It Isn’t About Where You’ve Been

This morning, while browsing the web I was directed to an interesting article by Richard Justice on  For those who know me, one of my passions is baseball, and if you’ve been on this blog you are aware of my love for the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Justice article is about ex-Cardinal executive and current General Manager of the Houston Astros, Jeff Luhnow.  Luhnow, for those unfamiliar with him, was the Cardinals Director of Scouting and Player Development and a Vice President in the organization.  He is largely credited with helping to bring the 2011 World Series title to St. Louis, because under his system, players such as John Jay, Allen Craig, and Daniel Descalso were drafted and developed and became key contributors in that series.  Several times at the Cardinals annual Winter Warm-up I was privileged to sit in on sessions with Luhnow in which he explained what the Cardinals were doing in terms of developing young talent in the minor leagues.  Because of Luhnow, current Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak and their current Farm Director John Vuch, the Cardinals minor league system was just ranked number one in all of baseball by Baseball Prospectus, a nationally renowned organization that covers baseball from an analytical perspective.

So Luhnow knows the business of baseball.  He is currently rebuilding the Astros from the ground up.  But it wasn’t his baseball acumen that I found most interesting.  It was this part, early in the article.

Luhnow was 37 years old when he left the world of MBAs and Southern California startups and venture capitalists to work for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003.

Luhnow had never worked a single day in baseball. Nor had he played above the high-school level. And let’s just say that not every member of the Cardinals’ front office welcomed Luhnow with open arms.

Now he’s the guy who has been charged with turning around a franchise that has been the worst in baseball for the past two seasons, a team that lost 106 games in 2011 and 107 in ’12.”

Jeff Luhnow wasn’t a baseball guy.  He hadn’t built a career in baseball.  His contact with the Cardinals came through working at a management consulting firm with the owner’s son-in-law.  But at 37, Jeff Luhnow completely changed the course of his life.  I can’t say for certain, but I feel pretty confident that Jeff Luhnow enjoys what he is doing a lot more now than what he was doing at say, age 36.  He didn’t start out with a promising career as a GM of a baseball franchise.  He didn’t even start out in baseball.  But now in his mid-40’s, Jeff Luhnow has a new career that I think most sports fans would envy.

Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter for the Bourne franchise, as well as the writer and director of the Oscar nominated film Michael Clayton, has a similar story to Luhnow.    He had a highly successful family…his father won both a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize for a play he wrote.  Tony Gilroy, on the other hand, was a college drop out, and a failed musician. He spent five years tending bar in New York, where he learned to write screenplays, something he says he fell in love with.  He was 36 years old before his first screenplay was turned into a film. He was 50 when he wrote and directed Michael Clayton.

What’s my point?  I think a lot of people who are my age (I’m 32, by the way) tend to evaluate where they are at in life by what they haven’t done.  We see guys like Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz, who have accomplished more, at least in terms of material success, before they are 30 than most of us could in a thousand lifetimes, and it makes us a little depressed.  We don’t expect to be among the world’s youngest billionaires, but we’d at least like to be financially secure, doing something we love, and to “have arrived.”  We usually evaluate ourselves through the lens of what we thought we were going to do when we were around 20, and the truth is that most of us are not where we thought we’d be.  It isn’t that we don’t have any successes to look back on.  Raising children, establishing great relationships, and helping others are tremendously important accomplishments and things to be proud of.  But for many of us, we haven’t yet fulfilled most of our dreams.  We may be doing important things, good things, but there are probably goals that you haven’t yet attained, things that you would like to do, places you would like to go, things in your life that are left undone or unfulfilled.  And that self evaluation may make you feel like you aren’t going to fulfill them.

But I see stories like Jeff Luhnow and Tony Gilroy as a reminder that just because I’m not where I thought I would be doesn’t mean I’m not going to get there.  I heard a quote from a minister one time that has stuck with me.  He said, “It’s never too late to become the man you should have been.”  That tells me that regardless of your age, or unfulfilled expectations, don’t assume that those things will always remain undone.  You may not be 20 anymore, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a bright future ahead of you.  At 30, 40, 50–whatever age you are at, there’s no reason to believe that your best is behind you.   Just because you haven’t gotten where you want to go, doesn’t mean that you won’t get there.

My advice?  Throw that premature evaluation out the window.  Don’t focus on what you didn’t get done last year, but focus on what you are going to do this year.  Put down some goals for yourself, in writing, and ask yourself how you can accomplish those things.  Make a plan. Don’t be afraid to speak your dreams out loud.

In the 1995 Orange Bowl, Nebraska quarterback “Touchdown” Tommie Frazier sat on the bench for the second quarter.  He had missed seven games that season because of a blood clot in his leg, and coach Tom Osborne was being careful.  In the second half, Frazier came back in, and the Miami Hurricanes All American defensive tackle and future NFL great Warren Sapp, began to heckle Frazier.  He looked across the line and started calling Frazier’s name.  “Where you been, Tommie?  Where you been?”  Tommie Frazier said later, “Finally, I turned around, looked at him, and said, ‘It’s not where I’ve been, it’s where I’m going!'” (I cleaned up Frazier’s language just a tad) The Cornhuskers went on to win the game 24-17, and the National Championship that day.

So when you find yourself staring at that negative self evaluation, that reminder that you haven’t yet gotten where you want to be, you should remind yourself.  It isn’t where you’ve been.  It’s where you are going.

Summer Reading

As the summer draws to a close, I reflect back on the books I’ve read this year, particularly those this past summer.  Earlier in the year, much of my reading was confined to class texts, or books that were centered around research I was doing for a particular paper.  But in the summer, I just tried to focus on things that were of particular interest to me.  The two most recent were Nathaniel Philbrick’s The Last Stand, and Greg Zuckerman’s The Greatest Trade Ever.

The former was a book I picked up while on vacation out west at the site of the Little Bighorn.  My brother and I earlier this summer spent a week camping, hiking, and sight seeing in Yellowstone National Park, the Little Bighorn National Battlefield, and the city of Deadwood, South Dakota.  While at the Little Bighorn, we ate at an Indian trading post right outside the battlefield, and while perusing the gift shop, I spotted the book by Philbrick.  A friend had recommended his book, In the Heart of the Sea, and this book about Custer was fairly recent, so I thought I’d pick it up and give it a shot.  It claimed to have some new information based on never before published accounts of a soldier at the Little Bighorn.

I’m glad I got the book, but there wasn’t anything really new in it.  I had previously read two other books about the Little Bighorn, Son of the Morning Star by Evan S. Connell, and Crazy Horse and Custer by Stephen Ambrose.  The former was a comprehensive look at the battle and the notable figures in it, the latter focused much more specifically on the title characters.  But both had covered much of the ground concerning all things related to the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  Still, Philbrick’s account was interesting.  He gave a much more structured account of the battle, detailing each move made by both the Seventh Calvary and also by the Sioux.  Ambrose really only focused on the battle at the end of his book, and Connell, while having much more detail, was less focused in his approach.  So it was nice to read an account that laid things out in a more precise manner.

That said, there was at least one issue I had with Philbrick’s account, and that is his willingness to repeat any rumor, regardless of how flawed or biased the source might be.  Chief among these was the charge that Custer was a serial philanderer, and had had a carnal relationship with a Cheyenne woman he captured at the Battle of the Washita, even siring a child by her.  There is no concrete evidence that I have read (although I do admit I’m not a Custer expert) that would show that Custer ever cheated on his wife.  On the contrary, there is countless evidence that he was deeply devoted and madly in love with her, even willing to risk his military career to be at her side.  Philbrick’s evidence is highly circumstantial, and his source for the rumors regarding Custer and the Cheyenne captive is Frederick Benteen, who loathed and hated Custer and who some historians believe deliberately abandoned him to his death (I don’t think there’s any concrete evidence of this, for the record, either).  Further, Stephen Ambrose addresses Benteen’s charges in his book, and clearly shows how that the time frame for Custer having a child by this woman would be impossible.  Philbrick mentions the “Custer as a philanderer” theme a couple times, but I saw nowhere any proof that he ever cheated on his wife, except for the word of Benteen, who had every reason to lie.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the book.  While I would recommend it to anyone interested in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, I will say that I found both Connell and Ambrose’s works to be more compelling, and richer in detail.  Especially Connell’s…it’s a great book, and has so much detail, that it’s hard to pass up.

I just finished reading The Greatest Trade Ever, and it is one of the better books I’ve read this year.  It concerns the crash of the housing market, but focuses specifically on Wall Street traders and hedge fund managers who bought CDS contracts and bet against the housing market at the height of the bubble.  The primary focus of the book was hedge fund manager John Paulson.  Greg Zuckerman is a financial reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and he personally interviewed Paulson, as well as many of the other characters discussed in the book.

Regardless of what your opinion is of John Paulson, there is no question that he pulled off one of the most astounding financial coups in history.  Zuckerman details the high’s and low’s of the trade, set against the backdrop of first a booming housing market, and then a devastated economy when everything falls apart.  It’s a fascinating book.  I’m not even as much as a financial novice…I know next to nothing about hedge funds, credit default swaps, or all the rest.  This book, however, does a good job of making things as simplistic as possible for the outsiders.  Chapter 2 is especially great, where it details the causes of the housing bubble, that set it on its eventual path to bursting.

There are a few impressions that people might have that I felt were reinforced by the book.  The first is that folks on Wall Street are obsessed with displays of wealth.  The book is littered with accounts of people making ostentatious purchases, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on things like spa treatments, yachting excursions, and some of them living vicarious playboy lifestyles.  I’m sure there are people on Wall Street who don’t date two supermodels at a time and drop thousands on spa treatments which involve cutting open your back, but most of them weren’t mentioned in this book.  If they were married and had settled down, they usually lived in a forty million dollar mansion and vacationed in St. Bart’s on their private yachts.  More power to them, but it aptly illustrates the second obsession these folks had, and that was the love of money itself.  The book specifically states of many of these investors that they loved money from an early age.  And they were willing to do anything to get more of it.

I’m all about people making money.  Obviously, if you’ve read any of this blog, you know I believe in the power of the free market (although many of our economic problems stem from the fact that the market is not free of government interference).  But as a Christian, I also believe that the love of money is the root of all evil (I Timothy 6:10, Ecc. 5:10).  And it’s clear to me, judging by the manipulations of the market, both by people who were snatching up subprime mortgages as fast as they could, and people who were betting against them, that the love of money is part of what created the economic turmoil we are in in the first place.  The book details how, when Paulson couldn’t find enough toxic CDO’s to bet against, he worked with investment banks to CREATE MORE toxic CDO’s, in order that his payday would be larger when the housing bubble burst.  Of course, the banks foolishly and willingly went along, because they were sure that there was no bubble and they would just be taking Paulson’s money.

Further, it illustrates how consumed we are in America with possessions.  Paulson started betting against subprime mortgages because Americans foolishly believed they could afford $500,000 homes on $90,000 a year combined incomes.  People were possessed with the thought that they had to have a lavish home, complete with a jacuzzi and a wide screen HDTV.  And mortgage and real estate companies fed this lie, by selling them ARM’s and telling them they could refinance when the interest rate went up.  There were no innocent parties here.  People were obsessed with possessions, and consequently, placed themselves in a terrible position when housing prices began to fall.

The book is a little too complimentary of Paulson at times, but it does detail the problems a few other people who were also betting against the housing market had with their conscience.  In one case, an investor admitted feeling guilt because of his pure delight at seeing the housing market crash, because every time a borrower defaulted on their mortgage, he made more money.  He and his wife wrestled with their consciences, and tried to justify themselves, but thankfully, the book tells of his minister, who got in the guy’s face and told him that rejoicing in the misfortunes of others was flat out wrong.  There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Paulson had a conscience.   In fact, he tried to keep the details of his trade as secret as possible, rather than sounding a warning about the coming crash.  They were afraid that if too many people found out what they were doing, the market would be flooded with people buying CDS contracts and betting against mortgages, and they would have to share a piece of the pie.

I won’t give you the rest of the details.  If you are interested, you should really read the book.  I highly recommend it.

An Ode to the Best Friend

One of my favorite current shows on television is the USA comedy Psych.  I don’t watch a ton of shows on the USA network….Monk was pretty much it for me.  I have tried a few other shows, like Burn Notice and White Collar, and while they weren’t terrible, I just couldn’t get into them.  I never connected with the characters, and for me, that is a primary factor when I sit down to watch a movie, a TV show, or read a book.  I have to connect with the characters.

Then, my wife Heather watched a few episodes of Psych, and she loved it.  She was convinced that I would love it too.  So I watched an episode or two, and really enjoyed it, but never committed to the series until we went to Virginia Beach this past spring for my wife’s embryo transfer.  Following the transfer, Heather was going to be on 24 hour bed rest, so before we went to the clinic, we found the first two seasons of Psych on sale and picked them up.  We promptly watched almost all of the first season the two days after her transfer, and immediately grew to love it.  For those unfamiliar with the concept of the show, it follows two best buddies, Shawn and Gus, who run a psychic detective agency.  The catch?  Neither of them are psychics.  Shawn, who inherited extreme observational tendencies from his mother and had his observation and deduction skills honed by his obsessive former police detective father, uses those abilities to solve crimes.  Due to a rather unfortunate incident with the police, Shawn was forced to attribute his deductions to psychic visions, and ever since the police have used him as a psychic investigator.

The show does several things well.  The character development is strong, with each member of the cast being fleshed out to some degree over the course of the show.  The dialogue is witty and engaging, with lots of pop culture and film references thrown in for laughs.  But one of the strongest elements is the relationship between the show’s two main characters.  Shawn and Gus have been friends since childhood, and their onscreen relationship is identifiable to any audience member familiar with the “straight man, funny man” routine.  I’m always a sucker for this thing…I’m a huge fan of Abbot and Costello, so the Psych formula was endearing to me.  Not only that, but I can identify with the idea of having a best friend.

Recently, I read an article on the New York Times regarding best friends.  It seems that in recent years, some educators and child psychologists have become convinced that despite thousands of years of societal and biological impulses, it is bad for children to have best friends.  They have become convinced that children having specific close interpersonal relationships leads to bullying and cliques.

“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”

“Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend,” she continued. “We say he doesn’t need a best friend.”

And of course, educators and counselors know better than parents the needs of a child.  After all, they have a degree!

Ok, seriously. I find it a bit disturbing that things that used to be considered normal, typical child behavior are now being considered abnormal and dangerous to the social or mental development of a child.  Are there times when friendships lead to bullying and cliques?  Absolutely.  And to that I say, so what?  Bullying and cliques have been around since before there were schools.  I’m going to venture to guess that this new psycho-analysis is not going to eliminate bullying or cliques.  On the other hand, the elimination of best friends is a sad thing, and in my uneducated opinion, is potentially detrimental to the social maturity of a child. Best friends transcend typical group friendships.  They are someone you can confide secrets in, share experiences with, and they help prepare you for adult experiences such as marriage.  For after all, what is a wife or a husband if not a best friend?  My wife is my best friend.  And the valuable experiences I learned as a child navigating the ins and outs of close interpersonal relationships helped prepare me for my marriage.

My best friend growing up was a kid named Courtney Dowland (Courtney, if you read this, what’s up, buddy?).  As far as I can recall, Courtney and I became good friends probably around second grade.  I don’t remember too much about those early days.  I do remember the first time I got permission to stay at his house, and how excited we were.  I remember hanging out with him on the playground, remember playing Nintendo with him at his house, remember setting off firecrackers in his back yard, and staying up all night watching movies.  As we got older the activities changed…we’d ride around town in his beat up Corsica at lunchtime, and drive to Wal-Mart on weekends and randomly move stuff all over the store just for kicks (there wasn’t a lot to do in Greene County).  We’d buy $1 paratrooper toys from the Dollar General to pitch them out the window (they never floated gracefully to earth).  We’d also butt heads a few times, but in the end, we always found a way to reconcile our differences and retain our friendship.

And yeah, there were times when we butted heads with other kids at the school.  My school wasn’t free of cliques or bullies.  But having a best friend helped you navigate the ins and outs of junior high and high school, because regardless of who did or didn’t like you, you knew you had a friend you could count on.

It’s sad to me that some know-it-all might attempt to deprive other kids of that same experience.  Having a best friend taught you valuable lessons about trust, about reconciliation, and about putting people in your life you could count on.  I had a lot of friends, to be sure.  To be truthful, by the time I was  a senior in high school, there wasn’t really anybody left that I didn’t get along with.  I had other close friends, as well.  But the experience of having a best friend in my formative years had prepared me for moments beyond my graduation from high school.

I understand the concept of having “big groups of friends,” as Ms. Laycob puts it.  My wife and I both have wide and diverse groups of friends.  But having a big group of friends, and having someone in your life that you can confide in and talk to about difficult decisions and inner turmoil are two totally different things.

I know cultural and societal norms are changing.  It wasn’t that long ago that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg declared an end to the age of privacy, and to some degree, I understand what he’s saying.  I’m on Twitter and Facebook, and while I try to keep what I share to a minimum, I regularly see people sharing their most intimate thoughts and secrets online.  Wives and husbands tweet or message each other romantic musings for the public to see, or share details of personal interactions with friends and family members.   At any given time, I can know what people are eating, where they are shopping at, or what their plans are for the weekend.  Even blogs like this one…I’ve shared triumphs and experiences for anyone on the internet to see.  And some of this has bled over into our interpersonal relationships with others.

I’ve got 130 connections on Facebook (and I daresay that I’m way below the average FB user).  But the fact is, there are less than a handful of those 130 that I would feel comfortable divulging deeply personal information with.  That, I reserve for my closest friends (primarily, my wife).  And it’s my personal experience that those who become too open, and don’t have a few close personal friendships to rely on, suffer from loneliness the most, and get burnt the easiest.  Trust is an integral part of friendship, and frankly, having “large groups of friends” doesn’t factor in the beneficial aspects of having deeply personal relationships, such as trust and intimacy (and I mean that in a platonic way).  If life has taught me one thing, it’s that you can’t rely on just having large groups of friends.  I can count on quite a few of my friends to offer prayer for me when I’m sick, or when I’m facing a crisis.  I can count on quite a few friends to offer me congratulations when I get blessed, or condolences when I’m in grief.  But the number of friends I can turn to when I need an ear to talk to, when I need a confidant, when I need advice, when I need a kick in the pants, or when I need a shoulder to lean on…that’s another story.  And that kind of friendship needs to be learned from an early age.

What about the dangers of friendships gone awry?

In recent years Timber Lake Camp, a co-ed sleep-away camp in Phoenicia, N.Y., has started employing “friendship coaches” to work with campers to help every child become friends with everyone else. If two children seem to be too focused on each other, the camp will make sure to put them on different sports teams, seat them at different ends of the dining table or, perhaps, have a counselor invite one of them to participate in an activity with another child whom they haven’t yet gotten to know.“I don’t think it’s particularly healthy for a child to rely on one friend,” said Jay Jacobs, the camp’s director. “If something goes awry, it can be devastating. It also limits a child’s ability to explore other options in the world.”

So to protect children from the potential grief of losing a friend, we just protect them from making close friends?  How in the name of common sense can this be healthy?

You can’t protect children from grief.  You SHOULDN’T protect children from grief.  Part of life is experiencing loss.  Whether that loss involves the passing of a beloved family member, or whether it is a friend that walks out of your life, these are experiences you are going to go through (unless you are a hermit and sequester yourself from the rest of the world).  This kind of thinking is not rational, nor is it helpful in developing and preparing children for the real world.  It’s akin to the do-gooders who want to ban recess because a child might fall down and skin their knuckles.  Why in the world would we want to protect kids from the beautiful experience of life?  Yes, losing a friend can hurt.  But it hurts because the experience of having a friend is so valuable.  We should be teaching kids to love hard and live hard.  Fully commit.  How much joy can you get out of life if you are always trying to protect yourself from the pain of loss?  And how are these kids going to be equipped for the realities of life with this kind of attitude?  It’s this kind of attitude that says, don’t fully commit to your marriage because if something goes awry, it can be devastating.  Don’t fully commit to your work, because if the business fails, it can be devastating.  Don’t fully commit to anything or anyone, because if you lose that, you won’t be able to cope. But no amount of protection is going to keep you from experiencing pain at one point or another.  But you can protect yourself from loving, and in so doing rob yourself of the most valuable moments of your life.

Thankfully, the article does take the time to point out that not everyone shares the views being expressed.

“Do we want to encourage kids to have all sorts of superficial relationships? Is that how we really want to rear our children?” asked Brett Laursen, a psychology professor at Florida Atlantic University whose specialty is peer relationships. “Imagine the implication for romantic relationships. We want children to get good at leading close relationships, not superficial ones.”

Many psychologists believe that close childhood friendships not only increase a child’s self-esteem and confidence, but also help children develop the skills for healthy adult relationships — everything from empathy, the ability to listen and console, to the process of arguing and making up. If children’s friendships are choreographed and sanitized by adults, the argument goes, how is a child to prepare emotionally for both the affection and rejection likely to come later in life?

My point exactly.  I wouldn’t have traded my experiences growing up for anything in the world, because they’ve helped prepare me for later experiences in my life.

I’ve got several close friends now, but my best friend is still my wife.  There’s nobody else that I trust as implicitly, nobody else that I feel as confident in turning to when I need help with problems.  We butt heads sometimes, but I’ve learned that proving myself right isn’t nearly as valuable as my relationship with my best friend.  And that’s a lesson I learned a long time ago.

As for the idea that best friends are bad for you….well, as Shawn Spencer says:  “I’d say that’s pretty ridiculous. Not as ridiculous as Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist named Christmas Jones in a Bond movie, but still.”

Illinois’ War Against Soda

It’s been a while since I posted…a lot has been going on.  But I’m back now, and today I’ve got a new state to complain about.  A CBS affiliate in Chicago reported yesterday that Illinois is in the early stages of mapping out a plan to fight childhood obesity by…you guessed it, taxing consumers.  The plan, as laid out by Illinois Public Health Institute’s CEO, Elissa Bassler, is to place a one cent or two cent tax on sugary beverages.  The article points out that this could mean that a two liter would cost $0.60 to $1.20 more per bottle.

I don’t need to point out all the fallacies in this plan, but I will point out some of them anyway.  First is the fact that these kinds of taxes usually end up placing an extra financial burden on the poor.  Look at cigarettes.  We’ve taxed cigarettes to death, and honestly, has it brought smoking to a halt?  No.  It’s true smoking has gone downhill, but that has  a lot more to do with the fact that people have become more aware of the dangers of smoking. Studies indicate that smokers usually tend to be poorer and less educated, and they are the ones that bear the burden of the government’s misguided foray into trying to protect people from themselves.  I predict that if this tax goes through, the same thing will happen.  People will use Link cards and food stamps to continue to pay for sugary beverages, but they’ll have less money to spend on stuff that is good for them.  So the taxpayer will end up subsidizing sugary beverages that they can’t afford to buy themselves, and the people who don’t rely on social welfare programs will be eating even less healthy and paying more for it.

Second is the fact that these kinds of market manipulations always do more harm than good.  Artificially inflating the price of one thing in order to force people to buy something else has NEVER worked.  Stephen Chu, the US Energy Secretary, advocates (or he did) artificially inflating the price of oil to force people to buy costly alternative energies.  But when the price of oil skyrocketed in the summer of 2008, what happened?  It spurred economic downturn, and while it wasn’t responsible for the market collapse, it did play a role.  Like green advocates do with energy, the health food police look at the cost of healthier foods and beverages, and decide that rather than finding a way to bring the prices of those things down, the way to get people to buy healthier foods is to force the cost of unhealthy foods up.  The fact is that this damages the economy, not only because you are maliciously targeting one sector (in this case, the soft drink industry) at the expense of another sector, but also because you are increasing prices on consumers across the board. Consider what the article says:

Registered Dietician Lisa Micetich, from Little Company of Mary Hospital, thinks something like a sweet beverage tax could make a healthier option more appealing.

“If people think, ‘Oh I can get milk cheaper, or for the same price,’ there’s a better alternative,” said Micetich.

But you haven’t made milk cheaper!  You’ve just made soda more expensive.  So you’ve placed an extra burden on the consumer, and additionally, you’ve placed a burden on every person who produces, sells, and distributes soda.  We won’t go into how government policies affect the price of milk…I’ll direct you to this article as one example.  But the fact is, these manipulations are NOT products of the free market.

The article also says:

“I think it’s silly,” said Bill Baffes. He owns the County Fair Grocery Store.

“Where do you draw the line?” he asked.

“That’s what the democratic process is about,” said Bassler.

So now democracy is all about a group of people (I won’t even say a majority, since I doubt a majority of Illinois taxpayers support this) deciding what is best for the rest of us?  We have to be protected from ourselves?  This is the way politicians think.  People need the government to protect them, not from foreign enemies, but from their own bad choices.  The thinking is, you don’t know what’s good for you.  You need someone to make choices for you, because you cannot possibly decide what is right for you on your own. By the way, FYI to Ms. Bassler, but this country is not a democracy.  It’s a democratic republic, and the Founders feared a pure democracy as much as they did a monarchy.

And the County Fair owner said people will still get their soda. If something eventually passed here in Illinois, they might find it cheaper over the state line.

So the only people this will affect are people who aren’t lucky enough to live close to a state with more sense than Illinois.  For me, I thankfully live close to Missouri, so if such a tax passed and I wanted Coke, I could just buy it over here.  Of course, this also brings up the fact that once people start buying a few items across state lines, they will eventually decide to do all their shopping where they buy their soda.  This in turn means grocery stores close to the Illinois state line will suffer because of this misguided tax against soda.

What we need is not protection from ourselves.  What we need is protection from know-it-all politicians who think they know what’s best for you.  Illinois has one of the most corrupt, fiscally irresponsible governments in the United States.  Our previous two governors have both been indicted on corruption charges, and the present governor, Pat Quinn, has advocated raising taxes while giving HUGE raises to people in his administration.  And now these health police advocates believe this state, which can’t restrain itself from corruption, graft, and immoral behavior, should restrain you from drinking Coke and Pepsi.  Is it any wonder residents hate this state and are ashamed to call themselves citizens of it?

California, Video Games, and Focus on the Family

I’ve been following the Supreme Court’s recent decision to hear Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California, v. Entertainment Merchants Association.  This case deals with a California law struck down by federal courts for being unconstitutional.  It prohibits the sale of violent video games to minors, and the courts ruled that it violated the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech.  You can read about the case here.

The argument is that violent video games may make people more aggressive, therefore, retailers should be prohibited from selling them to minors.  Currently the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has a tiered rating system which appears on video games that lets parents know the age appropriateness of a game, but it’s not mandatory and there is nothing to prohibit a retailer from selling a game like Grand Theft Auto to a 13 year old.

I read a short blog post from Focus on the Family’s entertainment site, Plugged In, on this issue.  The main point of criticism regarded a Time magazine piece about the courts and the California law, and the contention of the Time contributor that due to the ESRB rating system, kids are already less likely to be playing violent video games.  Although it isn’t explicitly stated, judging from the tone of the Plugged In article, the author, Bob Hoose, supports the state of California’s efforts to keep kids from buying violent video games.  The majority of the comments seemed in favor of this as well.

Leaving aside, for a moment, the idea asserted by the Time reporter that the ESRB keeps fewer kids from playing violent video games, what is there to say about the fact that a fairly conservative site such as Plugged In supports the California legislation?  I like Plugged In.  I don’t always agree with their assessment of games, movies, and books, but I appreciate that they are a private resource that makes parents jobs easier when it comes to monitoring what kids watch, read, listen to, or play.  Such resources are valuable for parents in a world where they don’t always have time to read every book, watch every movie, or listen to every CD before deeming it fit or unfit for their children.

But I see the California legislation not as a battleground for parents, but rather an attack against freedom.  Let’s face it, legislators deciding what is or is not appropriate for a certain segment of the population is never a good thing, regardless of whether or not you believe children should engage in the activity being legislated against.  This law is for parents who don’t want to bother taking the time to monitor what their kids are watching.  They don’t want to be bothered to access private resources like Plugged In, because it is easier just to let the government tell a store owner he can’t sell certain video games to their kids.

Some people may argue that the legislation isn’t a stand in for parents, but rather is another resource.  After all, you can tell your kids they can’t play Grand Theft Auto, but they could go buy the game and play it behind your back anyway, right?  This legislation will help a parent in their job, not do it for them, correct?

Wrong.  Consider other age restricted products and their availability.  According to the Monitoring the Future Study, since 1993, the number of 12th graders who say alcohol is “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get, has remained virtually unchanged.  Ditto the 10th graders, who dropped about 5 or 10 percentage points but still have over 80% of participants reporting that they can get alcohol if they want it.   Participants who admit to having used alcohol in the last 30 days has dropped increasingly over the years, but due to the fact that alcohol is readily available, I’d say that has more to do with being properly educated regarding the dangers of drinking than it does with the government restricting minors from drinking.  The same goes for other drugs, such as marijuana.  The number of 12th graders reporting that marijuana is “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get has only dropped about 5 percentage points since 1975.  The number of 10th graders reporting availability is “easy to get” has actually gone up since the survey was first done in the early 90’s.  And oh, by the way….10th AND 12th grades have both seen increases in the amount of students using marijuana since those grades were first surveyed in the early 90’s.

What does all this mean?  It means that legislation designed to prevent certain things from being readily available to children often doesn’t work.  All it does is give the government, be it local, state, or federal, a foot in the door when it comes to legislating the lives of its citizens.  What works is when parents, teachers, and other influential figures in the lives of children take time to teach them about the dangers of certain activities like drug use, and parents have an active role in the lives of their children.  To the parents of California who support this law, I say be a parent.  Stop lobbying the government to give you a hand, and step up to the plate.  There are plenty of resources out there to help parents stay abreast of the culture your children live in, and taking the time to love and teach your child will go a lot further than government intervention ever will.  Government legislation almost always sets a dangerous precedent, and this case is no different.  Citizens should fear the power of government, because it is a double edged sword that is just as easily used to violate our rights as it is to protect them.

So what of the author of the Time article, who asserted that “…with an estimated 80% of retailers voluntarily refusing to sell mature games to minors, it stands to reason that the more violent the scenario, the less likely it is that a child is the one mashing the buttons”?

Bob Hoose says:  “What E-rated make-believe land does she live in?”

I’m not sure which part of the comment that Mr. Hoose is disagreeing with.  Assuming that it’s the assertion that voluntarily complying with ESRB ratings and refusing to sell video games with violent content to minors makes it less likely  that children will play the video games, then why are parents advocating for legislation to prohibit minors from buying violent video games?  If an estimated 80% of retailers voluntarily refusing to sell violent games to minors isn’t making it less likely for children to play violent video games, then why would we think 100% of retailers being mandated by the government from selling violent video games to minors would have different results?

I support a retailer’s right to refuse to  sell certain products to certain segments of the population based on a moral or ethical code.  In this case, I agree with the stance that retailers take when they voluntarily comply with the ESRB ratings.  In addition to the fact that retailers should be able to decide what they do with their own property, I agree with the stance that kids don’t need to be playing excessively violent video games.  But that decision should be left up the retailers who sell the game, and ultimately to the parents who feed, clothe, shelter, and raise their children.  Responsible parenting is not a job that the state should have a part in.

American Idol Finale

Well, another year, another American Idol winner.  This time, it was a kid named Lee Dewyze, who apparently beat the prohibitive favorite, Crystal Bowersox.  I confess, I didn’t watch the final.  Other than a few bits and pieces, I didn’t watch American Idol at all.  The fact is, I, for the most part, hate American Idol.  No real reason…I just think it’s a silly, vapid show that contributes to the dumbing down of America.  I’m sure the same could be said of other shows I have watched, so I don’t blame anyone else for watching.  But I do have a good laugh at people who become emotionally invested.  Check out these two videos.  One is from 2008, when David Cook beat out David Archuleta to become the “American Idol.”  The other is from this year.  Be warned…the second video contains a few choice words, and both videos contain vast amounts of screaming, crying, and utter stupidity.

Robin Hood: Libertarian Hero

I don’t want to make too much of this, but as Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood gets ready to open in theaters all across America this weekend, I think it’s worth pointing out a common misconception attached to the English folk hero.  It’s actually mentioned in an early review, when critic Kirk Honeycutt writes of the new movie:

In the new “Robin Hood,” Russell Crowe’s iconic medieval hero wears no tights, shows little interest in redistribution of wealth, scarcely bothers with the Sheriff of Nottingham, fights alongside Maid — sorry, Lady Marion and all but forces King John to sign the Magna Carta.

I don’t want to nitpick over this, but I’ve heard this mantra about Robin Hood as a redistributor of wealth a couple times now as the film’s release has drawn near.  But it completely ignores the basis of the tale.

Greedy Sir John, the corrupt governmental leader of England in the absence of his brother Richard, and the Sheriff of Nottingham, another public official, overtax the citizens and drive them into poverty.  Unfair laws that forbid the killing of the king’s deer forced good citizens to become outlaws and flee to Sherwood Forest.  Robin Hood decides to restore justice by stealing from the rich politicians and bureaucrats, who have become wealthy through the taxation of the citizenry.  That’s not wealth redistribution.  It’s called taking from the government what belonged to the people in the first place.  Somehow there is this perception of Robin Hood as a form of the US government, taxing middle class and upper class citizens in order to give back to the poor.  This does not fit with the legend of Robin Hood at all.  On the contrary, Robin Hood stole from the government and opposed the corrupt politicians, in order to give back to people who had been taxed into poverty in the first place.  Wealth redistribution is taking from people who have to give to people who don’t have in the name of equality.  What Robin Hood did was take from the government what they had taken from the people, who didn’t have because the government had taken it from them.  Further, he opposed ridiculous laws which forbade hunting.  I’m sure PETA would’ve been driven quite insane, launching an ad campaign with naked people and fake blood, to shut down Robin Hood’s government opposition.

So when you munch on popcorn and watch Russell Crowe run a few English soldiers through with his broadsword, remember that Robin Hood was the ultimate libertarian.