Questionnaire 20.

The following attempt to break the writer’s block comes from this hyperlinked website right here.

1. WHAT IS IT LIKE TO WAKE UP EVERY MORNING AND PRETEND THAT YOU AREN’T DYING? Pretty easy. I’ve been doing it several thousand mornings in a row.

2. DO YOU BELIEVE IN THE DEATH PENALTY? Yes, given due process and metaphysical certitude. WHAT IF SOMEONE MURDERED YOUR MOTHER IN COLD BLOOD? Yes, unconditionally. WHAT IF SOMEONE MURDERED A STRANGER’S MOTHER, BUT SAVED YOUR LIFE THE MONTH BEFORE? Yes, of course. Saving a life doesn’t grant you a freebie. If it did, think what Norman Borlaug could’ve gotten away with.

3. IF YOU HAD A FRIEND WHO SPOKE TO YOU IN THE SAME WAY THAT YOU SOMETIMES SPEAK TO YOURSELF, HOW LONG WOULD YOU ALLOW THAT PERSON TO BE YOUR FRIEND? Not very long. I’ve seen the effect my voice has on others. Soporific. I wouldn’t tolerate it. I’d stick to emailing or texting myself.

4. WOULD YOU RATHER BE RICH AND PARALYZED FROM THE WAIST DOWN OR POOR AND ABLE BODIED? Tough call. Right now I’d have to say poor and able-bodied. I can always earn more money in the future, but I can’t overcome paralysis at a reasonable price yet. Ask me again after another decade or two of prosthetic technology development.

I must add that either answer seems subject to being interpreted as shallow. Either I value money over a basic human ability and experience, or I look down on the differently abled, even those with greater financial success than I have.

5. WHAT’S THE MOST EXPENSIVE GIFT YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED? IS IT THE BEST GIFT YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED? Probably my first car, which was my father’s before me and his father’s before him. It was a silver 1988 Oldsmobile Delta 88. If memory serves, it was given to me in 1998. Bluebook probably wasn’t very high, but it was a car when I needed a car and couldn’t afford one. I had to put flat pieces of wooden molding along the ceiling to keep the fabric from falling on my head. It was a good car.

6. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU LIED? Five minutes ago, in my answer to #3. IS IT POSSIBLE TO LIE WITHOUT SAYING ANYTHING AT ALL? Yes, it is possible to lie without saying anything because there are forms of communication other than speaking.

7. STEALING IS IMMORAL, RIGHT? Yes. BUT WHAT IF STEALING WAS THE ONLY WAY TO FEED A STARVING CHILD? If it were literally the only way to feed a starving child, I’d feed the starving child. Most systems of law and morality recognize this. However, we are fortunate live in a time and place in which it is virtually never the only way to feed a starving child.

8. IF I GAVE YOU $20, WHAT PERCENTAGE WOULD YOU – REALLY – SAVE? IF I GAVE YOU $200,000, WHAT PERCENTAGE WOULD YOU SAVE? SHOULD THERE BE A DIFFERENCE? I’d probably save none of the $20, and virtually all of the $200,000. More specifically, I’d use the $200K to pay off my mortgage. There is a difference between the two scenarios because we’re talking about drastically difference increases in income, and Econ tells us that as wealth increases, so do rates of saving. Furthermore, there is a cost to the act of saving. That act would chew up more of the value of the $20 than the $200K.

9. IF SOMEONE COULD TELL YOU THE EXACT DAY AND TIME THAT YOU ARE GOING TO DIE, WOULD YOU WANT THEM TO TELL YOU? It would depend on how old I was at the time. Right now, the answer’s no. If you asked me again in, say, 2104, my answer might be different.

10. IF YOU FOUND OUT YOU WERE GOING TO DIE TODAY, WOULD YOU HAVE ANY REGRETS? Yes. WOULD YOU BE HAPPY WITH THE WAY YOU SPENT THE LAST 24 HOURS OF YOUR LIFE? Yes, though it could have been better. The wings could’ve gotten here a bit earlier. Lowe’s could’ve copied my key correctly the first time.

11. WHAT’S YOUR SINGLE GREATEST MOMENT OF PERSONAL FAILURE? I am not ready to share that. The wounds are too fresh, and too deep, and the next episode of TNG on Netflix is about to start. LOOKING BACK ON IT NOW, DID IT MAKE YOU WEAKER OR STRONGER? I don’t know. WHAT DID YOU LEARN? That The Rules always work.

12. DO THE WORDS ‘FREEDOM’ AND ‘LIBERTY’ MEAN NOT BEING PERSECUTED OR DISCRIMINATED AGAINST, OR DO THEY MEAN DOING WHATEVER YOU PLEASE? Generally, yes. A government that protects freedom and liberty shouldn’t discriminate against you on unreasonable grounds, shouldn’t persecute you at all, and should protect your right to do as you please without infringing on others rights. That’s about as succinctly as I can put it during the opening credits.

13. HAVE YOU EVER DISCRIMINATED AGAINST SOMEONE? There’s no good way to answer a loaded question such as this, so I’ll just go ahead and admit I hate the Swiss. “We’re sort of German, and we’re sort of French, and we’re sort of Italian, but we’re not actually any of those.” Make a damn call. IMAGINE THAT A STREET GANG NOTORIOUS FOR WEARING PURPLE SHIRTS HAS ROBBED AND MURDERED SEVERAL HUNDRED PEOPLE IN YOUR TOWN. IF A MAN WEARING A PURPLE SHIRT JUST RANG YOUR DOORBELL, WOULD YOU ANSWER IT? I’d answer it, but then, I’m better armed than the average door-answerer.

14. IS IT CRAZIER TO CHOOSE TO BE POOR OR TO SPEND 40 YEARS OF YOUR LIFE HATING 40 HOURS A WEEK? Neither is crazy, but the two are not mutually exclusive. How enjoyable or miserable is my job, assuming I have one, if I’m going to be poor? And how well does “hating 40 hours a week” pay?

15. DO YOU EVER FEEL LIKE YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME? Yes. HOW MANY HOURS A WEEK DO YOU SPEND WATCHING TV, OR PLAYING VIDEO GAMES, OR…? Not too many hours, but those aren’t the activities that chew up my time. School-related paperwork is what chews up my time.

16. DO YOU EVER CELEBRATE THE GREEN LIGHTS? Sometimes. I celebrate the green light at the exit off the beltway on my way home, because I hit it so rarely.

17. IF YOU COULD BE GIVEN ANOTHER TALENT OR ABILITY, WHAT WOULD YOU WANT IT TO BE? I’d want to be able to fly. HAVE YOU EVER – REALLY – TRIED TO PERFECT THIS ABILITY IN YOURSELF? …I didn’t realize that the first question was serious. Oh well. No, I have not tried to perfect my ability to fly.

18. NO MATTER HOW BAD THINGS GET, ARE YOU AWARE THAT SOMEONE ALWAYS HAS IT WORSE THAN YOU DO? Absolutely. Even when I’m at my worst, I’m pretty good at looking down on others.

19. WHEN YOU HELP SOMEONE, DO YOU EVER THINK, “WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?” Yes. Not every time, but sometimes. Part of the reason is my econ training; I assume that everybody always acts to optimize net benefit. Thus whatever I do for others in part is also done for myself.

20. JOY IS FOUND WITH SIMPLE AWARENESS. WHAT DOES YOUR JOY LOOK LIKE TODAY? Today’s joy was a cool day in April.

21. WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ‘LIVING’ AND ‘EXISTING?’ The former is a subset of the latter. If I ever die, I will still exist.

22. ARE YOU WILLING TO SACRIFICE THE LIFE OF YOUR CHILD OR LOVER TO SUPPORT A WAR? Not before my own. Even then, it would depend on the circumstances of the war. The cause would have to be just and the quarrel would have to be honorable. The Revolution? The Civil War? WWII? I’d have to. The Mexican-American War? The Aroostook War? The Monday Night War? Nope.

23. DO YOU ASK ENOUGH QUESTIONS, OR DO YOU SETTLE FOR WHAT YOU KNOW? I think I ask enough questions, but sometimes the econ training kicks in, and I recognize that it just isn’t worth the time or effort or agony to ask questions.

24. IF YOU COULD DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, WOULD YOU CHANGE ANYTHING? Yes.

You probably meant to ask a follow-up question.

25. IF YOUR LIFE WAS A NOVEL, WHAT WOULD BE THE TITLE AND HOW WOULD YOUR STORY END? I’d go simple. The novel would be called The Fictional Autobiography of Vincent D. Viscariello. It would end with the destruction of all spacetime outside the framework of the story so as to ruin the viability of prequels, sequels, and sidequels.

On the Potter’s Field Academy for Advanced Democracy.

My Kind of Town is building a new school atop 38,000 unmarked graves, which I’m sure will thrill whatever kiddies end up attending it. According to this article in the Tribune, the site is the final resting ground of paupers, and the insane, and Civil War vets, and victims of the Great Fire, and those who succumbed to the consumption. Now it’s slated to be a middle school, though some aldermen insist it’ll be a high school.

Whatever grades the Read Dunning School ends up serving, those 38,000 poor souls deserve better treatment than this. They are voters. They have come through for the likes of Big Bill Thompson, Jack Kennedy, the Daley Dynasty, you name it– and what’s their reward? To have America’s Future™ traipsing all over them 180 days a year. It’s disgraceful.

These people deserve respect. It’s bad enough that some politicians are demanding that they show photo ID before they vote. It’s bad enough that some politicians insist they be citizens before they vote. At least grant them the dignity of undisturbed slumber between elections.

On the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Today was the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution, i.e., when the commies took over in Russia. In commemoration of such, I’d like to comment on the fundamental problems with communism, of which, if you think about it, there are really only two:

First, communism centralizes ownership of all resources and the power to decide how to use those resources to meet society’s needs.* That’s bad because, long story short, it limits how much brainpower can go into using those resources efficiently to meet those needs. Instead of taking advantage of the collective brainpower of bazillions of private decision-makers using privately owned resources in a market economy, communism relies heavily on the economic judgements of maybe a few dozen or a few hundred so-called experts.

Second, communists needed to murder 100 million people last century in order to get anybody else to go along with their bright idea.

Aside from that, it works really well on paper.

* Note: This is where people usually interject with something along the lines of “Centralization isn’t what Marx predicted or intended! A classless society with no private property blah blah blah” and then I pat them on the head and tell them how adorable it is when they try to think.

“with lifted head singing so proud”

Happy 241st birthday to the United States of America! This one’s special; turns out that the most common isotope of the universe’s greatest element– Americium– is none other than Americium-241. It’s used in spectrometers and certain types of smoke detectors. True story.

Also, happy 145th birthday to Calvin Coolidge.

I started writing some stuff and then it occurred to me that the general sentiment of my post had been far better put by Carl Sandburg a century ago in his poem “Chicago.” I don’t think we’d have seen eye-to-eye on matters of politics and economics, and the poor schlep died before I could straighten him out, but his poem defended a then-young metropolis against critiques from the East Coast and the Old World. The sins and the hardships are different today, but take a gander at Sandburg’s Chicago and maybe you’ll see our America:

      Hog Butcher for the World,
      Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
      Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
      Stormy, husky, brawling,
      City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
      Bareheaded,
      Shoveling,
      Wrecking,
      Planning,
      Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,
                        Laughing!
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

God bless our country.