"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Thomas Jefferson
Sept. 23, 1800

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Y Is For......Yay Me

My last two posts were a birthday post celebrating my great friend and an open love letter to my most awesome wife. I love pointing out the awesomeness of all the people I'm so incredibly lucky to have in my life, it makes me feel happy and rich in the things that really matter. But lately a number of things, mostly work-related, have had me down and I need a pick-me-up, too. So this one is about me. I'm not going to talk about what an unusually gifted and giving and selfless person I am because I'm not. I'm not going to talk about how wonderful a life filled with me is to live because I think I probably require an unusual amount of patience to put up with. But I recently took on a new challenge and I'm pretty happy about the result, so I'm going to toot my horn about that.

This year I became one of the new members of the Brunswick Little Theatre board of directors. Having a huge mouth with no filter, I volunteered myself to take over upkeep of the group's web site before I was even officially seated on the board. I had no idea how to do this, which is part of the reason I volunteered, strangely enough. My family's involvement with the theater has led to all of us opening new doors and experiencing and learning new things, and we've really quite enjoyed that. I figured why not take on one more new thing, learn another skill. How hard could it be? It turned out I needed to do more than upkeep. Because we were going to be attempting to add a Pay Pal link to the web site and because I was going to be using a PC rather than a Mac to update it, it meant I had to completely dump the old web site and star over fresh. I would have to create a new site completely from scratch. Who likes to half-ass anyway, right?

So I researched several web design programs and ended up buying one with a ton of bad Amazon reviews because it was the best of some very limited options given budget and time and the things I needed to be able to do. The program came with a wide variety of templates, all completely useless. Again, no half-assing here, I was really starting completely from scratch. That was ok, the website we had sucked. Bad. It was so bad, our Facebook page keeper refused to link to it. She said it was an embarrassment. Ok, Jen, tell us how you really feel. No pressure, there. Heh. I suppose mine would have to be better. She said it couldn't possibly be worse.

The problem with the old page was primarily that it was meant to be more an artistic statement and an expression of the designer's cutsie sense of humor than a source of information. Mine wouldn't be like that as I have a journalist's style and zero, and I mean ZERO artistic sense. My site may be ugly (it kinda is) but it would be useful goddammit!

It took me a few weeks to teach myself  how to use the web design software, but it came to me eventually. I had a few scary moments trying to upload to Go Daddy, but it worked out. What I came up with is pretty good, if I do say so myself, and I do. It has it's faults, the most glaring being that it is not centered on your screen. It stays on the left hand side for some reason and I can't change it. It isn't really pretty, the colors probably drive an artist's eye bonkers and I am entirely too fascinated by the great variety of fonts available, but I am not a looks-based kind of guy. I am impressed by content, and this site is coming along better than I had hoped.

Here is the home page, if you want to go see for yourself. I feel it's easy to navigate and has lots of info without being confusing. Anyone coming here will see what BLT is doing right now and in the near future. I created "show pages" to highlight each project we are working on. Some are nice, some are ok and some suck. They are pretty much up to the directors in terms of content and if they don't help, it isn't much of a page. But I'm proud of the idea and I hope to slowly introduce the BLT theatre world to the idea that maybe no one has come to their shows in the past because they are the worst salesmen in the world. Once they understand that selling a show is part of the process, I expect these pages will look really good and be a really fun place to visit.

I turned what had been the most confusing part of the old web site, the Get Involved page, into what I think is a great introduction to what we as a community theatre do, and how everyone can and should help us out. It features slideshows and some pithy writing. Go look :)

I also had the bright idea to create a place where anyone who desires can download and print out their own show posters. Show posters are a bone of contention around BLT. The board decided a few years ago that posters don't do a good job of advertising a show. See, I told you they were the worst salesmen in the world. So, we don't print posters to hang around town anymore. And the shows since have almost all lost money, with the exception of last year's Wizard of Oz for which the lovely Lisa and I took over publicity, and imagine this, I PRINTED POSTERS. Anyhow, now there is a place for the cast and crew and friends to make their own posters to hang up around town. I just need to find a way to let people know it's there. Facebook, here I come....

This kind of brings me to the reason I decided to write this increasingly way too long post in the first place. If the site isn't seen, it is useless, no matter how great it is. So I installed a site meter to track views. I expected to be depressed. But, hooray me, I was happily surprised. Thanks to the wonders of the Google search, lots of people are coming to the site. Well, by lots I mean maybe a dozen or two dozen a day, but that is WAY more than I expected. I found one guy this week who came by way of Google search and stayed for almost 5 minutes looking at quite a few pages. He then left by clicking on a link to our Facebook page (which is awesome, by the way.) That is the synergy Jen and I were hoping to create. She has begun linking to the web page, I am proud to say, so at least she is happy with my work. Today I found something even better during my obsessive checking of the site meter. Someone came upon the site while searching for something else, in this case movie theaters in Brunswick County. He didn't mean to look for us, but he came and he stayed for almost five minutes and read from three different pages. I am so happy. In my fevered imagination, this person saw an alternative to movies at our site and was intrigued enough to investigate. I am going to believe he will come to our next show, Dixie Swim Club at Playhouse 211 beginning a week from Friday. I'm even going to pick out a person in the audience and pretend that he or she was that random web searcher.

It will amuse me. And make me feel good. And I deserve that.

Monday, February 25, 2013

X Is For........XOXOXO

Kisses and hugs, baby. Love. Real love. That's what this one is about.

My lovely wife Lisa and I spent a weekend away together recently and it really made me realize how lucky I am to have the relationship with her that I do.  We have been "together" as a couple for 24 years and were bestest buds for a couple years before that. You'd think she'd be sick of me by now, but it seems not. Rather, we are a closer and happier couple than ever before, and even as our lives change and our circumstances change, we just keep growing more and more in love. It's cool.

Our weekend away was originally going to be a family thing, we were going to go with our son to Durham to see the Broadway musical version of Mary Poppins. Then our son's church youth group changed the weekend of their annual winter retreat to the same weekend as the show and he decided he would rather go to the mountains with them. It turned out well, he left on a Friday morning and didn't get back until the following Monday afternoon, leaving us time to make an impromptu romantic getaway out of the show trip. As it turned out, the experience really showed us something we weren't expecting.

Since John wasn't around anyhow, we took Friday evening to go see Safe Haven (ok, but a really good starring role for our little slice of Heaven where we live) and even went out to a bar afterwards! You have no idea how long it had been since we went out to a bar just the two of us for drinks. I didn't want to go, actually, but ended up talking myself into it because it was Great Guinness Toast night and I sort of had a professional responsibility.  Man, am I glad we went. Slainte is our local Irish pub and is about the most perfect drinking place you'll find around here. It has a cozy feel, friendly bartenders and Guinness on tap. It is also free of drunken rednecks trying to smash beer bottles over each other's heads, something that is a real problem in these parts. We ended up thoroughly enjoying ourselves, and more importantly, each other. It felt just like all those times we were out to bars in college, only we talked about work and parenting and friends and our community activities instead of.....well, instead of whatever we used to talk about then, I find I can't remember. It's just so nice to be with someone with whom there are no questions, no worries about where you stand. I needed that, and once again, it was Lisa who delivered.

Our weekend away without John brought a revelation of sorts. We didn't miss him this time. Not that we didn't think about him, we did. We talked a few times and texted a lot with John while he shared his adventures with us and us with him, but we didn't ever wish he was with us instead of with his friends out in the mountains. We are growing up, all of us. We are crossing that border where we are seeing that he is becoming his own person, and rather than fighting it, we are celebrating it. I think a lot of that comes from the strength of our love for each other, Lisa and I, I mean. Empty nest syndrome is very real. Who hasn't seen couples go into a sort of vapor lock when they no longer have raising the children in common. Too many couples, I think, develop a relationship over the years of parenting that is so child-based that they wind up with nothing else tying them to their spouse when the kids grow up and leave home (or even before). They find that whether it was conscious or not, they were staying together "for the kids." While we are a very tight family, I was glad to see that Lisa and I are still very much in love as a couple, not instead of the family dynamic, but in addition to it. I think it makes the whole unit stronger. I think it provides a more stable and healthy environment for our son. I think it is part of the reason he isn't shy about doing things on his own. He will take flight when it's time and he will soar to heights undreamed of by Lisa and I. He will leave us with an empty nest, yes, but it won't be lonely, it will be a chance to begin a new chapter together.

Together. That's what I am talking about. Without even consciously trying, we will always have together with each other. It's easy. And natural. And I am very, very lucky to be able to say that.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

W Is For.......Walt

The more I learn about Walt, the better I get to know Walt, the more I admire and love Walt. I've read a lot about Walt Disney over the last couple years and learned more about his vision and his attitude and his way of dealing with the people around him. To know Walt Disney and to work for Walt Disney changed people's lives for the better. I've come to know Walt better over the last couple years and the experience has made me a better person and made my life a more joyful, more fulfilling and richer experience.

Walt Disney was a family man. As important as his work was and as huge an impact as he had on the world, it was his family that counted the most in his life. While building an empire and changing the world, he took time to attend recitals and games and to spend weekends with his daughters. Walt's love for family and dedication to them while making the impossible possible and enriching the lives of friends and strangers alike is an inspiration and an example I carry with me every day.

Walt Disney brought out the best in those around him. He expected more than they thought they were capable of and he got it, surprising his employees but not himself. He believed in people and made them more than they would have been without his influence. He sent an animator to fix the Lincoln animatronic robot at the World's Fair, and after saying he knew nothing about electronics and wiring, the man went and fixed it. I used to think Walt was a perfectionist, but learned different. Walt simply asks for what Walt knows others are capable of. Walt has made me look at my own self-imposed limitations and question them. Walt has encouraged me to open new doors and try new things and conquer some fears. Walt has made me a better person.

Walt Disney was not fast with a compliment. Sometimes those around him resented this, sometimes they wondered if they were really doing a good job. Then one day Walt Disney would show up at their desk with a new assignment on the next picture and they knew they had made him happy. Walt has taught me to value trust shown over thanks spoken. It's easy to say "thank you" off hand because it's polite, but when Walt asks you to join the next project, you know you've met those high expectations and it means so much more than simple words.

Walt Disney was a creative genius. He liked to say that it was kind of fun to do the impossible and he really meant it.  He created or had his team create new technologies and new processes and pushed the boundaries of the possible. He never saw a roadblock, he saw opportunities. He made things work and taught and inspired those around him to do the same. I love watching Walt face a creative challenge. I love how Walt looks outside the box and uses the tools at hand to create magic. The products of Walt's magic are nothing compared to the pure thrill of the magic making. I am blessed to have seen that side of the show, to have seen Walt make magic that others only get to see in the form of a final result. I don't think Walt knows how cool that is.

Walt Disney faced adversity and won. He had his bread and butter cartoon character stolen out from under him when he lost Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and instead of giving up, he created Mickey Mouse. Walt Disney was betrayed by friends and colleagues, he was stolen from and stabbed in the back. Walt Disney was called a talentless fraud. He had his ideas trashed and laughed out of boardrooms countless times. But he never lost faith in himself and he won in the end. Watching Walt take some hard knocks breaks my heart. But seeing Walt pick it up and carry on, watching Walt soldier though, seeing Walt face the haters, makes me love Walt all that much more. Walt is strong, but Walt gets hurt. Walt reminds me that we can't control what others do, only our response to it. Walt shows me that carrying on is possible, even through pain. Walt reminds me that strength comes in many forms.

Walt Disney was a man of the future, and to him the future lived in our children. He never underestimated a child and learned from them and thrived on their energy and spirit. Much of what Walt Disney did was for the child in all of us. To see Walt amongst children is to see a miracle in flesh. The children love Walt and Walt loves them and together they make the world a happier, better place. Walt respects the children and in return the children give Walt their all and show that they too are capable of more then most would have dreamed.

I never got to meet Walt Disney, but I can say I came close because Walt is a very dear friend. Walt is a part of my life that I treasure. Walt teaches me and makes me laugh. Walt surprises me still and sometimes makes me think even when I'd rather not. Walt shares and entertains and loves and cares. Walt is there when I need a friend. Walt is real, wonderfully and completely real and alive. Today is Walt's birthday, not Walt Disney's, but Walt's. Happy birthday, Walt, and thank you for all that you are and all that you give.

Thank you for making life just a bit more Magical.

Monday, February 11, 2013

V is For......Voting

I'm all in favor of voting. Government of the people, by the people depends upon it. But government by the people is a truly scary thing when the people are idiots. I suppose I'm for the right to vote much more than I am for urging everyone eligible to exercise that right.

Everyone who is a citizen of this nation and of the age we all deem appropriate should be eligible to vote. I don't like the idea of taking voting rights from felons, especially considering some of the absolutely silly crimes classified as felonies today. I just don't see why the two are connected. Bad guy or not, you should have a say. I think certain mental incompetencies  may be a reason to withhold voting rights, but even that makes me nervous because I'm not sure who to trust to determine who is incompetent. I don't think voting rights should be extended to non-citizens, but I think citizenship should be easier to acquire.

Having said all that, I am not one of these guys who encourages everyone to vote. Choosing our leaders is a big deal, it's important and it affects our lives. It affects MY life. Some people, Hell, lots of people, who are eligible to vote should stay home on election day. If you don't recognize the names on the ballot, if you don't have a grasp of our country's and our world's history, if you haven't read the constitution or bill of rights, if your opinion is swayed in any way by anyone who makes a living playing guitar or pretending to be someone else on a movie screen, the Republic is better served by you forgoing the voting booth.

I dislike the "Motor Voter Bill," early voting and same day registration. I think that voting is important enough to make a conscious effort to register and vote. If you can't be bothered, you don't understand the importance of what you are doing and I would rather you not bother. I would LOVE for everyone who is eligible to vote, but only after they have a clue. I don't care if you are the political polar opposite of me, as long as you know what you think and why, I'm all for you participating. But the drones and jokers and idiots should not be encouraged to vote without first THINKING. The voting isn't the important thing, it's the thought that goes into it that means something.

It's like having a baby. Being a Dad is the most wonderful thing in the world and everyone should have the right to do so. But being a dad is much more than making a baby. It's harder and scarier and more than 100% worth it. It takes effort and love and responsibility. Like voting, done for the right reasons. Voting doesn't make you a participant in republican democracy any more than making a baby makes you a dad.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

U Is For.....Use Tax

Ok, maybe it's cheating writing two tax blogs in a row. Whatever. I just wanted to make it clear that while I'm a libertarian, small-government kind of guy, I'm not for totally de-funding the government. Here's an example of a tax I'm fully in support of. While I am open to the Libertarian argument that such things as public works, even road building, are best left to the private sector, I think that is never going to fly with most people. Around here, waterways are almost as important to our economic well-being as roadways. These need to be kept up, especially the inlets leading from inland waters to the sea. An argument could be made that everyone benefits in some way from open inlets, and it's true as far as it goes, but those who use them on a regular basis receive much more benefit. North Carolina is looking at raising the boat registration fee and using the extra money to pay for dredging of these inlets. It's not a perfect solution, the inlets to be dredged will be politically determined to some extent and there will be waste as there is with all government programs, but this is still a good idea.

Use taxes like this one are the most morally defensible of all taxes. They ask those who use a service or facility to contribute more to that service or facility than those that don't. It's funding of government for the purpose of doing the things that government does. I'm fine with that. My problem with taxes is that the left, and particularly President Obama, see taxes not as a way to raise needed funds but as a way to punish those groups they dislike. Using tax policy as a political weapon is immoral even if the desired result is "fairness." The ends do not justify the means.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

T Is For.........Taxes

Tax season has officially opened, so why not? I truly believe our tax system is killing our country. No amount of spending cuts or tax increases will prevent our eventual (and sooner rather than later) economic meltdown if they are made within our current tax system. Our tax system discourages risk-taking and hard work, it chases wealth out of the country and it intrudes on our freedoms. I wrote about what I see as the solution here. It's called the Fair Tax and while it isn't painless or perfect, it would correct the problems I just mentioned overnight.

But I don't want to go into a huge discussion of the whole system of taxation today. I just want to discuss two aspects that I find from discussions with my friends are very misunderstood.

Corporate Income Tax

This one gets tossed around every election season. It's easy to use it to show the poor put upon middle and lower class voters how much you care about them and how you are going to stick it to their mean, evil, greedy bosses and those greedy CEOs they see on the news. It's one of the most over-used and sad populist themes out there. I despise populism, by the way, and this demonstrates why.

The only source of tax revenue in this country is the citizens of this country. Period. Corporations don't pay taxes, you do. When that congressmen who cares so much about the average working guy raises the corporate income tax, it's the average working guy who pays it, and then thanks the congressman for it by voting him in again. Businesses get their money by selling products or services to you. When they need more money, to pay taxes for example, they simply charge you more for the product or service. But, you say, why don't they just make less profit? Those greedy investors don't need it, they already have a bigger car then me and a pool in their yard to boot! Ok, that also is an option, but who pays for that really? Who are these "investors" who receive the windfall from these corporations' obscene profits? That's you too, pal. If you carry insurance of any kind (home,  car, health), if you have a 401k account or an IRA, if you belong to a union that gives you a pension, if you work for a company that offers a pension, if you work for the state or county or city or federal government and have a retirement plan, if you have a savings account then YOU are the greedy investor. The lion's share of stocks in this country are owned by mutual funds, banks,  insurance companies and retirement and pension plans. Individual investors are a small slice of the pie. When companies cut their profits to pay taxes, you have less money for your retirement or pay more for your insurance. In the end, it's the "average Joe" who pays ALL the taxes.

If you work at all you pay the Social Security and Medicare taxes, if you make enough you pay income taxes. You see those. But you also pay all the other taxes you don't see, the ones that you think are levied on "the other guy." If you buy a loaf of bread at Food Lion you are paying the corporate taxes for Food Lion, the bakery, the distributor, the farmer, the maker of the trucks it was delivered on, the makers of the ovens, the makers of the tractors, the seed vendors, the silo company, the agri-chem outfits that made the fertilizer and pesticides, the vendor of said chemicals, the ad agencies that promoted the sales of the trucks and ovens and seed and chemicals and bread and the list goes on. You paid the gasoline tax on every gallon that was burned in the production and delivery of that loaf. You paid the environmental taxes on the diesel and the extra mileage taxes on the 18-wheelers. You paid for compliance with every regulation from seed to loaf and from bolt to truck. You paid all of that, not Food Lion or Merita.

Corporate income tax is a lie and a deception. And the American people fall for it every single time.

Social Security

Talk about lies and deceptions. This is the be all and end all.

If you work, you pay the Social Security tax. Call it payroll tax or FICA or whatever you like, you pay 12.4% of your income below $113,700. If you are self-employed you get this, but if not, you're probably calling me a liar. The 6.2% you see come out of your check if you work for someone else is only half. Your employer pays the other half, but like the corporate tax, this isn't coming out of your employer's pocket, it's coming out of yours. It is part of the cost of employing you and as such is part of your compensation for whatever work you do. In order to continue employing you, you  must provide more value to your employer than the total  cost of your employment, be that taxes or health insurance or benefits or straight up pay. That is how businesses work. If your employers cost of employing you go up, you need to provide that much more value to him in order for it to be worthwhile to keep you on.

Ok, what happens to that money? I recently heard some friends, and very smart ones, blow off the recent increase in FICA taxes as not a big deal because it was going to social security and the program needs it. I'll admit to being a Libertarian and as such not a fan of government programs of any type. I see Social Security as a trade off of freedom for security and I don't like it. Having said that, I'll admit that Social Security is one of the most useful and used programs in our whole government. It offers real help to real people, both as retirement income and dependent income in cases of a parent dying. It does real, measurable good and I am fine with the majority opinion that we keep it around in some form. But let's get rid of this fiction that there is such a thing as a Social Security Trust Fund.

When you pay the Social Security tax it goes to the Social Security Administration. It is used to pay benefits and any extra, there is very little now but in the past there was a lot of extra, is used to purchase US Savings Bonds. This is where the fiction comes into play. People who know better would have you believe that money invested in bonds actually exists somehow waiting to be spent when the system needs it. It does not. Every penny not spent by Social Security is spent by the rest of the government. It's gone. What we have is IOUs from the US government to the US government.

Look at it this way. You have $100, $50 in a savings account and $50 in a checking account. You know you need that $50 in savings to pay a bill at the end of the month, but you REALLY want to buy something that costs $100 right now. So you take the $50 out of savings, put it in checking and buy your new toy. You write yourself a note reminding you that you need to put that $50 back in savings and go about your merry way. Come the end of the month, what do you have? Paul Krugman and his ilk would have you believe you have $50 in savings because you told yourself you owed it to yourself. But unless you found a way to replace that money between the time you spent it and time you needed it, you don't really have anything but a worthless note.  That's what the Social Security Administration does. It loans it's extra money out not to outside agencies like a bank would, it loans it to itself. If you had loaned that theoretical $50 to your friend, at the end of the month you'd have an asset. You can enforce a loan agreement and get your money back when you loan it to another. But you can't when you loan it to yourself. A loan from the US government to the US government is not an asset. Both the Social Security Administration and the general fund have the exact same revenue stream, you.

The money you pay into Social Security is spent on benefits, yes, but also on smart bombs and drones and Obama phones and to pay the dude who tells you how much water your toilet can use. When the money coming into Social Security doesn't cover the benefits, and that will happen in the next 10 to 15 years, we will need to either take more money from the American workforce or stop buying things or both. We don't have a savings account and no extra money taken today will ever go into one.