The parable of the ten virgins

So for those of you not up on your New Testament or Christianity or Jesus or anything like that, our micro Sunday school lesson text comes from Matthew 25:1-12.

Ten virgins are going to a wedding and they bring their little oil lamps for light. Five of the virgins bring extra oil and the other five virgins only have enough to last the ceremony and go home. Well, the groom’s late (viz. “While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.” v.5) and everybody runs out the oil in their lamps, but the ones who brought extra oil refill their lamps and are allowed into the wedding. But because the bouncer can’t see the others in the dark, he doesn’t let them in because he doesn’t know if they’re invited or not.

The moral of the story is obvious: Be prepared.

And, more specifically doctrinally related: Be prepared for the coming of the Lord.

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Sharing knowledge

NOTE: This is the first in a series of several posts David Nygren of The Urban Elitist and I will be cross-blogging concerning the issue of authors (whether traditionally published, e-published, or self-published) actually getting paid for their work.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while; how, if the product you offer is free, can you make a living at it? Answer’s simple: You can’t. So why do we writers do this? Just be read? Really? I thought I might need therapy, which is when I began writing this post.

In David’s excellent post, How to Get Your E-book Read, my overriding thought was that getting read is not the problem. In the era of “information wants to be free,” getting paid will be the problem. His article was serendipitous because then I knew I wasn’t alone in my thinking and we began to talk. Since he and I started brainstorming last week about what facets of the money issue we could cover (and believe me, we’ve uncovered more facets than a 2-carat marquis diamond), I’ve seen three disparate conversations/articles concerning this.

First, this Dear Author thread (almost 550! comments) wherein an author stated that she pulled a series because her work was pirated so heavily she couldn’t make money on it and, further, that if a day came that she couldn’t make money writing, she’d just stop.

Second, Ara13 in this Publishing Renaissance thread says:

I read last week how one of this blog’s bloggers complimented a writer by saying she passed on her book to a friend. I winced. For me, that was a back-handed compliment. Sure, it’s great that you like my work and want others to be exposed to it, but if you really want to help, you’ll buy them a copy. Sorry, but being able to pay my rent and grocery bills allows me to pursue such a creative endeavor.

Third, this Time article, most of which is quotable, but this is the phrase that stuck out to me:

From a modern capitalist marketplace, we’ve moved to a postmodern, postcapitalist bazaar where money is increasingly optional.


Money optional.

I nearly had a heart attack.

When I was 18 and new to college, I had a teacher who told me, “Don’t give away your knowledge. You earned it, you paid for it in time, money, blood, sweat, and tears. Don’t give it away for free.”

I choked. It went against everything I’d been taught both at home and at church (Mormons have no paid clergy; it’s strictly volunteer), and I was horrified. Then that teacher went on to prove himself an asshole, so I felt vindicated.

7189sft92blBut as I got on in life and saw that those who have knowledge and who teach for little or no money aren’t very…respected. And I read books of philosophy that changed my thinking. Yeah, one of them was Atlas Shrugged. Sue me.

Then I got along farther in life and saw that sharing a little quality knowledge is useful as well as generous. It’s empowering to giver and taker. It at once gives the receiver a fish so that he doesn’t keel over from hunger and teaches him how to use a fishing pole. It’s a personal choice in how to balance what to give, how much, and when. However.

There is a price:

1. Expectation and entitlement. As in, some people will then feel entitled to more of the giver’s knowledge, and possibly get upset when more is not forthcoming.

2. Devaluation. As in, whether it’s taken or not, it will be seen as disposable because it’s cheap or free. “This is advice is free, so it’s worth what you paid for it” takes on a whole new meaning in today’s postcapitalist, money-optional bazaar.

I have fear for the future of information.

What I truly fear is that all content, all information, all written entertainment, will be free and thus, devalued. The consultant (knowledge) and artist and musician and author need to be rewarded monetarily for their work or else they can’t eat.

Most consultants will find a way to monetize their knowledge. Chris Brogan does. Ramit Sethi does. Christine Comaford-Lynch does. Suze Orman does. No matter how much they give away.

Artists find ways to monetize their knowledge, from the elite to the bourgeois to the commercial to the assembly line.

Musicians tour and sell merchandise. (I probably should’ve used Radiohead for that example, but oh well.)

But most writers have no real avenue of residual earnings off their writing, except through direct sale of the work itself. Most writers will do whatever it is they do anyway without pay and continue to sling hash and throw themselves on the altar of “honing their craft” in order to earn the approbation of agents and editors (if they continue to exist in any number). They’ll take increasingly lower wages in order to be afforded the privilege of writing for money (i.e., “be a REAL writer”) for the cachet of having gotten The Call.

And then they’ll be pirated one way (cutting a print book open and scanning it) or another (file sharing).

Because the consumer has been trained via a number of methods to feel entitled to intellectual property and will, in turn, slap down any writer egotistical enough to say, “Hey, the work product of my brain is worth money.” They’ll do this through two methods:

Refuse to pay and not consume, then find free (possibly inferior, probably equivalent, possibly superior) content elsewhere.

Refuse to pay and consume anyway. Piracy.

No, his mind is not for rent to any god or government.

Nor, I would add, a self-entitled public. It should be for sale.

Aside: I needed the expertise of an editor to thoroughly go over my book. I paid her. I will not disclose how much because I don’t want to think about it; however, she had expertise I did not and I felt…weird…about asking someone to do that much work for little to no money.

What’s the answer?

Hell, I don’t know.

Rand had her architect and her musician and her novelist ride off into the sunset poverty-stricken for the sake of their art, taking their work with them.

The Internet drowns in pundits and theorists claiming, “Information wants to be freeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

The writer in me, the one who was reared to give away knowledge, still hears the siren call of That One Person to whom what I have to say will make a difference in his life and possibly change it for the better—whether I know it or not.

The entrepreneur in me wants to make a living doing what I love to do. Validation is gravy, but I gotta have the spuds.

Viral money-and-politics rant

In case anybody missed it, I’m a Libertarian. Now, RJ Keller got me started and of course, it doesn’t take much to push me over the edge some days. In Maine, where she lives, apparently, people on state assistance get to purchase alcohol and tobacco with their state-granted funds, so she’s a wee bit pissy about this. I would be too, because in 2000, I was pissy enough about what I was seeing as a weekend graveyard cashier at a grocery store to write the following to my congress-critter:

CAUTION: It’s long and way ranty. Because I do not believe any such systems can/will be abolished, I have come up with some complex solutions, even though I am well aware gummint is not into solutions.

My part time job is working graveyards at a grocery store on weekends. I check out people all the time who use food stamps. Before working there, I had a fuzzy sense of exactly what food stamps were used for, since it wasn’t something I thought a whole lot about. My only up-close-and-personal experience with food stamps happened to be that my best friend, single, with two children, used them. She was always very careful to buy cheap, whole foods, fresh produce, and the ingredients to make bread, as she makes it more cheaply than buying bread. Naïve me. I thought everybody was as frugal with their benefits as my friend.

You should see the crap people buy on food stamps! Not only do they buy pre-packaged, expensive junk food, expensive cuts of meat, shrimp and lobster, but then they turn around and buy whole cartons of cigarettes and lots of booze with cash. They buy tons of dog food for dogs that could eat your HOUSE and still be hungry an hour later—with cash! If they can’t afford to buy their own food, where do they get the cash for this stuff???

Anyway, I realize that it would be a futile effort to try to abolish the system altogether, so I would like to propose some reforms that would be the first step in the incremental abolition of food stamps. They are as follows:

1. Mandatory periodic drug and alcohol testing. I don’t have a problem with people who drink, but I sure do have a problem with people who drink on MY dime.

2. Limitations on the use of the food stamp credit card.

a. No usage between midnight and 6am (this is to discourage late-night trips to the store for a brownie mix, candy bars, and a case of Coke)

b. Use limited to once in every 24-hour period

c. No cash transactions during same trip through the check out line (this is to discourage cash beer, cigarette, and animal food sales; granted, this would be the hardest idea to enforce).

3. Limitations on food selections. Users would be required to shop from a list of approved foods (a la WIC). There would be no paperwork like WIC, but a food stamp transaction would require the user to scan his food stamp card before checking out. The grocer’s UPC scanners would be required to be programmed to provide a fail-safe for the approved foods. As a concession to the grocer-as-policeman, the food stamp recipients would be required to work for the grocer free of charge by the state to do the data entry required to make this possible (BONUS: JOB TRAINING!). The following requirements would have to be reflected in the approved foods list.

a. Whole foods only (which mean that users would have to GASP COOK)

b. No shellfish, lobster, or other expensive cuts of meat; if a user buys chicken, he will have to buy it whole and learn to cut it up himself; no boneless, butterflied chicken breasts @ $2.99/lb when whole chickens are $.99/lb

c. No junk food, convenience foods, prepackaged lunches, soda pop, potato chips, cookies, specialty foods, box cereal, ice cream, pop tarts, TV dinners, bottled water, etc.

d. Store-brand canned food only; no name brands.

e. Minimum percentage of total monthly benefits spend on fresh produce (say, 10%; if a user’s monthly benefit is $200, he should be required to buy $20 in produce).

f. Inexpensive cooking spices should be allowed.

g. Toilet paper, cleaning products, and feminine hygiene products should be allowed, but again at the discretion of the state.

Now, I realize that this will require more bureaucracy to regulate, but I have three thoughts on this:

1. Government loves more bureaucracy; they should be very happy that their jobs will be secure,

2. If I have to help pay for the crap these people buy to eat, and there’s no hope of getting the food stamps abolished, then we should have the right to regulate the hell out of it, and

3. If the users refuse to work a regular job, then they should have to work to get their food (the food I’m paying for) home.

I guess what I’m most angry about is not so much that people get food, and cigarettes and booze and dog food on my dime, but that they’re so damn smug about it. You wouldn’t believe the arrogance of these people; their attitudes are nearly regal, as if they are special for being able to get their food for free while I, the chump who has to work two jobs (to pay my self-employment taxes, actually) waits on them.

Now, if you’ve never worked as a cashier at a place that takes EBT (aka food stamps), you really may not get the level of anger here, or why it exists. I’ll tell you why:

It’s the attitude.


Charity should be voluntary, not mandatory. Taking money out of my pocket to give to those the state deems worthy takes away my choices and is, in effect, legalized theft. It deprives me of my freedom and it deprives those I would have given to.

The USA has the highest percentage of charitable giving in the world, and that is in spite of what is wrested by force from our paychecks by the gummint to give to someone else. In the article Why are Americans so generous?, one point came through loud and clear to me:

“Most people think Americans are generous because we are rich. However, the truth is that we are rich, in significant part, because we are generous. Generosity is not a luxury in this country. It is a cultural norm.”

Can you imagine what we’d give if we had that money back?

Abolish marriage

“Marriage” is an ancient artificial construct that, in modern US society with no property rights attached to the female (i.e., dowry), has no real place.

As I said on chosha’s blog A Little East of Reality, what’s going on with California’s Prop 8 and the LDS church’s involvement with that, is one of defining the term. What needs to happen is that the underpinning law defining the term needs to change and then let linguistic evolution take over as to what is and is not marriage.

Here’s what needs to happen:

You and your intended(s) go to a lawyer and draw up a contract (people already to this for prenuptial agreements). You specify things like kids, power of attorney, healthcare decisionmaking, who does and does not have access to your healthcare information (thank you, HIPAA), and other things that heterosexual couples just…get…legally because they’re married as defined by law. In this case, the contract becomes the law. The lawyer files it with the court (like a divorce decree, only it’d be called something else like, oh, a companionship contract), the state collects its data, and everybody’s good to go.

If you and your intended(s) then want to go to your local ecclesiastical entity (whatever it is) and have a rite performed, you do that. Or don’t, if you don’t want to.

Or…do none of the above and after X number of years, you’ve converted from cohabitating to common-law “marriage” and that could apply to whatever living arrangement you have.

Here’s the thing. You change the labels and the populace will decide what marriage is based on their vocabulary.

Since I’m a libertarian, I have no investment in regulating what people do with their bodies as long as it doesn’t endanger me and mine.

I also have no investment in helping the church attempt to define “marriage” in California (although thankfully I haven’t been asked because then I’d be forced to be rude) because marriage has historically been about money and alliances.

What I find hypocritical is that the people who are most invested in re-defining marriage to include same-sex couples then turn around and vehemently protest polyamorous unions, which should have the same protections under whatever law gets passed.

William Saletan goes to great lengths to define why this should not be allowed and I find that simply ridiculous. Two people know what they’re doing, but three or more don’t? Let’s protect you from yourselves!

Here’s the answer. The number isn’t two. It’s one. You commit to one person, and that person commits wholly to you. Second, the number isn’t arbitrary. It’s based on human nature. Specifically, on jealousy.

Ah, okay. There’s a good argument.

In an excellent Weekly Standard article against gay marriage and polygamy, Stanley Kurtz of the Hudson Institute discusses several recent polygamous unions. In one case, “two wives agreed to allow their husbands to establish a public and steady sexual relationship.” Unfortunately, “one of the wives remains uncomfortable with this arrangement,” so “the story ends with at least the prospect of one marriage breaking up.” In another case, “two bisexual-leaning men meet a woman and create a threesome that produces two children, one by each man.” Same result: “the trio’s eventual breakup.”

Let’s protect the women and children!

Then he resorts to quoting the Bible, so he loses credibility with me right there.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: What’s good for the homosexual goose is good for the polyamorous gander and I defy any same-sex couple to give me a decent argument why that isn’t so…

…but that’s not my main point. My main point is this: You make it a civil contract between consenting adults, then let society’s usage of the word “marriage” define the word “marriage.”