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Death and Taxes

"Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."
--Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy (November 13, 1789)
These are the two words that came to mind the most this week. Death and taxes. Both indefatigable. One much more terrifyingly so than the other.

About Death

I don't have much to say about death. This week's massacre at Virginia Tech was horrifying. Adolescents, Holocaust survivors--both horrific in their own terrible ways. There isn't really anything to say, except:
כל המאבד נפש אחת, מעלים עליו כאילו איבד עולם מלא
משנה סנהדרין, ד:ה--
"One who destroys one life, it is as if he destroyed an entire world."
--Mishnah, Tractate Sanhedrin 4:5
Thirty-two worlds were destroyed on Monday. The longer I live, the more people who die, the more I feel that in my gut. When a young person dies, the entire world of her potential, her possibility, her unknowable, glorious, limitless future dies with them. When a middle-aged person dies, it crushes his parents, who saw his limitless future, his spouse, who considered him her soul mate, and his children, who thought he would live forever. When an older person dies, all of her collective wisdom, her life experience, dies with her. All that she has learned on this earth is gone along with her. (I think that's why people write and tell stories. That guarantees that at least some small fraction of what a person knows and learns through her life is preserved after her death.)

Death sucks. I have been particularly thinking about cancer lately, which really sucks. So does being gunned down by a deranged fellow student. One can't rank these things.

On an almost wholly unrelated note, if this doesn't convince people that there need to be more restrictions on who can buy guns and where they can bring them, I don't know what would.

The New York Times reported:
Virginia restricts gun buyers to the purchase of one handgun a month, in an effort to prevent bulk re-sales; law enforcement officers must issue a concealed carry permit to almost anyone who applies.
Thomas Jefferson, a Virginia native, noted the following statement by criminologist Cesare Beccaria from his work On Crimes and Punishment (1764), in Jefferson's commonplace book (1774-1776):
"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms disarm only those who are neither
inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Such laws make things worse for the
assaulted and better for the assailants."
I wonder if Jefferson or Beccaria would still think this today, when a young person can rush into a classroom with a small handgun and, in a matter of minutes, gun down a few dozen people. It's not clear to me why any civilian in the United States today needs the kind of assault weapons that seem to be involved in these killing sprees.

Aside from the gun control issue, this killing spree might also remind people of the importance of security. You can't get onto the Hebrew University campus without having your bag checked. Americans don't want to have to deal with that hassle, but is the price of not having everyone's bags checked worth it? I doubt it.

About Taxes

I spoke with my maternal grandmother today, she of glorious, sunny Northern California. She told me that my grandfather, z"l, liked paying taxes. When I asked her why, she said that it was because if he was paying taxes, it meant he was making money, and that was a good thing. I found that to be a lovely sentiment. Much nicer than the usual claptrap that some people I know spew about being glad to pay their taxes because they support where the money goes. And it's true. If I'm paying taxes, enough to be whining about it, it means that I'm making enough money to pay taxes. And that is a very good thing, indeed. Yeah, employment!

Here are some more quotes about taxes. Some of them are clever.

Finally, this is a really cool poster that shows where your federal tax dollars go, based on President Bush's budget request for 2008. None of this is settled yet--still to be debated in the halls of Congress and elsewhere, I'm sure. Every time you click on it, it zooms in so you can actually read it.

Sigh... May next week bring better things to this world.


The horror at VT certainly didn't convince me that gun control prevents violence.

Donklephant has a discussion of a prior school shooting, where citizens grabbed their own firearms and stopped the shooter before he could kill more people.

No, if anything, the absence of an armed citizenry is one of the things which enables rampages of this nature.
It would seem that stricter gun control would just increase the ratio of criminals with guns to citizens with guns. After all, it's only criminals that will participate in the criminal activity required to acquire a gun under stricter gun laws. I don't think people go on violent rampages because they were conveniently able to get their hands on guns. They feel a need to do it, and will use whatever means necessary to get the weapons.
Much nicer than the usual claptrap that some people I know spew about being glad to pay their taxes because they support where the money goes.

Why do you think this is claptrap?
I was being a little bit, I don't know, unnecessarily snarky or tongue-in-cheek or something with that comment.

Having said that, I think it's sort of claptrappy if not absolute claptrap because I feel like the people who say that probably wouldn't support the majority, or at least a large part, of where their tax money goes. Like, say, the $481.406 billion going to the Department of Defense. Or the $17.310 billion going to NASA. Or the $8.791 going to Customs and Border Protection. Or what have you. I think that when people say that they support where taxes are going, they're mostly talking about things like public services, which are a tiny percentage of the taxes we pay. But I could be wrong.
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