Mini Controversies

Tuesday’s post generated a considerable amount of controversy, and I’ve considered a follow-up, except that the issue has been hashed and rehashed in the comments. So I thought I’d devote a post to several mini-controversies which are sure to generate all kinds of interest.

I have a new iPhone. Yes, I like it – my wife thinks my affections for it are somewhat unnatural – but it’s a little too user friendly. Which is to say, the less I know about what it does, the better. Every time I try to customize the settings – how often I retrieve email, for instance – I find it doesn’t really have any interest in letting you do things your own way. I also find it maddening that it’s impossible to cut and paste anything. Plus the keyboard is much harder to use than a Blackberry. I need real, tactile keys.

American Idol is awful this year. Simply awful. I like the new judge, but I’m sure Paula doesn’t, because it makes her look even dumber than she did before – no small feat, given her point of origin. But four judges, especially when two of them are completely useless, become too many cooks. Plus the performers stink.

24 is much, much better than it was last year. That, too, is a pretty low threshold, but Season 7 is turning out to be one of the best 24 seasons ever. Agent Walker is the most interesting addition to the cast in many a moon, and moving the locale from LA to DC has been a refreshing change of pace, especially in terms of the ludicrous geographical nonsense 24 is so famous for.

The Office has become something of a cartoon. That’s OK; I like cartoons. But watching the British version of The Office demonstrates how far the American version has strayed from reality. The British version is also very, very British, which makes it impossible for Mrs. Cornell to enjoy it, as she doesn’t understand half of what’s being said. The characters have a naturalistic cruelty about them that makes them funnier and more biting than Carell and Co. I think it may well have gotten as big and silly as the American version had it run for an equivalent amount of time.

I recently rewatched The Sunshine Boys for the first time in over a decade. I remember it as one of my favorite all-time movies, and I discovered I liked it even more than I did back in the day. I’m a huge Walter Matthau fan, and this is largely his movie, but for the first time, I came to appreciate the true brilliance of George Burns. His delivery is so unrelentingly dry that it should seem wooden; instead, it’s a revelation. He plays an old, slightly dippy man, and he does so without a hint of irony or guile. A cynical person might say this was because he was old and dippy when he did it, but that would be foolish. You can’t give a performance like that unless you’re in full command of your faculties. His timing was impeccable, and he deserved the Oscar he won for this.

My Facebook status yesterday was “Stallion really likes Fritos. I defy anyone to come up with a counterargument.” It got 97 responses. Who knew that Fritos were so topical?

Living in Utah, I now have to dial the area code as part of any phone number, even for local numbers. I hate this. I hate this almost as much as I hate my car beeping until I put my seat belt on. It’s none of the car’s business whether I wear my seat belt or not, dammit! Far too often, I engage in a battle of wills with my car, refusing to buckle up until after the beeping is done. (It beeps eight times slowly and then fifty times quickly and then it finally stops.) The problem is that my car is not sentient in a Herbie-like manner, so it doesn’t know how many times I’ve been able to tough it out to the end of the beeps. I’m told that a wiser man would never engage in a battle of wills with an inanimate object. But the people who tell me that are just quitters.

I really like Fritos. I defy anyone to come up with a counterargument. (Plus Obama sucks.)

The Pie

Today’s metaphor begins, as all good metaphors do, with the first verse of the theme song from The Jeffersons:

Well, we’re movin’ on up
To the East Side
To a deluxe apartment in the sky
We’re movin’ on up
To the East Side
We finally got a piece of the pie

Yummy! A piece of the pie! Who wouldn’t want a piece of the pie? (If it were a fruitcake, this metaphor wouldn’t work.)

The question facing the nation at the moment is how big everyone’s slice is. Obama is positioning the government in the role of pie slicer, making sure that nobody’s piece is any bigger than anyone else’s. But he can only have direct influence over the American Pie, whether or not he drives his Chevy to the levee. The rest of the world often looks at the World Pie and complains that America has too big a piece.

Nobody’s paying any attention to the size of the pie.

As I have lamented the coming collapse of charitable giving in this country on Facebook, many of my friends have made a number of comments that illustrate that, for them, they’re far more concerned with the size of the pieces, not the pie itself. “Since wealthy people wouldn’t be able to create wealth without the commons and infrastructure,” writes Scott, “it seems logical that they should contribute accordingly.” Jen opines, “The economy’s soo better spread and lubricated that way really…oooh I’m turned on just thinking about it…yowzah!” And Kim says, in response to my concern that those over $250,000 will no longer get a tax deduction for contributing to charity, “Wow, that would be great to be making more than $250,000.”

So Scott thinks the rich aren’t paying enough for their pie. Jen thinks the pie’s better when it’s “spread and lubricated” in even amounts. And Kim, like so many of us, longs for a piece bigger than the one she currently has.

Folks, to switch metaphors for a moment, this is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The pie is shrinking. The American Pie, the World Pie, all of it – there’s less pie to slice up, and the more we squabble over the size of the pieces we have left, the smaller the pie gets. In fact, a pie is a terrible metaphor for the world’s wealth. It implies that the size of the economy is a static thing, finished and unchangeable, and that, like a pie, its overall status is unaffected by how it’s sliced.

That’s nonsense. 

The economy is a living being, like a person, thriving or dying according to her living conditions, and each slice into her is like surgery without anesthesia.

People also confuse the Economy Pie with the Wealth Pie, which includes gobs of old money that is no longer subject to taxation. The Rockefellers and Kennedys of the world have all of their pieces locked up in refrigerated safety deposit boxes. It’s just the Kims and the Weezie Jeffersons of the world, hoping to slice off a $250,000 piece, that are going to get sliced down if they make the attempt.

Obama’s not slicing the pie. He’s drawing economic blood.

The End of Charitable Giving?

Today I spent the afternoon at Larry H. Miller’s beautiful funeral service in the Energy Solutions Arena, listening to his family describe the marvelous man that he was. Among other things, Larry was a first-class philanthropist. With no fanfare or media attention, he once gave a considerable sum of money to a non-profit arts organization with which I was affiliated. He did so with no thought for recognition, and, indeed, preferred that his donation be kept anonymous. Since then, the organization has publicly acknowledged him as a financial benefactor, so I don’t think I’m betraying any confidences here, but I don’t want to provide any more details than that out of respect for his initial request for anonymity.

Gifts like Larry Miller’s largely go unnoticed. But if Barack Obama gets his way, future gifts of a similar nature will likely go ungiven.

Consider: as part of his plan to stick it to the rich, President Obama’s proposed tax plan calls for the elimination of itemized deductions for any income over $250,000 per year. And I can almost hear the class warriors cheering in the cyberspace transoms…

“Here here! It’s time the fatcats paid their fair share! No more huge bonuses for CEOs while the working guy gets squat!”

Well, not so fast, working guy.

If Obama’s tax plan had been in effect, Larry Miller’s gift to our arts organization would not be tax deductible. Now Larry was a remarkable enough guy that he might have given the gift anyway, but my guess is it would probably have been a much smaller gift. And not all benefactors are as selfless as Larry Miller was. If you eliminate the tax advantage for charitable giving, then, as surely as the sun rises in the east, you’re going to eliminate a lot of charitable giving by the people who have the most to give.

Which means a whole host of charitable organizations will shrivel up and die.

There’s a certain poetic justice in the fact that the first ones to go will likely be the artsy fartsy frufru theatres that rail on the evils of capitalism while going cap in hand to every wealthy businessman in their community, begging for largesse. Arts organizations enforce a rigid ideological orthodoxy; most of them consist primarily of committed leftists who voted for Obama. But now that Obama’s government will now be taking a forty percent bite out of any donations in the future, there will be less money available and no rich patrons incented to part with it.

These guys have unwittingly dug their own artsy-fartsy graves.

And it will extend beyond the arts. You’re going to see the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups see a sharp drop in revenue. Churches are going to watch their coffers shrink by more than a ten percent tithe. It is axiomatic that when you tax something, you get less of it. Obama can pass any law he likes, but he cannot repeal the law of supply and demand.

Charitable contributions work because they’re surgically efficient. The patron donates to the cause he or she finds worthy, and the government allows the transaction to happen tax free because of the positive societal benefit. But under Obama, government will suck up all those dollars and spend them as inefficiently as possible, and the result will be a lot more lefty artsy-farsty types out of work.

So it’s not all bad, I guess.