I've not yet had the need to plan my own funeral, but I suspect that when I do it will be much like preparing for a yard sale. There's the general sense of getting one's affairs in order, tidying things up a bit -- not because I really care whether some slob I don't know thinks that I am a untidy, but simply because that's what decent people do -- and putting everything in its rightful place.
There's also a Judgment Day air infusing it all, as my possessions -- extensions of me, or at least what gift-buying members of my family think of me -- are separated, some for service in their father's house, others to be cast into the 25-cent bargain box.
I only hope that when I get to the Pearly Gates, assuming some angelic security detail doesn't stop me on the outer grounds, there is someone like Caleb waiting to argue against my dismissal. He's been watching the growing pile of sale items with a wary eye, registering periodic protests and -- we suspect but cannot prove -- developing a plan to smuggle out whatever refugees he can lay hold of before the hour of peril arrives.
"Are you going to sell my [name of toy deleted because relatives may be reading this] in the yard sale?"
"Yes. You never play with it, and it's made of plastic."
"But I'm not done with it."
"You never play with it."
"But it's mine."
"You can use the money we get from it to buy something you like better."
"But I like it."
"You. Never. Play. With. It."
Little hands on hips. "But. I'm. Not. Done. With. It."
Exit one child with bottom lip firmly protruded.
There's the lingering guilt over selling my children's toys, and there's also the cold reality that some of those relatives with very poor ideas about gift-giving may actually visit one day, and have memories so sharp that they think to ask, "so where is the bright orange Ronco Combination Paintball Gun and Phonics Primer, the one that fires projectiles at 110 miles per hour and plays Snoop Dogg at 85 decibels when your child pronounces a syllable correctly?"
"Um, it broke. In several pieces. And caught on fire. There was only a puddle of plastic left."
"Really? It sure looked sturdy enough. Oh well, I was thinking of getting the boys that new George Foreman Veggie and Candy Bar Fryer -- the one they can operate themselves. It plays an educational jingle when the oil reaches its boiling point."
It's easier just to keep this stuff in a big box, with names of the givers attached, so that it can be dragged out when the relevant visitors make their appearance. Being economics-minded, however, we'd prefer to sell the $89.99 Barney and Friends Sing-Along Cattle Prod and use the 75 cents in proceeds to buy the boys something more edifying, like a few of the Lego blocks our neighbors up the street are selling so they can make room for their Squiggles Holographic Dress Up Like a Girl and Shake Your Booty Dance Machine.
And then there's just the deep shame of it all. How could we have acquired so much stuff?
If I were a leftist, I would falsely assume that we could lift entire nations out of poverty simply be sending them our excess belongings. This is a false notion, of course, because people are only lifted out of poverty when they are given the tools and opportunity to produce for themselves. If we send them shiploads of noisy plastic trinkets, we'll only depress their prices and drive nascent indigenous crap-makers out of business.
Being a conservative curmudgeon, however, I look at the rows and boxes of junk that have been extruded from my open garage like some slow-motion home colonic, and extrapolate to the millions of homes across the U.S., and I think: If we weren't so hell-bent on increasing our GDP by acquiring more and more colorful distractions, we might actually be a country that has the time to read.
Which we aren't, at least not in my house this week, because we're busy putting little price stickers on all our junk, and hoping that the old Middle Eastern man down the street doesn't show up with his fourteen family members to haggle over our ugly candlesticks.
I shouldn't complain. I'd much rather be reading right now, but I know that when tomorrow morning arrives and I'm standing, a pouch of change strapped to my waist, amidst my platoons of Care Bears and dragoons of plasticware, that I'll be in my element.
This is because I, like every good American, am an entrepreneur at heart. A French guy would look at my garage right now and think: Sacre coeur, might we be reed of zeez possessions if our country would but adopt a three-day work week? An American looks at it and thinks: Oh, the profits I will reap, thanks to the bad taste of my fellow countrymen.
God bless America. And please let it be sunny tomorrow, at least until we sell the Power Rangers.
"Only too soon personal experience and the experience of others teaches how far most men's lives are from being what a man's life ought to be. All have great moments. They see themselves in the magic mirror of possibility which hope holds before them while the wish flatters them. But they swiftly forget this sight in the daily round of things. Or perhaps they talk enthusiastic words, 'for the tongue is a little member and boasteth great things.' But talk takes the name of enthusiasm in vain by proclaiming loudly from the housetop what it should work out in silence. And in the midst of the trivial details of life these enthusiastic words are quickly forgotten. It is forgotten that such a thing was said of this man. It is forgotten that it was he himself who said it. Now and then, perhaps, memory wakens with horror, and remorse seems to promise new strength. But, alas, this, too, lasts only for a good-sized moment. All of them have intentions, plans, resolutions for life, yes, for eternity. But the intention soon loses its youthful strength and fades away. The resolution is not firmly grounded and is unable to withstand opposition. It totters before circumstances and is altered by them."
* Søren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing, p. 62.
I, like many of you, read about the sacrifice made by Pat Tillman with a combination of pride and shame -- pride that I have shared a country with someone so brave, and shame that I have never walked away from so much for a cause I believe in. Most of us can't join the armed forces in their liberation of Iraq, but we can still make a difference in meaningful ways, by making a tax-deductible contribution to the Spirit of America project, which equips American civilians and servicemen with basic tools to help people in war-torn countries like Iraq as they struggle to rebuild their societies.
Examples of current needs that you can help fill include start-up equipment for Iraqi news stations, school supplies for Iraqi school children, and tools for Iraqi tradesmen. These are the kinds of requests that typically fall through the cracks at larger aid agencies. Every dollar you contribute, outside of minimal operations costs, goes directly to purchase the requested supplies, which are then shipped directly to the Americans abroad for distribution to the people they are helping.
As an added bit of fun, if you click through to this link by Thursday, you will help a cabal of liberty-oriented bloggers in their friendly contest with other groups trying to raise money for this worthy cause. Don't miss this chance to show the America-is-an-evil-empire crowd where our hearts really lie.
Estee Lauder, founder of the cosmetics empire, died Saturday at age 97. This morning on NPR, Bob Edwards spoke with a Wall Street Journal reporter purportedly knowledgeable about Lauder and her industry. It is troubling to hear a journalist from so fine a paper display such poor economic thinking. Edwards led with the question: how did Lauder become so successful? The answer, according to the reporter, is that Lauder worked "really hard."
Wrong, wrong, wrong. The labor theory of value was rightfully executed by a noble band of Austrians at the turn of the century, it remains dead, and it will continue to lie cold in its crypt so long as tastes, talents, and luck vary. Estee Lauder was successful because she understood what people valued, and she developed the capability to deliver this value to them in myriad unique ways.
This is the essence of success in a free market -- not hard work. I promise you, the people at Revlon (price = $3/share, earnings negative) worked just as hard as Ms. Lauder and her crew (whose company fetches a price of $44/share, with a P/E of 33), but they worked on the wrong things.
Next, the reporter informed her listeners that Lauder "had good genes," which means that her children have worked hard, too. Oh, dear, the fun someone in the professional victim class could have with that. Suffice to say that the alternative hypothesis -- good upbringing and training -- was not proffered.
Finally, the reporter explained that Lauder was the first to use the "free gift"-with-a-purchase gimmick, which was an enduring contribution to the field of marketing. This was the closest the reporter came to a discussion of Lauder's business tactics -- a minor marketing scheme.
The encouraging element in this sorry report is that it demonstrates that journalists are capable of learning complicated ideas, because in this three-minute report we were treated to the labor theory of value, crude genetic determinism, and marketing as the tail that wags the dog. (This last is a pernicious ailment plaguing business journalists and marketing professionals alike. Reis and Trout, like Ayn Rand, should only be read by people over thirty, who have sufficient wisdom to harvest insights from the fundamentally flawed theories in which they are rooted.)
So we know that journalists can be taught. The question then arises: who is teaching them now?