Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Confuzion - I haz it.

In the process of watching the various news reports of the last few weeks, and reading the comments and letters to the editor of online and print media, I have to confess that I have no small measure of confusion about a few things:

Polygamy sect
Could someone explain to me -- using something other than religious grounds -- just exactly WHAT is wrong with polygamy? I'm not talking about the 'marriages' of underage kids to adults (which should be illegal, anyway), but the practice as engaged in by adults. It's not anything I would have any interest in; I'm just curious to know what the basis is against it. For that matter, why is 'marriage' limited to a one-and-one definition, anyway? If the goal/purpose of marriage is to provide for children, stability in the relationship, and ensure that the family is suitably provided for, then I'd think that any kind of union that accomplished those goals would be acceptable. Besides, whose business is it what happens in a marriage except for those involved?
Considering all the different religions and cultures in the world, maybe it's time to stop thinking of 'marriage' as a religious construct, but rather a LEGAL one.

Gay Marriage
Again, I'm at a loss here. If two people want to join their lives together, what the hell should it matter to anyone else? Yes, I hear and read all the fussing (usually involving quotes or citations from the Bible), but none of that answers the question: what business is it of yours? If 'you' believe that marriage between two people of the same sex is immoral or sinful or whatever, then don't do it; regardless of what you may think or believe, you do NOT have any inherent 'right' to deny anyone else the freedom to live as they wish -- unless, of course, you're willing to subject yourself to someone else's beliefs, in turn?

Crime and Punishment
Lest anyone think that I'm a Liberal (with that capital 'L'), I'm not: conservatively, I think that we should have as few Laws (and as little Government) as we can manage; but that what laws we DO have should be enforced quickly and fully. I believe, for example, in the death penalty for a couple of reasons. First, that there are simply some crimes that are so vile and heinous that the death of the perpetrator is called for; second, that when the death penalty is enforced, it can serve as a deterrent to others committing the same crime. In this second case, I would call for a restoration of the policy of making such executions PUBLIC. Yes, watching someone die by hanging, electrocution, firing squad, or whatever is highly disturbing -- and that should be exactly the point: people should be able to see the consequences of committing a crime for which there is the death penalty. If someone is sentenced to the death penalty, don't give them an additional 20 years of life while they file appeal after appeal after appeal. Rather, have a team of independent judges and attorneys review the case in detail, fill in any missing details or options (i.e. a DNA test that wasn't inclued in the trial for a rape/murder), verify that all the details were properly tended to, and promptly proceed with the execution if everything matches up.
Similarly, I don't see any reason why prisons and jails should be so livable. Even though he may be going a bit overboard, I think Sheriff Joe Arpaio has the right idea. I don't think that criminal suspects and convicts should be denied legal representation or treated inhumanely, but I don't think that they should enjoy the same 'rights' as everyone else, either: they should be punished for filing frivolous types of lawsuits, they shouldn't have some inherent 'right' to cable TV, and so on. Instead, I would suggest that convicts receive only the barest minimum of treatment and care (and be worked to compensate their victims), and then earn the priveleges of (additional) TV, access to a library, recreational equipment, and so on. The money saved could be applied toward self-improvement programs (education, anger management, and the like) that would help keep them from being incarcerated again. Similarly, there should be room for DECREASING a prisoners options in the event they continue to misbehave in jail or prison: reducing the time they get to spend outside of their cells (and for what purposes), what they may have in their cells, exercise and entertainment options, and such. Basically, I'm advocating increased punishment for bad behavior, and rewarding good so that they learn (at the 'gut' level) how to behave.

As mentioned before, I'm in favor of having as little Government and Law as we can manage. I don't see any point to passing laws that aren't routinely enforced. For example, here in Billings, we have a law against loud car stereos:
No driver or occupant of a motor vehicle on any public or private property shall operate or permit the operation of a sound amplification system from within a motor vehicle so that the sound is plainly audible (heard) at a distance of fifty (50) feet or more from the motor vehicle. Billings City Code- sec. 24-352. Exemptions: a. A system being operated to request assistance of an emergency nature or to warn of a hazardous situation; b. A system being operated on a vehicle of a gas, electric, communications or water utility company or governmental entity; c. A system permitted by the Billings City Council or the Billings Police Department; d. An authorized emergency vehicle; or e. Audio alarm systems installed in vehicles. BCA.sec.24-353
Good luck on filing a complaint, however: with my own two beady little eyes, I've seen 'boom cars' sitting at traffic lights right next to Billings PD vehicles. Yeah, it made someone feel warm and fuzzy inside to 'do something' about boom cars. I don't doubt that the law was passed with the best of intentions -- but since there doesn't seem to be anyone willing to enforce it, what's the point? All it seems to be for, now, is to give cops something else to add to whatever charges they might have against a driver; that, in turn, begs the question of how valid the charges are for whatever (s)he was stopped for in the first place. Here's a thought: how about if we go into the court records at the various levels of the court system, compare what charges were brought, and then eliminate any laws that haven't been used for X number of years (I'm thinking 10, but that's just a starting point) that they've been on the books? This would 'exempt' laws that haven't been in effect long enough to have much of an impact while still getting rid of the nonsense laws that have had little or NONE. Then repeat this every X years...
Next on the agenda is taxation. I don't have any problem with paying my share of the Governments operating expenses. What I do have issues is that there's virtually no way of telling whether or not what I'm paying is 'fair' -- which leaves us with the question of what we mean by 'fair'. Does fair mean that every adult pays the same flat amount (budget divided by adult population), or that everyone pays the same percentage of their income? If the former, then people making less than a certain amount are going to be hit with a tax bill they can't pay; if the latter, then those with higher incomes are shouldering more of the burden: 5% of a million dollars is a trifle more than 5% of fifty thousand. This is the kind of thing that causes the tax code to turn into a plate of spaghetti, as far as being legible is concerned. For example, the very first part of the tax code -- where it just defines who has to pay -- runs to 30,527 words on 61 pages, including all the notes, citations, and other Legal Noise. After that, things start getting seriously obtuse, what with all the sub-sub-sub-sub-clauses, cross references, exceptions, exemptions, specifications, and everything else. Just as an exercise, go to your local library, and find the shelves (there will probably be more than one) that hold all the Federal laws -- what are commonly called "Titles" (maybe some lawyer can explain the how/why of that). What you're after is the tax code, or Title 26. Pull that sucker down off the shelf, open it up anywhere, and have a look at it. Notice the size and density of the print. Have a try at reading it. THAT, friends and enemas, is what we're supposed to 'know' -- that old "ignorance of the law is no excuse" bit. Could somebody please explain to me just exactly why we need that much literary diarrhea to tell us how much money we're supposed to give the Government? Why, in God's name, can't the tax code (in its entirety) be reduced to something that a mere mortal can read and understand? Something, say, the size of a paperback book? Something that says, simply and clearly, "The tax on gross individual income will be X%. The tax on gross business income will be Y%. The following types of organizations shall be exempt from business income taxes: This, and That, and The Other One. The following goods will be taxed at the rate indicated: Petroleum products and derivatives - A% per gallon or pound, as appropriate; Foodstuffs - B% per gallon or pound, as appropriate; imported ____ - C% per ___", and so on. Also note those little periods at the end of each sentence -- as in thud, complete stop, no 'except' or 'unless' or anything else. Hell, if the damn tax code was intelligible to anyone but a lawyer, we might be able to pay it as we go along, and not need to file income tax returns. Wouldn't that be nice?
Somewhat related to the problem with the tax code is the number of federal employees we have. I actually did the research (email me, and I'll be glad to send you the resulting file), graphed the results, and found out that since 1946, the ratio of federal employees (in the whole government) versus population has halved -- that is, we now have twice as many federal employees (for our population) as we did sixty years ago. In 1946, there were just over 51 people for each federal employee; as of 1999, there was a federal employee for ever 21 peeps:
(click on image to see it better). Does anyone out there seriously believe we're getting roughly 2 1/2 times more service? Or is that much more government is 'servicing' US, instead? You think maybe if we had a little (lot!) less Government, it might not need so much money to operate?

All in all, I think all of us would be a lot better off if we were willing to assume more responsibility for ourselves and our choices, and demonstrate less interest in claiming (and trying to exercise) authority over other individuals.

But, hey, that's just me.


diamond dave said...

I'll stay out of the other things, but I'll give you an answer to the polygamy question. Multiple wives = multiple mother-in-laws. Need I say more?

Anonymous said...

You ask the question, "what business is it of yours...."

I know you do not want an answer based on religion so I wish I was more of a religious scholar so I could give you the Biblical reference for this but I believe Jesus would agree with you. There is a spot in the Bible where Jesus asks that very question to one of his deciples, 'What business is it of yours what I say to him?'