Latest entries

Without the state, who would plow roads? We and our neighbors will

by David McElroy

Plowed street in Suffern, N.Y

When Vincent Ferrari woke up Thursday morning, his neighborhood in Rockland County, N.Y., was snowed in by about six or eight inches of snow. By halfway through the day, Village of Suffern snow plows were still nowhere to be seen, but what happened early in the afternoon is a great lesson in how people can co-operate — if they’re allowed to make their own plans and they don’t rely on government.

When nobody from the village showed up to clear the street, the neighbors did it themselves.

“Without government, who would plow the roads? Let me tell you who,” Ferrari said late Thursday afternoon. “My neighbor’s grandson and five of my neighbors.”

The neighbor’s grandson — a young man named Tommy — has a truck with a plow. The mayor of the village lives about a block from Ferrari, but she’s apparently on a trip to Florida this week. No plowing had been done in the 12,000-population village as far as Ferrari could tell, so by early afternoon, Tommy got to work clearing the street. Ferrari and five other neighbors went out with shovels and worked on the areas right around everyone’s driveways.

“He plowed and then we each dug each other out,” Ferrari said. “You know what that’s called? Voluntary co-operation. You know who hasn’t been down my street? A [government-owned] snow plow. Not a single one. We are the only street in the whole area that’s cleared because we did it rather than waiting for our savior elected officials.”

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I’d love to move to a Caribbean isle, so what’s been keeping me here?

by David McElroy

Caribbean sunset

As I sat for hours in the gridlock of traffic last week while Birmingham dealt with an unexpected ice storm, I had one question on my mind: Why haven’t I already moved to the Caribbean?

It sounds like a joke, but I was half serious. I’ve thought for a long time that I’d like to move to a Caribbean island. I have nothing except history tying me to Birmingham (or any other place). I’m tired of the cold that I experience for a few months in the winter. I’m tired of the humid southern summers. I’ve visited a dozen or so islands and I keep finding myself wanting to go back and stay.

So why was I creeping along — and getting trapped on — highways covered with enough ice to be skating rinks last week instead of living on a tropical island?

I could probably give you a dozen reasons. The cost of living is high. The opportunities to make money are more limited. There would be new cultures to learn, maybe even a new language in some places. I’d be leaving friends and familiar places behind. And on and on.

But the bottom line is far simpler. I simply haven’t been willing to commit to doing whatever it takes to make it happen. I’ve accepted the status quo because inertia was easier than committing to change.

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Our choices determine whether we die alone or surrounded by love

by David McElroy

Emergency vehicles

A couple of months ago, Thanksgiving day started out with some unexpected drama on my street. At about 12:30 a.m., I heard emergency vehicles screaming down the street. They stopped right next door to my house. I had no idea at the time that a man was dying just a few feet away from me.

As I watched, emergency crews went in and out of the house for at least half an hour, hurrying to get things from their vehicles. I took pictures of the bright red scene — as you see above — but I never knew what was going on. I finally went back inside and the trucks and ambulances left. I assumed someone might have been taken to a hospital. Maybe it was a fall. Or a heart attack. I just didn’t know.

It wasn’t until the next afternoon that I talked with another neighbor who told me what happened. I don’t know the woman who lives in the place where the emergency crews were working. I’ve seen her a few times, but we’ve never talked. I just knew she lived alone with her young daughter, who I’ve spoken to briefly a few times

What I didn’t know is that the woman’s brother had come to stay with them. I don’t know how long he had been there or why he had come, but it was apparently more than just a brief visit. Even if I had known he was there, though, I would have had no way to know that he was dying of a heroin overdose that night.

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I support MLK’s original goals, but not what his birthday represents

by David McElroy

MLK-250I’m not celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday today, but it has nothing to do with disagreeing with the man or his stated goals. I simply have no use for the political agenda of the people who claim to be carrying on his legacy.

If you listen to mainstream media accounts of the day, all decent people are joining together to celebrate civil rights and freedom. Here in Birmingham, the local newspaper has its coverage headed with these words: “Alabamians join together in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. – From Huntsville to Mobile, people are stopping to remember the civil rights icon with charity projects, speeches and marches.”

That’s a simplistic and sanitized version of what this day means. The implication of much of what you read today seems to be that anyone who doesn’t celebrate King’s birthday must be racist. The truth is more complicated and we need to admit that.

I live in the heart of where the Civil Rights Movement took place. Some of the worst abuses of white political power were on display in Birmingham as black men and women such as King (and some of their white allies) demanded change. There’s a Birmingham Civil Rights Institute if you need documentation of some of the evils of the day.

Black men and women didn’t have the same rights under state and local laws in many places, mostly in the South. It was difficult or impossible for blacks to vote. The law required black children to attend inferior schools and denied them access to schools for white children. Jim Crow laws required the segregation of races in various public facilities, such as waiting rooms, restrooms and even water fountains. Black people had to be afraid of how they were going to be treated by police and other public officials.

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Snapshots of hurting people and broken families, but no resolutions

by David McElroy

Broken families

I spent a couple of hours Tuesday with a woman who’s going through a divorce. She told me at length about what she’s going through and what led to her divorce.

After 24 years of marriage, this woman filed for a divorce a few months ago, because she found out last February that her husband had been cheating on her with multiple women over the years. He’s the last person she would have ever suspected of being a cheater. They were very active in their church and he had always seemed like such a moral and ethical man. He wasn’t just a member of his church, but was an active leader.

He had emotionally neglected her over the years, ignoring her for the most part, but she stayed with him because “at least he doesn’t cheat on me.” She said when they first married — when she was 27 and he was 24 — she made excuses for him. “It’s just because he’s younger and immature,” she said she thought. Eventually, she grew accustomed to being ignored.

They were both software programmers when they met. She gave up her career to raise children, and her skills are badly out of date now that she needs a job. He moved up through the ranks of a major bank to a senior management position over the IT department. Although he had a very high income, he spent little on her. He took her to cheap restaurants and said they couldn’t afford nice places — which never bothered her until she discovered the expensive places where he had been taking his mistresses for all those years.

“Why?”

That’s the question she’s left with. Why did he do all the things he did? And why did she accept what little she was getting from him? She didn’t believe in divorce, but she nows says if she had understood 20 years ago what she understands now, she would have left him just for the emotional abuse of neglect, which she now says was worse than any physical abuse could have been.

She’s left alone now in a small apartment, crying more often than she wants to admit — asking, “Why?”

I don’t know that I have a point to make from her story. It’s just a brief portrait of a hurting woman who’s lost her trust in people — and is questioning her faith in God — because of the way she allowed herself to be treated. There’s not really a larger point. It’s just a glimpse. But I have two other stories to tell along with it.

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I’d like to help change the world, but politics is no longer my hobby

by David McElroy

Political gameWhy do people get involved in political campaigns and movements? Some do it because they’re trying to change things, either nationally or as it relates to some local issue they care about, but the biggest percentage of them are simply political junkies.

When I look back at the people I dealt with while I worked in politics for two decades, it’s really obvious that most of them were in politics for one simple reason. They loved the game. They might have paid lip service to the idea of making the world a better place — they might have even believed it — and they were definitely ideologues to one degree or another. But most were simply addicted to the thrill of being around the intrigue of the struggle for political power.

Most of us grew up being taught that “good citizens” are informed about news and involved with politics. If you’re one of those who’s attracted to power and is thrilled to be near those who have it, there’s no better excuse to indulge yourself. You’re just being a good citizen. You deserve a pat on the back as you name-drop about the people you’ve met. But it’s a game. It’s about the chase for power and ego gratification. You either become a political professional and get paid for or else it becomes a hobby for you.

Since I write and talk about political ideas, it confuses many people that I no longer care about politics. Many of those who generally agree with me about the sort of future I would like to see are confused that I don’t promote political advocacy and that I actively discourage people from participating.

Let me try one more time to explain why politics is no longer my hobby.

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Petty politics as usual just might be Chris Christie’s bridge to obscurity

by David McElroy

Chris Christie-Fort Lee bridge

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is outraged that his minions closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge in order to cause problems in the city of one of his political enemies. That’s what he’s saying right now, and we all know that a politician wouldn’t lie.

I’d like to remind you that this is nothing but politics as usual. Whether Christie knew about it or not — and I’m betting he did — this is just the way the game of politics is played.

Christie is facing political heat because of disclosure by the Bergen Record that his underlings — including a man who went to high school with him — participated in a plan to cause traffic problems for Fort Lee, N.J., purely because of political differences with the city’s mayor. The newspaper obtained a cache of emails and text messages exchanged between the various people involved in the plan.

On Aug. 13, Bridget Anne Kelly, who is one of three deputy chiefs of staff for Christie, sent an email to David Wildstein, who is considered Christie’s “eyes and ears at the Port Authority.” In that message, Kelly said, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein clearly understood the message, as he simply responded with, “Got it.” Wildstein is a longtime political operative in New Jersey and went to high school with Christie.

On a subsequent morning, the Port Authority closed certain lanes on the George Washington Bridge without announcement or explanation during morning rush-hour for four days.

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New Year’s resolutions don’t change anything until we change ourselves

by David McElroy

ResolutionsI don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I’m sure they’re useful for some people, but they don’t make any difference to me. I think I’ve finally figured out why.

Resolutions seem to focus on a desired outcome or behavior rather than the reason behind the behavior. Just wanting to change your outcomes isn’t enough. You have to change your decisions that have produced the outcomes you’re trying to eliminate.

I find it really easy to list the obvious things I’d like to change about myself. I’d like to drop the weight that I’ve gained in the last five years. I’d like to move to a home I like better and is more suited to me. I’d like to make more money and do work that’s fulfilling. I’d like to keep my house cleaner. I’d like to have a romantic relationship that I’m happy with and is emotionally healthy. I’d like to find the motivation to complete the film projects I’ve been working on.

This isn’t rocket science. I can make a nice list of them. I can even promise that I’m going to do them all. But that doesn’t work for me. That approach also doesn’t seem to work for others. Why not?

I think it’s because we fail to look at the reasons we do the things we do.

It doesn’t do me a bit of good to swear I’m going to use willpower to force myself to quit eating sweets and exercise more unless I look at why I’ve made the behavioral decisions that led me to gain weight. It doesn’t do me any good to resolve to make more money unless I ask myself why I’ve done the things I’ve done in the last decade that have led me to squander my talent and opportunities. And so forth.

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Are you finally ready to admit that a constitution can’t control a state?

by David McElroy

NSA surveillance

How many times have people told us that we should put our faith in the Constitution, because it’s there to protect our rights? Originalists tell us that the document is sacred. Progressives say it’s a “living document,” whatever they think that means this week. They both claim the Constitution protects us.

But time after time, we’ve seen that the Constitution can’t do the job it’s supposed to do — that of limiting the politicians who claim power over us. The document was carefully constructed to grant very narrow power to the federal government. And if anybody missed the intent, the Ninth and Tenth Amendments were added to make is clear that the government has no powers which aren’t specifically granted in it. Those amendments make it clear that the states and the people themselves retain any powers not given to the federal government.

How much more clear could that have been?

Has that stopped politicians from controlling both states and individuals? No. Congress invents whatever law it wants, justifying those laws in ways that would have confused and angered the men who wrote the document. The people of the executive branch routinely make up their own versions of laws, claiming vague power that Congress has theoretically given to them, but which violate the text and intent of the Constitution.

And the judges of the judicial branch routinely give us rulings that ignore the text and intent of the document — and which pander to the political need of the day.

The latest example of this is the ruling by a New York federal judge Friday that the NSA is perfectly free to collect pretty much any information that it wants to collect about Americans. Even though the NSA’s snooping is a clear violation of the intent of the Constitution, the judge says it’s fine because the government needs to fight terrorism. (A different judge issued an entirely different ruling earlier this month.)

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Treating Phil Robertson seriously means slouching toward ‘Idiocracy’

by David McElroy

Idiocracy-Ow My BallsIt finally occurred to me over the weekend why I hate the responses of people on both sides of the Phil Robertson controversy. I would object to pretty much any reaction to what Robertson said — because paying attention to him at all is treating something trivial as though it’s important.

I’m no more interested in what Robertson has to say about homosexuality than I would be if he weighed in on whether McDonald’s or Burger King has better burgers — or whether Ukraine should join the European Union. He’s just a random nobody who has been elevated to being a faux “somebody” because of “reality” television. His views should matter about as much as the views of any random person from the phone book.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that my biggest objection to this entire controversy isn’t what anyone says about homosexuality or sin or free speech or anything like that. I simply object that we as a society are going down a pop-culture road that leads to becoming “Idiocracy.” Taking the theological and political views of a star of “Duck Dynasty” seriously makes no sense. When do we put “Ow! My Balls” on the air?

When Miley Cyrus made herself into a spectacle four months ago and everybody seemed to be taking her seriously, I begged the culture to quit worshiping celebrities. I’m not going to repeat what I said there, but I’ve realized that the Robertson case is more of the same. It’s a matter of taking a carnival sideshow and pretending it matters to serious discussion.

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Do you have a love/hate relationship with politics? This is the beginning of a community of people who are looking for ways to say “no” to politics and say “yes” to real life. If you stick around, you’ll read about the futility of the state and you’ll also be subjected to the strange brand of humor that lives in David McElroy’s head, as well as random links and pictures of cute cats (and the occasional drooling dog). If you’re ready to move beyond politics, join our tribe. Read more.

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