Monday, December 15, 2008

Pourquoi blog?

Actually, I am a late comer to blogging, partly because I did not think I had the time, partly because I wanted to keep my privacy. I also had this feeling, rightly or wrongly, that a personal blog might be considered a bit vainglorious, a way of calling attention to oneself, shouting to everyone on the web: “Hey, look at me!” Even now as I am entering the fray, I am questioning my own motives and wonder if that is at least part of my motivation. I hope not.

I was introduced to the blogosphere in a most unlikely way. I recently became a regular contributor to a blog called “Down with Absolutes!” a somewhat irreverent and otherwise left wing site which is my polar opposite ideologically, culturally and politically. So how did that happen? It’s a bit of a long, convoluted story.

Back in September, the pastor of my church (Solid Rock Church of Riverdale, MD) preached an interesting and challenging sermon called “Loving Political Strangers”. Among other things, the message encouraged Christians to be engaged politically but to do so respectfully and non-judgmentally, particularly toward those with whom we disagree politically. We should engage in conversation with both believers and non-believers, drawing them out as to why they believe what they believe, even in the political realm.

The message hit me between the eyes because I had avoided political discussions for years. It’s not that I am dispassionate about politics; indeed I am much too passionate, and therein lay the problem. Being the lone conservative in my extended family (or so it seems), I remember getting into heated discussions and sometimes going overboard, ending up saying some unkind things to people I loved dearly. So I resolved to avoid political discussions altogether. Not that my family members wouldn’t try to bait me occasionally, but whenever I sensed the discussion going toward things political, I decided it would be better to just listen patiently and then change the subject at the first opportunity. There was probably some wisdom to that approach, but my pastor’s sermon was telling me that perhaps I had gone too far to the other extreme.

Shortly afterwards, I received an email from a friend and colleague at work. It was a somewhat humorous but unmistakably political email that had some relevance to the issues being debated in the recent presidential campaign. Perhaps you’ve seen it:

Taxes - this is how it works

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our TAXES, it would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.The sixth would pay $3.
The seventh would pay $7.
The eighth would pay $12.
The ninth would pay $18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.
So, that's what they decided to do. The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve."Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20."Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.
The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men - the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his 'fair share?' They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay. And so:
The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings)
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings).
The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28%savings).
The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).
The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings). Each of the six was better off
than before.

And the first four continued to drink for free.
But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. "I only got a dollar out of the $20,"declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man," but he got $10!"
"Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved a dollar, too. It's unfair that he got ten times more than I!"
"That's true!!" shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!"
"Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison. "We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!" The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up!
The next night the tenth man didn't show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn't have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!
And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

On a lark I decided to forward the email to a distribution list of friends and family from all across the political spectrum. I did so with a little trepidation, bracing myself and wondering what kind of reaction I would get. I got a total of three responses, one of which was appreciative and humorous; the other two not very appreciative, with a not very successful attempt at humor. Doing my best to take my pastor’s advice to remain respectful and of good cheer, I did some research and did my best to draft some thoughtful and respectful counter-responses, one of them admittedly long, and sent them out again to the same distribution list.

Much to my delight and surprise, I received another reply from a cousin whom I had long known to be my polar opposite politically. Unbeknownst to me, she had changed some of her political views (previously, that is; not in reaction to my email). She liked what I wrote and asked permission to quote it extensively on “Down with Absolutes!”, where she is a regular contributor. Humbled and flattered, I said, “Have at it!”, and up it went, under the title Government Windfall Profits.

In case you decide to click on the hyperlink and go browsing, let me warn you that, in addition to leaning left politically, “Down with Absolutes!” is very hard hitting and can be a bit colorful in its content and language, to put it mildly. The site was created by a gentleman named Mike Matthews who, to his credit, actually agreed to let me become a regular contributor, knowing full well that I am his polar opposite.

Anyway, it has been a boatload of fun to participate on the site, both by commenting on other peoples’ posts and initiating some of my own. I have since initiated several posts of my own, located at the following hyperlinks in case you are interested:

Breathtaking Double Standards 10/28/2008
Gracias 10/31/2008
"Who the hell is Leo?" 11/02/2008
Why Bother? 11/05/2008
Why Bother? – Part II 11/10/2008
It Ain’t Looking Good, Folks! 11/15/2008
Marriage, Abortion and Gays, Oh My! 11/23/2008
μωρολογια 12/03/2008
Colonoscopies 12/14/2008

If you think any of these posts are worth sharing, please pass them along, and pass this one along as well. Please invite others to join the fun here at The Maryland Crustacean. I would rather not just talk to myself, but would be thrilled to engage in conversation not only about political matters, but anything else that comes to mind. Please feel free to post comments, ask questions, or even challenge some of my assertions. Hopefully we can all benefit from this type of dialogue.

[Author's Note:  "Down With Absolutes" has since been removed by its author and host.   However, the above mentioned posts and others authored there by "The Maryland Crustacean" have since been reproduced at this site.]

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