想家

I am reminded of myself as a kid, around seven or eight. In those days I played all day. I was a horrible student - consistently last in the class. But on the first day of second grade I won the Most Improved Student Award from my elementary school. 

I can remember it vividly. Summer morning, blazing sun, stifling humidity. I stood stiff, motionless and weary with other second graders, listening to the instructor jabbering on about one thing or another. It was right after the daily morning flag-raising ceremony with the whole school. The ROC flag rippled proudly, gazing down on the rows and rows of sweating children organized like soldiers. 

The man on the stage announced my name, said that I won something. My classmates told me to go up the stage. My teacher came and urged me to go up to the stage. I was nervous and afraid. I refused and stood stiff and motionless instead.

Eventually I did get my prize. The school gave it to my parents directly. Ironically, even after receiving the prize for improvement, I was still last in the class. Scoring from 30 out of 100 to 60 out of 100 is a big improvement, but still a failure. 

Rewind a year.  The first day of first grade. I remember this day vividly too. Ms. Hong walked into the classroom filled with forty or so first graders. We were all seated already. She was tall, young, and beautiful. It was her first day of teaching; it was our first day of schooling. She asked an innocent question, “Which one of you is smart?” 

I eagerly shot my hand up and shouted “me!” 

I was surprised no one else said anything, that no one else had raised their hands. Didn’t their mothers tell them they were smart? 

Ms. Hong looked at me and followed up with, “Well if you’re smart, can you recite the Buh Puh Meh Fuhs for me?” (the rudimentary Taiwanese pin yin system, kinda like the alphabets). 

I couldn’t. I remained silent, looking surprised and ashamed. Everyone laughed. On the first day of school I learned two things: that my mom had lied about me being smart, and that I was actually stupid. 

Elementary school in Taiwan was defined by failures, failures, failures, defeat, defeat, defeat. I was the stupid kid, skinnier and smaller than everyone else, the object of bullying. I hated school, but I loved every moment outside of school. I loved being home and playing with my cousins. 

Fast forward about twenty years. I am thousands of miles away from my dinky hometown. I am writing in English, something that I had never thought I’d be able to do. I have a college degree from a top school. I am in an internationally recognized university pursuing a doctorate degree in law, on scholarship.

Perhaps not so stupid anymore. 

But I am tired, anxious, and dreading each day. Tomorrow is just a repeat of today’s weary routine. All I really want is to go home and be a stupid kid again.  

The House Still Stands

Today:

1. Driving school driver that’s supposed to take me to my 10:00 AM DMV road test appointment doesn’t show up at 9:30 as previously stipulated. 
2. Called the driver, found out he’s stuck in traffic. But got picked up by another driver at 9:50, when I should have gotten picked up at 9:30. 
3. On the way to the DMV, I made a left turn a bit too quickly. May have scared the oncoming driver, or may have caused an accident with the oncoming driver… (this point will be important later). 
4. Get to the DMV, finished initial paperwork. Got back to car. Can’t get into car. Driver school driver apparently locked himself out of his own car. 
5. Wait 20 minutes for the driving school to send keys over. 
6. Wait in line for 30 minutes. 
7. Just about to take the driving exam… a big burly bear-man with shaved head weighing approximately 270 pounds approaches me, serious and stone-faced and warns “hey man, that wasn’t cool back there, you could have really hurt someone.” So. You know the car I almost hit in point 3? Yea, stony faced man-bear was in that car. Worse yet, he’s the DMV examiner. 
8. Start car to take driving exam. CAR WONT START. Car is out of battery… 
9. Wait forever for driving school to send another car over to jump start the car. 
10. Finally take exam with man-bear. Passed. 

The rain still falls, the floods still come, and the wind still blows, but the house does not fall.

Real Panhandler & Self-Righteousness

Two Sundays ago two panhandlers approached me. They were a father-daughter team, of Latino descent. The daughter stopped me after I had just purchased dinner. 

Sir could I ask you a question? My father just got back from the hospital and he has a broken leg. We need gas money to get to the hospital to do chemotherapy. He has leukemia. Sir please it’s desperate. He’s going to die - it’s life or death! Please sir. You can keep my phone. My Mercedes is just over there.

And so on so forth. 

After a confusing mess of complaints, of deathly ailments and plausible but unlikely circumstances, I asked, ‘Well how do I know this isn’t a scam?’ 

Truth is I didn’t. I wasn’t sure. It seemed like a scam. They looked kinda like druggies. But how I actually know what druggies look like? How do I actually know if they were scamming me? As a Christian, shouldn’t I believe in the best of people? What would Jesus do?

For whatever reason - a voice in my head just kept on shouting THIS IS A SCAM THIS IS A SCAM THIS IS A SCAM. I’m not sure if that was the Holy Spirit speaking to me, or just a more intelligent part of my subconscious voicing its concern. Eitherway, I walked away, apologizing, telling them that I’m not sure if it’s a scam. 

The supposedly near-death leukemia-filled and broken-legged father shouted, “Can you believe this guy?! C’mon” as I walked away with conscience irked, slightly ashamed, and somewhat confused. 

Anyway. So I bumped into the same father-daughter dual this past Sunday while I was waiting in line at the ever popular Diddy Riese Cookies. The father daughter team sauntered to the front of the line (i.e. cutting 15 mins of wait) and simply ordered. Amidst the confusion that is Diddy Riese no one in the front of the line protested or noticed. 

He was walking. His leg was not broken. The father exhibited none of the bodily ailments he claimed just a week ago.  At that moment, it was clear that they were a team of scammers, preying on the kindness of others. And they almost scammed me last week.

Man, I was pissed. A roaring wave of self-righteousness surged through me. These evil asshole! These scammers and scoundrels. The piss of the world! I thought about how I was going to humiliate them. Should I shout aloud about his healthy legs? Should I tell all the rest of the customers about these scammers, lest they prey upon them too? Should I walk up to them and stare then throw my ice cream and cookies at them? 

Self-righteousness. What a tantalizing emotion, as strong as lust and perhaps as fun too. How it grasped me in so few seconds, how it made me feel so moral and good and superior. For those few seconds I felt worlds better than the sinners these scammers were. 

Then an annoying thought occurred to me. What would Jesus do? He probably wouldn’t be as pissed. He’s remarkably patient with sin, so I’ve learned in my own experience. He would probably walk up to the family dual with Diddy Riese ice cream and cookies in hand. He’d probably smile, say something loving but convicting.The two would see their own sins and repent, or something like that. He could judge, but he probably won’t. 

So instead I just stood in line, unable to decide on what to do while trying to keep Christ’s influence at bay. Self-righteousness is fun and feels good. Jesus, c’mon, don’t ruin my fun. 

In the end, I ended up doing nothing but gave a few stares. Not sure if I’ll buy the two ice cream and cookies the next time I see them, but hopefully I’ll be more Christ-like, somehow. 

The End Justifying the Means?

In the US there is this thing called transfer tax, also known as ‘gift and estate tax.’ My first impression of this tax is, ‘Wow this is kinda evil.’ Suffice to say I’m not a big fan of it, as it seems to me it kicks the concepts of fairness and justice - both necessary and integral foundations of law - in the balls. Hard. 

Suppose you want to will you daughter $100,000 dollars when you pass on to the next world. Practically, you actually need $166,666 dollars in order to gift your daughter $100,000. The noble and ever-altruistic Federal government imposes a gift tax - a tax for your right to transfer, a tax for you gifting property to another. The tax rate is nominally 40%, but the government will also tax you on the tax that you pay (so it’s tax on tax on tax on tax ad infinitum, until the value reaches something so close to zero that it’s negligible). Mathematically, an $100,000 gift ends up costing you $166,666. $100K to your daughter, $66K to the government. This is the ever noble ‘estate tax.’

There is another tax called the gift tax, which is basically the same thing without taxing on taxes. It’s less burdensome, and slightly more fair. Also I failed to account for some other things - like annual exclusions and credits (basically you can give away 5 million in your life time without being taxed on giving away money). 

5 million is fairly generous. This is not a problem for the average joe, and in fact is only a problem that plagues the ‘rich.’ But ‘rich’ might not fit our conventional definitions. Suppose grandpa started a family business 60 years ago. Everyone in your extended family works in this business. Grandpa dies suddenly of a heart attack, without a will. Grandpa bought his property that the factory is on for cheap, but now the real estate is worth far more than $5 million. The company has alot of assets that are worth alot on paper - factory equipment and the whatnot. The company also sells products with low margins. For this ‘rich’ family, they’re basically screwed. The company likely cannot get passed on, because they simply don’t have enough cash to pay the taxes on the right to transfer. Sons and grandchildren will have to sell the company (likely for cheap) to pay the taxes. 

So I think this is pretty damn evil. 

Yet at the same time I see imposing even higher transfer taxes as a means to solve America’s federal budgeting problems (a problem that is often ignored but will probably blow up in America’s face one day). The federal government owes the world alot of money. The government can do two things to solve this problem - spend less or tax more. Democrats want to tax more, Republicans want to spend less… but the feds probably need to do both, with the scale of the problem (i.e. the debt) as large as it is. 

I’m generally opposed to taxes, and I think transfer taxing is pretty damn evil. But it could help alleviate a problem… 

Who would have thought such a philosophical question bears weight in the realm of taxation. 

 

50%

The bulk of my graduate education is finished. The tougher half of my J.D. is over, the easier half remains. This is a good time, I think, to re-orient  and remind myself of higher things: 

  • That God is present - though often I think Him unconcerned. 
  • That I am a fool - though often I think myself wise. 
  • And, perhaps most importantly - that God is good, and I am not. 

 

While Studying For Business Associations

I came up with what I’m gonna be for Halloween next year. I’ll dress up as a van (the type of automobile), and put an Apple sticker on my back. 

iPad, iPhone, iVan! 

Back to studying. 

Max Credits This Term With Two Papers and Three Exams

But nonetheless pretty chilled. Even re-organized my room today, moved furniture and all. TV, computer, etc, are now facing the right wall instead of the center wall.  

Apparently motivation and diligence are inversely correlated with age and level of education. 

Bad law student, bad. 

A key to happiness (probably not the key) is simply not giving a crap. 

I will raise my eyes and look down that corridor; 4 feet wide, with 10 lonely seconds to justify my whole existence. But will I?

- Harold M. Abrahams, sprinter 

dogmatic but Godless

I do not want to be

known more for what I am against than what I am for.