant of need for ruler

by David McElroy

William and Kate's official wedding picture

There’s a new royal baby. Have you heard? (It’s a prince, by the way.) Your reaction to this news probably puts you into one of two camps.

Those in one camp find it strangely fascinating and they’re eager to hear more about it. Those in the other camp not only couldn’t care less, but are actively irritated by the event being treated as noteworthy. Count me among the second group.

It’s easy to make fun of interest in the royal family. I’ve done my share of it in the past and I’ve been seeing a lot of it again lately because of the birth of this child. But something hit me Monday that’s making me think about it in a new way. I’m not certain I’m right, but I suspect there’s truth to it.

Lurking inside almost everyone is a desire for someone to tell us what to do and take care of us. Consciously or not, most people have a deep need for someone to be “in charge.” I suspect that interest in royalty of any kind is a remnant of a desire that’s played itself out for hundreds or thousands of generations of our ancestors.

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Goodbye, Amelia

by David McElroy

Amelia-sleeping-June 20, 2012

Amelia died at 2:34 p.m. Monday. She was in my arms purring for her last half hour of life. She didn’t seem to be in pain. She simply stopped breathing.

She was the ultimate lap cat. For the last couple of years, she and Sonny had constantly competed for lap time. After I unexpectedly lost Sonny about a month ago, she had me all to herself again. For several weeks, so took advantage of it, jumping into my lap and purring loudly anytime I sat at my desk.

I’ve told the story of how she came to live with me 13 years ago, so I won’t repeat that. And I wrote this morning about how the animals I’ve rescued have really done more to rescue me than the other way around, so I won’t belabor that point, although it might be more true of her than of some of the others. So I’ll just say a few things about this particular little girl who has meant so much to me.

My experience is that male cats are sweeter and friendlier and that the females are more skittish and untrusting. (I’ve found something of the reverse with dogs, where females are sweeter and males can tend to be more aloof.) In this respect, Amelia was more like a male cat. She quickly trusted me and wanted a tremendous amount of attention. She was the first animal who came to live with me after I divorced 13 years ago, so she was always something of a line of demarcation between the past and the future for me. (Of my remaining cats, only William was with me when I was married.)

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Do we rescue abandoned animals? Maybe they’re rescuing us instead

by David McElroy

Amelia-waiting for my lap

For the last five days or so, my life has revolved around the health of a small cat. I haven’t slept much and I haven’t gotten too much done during the day. My time has been devoted to helping a little girl named Amelia get well.

When she received fluids and had other treatment at a vet clinic Friday, she had to stay overnight. They warned me that she was so weak that she probably wouldn’t make it through the night. But when I called at 7 a.m., she was alive, although still very weak. They told me I could keep watching her and hoping for a miracle or I could put her to sleep. They didn’t necessarily encourage that, but it was clear that they didn’t believe she had a chance. I couldn’t give up on her.

The vet didn’t want me to move her home until the last possible second Saturday, so I picked her up right as the clinic closed at noon. In talking with the vet and the vet tech who was working with her, neither believed she could make it through the weekend.

After a weekend of ups and downs — progress and then collapse — all I can say is that she’s still with me. I’m still doing all I can to give this little girl a chance to recover.

Some people don’t understand the intense connection that some of us feel for cats and dogs. And some people love animals, but don’t understand why some of us are so intent on rescuing the ones who aren’t wanted instead of getting some “pure” animal that’s been bred to be “perfect.”

But I find that there are many people like me — who also have a need to rescue the unwanted and unloved animals. Some of them are a little crazy. (OK, some of them are a lot crazy.) But they all have hearts that are bigger than their homes. And I think most of us are rescuing ourselves by rescuing the unloved and unwanted.

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How many warnings does life send us when something’s gone wrong?

by David McElroy

Layout 1

It wasn’t a big deal when I first noticed my ankles and feet swelling. I’m not sure if it started the middle of last week or over the weekend. It didn’t seem like a big enough deal to pay attention to at first.

But by Monday, the swelling was painful. My shoes felt as though they were about two sizes too small. It hurt to walk. I still didn’t think it was a big deal, but it was irritating enough by Wednesday to go visit a friend who’s a doctor. I just wanted him to tell me how to make the swelling go away.

My friend took a look at the swelling and pressed his thumb into part of the skin on each ankle and he timed how long it took the “pit” to go away. It was taking far longer than it should, he said, and that made it a “pitting edema.”

“Is it going to kill me?” I asked jokingly.

“Well, pitting edema is a classic sign of possible congestive heart failure,” he said. And he wasn’t joking.

For just a minute, I felt as though I was in another doctor’s office 18 months ago when a specialist told me that I had breast cancer and needed immediate surgery. For that minute, I relived what it felt like to experience the worry and loneliness I’d felt then. (I wrote about the experience of surgery this past January, on the one-year anniversary.) It felt as though someone was waving a red warning flag at me.

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Start over here

When this site launched in 2011, it was intended as a way to find others who were sick of partisan politics and wanted to connect with like-minded people who were ready to go beyond politics and find ways of escaping. It has shifted focus in ways that reflect my own shifting thinking. I’m less interested in politics and more interested in looking at the things that make life worth living, such as love, creation, self-understanding and connecting with others. Every article I have posted since 2011 is still in my archives, but everything I write is a reflection of my current thinking. Sometimes I’m wrong — and that’s fine with me — and I don’t always end up agreeing with what I wrote five years ago. For now, you can still read what I wrote about the site’s purpose in 2011, but I should rewrite this. Read more.

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David likes email, but can’t reply to every message. I get a surprisingly large number of requests for relationship advice — seriously — but I rarely have the time to respond. (Sorry.) Besides, with my own romantic track record, maybe my advice isn’t worth taking. I’d like to find a wife one of these days, so maybe I should add an “application.”

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