24 July, 2009

Political Kryptonite: Repealing Prop 13

This letter was written to Credo in response to their offer of "Repeal Prop 13" bumper stickers.
The machine behind 13 is too strong, and the propaganda is too inflammatory. Prop 13 reform is considered Kryptonite for politicians. The minute anyone tries to even suggest repealing, we start seeing ads about old ladies being thrown out of their homes because they can't pay the property taxes.The Jarvis-Gann groups are experts at fearmongering and they ruthlessly destroy any chance, because they are greedy beyond imagining.

This is what needs to be hammered home to California voters: Some aspects of Prop 13 CAN be revised to benefit Californians and businesses. If we sell those benefits, I think reformation CAN be pushed through. If we go negative, we will get NOWHERE. At ALL. We must offer not only repair of crumbling schools, public services, and highways: we must offer real improvement, and treat this money carefully as a prudent investment in the future, not merely as an onerous expense. So, constantly frame it as a *benefit*, and have arguments tailored to overcome opposition. It's very easy to preach to the Credo-oriented convert; help give us real talking points for those who need to be convinced.

Here are some thoughts - and keep in mind I'm a layperson, no lawyer, economist, or expert of any kind except how to eat ramen 6 days a week and not get thoroughly sick of it:

• those who inherit their parents' homes could be "grandfathered in" but still pay reasonable property taxes based on the home's current market value, perhaps ramping up in increments or mitigated by the other items factored into the estate tax.
• CORPORATIONS and COMMERCIAL PROPERTY owners should be required to pay property taxes based on their property's current value, not on what they paid before Prop 13. This should be based on square usable footage, not on the parcel. It could be mitigated by credits such as green building, green / water saving open space, alternative energy usage, etc.
• Corporations who rely heavily on California infrastructure - or who are heavy polluters - construction, beverage bottlers, oil producers, container shipping, trucking, airlines, chemical manufacturers, etc. - should pay a fair property tax and have an itty-bitty .05% or something tacked on to help repair and replenish the infrastructure and environment they damage.
• Out-of-state and foreign property holders should see a slightly higher tax rate, because they are using the infrastructure and benefiting from CA consumers and tax payers without contributing... the money is basically being siphoned away never to be seen again.

I think taxes that support our infrastructure should be fair - of course little old ladies should be able to keep their homes, and of course those with big expensive properties and pavement-crushing vehicles should be paying their *fair* share. Not all of it. Just a *fair* share. This won't drive any businesses out of CA and if they are sold on it correctly, they can then play the old "giving back to the community" card....

If trucking companies are paying taxes into a highway repair fund, and their repairs decrease because the roads don't suck, and their insurance rates go down because they have fewer accidents, who loses?

I hope these ideas are helpful in formatting the campaign. I just don't see "REPEAL PROP 13" succeeding. You have to offer something better.

15 July, 2009

We Are All Agents of the Miraculous

What if that were true? What if the supernatural - meaning above the natural laws we can *currently* perceive and measure scientifically - was a reality? For instance, long ago we used willow bark to cure headaches, and were probably grateful to the spirit of the tree for soothing us, and I sure wonder a) WHY the willow bark has that chemical in it and b) HOW we found out that it works in the first place? Did someone boil water in willow basket and have their headache "miraculously" cured? Now we know it's a chemical; we isolate, synthesize, manufacture, package, distribute, advertise... But - isn't that ability so fantastically improbable as to be almost a miracle? Where does science end and miracle begin? Where does that leave the admirable work of people like Richard Dawkins, Penn & Teller, and other debunkers of the paranormal?

Well... I don't think they're fools, or if they are, they're wise fools. Humanity has an enormous capacity for self-deception, and certainly many religions, myths, and charlatans have cause much more damage than good. I think their work is really important, because they skewer the wishful thinking and intellectual laziness that makes not only for bad science, but bad religion.

That being said, disparaging belief and believers actually sets the atheists back in their message; nobody responds well to rudeness, and that rudeness is based on emotion, not logic. People shrink when they are shamed. Their minds expand when their curiosity is encouraged. I understand the atheists' frustration with smart people who go only so far with logic then seemingly turn it off when they get into the realm of faith. I wonder if they would learn something if, instead of insisting they were right, were to look into the physiological and emotional function of faith in human health and effectiveness. Truth is, most of the smartest and most effective people I know (and I know plenty of them) have spiritual sides. And some of the most messed-up are the skeptics.

I'd rather hang out with Thich Nhat Hanh than Penn Gilette, who wears on me after about 20 minutes. I'd rather hang out with the Dalai Lama than Richard Dawkins anyday. But the atheists are doing something wonderful, and important: causing people to really examine WHY they believe, and what they believe, and perhaps turn them to positive action rather than the passivity of sitting there waiting for their prayers to fix their lives. Faith without works really IS dead. I read online somewhere that "prayer is a way of feeling like you're being helpful without actually having to DO anything". Ooh, that one STINGS.

I know that, in terms of philosophy, of numbers, of science, there is an objective truth. One is one and all are all and evermore shall be-oh. And then there's zero, which is only an idea, because even the concept of zero is more than nothing. I also look at fractals, with their twisting permutations of the same motifs, and I see that the truth may be something between the supernatural and the super-mundane. Our search for the truth will necessarily be limited by our perceptions and our ability to process them, our language for what we experience, and our ability to measure. For instance, one man's "evil spirit in the cave" is another man's uranium mine. We barely know how to measure ANYTHING. We only figured out how big an atom is 75+- years ago. What if we are evolving our ability to perceive and measure, that so that the universe can experience itself?

It seems to me that the fact life DOES evolve, and that curiosity has been a part of our evolution, may be a teeny-fractal expression of universal desire to know itself. It is also possible that true faith is an expression of curiosity about the next phase of our development as a species; our brains doing a slow cellular-level nudge toward abilities that transcend our current limitations. It could be that, since our skulls are getting too big to pass through the birth canal, the combination of medical birth assistance and bionic tools such as memory chips and sensory-enhancing implants will actually allow us to manufacture our evolution to a higher level, rather than relying on genetics to do it for us. The trick is to avoid a class system where only the rich access the tools. Another question: when we rely too much on a given technology, we atrophy the area that the technology assists - which is why I have the memory and attention span of a goldfish, and I can't sit on the floor without my hip seizing up.

I can't honestly claim that I've ever accessed a universal mind. But when I diligently try to, my life seems to just work better. I get out of my own way, am happier, more prosperous, more effective. I'm not sitting around expounding on how stupid people are to believe in things.
So the hell with skepticism. I'm going to to a scientific experiment: I'm going to look for wonderfulness in the world, and I'll bet you that the more I look for the more I will find. I'll believe in something. Believe in peace, believe in g/d/s, believe in evolution's power to weed out the ineffective, believe in myself. And in those moments when things look like doom and I just can't, I'm going to make every effort to believe that I can make something better just by acting on faith.

I think skepticism IS healthy... if you're also skeptical about your own skepticism. What if you're wrong? "What if..." has to be the greatest agent of change in the history of humanity. What if you let yourself believe in a power greater than yourself - would it change what you focus on, how you behave, how you feel about others, the trajectory of your life's progress? If you don't believe you are an agent of the miraculous... what can you do to make it so?

The Door is Open

I took this phrase from two sources:
the U2 song "Gloria", and my favorite Rumi poem:

"The Breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you
Don't go back to sleep
you must ask for what you really want
Don't go back to sleep
People are going back and forth
Across the doorway where the two worlds touch
The door is round, and open
Don't go back to sleep"

I have spent a fair amount of my life wide awake and dreaming, other times sleeping where my dreams were so vivid I wanted to go back and figure out how to make them real. How do I bring dreams into the waking world - dreams of creativity, of joy, of peace, of fun? How to take the shadow of my psyche and use it to heal myself and others instead of hurt?

I have eclectic taste - possibly insane taste - ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. I like silly humor more than I like sarcasm. I have a lifelong interest in why the heck the world is the way it is... cause and effect? G/d/s? Quarks? Who knows. Even if I thought I knew, that would be faith. The intersection between faith and knowledge - a dangerous and blurry place.

As the Firesign Theater states ".... a force that can only be used for good... or evillllll..." but I don't remember what they were talking about, was it a time machine?

I'm blessed with brilliant and creative friends; you'll find links to their blogs, art and ideas here. I'll add my own art and interests as time permits. Daring to put ourselves out there is one of the greatest challenges many artists face. Creating is easy, sometimes it happens all by itself. Communicating... hard.