News Fast

A while ago, I was thinking to myself, “What did we do for news before this election?” It feels like the election has been going on so incredibly long, news organizations and news consumers alike have forgotten what else to talk about. Maybe I just tend to get sucked into politics more lately, but my perception is that coverage has skewed to covering the juicy, disgusting rotting carcass that is our current election cycle even more heavily than in normal election years.

I keep hearing about the divisions in our country — between Trump supporters and everyone else, between Republicans, between whites or police and blacks or police, between rich and poor, between country and city, between immigrants and citizens by birth, between Muslim and non-Muslim… It goes on. It’s disheartening.

But I also wonder how much of it is just news, in the sense that we keep hearing about things because they make such great stories, not because they’re really as bad as portrayed. Surely there are an endless number of instances of people helping others different from themselves; crossing divides; accepting differences. After all, at heart we’re all people, trying to make the best way we can. This is America, the great melting pot. Nearly all of us have family who were immigrants at some point; it’s not like any of us white people can claim to have 500 years of family history in a place here like some can in Europe.

Anyway, I’m not going anywhere specific with this, except to say that it feels like the news coverage shows us the worst without showing the best, giving an incredibly skewed view of the state of things. Thus, I’ve been taking a break from the news ever since I mailed my ballot earlier in the week, including no Facebook at all and no reading political-related articles online.

And you know what? It’s refreshing.

Maybe I’m just burying my head in the sand, but overall it’s sure nice not to spend my time head-shaking at how impossible Those Other People are, or feeling outraged at the latest political scandal (of which it seems like this campaign has at least a few per day). I finished reading a book. I’m listening to music. It’s nice.

Might be good for all of us just to step back, take a breather. Sure, things are bad. But they’re always bad. And let’s not forget that lots of things are good, too.

In view of this, here are a few good things that happened in my life lately.

1. I have the privilege of voting. Which took a long time, with all the stuff on the ballot. The privilege of spending time learning about each issue and candidate, and using the reasoning ability God gave me to try to make a wise choice.

2. Dad and I got to go for a really nice bike ride together yesterday while the weather wasn’t just OK, it was gorgeous. Plus I got to ride my favorite beautiful pink bike, which is a little slower but way more comfortable and all round wonderful.

3. Benji is four, and Four is Fun. I told Benji this joke: “I tried to catch fog yesterday. You know how it went? Mist.” And he got it, and thought it was hilarious and bad, which is awesome! So puns are in our future, which anyone who knows us already could’ve anticipated. Also, we’re able to go do interesting things, like go to the display at Alderwood Mall.
Lego Washington Monument

Lego White House

We were inspired after this insane display of Lego prowess, and had a fun time building at the free play area.
Lego Free Play Bins

Racing Lego Car

The Best Economic Platform You’ll Never Get to Vote For

Today I listened to a really interesting Planet Money podcast. They convened a panel of six economists across all political spectra, from libertarian to right-leaning to left-leaning, and asked them for what changes they could all agree on. Turns out that the following six economic changes that would, they all say, substantially improve our country and make taxes more equitable for everyone. Too bad they’re so crazy that no serious candidate would touch them with a ten-foot pole.

But, listening to the podcast, I found their arguments really compelling. Here’s the six-plank platform agreed upon by all these different economists.

  1. Cut the mortgage interest deduction. The deduction is inequitable between renters and homeowners and actually distorts the housing market by giving a bigger subsidy to weathy people who buy more expensive houses. Eliminating the deduction would probably lower home prices and might even allow government to lower taxes overall.
  2. Cut employer-sponsored healthcare deduction. Health insurance isn’t taxed for employer or employee, driving “too much of a good thing” for some health insurance. Strange idea, but if health insurance is so comprehensive that it completely insulates the consumer from the price of care, it encourages consumers to use medical care they don’t need. This then drives up the cost of healthcare for everyone. And the deduction basically subsidizes excessive healthcare plans.
  3. Eliminate corporate income tax completely. Don’t punish corporations for making money and don’t take money away from them investing in their growth or paying their emploees. If you want to tax wealthy people, do so directly. But don’t stop corporations from investing in their products by taking money from them.
  4. Eliminate payroll and income tax completely. Taxing income is an easy way to raise revenue, but taxes are also used to discourage things. Do we want to discourage income? No. Same with payroll tax. We don’t want to discourage job creation, right? Replace these with some form of progressive consumption tax. (Details on that would vary depending on the political leaning of the economist.)
  5. Tax bad things. If you provide deductions, you get more of something; if you tax something, you get less of it. So, start taxing “bad things.” What are the worst things in the world right now? Raise taxes on pollution of all forms, gasoline, energy use, and carbon emissions.
  6. Legalize marijuana. Don’t waste resources on putting drug-sellers in prison; save those resources and generate a whole new thing you can tax!

Like I said, the best economic platform you’ll never get to vote for. It’s one of those “it’s so crazy it just might work” moments, because they’re really talking about a complete and total overhaul of even the way we think about taxes.

The problem is that every loophole, every subsidy, every deduction helps someone. End one, and all the beneficiaries start squawking and wailing and, more to the point, they then kick the audacious politician out of office in favor of someone who will keep the subsidy. That’s how nothing ever changes. Because what’s best for the country as a whole isn’t always best for individuals, and we vote first and foremost as individuals thinking about our individual good.

I don’t have any solutions. How do we change the way 250 million people think?

NaNoWriMo 2016? Maybe.

This may be a bit ambitious, but National Novel Writing Month is nearly upon us. I haven’t participated in quite a few years, due to various reasons starting with “B” and rhyming with “wenji,” but I’m considering participating this year.

Anyway, like I said, ambitious — because I’m thinking of setting a goal of writing 1660 words a day through the month of November. I don’t have any story ideas, and I’m not even sure that I’d be writing a cohesive story or even anything related day to day, but I’m a little interested to see if (a) I can do it; and (b) what might come out of that. Do I even still have any new ideas?

Sometimes it feels like life is an endless series of doing what I have to, punctuated by a few instances of recovery and even fewer instances of actual personal enjoyment. I haven’t built a ton of room for creative thinking into my life at this point, but we do spend most evenings watching an episode of something on Netflix. What if I took that time and did something else with it? Would I feel like I’d spent my time more productively?

I may find out, or I may just find that it doesn’t work for me to have to discipline myself to do yet one more thing.

But I just remember that I did really enjoy NaNoWriMo in the past, not because I produced anything good (definitely can’t make that claim!) but just because I accomplished something. That might be a nice thing to try for again.

Also filed under “creative” in my life, Benji now has us drawing custom dot-to-dot puzzles for him because the ones online are too easy (or way, way too hard)…. and they don’t have enough construction vehicle ones, of course. Everyone seems to make dot-to-dots of cute animals but not of construction cranes or forklifts. Why is that?

Dot to Dot Truck Cab

Dot to Dot Forklift

Dot to Dot Truck & Trailer

Dot to Dot Construction Crane

Anyway, our dot-to-dots are all over 100 dots and fairly challenging for our fine-motor-challenged child. We’re practicing holding our crayons the right way while pressing firmly, and it’s going… well, slowly.

“Practice makes progress” — my new motto, I think.

Bits and Pieces

It’s been almost a month since I posted last. Sorry about that! We’re still alive and kicking, don’t worry. We’ve had a busy month, with getting back into the swing of school and building our new school-year routine. Let’s see, what have we been doing?

Well, for some reason, going to pumpkin patches has become like going to see Santa at Christmas. This year we had the opportunity to go three different places — but we passed on one. The first place was really just our CSA, which grows pumpkins as part of our farm share. That was pretty fun, as Benji discovered the joys of riding in a wheelbarrow for the first time.
CSA Pumpkins

Then we could’ve gone with our church to a pumpkin patch, but passed, because that same week Benji’s preschool went to one (at least one parent/guardian required to attend). It was very wet, the beginning of several days of serious rain. Benji spent almost the entire time whining about being hungry (I should’ve given him snack on the way there) and wanting to go home. The only real break was during the hay maze, which he LOVED. Unfortunately, leaving that just meant one more thing to whine about.
Pumpkin Patch: Hay Maze

Pumpkin Patch: Hay Maze Slide

Pumpkin Patch: Tractor Wagon Ride to Pumpkins

Pumpkin Patch Glare

Pumpkin Patch Creamsicle

So that was pumpkins. We also have lots of delicious winter squashes to eat from our CSA, and I’m looking forward to some homemade pumpkin pie, and some mashed squash, and mmmmm, my favorite, spaghetti squash with sausage.

Speaking of pie, we made another apple pie that turned out DELICIOUS. Mine ended up looking a bit like a snail, but fortunately tasted like pie still.
Apple Pie Snail

Now time for an awkward segue… The pumpkins ended up on our front steps, but generally the yard–front and back–has really gotten neglected this year. We’ve done a minimal amount to keep it from being a total disaster, but we haven’t made it any nicer. Well, about six weeks ago, Benji noticed our across-the-street neighbors Howard and Sue spreading mulch and generally beautifying their yard. They are retired and keep their yard not only spotless but gorgeous year-round. Benji said he wanted to make our yard pretty, too.

Well, Ian went to Canada for a short business trip, so we decided to go for it and surprise him when he got home.
We did it for Daddy.
Benji helped me spread the mulch a bit; I also mowed (my first time with an electric lawn mower, and I managed to not run over the cord!) and even fixed our broken gate latch, with Howard’s help (our drill bit wasn’t long enough).

Feeling virtuous and accomplished, we retired in glory…. and none too soon, as it appears the rain may have started for good for the winter, putting paid to any more yard activity other than raking.

Now, in increasingly random news, some other things:

1. Legos have vaulted from “meh” to a top toy, much to our delight. Benji reads the directions himself, with a little help, and places the majority of the pieces himself as well.
Ice planet Legos!

2. “Spooky” things are fun right now too. He turns his trains into ghosts by having Ian cover them with paper; and he turned himself into a spooky laundry ghost.
Spooky Laundry Ghost

3. School has letter-themed show-and-tell every week. Last week was “F,” and Benji proudly came running with this to share:
"F" Show & Tell: "Phone"
Oops, gotta work on actual spelling.

4. Walking to Benji’s speech therapy, we looked for pretty leafs. This one was still attached, but we brought a whole pile home… which has now joined all the other leafs that blew off the trees in our latest windstorm.
Pretty Autumnal Leaf